Tuesday, October 8, 2019

50 Years Ago: Co-operation — a Hopeless Experiment (1973)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over a hundred years ago Robert Owen conceived the idea of organising a new society in the midst of the old. He thought the workers could band themselves together into producing and distributing groups, spread over the whole of society, and eventually freeze the capitalist out. Subsequently he had to modify his ideas somewhat, owing to the strength of the opposition, and tried experiments by establishing cooperative colonies on comparatively virgin soil — but, of course, with people brought up in capitalist surroundings. These experiments all ended in disaster; they ultimately ruined him and demonstrated the futility of attempting to found ideal societies in a capitalist world.

There was an excuse for the dreams of the heroic and good-intentioned Owen. In his time knowledge of the organisation and development of society was comparatively small; and he was one of those by whose disastrous experiments later generations were to acquire a sound understanding. Since his time social investigators have piled up literally mountains of information showing how one form of society grows out of another, owing to the operation of forces that already exist in the old society; and that a new society is never grafted on to the old, as it were, from the outside.

In Owen’s day the capital required to start an important industry was but a tiny fraction of what is required today; and the power that lies in the hands of those controlling the State was not yet sufficiently realised by the oppressed class or its would-be deliverers. The powerful capitalists have it in their hands to smash to pieces, whenever they wish, any rising productive or distributing organisation that challenges their existence, long before such an organisation could reach any serious proportions. The very fact that they make no serious effort to interfere with the development of the various Co-operative Societies shows that they expect no dangerous opposition from these societies.
(From an article by Gilmac in the Socialist Standard, July 1923)

The Class Struggle, Reforms & the Unions (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The interminable nonsense talked about the nature of the class struggle by Trotskyists, Young Labourites and Communists does much to hold back class consciousness. According to these empty vessels, every possible aspect of working-class action, real or potential, is part of the class struggle: protests against the Government’s prices policy, squatting, and demands for higher pensions, lower rents, higher Social Security payments, etc., are all part of the class struggle. In fact reformist activities in support of these aims cannot solve the problems they are about. The Class Puzzle would be more appropriate to these utterly useless activities, and not the class struggle.

The class struggle is a struggle between collective Capital, i.e. the class of capitalists or employers, and collective Labour, i.e. the working class. A class is a category with common economic interests, the interests defining the class. The interests of employers and workers are diametrically opposed. The capitalists’ interest is to continue private ownership of the means of production, and to appropriate as much as he can of the social product (wealth) which is currently produced by the working class. The working class resist this process by taking defensive action, mainly through trade unions and strike action. Their economic interests can only lie in the removal of the conditions which give rise to this struggle. This means the abolition of capitalism and the replacement of private ownership by common ownership (Socialism). It is not possible to reconcile these opposing interests. The class struggle is an organic part of the capitalist system of production and consequently is inseparable from its operation.

This is the Issue
The whole social and economic system rests on the capitalists’ control of the political machinery. That control in turn is based on the support of the majority of the population who either actively or by default vote for political parties who propose to continue and administer the capitalist method of production. Alternative methods of administering capitalism through a Labour Government in this country, or a Communist Government in Russia or China, do not materially alter the basic position. It is perfectly clear that the class struggle is ultimately a struggle for political power, the issue being Common Ownership vs. Private Ownership. There is no half-way house. This is the revolutionary proposition, and this is the sole issue upon which Socialists seek political support.

It is not the function of a Socialist Party to advocate, support, or oppose, or otherwise participate in reformist issues. This includes agitation or protest against the withdrawal of any reform previously granted; for example, the withdrawal of housing subsidies, or school milk and Health services, or protests against rising prices — to quote a few recent examples.

Reformist schemes designed to improve the lot of workers under Capitalism can never express Socialist political activity in the class struggle, or have any prospect of achieving a Socialist revolution, and it is a waste of the workers’ time and energy to attempt to improve capitalism. But instead of workers using their votes to abolish Capitalism, they use the same vote to keep it going, even if on a temporary reform basis. This is not in their interests, either in the short or long term, as history has shown. Whilst the “welfare of the working class” under capitalism is not worth the effort wasted on trying to enhance it, the political welfare of the working class is our concern, and ours alone.

Interests & Understanding
This is why we are hostile to those political parties and groups, be they Right Wing or Left Wing, who mislead the workers by pretending that their real interests lie in making capitalism more comfortable. Communists, Trotskyists, Labour, International Socialists, etc. even describe their reformist activities as leading to Socialism. Typical of the stupidity and worse was the advice given recently by the Socialist Worker (I.S.) to workers during the recent G.L.C. Elections—
  The socialist case for voting Labour does not depend on any assumption that the Labour Party will carry out its pledges. We know very well that, in general, it will not carry them out, indeed cannot carry them out because it is committed to making capitalism work. We know it, but millions of workers disagree . . . Power is the test. And so we urge all our readers to swallow their distaste and vote Labour — vote Labour without illusions but vote Labour. (Socialist Worker, 7th April, 1973).
Similar advice was given by the Communist Party, who condemn the Labour Party as being a Capitalist Government, and then advise workers to vote for it.

The struggle to obtain or retain reforms, i.e. changes in capitalism made by and through the machinery of government in such fields as housing, pensions, health, education, Family Allowances, or political activity over prices, wage freezes and high rents, is not part of the class struggle, because such activity accepts and favours the retention of private property. It is no excuse to justify this on the grounds that the workers are unable or unwilling to understand Socialism, and that their lives should be made a little easier in the meantime. This is the Gospel of Despair. By the same political act (the vote) the workers can obtain Socialism. What is lacking is Socialist understanding. If that is so, then it is the plain duty of those who do understand to devote their entire activity to the spread of Socialist ideas.

