Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Trotskyist Oddity (2020)

Book Review from the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

I Want To Believe: Posadism, UFOs and apocalypse communism by A.M. Gittlitz. Pluto Press, 

The Argentinian Trotskyist J. Posadas is mostly known among left trainspotter circles for his belief in UFOs and advocacy of nuclear war. This book reveals a different story. Rather than a crankish outlier, he is revealed as pretty much a typical guru of a Trotskyist sect, with policies and positions typical of mainstream Trotskyism.

Born Homero Cristalli, in 1912 in Buenos Aires, he was the child of Italian immigrant shoemakers, who were themselves involved in left-wing politics. He grew up malnourished, and became an entertainer, and (briefly) a professional footballer. Football would be an enduring feature of his life, and his cadres at conferences would be required to have a match, leading in one instance to the French police being called to their supposedly secret meeting place because neighbours heard the shouting.

He became involved in the radical Buenos Aires milieu, and came to the notice of a group of Trotskyists after a short poem calling for unity with the Spanish government (during the civil war) he wrote was published in a left newspaper. The group, the International Communist League (LCI) had been typified as ‘coffee-bar wankers’ (the author, incorrectly, attributes this to Trotsky himself), and were seeking to break out of their intellectual ghetto and connect with the working class.

Cristalli proved to be an enthusiastic and energetic organiser, and made successful work with the shoemakers union. His working class authenticity made up for his limited theoretical grasp of Trotskyist positions. J. Posadas was a collective name of the group’s leadership, and Cristalli began to join in writing Posadas’s editorials. Eventually, he would possess the name entirely (the ‘J.’ was never defined).

Although Trotsky is venerated in many parts for his theoretical subtlety, in reality, his plans amounted to ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for civil war’. His orientation was to try and form the command/control of a military force that could win that civil war, hence his and his followers focus on leadership. In practice this usually meant small groups trying to orientate towards and piggyback on bigger movements. In Argentina, this meant the strongman Juan Peron, who successfully co-opted the workers movement for his own ends.

Cristalli became a full time revolutionary, depending on the income his faction could bring in from its membership in the Fourth International, and he came to prominence in the internecine manoeuvring of the factions in the international, and became a supporter of Michel Pablo, who ostensibly led the International after Trotsky’s murder. This position, along with his energy and charisma, led him to being among the pre-eminent Trotskyists in Latin America, eventually with groups in Cuba, Brazil and Ecuador.

When the Second World War failed to bring about the revolutionary wave Trotsky predicted, the Fourth International’s leadership veered between trying to enter mass communist parties or supporting anti-colonial guerrilla movements. Cristalli visited Cuba after the revolution there and ended up being singled out as a leader of the Fourth International by Castro as he denounced and suppressed Cuban Trotskyists.

It was the Cuban missile crisis that developed Cristalli’s position on nuclear weapons. He was, though, not alone in wanting a nuclear confrontation with America: Che Guevara and Castro both wanted the conflagration. Cristalli’s position was that the imperialist states would not surrender to socialism without using their nuclear weapons, such a confrontation was inevitable; but that with the greater population of the communist world, only communism could emerge from the aftermath. This was simply a logical continuation of the basic position of Trotskyism to a world with nuclear weapons.

His other famous position, on extra-terrestrials being communists, was in fact not his position. Gittliz reveals that his notorious essay, ‘Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind’, was in fact written to close down debate from an enthusiast for UFOs in his party. In some senses his argument ‘We must appeal to the beings on other planets, when they come here, to intervene and collaborate with Earth’s inhabitants in suppressing poverty. We must make this call to them’ is simply a continuation of the notion of appealing to powerful figures to try and make changes.

 The UFOs simply became a distinguishing feature by which other Trotskyists could deride him and distinguish themselves from his organisation.

The secrecy of Cristalli’s organisation was essential in the face of real repression (some of the cadres were arrested and murdered by repressive regimes in Latin America). This, coupled with stern sexual moralism (including seeing homosexuality as degenerate) led to Cristalli controlling the sex lives of his cadres, separating married couples to work in different areas. He abandoned ‘democratic centralism’ in favour of his personal rule of the organisation, or ‘monolithism’.

It comes as no surprise to discover that he was caught receiving oral sex from a young female recruit. He responded in a fashion we are becoming accustomed to from the US president, of accusing all of his colleagues of being sexually promiscuous. He expelled them all, and then fathered a child with the recruit. As Gittlitz notes, this situation is not unique, and other Trotskyist sects had similar stories (Gerry Healy and the WRP springs to mind).

The book ends with an essay on the birth of the Posadas meme as a generation of young leftists rehabilitate the Ufological legend for the slogan ‘Fully automated space communism’, used ironically but still indicating a search for hope in a time of fallen ideas. Gittlitz points out that for a short period, references to Posadas outranked Trotsky himself in Google searches thanks to the memes.
Pik Smeet

Covid-19 and the Money Mine (2020)

From the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism has not directly caused the covid-19 pandemic. This coronavirus is by no means the first, and will not be the last, species-jumping outbreak. Nor could socialism guarantee to prevent something like this happening as it is a natural process. However, its rapid spread to ill-prepared recipient societies is most certainly exacerbated by capitalism.

Capitalism has become global while retaining national structures. It is this contradiction that allowed the virus to wreak the havoc it has. The competition engendered by those national structures restricts coordinated international action to temper the worst effects of the disease.

Presently, there is some supra-national cooperation into antiviral and vaccine research, no doubt spurred on by inhibited profit-making caused by national lockdowns. But, stable doors and bolted horses come to mind.

Of the 18 major pharmaceutical companies, 15 had withdrawn from research and development in vaccines, antivirals and antibiotics. There just wasn’t sufficient profit to be generated, unlike from addictive painkillers, tranquilizers and impotence drugs.

Similarly, ventilators and PPE equipment could have been manufactured and held in storage. That a pandemic of some sort was more than likely, and its effects devastating was shown by the Cygnus flu simulation exercise in 2016, and a similar exercise in Scotland in 2018, but the logic of capitalism dictated that no preparations were made.

Why go to the expense of manufacturing, purchasing and storing equipment for something that may not occur? A question and logic that does not seem to apply to the insurance business. Health services, such as the NHS, had endured over a decade of restricted funding that would have made buying preparatory materials beyond their means. And governments wedded to austerity most certainly wouldn’t provide the funds.

Here is the crux. Capitalism has been in a financial crisis of sorts for over a decade. It seems the international debt, which had increased from $84 trillion in 2000 to $173 trillion in 2008, now stands around $250 trillion. A debt more likely to rise than ever to be paid off.

This is the context in which national governments operate. They must protect capitalism, as they did by intervening during the financial crisis of 2008 to prevent banks becoming insolvent. It is imperative that interest rates are kept as low as possible so as not to exacerbate debt levels.

Central banks, through quantitative easing, supply ‘new money’ and indulge in purchasing debt. The major beneficiaries of this policy are the largest national capitalist concerns because, being already relatively rich, means they are safer havens for that ‘new money’ and cheap credit. Those teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, countries as well as companies, can go to the wall.

