Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How about some real progress? (1969)

From the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Man on the Moon
Perhaps it would be better if, after all, we left the moon alone. It is lovely to look at and does nobody any harm, and in any case there are plenty of problems to be tackled here on earth, before we start spreading out into space. Yet even the most fervent Luddite, the most obstinate flat-earther, much feel a chill of excitement at the thought of men out in black space, circling the moon, observing it, stepping out onto its surface.

There is near-unanimity of opinion that space flights, moon landings, and the rest are a 'good thing' and anyone who has doubts on the matter is immediately classified as a neurotic, reactionary crank. It is true that space vehicles can make a valuable contribution to weather forecasting, communications, and geology, if only because of their unique position for observation. Another result of that unique position is. of course, that space vehicles have distinct, and frightening, military uses — for both observation and combat. It is no coincidence that the world’s two space powers are also the world’s two greatest nuclear powers and that the other positions in the league table of space achievements roughly correspond to the positions in the nuclear power league table.

It might seem churlish to point this out, in face of the glamour of the moon shots. But is it so bad, to try to keep calm amid the hysteria and to wonder whether all technological advance is useful, why some of it happens, whether society has its priorities in order, and whether we should all fall flat on our faces in worship of the great god Progress which is supposed to feed and succur us, which we are supposed to rely on and to be unable to deny?

Sometimes, as communities all over the world have discovered to their cost, 'Progress’ means the destruction of what was once a comparatively peaceful environment. It means an airport setting down thundering jets into once tranquil countryside, a motorway or a pylon line slashing through downland, a nuclear power station on remote, rugged coastline. In other places, green and quiet streets are turned into car parks and road ‘improvements’ bring heavy traffic pulsing constantly past bedroom windows. These are examples of that ‘Progress' which, apparently, should not and cannot be stopped. Or should it?

Basis of morals
There can be no apology if the first thing we say in answer to that question is that ‘Progress’ can no more be considered in separation from its social background than can any other facet of society. And the social background for all of them is the same. The superficial aspects of society — its laws, morals, organisation, concepts, and so on — spring from its basis and conform in their nature to that basis. Capitalist society, which we live under today, is based on the private ownership of the means of production. It is bound, therefore, to have a legal and moral code based on the rights of private property. In the same way, concepts such as ‘Progress’ are influenced, indeed fashioned, by the needs and priorities springing from private property.

What this means is that, as capitalism is a society of commodity production — of wealth produced for sale and profit — ‘Progress’ will be encouraged only if it helps towards profitable production and sale. The organs of capitalist opinion are fond of presenting examples of 'Progress’ to us — like drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea — as adventures undertaken solely for the benefit of humanity. The truth is that in cases like this the capitalist class are hoping for cheap and profitable production and that is why they enthusiastically devote considerable resources to the project.

But it is a different story, when the prospects of making a profit are less rosy. A recent issue of The Guardian (July 3, 1969) stated that the Water Resources Board has turned down a project for the large-scale production of fresh water from sea water because it would cost about twice as much as the systems used at present. The Board docs not know when desalination is likely to become ‘economic' and therefore ‘acceptable'. The point is that, at a time when water is in seriously short supply, progress in its production is being held up, not by technical or productive obstacles. but by the same old bogey of capitalism — the economics of cost and profit.

In another way. this applies to the entire boom in ‘Progress' which has recently taken capitalism by storm — automation, computers, container traffic, and all the other things which are supposed to be part of a great effort to improve our living standards. In fact the boom has been promoted by the simple fact that for a long time, with certain temporary exceptions, the advanced nations of capitalism have had to face a shortage of labour and they have applied the classical remedy of trying to reduce their labour requirements. Again, profitability and not 'Progress’ has been the decisive incentive.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of this is that, in its obsessive haste for profits, capitalism will often launch out on a bit of 'Progress’ purely because at the time it seems the quickest and cheapest method of dealing with a problem. In the long run the results can be disastrous and even, if we are to worry about the interests of the capitalist class, dearer and less profitable.

A recent example of this was the poisoning of the Rhine with a pesticide effluent. This was a much-forecast backlash of the ‘Progress’ in agricultural methods which uproots hedgerows to create a near-prairie in which heavy machinery can operate more profitably and which saturates the land in a variety of pesticides and fertilisers which wreak havoc on the natural balance of the earth and which can turn fertile lands into a dustbowl. There are plenty of informed warnings about the consequences of these policies; but farming, just like any other productive operation of capitalism, is carried on for profit, which means that all other considerations, including speculations on the safety of the future, take a back seat.

In the same way, medical science often joins in the great rush for 'Progress’ by producing medicines which have the sole usefulness of propping up sick workers more quickly than they have ever been propped up before and delivering them back for work on the production line with unheard-of speed. It is not unknown for some of these medicines — for example some antibiotics — to be exposed, after vast amounts of them have been pumped into willing and grateful workers, as of limited usefulness and, in some cases, as actually dangerous. But at the time it seemed the cheapest and quickest method of ensuring uninterrupted production . . . 

Shoddy goods
Are we, then, against Progress? The simple, hoary answer to that is that Progress cannot be stopped; indeed it is clearly desirable that man should progress in the sense that he should always be seeking to control and improve his environment. The question is, how is this to be done?

The first useful step to take would be to realise that the present social system, for all its mouthings about ‘Progress’, is in fact a fetter upon it. Capitalism holds back advances in our productive powers because it demands production for a market. This usually means production at standards well below our capabilities; it means shoddy goods aimed at capturing the market and being produced as cheaply as possible. It can also mean restricting and holding back production or a new development for fear of overstocking a market and causing a price collapse. Capitalism’s incentives are wrong; it judges everything in terms of profit. It is, therefore, bound to misuse 'Progress’, even when it allows it. Anyone who is interested in 'Progress’, then, should also be interested in the fact that it is crippled by capitalism.

Social progress must come first, to create the conditions in which our abilities can be given their head to enrich human lives. In the new society Progress will be reality instead of a word calculated to make any sensitive man release the safety catch of his pistol. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Letter: Why bother with parliament? (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard


[1] Your views on parliamentarism are based on the idea that capitalism, at least in England, rules through parliament, and that capitalism can hardly do without it. I disagree, because through the last decades it has become clearer and clearer that parliament has hardly any function at all. The most important decisions are taken in ‘advisory boards’ etc, and not in parliament. Parliament only acclaims what all kinds of boards and committees of experts decide, and capitalism can do very well without this acclaim.

[2] Moreover parliament has never had any power over important economic decisions like production (what is produced where) and investments. As the privileges of the capitalists lie in that field, you cannot force them to surrender their privileges by parliamentary action. The capitalists are not dependent on the state, the state is dependent on the capitalists.

[3] I agree ‘‘capitalism can only be overthrown by the determined struggle of a socialist working class”. This struggle must consist of more than the giving of a vote to the Socialist Party of Great Britain. To overthrow capitalism it is needed that they force capitalism into a situation of economic crisis which it cannot overcome. This can be done by strikes in key industries, or a general strike, in which the workers are convinced of the need of reforms that go beyond the scope of capitalism.

[4] On the other hand I believe that it is not necessary that the workers are convinced of this before the final struggle begins. In other words it is possible, in my opinion even probable, that the workers will only understand that Socialism is in their interest through hard experience, for instance in previous struggles for ideals which do not go as far as the immediate establishment of Socialism, but for instance just a big improvement of their living conditions (higher wages, shorter work times, longer holidays, etc.). If they succeed in reaching some of these short-time goals it is important that they see that after some time all the reforms that they won by struggle are taken away from them again, like happened in France after the May uprising, so that hardly anything is left of the original reforms. After the workers have experienced this once, or a few times, it will be possible to convince them that the reforms they want cannot be realised within the capitalist system, and that they will have to go beyond this system and construct Socialism.

[5] This means that we must not put aside a struggle for anything short of Socialism, but think of it as a stage in the process of growing consciousness in the working class, and aim at a quickening of this process. We can even try to start an action for a short-time goal of which we know it cannot be realised because of the favourable side-effect; this growing consciousness. For these struggles I do not reject the possibility of co-operation with neo-capitalists and social democrats.

[6] Another thing I still do not understand is how you want to use parliament in a socialist state, as it is an instrument of the capitalist state which cannot be just taken over to be used for socialist goals. Marx and Engels pointed this out in their foreword to the Communist Manifesto of 1872.
Johan Sevenhuijsen 
Delft, Holland.

We have numbered for convenience the points our correspondent makes.

