Friday, November 22, 2019

Blue chip (1989)

Book Review from the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Big Blue by Richard Thomas DeLamarter (Pan £4.99.)

Big Blue is IBM, the American computer company which is the world's most powerful and profitable corporation. For thirteen years it was the subject of an anti-trust case brought by the US government, which was eventually withdrawn by one of Reagan's puppets in 1982. DeLamarter spent eight years working as a government economist on the case, and this book is his interpretation of the evidence provided, based largely on material from IBM's internal files.

Different readers will no doubt draw different conclusions from the book: some may even see it as a recipe for how to run a successful company. What strikes a socialist reader is the amount of effort devoted by IBM simply to defeating competitors or would-be competitors, and their methods of maintaining and extending their power.

Contrary to the popular image (which the company has worked very hard to build), IBM's products are not particularly reliable or technically advanced. Prior to the development of computers, IBM had a big share of the punch card accounting machine market, which gave them a larger sales and repair network than any other rival. Even though Remington had the computer market to itself for a couple of years, it was IBM that captured the lion's share of sales by installing the new machines alongside the existing ones (on which they were at first partially dependent). The first IBM computers were deliberately priced to lose money and so undersell their competitors, who lacked the financial resources to reduce their own prices.

Having beaten off most of their rivals, IBM were able to keep their, dominant market share by exploiting software lock-in and price discrimination. Software lock-in refers to the fact that once programmes have been written for a particular type of computer system, and staff trained to operate it, a company will find it prohibitively expensive to switch to another system, and so will tend to stay with its original choice and simply add on updates, however inefficient they are. Price discrimination meant setting prices relatively low where there was competition (for example, for small-scale systems which would be a customer's typical initial purchase) but relatively high where there was no effective competition (extra peripherals or computer memory). IBM was quite prepared to be flexible in this respect, drastically cutting the price of memory when independent producers began to challenge its position, and to be threatening, dropping unsubtle hints about likely maintenance problems to customers who considered buying non-IBM equipment to add to an IBM system. The company's executives were also willing to use their influence with banks and finance companies to starve competitors of funds.

In the early sixties, General Electric began to win large orders for a computer specifically designed for time sharing (whereby different operations are performed concurrently). To boost its own sales, IBM announced a new machine, model 67, intended for time sharing, and at a low price. Model 67 never attained its proposed technical performance, but it did achieve the more important (for IBM) goal of killing off the competition. General Electric saw its sales drop off, and in 1970 ceased to make mainframe computers. The model 90 was another IBM machine that was designed and launched not as a technological advance, but purely to damage a rival company, in this case Control Data Corporation

In spite of the sometimes tedious amount of detail, DeLamarter's book provides an interesting look behind the scenes of capitalist business practice. It shows very clearly that profitability and "success" in capitalist terms have nothing at all to do with meeting people's needs.
Paul Bennett

Socialist sound in Plymouth (1989)

Party News from the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Probably for the first time in the Party's history, a meeting was held in Plymouth. On 18 November, at the invitation of the Plymouth Fabian Society, Comrade C. May addressed an audience of 25 on the subject — What is Socialism? The invitation had been arranged by a member of North West London Branch who lives in the area. Many of the audience were members of the Labour Party, one of whom still clung to the idea that the 1945 Attlee Labour Government was the best socialist government we have ever had. The question and discussion period was extremely lively, with points about human nature, reforms, incentive, and yes, even religion well aired. It was obvious that the SPGB concept of socialism was new to Plymouth.

On the previous day, Comrade May had an hour's interview on BBC Radio Devon. This station covers the whole of Devon and Cornwall and many aspects of the Party case were discussed.

Will there be enough to go round? A Dramatic Fragment (1958)

A Short Story from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scene: Speakers’ Corner: 
Time: The present (although basically it could be anytime back to 1904). Socialist speaker addressing audience from platform.

Socialist speaker:  . . . under Socialism, when the means of wealth production and distribution will be common property, all goods will be produced solely to satisfy human needs, and will be freely available to all . . .

Questioner: Rubbish! There wouldn’t be enough to go round.

Socialist speaker: There isn’t enough to go round now because, under capitalism, goods are not produced primarily to satisfy needs, but for sale and profit. A superabundance of any commodity (such as wheat in U.S.A. and Canada) is likely to mean a drastic fall in price and possible ruin for the capitalist; hence production is curtailed and goods even destroyed to keep the price up. Capitalism is not a system of plenty, it is one of organised shortage.

Questioner: But suppose everyone wanted a Rolls Royce car or a yacht under Socialism? You don’t mean to tell me that there would be enough for everyone to have one?

Socialist speaker: It's always yachts and Rolls Royces, never water, wheat, or bricks. Why? Probably because ninety-nine per cent. of workers will never be in a position to own either a Rolls or a yacht; owning these symbols of luxury is a sort of pipe-dream workers indulge in, like winning £75,000 on the “pools.” Rich people don’t waste their time worrying about owning these things—they don’t have to. They may own a Rolls, they may run a yacht, or a magnificent mansion full of servants, but what do a lot of them tell us? Why, that their needs are very simple—they boast of living on orange juice and salads, and ordering their lives like trappist monks. Indeed, some seem only too glad to get away from their Rolls Royces and get about on horse-back. Anyway, why would you want to own a Rolls Royce?

Questioner: Because its the best car in the world, and you yourself said earlier on that only the best would be produced under Socialism.

Socialist speaker: You’ve been reading those classy adverts., I can see! Ignoring for a moment the question of whether Rolls Royces could be turned out like Fords (and there’s no real reason why they could not be), what about owning a car at all? You ask any commercial traveller who spends a large part of his day behind the wheel of a car under modern traffic conditions—I’ll bet he would be only too pleased to wave goodbye to his car for ever, if he could. It’s like the story of the sailor who had spent all his life at sea and was fed up with it: his ambition was to walk inland carrying an oar, and to settle at the first place where someone asked him what it was he was carrying. Luckily people like a change, and not all want the same things.

Questioner: Let’s get back to the point. If goods under Socialism are free, surely people will demand more of everything?

Socialist speaker: Don’t you think that the millions living in poverty throughout the world (especially in places like India and Egypt) should have more?

Questioner: Oh yes, but there are millions of others who are used to better living standards—they would want much more than just having enough rice and a roof over their heads.

Socialist speaker: You mean that in “civilised” countries we are constantly bombarded by advertisements on hoardings, in newspapers, buses, and tube-trains, and on television, all telling us that we must own the commodities they advertise at the risk of social, or even physical, death. You’ll lose your girl-friend if you don’t wash with a certain soap or brush your teeth with the new, pink, toothpaste; and who had heard of “night starvation” before the advertisers told us how it could ruin our career, our marriage, and our life generally? Even in Lambeth the Jones must keep up with the Robinsons; their pram must be as big and shiny, and they, too, must have a T.V. aerial, even if there isn’t a T.V. set at the other end. It is plain that a lot of the “demand” today has been artificially created, and would be non-existent under a sane order of society.

