Monday, May 25, 2020

The Stretcher Bearers (1972)

From the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

At a time when it is still the professed policy of the Heath government that we should all learn to stand on our own feet, the social services, which are seen as a crutch for social cripples, are expanding at an unprecedented pace.

In fact over the past couple of years social service has become one of the great growth industries. In local government it is already a powerful factor, with budgets which can run into several millions of pounds a year, which puts it second (although a long way second) to education. The prospect is that the power and influence of social service departments will grow and that they may become dominant at most Town Halls throughout the country.

This makes a job in social service an attractive proposition. One Director of Social Services in a London borough remembers that when he was at Oxford none of his fellow students would have dreamed of going to work in social service. Now, when he goes back to the university to lecture about his job, he finds many undergraduates prepared to consider it as readily as they would the law or industry. (A Director of Social Services in a large, busy borough can earn £10,000 a year.)

Most of this has come about after the Seebohm Report of 1968, which suggested sweeping changes in the structure and organisation of the social services. The Seebohm Report came as another stage in a long, typical development. For centuries the state has had to take some sort of an interest in social casualties like the sick, the aged, the mad. The Industrial Revolution, with its increase in population and the concentration into towns, brought its own particular problems as well as the machinery to administer them. At first government interest was comparatively slight but here, as in so many other fields, the ruling class have now accepted the economy of state intervention and after Seebohm this is here to stay.

Until the Second World War social work was often considered the field of the amateur or the part time do-gooder. It has been really discovered during the past twenty-five years, as local authorities have taken over more and more responsibilities in the field. But it all tended to happen piecemeal, with the scope of the service varying from area to area and with separate departments springing up as problems came to light, with little overall strategy or communication.

Imagine a family where the father is out of work and behind with the rent, where there are a lot of children and the mother in hospital having another. Before the Seebohm reorganisation, this family might have been attended to by an army of social workers, all coming from the same Town Hall — Education Welfare, Childrens Department, Housing, Family Welfare, Home Help, Medical Social Worker.

Now this would never do, in the age of rationalisation, in which capitalism has so diligently sought out those jobs being done by two people where one would do. Seebohm was in this tradition, something of a hatchet job. It proposed that each local authority set up a Department of Social Service responsible for such work as child care, mental welfare, home helps, the elderly and the handicapped; a few fields such as those attached to hospitals were excluded. The report described this reorganisation, in established social work jargon, as providing “. . . a community based and family orientated service, which will be available to all.”

The stated aim was to set up a service which would take care of every problem which could conceivably afflict a worker from the cradle to the grave. In each case, this service would be applied through, just one social worker instead of, perhaps, five or six as before. The Seebohm Report also gave support to social work as a profession with the status and authority of a separate department and no longer as an adjunct to the medical and education services. The result has been the mushroom growth of the powerful departments, the career structure in social work, the death of the old image of the do-gooding spinster in her flowered hat and dress.

As might have been expected, Seebohm was widely welcomed among social workers. The Report’s recommendations were largely passed into law in the Local Authority Social Services Act 1969 and now it needs only a ’phone call to suck us into the great, caring, organising, providing machinery of modern social service.

All of this sounds very comforting but what of the snags? One of these is the enormous power which social workers can exert over the lives of the people they call their clients. A social worker can exercise — or choose not to exercise — influence which can affect a family’s chance of rehousing or of help with cash grants. When a child has been ordered by a court into the care of a local authority it is the social services department which decides — without reference to anyone else — whether the child remains at home or is taken away, perhaps to what was once called an approved school but which is now known as a community home.

So this is a good time to ask what it is all about. Why does a social system which is so clearly uncaring spend so much resources on apparently caring for us? All capitalist parties, whatever incidental differences they might have, support the idea of social services. In wartime, social services have expanded and established themselves in many fresh fields. It is, of course, at such times that the ruling class place special importance upon keeping their workers as healthy and as contented as possible; hence schemes like welfare food, controlled rents, subsidised prices. These guidelines lead us to the conclusion that social service can be an effective method of keeping the working class docile, of defusing their discontents and dampening their problems by giving them the impression that capitalism cares about them.

It is no coincidence, that so many social workers are to be found in courts and town halls, the very places where capitalism is administered by its laws of privilege and suppression. When the social worker comes tripping through the front door of the problem family she does not bring only material help or emotional support (if she even brings those) but also a whole lot of advice and counselling aimed at conditioning the recipient to accepting life as a misery of denial and repression in the slum, on a worker’s poverty income.

Sometimes this counselling is mashed up with a fair measure of psychoanalysis, which qualifies it for the description of casework. This can be a fascinatingly complicated and skilful process in which the elements of a dialogue may be played backwards and forwards like an endless game of tennis which is very entertaining except that the ball becomes increasingly battered and misshapen. The really dedicated (let us not say bigoted) caseworker can move in on a family living in a rat-infested slum, where everyone is sick and apathetic, and tell them in the kindest possible way that their material problems are irrelevant. What such a caseworker would really like to toy with are the parent/child relationships in the family, whether they have all passed adequately through all the Oedipal phases, whether they were successfully pot-trained.

Help with material problems can in any case have only the limited object of helping the family tolerate the intolerable. If the electricity has been cut off because the last two bills are unpaid the social worker may try to arrange the instalment of a prepayment meter, which deals with the temptation to get behind with the bills but not with the urge to break open the coin box when times are hard. In the 19th century voluntary social workers would organise mothers’ meetings where the women were taught needlework, simple cookery and the cheapest ways of making nourishing soup. Now, there are homes where women can stay with their families while they receive expert (and it really is expert) instruction on how to survive on Social Security payouts. It is all rather like the army training shock troops to exist on iron rations in the desert.

Although most social workers accept the present order of priorities, there are many who are becoming increasingly frustrated at their function in capitalist society. Some of these have supported groups like the squatters and Claimants Unions, which has the disadvantage for them that these groups tend to become respectable with time, like the squatters who have been tamed into another office of the council housing department, with their own allocations of dwellings to find tenants for. Other social workers have set up their own underground, with its own magazine — Case Con. There are Case Con groups in many parts of the country, angrily but confusedly questioning the established concepts of social work. They are aware that capitalism needs social tranquilisers and angry at their own part in providing them; at present they have no better answer than what they call “revolutionary social work”. Despite their discontent, the Case Con adherents have yet to realise that social work is essentially aimed at meddling with the problems of capitalism and that it cannot be revolutionary because it does not operate in the political field where the revolution, which will end social work just as it will end the problems of capitalism, must be carried out.

Capitalism is a social system of privilege and repression in which insecurity, bad housing, acute poverty, are continuing symptoms of a basic condition. With some perseverance and luck a worker may survive the pressures upon him and die without too many debts or other handicaps. But in the nature of the system there must be plenty of casualties from capitalism’s assaults upon us and it is these that social workers are supposed to pick up and attend to.

It is not difficult to snipe at them, as they pick their way through the battlefield with their stretchers and bandages. Yet there are positives in their situation; like the stretcher bearers, they accept that there is need and that the condition of the people they pick up is not their own fault but that of conditions outside their immediate control. Social workers accept the concept of unconscious motivation; they accept that our behaviour has been largely fashioned for us by the situation in which we find ourselves. They also accept that social casualties should not be left in distress, that they are a communal responsibility.