1—When we say a class rules We mean that it uses the state (the public power of coercion, with its armed forces, police, judges, and jailers) to further its interests. The Socialist Party of Great Britain does say that in many advanced countries—like Britain and Holland—the capitalist class controls the state, or rules, through parliament by persuading the working class to elect pro-capitalist candidates. It is parliament, composed of these people elected on a universal suffrage, that passes the laws (including those to raise the taxes to pay for the upkeep of the state machine) and to which is responsible the government which does indeed make the day-to-day decisions which parliament usually endorses, as Mr. Sevenhuijsen points out.

We don’t base our views on using parliament solely on the idea that the capitalists rule through parliament. Even in countries where the parliaments or national assemblies are obvious facades (the state capitalist countries, for example) and where real power does reside elsewhere (in the central committees of the ‘Communist’ parties) we still argue that workers must struggle for democratic rights and use their votes to elect socialist delegates to parliament or its equivalent. The Socialist Party maintains that it is vitally important that a socialist majority should demonstrate clearly that they are a majority—and not just take to the streets in a futile attempt to seize power. The advantage of this strategy is that any minority which tried to resist the socialist revolution would clearly expose itself as undemocratic and also as being responsible or any violence that might be needed to overcome such obstruction.

With a socialist majority in parliament the working class would control the state and could use its political power to carry through the conversion of the means of production into the common property of society. The working class will support the measures taken by a socialist majority in parliament not for any legalistic reasons but because, as conscious socialists, they will understand what steps are being taken and why because they will have sent the delegates to parliament to carry out their wishes. And the same argument applies to the armed forces and the police. They will be available to back up the decisions taken by the workers not because they have to obey the instructions of parliament but because a majority of them—as with the rest of the working class—will be socialists.

2—We have never claimed that parliament controls the economy. Indeed, that it does not and cannot is part of our case against parties that think they can plan capitalism to meet human needs. What we say is that parliament controls how political power is used—what taxes are levied, what laws are made, how the armed forces are used. Certainly the capitalists’ privileges are economic but these are protected by political means. If the capitalists had to rely on themselves and their moneybags to keep their privileges they would be in a very weak position. But their right to the surplus labour of the working class is endorsed, even granted, by the state. The means of production they own are not their personal possession; they cannot be locked away from the workers in a cupboard or a safe. Ownership of the means of production is a social institution enforced by political power. In the West (in state capitalist Russia the capitalists' privileges are more obviously dependent on their control of the state) ownership takes the form of pieces of paper, like stocks and shares, bills and bonds, and title deeds, which are enforceable by courts of law behind which in turn stands the armed might of the state. To end capitalist privilege, as Marx never ceased to emphasise, the workers must first win political power.

3 —Of course capitalism cannot be overthrown merely by voting. Behind the vote for Socialism must be socialist knowledge which will express itself as organisation on class lines ready to take over the running of the state and industry. The socialist election victory will be a gauge registering the fact that the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by Socialism has majority endorsement. The vote, too, can be the means of choosing the mandated socialist delegates who will go to parliament and the local councils and take them over in the name of the working class. When a majority of workers have become socialist, using the vote will be the simplest, most direct way of gaining political power for Socialism.

4—Mr Sevenhuijsen, however, does not accept that there need be a socialist majority before the attempt to overthrow capitalism is made. He suggests that a minority of socialists can somehow precipitate mass socialist understanding. But we know of no reason why socialist understanding should necessarily emerge under conditions of economic crisis. It has not happened in the many crises capitalism has had to date. There will only be a revolutionary situation when workers are revolution-minded. Anyway, any such attempt by a minority is most likely to be crushed by the state acting to protect capitalist privilege. It is dangerous nonsense to talk as if a minority could take on and defeat the well-equipped modern state, especially if it enjoys mass support or even apathy. It is quite true that workers will come to want Socialism through their experience that capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work for them but also through their experience of hearing the socialist case. There is ample evidence by now that capitalism cannot serve human needs so there is no further need for workers to experience, as Mr Sevenhuijsen suggests, a few more times the failure and futility of reformism. What is missing in their experience is hearing the socialist case that a world of common ownership and production solely for use is the immediate, practicable alternative society that will end their problems. Socialists should be trying to convince workers now of this, not trying to give them further practical demonstrations of the futility of reformism by themselves engaging in it

5—That is why we disagree fundamentally here with Mr Sevenhuijsen. Socialists should advocate Socialism alone and refuse to propose reforms of capitalism. As all other parties stand for capitalism and represent various sections of the capitalist class (and this includes 'neo-capitalists and social democrats’), the Socialist Party should oppose them at all times, rejecting deals with them even for reforms.

6—We do not know what a 'socialist state' might be. When Socialism has been set up, with the abolition of classes and private property in the means of production there will be no need for a public power of coercion, or state. Instead there will be the simple democratic management of social affairs. We cannot tell now the details of such a set-up but no doubt it will involve elected councils and assemblies at some stage. In their 1872 Preface Marx and Engels repeat Marx’s comment after the Paris Commune of 1871 that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” We agree. Before using the state machine to set up Socialism the workers will have to make certain changes in it. Marx mentioned breaking up the military-bureaucratic parts of it but certainly not abolishing parliament. Far from it, the Paris Commune extended the principle of accountability of public officials to the democratically elected assembly or commune. Talking of 1872 we recall another remark of Marx’s made that year, oddly enough at the Hague in Holland, that. political conditions in Britain, America, and perhaps Holland should allow the workers there to win power for Socialism by peaceful means, presumably by winning a socialist majority in an election. Since then those political conditions Marx had in mind—a majority of electors from the working class, parliamentary control of the government and armed forces, a civil service open to all—have been established in many other countries, thus allowing the working class to use them for the one revolutionary purpose of establishing Socialism.
Editorial Committee

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trotskyist vote in perspective (1969)

Alain Krivine, 1969.
From the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

“France — 200,000 vote for workers’ control”, declared Socialist Worker (June 5) reporting the presidential election results. "235,000 Say Revolution Now” was how Black Dwarf (June 14) put it.

Alain Krivine, the trotskyist candidate, had polled 236,263 votes in metropolitan France—a mere one per cent. Despite the fact that this confirmed our analysis of the May events—that a revolutionary situation did not exist because very few French workers really understood and wanted Socialism —the British trotskyist papers were exhilarated by the result:
. . .  the people who voted for Krivine can stand up and be counted for what they really are: men and women who have made a complete break with all the parliamentary parties, with their illusions of creeping socialism or bourgeois concepts of law and order. To vote for Krivine signifies an awareness of the necessity for revolution in France and a willingness to work for it. There are in Metropolitan France 235,000 revolutionaries who voted for a Trotskyist candidate and double that number if the disenfranchised foreigners, younger students, workers, and school children are included (Black Dwarf
Only Krivine stood for the abolition of the sham system of parliamentary democracy, for workers’ power as the alternative to capitalism . . . The campaign was a tremendous opportunity for using the machinery of the capitalist state in order to expose it. Krivine appeared on television with as much time as every other candidate—and hammered the need for revolution. His election address was delivered to every voter at the state’s expense (Socialist Worker)
We are sorry to dampen their ardour but let us put the whole thing in perspective. The vote for ‘workers’ control’ and for ‘revolution’ was minimal. Krivine polled about the same percentage as SPGB candidates have consistently done in national and local elections here. In addition, it has been our experience that on so low a percentage vote more than half our votes were cast by chance or in error so that the total vote cannot be regarded as an accurate measure of the real support for Socialism.

When in 1967 we contested four boroughs in the Greater London Council elections, putting up 14 candidates, the votes and percentages (taking those for the top candidate of each party) were:
Conservative             166,358     52.1
Labour                       120,735    37.7
Liberal                         18,033      5.6
Communist                    7,847      2.4
Socialist                         4,796      1.5
Others                            2,164      0.7
(At this time the trotskyist vote was included in that for the Labour Party.)

Unique New Zealand (1969)

From the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Zealand’s development has perhaps been unique in two fields. First, certain reforms were achieved in New Zealand at a very early stage. As early as 1879 men had the vote, and by 1893 women were also entitled to vote. But even today certain restrictions are placed upon Maori voting. By 1894 New Zealand was the first country in the world to have established the system of compulsory state arbitration for fixing wages and settling industrial disputes. This was a retrograde step as far as the workers were concerned, for as all class-conscious workers know, in practice, courts for fixing wages etc. are there purely to prevent workers from striking as further pressure for their claims. Arbitration courts are often long-winded and the capitalist knows that the majority of workers can be distracted from their original determination if things drag on too long.

These early reforms and others, like the eight-hour day in 1897, plus a restricted programme of immigration (thereby maintaining a fairly full state of employment) have tended to give the New Zealander a false sense of security.

