Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fifty Years Before The Atom Bomb (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

“I have no doubt," said Mons. Danyaz, “that a kilogramme of radium would be sufficient to destroy the population of Paris, granting that they came within its influence. Men and women would be killed just as easily as mice. They would feel nothing during their exposure to the radium, nor realise that they were in any danger, and weeks would pass after their exposure before anything would happen. Then gradually the skin would begin to peel off and their bodies would become one great sore. Then they would become blind. Then they would die from paralysis and congestion of the spinal cord." 

(Quoted by The Morning Leader, Monday, 11th January, 1904, in the Report from Paris of the discovery of Radium by Marie Curie from the Strand Magazine, January, 1904.)

U. K. Industrial Giants (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Below are listed the 25 top companies in an analysis of the 100 biggest U.K. industrial undertakings with quoted share capital prepared by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The grading is based on 1953-54 asset values and 1954-55 assets and incomes are given for comparison. Oil companies are not included.

50 Years Ago: That Blessed Word Unity. (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

With Easter come the Annual Conferences of those bodies which, with fine contempt for the meaning of words, call themselves Socialist, and with the conferences come also the customary demands, appeals and entreaties for unity. And. indeed, there is no real reason why these bodies should not unite, seeing that in practice they do not differ.

Socialist unity is achieved by membership of the* S.P.G.B. . . . there is no reason why, if the members of these organisations desire Socialist unity, and not only the unity of non-Socialist Societies, and are prepared to adopt a Socialist attitude, they should not withdraw from their various separate bodies and enrol themselves with us. We only insist that they shall sign a declaration of adherence to the principles set out in column one of the front page of this journal and never depart from the position such adhesion involves, even though the chances of “getting their man in” were never so rosy. Who then is for SOCIALIST unity?

(From the “Socialist Standard,” May, 1906.)

Party News Briefs (1956)

Party News from the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day, 1956 (May 6th). Plans have been made well in advance to ensure a successful May Day propaganda drive, by meetings and increased Socialist Standard sales. This is just a last minute reminder to members to make every effort. Meetings are being held in Hyde Park, Conway Hall, London, Glasgow, Queen's Park and St. Andrews Halls, Nottingham; Market Square. 

Conference went off very well indeed, with good attendances each day and the work was completed by 6 p.m. on the Sunday in time for the propaganda meeting held in Conway Hall.

Meeting on Russia. Conference recommended that a propaganda meeting should be held within a week or so to deal with events in Russia and to coincide with the visit to England of the Russian leaders. The E.C. agreed that we should go ahead and with the help of a few enthusiastic members. Denison House was booked for Sunday evening, April 15th (two weeks after Conference), the subject being "The New Retreat from Moscow"). Comrades D'Arcy and Young are the speakers and Comrade Fahy in the chair. We hope to give a good report of this meeting in the next issue of the Standard. 

Support of Outdoor Propaganda Meetings. We have stressed from time to time the need for active support of Party members at all outdoor meetings, active support being to arrive early, and if necessary put questions to the speakers in order to encourage the audience, and to be available to sell literature where possible and to back up the speaker should there be unruly elements in the audience. Speakers have reported to the Propaganda Committee that they need this support if meetings are to be run efficiently.

Fulham and Chelsea Branch report that their outdoor propaganda meetings at Gloucester Road Station on Wednesday evenings and at Earls Court Station on Friday evenings are continuing successfully. All members and sympathisers are welcome.

In response to Ealing Branch's appeal, the Branch intends to increase Socialist Standard sales by four dozen copies in May.
Phyllis Howard

Consolidate what! Mr, Macmillan? (1956)

From the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent pronouncements of Mr. MacMillan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ought to make working people wonder and inquire just what they are supposed to do to secure peace and prosperity in our time. After all no one can say they haven't done as they were told; the Labour Government introduced conscription as being necessary to keep peace; they complied. Under pressure, both economic and otherwise, they have worked all hours of the day and night; under both Tory and Labour Governments. High pressure advertising has persuaded them to commit themselves to long term payments on everything from washing machines to motor cars. Despite the long hours worked and the fact that many households have every member working, they still experience difficulty in buying the things they need; now they are told they have been living too well; they must consolidate. What have they got to consolidate? We would like to know!