Because of this, social workers have something to offer in terms of tolerance, co-operativeness and concern. Is it too optimistic, to see hope in the fact that these will be the accepted attitudes in the society of the future, when the social carnage of capitalism is an ugly memory.
Ivan

Unemployment in Russia (1972)

From the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

If, as the Socialist Party of Great Britain maintains, Russia is broadly State Capitalist, and, as Marx held, that capitalism breeds and needs unemployment why does there appear to be no unemployment in Russia? Is it, as members of the Communist Party claim, that the Russian planning system has abolished unemployment?

It is first necessary to recognise that the term unemployed has two meanings which overlap but are not the same. It means “not working” and also “out of a job”. The difference can be seen from experience in this country. Ideally, from the capitalist point of view all workers on the pay-roll would be fully and continuously working and as soon as work is not available they would be sacked and become out of work. For several reasons this is not always practicable. Owing to weather conditions, as in agriculture and building, it is sometimes impossible to carry on work out-of-doors and impossible to organise alternative work under cover. Also there are industries or services in which it is not possible to secure an even flow of traffic or even to foresee from day to day when the peaks will arise; inevitably therefore, there are periods in which workers on the pay-roll are unoccupied.

In the early post-war years when experience justified the employers’ belief that any falling off of trade would be short-lived it was a fairly widespread practice to keep some workers on in slack periods rather than face the possibility of being short of labour when the expected early recovery came. One of the reasons unemployment has jumped so much in the past few years is that the prolonged depression has destroyed employer’s confidence that recovery will come soon and their case for “hoarding” labour has disappeared.

Some, if not all, of these factors operate in Russia as in Britain. It is known for example, on the admission of Russian authorities, that in part of the Autumn and Winter a third or more of farmers on the state and collective farms have no work to do on the farms. (See Socialist Standard November 1968). There is also in Russia as in Britain a considerable number of workers unemployed in the period between changing from one job to another. Russian sources are quoted in Russia — a Marxist Analysis by T. Cliff to the effect that 36 per cent of the workers in certain areas changed their jobs each year and that the average duration of unemployment was 31 days.

Consequently, the claim that in Russia there is no unemployment and no workers out of a job is not to be taken literally, but this leaves to be answered the more important question why the cycle of expansion of industry followed by depression and heavy unemployment now strongly evident in Britain and elsewhere seems to be absent in Russia.

When Marx wrote about 19th Century British capitalism he assumed free market conditions of production for profit, a working class able to strike over wages, and that failure to make a profit would compel the individual capitalist firm to curtail production, sack workers or go out of business. Under war-time conditions with millions of workers in the armed forces, wages and prices controlled, maximum output demanded and profit guaranteed, unemployment fell to abnormally low levels (Under 1 per cent in some years). Some of these conditions continued after the war when maximum output was in demand to make good wartime destruction and under-investment, and unemployment remained abnormally low. In Russia where war damage and loss of life were incomparably greater the unsatisfied demand for output and the shortage of labour were correspondingly greater and lasted longer than in Britain.

But the great difference between Russian and British industry is that Russian centralised control and financing of production and foreign trade has the result that the failure of a particular factory or industry to maintain efficiency and make a profit does not put it out of business — the loss is borne by the national budget.

On the side of employment and unemployment the evidence is that Russian industry is heavily overmanned.

David Bonavia in the Times (2 February 1972) reviews the situation and concludes: —
  “Russia has no unemployment problem, as such, because it is illegal for an able-bodied person not to work, unless supported by a spouse. In practice this means that the state merely accepts the losses from an economic situation which would result in huge unemployment in the West . . . From the individual’s point of view, the Soviet approach to unemployment may be preferable, because it increases his security. From the point of view of the economy as a whole, it is a heavy burden to have large numbers of people drawing their pay for working useless or even counter-productive jobs.
Russian planned agriculture and promises of abundant food supplies have not prevented Russia from having to buy millions of tons of foodstuffs abroad. Recently, in spite of planned expansion of sugar production the Russian government has had to default on an agreement to supply Finland and is a big buyer in the world market. Above all the Russian claim that they had planned control of the monetary situation has seen the rouble become a black market currency in the outside world, selling at a fraction of its nominal value.

For Russia, as a world power, needing more and more to move into world markets, the key question is whether controls and planning can achieve the levels of efficiency of rival powers. In spite of boasts of surpassing American industrial output, the gap between Russia and the USA has not been closed and in the meantime Japan with half the population is fast overtaking Russia.
Edgar Hardcastle

The things they say (1972)

From the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
“The earth is polluted neither because man is some kind of especially dirty animal nor because there are too many of us. The fault lies with human society —with the ways in which society has elected to win, distribute, and use the wealth that has been extracted by human labour from the planet’s resources.”
— Ecologist Barry Commoner, The Observer 9 January 1972.
“A better method (. . . of controlling inflation . . .) might be to pay all workers that amount of money which just suffices to preserve the living standards of the lowest paid workers . . . it would be injudicious of a government not to recognise that workers, in struggling for earnings, see themselves struggling for them at the expense of profits. At the same time, a reduction at this moment in the average rate of profit or rate of return on funds invested could further hold back investment.
Rt. Hon. Aubrey Jones, one time Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes—Lloyds Bank Review January 1972.
The poor are likely to die at an earlier age than the rich, and the gap is getting wider. Their chances now are even worse than in the depression years of the early 1930s, a doctor said yesterday.
— Registrar General’s figures quoted at a meeting of the British Society for Responsibility in Science, The Times 10 January 1972.
“Everyone agrees that it would be ideal to prevent all road deaths. No one’s going to deny that we know how to do it. But when we say we’d like to abolish road deaths, we mean at no cost. Given the economy, which has to continue, then people are expendable. We reckon to kill a few thousand just for the sake of keeping the economy right.”
Dr. Eric Laithwaite, Chairman of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, The Listener 13 January 1972.
There are 33 millionaires in the village of Soltvadkert, Hungary: 33 peasants, that is, who earn over 1 million forints a year. The average working wage in Hungary is about 36,000 forints a year. Calculated at the tourist exchange rate that’s a difference of roughly £14,000 to £500 . . . in Soltvadkert the old system has returned: the poor peasants are once more employed by the rich.
William Shawcross, The Sunday Times 23 January 1972.
“The problem of source depletion is a phoney. What will happen to the standard of living if we run out of mercury? Probably nothing. The most essential resources are virtually inexhaustible —oxygen, nitrogen, iron, aluminium, sulphur . . . Provided that we have the energy to do the necessary extraction work, there is no resource problem.” Weinberg and his colleagues believe that nuclear energy can amply provide for about 15,000 million people without wreaking havoc on the environment (. . . and that . . .) the whole world can enjoy a standard of living even higher than that of present day inhabitants of the United States.
— Dr. Gerald Wick interviewing Alvin Weinberg director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, New Scientist 20 January 1972.
“Economic forecasting in this country in the last few years has gone awry. We certainly never wanted and never expected to have unemployment at the present level.”
Mr. Robert Carr, Secretary of State for Employment, The Times 24 January 1972.
“I do not personally believe that unemployment will get back to the sort of levels we were used to in the 1960s. There will be more people unemployed than we have been used to . . .”
Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the Confederation of British industry, Financial Times 13 January 1972.

50 Years Ago: Class War in West Virginia (1972)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The mine owners in West Virginia were determined to stamp out the movement for organising the workers into the United Mine Workers Union. More than 45,000 miners are already enrolled in this Union, and the organisers were determined to get another 45,000 non-unionists in. These are mostly located in the Logan and Mingo counties, where, it seems, the mine owners are in complete command of the County administration, with the sheriffs also in their pay. As most of the houses tenanted by the miners are owned by the companies, naturally the first thing the latter did was to threaten with eviction every man joining the union.

