Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Is It Funny? (1958)

From the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE writer was once with a group of South Africans listening to the wartime experiences of one of them in Egypt:—
  "There were we at the station crowded into the train, when a wog got on with a tray of fruit. Nobody wanted any, but he kept hanging around. So Charlie put a foot in his belly and gave a good shove. The wog went flying in one direction, and his fruit in another." 
This anecdote was received with roars of laughter, except from the writer, who said he could see nothing funny in it.

The attitude revealed is only too typical of South Africans, most of whom readily believe that they are superior beings compared with the non-white majority who live in the same country.

The Nationalist Government has recently been re-elected for a third term, and now has Dr. Verwoerd at its head—a man who, by his speeches and actions, has indicated that he is thoroughly in agreement with this view. So convinced is he of white superiority that he will not even discuss their future with any delegation of non-whites. What is laid down for them is their future, whether they like it or not.

In general the South African non-whites are an easygoing, cheerful, extrovert lot. They will usually accept life as they find it, without taking too much notice of the fact that the whites seem to be so much better off than they are. Had they shown as much aggressiveness as the North American Indians, for example (who had reached pretty much the same stage of social development), their present position might be much the same. That is, they might have the Indians’ alternative of a tribal life on a reservation, or of becoming integrated, with full citizenship rights, in the white community.

Being in a majority of four to one, the South African natives could run things entirely their own way, if they chose to get together for that purpose. They are kept apart by language—there are about twelve native languages, with many dialects, and by the fact that all native men need a pass to move from one place to another.

This pass system has existed for a long time in South Africa, but it is only within the last two or three years that it has been rigidly applied. In its present form it gives the police the power to move the native population around at will if in their view, and the view of others in authority, there is too great a concentration in any area.

The procedure is to descend on native dwellings, usually at night, and demand the passes of all those kept therein. Those with official permission to be in that particular area are usually left alone, except for such minor indignities as the police see fit to inflict. Those who can produce passes, but not permission to be in that particular area, are summarily removed to the places they came from. Those who can produce no documents at all are flung into gaol.

The most recent development of the pass system is the inclusion of native women for the first time. Perhaps this is the last straw that will break the long-suffering patience of the non-white South African. We quote from the Johannesburg Star of October 29th, 1958:—
  “It may, of course, be true that the demonstrations in the last few days against the issue of reference books to native women in Johannesburg have been instigated by agitators, including Communists. Indeed, it is obvious that a concerted effort of this kind cannot have been spontaneous and that a good deal of organising has gone into it.
  "This is, unfortunately, never the complete answer to movements of discontent and protest. Agitators can only work with the material that is there and exploit grievances that really exist. In the present instance, there has never been any doubt about the opposition of the native people to the issue of "passes" to their women. They believe that it will expose the women to constant molestation and harassment by the police, as well as interfering with their freedom of movement.
   "Is this opposition reasonable? The question immediately raises another. Should laws be imposed on people without any attempt at consultation and without regard for the fears they may entertain; whether these fears are justified or not?
   "No machinery of any value exists for consulting the Natives about measures that affect their lives intimately.
   “It is the practice to make such laws as the Government and a White electorate think desirable for the ‘ control' of Natives without any thought of Native reactions to them. They are treated as aliens who are here on temporary permit only and must subject themselves to any rules that authority may devise." (Our italics.)
We have two pictures from the Johannesburg Star of the following day—October 30th, 1958. The captions underneath read as follows: —
   “Tear Gas, batons and handcuffs were used by policemen today to disperse Native women outside the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. The women were ordered twice to disperse. Then the police charged. This photograph shows a policeman using his handcuffs instead of a baton, chasing some women—one has a baby on her back.
   "A young police constable wields a thin case as he chases a stout native woman away from the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court this afternoon. During the excitement a baby was found in the gutter—its mother had a gashed leg."
The Star is the Johannesburg English evening newspaper. Its politics can be described as "United Party ” or opposition, though it has, over the past few years, shown somewhat more sympathy with the Nationalist regime than have the other South African English newspapers.

We, in Britain, and the more advanced countries should not congratulate ourselves too much on the intellectual and other "freedoms” that we enjoy. It is not such a long time since strike meetings and even mere attempts to form trade unions led to the use of police and troops. And it is only twenty years since international capitalism got ready for its last all-out conflict, and assumed arbitrary powers over the lives of the working class.

We have, however, the right to organise consciously for the overthrow of Capitalism, something that would not be possible in South Africa without running foul of the "Suppression of Communism” Act.

In the circumstances at present, however, we can do little more for South Africans, black or white, than to express our sympathy.

Britain, America, France and other “advanced” countries are not without problems arising from antipathy of workers with one colour of skin for those of another colour. Capitalism is competitive, and competition for jobs is part of it

Socialism will be co-operative and moneyless, with no economic reason for racial or other antagonisms. There will only be the common task of using the natural resources of the world for the benefit of those who live on it.
J. O. B.

Letter: Is the S.P.G.B. Correct? (1958)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Critic’s Misconception Answered

Dear Sir,

Having attended your various meetings, going through your Socialist Standard and pamphlets and discussing with your party members, I was made to understand that your party wants to achieve Socialism only through academic discussion and preaching to the working class various slogans and dogmas of Marx and Engels disregarding their material aspect of life. You also advocate that Socialism will come as and when majority people of the world understand and desire Socialism.

It seems to me that your preaching will bear fruits only when some people have paved the way for you by changing the material condition of working class so that they are in a position to listen, understand and act upon your philosophy.

Do you believe in the teachings of Marx that “It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness”?

It is a historical truth that the little liberty we enjoy today in the various part of the world, is the result of years’ ceaseless struggle of millions—Most certainly the visionaries have played no part in it.

While you are enjoying the freedom and liberty disregarding the process it came through, would you kindly suggest a way to Socialism for the people who are under perpetual subjugation and tyranny and not allowed by law to speak or publish anything that goes against the interest of the ruling class?
Yours faithfully,
A. A. A. Rashid

In a not very long letter our correspondent manages to bring together a surprisingly large number of misconceptions about the Socialist case. He certainly did not hear S.P.G.B. speakers say that our declared aim is merely “Academic discussion” and the preaching of “various slogans and dogmas of Marx and Engels"; nor did he read this in Party publications. He will find a summary statement of our position in our Declaration of Principles, which, however, he ignores.

What are the salient features of Capitalism, the social system in which the S.P.G.B. operates and whose abolition it works for?

It is a class-divided social system. No matter what the anti-Socialists say, and irrespective of what politically uninformed workers think, the class struggle between the owning class and the working class is a fact and they are in it. Most of them, individually and in their industrial and reformist political organisations, have no greater aim than to try to fight the effects of Capitalism and to try to reform the Capitalist system. They are not aware of the need to abolish it and establish Socialism. They have been doing this for a century and a half without in any way altering the fundamentals of Capitalism, without abolishing poverty, insecurity, unemployment, wars, etc.

Members of the S.P.G.B. are likewise inescapably in the class struggle, but with a difference. Unlike the non-Socialist and the reformist organisations, the S.P.G.B. seeks to make the working class aware of the nature of Capitalism, the necessity of establishing Socialism in its place, the need for democratic political action to achieve this and the impossibility of doing so by means of social reforms.

It is for our correspondent to meet this case, not an imaginary one, and to show us how Socialism can be attained in any other way.

He does indeed offer us a formula, which is that “the material condition of working class” must be changed “so that they are in a position to listen, understand and act upon your philosophy.” But it is an empty formula. The “material condition” of the working class is that of being a wage-earning, exploited class in a class society. How can that be changed except by the method we show, that of a Socialist working class organising consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government with the aim of establishing Socialism?

It is true that the struggles of the working class, their resistance to exploitation, have helped to gain “elbow room” and that these struggles, along with the needs of industrial Capitalism, have brought about, in varying degrees, the electoral franchise and the possibility of organising and carrying on propaganda. But after about 150 years all that our correspondent can claim for it is “the little liberty we enjoy today in the various parts of the world.” Nowhere has it produced Socialism, nor will it do so. That will be done only after the working class have been won over to Socialism—the function of Socialists and carried on by no-one else. If by the ambiguous term “visionaries” our correspondent means Socialists, he invites our challenge to show us how Socialism can ever be accomplished without a Socialist working class.