Reforms are not revolutionary, and it is highly debatable whether or not they are effective in the long or short term. The main point which is sometimes forgotten is that the introduction or the withdrawal of any legislative measures endorsing reforms depend ultimately on the will of the capitalists who control the political machinery. It is they alone who have the final word, and their attitude will be determined by their economic and political interests and not on the particular merits of the reform, no matter what the social need.

What Unions Can Do
The struggle for higher wages, etc. is not reformist. It is an aspect of the class struggle. It is not the will of the capitalist that determines what wages he shall pay. As the product of labour is divided into Wages and Profits one cannot relatively expand without the other relatively contracting. Almost invariably the employers are opposed to higher wages, or shorter working hours, which is, in effect, the same thing. More money for less labour. Economic forces decide this issue. The Strike by workers, the Lockout by employers, wage increases are gained against the will of the employers, and wage reductions enforced against the will of the workers. This is open class conflict. Workers who take part in strike action, either inside or outside trade unions, are not committed to any particular political point of view. Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Labourites, Tories, Christians, will unite for the common objective — not through choice, but through necessity. They do not have to squander their votes to get higher wages as is the case with reforms.

Trade unions are not revolutionary institutions, neither are they political parties. They are an integral part of capitalism, and their rĂ´le is that of negotiating the conditions under which their members shall sell labour-power. They do not represent the interests of the working class, but the interests of their members. They are not Socialists and neither does Socialism depend on workers being trade unionists. Trade Unions who decide to extend their activities and press for political objectives, such as the reform of trade union law and government prices policy, or oppose various Government policies, and who are prepared to use the strike for these purposes, will find that the economic weapon is no match for the political power wielded by the capitalist class. Also, as protests and demonstrations are the stock-in-trade of Communists, Trotskyists, Labourites and other hangers on, trade unions who join in reformist agitations are no longer functioning as trade unions, but as reformist organizations.

It speaks volumes for the resourcefulness of the capitalist class that they are only being asked to contribute to the reformers’ begging bowl and will donate as the needs of capitalism dictate. Surely if the workers, using their most potent industrial weapon, the strike, cannot force the capitalist employers to disgorge their wealth beyond a certain point on the industrial field, what hope have they of getting any extra by appealing to their better nature on the political field?

A Socialist Party does not waste time and energy chasing reforms. It seeks political power for the sole purpose of abolishing capitalism.
Jim D'Arcy

Sorry ! (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

We apologise for the following errors in last month's Socialist Standard. First, Brezhnev had then not yet gone to Washington to conclude the Russo-American imperialist agreement (p. 83). Second, the quote from Marx on page 85 was from "The Preface" to The Critique of Political Economy not "The Introduction". Third, the Labour Party's GLC election manifesto (p. 87) was entitled A Socialist Strategy for London. Not that it had anything to do with Socialism of course.
Editorial Committee

Doing God (2012)

The Halo Halo! column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

“We don’t do God,” Alastair Campbell famously said when he had to rein in Tony Blair from voicing his religious delusions from Downing Street. But of course politicians have always ‘done’ God. And as they jumped on the god bandwagon in the run up to Easter he was well and truly done. Done so thoroughly that if he’d actually existed his head would be spinning and there would be steam coming out of his ears.

It started with George Galloway posing for the cameras and thanking God for his victory in the Bradford West by-election. Galloway, it must be admitted, has quite a way with words but by thanking the Almighty it would appear that he is even able to persuade him to cast his omnipotent influence on the election results.

A popular view (among the tabloids at least) was that Galloway won because he was able to convince the largely Islamic local population that because he didn’t drink, he had a beard and he was about to marry his fourth wife, he was in fact almost a Muslim. Whether that had an effect or not is anyone’s guess.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, gave an Easter address to re-assure gullible Christians that he most certainly wasn’t a Muslim. To make sure they got the message he hit them with a sanctimonious speech packed with references to the “redemption at God’s hand”, “the gift of grace”, a “saviour who died so that we might live”, and a “blessed and happy Easter to all Christians celebrating the resurrection.”

An alarming load of codswallop from the President of the United States. But if Americans don’t believe he’s a genuine U.S. citizen even after producing his birth certificate, perhaps they’ll fall for that load of old cobblers.

Back here David Cameron showed that he, too, can pontificate with the best of them. During his Easter effort he droned on about when “as Christians we remember the life, sacrifice and living legacy” of the invisible man in the sky. And in case anyone was sceptical about this fervent belief, he assured them that he welcomed a “Christian fight-back”.

He also mentioned his disagreement with the Church over their opposition to gay marriage, but he added “If this doesn’t go ahead, to those of us who’d like it to go ahead, there will still be civil partnerships”. And “I hope we won’t fall out too much over gay marriage.”

The American ‘Christian Post’ website honed in on this part of Cameron’s speech. “British Prime Minister David Cameron has pleaded for Christians in the country to stick by him despite his attempts to legalise same sex marriage in the U.K.,” it told them.

Well God takes a dim view of this kind of thing in America. And so, too, do his barmy supporters at the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. These are the people who picket the funerals of gays, U.S. army personnel, and anyone else that God doesn’t like. They’re a strange lot, but at least they’re consistent. The god of the Westboro Baptist Church hates everyone. But especially gays.

