Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Stressed Out (2015)

From the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

General practitioners are highly-qualified, do obviously important work and are paid well above the average wage. So you might expect them to be very contented and motivated workers, satisfied with their lot and well-respected by their patients and by society at large. But in fact GPs are leaving their posts in droves, taking early retirement or whatever. Medical students are increasingly unwilling to go into general practice, preferring specialisms of one kind or another, though some will end up as GPs anyway if they do not make the grade in a more specialised area. The number of unfilled GP posts has quadrupled in the last three years, and one doctor said he felt that ‘general practice is on the verge of being irreparably broken’ (BBC Online, 2 March).

The reason behind this situation is, in a word, stress. GPs work long hours, are subject to various pressures, and experience decreasing amounts of job satisfaction. A survey from 2013 found that around nine thousand GPs were expecting to quit the profession in the next five years: ‘A total of 86% of GPs reported considerable or high pressure from rising workload, 81% from paperwork and 78% from having too little time to do their job justice’ (, 16 September 2013). Earlier this year, the British Medical Association published guidance aimed at ‘finding ways of freeing up GPs’ time for patient consultations by halting inappropriate, excessive and unresourced work’ (, 14 January). Doctors in all jobs are subject to similar pressures, with relatively high rates of depression and anxiety.

In fact this is just part of the ever-mounting stress problems affecting health service workers, nurses as well as doctors. In London in 2014, almost 1500 nurses took time off because of stress, with an average of 38 days (Observer, 18 January), and perhaps as much as 30 percent of all NHS sick leave is caused by stress. Jobs are frozen or even cut, while an ageing population and poorer health in general in the recession mean an increase in patients, and all these lead to overwork by the staff who remain. In some disciplines, this may involve lengthy spells of solo working. One senior A&E nurse described the pressure placed on staff as worse than what she faced on the front line in the Iraq War. In September last year, a nurse in Walsall killed himself after months of working 14-hour days, six days a week.

The health industry is of course not the only one where workers experience high levels of stress, though the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) lists it as one of those with the highest prevalence (the others are given as education, social care, public administration and defence). The charity Mind reported in December that, more generally, 87 percent of emergency services staff and volunteers surveyed had experienced stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point in their work; but they are less likely than other workers to take time off for poor mental health. A report last year for the Prison Officers’ Association found, unsurprisingly, that many were subject to verbal and physical abuse from prisoners. But in addition, many felt impelled to go into work when unwell and were unable to ‘switch off’ outside work hours. Over a third had been diagnosed with a stress-related illness while working in the prison service. A similar report for the University and College Union found that 87 percent of respondents in further education felt their job was stressful, and 64 percent stated that their general level of stress was high or very high.

In 2013–14, there were 487,000 cases of work-related stress in Britain, resulting in over eleven million working days lost. To be more precise, these figures are for ‘work-related stress, depression or anxiety’, defined by the HSE as ‘a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’. Sometimes a distinction is drawn between pressure (when you feel you can cope with the demands placed on you) and stress (when you feel unable to do so). The HSE sees stress as a problem for employers as well as workers, since it can lead to increased absences and staff turnover, and to more mistakes by staff. So it gives out various kinds of advice, for instance that line managers (who may be stressed themselves) should be aware of issues of workload and harassment, handle sensitively people returning to work and generally provide appropriate support. Companies have a general duty of care to their workers, and under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 employers have a duty to minimise the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees, though of course that does not imply that such minimising will take place.

Inevitably the EU has set up a body to deal with these matters, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. This is currently running a campaign ‘Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress’, launched in April last year and due to culminate in a summit this November. It is intended to provide ‘the support, guidance and tools needed to effectively manage work-related stress and psychosocial risks’. Employers and workers need to work together to combat stress, supposedly, and the whole enterprise is based on the assumption that things will go well as long as reasonable people are well-informed and co-operate and show genuine concern. There is little or no awareness of the power that employers exercise and of the subordinate position of workers, not that we would expect it from such a body.