Our correspondent refers to “people who are under perpetual subjugation and tyranny,” without specifying which people he has in mind. Perhaps it is the working class in Russia and her satellites or in the military dictatorship established by the Capitalist Nationalist movements in former colonial territories, or the workers in the existing colonies. He is wrong in describing this as “perpetual” The British and other sections of the working class used also to be in the same position, but the developments of Capitalism and the struggles of the workers have brought about “the little liberty” he mentions. How much farther and faster the movement for working class emancipation from Capitalism would have gone if, instead of allying themselves with sterile movements to “reform” Capitalism, and nationalist movements to establish one Capitalist rule in place of another, the working class had understood and acted upon the international Socialist message of the S.P.G.B. and its companion parties.
Editorial Committee

Mono – what? (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everybody has heard of monopoly, where there is a single seller, but have you heard of its opposite ‘monopsony’, where there’s a single buyer? When there is a monopoly (from the Greek words for single and seller) the monopolist is in a stronger position than the buyer and so can extract a higher price than otherwise for what they are selling. With monopsony (from the Greek words for single and buyer) it’s the opposite – the buyer can buy at a lower price than otherwise. It’s what the supermarkets do with their suppliers, and, as an article in the Times (19 February) confirms, what some employers can do when it comes to purchasing the labour-power of their workers.

Under the headline ‘Workers are paying the price for being less able to stand up to employers’, its Economics Editor Philip Aldrick commented on a recent study of monopsony in the UK private sector labour market between 1998 and 2017. This period includes the eight years since the beginning of the Great Recession that followed the Crash of 2008 during which, Aldrick notes, ‘real earnings have stagnated, the longest stretch since Napoleonic times, as inflation raced ahead of pay’. The normal explanation of this would be that the increased unemployment in a slump weakens the workers’ bargaining power. However, the stagnation persisted even though the level of unemployment was lower than in the downturns of 1980s and 1990s and was in fact falling at the end of the period. So what could be an explanation?

Step forward ‘monopsony’. Not literally, as there is not a single employer (that only existed under the state capitalism of the former USSR) but where there is a small number of employers who dominate the buying side in the labour market. Technically this is ‘oligopsony’ (a few buyers) but the term used in the study is ‘market concentration’ measured by how few employers employ the bulk of workers in an industry or region.

The study concluded:
  ‘We have shown how higher levels of concentration are associated with lower levels of pay for workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and that for those who are covered by a CBA that this negative correlation between pay and monopsony mostly disappears. ‘
Since ‘collective bargaining agreements cover only one fifth of private sector workers today, compared with half in 1998’, Aldrick wonders whether the study’s conclusion is a possible explanation for wages continuing to stagnate despite unemployment falling.

In any event, it vindicates the Marxian view that unions can provide a limited protection against employers, basically by banding workers together to in effect form an opposing monopoly of sellers of labour-power, even if in some cases this is just running fast to stand still and even to avoid slipping back so much.

Traditionally, socialists have referred to the capitalist class as having a ‘monopoly’ over the means of wealth production, based on the accepted extension of the word beyond its literal meaning of ‘single seller’ to mean ‘exclusive control’.  This exclusive control of productive resources also puts the capitalist class as a whole in a position of monopsony i.e., a single buyer, vis-√†-vis the working class as a whole since, while workers can change employers they still have to find someone to purchase their labour power. In short, the employing class has the whip hand. Which can only be ended by abolishing the wages system.

Running Commentary: Silver spoon (1983)

The Running Commentary column from the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Silver spoon
Clean-cut prefect type that he is, the thought could never have entered the Brylcreemed head of Cecil Parkinson that he would one day be the subject of nationwide salacious jokes. As usually happens, there was much misunderstanding about the affair between Parkinson and Sarah Keays and the lucky child who as a result will find itself born into the British ruling class.

Parkinson's extra-marital activities were denounced as inconsistent with the Tories’ well-advertised concern for what they called Victorian values, particularly with the sanctity of the monogamous, nuclear family. Should he, repentant, leave the government? The party? The country? All of this on the assumption that politicians operate on consistent, absolute principles.

But of course the Thatcher concern with the capitalist family was designed as a vote-winner and in any case applied only to that class in society (which does not include Parkinson) which has a subservient role and must be disciplined into it, by one method or another. Now this is perfectly in line with the values of capitalism, whoever is on the throne. It was so in Victorian times and it is so today. Capitalism now, as then, is a society of two conflicting classes, one of them socially superior and privileged and the other socially inferior and disadvantaged.

Parkinson and Keays enjoy a life-style, and assumptions about their futures which result from the exploitation of the working class. It is instructive to compare the treatment of Keays with that of a working-class female who conceives a child without being married. Keays negotiated through her solicitors — which means with a lot of legal protection and comfort — for what Parkinson assured us would be an adequate financial arrangement for her and the child. A spacious cottage near the home of her rich family in the lush Cotswold countryside was renovated for her.

Meanwhile, in magistrates courts throughout the land unmarried female workers apply for maintenance orders against similarly impoverished fathers of their children. In most cases, the courts award them a few pounds a week — which is all the father can afford — which is promptly deducted from their Social Security "benefit”. The working class should attend to the repression and the indignity represented by that rather than to the personal peccadillos of their arrogant masters.

A black hope
Jesse Jackson is tall, handsome, energetic and he believes in the American Way, so nobody should be surprised that he is a possible candidate in the next Presidential election.

In fact, the mere possibility is driving thousands of American workers into a frenzy of enthusiasm because Jesse Jackson is not only tall, energetic, etc. etc, but also black. Even more; he says he was there on the balcony when Martin Luther King was shot and that King died in his arms; he kept on a bloodstained T-shirt for a highly-charged TV appearance soon after the assassination. American blacks love him; “Run, Jesse, run" they urge him onwards to the nominating conventions.

Jackson is being lauded, not just as the new hope of American blacks; he is said to have something to offer whites as well — an unprecedented insight into their problems and a unique ability to come up with the answers. “In America,” he said during a recent visit to Brixton, "our struggle has shifted from a focus on freedom to the drive for real equality”.

It would be most remarkable if a politician who aspires to power did not try to arouse passion and enthusiasm by claims to have a novel solution to the problems which have been troubling the enthusiasts for such a long time. It is only when the power is won and the reality of trying to run capitalism strikes home that the ardour dies and the hero wilts, sometimes into obscurity.

Even before he gets near the convention there are questions hanging over Jackson. In particular, his claim to have been with King when he was shot is denied by fellow black Andrew Young, who undoubtedly was on the balcony. But it is important to consider more than questions. It is time the workers, in America and all over the world, refused to be misled into hysteria by the promises, the deceits and the charisma of leaders. Real experience shows that capitalism cannot be other than a divided, repressive social system of impoverishment and fear. No leader can change that.

Run Jesse run? Where to?

Method unimportant
After their defeat in 1979 the Labour Party went through a Benn-inspired reassessment of their constitution which was supposed to make them a more democratic and more effective organisation. This was as agonising for them as a bad illness and after the treatment they decided, among other changes, on a new method of electing their leader. No longer would this be through the preferences of only Labour MPs; now the whole party, affiliated trade unions and all, would have a vote on the issue.

Triumphant left wing Labourites claimed that they now had a serenely democratic party, better fitted to take power and. in some unexplained way, to force socialism on us. Some of their leaders, on the grounds that too much democracy was a bad thing, left the party to take their place at what they hoped would be the foot of Labour’s death-bed. And out of this marvellous new method has emerged Neil Kinnock, who has not so far been justified on the grounds that he is the fruit of a more democratic method of election but because his party hopes that he has the formula to win them back into power.

Whatever system the Labour Party used, the leader who emerged would have carried the same hopes. Kinnock, for his youth and his carefully constructed reputation, would always have been a very strong candidate for the succession. Labour's new constitution, born amid so much pain and dispute, has really changed nothing.

Labour's elected leader is expected to be enough of a crafty opportunist to play the electoral game of deceiving the working class to such effect that it results in a Labour win. As long as the workers — who vote for Labour and Tory governments over British capitalism — continue to acquiesce in this cynicism the problems of modern society will remain. The method through which leaders emerge is unimportant; what matters is the social system which they serve and which they try to control — and the urgent need to abolish it.