They run a number of websites including: GodHatesTheMedia.com; JewsKilledJesus.com; and even GodHatesTheWorld.com. But their favourite seems to be GodHatesFags.com. And no, this is not a heavenly anti-smoking campaign. It’s people’s sexuality that drives God’s pals at the Westboro Baptist Church nuts.

Having politicians interfering with every area of people’s lives is bad enough, but when they want to appease the god squad as well it’s bloody dangerous.
NW

Brief Reports (2012)

The Brief Reports Column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

David Cameron called for openness and a lifting of trade bans on Burma after visiting the capital Nay Pyi Taw, where he met President Thein Sein.  Later he had a private dinner with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon. Speaking of his meeting with the great pro-democracy leader he said: ‘It was a privilege to sit down with Ms Suu Kyi and try to flog her tanks and rocket launchers.’

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A test rocket launched from North Korea which broke up after one minute was a resounding success, according to North Korean sources. The rocket exploded as a ‘birthday firework’ for the nation’s long-dead leader Kim Il-sung. A spokesman for the NK Space Agency said: ‘We have the technology to rain scrap metal upon any capitalist lickspittle within a twenty mile radius. Let our enemies tremble.’ In separate news, South Korea reacted nervously to reports of NK tunnelling for an underground nuclear test: ‘We want to know just how far they’re tunnelling’.

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The government is exploring new types of pension schemes that would give more security to retiring workers. In an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb said: ‘Firms would like to offer their employees a degree of certainty in these uncertain times. We can certainly help by offering workers cast-iron guarantees that they will get nothing out of us when they retire. We think people should shoulder the personal responsibility of disposing of themselves at retirement age in an ecologically-sustainable manner. Wheelie bins will be provided for this purpose at an affordable rate.’

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Hosepipe bans affecting about 20 million customers have been introduced by seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England.Thames Water said this week that the bans were unavoidable due to the unprecedented drought of money for fixing leaks. In a statement the regulator, Oftwat, said: ‘If we fixed all the leaks we would save 3.36bn litres per day in England and Wales, but then we’d make no profit at all so clearly sacrifices need to be made by the great unwashed by, um, not washing.’ Meanwhile the water minister Richard Benyon has hit out at claims he left his hosepipe running the day after the hosepipe ban came into effect: ‘It wasn’t a hosepipe. I was just teaching the kids how to water-cannon the local oiks’.



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Iran has blocked access to the official website for the London 2012 Olympic Games, after previously stating it might boycott the Olympics over claims that the official logo spells the word ‘Zion’. The logo designers reject this, saying instead that the logo represents an exploded diagram of the religious fundamentalist brain. It now seems likely that no information about the 2012 London Olympics will reach anyone in Iran. Bookings from Heathrow to Tehran are expected to increase by a factor of 9000 as a result.

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A London 2012 official has admitted Olympic events could be disrupted by ‘one idiot’ after the University Boat Race was halted by a swimmer. British Olympic Association chairman Watt Sallthe Fussabout said it would do all it could to protect athletes in the Games: ‘I can assure sports fans everywhere that Boris Johnson and Francis Maude will be kept indoors with a bottle of gin and a games console throughout the proceedings.’

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The Law Commission has proposed the abolition of 800 antiquated laws, although these do not include the many imaginary ‘laws’ such as the law against eating a mince pie on Christmas Day, or the right to shoot a Welsh person with a longbow on a Sunday in Chester. According to British urban legend, says the Law Commission, there is an ancient law which allows a single individual to wear a metal hat, wave a wand and own every strip of land in Britain. This mythical person would be known as a ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ and would be entitled to lord it over everyone as if they owned the place, which indeed they would. A legal spokeswoman said ‘I really don’t know how these myths get around. It’s on a par with the one about taxis having to keep a bale of hay in the boot. It’s amazing that people still fall for it.’

Material World: India’s God Industry (2012)

The Material World Column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik praises Hindu nationalism but what is it?
Politicised Hinduism or ‘Hindutva’ has not attracted the same attention – outside India at least – as similar movements in Islam and Christianity. But it is no less remarkable. The social forces underlying Hindutva are analyzed by Meera Nanda in her books Prophets Looking Backward (Rutgers University Press, 2003) and The God Market (Random House India, 2009).

Invented ‘traditions’
What is happening in India may look like the revival of old traditions, but Nanda points out that many ‘traditions’ were invented quite recently. For example, a “brand new hybrid god” has been created by combining the head of the elephant god Ganesha with the features of the ape god Hanuman. A high school science teacher has recast Mariamman, who used to be the goddess of smallpox, as the goddess of AIDS.

New ceremonies have also proven popular – and money spinners for the priests who preside over them. Thus, many temples have installed “golden cars” – chariot-like vehicles in which an idol “is taken around the temple perimeter in a procession led by priests, musicians, elephants, etc.” Huge crowds watch re-enactments of the divine wedding between Meenakshi and Sundareshwara.

Ritual for the upper strata
In the early and mid-twentieth century it was common for educated Indians (if religious at all) to take pride in their “philosophical” approach to Hinduism, as opposed to the superstitious practice of the benighted masses, centred on idol worship, rituals, fasts and sacrifices. By contrast, the current fashion for religious ritual is strongest among the upper strata of society. A 2007 survey found that educated urban Indians are more – not less – religious than rural illiterates.