Meanwhile, the working class, through whose labour power all value is created, face increasing impoverishment. New and increasing debt causes governments to pursue austerity. Those who advocate using government spending to satisfy the needs of the majority and so increase consumption run up against the danger of provoking inflation driving interest rates up.

As prime minister, Theresa May declared there was no magic money tree. The pandemic, though, seems to have opened up a money mine, and deep mining there is taking place. Just as capitalism didn’t create covid-19, so covid-19 didn’t create the capitalist crisis, but it has made it a whole lot worse.

The measures governments have been forced to take to prevent economic and social collapse means the money miners are going to be digging deep for some time to come. The aim must be to restore production as quickly as possible by easing the lockdown and directing spending towards increasing profitability.

Capitalism demands the primary defence of national capital at the expense of the working class. If capital sees only declining, or vanishing, profitability production will be limited or it will cease. The ruthless logic is that the most effective fiscal policy is to supply money to the wealthy, no matter how loudly reformists bleat.

Every time capitalism stands on the ledge, it takes huge infusions of money to entice back inside, money raised at the expense of the satisfaction of human need. Health and social care, pensions, rising standards of living, the whole social wage is regarded as a drain on profitability, to be restricted and reduced.

Response from workers
How does the working class respond? During the pandemic largely magnificently. Many have literally given their lives to bring medical care to those afflicted with the virus. The penny-pinching lack of PPE has had dire consequences. To see the prime minister, and others of the complicit cabinet, standing behind a lectern declaring, ‘Defend the NHS’ has stretched irony beyond satire. It seems such a defence doesn’t entail trying to keep them alive.

Unlike the volunteer workforce that toiled to supply what the government has not, face masks, scrubs and scrubs bags, vital for health and care workers. The tired canard set against socialism is that people are selfish, greedy even and certainly won’t work without the lash of the money whip. Except, in large numbers, they have.

Capitalism provides precious few opportunities for demonstrations of social solidarity, but covid-19 has. The dedication of health and care workers, way beyond their contractual obligations, has been inspiring. As have the efforts of shop workers, delivery drivers et al. While government has fallen disastrously short of fulfilling its responsibilities, people, without requiring direction or material incentives, have stepped forward.

Workers now need to assess what best serves their futures. Brief applause on a Thursday evening was a sign of social solidarity, but also served as a shield that government wielded to fend off scrutiny. How long will ministerial lauding of the NHS last once austerity resumes its principle role?

The treatment of teachers serves as an example. They were praised for remaining at their posts for vulnerable children and to free up essential workers (what percentage of the workforce is deemed non-essential one wonders?), risking their own health in the process. Now they are being portrayed as a self-interested impediment to opening the schools again. Nurses, take note.

There is much talk of how, as lockdown is rescinded, there will be a new normal. A green future perhaps. A benign state, having demonstrated its willingness to intervene economically and socially, may play a positive, ‘socialist-ish’ role to some. Labour and Conservative parties will vie to portray themselves in this guise, the Greens will perhaps promote schemes such as the basic social income. Then capitalist reality will impose itself.

The phrase ‘logic of capitalism’ has been used above. However, there is also capitalist cognitive dissonance. A government that will gamble on leaving the EU without any trade agreements as if nothing has actually changed since the pointless referendum of 2016 seemingly fixed things for all time.

Schemes such as basic income may have an appeal, but it can only be paid for ultimately by drawing money from the total value created for capitalism. Wages, taxes and profit all originate from this source: higher wages, lower profit. Add in the basic income, along with the cost of its administration, and profits must be affected.

Of course, value is created by the working class, so, by whatever means, they are only receiving in part what is actually theirs. Except capitalism does not exist to return to its workers the value they create, only that part they need to live, and work. Right-wing politicians know and accept this, left wing ones either pretend they don’t know this, or delude themselves (and, unfortunately at the present, most of the working class) that it can be otherwise without fundamentally changing society.

Covid-19 has caused a pause for reflection. Politicians have been found wanting, but ultimately the responsibility for their failures rests with all who keep voting for them. The bottom of the money mine is being scraped at the moment, and the ore brought to the surface turns out to be pyrites.

The huge majority, collectively the working class in all its wide variety of roles and manifestations, has the intellectual and creative resources at its disposal to transform the world. There will be future pandemics, but with democratically owned production to satisfy need not profit, a moneyless society to which people freely contribute their talents and abilities, such eventualities may be prepared for and attenuate.

Socialism cannot abolish disease, but it can mitigate its effects without having to be concerned about profits and share prices. Then, and only then, will we all be in it together.
Stood at the kerb of capital,
Striving not to be misled,
Do not look to the left or right,
Keep your vision straight ahead.
Dave Alton

Empire, Free Trade and Brexit (2020)

From the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The people in the driving seat of the Brexit project love to talk about free trade, looking back to the glory days when free trade was the ideology Britain spread to the world through its empire. This doctrine was so important that the Grun’s The Timetables of History lists the British penetration into South American markets as one of its significant events in that chronology. Freed from the restrictive barriers of the EU and its protectionist ideology, so the doctrine goes, Britain will be able to spearhead its way into genuine free trade around the world, and a new golden age of prosperity will begin.

This ideology is based upon purposeful forgetting built upon purposeful forgetting. The core of the British Empire was most certainly not free trade. As William Dalrymple, in his book The Anarchy, notes, the East India Company – the core of Empire building in India – included waging war in its founding charter. Force, more than free trade, characterised the rule of the British in India. India, in its turn, was the foundation upon which the Empire was built. As per David Graber’s observation in his Debt: The First 5,000 Years, the origin of capitalism is an alliance of interests between the merchant and martial classes.

Dalrymple notes, the East India Company was a private company, and its rule in India was the rule of the bottom line. It was the corporate take-over of a subcontinent. Marx, in Volume 1 of Capital observes:
  ‘English East India Company, as is well known, obtained, besides the political rule in India, the exclusive monopoly of the tea-trade, as well as of the Chinese trade in general, and of the transport of goods to and from Europe. But the coasting trade of India and between the islands, as well as the internal trade of India, were the monopoly of the higher employees of the company. The monopolies of salt, opium, betel and other commodities, were inexhaustible mines of wealth. The employees themselves fixed the price and plundered at will the unhappy Hindus. The Governor-General took part in this private traffic. His favourites received contracts under conditions whereby they, cleverer than the alchemists, made gold out of nothing’.
In turn this was the basis for the primary accumulation of wealth that allowed sufficient capital to be freed up to be invested in industrial production. This is the process that the Marxist geographer and theorist David Harvey refers to as ‘accumulation through expropriation’ the emphasis is not on market exchange, but the direct forceful seizure of wealth.

This was the situation through the period of the rule of the East India Company, and after through the direct rule of the British government. Eric Hobsbawm in his Industry and Empire tells us that the doctrine of free trade never applied to India, and the planned extraction of rents and taxes formed a massive basis of the transfer of wealth from India to the British ruling elite throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.