Questioner: But even so, wouldn’t the greedy people take more than their share, after all, it’s only human nature . . . 

Socialist speaker: Human nature! Oh, what terrible crimes have been committed in your name! To answer your question about “greedy" people with a timely example: Christmas is not long past—most workers indulged in a brief orgy as slight compensation for a year’s scrimping and scraping to get along. Houses were stocked up with expensive food and drink—everyone ate their fill, and then? Why, after Boxing Day, turkey became more and more unpopular, and anyone was welcome to the drink. See my point? Take another example—water is vital to life, and it is to all intents and purposes free. But because of this, people don’t go round filling themselves up with water until they burst. Shortages tend to make people scramble for more than they really need—remember the ridiculous rushes at the shops when sweets first came off the ration but were still in short supply? Some people hoarded pounds of sweets, not because they particularly wanted them, but because they were frightened there suddenly wouldn’t be any left. As a matter of fact, there have been recent experiments in American prisons which prove this point—do you read the Sunday Times?

Questioner: I haven’t time to read those big papers—too much in them.

Socialist speaker: In an article about the American penal system in the issue of 8th December, H. Montgomery Hyde, M.P., wrote about this new experiment he had seen working in several prisons he had visited. He noticed stacks of packets of cigarettes to which the inmates were invited to help themselves, free of charge. Mr. Montgomery Hyde wrote: “I was told that this had put an end to the illicit operations of the former “tobacco barons,” and that the amount of smoking had actually declined in consequence.”

Questioner: I don’t see the point of bringing all that in.

Socialist speaker: Don’t you? 1 think we can agree that convicts are less likely to act in a social manner than, say, a group of policemen. . . .

Questioner: Oh! no, we can’t!

Socialist speaker: Well, don’t let’s argue about that. The point is that tobacco is very scarce in most prisons—in fact, most convicts are not allowed any at all. The result of making it freely available was that the men were no longer worried about where their next smoke was coming from: although the cigarettes were free, the convicts apparently smoked less rather than more, as you might have expected them to.

Questioner: Yes, I see your point. But how will we produce enough under Socialism? Who will do the work?

Socialist speaker: Well, that’s another question, and as someone over on this side of the meeting was asking earlier about who would do the “dirty work” under Socialism, perhaps I can deal with both these points together.  . . .
Michael La Touche



Politics in Canada (1958)

From the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The worker of today is so little interested in politics that in all the parliaments of the present day world there is not a single individual who can be said to represent his interests. This is true in Britain where there is a large Labour Party representation and where there have been three labour governments in recent years. It is true in the United States where there is no Labour Party representation and where there has never been a Labour government. It is true in Russia where the government for the last forty years has called itself Communist. And it is true in Canada where Liberals and Conservatives have been changing places and holding hands in governing the country ever since Confederation.

Nothing is more certain than that the workers of Canada are content to give their continued support to the system that enslaves them. At every election there are four major parties and a varying number of smaller parties seeking the support of the electorate, and all of them propose to preserve the present order of society. They have this in common regardless of the features that seem to distinguish them. Leading the list are the Liberals and Conservatives. Behind them a few paces are the Social Creditors and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. And bringing up the rear are the Union National group of Quebec, the Communist Party and occasional new groups or offshoots from existing groups.

The “Old-Liners”
Up until last June, and for 22 years previously, the Liberal Party held undisputed control of the government. Capitalism was in vogue at the time of its rise to power; it was still in full bloom at the end of this period; and at no time in between was there any suggestion by any member of the Liberal Party that it ought to be replaced by another system of society—in spite of the fact that its 22 continuous years in office saw the country pass through the world's worst depression and the world's worst war. This period in office, combined with all the other periods it has held office during the 90 years that have passed since the country became self-governing, show that in spite of a surface radicalism that affects some of its members at times, the Liberal Party is constitutionally incapable of harbouring a single thought that reaches beyond the limitations of capitalist society, no matter how rotten this society may become.

It is true that Liberal governments over the years have brought into effect an impressive assortment of reforms (such as unemployment insurance, family allowances, and so on), which were all supposed to have added up to a better life; but it is also true that life has not improved to the point where people generally, even the Liberals, are over-exerting themselves boasting about it. Tins is a subject to which the reformers could well devote a considerable amount of thought.

The Conservative Party evolved a few years back into the Progressive Conservative Party. This bit of face lifting was instigated by John Bracken, who had been for many years the premier of a “Liberal-Progressive” government in Manitoba and who rose from the ranks of the Liberal-Progressives to become the leader of the Conservative Party. Mr. Bracken failed to win any elections for the Conservatives and he was hurried out of politics and back to Manitoba, where he became an authority on model liquor legislation; but the “Progressive" prefix which was his historic contribution to Conservatism in Canada is still with us and is still as rich in content as it was in the days before Mr. Bracken found that Manitoba needed his expert consideration to the cup that cheers. Progressive-Conservatism today is still the staunch unyielding upholder of capitalism that plain, simple, unprogressive Conservatism was a generation ago.

To determine the differences between the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative Patty would require microscopic perception. And what the electioneering was all about last May and June is something that very few people today could tell about. The Liberal Party didn’t stand for very much except its record. And not to be outdone the Progressive-Conservative Party, too, didn’t stand for very much except the Liberal Party's record. And since they both stood for the same thing they both came very close to being elected. There is no doubt that Mr. Diefenbaker, the Progressive-Conservative leader, was just as surprised as Mr. St. Laurent, the Liberal leader, who in turn must have been just as surprised as the average person to learn that Tweedledee had just nosed out Tweedledum. At any rate, last June saw the passing, for the present at least, of Liberalism in Canada, whatever that was, to be replaced in the places of power by Progressive-Conservatism, whatever that may be that is different, and the workers may look forward to the next four or five years without surprises—at least pleasant ones.

Social Credit
Canada holds the distinction of having given birth to the first government devoted to the idea that money is neither more nor less than pieces of paper identified as money simply (to use its own term) by the scratch of the banker's pen. This group is the Social Credit Party and it now holds control of two provincial governments, the governments of Alberta and British Columbia. In Alberta Social Credit has held office for more than 21 years, first gaining power in 1936. The B.C. group has been in office a smaller period of time.