Why should this be? Part of the reason may well be simply that only the relatively well-off can afford the costs associated with ostentatious religious observance. By no means everyone, for instance, can afford to go off on long pilgrimages, though the numbers who do are still mind-boggling. (The Balaji temple at Tirupati was visited by over 23 million pilgrims in 2004.)

The state-temple-corporate complex
Whatever else it may be, the god industry in India is a big business with enormous political clout. Priests and gurus receive generous material support from the supposedly secular government, such as land and infrastructure for new temples, and ashrams and schools for training priests. In some provinces, priests are now paid directly by the government. All this is justified in the name of promoting culture, tourism and economic development.

Religious institutions also get financial support from leading Indian companies, prompting Nanda to speak of a “state-temple-corporate complex.” The privatisation of higher education has enabled the priests to make major inroads in this sector.

A game for everyone
The ideology of Hindutva, which fuses Hinduism with Indian nationalism, is associated most closely with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or, in English, Indian People’s Party) and its allies. It is, indeed, these forces that are most adept at exploiting religious sentiment to mobilize political support.

Since the late 1970s, however, the other main national party, the Indian National Congress, has increasingly compromised its original commitment to secularism and tried to use religion in its own interests. Even the ‘communists’ and other ‘leftists’ play the same game. Thus, in 2007 top officials of the Left Front government of West Bengal participated in a ceremony to bless land that they had forcibly taken from farmers in order to build a car factory for Tata Motors.

The atomic elephant
Hindutva also serves the great-power ambitions of the Indian state. The BJP stands for “a foreign policy driven by a nationalist agenda” and “a strong national defence” (www.bjp.org). The ‘Indian nation’ is imbued with sacred qualities, while ‘Greater India’ is conceived of as a Hindu realm extending over all of South Asia and much of Southeast Asia.  

When India conducted a successful nuclear test, idols of Ganesh appeared at festivals around the country with guns in the elephant’s hands and atomic orbits in place of the halo traditionally placed around his head. There was a plan to build a temple dedicated to Shakti, goddess of energy, at the site of the test explosion, but fear of radioactivity led to its abandonment.  

What about globalisation?
The rise of a religiously based Indian nationalism is at variance with the stereotype of globalisation as a process leading to cultural homogenisation, with American culture becoming global culture – the Macdonaldisation or Coca-Colonisation of the world. Let us note here that in the economic sphere the BJP enthusiastically embraces globalisation. The BJP, according to its website, favors “small government and free-market economic policies.”

The stereotype is vulnerable to criticism on several grounds. Globalisation facilitates the expansion not only of American or Western corporations, but also of sufficiently competitive companies based in other regions. That includes at least some Indian companies, as shown by Mittal’s takeover of East European steel mills. The same applies to the religion business: witness the success of various Indian guru-entrepreneurs in Western markets.

Nanda develops another interesting argument. She observes that during the early Nehruvian period of Indian independence (1947 – 1975), when Indian nationalism had real material content (a national development strategy based on a strong state sector, protectionism, etc.) religious nationalism was very weak. When economic nationalism was abandoned, religious nationalism rushed in to fill the ideological vacuum. That is, economic and religious-cultural nationalism are functional substitutes not complements.

Socialists do not take sides in the contest between national capitalism and global capitalism. We are not just against capitalist globalization but capitalism in all its various forms.
Stefan



Maude Gone Mad? (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Apart from their bodyguards, Ministers of the Crown are protected by “special advisers” whose job is to advise them on how they might make governmental policies, however difficult, more presentable. So what went wrong with the system recently, when the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General informed motorists that they could ease the pain of a petrol shortage by the highly dangerous practise of filling up some jerry cans with the fuel to store at their home? The most promising route towards answering that question is to examine the minister himself. Francis Anthony Aylmer Maude came into politics with high expectations – not least of himself – partly through his pedigree as the son of the late Tory MP Angus Maude, (described by one political correspondent as “caustic, dismissive-even arrogant” – he was, after all, a determined politician – and who in 1981 decided to give it all up to help his son’s developing political career.)

Re-shuffle
Maude arrived in the House of Commons in the big Conservative victory of 1983, with the voters in a kind of jingoistic coma after the success of the Falklands gamble. Very soon he was, as a Political Private Secretary (PPS), at the lower reaches of the Greasy Pole. At a time when some big Tory guns were said to “hate” the Iron Lady, Maude was hailed as one of her committed supporters. He even impressed the spiteful scheming Alan Clark who saw him in 1984 as “. . . much the best of the PPSs, sensible and quiet, but in good mind and sense of humour.” Clark did not seem to feel that this opinion needed to be re-assessed a couple of years later when Maude told a “jolly dinner” party of Parliamentary Tory bigwigs in discussion about a pending re-shuffle by Thatcher that Nigel Lawson could not be moved from Chancellor of the Exchequer to Foreign Secretary “as a Jew”.

In fact there was a re-shuffle of a sort in the following July which left Maude, again according to Clark, disappointed: “tearful . . . looks terrible . . . quite altered from the narrow-faced, fresh youngster who used to whip Employment”. Through his tears Maude whined that he had “ . . . thought that at least I might have some recognition for all my work in the Financial Services field” (he had been Minister for Corporate and Consumer Affairs but had not learned that in his chosen career rewards do not unfailingly sprout from achievement). Any resentment was absent when, in 1990, Thatcher was under terminal pressure about her resignation. Maude was the first of the men in grey suits to visit her: “. . . a reliable ally” was how she described him; he “. . . told me he passionately supported the things I believed in, that he would back me as I went on but that he did not believe I could win. He left in a state of some distress.”