Included in that rent money was the opium trade, which the British peddled to their subject Indian population (in part as a form of control) and forcibly exported to China (leading eventually to wars in which Britain sought to use violence to continue selling those drugs to China). No wonder that late nineteenth and twentieth century pulp fiction was filled with the fear of the opium being forced back onto the British public.

Direct extraction was not the only role India played. According to Hobsbawm, India came to be an important market for British cotton textiles. The industrial revolution helped Britain to smash the advanced Bengali cotton industry, but British rule also helped, and the laws of commerce and trade it imposed to give itself the advantage. As Shashi Tharoor in his book Inglorious Empire notes, this also happened to India’s merchant shipping and ship building industries. Perhaps the Brexiteers are haunted by this historical spectre, and the fear that being entangled in Europe might mean that the trick might well be reciprocated upon them one day (they are fond enough of appropriating the language of decolonisation and ‘independence’ for their cause of tearing away from the EU trade club).

India was permitted some exports: human beings were exported to labour in different parts of the empire, such as building the railways in Africa, and later serving as implanted populations to play off against other communities such as in the West Indies. It also helped to export force, since India was compelled to pay the upkeep of the massive army that ensured British control, and allowed them to send forces from the Indian army overseas: particularly in World War One where India sent over a million men out to France, the Middle East and to garrison the Suez Canal, allowing Britain to check the rise of its rival Germany.

India was a far from backward or underdeveloped land when the British arrived, although it was wracked by factional wars which weakened it politically and which the East India Company exploited to gain the upper hand. The looting by the British contributed to substantial underdevelopment that it has taken a long time since independence to begin to address. Of course, pointing such things out is seen as anti-British by the forgetting machine that wants to block out the real memories of empire.

It is unlikely that this link between force and Britain’s position in the world has escaped the minds of the more serious members of the government. After all, Theresa May tried to focus on security co-operation as a bargaining chip in her dealings with the EU, a sign that people at the heart of government were aware of this. Britain remains a significant military power, but it is unlikely to be able to repeat the conquest of the world by military means, at best it will only be able to exploit its position in worldwide organisations and as an ally of the United States to try and draw off a share of profits and exported ill-gotten gains of despots the world. From the pirate island of empire to being a well-armed tax haven is not an inconceivable trajectory.

The most significant take away is that free trade has never been the reality of Britain’s rise to power in the world, and as its formerly colonial possessions assert their strengths on the world market, short of resorting to insane warfare, British capital can only look forward to a subordinate position in the world league tables. Those other capitalists will have learned the lesson of Britain’s former success, and will use all their might to bend the rules to their advantage. Trade is inextricably tied up with the state and power.
Pik Smeet

Luxury Legoland (2020)

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

Monaco is a strange country, a haven for the super-rich on the Côte D’Azur, where the excesses of modern capitalism mix with old hangovers from feudalism. Filmed one year BC (Before Covid-19), Inside Monaco: Playground Of The Rich (BBC2) showed us inside its casinos, government offices and black-tie events. This particular playground costs a fortune to play in – keeping out the riff-raff – and its swings and roundabouts are all gold-plated.

Being not much bigger than Hyde Park in London, Monaco is the world’s second smallest state, after the Vatican City, and the most densely populated. It’s a constitutional monarchy headed by Prince Albert II, who can see more than half the country he rules from his office window. Albert’s ancestors captured the area disguised as monks nearly 800 years ago, and he’s still defended by soldiers (the ‘Carabiniers’) today. The affable prince has allowed the cameras to follow him on his tightly-choreographed official duties and time off, joking that ‘spontaneity has to be scheduled’. We also meet others who live and work in the pocket-sized principality, such as those who clean and organise hotel rooms which cost tens of thousands of Euros a night to stay in, and staff in air traffic control and the harbour who manage the influx of wealthy visitors’ yachts and helicopters. The streets and buildings of Monaco are sleek and pristine, but soulless, like, as someone points out, a ‘luxury legoland’.

Monaco’s demographics are different to those of other countries. Monégasques, or inhabitants with citizenship, are in the minority at just over a fifth of the population, which mostly comprises European ex-pats. There are strict rules around non-natives gaining citizenship, which is granted personally by Prince Albert for those who have lived there for ten years and satisfy other criteria. Citizenship confers benefits such as subsidised rents and priority for employment over foreign nationals. Non-citizens can only last there if they’re sickeningly wealthy. So, another difference between Monaco’s population and that of other places is that as many as a third of its inhabitants are millionaires, often identifiable by their self-satisfied, surgically-enhanced smiles. Proof that wealth is strongly linked to health is shown by the country having the world’s highest life expectancy, at around 90 years. This means that many of its inhabitants are elderly, leading to efforts to court younger super-rich people. These include the social media stars invited to Monaco’s Influencer Awards, whose president is Princess Camilla of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. At the gong-giving ceremony, one ‘influencer’ is asked ‘what are you doing here?’ and quips back ‘looking fabulous’; another is wearing a t-shirt saying ‘make money not friends’.

Proportionate to the number of its inhabitants, Monaco has one of the largest police forces in the world, and they have a zero-tolerance attitude to any misdemeanour and also the right to question anyone at any time. There are strict rules and laws: Monégasques can’t use the country’s casinos and the paparazzi are banned. Even camper vans, uploading photos to social media and walking down the street barefoot are forbidden. But rather than all this stirring up concerns about living in a police state, it’s welcomed among inhabitants as it protects their wealth and privacy. If you can afford to walk along the High Street (not barefoot) wearing millions of Euros’ worth of jewellery, you want to be reassured that you won’t get either mugged or papped.

Monaco isn’t large enough to accommodate industry or agriculture, and so its economy is based on commerce, and especially gambling. In the mid-nineteenth Century, its state was in the financial doldrums until the opening of the Monte Carlo casino, which drew in punters and their money from France, where gambling was then illegal. Since then, Monaco has also hosted money-spinners like the Influencer Awards and, more traditionally, the Grand Prix car race. During this event, Prince Albert hosts a reception at the Royal Palace for 700 guests, who enjoy wine priced at thousands of Euros a bottle and dishes with ingredients including a truffle worth £35,000. There’s enough money flying around that the state doesn’t need to charge income tax, a move which has attracted more millionaires and billionaires to the principality.

Monaco hasn’t found a way of managing capitalism which could be replicated anywhere and everywhere. Despite its sovereignty and quirkiness, Monaco’s economy is tied in with that of the rest of the world, even more so than other countries’ are. Its wealth relies not on the spin of a Monte Carlo roulette wheel or spectacles like the Grand Prix and the Influencer Awards, but ultimately on countless people elsewhere, whose work produces the profits which eventually end up being bet on red or invested in a bespoke super-yacht. All countries are concentrations of capital, and Monaco is also a concentration of capitalists. The lack of common ground between their lifestyles and ours highlights the extent of the class divide.
Mike Foster

UBI – Useless Baseless Initiative (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Coronavirus has united left and right on value of universal basic income’, was the headline of an article in the Times (2 June) by Philip Aldrick, its Economics Editor. This is the reform to capitalism under which the state would pay each of its citizens an unconditional minimum income.