Pollution: capitalism's exhaust system (1983)

From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

As world population increases by about 2 per cent a year, and as industry expands to meet new market demands — not, be it noted, human needs, since two thirds of that increase belongs to the starving and impoverished Third World who do not constitute a market for capitalist production — so the rate of pollution climbs ever higher.

Most of us, however, are quite content to ignore this obnoxious subject and leave it to the “professionals”. Indians may starve, ice-caps may melt and sea-birds drop out of the sky with mercuric convulsions but after all, everyone's got their own problems, haven’t they? Besides, who wants to know about the DDT in food, the cadmium in your fags, the lead in the air and all the disgusting things in tapwater? Especially when there’s nothing you can do about it? This attitude is very common and to some extent explains why the world has the problems it does. When people begin to see a causal chain linking their own unemployment or poverty to vanishing forests and dead albatrosses, a chain leading to a common culprit, the insane and reckless profit-system, they may be less ready to bow out of all involvement.

But even if we act now to change the system it may be too late to stop serious ecological damage. Free-Enterprise, despite a few token fetters, has not only been able to waste and destroy the present in its mindless quest for the Fast Buck, it has also infected the future, perhaps for generations. Socialism will be stuck with the flesh-rotting legacies of capitalism and it will need every human resource and ingenuity to deal with them. Meanwhile, for what’s left of Nature, time is running out.

Every year, Britain dumps a total of 517,000 tons of mixed industrial/domestic waste in the surrounding seas, and the Irish Sea also enjoys 136,000 curies of radioactive caesium from Windscale alone. The Mediterranean annually swallows 430,000,000,000 tons of waste including raw sewage, detergents, oil. phenols, pesticides and heavy metals. This is quantifiable only because it is legally endorsed. There are no accurate figures for air pollutants like lead, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, and even where legal restrictions do exist they are difficult to endorse. There are no figures for land dumps in Britain either because the Department of the Environment has never bothered to make an inventory of them. The chief government research establishment into hazardous waste, at Harwell, told the House of Lords Select Committee in 1981 that it did not know how much was produced in the UK. who produced it, what it was or what they did with it. Indeed British law relies heavily on the voluntary co-operation of industry, despite the fact that in the United States, where experience has taught them less faith in business integrity, over three quarters of all indictments brought against companies are for wilfully flouting safety and anti-pollution regulations. In Britain, by contrast, a Water Authority officer who releases details of pollution by a firm in excess of its agreed limit is liable to imprisonment, while the firm may earn a small fine for the original offence. The new Control of Pollution Act, due to take full effect in 1986, dispenses with much of this obsessional secrecy. It also cuts the list of hazardous waste products requiring special disposal licence, proving that legislation has never been able to prevent illegal fly-tipping by cheap, cowboy operators and now has simply stopped trying.

The painful grind of British law towards a more open system is no guarantee that public activists are in for an easier time of it. Despite the Freedom of Information Act in America, private citizens have their work cut out bringing guilty pollutors to book. Whatever the law says, big corporations can and will exert enormous influence over protagonists and referees alike, so that contests are rarely if ever fought on equal terms.

One has only to look at the thalidomide story to demonstrate the vicious self-interest of big business, but what is especially interesting about pollution cases is the frequency with which supposedly impartial government agencies (dealing with coal-oil, agro-chemical and nuclear industrial regulations control) are exposed in squalid little cover-ups and conspiracies with the industries they are meant to monitor. After the 1978 Love Canal disaster in Niagara City — the first federal disaster in history due to chemical pollution, but assuredly not the last — the Environmental Protection Agency were found to have been turning a blind eye to the antics of the Hooker Chemical Company and to have coerced certain of its more zealous local inspectors into doing the same. Despite its policy of not rocking anyone’s boat the EPA were publicly capsized by the Carter administration and told to compile a dossier immediately on toxic waste dumps in the USA. Their shamefaced report admitted 300 dumps as immediate hazards, with up to 34,000 others likely to become so. The cost of correcting the damage was put at $46 billion. A US Congress Committee has estimated that 90 per cent of all toxic wastes in America are disposed of "unsafely” — that means on derelict land, in sewers, quarries, mineshafts and local streams. The D of E in Britain remains blas√©.

However, pollution isn't only caused by companies dumping waste, legally or otherwise. Pesticides are used extensively in agriculture, and not only do they kill flora or fauna outright, they also get into the food we eat, the soil and the water which drains from it. If farmers were at all interested in producing food for consumption. and not simply for the market, they would in most cases no more use a pesticide than they would dump or burn crops to keep prices high. Pesticides are very often more trouble than they’re worth. They may kill pest-predators, directly or by starvation, they actively immunise pests through small doses of spray drift, they kill fish, birds and mammals who accumulate concentrations of compounds through the food-chain, and they even create pests by wiping out the competition. Many compounds are persistent and non-selective, and are known to cause heart disease, nervous disorders, foetal deformities and cancer. DDT and the infamous herbicide 245-T are banned in America, though of course all their food imports remain contaminated. However, it is still lawful for US companies to manufacture banned compounds and sell them to the Third World, who naturally take whatever they can afford. In Sri Lanka alone there are 14,000 cases of pesticide poisoning every year.

All this, and we haven't mentioned asbestos, mercury, dioxin (remember Seveso?), cyanide, acid rain, smog, oil, the carbon dioxide build-up, the ozone breakdown, sewage, lead, detergents, noise, radar, Extreme Low Frequency, ultraviolet, microwave, radiowave and nuclear radiation. There isn’t space to go into everything, but for some unparalleled examples of capitalist double-dealing, fraud, lies, cover-ups, suppressions, half- truths, intimidation and even murder you can’t do better than look at the nuclear industry.

Accidents happening to star witnesses before public enquiries are well-documented, perhaps the most famous being the case of Karen Silkwood in Oklahoma. 1975. Cover-ups involving police and government officials are legion. Naturally — there’s a lot of money at stake here and bad publicity can damage a lot of people. So when Dr. Tamplin links radiation with leukaemia in the ’60s, his funds are cut off and his report suppressed. When angry ex-GIs involved in the Smoky A-Bomb Pacific tests all try to sue Uncle Sam for their cancer leukaemia and sterility, the Department of Defense withholds medical records and denies all responsibility. When a nuclear accident in the Ural Mountains causes thirty Russian communities to “disappear”. US spy satellites don’t notice. When evidence shows that the 5 rem safety standard, on which all plant designs are based, is far too high, it is consistently buried or ignored. When Professor Karl Morgan of Oak Ridge designs a thermal breeder reactor about 270 times safer than the liquid metal fast breeder system to which the US government is already committed, his research is stopped and his report “altered", and when Karen Silkwood compiles a dossier proving that Kerr-McGee Corporation technicians are being told to draw over the x-ray negatives of cracked fuel rods with black felt pen so they can be passed as safe, she is mysteriously killed in a convenient car-crash. While productive forces remain contingent on the demands of the money-market, and while fluctuating economies force producers to cut corners, pollution, along with all these other complaints, must be inevitable. Sometimes governments may try to tame free enterprise in order to get rid of the bad bits. But to suggest, as many still do, notably the Ecology Party, that one can prevent pollution by legislative and other reformist measures, is to fly in the face of the facts. The Ecology Party's proposals for reducing pollution and reorganising capitalism along healthy, ecological lines are all the more pathetic in their miserable recognition of their own inadequacy. They seek to “form solutions in the light of the problems’’ and go on to describe how chemical corporations must stop producing their best-selling pesticides and just accept up to a 50 per cent cut in profits, how Western governments in a fit of altruism should subsidise an eightfold increase in the cost of the Third World’s malaria control programme and how the Third World itself should stop using inorganic fertilisers, organochlorinc compounds like DDT, Dieldrin and 245-T, and high-yield grain hybrids and simply accept a possible tenfold cut in yield. Well-researched though they are, these solutions are unworkable because they do not face up to the real cause of the problem. No matter what cures are proposed, if they do not take into account the basic, cut-throat nature of capitalism, they are doomed to failure. Only by changing the social and economic system which generates the conditions which cause starvation, resource-squandering and pollution will we ever see an end of such despoliation and such ecological insanity.
P J Shannon

Cover Up: Nicholas Hildyard (New English Library. London 1981). Friends of the Earth Guide to Pollution: Brian Price (Friends of the Earth, London 1983). A Blueprint for Survival: E. Goldsmith et. al. (Tom Stacey, London 1972). Can Britain Survive?: E. Goldsmith (Tom Stacey. London 1971). This Dirty World: R. C. Denney (Thomas Nelson, London 1971). Man's Responsibility for Nature: John Passmore (Duckworth 1974) esp. Chs 3-6 inc.

