Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Night All.

Hello Dear Reader ('Reader' singular, 'cos I know it's just the one.)

You are currently reading the last post on the blog for the year — actually, I'll go further than that — you are currently skim-reading the last post on the blog for the decade. I thought I'd end on a round number, and this is post number 2,500 for 2019. That many posts in 12 months is not to be sniffed at. I doubt I'll reach such heady numbers again in a calendar year but I'll give it a shot. (Just maybe not in 2020, if that's okay with you.)

I could have reserved the final post of the year with a scanned in article by John A. Dawson - one of my favourite Socialist Standard writers from the pre-1914 period - or finally got round to scanning in that long arse essay by Maximilien Rubel that's been 'resting' in drafts for about two years now but I'm feeling lazy: There are films to be watched, family to annoy, and Grandma pizza to be eaten.

So, instead, I will leave you with this pop classic from 2006. One of those songs that never ages. Should have been a smash (getting to number 48 doesn't cut it), pisses all over John Lennon's 'Imagine' and will be my song of choice if I ever audition for The Voice.

See you next year:

Communism or Corbynism? That is the Question (2019)

Blogger's Note: 
Of course I should have posted this article during the General Election itself but, you know, life gets in the way sometimes. I'm making amends now by posting it on the blog because its content still applies post December 12th, and the fall out from the Labour Party's defeat makes it all the more relevant.
19/11/2019

The British General Election draws near, the party propaganda machines are in full swing and the tranquillity of my winter evenings is increasingly punctured by the rapping and ringing of the clipboard-clutching ghouls who have wound their way to my front door. My favourite canvasser so far has been the wiry, wild-eyed Liberal Democrat who opened his spiel with a personalised greeting, raced through some questionable statistics and finished off with a desperate appeal for a tactical vote. If I mention to any these guys that I’m a socialist, their assumption is that I’ll be voting Labour. But in fact none of the capitalist gangs will be getting my vote.

Most decent folks are aware that the Conservatives are a party of entitled crooks and chancers that shamelessly defends the economic interests of the ruling class — a party for "selfish, grasping simpletons, who were born with some essential part of their soul missing", as the writer Charlie Brooker has put it. Unfortunately, however, many well-meaning working-class people have been taken in by the promises of other political parties to represent a socialist, communist or human alternative. They don’t. And that is as true of Labour as it is of any other party. In fact, the Labour Party, supposedly under newly ‘radical’ leadership, is a capitalist party – one that is not above bullshit and deception itself. Just look at this ridiculous Labour Party video about 'the economy', with its villainous billionaire who refuses to invest his wealth (as if capitalism could continue if this happened) and salt-of-the-earth proles cheerfully circulating their own means of exchange by paying for goods and services in their local communities (for a full critique of the misunderstandings and myths in this video, see here). This is not just bogus economics, but facile moralism and it beggars belief that nobody taking part in this production stopped to call some of its assumptions into question. Perhaps some did; but I have seen Labourites happily sharing this baloney on social media.

Let’s get beyond the bullshit. As argued by this text contributed to a left communist web site by a group of recovering Corbyholics, Corbyn and Labour do not represent a 'progressive' electoral option (I disagree with the article’s tout court rejection of voting and democracy, but that is not its main point). As the authors of the piece indicate, the Labour Party throughout its history has more than proven its dedication to the profit system, which requires the exploitation and often violent repression of the working class, as well as endless wars; in fact, Labour’s foreign policy has tended to be more brutal than that of the Conservatives. And as Adam Buick of my own party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, points out, Labour cannot possibly bring about a society “for the many, not the few” (Tony Blair’s phrase, originally), since capitalism, the system which Labour seeks to manage and continue, depends precisely on the exploitation of the “many” (workers) by the ‘few” (capitalist owners and controllers).

Along with his sidekick John McDonnell, Corbyn has widely been called ‘Marxist’ or a socialist by his supporters, as well by as his conservative opponents. What an insult to Marx and the socialist tradition of which he was part! For Marx, a socialist society would not be one organised “for the many, not the few”. It would be a society that has entirely abolished such class division. Communism or socialism (the same thing, whatever the Leninists say) requires getting rid of the buying and selling system and creating a society of free access to goods and services. With the productive capabilities that exist today, there is enough for everybody to enjoy a life of abundance without undertaking any wage labour. Once a progressive force (for all its horrors), capitalism today is a system that generates totally unnecessary suffering for the majority of people and it is long overdue for abolition. It continues in large part because we, the working class, continue to give it legitimacy and because, whatever we might say to the contrary, we don’t really believe that there is an alternative to the market system.

BJ or JC for PM? Labour, Liberal, Tory, Green or Nationalist? Leave or Remain? These are the questions that will be debated ad nauseam around dinner tables and in media studios over the next few weeks. But the really important questions for working-class people are of quite a different order. Here are some of them. Do you really want to go on working almost every day of your life, just to generate profits for a tiny group of capitalists? Do you know that eight individuals now possess as much wealth as half of the world’s population? Do you realize how fundamentally insane that is? Do you want to live in a society more and more characterised by poverty, addiction and despair? In which children are constantly dying of hunger or being killed in wars - all completely unnecessarily? Do you want to see the natural environment trashed in the pursuit of profit?