Someone suffering from stress, whether work-related or not, may have a range of psychological, emotional and behavioural signs, from lapses of memory and mood swings to insomnia and loss of libido. Behind all these symptoms and causes of stress, from overwork to depression, is the basic factor of people lacking control over their working lives. They have little or no choice in how many hours they work, how much they are expected to get through in their working time, what sort of breaks they can take, the kind of work they are required to do and so on. Changes to their schedule or reorganisation of workplace structures and how they relate to managers and colleagues are generally imposed on them with little or no consultation. All that is the consequence of being a wage worker under capitalism, of being employed by a system that is interested in profit and cost rather than the health and well-being of workers. 
Paul Bennett

We are not amused (1979)

From the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the First World War, while millions were sacrificed to the great god of profit, there was a popular song advising workers to 'Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and Smile! Smile! Smile!' Presumably the assumption was that it's better to be slaughtered with a smile on your face than without. These days the radio disc jockeys persistently urge us to keep a smile on our face whatever happens. Famine, war, unemployment, insecurity, the maxim of the entertainers is, 'You've got to look on the bright side'.

We might conclude that these people are natural optimists. A more down to earth assessment is that they must be bloody mad to expect us to smile in the face of the horror of capitalism. In fact, neither is the case. The entertainments industry, just like all others under capitalism, exists simply to make profits by selling commodities on the market. They sell the alleged talent of the comedians, the film stars, the rock singers, the clowns, the strippers. When any of these fail to pull in a paying audience they are no longer put on display.

Most workers enjoy being entertained. Some like TV situation comedies, others the old music hall comics; some like Coronation Street, others prefer modern drama in trendy pubs; some like looking at modern art, others are keener on staring at undressed tarts; some kid themselves that they're cultured, others watch Bruce Forsyth. These are all mass consumption arts and they all speak with one voice, saying, "Don't participate, observe; don't think, be thought for; don't do, accept." It would be a crude assessment to say that all entertainment is simply a process of conditioning. But to say that to be entertained can be a passive act is both a truism and a statement of significance. It means that you are accepting someone else's values and, as those values are only put before a mass audience by courtesy of a class whose interest is hostile to yours, those values will be hostile to yours.

Let's take an example of the average TV comedy programme. What does it ask us to laugh about? Those who do not conform to the social norms are portrayed as idiots. Women must be either sexy—cue for jokes about large breasts—or sexless—cue for jokes about small breasts. Pakistanis are to be made fun of because they don't all have accents like Angela Rippon. Drunks are jolly old chaps who never have broken homes. Homosexuals are all limp-wristed men in drag. And as for the Irish—well, they're a right old laugh. Caricatures, smears and insults are what the establishment expect us to find amusing. Why don't we have jokes about bosses exploiting workers, about police beating people up, about members of the Royal Family having it away with unsuccessful rock singers, about vicars molesting little children? Would the privileged class be laughing so loud if that were the case? In the mid-1960s satire programmes came on the scene. It did not take long for the 'authorities' to decide that the joke had gone too far; better confine themselves to laughing at the workers.

Most of what they call comedy is simply unfunny. A TV critic once described the 'comedy' double-act Little and Large as having a little amount of talent and a large amount of nerve. 'Funny' routines are repeated over and over again. Taped laughter is played to inform us when a joke has occurred. One critic went so far as to suggest that TV comedy shows are all written by computers. But they're written by real people, sitting day after day in little rooms making up witless stories and laughing at their own humour.

Entertainment is not for the happiness of the majority, but for the profit of the minority. As we smile in complacency, they grow rich. So next time you laugh yourself silly over a man slipping on a banana skin or a fat lady wobbling her bum or an Irishman smoking an exploding cigar, think twice; the joke is on you.
Steve Coleman

Beware of Bernards (1977)

From the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today nothing is heard of George Bernard Shaw as a political "thinker", though his plays are still performed. When he was alive, people of the New Statesman type sought copies of the plays to read the long prefaces in which he expounded his ideas. These were supposed to be "socialist"; Shaw was a publicist for the Fabian Society and an admirer of Russia.

