Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Machinery in Agriculture. (1921)

From the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

An article in the "London Encylopaedia" 1837, dealing with the condition of agriculture in the 14th and l5th centuries, contains the statement that "the implements in use at that period were nearly the same as those employed at present." While it is possible that the strict accuracy of this might be questioned, it serves well enough to illustrate the rapidity with which this industry has progressed during the last two or three generations ; the most casual observer of developments in agriculture to-day could not fail to see that such a statement now would be ridiculous.

The same article enumerates the subjects with which the farmer should be acquainted, such as botany, vegetable and animal anatomy, etc., but does not mention mechanics. This is in striking contrast with the present, when in the words of an authority, the "agricultural engineer should first become an engineering expert and then acquire a knowledge of agriculture."

Apart from the technical aspect, which could be examined to show the general advance of human invention in the struggle with natural forces, this advance is of obvious interest to the workers on the land. The shortage of foodstuffs and labour during the war convinced the Government of the need for special measures, if they were to be better prepared when the attack of some other "Hun" on some other "Belgium" is made the excuse for another struggle between groups of capitalist States in commercial rivalry. In May 1919, therefore, the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries as it was then, appointed a Committee having for its object the consideration of steps to promote the development of agricultural machinery. The Report issued by the Committee contains lessons useful to us as well as to the farmers and manufacturers for whom it was intended.

The aspects which chiefly concern us are these: the cause of the introduction of machinery into agriculture, the recent rapid extension of its use, and the effect it has had and is likely to have on the workers.

As for the first, the witnesses were in complete agreement (a state of affairs unusual enough at these examinations of "experts"), and the Report does not leave any room for doubt. The cause is the desire on the part of the farmers to lessen the cost of production by reducing their labour bill, in order to meet the constantly increasing pressure of competition. It is true that within certain limits the cost of production can be lessened in other ways, such as by improved, and therefore more economical, methods of cultivation, by the increased use of fertilizers, etc., but it has to be realised that much of the land in this country was well and highly farmed, and therefore it is not surprising that farmers look to machinery rather than to the further study of the soil to serve their purpose. One must consider, too, the immense advantage of the greater power and concentration of mechanical over human or animal energy in an industry where so much depends upon taking advantage of short spells of fine weather in winter.

It naturally follows that low wages offer but little, and high wages a great, inducement to employers to replace workers by machinery. One would expect the amount of machinery at any given period to bear some relation to the level of wages, and this is what is actually found.

According to a manufacturer of agricultural implements, steam ploughs were being largely used in the seventies of last century, but in the depression that followed many of them disappeared. From 1900 there was a gradual and from 1910 a rapid increase until the outbreak of war, since when what might be described as a revolution has taken place.

The movement of farm workers' wages over the same period was as follows : Starting at 14s. 2d. in 1879 there was a slight decline to 13s. 7d. in 1892, then a steady rise to 14s. 5d. in 1898, 14s. 8d. in 1902, 14s. 9d. 1907, and a sharp rise to 16s. 9d. in 1912. A slight fall to 16s. 3d. preceded a swift increase to 46s. in 1920. In the words of the report, "the unreadiness of many farmers in the past to adopt labour aiding devices .... is largely attributable to the cheapness of labour. . . It is a commonplace of industrial history that low wages tend to stereotype methods of production, and agriculture has not been exempt from that tendency."

Of course, that "labour aiding" is not meant to be taken seriously—you know your employer does not spend money on machinery merely to save you trouble. As one witness said, "many new implements, so called labour savers, actually only saved the labourer trouble and did not reduce the number of horses or men necessary to deal with a given area of land." "What a farmer wanted to know about an implement was, firstly, how much labour it saved . . ." This same farmer "deplored the fact that no systematic study had been made of the best methods of employing labour with such costly contrivances as the Elevator, nor scientific research into the avoidance of injury to the crops dealt with by the implement." Not, Mr. Landworker, the "avoidance of injury to you" in working the machinery, but the "damage to the crops" and the "care of the implement." The Elevator (appropriately spelled with a capital E) costs money to repair, while the farmer can insure against loss through injury to you.

The Committee came to the conclusion that a heavy labour bill could be met by the farmer in two ways: "by obtaining a more efficient service from each worker, or by adding his labour costs to the price of his products." It is always amusing to see a man make a virtue of necessity. The second of these two ways means the raising of the price of farm produce to the buyer, which if it were possible at will, would presuppose that hitherto the farmer had been selling cheaper than he need have done ; which isn't done outside of university text books on economics. So they took Hobson's choice and patted themselves on the back for not doing what they could not do. "Of these alternatives we do not hesitate to suggest, only the former can be considered."

Besides the mechanical problem there is an other it is as well to consider here. The great obstacle the progressive employer immediately meets, is that the average worker has not had the training which will fit him to use to advantage costly and intricate machinery. Even the minimum of education and specialised instruction given to the industrial population has been largely denied to the children of the rural workers, and the war has taught our rulers that this has been quite insufficient. Little as the capitalists like spending their money on you, they have learned that they must have more highly skilled workers to enable them to compete with their late enemies, and particularly with America and Japan, more formidable commercial rivals, even although sometime allies.

The Committee reports that "with few exceptions all our witnesses were agreed that education must play an important part in stimulating the use of improved machinery. We believe that it will not be the least of the benefits conferred by the new Education Act, that the raising of the standard of general education will stimulate the interest and quicken the appreciation of all classes of workers in tasks other than dull routine; and this in itself will lead to a better and more instructed use of agricultural machinery, and a broader outlook upon its possibilities. But beyond this, direct instructions in the principles and use of machinery is required by all classes of the agricultural community." One of the suggestions they made was that instruction in the principles of mechanics and in their practical application to agriculture should be given to youths above the age of 14.

One witness of a type familiar to every worker was "opposed to the special mechanical training of labourers as it would tend to make them dissatisfied with farm life." What he meant, of course, was that he feared the land workers would want higher pay when trained than they did before, and it is to be hoped that they will; but because some farmers do not voice this sentiment it must not be supposed that they are essentially different. All employers have the same object, that is, to make, profit out of your labour, and naturally enough they want as much as they can possibly get ; but they differ as to the best method to be used. The obvious, but old-fashioned and uneconomical way is to pay as little in wages as they can, and demand in return as many hours work as are physically possible. The new way—the Leverhulme-Rowntree way— is to get the pick of the highly-skilled, healthy and capable workers "by offering comparatively good rates of pay, and by systematic speeding-up and elimination of waste, to obtain in a six hour day a bigger output than can their less far-sighted competitors in eight, nine, or ten hours. Remember, the capitalists control the sources of education as they control all the services of modern society, and they will not give you more than the working of their system requires that you shall have.

It is impossible to deal adequately here with the extent to which manual labour is being displaced, but some instances will illustrate the great strides that are being made all over the civilised world. The frequent exhibitions of farm machinery, and the advertising columns of any farmers' journal show a really bewildering variety of implements now in every-day use, and these are being improved and added to with each round of the sun.

The manufacturers will supply all sizes of machines, adapted to all kinds of work, from the powerful five-furrow steam plough to the handy little one-and-a-half horse-power machine guided by hand like a horse plough of the same size ; reapers and binders—to which an American firm has now added a machine for "stocking" or "shocking" ; hay-loaders which enable one man on the waggon to load in a fraction of the time it took several to pitch by hand; ingenious milking machines, now no longer in their experimental stage; seed drills, and potato pickers; machinery for the dairy, milk coolers, separators, butter makers ; in short, machinery for almost every one of the normal activities of the farm. Before long the traditional placidness of rural life will be a thing of the past, and it will be necessary to go to the pages of the novel for a picture of it; such, for instance, as the description of the almost impossibly pleasant dairy farms of the Dorset "milk" country in Hardy's "Tess of the D'urbervilles."

However, to return to our report.

A land agent referring to the acute shortage of skilled labour for farms in the West of Wales, owing to the continued demand for miners, gave an account of farms he knew of 140-200 acres "where the hay was secured in a very short time with only the farmer himself and a lad. The hay was mown, perhaps, with a tractor, then the tedder and haymaker were both used, then gathered by a side rake, . . lifted with a hay loader, and afterwards deposited in a Dutch barn by a carrier worked by a petrol or oil engine."