John Major
Thatcher recalls that whatever the effect of this episode on Maude it did nothing to cheer her up. In any case he seems to have quickly become less passionate about her to the extent that he was able forcefully to promote John Major as the most likely winner, an act which provoked anger among those Thatcher supporters who were still capable of resentment at being double-crossed. With Major in Number Ten, Maude received his reward with the grand post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. But he did not have long to savour this because in the 1992 general election the voters in North Warwickshire threw him out – a “terrible blow” to him, when so many of his rivals had survived and clung to their prestigious jobs.

With millions in the dole queues, Maude made one of his sillier statements: he felt “the pain” of the unemployed – while he was enjoying the income from jobs like Managing Director at the bankers Morgan Stanley and director of Salomon Brothers. But to prevent his agony being too intense he was found a safe way back to Westminster in the sweet Sussex constituency of Horsham and after the 1997 election he was again available for a place on the Tory front bench under the new leader William Hague who made him Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Foreign Secretary. But he did not live up to the promise implied by those two appointments and declined into minor jobs such as party chairman and the one he now holds.

Section 28
At the Tory conference in 2005 he was not warmly received for his strictures on the need for the “cleaning up” of the party’s ”brand”, as if he had had no responsibility for it. He has provoked irritation at the inconsistency of being a member of a Cameron- style “family friendly” government while being chairman of a company with interests in pornographic DVDs. While he was ranting about the reckless policies of the banks which preceded the credit crunch he was holding a well-paid job as director of a company (now out of business) which dealt in sub-prime mortgages. In 1988 he voted for the infamous Section 28 but now says that “. . . it was very wrong – very wrong . . . ” and that section 28 had become “. . . an emblem of intolerance”. He is now a supporter of gay marriage as “a deeply conservative idea . . .  part of the glue of people making a deep commitment to each other,” but this conversion came too late to help those who were condemned by that same repressive measure. Among them was his brother, who died of AIDS when he was 42 after a long struggle to prevent his family knowing that he was gay.

Maude’s ‘special advisers’ might have foreseen that his suggestion about storing petrol at home would have loosened a flood of calls for his removal from office. Except that this was only the most recent offer of futile and damaging ideas about capitalism and its dangers.
Ivan

After the Gold Rush (2012)

From the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Scandals abound in the private ‘employability and work-based training’ sector. The latest of these involves the company A4e, whose workers are up before the beak on fraud charges, much to the outrage of the self-righteous press, while the former proprietor Emma Harrison has walked away clutching millions. Just who is being defrauded here, and what exactly goes on in these companies?
Once upon a time unemployed people signed on at the Benefit Agency, which would administer their unemployment benefit payments, and then were sent to the Jobcentre, run by the Employment Agency, where they would look at rows of vacancies on cards and receive advice on CVs and applications from Jobcentre staff.

Around 2001, as part of my work with local charities, I attended a briefing by Jobcentre staff who explained with much chagrin that these two offices were to be merged, many of them put out of work, and much of the heavy lifting formerly done by trained staff now farmed out to regional call-centres using untrained workers on minimum wage following printed scripts. The unemployed, now termed ‘customers’, could look forward to a streamlined conveyer belt service that had neither the time nor the expertise to give them any worthwhile advice at all, while high-need users could expect to fall through the net altogether. This was the great Jobcentre Plus ‘rationalisation’ of 2002, in which Treasury money left the equation and the slack was expected to be taken up by the employment-oriented European Social Fund.

What none of us anticipated at that briefing was the longer term effects of this cost-cutting exercise by the Department of Work and Pensions. Just as companies who farmed out their IT requirements end up hiring ‘experts’ at vast contract rates, often to deliver trivially simple upgrades, so the DWP in trying to save money had created a vacuum of ‘employability support’ into which a blizzard of private companies rushed, hoping to cash in on the bonanza. Such was the unregulated confusion of this early gold rush for DWP and ESF funding that a good number of cowboy start-ups got in on the act, aiming to take the money and run. Almost anyone, it seemed, could pretend to be a college or training centre and pull down state cash for doing nothing. As each scam was exposed rules were tightened up, but the employment services industry has been rocked by successive waves of scandal ever since.

The initial swarm of gold-prospectors have mostly left the field, either bankrupted, busted or bullied out of the way by a few big players, whose national reach attracted ever larger DWP grants. Small charities were early casualties, as was the risible notion that small and local organisations were best-placed to find jobs for people in the local area. A few big corporations, mostly college-backed, mopped up the market and all the money while farming out the donkey work to these same local organisations who then had to deliver higher targets for less money than ever.

Contracts were awarded by the DWP or the ESF for starts on work-based training, backed by retention, and for job or qualification outcomes, all of which was to be exhaustively evidenced by signed documentation. Since most contractors had their own documentation systems, and few spent money on computerisation, this soon developed into a bureaucratic paper-based nightmare that meant workers spent more time ‘evidencing’ their work than actually doing it. Inevitably the cracks appeared, and workers increasingly had to ‘fiddle’ the paperwork to meet the requirements of nit-picking inspections. Failure to pass these inspections could mean funding being ‘clawed back’, and my not unusual experience was having to stay up all night forging hundreds of ‘attendance sheets’ for long-gone volunteers simply because funding requirements dictated full attendance and conscientious form-filling – in flagrant defiance of the practical realities of dealing with the long-term unemployed.