This they did, utilising for the purpose detectives of the Baldwin-Felt Agency, who are notorious gunmen. Fights were the result, with loss of life on both sides. On one occasion during a march of Union men, they were met by troops and mine guards, which resulted in a battle in the mountains, lasting for days.

Whenever things are not lively enough for the gunmen, they proceed to ‘shoot up’ a town or two in order to strike terror into the hearts of the miners and their families. The State Attorney General himself admits that the mine owners hold the entire machinery of administration in their grip so that the miners in their quest for ‘justice’ find themselves ‘up against it’ at every turn.

From an article Under the Iron Heel by Tom Sala, (Socialist Standard, May 1922).

Review: April 1972 (1972)

The Review of the Month column from the May 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Home

The cruelest month brought yet another bout of misery for workers who rely on the trains to get them to and from work, as the railway workers went slow in an effort to get some results on their pay claim. There might be some argument about whether the railmen were well advised in their handling of the episode in which Alex Jarrett awarded them a rapid 12½ per cent. That would be a matter of tactics. What cannot be in dispute is the fact that here we have another section of workers who are struggling to arrest a lowering of their living standards. In view of the recent history of the railways, which has been one of cut back and decline, they may well be trying to hold back the tide; but theirs is a struggle which all workers should support. And in giving this support workers should not be in the slightest impressed by the cynical mouthings of the press and of official spokesmen, who express such concern over the “suffering of the public”. To take only one example, British Rail have not considered public interests when they have decided to shut down lines; they have been concerned only with the profitability of the railways. That remains their concern and that is why they are fighting the railmen. In the confusion of the struggle, the essential facts must be kept clear.

Of course the government claimed that their stand against the railway workers was a matter of principle—and any worker who still accepts that capitalist politicians have such things may have believed them. Yet they showed again, how flexible their “principles” can be, when they agreed to pump more money into the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Those with a memory which goes back to June 1970 will recall that the Heath government was going to make capitalism a joy to live in by the simple process of refusing to support lame duck firms and industries and making all of us stand firmly on our own two feet. This policy took a knock when the government virtually nationalised Rolls Royce; now there is another example, in the case of Harland and Wolff. The plain fact is that modern capitalism runs on a large measure of government interference in, and support of, private industry. When the Tories pretend otherwise they are merely playing for votes by ignoring facts.


Abroad

Vietnam forced its way explosively back into the headlines it had been kept out of by Northern Ireland and all the other news items about the current violence of capitalism. As Nixon prepares for his re-election campaign, it may be remembered that in 1968 he seemed quite sure that his administration would not have too much difficulty in finishing the war, which seemed at that time to be about to drag on for ever. With the approach of election year, Nixon has put in force a policy of training the South Vietnamese to fight the war themselves on the ground, with support from American aircraft and “advisers”. This policy has now been exposed, like the rest, as impotent. Nevertheless, we can depend on it, that in November there will be more policies, more plans, more vote-catching promises. None of them will deal with the reality, which is that the war in Vietnam is another of the conflicts which spring from the essentially divisive nature of capitalist society. It should not matter to workers, what nationality of people it is that fights a war; as workers their interests are the same. War is unavoidable in a capitalist society and workers everywhere should unite to end the system.


Politics

Another great split in the Labour Party, bringing back memories of the days of Aneurin Bevan, although elegant Roy Jenkins is of course much more acceptable in the vote-floating areas than was Bevan, who might sometimes sound as if the Labour Party was in opposition to the Tories and who could therefore be a bit of an embarrassment. At least until he learnt his lesson at the famous Brighton conference in 1957.

The latest split came over the issue of a referendum on the Common Market. Recently a group of Labour M.P.s have been agitating for this, completely ignoring the fact that when they were in power they were trying to push through membership of the Six without any talk of a vote on whether the workers wanted such a thing or not. Apart from this, the Jenkins rebels are fighting over the Labour leadership, however much they protest, hand on heart, that nothing is further from their intentions. This is not a battle over principles, since neither side have any to fight over. It is at best a struggle over an issue of capitalism—whether and how the British capitalist class should join a trading combine of other capitalist classes on the Continent. It is of no consequence to workers whether their rulers join any such combine; neither is it of any consequence how the affairs of that combine are handled. Jenkins may or may not improve his career prospects as a result of his resignation; the real issue for workers is whether they will continue to stand for capitalism, with its trade and its conflicts and its cynical leaders.

Letter: Spiritual truths? (1990)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

Re your article on Socialism and Ecology in last month's Socialist Standard, I am glad to say that the people who sell me the Standard are more courteous and tolerant of people's beliefs than your writer.

By what right has anyone to say that a belief in Gaia (which is symbolic modern representation of a very ancient concept), UFOs and astrology are “manifest nonsense"? Does he/she have evidence of this, or are they merely toeing the stuffy old. stoic party-line7

In which case, why does someone like myself who has an open mind about such "spiritual ' precepts bother to read your materialistic mag? Simple, it's one of the sources of an alternative politics which I can hardly get from most of the daily sewer sheets. I do however believe that there are things we can and should change, and other things we cannot.

I would just like to ask you two questions on this point, namely:

  1. If much of humanity is not searching for deeper spiritual truths, then how do you explain the resurgence of the concepts your writer derides—the increasing interest in the occult, etc which began with the 60s hippies et al? and,
  2. If a person has a deep faith and deep political convictions, which do you think they would drop, if forced to, by the sort of clash between them which your article alleges? I can assure you. it is bound to be the latter.
Until you realise that spiritual people can contribute as much as anyone toward a socialistic economic system and that the two viewpoints are not irreconcilable: and until you stop ridiculing potential supporters in this way, then I'm afraid you will remain what you are: a small and insignificant party, with no hope of making the world a better place.
R. E. Wilson
Warley, West Midlands


Reply:
Our correspondent, presumably, regards the view that the earth is flat as ‘manifest nonsense". How, therefore, would he answer a flat-earther who protested that this was an insult to his deeply-held beliefs? Would he not reply that the truth of a statement does not depend on how deeply or sincerely it is held but on whether or not it is backed up by hard evidence?

We take up the same attitude towards those who say that "nature is peopled by wood sprites and other spirits headed by a goddess". Our correspondent says that this is only “symbolic" (the pagan religion obviously has its Bishops of Durham too), but others take it literally:
  We who live in rural parts are lucky enough to have many sacred wells, standing stones, stone circles and oak groves where we can gather to worship or be alone with the gods and goddesses (from a letter in Green Line, March 1988).
Here, then, is an unambiguous claim that "gods and goddesses" exist and are present at the places mentioned. This statement is either true or it isn't. It can easily be tested. You simply go to some oak grove and look for evidence of the presence of these “spiritual" beings. None has ever been found.