The ‘right’ favour it to take the place of free and subsidised services provided to the poor; they want to give them instead the money to buy these services from private capitalists, The ‘left’ see it as a desirable social reform, some as a way to break the link between income and work. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has endorsed it, on behalf of the ‘centre’. Socialists are not keen on it at all.

On the face of it, giving people more money to spend seems a good idea. Who doesn’t want more money? But it won’t work, at least not as intended; for two reasons.

The first is that the payment from the state is never going to be much more than ‘basic’, something near the poverty line such as the level to which in Britain a person’s income is made up to under the Income Support scheme. This is in part because the capitalist state will want to keep the amount spent on UBI down, but also because, if the income was too high, it would undermine the economic coercion that is behind the wages system.

If people could live, even if rather sparsely, on the income there would be less pressure on them to go out and find an employer. Some advocates of the scheme say this would strengthen the low-paid workers’ bargaining position and see it as a reason why it should be introduced. But this is precisely why no capitalist government would introduce it at any level other than around the poverty line.

So, if introduced, it would only be as a tweak to the welfare or tax systems, with the basic income replacing other benefits, amounting to no more than a ‘redistribution of poverty’. The results of the Finnish experiment, on which reformists placed such hopes, showed that it did bring some benefit to the unemployed who received it in that they no longer had to submit to what even the Economics Editor of the Times called ‘intrusive and dehumanising’ means testing, nor trying to find a job that wasn’t there (capitalism needs a certain level of unemployment, so there are always going to be some unemployed), nor going on useless courses about how to fill in a CV. On the other hand, those receiving it didn’t show any extra inclination to seek out a job; which was why it is not going be adopted.

The other objection to the scheme is that, as it would be paid to every citizen, whatever their situation and even if they were employed, it would be bound to have an effect on wages; it would strengthen the employers’ hand in bargaining over wages as the price of people’s working skills. Wages reflect the cost of reproducing these skills. So, if wage-workers are paid an amount by the state, the employer will not need to pay so much. This wouldn’t happen immediately but it would exert a pressure for money wages not to rise in line with the general price level. In the end, what the right hand gave the left hand would take away.

The only viable way to break the link between income and work is on the basis of the common ownership of productive resources; that will allow the principle of ‘from each according to their their ability, to each according to their needs’ to be implemented.

Sting in the Tail: Telling porkies (1993)

The Sting in the Tail column from the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Telling porkies

Clive Soley, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, has really got upset with the government—he believes they may be telling lies about the unemployment figures. Gosh, shock, horror!

In his local paper the Hammersmith Gazette (7 May), Mr Soley is quoted as saying:
  The Tories can't fiddle or fix the Census figures like they fiddle the unemployment figures. They used 27 statistical changes and all sorts of other schemes to get the unemployment figures down. The Census shows that you can't trust the Tories.
He was referring to a 13.5 percent higher figure revealed by the Census than admitted by government figures for Hammersmith. A defence of the government figures was made by officials in the same issue of the paper:
  Not so, the Department of Employment responded. It is simply an easily explained difference between people who are unemployed and people who think they are unemployed. “There is always going to he a difference", said a Government spokesman.
Well, that's alright then. There's a lot of people walking about Hammersmith—some of them are unemployed and some of them only think they are unemployed. Got it?

All right for some

Ever wondered how top executives get those fabulous pay rises we read about?

The Independent business section (2 May) provides “10 arguments commonly put before remuneration committees to justify large pay increases for the chief executive”.

What they all boil down to is contained in argument Number 10:
“You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Mr B, the chairman of the remuneration committee, is keen to be generous to the chief executive, Mr A, because he has something to gain. Mr B, after all, is the chief executive of a company whose remuneration committee includes Mr A . . . Mr B hopes that if he raises Mr As pay, Mr A will return the favour by raising his pay when the time comes.
Just imagine if the trade unions decided one another's pay claims in this way, and just imagine the howls this would produce from those same top executives.

It’s a carve-up

A consortium of two shipyards, one on Clydeside and the other in Barrow-in-Furness, has won a £170 million contract to build a naval helicopter assault ship.

They undercut Swan Hunter on Tyneside by more than £50 million. This is an amazing amount and there have been furious claims on Tyneside that the successful bid must have been made below cost and with the aim of driving a competitor out of business.

If Swan Hunter does close then the Clydeside and Barrow yards will have the British warship market all to themselves, and this, despite what they all say about “welcoming competition”, is what every company dreams about.

Trained Youth

One of the nuttier ideas about at present is that crime, especially amongst the young, is caused by indiscipline. Anyone who has that idea should read about an extremely well-disciplined group of young workers— the British army's pride and joy: the Paras.

In the Independent on Sunday (16 May) we learn about one young man in the Parachute Regiment:
  He had his moments, nevertheless, and describes hard-drinking, brawling evenings, interspersed with elaborate rituals involving the consumption of vomit, urine and excrement. Such evenings would usually end with heart-felt renditions of "Lorelei” (“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”), “The Eullschirmjager Song", and “When We March on England”.
So there you have it. Singing Nazi storm-trooper songs, these well-disciplined hooligans are better organised than ill-disciplined hooligans anyday.

More confusion

A visitor to the SWP May Day rally at Alexandra Palace told the Independent (4 May):
  Last year I came for the first time, and I was just overwhelmed: so many people in the same room with the same ideas to talk and argue with. Really exciting.
Come again? Here is a party which recruits on the basis of single issues— troops out of Ulster, the right to work, national independence struggles, any strike, etc. In fact everything except the abolition of the wages system and its replacement by production for use, so it is hard to imagine that there could be “many people” at any SWP function “with the same ideas".

Proof? Ask any ten SWPers for a definition of socialism and you'll get ten different answers—and each will be more ridiculous than the last.

Putting the boot in

It was inevitable that many employers would use the recession to attack workers' wages and conditions, “Lucky To Have A Job” (BBC1, 17 May) showed just how far some of them have gone. Many workers must accept longer hours and less pay or be sacked. There are Essex milkmen who have to work a 70-hour week for no extra pay; full-time workers who are forced to go part-time; part-time workers put on “zero hour” contracts, which mean they only get any work when it suits their employer: and more.

The milkmen's boss justified the 70-hour week by claiming “they choose to do it for the social contact they enjoy”, while the boss of some zero hour workers said they could now “develop their hobbies and pastimes”.

Watching the smirking cynicism of the employers' spokesmen was galling enough for socialists, but what was worse was the meekness and resignation with which the workers involved accepted their lot.

Banks and the Crisis (1993)

From the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

If anything has underlined the capacity of the capitalist system for severe crisis bordering on disaster, it has been the recent report of the Bank of England admitting that in the last two years it had to launch a multi-million pound “lifeboat” fund to support financial institutions on the brink of bankruptcy. Although the Bank has refused to reveal exactly how much was spent on the operation, the Guardian (27 May) reported that “City bankers believe that more than £1 billion may have been used to bail out fewer than 10 institutions”.