As well as long hours of overtime and wives going to work, secondary employment has become to the New Zealander an accepted way of life. He has his house, car, and washing machine, but the price has been high, New Zealand being only second to America in the number of hours worked per head of population. The veneer of affluence, like that of any so-called affluent country, for the working class is very thin.

The second unique aspect of New Zealand’s development is that it has been a farming community from the start and has remained so ever since. This can be a very precarious situation since New Zealand’s exports, the greatest bulk of which go to Britain, are made up almost wholly of agricultural produce—meat, wool, tallow, butter, cheese, powdered milk, and some timber.

Reading an extract from The New Zealand Trades Alphabet, 1968 edition, we can see just how far New Zealand is committed to agriculture as a means of overseas earnings, and to Britain as the buyer.
  For more than a century, Britain and New Zealand have been trading partners. New Zealand, whose whole economy is based on our ability to produce cheap foodstuffs, has sold them to Britain in return for goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves. The money which changes hands in trade between New Zealand and Britain now exceeds $860 million a year.
  New Zealand’s farming industry has been developed primarily to suit British needs and tastes, and Britain now buys some 85 per cent of New Zealand’s butter exports, 92 per cent of the lamb, and 78 per cent of the cheese. Last year sales of these three products were worth $216 million, or 30 per cent of this country's total export earnings. Outside Britain there is simply no substantial market open for any of them.
It is no wonder then that the clouds of economic anxiety began to gather over New Zealand when in 1958 the European Economic Community or Common Market was formed.

Looking at New Zealand over the past few years, one can sense the air of change. Unemployment has crept into existence, something until recently almost unheard of, and while the government tries to tell us that today we are back to full employment it fails to take into consideration the 11,064 persons that constituted a population loss to New Zealand in 1968, (see Auckland Star, December 10, 1968). Industrial unrest has been greater than ever as workers are trying to maintain their standard of living. Big mergers are taking place with almost indecent haste to constitute a position of strength for the struggle that is almost inevitable. We see Mr Holyoake a very worried man, chasing around the world talking and almost pleading with prime ministers of various Common Market countries in a puny effort to try to avert the disaster that could come to New Zealand if Britain joins the Common Market. We can see a great need for trade union solidarity. But most of all, if there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is that we can see a greater than ever need for socialist organisation for the overthrow of capitalism.
Ernie Higdon, 
Socialist Party of New Zealand.

Luxemburg abridged (1969)

Book Review from the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rosa Luxemburg, Peter Nettl (OUP, 25s.)

Peter Nettl’s original two-volume study stood head and shoulders above all previous biographies of Rosa Luxemburg. Oxford Paperbacks have now published an abridged edition which still manages to remain the most detailed account of her life and the most penetrating analysis of her theories yet available.
John Crump

Revolution not reform (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

On all sides the corruption and futility of the capitalist social system is exposed. In Vietnam, Nigeria, and the Middle East there are wars which draw out in a consuming agony and defy all the efforts of politicians and diplomats to end them. On one hand we hear of wealth being destroyed because there is no immediate market for its sale, and of resources being lavished on moon flights. On the other we know that one half of the world’s people goes to bed hungry each night. Even in those countries which are under no present threat of war or starvation the people are oppressed by a constant grind of poverty; harassed by insecurity, by bad housing, by the ever-increasing pace and intensity of exploitation.

Plans and promises
In the United States, for example, which claims to be the most advanced of all capitalist states, there is desperate want and the running sores of ghetto life inevitably produce a crime rate which is mounting as fast as any rocket to the moon. In Russia, which claims to have undergone a revolution for Socialism, we know that there is a massive and oppressive police machine bolstering the position of a privileged class and a mighty military organisation which has it in its powers to wipe out much of civilised life on the earth.

Wherever we look, we see politicians of all parties struggling in the toils of their own impotence in face of the anarchy and conflicts of capitalism. When a party is out of power it produces a mass of plans and promises, all of them professing to lead to the solution of the problems of a country, if not indeed of the world. But if that same party wins power it is a different story. The plans are seen as puny flutterings against the almighty power of capitalism’s innate disorder, the promises exposed as meaningless mouthings designed to nurture ignorance and capture votes.

We have seen this happen in America, where the working class have turned, in revulsion at the enduring monuments of corruption and dispute left by the Johnson administration, to the Republicans — whose reputation for honesty and for keeping their promises is no better than that of the Democrats. We have seen it in Britain, where the latest experiment in Labour government bids fair to outdo all its predecessors for cynicism and disaster.

We are seeing this all over the world today and we have seen it many times, in many places, before. The lesson is clear. Reformism is reactionary and futile. Revolution alone provides the answer to society’s ailments. Only a revolutionary party can point the way to a freer, saner, more abundant society.

What, then, is a revolutionary to do? The first essential is that he should be aware; he must sharpen, and keep sharp, his revolutionary knowledge and conceptions of society. He must clearly understand that the problems of capitalism spring directly from the system’s basis and can be eliminated only by fundamentally changing that basis — in other words by ending capitalism and replacing it with Socialism. The revolutionary must aim, without wavering or compromise, at this fundamental social change. He must not opt for anything less than Socialism, nor accept any postponement of the revolution in favour of tinkering with capitalism now. His watchword must always be — Revolution, not reform.

Talents united
Next, the revolutionary must be organised. By himself he can do valuable work propagating the case for Socialism but in unity with other socialists his strength is disproportionately increased. his voice more powerful, the resources at his command more extensive. An organisation can hold propaganda meetings, prepare and publish literature, publicise the case for Socialism. It can unite many talents and experiences under a single banner and use them to maximum effect. It can perform the vital task of tangibly proclaim ing the existence of the revolutionary idea, the idea that there is a lasting alternative to the bestiality and degradation of capitalism.

But even more important, an organisation can aim at something beyond the scope of any individual, no matter how fervent and determined he may be. An organisation can be the political weapon which a socialist working class will wield to take power to refashion society in the interests of the entire human race.

The road to Socialism is political; if the working class aim at less than political power — if they aim at industrial takeover or armed insurrection or sabotage — then they will provoke the might of the capitalist state. That might must be controlled and this can be done only by taking away the capitalists’ political power. For this, socialists must be united in political organisation.

But of course it is not simply one nation’s state machine we must aim at. Socialism is worldwide, which means that the socialist party must be international. At present we exist in an organised fashion in Austria, America, Australasia, Great Britain and there are other groups of socialists in the West Indies, Scandinavia. and so on. We are all linked by our common political consciousness and our determination to work for the revolution. The international socialist parties can, by their exchange of ideas and experiences, continually confirm that the malaises of capitalism are international and cannot be cured in one country, or as long as the system lasts.

Workers of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our chains — and we have a world to win!

Man: Ape in Wolf’s Clothing? (1969)

Book Reviews from the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris. (Corgi, 5s.)
Violence, Monkeys and Man, by Claire and W. M. S. Russell. (Macmillan, 63s.)
Man and Monkey, by Leonard Williams. (Panther, 8s. 6d.)

Perhaps the most famous of scientific frauds was the fake Piltdown Skull of 1910, a “missing link” fabricated by a person unknown. That anonymous joker put together an ape’s jaw with a human skull. Desmond Morris has grafted the most ignorant fairy tales about human society onto a body of basically sound ideas about human biological evolution. The Naked Ape is a barefaced hoax.

As a gimmick, Morris pretends to describe the human animal just as it would be pictured by a zoologist if it were a newly-discovered species. “Naked ape” is a clinical term (like “black-footed squirrel”) which is supposed to denote men’s most noticeable characteristics: their lack of fur. But evidently, Morris has become a rich man because to millions of his readers, nudity is a novelty. It should be obvious that the most important thing about human animals is not that they are naked, but that they are clothed. In other words, they produce what they consume; they turn the artificial into the necessary, and (like Morris) sometimes confuse it with the natural.