Astrology, the doctrine that claims that the lives of individual human beings on the planet Earth are influenced by vibrations emanating from the stars and the other planets, has also never been able to produce any evidence of its validity. Not only has no astrologer ever been able to explain the physical mechanisms of how this operates but the astrological tables that appear in papers and magazines are wrong even on their own terms:
  In the past 2.000 years, the suns apparent position in the sky has slipped backwards by one whole sign of the zodiac. Astrologers have stuck with tradition, even though it is now out of step with reality. So an astrologer will tell the parents of today's newborn baby that he or she is a Cancer: "highly sensitive, moody, reserved' (Teach Yourself Astrology, Jeff Mayo 1964). If they instead looked at the sun's position in the sky. they would find the sun is in fact in Gemini, the sign of someone "communicative. witty. chatty".
(Misreading the message in the stars". Nigel Henbest, Independent, 22 June 1987).
Why do so many people believe that their lives are influenced by "occult" forces of one kind or another, whether these be God. Jesus, the stars. Satan. Gaia or whatever? Basically, because we are living in a society which is not under human control but one where humans really are at the mercy of blind, impersonal forces— the economic laws of the capitalist economy. People feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can't control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. This is what Marx meant when he talked about "the fetishism of commodities": humans attribute mystical powers to what are in fact the products of their own activity. Astrology, paganism and other cults have revived over the past few years but largely at the expense of the traditional religions whose emphasis on personal guilt, sexual repression and the inferiority of women have become unacceptable.

The answer to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces lies not in searching for "spiritual truths" (which will never be found, because they don't exist) but in bringing about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.
Editors



Blogger's Note:
See also 'A plea for some rational skepticism' from the same issue of the Socialist Standard

A plea for some rational skepticism (1990)

From the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "There is today in the West (but not in the East) a resurgent interest in vague, anecdotal and often demonstrably erroneous doctrines that, if true, would betoken at least a more interesting universe. but that, if false, imply an intellectual carelessness, an absence of tough-mindedness, and a diversion of energies not very promising for our survival. Such doctrines include astrology (the view that which stars, one hundred trillion miles away, are rising at the moment of my birth in a closed building affect my destiny profoundly); the Bermuda Triangle 'mystery' (which holds in many versions that an unidentified flying object lives in the ocean off Bermuda and eats ships and airplanes); flying saucer accounts in general; the belief in ancient astronauts: the photography of ghosts; pyramidology (including the view that my razor blade stays sharper within a cardboard pyramid than within a cardboard cube): Scientology; auras and Kirlian photography; the emotional lives and musical preferences of geraniums; psychic surgery; flat and hollow earths; modern prophecy; remote cutlery warping; astral projections; Velikovskian catastrophism; Atlantis and Mu; spiritualism; and the doctrine of the special creation, by God or gods, of mankind despite our deep relatedness, both in biochemistry and in brain physiology, with the other animals. It may be that there are kernels of truth in a few of these doctrines, but their widespread acceptance betokens a lack of intellectual rigor, an absence of skepticism, a need to replace experiments by desires.”
Carl Sagan in The Dragons of Eden.

Socialism at the Polls (1990)

Party News from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party candidates are standing in two wards in the 3 May local elections: in the Winton ward, Eccles, of Salford Borough Council (candidate: Jimmy Rushton) and in the Southfield ward of the London Borough of Ealing (candidates: Adam Buick, Ralph Critchfield and Kevin Cronin).

Those in these areas who want a socialist world of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use can show this by voting for these candidates. Elsewhere, they can do so by writing the word “Socialism” across their ballot paper.

What About The Labour Party (1990)

A SPGB leaflet reproduced in the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Present Mess

Many workers are disgusted by the antics of the Thatcher mob, which stands for capitalism in its naked form. The wealth producers are legally robbed so that the rich can become richer. Everything is second to profit. The Tories are running the profit system the only way it can be run: produce more and more profits for the parasitical minority who own and control the resources of society, and to hell with the rest of us!


A New Government

When the government displays such open contempt towards the working class, a lot of workers start to look for something new. After all, the majority of workers did not vote for the Thatcher government in 1979, 1983 or 1987.

These days fewer and fewer workers fall for the con-trick of the so-called moderate Centre parties, with their 'moderate' nuclear weapons and their 'moderate' policies for squeezing more profits out of the wage slaves.

Some workers have turned to the Greens with their simplistic policies for an environmentally clean Capitalist Utopia. A few workers still opt for the daft dreams of the narrow-minded nationalists. But when most workers think of a change from the Tories they think of the Labour Party.

Neil Kinnock and his political gang are currently falling over themselves to prove that they are a 'responsible' government-in-waiting. They do not claim to stand for a different social system from the Tories — Kinnock admits that Labour is out to run capitalism. The Labour Party's claim is that they will run it better.


What Can Labour Do?

The best way to know what a future Labour government would do is to look at what the previous eight Labour governments have done. They have attempted to manage the profit system.

They have claimed to stand for peace, but it was the Labour government which introduced the British atom bomb and took Britain into the murderous NATO club. Labour supported the slaughter of workers in two world wars, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Ireland and the Falklands.

Labour claims to stand for the unions, but they have used troops to smash strikes (from the dockers in 1950 to Grunwick in 1977) and have been the only government in history to actually pass a law making it illegal for bosses to pay their workers more (the Wilson statuary income policy).

They claim to be against racism, but it was a Labour government that was the first ever to pass immigration laws based upon the colour of peoples' skins.

They claim to be on the side of the unemployed, but every Labour government since 1924 has left office with the number of unemployed higher than when they went in.

They claimed to be able to share out the wealth more 'fairly'. But under the last Labour government the richest 1% of the British population increased its share of wealth ownership from 24% to 25% of all marketable wealth in Britain.

In short, the history of Labour governments is one pathetic story after another of Labour leaders making promises which the capitalist system could not possibly let them carry out. They have done the dirty work of running the profit system according to its own laws. Trying to run the profit system in the interest of the working class is like trying to run the slaughter house for the benefit of the cattle.


The Reformist Dream

For as long as capitalism has existed and thrown up its countless problems there have been dreamers around who have wanted to keep capitalism and reform its problems out of existence. The reformist dream is an appealing one to workers who do not yet understand the nature of the system they are living under.

Faced with the callous rule of the Thatcher crowd it must be comforting to imagine that all we need is to put Kinnock and Co. in her place and life will be better. Comforting, maybe; wrong, certainly! No amount of tinkering with the system will ever make capitalism a comfortable dignified and secure system for workers to live under. The reformists will always fail.


The Socialist Alternative

Why waste time dreaming of a new government when it's a new way of organising society that we need? That new way is Socialism.

In a socialist society the resources of the world will belong to all the inhabitants of the world, not to an owning or controlling minority. There will be no classes — no workers and capitalists: we will all work according to our abilities for the common good. We will take according to our needs. Production will not be for sale and profit. The market, which both Tories and Labourites are sure we cannot live without, will exist no more. Goods and services will be produced solely for use.

This socialist alternative has nothing to do with Labour's plans for nationalised industries (state capitalism) or small, co-operative business enterprises. Socialism is not about the state managing the profit system, but about doing away with profits, the state and all of the other features of a non-co-operative, money-mad society.


No Followers Required

To bring in another Labour government simply requires persuading enough mugs to follow Kinnock. All capitalist parties are out to urge you to become a follower. This applies equally to the so-called left-wing revolutionaries who, just like their hero, Lenin, think that the workers are too dim to change the world except by following leaders.

The Socialist Party is not a leadership. We do not want to lead or govern anyone. Our sole purpose is to educate, agitate and organise for socialism. The change from capitalism to socialism cannot be brought about by us — or anyone else — acting on behalf of the working class. The workers must bring about socialism as a conscious, democratic majority.

If you can see that capitalism is against your interests however it is run, whoever runs it, then you will reject the phoney promises of the Labour Party and join The Socialist Party in working to bring about a real change in society.



Better Than Tories?