One of the things he advocated was that people should take an examination before they were allowed to vote. In Everybody's Political What's What (1944) he wrote:
And until popular choice is constitutionally guided and limited, political ignorance and idolatry will produce not only Hitleresque dictatorships but stampedes led by liars or lunatics like Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon. The choice should therefore be limited to panels of persons who have passed such tests as we can devise of their wisdom, comprehension, knowledge and energy. For legislative purposes adult suffrage is out of the question, as only a small percentage of any population has either the requisite faculty or knowledge.
The journalist Bernard Levin has just revived Shaw's argument. In The Times of 18th October, under the heading "It's the fools, not the Don't Knows who scare the daylights out of me", he drew attention to an opinion poll which found "that 8 per cent o the presumably representative sample believe that the Conservative Party's present policy includes the introduction of a wealth tax, two per cent believe that the Tories propose to abolish the House of Lords, and four per cent believe that Mrs. Thatcher, if elected, intends to nationalize the banks". Estimating that the percentages cover about three million of the electorate, Levin concluded:
That, if I may say so, is too many fools for comfort. And it is the incidence of folly, thus revealed, which worries me. If there are three million people as stupid as that in the country, only think of the havoc they could cause . . . 
The flaw in this plausible-sounding harangue is the phrase "present policy". Levin says the notion that the Tory Party proposes the reforms named is "ridiculous" and indicates "a wall of ignorance so thick and high that trying to surmount or demolish it would be a waste of time". Oh, really? The Tories have been responsible for more nationalization than the Labour Party; there is no reason at all for supposing they would not nationalize the banks — or introduce some form of wealth tax — if it was in the interests of important sections of the capitalist class. The possibility Levin has evidently not considered is that many voters know this in broad terms, and don't think it worth while to pick carefully over exchangeable party policies whose implementation is going to make no difference to them. 

But what of Levin's own "present policy"? It is what Shaw talked about as an example of his "socialism" i.e. the utopia of a planned and rational capitalism. Shaw's Fabian argument was that an accumulation of reforms would build it; instead of having to establish this "socialism" we should be overtaken by it. Many of the proposals made in Everybody's Political What's What and Shaw's 1928 work The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism are now accepted by Conservatives as what they always were, modern capitalist practice. And Levin is in the curious position of putting forward an argument he would have denounced in 1944 because it came from the (so-called) socialist Bernard Shaw. Would he call worker's "fools" and "stupid" for being unable to distinguish between the two?

What both these pundits assert is that is is "dangerous" to have a part of the electorate who have not learned capitalist doctrines by heart. One answer is that state education under Tories and Labour alike has produced a large section of workers—recently estimated as 15 per cent of school leavers—who are not well enough equipped with literacy to study the party conference reports in The Times; and this belongs to the social system which Levin defends. But to whom or what is it dangerous? The value of the voting system to the capitalist class is that it gives them the explicit support of the working class. Workers are asked at intervals to choose a programme for running capitalism and stand by their choice for a period. If they are apathetic or erratic in doing that, it means that the nature of the support is not readily ascertainable. A compliant electorate is one which thinks it really does matter if Thatcher nationalizes the banks.

Socialists certainly do not recommend workers to be negligent towards political matters. First, they should reject the suggestion of Shaw and Levin, which in effect urges some workers to treat others as inferior. Second, they should cease to concern themselves with who runs capitalism, and see that the measures Levin is so anxious to have correctly identified—and all other programmes of reform—will not alter their own position. Third, they must understand the vote as the weapon for their emancipation. Shaw specified "wisdom, comprehension, knowledge and energy" as the conditions for its use. "Wisdom" is a value-judgement, the attribute of whoever agrees with the speaker. The other three are possessed in abundance by the working class. They need only to be allied with class-consciousness, and the "foolish", "stupid" electorate will demonstrate that it knows what it wants—Socialism.
Pat Deutz

Five Minutes On Socialism - Conclusion (1955)

From the October 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our last three talks we have discussed some of the problems of the present day world together with the attitudes and methods adopted as attempts to combat the evils of our own making. We have, in the course of 15 minutes discussion, sought to point the remedy to the common ailments that afflict mankind at the present time. We have, of necessity, only been able to point at salient problems well know to all and to state very briefly the Socialist answer. In this concluding talk we would like to discuss Nationalism, of which there are many examples arising around us at the present time.

It will be evident that at the present stage of capitalist organization, the efforts of the world's governments are towards greater protective power in the face of outside rivalry. Thus, legislation is saddling the economy of these countries into greater burdens of armament production. It is just another of the inconsistencies of capitalism that we have groups of countries combining for military strength and at the same time confronting each other, within the same group, on the commodity market; that there exists within these countries, movements, open and otherwise, striving to loosen the power of their respective governments in favour of some other set-up more in keeping with their own group interests. (Capitalism contains, of course, within its body of class interest, various antagonisms such as group interests present.)

Socialists recognise that in the world there are two classes—Workers and Capitalists—the between them lies the Class Struggle and that the liberation of the world's toilers is not a question of changing forms of government from Totalitarian to something "more democratic" or even modifying the democracy of Capitalism where it exists in some measure. Socialists are not concerned with making Capitalism continue more palatably but with the eradication of the world wide common system of exploitation.

