Monday, October 21, 2019

Unemployment and the S.D.P. (1909)

From the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Quelch recently went to Burnley to lecture for the S.D.P. on “How to deal with Unemployment.” He advocated the abolition of child labour, an eight-hour day, and production for use in co-operative colonies. If this is really Mr. Quelch’s way of dealing with unemployment, it is certainly not our conception of the Socialist way, and as our conception has at least a sporting chance of being the correct one, we offered, through our Burnley members, to debate the matter with him. Although he had been deploring the absence of Mr. F. Maddison, with whom he professed a desire to have a bout, he declined our challenge. We repeat it now.

He stated in answer to a question, that now the workers are getting a better share relatively and actually than ever they were. If he is of the opinion that the worker's position is improving, and that the abolition of child labour, the establishment of an eight-hour day and co-operative colonies, are all that are required to deal with the unemployed problem, we most heartily invite him to discuss the matter with us, who do not believe either that the condition of the working class improves with the development of capitalism, or that any of his propositions will touch the social problem of unemployment with any degree of adequacy, but assert, on the contrary, that the position of the working class is more insecure, more precarious, than ever it was, that the only way to deal with the unemployed problem is to abolish the economic system to which it belongs (capitalism) by organising the workers into a political party for that purpose, such party being the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We shall be glad to hear from Mr. Quelch, or any of his satellites on this matter.

Mr. W. Thorne, M.P., apparently holds views similar to those of Mr. Quelch. At the Conference at the Guildhall held to discuss this matter he said, vide Daily News report, 7.12.08, “He was convinced that if a regular eight-hours day were adopted there would very soon be little or no unemployment." This indicates an utterly fallacious notion of the origin of unemployment. Unless and until wages represent the whole of the workers’ produce (and they never will so long as they are wages) the difference between the quantity produced and the quantity the workers are able to buy back with their wages, plus the quantity actually consumed by the capitalists, will by its very accumulation inevitably bring about the periodical stoppage or partial stoppage of production, with its resulting starvation problem for the workers.

Mr. Hyndman, writing in our revered contemporary, the alleged organ of the Social Democracy, just prior to the Conference at the Guildhall, passes over the eight-hour proposition for treatment at the Conference. We see no reference in the reports to any contribution from him to the discussion, beyond the startling information that Mr. Fels is a capitalist. Mr. Hyndman, however, put his faith in the organisation of the unemployed in co-operative colonies, where the workers will be enabled to maintain themselves without competing or interfering with capitalism. How even this could be done, supposing it to be possible, while the capitalist class remain in power, is not clear, while its adoption by a capitalist Government would establish its ineffectiveness as a solution of the problem, which, in the words of Mr. Hyndman himself, “is a necessity for the capitalist system."

Again we assert the only remedy for unemployment to be the abolition of the capitalist system which causes it, and the establishment of Socialism.
Dick Kent

S.P.G.B. Lecture List For January. (1909)

Party News from the January 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Grimethorpe Miners (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

For those who have eyes to see there are lots of valuable lessons to be learned from the strike of the Grimethorpe miners against the efforts of the National Coal Board and the Union to make them do more work. The mines were nationalised only on January 1st, 1947, but within a few months the determined resistance of a few hundred men backed by thousands of other Yorkshire miners who struck in sympathy, showed the hollowness of the claim that Nationalisation and Labour Government can solve the problems of the workers. When Nationalisation took place Labour Party supporters welcomed it as a new era of industrial peace and the death of private profit, but socialists warned the workers not to be deceived into thinking that wage-slavery in the mines would be altered in any way. It has not taken long to reveal in the clearest fashion that the difference between private and state capitalism is not worth the workers’ votes.

In May of this year the National Union of Mineworkers made an agreement with the National Coal Board for a change-over to a five-day week, without loss of pay, on the understanding that the Union would co-operate with the employers, the Coal Board, to “promote every possible and reasonable means of ensuring that the maximum output of coal is produced.” The Union specifically pledged itself to co-operate with the management in persuading the workers to accept re-assessments of work which would mean in many cases cutting down the number of men required for a particular piece of work. The Union undertook that it would “not countenance any restriction of effort by workmen resulting in failure to perform the work so assessed.” (The full agreement was published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette, May, 1947)

The dangers of an agreement which binds the union to help the employers bring pressure on its own members are obvious. If the members of the N.U.M. understood and approved of this the responsibility rests on them and not only on their Communist General Secretary and the other officials who signed the agreement. There is, however, much evidence to show that the members went into it without realising what they were accepting. This may be partly due to a temporary lack of contact between the members and the executive, resulting from the recent changeover from a federation of county associations to a centralised national union. In addition it is certainly due to the close tie-up between the national officials of the Union and the Government, which results in the former imagining that it is their job to give orders to their members rather than take them. The comment of the Manchester Guardian is to the point: “The Union leaders took a great risk in giving the Government the assurances they did without being sure that the miners were really willing to attend regularly and to do a full shift’s work. It will not do to put all the blame on a minority of ‘bad ‘ miners. A little slacking has to be taken into account in any calculation. Either the union officials misjudged the temper of their men or they did not do as much as they knew to be necessary to explain what the five-day week meant. This failure is not surprising. The N.U.M.’s constant concern with the handling of national policy in Downing Street and Whitehall has left its leaders with too little time for the details of affairs in the pits. . . . The Union will have to make a bold effort now to regain the full confidence of the miners. Like the National Coal Board it will not do that unless it can restore the close touch with local problems that has to some extent been lost by its conversion to a centralised organisation.” (Manchester Guardian, 9/9/47)

The amazing situation developed of the miners’ officials denouncing their own members in terms that the former coal owners could not have exceeded for arrogance.

Mr. Lawther, President of the Union, told the strikers they were “acting as criminals at this time of the nation’s peril.” He actually invited the Coal Board to prosecute: “Let them issue summonses against these men, no matter how many there may be. I would say that even though there were 100,000 on strike.” (Daily Mail, 29/8/47)

The Communist General Secretary, Mr. Arthur Horner, was nearly as bad. In a statement to the Press (Daily Herald, 28/8/47) Mr. Horner said that the strikers “must be regarded as an alien force and treated as an enemy of the true interests of the majority of the miners of this country.” What some of the miners think of these swollen-headed gentlemen may be judged by the words “Burn Will Lawther” painted up at the entrance to the Grimethorpe colliery and by the comment made by a miner to a representative of the Star (9/9/47) –
  “Mr. Horner seems to have forgotten that he is our servant and is acting as if he were our lord and master. We pay him to fight our battles and not to fight against us.”
This miner was right and the sooner all workers take steps to bring their would-be dictators into line the better for the trade union movement.

One aspect of this must not be forgotten. Years ago the Communist Party popularised the slogan “Watch Your Leaders.” If ever it was necessary to do so it certainly is now when Communists like Mr. Horner have reached positions of eminence in the unions. A letter published by the Daily Worker (13/9/47) pointed out how closely Horner’s phrases resembled those for which the Communists used to denounce Mr. J. H. Thomas. Not that the idea behind the slogan is a sound one. Against the Communist idea that what the workers need is “better leaders” (who all turn out to be just like their predecessors) the Socialist urges the need to get rid of leadership.

The bitter experience of the Grimethorpe miners brings out clearly that nationalisation has changed nothing, except perhaps that it is harder for the men to fight the National Coal Board than it was to fight the local mine-owners. The following statement by a Daily Herald reporter was published on August 30th:
  “The real point of their grievance seems to be that in the general reorganisation of work underground involved by the change, men may be put on to other jobs at which they earn less money. A joint committee of miner’s delegates and representatives of the Coal Board decided on the increased stint. The Grimethorpe men complain now that they had no representative on this joint committee, and that the decision to increase the stint came as a bombshell. . . . They also complain that the divisional Coal Board officials are the same officials they had before the Government took over.” 
Those foolish optimists who fancied that the bitterness of the class struggle, if not the struggle itself, disappears when the employer is the State might note the remarks of a Daily Mirror representative. He wrote (6/9/47) –
  “How they hate the Divisional Officers of the Board! Big salaries, big cars, big offices, big titles —but they don’t go down the mines.” One miner remarked “What do these — know about it? They couldn’t get themselves enough coal to boil an egg.”
The National Coal Board’s attitude to the workers was expressed by one of the Board’s spokesmen:
   “This is the test case of our authority. It is the first real test we have had, and at such an early stage in our career we cannot afford to have our prestige shaken by withdrawing the extra stint order.” (Evening Standard, 4/9/47)
The miners have indeed exchanged one hard master for another.