The theories of Social Credit were originated a generation ago by a certain Major Douglas of England, whose central proposition came under the heading of an A plus B theorem which was intended to explain a condition that Major Douglas described as an absolute deficiency in purchasing power. In depression times this sort of thing sounded good to a lot of people who didn't have enough to eat, and Social Credit gained a certain support in England, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. An amusing thing about this movement is the fact that it gained its greatest support in Alberta, where it was probably least understood. None of the leading members of the Alberta Social Credit group has ever shown that he understood Social Credit Even the late Wm. Aberhart, the first Social Credit premier of Alberta, who was so highly regarded by his supporters that he was once described as a man with God-given guidance, proved many times that he never had the faintest grasp of what Major Douglas was talking about. Not that it mattered. The theories of Majojr Douglas and Mr. Aberhart were equally foolish. Mr. Aberhart, who was a preacher, gave expression to a mixture of backwoods bible-thumping and false, but popular notions on why people were hungry, and he called this Social Credit. Major Douglas was quite disturbed at this and for a time Social Credit in England would have nothing to do with Social Credit in Alberta. But this is old and unimportant history and all that needs now to be mentioned is that the Social Credit movement today makes no effort to justify its existence on a theoretical base. It gives no noticeable lip service to the ideas of either Major Douglas or Mr. Aberhart. It rides the crest of the boom that has come to Alberta and B.C., takes to itself credit for the boom, promises more of the same, and in all respects behaves as if it had never heard of the funny money theories that helped so much to bring it to prominence in Canadian politics. Social Credit has settled down to the comfortable and orthodox behaviour that workers whose brains are politically at ease find so acceptable today.
Jim Milne
(Socialist Party of Canada.)

(To be continued.)



London County Council Election (1958)

Party News from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hackney branch is putting forward three candidates in the Bethnal Green Division in the forthcoming L.C.C. elections, which take place in April.

Canvassing is taking place within the division, and a number of indoor and outdoor meetings are being held, which are advertised elsewhere in this issue.

An election manifesto is being prepared, and it is hoped to distribute this throughout the whole of the constituency, which contains over 60,000 voters. This will necessitate a considerable effort on the part of the membership and all members and sympathisers who are prepared to assist should attend at the campaign headquarters any week-day evening from 7 p.m., from Monday, March 17th onwards. The headquarters are to be 56, Weymouth Terrace, E.2 (near Odeon Cinema).

It is hoped to hold two election challenge meetings just prior to the election, and these will be advertised in the April issue.


50 Years Ago: Socialism or Palliated Capitalism? (1958)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Great has been the abuse levelled against The'Socialist Party of Great Britain because of the fact that from its inception it has steadfastly set itself against the advocacy of palliatives or improvements that "strengthen the existing system of Society." No other party in this country occupies a similar position, and many who were once opposed to it on this particular point have been converted to its views. To those who still persist in such advocacy let us ask: "What are you out for?" Some will probably reply: "We are out for Socialism, but we know the working class cannot understand and struggle for Socialism until they are better fed and better housed than at present." And so they concentrate on feeding, housing, etc. If there were evidence to show that all well-fed and well-housed workers were in the forefront of the revolutionary struggle, one could understand their attitude. But there is none. Does it follow that those who throw off the shackles of religion, or who secure a "clear head" by giving up alcoholic liquors become Socialists? No, in very many cases they are pronounced anti-Socialists. And is the study of Socialism taken up and revolutionary change advocated by the well-fed domestics and flunkeys or by those whose efficiency as wage-slaves is studied by such "model" employers as the Cadburys. Levers, and the like? There is no more justification in arguing that the working class must be well fed, well clothed and decently housed before they can understand and organise for Socialism than there is for the opposite attitude that it is necessary to starve and grind them down before any real consciousness of their position and determination to alter it will possess them.

[From the Socialist Standard, March, 1908.]

Life in a Country Vicarage (1958)

From the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much has been written of late years about the poverty borne by ministers of the Church. How prices have soared leaving the faithful priest to plod along as best he may, while his naughty flock seek bigger and bigger wages to squander on the things of the flesh. We are all familiar with this sort of literature.

But now, instead of a nasty discontented socialist, a Man of God steps forward to explode the myth. For myth it is.

In the Daily Telegraph (25-10-57), a Shropshire parson reports that things are still quite enjoyable. The minimum stipend (basic wage in plain English) is £600 a year.
  “To this figure of hard cash must be added a large attractive house, garden and glebe, which are home” for a wife and two children; a hunter—18 days last season— a pony, a Jersey cow, and two dozen laying hens; fruit, vegetables and hay for the cultivating and collecting; and a power-house where I hope, meetings and fetes can be held, and parishioners entertained, my soul surgery in fact."
And this is not all. Our spiritual superior excels us on the material level too. For be adds that there is a flat which “‘reaps an annual harvest of £91." (How the clergy love harvests). Chaplaincies which enable two children to go to Public School, which of course is a private school. Easter Offerings up to £50. And children’s allowances at both national and diocesan levels of roughly £45. All of which brings the cash aspect nearer £1,000. The Disciple of Christ urges us at the end of his letter to read Proverbs XXX. V.8, and I Timothy VI, V. 6— 8. Where it says:—
  1. Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches: feed me with food convenient for me.
  2. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us there with be content.
The cream of the joke lies in the parson’s choice of reading. For in verse ten of I Timothy, chapter six, we are told that love of money is the root of all evil. And verse two says “the Man of God flees these things, seeking only Righteousness, Godliness, Faith, Love. Patience and Meekness.” 

Amen.
M. Brown

Who Remembers Korea? (1958)

From the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

1953, the year in which the Korean war ended, now seems a very long time ago. Really only five years, but in the present system military violence is so common that three years of slaughter in Korea are almost forgotten. It is a frightening fact that capitalism has brought about so much blood-letting in the last five years in various parts of the world that to start discussing the Korean war in any detail is like raking over the dead past, and few would be interested.

But the events surrounding Korea and the East-West propaganda at the time aptly typify wars in general (including the small ones since Korea). A film “The U.N. in Korea” was shown at Head Office on January 12th and a Party speaker used this to illustrate the S.P.G.B. answer to war. Looking back is cold comfort for those who pin their faith in U.N.O. as a means of maintaining world peace. Korea is the blood-soaked ground where U.N.O. was in fact at war.

Liberation Propaganda
It is certainly worthwhile for workers all over the world to ask themselves when threatened with being “occupied" — does it matter whether or not we are “liberated”? Here a grim lesson is to be learned from Korea. In 1945, after about 40 years, the Koreans were “liberated” from the Japanese. The film showed that the workers under the Japanese ruling class were expected to work. They were in fact working before the Japanese went there and have done nothing but work for their own bosses since. It is a great shame that Japanese workers in common with the rest thought it in their interest to don their bosses’ uniforms and go plundering for them, because, of course, workers in both occupied and occupying countries always have to work for their masters. The struggle for existence in terms of wages and conditions is fought with the enemy at home, not with fellow-workers elsewhere who are in the same position. The working-class, it must be emphasised and driven home, do not own any country anywhere. The land, the factories, the mines, the raw material, do not belong to the worker, but to State or private owners. In fact, it is because they own nothing of the country that they have to sell the one thing that is theirs—the energy in their bodies for wages. What then does liberation really mean? Korea once again shows that one ruling class replaces the other and exploitation of the workers continues. It is the need for markets, trade outlets, mineral wealth and strategic points that sets the capitalist groups of the world at one another’s throats commercially and they in turn set the workers at one another’s throats militarily.