Thus, Socialists are not interested in Nationalistic "Liberation" movements of factions or the larger groupings of powers. Socialists strive for the elimination of capitalism and its replacement by a nation-less world devoid of frontiers, caste systems, religious barriers and strangle-hold of the monetary system over the production and distribution of goods.

The S.P.G.B., being a Socialist organization in Britain, draws attention to the nationalistic movements in the British Isles—all of whom suggest various modifications of capitalism. (In Wales there are two groups, one advocating Dominion Status, the other Republicanism). The workers of the Irish Republic are learning the hard lesson; that working class problems are not solved by Republicanism, which is simply a devolution of British Capitalism. In Wales the status of "Plaid Cymru" has been rather inflated since their increased poll at the recent General Election. This has induced many members of the Tory and Labour Party to join its ranks.

Our message to the Welsh worker is the same as that to the world working class: "Study the case for Socialism and, if convinced, join the "Liberation Movement," which really counts—the Struggle for Socialism."
W. Brain


From the August 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British people have once again voted a Tory Government into office—not that it matters which of the parties succeeded since none of them have the desire to end Capitalism.

Though in the main the problems were the same as at every other election and the suggested reforms identical, perhaps the question of peace and war has reached out to more people than ever before. What them is the attitude of various political parties and religious organizations, who support the present system, to this vital issue? And what do Socialists think?

The various parties have, despite minor differences of "techniques" staked their faith in the manufacture and use of armaments (including the "bomb") as being necessary to maintain peace. The only possible way of refusing a mandate to these parties was to withhold the vote—Socialists did this.

The Churches' attitude has always been interesting. Cardinal Bourne, R/C Archbishop of Westminster, once stated: "War cannot be a sin since God himself has actually commanded war on many occasions and aided his people to victory." Quite recently the Archbishop of York said that the best way to peace was by the hydrogen bomb, a statement which the Bishop of Swansea deplored though not stating his own attitude towards other forms of warfare.

A monastic group—the Society of Brothers, some time ago wrote to the SOCIALIST STANDARD agreeing that "the position of the Pacifist is unreal and futile in face of the forces of Capitalism." They were even generous enough to agree with Socialists that the cause of war was capitalist competition between nations.

Anti-militarism does not, of course, denote an acceptance of Socialism. Pacifists, Church Groups and Peace Committees may sigh, strive and agitate, but whilst they ignore the nature of the system that nurtures war then they are dreamers—a thing they accuse Socialists of being.

The Soviet Union, through Litvinoff, stated at the Geneva Conference: " . . . under Capitalism it is impossible to remove the causes of war," which sounds strange compared with Russia's present cry of "peaceful Co-existence."

Whilst it is plain that leaders, both religious and political, work consciously or otherwise for the preservation of Capitalism, it is true that many people are sincere in their desire for peace and concord. The tragedy is that peace is impossible whilst Capitalism remains. War whether of the industrial field or the battlefield is the very skin of the Capitalist body. Emotionalism or any expediency evolved by any political party cannot do the task which is to be the historic role of Socialism.

Socialists have a definite attitude to war. In 1914 the S.P.G.B. issued a Manifesto to the warring powers: a message that we repeated in 1939 ending with the words: "Having no quarrel with the workers of any country we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will . . . and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism."

To this end, Socialists urge the workers to educate themselves as the first step to their emancipation.
W. Brain

Plain Words (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Consumer Group recently brought out a pamphlet, Gobbledygook, which is an attack on the almost unintelligible jargon used in official documents. Now socialists are also interested in eradicating gobbledygook, and here are some examples. 

The National Interest
This should be interpreted as The Capitalist Interest, since the interest of capitalist and worker must always be opposed. The capitalist must always try to keep the cost of production (which includes wages) as low as possible, while the worker must strive to protect his wages and working conditions. The phrase is often used by politicians as a last resort when they can't think of a logical argument to use (which is very often the case) - "Of course the government is not opposed to strikes in principle, but this strike is against the national interest . . . "

We Will Have To Pull Our Belts In
Old chestnut usually employed when one government has just been elected in place of another. Generally along the lines that since the last bunch have made such a hash of things, the new bunch will have to apply some firm but unpopular measures to sort out the mess, which usually means another assault on the living-standards of the working-class. If this phrase had been copyrighted it would have accrued a fortune for whoever penned it since it has been used by practically every politician. Often used in conjunction with "The National Interest".