It’s no good voting for a new set of leaders to manage the present planetary chaos in a slightly friendlier fashion. Even if they really wanted to, Labour could do nothing to solve the problems identified above, which are generated by the profit system itself and which in any case will have to be addressed on a global, not a national scale. Nor will a Labour government even make things just a little more tolerable, whatever Labour may be promising. The last Labour government was arguably worse than the preceding Tory one, increasing wealth disparities at home and bringing death and destruction overseas. Indeed, not only was the invasion of Iraq arguably the greatest crime of the twenty-first century, but Labour politicians continue to play their part in perpetuating war overseas. In its entire history, in fact, the Labour Party has never moved society one step closer to socialism.

As always, capitalism’s left-wingers are telling us that this election is different and that this time there is a chance to make a ‘real change’ and forge ‘a new type of politics’ by voting for Corbyn and company. But we've heard all this before. What is actually needed is for workers to come together to bring an end to the madness of the profit system. We should reject the Conservatives, the fake socialists of Labour and every other capitalist party – and use the force of our majority to abolish capitalism. No leader required. But we don’t have forever to get the job done...
SH
(Originally posted here.)

Fire On 9th St (2019)

From the World Socialist Party of the United States website

Whenever out-of-towners imagine Las Vegas, they’ll usually think of the extravagance of downtown and the strip. Glistening lights, risqué showgirls, exquisite food – It’s like a never-ending party that grossed over $19.5 Billion in the fiscal year 2018 alone.[1] Settled in 1905, Vegas became the most populated American city founded within the 20th century. Like all cities, it was built outward, so most of the city’s oldest buildings and poorest neighborhoods are just blocks away from that same extravagance.

Another thing Vegas has in common with other American cities is, unfortunately, the rapidly rising rent prices. A two-bedroom apartment that cost me $695/month in late 2014 is now going for $1,175/month, 5 years later – and most locals would consider that neighborhood sketchy. Just go on Twitter and search “Charleston and Nellis.” If you’re making minimum wage, have a criminal record, or past evictions, then you’ll usually be forced to live in an even less desirable neighborhood. It should go without saying that many of the cheap, “second chance” apartments and extended-stay hotels that will accept people in those circumstances tend to be in those poorer neighborhoods downtown and just off the strip. It should also go without saying that those same residences tend to cut corners to save money.

That brings us to December 21, 2019. It’s 4:13 AM on a Saturday, just a couple hours before sunrise, around the time the Fremont Street Experience starts dying down as tourists and locals head home from their night of drunken debauchery. Just 5 blocks from this scene – about a 10-minute walk away – a fire starts at the Alpine Motel Apartments. Thick, black smoke rose into the air and some residents were jumping from their windows to escape the blaze just as firefighters arrived.[2] Six people were found dead, along with 13 injured (including a pregnant woman), making this the deadliest fire in the city’s history, since the 1980 MGM fire was in unincorporated Paradise, outside city limits. Around 50 people were displaced, days before Christmas. So, how did this fire start? From a stove.

Vegas is well known for its scorching heat, with highs regularly surpassing 115°F in mid-summer. What I think is much less well known is that it also regularly gets well below freezing temperatures in winter. While it doesn’t get as cold as Reno – let alone Salt Lake City – 30°F is nothing to scoff at, especially if you don’t have a heater in your home. And that’s where the stove comes into play. Residents said that the heat in the hotel hadn’t been working, so many of them had to use their stove to heat their apartments.

But it gets worse. The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed one of the residents, who said that when he noticed the fire and attempted to pull all the fire alarms, none of them worked, and neither did any of the smoke detectors. [3] He said that the maintenance man attempted to kick the back door open, but it was bolted shut – preventing residents from escaping the fire – so that homeless people couldn’t get into the building and sleep.

Some people may blame the residents for “choosing” to live in an apartment that doesn’t have heat, without taking any time to consider the extent to which it could be considered a choice. Even if we set all the circumstances I mentioned earlier aside, we still have to consider the fact that 69% of Americans have savings of $1,000 or less [4] – half of whom have no savings at all – 78% of US workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, [5] and 80% of Americans are in debt. [6] Remember the old apartment I mentioned earlier? They told me that if I wanted to end my lease early, it’d cost me 1 month of rent for every 3 months left on it. Halfway through, that would’ve cost $1,390, aside from first month’s rent and the deposit at a new apartment, as well as a U-Haul and maybe some helping hands. If you think packing up and moving was a feasible option at all for most of these residents, versus just turning on their stove at night instead, your privilege is showing. Yes, they could’ve informed the Southern Nevada Health District or a tenant rights advocacy group that their apartment had no heat, but for them to help you, you have to send your landlord a written letter informing them of the issue first, [7] and there’d be nothing stopping the landlord from evicting a tenant for a made-up reason if they were to do that. That’s why poor people tend to be much more scared to contact the authorities: fear of retribution. And rightfully so. Contacting the authorities would be assuming that no one’s already informed them, or that anything would come out of it.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the fact that landlords have significantly more bargaining power than tenants. The more desperate the tenant, the more they’ll usually be willing to go without. That’s why it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make sure they abide by any rules and regulations put in place for the tenants’ safety. If a landlord willingly chooses to disregard tenants’ safety so they can keep a few extra dollars in their pocket, the blame should entirely be put on the landlord, not a tenant that’s in a vulnerable position.