The Bank first realized the true extent of the banking crisis in October 1990 and soon went on red alert. It eventually came to believe that over one in six UK financial institutions were at risk from the crisis. This was primarily because the economic slump and the collapse of BCCI provoked what has been described as a “flight into quality”, or towards the big five banks, at the expense of other institutions dependent on the so-called wholesale market where deposits come primarily from professional investors, many of whom were also involved in the slump-ravaged property sector.

The Bank’s report claims that its actions to avert a major banking crisis followed what it calls:
  substantial withdrawals of wholesale funding from smaller banking institutions arising out of a number of factors, including the pressure on banks in major overseas markets, notably America and Japan, the earlier closure of a number of other small British banks, followed by BCCI, and the reactions to those events by local authorities and other places of wholesale funds.
It is clear from the Bank’s report that a full 1970s-type banking crisis was a real prospect—and the report states that the Bank of England still has £115 million in provisions representing outstanding debts at risk.

Some of those banks bailed out by the Bank of England have since ceased trading. Some have effectively worked themselves out of a precarious position while others still depend on the facilities extended to them by the Bank.

Given the anarchy of the market system it is quite easy for a major financial catastrophe to occur under capitalism and shake the system to its roots. This has been amply demonstrated by the recent activities of the Bank of England, just as it was during the secondary banking crisis of the 1970s and, of course, during the major slump of the 1930s, which was exacerbated by the major banking crisis of 1932-3.

One thing is for sure—there can be no sustained economic recovery so long as corporate, personal and national debts are compounding at a rate faster than wealth production. Before the “green shoots” of recovery really start to grow there will have to be yet more bankruptcies, cheap takeovers and massive debt liquidation to ease the pressure on finance, investment and consumption. In truth, with debts in major capitalist states like Britain and the US at such unprecedented levels and with no really convincing signs of sustained economic recovery, the pressures on capitalism’s financial apparatus may be far from over.
Dave Perrin

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Go For A Million! (1993)

Party News from the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you ever thought that the Socialist Party are just a lot of good talkers?

Are you itching to see some bigger things happen?
Do you want to support us in our biggest campaign yet?

Our plans for the June 1994 Euro-election are now well underway. We will he putting up genuine Socialist candidates in four seats: Birmingham East, Glasgow, London Central and Lothians. These constituencies are nearly ten times the size of Westminster ones, so in our campaign we will effectively he contesting the equivalent of 37 British parliamentary seats. This will mean that over two million electors will have a first time ever chance to vote for the case for socialism.

In return for the £4000 deposits which we will pay, the Post Office will distribute our Socialist Manifesto to one million households. This will he the widest single circulation of socialist ideas in our history. Our aim will not be to win votes from people who do not agree with us, but to encourage the largest possible number of recipients of the manifesto to contact us, support us consciously and then join us.

We have already raised the £4000 for deposits. (This will allow us to reach a million households for much less than a penny each.) Now we need much more money so that we can print the manifestoes and carry out all of the exciting preparatory and follow-up work for the campaign. If ever there was a good time to make a donation to our funds it is now. Please send your contributions to Election Fund, The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN (and please make cheques payable to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”).

In the months to come we will he publishing regular campaign updates. As our campaign gets closer we are going to need plenty of volunteers to help with the vital work of the campaign. This is our chance to “Go For A Million” and we are relying on the support of every supporter of the socialist objective to give the campaign the fullest backing.

The case against capitalism (1993)

From the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists are convinced that, as a mechanism for converting the world’s resources to the use of the world’s people, capitalism is fundamentally unworkable; that the system not only fails to find solutions to basic human problems, but by its nature presents impassable obstacles to the solution of those problems.

This conviction does not arise from an irrational hatred of capitalism and capitalists; Socialists acknowledge the success of capitalism in many ways. It is infinitely more productive, for example, than the static feudal system it replaced.

So why do Socialists argue that it is categorically not the best possible mode of production for the modern world? One reason is that certain anomalies arise out of the very nature of capitalism whereby the system is unable fully to utilize the forces of production it has helped to create. Goods are produced in the expectation of profit; when profit is realized it attracts more investment leading to increased production, competition and falling prices. At or before the point where goods cannot be sold at a profit, production will cease, regardless of all other considerations.

To take the argument out of the realms of theory we have only to look at the examples of food and housing; the lack of these is killing people in large numbers on a daily basis; the materials and labour to satisfy those needs are lying idle. The best that can be said for the system is that it is unable to connect these two facts (in practice action is taken to prevent the connection being made).

Some entertain the idea that either you can deal with the evidently unattractive features of the system so that it works better for everyone or that you can modify it bit by bit until it becomes a different and better system. These reformists seem to think that capitalism is a game: that one day long ago somebody picked two sides, marked out the pitch and wrote a rule-book which could be amended if the same side kept winning all the time.

Of course, within the system there are various administrations and multitudinous laws but the idea that these can be used to make the system work counter to its natural tendency is sadly mistaken. Even aspects of capitalism which don’t seem to benefit anybody at all can’t be artificially controlled by those charged with administering it.

Consider this example: 1979—the party of law and order comes to power claiming that "Labour isn’t working”, taxes are too high, "the NHS is safe in our hands” etc. After a more than fair crack of the whip, crime, unemployment, taxes and prescription charges are all massively up for the majority. Can we attribute this to the cynicism of which politicians are so often accused? Of course not—with the possible exception of the one about the Health Service the Tories fully intended to keep all these promises. The fact is that politicians of all parties vying to administer capitalism are reduced to making election promises in keeping with their image and hoping the system will allow them to honour enough of them to salvage some credibility.

Is this, then, an example of failure? On the contrary, the present-day Tories have become electorally the most successful party this century on the back of a few minor triumphs of spectacular irrelevance to the working class, such as insulting European politicians, killing the workers of "foreign” countries in pointless arguments with their leaders, and allowing the odd fly-boy to become mildly rich in the glorified betting shops of the City of London.

The point is that, in capitalist society, truly significant policies are implemented, rather than decided, by those we are pleased to call our elected representatives. Some administrations, of course, are aesthetically more pleasant than others or, if you like making moral judgments, morally better than others, but if we look behind the surface appearances, they are all running the same system. A few years ago there was much talk of the need to get "Thatcher Out", and it can be agreed that among the many surface features of capitalism a psychopathic demagogue as Prime Minister is one of the least attractive. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who claims to be better off as a result ofToryism without an inhuman face.

Do we have to vote next time for the two faces of Labour to be reminded that there's no answer there either? There are no answers in capitalism for the working class because you won't get satisfactory answers by asking irrelevant questions. For the vast majority of the world’s population the answer is neither left-wing government nor right-wing government—it’s no government: not private, state or mixed ownership of the world’s resources, rather the common ownership which amounts to no ownership. And whether capitalist ownership is administered on a local, regional, national or international level will, on the whole, make no difference to the working class. By the very fact of this ownership, we will remain the subject class.

Two classes
At present there are only two classes: the minority ruling class of capitalists who determine the course of most peoples lives through their monopoly of the means of wealth production, and the majority subject class—the working class which is unable, in society as presently constituted, to stake any claim to the means of life except by selling its labour powrer to the owners of capital.