Kinnock's speech to the Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, 1988:
"  . . . we get the accusation that we are trying to run the capitalist economy better than the Tories . . . the fact is that the kind of economy we are faced with is going to be a market economy. It will be the one that we have to deal with when we are elected. We have got to make it work better than the Tories make it work . . . Even after that has been the implemented programme of a Labour government for years, there will still be a market economy."
The Independent, 5 October 1988.


Praising the Market

Extract from The Labour Party's Policy Review document, 1989:
"In our view, the economic role of modern government is to help make the market system work properly where it can, will and should — and to replace or strengthen it where it can't, won't or shouldn't. Helping 'to make the market work' means creating the conditions for enterprises to be more successful, enabling them to take a greater market share at home and abroad."

Making Capitalism Work

Douglas Houghton MP, writing of the 1964-66 Labour Government:
"Never has any previous Government done so much in so short a time to make modern capitalism work."
The Times, 25 April 1967


Never a Socialist Party

Tony Benn, former Labour cabinet minister and present member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, writing in The Independent, 17 May 1989: 
Past Labour governments have always worked within the limits set by market forces (as when the cabinet capitulated to the International Monetary Fund in 1976); have always supported nuclear weapons (as when Callaghan authorised the Chevaline without telling parliament); and have regularly confronted trade unionism (as with rigid wage policies). . . We must add . ..  a clear recognition that the Labour Party is not — and probably never was — a socialist party, and its individual members do not decide its policy, nor are its election pledges apparently meant to be taken seriously.


In Favour of Profits

Austin Mitchell, MP in his book The Case for Labour (Longman 1983)
  To our left is a body of critics who castigate Labour for failing as something it has never been: an instrument for the elimination of capitalism.
  Socialists cannot be opposed to profits. Capital must be rewarded if it is used productively for the benefit of the community.
  It is Labour’s responsibility to make the State more effective and to restore its role where it has been pushed out for doctrinaire reasons. It is, however, also Labour’s responsibility to rebuild the private sector.

More Competitive

Extract from The Labour Party's Policy Review document, 1989:
  "Labour's goal: an internationally competitive economy. The single most important requirement of economic policy is to make Britain internationally competitive."

This article is also available in leaflet form. Copies for distribution can be obtained (£2 per 100 plus postage) from: Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN. 

Caught In The Act: Out of touch (1990)

The Caught In The Act Column from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Out of touch

Willie Whitelaw went down to the mid-Staffordshire by-election to help the Tory candidate but probably lost him a bucketful of votes when he bought a box of chocolates and grandly said he wanted only the pound notes in the change. The shop girl had to remind him gently that we use only pound coins now—the notes went out years ago.

Being out of touch is one of the criticisms being levelled now at the Thatcher government—out of touch over Poll Tax. mortgages, interest rates, privatisation, the National Health Service . . . They are so out of touch that they lost a rock-solid seat like mid-Staffordshire— and that to a Labour candidate whose pre-packaged. master-minded campaign was openly contemptuous of the voters. Like football teams—or rather like their managers' excuses—when governments are out of touch they are also out of luck. Whitelaw's well-meant blunder was hungrily recorded by the news-hounds who accompanied him on his sweetshop safari, to be retold to an increasingly bewildered and irritated electorate. Thatcher's standing has crashed, as if she has fallen off a cliff, from that of a woman who single-handedly beat the Argentinians. Arthur Scargill and inflation and who then went on to persuade the people of eastern Europe of the benefits of McDonald's burgers and privatised water, into that of a reckless and stubborn dogmatist who would do everyone a favour by applying for her pension and her bus pass.

Squabbles

Of course there are still some hard-core Tories who pretend that all these difficulties are, to use one of Nigel Lawson's unhappier expressions, a “blip" and that all is in fact well within the government. But these loyalists ignore the evidence of their own eyes and ears and what they read in their favourite newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun. To begin with, there is the squabble over the leadership, before it is officially available to squabble over, between Heseltine, Tebbit and Howe. Not that any of them ever admit that the leadership is in question or that they would ever dream of opposing Thatcher. It is just that, in all modesty, if the party were ever to be in need of another prime minister who will give his all in the service of this Grand Old Country, well perhaps they have something to offer, perhaps they could be persuaded . . Since all these hopefuls also say that they wholeheartedly support Thatcher's policies and will do their utmost to ensure that we get another dose of Tory government under Thatcher at the next general election it is rather difficult to see why anyone should take them seriously.

Another symptom of the government's malaise has been the sudden eagerness of some of its prominent members to desert it. We refer to the moving examples of Peter Walker and Norman Fowler, both of them the slickest of political operators but who are now revealed as sentimental family men. Walkers survival through the years of opposition to Thatcher, while all around him other ministers were being picked off to crash into back-bench obscurity, must rank with the world's most thrilling escape yarns. Norman Fowler had some of the stickiest jobs in the Cabinet, some of its dirtiest work directly connected with class conflict and working class poverty but he adroitly rode most of his problems by setting up enquiries. By the time the enquiry reported Fowler was off to some other ministry, leaving an exceptionally unpleasant can to be carried by his successor— like the hapless John Moore at the Department of Social Security. Walker and Fowler have left the government, earnestly professing undying loyalty to it. on the excuse that they need to spend more time in their sumptuous homes with their lucky, secure families—a lot luckier than the families who desperately try to make the best of the cruel reforms which Fowler initiated at the DSS. Does anyone believe these reasons? Perhaps there should be an enquiry to find out.

Labour ecstatic

Naturally the Labour leaders are ecstatic about these developments as each day brings yet another crisis for the Tories. As they scent the government's impending doom they are presumably spending less and less time with their families. All that is needed, they happily burble, is one last electoral heave to dispense with the Tories and then we shall have a government of realism and humanity. People who worry about how they will pay the Poll Tax. or about whether the Building Society will be asking for their house back, or what will happen if their doctor's budget runs out just as they need some treatment. may find this an attractive vision. A reference to the history of Labour government should deflate their misplaced optimism.

In the middle of 1968 the Wilson government were facing a crisis which was remarkably similar to that of the Tories today. They had been returned to power, on a surge of expectation, with an increased majority in 1966. But two years later they were in an economic crisis with a persistent deficit in the balance of payments; they were in continual conflict with the unions over the statutory wage-freeze (the BOAC pilots were constrained to make a little history in this); they had lost a series of by-elections, the opinion polls said that only 27 per cent of people were satisfied with Wilson as prime minister and that if there were a general election then the Labour Party could expect to hang on to only 50 seats.

Plots

George Brown had finally managed to resign from the government because he objected to being left out when they were discussing economic crises (apparently he still wasn't bored by them) and Ray Gunter left the Cabinet grumbling about it being ‘overweight with intellectuals". It wasn't clear whether Gunther thought the government's crises could have been avoided with a bit of educational subnormality. In any case his departure was not deeply mourned. There were active plots to ease Wilson out of Number Ten, on the theory that he alone was responsible for capitalism's waywardness, encouraged by the Times, the Observer, the Economist and. under the deranged guidance of Cecil King, the Daily Mirror. Meanwhile, the Tories busily promoted their own candidate for prime minister as a "Man of Integrity". It was, of course, Ted Heath. Yes. it was rather a long time ago.

The Wilson government's response was to do just about the only thing they could do—plough on patching things up as best they could while pretending that the problems were only temporary provided everyone kept their nerve. Wilson soothingly assured the nation ". . . new and spectacular evidence from all over the country showing the robust strength of British industries" —rather like Tory ministers today who bleat about the "underlying strength of the British economy" or words to that effect. The Labour Party got out a mid-term manifesto which admitted some mistakes but insisted that basically the government was on the right lines—which is what the less obdurate Tories now try, when they harp on the violence among Poll Tax protests—to divert attention from their current problems by setting up a conflict, between the Commons and the Lords, a revival of the famous battle cry of Peers versus People.