Workers though tried for the most part to avoid genuine fraud over job documentation, partly because of the heavy penalties but mainly because unlike the ruling class workers are not generally comfortable with criminality. But the competition for contracts being intense, the bids were always excessive, and thus the pressure to cheat was built in. Rarely could a job outcome simply be invented out of thin air, because the individual would have to sign off benefits. But other ‘target-buster’ methods could be employed. People were signed up as starts who already had guaranteed jobs to go to, creating an instant outcome. In cases where jobs had been obtained after the end-date of eligibility, dates could be massaged. Sometimes an employer would refuse to sign a job declaration even though it was for a genuine job, so these were liable to be forged. Where more than one funding provision was offered, people were daisy-chained from one to another, picking up duplicate funding on the way. Then as a bonus, if they got a job, each of the provisions could claim the same job, effectively doubling or tripling the outcome figures. Most notoriously, under instructions from senior management, workers would ‘traffic-light’ clients, giving most help and attention to ‘greens’ who were most likely to succeed, while largely ignoring the extensive needs of the ‘ambers’ and the virtually unemployable ‘reds’, thus defeating the whole point of such schemes and fully justifying the accusation that firms were being paid for jobs that people would have got in any case.

Unemployed people, it is fair to say, sometimes get something out of these schemes, either through volunteering for charities and getting some useful work experience, or by gaining a few low-level qualifications. While the principle is that the firm finds them work, in practice they usually find their own work, largely by their own efforts, with the added incentive of being hounded by the firm whose targets are their real focus. Where the schemes were voluntary or quasi-voluntary, relations were reasonably good-humoured and often constructive, but where they are compulsory, as in the Work Programme, staff and clients are polarised in a palpable class-war tension with frequent eruptions of anger and frustration. Those who most need help get the least, and swill round a never-ending gutter of government schemes delivering the same inadequate provision in the same inadequate way.

Hardly surprising that morale is pretty low among staff, faced with impossible monthly targets, short contracts, a management which couldn’t care less about the people involved, a penny-pinching lack of equipment or training and an endless sea of largely meaningless paperwork designed merely to keep up appearances. Workers who are caught cheating (i.e. doing their job) will be cold-shouldered by the firm and prosecuted by the state, the sacrificial lambs of an industry that is systemically fraudulent.

Who is being defrauded? Not the state, which gets what it wants, the appearance of action plus deniability, and is so cosy with contractors that it refuses Freedom of Information requests even to divulge the names of fraudulent companies (Private Eye, 6 April); not the private companies which coin it while passing on the labour and the risk to others. No, it’s the abused, under-paid and under-resourced staff who are being defrauded of their mostly well-meaning intentions and made to risk jail on behalf of their masters. It’s the unemployed who are being defrauded, mere pawns in the game, there to have their time wasted and their self-respect demolished. It’s workers everywhere who are being defrauded in the belief that the capitalist state cares about the unemployed, or the low-skilled, or the sick or the needy, when really the capitalist state spends extravagant sums simply to maintain that appearance. Private investors quietly make off with criminally record sums while workers just get the criminal records. All in all, it’s the sort of work-based experience that should open a lot of eyes and dispel a lot of illusions. If capitalism were a worker, it would get the sack in no time.
‘Ronnie Biggs’

Care, or Couldn’t Care Less? (2012)

From the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Care is a fairly unambiguous word: to look after, to feel affection, and concern for somebody or something. A recent inquiry by the Scottish Parliament into care begins with the opening statement: ‘One test of the morality of a society is how it treats its elderly’. How do you determine morality in a society that has seen ruling class consent to brutal dictatorships and the mass slaughter and starvation of millions upon millions of our fellow human beings?
Ours is a long history. In ancient societies the elderly were the chief sources of knowledge: Where was the best hunting to be found? What plants cured what sickness? How to make the tools to enable the tribe’s survival. This led to various forms of Ancestor Worship. In China the practice of veneration for the wisdom of the elders dates back long before 1000 BC. And in Polynesian societies, the outlook is one of reverence for the elderly and the expectation of help and guidance; although it doesn’t involve worship.

As property society began to evolve in the West so too did the status of the majority of the elderly during the brutal centuries of slavery and feudalism. The word community derives from the Latin cum, meaning with or together and munus meaning gift, which readily translates as to give amongst each other. With the advent of capitalism the word has become as hollow as the heads of those that nowadays chant it like a mantra. Community has become another weasel word like morality.

As workers were turned off of the land pauperism became endemic for those unable to work hard enough to support themselves. From 1601, the Poor Law was enacted and each parish became liable to care for the ‘deserving’ destitute. The elderly were deemed ‘deserving’. Care was as diverse as the whims of those that administered it. For a few, care consisted of paying a family member to look after an elderly or female pauper in their own home. For the majority, care amounted to begging from the moralising rich to stay out of the gutter.

By 1834 The Poor Law was radically amended. And many elderly workers were consigned to the intentionally austere and punitive workhouses. By 1885 free Poor Law healthcare became available in some parishes, and in some boroughs free hospitals were built. Why? Because, finally a light had gone on in the darkness of the collective capitalist brain that sickness amongst the poor reduced their capacity for work. As an afterthought, and out of piety, a 1900 Poor Law directive allowed for less punitive workhouse conditions for the elderly: elderly couples could now share a room together, and single elderly paupers were given separate accommodation from younger paupers.