This does not mean that no capitalist ever does any useful work; for many reasons, not least the basic human need for stimulation, many capitalists work quite hard. But neither their privileged position in society nor their claim on the world's resources depends on any work they do, but on their exploitation of the working class. Neither does it mean that all workers work all the time; but it does mean that to ensure their survival workers must strive to sell their labour power.

In Britain not so long ago. and in some parts of the world today, if you were unable or unwilling to sell your labour power you would quite literally be left to die of poverty-related causes. In most developed countries today you will be kept alive in return for a promise to work when you are needed. But whether you have or haven’t got a job you will be left in no doubt about your class status. The media are full of stories of evictions, disconnections, people living on inferior diets, etc. The superficial message is usually “This type of thing shouldn’t be happening in 20th century Britain and your fearless reporters will expose this type of scandal wherever we find it!” The real message is "Just in case you were thinking of arguing with the boss, skipping the rent or mortgage, etc. remember this could be you”.

That, in a nutshell, is the negative side of the class division in capitalist society. The positive side is that the forces of production have grown so huge and complex that the ruling class is no longer able even to organize the exploitation of the workers; it has to employ workers to administer the system which exploits us so that for some time now the entire capitalist system is run from top to bottom by the working class on behalf of the capitalist class.

This is of crucial importance as it means the capitalist class would be totally powerless should the only other class in society identify the conflict of interests and act in its own best interest instead of finding common cause with its oppressors. Because the ruling class not only lives on wealth produced by the workers but is protected by armies consisting of workers and served by administrations staffed by, and largely elected by, workers, the only thing required for the working class to end its subjugation is that it recognizes its interest and acts on it.

One reason this does not happen is that the working class is fragmented and encouraged to recognize a variety of pseudo-interests and even pseudo-classes which cannot be defined in any meaningful way. Black people are told that white people can’t be trusted and vice-versa. People are brainwashed into believing they belong to nations whose boundaries are determined by their masters. Women are told that male oppression is responsible for their subjugation. Gods with various names, personalities and agendas are pressed into service. Any differences between people, whether they are as real as gender or as artificial as national boundaries, as deeply rooted as folk culture or as superficial as skin colour, will be exploited to prevent the working class from recognizing its unity.

All we have to do is take control of the resources and the machinery of administration we already run for the capitalists and run it for ourselves: the potential is there to improve the world and. if we acted as a class, the capitalists could not stop us doing this.

There is no convincing evidence from history or science to suggest that, released from artificial constraints, humanity will act irresponsibly—indeed there is much to suggest that such irresponsibility as exists now is largely due to insecurity, frustration, alienation and other products of property society.

What Socialists can say, because of our understanding of the limiting features of capitalism, is that after the abolition of capitalism social production will be directly for the satisfaction of human needs, that distribution will involve free access to available wealth according to self-assessed needs; that buying, selling and money will play no part, thus preventing the accumulation of wealth; and that things will be administered by a participatory democracy far in advance of the political system we have at present. Socialists are convinced that humanity is capable of this.
John Usher

Monday, July 6, 2020

The slump in Germany (1993)

From the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The optimism and euphoria that accompanied the reunification of Germany two- and-a-half years ago has evaporated. At the time Chancellor Kohl and other European politicians talked of the coming of yet another economic miracle, not only for a unified Germany but for the whole of the EC.

So confident was Kohl of success that he decided to give the East German currency parity with the West German Deutschmark, in spite of warnings from the Bundesbank officials of the inflationary consequences that would ensue. German social welfare payments were also extended to the whole of East Germany. The result was an increase in the purchasing power of the formerly poorly-paid East German workers who rushed to spend the newly-upgraded currency on goods previously unavailable to them. The extension of welfare payments to the East German population has been estimated to cost the German Treasury DM 170 billion per year.

These measures did not, however, make up for the obsolete nature of East German industry, where manufacturing production has failed to catch up with that of West Germany (see graph). Eighty percent of railways in the East were still steam-driven at the time of unification. East German workers, although paid in DMarks, still get lower wages than their West German counterparts. Inevitably, they have taken strike action to obtain comparable wages.

Steel workers have recently managed to obtain an increase in wages from about 60 per cent of western levels to 80 percent this June and 90 percent by October 1994 (Wall Street Journal, 24 May). These concessions have been obtained against a background of a severe crisis in the European steel industry that has already forced two western German steel companies—Kloeckner Werke AG and Saarstahl AG—into bankruptcy proceedings. Effective unemployment in eastern Germany is up at 30 percent. "German industrial output is now 7 percent below last year", according to the Sunday Times (28 March).

The automobile industry is also being hard hit by the depression:
  Results from Daimler Benz, Volkswagen and BMW are among their worst on record, reflecting world-wide recession and the rapid deterioration of the German economy. Volkswagen, Europe's largest car manufacturer, lost DM 1.25bn (£503m) in the first three months of the year after sales fell by 23 percent in Germany and more than 17 percent across Europe as a whole . . . Volkswagen plans to cut 12.500 jobs over the next two years, while Daimler is shedding 7 percent of its 367,000 workers" (Daily Telegraph, 14 May).
With the inevitable rise in welfare spending accompanying rising unemployment and immigration estimated at 500,000 per year, pressures to cut government spending have developed.

Worsening deficit
The German deficit for the state sector will amount to over 8 percent of GNP this year, which is similar to that in the UK. in order to try to maintain stability against a background of runaway public spending the Bonn government signed a solidarity pact with the local governments of the western and eastern regions:
  Under the terms of the pact the government agreed to certain measures in return for restraint. Income tax is to increase in 1995, but so does public borrowing for Eastern Germany in order to help restructure the obsolete industries there. It was also accepted as part of the pact that there would be no cut in social spending in the economies pursued by the government (Daily Mail, City & Finance. 5 May).
Since the pact was signed, however, there has been a marked change in outlook for the German recovery that these measures among others were supposed to help. According to the Economist (19 May), "the budget deficit is rising alarmingly as recession cuts revenue and drives up unemployment. Unless the government cuts spending its finances will deteriorate further. The Finance Minister T. Waigel has proposed cuts of DM 20bn annually beginning next year”.

Leaking boat
Much of the propaganda extolling the benefits of a unified Europe have suggested that subsidies to ailing industries would help smooth over cyclical downturns, the euphemistic term used by orthodox economists who do not wish to acknowledge the worsening features of recession.

Subsidies have certainly not helped Germany or other European states in difficulty. The crucial restructuring of Europe’s stricken steel industry is in danger of total collapse, leaving British steel struggling against unfair competition from heavily subsidised Continental producers, has warned Industry Minister Tim Sainsbury:
  Mr Sainsbury told his counterparts that Spain and Italy ran the risk of undermining the whole restructuring programme “unless they finally agreed to reduce public funding of their loss-making steel producers as well as to implement radical cuts in capacity" (Daily Telegraph, 5 May).
The German Economics Ministry now forecasts that the western German economy will shrink by at least one percent this year. The vision of Germany as a strong economy at the centre of Europe is fading. "Investors have concluded that Germany is in the same leaking boat as other members of the ERM", commented the Financial Times (22 May). “Unification has swept away its financial stability and the historic strength of the German current account; inflation is now well entrenched; and the all-German unemployment rate is the highest in the EC".