More Jargon
Both major capitalist powers in Korea. America in the South, and Russia in the North, tried hard to pass their butchery off as a campaign for ideals. One capitalist mouthpiece, the then foreign secretary of Egypt, called the war “peace action” because U.N.O. was involved. But despite charge and counter-charge, lie and counter-lie, the strategic importance and mineral wealth of Korea could not be disguised. The Chinese rulers also were not slow to see their geographic position, and “aggression ” is an excellent cry to influence workers who do not understand their class position, but think nationally.

Contradiction
The film showed how vast quantities of various materials, industrial plant and buildings were destroyed to prevent their capture. The population were in chronic need of food and all other essentials, but in every war this folly is “normal.”

It must not be forgotten that in 1950, when the Korean war started, the Labour Government was in power here. Those who think changing Tories for Labourites makes any difference must have very short memories.

All wars produce their heroes. A hero is one who though afraid of the boss at work endangers his life to a point which even amazes the boss when fighting other workers. General McArthur, like most good generals, never suffered a scratch, but the film did not mention him as U.N. Commander Perhaps it is embarrassing for those in U.N.O. who try to pass as peace-lovers to recall how McArthur wanted to use A-bombs and, after bombing Manchuria, to extend the war into China.

Is War Worth It?
In preparing notes for the meeting, the speaker found back numbers of the Socialist Standard most helpful. It was pointed out at the meeting that while the so-called communists and the other major political parties supported the blood-letting on one side or the other, the S.P.G.B., with its traditional world working-class approach, opposed it. We said of Korea what we had said of 1914-18 and 1939-45 that there is nothing involved worth the shedding of a drop of working-class blood, that workers' interests lie together, not being at each other’s throats and, having no quarrel with workers anywhere, we extend the hand of Socialist fraternity to all workers and continue working for Socialism. It does not matter who is the ruler, home-grown or foreign, it is against rulers as a class world wide that workers should organise and politically not militarily, to prefer one gang to another is pointless.

Quoting from The Times (28/7/53) the Socialist Standard showed that 3,000 people died for every mile of territory won, not enough to bury the dead. In all, an estimated five million were killed. After being “liberated" there were two-and-three-quarter million refugees and four million destitute in Korea. Having helped to bring about this horrible plight. U.N.O. started a Relief Fund. But the various voluntary donations to aid the stricken population were paltry compared with the nine thousand million dollars spent in three years on ammunition. With the passing of time the political capital to be gained from posing as the champions of freedom in Korea died down. By the time Hungary came along with its promise of political advantage to Western Governments organising charity to the “freedom" fighters, the victims of capitalism in Korea were relying on adverts, in newspapers to collect funds.

What of Socialism?
While the mineral wealth of the world, along with the other means of life are in the hands of the capitalist class, places like Korea with its geographic importance and its mineral wealth of copper, coal, iron, bauxite, and tungsten, etc., will remain the objects of plunder for any gang of rulers who get the chance. The alternative to these continuous thieves' quarrels is obvious. It is to make all the natural and industrial assets of the world the common property of all mankind, to finish with buying, selling, profits and wages, and start producing for free distribution on the basis of people’s needs. This alternative can only be made operative by the workers first understanding the need for it and then organising for it. To bring these necessary conditions about will take a lot of work, but looking at Korea and looking at capitalism today, the need could hardly be more pressing.
Harry Baldwin


Letters: Productivity and the Wealth of the Capitalist Class (1958)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Productivity and the Wealth of the Capitalist Class

A reader in Australia (G. Harigen) comments, on statements made at various times in these columns about the small average annual increase of productivity. He asks: "Where did the capitalist class get the wealth they have destroyed in two world wars; millions of tons of shipping, with their cargoes, wool, wheat, meat, everything ruthlessly destroyed, to say nothing of seamen and soldiers; labour-power, also a commodity?"

Reply.
In order to understand what has happened in production and in the accumulation wealth by the propertied class, our correspondent needs to consider separately the average amount produced by each worker; the rate at which it increases, year by year; the total amount produced by the whole working class; and the amount of this that is accumulated in the hands of the propertied class.

Taking first the average output per worker, it is a fact that this increases very slowly, though in the early nineteenth century when industrialisation was in its infancy the rate of increase was greater (as it now is in Russia). Colin Clark, who has recently re-examined the question, estimates for Britain an increase of about 1½ per cent a year in the later nineteenth century and in the period 1920-1938, but under 1 per cent, a year since 1945. This is based on average output per worker per hour (see "The Cost of Living” 1957, p. 18). Estimates by other economists do not greatly differ.

The above-mentioned rate of increase relates to the average output per worker. The total output of the whole working class has increased since pre-war days at a faster rate because there are many more workers at work (unemployment of 1,500,000 went, more married women go out to work, and the population of working age is larger). Also hours of work are rather longer because more overtime is worked and this has more than offset the nominal reduction of standard weekly hours.

The division of the national income has changed, with an increase of the proportion going to the wage and salary earners from 56 per cent, in 1938 to 65 per per cent, in 1956; a big increase in the income of farmers and a drop in the proportion going as "Rent, Dividends and Interest" (see "National Income and Expenditure," 1957, H.M. Stationery Office). For “wages” alone (excluding clerical workers) the proportion was 38 per cent. in 1938 and 43 per cent. in 1956.

The monetary figure for “Rent, Dividends and Interest” in 1938 was £1,134 millions, and in 1956, £1,937 millions, but as a proportion of national income it has fallen from 22 per cent. to 11 per cent. (In other words it has not kept pace with the rise of prices).

There is nothing final about such changes and it is probable that the proportion of the national income going to property owners is increasing again.

There remains the question of the accumulated wealth of the propertied class as distinct from their annual income. The war-time destruction of property (estimated at £7,000 million) fell, of course, primarily on the propertied class. Part was covered by “aid” from U.S.A. and some or all of the remainder has been made good out of the surplus value taken from production since the war.

The above figures are not at all inconsistent with the fact that the propertied class, then and now. own the overwhelming proportion of the accumulated wealth of the country, for their accumulated wealth is not merely what they retain out of production each year, but is largely made up of what they have retained in previous years and inherited from the past generation of property owners.
Editorial Committee



Truths and Facts

To the Editor.
Dundee.