As capitalist society advanced so too did bourgeois ideology—the cloak that conceals the realities of life. Care for the elderly was set to become a central issue in the war of ideas. In the UK the hub was the welfare state. We are told that after the 1906 General Election the British Liberal Party enacted certain social reforms that led to the birth of the modern welfare state. It is argued that New Liberals, and Lloyd George in particular, overturned the earlier ideology linked to Gladstone that the population should trust its fate to the market and the ‘invisible hand’ that was at the tiller. Or in other words: work or starve.

During the Boer War of 1899-1902, the ruling class discovered that more than one third of those who volunteered to fight were medically unfit to defend their profits. Sickness amongst the remaining workers was also hindering the accumulation of profits, and thus competitors like Germany were gaining an edge. This tricky climate for British capitalists led to an opportunity for a handful of reformers, notably the Fabians. They believed that the process of reforming capitalism by degrees in order to achieve socialism was more likely to succeed than the revolutionary means. In a changing environment they managed to push through a few reforms that restrained the old laissez-faire ideas and paved the way for the advent of the welfare state. Amongst the reforms were free medical checks for schoolchildren, and the provision of pensions for workers over 70 whose income was below £21 per year.

What seemed to many workers like pennies from heaven was in fact a relocation of a portion of the profits from the capitalist class’s pockets back to those that had originally created them. Even the dullest of capitalists realises that you don’t strangle the goose that lays the golden eggs.

However the ruling class has a maxim – not a penny more. By the 1960s several surveys discovered that hospitals and Homes for the elderly were in a ‘deplorable condition’. Bourgeois sensibilities were offended, and a new idea arose: Community Care. Bourgeois ideologists busied themselves with the new concept. Reformers devised clauses and sub-sections. Rarely was it mentioned that community care was the cheapest option, a somewhat important concern as expenditure spiralled.

Community care went into warp drive in the 80s under the tutelage of the good housekeeping and parsimony of Maggie Thatcher. The 1989 White Paper, Caring for People, reaffirmed the importance of cost when it stated: ‘The Government will expect local authorities to make use whenever possible of services from voluntary, ‘not for profit’ and private providers insofar as this represents a cost effective care choice’. Thus capitalist profits were being protected, whilst new avenues of profit were to be explored.

Unsurprisingly the local authorities found it increasingly difficult with the available funding to provide a decent level of care. Thus, as the story goes, the private sector stepped in to lend a hand. In 1975 there were just 18,800 private sector residential homes. By 1990, 119,900 had rushed forward to offer support. God bless the entrepreneur, sang the ideologists.

Another ruse that gave impetus to the expansion of the private sector home was that from 1980 means-tested board and lodging supplementary benefits became available to independent care operators where once only local authority, public funded, voluntary sector homes received those benefits. During the ‘90s I worked part time at a residential home where 90 percent of the residents were receiving means-tested board and lodgings.

I was the cook for two days a week for over seven years. Virtually all of the residents during that period were in various stages of senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. It was patently obvious why so many ‘entrepreneurs’ had moved into residential care – there was a lot of money to be made by those who knew how. In the home where I worked, costs were under a very tight rein. From the dilution of washing up liquid, to the barest minimum of staffing levels. No stone that led to an extra pound in the owners’ purse and wallet was left unturned.

The regime began at 7am. There were usually 32 residents in our home, and it was the task of two night staff to get them up and toileted for breakfast by eight. After breakfast the ‘liquid cosh’ was administered to the disruptive ones, and the remainder were removed to one or other of two day rooms and left with a television blaring till lunchtime. Lunch was at 12, then back to the dayroom and the TV until tea at 5. More TV and then bed by 8pm. The only respite from this was once a week, when a man came and played the piano for one hour. There was meant to be a weekly outing for eight residents in the minivan. The residents would sit, dressed and expectant, often up to two hours before they were due to leave. However the outings were frequently ditched because the owner, who was also building up a mini-empire of bedsits for people on benefits, needed the van to transport building materials.

Their final years spent in this home for Tommy, Maisie, and Rose and so many more that I cooked for were utterly miserable. If it wasn’t for the often unpaid efforts of some of the staff, then their lives would not have been much better than the workhouse paupers of a century before. The owners went on to buy another far bigger, and grander Home, and to own numerous houses and flats in that area. Care had obviously benefitted them.

My observations are not isolated, and matters have not improved. In a recent article (Telegraph, 19 March) Professor Finbarr Martin, president of the Geriatrics Society, had this to say: ‘The issue is that there is a negative about people in care homes. There is a nihilism about care homes that is completely unreasonable and unjustified.’ Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: ‘The government can no longer claim to be shocked as report after report highlights the pitiful state of care for older people.’ Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, commented: ‘the system was putting the health and dignity of older people at risk.’ I could fill a further page with quote after quote, from people high and low, about the appalling care for the elderly under capitalism today. But I don’t believe that I have to do that. You already know. You also understand the true meaning of care. Don’t you?