And that’s exactly what happened here. The landlord already violated 3 different NRS statutes by not having functioning heating facilities, [8] fire alarms, [9] and smoke detectors, [10] and possibly another by bolting their rear exit shut. If those regulations didn’t prevent this, then what will? More regulations? I don’t think so. Regulations only act as a band-aid, but don’t inherently fix the cause of this issue, which is the power imbalance that exists within the landlord-tenant relationship.

Capitalism necessitates profit over everything, even human safety. If a capitalist is left with the decision to spend more money to ensure the safety of their customers, or disregard customer safety and save money, capitalism incentives them to choose the latter. Profit is the end all be all in capitalism; the alpha and the omega. Profit incentives regulations to be broken. We’ve seen that time and time again; this is just another example. If we want to prevent things like this from happening for good, then we need to switch to the only economic system that puts people and the environment first by eradicating the profit motive: socialism.

In a socialist society, there’d be no profit motive, because there’d be no money. There’d be no ghettos people could be coerced to live in because there’d be no wages or classes. Every residence would have functioning heating facilities, fire alarms, and smoke detectors because there’d be no commodities – nothing would be bought or sold; everything would be produced of the highest available quality directly for use, according to a decentralized plan, with resources being calculated in kind. There’d be no private property – no capital – because everything would either be personal property, or it’d be owned in common. There’d be no state, leaders, or countries because we’d finally have direct democracy with an administration of delegates directly subject to the will of the majority, united under a worldwide commonwealth. We could finally use our productive forces rationally, rather than allowing market forces to control them for us.

So, what sounds better to you? Do you want a system that puts profit over human safety or a system that puts human and environmental safety over everything? Contrary to what the mainstream media may have you believe: the latter is possible. But a small minority of us can’t build it alone, only a vast majority of us can build it together.
Jordan Levi










News in Review: America Votes (1966)

The News in Review column from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

America Votes

The mid-term elections in America provided the customary festival for the devotees of the Great Man Theory.

Disgruntled Democrats were ready to blame President Johnson for their losses. The Daily Telegraph's Washington correspondent passed on a report that Democratic leaders in Michigan were thinking about opposing Johnson as their Presidential candidate in 1968.

On the other side, jubilant Republicans surveyed their leaders — Reagan, Romney, Percy, Nixon—and began planning the build-up to present one of them as the nation's saviour at the polls the year after next.

Whichever party is defeated at the election, the Great Man Theory remains unbeaten. The Democrats who now blame Johnson for their setbacks are conveniently forgetting that they once adored him as the man who would build the Great Society. The only remedy they have to offer is to peddle the same sort of nonsense about another man.

In the same way, the Republicans who are now come to praise men like Reagan and Percy may yet stay to bury them in unforgiving recrimination.

This is a familiar spectacle. Capitalism’s leaders are always being credited with more power over the system than they actually have. No man, and no government, has ever been able to control capitalism; in the end the system wins.

When we have an election in which the votes reflect a developing knowledge of that fact, we shall be somewhere near getting rid of the problems the great men are always promising, and always failing, to solve.


The “new” NAZIS

A small, black cloud has been observed over the politics of Western Germany. Coinciding with the fall of Ludwig Erhard, there are signs of a growing support for parties which resemble the old Nazis, and some of whose leaders were followers of Hitler.

In particular, the recent electoral successes of the National Democratic Party in Hesse have given cause for concern. And more than one eyebrow has been raised at the fact that Erhard’s successor Kiesinger was himself a member of the Nazi Party.

How far is the surprise and concern justified?

All capitalist parties stimulate the fallacies of patriotism among their working class. This patriotism is only a short step from extreme nationalism, express ing itself in violence and dictatorship.

The last war, of course, was supposed to have finished dictatorship. Yet the so-called peace settlement, part of which divided Germany into two, provided a fertile field for nationalist propaganda there. The NDP is taking full advantage of this, and patriotic German workers are receptive.

Capitalist parties continually promise to solve the workers’ problems and when they fail, as fail they must, the workers all too often decide that political democracy itself has failed.

In this situation, the parties have often fallen into confusion and bitter internal quarrels, heightening the impression that they are crooks and muddlers.

The failure of, and the squabbles in, the Christian Democratic Union, and now the fall of Erhard, have given/the new Nazis every chance of making their point.

As long as capitalism lasts there can be no security for democracy. Capitalism itself provides the tools with which demagogues can undermine democratic rights. The political ignorance by which capitalism lives is always ready to be exploited.

The NDP is at present small and has no influence. But it is hopeful, and perhaps with good reason.


Christian Communists

While Dr. Hewlett Johnson—the Red Dean of Canterbury—was alive it was never clear which had the greater claim to him: the Communist Party as an outstanding capture from the Church or the Church as a prominent convert from the Communist Party.

He himself, like many other members and supporters of the Communist Party, never had any difficulty in reconciling the two. It is now clear that he was in good company.

Dr. Johnson’s funeral service, on October 27 last at Canterbury Cathedral, was well attended and among the congregation were Communist Party secretary John Gollan and Morning Star editor George Matthews.