Good and bad luck

What this shows is that governments do not basically differ. They all grapple with the problems of capitalism which are always beyond their powers to influence significantly. How the voters judge governments is based largely on what might loosely be called luck. Governments have their good times when, perhaps to their surprise, capitalism's affairs go well for them and the voters love them. And they have their bad times when the crises come one after another and the voters switch their support to another, equally ineffectual, style of reforming capitalism. These are the times when the cracks show, the squabbles become public, when some ministers suddenly want to go home to their wives and families and others can't remember things like what currency to use in a shop.
Ivan

Socialist Teachers (1990)

Party News from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

A meeting will be held at the Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN (nearest tube: Clapham North) at 2pm on Sunday 20 May.

Further information: Kerima Mohideen, c/o Head Office.

Where the Greens go wrong (1990)

 From the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not a day goes by without the problems of the environment being featured in the press and on radio and television. Particularly since the industrial revolution, there have been developed vastly increased powers of production which have spread across the planet and which are being operated in a very destructive way. So the question is: how do we establish a society in which all people are able to cooperate to provide a decent life for each other which at the same time will be a society which is in balance with nature?

The Socialist Party holds that only socialism can set up the relationships of co-operation, the freedom and the rational control over our affairs which can get us out of the mess we’re in. For all their good intentions, and for all their apparent radicalism, the policies of the Green Party are impractical because they stand no chance of establishing the kind of world they want to see.

The destructive nature of modern production has developed as part of capitalism. Because we live in a competitive, profit-motivated system enterprises come under an irresistible pressure to use the cheapest and most labour efficient methods. There is no choice about this. Companies simply have to go for low cost options and cannot afford to worry about the ecological consequences of this. To choose high cost options would be to commit economic suicide.

Under capitalism the production and distribution of goods takes place – and can only take place – according to the economic laws which govern the profitable circulation of capital. These laws are of an absolutely compelling nature. You can break the criminal law and sometimes get away with it, but you cannot break the laws which regulate the profit system without suffering financial loss or going bankrupt. What this means is that production methods cannot be chosen on their merits, as being environmentally friendly.

Constraints of Market System

The Central Electricity Generating Board is a state capitalist enterprise which every year throws up 4.2 million tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s not the only villain. West Germany has been putting up 3.5 million tons every year and the countries of the EEC have been putting up over 20 million tons.

In 1984, the British government came under pressure to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent. It refused because the cost would have been £1,000m. At the time British capitalism was struggling to get out of a deep depression in which there were nearly 4 million unemployed and in these circumstances the British government was not in a position to add £1 billion to its energy costs. You only get out of a depression by becoming more competitive, by improving the prospect of profit and by improving investment confidence. You can only achieve these things by lowering not increasing your overall production costs. This is a fundamental and compelling fact of market life.

Everybody must be aware of the tragic absurdity of the situation. We’ve got the urgent need to eliminate these harmful acid emissions and not just by 30 per cent. We’ve got the techniques for doing it, and there are millions of unemployed, so there’s a vast availability of labour for the work. Yet we are unable to bring these things together. We are held back by the economic constraints of the market system. We cannot do it because the profits of a privileged class minority who own and control the means of life come before the needs of the community. There are no sane grounds on which this can be justified.

The only way to get out of the mess is to establish socialism which will be based on common ownership, production solely for need and democratic control. With common ownership all means of production and distribution and all resources will be held in common by the whole community.

You can’t have the oil resources of the North Sea or anywhere else owned by oil companies or governments, you can’t have the land owned by agribusiness and exploited by them for profit, you can’t have the means of life, mining, industry, manufacture and transport owned by capital, and at the same time expect to run a decent society based on cooperation and social responsibility. It is just not possible. If you want a world of co-operation and responsibility then all these means of life must be brought under the democratic control of the whole community on the basis of common ownership.

On this basis, instead of the wages system through which workers are exploited, there will be a community of free producers who will cooperate to produce goods and provide services solely and directly for needs. The community will have access to the pool of goods created free from the barriers of the market, without exchange of any kind and therefore without the use of money which is only necessary for making profit.

It is only by this means that we can sweep aside the economic straitjacket which constrains all social action under capitalism. To come back to the problem of eliminating acid emissions from power stations, the cost of £1 billion would not be a factor. That money barrier would disappear and through co-operation we would use the techniques which are available, apply our energies and get on with the job.

In socialism we would not be bound to use the most labour efficient methods of production. We would be free to select our methods in accordance with a wide range of socially desirable criteria, in particular the vital need to protect the environment. It wouldn’t matter if ecologically benign methods of producing energy required more allocations of labour than destructive methods as we wouldn’t be producing commodities which have to compete in price for sales in the market. We’d be free of all that.

The Green Party has talked about a “steady-state” society and this is something we should aim at. What it means is that we should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. You achieve this “steady state” and you don’t go on expanding production. This would be the opposite of cheap, shoddy, “throw-away” goods and built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources.

This is something that socialism could do. The problem for the Green Party is that they want this, but they also want to retain the market system in which goods are distributed through sales at a profit and people’s access to goods depends upon their incomes. The market, however, can only function with a constant pressure to renew its capacity for sales; and if it fails to do this production breaks down, people are out of employment and suffer a reduced income. It is a fundamental flaw and an insoluble contradiction in the Green Party argument that they want to retain the market system, which can only be sustained by continuous sales and continuous incomes, and at the same time they want a conservation society with reduced productive activity. These aims are totally incompatible with each other.

Old Failed Policies

The Green Party sees itself as a new force in politics but its basic approach to problems is years out of date. Like the Labour Party, it imagines it can do all sorts of things through the tax system. It says, for example, that it wants a tax system which will substantially redistribute wealth. The Labour Party tried that years ago and it failed, and the Green Party will fail for the same reasons.

Like the old Labour Party they imagine that by having the right kind of government in charge of capitalism they will be able to administer it in the interests of the whole community. The reason the Labour Party failed should be obvious. In its everyday operation capitalism staggers along according to its economic laws which cannot be controlled or rationally directed, on the basis of an economic antagonism between classes with capital trying to maximise its profits at the expense of wages and salaries and workers struggling to maximise wages at the expense of profits. It staggers along on the basis of competition and economic rivalries between enterprises and between capitalist nations.

Yet the Green Party thinks it can form a government which somehow, as if by magic, can ignore this reality and act on the basis of a common community interest through cooperation and socially responsible policies. This cannot be done. The tragedy is that we’ve got a lot of sincere and enthusiastic people in the Greens being sidetracked by these out-dated illusions which have dissipated so much energy and wasted so much time in the past.

The Green Party manifesto contains an elaborate battery of new taxes through which they hope to restructure society. Again, the old Labour Party manifestos contained similar proposals with the same intentions. The Labour Party abandoned them because they failed, but the Green Party has resurrected the corpses of these dead policies.

There’s a community ground rent, a resource or conservation tax, pollution charges, increased consumption taxes, higher taxes on large firms, a new company turnover tax, and new trade taxes which would operate through import and export tariffs.