Perhaps the most striking case is that of the Scandinavian countries. True they possess what is almost lacking here—abundant and constantly flowing streams for water power ; but the initial problem, that of applying machinery to the working of the soil, is the same whatever the source of the power.

The General Secretary of the Agricultural Organisation Society had visited Denmark after an absence of twenty years and remarked on the progress made in this direction. ''In Sweden a number of huge hydro electric power stations were producing electricity much cheaper than was possible with any kind of fuel. Three of these (owned by the State) between them developed one-third of the total. As a result of the cheapness of this source of power there is a great and growing inducement to install electrically driven machinery on the farms. On one farm of 800 acres every machine except those used for cultivating was so driven. The farmer stated that previous to the electrification of the farms he had to employ for his threshing operations five pairs of horses, sixteen men and four boys, whereas under the electrified system, for the same work, he employed one horse, seven men, and two boys. To this he added the enhanced value of the product due to the smoother working of the electrical machinery and he estimated a total saving of £5 a day on this farm in respect of threshing operations." He considered that in addition to yielding interest on the outlay, the plant, which cost £1,250 at much inflated war prices, would pay for itself in fifteen or twenty years. His own opinion was that before long it will be the exception to find a farm or estate in Sweden or Denmark not so equipped.

Further, although the depopulation of the countryside cannot be ascribed entirely to this one cause, it has nevertheless been a great factor. Whereas in 1851 on an average forty-three men were employed to each 1,000 acres of cultivated land in England and Wales, the number has now fallen to twenty! Whereas in 1914 there were 693,000 male agricultural workers, in January 1920 there were only 550,000. There has certainly, during this latter period been a marked tendency to put arable land under grass, which, of course, means a reduction in labour, but this by no means accounts for all the falling off; undoubtedly machinery has played a great part.

Now, while a reliable and exhaustive investigation into this subject has yet to be made, there can be no denying the most obvious consequence, that other things remaining constant the use of a machine means that some portion or the whole of the services of one or more workers is no longer required. If a farmer spends on machinery an amount which is equivalent to a weekly expenditure of £2 over the period the machinery lasts, it can only because for the same amount of work done he is going to save more than £2 on his labour bill. If, as in the past, the more keen agricultural labourer could get employment on the railways, in the police force, or in the towns, or could emigrate to regions where his skill was still in demand, then this tendency would not be felt so acutely as with industrial workers who had no such avenue of escape. Similarly, of course, during a period of agricultural prosperity, the position would be that a larger demand for farm produce would be satisfied by the same number of workers giving, with the aid of machinery, greater output per man than before.

Nevertheless, the process is going on and must make itself felt in due course. That this is realised, if without being clearly understood, is evidenced by the instinctive dread of machinery shown especially by the older men. It is only the younger ones who are considered worth the trouble of teaching new methods. It was further recognised by the representative of the Agricultural Workers' Union when he said that "It was very improbable that any general opposition would arise amongst labourers on the grounds, for example, that the introduction of machinery would diminish employment." His following remark that ''certainly any opposition of that sort would not receive recognition from the Union" was simply an admission that effective opposition was impossible, and that any attempt to resist would be as futile as that made by the Luddites in somewhat similar circumstances to prevent the setting up of machinery in the factories after the Napoleonic wars one hundred years before.

It is well to recognise the part that Trade Unions play in this. They exist for the purpose of obtaining by means of organisation, a better price for the labour power of the worker than he could get by individual bargaining. Their object is limited, and so must be their success, for to the extent that they raise wages they invite the purchase of machinery to put their members out of work. "Any action that increases the cost of production provides greater incentive to the capitalists to devise means to reduce it, and results in more determined efforts to improve existing, and introduce new, machinery. An increase in the number of the unemployed inevitably follows" (Manifesto, p. 18). This is confirmed by an instance of only recent date. The success of the Dockers in obtaining their 16s. per day was followed by a remarkable activity in applying machines to dock work, and the consequent unemployment had an admittedly serious effect on the strength and solidity of the Unions concerned.

This is not an argument against Trade Unionism. While the present system remains, that is, while the land workers, like their fellows in the towns, live by selling their labour power to their employers, it is not only desirable, but a positive duty, for them to see that they get the largest possible price for what they sell. It is for them to organise to that end, and it must be admitted that so far the new Trade Union movement among the agricultural workers has shown a commendable singleness of purpose in keeping to the main issue, that of getting better pay and shorter hours, at a time when many of the older organisations had turned into sick and unemployed benefit societies, and were apparently more interested in assisting the capitalists to run their war and exploit their workers more effectively than in advancing working-class interests.

Nevertheless war conditions and the labour shortage, have gone, and the agricultural workers will be hit by the prevailing trade depression just like other sections, even if less acutely and not so immediately, and it behoves them now to find a way out of the unhappy position in which they and all other workers find themselves—not a temporary expedient like the Government "doles," but a real solution. If experience teaches, as it surely does, that there are comparatively narrow limits only within which the Trade Union can function, that the strength of the organisation is sapped by the very evil, unemployment, which it seeks to remedy, they must look further afield and learn the reason. If the system is such that substantial improvement of the worker's position within it is impossible (and we contend this is the case), then it is for you who have suffered and will continue to suffer from its wars and from its peace—it is for you, the workers, to study its construction, understand its stupidities, and its injustice to you, and join us in the task of overthrowing it. It can be replaced by a system of society in which technical developments of machinery, inventions and discoveries will benefit you instead of rendering your position more insecure; in which education, real education, will be within your reach ; in which poverty will be a memory and nothing more.

It can be done, but your rulers will not, and your leaders can not, do it for you. You must do it yourselves. When you understand the system you can end it.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Master Builders. (1921)

Editorial from the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard  
  "We are the men who do constructive work," said the labour-"Socialist" canvasser. "We don't just talk Socialism."
The value of constructive work depends on what it is you construct. There was a maniac once who built a fly trap with oak beams and concrete. He fractured his skull and caught no flies, but he had constructed something.

Now the Labour Party may justly claim to have done abundant constructing, at Westminster, on local administrative bodies, wage boards, governmental commissions, and what not. A galaxy of practical measures stands to the credit of its initiative or support ; unemployment insurance, infant welfare arrangements, rent restriction, old age pensions, with all their compeers ; and pious resolutions urging voluntary fetters upon our masters, as thick as broken promises about the heels of capitalist statesmen.

In face of these brilliant operations the work of the S.P.G.B. is modest indeed. It is merely busy constructing the only thing of worth to the cause of Socialism — a body of intelligent working-class opinion. Perhaps even this is too sweeping a claim, for it does no more, in this particular direction, than sow the seeds of knowledge, which of themselves grow and bring forth, "some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred."

In measuring the significance of your activities, the attitude of the ruling class is to be noted. When the enemy approves of the work of your engineers it is time to suspect that he knows better than you whither the mine is running. The recitation delivered by Mr. Lloyd George on March 23rd well indicates which kind of attack his masters fear. Do you think they have so long contemplated Labour propaganda with equanimity, belatedly to find it dangerous ? Or do you rather think this anxiety is occasioned by something more than Labour propaganda ? In what do they see the menace to their rule ? In this same constructive work of the Labour Party, with its practical master-builders in the House of Commons; or in the teachings of Socialists based upon "the subversive doctrines of Karl Marx" ? In the reformers who, being returned to power, will "go about redressing these little grievances," or in the Socialists who "will say .... 'These grievances are not due to governments or individuals; they are due to the system' "? By making Marxian teaching the butt of their offensive they have betrayed what alone alarms them: the growth of Socialist thought, which cannot be beguiled into losing its way by taking "steps in the right direction."

Ah, these labour leaders, whose Premier awards them the testimonial that in disputes they have never given him trouble ; and these so-called Socialists who have a hundred things to do more important than preaching Socialism ! Their work is indeed constructive—of elaborate camouflage for enemy operations; but utterly destructive of the clear vision and purpose without which the army of the workers cann'ot advance.

If the mere building of something is itself commendable, let us have a wall round Windermere, a pound for lost principles, or a moving stairway from the Labour benches to the Cabinet ; but if our aim is toward Socialism, then the path of our advance lies in that very phrase used by our labour canvasser. "Talk Socialism," until working men and women cease to content themselves with any amelioration of capitalist conditions, and organise for their twofold task : to destroy the system that binds them to toil, and attain to freedom by building anew.

