Saturday, September 5, 2015

The attitude of the London Dockers (1949)

Editorial from the August 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The action of London dockers in coming out on strike over two ships that were concerned in a dispute originating on the other side of the Atlantic is a gesture that must be applauded by all those interested in the solidarity of labour. Whatever the merits of the dispute these London men were prepared to make sacrifices in a cause that had no direct influence on their own wages and conditions of labour. It is this aspect of the dispute that is heartening to socialists as it is one of the harbingers of that wider and more pregnant solidarity that will herald the triumph of Socialism. This particular strike has occurred at a time when prominent trade unionists and all the Labour Governments, including the Russian, are stressing the importance of nationalism.

It is true that trade union internationalism is a long way from the internationalism in which socialists are interested but it still expresses, even if at times unconsciously, a recognition of the identity of the workers' interests all over the world as opposed to the interests of the international capitalist class.

The attitude of the dockers is in striking contrast to the views of the Government. Whereas the dockers were, in their action, giving expression to an international outlook the Government's is almost entirely national as witness the following statement by the Attorney-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross:
"These unofficial strikes are an act of economic treason to our trade unions, to the Socialist movement and indeed to our country." (News Chronicle, 14/7/49.)
As "our country" does not belong to us but to those who own the means of production and distribution, the Labour Government definition of "economic treason" is one that should not worry the dockers or any other workers. The fact that it has not done so in the present dispute is one that must give satisfaction to the socialist.

Inequalities in Russia (1962)

From the August 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard
A member who has recently visited Russia sends us his interesting observations. Ed. Com.
The July Socialist Standard quoted John Mossman of the Daily Mail as saying that whereas Russian women street cleaners get about 12 a month, space and atomic scientists bring home more than 20,000 a year. These are only "dry statistics," our local Communists will try and explain them away . . . All animals are equal, only some are more equal than others!

But to an observer—particularly a Socialist one—even with just one open, it shows that class divisions are rapidly developing in the Soviet Union.

A few weeks ago I returned from Russia; and it was the wide difference of dress between the poorest and the more affluent that struck me. For example, in Leningrad one sees many elderly women street cleaners, poorly dressed and shuffling along the gutters with their brooms. It is not a particularly happy sight; and is in complete contrast to the well-dressed officials, diplomats and "important" people that one meets in the Astoria hotel or on board the M.S. Michael Kalinin, a Soviet luxury liner. Most of these "important" people travel first class, dress well, carry expensive ciné cameras and do not have to worry if there is a shortage of butter or meat (which there is at the moment in the Soviet Union), or if prices rise.

It is obvious to the observer in Russia that there is a growing gulf between the average worker and the emergent bourgeoisie; the one looks shabby and drab, and travels by bus, trolleybus or tram; the other has a Moscovich car, or uses Aeroflot or a luxury liner. The privileged few have a large modern apartment or a Dacha (or both), whilst the majority in a city like Leningrad live in slums every bit as bad or worse than those of Liverpool or Glasgow.

Some people are lucky enough to get a flat in the suburbs. According to a recent issue of Moscow News, "families that are still housed in overcrowded and substandard dwellings will get new flats before the end of the first decade." And the experts say that approximately 86 million flats will have to be built within the next twenty years! We seem to have heard all this before—in Britain.

Soviet apologists tell us that life is getting better. And it is. A little better for the majority; and a lot better for the few.

A British visitor to the Soviet Union said to me: "If this is Socialism, I don't want it." But, of course, it is not Socialism.
Peter E. Newell  

The Heart of England. (1923)

From the June 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who was the great traducer who once said, "The Daily Mirror for those who can't read, and the Daily Mail for those who can't think"? Surely that was in the nebulous period now referred to as "before the war."  Should he have evaded the Roll of Honour, and have attained either the "dole" or the O.B.E., it is devoutedly to be hoped he will emerge from his deserved obscurity and revise at least the second half of his glib, but glaucous epigram. For does not the Daily Mail devote two columns each dat to "What Our Readers Think"? It does. For the expenditure of one poor humble penny, any day, one can be stirred to one's inmost wave-lengths by the spectacle of our nation doing its thinking. Heart-throbs by the hundredweight, and thinking by the rod, pole or perch. Any issue will do.