His book is a hymn of praise to modern capitalism. All the current practices, preoccupations, superstitions, myths and manners are, according to Morris, highly admirable. Furthermore, they are natural because they stem from man’s past as a wolf-like, monogamous, predatory killer. Frequently this approach becomes so manifestly silly that we are tempted to suspect the author of perpetrating a spoof, a sarcastic attack on the ludicrous legends of human nature:
One of the essential features of the hunt is that it is a tremendous gamble and so it is not surprising that gambling, in the many stylised forms it takes today, should have such a strong appeal for us.
We can safely wager that not one of the fish-eyed zombies who stand for hours in front of a fruit machine has yet thought of defending his addiction with the excuse that it stems from the bloodthirsty excitement of his prehistoric past. Derision is the only intelligent response to this sort of foolishness, yet Morris seems to be serious. Anyone with a smattering of education knows that societies have changed historically, and that customs vary geographically. But according to Morris, only capitalist man is truly human:
The earlier anthropologists rushed of to all kinds of unlikely corners of the world in order to unravel the basic truth about our nature, scattering to remote cultural backwaters so atypical and unsuccessful that they are nearly extinct.  They then returned with startling facts about the bizarre mating customs, strange kinship systems, or weird ritual procedures of these tribes, and used this material as though it were of central importance to the behaviour of our species as a whole. The work done by these investigators was, of course, extremely interesting and most valuable in showing what can happen when a group of naked apes become sidetracked into a cultural blind alley. It revealed just how far from the normal our behaviour patterns can stray without a complete social collapse. What it did not tell us was anything about the typical behaviour of typical naked apes. This can only be done by examining the common behaviour patterns that are shared by all the ordinary, successful members of the major cultures – the mainstream specimens who together represent the vast majority.  Biologically this is the only sound approach.
In other words, don’t talk to me about filthy savages. Of course, biology has nothing to do with it. There is no evidence that different cultures are due to different biological endowments, and plenty of conclusive evidence against this. People from “all kinds of unlikely corners of the world” have been educated to be perfectly competent under advanced capitalism. Sometimes, even, the more backward the better: as in many parts of Africa, where people from stateless societies (such as the Ibo) have caught on to capitalist values much quicker than people from near-feudal societies at a more advanced stage of social evolution. For that matter, it is common knowledge that the peoples in the most advanced societies today (the Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, Russians, etc.) were for thousands of years scattered in “remote cultural backwaters” while highly successful empires sprouted in what are now wretched deserts. Morris would be very contemptuous about the “bizarre mating customs, strange kinship systems, or weird ritual procedures” of his European ancestors of 2000 years ago.

Tightly blinkered
Not that he is a racist. His point is that “the characteristics that the earlier anthropologists studied in these tribes may well be the very features that have interfered with the progress of the groups concerned”. But to say this is to gloss over the weak point in his argument. If the development of civilisation has been social and not biological, then why stop the clock at one point in time and say that this particular stage of society corresponds to an inborn pattern? Is it not clear, instead, that man is capable of a very wide range of cultural behaviour, and that the modern set of conventions in marriage and politics is just one of many, all equally compatible with any of man’s inborn characteristics?

Not to Morris. He constantly refers to his society as “mainstream”, “healthy”, “go-ahead”, “natural”, and “typical”. His reasons for this judgement are mainly two: that capitalism has the biggest population, and that “the naked ape is essentially an exploratory species.” Morris is thus a typical example of an individual tightly blinkered by the capitalist system, inside which he has been brought up. It never occurs to him that his own value judgement in placing a massive population and an exploratory drive above all other considerations is itself a result of social conditioning.  It would seem to him extremely “bizarre”, “strange”, “weird”, and “typical” to judge a society by (for instance) whether its population is happy, or whether its exploratory drives are harnessed to the satisfaction of human needs. He cannot avoid recognising the danger of capitalist war:
We are, to put it mildly, in a mess, and there is a strong chance that we shall have exterminated ourselves by the end of the century.
And, as one whose mind is open to every myth and delusion in popular circulation, Morris believes that there is a danger of world “overpopulation”, so it might seem surprising that he should consider a large population the primary badge of success.  But he has an answer for this:
It looks very much as though, during the next century or so, we are going to have to change our sexual ways at last.  But if we do, it will not be because they failed, but because they succeeded too well.
Therefore, although the 20th-century predator is a marvelous piece of work (Morris claims his approach isn’t a moral one, but his strong approval shines through every page), the writer can have it both ways. We are a tremendous success because of our animal nature; our colossal failure is due to our animal nature. He has further room for manoeuvre in man’s twofold origin: that of a vegetarian primate which descended from the trees and became a hunter. Anything which cannot be “explained” by man’s predatory nature can of course be quietly slotted into his primate nature. Morris’s strategy is to assume that all modern man’s behaviour is caused by his “nature”, then to look into the current theories of man’s evolutionary origins for the most plausible tie-ups with his present-day activities. Naturally they can easily be found, and this approach then becomes circular, “proving” itself. Since Morris is quite good on biology, his obvious expertise in this field seems to give his elfin portrayal of society some authority. It is a widespread superstition that an expert in one field carries some weight in all fields, and Dr. Morris has exploited this to the full. Latter-day Original Sin merchant Robert Ardrey was overjoyed to find some apparently scientific support for his utterly discredited “Man the Killer” fantasies, and commented on The Naked Ape: “This spectacular book by a master scientist is what every naked ape has been waiting for.”

Dislike of facts
Actually Morris is more than just a specialist who imagines the universe is part of his speciality. He, along with Ardrey and Lorenz, is part of a very definite “backlash” against social science. The problem is that modern sociology and social anthropology, even though sponsored by the capitalist state, have proved up to the hilt what socialists have long insisted: that man’s most sacred institutions are not the product of his nature, but of his changing social environment. There is a very powerful and widespread dislike of this well-substantiated (and rather elementary) fact, which manifests itself in a strong appetite for the output of anyone who can undertake to “prove” the opposite.  Anthony Storr wrote in the Sunday Times recently:
"One quite certain principle of sociology is that very little, if any, human behaviour is inherited”. This extraordinary statement must arise from the idea that man is perfectible by altering his social institutions: a delusion to which only very old-fashioned Communists can now subscribe. We know very little about the fundamental patterns of human behaviour, but we know enough to be sure that man is not infinitely adaptable, and that we neglect biological factors at our peril.
This passage bristles with interesting details: Storr’s coy recognition of the apologetic political function his views serve, the meaningless but ominous-sounding “neglect biological factors at our peril”, the casual admission that “very little” is known about the subject of his heated denunciation, the unjustified use of the alarm-word “extraordinary”, and amid this wordy dust-storm, the one definite statement: that man is not “infinitely adaptable”, which no-one ever suggested.

Actions learned
At the risk of labouring the obvious, let us point out that all of man’s behaviour results from a combination of environmental and genetic factors; that man is the most adaptable of all animals all his deliberate actions are learned; that historically and geographically societies have varied very greatly in their systems of marriage, leadership (if any), property, religion (if any), and status, and that these diversities are not due to genetic differences; that to call any of these systems innate is exactly as ridiculous as to say that the grammar of the English language is innate.

The very fact that the whole human species has spent a very brief period of time (a few centuries) in Morris’s “mainstream”, while it spent the vast majority of its career (many tens of thousands of years) much closer to his “remote cultural backwaters”, should dispel any notion that capitalism’s conventions are inborn. But on one point we agree with Morris. Capitalism is the most advanced system the world has ever seen. For our part, however, this not a moral judgement.  On the contrary, capitalism appeared upon the scene drenched in blood from head to foot; it sent its hideous scourges, Jesus and VD, into all “remote cultural backwaters”, as the advance guard of murder, pillage, and profit. Under capitalism, genocide has become commonplace; misery the very air we breathe.

But when we say that capitalism is the most advanced social system, we mean that its potential for satisfying human needs is greater than that of any previous order.  Capitalism is still a tremendously dynamic society, a society of unparalleled achievement, but of unparalleled waste and destruction also. Only Socialism can put the “exploratory urge” of capitalism to the service of human happiness.

The Naked Ape does contain some well-established facts, and some reasonable speculations (though even the zoological data cannot be entirely relied upon. Some of Morris’s sweeping generalisations about sex in non-human primates are falsified by Leonard Williams’ observations of woolly monkeys). Furthermore, even in 1969, many workers still have a religious, sentimental view of man, refusing to believe that everything about human beings can be explained scientifically. The book may therefore do a good job here, in stripping away mystery and confusion.

Monkey myths
The Russells' volume explains itself at the outset:
First, we have tried to show that violence is not the result of an innate propensity to aggression irrespective of conditions, but a response to stress in societies. Second, we suggest that violence is part of a complex of responses evolved to achieve drastic reduction of a population that is in danger of outgrowing its resources.
Here we have the familiar Malthusian view of human violence, linked up with observations of the behaviour of overcrowded captive monkeys. The main error is the confusion of overpopulation with overcrowding. In the world today there is plenty of overcrowding but no overpopulation: the general trend is the depopulation of some areas, together with the cramming of large masses of people into gigantic cities. There is plenty of room in the world.

Overcrowding does place terrible strains on workers, leading to outbursts of violence, but these must be seen in association with all the other oppressive features of life inside capitalism.