50 Years Ago: German Withdrawal from Disarmament Conference (1983)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of the comments in the English Press and in the speeches of politicians affect horror at the action of Germany and its leaders. But on the ground common to all the defenders of capitalism in the various nations, Hitler's action has full justification. The Versailles Peace Treaty, under which Germany’s armed forces were reduced to the minimum considered necessary to protect capitalism internally, pledged the Allies definitely an explicitly to disarm themselves. That pledge has not been kept and none of the political leaders who made it ever believed that it would be kept. That is why the Russian Government could call their bluff by offering to disarm completely if and when the others would do the same. That is why Hitler can now say that Germany does not want big armaments, only equality with the Allied Governments, either universal disarmament or armaments all round.

Not one of the powers dare dispense with armaments; and that not solely because of their desire to defend frontiers and interests abroad, but because the ruling class everywhere dare not face its own dispossessed class without the protection of armed forces. That is the dominating fact in Germany as it is in the USA, Russia. Britain. Austria and the rest, and it is the one thing nobody ever mentions at disarmament conferences. Hence the unreality of it all. These representatives of capitalism gather together in Geneva to profess their mutually peaceable inclinations, to swear their undying hatred of war, and to reiterate year after year that they are all agreed on speedy disarmament. Every kind of formula is debated and accepted, every kind of scheme for disarmament is applied, and the one thing that never happens is disarmament.

(From an editorial "The War Scene: Tragic Farce at Geneva and Moscow”, Socialist Standard, November 1933.)

Letter: "complacent and apathetic attitudes to politics" (1983)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I feel it is necessary for people to rid themselves of complacent and apathetic attitudes to politics. We all need to start thinking seriously before we end up dead and beyond thought.

For this reason I have set out schematically the fundamental features of economics which make capitalism irrational and liable to initiate world war. All the swings and roundabouts of capitalist economics cannot be mentioned, but sufficient, I believe, to demonstrate that capitalism cannot be reformed to provide a rational, fair and stable economy.

With reason and goodwill mankind can survive and solve his problems. With hate and blind emotionalism nothing can be done. Although I do not expect reason and goodwill to be ushered in as a consequence of this letter. I do hope to stimulate thought. Without a rational social and economic structure to curb man's natural self-centredness I feel man’s prospects for survival are bleak.

Work creates value and value is represented by what it costs in real terms to maintain a worker and his/her dependants. Value of money derives from this source. There is no other criterion. The value of money is therefore automatically established and regulated and likewise the value of work resulting in goods and services.

Money finances work and profit. Profit is surplus money because it passes through the system without financing work. True, the worker handles the profit but it remains surplus because it has not acquired value by work.

Surplus money in the system dilutes the value of money. Decline in money value leads to higher prices, shedding of labour and efforts to increase efficiency. These actions are designed to defend the value of profits. Further measures, related to control of money flow, are often necessary. Once the value of profits has been restored, the measures referred to are no longer relevant and the next cycle of profitable economic activity is resumed.

The measure of the changing value of money is given by the ratio, rate of decline in money value relative to the rate at which money acquires value through work. If no surplus money existed in the economy, clearly, there would be no decline in the value of money.

Capitalism must constantly find new sources for investment because if investment stopped profits could not be made. Armaments and destruction caused by wars are sources for profitable investment.
L. F. Hollands 
Tunbridge Wells

It is true that capitalism operates anarchically — it cannot be reformed in such a way as to solve its basic problems. This is not to say that it is “irrational"; it is an episode in historical and social development and as such it has played a useful role. It is now hampering human progress and must therefore be abolished.

The working class are overflowing with reason and goodwill; if it were otherwise they would not be able to organise and operate the industrial, financial and commercial organs of capitalism. Human behaviour and ideas are not abstract matters; they spring from the material conditions which we find around us and which we can work on and change. If at times people behave in ways which can be seen as greedy (a concept which will not be valid in a society of free access to wealth) this is because they have been raised and conditioned in a system of class privilege, of riches for the few and scarcity for the many. In such a society, survival itself is often a matter of acquisition. In spite of all these pressures, people continually act in a cooperative, selfless, sacrificial way. For every action which can be seen as self-centred and anti-social there are masses of others which testify to the opposite.

Work — or labour, or the application of human labour-power — produces value or, if we like, it creates value; it adds to the value of the sum of commodities which go into each productive process. The value of a commodity, in broad general terms, is fixed by the amount of socially necessary labour involved in its production. This also applies to the commodity labour power, the value of which depends on what is needed to reproduce the worker's energies and person. Work — or labour — does not have value since it is not a commodity; it is the process through which certain values are transferred into a product and surplus value created. Surplus value is the source of profit. Money acts as the circulator of commodities, through which their prices can be expressed and compared.

Thus profit is not money which has passed through "the system" without financing work; it arises from the process of labour and may be applied as further investment. Workers do not “handle” profit, if by this it is inferred that any of it accrues to them; profit is related to labour since, as we have said, it arises from the surplus value which can be produced only through labour.

The purchasing power of money is reduced — that is, prices rise — through the issue of currency in excess of that required for the circulation of commodities. An inflated currency is inconvertible into gold and can be issued in theoretically unlimited amounts — which seemed to be about to happen in Germany after World War I. Inflation does not lead to a slump; in 1925 this country returned to the Gold Standard, which effectively prevented currency inflation but a few years afterwards British capitalism was caught in a world-wide recession and was forced off the Gold Standard, which allowed currency inflation and caused rising prices.

Capitalism goes in a continuing cycle of boom, slump, recovery, boom, slump, and so on. This process exists independent of financial ruses and adjustments; it is an inescapable result of the basic anarchy of capitalism’s system of production for sale and profit.

Capitalism is driven by its need to accumulate capital and in that sense it must always seek new areas of investment. Armaments are one type of commodity and the need to rebuild after a war also offers a wide field for capital investment. This is not to say that, as is so often believed, capitalists in the arms industries are responsible for modern war. Like the other inhuman effects of capitalism, war results from the fundamental character of the system — in this case the conflict of interests inherent in producing wealth for sale as distinct from human use.

L. F. Hollands seems to agree with the proposition that capitalism can neither be controlled nor made to work in the interests of the majority. Clearly, s/he should be considering the socialist alternative.

Why We Are Hostile (1983)

From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rhetoric of an outdated system is always painful to the ears, and last month was a period of sustained aural pain, with each of the capitalist parties assembling to indulge in collective fantasies called policymaking. With outlooks ranging from self- deceit to knowing fraudulence. the rosette-wearers of the profit system gathered around their leaders in the hope that by following like sheep they wouldn’t be fleeced. The conference season is a period of mass idiocy, of suspension of disbelief, of applause for empty phrases, and faith based on illusion.

The capitalist parties had plenty to discuss. The Conservative Party is in power until 1988 after having won a landslide victory with 43 per cent of the electors voting for it. One wonders what a narrow victory would look like. The Labour Party was smashed at the polls, receiving its worst vote since 1918 and only just maintaining its right to call itself the opposition party. It must have been a bad defeat, for Tony Benn, who lost his seat, rejoiced in the Guardian that the election was a great victory for Labour. The SDP won about as many seats as they have policies and, instead of breaking moulds, Roy Jenkins resigned and Dr. Owen was left to look after the wounded. The Liberals did so badly that the Man of Steel went down with depression and took three months off with paid leave, Mediterranean beaches and yellow valium. Unfortunately, the mugs who follow Steel had to be content with going back to work on 10 June and hoping that they aren’t proportionately represented in the dole queues.

If appearances are to be believed, all the political parties are supposed to be different: different leaders, different programmes, different philosophies, different manifestoes, different styles. On the surface these distinguishing features are not to be doubted. But more significantly than all of these differing characteristics, these parties which appear to be locked in eternal conflict are fundamentally united in their total commitment to maintaining the capitalist system. They argue passionately about the best schemes for re-organising capitalism so as to make it problem-free, but none of them proposes any policy which is not based on the continuation of the system. Indeed, most of them have no comprehension of the system which they are endeavouring to administer; they are like blind men trying to rearrange the furniture in a slum: firstly, they cannot see the nature of the structure in which they are operating; secondly, they cannot see that the tools are available with which they can demolish the slum and build a palace. So, we do not blame individual members of the capitalist parties — or, more accurately, the different wings of The Capitalist Party — because most of them are quite ignorant of the foolish wastefulness of their political efforts.