Another illusion cherished by Labourites is that when an industry is nationalised human aspects and the well-being of the workers no longer have to take second place to financial considerations. Since the mines have got to pay their way, including the necessity of meeting the cost of compensating the former owners, it is obvious that this cannot be. It remained for the Communist General Secretary of the Miners’ Union to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of this fact. In his statement denouncing unofficial strikes and urging increased production he disclosed that at a secret session of miner’s delegates in July he told them that “the Coal Board is at the present time losing money in a very serious fashion.” (Daily Herald, 28/8/47). There was a time when miners’ officials would have told the employers that the finance of the industry was their affair or would, as in 1926, have told the owners to go to the Conservative Government for a subsidy if they couldn’t manage otherwise. Now, under a Labour Government, this Communist conveys the employing Board’s lament to the workers, and instead of demanding a five-day week unconditionally urges the workers in effect to work harder to put the Board’s finances on a profitable basis.

Whatever else may come out of the Grimethorpe strike it should teach some miners at least not to put their trust in Nationalisation, or in Labour administration of capitalism, or in leaders, Communists included.
Edgar Hardcastle

What is a Spiv? (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days, when everybody is becoming Spiv-conscious, to ask what is a Spiv might seem to border on the fatuous. The purpose of this article will merely be to attempt to show that as a comprehensive definition of idler, drone and parasite the word Spiv leaves much to be desired.

Undoubtedly high-powered publicity has focussed the Spiv in constant if dubious limelight. For some he may yet come to acquire something of the symbolical status his more sinister counterpart, the American gangster, possesses for a generation of film-goers.

Shortages, Rationing, The Black Market, as some of capitalism’s present evils, have provided the conditions and opportunities for making England much more a land fit for Spivs to live in than it ever was: or likely to be it seems. For if the statements of certain Government spokesmen are to be taken at their face value, the Spiv is already on his way out. The Government in their efforts to ease the embarrassing, even if temporary, “labour shortage” for contemporary capitalism, have ear-marked the Spiv as a source of potential labour-power. For this Government of planners the unplanned existence of the Spiv (unplanned that is for the existing requirements of Capitalism) becomes at least a little irksome.

The Spiv thus finds himself the subject of Governmental interest and the object of weighty political pronouncements. The word is officially recognised now and is considered normal to the vocabulary of Cabinet Ministers.

Even in the rarefied atmosphere of The House of Lords the word has made its debut. Lord Pakenham replying to Lord Amwell (formerly Mr Fred Montague, MP) on the direction of idleness, said, “Lord Amwell no doubt referred to the gentlemen known as spivs and drones. He agreed that however wide his definition we had no use for slackers at this time”. (Daily Telegraph, 7/8/47). No doubt an interpretation of slackers in the sense of “a wide definition” might have found room for a broader and perhaps more embarrassing inclusion than that permitted by the more restrictive nature of the word Spiv. Doubtless comprehensive definitions of terms, while admirable in theory, are not necessarily politic in practice.

Mr Attlee in the House of Commons the same day said, “We shall take all action open to us against the Spivs and other drones”. Like Lord Pakenham Mr Attlee did not attempt a definition of terms. To have done so might have held awkward implications for the consideration of the members present. It might conceivably have led to the reading of “The Riot Act” in the “Mother of Parliaments”. A political flash-back, nevertheless, recalls the coupling of drones with “idle rich”, in the classic days of Labour Party propaganda.

Nevertheless, Mr Shinwell speaking on the question of appointments to the Electricity Board, did say “We have no regard for those persons who perform no useful service at all . . . They have been described as parasites, idlers, drones and rentiers”. He added, “I don’t intend to appoint them to any Board for which I am responsible.” (Daily Telegraph, 24/6/47). Whether this constitutes one of Mr Shinwell’s noted lapses into indiscretion or a momentary glimpse of a more fundamental aspect of drones and parasites, we venture no opinion. No threat of work direction for these gentlemen, however, only non-appointment to various Boards.

Mr Isaacs, Minister of Labour, has said, that “Spivs are not so numerous as some people think”. But at the Trade Union Conference he spoke of using full Governmental powers of direction in regard to them (Daily Telegraph, 3/9/47). He also told us that there are people who toil not and depend on the dividends earned by other workers. Had he said a wealthy section live on dividends and profits produced solely by the workers, he would have obtained full marks. Mr Isaacs is, however, not a person inclined to indiscretions.

Mr Tom Williams, MP, also spoke on direction of labour. He suggested if there are Spivs and drones or any one else (italics ours) who refused to accept occupations, Unemployment Benefit should be stopped, adding that starving men and women into work is the highest penalty which ought to be tried in the first six or twelve months. (Evening News, 2/9/47). Coupon clippers, rentiers and other profit-participants are, however, debarred from drawing Unemployment Benefit. Moreover, as their level of incomes have no more relevance to “The Poverty Line” than it has to “The Plimsoll Line”, Mr Williams’ dire threats to people refusing direction of work will doubtless be met by them with calm and studied contempt.

The Spiv assumes then the role of the Labour Government’s whipping boy. In the past the hard-faced business man and the treble-chinned plutocrat could be pilloried in the political stocks for Capitalism’s shortcomings. Called upon to administer capitalism the Labour Party must perforce—vide Morrison—ask for their co-operation and even enthusiasm for “Labour’s” New Social Order. The Spiv will be pleased or perturbed to discover that it is he and not the private ownership of the means of wealth production which now constitutes the basic contradiction of capitalism.

The Spiv, however, is not merely a post-war product or the illegitimate child of a Labour Government. His prototype has for many decades alternatively flourished and decayed in capitalist society. He is generally a big city product. Born mostly in city slums or near slums he early experiences the drab life and sordid surroundings of those who, like himself, dwell there and toil for others. When the opportunity occurs for doing a bit on the side or fiddling, he seizes it as a more lucrative and more colourful occupation than the monotony of the daily grind. He is often, however, compelled to devote more time and energy to his peculiar calling than is customary for him to admit. Neither can the Spiv for the most part wholly emancipate himself from his working class status. “In bad times” he is often reluctantly forced back into workshop or factory. For the Spiv, however, the age-long habit of work engrained in his fellow-toilers has been seriously undermined.

It has been said that the Spiv is at least a rebel. Some people have even sentimentalised him as a kind of revolt against the conditions imposed by the nature of capitalist exploitation. The Spiv’s own anti-Government and anti-authoritarian outlook might seem to lend colour to this view. The Spiv, however, generally lacks the class loyalty and class sentiment that goes to the making of the class-conscious social revolutionary. The zeal and selfless devotion of the socialist, with his illimitable vista of a world based on production for use and the Brotherhood of Man, lights no fires in the mind and imagination of the Spiv. A good time and plenty of fun at the expense of others gravely limits his social horizon. Pleasure and “the easy way” becomes basic to his existence. His mode of life constitutes a form of social parasitism which conflicts with the healthy social instincts of the vast majority of workers.

Also the Spiv evolves a standard of values that make for unconscious subservience to wealth and luxury. He is consequently, however insignificant, a factor making for its perpetuation. At his best he is a politically unreliable element. At his worst he can become the strike-breaking instrument of the employing class or a tool for political reaction. In a socialist society where all able-bodied people will engage in productive activity and where the principle prevails—From each according to his ability, to each according to his need—the Spiv, as such, can have no place.

The social solidarity of a system such as the present one is cleft by its basic class antagonism. With the decay of its own outworn economic functions goes the decay of its outworn ethical creeds. The ideological veneer of its so-called public opinion merely hides the subversion of its traditional moral tenets to private forms of hypocrisy and cynicism. The wealth and luxury of present society then breeds its own type of social parasitism with its individual greed and unscrupulousness and its inevitable anti-social consequences. It is this which sets the individual against society and, as in the case of the Spiv, who attempts to imitate and emulate the ruling section, society against the individual. It is hardly to be wondered that the putrefying effects of such a social cesspool as Capitalism, fail to secure for the population at large a 100 per cent immunity from contamination. Given capitalist society the Spiv must flourish like a green bay tree. Changing circumstances may decimate his ranks, but as an inevitable product of existing social conditions, he can hardly cease to exist.