The writer of an article which appeared in the January edition of the Socialist Standard under the heading of "Get it Straight in 1958" has given a false analogy between a geometrical truth and a historical fact He writes: "Everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line: a simple, unanswerable, self-evident proposition. Who, then, could fail to think and act on it ?” What he fails to understand here is that the propositions of mathematics are the outcome of cold calculated thought, while the contrary is the case as regards history, where we have the passions and actions of men to deal with, which, of course, have nothing in common with the abstract truths of mathematics. For the former rules only in the realm of thought, while the latter rules in historical facts, which are not the outcome of rearmed truth. History is not motivated by truth. If it were there would be no history. What is self-evident for mathematics can in no way bear a relation to historical motivation that does move, not exist for truth. It is true that we are all prepared to accept the truths of mathematics, but it is an error to think that because of this, we should all, therefore, be prepared to accept the teachings of Socialism. And from the very fact that people are not motivated by the straight line to Socialism, is proof that history from that point of view is not concerned with moving in straight lines, or truths.
R. Smith,
Dundee.


Reply.
Our correspondent might have been on sound ground if the article referred to had been based simply on analogy; if it had argued that because mathematically the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and for that reason only, therefore there can only be one way of getting Socialism. But the article did not say that. What it did was to point out, on evidence, that the indirect approach to Socialism of the reformists had not arrived at Socialism and is not in process of arriving at Socialism. The argument would stand if the analogy had not been mentioned.

Also in another respect our correspondent misses the point. He writes that the mathematical analogy is no reason why "we should all be prepared to accept the teaching of Socialism.” But the article did not suggest that. It was not dealing with all people and their readiness or unreadiness to accept the Socialist case. It dealt specifically with people who had already accepted the essence of the Socialist idea, but who thought that the indirect, reformist, way would lead to Socialism. They thereby led themselves and others away from Socialism.

Our correspondent tells us that in history we are dealing with men’s passions and actions “which have nothing in common with the abstract truths of mathematics.” This may be true but it is pointless. It misses the important truth that men’s passions and actions can be modified by thought and theory. The S.P.G.B. has always insisted on the practical futility and positive danger of working class actions guided by passion and sentiment instead of by thought and understanding. The more the Socialist case is accepted the less passionate futility there will be and the quicker the progress to Socialism. Men today do not have to go on repeating the stupidities of past history just because it happened.

The study of history has little purpose if it does not enable us to avoid errors of past generations that had not the advantage of being able to study history. We want the present generation to avoid the reformist errors of their fathers. Does our correspondent think we should refrain from trying to do this?
Editorial Committee.


Should We Organize into Political Parties?

To the Editor.
Croydon,
Surrey.

To become party to one idea or aim is to close the mind with regard to all other explanation. We are guided in our ideas by the intuition, and through this the principles of thought. However, "the principle" is to be compared with the hand which guides the torch beam. These "principles" guide every thought and, of course, every action. But, principles are plastic and, as such, can be applied universally.

Parties of a necessity fail, simply because of the negation of this. The “party” restricts the application of any universals, by postulating particular laws of thought and action. Philosophically, rules such as this do not promote plasticity of thought, but restricts the idea (Locke) to inaction.

The parties, because they are viewing “part” of a whole, have rules of conduct which guides the principles; but this is contradictory, for the principles must guide the rules and codes. And, cause to effect, the party ceases to analyse its own rules of conduct; the party-minded are specialists—and like all such, view but a section of the whole.

If the mind is made to concentrate on particulars, it stagnates for want of fresh material. Singular ideas are of little use, unless they are referred to the general principle, remembering that the whole is but the sum total of its parts. All of those particular subjects we know exist, are but of a whole, the universe is made up of particulars, but to try to explain the universe by its particulars would be quite erroneous, but this is the near intention of parties! They erroneously try to explain the whole which exists in the “society" by adopting a fixed opinion, for things are much more than your principles, and they need the plastic mind.

Parties also fail when they insure and secure themselves against expediency—for they fail to see round their narrowness of ideas—that they are expedient in being partisan.

There is a tendency to identify oneself with the ideas which one has, to the point of prestige, and this too, do the parties do and, as a result, they become intolerant of any idea outside their own, and criticise unmercifully any suggestion against the “party-aim”; to observe and study the truth more than often means that the student is unsuccessful in society, and so it is that the party which studies foe truth will anyway never succeed in this society, by that one point; but neither will it succeed among students of truth, for foe truth denies that we become party to it.
Yours faithfully,
M. Nairne.


Reply.
Our correspondent has set out to state what appears to him to be principles of over-riding importance, but in purely general terms and without attempting to examine the consequences of applying them.

His general proposition appears to be that to form a political party involves concentrating on certain aspects and disregarding other aspects. As against this he wants, apparently, that individuals should not form parties but should “study the truth.”

This is all very interesting to those who can live mentally in a void, but what about the solution of the practical problems before us? Capitalism exists. Its machinery of government is controlled by political parties which use their control to perpetuate capitalism. What do unorganised “students of truth” do about this? According to our correspondent they must not form a political party to remove capitalism and establish Socialism, because to do so would require the (to our correspondent) undesirable concentration on the problem of removing capitalism and establishing Socialism.

Since there is no other way to achieve the desired end our correspondent would have us abandon the end— and put up with capitalism. If this is not what he means and accepts, it is for him to come down to earth and tell us.
Editorial Committee.

“Extinguished theologians . . ." (1958)

Quote from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science. As the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain. But orthodoxy is the Bourbon of the world of thought. It learns not. neither can it forget, and though at present bewildered and afraid to move, it is as willing as ever to insist that the first chapter of “Genesis” contains the beginning and the end of sound science; and to visit with such petty thunderbolts as its half-paralysed hands can hurl, those who refuse to degrade nature to the level of primitive Judaism.”

(T. H. Huxley on Darwin’s Origin of Species, “Westminster Review” 1860.)

Party News Briefs (1958)

Party News from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Date to Remember. The Annual Conference is being held at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 4th, 5th and 6th. Commencing on Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 1 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. Each session ending at 6 p.m. Particular note should be made that the Saturday session commences at 1 p.m., this is to enable the Secretary to prepare the previous day’s notes and it has been found that, as many members work on the Saturday morning, the representation is not usually up to full strength. The Annual Dance will be held on Saturday evening and a Rally will be held on Sunday evening. The General Secretary would be glad to know well in advance from Comrades requiring accommodation and also would like members who can accommodate delegates to let him know as soon as possible.

* * *

Propaganda. April is the first month that outdoor meetings start to get under way, and the Propaganda Committee will, as usual, make the best arrangements possible to “circulate” speakers to the various stations. Also Branches will make their local arrangements for meetings, but a very important factor to ensure a good propaganda season is that members make every effort to support as many meetings as possible. It is most encouraging for speakers to know that they have the active support of other comrades at meetings.

* * *

A Sympathiser at our Tower Hill meetings has presented the Party with a portable platform. This is very much appreciated and will certainly greatly assist Party work.