Interesting is the summary of research into monkey violence. In 1932 Zuckerman published The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes, based on observations of baboons in Regent’s Park:
The notion of violent aggressiveness as an inherent quality of monkeys (or at least of baboons) was impressed upon a generation of scientists. By the fifties, when the crime returns from the affluent societies began to hit the headlines. the apparent results of Zuckerman’s work may well have influenced a wider public, and helped to bring about the resurgence of the unconditional view of aggression. Alike in monkeys and man, it seemed, the improvement of living conditions is no guarantee against violence; aggressiveness is human nature, monkey nature, a fact of nature in the most fundamental sense.
Only in recent years have researchers begun to study apes and monkeys in the wild, though they have done so with their heads full of prevailing capitalist myths about “human nature” and hence “monkey nature”. These scientists have been astonished at the peaceable behaviour of wild monkeys, and at first tried to write it off as exceptional or “unusual”, but they have finally had to face the unpalatable fact that healthy monkeys and apes in the wild hardly ever fight.

The author’s conclusion is that “all monkeys are peaceful in some conditions, and violently aggressive in others. Violence is a property of mammalian societies exposed to stress.” They apply this to human beings, and refute the theory (held by Morris) that man’s nature has been predominantly moulded bya wolf-like hunting experience. For by far the greater part of the evolution of man’s ancestors, after they came down from the trees, it would be truer to term them “scavengers” rather than “hunters”. In any case, adaptation to a hunting life would not necessarily make any creatures more aggressive within their own society,

Man and Monkey is a strange book: an idiosyncratic account of the author’s relations with woolly monkeys, combined with a theory of history and society which is a mish-mash of undigested bits of Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, Lorenz and, yes, Marx. Here we see again the naked ape syndrome, of mixing up half-baked, gossipy opinions with hard facts, in the hope that the latter will add some conviction to the former. A couple of samples: “We are all agreed that the fate of humanity depends on whether the strength of morality can cope with the instinctive drives of man.”  “History shows that aggressive races possessed more initiative and energy than their passive neighbours.” Williams generally does reach opposite conclusions to those of Morris: he finds modern life profoundly unnatural.

One very clear conclusion from both Violence, Monkeys and Man and Man and Monkey is the horribly cruel treatment of our cousins the apes and monkeys, both in zoos and in the pet trade, in the interests of profit.

Human Nature and Human Behaviour (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

“What about human nature?” is a common reaction among those hearing the case for Socialism for the first time. To a certain extent, no doubt, this reflects a healthy scepticism amongst ordinary people towards so revolutionary a new idea. But there is more to the human nature argument than this. Behind it is a clever but false theory touching on the subjects of biology, anthropology, and sociology.

Because man is lazy and greedy and aggressive, runs the human nature objection, he could not live in a society where work was voluntary or where there was free access to wealth. If work were voluntary, nobody would do it; if goods were freely available, there would be a free-for-all as people fought each other to grab as much as they could.

Let us be clear about what this says: that certain patterns of behaviour are innate and are inherited from genera­tion to generation by all human beings.

Highly adaptable
What evidence has been brought forward in favour of this view? Only the way men actually behave in present-day and in many previous societies. It is true that men sometimes are lazy or aggressive, but this is not in itself strong enough evidence for concluding that this is because they are born that way. Because, if this were so, all men would exhibit these characteristics at all times in all societies.

Since this is what the human nature argument asserts, it is sufficient to disprove it to produce examples of men behaving in a hard-working or a friendly way. This is easy. At times most human beings will feel lazy; at others they will undertake extremely hard work because they enjoy it. At times they will be aggressive, but at others friendly and helpful to their fellow human beings. The fact is that everyday experience of life today disproves the human nature argument.

So does the evidence of the past. There are traveller’s tales going back to ancient times of human communities based on common property with equal or fair sharing of what little there was to go round. Witnesses have testified to the consistently friendly and co-operative behaviour of the members of these communities. Anthropologists studying present-day survivals of primitive social systems — like the Eskimos, the Bushmen of South West Africa, or the aborigines of Australia — confirm this. In fact all the evidence amassed on human society and human behaviour suggests no rigid or consistent pattern. Quite the reverse. It points to man being a highly adaptable animal who can survive in and adjust to an immense variety of different circumstances.

So we can list the evidence against the human nature objection to Socialism:
  • That there have been societies based on voluntary work and free co-operation.
  • That some work today, for example the dangerous work of manning lifeboats, is done voluntarily.
  • That there have been societies where there has been free access to some of the necessities of life.
  • That those things, such as water from a public drinking tap, that are more or less freely available today are not grabbed or hoarded.

What is more, there is no evidence from genetics, the branch of biology concerned with heredity, that complicated behaviour patterns like being greedy can be inherited. The mechanism by which certain characteristics are inherited is now fairly well known. The sort of characteristics that are inherited are those governing the physical make-up of man. Since the brain is part of the human body this too is inherited, but ideas and complicated patterns of behaviour are not transmitted along with the brain. Each normal human being will inherit a brain that can be trained to think abstractly just as he inherits hands that can be trained to use tools and make things or a voice that can be trained to speak and sing.

A picture of man’s real nature is now emerging. What man inherits are certain physical features and certain capacities. The physical make-up of man merely defines the limits of what he can do, but within those limits man can learn to do anything. We have now come again to the conclusion that man is an immensely versatile animal who can learn to live in many different circumstances.

So, from the points of view of both sociology and biology, man is an adaptable animal. Behaviour patterns like aggression are not inherited but learned as are behaviour patterns like friendliness. Man can be and is both aggressive and friendly; it depends on social circumstances, not on his biological make-up.

The anthropologist Ashley Montagu’s book The Bio-Social Nature of Man well sums up that man is part of nature (biology) but that he develops only it and through society. That man is by nature a social animal, in the sense of developing his capacities only through society, is an important point.

What distinguishes human beings from other animals are such features as the ability to think abstractly and the ability to use and make tools. All these thought, speech, and tool-making — are linked. All of them could have developed only through society. It was probably through working to satisfy his basic needs that pre man developed his brain and his hands and so became man or homo sapiens. Indeed, the basis of al human activity and thought is the way men organise themselves to satisfy such needs as food, clothing and shelter. Human society develops, and human behaviour changes, as the methods men employ to produce wealth develop. Since it is men themselves who change and improve the technical methods and the social organisation of production, we can say, as in the title of another book by the archaeologist V. Gordon Childe, that Man Makes Himself. Man changes himself by changing the environment in which he lives. Such too will be the change from capitalism to Socialism This will be the product of conscious human activity; in changing their environment from class to common property men will at the same time be changing the way they behave or, if you like, changing themselves.

There is nothing in the make-up of men that would prevent their freely working together and then freely taking from the common store what they need.

The human nature argument thus out to be, frankly, nonsense. But it is not only false. It is also part of the ideology by which class society and its coercive state machine are justified. Recall what the argument says — that man is lazy, that he is greedy and aggressive— and think what it would mean if it were true.

If men are lazy and will produce wealth only when they are forced to, then if human society is to continue, some men must be in a position to force the rest to work. Thus it is natural that human society be divided into rulers and ruled.

If men are greedy then they must be denied free access to the fruits of their labour and allowed only so much as will keep them working. Again, it is natural that society be based on private property and divided into exploiters and exploited.

If men are aggressive then they must be restrained, if human society is not to break up amid chaos. There must be a public power of coercion in the hands of a ruling minority. Thus the state machine and government over people also are natural.

What a convenient theory! Class society, exploitation, and oppression justified as natural! Of course this is no accident. The human nature argument is a ruling-class idea. As long as people believe that Socialism is impossible and that only class and property society is practical the ruling class is safe. Marx pointed out that in a non-revolutionary period the ruling ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class. The human nature argument is so widespread today because it is a ruling class idea in a pre-revolutionary period.

“Forward” and the National Government (1940)

From the December 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that Mr. Ernest Bevin, the T.U.C. leader, is a valued and trusted member of the inner War Cabinet of the British Government, Mr. Emrys Hughes has grave misgivings whether he will be able to look after the interests of the working class.

"As recently as March this year,” writes Mr. Hughes in Forward (October 12th, 1940), "Mr. Bevin warned the working class . . . . ‘ that the whole tendency is to create a situation which will enable the ruling class to use this war as a means of thrusting us back to a form of industrial slavery . . . It is essential that the workers should be alive to what is going on . . .  If the bankers and financiers are allowed to have their way and secure control of the country through this Government . . .  then we shall find ourselves shackled.' ”

Apparently Mr. Hughes has no objection to the leaders of the working class taking office in a capitalist government. That which really gives rise to his misgivings is the belief that if it was Mr. Bevin’s intention to safeguard the interests of the working class by entering the cabinet, his efforts are in grave danger of being frustrated.