Compounding Germany’s economic difficulties further is its exposure as a result of huge loans to Eastern Europe. It is estimated that total loans to Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia by German firms had reached almost $2 billion by the end of 1992. Many banks loans to these regions are not receiving any returns on their investments. Total exposure to Russian banks, hardly the most secure, is greater than that of all the rest of Europe combined.

Interest rates
Many government spokesmen throughout Europe are urging the Bundesbank to lower interest rates in order to bring about European recovery. The fact that interest rates in the US are at their lowest since the 1930s with no major recovery occurring is not explained. The Bundesbank sees its primary function as to prevent inflation, and the fear is that reducing interest rates will revive it. Memories of Weimar and runaway inflation die hard.

The depression has come to Germany and is deepening. The problems of Germany are the problems of Europe and are ultimately caused by the present world slump. The idea that the Maastricht Treaty can overcome these problems is absurd. For the Treaty to work it would have to be assumed that the competing economic powers in Europe have common interests. The violent movements of currency markets, in spite of central banks losing millions trying to restore stability, is indicative of the futility of trying to adjust or solve the problems of capitalism by altering interest rates.

One disturbing feature of Germany’s plight is the revival of rightwing movements. "Opinion polls show a steady increase for parties of the extreme right led by the Republicans", according to the Financial Times (German Survey, 26 October 1992). Failure of the capitalist politicians to solve the problems that result from the depression has led to widespread disaffection with the major political parties. Refugees in Germany are being blamed for unemployment and housing shortages and have become the focus for attacks by neo-Nazi skinheads.

The problems developing in Germany have happened or are developing in other parts of Europe, namely, rising unemployment, falls in production, bankruptcies, growth in extreme rightwing racist movements along with public spending crises. These problems do not develop or emerge exactly simultaneously in each country, but the overall trend is there.

The problems occurring in Europe are fundamental to the capitalist system. When the working class world-wide understand and accept this then the remedy will be the abolition of the system that puts countries and peoples against each other either on the marketplace or on the battlefield.
Terry Lawlor

It's no joke (1993)

From the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Browsing through the local library recently—us “dole scroungers" really know how to live it up—I came across a coffee-table-sized book titled A History of Class. I offered up a silent thank you to whoever had had the foresight to order and stock a book which might allow the casual browser to discover something about the continuing class struggle both now and through the ages.

When I was much younger and had fallen off my bike for the umpteenth time and went into the house blarting my eyes out. my dad used to say to me. “you’ll have much worse than that before you’re finished". Admittedly, I don’t think he had in mind discovering that I had misread the title of a library book, A History of Class was. in fact, A History of Glass!

Peter Ashby, principal consultant for the research company, Full Employment UK, aired his version of making the jobless earn their dole in the Daily Telegraph of 21 January. There is no doubting which side of the class divide Mr Ashby belongs to. He said:
  We need to move away from the old Beveridge notion that you have an income-based safety net for the unemployed. Instead we need to create a work-based safety net. Society would say after this period of unemployment. it's no longer acceptable to us for people to be outside the process of work.
His company had, he said, done research which found that:
  Once people had been out of work for a year, quite a rapid process of psychological decline sets in. People’s self esteem begins to plummet and they talk themselves out of the ability to get back into employment. Then if they get an interview they will under-perform to such a degree that they are unlikely to get the job. Others burrow into the hidden economy accepting the risk that that entails.
As my dad used to say, “if you’ve made a mistake, be big enough to admit it". After all these years of despising the British ruling class—that’s the two percent of the population who own or control the factories, the transport industry, the construction industry, the food industry, the banks, the service industries and the farming industry—I now realize that most members of that class deserve sympathy for their low self-esteem and the psychological damage suffered by them for never having worked. The rest of us, the working class, should be grateful that we have no choice but to sell our labour power—our physical and mental skills—because, obviously, being economically exploited by a minority class is what keeps us sane in an insane world. Unless, of course, capitalism is going through one of its periodic crises of overproduction better known as a slump. The psychological, emotional and economic consequences of suddenly becoming an unpaid wage-slave as opposed to a paid one are well documented.

Many years ago when I was at school, April the First was always a day to be approached with caution. Although the sensitivity of an adolescent was likely to be wounded at times, on that day it was even more galling to fall foul of an April Fool’s trick. As I recall, the deadline for catching out the unsuspecting was midday.

Earlier this year, my local paper reported that Lady Cobham, wife of the local, titled. squire, had been appointed to the board of the London Docklands Development Corporation and to the board of British Waterways. She was given these jobs by Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment. Her ladyship is also president of the Heart of England Tourist Board. A spokesperson said Lady Cobham was delighted with the appointments but did not wish to comment further. The reason for the reticence? The one "job" pays £6,140 a year for half-a-day’s “work" a week. The other “job” pays £8.000 a year for a day’s “work” a week. As my dad used to say, “Them as have got, will get”.

Are you filled with moral outrage? Does it seem grossly unjust to you that someone should receive that amount of money for doing so little when millions are on the dole and across the country workers are agreeing to pay cuts simply to keep their jobs? Or are you envious that opportunities to make such easy money don’t fall into your lap? Or are you simply indifferent because that’s the way thing are and they'll never change? The story was carried in February, not on April First, but the joke continues to be on the working class.

Fitted carpets
Worcester Park is a well-heeled Surrey suburb where John Major lived until he was twelve. Not much likelihood of “dole scroungers” inhabiting that part of the world surely? But in a capitalist world no-one is immune from the effects of market forces. The Telegraph Magazine carried a report on 7 November on the devastating effect of the recession there:
  Lady Olga Maitland, newly elected MP for Sutton and Cheam which includes most of Worcester Park, described her constituency as "a third world, neither town nor country, inhabited by secure, safe, clean, decent, honest people. Salaries range from £14,000 to £30,000. This is absolutely middle England. in income, lifestyle and ambitions, people are uncomplaining. They take pride in stability. They are house proud, with nice kitchens, fitted carpets, central heating, and go to a lot of trouble to make sure the curtains tone".
It is easy to sneer at such "middle-class” aspirations but there are, no doubt, thousands of fellow wage-slaves who would like nothing better than to exchange their poverty-stricken lifestyles for nice
kitchens. fitted carpets and central heating.They would be eager, given the opportunity, to sell their labour power for two hundred and fifty quid a week, let alone for one-and- a-half days. What’s wrong with wanting decent housing, decent education, decent health care and a crime-free society? Who could argue with that? Are the inhabitants of Worcester Park and elsewhere in this island asking yet whether a society based on the economic exploitation of the majority by a minority, a society based upon production for profit not need, a society subject to the demands and whims of market forces, can ever provide the not unreasonable needs of individuals and society as a whole? The joke has gone on long enough and if we don't utilize the power which we possess as a class we might all die crying.