* * *

Companion Parties. The E.C.’s report to conference contains interesting news of the activity of our Companion parties. The W.S.P. (U.S.A.) and S.P.C. have increased their activities—the members say this is due in some measure to the visit of Comrade Gilmac this summer.

* * *

In Canada members are holding regular meetings and are now sending out 1,400 circulars through the post each month in addition to the distribution of the “Western Socialist” and the “Socialist Standard.

* * *

In Australia the Sydney Group has been very active, particularly in regard to selling literature. The Comrades have ordered a considerable number of pamphlets and Socialist Standards from London and have continued to run a study group and have maintained propaganda meetings in Sydney. Melbourne have continued to hold meetings in spite of the fact that the building they used was demolished during the year. They also have a Central Branch spread over Victoria and New South Wales.

* * *

In New Zealand the sales of literature are being well maintained and are also gaining new subscribers, this, despite the fact that several of their younger members emigrated to Australia during the year.

* * *

The Socialist Party of Ireland. The year has seen a resurgence of activity which culminated in publication of the “Socialist” by the Belfast comrades. This is the first regular Socialist paper to appear in Ireland and it is hoped to continue its publication monthly.

* * *

Sunday Film Lectures at Head Office. The lectures will continue throughout March; details are given elsewhere in this issue, but the last meeting of the season will be on March 30th. (The Sunday before Conference.)
Phyllis Howard

The Economics of "Oil." (1929)

From the June 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Winston was right after all when he stated recently that the workers have more “amenities” now than ever before. If any of our readers are still sceptical regarding this fact, the cutting below from the “Daily Herald” (May 11th), taken from the report of the Chairman at the Annual General Meeting of the Margarine Union, Ltd., will dissipate any doubts on the matter :—
  He mentioned that over £1,600,000 bad been spent on advertising during 1928 and had been fully charged to Profit and Loss. The consumption of margarine was continually increasing, no doubt due to the fact that it occupied a rather unique position, because whilst being one of the cheapest and best food commodities in existence, it was sold at the same price to the public as before the war.
And yet there are still workers who do not know on which side their bread is BUTTERED.
Sarcastigator.

New World disorder (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
New Worlders have pointed to
 developments in the Middle
 East and South Africa as
 examples of a more stable and
 democratic world, but 30
 nations remain in the throes of
 war, and many more conflicts 
are threatening to erupt, as
 John Bissett reports.
At present, 30 nations are in the throes of war and experts have pointed to a further 15 potential flashpoints, from Cuba to North Korea. Where, then, is the New World Order we were promised three years ago when the Berlin Wall crumbled and “Communism" was extinguished in eastern Europe?

President Bush believed the collapse of "Communism" (ie, the Russian state capitalist bloc) would make the world a safer place. Capitalism could step in and fill the political and economic vacuum and the world would look to the US as a mentor, for guidance towards democracy and stability. Money previously spent on arms would be used for social programmes such as health and education. Confidence and security would prevail. Or so some thought.

Such a notion of the New World Order is a fraud and only a new World Order in the sense of a change in power relationships among the mighty.

New Worlders have pointed to developments in the Middle East and South Africa as examples of a more stable and democratic world. Recent steps to create peace and democracy in the Middle East and South Africa, however, are hardly examples of a new international trend. The end of the Cold War simply meant that Israel could no longer bully its neighbours, safe in the knowledge that the US was watching from the sidelines like the proverbial big brother. Neither could the PLO and its allies count on Soviet support. A similar situation had existed in South Africa with Soviet satellites backing and ANC and South African Communist Party and sponsoring the "frontline states" in their war of attrition with the apartheid machine. The absence of superpower support, more than any other factor, has forced old enemies to the negotiating table.

The end of the Cold War, far from bringing the prospect of peace to the Middle East, has brought the continuing threat of catastrophe. For the end of the Cold War made possible the Gulf War. which in turn resulted in the regeneration of arms stockpiling.

The Independent on Sunday (14 November) reported that "current sales of weapons to the Middle East mainly the Arab Gulf Stales — are running at $415 million a day". When the Gulf War ended the US received S28 billions worth of arms contracts from Gulf States. This year alone Kuwait is buying 236 US MIA2 Abrams tanks, and the United Arab Emirates is buying $3.5 billions worth of Leclerc tanks. In January this year, John Major clinched the "A1 Yamanah 2" arms deal, providing the Saudis with 48 Tornado aircraft. This was followed by a deal with Oman for 48 Challenger tanks.

Unstable as ever
If anything, the Middle East is as volatile now as it ever was during the Cold War years, with no superpowers forcing a stalemate and with the globo-cops unsure what side to take should the "Warriors of Allah", the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, rekindle old hatreds.

Since the Cold War ended, 18 new countries, some with a nuclear capacity, have been added to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’s annual assessment The Military Balance. The New World Disorder is a global phenomenon that has left all but a few nations unscathed. In Russia, the rise of the autocrat Boris Yeltsin and the new privation and austerity facing the people of the former Soviet Union is as much the fault of the West as the "Communists” who bequeathed the political and economic void.

Much was promised the Russian people by Western capitalists. Investment would pour into the former Soviet Union and businesses would be falling over one another to establish new markets there - or so the projection ran. Sums of money have indeed been given or lent to the old Soviet Union, but in such tiny amounts (a mere fraction of what was originally promised) that their effectiveness has been greatly limited. And when one considers that they were given on condition the old state capitalist bureaucrats adhered to Western economic approaches — clearly failing in capitalist nations  — the reason for the Russian mess becomes more clear.

The "New World Order" promises little to fledgling nations striving to survive in today’s hostile capitalist climate, and even less for those nations that thought the new order would bring peace and financial stability. The Cold War at least offered something of a global insurance policy against catastrophe. It was a system that prevented regional wars from getting out of hand. And though most of us were scared silly at the idea of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers, the closest we ever really came to Armageddon was at the time of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During the Cold War. the superpowers at least had a token respect for each others’ spheres of influences, but Western capitalism still harboured a desire to make the world its market.

Reagan stepped up the arms race in the 1980s in the full knowledge that this would cripple the Soviet economy. No sooner would Russian leaders attempt to redirect their state capitalist economy towards the manufacture of more consumer goods than the demands of the arms race rechannelled spending in the direction of military production.

The victory in the Cold War was what the US wanted and what they got. Now they have deprived themselves of their global role as standard bearers of capitalism. The end of "Communism" has meant the end of the US justification for global leadership. This was forecast by Georgy Arbatov in his office at Moscow’s old US and Canada Institute back in 1986:
"We are going to do the worst thing we can to America we are going to take away their enemy".
The collapse of “Communism" certainly has harmed the US arms industry, even if it can boast huge profits. In 1982 the Pentagon listed 118,000 US firms providing products to the Defence Department. Since the Berlin Wall came down this had dropped to 36,000.