He draws attention to the fact that all the big capitalist papers welcomed the inclusion of the transport workers’ leader in the cabinet, but points out that as Mr. Bevin represents the T.U.C., the real reason for the welcome is because the Government require him for the purpose of mobilising, placating, and assuring the workers that “this is their war.”

Mr. Hughes laments that the Government appear to have made certain that Mr. Bevin’s power will be restricted to the aforementioned tasks.

Whilst we do not disagree with him on the reasons for Mr. Bevin’s inclusion in the cabinet, we have always rejected the view that it is possible for working-class interests to be served by entry into a capitalist government. Further, we are very critical of what Mr. Hughes thinks are working-class interests and which he thinks merits the attention of the Labour cabinet minister. We will return to the latter point.

What Mr. Hughes seems to forget is the fact that Mr. Bevin entered the cabinet by the grace of the capitalist parties, and with the approval of the bulk of the Labour movement. The latter, it is important to remember, supports the war wholeheartedly.

Therefore it is hardly surprising that his function in the Government is the one which is likely to prove of tremendous importance in the “ Drive for Victory."

All the same it is not difficult to understand the perturbation of Mr. Hughes at the prospect that what he regards as vital working-class interests may be neglected even by a government which includes leaders of the working class.

But he is perhaps unaware that when the war machine is on the move, victory is of paramount importance to the capitalist class, and matters which tend to distract attention from that object are pushed aside.

Now let us consider some of the things which Mr. Hughes believes vitally affect the well-being of the working class, and deserving of special attention by the Government through the medium of Mr. Bevin.

In another article in Forward, (November 2nd, 1940), he states that the perorations of Mr. Bevin are “splendid" and “thrilling," but complains that it is high time that “the oratory crystallised into concrete ideas: into a programme of social and industrial reconstruction for Britain and Europe and the world." He also wants to know a little more about the Minister of Labour's plan for “freeing the world from Nazism and tyranny."

And he appears desperately anxious about the recovery of the coal markets of France, Scandinavia and Italy, “after we have gained the victory over Germany and destroyed Hitler and the Nazi regime." An anxiety which doubtless is shared by the colliery owners, too!

“If there is no plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe so that we can sell Europe goods, then we will inevitably return to the old problems of unemployment, and perhaps even on a greater scale." A business man could hardly show more concern for the future of trade than this.

It is clear that he is concerned with problems likely to arise out of the continuation of Capitalism, i.e., the loss of markets, trade, etc. And it is equally clear that he has no conception whatever of the real problem which faces the working class NOW as well as in post-war years—the abolition of a system that gives rise to Hitlers, Nazism, war, unemployment and the countless other miseries which afflict the working class.

He goes on to deplore “that if Europe is smashed, ruined, bankrupt . . .  agriculture disorganised . . . the industrial workers will not have the purchasing power to buy the food that the farmers can produce."

It is evident from this that despite the obvious concern for the welfare of the workers, he cannot visualise any solution to their miseries excepting in terms of the wages system (his reference to “purchasing power" and the “buying of food"), which system forms the basis of capitalist society. And yet Mr. Hughes regards himself as a Socialist!

Possessed of such conceptions it is hardly to be wondered at that he then proceeds to outline a “ ten or twenty year" PLAN for the rebuilding of Europe, which he thinks merits the attention of the Government through the medium of Mr. Bevin.

Each country is allotted a special role in the production of “ food and goods for all.” Mr. Laski, Mr. Keynes, and Sir John Orr are suggested as the “brains" which could work out the details in order that the plan could be submitted to the world as part of the Peace Aims of the British Government.

In passing we might suggest that a ten or even a twenty year plan will hardly suffice for the “reconstruction" of Europe if the R.A.F., the Luftwaffe, and the Regia Aeronautica continue at their present tempo!

Meanwhile Mr. Bevin doesn’t appear to be much interested in detailed plans for post-war reconstruction, but seems bent on enlarging the scope for Mr. Hughes' flair for planning. Speaking to Midland factory workers on November 4th, 1940, Mr. Bevin is reported to have said: —
   In another six months we shall have passed Germany in aircraft, ships, and guns, and I venture to prophesy that immediately we have done that, the world will move forward to a peaceful time of reconstruction, the wiping away of privilege and the growth of knowledge.—(Daily Telegraph, November 5th, 1940.)
It isn't ten or twenty year plans for the reconstruction of capitalist “civilisation” that the workers need, still less the "declaration of the Government’s War Aims and its Peace Aims" as Mr. Hughes thinks. The workers require an understanding of their class position and all that that implies.

Socialist knowledge alone will ensure this understanding, and once acquiring it the working class will have no need of the “planners" and the so-called experts to point the way to their salvation. The road will be plainly marked—to the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of international Socialism.
H. G. Holt

The People’s Convention (1940)

From the December 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party, through the Daily Worker, are giving great publicity to a so-called People’s Convention which is to meet on January 12th, 1941, and will inaugurate a campaign for a People’s Government. The following six-point programme is the basis of the movement between now and the holding of the Convention: —
  1. Defence of the people’s living standards.
  2. Defence of the peoples democratic and trade union rights.
  3. Adequate air raid precautions, deep bomb-proof shelters, rehousing and relief of victims.
  4. Friendship with the Soviet Union.
  5. A People’s Government, truly representative of the whole people and able to inspire the confidence of the working people of the world.
  6. A people’s peace that gets rid of the causes of war.

Among the signatories are, naturally, leading members of the Communist Party, including Mr. Harry Pollitt, Mr. R. Palme Dutt, and Mr. William Gallacher, M.P. Others are trade union officials, present or past members of the Labour Party, officials of the Co-operative movement, etc.

It will be noticed at once that the programme is mostly phrased in general terms, about the only specific item being “deep bomb-proof shelters.” All of the others are items that every member of the present Government could and would support. They declare every day that they are anxious to defend the people’s living standards the war being waged for that purpose and with the aim of securing a “people’s peace that gets rid of the causes of war.”

It is therefore obvious that proclaiming vague aims like these six points tells us nothing. What we want to know is the meaning placed on them and the means by which they are to be attained. In the meantime the signatories, who day by day explain in the Daily Worker why they support the Convention, each give their own interpretation. One sees in it "the destruction of Fascism,” another wants “the conscription of wealth,” another sees in the Convention the means of making the transport industry efficient. Others want no more “appeasement” in foreign policy, action to deal with rising prices, and bigger old-age pensions. The one thing they all agree about is, in the words of Mr. Pritt, K.C., that the movement "is winning the support of people of various parties and of no party at all ” (Daily Worker, October 21st, 1940).

The Trades Union Congress is opposed to the movement on the ground that it is a new Communist Party manoeuvre and that its people’s government is to be one “in which apparently neither the trade unions nor the Labour Party had any part ” (Manchester Guardian, November 18th, 1940).

Incompatible Aims
It will be seen that this "new movement” has not been unwilling to use the familiar old method by which other reformist bodies like the Labour Party and I.L.P. were built up. By drafting its aims in terms which are capable of various interpretations and will cover all kinds of piecemeal demands for reform, the movement hopes to bring together numerous small bodies of discontented people and thus give the appearance of a great united body, driving towards one common aim. Mr. D. N Pritt, K.C., one of the signatories, has promptly made such a claim. He declared in a speech at Newcastle (Manchester Guardian, November 18th, 1940) that "the aim of the People’s Convention was a working-class government pledged to establish a Socialist State and which would eliminate the causes of war.” In spite of Mr. Pritt’s belief there is nothing whatever in the six points committing those who support it to the establishment of Socialism.

Other criticisms present themselves. The movement is to seek the overthrow of Fascism, and also friendship with the Soviet Union which is closely bound in friendship to Nazi Germany!

The movement wants to overthrow the present Government, including its Labour Party members, and is already at loggerheads with the T.U.C. Yet the T.U.C. and Labour Party have declared themselves to be wholeheartedly in favour of all the points.

And what is to be the composition of a “people’s government, truly representative of the whole people”? No names are given, but early in 1939, when the Communist Party was likewise demanding a truly representative cabinet, the three names they mentioned were Winston Churchill, Attlee and Sir A. Sinclair. All three are now in the Government.

What about war? For the first month or so after the war broke out, the Communist Party, in line with its pre-war policy, was proclaiming the necessity of waging war on Germany as the only means of safeguarding democracy and the workers' standard of living.