Jottings. (1921)

The Jottings Column from the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The speeches of the Labour members in the debate on German reparations show once more the futility of supporting them. To support the Labour Party means to support capitalism—the monstrous system to remove which ought to be the endeavour of every worker. Speeches are too long to quote here: no doubt they have been widely read.

The Prime Minister, criticising J. R. Clynes' contribution, thought his words would have no practical effect except to stiffen the German resistance to payment. He (George) claimed that we ought to give Germany the appearance of complete unanimity in this matter, whereupon Clynes went one better by retorting that he wanted the fact of unanimity; not the appearance of it! He meant, of course, that they should all present one united front in the method of extracting payment, and not to let Germany see that they quibbled over details. The business was straightened out eventually by J. H. Thomas coming to the rescue and announcing that the Labour Party would not vote against the Bill in order to show a united front to Germany, although, inconsistently enough, he had supported Wedgwood when he pointed out that "the British workers, through unemployment, were paying the indemnity."

Without speculating as to how it comes about that the British workers are paying the indemnity beyond remarking that it shows a remarkable ignorance of elementary economics, it is seen that by identifying themselves with the question of the amount and method of payment of war indemnities, they are concerning themselves with something that is purely a capitalist issue. As Mr. J. L. Garvin points out in the "Observer" (20.3.21),
   . . . the Labour Party, considering its nominal convictions on international affairs, gave last week on the Reparation Bill as miserable an exhibition of shuffling, ducking and retreating as Parliament ever has presented. . . . Labour denounces the unparalleled iniquity of the Government, and yet does all it can by these methods to keep the Government in. Labour's feebleness in the House and tactics in the constituencies are the chief support and hope of the Coalition. . . Altogether, nothing more convenient and providential could be imagined for the Government than the Labour Party as it stands, and as it is likely for some indefinite period to remain.
These truths could not have been better stated, and the Socialist unhesitatingly subscribes to, no matter what their source. 

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In the "Labour Leader" for March 17 there is a criticism of Lord Leverhulme's definition of capital. Leverhulme's definition was not the correct one by any means (capitalists take care to have special definitions where working-class audiences are concerned), but what I am concerned with here is the ''Labour Leader'' critic’s conception of capital. He appears to believe that capital is necessary to the well-being of any society, that it is only its possession in the hands of a few individuals which constitutes a menace. "No one in his senses wants to destroy capital, any more than anyone wants to destroy the air we breathe. Capital is almost as necessary as air—and because of this it should be as much the common property of all."

As this individual (John Jacks) runs a column in every issue of the "Labour Leader," we may take it that this represents the official view of the I.L.P.—indeed, it is laid down in their programme that "Socialism requires that land and capital necessary for industrial operations should be owned and used collectively." Socialism, of course, requires nothing of the kind, and statements like these only go to prove that the I.L.P.'s understanding of Socialism and capital resides in the same quarter as "the air we breathe."

Capital is a means of robbery, whether in the hands of the few or the many, and being so must be abolished. Robbery and slavery are the basis of present-day society, and that basis must be smashed in the interests of toiling humanity. If the I.LP. believes that capital will exist under Socialism—which they claim— and if capital can only arise through exploitation, then, clearly exploitation will continue !

To take it a little further, if capital is taken out of the hands of the few and placed in the hands of the whole of the people, then the people, collectively, are going to exploit or rob themselves collectively ! The absurdity will be seen.

The clever individual referred to above recommends Lord Leverhulme to get a text book on elementary economics in order to learn what capital is. I advise him to do the same, and to read it twice. In the meantime I offer him— and others—the correct definition of capital:
 Capital is wealth used to exploit labour.
Capital is unpaid labour, therefore robbery and slavery are the terms used to denote the conditions of human beings who are compelled to submit to being robbed, bludgeoned, and butchered through their ignorance of the factors operating within the capitalist system and the means necessary to remove them. This ignorance is not dispelled by so-called Socialist organisations preaching capitalist economics.

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The great boom in diamonds has come to an end. During the war, when thousands of men of the working class were being blown to hell daily, those for whom they were fighting splashed their money about like water. Diamonds especially found a tremendous sale, but like most things with the moneyed class, they soon tired of one thing and turned to another.

To prevent diamonds coming down in price the supply has been purposely restricted by partially closing down the mines, and in some cases closing them down altogether. This has the effect of cheapening labour power by augmenting the available supply, and at the same time keeping up the price of diamonds at about three times the pre-war level by restricting output. As the world's output is controlled by a strong syndicate, they have things pretty much their own way. Production being for sale, glutting the markets is avoided as much as possible. Thousands of tons of foodstuffs have been destroyed for no other purpose than to keep up the price artificially. Under Socialism production will be for use.
Tom Sala.

Correspondence. "The Traveller's Return." (1921)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editors. 


I must admit being still unconvinced by F.F.'s reply to me in the November issue. He says I "completely fail to show why they are so exchangeable (sovereigns for paper currency) if the note does not represent the sovereign." Whilst one would have thought that the very fact that in a less restricted market than at home—the restrictions of the market being due to penal laws operating against the use of sovereigns other than as currency—it is customary to offer and receive more than the face equivalent for gold in exchange for notes, would be at least a colourable imitation of a "show" if more proof be required than the cases I have cited— assuming them to be true, which can easily be proved.

It may help to remind F.F. that before the war gold stood at £3 17s. l0½d. per oz. and the figure just now is about £6 2s. 4d. with the same amount of gold contained in the sovereign as at the lower figure ; which means, obviously, that the actual value of the sovereign as gold at the present time is at least 34s., and that would be the price obtainable here if it were not for the severe penalties fixed by law for using sovereigns for the gold contained in them instead of as currency.

If the functioning of our gold standard is so automatic as F.F. contends, why is it necessary for the authorities to impose penalties in order to prevent the free use of gold as a commodity as distinct from its functioning as currency ? One is aware that it is an old offence to melt down sovereigns, but previously to the war, when British currency was normal, it was an offence which was winked at, and it was not until the abnormal conditions brought about by the war arose that the law was put into active operation again in this connection. As a matter of fact, when foreign debts are being discharged in gold, sovereigns are not used as the form of payment, but bullion is used in order to ensure that the full market price of the gold is obtained ; when the currency was normal this did not matter, but now it is obviously a very big item.

The point can be somewhat clarified when it is mentioned that in Mexico the standard of currency is gold, and when the price of gold advances in any particular degree the "Mex" gold dollar is reminted in a smaller size, and the Mex dollar is now smaller in dimensions than a three-penny bit, whereas five years ago it was nearly as large as a sixpence. The same rule is adopted there with silver, so that silver coins are of a diminutive size owing to the high price of silver.

F.F. says "the differences in the rate of exchange" quoted by me "represents largely the state of government and other credits of those countries." That statement would hold good if it were not for the fact that in the localities I mentioned so much more is offered for the sovereign than is obtainable for English paper money.

I quite agree that a paper currency convertible into gold on demand cannot be inflated, but that does not alter the fact that a currency can, and is, inflated when so much paper is issued that the gold to convert it is no longer obtainable at the banks—nor even a small portion of it—and as a consequence the rates of exchange between the locality of inflation and those where the inflation has not occurred are adversely affected. What F.F. does not seem prepared to take into consideration is that it is necessary to make penal laws in order to stop folk from selling sovereigns as gold, and I repeat that if the subject were as automatic as he insists this would be quite unnecessary.

As for the note being "treated with the same respect as the sovereign," that is not the case, and I would suggest that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred if the alternative were offered the gold would be jumped at, and if the recipient were a person who was likely to take advantage of present conditions, ere long those golden goblins would be in other hands and have assumed different shapes, and the vendor would be chuckling over the extra pieces of paper currency which had accrued to him over the transaction.

In conclusion, I must point out that my argument is not that the inflation of currency is the
cause of high prices because whilst I know that this inflation is one of the effects of the war, I
 know it is not all of them.
D. W. F.