When will working people realise the only thing they possess is their "labour power," that is their ability to labour at a trade, profession, or other tasks, menial or otherwise; for which they receive enough to keep them efficient in the job they are doing. Sometimes if they are well organised in "trade unions," and market conditions are favourable, they may receive more; if, however, there is a surplus of workers for jobs they will most certainly receive less. Sugar is so much a pound, and workers are so much an hour, yet Capitalism talks of the dignity of labour; in that case the "stately homes" and sunny playgrounds in the South of France and elsewhere, where the rich spend much of their time, must be full of some very undignified people at this minute.

Socialists know the only way to solve the problems of to-day is to change the system of society.

It does not matter whether you have a Labour, Liberal, Conservative, or Communist Party Government, they are all doing the same job.

When the majority understand these things they will organise to introduce a new system of society, based on common ownership and democratic control of the means and methods of production and distribution by, and in, the interests of the whole community, irrespective of race, sex, or colour. Goods will be made for use and not for sale. There will be no trade, no barter, no buying, no selling. For everything will be the common property of all. Then there will be no production or distribution problems.
Phil Mellor

May Sales Drive (1956)

Party News from the May 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nats whae hae (2007)

Editorial from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism is anathema to socialists. Wage and salary workers have no country. We have more in common with people like ourselves in other countries than with the privileged owning class of the country where we happen to live and work.

The world-wide working class has a common interest, to end its exploitation and solve its problems, to join together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the planet will have become the heritage of all, so that there can be production to meet needs and not for profit. One world, one people, where cultural differences will still be celebrated, but where we’ll all be citizens of the world.

It is clear, then, why socialists don’t take sides in the debate, aired in this month’s elections to the Scottish Parliament, about whether it is better for workers there to be ruled from Edinburgh (as the SNP says) or from London with a little help from Edinburgh (as say the British Nationalists of the Labour, Liberal and Tory parties).

The SNP argues that the problems facing workers in scotland are due to “Westminster rule”. If only there was an independent Scotland, they say, separate from the rest of Britain, then there would be full employment, higher wages, job security, better state benefits, a healthy health service and all the other things politicians promise at election times.

This view is echoed by the so called Scottish “Socialist” Party and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity (with Sheridan) Party. But it is patently absurd. This would be a purely political, not to say mere constitutional change which would leave the basic economic structure of society unchanged.

There would still be a privileged class owning and controlling the means of production with the rest having to work for them for a living. Just as now. Maybe the pillar boxes would be painted tartan but that would be about all.

An independent Scottish government would still have to operate within the constraints of the world capitalist system. It would still have to ensure that goods produced in Scotland were competitive on world markets and that capitalists investing in Scotland were allowed to make the same level of profits as they could in other  countries.

In other words, it would still be subject to the same economic pressures as the existing London-based government to promote profits and restrict wages and benefits. And as the government of Ireland, which broke away from the United Kingdom in 1922 and where things have never been any different. Not even the national state capitalism proposed by the SSP and Sheridan would make any difference. As in Cuba, exports would still have to be competitive and popular consumption restricted to achieve this.

Since it is this class-divided, profit motivated society that is the cause of the problems workers face in Scotland, as in England and in the rest of the world, so these problems will continue, regardless of whether Scotland separates from or remains part of the United Kingdom.

The SNP is promising a referendum in 2010. What an irrelevant waste of time and energy that would be, but it’s their alibi. If they get to form the regional government of Scotland their excuse for not delivering (as capitalism won’t let them) will be that their hands were tied and that their promises will only be able to be honoured after separation.

Our opposition to the SNP should not be interpreted as support for the Union or the Labour, Liberal or Tory parties that support it. We are just as opposed to them. A plague on both their houses is what we say. To adapt a slogan, “Neither London nor Edinburgh, but World Socialism”.

Pathfinders: Crystal ball gazing (2007)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prediction is very difficult, the great physicist Niels Bohr once observed, especially about the future. Future trends in economics and geopolitics may be difficult to map out, but surely nothing is harder than attempting to guess what’s going to happen in the realms of science and technology in the next thirty years. Nevertheless, the UK Ministry of Defence has had a go. Within the broad sweep of their hundred page strategy document (see The Military Are Not That Unintelligent, page 14) the MoD’s think-tank, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) includes an illuminating discussion on probable developments across the range of applied science, together with its implications for society and social stability.