True that the padded shoulders, the diagonally woven suit, the spear-pointed collar and dazzle tie have given the Spiv a sartorial significance and setting. If, however, for a double-breasted camel coat we substitute a faultlessly cut dress suit, the four bob jive for the dance floors of expensive clubs and exclusive hotels, the cheap billiard hall and garish saloon for Monte Carlo and other fashionable gambling resorts; the significance attached to the word Spiv becomes vague and even blurred.

It may be said that the Spiv, by devious methods of obtaining goods in short supply and selling at extortionate prices, is guilty of anti-social practices. Nevertheless he has the time-honoured methods of “Rings”, “Market Corners” and their inevitable outcome, Trusts and Combines, to set him a precedent. Again, if he plies a doubtful trade, the long existence of nefarious company-promoters and Bucket shop sponsors shows that in the matter of shady transactions the Spiv is no path-breaking pioneer. That the Spiv lives by the dubious exercise of his wits may also be true. Yet while a section of the community live on the unpaid labour of others well might the Spiv-kettle, in the matter of social parasitism, retort “Why call me black, brother pot?”

Nevertheless the word is accepted now. From a slang term of doubtful pedigree it is on its way to an assured place in the English dictionary. Henceforth it will be synonymous with idler, drone and parasite. As a definition it will obscure rather than enlighten. Its emphasis will be on those who live by their wits and doubtful practices and not on those whose social parasitism is the outcome of the exploitation of the vast majority through the medium of class-ownership of the means of wealth production. All of which might suggest that there is a form of intellectual Spivery in addition to a social one. Concluding, may we repeat—What is a Spiv?
Ted Wilmott

Blind Leaders (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

British capitalism is facing difficulties. After a long and exhausting war it has had to change over from production of things for war to production of things for peace and the world market. Considerable plant, machinery and capital equipment needed renewing before it could tackle the re-conquest of markets lost during the war. The British capitalist class had accumulated debts abroad where it had formerly held investments. Clearly the tasks were formidable. Every political party proposed ways and means of putting British capitalism back on the map and the British capitalists in their former position of prestige and privilege. That is to say, every political party except the Socialist Party of Great Britain. All Parties talked of the necessity of recovering “our” trade and “our” markets. “Our” position as a great power must he re-established in order, they said, to maintain the workers’ standard of life. In this latter connection Mr. Bevin has gone further than most labour leaders. Speaking some weeks ago on the military occupation of the Middle East by British troops he stated his opposition to their withdrawal on the grounds that the standard of living of the British workers would fall by twenty-five per cent. Presumably, if the troops had to go into action, Mr. Bevin would argue like Mussolini when he sent Italian troops into Abysinnia, that they were fighting a proletarian war! The suggestion that British oil interests require the occupation might appear to honest, bluff Bevin as cynicism. Nevertheless he will have great difficulty in persuading the more informed workers that British capitalists bear the expense of an army in order to maintain the workers’ standard of life. This sort of argument is more in line with the poorest kind of pre-war, Tory imperialist propaganda.

At the Trade Union Congress at Southport Bevin expanded somewhat further on a similar theme and alarmed some of the Labour Party’s “left.” His speech ostensibly covered foreign affairs but its main purpose was to impress the workers of the necessity to work harder, work longer hours and to accept a lower standard of living. Possibly anticipating objections from sections of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions who wanted to argue in favour of abolishing conscription, a substantial reduction of the armed forces and in the production of munitions as an alternative to asking the workers to accept a lower standard of living to solve the “crisis,” he said : “I am a believer in disarmament hut I am not going to be a party to it until I have real collective security. I represent a London constituency and I am not going to leave those people to what Conservatives left them exposed to in 1930-40.” The reflection on the Tories need not concern us. The implications of that statement have caused more than flutterings in some quarters of the Labour Party. Some of the attacks on Bevin in the issue of Tribune following the conference were as bitter as many that were made on MacDonald after he deserted the Labour Party in 1931. His constituents will no doubt be touched by his solicitude for their welfare in a future possible war. But if he would consult them he might find they would accept any alternative to war.

In fact, Bevin’s position as foreign secretary in a government committed to the administration of capitalism leaves him very little choice. Capitalism needs the armed forces and a great deal depends on the show of force it can muster in given circumstances. There is a point below which munition production and reductions in the armed forces will not be permitted. The Labour government and the Trade Union leaders must find other means to overcome the crisis. Mr. Bevin asked the delegates to approve of the workers being asked to accept sacrifices, not, of course, without sugaring the pill with more promises. He argued that if the workers would produce another thirty millions a month for export they would reduce the balance of trade by 370 millions, if they would produce a further 20 millions per month they would have the food cuts restored, if they produced a further 50 millions per month it would leave room for the demand for a higher standard of life which the younger generation would be demanding. The Times took Bevin gently to task for this last suggestion. It had spoiled, it argued, a “great speech.” It agreed with the target but thought Bevin was “courting disaster” to suggest there might be a rise in the standard of living in the coming years of crisis. It can be expected that the Times will offer much more advice in the future in their efforts to see that the Labour government does not “court disaster.” After all, was it not the Governor of the Bank of England and highly placed officials of the Treasury who advised Mr. (song in the heart) Dalton that it was quite sound to allow the free convertibility of sterling into other currencies, advice which it is claimed hastened the impasse in which the Labour government found itself. And who else is more competent to advise on running the capitalist system (for the best interests of the capitalists) than the foxy old officials who have been at it for years and know all the answers? There have been other labour leaders who accepted the advice of the capitalists. They met disaster after the wily capitalists hud played their cards. They also were great ” leaders in their day.

The Labour government and the Trade Unions are committed to the task of running capitalism successfully. Goods owned by the capitalists must he sold on the world’s markets. They find that they stand no chance of success without the workers’ acquiescence in accepting still lower standards of living. Consequently, in common with the capitals press the Labour Party organisation has been working overtime on the refrain that the workers should work harder . . . and still harder. The necessities of British capitalism demand longer hours and greater productivity. And because the Labour government is in control it is compelled through the trade unions to come to the workers to attempt to cajole them into agreement. “Events are in control," said Attlee in a recent broadcast From the Times to the Daily Worker  all agree that the solution is in the hands of the workers. M.P.’s from Earl Winterton to William Gallacher, all join in the refrain. Was the workers’ apparent indifference to this propaganda the subject of conversation between the noble earl and the Communist M.P. when they were seen (according to the daily press) walking arm-in-arm in the lobby of the House of Commons? Everybody who is anybody joins in the new symphony, especially those who have never worked in their lives in the sense that they ask the miners and other workers to work. Never was more point given to the Socialist contention that all wealth is the application of human energy to nature-given materials. Never did it stand out more than today. The British capitalist class and their hacks are worried, and the more worried they get the more they affect an unctuous concern for the welfare of the worker. Unless productivity is increased considerably, they argue, the workers’ standard of living will fall below that existing in the smaller Balkan states. What our masters fear of course is the threat to their own security and well-being. What the hacks and the hirelings of the press, pulpit and politics feat is that their own comfortable places in the capitalist scheme of things might be undermined. Did any of these lackeys show as much concern for the workers' standard of life when in the days before the war millions of workers lived below the poverty line? One research organisation in the days before the war conducted an experiment on rats with the dietary of workers in a depressed area . . . and killed the rats!