It would be interesting lo know how fervently Gollan and Matthews joined in the prayers for the Red Dean’s soul, how lustily they sang the hymns which disseminate the opiate of the people.

The funeral service is one which stresses the essence of religion — its mysticism, its false beliefs, its acceptance of the burdens of life under capitalism in the hope of a better time after death.

What were Gollan and Matthews doing at such a service?

Were they trying to prove that the Communist Party is becoming respectable? Were they showing that the organisation which professes, when it is convenient, to stand for Marxist materialism can see nothing wrong in its leaders contributing to religious mumbo-jumbo over a dead man’s body?

The Red Dean was a master of double think. Obviously, he would have approved.


No Bankers’ Ramp

Many of the present members of the Labour Party were brought up on the myth that the 1929 Labour government was destroyed by a banker’s ramp.

The story behind the myth is a simple one. In 1929 it was, the MacDonald government were doing so much for the working people of this country, they were so determinedly undermining the privileged position of the British ruling class, that financiers abroad began to fear for the very existence of capitalism.

They determined that MacDonald must be stopped, and conspired together to bring about the economic storm which swept the Labour government out of existence.

The “bankers ramp” story persists to this day; it was at any rate some sort of excuse for the dismal failure of the 1929 Labour government to tame capitalism and fulfil its promises.

At this year’s Labour conference, ASSET secretary, Clive Jenkins, while attacking the incomes policy, gave the government a chance to justify themselves in the same way: “I believe positively” he said, “that the government were told to do it.”

But Callaghan had already rejected the chance: “The measures were not taken because the bankers recommended them—there was no banker’s ramp.” 

The Wilson government is doing its best to prove that it is in control, and will not be pushed around by anyone. They are in no mood, at present, to make excuses.

Let this be remembered, then. Nobody forced the Labour government to do what they are doing. The foreign bankers did not plot to bring them down.

The Prices and Incomes Bill is part of a policy they are carrying out because they want it. It is their responsibility. But would anyone care to bet.


Who’s for Profits

The human sufferings caused by production for profit are so obvious that they lend themselves to cynical exploitation by tear-jerking demagogues of all sorts. In the past this was the speciality of Labour orators with their emotional denunciation of “profiteers” and their “profit motive.” But times change. Who said this?
   Profit is necessary to keep our stock of assets up to date and to enable them to be modernised and to give a return on savings. Companies must earn a proper return on their capital, and profit is not, and should not be, a dirty word where it is properly carried.
The Investors Chronicle, perhaps, or Enoch Powell? In fact, this defence of capitalism was made by Chancellor James Callaghan in a speech in Cardiff on September 9 (quoted in a letter to the Financial Times, September 21)—the same speech, by the way, in which he called for a permanent incomes policy. Callaghan was not just expressing his own prejudice. This has been a consistent Labour theme since they got power in October, 1964. Within a week Douglas Jay was saying:
  Profits, provided they are earned by efficiency and technical progress, and not by restrictive practices or abuse of monopoly, are the signs of a healthy economy, (quoted in the Guardian, 21 October, 1964).
Junior Minister George Darling has put it this way:
  This Government believes in high profits so long as industry uses them properly. (Financial Times, 24 November, 1965)
and George Brown in the House of Commons on August 3 this year: 
 I ought to make it plain that we are not, as a party, opposed to profits. In a mixed economy such as ours, the earning of profits is a necessary incentive over a large part of industry.
Crossman, who is now adding insult to injury by telling us that the repressive anti-working class policy of his party has something to do with Socialism, foresaw this in 1960 when he wrote in a Fabian pamphlet Labour in the Affluent Society:
  If the motive of your economy is the profit-making of large-scale modern private enterprise, a Labour Chancellor must be prepared to allow very large profits indeed and to admit that the number of golden eggs he can remove is extremely limited.
The fact is the Labour Party, like the Tories, is an avowed capitalist party with its leaders openly defending capitalism, both in theory and practice, to the best of their abilities.


Hang it on the wall?

Those people who are unable to resist sending off half-a-dozen packet tops and fifteen and six in cash to get a brand new, up-to-date plastic dwarf for the garden will be interested in the latest offer from the 3M Scotch tape firm.

This offer, obviously intended for technologically minded bargain hunters, is for pictures of space vehicles—and of a Polaris missile.

Now Polaris, as anyone who has seen a CND march, is a fearfully destructive thing. Because it is fixed from a submarine under water, it was once considered to be the ultimate weapon.

The picture which 3M is offering shows a rocket zooming out of the water, on its way to goodness knows where to do goodness knows what. 

Anyone got an odd piece of wall to fill? We forgot to mention that “each picture comes elegantly framed in white painted wood . . ."

A Cold Look at Charity (1966)

From the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are a few people who successfully ignore Christmas. How they do it is a mystery. For who can ignore the bright lights, the oceans of alcohol, the deafening clangour of the cash registers, the stifling weight of hypocrisy? And who can ignore the appeals for charity which at this time of year come floating down all around us, like the snow which, in the eye of the imaginative greetings cards artists, always falls on Christmas Eve?