Take this one of January 13th. Mr. Sumner-Jones, hailing from proletarian Piccadilly, leads off with:
"France, through your invaluable pages, can see into our hearts, and recognise the fact that the blind policy of our Government is not approved by the British people."
There now. You'd never have thought that, would you? But this is more thoughtful:
"May I thank you for your splendid stand for France, almost alone as you are and in opposition to the section of the Press, which has learnt nothing and forgotten everything."
That is from Mr. Brenton Gray, a gentleman with two names, but only one brain. You might possibly suggest that the "section" he speaks of having learnt nothing, could not possibly forget everything; but there you see, we cannot all be thinkers. Then there's Samuel Willie, from Yeovil. He says: "Your leading article, 'God Speed to France,' "should re-act on the heart and conscience of every unselfish patriot throughout the Empire."

Is it necessary to add that Sam Willie is an unselfish patriot?
Then "Regular Subscriber" insists that "all that is best in the British Empire will be with you."

Can one doubt that "Regular Subscriber is included in "all that is best"?

"If Bonar Law could only read the minds of the people he would get a surprise," says another original possessor of grey matter. Let H. S. take heart. The feat is not an easy one, and "surprise" is quite an inadequate term of it were accomplished.

Mr. Davis, of Brighton, is a true Briton. "I thoroughly agree with the French action as, I hope, does every other true Briton."

As W. S. Gilbert phased it:
"For he himself has said it,
And its greatly to his credit"
Mr. Sadler is flattering. "It is, indeed, like you to side with common-sense and justice."

The Editor's blushes are not recorded. Perhaps he was looking for an antemetic. Modesty you will see is equally the possession of the Editor and his readers. As F. H. puts it: "Every intelligent patriotic man is behind you."

We are, indeed, a great nation; though it is sadly to be feared that modesty will prove our undoing. Capt. James Murphy reminds us of the saying of the German officer to the British Officer: "You will always be fools, and we shall never be gentlemen." Notice the implication. Modesty forbids our dwelling on it. As that poet of pacifism and true British modesty, Rudyard Kipling has enshrined it:
"Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart;
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
   Lest we forget—lest we forget."
W. T. Hopley

More Union Bashing (2015)

From the September 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July the government published details of its Trade Union Bill which is expected to have its second reading in the House of Commons in September or October. The Bill contains wide-ranging measures designed to restrict the organised working class acting collectively and taking industrial action.

The main proposals are thresholds for turnouts in strike ballots, restrictions on the right to picket and the removal of the ban on the use of agency workers to replace striking workers. The government is also extending the role and powers of the Certification Officer who is responsible for regulating trade unions, including providing this official with a new power to impose financial penalties on unions.

Industrial action, including strike action, will only be lawful if there is a minimum 50 percent turnout amongst trade union members who are entitled to vote, 40 percent of those who were balloted must vote in favour of industrial action. In addition, the Bill lays down that abstentions should be treated as 'no' votes for industrial action; which contravenes the policy of the International Labour Organisation which states that only votes cast should be taken into account. The 40 percent yes vote requirement would apply to four 'essential public services': health, the fire service, transport and education. This is in fact far more wide-ranging than it appears at first glance as transport services include roads, rail, aviation, maritime, border security and Transport for London (i.e. London Underground). There will be time limits for strike mandates which will reduce the momentum in union campaigns, reducing or removing trade unions' rights to facility time, specific and bureaucratic requirements for picket lines, the introduction of new criminal offences and sanctions for picketing although unlawful picketing is already regulated by both civil and criminal law.

The removal of the ban on agency workers to replace striking workers (a ban in place since 1973) will permit employers to use 'scab' labour to break strikes. This is manna from heaven for the capitalist class. Jack London, author of The War of the Classes wrote 'after God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles. When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and Angels weep in Heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out' (The Scab).

Frances O'Grady, the TUC general secretary, responded that 'the government’s proposals on union ballots will make legal strikes close to impossible. Union negotiators will be left with no more power than Oliver Twist when he asked for more. After five years of falling living standards the prospects for decent pay rises have just got a whole lot worse' (Guardian 12 May).

The new Trade Union Bill follows the capitalist class onslaught on the organised working class in the 1980s and 90s. Alan Budd, the economic adviser to Thatcher has said 'raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes – if you like, that what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which recreated a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since' (Guardian 23 April 2012). In the 1980s and 90s a series of trade union laws were introduced that removed immunities in industrial action, imposed restrictions on the right to picket, increased legal interference into the internal affairs of the unions, the closed shop was made unlawful and the definition of a dispute was narrowed, including restricting industrial action to disputes between workers and their own employer, thus outlawing solidarity action.