Congress submitted a report to the Trade Union Conference arguing the case for harder work and longer hours. Delegates countered with an amendment calling for direction of labour so that “other sections of the community shared some of the sacrifices.” The Minister of Labour in the Labour government who attended the Conference (as did other erstwhile labour leaders who are now on the boards of nationalised companies at fat salaries and expenses) hedged. It can be definitely asserted that there will be no direction of labour of the kind which will include “the other sections of the community.” Debutantes are not going to be directed into textile factories. Members of the royal family will not don the industrial overall as they donned the army uniform during the war. Mr. A. J. Cummings of the News Chronicle, who rivals the “ Gloomy Dean,” will not attempt to overcome his sad depressions when he contemplates the sins of the workers by advocating or joining an industrial “Home Guard.” The porter at the News Chronicle offices need not fear that A.J. will take over his job whilst he enters a factory in the country’s emergency. The war is over. Lease-Lend is finished. As Sir Stafford Cripps has said, English goods are entering a highly competitive market and costs must be kept down. Only workers can do the latter, workers who can be made to feel the pinch of economic pressure. When the Labour government says workers it means workers. They will obtain them for the industries where they require them by a policy which will close down the less essential to the capitalists for the time being. The scope for employment will be restricted. The worker will accept what is given to him or the alternative of being unemployed without even the dole. It can be imagined that the passing of a few months is likely to see the press referring, to the unemployed worker as “unemployable.” ‘

But, doubting, but still loyal members of the Labour Party ask themselves, surely when this crisis is passed we shall get the benefits for which we supported the Labour Party at the elections? The chances are that before the present difficulties of English capitalism work themselves out the workers by working harder will work themselves all the more quickly into the sort of crisis with which they are more familiar—a crisis of “over production.” A crisis which will bring millions of unemployed and fill the markets of the world with a glut of goods which no one will buy. When this happened during the lifetime of the Labour government in 1929/31 they whined that they could do nothing—it was an “economic blizzard.” Today Attlee says “events are in control.” He is right—they are. In those two phrases the Labour Party leaders express their inability to administer capitalism for the workers. No leaders can do so. Events are always in control for those who have to administer capitalism. Capitalism sets the pace. Capitalism produces unemployment, insecurity and poverty for the worker. Capitalism produces war and the perpetual threat of war, which is just as unpleasant a future prospect for the workers even if Mr. Bevin is training an army so as not to let his constituents down as the Tories did in 1939.

There is only one sure escape from the problems of capitalism for the workers—take over the ownership and control of the means and instruments of production and run them in the interests of the whole of society The workers will then shape their own lives for themselves

Sack these blind leaders and work and organise in the Socialist Party for Socialism.
Harry Waite

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Time's Little Joke ! (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “First, the balance of payments. Here we have done very well so far, much better than most experts expected; and there is no prospect of any ‘crisis.’ As Hugh Dalton has said, controls would prevent this; and all that could happen at the worst would be a prolongation of austerity. If we do not export enough, we shall have less oranges, bananas, tobacco, sugar, limber, etc., to consume. That is all.
  “But the figures are encouraging. It was expected that in 1946 we should have a total deficit on the balance of our oversea payments (including Government expenditure abroad) of about £750,000,000. But in fact it has only turned out to be about £450,000,000.
  “Since only £300,000,000 of this was due to ordinary exporting and importing, our excess of imports over exports in 1916 (if we allow for the changed value of money) was scarcely greater than the average for the 1930’s. This is an incredible success, which has not been widely enough realized.
   “It is for this reason that the American Loan is being used up so slowly. Those who say that it is being used fast have evidently not examined the figures very carefully. Hugh Dalton told us recently in Parliament that in the last six months of 1946 some 600,000,000 dollars of the American loan had been spent. This is a rate of spending of £300,000,000 a year. Since the effective part of the loan amounts to £937,000,000, it would last at this rate for rather over three years, i.e. till the autumn of 1949.” 

 (Douglas Jay, Labour M.P., “Labour Press Service,” March 7th, 1947.)

The Labour Party and Palestine (1947)

Editorial from the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

As long as capitalism endures the problems of human relationships take on a capitalist form; all “solutions” must be capitalist solutions — which often means that no real solution is possible. Labour Party conferences thought to solve the Jewish problem by setting up a Jewish National Home in Palestine and Mr. Bevin, with more optimism than foresight, staked his reputation on achieving a solution before he left office—but capitalism has the last word. If Socialism had already been instituted there would not be rival capitalist Powers fighting each other for control of the strategically important Middle East and its oil and other natural resources; no Arab ruling class anxious to keep out the alien capitalism they see in the Zionist movement; no Arab peasants and workers fearful lest their livelihood be endangered by the Jewish invasion; no army of persecuted and homeless Jews desperately seeking what looks to them like the only safe refuge. But when the Socialist says that the task coming before all others is to hasten the achievement of Socialism by winning over a majority to the Socialist cause our opponents have their glib answer ready. Socialism, they say, cannot he won quickly, therefore it is necessary to be practical and find a solution to these dire problems now. So they draw up their solutions, not one solution but many, and engage in bitter conflicts with each other over them. Some are idealistic, humanitarian schemes that capitalism simply laughs out of court. Then come the cynical compromises arrived at after making concessions to the demands of the rival capitalist groups, and the human beings on whose behalf the schemes are supposed to have been drafted are lucky if their last state is not worse than their first. The good intentions of those who moved and supported resolutions at Labour Party conferences come to miserable fruition in the deplorable transport of thousands of homeless Jews back to Germany. Mr. Bevin wanted to solve the Jewish problem but he has to subordinate his desires to the need of British Imperialism. He declares that he has no intention of abandoning Imperial interests in the Middle East and he therefore hesitates to open up Palestine to all the Jews who want lo go there because this would antagonise the Arab States. His opponents urge equally hopeless and dangerous courses. Blandly ignoring the wishes of the Arabs who form the majority of the Palestine population they demand unlimited Jewish immigration. At the end of that road may be a monumental mutual slaughter of Jews and Arabs, with U.S.A., Russia, Britain and the Arab States furthering their own imperialist interests by arming and encouraging the contestants.

How little humanitarian sentiments effectively enter into it is shown by the reluctance of all the Governments to throw open their own frontiers so that the Jewish and other refugees may find refuge. Here working class ignorance and prejudice play a part. Not understanding that capitalism itself is the cause of poverty and unemployment many workers support the exclusion of foreign immigrants because they imagine that by so doing they can shut out unemployment and lowered standards of living.

So we come back to the point from which we began. The spread of Socialist understanding will do more, even as an immediate, practical contribution, than the attempts to solve such problems within the framework of the capitalist system.

The Common Wealth Party and State Capitalism (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our August issue, in the article “Why Can’t we all get Together?”, the statement was made that the Common Wealth Party supports State Capitalism. On August 17th we received from Mr. W. J. Taylor, Political Secretary of Common Wealth, a letter of protest which contained the following:—
   “I was amazed to read in the August issue of the Socialist Standard the following sentence: 'We are utterly opposed to the support of State Capitalism given by Common Wealth.' I am not, of course, amazed that the S.P.G.B. is opposed to support for State Capitalism; but I am at the suggestion that Common Wealth gives such support. 'Nationalisation is not Socialism' is the title of one of our pamphlets, issued shortly before the S.P.G.B. pamphlet of a similar name, 'Nationalisation or Socialism?’ In this pamphlet it is clearly shown that mere nationalisation is not, in itself, Socialism. In fact, this is one of our major points of difference with the present miscalled 'Socialist Government’.”
We replied to Mr. Taylor in a letter dated August 28th:
  "We would first point out that disagreement with the Labour Government’s method of operating Nationalisation and a desire to have nationalised industries operated differently does not in any way meet our criticism. It merely means that you and they both favour State Capitalism but disagree on more or less important details.
    "May we refer to 'Common Wealth Manifesto’ (Second Edition, August, 1943) in which you make it perfectly clear that Common Wealth intends to retain all the essential features of capitalism, in the State Capitalist form. You are going to Nationalise 'all credit and investment institutions’—what function can they perform under Socialism? You are specifically retaining the wages system, which again is quite incompatible with Socialism. To clinch the matter you state (p.8) that what you describe (wrongly) as common ownership is State Capitalism as it exists in Russia.”
We received from Mr. Taylor a further letter dated August 30th which contained the following:
  The 'Manifesto’ to which you refer has not been re-printed since the split in the party in September, 1945, when this issue of State Capitalism was the fundamental underlying the division of opinion in the party. That ‘Manifesto’ will not be re-issued—a new one has been in course of preparation for some time.
  'The pamphlet to which I referred in my previous letter 'Nationalisation is not Socialism' states categorically ‘ The wages system . . . must be abolished.'
   "Recent publications by this party—and notably articles in our monthly Review have shown our changed viewpoint regarding the U.S.S.R. and its State Capitalism.
   "The purpose of 'nationalisation of credit and investment institutions4 is an obvious one—one nationalises (or brings them under common ownership to put it more accurately) for the express purpose of destroying their capitalist function. One cannot create socialism over-night, and though I do not here intend to be drawn into a discussion on the transition period, which would be short and as abrupt as it could be made, it is quite apparent to anyone not completely blinded by wishful thinking that remnants of capitalism will continue to exist for a long time (though diminishing steadily) after the major battle has been fought and won. The remnants of feudalism are still with us.
   "If the issue is one of ultimate aims, then it is doubtful if there is much between us—if it is one of attainment of those aims, then there is—and I most certainly would not object to criticism of that nature, based on facts. I do, however, consider that you are neither advancing the cause of Socialism, nor even the cause of your own party (two not necessarily identical objectives) by ill-informed and misrepresenting comments of the kind to which my earlier letter referred." 
It will be noticed that Mr. Taylor does not claim that Common Wealth always opposed State Capitalism but only that in September, 1945, it ceased giving support and went over to opposition. This in itself deserves some comment. Socialism and State Capitalism are opposites; nobody can support both at the same time. Nobody who understands Socialism could imagine that State Capitalism is the same as Socialism or could support it. It is, of course, possible for an individual who once supported State Capitalism and opposed Socialism, to learn the error of his ways and come to support Socialism and oppose State Capitalism, but this does not explain the antics of Common Wealth. Mr. Taylor says that they supported State Capitalism before September, 1945; what he does not point out is that before 1945, as afterwards, they claimed that their aim was Socialism based on Common Ownership of the means of production and distribution.