The most substantial developments, according to the DCDC, will be in the fields of nano and biotech, energy, cognitive science, and the universe of communications, network and sensor technology that comes under the general heading of ICT. Nanotechnology has so far failed to produce any ‘wow’ factors, being still in the low foothills of an Everest of development, but it has nevertheless turned out some pretty useful materials, from sun creams that don’t turn white to carbon-fibre compounds that are both lighter and stronger than steel and which will be used in everything from electronics to aircraft. As an enabling technology, it is predicted to underpin breakthroughs in computing, biology, chemistry and physics. Biotechnology, uniquely vulnerable to ethical, religious and political disputes, may see advances in disease control, customized drug treatments, stem-cell and gene therapy, age limitation or reversal, bionic and biochip implants and human-computer interfaces, memory and intelligence enhancing drugs, and revolutions in food production.

The controversies over stem-cell research and GM crops are of course old news, but now there is a growing debate about drugs that make you smarter (look up Modafinil or see Drugs May Boost Your Brain). Should we take them, or are we merely making ourselves into harder-working super-proles with enhanced durability and XXL productivity, and all for the same wages as before? The answer to both questions is: probably. The limitations on capitalist exploitation are that we get worn out and die too fast, and the rich could get a lot richer with our continued labours into a second century of living, however, if the DCDC’s predictions for cognitive science are anything to go by, we won’t have a choice, because we’ll be up against machinery that’s soon going to be as smart as we are. As they put it: “ Soft Artificial Intelligence is already well established with self diagnosing and self reconfiguring networks in use and self repairing networks likely in the next 10 years. Mapping of human brain functions and the replication of genuine intelligence is possible before 2035 (p.59, original emphasis.) Just imagine, robo-workers you don’t even have to pay. Or worse, soldiers you can’t kill, demoralise or turn off. In among the section on future military battlebots, aerial drones, microspies and other products of the MoD boffins’ preoccupation with violence, we find an uncomfortable marriage of AI to super-advanced battlefield hardware. While US troops have for some time been testing prosthetic enhancements that make them as strong as ten men, the future of warfare as described here does not involve humans at all – at least not on the side that can afford these autonomous proto-Terminators.

But perhaps it won’t be that bad, as the DCDC recognizes that any extreme military or other technical advantage by one power may be undermined by the leakage of secrets, perhaps by scientists themselves keen to preserve a ‘level playing field’. If everybody gets the Terminators, and they just slug it out between themselves without involving any real humans, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing at all. Ah well, some hope.

So, are they right? Yes and no. They’re right in that all or most of these things are possible, and they’ve covered all the bases as they see them. At one farthest extreme they speculate on a lasting technological ceiling which will not be broken until various disparate strands of development conjoin, but the possibility of a Kursweil-like ‘Singularity’ event, one so explosive that it launches a scientific and social revolution, remains off their radar. At the other extreme they envisage a reaction to globalisation leading to greater cultural conservatism, with science throttled by economic protectionism leading to a global economic downturn, but they do not entertain any more extreme scenarios, such as the rise of a powerful religious fundamentalist anti-science lobby, or an anti-globalisation retreat into luddite neo-medievalism. There is no consideration of the raging debate about patent laws and their ambiguous role in innovation, on the one hand supposedly stimulating it, on the other, most certainly stifling it.

And did they miss anything? They only missed what you’d expect them to miss, firmly rooted as they are in the authoritarian assumptions of the government ministry of which they are a part. World social organisation to them is a question of which set of rulers has their hands on the gadgets. Thus, cheap technology may be acquired by terrorists and rogue states in order to blow up or poison innocent civilians, but it does not occur to the DCDC to ask what those innocent civilians themselves might do with this technology. Although other parts of the report mutter darkly about a resurgence of Marxism, it is clear that they have in mind the authoritarian, doctrinaire parody which existed in the Soviet era, and there is no indication that the writers suspect that ‘ordinary people’, as opposed to rulers, might start punching their weight in the decision-making process, and that governments might for the first time find themselves on the back foot. Of course, people may not take advantage of the information revolution to effect a personal and social revolution that destroys the power of the owning class and sets the human race free to manage its own future. However, the DCDC may well be overestimating the power of states to keep control amid this tidal wave of ‘enabling’ technology, and they may also be underestimating the ingenuity and collective strength of those same ‘ordinary people’ who increasingly do not see the need for capitalism at all – especially if they’ve all been knocking back the get-smart pills.
Paddy Shannon

The military are not that unintelligent (2007)

From the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Everyone has heard the one about “military intelligence” being a contradiction in terms. But military planners can’t afford to be stupid – and aren’t, as a recent Ministry of Defence publication shows.
Earlier this year the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) of the Ministry of Defence published a document on Strategic Trends which set out their view on the context for the activity of Britain’s armed forces over the next thirty years (see The man in charge, Rear Admiral Chris Parry, explains in the introduction that the trends identified in the document are “probability-based rather than predictions”. The degrees of probability being will, likely, may, possible.