We can project a scenario for what would happen under a Green government. Imagine that it has passed a law standardising the production of all bottles and glass containers so they can be returned to food and drink producers to be used again. It’s a sensible idea – socialism would do it – but this is a Green government under capitalism and it has put firms in the glass industry out of business and made a lot of workers unemployed. As a result of its trade tax on imports other government have retaliated and placed an embargo on the imports of British goods. This has put more firms out of business and more workers out of jobs. As a result of higher company taxes on large firms there has been a sharp drop in business confidence with a corresponding reduction in investment. Again, this has made more workers unemployed. With less trade and less taxable income, there has been a sharp fall in funds flowing into the Green Exchequer. It has had to abandon its guaranteed income scheme and is facing widespread strikes in the public sector with vital services breaking down.

These depressed conditions have led to an alarming run on the pound, with the Green Chancellor frantically buying in sterling to keep up its value. Having dissipated government funds on this and other measures the Green government has been forced to abandon its plans to invest L1 billion to reduce acid emissions from power stations.

In other words, the Green government is facing mounting hostility from the trade unions, employers, the City and the international business community. It is in desperate straits struggling with a worsening financial crisis. They’ve had to set aside all their plans for dealing with the problems of the environment. Their poll ratings have hit zero, and they’ve fallen out amongst themselves arguing about what went wrong.

In the light of the economic realities of capitalism and the experience of previous reformist governments, which is the more likely scenario? The one being projected in the Green Party’s sublimely optimistic literature or the one just outlined?

Urgent Need for Socialism

The obvious, and only practical, way forward is to get rid of the whole insane capitalist structure. This is the serious work begun by the socialist movement which has to be supported. One of the problems is that throughout this century we’ve had a lot of people who don’t like the system and who want a better world, but they were diverted by the superficially attractive but fatal illusion that capitalism can be made to serve our needs through the right kind of reformist government.

In the meantime the problems have stayed and some have got worse. The Green Party is the first to stress that we don’t have a lot of time, and it is certain that we cannot delay the solution without suffering the consequences. There can be no justification, on any grounds whatsoever, for wanting to retain an exploitative system which robs workers of the products of their labour, which puts privileged class interests and profit before the needs of the community, which robs the soil of its fertility, plunders nature of its resources and destroys the natural systems on which all our lives depend.

The only alternative is socialism. We must concentrate all our efforts on the work of building up a majority of socialists. It might seem a big job because our numbers are small, but we wouldn’t need many more for us to become a strong voice in the community and every new socialist makes the work easier.
Pieter Lawrence

50 Years Ago: May Day: Bedlam Let 
Loose (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Exactly one year ago the Socialist Standard's annual May-Day Message emphasised the imminent danger of war: today this war has been in progress for eight months. Poland, Russia, Finland, and now the Scandinavian lands, have been drawn into its destructive vortex.

The League of Nations. "Collective Security”, the "Peace Front"—all have vanished, and in their place has come the line-up of allies in war. as it has always, down throughout the history of capitalism.

"Armed strength means peace!" "Alliances prevent war!" Does anyone believe those discarded catch-cries?

Yet right up to the outbreak of hostilities millions pinned their faith to such spurious arguments. Even now we can hear in some quarters regrets: "If only the Western Powers could have made a pact with Russia . . .!”

The cause of war to-day is capitalism; the line-up in war is forced on the countries concerned by their interests as capitalist competitors for wealth and trade.

(From the editorial in the Socialist Standard, May 1940).

Voice From The Back: A Defender of Capitalism (2009)

The Voice From The Back column from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Defender of Capitalism 

It is well known that journalists defending capitalism often make a fool of themselves. It is even better known that Daily Mail journalists are particularly foolish in that regard. Here is one – Andrew Alexander proving that point. “We are witnessing the death of capitalism, according to various excitable commentators, some alarmed and some drooling at the prospect. Neither need get worked up. Capitalism will survive. And it will do so because it is natural – not, as some claim, an alien system imposed on gullible people” (Daily Mail, 11 March). Alexander then goes on to use the hoary, old fairy tale about a shipwrecked crew on a tropical island exchanging coconuts for fish and claims this would lead to the invention of money. It is a view that completely ignores the real history of humankind. The first period of human history had no concept of private property and the invention of money is a very late development in that history. There is plenty of evidence that society has developed through various stages of primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism and then capitalism. Far from being “natural” capitalism is just another stage in private property society. Mr Alexander is correct in one respect though. People who imagine that the latest slump in capitalism means its termination are completely wrong. Capitalism by its very nature has slumps and booms. Its abolition will only come about with the conscious political action of the working class.


The "Lazy Man" Myth

One of the opposition that socialist get when advocating a new society of common ownership and production solely for use, is that it would be impossible because of the “lazy man” who wouldn’t work. These opponents overlook the fact that socialism could only come about when a majority were in favour of working to the best of their ability and taking according to their needs. Far from the working class being innately lazy, even inside the cut-throat system that is capitalism there are many examples of people working in a co-operative fashion. Inside families many parents sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their children, many people volunteer to do unpaid work to help the needy and the sick. Perhaps one of the best examples of selfless endeavour on behalf of others is that of lifeboat volunteers who risk their lives to help others without pay. Another opposition to a socialist society that is often aired is that is impossible because of the existence of the “greedy man”. If the working class were really greedy they would dump a society that today leaves them in poverty while rewarding the capitalist class with immense wealth.


The Recovery Myth

“The world economy is set to shrink by between 0.5% and 1.0% in 2009, the first global contraction in 60 years. In its gloomiest forecast yet, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that developed countries will suffer a ‘deep recession’. The global economic body says ‘the prolonged financial crisis has battered global economic activity beyond what was previously anticipated’” (BBC News, 19 March). To illustrate than none of the experts have a clue this is the same IMF that was predicting just two months earlier that world output would increase by 0.5 percent! In fact capitalism is an economic system that is based on slumps and booms and no amount of political “spin” can govern its unpredictability.


The Music Jungle

Everything inside capitalist society is driven by the profit motive. So it comes as no great surprise to hear that the popular-music industry is a victim of the rapacious demands of the commodity-producing society. Here is the highly successful pop song-writer and singer, formerly of the Eurythmics, Annie Lennox on the dog-eat-dog nature of the business. “The music industry is a bloody nightmare. The egos, the slightly criminal elements, the betrayers, the ones who want to screw you.” (Observer, 29 March)


World Poverty

Most people are aware of the awful poverty that exists in parts of Asia and India but capitalism is a world system with world-wide social problems. “Volunteers from one of the world’s most impoverished countries are to travel to Scotland to help people in communities blighted by drink and violence. The aid workers from Pakistan have been warned that they will see shocking poverty when they arrive next month in the east end of Glasgow to work in some of Britain’s most run-down housing schemes…. In Pakistan, a third of the 170m population lives below the poverty line – defined as earning less than $2 (£1.36) a day. However, the average life expectancy for men is 62, compared with 54 in parts of Glasgow” (Sunday Times, 12 April). No doubt many of these doomed men will be singing on a Saturday night “Glasgow Belongs To Me”. In reality though, Glasgow – like ever city on Earth – belongs to the capitalist.


It’s election time again (2009)

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party will be standing in the elections to the European Parliament on 4 June. These elections will be held under a system of proportional representation and the whole of Greater London will be a single constituency. We will be presenting a full list of 8 candidates. There are over 5 million electors in London. Which will be the largest number of workers up to now who will be faced with possibility of voting for world socialism. Below is the socialist manifesto on which our candidates will be standing.

Every few years groups of professional politicians compete for your vote to win themselves a comfortable position, this time in the European Parliament. All of the other parties and candidates offer only minor changes to the present system. That is why whichever candidate or party wins there is no significant change to the way things are. Promises are made and broken, targets are set and not reached, statistics are selected and spun.