The only possible explanation is that before 1945 they had not a glimmering of understanding of what is meant by Socialism and Common Ownership.

It remains to consider whether they are in any better state now. Mr. Taylor would say that they are. He claims that they are now in favour of the abolition of the wages system and recognise that Socialists must be opposed to State Capitalism. He quotes the following passage from a Common Wealth pamphlet as proof of his assertion: “The wages system . . . must be abolished.” The interesting part of this quotation is not what it says but what it leaves out, for the whole passage from page 2 of the pamphlet “ Nationalisation is not Socialism” actually reads:
   “The wages system as we now know it must be abolished . . . ” (Our italics).
And if there is any doubt that Common Wealth is still in favour of the wages system it is only necessary to go to the September issue of Common Wealth Review where we read in an article on the incentives of a Socialist society ‘‘We must accept the need for a planned system of wages and prices and reject the old bargaining methods by sectional interests.” (P.ll).

In short, Common Wealth’s idea of Socialism and common ownership still is, as it always was, State Capitalism.

Mr. Taylor’s letter of August 30th contains two other points that require comment. Asked what function credit and investment institutions could serve under Socialism (when production will be solely for use and the wages system will have been abolished) Mr. Taylor replies that when Common Wealth declares for the "Nationalisation of credit and investment institutions ” the purpose is to bring them "under common ownership,” and destroy ‘‘their capitalist function.” Could anything be more muddled? May we ask Mr. Taylor just how credit and investment institutions can be commonly owned, and how institutions that exist only for the purpose of carrying on Capitalism can be shorn of their capitalist function and retained. What are their functions other than capitalist ones?

It will be observed that Mr. Taylor still claims that common ownership is a more accurate way of describing nationalisation, when in fact the two terms mean something entirely different.

The other point is Mr. Taylor’s statement that remnants of capitalism will continue to exist for a long time under Socialism, a statement that he backs up with a reference to the remnants of feudalism which continued under capitalism. What he overlooks, and it is a fundamental point, is that feudalism and capitalism are both of them systems based on private ownership and the exploitation of one class by another. Socialism means the end of class ownership and exploitation. That is why there is no analogy with the retention of feudal remnants under capitalism. Under Socialism there cannot be, either for a long period or a short one, a continuation of class ownership and class exploitation. Common Wealth still confuses the issue by describing as Socialism, to which it is opposed, State Capitalism, to which it gives support.
Editorial Committee

A Letter To An Irish Worker (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not far away lies the country where you were born, Ireland—Ireland, geographically, but not politically. Politically, there are two lands—as you know—Eire and Northern Ireland. Ireland as a geographical unit does exist—Ireland as a nation, no.

Unpalatable as this fact may appear to you and the majority of Irishmen and women in this country it remains none the less a fact and to ignore it in any review of the situation in Ireland would be sheer folly, if not deceit. More important still: since it is the position of the working class with which I am concerned it is from that class point of view that I examine Ireland. To express any other point of view but the working class one would not only be detrimental to the real interests of Irish workers both here and in Ireland, but would also be tantamount to a surrendering of my Socialist principles.

At present you are being asked to give your support to a campaign to ”end partition in Ireland.” You are asked, as an Irishman, to "help end the unnatural division of Ireland, to make Ireland, once more, as she was in the past, a free and united nation.” Those organisations that are very much interested in getting your support for their nationalist policies are constantly reminding you of “your glorious heritage,” of ”your proud past, your great Irish nation and your nationality.” However, I would urge you to stop and think, and ask yourself what it’s all about—remember, the hand that heartily slaps you on the back may yet conceal a knife.

Ireland, today, represents a glaring example of the utter futility of supporting nationalist parties, from the workers’ view point. From long before the French Revolution to the Civil War of 1920 Irish men, women and children, have died a hundred-and-one deaths through war, famine and pestilence caused either directly or indirectly by the pursuing of this "pure ideal” of national independence. Of course, one can look back upon it all as ‘‘just history” and murmur about the "inevitability of social development.” However, such an attitude is not enough—to stop there is to close your eyes to what is happening now and what may happen in the future. History follows no preordained, inexorable path—it is men who make history, and men who change the world. And because Irish working men and women still give their allegiance and support to this nationalist ideal of a “free and united Ireland” so are they also prepared to follow in the footsteps of those who went before them and lay down their very lives, in one way or another, for something they believe to be in their interests.

And what has been the result of it all in Ireland? What has been achieved through the misery and the suffering and the death of the countless thousands of unnamed Irish peasants and workers? What concrete and tangible gains have been made by those who always bear the brunt of wars, whether national or international? Shall we assess our gains? Surely it is high time we did.

Now, then, note these data: Eire (26 of the 32 Irish counties) is a Republic, an independent state. It has a population of about 3,000,000, of which number 66 persons are considered wealthy to the extent that they receive an average £27 10s. each per day; the great remainder of the population—the working class—being so poor that their income is below the 1939 cost-of-living figure by over 30 per cent. in the cities and 15 per cent. in the country areas; of the 70-odd-thousand registered unemployed members of this population the unmarried man “exists” on the munificent sum of 22s. 6d. per week. Emigrant ships (you’ve experienced the luxurious comfort of these sea-greyhounds!) have carried on an average a daily cargo of 78 Irish men and women to this and other countries since 1922. Slums, hovels and dilapidated houses that constitute “habitable accommodation” for a great many; all the poverty-diseases, of which tuberculosis causes one-half of all the deaths between the ages of 15 and 25 each year. One hundred and forty politicians who prate about "equality of sacrifice” and, at the same time, increase their salaries from £40 to £52 per month while 140,000 old-age pensioners “exist” on £2 10s. per month. Charitable organisations are as much a part of the Irish scene as are the Mountains of Mourne or the Blarney Stone. (One of these organisations issued its 157th annual report in June. That report stated that in Dublin City—capital of this proud “Irish nation,” Eire—about 8.500 families are trying to live on incomes of between five shillings and £1 per week. It continued, in like vein, to enumerate the many afflictions from which the working people of city, town and village suffer; and for the hundredth-and-fifty-seventh time this unctuous, back-slapping Christian organisation, shedding crocodile-tears, bemoaned the fact that to find large families accommodated in one ramshackle room, damp and miserable, without anything like sufficient food, clothing and bedding is a common experience.)

Well, that’s Eire today after a quarter of a century’s self-government. I think you’ll agree that all the “heroic” national struggles that have been waged in Ireland have—so far as the Irish worker and his family is concerned—achieved absolutely nothing. Today, behind the brave talk of the politicians, behind the backs of the cultured gentlemen of the Gaelic League and the language revivalists, beneath the cloak of nationality and religion, lies the stark reality of the slum, of rampant disease, of poor wages, of high prices, of dole and emigration queues—poverty is the daily companion and bed-fellow of the majority of men and women in Ireland.

Yes—of course—there have been changes, the strategically-important seaports are no longer the legal property of the British Government, the British Governor-General is gone, the tricolour now flutters triumphantly in the breeze over Government House in Merrion Square . . . Changes? Well, of a sort; changes which certainly haven’t changed your wage-slave position in the least—and, surely, that’s the one thing worth changing?