New enemies please
Martin Walker writing in the Guardian (27 July 1992), described the New World Order as a "phrase looking around vaguely for a policy". Now the old enemies have left the international stage, the US is confused, unsure of its role, and of how to confront the problems of the current world malaise. There are new problems now, with new dimensions. New conflicts could escalate overnight with outside interference. In the old Yugoslavia and former Soviet Union, for instance, nationalism is taking a form few in the West could have prophesied in 1989.

Part of the US frustration regarding its role in the New World Order is a result of its relationship with the UN and commitment to UN peacekeeping forces. Washington is basically unwilling to place its forces under non-US UN command. Chapter VII of the UN Charter stipulates that the use of force should be controlled by a military committee made up from the five permanent members of the Security Council all with the right to veto decisions. One US diplomat summed up the US attitude succinctly: "Can you imagine our guys being told how to fight by a Chinese General" (New Internationalist, October 1992).

Neither is the US in a hurry to contribute its share of finances towards UN peacekeeping missions. At present the US is in debt to the UN for $1 billion an assessment based on a formula that reflects UN members’ wealth and size. If the end of the Cold War has given the US a headache, it is giving the UN a huge migraine. In 1987, peacekeeping missions cost the UN a mere S364 million. The figure for 1992/3 is estimated at $36,200 million. The UN is currently so short of funds that it can only foresee financing missions for several more months.

Rather than send US troops to Bosnia under some foreign UN general, which might increase the US UN contributions. President Clinton believes a lot of bother would be saved if the Bosnians were armed and the Serbs bombed. When the US led UN peacekeeping forces found themselves at loggerheads with Haiti’s upstarts, Clinton offered the 8,000 strong Haitian army a $50 million bribe to restore democracy and save the US further embarrassment on the international stage.

Intellectual laxatives
The US and the UN (the terms are interchangeable) seem to be going nowhere fast, having been frustrated in Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia and Haiti. Their peacekeepers kill, their financial advisers spread economic havoc and their think tanks are desperate for intellectual laxatives. We are left with an image of an organization lacking all credibility. Any pretensions the UN had of being an agent for world peace were shattered in the wake of the Gulf War when the Security Council ruled that food and medical supplies to Iraq be intercepted, in direct contravention of the Geneva convention and the UN Charter itself.

In today’s international climate, countries that can pay their way can expect US friendship and support. Those who are becoming a burden to the West are having to solve their own problems. The US is neither prepared to spend the money or sacrifice the lives that the direct confrontation of problems might demand — look, for instance, at Bosnia.

Just as the US and the UN are lapsing into global incompetence, so too is the World Bank that profit seeking organization that milks the "Third World” under the guise of humanitarian economic aid.

In 1991, Mexico went all out and serviced $16 billions worth of old international debt. The same year, the World Bank lent $16.4 billion to struggling nations, 37.5 percent of which went on projects deemed a failure by the World Bank’s own staff.

At present "Third World" debt is running at 1.3 trillion dollars. African nations are now taking out new loans just to service the interest off old debts, so health and education programmes are sliding down the list of government priorities. This year. World Bank projects have been responsible for the displacement of 2,153,000 people on three continents. This figure is nothing compared to those displaced as a direct result of the end of the Cold War. In 1972, the world had 2.5 million refugees. At December 1992 this figure stood at 19 million.

Most generous
Ironically, the most generous host countries are proving to be the most impoverished (ranked according to ratio of GNP per capita): Malawi. Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Algeria. Malawi, with a population of only eight million, is presently caring for one million refugees. Meanwhile, the US coastguard is intercepting flotillas of Haitian refugees off the Florida coast.

So much, then, for Bush’s "New World Order". But there again, few of us were fooled in the first place. There was, however, one person who swallowed the idea hook, line and sinker, who can remarkably still regurgitate it. The newly-inaugurated Clinton said at the beginning of 1993, that his job was to "develop an approach . . . to the post Cold War World that is a good place for freedom and democracy and market reforms." (Guardian, 15 January).
John Bissett


After Bulger (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in unfriendly times. As neighbourhoods have made way for wretched anonymous tower blocks, so neighbourliness has become outdated. It is not that people have chosen to become careless and uncooperative; as social animals we are never happier than when we are able to behave in mutuality, empathy and compassion towards our fellow human beings. But the way that life has come to be organised conspires against our will to be human. “There is no such thing as society”, said Thatcher, and her words were met with howls of protest by those who did not want her words to be true, and by blushes of embarrassment by those who knew just how true her words were becoming. For the truth is that community is now little more than a quaint ideal, a sociologist’s buzzword. The depressing reality is that more than ever we live in a society which does not resemble anything very social.

This sense of crushing alienation, which was once a mere term of jargon employed by those who had read Marx (who wrote about how workers are alienated not only from the product of their labour, but from their very selves as creative beings who are transformed into robotic profit-producers) is now inescapable. The city streets are settings for fear and loneliness. Housing is designed according to the cheap measurements of profits for rapacious landlords whose concern for comfort, dignity or social fellowship in the place where we live simply does not exist. The transport system is unsafe and its weary users shuffle ritualistically to and from wage slavery in various conditions of unease, stress and anger. Services are running down—the basic needs of workers are too expensive to bother with, so let us dwell amongst the refuse of late twentieth century squalor. This is our environment. For most of us saving our environment is not about trees and forests and fish ponds; they are out of reach and survival within the urban wasteland is about dodging the dog mess and hoping that it will be someone else’s house that they break into.

An alienated world of non-community turns others into strangers and strangers into enemies. People turn in on themselves and draw lines like stone fortress walls around their lives, their emotions. And within the darkness of these enclosed lives horrible, unthinkable abuses occur. People like to speak about “the freedom of the individual”, as if being atomised, isolated and excluded from social cooperation were somehow a form of liberation. It is not; it feels horrible inside those fragile, impoverishing, lifelimited walls of the alienated human’s existence. And this is where awful nightmare’s come to life. Yesterday’s unthinkable becomes today’s headline and, perhaps, tomorrow’s routine.

Why did two ten-year old boys kill a two-year old boy? No simplistic answers are on offer here. If you want to blame someone or something there is no shortage of scapegoat hunters on the market. The boys had access to sick videos. One of these, in the home of one of their fathers, appears to depict a crime much like the one they committed. Who made this video? That “artist” of our age was not in the courtroom as the boys sobbed. Perhaps he is working right now on a new work of cinematic art which reproduces the killing in question. And if there is a market for it . . . an audience with cash to pay for thrills from screen violence . . . plenty of profit in that, so what can be wrong? And who are the government to condemn such an entrepreneur? How can a government which sells arms to dictatorships and torture equipment to the highest bidder state any but the most hypocritical objections to films which celebrate gratuitous slaughter? Were there no two-year old babies in Baghdad when British and American bomber planes went on their killing spree in defence of the profits and power of the unelected dictator of Kuwait? Let those who kill children, and celebrate it within their daily lie sheets, claim no moral high ground now that the murders are beyond the law.