What emerges from the document is that the military thinkers behind it share the socialist analysis that conflicts in the modern (capitalist) world arise out of competition between states over sources of raw materials, markets, investment outlets, trade routes and strategic points to control and protect these.

Against the sub-heading “securing natural resources”, the document says:
  “Key natural resources, especially oil, gas and minerals of strategic value, will continue to be sourced from unstable areas and unreliable regions. Maintaining access and containing instability risks in these area is therefore likely to increase in importance, alongside wider developmental and stabilization roles. Where oil and gas sources are located in areas of doubtful security, military intervention may be used to protect the integrity of sites and to secure investments” ( p. 29).
In fact, the document regards “competition for energy” as one of the “hot topics” of the period. “Competition for energy supplies”, it says, “will dominate the economic landscape during the next 30 years” and that “requirements to access sources of supply in unstable regions or countries could lead to intervention to protect assets and investments” (p. 31).
  “Overheating of energy markets may lead more countries to follow the example of China in establishing bilateral arrangements that seek to dominate or control the global market in their favour, possibly fuelling tension among those who are excluded or who cannot or will not compete in a market environment. This may lead to political and even military interventions in order to protect access and safeguard supply” (p. 26).
Then, there’s the trade routes:
  “Most of the world’s trade by bulk, particularly energy, will continue to transit by sea and through maritime choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca, in areas which will remain highly unstable. This will demand high levels of international cooperation and a continuing dependence on the deployment of maritime power” (p. 54).
And the strategic points:
  “There is likely to be more emphasis on the active containment of aggressors, symptoms of crisis and irregular elements, to deter and defeat military threats to partners and the international system. In these circumstances, the ability to secure and maintain free access to areas of strategic and operational interest will remain vital” (p. 54).
The MoD strategists don’t think that these tensions will lead to war in the sense of “state-on-state” conflicts (“Major interstate wars will be unlikely”, p. 67), at least not until after 2020:
  “Although large-scale interstate warfare is unlikely, competition for finite resources and intolerance at market forces may lead to tensions and greater potential for confrontation and conflict between 2020 and 2035” (p. 43).
  “Global economic and financial interdependency is likely to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of major interstate warfare before 2020. However, increasing pressures on resources, particularly energy, and the growing assertiveness of emerging powers such as India, China and Iran, beyond this date may result in the return of great power rivalries as the defining characteristic of geopolitics, with a consequent increase in the risk of interstate and inter-bloc conflict” (p. 48).
   “Conflict and crisis will become increasingly complex and unpredictable, both in their incidence and character, during the period to 2035, with serious interstate rivalry probably expressing itself through proxy actions by hostile groups who may or may not have issues of their own” (p.67).
Even before 2020, however, the strategists think that conflict between states will take place through proxies (as already happened during the Cold War period):
  “In the absence of direct, open state-on-state conflict, there will be a marked increase in the prevalence of irregular activity . . . There will also be increased sponsorship of irregular activity and groups by states, seeking to utilize and exploit, through proxy, gaps in the international system, either to assert themselves or secure advantage without exposing themselves to state-on-state risks” (p. 52).
The document is not confined to narrow trends that concern the military directly but also mentions economic, political and other issues, singling out climate change, globalization and global inequality as the three “areas of change” which “will touch the lives of everyone on the planet” and underpin all the other trends.

On the world scale, the strategists think that “while life for most people is likely to improve materially, a significant number will continue to experience hardship, and unevenness and fluctuations within a globalized market-based economy will still mean that life will be uncertain for most” (p. 1).
   “While material conditions for most people are likely to improve over the next 30 years, the gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge. . . Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism” (p. 3).
Let’s hope that on this very last point they are right.
Adam Buick

It’s a bloody crime – or is it? (2007)

From the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “The law does not pretend to punish everything that is dishonest. That would seriously interfere with business” (Clarence Darrow).
The man in front of me in the bus said to his companion “You know, it’s a bloody crime!” He was obviously referring to the front page story in the evening newspaper which he was holding and which I had read earlier.