No, nationalism has nothing to offer you—except a change of masters. Whether the Eire Government of De Valera or the Northern Ireland Government of Basil Brooke rules the whole, or only part, of Ireland, whether the flag be the tricolour or the Union Jack, whether partition ends or continues, you, as a worker, will in no wise be any better off. Your problems will still continue, will still confront you—worrying you and causing you many a headache—while the present system of society lasts. To solve those problems—which never leave yon, be you in Ireland, Britain, America or any other part of the world—you’ll most certainly have to struggle.

But let your struggle be one against the real origin of your problems, against the system of capitalism, and against those who support it. Struggle against the system which condemns all workers, regardless of the place of their birth being Ireland, Britain, America or anywhere else, to a life-time of toil and poverty, from cradle to grave ; struggle against the wealthy few who, because they own the factories, mines, railways and all of the means and instruments for producing wealth, compel you—because you own nothing—to labour for their benefit.

Your struggle, in common with the struggle of workers everywhere, to be successful must be a revolutionary one. Your aim? To take from the capitalist class its ownership of the means of production and make them the common property of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex. When you’ve achieved that—when you’ve won that revolution — living will really be worthwhile then, it will be a joy and an adventure.

Then things will be produced because people need them and not in order to sell for the purpose of making profit; then poverty will disappear, insecurity vanish, and wars will be nothing but memories . . . That will be Socialism—so, speed the day!
Comradely Yours,
Chris Walsh.

Press Cuttings (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strikes in Nationalised Industries
"The Grimethorpe strike has raised, in an acute from, the question of discipline in a nationalised industry.
  Trade union theory has never surrendered the right to strike, after due notice given.
   It has been held to be the last sacred sanction of organised labour against injustice.
  But it is against private employers that this right has been so sturdily maintained.
  Is the situation the same when, as in the coal industry, the employer is the nation?
 And can the State run industry effectively if the right of the workers to defy its authority with impunity is to be recognised ?
  "No” would seem to be the answer to both these questions. And, unless agreement can be reached on this basis, nationalised industries run grave risks of coming to grief."
(Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P., writing in Sunday Express, 14/9/47.)
Mr. Thurtle now wants the right to strike to be withdrawn from workers in nationalised industries. Long ago, before the Labour Party came to power, the Labour Daily Herald admitted that if the price of nationalisation is that the workers lose their only weapon, the strike, then, “under capitalism a nationalised industry would actually be worse off than those left in private hands." (13/9/22.)


New Russian Imperialism in Persia
Moscow radio last night disclosed that the draft Soviet-Persian oil agreement which the Persian Premier, Qavam es Salteneh, declined to submit to Parliament, contains a special article granting concessions to the proposed Soviet-Persian oil company, in addition to the agreement signed in 1946 for the company’s creation.
The new article provides “preferential rights for the Soviet Union regarding the purchase of oil products exported by the company” in which Russia is to hold 51 per cent, of stock, the broadcast said.
It also provides for the company to import duty free and without licence “equipment necessary for its work” of exploiting oilfields in North Persia.
(News Chronicle, 25/9/47)

Party News Briefs (1947)

Party News from the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The winter series of Sunday evening lectures at the Trade Union Club, Great Newport' Street, London, W.C., commences on October 5th. There will be weekly lectures throughout the winter timed to commence at 7 p.m. On October 5th A. Turner will make a “ Call to London's workers.” On October 12th C. Lestor will open a short series of historical lectures with “Primitive Communism,” followed by further historical lectures on the 19th and 26th, F. Evans speaking on "Feudalism” on the latter date. D. Fenwick's subject for October 19th is not yet to hand.

The Party meeting on September 14th called to discuss international contacts with parties and groups abroad was lively, interesting and fruitful. The discussion centred round the desirability of sending party representatives to conferences of parties and groups abroad who are not associated with us with a view to making our position known to workers seeking a way out of the present chaos. After the whole question had been thoroughly thrashed out the meeting expressed itself in agreement with the view of the Executive Committee that we are willing to send a party representative to national or international gatherings of our political opponents to state the Party’s case provided that the party representative is admitted on the clear understanding that he is there to state our case in opposition and not to be in any way associated with joint decisions arrived at. We should not therefore be prepared to send a representative as a delegate. The meeting endorsed the action of the E.C. in not sending a member to the Brussels conference convened by the Spartacus Group of Holland at Whitsun, but recommended that a representative should be sent to a further congress in Brussels which we learn is to be held at Christmas.

The Autumn Delegate meeting took place on September 28th, but we go to print before this date, and will give a report of it in our next issue.

The Propaganda Committee are not receiving Forms ‘‘E” (Reports of Propaganda meetings) early enough from some branches. Please send these to Head Office as quickly os possible after the meetings are held.

The Centenary Edition of the “Communist Manifesto with our own Introduction is now being considered by the Executive Committee. It will be a valuable part of revolutionary literature when published.

A debate with the Independent Labour Party (represented by T. Colyer) has been arranged for Friday, October 17th, at the Co-operative Society’s Hall, Lakedale Road, Plumstead. Our representative will be C. May.

Party Badges are now available in brooch or stud fittings. They are 1s. 6d. each post free and money should be sent with order to Head Office.

The Party Funds Committee is now at work trying to swell the flow of money into the party. They have sent an individual appeal to each subscriber to the Socialist Standard which is bearing fruit, but much more money is needed to enable us to maintain and extend our activities. Send as much as you can to the Party—we need it.

A scheme of education classes at Head Office was approved by the Executive Committee towards the end of August. In the first instance there will be a series of twelve weekly classes at Head Office up to Christmas. This will be attended by 15 members chosen from last year’s economics class with a view to preparing them to act as tutors after Christmas. The syllabus will include, in addition to history and economics, instruction in how to study, and the history of the working-class movement with special reference to the origin of the party and its attitude to the Internationals, other political parties and reformism. After Christmas it is proposed to limit the class again to 15 members. The Executive Committee recognise that many more members than 15 will wish to attend, but to begin with we wish to build up a solid core of members thoroughly grounded in all aspects of the party’s position, and this can only be done with an intensive course of study in which the students submit written work on questions set, and are generally under the close supervision of the tutors. For this, comparatively small classes are essential. It is proposed to hold two separate sessions of twelve weeks each from January to September. Apart from providing the basic knowledge which party members should possess, the aim is to seed students for speaking, writing or teaching, and to pass them on to specialised classes for these purposes as and when they are formed. The tutors who form the first class before Christmas will take the subsequent classes in selected portions of the syllabus of which they have made a special study. The work of the tutors will be supervised by the Education Committee which the Executive Committee have set up to run the scheme. The Education Committee will be writing to branches asking them to nominate members to attend the class after Christmas, and they ask for the co-operation of members in running a scheme which, while in the beginning cannot cater for the requirements of all members, has the objective of providing sufficient tutors for a greater number of educational classes both at Head Office and in branches than we have ever had in the experience of the party.

Paddington Branch are asking Head Office Propaganda Committee to co-operate with them with a view to running a mass meeting at the Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road, London, on Sunday, November 2nd.

Glasgow Branch are on the threshold of another winter season of indoor lectures, propaganda meetings and debates. Their speakers will be in action every Sunday evening from the first Sunday in October at the Central Halls, 25, Bath Street. The meetings commence at 7.30 p.m. Halls have been booked right up to May, 1948, to accommodate the hundreds of workers in Glasgow interested in socialism. Glasgow branch aims to develop this interest into actively organised participation in the party’s effort. The branch is considering running classes in logic and economics during the winter. Further announcements about these classes will be made later. Other propaganda plans are visits to Edinburgh and other places in Scotland, and if funds permit speakers will be sent to Dublin and Belfast. The branch is very active, and right throughout the summer outdoor propagandists were at work. A considerable number of the party’s "Work and Want” posters are now showing in Glasgow. Workers are rallying to the support of the branch both financially and politically and members are going ahead enthusiastically.
C. C. Groves,
General Secretary.

What Next for South Africa? (1990)

From the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We may never know what discussions took place between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela before the famous prisoner’s release, but it is evident they did a deal. It is possible they agreed on a detailed programme of reform. Economic forces have been pressing in on the deadlocked conflict for decades but movement has been slow. It has been thirty years since Harold Macmillan spoke of “a wind of change blowing through Africa”, but in South Africa this has been a gentle breeze which disturbed little, leaving the white monopoly of power intact. Delayed change results in greater pressure and now it seems the deadlock is about to be broken. What will this mean for our fellow workers in South Africa, both black and white?