The current capitalist crisis and recession has seen production cut back and large numbers of workers lose their jobs, and as a result of high unemployment and job insecurity trade unions become less effective as bargaining organisations, meaning that laws restricting trade unions are easier to implement. Keith Ewing, President of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom said in May there had been a 'shocking decline in collective bargaining with just 20% of workers covered by an agreement, compared with 82% in the 1970s. In 1978 I was one of 13 million trade unionists and I am now one of only 6 million. Our collective bargaining structures are collapsing' (Morning Star 14 May).

All this presents the working class with a problem in maintaining real wages. A pay increase which does not keep up with the cost of living represents a fall in 'real wages'. The capitalist class know this and will exploit it to their own benefit. Marx pointed out that 'the general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages' (Value, Price and Profit). It should be remembered that wages can never, for long, rise above the level which allows the employers to make a profit. The times when the workers can hope to gain an improvement are when the capitalists are doing well, expanding production and accumulating capital. The most successful strike is the one that never happens because when trade is brisk employers may yield to the mere threat of a strike interrupting production and profits.

The wage which the working class receive is the price of their labour-power and the price of this commodity fluctuates, like that of all commodities, around its value as determined by the amount of socially-necessary labour incorporated in it. If competition between the working class for jobs was unrestricted then wages would tend to fall below the value of labour-power, as often happened in the 19th century before effective trade unions existed. Combining together in unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way the working class can prevent their wages falling below the value of their labour-power and below the subsistence level. To resist the intensity of exploitation and to maintain real wages against inflation workers will have no choice but to struggle for higher wages even if this means using the strike weapon. The strike, during an economic depression, though, is a blunt instrument to wield. It is difficult to use the strike to gain more pay when production is being curtailed, workers being laid off and the business facing bankruptcy.

Trade unions, then, are defensive organisations of the working class against what Marx called 'the never-ceasing encroachments of capital' but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class. This exploitation is inherent in the wages system and can only be abolished along with it through the conversion of the means of production into common ownership under the democratic control of the whole community.

As Marx wrote: 
'at the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!' they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: 'Abolition of the wages system!' (Value, Price and Profit).
As socialists, we stand with our fellow working class in their necessary battles to defend themselves, but we point out at all times that the real victory to be achieved is the abolition of the wages system.
Steve Clayton

Abolish money (1983)

Book Review from the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Contemporary Political Philosophy: Radical Studies. Edited by Keith Graham. Cambridge University Press. £4.50

This short book (160 pages) contains six essays by "young British philosophers"—professional university philosophy teachers. The essays are of varying quality and it is unfortunate for the other four that the first two are so weak as to risk deterring the reader from continuing. But this would be a mistake as the others are much more interesting, particularly the last two where Keith Graham refutes the "philosophical anarchist" view that no "rational moral agent" can accept majority, democratic decisions, and where Anthony Skillen states the case for the fullest freedom of speech against groups like the SWP who advocate physical violence (and, presumably, if ever they got power, state censorship and violence) to prevent certain views being expressed.

The two remaining essays, and it is these we concentrate here, deal with Marx's views on political democracy under capitalism and on the democratic nature of socialism. They confirm that Marx did not denounce existing representative institutions (the vote, parliamentary control, civil rights) as "bourgeois democracy" fit only to be replaced by a one-party dictatorship, but regarded them as sufficiently democratic to be useful to the economic and political struggle of the working class.