Think of the number of fans at a Saturday Premier League football match. If they were all committed to the introduction of a society based upon free access could they be ignored? Think of the number of workers on the dole. If they understood the reasons why capitalism has to go, to be replaced by a society which no longer screws people in every aspect of their lives, could they be ignored? Strength lies not only in numbers but in an understanding and an overwhelming desire to exercise the political power which the working class possesses. The means to abolish for ever the psychological traumas which living in a capitalist society induces. The inequality, the unfairness, the pressure of the state to conform, and the economic exploitation of the majority by the minority, are waiting for the working-class majority to say, the unfunny joke is over—let’s create a world with real laughter in it.
Dave Coggan

Letters: IRA bombers (1993)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

IRA bombers

Dear Editors,

I feel that your article in June’s Socialist Standard on the IRA’s bombing campaign completely misses the point.

Firstly, you are wrong to imply the specific problems of Irish Catholics in Ulster are caused by capitalism: capitalism exists all over the world but Catholics do not suffer the systematic discrimination they suffer in this sectarian state protected by British troops.

Secondly, it is wrong to say the IRA is fighting specifically for a united Ireland. Their most important objective is equality and an end to discrimination against Catholics, this then becomes a demand for an end to British rule as it is Britain that props up the system. In fact the Eire Government is no friend of Sinn Fein and has supported Republicanism only as far as Irish public opinion has forced it to. It is unlikely the IRA has a utopian view of a united Ireland.

Finally, you describe the IRA as terrorists, which is misleading. It is the British State that does by far the most terrorising: some 30,000 troops and 50,000 police and paramilitaries on the street, and Loyalist assassination gangs are all used to intimidate republicans. Surely as an “anti-British” party, as all British socialist parties must be, you should be concentrating on the brutality of the British state in crushing legitimate demands for equality rather than the understandable reaction to it by Irish Catholics.
J. Davey

This is the first time we've heard anybody claim that the IRA is not fighting specifically for a united Ireland, but you’re right about the British Army being the biggest terrorist group in Ulster. As to the problems facing Catholics, discrimination over voting, council houses and public sector jobs has now largely gone; what remains—unemployment, bad housing, poverty—is also suffered by Protestants and is clearly caused by capitalism— Editors.

Sexual politics

Dear Editors,

Re Carl Pinel’s article “The Roots of Gay Oppression” (May Socialist Standard), being Gay can often be an isolating experience which often supercedes any political ideology, creating a climate where any political activity by Lesbians and Gay men is often concerning the fight against our own oppression. This is usually our most immediate and primary concern simply because it is the most immediate and constant threat to our everyday lives, even from those we would otherwise regard as comrades.

Where it is true that it is the solidarity of the working class that will bring about the downfall of capitalism, it would be wrong to condemn the work of any minority-biased pressure group, as homophobia, as well as racism and sexism, is a working-class disease too!
Stephen Webb 

As part of our campaign to spread socialist understanding we oppose racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia and other prejudices that divide the working class—Editors.

Between the Lines—Female Equality

Dear Editors,

I write regarding a piece in the June Socialist Standard “Between the Lines—Female Equality". This dealt with a "40 Minutes” TV programme about female recruits to the Australian Army being treated as “a lump of shit” and sneered that this is the sort of thing that women want in the way of equality.

I think this treatment of a very small minority of women who may wish to take up occupations more usually taken by men was a trivilisation of the legitimate aims of many women to be treated on equal terms with men, albeit within the confines of an unequal society, in terms of the home, and their wages, conditions and advancement in their work.

To dismiss women's equality in this way is both misleading and offensive to women within the Socialist Party and those who may come into contact with us.
Phyllis Hart

Obviously, we’re not against women getting equal treatment with men under capitalism, but how can we who condemn men for joining the armed forces (and have encouraged our own members to be conscientious objectors) regard women becoming trained killers as a desirable example of equality?— Editors

Between the Lines: To Hell with Charity (1993)

A Tory B’Stard
The Between the Lines column from the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

To Hell with Charity

Socialists want a society without charity. The function of charity is to throw crumbs at the poor and pity at the disadvantaged. People First (C4, 8pm. 8 June) showed how a growing number of workers classified as disabled are sick of being the recipients of crumbs and pity. Their particular target, which has long been attacked in this column, are the patronising TV charity telethons in which company directors give cheques for a few thousand pounds (in return for a positive mention of their companies) and workers engage in stupid and humiliating stunts in order to raise in pennies what the average capitalist would spend without thinking twice on a good lunch.

Under capitalism disabled workers are usually poor because the bosses can milk less profits out of them than fitter, more agile wage slaves. They are disadvantaged because the social environment is built for the requirements of the physically fit and the cost of adding lifts and ramps to public places is not profitable enough. So, to ease the social conscience there are these annual displays of money-collecting and expressions of concern for those whom capitalist logic would really prefer not to be alive at all.

It was inspiring to see disabled workers refusing to behave as grateful victims and demanding the dignity of being equals. But equality in wage slavery is not the answer. It will only be when humans are recognised for what they are and not what they have that all of us, regardless of shape, form or infirmity, will be free to share the world as a family of equals.

What Community?

The same night as the encouraging documentary about militant disabled workers, Newsnight (BBC2, 10.30pm) had a report, set in Oxford, about what has happened to people who have been released from psychiatric wards into so-called community care. It is like releasing goldfish into the desert waters. The fact is that there is no community. For there to be a community there would need to be a common human interest in society rather than the class division which currently exists. In an increasing number of cases it is the very absence of a sense of community life, and the consequent depression, which leads people to become mentally unstable. The state’s response is to throw these unfortunate people out into a cold and alienating world where they will exist in poverty and loneliness, with medication to keep them quiet (if they remember to give it to themselves). The Newsnight report showed how miserable and uncared for were those who have been sentenced to the scrapheap of bogus care in the bogus community.

Will the Real Alan B’Stard Please Stand Up?

Tory politicians come in all sorts, from wimpy Major, slobbish Clarke to Mad Maggie. One of the latter's closest friends was Alan Clark, the subject of a BBC2 documentary called Love Tory (7 June. 9pm). Clark is a vile old aristocratic character with the callousness of a Ridley, the smugness of an Owen and the muddled thinking of a Lamont. He is the man, should you have forgotten, who referred to blacks in Britain as having come from Bongo-bongo Land.

In the documentary he readily admitted to being a liar and openly stated that when he was a Minister of Employment in the Thatcher government none of his policies made any difference and that he did not believe the speeches written for him to read out in the House of Commons. His candidness comes from the fact that he is extremely rich (he lives off what he called "the income from my income”) and an arrogant belief that the proles are too stupid to do anything about it even if their rulers admit in public to conning them.

Earlier this year, in a Guardian interview, Clark stated that "the arguments for socialism are powerful. But it has never been put into practice properly . . . the social argument for socialism is not easy to refute” (9 January). The reality is that two hours in the debating ring with a socialist speaker and the complacent grin would soon be knocked off Alan Clark's face. He would discover that socialism is impossible to refute and that capitalism can only be sustained while rather more publicity-conscious crooks than him persuade the working class to continue donating to the biggest charity in the world which keeps useless idlers in privileged luxury while the rest of us have to produce the wealth.
Steve Coleman