The story referred to a sick child who needed intensive care. The hospitals locally and elsewhere had been canvassed by medical staff for an intensive care cot but none were available. Last year, given the same level of demand, a cot would have been available but pressure on NHS funding had necessitated cuts in services. The child died, a newshound got a story and the grieving parents were left to wonder why.

But the man in front of me on the bus was wrong; it was not a crime. In fact he was using the term ‘crime’, as many do, as a designation for something that is obviously wrong or bad or evil and these qualities are not necessarily the considerations that determine what is and what is not a crime.

Crime is a transgression of the laws governing particular societies; specifically rules usually endorsed by a ruling executive that, in a political democracy, has been elected by the people or, in a dictatorship, has amassed sufficient coercive power to impose its authority upon the people.

Laws or rules of behaviour
It need hardly be said that whatever the form of society some form of behavioural rules or mores are necessary; equally, of course, the form of society we live in creates the conditions that determine the need for specific rules. Society is continually evolving and it is this evolution that continually creates the need for ruling executives amending existing laws and passing new laws to meet the exigencies created by new situations like, for example, the social implications of technological advances in automotive transport.

Much of this form of legislation should be straightforward, at least in motive; if people driving cars did not abide by defined regulations road accidents would increase incalculably. If anyone was allowed to pilot an aircraft there would be frequent air disasters. Unfortunately, in our present society, interests outside the province of safety can impact on the lawmakers. The vast wealth of vehicle manufacturers, petroleum refiners, civil engineering contractors, et al, can be used, and is used, to ensure that as far as possible their specific interests are not adversely affected and such interests are rarely in the general interest. It would be difficult to think of any new regulation, even one patently beneficial to the general good, like restrictions on passive smoking, that will not find opposition from some commercial interest.

Arising from property
The overwhelming body of laws in all countries today are not primarily concerned with public health, public safety or public well-being. They are concerned with property in all its forms; with the endorsement, protection and conveyance of possessions. In fact, the greatest volume of law, the millions of pages of legislation, the myriad volumes of case law, is based on relationships arising from the existence of property.

The whole legal circuses, clown-attired judges, wigged councillors, solicitors, the solemn decorum of the courts, the years of legal study and practice behind the imposing fa├žade of erudition, these are not necessarily concerned with acts that are in themselves bad or injurious to people nor are they faithful to some abstract principles of good and evil. The entire fabric of what is absurdly known in the United Kingdom as ‘the Queen’s justice’ or elsewhere as State Justice is solidly founded on the appalling injustice of property society; specifically today, the Laws of capitalism and the Order necessary to allow for the smooth functioning of those Laws.

The French anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, affirmed that ’Property is theft!’ He was, like the man on the bus, wrong. The act of theft is a crime but the possession of property rather than being a crime is lauded by the major religions and is the very foundation of capitalist civilisation.

The cornerstone of freedom
Inevitably, in a property society people will aspire to ownership and those who claim that the right to property is the cornerstone of freedom often cite this aspiration as proof that capitalism conforms with the natural order of things. But the capitalists and their political defenders are not promoting some unworkable concept of equality within a property society nor are they referring to the right of every citizen to a home and such personal appurtenances as reflect the material needs of everyone in the pursuit of a full and happy life.

What the capitalists and the political advocates of capitalism effectively promote is the legal right of a minority class of people to own and/or control the machinery of production and distribution; the land, the factories, mills, mines, warehouses; in fact the resources of nature and the machinery and tools used by the working class to produce all the vital goods and services needed to sustain the whole of society.

It is the Law that enforces the right of a minority to use its ownership to take possession of all the goods and services produced by those who labour by hand or brain in exchange for a wage or salary that restricts the overwhelming majority of workers to conditions of relative poverty or dire want. It is in fact capitalism’s law that confers on the working class the apt designation of wage slaves.