Capitalism is a social system. It is not a “policy” which one can either encourage or discourage. It does not come to life only when the Tories are in power. It is not a moral description of an unhappy state of affairs, but an objective label for a set of social relationships which are historically transitory. Capitalism runs in accordance with its own social laws, the most important of which is that wealth takes the form of commodities for sale on the market with a view to profit. It is no accident that needs go unmet under capitalism when it is unprofitable to satisfy them: the problems resulting from market anarchy are endemic to the system. That is why reformism — the assumption that the symptoms of capitalism can be cured without removing the cause — is bound to fail, whatever political form it takes. That is why all the parties of capitalism, whether of its Left or Right wings, are destined to failure.

Most workers do not belong to any political party. Indeed, approximately 25 per cent of the electorate in the last general election were so indifferent to the parties of capitalism that they did not bother to vote. Those who vote often do so out of custom (“My father always voted Labour”) or for negative reasons (“I'll vote for whoever will keep Thatcher out”) or for one policy (“I don’t agree with Liberal policy, but I’m in favour of reforming the electoral system”). Thousands of voters will admit that they can see no difference between the parties, but they vote for one or the other in pure hope. There are others who are attracted to parties which seem to be standing for something different: the SDP benefited from this factor as did, to a far lesser extent, the Ecology Party. The number of workers who are fully committed to the support of all, or even most, of the policies of any of the capitalist parties is remarkably small. For example, one has to search for some time to discover a Labour Party member who will defend the Labour Party as it is; most Labourites belong to a party which they imagine will one day exist, but which bears little relation to the current model. Acquiescence rather than support is what the workers give to the parties of capitalism.

The party conferences, while differing in style, are all concerned with one agenda: how to run capitalism. If you add up all of the people who attended all of the political conferences — and even if you added to that figure all of the people who participated in voting to instruct them on what to do at the conferences — you will arrive at a small fraction of the British population. The fact is that capitalist politics is an activity which only gains any kind of active participation by workers at election time, and even then only about three in four bother. So, although the control of the capitalists over the British state machine is firm and tight, we should not forget the weakness on which that grip is based.

It is well worth watching the political conferences on television. Of course, they are excruciatingly dull; they repeat the same, redundant debates; they cheer the same rousing slogans which will lead to the same bitter disillusion to which the political “solutions” of capitalism have always led. But, for all that, it is fascinating to watch the political dinosaurs at play.

There is not much to say about the SDP conference except that it was dull. The members looked like refugees from Martini adverts and the leaders looked like Blue Peter models, constructed out of old editorials from the Guardian. David Owen stated that the SDP must be committed to the market system and that was about all he needed to have said to qualify for membership of The Capitalist Party of Great Britain. He urged the SDP members to be altruistic (which they would have to be if they were following him) and not to be ashamed of being "middle class”. In fact, the majority of the SDPers are members of the working class, forced to sell their labour power for a wage or salary.

The Liberal Party Conference is always a jolly affair to observe. This year’s “big issue” was whether there should be a deputy leader and, apparently, Cyril Smith was upset because he was not called to the platform to proclaim his unself-interested views on the matter. The Liberals also decided to unite Ireland, ban Cruise missiles, negotiate for world peace and provide equal rights to all animals, without distinction of sex or fur colour. When they have done all that they will give serious consideration to the legalisation of cannabis — a large amount of which one would have to consume before imagining that the Liberals have a hope in hell of forming a government north of Devon. David Steel, in his Leader’s address to the Harrogate faithful, dug out a quotation from Oliver Cromwell about the need to know what you want and to be determined to get it. Oppressed furry animals and depressed woolly minds will be watching Protector Steel and Prince Charles will be keeping his distance from Harrogate.

The Labour Party met in Brighton and the chairman, in his opening address, made it clear that it was time for the Broad Church-goers to unite. They made clear their unity by expelling the editors of Militant — a move which united in opposition the vast majority of constituency Labour parties. It is well known by now that the L.abour conference is dominated, manipulated and turned into a parody of democracy by the block votes, representing millions of workers, at least half of whom do not vote Labour. What it is always hard to understand is how the majority of ordinary Labour Party members, including the CLP delegates who were repeatedly seen hissing and sighing every time the union juggernauts rolled over their policy proposals, can accept the indignity of membership of an organisation which they do not control. Being a Labourite is a sort of masochistic exercise in which one is repeatedly faced with destroyed hopes and pleasures deferred until next year. Of course, even if the Leftist proposals for capitalism were adopted — withdrawal from NATO, minimum wages, nationalisation “under workers' control”, control of the police by well-meaning trendies — the system would still carry on, just as disastrous as ever for those consigned to wage slavery.

For the sake of the pretence of unity, the half-baked radicalism of the Left had to be abandoned and the Conference accepted a document called New Hope For Britain, which reads like it has been written by a computer programmed by Hugh Gaitskell and operated by a man who can't quite make his mind up whether to join the SDP. As ever, the Labour Conference was an orgy of distortion of the concept of socialism. The term was used with such embarrassing misunderstanding of what it means that one can only conclude that socialism is to Labour what Heaven is to the Christian Church: a sort of catch-all term meaning “Something nice that will happen in the future, but not in our lifetime”. Labour's socialism is a Utopia — a future dream — a slogan to make the indignities of the present seem easier to administer. As Bernard Shaw once said, the Labour Party has as much to do with socialism as a sewing machine has with frying eggs.

Neil Kinnock
The first task of the Labour faithful was to choose a leader. Needless to say, nobody questioned whether it was necessary to have a leader. None of the followers voted to stop following. In the end. the reformist fantasists fell, appropriately enough, for a “dream ticket”. The poverty of imagination of a party which regards Kinnock and Hattersley as a dream is reminiscent of the advertisement-mums who get kicks out of seeing their son's underpants whiter than white. Of course, the Kinnock-Hattersley dream is a fantasy conspired by the pragmatists who seek to sell policies for capitalism like soap powder, with Boy Neil supplying the soft soap. Kinnock is without doubt an able rouser of emotions and an indignant opponent of the injustices of the system which he wants to keep intact. He peppers his reformist rhetoric with undefined references to "socialism”, but in his main speech to the conference he, like Owen of Salford, advocated no more than the tried and failed Keynesian plan for investment in British industry.

Two observations can be made about the outlook of the assembled Labourites. The first is their sickening self-righteousness. Dismissing any suggestion that social problems can be solved outside the confines of capitalism (not a single resolution debated in Brighton proposed abolition of the wages system, the market, money, classes and all the rest of capitalism’s hallmarks), the Labourites assume that by assuming a posture of moral indignation about the symptoms of the system they are somehow better than the Tory and Alliance reformists. A great deal of passionate language about peace is heard from these people, but when one comes to examine the policy which they overwhelmingly supported what does it add up to? Membership of the NATO mass killing organisation: support for increased expenditure on "civilised” weapons systems, such as the conventional niceties employed in the Falklands war; a policy of economic nationalism, including advocacy of import tariffs and Little Englander opposition to "becoming swallowed up by Europe”. The noises of Labourite peace and internationalism are so loud and convincing to the naive that it is easy to forget that, like the other capitalist parties, they have their policies for war and their nationalist prejudices. On racism, the Labour Party self-righteously claims to be the defender of the multi-racial outlook. Have they forgotten that it was Labour who first introduced racist immigration legislation into Britain? And, while we are exposing racism, did those who voted for Roy Hattersley as their Deputy Leader know that in the House of Commons on 23 March 1965 he stated:
  I now believe that there are social as well as economic arguments and I believe that unrestricted immigration can only produce additional problems, additional suffering and additional hardship unless some kind of limitation is imposed and continued
He went on to say that “We must impose a test which tries to analyse which immigrants . . . are most likely to be assimilated in our national life”.