There are the stickers which come to us through the post, with a request that we either buy them or send them, politely, back where they came from. There is not very subtle pressure at work on us here; “If I were to throw these in the waste paper basket I should feel like a thief; if I were to return them without payment I should feel like a niggard” ran a letter in the press a few years back. Which is exactly the effect the senders of the seals are aiming at.

There are the special collection boxes, the Christmas stockings heavy with pennies in the pubs, the cards and the wrapping paper anyone can buy in aid of what he decides is a good cause. Or, of course, in an overflow of seasonal goodwill, he can simply send cash. Christmas is the time for giving, isn’t it? The time we’re all supposed to try to be better than we are the rest of the year? When we think of others before ourselves? The charities do their best to convince us on the point.

It is apparent that the organised charities, like Carnaby Street and the Communist Party, are with the Trend. Their Christmas cards and seals usually look like the better designed London Transport posters, all colour and abstraction and message. Some appeals—especially the Spastics Society—run lucrative football competitions. They have slick, streamlined titles like War on Want and Oxfam, which encourages a mental picture of earnest undergraduates with a conscience wrapped away under their multi-coloured scarves. These names are a significant move away from the established, cumbersome favourites like the National Council for the Welfare of Spastics, the Homes for Aged and Infirm Clergymen, the Distressed Gentlework Aid Association and so on.

Slicker titles are not a coincidence, They are part of the charities' efforts to sell themselves like breakfast cereals. They all have a message, which some of them hammer home with the same persuasive skill we see used in television commercials. The Spastics Society bangs away at the fact that anyone can have a spastic child. The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children emphasise the tragedy of the afflicted child and, believing that there are few things less appealing than a grown-up mental defective, play down the fact that they also help adults.

Perhaps there are some doubts among the charities about these methods. It is no surprise to learn that the advertising profession has a hand in it, that one of the founders of the Spastics Society was an advertising copywriter and that the appeals officer for Oxfam was also once with an advertising agency. 

The new charity men assert that they have built efficient organisations, that they have transformed fund-raising from a chancy, flag day and fete affair into a more scientific and predictable business. Perhaps they have. The Spastics Society has a yearly income of over £3 million, some of which it diverts into other charities. At the same time the Earl Haig Fund, which sticks doggedly to its sombre image of a chilly November service at the Cenotaph and the flowers made by the broken remnants of Servicemen, raises nearly all its income—about £1 million a year—from Poppy Day.

The fashionable, big names exist among something like three thousand active charities in this country. Anyone with cash to spare can give it to the relief of needy builders’ clerks, shipbrokers, Southern Irish loyalists, ex-members of the Stock Exchange or commercial travellers. He can help a charity which exists to suppress professional begging, or one which provides “. . . moral, spiritual and physical treatment of gentlewomen who have fallen into intemperate habits through the misuse of drugs and alcohol.” He can even help to provide trusses for impoverished sufferers from rupture.

There is no lack of opportunity to donate to charity. The question is—should we?

Charity is a well-established business. A Statute of 1601 gave the first legal definition and most of the causes mentioned there—". . . sick and maimed soldiers . . . the education and preferment of orphans . . . the relief and redemption of prisoners and captives . . .” still brandish the begging bowl today.

Many of the appeals seem irresistible. Who could say no to a starving child? If one were dumped on our doorstep— and the charities aim at making us react as if there were one there—there could be only one answer. But this argument has its limits. To start off, what would we say if one of the respected, well heeled patrons of charity were to appear on our doorsteps asking us, as Lord Rank did in one advertisement, to “Please remember there is still much that each of us could do to see that those who still stand in need are not neglected”?

And what about other appeals to our pity? Could we say no to an unemployed man? Or to a salesman who is falling behind in the rat race? Or to a working class mother driven to despair by the pressures of looking after the kids, keeping home and making ends meet? These are all needy cases and they could all be helped by money.

The first question to ask is why charities exist. Most people accept that orphans need help but never stop to wonder why; never stop to question a social system where children are the legal responsibility of their parents so that if the parents die the child is left without protection. The same system produces the wars—Korea, Vietnam, Kashmir— which make more orphans as well as more homeless and more refugees, all of them suitable subjects for charity.

Disease creates problems for people for the simple reason that it can make them unemployable, in other words can make them unable to earn a wage. Few people, as they contribute to a charity to help the incapacitated, question a social system which makes the majority of its people rely so heavily on the sale of their working abilities. Few of them question the poverty which affects all workers, and which sometimes intensifies upon one person, or one group of people, and forces them out of capitalism’s mainstream.

These problems—and many, many more—are what the charities say they are tackling. Are they succeeding?

It is not curmudgeonly to point out that the lack of charity’s success is demonstrated by the very continuance of charity. There are still millions of people who are deprived, or maimed, or homeless, or hungry. The smoothest charity organiser will not pretend that he has the answer to it all; yet the fact is that most of the problems are avoidable.

The problems which the charities battle against are not a matter of mischance. It is not some personal quirk which makes an unmarried mother add another burden to the orphans’ home; she does it because it takes more courage than she possesses to face the economic and social pressures of capitalist society with a child which is known as a bastard. Oxfam repeats that two-thirds of the world’s people are hungry but this is not mischance; they also say that sixpence would save a child’s life in India, Nigeria, Hong Kong, yet in some countries food is destroyed when the market is not right and in others governments devote a large part of their resources to the production of armaments.