But the effects of this much-vaunted ‘cornerstone of freedom’ do not end there. Ownership of the means of production and distribution also gives the capitalist class the right to embargo any productive activity that does not hold out for the owning class the promise of profit. Additionally, in today’s world, technology has facilitated the mobility of capital thus gifting to the capitalists the ability to locate wherever the rate of profit is most beneficial to them irrespective of the hardships they impose by unemployment on the workers whose labour is already enshrined in the fortunes of the capitalists.

Additionally, this mobility has given capital an effective weapon in enfeebling trade unions and resisting wage claims with the threat of re-locating plant where the slaves are paid less.

Majestic equality
Behind capitalism’s legal system is its vast array of coercion; ultimately the armed forces of the state but more usually police forces, judges, magistrates, lawyers and jailers. We hear about their work through the media; overladen, they toil diligently as a vast conveyor belt of capitalist justice, keeping vandals and villains and thieves and robbers off the streets; stuffing the jails to overcapacity. Essentially virtuous in their majestic equality.

The French writer, Anatole France, perhaps better than most exposes the vacuity of capitalism’s legal charade when he said:
  “The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, sleep in the parks or to steal bread”.
Reality means that we live in conditions determined by capitalism and it is those conditions that almost without exception create the circumstances in which all forms of crime occur. In the past the power of the cop and the judge, unquestioning instruments of class justice, were reinforced by the fictions of religion and the Ten Commandments.

In today’s world the sins of the gods, like the legal misdeeds of the rich are increasingly evident. None would challenge the observation of the eminent American civil rights lawyer, Clarence Darrow – he of the famous ’Monkey’ trial – that “the law does not pretend to punish everything that is dishonest. That would seriously interfere with business”.

The Order that capitalism needs to underpin its Law is showing evident signs of breakdown. The hired hands that the system needs in the political system and the pensioned media to maintain its rotten values scream for ever more laws, ever greater penalties, against the evidence that crime is a reflection of capitalism and will remain as long as that system does.
Richard Montague

Just a yellow metal (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Gold prices could pass $850 record” read a headline in the Financial Times (5 April), reporting a forecast by a metals consultancy of what might happen over the next 12 months. As gold is currently selling at around $670-80 an ounce, this would be a huge increase. If something like this had happened a hundred years ago, it would have brought about financial and economic chaos by causing a huge fall in the general price level.

This was because at that time gold was still the money-commodity, as the product of labour having its own value in which the values of all other commodities were expressed. Prices were expressed in units of currency, but these were defined as a given weight of gold. A pound, for instance, was defined as about ¼ oz of gold. This meant that anything taking the same amount of socially necessary labour time to produce as an ounce of gold would have a price of £4.

If the amount of socially necessary labour needed to produce an ounce of gold fell, a rise in the general price level would result since other commodities, containing more value, would exchange for more gold. If, on the other hand, the labour-time cost of producing gold increased, the result was the opposite: a fall in the general price level. Which is why an increase of the order of from $680 to $850 an ounce would have caused chaos a hundred years ago.

The reason it won’t do so today is that gold is no longer the money-commodity. Up to WW1 gold was used to settle international payments. Also, there were gold coins in circulation, along with paper notes that were convertible into gold at a fixed rate. This system collapsed with the outbreak of war in 1914 and, despite attempts to revive it between the wars, never really worked again. Nearly all currencies became “inconvertible”, i.e. no longer exchangeable on demand into a given amount of gold, which has remained the case ever since.

At the end of WW2 a new system for settling international payments was established based on the dollar. The exchange rate between other currencies and the dollar (and so between the other currencies) was fixed, but, since the dollar was defined as 1/35 oz of gold, gold still played an indirect role as the money-commodity as a standard of price.

This system, with its repeated devaluations of the different currencies, came to an end in 1971 when the US government abandoned its commitment to pay $35 for an ounce of gold. After that, all currencies floated and, though central banks still retained gold reserves for a while, gold became an ordinary commodity, another precious metal alongside silver and platinum, whose price fluctuations have no effect, either way, on the general price level.

The price of gold is still expressed in dollars but, nowadays, rather than a change in the price of gold leading to a change in the value of the dollar, it’s the other way round. One of the reasons for the expected rise in the price of gold is the current weakness of the dollar. Another is perceived future economic insecurity in that gold, as a product of labour, is still a store of value which, if the fears are realised, is better to be left holding than a mere piece of paper.