An ideal model of capitalism would rest on a simple division between capitalists and workers with the latter voting in governments to administer their own exploitation in a “liberal democracy”. Capital would be free to invest most profitably and train workers to achieve maximum output without skin colour or ethnic background being an issue. This would tend to secure the most efficient use of labour resources, with political stability and without excessive expenditure on forces of repression.

Tortured history
In practice capitalism rarely confirms to this model. In South Africa the legal classifications of “European”, “Bantu”, “Coloureds” and “Asians” complicate the economic and political structure in ways which inhibit efficiency. They result from the tortured history through which these groups took root in the country.

Even within these groups there was never a common identity. For over two centuries the Europeans were bitterly divided between British and Dutch. Cape Town was established as a supply station by the Dutch East India Company. During the Napoleonic Wars the British pre-empted a French take-over by seizing it themselves after which it was kept as a British colony. In the 1830s a large number of the Dutch trekked north to found the Transvaal and Orange Free State but again they came into conflict with the British when gold, diamonds, coal and other materials were discovered in the Boer republics. To gain control of these materials colonial adventurers like Cecil Rhodes conspired with the British government to instigate the Boer War. Following the defeat of the Boers, and the sufferings of their families in concentration camps in which thousands died from disease and starvation, British imperialism gained control over the entire land area of what is now South Africa.

But it was not only the people of European origin who were in conflict. Tribal differences also divided the African peoples who in the seventeenth century had migrated south from East Africa. These divisions are still a potent force, further complicating the politics of South Africa. The Zulus are mainly concentrated in Natal under Chief Buthelezi and it is interesting that he controls his power base, Inkatha, as its unelected leader. Despite their demand for it, there is no “one person, one vote” amongst the Zulus. Nelson Mandela is a Chieftain of the Xhosa people and is acclaimed as being more representative of black South Africans through the African National Congress.

During the past seven years more than 2,500 people have died in violence between different black groups and Mandela has appealed passionately for an end to the fratricidal strife. “Throw your arms into the sea”, he recently implored a vast crowd of Zulus. The response of Inkatha was positive but also tempered with a warning:
  Only the enemies of peace and black unity would wish otherwise. However, we shall not succeed to achieve this by protracted attempts to demonise, vilify and marginalise Dr. Buthelezi. To do this is tantamount to planting the seeds of future civil war in our country.
This threat of possible civil war, presumably in circumstances in which the Afrikaner Nationalist government may have collapsed, is indeed ominous.

Those called the “Cape Coloureds” were originally descended from the offspring of early Dutch male settlers and their female servants brought to the Cape Province from the Dutch East Indies. The temptations of sexual relations between the “races” were more than the Calvinist citizens could resist and, in any case, pre-dated the ideology of “apartness”.

The indigenous inhabitants of South Africa were the defenceless Hottentots who suffered genocide at the hands of every invader, Dutch, British and Bantu. These three groups, very different in their origins and outlook, were pitched into the same land area and now form the main elements in today’s political strife.

Capitalists’ political frustration
One of the ironies of this history is that Rhodes instigated war with the Boer Republics under the slogan of “democratic rights for all white citizens” with the object of gaining control of diamonds, precious metals and vital raw materials. In this he succeeded but as the mining industry developed under mainly British investment together with manufacturing, the white working class of the urban areas eventually formed a political alliance with the rural Afrikaners to elect an Afrikaner Nationalist government in 1948 which has held power ever since. The various National Party governments under Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha (the names alone speak of the return of the Afrikaners to power) have never been the “natural” or direct representatives of capitalist class interests. The more liberal-minded United Party disappeared and its current replacement, the Democratic Party, has little chance of gaining majority white support.

Capitalist interests would have best been served by a reform programme aimed at integrating the black population within a non-racial system of exploitation. This could have been introduced through a gradually-widening franchise based, for example, on property or education qualifications, arriving eventually at “one person, one vote”. This was not to be. It is to the eternal discredit of white workers in South Africa that in the majority they have pursued what they saw as their interests through racist trade unions and by voting for the National Party.

But if all this has been frustrating for capitalist class interests neither has it advanced the hopes of the Afrikaner nationalists. Their ideal of apartheid, or separate development, was always an illusion. Whether we see it as, at best, a nostalgic yearning for an independent “volk” or, at worst, a cynical euphemism for racial oppression does not matter. Either way, apartheid was against the tide of history.

When the more fanatical Conservative Party accuses de Klerk of “betrayal” and “sell-out” the greater truth is that the National Party has been overwhelmed by the economic forces of capitalism. The seeds of this were planted when the Afrikaners won political control. As a government they had no choice but to depend on taxes from mining, industry and manufacture to run their state machine. From this moment on, they were tied to capitalism. It costs a lot of money to pay for the repression of 20 million black people and, inevitably, the bills increase. Where once the Afrikaners eschewed the idolatry of gold, diamonds and profit, their heirs speak the universal language of trade and commerce. De Klerk is a capitalist politician.

In his recent important speech to the South African Parliament on 2 February he said:
  A new South Africa is possible only if it is bolstered by a sound and growing economy, with particular emphasis on the creation of employment.
At times he sounded like a Thatcherite:
  By means of restricting capital expenditure in state institutions, privatisation, deregulation and curtailing government expenditure, substantial progress has been made already towards reducing the role of the authorities in the economy.
At other times he also sounds like Gorbachev:
  The government’s policy is to reduce the role of the public sector in the economy and to give the private sector maximum opportunity for optimal performance. In this process, preference has to be given to allowing the market forces and a sound competitive structure to bring about the necessary adjustments.
We might ask how it comes about that politicians as different in their backgrounds as de Klerk, Thatcher and Gorbachev are committed to the same policies. They each share a common role as functionaries of capital; the economies of South Africa, Britain and Russia are locked into the same system – world capitalism. As a result their respective governments are compelled to react to the same economic pressures to achieve efficiency and profitability and to pursue strategies which best protect their long-term interests. These are the same forces which are driving politicians in South Africa, despite their own very different origins into a common outlook.

An added reason why de Klerk can sometimes sound like Gorbachev is that both face problems of restructuring, or perestroika. According to the Independent (27 February):
 British businessmen and bankers are unlikely to return to South Africa in droves as a result of the lifting of the ban on new business investment . . . They left because of rising commercial and political risks, poor investment returns, difficulties in repatriating profits and higher returns available in other countries.
In his speech to the South African Parliament de Klerk complained of “a serious weakening in the productivity of capital and stagnation in the economy’s ability to generate income and employment opportunities”.

It is evident that de Klerk, through his negotiations with Mandela and the ANC, hopes that he will be the man to restructure the South African economy on the basis of political stability achieved through extended democratic rights, but it is likely that the National Party has left it too late. Surely the party and the man for the task is the ANC under Nelson Mandela? Is it not more likely that it will be they who emerge as the new functionaries of capital best suited to achieving a more efficient exploitation of workers in South Africa without distinction of “race”, as capital demands?

Not afraid of black government
Certainly a number of leading capitalists assume that the future lies with a black government. For some years, Gavin Relly, the chairman of Anglo-American, South Africa’s largest business corporation which controls gold, platinum and coal production, has been in close contact with the ANC. In 1985, together with the chairman of the South African Foundation, which represents general business interests, he met with Oliver Tambo and a negotiating team from the ANC. He said then:
  What we are concerned with is not so much whether the following generation will be governed by black or white people, but that it will be a viable country and that it will not be destroyed by violence and strife.
He added that he and the ANC “shared a common interest in maintaining the profitability of the South African State”.

Since Mandela’s release there has been some concern in capitalist circles over the ANC’s apparent commitment to nationalisation, including the mines. However, on 26 February Gavin Relly, continuing his personal contacts with the ANC, met Mandela and afterwards urged investors to calm their fears. He said it was premature now to get agitated about the ANC’s economic programmes:
  The community and international community should not get into a flurry over nationalisation. These are issues for sensible men to discuss. Issues of nationalisation will have to be subjected to the tests of debate and the tests of what is practical to make the modern economy work.
In his own comments on the meeting, Mandela said nationalisation remained, in certain areas, a basic policy of the ANC, but the economy at large would still be based on private enterprise. “The entire economy will remain intact” (Independent, 27 February). Again, we shall never know the details of their discussions but it is clear that Gavin Relly, a leading representative of capitalist interests, emerged a happy man from his meeting with Mandela.