Even on the old Tory favourite, Law and Order, Paul Boateng, the chairperson of the GLC Police Committee, told the conference that Labour must be seen as the party of law and order. Had he forgotten that it was the last Labour government which set up the notorious Special Patrol Group? So, despite the trendy pretensions to radicalism, the Labourites have no right to feel superior to their fellow supporters of capitalism in the other parties when it comes to the reality of politics.

The second feature of the Labour conference was its remarkable negativity. Its anti-Toryism was forceful, but no clues were given as to any serious alternative social strategy. The Labour Left's sectarianism is having the effect of turning Labour into a party which is quite persuasive when booing at the caricatures of Toryism, and even quite good at hissing at the consequences of the party’s past actions, but, as for anything positive at which to cheer, there was silence. The Labour Party, when it is not emulating the Tories and running capitalism in the only way it can be run, is a party which is only cut out for opposition. Like Foot before him, Kinnock is a good windbag, possessing all the requisite skills for stirring up the crowd against the wicked Thatcherites, but the politics of negativity and permanent hostility will never achieve anything. So. Labour faces a dilemma: what it has is a forceful leadership which is well cut out to oppose the inevitable disasters of capitalist government — but, in seeking to become the next capitalist government, it requires Kinnock et al to abandon the rhetoric of indignation and to administer the very system which causes that indignation. In so doing, Kinnock and those who support him will have to justify as “realistic” and “unavoidable” the very policies which they are now condemning.

And so to Blackpool, where the world discovered that Cecil Parkinson does have a talent for something after all. The Tory conference is a grotesquely ugly affair; no, not the blue-rinsed dames and executive twits, but the uniformity, smugness and meanness of spirit. The sight of a mob of privileged self-seekers, united in the aim of holding back history by whatever means, is a sickening spectacle for a socialist to behold. As Michael White in the Guardian rightly pointed out. all the speeches seemed to be complaining that repressive legislation was not going far enough. In King Lear there are two sisters, both of whom are consumed by a perverted desire to strip their father of his power and take it for themselves; one sister, represented at Blackpool by the Ministers, was pragmatic about her greed and wanted to do the dirty bit by bit. but the other was always eager to go further, to push inhumanity to its limits — she was the delegate for Epsom East. The accomplished Ministers know how far they can push the policies of class defence without the workers getting dangerously upset; the relics of evolution in the audience would stop at little short of full restoration of feudalism.

Everything at the Tory conference is — like its counterparts in Eastern Europe — carried unanimously. In only one debate were the daughters of Lear in conflict: the balloted resolution on immigration — or, to be candid, on keeping out blacks. The clearly racist motion, moved by the Billericay branch — a place for which no rational West Indian would entertain dreams of heading — called on the government to encourage black people to accept voluntary repatriation. A few of the old ladies in the front row thought it was about voluntary euthanasia and looked a bit worried, but Harvey Proctor MP, whose culture seems to have been swamped at birth, made it clear that what Mr Hattersley can think of in 1965 the Monday Club can improve upon in 1983. At a Monday Club meeting, shown on Newsnight (10 October), Terry Dicks, the Tory MP for Hayes, said that Britain should not provide a home for the undesirables that other countries did not want. Perhaps he is in favour of them being made to take Brother Hattersley’s “test”. The anti-immigration motion was lost (on the grounds that the government could be relied on to be quite racist enough without the encouragement of Proctor and Dicks) and the rest was clapping.

It was, then, a busy month. Reporting the conferences before my television set, supplied with boiled sweets by the Socialist Standard's editorial committee, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the Capitalist Party is as set in its dinosaur ways as ever it was. The conferences are like underground happenings, reported to the world above but having no real effect on the family with no home or the worker without a job or the teenager who is not sure whether she will be an adult before the bomb puts an end to us all. What can one say about the deliberations of the reformists of the Capitalist Party? They are irrelevant to our needs; they have no political answers; their agendas are constructed from the misery which they can never eradicate; their sincerity is wasted and their dishonesty is grotesque. If they never again uttered another word, issued another policy statement, appointed another leader, assembled at another conference, the world could only be better off. They are all “but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other party”. But we are not only hostile to them — the socialist objective for which we stand is far, far bigger than the miserable band of political relics which stands in our way.
Steve Coleman

The Truth About the Co-operative 
Movement. (1932)

From the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Baillie J. P. Dollan, writing in the New Leader (27th May, 1932), sympathetically reviewed the decisions of the recent Co-operative Congress, and supplied some interesting facts and figures relating to the Co-operative movement.

Co-operation has always been presented to the workers with a double appeal. The appeal to their immediate interests, in the shape of cheaper commodities, plus dividends, and the promise of Socialism as a result of every industry being brought under Co-operative control.

If all this were true, then the very moderate success of the Co-op. after a century of effort seems to prove that the workers want neither cheap commodities and dividends, nor Socialism. For what could be more alluring than the prospect held out to them? Buy in the cheapest market, keep all profits for themselves and, at the same time, pave the way to a system where they would be free from capitalist exploitation. As a slogan it is ideal, but as a working hypothesis it will not stand a moment's logical examination.

Co-operation cannot beat capitalism at its own game, and even if all the workers spent all their wages at Co-op. stores, the latter could only employ a. very small proportion of them.

At present the total share capital of the retail business is £119,000,000, while the sales amount to £210,000,000. Baillie Dollan expresses the view that these figures show a serious weakness. He says that the turnover should be at least five or six times as great as the capital. He says further: —
  There has thus been an increase in share and loan capital and in savings bank deposits during a period of trade depression, while sales have decreased. This.is not healthy finance, because the increase in capital and the decrease in sales compels the adoption of a policy which will insure a financial return on the investment, rather than the adoption of a policy which will lead to increased sales, because of reduced prices and improved values.
Savings bank deposits, although only a small proportion of the total capital—just over £5,000,000 compared with £119,000,000—obtain their interest from the business. Both these sums are on the increase. The share capital increased by £6,500,000 and the savings increased by £114,976 during 1931. It will thus be seen that the Co-op. is already well on the usual capitalist road of over- capitalisation.

But this is not the full story of the hollowness of the Co-op. when considered as a merely capitalist business. With a Membership of 6,626,492, plus family dependents, it does a retail trade of £210,000,000, an average of £10 per member per annum. It is apparent, therefore, that the majority of the members must find it cheaper to do most of their shopping elsewhere.

Apart from its propaganda, the Co-op. does an enormous amount of advertising in the ordinary capitalist way. It issues constant appeals to trade unionists, and it returns to members, in the shape of dividends, a small percentage on every pound spent with them. Yet up to the present their success can be summed up in the statement that they have six-and-a-half million members who spend on the average sevenpence daily with them for things they require.

This would be most regrettable if there really were any principles in co-operation essentially different from those of capitalism. But as the main ideas forming the basis of co-operation have been faithfully copied from capitalist business, their lack of success does little harm to the workers.

It is, of course, only the leaders and busybodies in the movement who seriously suggest that cooperation can expand until it displaces capitalism. The rank and file do not share such long-distance views to any extent. Moreover, the leaders in the movement have never made it clear how a business run on capitalist lines can evolve into something that is the opposite of capitalism. To be fair to Mr. Dollan, his most ambitious expectations are that co-operation ought to be able to afford an economic service in the transition period between capitalism and Socialism for the lower paid grades of the working class. He even goes so far as to say that it is unable to do this because of the dividend and interest system. In other words, because of its capitalist nature.

This dependence on the owners of capital is common to many forms of Labour activity, industrial or political. Every Labour newspaper. and magazine is subject to the dictation of the shareholders who own it. The provision of capital for any form of enterprise is always conditional that control as to policy goes with it. The control may be delegated, but it is there all the same.

The workers in Co-operative stores and factories have no delusions about their employment. They are at the mercy of officials and foremen, just as other workers, and find it just as necessary to organise against reductions in wages. Their hours and wages are no better than the average for their particular calling. The fact that they are employed by the Co-op. means no more to them than if employed by a city corporation.

Co-operation bears no relation to Socialism. It no more leads to Socialism than does co-partnership or nationalisation. It may be said that the workers learn by their co-operative experiences that they cannot escape from capitalist slavery by any of these roads. But it is far easier and less painful to learn facts of this kind by knowledge and reasoning than by experience.

If we note the essential facts about any question, then weigh and compare them in the mind, we form a judgment, or reach a conclusion more or less correct according to the truth of our facts and the soundness of our reasoning.