The question then becomes simple. What are you willing to do about it? Campaign for futile reforms? Or join us and help to build a new society where young and old can live out their lives with respect and real dignity in a world where the true meaning of community – from each according to ability, to each according to need – can become a reality rather than the fantasy it is under capitalism?
Andy Matthews

Socialism, Pacifism and Politics (1943)

From the March 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like many other problems thrown up by capitalism, war has produced a group of people intent upon solving or ending it within capitalism, not recognising that this and other problems are inevitable under the present social order. The tenor of many pacifist arguments is that we can do nothing constructive until this war is ended, and that it would be better to sink any differences in domestic politics and be prepared to agitate for a negotiated peace. Typical of these views was the following statement in a letter to Peace News (11/12/42): "The pacifists' efforts should be directed towards ending the war by compromise and negotiation; . . . Any sort of negotiated peace is obviously better than perpetual war." Some, however, do realise that lasting peace is not possible without change of some description, but their limit is: "Pacifism is not enough. It must be allied with some constructive programme of social and economic reform." (Peace News, 18/12/42). It has even been suggested that “especially is there need for a lessening of pacifist bias against the idea of dictatorship, as the right kind of dictatorial control could achieve a greater measure of individual liberty than is anywhere found in the world to-day." (Peace News, 11/12/42).

It can be seen from these few extracts the confusion on social problems that prevails in the pacifist movement. We have always maintained that those who advocate the reform of capitalism can be made the tools of capitalist politicians. This applies equally to the pacifist movement. Crises reveal the weaknesses of reformist organisation. In 1932/3 Hitler received the support of considerable numbers of the German people, many of whom for years had supported "progressive" reforms, but now wanted "the right kind of dictatorial control." Similarly, people who advocate “any sort of negotiated peace," "social reform" and dictatorship can very easily be drawn into support of political parties of a definite non- or anti-Socialist character. The pacifist faith of which they talk so glibly will not necessarily stand them in good stead when the war is over and the period of reconstruction begins. Their confused views will lead them into all sorts of movements except the Socialist movement. We shall endeavour to show that their views as to what Socialism implies run counter to the Socialist viewpoint.

An editorial of Peace News (27/11/42) in which the following views were stated probably expressed the general standpoint of the pacifist movement:—
  All but the most fervid enthusiast will admit that Socialism by consent is pretty remote. If we have to wait for its world-wide establishment before we can have peace, our case is miserable. Furthermore, though Socialism is a very vague term, most forms of it depend upon a considerable extension of the powers of central government. . . . A pacifist may just as legitimately be a Conservative as a Socialist in domestic politics.
While the Socialist's immediate task is to impart Socialist knowledge to the working class, the pacifist's immediate work as shown is to attempt, by any means, to end the war. Their views arise, in general, from looking at the war in isolation and not realising that peace of any description, as it will leave the capitalist basis of society intact, will carry with it the seeds of a future war. They ignore the fact that so long as we have capitalism,.with its competitive struggle over commercial matters, such as trade routes, sources of raw material, control of relatively undeveloped areas of the world, so long will we have war. While the working class lack Socialist knowledge and support capitalism they will support the wars that occur; this support is given because war, at the time of crisis, appears to them as the only possible policy for "their" government or country to pursue. We know that this war will end before we have Socialism, but lasting peace cannot be gained without Socialism. The question of its being remote is therefore entirely irrelevant. As we have shown, Socialism is an urgent necessity, a practical and immediate policy for to-day, and we have yet to be shown how by deferring it until some future date the working class can benefit.

It is not true that Socialism is a vague term, nor is it true that it depends upon an extension of the powers of government; no one has any excuse for such inaccurate and misleading assertions. The S.P.G.B. made it clear at its foundation just what Socialism meant, and has continued to do so since. Briefly, it means that the means of producing and distributing wealth will be commonly owned and democratically controlled. It does not mean that we shall extend the powers of government. The State is the public power of coercion and exists where there are widely diverging class interests amongst the people; its laws are, in general, property laws. Its law courts, judges, the judiciary system as a whole, together with the coercive powers such as police and armed forces exist to defend the private property institution. It is the organised might of the dominant class in society, and enables them to impose their laws and regulations upon other classes. To-day we have only two classes in society, the capitalists, who live and derive their incomes from their ownership of the means of living, and the working class, who have to sell their energies to the capitalists for wages. Between these classes there is a struggle over the ownership of the means of wealth production. The modern coercive State is adapted to the needs of the capitalist class in order to defend capitalist interests, and will not be necessary under Socialism. Socialism based on the common ownership of the means of living implies a classless society, where the economic interests of all people will coincide.

Finally, the contradictory position of the Conservative pacifist should be shown. Implicit in the conservative platform is retention of the present social order and the Empire. "We mean to hold our own." As we have shown, war and other social evils are the inevitable outcome of the present competitive social order. Our conservative pacifists want and support the system that gives rise to these evils, and, in effect, by opposing the war are opposing the logical outcome of their own political activities. Frankly, their position is one of self-deception and useless to all except reactionary movements. When the war is over, they will support policies that have for their avowed object the continuation of capitalism.

Capitalism can last only as long as the majority of the workers are prepared to preserve it, and as long as it lasts the so-called abnormal periods of economic blizzards and wars will continue. These crises are normal to capitalism, and it is the duty of pacifists and other workers to grasp this fact and work to end this system. Mere resistance to war is insufficient as it cannot even achieve its purpose—peace—because it cannot rid the world of capitalism. The social problems we are troubled with to-day can be solved only when everyone has free access to the means of life; when goods are produced solely for use and freely distributed amongst the members of society. Socialism offers all that is worth-while to the workers. It is an historical necessity, and it is in their interests, and we earnestly ask them to give serious thought to it as the solution to their problems. Only from the workers' class-conscious political activities can Socialism be achieved, and war, want and insecurity be banished from the earth for ever.
L. J.