Modern society does not lack resources. Only it has a structure which ensures that those resources are used to deprive and destroy rather than to feed and build. It is the economy of capitalism—its basis of private ownership— which produces the flood of misery in the world and against that the charities battle with little hope.

It is not with any desire to be cruel that we say charity is a delusion. It persuades people who have a burden of their own to carry that they can solve the world’s problems by distributing a little of their poverty over someone else. It promotes the idea that there is nothing much wrong with the world which cannot be put right with a change of heart. With his problems staring him in his face, charity encourages the worker to turn his back. At best, it persuades him to look only briefly at the world and its ailments before he closes his mind by the act of dropping his coin in the box. At worst it fosters the meanest of docility and the blind acceptance of a very inadequate existence.

We can do better than this. Leaving aside the smooth organisers, many charities function on the efforts of sincere and generous workers. It is a wicked tragedy that such sincerity and energy should be misused to perpetuate the very conditions they are trying to do something about. But, as the charities would agree, capitalism is full of tragedies.
Ivan


The Money System (1966)

From the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money dominates our lives. It is universal under Capitalism. It speaks all languages and opens all doors. Virtually everything all over the world has a price. Practically every kind of activity we engage in, and every sphere of human endeavour, is measured against what it costs. There are money barriers erected between people and their attitudes towards each other. Respect and kudos are accorded to the money —not the man.

In a thousand similar ways money falsifies human values. It perverts the judgment of people by raising phoney standards. And as the have-nots slavishly seek to imitate the possessions of the haves, trashy substitutes become a commonplace and the general culture pattern sinks to the level of the unreal. For those in poverty, social recognition is sought through the showy accumulation of inferior junk. Whilst money expresses the values of property society, it has in itself nothing useful to contribute to human lives. It is a social growth and its existence is secondary to the basic property division in society.

The rich are rich because they own the means of production and thereby accumulate money in the form of rent, interest or profit. It is the real wealth created by workers which constitutes their fortunes. The workers are relatively poor because they own no means of production, not because their wages are low but because they have to work for wages at all. The wages system represent the social dispossession of the working class and assures their continuing appearance in the factories, mines and offices to turn out wealth for the owning class. Bingo halls, horse-racing, overtime and hire-purchase become a substitute for living against a background of ceaseless struggle and conflict.

It is hard to think of a relationship into which human beings enter that is not either derived from the money system or tainted by it. These relationships are so much part of our lives that they are widely accepted without question, it is thereby considered more honorable to starve than to steal food, more proper to walk than ride without the fare and to take the kids out for the week-end with the rent money just isn’t done.

Every facet of existence is affected by money. How we live, where we live, the kind of food, clothing and shelter consumed, all hinges upon how much can be afforded. It is the outstanding contradiction of our time that with his talents, man has mastered many natural forces and even bent them to his will; through his store-house of scientific knowledge, he has transformed the face of the earth; he has produced wonders of communication and transportation and covered the world with technical achievements undreamed of in bygone ages; with mechanisation applied to agriculture, man’s capacity to produce food is abundant, yet none of this is readily available to him. The social strait- jacket of the money system stifles his every move.

None of the things that society has produced are freely at the disposal of the producers. The telephone, the motor car, the aeroplane, the radio, the cinema—none may be used except through the intervention of money. The menu at the Hilton or the common loaf of bread are only available if you have the money. Capitalism has created the potential for abundance but its property division (its class structure) denies its attainment.

There is obviously nothing that can be done to resolve these contradictions within the framework of a money based society. Money is so revered and sought after that a world without it is extremely difficult for most people to conceive. Yet there is nothing natural about it. All that man needs to survive and flourish are his physical and mental energies and the resources of nature. Money developed out of the exchange of goods.

Where things are held in common and freely available, money is irrelevant and superfluous. Many things have been used as money in the history of its existence, including human slaves. The substance behind world currencies today is gold. Gold is ideal for the purpose because it does not perish and it concentrates a large amount of value into a convenient form. When buying and selling takes place, it is therefore values exchanging one with another and this only happens because there are exclusive property rights—owners and non-owners. It is the attitudes of men that sanction the powers of money. It serves as a standard of price, as a measure of value and a means of exchange. That is to say its operation is confined to the buying and selling of commodities. This commercial process is part of the profit making system which exploits and devours the life-force of productive labour.

All the frenzied activity of Chancellors of the Exchequer and world bankers, the voluminous writings of the so-called economics experts, and financial columnists, the contortive juggling of the Prices and Incomes Board are so many dreary acts in an over long farce. They are like the motions of a ritual to appease the wrath of some supernatural power, where men make obeisance to gods of their own creation.

Today we are confronted with hundreds of millions of people in chronic need of food, but unless they constitute a profitable market, they will remain hungry. In the same way, a money barrier exists between the millions living in slums all over the world and the provision of adequate housing. These are simple aspects of poverty, and poverty is incurable as long as the means of wealth production are monopolised by a class.