The Answer.
D.W.F. is still unconvinced because he goes abroad to examine something that can only be explained by a close examination here. All his supposed arguments are bogies raised by himself to his own confusion. They have no bearing whatever on the subject. For instance, he harps on the fact that the sovereign will fetch more abroad than the pound note, all the while forgetting that the latter is not legal tender abroad. Notes can be exchanged for sovereigns at the Bank of England on demand. If the sovereign would buy more than the note it would be demanded. That the currency note is everywhere accepted, and sovereigns are not demanded, proves that the note is accepted as the equivalent of the sovereign. In other words, the note, being convertible, obviously represents the sovereign and not something less than the sovereign—which would be the case if inflation had taken place.

Another point that has no bearing on the subject, but which mystifies D.W.F., is the high price of gold to-day compared with the pre-war price. It has already been pointed out that gold may rise in price because of increased demand without affecting currency. In any case, inflation and a rise in the price of gold are far from being the same thing, as D.W.F. seems to think. Gold is used for other purposes than coining. The usual method of paying debts abroad is to buy up foreign bills, but if bills are at a premium it may be cheaper to export gold. An increased demand for this will doubtless send up its price, but if it leaves a margin over the method of buying bills it will be preferred. Our correspondent's mistake lies in supposing that these movements have anything to do with currency. The rise in the price of gold has taken place outside the sphere of currency as a result of competition amongst traders.

The reference to Mexico likewise has no bearing, on the subject. All it does is to show that D.W.F.'s pet obsession—the high price of gold—is universal. Apart from that, the Mexican practice only results in inconvenience, because it calls for fresh calculations and readjustment of prices with every new issue.

Again, D.W.F. speaks of so much more being offered for the sovereign abroad than is obtainable for English paper money. The latter, however, is not used for exchange purposes because bills are far more convenient. If he means by "English paper money" something other than currency notes there is no point to his contention, because such paper will be outside the ordinary currency and subject to fluctuations like gold and bills.

Next my critic talks of localities where the inflation has not occurred. Where are they? According to his own statement debts between countries are paid in bullion. Equal quantities of gold are of equal value all over the world. Bullion is the world currency for that reason, and its use as a means of adjustment between nations confines each national currency within its own borders. Therefore, to talk of localities where the inflation has not occurred is absurd. The paper money of no country, not even excepting the United States, is worth so much abroad as gold.

D.W.F. winds up by denying that his argument is that "the inflation of currency is the cause of high prices," and then declares that "inflation is one of the effects of the war" ; but if inflation exists without prices being affected there is no point to his remark. If he means the reverse of what he says, he is still wide of the truth, because it must be obvious that had notes never been issued, and instead the sovereign continued to circulate, prices would still be where they are to-day. The banks may or may not have sufficient gold to pay out likely demands—D.W.F. declares emphatically they have not; there may or may not be a shortage of gold in the country. But the fact remains that every currency note issued is legal tender for, and is guaranteed as representing the sovereign—the latter being obtainable on demand.

If the amount of gold in reserve—or in a country—had any bearing on prices, we should expect the latter to fall when gold was pouring into a country. But the reverse was the case in the United States, where prices continued to rise while gold was pouring into the country from Europe.

As D.W.F., however, agrees that "a paper currency convertible into gold on demand cannot be inflated," the question I first asked in the July "S.S." remains unanswered. Neither D.W.F. nor anyone else has been able to show that the currency of this country is inflated. Instead, our correspondent by this last admission, and by his failure to prove that the note does not represent the sovereign, fails to establish anything to the contrary. Consequently there is nothing left but to reaffirm the statement previously made, that prices are high because rings and trusts have been formed by capitalists to force prices up and keep them up.
F. Foan

Party Propaganda Department. (1921)

Party News from the April 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Secretary for propaganda reminds members that in order to extend the field of Socialist propaganda speakers are needed.

In order to supply this need arrangements will be made for H.O. to open one evening each week for the purpose of holding a "discussion and debating class," where members can practice and learn the art of speaking, and generally train themselves to become efficient Socialist propagandists. Those prepared to attend should send in their names, in order that a meeting can be called to decide evening, time, etc.

In this connection members are further reminded that the Economic Class recommenced from March 31st. Please note.

Rear View: Science v. superstition (2020)

The Rear View Column from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Science v. superstition

Donald Trump’s appointment of vice-president Pence as head of the US response to the coronavirus provoked rage and ridicule from health professionals and others. Pence is a lawyer. Does he expect to stop the virus by serving it a writ?! Socialists here are perhaps for the first time in agreement with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Mike Pence literally does not believe in science,’ she tweeted… ‘It is utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of the US coronavirus response as the world sits on the cusp of a pandemic. This decision could cost people their lives. Pence’s past decisions already have,’ she said. Ocasio-Cortez reminded people of Pence’s credentials for the job: ‘While he was governor of Indiana, he oversaw an HIV crisis that was so severe that at its peak, 20 new cases of HIV were diagnosed every week. As governor, Pence’s science denial contributed to one of the worst HIV outbreaks in Indiana’s history’ (, 28 February).

Reform or revolution

Given a choice between a voice of reason Democrat such as AOC and a bible-thumping, science-denying Republican e.g. Pence, who is more deserving of the socialist vote? Neither. Both support capitalism. Science aside, the real question is do we want to end war and want or not? Leftist luminaries, including Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich and Michael Albert ignore the lessons of history and support the ‘lesser evil’. Their open letter (truthdig. com, 24 January) states ‘…real solutions require Trump out of office. Real solutions will become far more probable with Sanders or Warren in office… ‘ Slavoj Zizek agrees: ‘…US political life to be radically reinvented… Sanders is to be unconditionally supported’ (rt. com, 11 February). The Sanders ‘meantime’ must be a capitalist meantime and is no responsibility of those who seek to replace it with a better system. The establishment of socialism depends on a majority of us withdrawing our support of capitalism. It becomes practicable only to the extent that socialist ideas are accepted, and it will become a reality when action in line with those ideas is taken. Supporting Sanders or any leader amounts to trying to patch up capitalism, the existence of which is the cause of the problems we all want to solve.

More of the same

That reformists such as Sanders do not represent a threat to the status quo is confirmed by history and current mainstream comment. ‘It should be clear to anyone who is not trying to frighten voters that Sanders is a social democrat… ‘(, 11 February). MarketWatch, it should be noted, is an American financial information website that provides business news, analysis, and stock market data. It is a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company, a property of News Corp, which also owns The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. Similarly, we read: ‘In capitalist mecca Las Vegas, social democrat Sanders cements Democratic front-runner status’ (, 23 February). ‘Like most Democrats, Kimberly Carr said she’d vote for anyone against Trump. But she wants Sanders. The VIP host at the Bellagio supported Elizabeth Warren, then switched to Sanders on the second ballot in Saturday’s caucuses. She said the party needs someone with fire in the belly and bold policy ideas to take on Trump. ‘Eugene Debs knew better: ‘The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles’ (1904).

Then and now

Fifty years earlier, one former slave wrote: ‘The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from him, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers’ (Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, 1855). Today, ‘Target Workers Unite recently released a survey of more than 500 Target workers around the US, representing 382 different stores in 44 states. Only 12.7% of the workers who responded said they could survive on the wages from Target alone, with 56% of workers citing they have run out of food while employed at Target, and 12.8% of workers reported experiencing homelessness’ (‘Target raised wages. Then it cut workers’ hours and doubled their workload’,, 27 February). Target’s annual gross profit for 2019 was $22.057bn. Post November’s presidential election, it will be business as usual.

Socialism, Communism, Association—A rose by another name (2020)

SPGB pamphlet from 1948.
From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since Marx is famously known as the author of The Communist Manifesto, it is generally assumed that ‘communism’ must have been his preferred term to refer to a post-capitalist society. But in the scattered sketches that can be found in his writings, it is more common to see his image of a future society described as an ‘association’.

For example, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels describe how the ‘classes and class antagonisms’ of bourgeois society would be replaced by ‘an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. And this is a manner of expression he stuck to in his later works. In Capital, for example, he imagines ‘an association of free individuals (sic), working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force’; and describes a ‘higher form of society . . . in which the free development of every individual forms the ruling principle’.

The image here is not of citizens ‘sacrificing’ themselves for the ‘good of society’ but of individuals thoroughly at home in their social world, which is governed by the principle, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’.