An Echo of 1917
The new People’s Convention is, of course, an echo—and a faint echo at that—of something which took place on June 3rd, 1917—the so-called Leeds Convention. A similar Convention, called by the same type of person and organisation, met to form workers' and soldiers’ councils, and to "hail the Russian Revolution and organise the British democracy.” It was to begin “a new era of democratic power in Great Britain.” It passed flamboyant resolutions, proclaimed the beginning of a great movement which would sweep away the Government and the war, and after frightening a number of Tories who took it seriously, it just faded out. Historians of the period now barely mention it, and Mr. G. D. H. Cole, although he claims that it set the anti-war movement definitely on foot, has to add "though many of those who took part in it had no really revolutionary intention.” (“A Short History of the British Working-Class Movement,” Vol. Ill, Page 123.) Looking back, and recalling that among the prime movers of the Leeds Convention of 1917 were Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and H. Alexander, it will not be difficult to understand why the Convention counted for nothing and gave no help to the movement towards Socialism.

The present movement is, of course, an admission that the Communist Party recognises its utter failure to catch the support of “people of various parties and of no party at all” for its own programme, just as the Leeds Convention was a sign of the failure of the MacDonald I.L.P. group to do so in 1917.

The only noticeable difference is that the demands made by the Leeds group in 1917 were far too bold in appearance to suit the organisers of the present movement, so the revival of the political "co-optimists” is on a much censored and toned-down programme. Thus do the “left- wing” groups reach ever lower levels, so that MacDonald-Snowden, low as their political understanding was, appear to tower by comparison with Pollitt and Gallacher.
 Edgar Hardcastle

Why Not Socialism? (1940)

From the December 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Question to Mr. Bevin
Although he is not leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour and National Service, has attracted much attention by his statements on the kind of country this is going to be after the war if the Labour Party has its way. Because of his position in the trade union world, and because of the reasoned nature of his statements, it is safe to assume that what he says reflects clearly enough the mind of those who control the Labour Party. What he says now will when the war is over be translated into the programme of his Party.

People who have listened to his speeches, and large numbers of workers who judge by brief newspaper reports and radio broadcasts, claim to be impressed. “Here,” they say, “is a man who means business. We can trust him to do what is needed to put the world to rights after the war.” What, then, is the Socialist view? Invariably sceptical about the promises of politicians, are we really entitled to be sceptical about Mr. Bevin? To answer the question let us look closely at what Mr. Bevin has in mind. He started well. In a speech at Bristol on October 26th he spoke as follows : —
   . . . We have a right to claim that the society which is established at the end shall be based upon the broadest possible basis, and privilege that we have known hitherto entirely disappears into the common pool. ( Manchester Guardian, October 28th.)
Taken literally that statement could only mean that the post-war society is to be Socialism; especially as Mr. Bevin went on to recognise that “ the problem is not limited to the boundaries of one nation.”

In a later speech at the Rotary Club of London on November 20th (Manchester Guardian, November 21st) he dealt again with this question.

  I think the time has come when we should not be led into the mistakes we made in the last war of merely indulging in high-flown platitudes about “homes for heroes” and things of that kind simply to stimulate the people. Now is the time when thoughtful people ought to be considering the real social implications of the war.
He went on to say that "security cannot be attained by arms. It can only be attained by the enthronement of power with the people,” and he suggested “that at the end of this war, and indeed during the war, we accept social security as the main motive of all our national life.” He denied the possibility of having social security “on the basis of the present economic order,” and said that “if profit can be the only motive then the natural corollary is economic disorder, and that will bring you back to the same position as you are in now, ever recurring.”

Then, after having done so well, Mr. Bevin proceeded to repudiate the logic of his own case, by adding one short but all-important statement: —
   That does not mean that all profits or surpluses would be wiped out . . .
So where are we? Back, of course, with all the long line of well-meaning people who have hoped to cure the evils of capitalism without abolishing it.

It cannot be done. And Socialists who predicted with absolute certainty that the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 would of necessity fail, predict equally certainly that if Mr. Bevin’s party now tries to do this they will fail again.

As Socialists we are entitled to put a question to Mr. Bevin and those who share his views. Knowing the evils of Capitalism, and the source from which they flow—the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and the production of goods for sale and profit instead of solely for use—will Mr. Bevin tell us why he wants (or thinks it necessary) to stand for the retention, even in restricted form, of the capitalist system? Something else in his speech indicates what his answer would be, for he went on to say that he is horrified at the prospect of “a blind revolution of starving men” (he added that he doesn’t mind revolutions “if they are well directed ”). Socialists want Socialism, and that will be a “well-directed” revolution. It will be directed by a Socialist working class. It is and will remain impossible until such time as there are Socialists in sufficient number, politically organised for their task. So, like Mr. Bevin, we recognise that Socialism is at the moment impossible, for those conditions are not fulfilled.

But whereas we recognise the fact and urge the workers everywhere to recognise the fact, Mr. Bevin thinks to walk round it by allowing the profit system to remain, but appealing to the humanity or fear of the propertied class to exact substantial concessions from them in the direction of greater "social security." Mr. Bevin is living in a fool’s paradise. As soon as their crisis has passed the capitalist class will forget their fears and will want to get on with the business of Capitalism. They will not have the desire to limit Capitalism, much less rob it of its power by providing real “social security” for the workers. The workers have to carry out the task themselves, and the need of the day is to win over the workers to Socialism. Well-meant endeavours to find short and easy roads, or to provide half-way solutions cannot succeed and do not help the Socialist movement.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: The Black Hole of Calcutta (1993)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Indian scene, in normal times, is a picture of a vast mass of humanity living in the grip of abysmal poverty. Utter destitution resulting in a prolonged death through starvation, or a quicker death through mal-nutritional diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid, is the lot of Indian workers and peasants. What then must be their lot when the price of the food they require for a bare existence soars far and away above their means? What can they do but wait for death to claim them, their bony hands held out imploringly for food, on the pavements of the second largest and one of the “most prosperous” cities in the British Empire! In other parts of the same empire the granaries of Australia and Canada are full to overflowing with the wheat that would bring succour to those in need. The problem, however, according to Mr. Amery (Secretary for India), speaking in the House of Commons, October 12, 1943, was “entirely one of shipping, and has to be judged in the light of all the other urgent needs of the Allied Nations.” Yet the Allied Nations are producing ships faster than they have ever been produced before in the history of mankind, and the USA is able to boast of a production of 15,000 naval ships of all dimensions in the past three years. Well might the reader at this point exclaim, “This is madness!”

No, reader, this is not madness – simply another example of the ever present anarchy in CAPITALISM, the economic system of society that holds the world enslaved.
[From an article by "N.S." in the Socialist Standard, December 1943.]

Sunday, November 18, 2018

‘Fairness and Simplicity’: Who Benefits from Universal Credit? (2018)

From the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
An account of how it works from someone who has been on this ‘benefit’.
When Iain Duncan Smith, as the Work and Pensions Secretary, announced in 2010 that Universal Credit would replace six welfare benefits, he said that this would ‘restore fairness and simplicity’ to the system. Nearly eight years on, few would agree that Universal Credit has been either fair or simple.

One aspect of Universal Credit which has been anything but simple is its introduction since pilot schemes began in the North West during 2013. Then, it was expected that the new benefit would be fully implemented by 2017, a target which has since been put back five years. Given the problems many people have experienced claiming Universal Credit, it’s probably a relief to others that the rollout has been delayed. The benefit is being introduced in stages, going by postcode area. By the end of this year, in every area, new claimants or existing claimants of other benefits with a change in circumstances will have to apply for Universal Credit. Then, it’s planned that all remaining people receiving the benefits being replaced (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits) will be transferred over by 2022, unless there are any further setbacks. The number of people already claiming Universal Credit was 700,000 as of 14 December 2017, a rise of 6 percent on the previous month.

One of the main stated goals of Universal Credit is to encourage its claimants to find jobs. In December 2015, the government boasted that ‘Universal Credit claimants are eight percentage points more likely to have been employed in the first nine months of their claim – 71% for Universal Credit versus 63% for Jobseeker’s Allowance’ . Amazingly, another of its aims is to heal the sick. When it was first announced, the then Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling said he hoped it would get at least half of the 2.5 million people claiming sickness benefits back into employment. But before Universal Credit can work its magic on someone, they first need to set up a claim.

The state prefers people to make their claim online, which immediately makes the process far from simple for those who lack computer skills or easy access to the internet. After entering your details on the government website, the system requires your ID to be verified by another organisation. This involves photographing your ID and yourself (face-on and in profile) and uploading the pictures to their website. This stage in the process may not be easy for any claimants without sufficient paperwork or a smartphone; the system isn’t designed to be accommodating to those most vulnerable and in need, such as homeless people. The initial online form also has sections to type in what kinds of jobs you are looking for and how you will do this, unless you have a medical condition which prevents you from working.