The boys played video games for hours. These games now outstrip the music record industry in sales. When once (in “the bad old Sixties”, of course) kids sang that all you need is love and dopey parables about two little boys with their two little toys, now for hours on end they stare at video violence turned into a game. Press this button and Kill, Kill, Kill . . . and then put in another pound and your licence to kill begins all over again. Killing without consequence. Just as the victim of a shooting in a bad American film limps away and returns in the next scene ready to run the New York marathon, so the message of these “games” are that violence never really hurts. How about a game where you insert your pound and the machine boots you in the balls?

As life has become more of a miserable struggle to survive in the face of debt and the dole and a dreary environment, so entertainment has come to be about releasing anger. The racist louts who killed a teenage lad at a bus stop because they imagined that his skin pigmentation made him a threat were probably briefly entertained by their bullying victory. The kids in Manchester who captured and tortured a young girl might have had a brief high, and the list could go on. The truth is that the list is a very, very long one.

This capitalist system under which we all live—even if we many deny that they do, and most do not even know that they do—has committed against us the greatest of crimes. It has denied us our freedom to be innocent. Contrary to the medieval remains which lurk within Christian minds of professional pessimists like the Bishop of Liverpool, babies are not born evil. The whole notion of evil belongs in the museum of antiquated follies. Would Hitler have been a Nazi dictator if he was your brother?

We are born neither good nor bad. To imagine otherwise is as sensible as to imagine that we are born with a preference for Pepsi rather than Coke, a genetic inclination to rape rather than pass the parcel. We are born to be within the world as it is. And the world as it is right now is not a happy place in which to be born.

Millions and millions of children are born into conditions of such material constraint that it is amazing they grow up fit for anything. Some do not emerge fit for anything. The wounds suffered as a result of authoritarian parenting, of sexual and violent abuse (both misuses of power) and of squalid and ignorant upbringings are injuries which were once unthinkable—or at least, unthought about. Perhaps, if capitalism had been removed long ago, these effects would have been of a lesser magnitude and we could go in greater innocence towards creating our futures.

As this century comes to an end the hard, unpalatable fact (perhaps even for many socialists) is that the psychological pain caused by the artificial way of organising life under capitalism has led to a loss of innocence for most of us. Put plainly, we have all been much more hurt by this system than it is easy to admit. And that is why there will be more horror stories to fill the gutter press. More and worse, until we get rid of this system.

The reformists, who were always wrong, now stand mute before what is to them an inexplicable breakdown in civilised culture. After all, had they not set up a welfare state, with its ever-ready social workers and free schools for the poor? But the kids can’t stand the schools and see no point in going when all they must learn is to become unemployed—sorry, “Job Seekers”. The churches talk about the collapse of the family, with their eyes carefully averted from the disaster zone of the family which heads their religion. But when Norman Tebbit said to fathers that they must get on their bike and look for work (and families don’t fit on bikes, you know) and the smug bankers threw tens of thousands out of their repossessed homes into the insecurity of hostels, then what real chance did the children of those families have?

Now Tory ministers cry for moral education in the schools. But what reasonably sensible school student would for one minute accept moral instruction from that rabble of corrupt and callous rogues? And what moral depravity would characterise the child who received an A+ in the exam set by exploiters to test the sturdiness of the soon to be replaced exploited?

All that is left for capitalism is blame. Guilt is the final cudgel in their diminished ideological armoury. As the 1990s come more and more to resemble the 1930s, no lessons are learned by our masters’ mouthpieces who set the tone of the media. The best that they could do was whip up hysteria. Releasing the names of the two “guilty” boys and delighting in the waste of their lives places the British tabloid press several rungs further down the moral ladder than these little boys have ever had a chance to descend. These were the headlines of the tabloid press on Thursday 25 November, the day after the two boys’ conviction for murder:
Daily Mail: EVIL, BRUTAL AND CUNNING.
Daily Mirror: FREAKS OF NATURE—The faces of normal boys but they had hearts of unparalleled evil.
Daily Star: HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW YOU LITTLE BASTARDS?
All of the above appeared with pictures of the little boys—pictures that would ensure  the victimisation of them and their families for many years to come. The articles within these rags stooped to any claim in their eagerness to cast blame on these children. The editors and the journalists and the sort of vile readers who throw rotten eggs at prison vans were comforted by this orgy of attributing guilt to the feeble and infantile targets of popular wrath. What they did not report were the four suicides this year within the juvenile detention centre in west London where life for the guilty ended in the defeat of all hope. And while they screeched and yelled about the “unparalleled evil” of two confused and antisocial boys they did not report how killers of exactly the same age are employed by such armies as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the government side in the civil war in Sierra Leone. (“Since the civil war began in 1991 children as young as eight years old have been used by government forces in Sierra Leone to execute suspected rebels, sometimes cutting their heads off with machetes”, readers were informed by the Independent on 2 December last year).

But why worry anyone’s narrow minds with such distant, legalised atrocities to which our rulers have uttered not a word of meaningful condemnation? How much easier it is to concentrate little minds on the guilty faces of little children (the freaks, the bastards, the murderers) and rest content that the origin is in the unequalled blackness of their hearts.

Sometimes, through the fog of confusion which is how life is viewed by many people, and despite the brutalised indifference which seems to be the price of keeping afloat within the relentless competition to afford any kind of a life, certain events make us especially sad. These events are very largely selected for us by unaccountable media chiefs whose employees orchestrate public grief on such occasions. That does not diminish the authenticity of our sadness. After all, we are human beings. We are social animals. And sometimes, after a Warrington bomb or an Ethiopian famine disaster, a collective nerve is touched. And then what?

Socialists do not indulge in piety. That can be left to those who prefer to respond on their knees with their eyes shut. We leave moral self-righteousness as their monopoly as well. No sugary sentiments of love for little children will be heard from us. It is only under a system where the material stimulus to love and care is lacking that “loving thy neighbour” is promoted as some great virtue. No proposals here for teaching children what is right and wrong; not under a system which would have willingly taken those sane children only five years further into their lives and taught them to kill strangers as paid members of the British army.

Occasional sadness is a sign that we have not been wholly brutalised. Just as the fact that the overwhelming majority of children do not adjust willingly to the competitive, vicious and violent norms of the capitalist ethos is proof that this system has not and will not desensitise us all. To punish the dehumanised for what an inhumane world has taught them to become is as wise as to lock a dog in a kennel and then beat it for barking. The fact is that the kennel door is unlocked. It does not have to be like this.
Steve Coleman