All politicians assume that capitalism is the only game in town, although they may criticise features of its unacceptable face, such as greedy bankers, or the worst of its excesses, such as unwinnable wars. They defend a society in which we, the majority of the population, must sell our capacity to work to the tiny handful who own most of the wealth. They defend a society in which jobs are offered only if there is a profit to be made.

Real socialism
The Socialist Party urges a truly democratic society in which people take all the decisions that affect them. This means a society without rich and poor, without owners and workers, without governments and governed, a society without leaders and led.

In such a society people would cooperate to use all the world’s natural and industrial resources in their own interests. They would free production from the artificial restraint of profit and establish a system of society in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation. Socialist society would consequently mean the end of buying, selling and exchange, an end to borders and frontiers, an end to organised violence and coercion, waste, want and war.

What you can do
You can vote for candidates who will work within the capitalist system and help keep it going. Or you can use your vote to show you want to overturn it and end the problems it causes once and for all.

When enough of us join together, determined to end inequality and deprivation, we can transform elections into a means of doing away with a society of minority rule in favour of a society of real democracy and social equality.

If you agree with the idea of a society of common and democratic ownership where no one is left behind and things are produced because they are needed, and not to make a profit for some capitalist corporation, and are prepared to join with us to achieve this then vote for the SOCIALIST PARTY list.

The election will of course be taken place outside London too, in fact in most of Europe. To take account of this, our manifesto will be translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian and Swedish and distributed by socialists there as well as being published on the website of the World Socialist Movement at  www.worldsocialism.org. In the rest of Britain, and in Ireland, the following leaflet will be distributed.


Flying pigs and the Euro elections

You might have heard of the Euro elections, the biggest in history, 500 million people, 27 countries, June 4th? You’re supposed to choose which of your local crème-de-la-crème get to go on free holidays to Brussels and Strasbourg, and the powers that be are a bit worried that you won’t take it seriously enough to bother voting. Shame on you!

Just to show how desperately important all this is, here’s a few ways in which the European Parliament has recently changed your life enormously:

  • working time directives limiting your weekly hours to 48 (but don’t worry, the UK government opted out of that one pretty smartly).
  • all-inclusive air-fare prices (for those of you frequently travelling to Brussels and Strasbourg…).
  • REACH directive on industrial chemical use.
  • roaming mobile phone directives (for those of you frequently travelling to Brussels and Strasbourg…).

Alright, not very Earth-shaking, admittedly. If you’re struggling to make ends meet on benefits, or facing redundancy or any of the hundred problems workers are always having, these are probably not the issues that will drag you out to the polling booth.

The fact is, the whole Euro show is not really designed to do anything for YOU, it’s just designed to stop the big Ruling Piggies from going to war with each other, like they did in the two World Wars. Though it’s a good idea to avoid wars, since it’s always workers who end up suffering, it’s really the expense that bothers them, not your welfare. If they make the Euro-trough big enough, goes the thinking, they can all shove in their snouts without getting in each other’s way. It’s all about the money, surprise surprise. While money and capitalism exist, it always will be.

You might think, especially with this economic depression, that capitalism does nothing but make a slave out of you, and that it’s only the rich that benefit. If your local candidates are not saying this, why bother voting for them? Well, better to make a statement than stay silent. All you have to do is write something rude across your ballot paper, or if you prefer, ‘Abolish money and capitalism’ or ‘World Socialism, common ownership and democratic control’, if it’ll fit. A vote’s always worth using, even when there’s nobody worth voting for.

And when you’ve done that, go and find some like-minded people at www.worldsocialism.org

Pieces Together: Trust me, I'm a doctor! (2009)

The Pieces Together column from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard


Trust me, I'm a doctor!

“Dr. Hershel Samuels, an orthopedic surgeon, put his hand on the worker’s back. “Mild spasm bilaterally,” he said softly. He pressed his fingers gingerly against the side of the man’s neck. “The left cervical is tender,” he said, “even to light palpation.” The worker, a driver for a plumbing company, told the doctor he had fallen, banging up his back, shoulder and ribs. He was seeking expanded workers’ compensation benefits because he no longer felt he could do his job. Dr. Samuels, an independent medical examiner in the state workers’ compensation system, seemed to agree. As he moved about a scuffed Brooklyn office last April, he called out test results indicative of an injured man. His words were captured on videotape. Yet the report Dr. Samuels later submitted to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board cleared the driver for work and told a far different story: no back spasms, no tender neck. In fact, no recent injury at all. “If you did a truly pure report,” he said later in an interview, “you’d be out on your ears and the insurers wouldn’t pay for it. You have to give them what they want, or you’re in Florida. That’s the game, baby.” (New York Times, 31 March)


No Profit, No Pill

“A pill which could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from heart disease, the biggest killer across the Western world, has been shown to be safe and effective in its first trials on humans. The magic bullet, containing five medicines in a single capsule, sharply reduced cholesterol and blood pressure levels and has the potential to “halve cardiovascular events in average middle-aged individuals”, the researchers say. The finding is a major boost for a medication with huge potential against the worldwide epidemic of heart disease and stroke. Doctors say that, if further trials prove successful, all men aged over 50 and women aged over 60 should be offered the pill in what would be the first example of mass medication for the middle-aged in Britain. Yet no Western pharmaceutical company has shown interest in developing the so-called polypill because it does not promise big profits. It would sell for pennies because its five constituent medicines are cheap, have been around for decades and their patents have expired.” (Independent, 31 March)


Fred and Forlorn 

“Oxfam is warning that the economic downturn is creating more poverty in the UK, making life tougher for the fifth of the population already struggling to get by. Kathleen Carter lives in poverty. At her home in Stockton-on-Tees, she cares full-time for her disabled son and husband. Her life is a constant round of cleaning, cooking, preparing medication and shopping on a very tight budget. The only income is from her pension and a small amount of benefits. She says: “It can be very soul-destroying. I’ve got to think of everything I buy, life is a real struggle because all the time you are thinking about what you are spending.” Mrs Carter is one of the so-called Freds. It is a term Oxfam has created standing for Forgotten, Ripped-off, Excluded and Debt-ridden.” (BBC News, 8 April)


Of all the slums in all the world . . .

“This seaside city is known as a rich stockpile of art deco architecture, the hub of Morocco’s economic growth and the setting of an all-time classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

But Casablanca is also the capital of a bleaker aspect of modern Morocco — sprawling slums, where huge families are packed into shanties with tin roofs rusted by the ocean winds, and goats and donkeys munch stray garbage.

“It’s as if we’re eating straight from the gutter,” said Mina Abujaman, 48, describing the squalor.

“We spend half our time cleaning up,” said the mother of seven and grandmother of two, pointing at the children playing in the mud while women carry water back from the communal fountain - all amid whiffs of sewage.

It’s not surprising, of course, that things do not go according to plan in a crowded Arab city where illusion is part of the atmosphere. Tourists’ snapshots of busy alleyways miss the squalor behind the walls, and the famous 1942 movie “Casablanca” was not filmed here at all, but mostly at studios in Burbank, Calif., with the misty farewell of hero and heroine shot nearby at Van Nuys airport.” (www.wtop.com)


Blogger's Note:
The wee piece, 'No Profit, No Pill', is not in the PDF version of the May 2009 Socialist Standard I have in front of me, whereas the piece, 'Of all the slums in all the world . . .', is in the PDF version of the Standard but is not on the website.

I decided to include both on the blog.