An appointment will be set for within a few days to attend the job centre. Then, staff make further checks of ID, and your ‘commitments’ of what you’ll do to find work are clarified. These may be ten hours a week trawling through websites, fifteen hours writing applications, two hours travelling to the job centre appointment and back, eight hours compiling a CV and so on, as long as they add up to 35 hours each week.

Waiting Days and Assessment Periods
Once your claim has been set up, the next hurdle to overcome is the delay before payments start to come through. Until February, when a new claim was made by most job seekers, no payment was given to cover the first week, a period called ‘waiting days’. However, you would still be expected to spend 35 hours looking for work during this time. No reason is given for this rule in official documents, and no reply was received to a request for an explanation. It would be easy to assume that this policy was there just to reduce costs to the state and deter people from making a claim.

When Universal Credit was designed, it was decided that the first payment would be received 42 days after making a claim, including the waiting days. In February this ‘Assessment Period’ was reduced to 35 days, still far too long to manage without being able to buy necessities. The 42 day limit was often not kept; during June 2017, for example, around one in five claimants waited even longer for their first full payment. In comparison, people claiming JSA or ESA during 2015 and 2016 had to wait a relatively easy two weeks before receiving any money.

From the beginning of the claim, it’s a requirement that claimants regularly update their online records (called the ‘journal’) with details of what has been done to look for work. The website also allows messages to be sent between the claimant and job centre, and checks that notifications about rules have been read. Weekly ‘Work Search Review’ appointments at the job centre are set, when the ‘Work Coach’ offers some guidance about ways to find employment. More importantly, they review what’s been written in the journal and decide whether sufficient effort has been made looking for work. Twice I was accused of not doing enough, just because the adviser hadn’t clicked on the box showing what had been written.

If it’s decided that not enough has been recorded, or if jobs haven’t been applied for, or if appointments have been missed, then payments can be stopped or reduced, known as a ‘sanction’. How much and how long sanctions last depend on what you’ve been judged to have failed to do and how often you’ve been sanctioned in the previous year. A sanction can last between seven days and three years, with a perplexing set of rules specifying which offence brings which punishment. For example: ‘Do all the activities you’ve agreed with your work coach. If you don’t, your payment will be reduced until the day before you do as you agreed. Once you’ve done this, your payment will be reduced for an additional 7, 14 or 28 days.’. During March 2017, 6.9 percent of claimants were having their payments reduced through being sanctioned, more than the 0.4 percent of people claiming JSA , suggesting that the new system is stricter.

The difficulties which come with Universal Credit described above are faced by claimants willing and able to look for employment. Different problems are faced by claimants with health conditions. After completing a medical questionnaire and sending in a Med 3 form (what used to be called a ‘sick note’) from the GP, they will have to undergo a ‘Work Capability Assessment’ at the job centre. This is a medical examination to judge if they are too unwell to manage a job, with the decision made by a benefits assessor overruling that of the GP who signed off the Med 3 form. Failing a Work Capability Assessment is what Chris Grayling meant when he said Universal Credit would help half of those claiming sickness benefits back into work.

When the Payment Arrives
Five or six weeks after making the claim, and if there have been no sanctions, then the first payment should arrive. A single claimant aged 25 or over receives £317.82 each month, with additional amounts paid to people with disabilities or children and to cover rent. The government says that Universal Credit provides ‘every financial incentive to stay in work, because work will pay’, a euphemism for the benefit payments being less than people need. The Minimum Income Standard website says that a single person requires £765.48 each month (excluding rent and council tax costs) for a ‘decent standard of living’, based on April 2017 prices ( government says that Universal Credit’s approach ‘enables people to take much more control over their own lives’, although it’s not explained how you can have control of your life when you can’t afford basic necessities.

A difference between Universal Credit and the benefits being replaced is that it is supposed to be paid monthly to the claimant, rather than fortnightly. Ostensibly, this is intended to prepare claimants for budgeting over a month, as most employed people do. Another difference is that this monthly payment includes the component to cover rent. Under the old housing benefit system, money for rent was usually paid directly to the landlord, which didn’t prevent arrears building up due to delays or complications with a claim, but gave more assurance to the landlord that their rent was on its way. Not all of someone’s rent may be covered by the benefit anyway, for example when a single person is living in a property judged too large for them. The consequences of all this are that some claimants have been unable to afford rent or have spent the money intended for it on other things, leading to arrears building up. In Southwark, Universal Credit claimants renting social housing were each in arrears by an average of £1,178 in the first few months of claiming. The state has back-tracked on some of its policies about the rent component, and from April it will be easier to have this paid straight to the landlord.

Many new claimants aged between 18 and 21 don’t get the rent component of Universal Credit at all. Presumably, the reasoning behind this is to deter young people from trying to find state-subsidised housing, which ignores the needs of many young adults who, whether through overcrowding or fraught family relationships, can’t or shouldn’t live with their parents.

For claimants with a mortgage rather than a rented property, there is very little assistance towards housing costs. It’s possible to receive money to cover interest on a mortgage (rather than the mortgage itself), but this is at a flat rate of 2.61 percent rather than the actual rate, and a claim needs to be in place for nine months before this is paid. The rules are even harsher from April, when any payments for mortgage interest will be a loan rather than a benefit.

Once a claimant finds employment and declares it to the job centre, Universal Credit is still paid after they start work until the first wages are received, which at least balances out the unpaid ‘waiting days’ at the beginning of the claim. The job centre will know when wages have been received even if the claimant doesn’t advise them of this, as the computer systems for tax and national insurance contributions are linked to that of the job centre.

Universal Credit claims can continue if you’re employed and on a low income, as long as you are looking for more work. Just over two fifths of claimants are in employment, many will be on zero hours contracts or irregular shifts, or be self-employed. This means they are likely to be earning different amounts each week, or even nothing, and trying to maintain a Universal Credit claim to top up wages is far from straightforward, or lucrative. Self-employed claimants have fallen victim of the ‘Minimum Income Floor’ clause. This refers to an amount which the state assumes a self-employed person will earn each week, based on their particular trade. This amount is then deducted from the amount paid to the claimant, even if they haven’t earned that much, leaving many claimants short of enough money to survive. According to the state, ‘this will encourage you to grow your business and make sure it can support you’. From April, when a self-employed claimant earns more than the threshold to qualify for Universal Credit, any surplus is taken into account for six months, meaning they won’t receive benefits until this surplus is reduced through subsequent months earning less. This leads to a complicated situation where they re-apply for Universal Credit knowing they won’t receive any, but just so that the declining surplus is logged. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, roughly 2.5million households in employment but on a low income will be over £1,000 a year worse off by transferring to Universal Credit (Guardian, 20 November).

The bureaucrats who devised the rules behind Universal Credit don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. The restrictions, confusions and delays in receiving Universal Credit are forcing its claimants into poverty. The long wait for the first payment has left thousands of people without the means to buy food and other basics, and with rising debts from unpaid bills. Private sector landlords may not want to wait to receive their rent, and so either may evict someone or refuse to house them in the first place. Among the issues discussed at the job centre appointments are how to apply for advance payments and where to get budgeting and debt advice, as the staff realise that people will get into difficulties, especially early on. Staff may be able to issue vouchers to receive supplies at a food bank, or refer claimants on to another agency to get a voucher. According to The Trussell Trust, which operates Britain’s largest network of food banks, demand for its parcels has risen by 30 percent since last April in areas where the rollout of Universal Credit is most advanced (Guardian, 7 November).

Predictably, Universal Credit has attracted a barrage of complaints and criticisms. The government opened up an online consultation, and of the 55 responses left on their website, only one was positive. Respondents described the benefit as ‘inhumane’, ‘an absolute shambles’ and ‘disgusting’, with many people writing about how scared and poor claiming Universal Credit has made them. Even Tory ex-Prime Minister John Major, writing in the Mail on Sunday joined the backlash, saying that the benefit ‘although theoretically impeccable, is operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving’ (7 October). Iain Duncan Smith promised us ‘fairness and simplicity’, remember.

Regardless of any guidance given by job centre staff, the way that Universal Credit ‘encourages’ people to find employment is by its brutality: the long wait for not enough money, the constant threat of a sanction, the confusing, obstructive rules. Wage labour is less harsh by comparison, so claimants are pushed towards it, or to the desperation of trying to maintain a claim longer-term. This reminds us that the state isn’t there to support people, it’s there to support a system which needs wage labour. The pressures, both financial and emotional, on claimants are like a punishment for falling outside the system’s expectations.
Clive Hendry