Where does all this leave our fellow workers in South Africa? Our interests are directly linked with theirs and if democratic freedoms are now to be extended to that country it is in all our interests. Perhaps now the Directorate of Publications in Cape Town will release our pamphlets and the copies of the Socialist Standard which have been kept under lock and key in the cell where banned literature is stored.

In the short-term it appears that workers in South Africa may well continue to support those reformist organisations which they see as representing their interests in a “racially” divided society. However, it is also likely that the increasing pressure of the economic forces of capitalism and the reforms which are in prospect will simplify the issue into a straightforward confrontation between capitalist and working class interests. This will leave the fundamental problems of the workers still to be solved. Even now the vital work must be to ensure that a growing world socialist movement is extended to South Africa.
Pieter Lawrence

Russia and Private Property (1990)

From the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The decision by the Central Committee of the CPSU at its February meeting to abandon its guaranteed, constitutional monopoly on power really could prove to be as momentous as the media claimed at the time. However this will not be for the reasons they gave – that it will open up a new era of freedom, prosperity and progress for Russia – but because it could lead to a change in the way that the means of production are monopolised by the minority owning class there.

Except for some of those that can be operated by individuals or by a family unit, all means of production in Russia are vested in the state which also has a monopoly in the hiring of wage-labour. This has meant that the group that has controlled the state has also controlled the means of production, has in effect owned them. However, the members of this group have not done so as individuals possessing legal property deeds in their own names, but collectively as a group. It is this group – as a group – that has been the collective owner of the means of production and the collective employer of the working class in Russia, in short the collective capitalist there.

So who are they? Who are those who make up this group that monopolises the means of production in Russia in this way? As Russia has been a one-party dictatorship since Lenin introduced this in 1921, they have been the leading members of the ruling party plus those appointed by them to key posts carrying with them a life-style based on privileged access to the best consumer goods, housing, health care, education for their children, holidays and officially known as the nomenklatura. Not possessing legal property titles in their own names, they have not been able to bequeath their privileged position to their children. So the group that has constituted the collective capitalist class in Russia has been recruited by other means than inheritance, in fact by rising up the bureaucratic hierarchy of the single party.

It is this party that has been the mechanism by which the collective capitalist class in Russia has monopolised the state and so the means of production and by which they have renewed themselves and recruited new members. This is why the political and ideological representatives of this class have proclaimed the “leading role of the party” to be a pillar of the Russian system. It is also why the decision by the Party’s Central Committee at its February meeting to abandon it could prove to be of immense importance.

Gorbachev wants a mandate
Of course abandoning a constitutional right to be the only governing party, indeed the only party allowed to exist – the notorious Article Six of the 1977 Russian constitution – is not the same thing as actually abandoning power. The leaders of the “Communist” Party still want, like Mrs Thatcher, to go on ruling for ever but from now on they hope to do so with a democratic mandate from the electorate.

There is a short-term reason for this: they feel they need popular endorsement to be able to push through the tough anti-working class measures perestroika involves. For although glasnost (openness) has progressed quite far, perestroika has not. Enterprises have been given legal independence from the government ministries that used to control them, but price reform – the key measure of perestroika and what it is all about, designed to bring prices into line with what the law of value demands – has not yet been implemented.

Price reform will involve ending government subsidies on basic consumer goods such as food, housing and transport and allowing their prices, along with those of industrial goods, to be fixed by the free play of market forces. Although the object is to get the stagnant Russian economy moving again, it is bound to mean for at least the short-term falling living standards and rising unemployment. Learning the lesson of the events in Poland, Gorbachev is clearly not prepared to launch into this attack on the working class without a mandate to do so. His conservative opponents in the Party hierarchy might not like his political reforms, but they don’t want him to go since they know that they would have even less chance of controlling the potentially explosive situation in Russia.

It is the longer-term implications of the decision to abandon the Leninist principle of one-party dictatorship that could prove to be the most significant though, as this could herald a change in the way the means of production are monopolised in Russia with the ruling class there changing itself from a class of collective owners into a class of individual owners as in the West.

Such a change has always been a possibility but until now only a rather remote one. It is a measure of the historic importance of events in Eastern Europe – which will surely have led to the liquidation of the nomenklatura system there by the end of the year – that they have forced what once seemed to be the immovable Russian Party-elite to reconsider its position.

The transformation of the Russian ruling class from a collectively-owning state bureaucracy into a class of private capitalists with private property rights vested in them as individuals certainly won’t take the form of the present members of the nomenklatura abdicating and handing over their power and privileges to the small group of privately-owning capitalists who have always led a precarious existence on the margins of the Russian state-capitalist economy. Nor would it need to take the crude form of them simply dividing up the presently state-owned industries amongst themselves. It would be more likely to take the form of the Russian government gradually introducing more and more opportunities for private capitalist investment – which only those who have already accumulated wealth would be able to take advantage of. Most of these will inevitably be individual members of the nomenklatura as the group which for years has enjoyed bloated salaries, cash prizes and opportunities to speculate on the black market.

Although there have been periodic drives against corruption, the wealth accumulated by the members of the nomenklatura has largely survived intact. Up to now, however, they have not been allowed to use their accumulated wealth as capital – as wealth invested in production with a view to profit – but have been obliged to hold it as non-productive assets such as works of art, vintage cars and cash held in low-interest bank accounts. That Gorbachev wants to remove this restriction and channel such funds towards investment in production can be seen from the reference in the new Party Platform to “the distribution of state loan bonds on advantageous terms” and to “the selling of stocks and other securities”.

Ligachev’s Fears
High-denomination state bonds were issued for the individually wealthy to purchase right up until the 1940s (when their holders were virtually expropriated when Stalin reformed the currency in 1947), but this time rich Russians are to be allowed to purchase not just government bonds but also to invest directly in particular enterprises by purchasing bonds issued by them too. It is not difficult to see how this could evolve into a system of shareholding. In addition, private enterprise in the form of “co-operatives” is to be encouraged. Such co-operatives are supposed to be collectives of self-employed workers but once again, over time, pressure to allow them to employ wage-labour and for some of their members to become sleeping partners, or non-working investors, can be expected to grow.

This whole issue of “private property” is still a subject of controversy within the Russian Party. It ought to be understood, however, that the issue at stake is not whether individuals should be allowed to own non-productive assets, sometimes considerable amounts, as private property which they can bequeath and inherit. This has long existed and all sides agree it should continue. Nor – yet – is the issue about whether individuals should be allowed to employ other individuals. It is about whether “co-operatives” of the self-employed should be allowed to own means of production and compete with state enterprises for sales and profits.

On the one side, there are the supporters of Igor Ligachev who was reported as saying at the February Central Committee meeting that “he opposed the introduction of private property with his whole soul”, adding: “I am also against turning our party into an amorphous organisation, a political club” (Independent 7 February 1990). On the other side, are those who agree with Boris Yeltsin when he says: “I am for private property, including the means of production. The limits are that it should not be sold, and not inherited” (Vancouver Sun, 21 December 1989).

The new Party Platform shows that it is the partisans of “private property” who are winning. Ligachev is nevertheless probably right when he sees “co-operative private property” as the thin end of a wedge that will open the way, despite what Yeltsin says, both to private property rights in means of production being sold and inherited and to the private employment of wage-labour. This latter is still regarded in Russia as a case of “the exploitation of man by man” – as indeed it is, though Ligachev is being inconsistent when he denounces the employment of hired labour by private individuals while accepting it by the state. Clearly, what he favours is the nomenklatura continuing to monopolise the means of production collectively as a group dictatorially controlling the state where the means of production are state-owned.

Gorbachev, on the other hand, realises that it is now no longer possible for the nomenklatura to role in the old way and that some sort of flexibility is called for, if only to be able to push through perestroika without provoking a workers’ revolt. He probably isn’t consciously working towards ushering in a Russia where the nomenklatura has disappeared as such and has succeeding in converting itself into a class of Western-type privately-owning capitalists, but it is in this direction that his reforms can now be seen to be leading.
Adam Buick