The Socialist analysis of Capitalism and its money set up points the way to a new society where men would use the earth’s resources for their common good—without money.
Harry Baldwin



R. E. Taylor & Sons Ltd (1966)

Party News from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

With this issue of the Socialist Standard our long association with R. E. Taylor & Sons Ltd, who have been printing our journal since 1921, ends. We must record our appreciation of the staff of this printing works. They have ensured that the Standard has appeared without break each month, on time, through crises and war.

The Passing Show: Post-Haste (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Post-Haste

Have you ever been infuriated by postal delays, had letters lost or turning up days after you expect them? Only a few months ago a small letter took over a fortnight to reach us from another London postal district, and although perhaps this might have been an isolated case, it’s certainly not uncommon for parcels to take over a week to reach London from the provinces. Postcards were originally supposed to travel more quickly through the post than sealed letters, but this no longer seems to be the case, and in London anyway there has been a reduction in the collections and deliveries of mail.

All very annoying, you might think, and complaints to the GPO would no doubt bring the familiar reply of staff shortage, among other excuses. And unlike Tory MP Sir Gerald Nabarro, you wouldn’t be very likely to get a question asked in the House about it.

But then, Sir Gerald was really concerned about quite a different matter. He was very worried because some thousands of people did not receive their subscription forms for the ICI eight per cent unsecured loan stock 1988-93, but he had to be content with the Postmaster General’s explanation that the forms were posted late, and some were wrongly addressed anyway. According to The Guardian of October 20, the PMG made personal enquiries in response to the complaint; which shows how important he thought it was.

Well, there was about sixty million pounds involved, and the loan was quickly over-subscribed by about 37 times, so you can guess how annoyed Some of the shareholders must have been when they missed the chance of some really juicy pickings from ICI’s future exploitation of its workers. And if it hadn’t been Sir Gerald, some other “champion of minority rights” would have been on his feet to make a fuss. Which reminds us. Christmas is coming so you’d better post early. We don’t somehow think they’ll be quite so concerned if a few of your Christmas cards don’t make it until New Year’s Eve.


How Not To Face Facts

The pacifist movement’s conception of the modern world is about as shallow as a kid’s paddling pool after a three-month drought. It is astoundingly adept at acquiring facts and then ignoring their implication. At a recent meeting of The Peace Pledge Union, I was given a leaflet. It was a neat effort, carrying some useful information on the vast waste of the world’s resources on armed forces, weapons of war, etc. “Don’t you think this is madness?” one of the captions ran; and who but a fool would say no?

So far so good. But when the PPU starts talking about “what could be done instead,” their fact-finding ends and question-begging begins. Of course it’s true that the £50,000 millions spent yearly on arms could be used to build umpteen hospitals, houses and schools, or provide sorely needed tractors and harvesters. Then why isn’t this done? Why indeed do armaments exist in the first place? After all, no government likes to see such wealth tied up in this way, but if, as the leaflet implies, it’s more a question of lack of sense, all we have to do is kick out the stupid statesmen and replace them with sensible ones.

But then, there's more to it than that. First of all, although war can be called madness when looked at from a human point of view, it does make sense of a sort in a class divided society. Given a world of commercial rivalries, no capitalist class is going to sit idly by and watch foreign competitors steal its economic thunder. It will use armed force when it deems it necessary, even to the point of a major shooting match. Under such circumstances, your politicians can be as clever or as stupid as you like. It makes no difference to the underlying forces pushing towards war.

Is there any guarantee, anyway, that a reduction in arms spending would give us more of the things we so desperately want? Far from it. Capitalism is primarily concerned with production for the market, not with satisfying our needs, and the money saved by arms cuts would merely be earmarked for other investment. A look at the policies of the present Labour Government will show us the truth of this. Indeed, we can even point to instances where money has been spent in taking plant out of production because of unfavourable market conditions—textiles in Britain, wheat in USA —yet there are plenty of ragged, ill-fed people in the world.

What is needed is the abolition of capitalism, and its replacement with a system of common ownership and production for use, not the signing of pledges against war, which past experience tells us will not be worth the paper they’re written on when the crunch comes.


The examples of Our Betters

A period of severe restraint, did we say? Rank Organisation Chairman John Davis has been ordered to pay £25,000 to his ex-wife, actress Dinah Sheridan in addition to her £8,500 a year maintenance, following her divorce. The lump sum was originally “only” £15,000 but, commented the appeal court judge, “£15,000 does not go very far towards purchasing a house in the sort of neighbourhood where a woman of this background can reasonably be expected to live. The £15,000 is so low that the court is bound to interfere.”

Wonder if anyone will think of invoking Part IV against that little lot? And it’s not even tied to a productivity agreement.


Gaspers

“Wilson and his colleagues have found it impossible to reconcile the Socialist theories they held in Opposition with the Tory facts of life they have found in office.” (Tory MP Quintin Hogg, at Ealing, 7.10.66.)

"The Minister of Power's views that steel nationalisation will go through by next summer brought an immediate rally in steel shares, and other sectors came up smartly on the prospect of reinvestment of the compensation money." (Guardian Market Report, 22.10.66.)

“In case of atomic attack, the Federal ruling against prayer in this building will be temporarily suspended”. (High School notice in California, U.S.A., reported Daily Mirror, 26,10.66.)