When socialism, where of course money will be redundant, has been established, there will be a long-standing proposal as to what to do with gold waiting to be considered. In his book Utopia in 1516 Thomas More proposed it be used for making chamber pots. Some 400 years later Lenin moved an amendment to replace the words “chamber pots” by “urinals”. In the end, we’ll probably just use it for jewellery and other ornaments.

William Wilberforce was no saint (2007)

From the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you believe all the eulogies to him recently for pushing through the Act of Parliament 200 years ago banning slave trading in the British Empire you might be surprised that he’s not called Saint William. But for that he’d have to have been a Catholic whereas he was an evangelical Christian of the Anglican persuasion. He was a founder of a “Society for the Suppression of Vice and Encouragement of Religion” which specialised in prosecuting people for enjoying themselves on the Sabbath. He supported “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” as the natural order of things and preached to the poor that:
  “their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the present state of things is very short; that the objects, about which worldly men conflict so eagerly, are not worth the contest”.
In other words, pie in the sky when you die. And
 “Remember that we are all fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart” (both quoted by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class).
A nasty piece of work, then. But there’s worse. He was a King-and-Country Tory who encouraged mobs to burn effigies of Tom Paine and other “Jacobins”, i.e., sympathisers with the democratic pretensions of the French Revolution. He was also instrumental in the passing of the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 under which the Tolpuddle Martyrs were later sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay.

A. L. Morton says of him in A People’s History of England:
  “When the industrial discontent was crossed with political Jacobinism the ruling class was terrified into more drastic action, and the result was the Combination Laws of 1799 and 1800. These laws were the work of Pitt and his sanctimonious friend Wilberforce, whose well known sympathy for the negro slave never prevented him from being the foremost apologist and champion of every act of tyranny in England, from the employment of Oliver the Spy or illegal detention of poor prisoners in Cold Bath Fields gaol to the Peterloo massacre and the suspension of habeas corpus”.
Yes, he was opposed to chattel slavery. From a capitalist point of view, this was an outmoded and inefficient method of labour exploitation. They wanted the only form of slavery to be wage slavery. To which Wilberforce had no objection whatsoever.

(from the Socialist Party’s blogsite at

Letters: Postscript on racism (2007)

Letters to the Editors from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Postscript on racism

Dear Editors

Just a short postscript to my article in the February issue on racism. The Guardian for 4 April carried an article on Lawrence Dennis, a leading American fascist from the 1930s and 40s. Dennis’s mother was black, so by the ‘one drop’ rule would have been regarded as black himself. But he had a relatively light skin and, having cut himself off from his family, was able to pass as white. A striking demonstration of the point that ‘race’ is a matter of social attitude and acceptance rather than a biological category.
Paul Bennett, 

Climate change?

Dear Editors

I have enjoyed by trial subscription to your journal Socialist Standard, the second edition of which I received yesterday. However, I am writing now to request that the subscription be discontinued.

The reason for this early curtailment is the article on page 4 of the April edition relating to climate change, and the Channel 4 programme on this subject broadcast last month. I cannot recall reading a review of any programme in any publication, that was quite so dismissive of the basic tenet of a particular documentary without a shred of evidence to back up your assertions. The best that is managed, is that you allege that the writer of the programme is associated with a left wing political grouping that the SPGB does not agree with.

To denigrate the wide range of academic and other experts quoted on the programme as “denial monkeys” falls well below the high journalistic standards I have observed in your journal. Not a single reference is made in your review to any factual errors in the programme; in fact, the quote truthfully in your introduction that “climate change” is a $4bn gravy train sums up the essential truth of the programme. You later refer to every “nutjob with a theory” as a further effort to dismiss as cranks the many genuine experts who, on the programme, proposed a lucid and essentially straightforward and honest debunking of climate change which, if indeed it is occurring at all, is of entirely natural origin.

I would have hoped that the original (though often misguided) concepts and ideas found throughout the Socialist Standard would have encouraged your reviewer to look at the objectively at this controversial topic.