The social connection between these ‘associated individuals’ is clear from the outset, unlike the situation under capitalism, where the starting point is private capitalist firms pursuing their own profit in competition against each other. And the means of production are held in common, rather than confronting workers as the private property of other people. The connection between the individuals, and their relation to the means of production, is much like the situation among members of a family engaged in some project together through the use of their collective labour and commonly held resources. The relations between persons in such a case is not mediated by the exchange of things (money and commodities), and the interests of each individual are not in conflict.

Of course, we can also see such ‘associated’ behaviour to some extent under capitalism, as in the case of the various relationships and organisations people enter to pursue their interests and hobbies. But the scope of these associations is limited, since the vast majority of productive activities are done to receive the wages needed to survive—making them coercive rather than free. Every worker knows quite well the stark difference between freely entering into an association with others to pursue some interest and being compelled to work for wages.

The word ‘free’ shows up often when Marx describes a future society, using expressions like ‘free and equal producers’ and ‘free individuals’. Moreover, there is no contradiction or conflict between the different pursuits of individuals, who are no longer divided by the competition imposed by capitalism, thus resulting in a ‘large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour’.

Such passages on a future association emphasise how human beings would freely and consciously interact with each other in pursuit of common goals that also benefit each other. The emphasis on the central role of individuals within a future society runs quite counter to the stereotypes that many people have of Marx’s ideas and of the concepts of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’.

A great misfortune of the 20th century is that those terms became distorted by their association with state-capitalist countries that labelled themselves as socialist or communist to conceal their class-divided reality. A conceit that the foes of those countries were only too happy to oblige in as a convenient way to discredit all revolutionary ideas. Even today, when the term ‘democratic socialism’ has become trendy among younger generations, many still mistake the essence of socialism as economic intervention and regulation by the state.

From the passages quoted from Marx above, however, it should be clear that there is little need for a government and the actions of its politicians and bureaucrats when the subjects of society are free individuals consciously carrying out productive activities to meet common and individual goals. Quite unlike the state-capitalist model of a monolithic state that mobilises the ‘masses’ for its own aims, this would be an organic society made up of countless associations engaging in their respective activities and coordinating with each other to meet democratically determined needs. A ‘state’ would be completely superfluous to such free, associated individuals.

Some Marxian scholars like Paresh Chattopadhyay and Teinosuke Otani have used the term ‘Association’ or the ‘associated mode of production’ rather than ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ to refer to a future society. The debate over what term to use is not that important, since one is still left with the task of explaining its fundamental content. But the image of Association (or a global collective of associations) may help counter views that have emphasised the collective at the expense of the individual—or viewed the gains on one side as a loss on the other. The perspective of Association also reveals how capitalism, for all its championing of individualism, in fact stifles the possibility of each worker to freely pursue personal interests and fulfil individual potential.
Mike Schauerte

Pathfinders: Under Siege (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

It seems hardly possible to many of us, confined indoors with no prospect of an exit strategy, that the world could have changed so much in a few short weeks. Things that seemed important a month ago are irrelevant now. Normal politics doesn’t matter. Nobody could care less about Brexit. Now the only topic of conversation is the coronavirus.

Panic-buying has been fuelled by panic-reporting. Even the normally sober BBC, or at least some over-caffeinated junior staff writer, temporarily succumbed to manic hyperbole by claiming that this was the greatest health threat in history (BBC Online, 20 March, since removed). Of course it wasn’t, as anyone who’s heard of smallpox or bubonic plague knows very well, and anyway the Beeb were misquoting the UK chief nurse, who had said it was the health service’s biggest threat in its history.

Panic has been evident among governments, who have not known how to react. Worryingly, experts have been praising totalitarian China’s ability to track air and rail passengers since 2000, including where they sat and who was in the nearby seats. When asked which countries had coped best, the WHO’s assistant DG included China and also Singapore, another poster boy for authoritarian uber-surveillance (New Scientist, 21 March).

The panic wasn’t helped by inconsistency over numbers. The estimated worst-case mortality figure of 400,000 for the UK failed to take into account the average 600,000 annual deaths, mostly from age-related conditions, meaning that estimated fatalities were being reckoned twice over. This was confusing, because the annual estimate of 8,000 deaths from seasonal flu is always cited in addition to and not as part of the normal 600k death rate ( Thus it was made to seem as if virus mortality rates could be up to 50 times normal background influenza rates, which was utterly misleading.

At least it’s only a coronavirus and not something worse, like bubonic plague. That’s not as unlikely as it sounds. Capitalism has through largely unnecessary and stupid reasons created a global antibiotic crisis which it is doing nothing serious about, so the Black Death, or some other forgotten pathogen, may one day ride triumphantly out of the history books to stalk the world again like the horsemen of the apocalypse in a Hammer horror movie.

The temptation for jaded socialists will be to think this is all somehow capitalism’s fault, but that’s hardly realistic. A new virus could surface at any time in any society. The difference may be what that society then does about it. Capitalist governments are keen to avoid getting blamed for wasting ‘taxpayers’ money (in reality, ruling-class money) on preparations for disasters that might not materialise, and instead tend to cross their fingers and hope that those disasters won’t happen, or at least, won’t happen on their watch. A socialist society wouldn’t be in thrall to any ruling class holding any purse strings, and would collectively agree on the major threats and what to do about them ahead of time.

Capitalism tries to shave costs wherever and whenever it can, because costs impact on profits. So public health services tend to operate at maximum capacity, with no margin for error or emergency, on the risky assumption that nothing will go wrong. When inevitably it does go wrong, leaders distance themselves from blame by protesting that they are not fortune tellers. For socialism, a job is either worth doing properly or not at all, so it’s certainly not worth doing something badly. In obviously important spheres like healthcare it would be considered pointless to reduce resources and effort to unsustainable levels.

Capitalism’s ‘just-in-time’ distribution system saves money on storage, but collapses very quickly in the face of any large-scale social disruption. People know this, so their logical response at such times is to panic-buy, thus exacerbating the problem. Socialism, having no storage ‘costs’ as such, would use local storage in the same way as electrical capacitors, smoothing out peaks and troughs and making supply more robust and reliable. People would know this, and would see no need to overstock.

But what about a vaccine? This is a clever, insidious virus, with tricks that are hard to work around. The Ebola vaccine took 5 years, and that was only by breaking a lot of regulatory rules. Drug companies were urged to throw money at it, and they did, but the 2014 Ebola epidemic died out naturally before most of them could see a return on their investment. Because they lost money on Ebola, they have been very reluctant to put money into coronavirus research ( Just as with antibiotics, capitalism won’t put its coin in the slot if it doesn’t think there’s a jackpot, even if the entire world needs that vaccine desperately. Socialism would have no such hesitation.

And yet, credit where it’s due. In desperation, capitalism is suspending its own rules. Governments have put aside economic considerations in favour of something that looks almost like humane compassion. While global economies plunge into the abyss they are frantically recruiting factories to build ventilators, raiding the exchequer to ward off a social deprivation crisis, and belatedly pumping funds into vaccine research.

But it shouldn’t take a global pandemic before capitalism is prepared to work in the interests of the people in it. In fact this is capitalism trying NOT to behave like capitalism, trying temporarily to impersonate something quite different, quite alien to itself, a cooperative system where mutual well-being is the main concern and knowledge and resources are shared for the common good.

Capitalism only resorts to this under extreme duress. It is like a coach and horses trying to walk backwards. As Dr Johnson would say, we are not surprised that it is done badly, rather that it is done at all. Yet it can’t keep up the effort for long. The ruling class’s sociopathic drive for profit and perpetual growth will soon reassert itself.

The world would do far better to adopt a stable social model where cooperative and sharing behaviour is built in by design, and by whose steady operations such crises may be better managed, and even less likely to emerge in the first place. People have been under siege from capitalism for too long. Now it has shown it can take a temporary holiday from itself, humanity’s smartest move would be to make that holiday permanent.
Paddy Shannon

Arbroath 1320-1820: A History of Them and Us (2020)

From the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tens of thousands of Scottish nationalists would have been parading through the streets of Arbroath this month in their kilts and tartan regalia, flourishing their Saltires and Lion Rampants flags, celebrating a 700–year old document. Far fewer will be commemorating another event which took place 500 years later, this April’s bicentennial of the Weavers Uprising (also known as the Radical War.)