“I’m sorry I can give you nothing at present except sympathy.” (The Queen to the parents of Aberfan, 29.10.66.)

“The pensioner and the housewife suffer most when prices rise.” (The New Britain, Labour Party manifesto at the 1964 election.) .

“Increases in the cost of living have reduced the purchasing power of the £6 10s. old age pension for married couples by 8s. 6d. since it was introduced on March 29, 1965, Mr. Pentland, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Social Security, disclosed in a Commons reply last night.” (Daily Telegraph, 8.11.66.)

“The concrete analysis of concrete conditions and the concrete resolution of concrete contradictions are the living soul of Marxism-Leninism.” (Lin Piao, Chinese Minister of Defence.)
Eddie Critchfield

Poverty and hunger (1966)

Book Review from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

As I Recall by Lord Boyd Orr (Macgibbon & Kee)

This is a fascinating, but also an infuriating, book.

In the introduction, Ritchie Calder speaks of the author’s frustration and anger when, time and again, he was foiled by the profit motive in his efforts to improve the diet of the poorest. He speaks bitterly of his frustrated attempt to get free milk into schools to supplement the children’s impoverished diet, at a time when there was a glut of milk because people could not afford it and skimmed milk was being poured down the drain. He quotes from one of Lord Boyd Orr’s speeches: “half the population of the world suffers from lack of sufficient food; farmers suffer ruin if they produce ‘too much food’. Adjust our economic and political systems to let these two evils cancel each other out.’’

This is why this is an infuriating book. Lord Boyd Orr shows many times that he recognises the responsibility for malnutrition and hunger lies in the capitalist system and yet, even recognising this, throughout his long life and even now, he has sought the remedy within that system.

In the section dealing with his research work, Lord Boyd Orr speaks of the brushes he has had at various times with the Ministry of Agriculture. At one time the Ministry was creating Boards to fix prices of home produced bacon, etc., and to restrict imports. He was opposed to these “because . . . this meant dearer food for the poorer half of the population who were already unable to purchase sufficient for health . . . The Pig and Bacon Marketing Board would mean that there would be less bacon imported from Denmark, and in return we would send them less coal, with the resulting increased unemployment in both countries.” This is a point which still eludes our successive Governments, who preach the gospel that “we” must import less and export more!

In his criticisms of the Agricultural Marketing Board, Lord Boyd Orr advocated a comprehensive food and agricultural policy based on human needs. He pointed out that while the poorest people spent more than 75 per cent of their income on food, the wealthy spend less than 10 per cent. Therefore rises in prices obviously affect the poor much more than the wealthy. In reply he was informed that, as the Rowell Institute (his research institute) was maintained by government grant, the Director should not be allowed to engage in propaganda against his government.

In the chapter dealing with his dietary surveys and wartime food policy, the author speaks of an interview he had with Kingsley Wood, then Minister of Health, who asked him why he was making such a fuss about poverty when, with old age pensions and unemployment insurance, there was no poverty in the country. The extraordinary thing was that Kingsley Wood genuinely believed that if people are not actually dying of starvation, there could be no food deficiency. Naturally he had never put this theory to the test at first hand!

There are many other instances of ignorance or deliberate obstruction and manipulation of facts on the part of “our” politicians. Nevertheless, Lord Boyd Orr can speak with admiration of General Smuts and say superstitiously that “God frowned on our work in Kenya” because two of his friends died there, one through cancer and the other through a motor accident.

When speaking of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, the author mentions the interest shown by American businessmen in schemes for world distribution of food “from a financial point of view.” However, due to the frequent opposition of the British team who, obviously, could see none of these advantages in view of the preferential tariff and price arrangements of this country with its “ex Empire”, many of these schemes failed.

The Atlantic Charter of 1941 stated as its aim “freedom from want for all men in all lands.” The author speaks bitterly of the fact that, already by May, 1943, at the Hot Springs Conference in America on world food problems, this had , been forgotten. ‘The old men had crept back into power, determined to resist any economic change which threatened their financial interests.” When addressing the delegates at the Quebec Conference he felt that, although the delegates themselves were in favour of his suggestions they, “like the delegates at the Hot Springs conference had been told what to say by politicians who had little interest in alleviating poverty, even in their own countries, and even less in eliminating hunger and poverty in the world.”

In spite of his experiences with succeeding British Governments, Lord Boyd Orr can say “my attempt to persuade Mr. Attlee to become interested in this project was rather foolish. He was doing a magnificent job . . . with many inexperienced ministers to reorganise Britain after the war . . . that he could not be expected to be well informed on what must have considered a side issue of the foreign policy.” Side issue indeed!

The role taken by the British Government at least appears to have been consistent. On one occasion the FAO, having sent a group of agricultural experts to Greece, reported that a grant or loan of 200 million dollars would be sufficient to finance the development plans agreed, to bring about a rapid increase in food production. Instead of the grant. Britain sent troops to support the government and Royal Family. 

In summing up, Lord Boyd Orr chafes against the division of the world into opposing camps and sees in World Government. the promotion of which now takes up much of his time, the solution to these problems. His references to “Socialism” and “Capitalism” show why Lord Boyd Orr still places hopes in such an organisation.
Eva Goodman