We Are Paying Ourselves Too Much
Delicate play on words here. It really means: We are paying you too much (you being the working class). Especially directed at those workers who have the audacity to ask for more wages as a buffer against rising prices. Does not include royal families, company directors, members of the Stock Exchange and so on, who are grossly underpaid.

Marxist Guerrilla
Much beloved by the media this one. If any serious attempt at accuracy was made then the phrase should read "Leninist Guerrilla". The people in question tend to be minority groups seeking political ends by violent means, a tactic advocated by Lenin and not by Marx. The media, deliberately or through political ignorance, apply the term to any political group who carry out a coup d'etat (usually described as a "Marxist Revolution").

You've Never Had It So Good
Historical curio quoted by Harold MacMillan at a time when workers drank five star brandy and smoked Corrona-Corronas, ran expensive cars and holidayed in the Bahamas. Not used nowadays since even gullible workers find it hard to swallow.

Trendy new word used by smart-alec politicos. Although having different literal meaning has tended to become synonymous with "profitability", for example: "Unfortunately, viability has not been achieved by this plant therefore we have no alternative . . . "

British Disease
No, not a dose of the clap. Not even the common cold. In fact this has nothing to do with disease at all. Refers to a popular prejudice that British workers are lazy and like nothing better than shirking work, and drinking tea all day. Personified in obnoxious and unfunny cartoon strips, also provides much material for would-be comedians who make a living feeding the prejudices of their audiences with stories about workers on strike. Strangely, the working class still manage to churn out enough surplus value to ensure that members of the capitalist class can scratch up the ready for jamborees like Ascot, Henley and Cowes. After the exhausting business of guzzling the Dom Perignon, and splashing hundreds of pounds on the horses of their choice, they can of they wish, sleep for as long as they like without fear of public condemnation.
Finally, we include one phrase which the politicians and the media do not use but which, although not gobbledygook, does warrant a mention because of its profound implications.
Abolish The Wages System
Penned by Karl Marx, this phrase neatly sums up Marx's concept of Scientific Socialism - a world-wide society without buying, selling or exchange in any form, where all wealth would be produced and democratically controlled by and in the interests of society as a whole. Nowadays this phrase is used exclusively by the SPGB and its companion parties abroad in an effort to combat the gobbledygook of the mass media and pseudo socialists.

Five Minutes on Socialism - No.2 (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our last talk in the April issue we discussed, briefly, the economic and philosophic basis of Socialism and also the erroneous statement that Socialism exists in Russia, China and other countries applying totalitarian techniques.

China's industrial background is one of foreign exploitation by British, French, Japanese and others. This resulted in two-fold opposition—from the workers and from the educate propertied class who were envious of the foreign exploiters.

The Communists fermenting this situation, expounded the role of patriotism and National Independence as being a working class issue. The result of this teaching (which still continues) can be seen in the recent struggle for internal power among the leaders resulting in the purging of some few weeks ago. If Russia's experience is any example, the spate should increase. The final results may well provide a future struggle between China and Russia. In the long run the situation will become clearer as the Chinese workers realise that they suffer as much exploitation from their own ruling class as they did from the "foreign devil." Socialists here again differ from all other parties when they say that the quarrels between various Capitalists groups are of no concern of the workers of their respective countries.

It is held by some that Socialism means "share with your neighbour" and knowing his neighbour, very often the worker is not so keen. "Anyway," says the worker, "religion teaches this I want to apply it." Socialism does not say this. Socialism means the Social ownership of the means of wealth. It is claimed that we owe the production of wealth to outstanding men of ability and that the creation of a "common denominator" of living will result in a lack of initiative. Such people should enquire into how Capitalism has rewarded its inventors, etc. Hargreaves, inventor of the "Spinning Jenny," suffered from dishonest manufacturers and died in want. John Kay, inventor of the "Flying Shuttle," starved to death. And one could go in this fashion.

Socialism is now possible but under Capitalism ownership remains the prerogative of a minority class. When production and inventiveness are no longer shackled to the profit system but serve the advancement of all, then, and only then, will initiative be given real encouragement.
W. Brain

Five Minutes On Socialism - No.1 (1955)

From the April 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

To look at the world pattern of today is, to many, merely to look at not so much a picture but a crazy jumble of jig-saws pieces which do not fit altogether or resolve themselves into a comprehensive whole. The expert and the man in the street are equally mystified as to the method to be adopted to sort out the mess. Though the expert continues to manufacture devices and the man in the street may strive to follow his advice, nothing seems to work out for the better of everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Risking the charge of being presumptuous, the Socialist puts forward the statement that, understanding the nature of society, Socialists alone can create harmony from chaos, plenty from want and a full life for all rather than the futile husk of existence that the vast majority of the world's people undergo at the present time.