One is a story of a letter to the Pope requesting his papal blessing for the privileges of Scottish nobles and their birthright to the subjugation of their tenants and peasants (the correct title of the Arbroath Declaration is “Letter of Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII.)

The other story is one of the common-folk’s resistance to exploitation and a struggle against oppression.

Scottish barons
For historians, the 1820 rising of the weavers was a minor insignificant event in the annals of Scottish history but then, of course, the Declaration of Arbroath was swiftly forgotten too, and only resurrected for a propaganda purpose very different from the mistaken belief held by today’s nationalists that it was declaring the independence of the Scottish people. In 1680 Sir George Mackenzie publicised it, not as an expression of nationalism but as support for those who wished to curtail royal power.

Historian Neil Davidson takes the key passage to be:
  ‘Yet if he [Robert the Bruce] shall give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the king of England or to the English, we would strive at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and we would make some other man who was able to defend us our king; for, as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will never on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. For we fight not [for] glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up without his life’.
Its message is first directed at the English king, Edward II, informing him that it was pointless for him to attempt to depose Robert the Bruce with a more subservient king, since the remainder of the Scottish aristocracy would not cease its resistance. Secondly, it is also aimed at Robert the Bruce’s dubious past record; they would not accept his jeopardising their interests

The idea that the Arbroath Declaration challenged the Divine Right of Kings with the notion that the nation itself was foremost and the monarch merely its steward, is presented solely to justify Bruce usurping the rightful king John Balliol. The section of the Declaration reading:
  “if this prince [Bruce] shall leave these principles he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavour to expel him, as our enemy and as the subverter both of his own and our rights, and we will make another king, who will defend our liberties.”
It should be read as a cautionary warning and a clear threat to Robert the Bruce himself.

Those medieval signatories to the 1320 Declaration were not leading any ‘liberation struggle’. In fact, John de Menteith, who turned William Wallace over to the English king, placed his seal upon the Declaration of Arbroath.

What did the the document actually mean? It was the ‘freedom’ of the Scottish barons that it was concerned with. The ‘people’ of Scotland were the nobles, the majority of whom at that time were still culturally Anglo-Norman, despite inter-marriage. None of the signatories held the view that the actual people of Scotland should have any say in any issue and they had no concept of popular sovereignty whatsoever

Weavers’ Revolt
If true ‘freedom-fighters’ are required then Scottish workers should look not to the winners and losers of aristocratic medieval family feuds over the throne of Scotland, but to those brave if foolhardy weavers who rose up five hundred years later in April 1820.

The  ‘Battle’ of Bonnymuir  took place on the 5 April, 1820. Thirty-two cavalrymen routed twenty-five, poorly armed, striking weavers. John Baird and Andrew Hardie, who came to be known as the ‘Radical Martyrs’, were sentenced to be hanged and beheaded (along with James Wilson who was later part of a riot that broke prisoners free at Greenock.)

Glasgow was at this time just a collection of small village communities with weaving being the main occupation. The handloom weavers enjoyed skilled status and worked to commission. They could choose their own hours of work if they were willing to forgo some proportion of their earnings. Given that these workers had free time many were able to read and would talk about what they had read, discussing the American and French revolutions. A slump in the economy after the Napoleonic Wars when pay and conditions deteriorated drastically resulted in workers, particularly weavers in Scotland, seeking reforms from an uncaring gentry-controlled government already in fear of revolution.

The ‘Committee of Organisation for Forming a Provisional Government’ put up placards on Saturday 1 April, calling for an immediate national strike. Many in central Scotland came out in support the following week.

The proclamation began:
  ’Friends and Countrymen! Rouse from that state in which we have sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our petitions for redress, to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives.’ 
And, it called for a rising:
  ’To show the world that we are not that lawless, sanguinary rabble which our oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are, but a brave and generous people determined to be free.’
One group of strikers decided that attack was the best form of defence. With the purpose of acquiring weapons, about twenty-five weavers, led by Andrew Hardie and John Baird, marched on the Carron Iron Works near Falkirk to capture weaponry which was manufactured there. Tragically for that group, due to earlier underground societies like the United Scotsmen, government spies were active which meant the march on Carron was already known. The Army was given its own marching orders and when the two forces met  the radicals began firing. After a few volleys, the cavalry flanked the rebels and the inevitable end was swift. And so ended the ‘Battle’ of Bonnymuir.

On the day of his execution, Hardie’s words were:
  ’Yes, my countrymen, in a few minutes our blood shall be shed on this scaffold… for no other sin but seeking the legitimate rights of our ill-used and downtrodden beloved countrymen.’
An irate Sheriff ordered him to stop ‘such violent and improper language’. 

Hardie retorted:
  ’What we said to our countrymen, we intended to say no matter whether you granted us liberty or not. So we are now both done.’ 
1820 can be seen as the emergence of peoples’ power later to manifest itself in the Chartist Movement. The rising should be seen in the context of ordinary people from all over a growing industrial Scotland being inspired to overthrow the government in order to secure their rights and better working conditions.

We shall let the reader judge which historic event deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

‘The Detail Which Moves You Is The Same Detail That Lets You Know It’s True’ (2020)

The Proper Gander Column from the April 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

As David Baddiel says in his recent documentary, what happened to the Jews under the Nazis is unbelievable in the sense that it’s difficult to grasp that people actually carried it out. Millions of Jews, along with Slavs, Roma, disabled people and gay men, were murdered by the Nazi regime during the Second World War. Despite the overwhelming evidence, some people think that this is literally unbelievable, a mindset which Confronting Holocaust Denial With David Baddiel (BBC2) explores.

Baddiel’s Jewish mother and grandparents escaped Germany in 1939, but his extended family who couldn’t get away were killed. He says that through them, he feels the history of what happened deeply and personally. His documentary starts by looking at the origins of Holocaust denial in actions taken during the war. The Nazis destroyed some evidence of the death camps, not just documents but also victims’ bodies, which were callously broken down with acids before the bones were ground up for fertiliser. Baddiel is understandably shocked to hear this, and also unsure why the Nazis tried to cover up something they thought was ‘glorious’. Some idiots have latched onto gaps in evidence as ‘proof’ that the atrocities didn’t take place. The British state’s actions also helped subsequent deniers. The Ministry of Information withheld details about what was happening, as shown in a 1941 memo to propagandists which claimed that people would be more likely to support the war if the Nazis were known to be targeting ‘indisputably innocent victims’. Jewish people weren’t seen as innocent enough by the state, and so their deaths were downplayed. This shows a deep-rooted anti-Semitism, as it implies Jews aren’t worth as much as other people and that they brought it on themselves. Ignoring that Jews were the main targets continued to the end of the war. When the camps were liberated in 1945, many British newsreels didn’t mention that most of the victims were Jewish. Later, when West Germany became an ally against the USSR during the Cold War, what had happened became an embarrassment. Baddiel says ‘an eerie silence fell over the memory of the Holocaust’.

It wasn’t until the 1960s when awareness of the slaughter spread wider, with news reports of Nazis on trial and published accounts from survivors. Baddiel visits Rachel Levy, now aged 89, and who was a teenager living in Czechoslovakia when she and her family were taken to Auschwitz. She was separated from her mother and siblings, who she never saw again, and was later marched to Belsen, where she found her aunt dying. It’s hard to comprehend something so appalling as what Rachel Levy lived through. But, as Baddiel tells us, ‘the detail which moves you is the same detail that lets you know it’s true. And therefore to say that it’s not true is obscene’.

Paradoxically, as awareness of what happened grew, so did its denial. This came through twisted pamphlets and books produced by ‘revisionist historians’ like Ernst Zündel and David Irving, both of whom ended up in court. Zündel was jailed several times in Canada for publishing literature likely to incite hatred, while Irving filed a libel suit against historian Deborah Lipstadt, who refuted his views in her 1993 book Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory.