Unfortunately, your reviewer seems to have fallen “hook, line and sinker” for what will, in the course of time, be revealed as a total hoax, a worthless and erroneous theory with which the world is being misled. In reading your “Declaration of Principles” on page 18 I note that you believe that “the capitalist or master class, and consequent enslavement of the working class..,” is the foundation of modern society. So “climate change” is not the only myth in which members of the SPGB believe, but it is one of many listed in the “Declaration”. Fortunately, by “tilting against windmills” evident in your “Declaration”, and throughout the Socialist Standard, what will be the truly successful way forward from the crisis in Britain in 2007 has been overlooked.
William Reid, 

If you are determined to believe that the large majority of the world’s climate scientists are involved in a conspiracy to distort science and cover up the truth then we can’t stop you, however the evidence suggests otherwise. The claims made in the programme are almost universally false, as five minutes perusing of any reputable online source will easily reveal (see for example George Monbiot’s article, Guardian, 13 March). There is not space in this magazine to rehearse all of the arguments again, however here are some main points.

The claim that recent temperature variations on Earth are in strong agreement with the length of the cycle of sunspots has been shown repeatedly to be the result of incorrect calculations. In fact the opposite seems to be the case: the length of the sunspot cycle has declined, while temperatures have risen.

The argument that volcanoes produce more CO2 than human activity is false.

The fact that CO2 increases as a result of global warming is true, but is a known feedback mechanism and in no way supports the proposal that global warming is not attributable to CO2 emissions.

The argument that cosmic rays are a significant cause of cloud cover is not supported by the evidence and has been rejected by the IPCC.

The concomitant proposal that the sun is the principle cause of global warming is similarly unsupported.

References to apparent fluctuations like the ‘Little Ice Age’ and the ‘Medieval Warming Period’ in the programme do not say that the data for these is regional, not global, and most probably only apply to Europe during those periods.

The much-vaunted drop in temperature during the smokestack decades of the mid 20th century can be attributed to the known effects of global dimming by airborne particulates, and in no way undermines the case for human-attributable warming.

The argument that CO2 cannot possibly have a big effect as it is present in very small amounts in the atmosphere is akin to arguing that a small amount of asbestos in the lungs must be harmless. CO2 is a highly efficient absorber of radiation in the part of the spectrum which matters most, the part which includes sunlight reflected from the Earth’s surface.

Lastly, it seems strange that you are prepared to trust implicitly the word of the ‘genuine experts’ you saw on a Channel 4 entertainment show, but not the word of the vastly greater number of scientists whose opinions were not represented on that show and who were given no opportunity to present the alternative case. The credentials of the programme ‘experts’, most of whom are either retired, non-academics, non-climatologists, or in receipt of oil industry funds, or there to sell their next book or their weather-prediction business, or indeed there by mistake, can be read in their extraordinary completeness at

Bizarrely, you go even further than the show itself by questioning whether global warming is happening at all, something even the programme producer, with his long history of making junk-science anti-environment documentaries, didn’t dare to do.

As for your suggestion that our class-analysis of capitalism is a myth, we invite you to tell us which particular windmill you think we are tilting at. You don’t choose to reveal what the ‘truly successful way forward’ will be for workers in the future but we respectfully suggest that it won’t involve ignoring the evidence that is staring all of us in the face and embarking on a simian crusade against the downright obvious – Editors

50 Years Ago: Should Irish workers support the I.R.A.? (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the recurrence of I.R.A. activity, attention is again focussed on the “Irish Question.” The familiar tragedy of young workers dying for “The Cause” is again being re-enacted.

There are those who would tell us that as Irish workers we must be in the vanguard of the “National Struggle.” Coming from the I.R.A. this means that we should join that organisation, procure arms, and train ourselves in their use. If called on, they say, we will attack the armed hirelings of the State, regardless of whether or not we fall in the fray, dangle on the hangman’s rope, or find ourselves condemned to long years of imprisonment. The militant Republican assures us that we owe it to “our” country; that we must be prepared to sacrifice everything for “The Cause.” (…)

On finding a job the young worker becomes acquainted with the reality of the class-struggle: on the one side the Masters with the porridge—on the other the Olivers, perpetually with just enough to “keep body and soul together”, and only with occasionally enough courage to ask for more ( . . . )

Such an economic set-up makes nonsense of the claims made by Republicans, Unionists, or any other political party, that the people can control their own destinies, by raising this flag, or lowering that. The problems that beset us in Ireland to-day do not originate in our capacity for colour appreciation, in the qualities of Green and Orange. They are problems inherent in the Capitalist system—that system which has the blessing of both Governments in Ireland; that system which would continue to afflict us if the I.R.A. concluded a successful struggle to-morrow.

(From an article by R. Montague, Socialist Standard, May 1957)