At the moment insecurity and possible annihilation seems to be the lot of the over and underprivileged alike and so it is that the Socialist message is for all who accept the classless, nationless, and exploitationless world that alone will bring mankind a greater measure of happiness than it has ever known before.

Like all movements that have and continue to affect society and the individual, Socialism contains a philosophy. Its philosophy is materialistic and though it may share its materialistic thought in some measure with other groupings, that are not otherwise Socialist, it cannot be associated with them in any other way.

Socialism, apart from its philosophic content is an economic theory and it is from an analysis of the methods by which men have conducted themselves in order to maintain their physical existence that Socialists have evolved the theory of historical materialism.

It can be said that the whole of the industrialized and civilized world carries on the business of living (and dying) in keeping with the economic basis of Capitalism; this, despite the fact that in some cases the national machinery of government proclaims to have eradicated Capitalism as in Russia or that it is in process of doing so as in China or in other cases where the nations' "leaders" claim that a mixture of Capitalism and Socialism is at work as in Britain.

Socialists in Britain and elsewhere in the world refute the idea that Socialism prevails in Russia or anywhere else, together with the inane assumption that Socialism can exist alongside Capitalism in any country. These two views are, among others, some of the things which distinguish Socialism from its imitators. We shall continue to discuss some of the features of the so-called Socialist economy of Russia and China in our next five minute talk.
W. Brain

Cooking the Books: Marx and the SNP (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘The “SNP are Marxists”, says Conservative MP’ was a headline in the Independent (11 May). The MP in question was Owen Paterson, who sits for Shropshire North, a buffoon who even Cameron had to sack from his Cabinet for incompetence.

A minimum definition of a ‘Marxist’ would be someone who agreed with Marx’s theories of economics, history and social change, and also with his aim of a society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. There might, perhaps, be some individual SNP members who share Marx’s materialist approach to society and history. After all, Marx himself acknowledged that the so-called ‘Scottish Historical School’ had foreshadowed to some extent his own ‘materialist conception of history’.  In The German Ideology, he and Engels wrote that, in contrast to German history-writers: ‘The French and English … have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry’. Since the writers in English they had in mind (Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, John Millar) were all from Scotland calling them ‘English’ was the sort of faux pas that gets Scottish Nationalists hot under the collar.

But no one in the SNP stands for a society of common ownership and democratic control, as Marx did. The SNP’s aim, rather, is the establishment of a separate capitalist state in Scotland. As such it represents the interests of smaller capitalists producing for the home market there, as opposed to the larger capitalists producing for export who want to remain part of the UK.

It is true that in his day Marx did support the separation of Ireland from the UK, though not as an end in itself but as a means to the end of furthering political democracy in the rest of the UK by weakening the power of the landed aristocracy. He didn’t take the same position with regard to Scotland. He was well aware that the Scottish landed aristocracy was just as ruthless as their English counterparts and devoted a section of Capital (at the end of Chapter 27 on ‘The Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land’) to movingly describing the fate of the Gaelic clansmen at the hands of their chiefs, who had transformed themselves into absolute owners of the one-time clan land, clearing them off it as part of the process of ‘the primitive accumulation of capital’.

Not that the SNP itself claims to be socialist. The most it claims is to be ‘social-democratic’ like the Labour Party used to be. As such it proposes to tax the rich in a bid to bring about a less unequal society. It is maybe this that has led Paterson to think they are ‘Marxists’. But Marx did not stand for a redistribution of wealth away from the rich as this would still leave private ownership as the basis of society. He stood for the common ownership of wealth. Which is something quite different.

Nor is there any such thing as a ‘Marxist tax policy’ or a ‘Marxist economic policy’ (whatever some left-wing supporters of Scottish separatism, and not just Paterson, imagine). This would imply that Marx favoured putting forward policies for capitalist governments to pursue; in other words, of advising them how to run capitalism. But Marx was not into that. Insofar as Marx could be said to have had an ‘economic policy’ it was to end the capitalist economy altogether. It’s an aim we share but the SNP does not.