As the case was filed in Britain, where the law places the burden of proof on the defendant, Lipstadt was in the odd position of having to prove it happened in order to counter Irving’s warped argument that he can’t be a Holocaust-denier if it didn’t take place. He was defeated and landed with a £2 million bill. When deniers’ views aren’t resting on fake history they use ‘nerdy, geeky science’ to focus on specifics such as the ventilation of gas chambers to claim that they couldn’t have worked. These days, pamphlets and books have largely been replaced by websites and social media as the deniers’ main outlets.

Baddiel accepts that to understand Holocaust-denial he should meet a denier, so he travels to Ireland to visit Dermot Mulqueen. His pathetic reasons for rejecting that the mass murders took place include saying that nothing sinister could have happened in Auschwitz because it had a swimming pool and that there couldn’t have been enough ovens to burn everyone as an oven can only fit one person. He even comes out with a song, out of tune and out of tune with reality. Misfits like Mulqueen shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant, though, as Holocaust denial is on a trajectory which led to the killings in America at Charlottesville in Virginia, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C and the Pittsburgh synagogue, among others.

Worryingly, as many as one in six people worldwide believe that what happened has been exaggerated or never happened. In the UK, six per cent of people have these views, while the proportion is as high as 82 per cent in the West Bank and Gaza. There, this is largely because of beliefs that Jews have overstated what happened in order to win Israel and reparations. Elsewhere, Holocaust-denial comes about for different reasons. In Eastern Europe, anti-Semitism and far-right views in general are part of nationalists’ attempts to distance themselves from previous Soviet influence. In Western Europe and America, anti-Semitism is often linked with conspiracy theories that Jews secretly run the world, although how they have managed this if they’re ‘subhuman’ is another of those logic-defying examples of doublethink which anti-Semites manage.

Basic rational arguments, along with photographs, film footage or interviews with survivors should be enough to silence Holocaust deniers, but this doesn’t seem to work. Their minds can somehow shut out evidence and accommodate what to anyone else are obvious contradictions. Deniers can’t think clearly because they have been stunted by a narrow, exclusionary view of identity. Anti-Semitism, nationalism, racism, homophobia and any other kind of prejudice comes from creating and emphasising differences between people which ignore our common humanity. It’s not easy, though, to extend common humanity to include Nazis or Holocaust deniers…
Mike Foster

Running Commentary: Thatcher and Socialism (1987)

The Running Commentary Column from the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thatcher and Socialism

On January 31 1987 it was reported in the Daily Telegraph that Margaret Thatcher had made a remarkable statement. She hoped for a further term of office so that she could finally eradicate socialism from Britain. Knowing Thatcher's track record we see in this utterance a deliberate attempt to mislead the electorate. Socialism, as we are continually pointing out, has never existed anywhere and, in any case, it could not exist in one country. It has to be worldwide.

Thatcher always tries to give the impression that she is thoroughly honest and sincere, but we are not impressed for this is all part of the plan to hoodwink the voters. What we have is capitalism and socialists are doing their best to persuade the working class to get rid of it and replace it with a worldwide system of common ownership.

Capitalism, by its very nature, cannot run smoothly. It is teetering on the edge of another war. The EEC are at loggerheads with one another and with America. The wars in Iran and Afghanistan are helped along by outside nations anxious to sell their latest war equipment and to test its efficiency in the same way as during the Spanish Civil War. States not at war see battlefields as opportunities for making a profit.

Gorbachev has stated that he prefers the capitalism of Thatcher to that of her Labour opponents. Will we now see a split in the Thatcher-Reagan camp and a closer relationship between Thatcher and Gorbachev? Strange things happen in the world of capitalist economics. Understanding the nature of capitalism suggested during the last "war to end" war that economic friendship might result between Britain and Germany; after the war we saw German troops training in Wales and the British supplying the German Air Force with the top secret Tornado fighter-bomber.

All this chicanery has nothing to do with the working class except that we are called up to defend this ridiculous system when the economic struggle develops into war.

The solution to this is in the hands of the working class. All that is needed is the political knowledge to apply it.

Bed and Breakfast

Sorry— but you're probably too late for this year.

No, we're not referring to two weeks in Blackpool or Ramsgate. As package tours abroad are now often cheaper than holidays in Britain, you're probably still OK for your summer holidays.

Unless you're heavily into wheeling and dealing in shares, you won't know that "Bed and Breakfast" is in fact a way of making a quick buck. The law allows you to take a tax free profit of £6,300 on shares and unit trusts; after that tax is payable at 30%. Therefore the wise ones sell shares/unit trusts tonight, making their tax-free profit, and buy them back in the morning — hence "bed and breakfast". You can carry on like this indefinitely. The only slight risk you take is the (unlikely) possibility of a sharp rise in the price of those shares/unit trusts between the evening of selling and next morning when you buy them back. Mind you, there is another snag. Allowing for a return of, say, 20 per cent, to make that tax free £6,300 you need to have £31,500 to invest in the first place. "Bed and breakfast" prices are, we are sure, a problem which does not bother many of our readers.

Wanna Buy Some Shares?

Anyone who achieved a distorted concept of their class position through sinking a couple of hundred quid — which in many cases they had to borrow — into shares in privatised state industry could learn from the great Guinness scandal what it actually means to be a member of the other class in society.

The Sunday Times of 8 March 1987 published an account by Ivan Fallon — who has written a book about the affair — of the sort of money which changed hands during the Guinness takeover battle for Distillers:
  • Gerald Ronson, owner of the Heron group, invested £25m in Guinness shares, for which he was to receive a "fee" of £5m from Guinness.
  • Ronson's "adviser", Tony Parnes, got a "fee" of £3m. Jack Lyons, another "adviser", got £2m.
  • A subsidiary of Ephraim Marguiles bought 2.8 million Guinness shares and another subsidiary was paid nearly £1.5m for "work" in connection with the Distillers takeover.
  • The Bank Leu in Zurich bought £50m worth of Guinness shares, apparently with money supplied by Guinness.
  • The American Meshulam Riklis bought £30m worth of Distillers shares and invested £60m in Guinness shares.
  • Lord Spens bought £75m worth of Guinness shares for clients of the merchant bank Henry Ansbacher.

Distillers was seen as ripe for a takeover because as it was organised it was not exploiting its workers, or applying the capital accumulated through their exploitation, to the maximum benefit of its shareholders. It was failing to meet an essential requirement of capitalism — maximised profit. It needed the sort of regime which Ernest Saunders had introduced into the Guinness empire; in his first two years as Chief Executive he sold or closed down 140 companies which Guinness had taken over in a vain effort to staunch the fall in its profits. The potential profits from a revamped, asset-stripped Distillers were enticing enough to attract some huge investments and some very rich capitalists.

Beside this operation, the scale of working class share buying is seen in its true proportions. Workers are not the authentic investors; they are not the owners of capital. That is the role exclusively of the capitalist class, who exploit the workers, who assert their privileged standing through capitalism's laws and its coercive state machine but who are prepared to break those laws if they see it as being to their immediate advantage to do so.

They pay richly to those who have the job of managing their operations. Ernest Saunders, before he was exposed and fired, was "earning" £370.000 a year and living in a country house worth £500,000. He is reported now to be exhausted. There is no information about the condition of the employees of the companies involved, whose labour was responsible for amassing the huge sums of money which were so skilfully deployed.

Aids for extra profits

One way you might like to consider making that tax free £6,300 is to invest in Japan. However, according to Warburg Securities, just any old investment won't do if you really want to get rich quickly. As "we expect awareness of Aids in Japan to continue to increase sharply” their recommendation is simple: buy Sagami Rubber and Fuji Latex — used, of course, to make condoms. "We expect unit growth should pick up as the Aids threat becomes apparent": strong demand "may also facilitate price increases" — the law of supply and demand operating . . .There are also strong recommendations to buy Sumitomo Chemical and Inabata Sangyo. who distribute Wellcome's AZT drug, and Fujirebio. who start marketing their diagnostic kit in April. These “should be the continuing focus of investor interest as further Aids victims inevitably come to light". So now that you know, there is no excuse for you not to make that tax free £6.300. After all, if you want to get rich quickly you can’t have scruples or consider the finer ethical niceties.

To All Readers (1987)

Party News from the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

You may be aware that Islington branch of the Socialist Party are putting forward a candidate for the forthcoming general election. Obviously an immense amount of background work is necessary if we are to seize this chance of putting our case across.