In any case, before we can understand co-operation it is necessary to understand capitalism, of which co-operation is a part. The first essential fact about capitalism that compels our notice is the necessity imposed on every member of the Working-class of finding a job. Which, translated into exact terms means, finding a purchaser for his labour- power. This obligation stands out above everything else. It is the most outstanding feature of capitalist society, dwarfing everything else into insignificance. Because it is the greatest factor in the worker’s life, it is the starting point from which to reason towards a complete explanation of working class poverty.

How he gets his living is the most important fact of every man’s life. That he is forced to sell his energy because a class of idlers own the means of production makes him a slave to that class. In every discussion affecting his position, this should take precedence of any mere modifications of that position.

The solution to this state of things is quite obviously the exact opposite of present arrangements. The means of production and distribution, instead of being class-owned, must be made the common property of the human race, to be used by them according to an agreed plan for the benefit of the people as a whole. It is a common complaint of labour leaders and others that the workers cannot agree on a definite policy for their own benefit. That is a stupid complaint, because no one in this country, apart from the S.P.G.B., has ever presented to the workers a policy of action based on the essential facts of their existence on which can agree.

Every worker knows he must sell his labour-power in order to live. But few workers see in that fact, and the conditions behind it, the cause of their poverty. The constitution of society imposing that condition on them is the result of evolution, and appears to the individual as being quite “natural,” as well as rigidly established. Thus even when he first glimpses the truth, the only result is a feeling of helplessness, amid the forces that surround him.

Among these forces are ignorance and confusion. Innumerable organisations and parties are continually telling the workers of reforms, policies and schemes .that will bring them relief in the present or emancipate them in the distant future. Life is short, and the workers rise to the bait of “something now.” Instead of critically examining all proposals, they put their faith in those who promise, only to find, when too late, that they have merely helped a few more adventurers to place or power.

The Co-operative Societies, on their propagandist side, are among these confusionists. On the economic side they are merely capitalist concerns out for profits. As to purchasers’ dividends, they are not alone in giving something back in order to retain customers. The practice of giving coupons entitling purchasers to free gifts is quite common, and the article bought, plus the free gift, is generally the equivalent in value of the price paid. The fact that co-operators spend such a small proportion of their wages in the stores proves they are not deceived on the question of value for money. To the bulk of them the Co-op. is just a convenient place to shop.

But so far as Co-op. leaders hold out hopes to the workers that their support will help towards a new order of society, or will even provide an escalator to reach it, they are practising deceit. The only way out for the workers, is to organise politically for that special purpose. A special objective requires a special organisation for its achievement. Moreover, the objective must not be obscured by lesser things of little or no importance.

Dividends and profits can have no place within a socialist system of society. They belong to the present lop-sided arrangement of starving workers and over-fed idlers. Dividends and profits belong to capitalism, and the practice of co-operation helps to keep them alive in the minds of the workers, to the detriment of a true understanding of their real position.
F. Foan

Do You Like Coffee? (1932)

From the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following interesting sidelight on capitalism is a Reuter message from New York, published in the Daily Telegraph (5th July, 1932): —
  More than 1,000,000,000 lbs. of coffee, worth over £10,000,000, have been destroyed in Brazil by the National Coffee Council in its efforts to stabilise the price of coffee. According to the New York Sugar and Coffee Exchange, the amount destroyed before June 18 was 7,786,000 bags of 132 lbs. each, or a total of 1,027,752,000 lbs.
  The original plan of the Council contemplated a total destruction of 18,000,000 bags.

A New Pamphlet in Preparation. (1932)

Party News from the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

A 48-page pamphlet is being prepared, dealing with the principles of the S.P.G.B., and will be ready shortly. At the same time the pamphlet, “Socialism," will need to be reprinted, as the old edition is almost exhausted. We have recently incurred heavy outlay on publishing "The Socialist Party of Great Britain and Questions of the Day." In order to publish the new pamphlet and republish “Socialism," a considerable sum of money will be required. We are anxious to publish many pamphlets, only lack of funds stands in the way. The donations already received have enabled us to publish two pamphlets this year, and further donations will enable us to publish another. We, therefore, invite donations to be sent to the Treasurer, 42, Gt. Dover Street, S.E.1.

Letter: Marx and Dictatorship (1932)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter From A Correspondent.
Under the above heading, the Socialist Standard for June chose to answer a perfectly fair question by twisting and misconstruing a clear statement of Engels into an anti-class struggle position by adding to it a typical S.P.G.B. “explanatory interpretation.” The statement quoted ran, “ . . . Then look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This statement was “clarified,” save the mark! You went on to show how the Paris Commune was an instance of majority democratic control with, of course, no suppression of minorities. Minorities had their newspapers and were allowed to carry on their propaganda. In point of fact, they were, according to you, generally and generously “protected” by the “good” working-class dictatorship.

Then you contrast this beautiful fancy against Russia, with its ruthless suppression of all minorities, and draw the vicious anti-working class conclusion that you are right and the Bolshevist wrong.

You, as individuals, editors, contributors and members of the S.P.G.B., have every “right” to express opinions like the foregoing, but neither you nor anyone else has the slightest right to make, or try to make, Marx or Engels responsible for such cowardly opinions.

I am going to quote from Engels, but before doing so I want to say that the quotations which I will use need no "interpretations” from the S.P.G.B., or anybody else. They are clarity itself! Engels, writing on the Anti-authoritarians of his day, says;:
  “These gentlemen, have they ever seen a revolution? A revolution is the most authoritative thing possible. Revolution is an act in which part of the population forces its will on the other part by means of rifles, bayonets, cannon, i.e., by the most authoritative means. And the conquering party is inevitably forced to maintain its supremacy by means of that fear which its arms inspires in the reactionaries.
  “Had the Paris Commune not relied on the armed people against the bourgeoisie, would it have lasted longer than a single day ?
   “May we not rather censure the Commune for not having made sufficient use of its authority?”
Again Engels, in a letter to Bebel, after pointing out the ahsurdity of a Free People’s State in a revolutionary period, says:—
  “As the State is only a transitional institution which we are obliged to use in the revolutionary struggle in order to forcibly crush our opponents, it is a pure absurdity to talk of a 'Free People's State.’ During the period that the proletariat still needs the State, it does not require it in the interest of ‘Freedom,’ but in the interest of crushing its antagonists . . ."  
And so any Marxist could go on quoting. But it is when you make the stupid blunder of contrasting the Russian “departure” from “equality” in wages and their “resorting” to inequality that you really relinquish all right to be considered seriously as Socialists, and take your true place as “just another one of those opposed to the growing power of the Working Class all over the world and particularly in Soviet Russia.!’

Try, if you can, to get the idea contained in the common Marxism : Equal “right” is a bourgeois “right” and will wither away as the State withers away, until real justice for Humanity shall establish itself in what would appear to-day as inequality, and we shall realise to the full that pregnant sentence—“ From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
W. D., 

If W.D. would use his intelligence, instead of his temper, he would try to meet arguments based on facts instead of foolish remarks.

It is a fact that Engels wrote: —
  The German Philistine has lately been thrown once again into wholesome paroxisms by the expression “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Well, gentle sirs. would you like to know how this dictatorship looks? Then look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Paris Commune, p. 20, New York Labor News Co.)
It is a fact that Marx described the Commune in the following words: —
  The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman's wages. (Page 74.)
  While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority-usurping preeminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society. Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling Class was to represent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business. And it is well known that companies, like individuals, in matters of real business generally know how to put the right man in the right place, and, if they for once make a mistake, to redress it promptly. On the other hand, nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture. (P. 76.)
Of Russia it was and is a fact that universal suffrage is superseded by hierarchic investiture.

It is a fact that Russia is one of the most bureaucracy-ridden countries in the world, and that the police and all the officials of the administration are the agents of the Central Government—the Central Committee of the Communist Party—and are not revocable at the behest of the majority of the Russian people.

It is a fact that the officials of the Russian Government do not perform their duties at workmen’s wages in the sense Marx used the term.

The above are a few of the host of fundamental differences between the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet Republic.

We will quote the evidence of Lenin. Speaking at the 4th Congress of the Communist International in 1922, and enumerating the reasons the Bolsheviks made mistakes, he said : —
  A fourth reason is the nature of our State apparatus. One of our misfortunes was that we had to take over the old state apparatus. The State apparatus often works against us. It is a matter of history that in the year 1917, when we had seized power, the State apparatus practised sabotage against us. We were greatly alarmed, and said: “Please come back to us”—and they all came back. That was our misfortune; We have now an enormous mass of officials, but we still lack a sufficient quantity of trained energies to keep them under proper control.
  In actual practice we often find that here at the top, where we exercise the powers of State, the apparatus works all right, whereas lower down the officials do as they please, and what they please to do is to work against our measures.
  At the top we have a few—I do not know the exact number—I am sure it is only a few thousand, or at a maximum, a few ten thousands—of our people; in the lower grades we have hundreds of thousands of officials bequeathed to us from Czarist clays or taken over by us from capitalist society. To some extent deliberately and to some extent unconsciously, they work against us. (The Communist, 16th December, 1922.)
From the above it will be seen that the Bolsheviks took over the old state apparatus, whereas the Commune did not. Since Lenin’s speech, Stalin and company have developed this state apparatus into a huge overshadowing power that crushes out all who disagree on particular points of policy with the small clique at the top. Heresy hunts and the activities of the secret police remind one of the extent the ideas of the Middle Ages affect Bolshevik activity. Trotsky and others have already found this out to their cost.

In further illustration of the undemocratic nature of the Russian Dictatorship as compared with the Paris Commune, let us quote once again the statement of Zinovieff at the 1st Congress of the 3rd International in March, 1919: —
   Our Central Committee has decided to deprive certain categories of party members the right to vote at the Congress of the Party. Certainly it is unheard of to limit the right of voting within the party, but the entire party has approved this measure, which is to insure the homogeneous unity of the Communists.
  So that, in fact, we have 500,000 members who manage the entire State machine from top to bottom. (The Socialist, 29th April 1920.)
Now, W.D., would you mind informing us what kind of a “working class dictatorship" this is from which not only the working class but even members of the ruling party are excluded ? Is this the form under which “real justice for humanity" (whatever this empty bourgeois phrase means!) will "establish itself"?

Let us now take the two extracts from pages 64 and 67 of Lenin’s “State and Revolution," that have been quoted by our opponent. W.D. says they need no "interpretation" from us or anybody else. Having doctored the quotations by tearing them from their context, he naturally objects to analysis.

The first is a quotation from an article written in 1873, by Engels, in an Italian paper against the Anarchists who "denied every form of authority, of subordination, of power." The whole of the quotation given by Lenin on page 64 is as follows: — .
  If the Autonomists merely meant to say that the social organisation of the future would admit authority only within those limits which the conditions of industry inevitably dictate, then it would be possible to come to an understanding with them. But they are blind in respect of all the facts which make authority necessary, and they fight passionately against a mere word.
  Why do not the Anti-Authoritarians limit themselves to shouting against the political authority, against the State? All Socialists agree that the State, and together with it, also political authority, will vanish as the result of the future Socialist Revolution, i.e., that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into simple administrative functions, concerned with social interests. But the Anti-Authoritarians demand that the political State should be abolished at one
blow, even before those social relations which gave birth to the State are themselves abolished. They demand that the first act of the Social Revolution shall be the abolition of all authority..
 These gentlemen, have they ever seen a Revolution? Revolution is undoubtedly the most authoritative thing possible. Revolution is an act in which part of the population forces its will on the other part by means of rifles, bayonets, cannons, i.e., by the most authoritative means. And the conquering party is inevitably forced to maintain its supremacy by means of that fear which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Had the Paris Commune not relied on the authority of the armed people, against the bourgeoisie, would it have lasted longer than a single day? May we not. rather censure the Commune for not having made sufficient use of this authority? And so either the Anti-Authoritarians themselves do not know what they are talking about, in which case they merely sow confusion, or they do know what they are talking about, in which case they are betraying the proletariat. In either case they serve only the interests of reaction. 
If Engels' statement is analysed, and not blindly bolted, it is obvious that he was arguing against those who were opposed to the capture and use of political power. Engels and the S.P.G.B. maintain that political power must be captured by the workers and used as an agent of emancipation. Engels also means that it shall be the work of the majority, hence his reference to the Paris Commune. Engels nowhere says that a minority of the population shall force its will on the majority, nor does he say that the minority shall not be.allowed to express their views. He is not dealing with that point. He is only concerned that the will of the conquering party shall prevail, that it shall remain supreme. In other words, that when the majority are in favour of Socialism, and obtain control of political power, they will not allow the minority to prevent them from setting about the establishment of Socialism. He suggests that the Commune might be censured for not having made sufficient use of their authority, and we have also put forward the same view in different articles on the Commune. But this has nothing to do with the question of democracy.

The second quotation from page 66 of Lenin's book is taken from a private letter to Bebel by Engels, criticising the “Gotha programme" of 1875. Again Engels was concerned with the Anarchist's criticism of the State, and he objected to the use of the term "Free State" in the programme.
  The Free People's State has been transformed into a Free State. According to the grammatical meaning of the words, the Free State is one in which the State is free in relation to its citizens, that is. a State with a despotic government. It would be well to throw overboard all this nonsense about the State, especially after the Commune, which was already no longer a State in the proper sense of the word.
  The Anarchists have too long been able to throw in our teeth this “People’s State,” although already, in Marx’s works against Proudhon, and then in the “Communist Manifesto,” it was stated quite plainly that with the introduction of the Socialist order of society, the State will dissolve of itself, and will disappear, as the State is only a transitional institution which we are obliged to use in the revolutionary struggle in order forcibly to crush our opponents, it is a pure absurdity to speak of a Free People’s State. During the period when the proletariat needs the State, it does not require it in the interests of freedom, but in the interests of crushing its antagonists; and when it becomes possible really to speak of freedom, then the State, as such, ceases to exist. We should, therefore, suggest that everywhere the word State be replaced by Gemeinwesen (Commonwealth), a fine old German word, which corresponds to the French word "Commune."
Take the expression, “crushing its antagonists” in the above, and, putting it along with all Engels’ other writings on the subject, what meaning can be taken from it except the crushing of those who try to frustrate the carrying out of the will of the majority? Engels certainly did not mean that one portion of the working class party should use state power to prevent another part from having a voice in policy.

In Engels' criticism of the German Social Democratic draft programme of 1891, he said: —
   If anything is certain, it is this, that our party and the working class can only achieve power under the form of the democratic Republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(The Labour Revolution, Kautsky, p.67).
Finally, let us hear the voice of one who should know something of Russia: —
 We know from older books that workers' bureaucracy and workers' aristocracy is the social foundation for opportunism. In Russia this phenomenon has taken on new forms. On the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat—in a backward country—surrounded by capitalism—for the first time a powerful bureaucratic apparatus has been created from among the upper layers of the workers, that is, raised above the masses, that lays down the law to them, that has at its disposal colossal resources, that is bound together by an inner mutual responsibility and that intrudes into the policies of a workers* government in its own interests, methods and regulations.
   . . . The entire leading stratum of the party that was at the helm during the revolution and the civil war has been replaced, removed and crushed. Their place has been taken by an anonymous functionary. At the same time the struggle against bureaucratism which was so acute in character during Lenin's lifetime, when the bureaucracy was not yet out of its diapers, has ceased entirely now when the apparatus has grown sky high.
  And, indeed, who is there capable of carrying on this struggle? The party, as a self-controlling vanguard of the proletariat, no longer exists now. The party apparatus has been fused with the administrative. The most important instrument of the general line within the party is the G.P.U. The bureaucracy not only prohibits the criticism of the top from below but it prohibits its theoreticians from even talking about it and from noticing it. (Trotzky, quoted from the Militant by the One Big Union Bulletin, 16/6/1932.)
Perhaps the above is an illustration of the "growing power of the workers"!

Finally, W. D., if you would analyse what you write, you might think more clearly. For instance, when you say "contrasting the Russian 'departure' from 'equality' in wages and their 'resorting' to 'inequality,' " what do you mean? What is contrasted? Again, how "Equal 'Right' " "wither away"? Again, when we quote Marx's statements as to the nature of the Commune, how are we contrasting "this beautiful fancy against Russia"? If, as it appears, you are in favour of the "ruthless suppression of all minorities," why do you say: "You, as individuals, editors, contributors, and members of the S.P.G.B., have every 'right' to express opinions like the foregoing"? At least be logical! '