This is an ideal opportunity for people who are unable to attend branch meetings regularly to get involved. Volunteers are urgently needed to help in any way they can — envelope addressing, leaflet distribution. door-to-door canvassing and so on.

Even if you can only spare an hour or two a month, or are unable to get out and about in the constituency, please get in touch with Cliff Begley at head office to offer your services. Your support and help will seldom be of greater value than during this pre-election period.

A matter of timing (1987)

From the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

A long holiday on a remote island is recommended to anyone who is not obsessively interested in speculation about the date of the next general election. Until the Prime Minister ends the agony by naming the day we shall be harassed by political correspondents picking over the latest opinion poll, by the pollsters asking their irrelevant questions and by politicians whose speeches have taken on the urgency and concentration which was once supposed to influence the thoughts of prisoners on the eve of their execution.

No member of the Cabinet can relax for a moment because everything they say. everything they do. everywhere they go, will be minutely scrutinised for clues. The hysteria has already extended beyond the political field. Take, for example, the recent marriage of failed trainee accountant and rally driver Mark Thatcher to a millionairess from Texas. This union of two heavily-moneyed parasites. a boring and unremarkable event, could not avoid being an element in the speculation about the election. Had the rich and happy pair, it was asked, been rushed to the altar by Tory Party planners to soften Margaret Thatcher's image as the Iron Lady by making her a prospective grandmother?

Of course this might be all just clean fun, to keep the media hacks busy between the end of the Wapping dispute and the announcement of the next royal pregnancy, were it not for the reasons why the timing of an election is considered so important. Indeed, in some cases the outcome of an election is said to have been decided by the day chosen for it. In 1970, for example. Wilson's government was widely assumed to be on course for a third term of office. The original slim majority of 1964 had been enlarged in 1966, in an election fought on the slogan You Know Labour Government Works — which should have been enough to frighten away millions of voters. The local elections of May 1970 were encouraging for Labour and the polls predicted a victory for them at a general election. Apart from that, Ted Heath was some way behind Wilson in the grubby contest to appear as the sort of leader workers admire, to tell them what to do. to blame them for the politicians' impotence to deal with capitalism's problems and generally to exploit their political naiveté. Wilson's ambition to purge the Labour Party of its professed objective of social revolution and instead establish it as the alternative government of British capitalism, seemed close to achievement.

George Meddemmen

There had, of course, been one or two problems — like economic and financial crises — but these are faced by all governments. There had been battles with the workers — notably the seamen — over wages and conditions of work. Living standards had been persistently threatened through rising prices; but these had been prominent features of British capitalism since Labour first won power in 1945. The Wilson government had carried on with providing the British armed forces with the nuclear power of super-annihilation; they had supported the American government's ugly struggle in Vietnam and, aware that the British capitalist class had large investments in Nigeria, and got ten per cent of their oil from there, they backed the Nigerian government's genocidal war against Biafra. It was, as they say, not a pretty picture but neither was it untypical of the necessary actions of the governments of capitalism. The British working class, it was predicted, were satisfied enough with Labour s record to give them another spell in power.

But Wilson, who was supposed to be a master of timing, got it wrong, which led to three years of Tory rule under the despised and derided Ted Heath. At the time the surprise result was attributed partly to the publication, just before polling day, of some statistics which showed that British capitalism was not doing as well in competition with its foreign rivals as the Labour government had hoped. Few things are so likely to undermine the workers' confidence in a government as the suspicion that they are not looking after the interests of the ruling class as competently as they might. There were other factors, not the least of them the bewildered disillusionment which six years of governing capitalism had stimulated in the Labour Party. At times the Party seemed on the verge of disintegration, with the spectacular defections among leaders such as George Brown and Ray Gunter and with the Party at large rent apart over Biafra, Vietnam, nuclear weapons, the unions and so on. Under this pressure Wilson, who had once been lauded as Labour 's man of magic, became exposed as a trickster.

It was apparently even more difficult for the next Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, to fix the date for his one and only attempt to hold on to power. Callaghan's government had been in continual trouble, trying to hold down wages in a series of battles with striking workers — notably the firemen in the winter of 1977. In mid-1978 the unions gave notice that enough was enough, that the pressure from lower paid workers could not be contained much longer. The sewage workers, lorry drivers, local authority manual workers and hospital employees came out in a series of much-publicised strikes which ruined Labour's strategy of wage restraint through the co-operation of the unions. Some of the strikes were supported by workers not directly involved in a dispute but who joined a picket line anyway. How badly the government were shaken was evident when Callaghan — who had risen to power through the unions and who was once, briefly, regarded as a left-winger — said in the Commons:
 I assert very clearly that everyone has the right to work and everyone has the right to cross a picket line. It is not a sacred object and I hope they will do so. (Guardian, 24 January 1979). 
In the same speech he stated, no doubt to an appreciative audience of Thatcherite Tories, that the expenditure limits fixed by the government could not be exceeded and that for private industry the "ultimate discipline" was that workers could lose their jobs — which must have been confusing to anyone who took seriously his mouthings about the "right to work".

In October 1978, in a speech in which he was expected to announce the date of the election, Callaghan committed himself to hanging on into 1979. He must have been hoping that things could not possibly get worse. That was the time when the present economic recession was gathering momentum; under that Labour government unemployment went up — doubled — between 1974 and 1979, from about 600,000 to about 1,200,000 and their response was the established one of cutting back on investment. Labour's Chancellor, Denis Healey, thus gained the reputation as the originator of Thatcherite monetarism. Class society and poverty, after five years of Labour government, was as evident as ever. There were still, as Callaghan himself admitted:
   . . . men and women struggling with low pay, mothers stretching the household budget to make ends meet, youngsters in search of a job . . . patients queuing for a hospital bed or families without a decent home . (Foreword to Labour s 1979 election programme, The Labour Way Is The Better Way).
As it happened the choice of date was taken out of Callaghan’s hands when a defeat in the Commons forced him to call an election; for some time they had clung to power through sordid compromise deals, at first with the Liberals and then with the Nationalists. At least, he might have reflected, he could not be accused of turning victory into defeat through bad timing and the leader of so unpopular a government, which was duly cast aside by the voters, needed whatever consolation he could get.

It was simpler for the Tories in 1983, if we are to believe Cecil Parkinson, who masterminded their campaign. In an article in the Guardian (24 November 1986) Parkinson wrote that Thatcher chose the 1983 polling day after the Tory leaders had spent a day discussing the last local election results and studying two opinion polls they had taken in key marginal seats. It was, he said, a matter of common sense — and nothing is more beloved of politicians, for common sense justifies every human excess of capitalism, from nuclear annihilation to mass starvation. And of course Tory common sense paid off — in spite of millions unemployed and all that meant in terms of even more desperate poverty, in spite of the fact that the numbers living at or below the official poverty line had increased by millions between 1979 and 1983, in spite of the tightening of the screw on those still in work, in spite of the slaughter of the Falklands. . . .

George Meddemmen

It is, to put it mildly, depressing that millions of workers should vote for political parties who indulge in such blatant, cynical manipulation, whether Labour’s attempts at subtlety or Tory common sense. In 1979 Callaghan delayed polling day in the uncertain hope that workers were so foolish and irresponsible that only a few months were needed for them to blot out the miserable memory of his government and then, perhaps, be ready to fall for some vote-catching gimmick. Thatcher in 1983 should have been surprised that deeper poverty and the jingoistic hysteria of the Falklands had not destroyed her chances. But she saw that workers actually seemed hungry for more of her style of capitalism and she took the opportunity to exploit this.

If the analysts have got it right — if it is true that a few months' difference in polling day can affect how workers vote — the whole exercise is exposed for its futility and irrelevance. A working class who value their vote — their power to change society — so lightly will continue to vote for capitalism, switching from Labour to Tory and back again or even perhaps, to the Alliance. They are not about to make any fundamental change in society, to eliminate the disfigurements which capitalism brings. Such swings are brought about through the most trivial changes in capitalism, such as a set of trading figures; basically the system does not change. The problems we face now, which are the raw material of election promises, are those which have been faced by generations of workers and they will be eradicated only through social revolution.

Because capitalism does not change fundamentally. neither does the case for its abolition. We know why socialism must be established, and how, and who will do it. The one remaining question is: when.