The two authors also discover (much to their embarrassment) that Marx regarded socialism as necessarily a moneyless society. Russell Keat, whose essay analyses in detail a part of Marx's The Jewish Question (written in 1843, just as he was becoming a socialist), is forced to admit:
it seems that Marx is unwilling to accept that the social relationships involved in (economic) exchange can properly be said to display genuine freedom. This is so, whether or not these exchange relationships include the sale of labour-power itself.
Adding in a footnote:
It follows that, for Marx, full human autonomy cannot be achieved in "market socialism", since, despite the absence of class exploitation, alienation continues through the existence of exchange relationships.
Richard Norman comes to the same conclusion:
There is a strand in socialist thought which seems to envisage the eventual abolition of money. This might seem to be encouraged by a passage in the "Critique of the Gotha Programme" where Marx suggests that true equality would be attainable only when there had been achieved an economic condition of sheer abundance.
After this rather cautious and grudging admission that Marx stood for the abolition of money, Norman goes on to state that, while he can accept that "an appropriate egalitarian principle would be one of free provision of basic needs", adding that "as well as health care these basic needs might include, say, housing, basic foodstuffs and education", he cannot
imagine that all needs and desires could be met on this principle of free provision. Marx's vision of total abundance smacks too much of nineteenth-century optimism. There must be inescapable decisions about using limited resources for this purpose rather than for that, and therefore in any society there will be relative scarcity in at least some respects. One cannot realistically imagine a situation where people, whether individually or collectively, simply go and help themselves to a rare wine or an artistic masterpiece or an exquisitely carved piece of furniture whenever they feel like it.
This objection to a moneyless society of free access is put to us every week, though the example used is more usually a luxury yacht or a Rolls Royce (we hope Norman does not take this as an insult since, after all, what has always been the task of philosophers if not to express more logically and more coherently points of view held by the population in general?). 

There are two answers to this. The first is that the objector assumes that people would have suddenly been transformed from capitalist to socialist society without changing their ideas or attitudes. Thus the Hyde Park heckler would still dream of living like the rich he reads about in the papers (and the university lecturer would still dream about living a "cultured" life surrounded by beautiful things). But in fact, of course, socialism is not something that is going to be, or could be, introduced for people, but something that they are going to have to establish themselves in full awareness of what they are doing and why. The people who establish socialism, in other words, will no longer want to ape the rich and understand that, in a society where goods and services will be freely and permanently available in relative abundance, hoarding or grabbing (or investing in rare wines or masterpieces) will be pointless.

The second answer is that in  socialist society everybody will have a Rolls-Royce and the best wines! Not literally, of course, but in the sense that whatever is produced in socialism will be of the best quality, though, once again, without any of the prestige that attaches to the best things today just because they are out of reach of the vast majority and only available to the rich. The fact is that, while it is true that resources are limited in an absolute sense, it is not true that human wants are limitless. It is technically possible today (much more than it was in the "optimistic 19th century) to produce enough of what humans, as rational beings, are likely to reasonably want in a rationally-organised free and equal society.

Before examining Norman's suggestion to keep money in "socialist" society for certain purposes we are going to have to digress a little to explain what money is. Money is not, as Norman appears to think, some sort of voucher that can be used, at the discretion of the holder, to acquire particular goods according to choice. Money is a social relation in the sense that it is a product of a particular kind of socio-economic system, one where goods are produced as commodities; that is, as items produced to be sold on a market; which in turn presupposes non-social, or private, ownership of products since exchange can only take place between separate owners. Money is a special kind of commodity, the one which can be exchanged for all or any other commodity. Money and commodity production go together; they are parts of the same set of social relationships which also include exchange and private property.

But socialism is a system of society which outdates commodity-production and money precisely because it is a society based, as Norman himself puts it, on "the common ownership and popular control of the means of production"; in other words, a society where what is produced is also commonly owned and is directly appropriated by the community. Consumer goods produced under such circumstances cannot be sold to the members of the community which already owns them; all that can happen to them is that they can be shared, allocated, divided, handed out or made available to the members of the community in accordance with a democratic decision.

If Norman had understood the nature of money, it is in these terms that he could better have expressed his point of view, as an argument about how consumer goods should be allocated in socialist society.

Marx, like us, realised that the essence of socialist distribution was free access according to needs as judged by the individual members of socialist society, in other words, that consumer goods and services should be freely available for people to take and use as and when they needed them. With the fantastic development of the forces of production since Marx's day, this stage could be reached fairly rapidly after the establishment of socialism.

Marx, as is understandable, given the lower level of development of the powers of production in the 19th century, envisaged this taking somewhat longer and suggested that, while awaiting the stage where full free access ("from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" as Marx puts it in the passage from the Critique of the Gotha Programme Norman mentions) would have become possible, consumer goods in socialist society could be distributed by some system of voucher or tickets. He himself mentioned, following an idea of Robert Owen and others, a system of "labour-time" vouchers which would have linked the consumption of the individual members of socialist society to the number of hours of working time they had contributed to the common productive effort.

It is easy to think up drawbacks to such a system — and Marx only mentioned labour-time vouchers as one possible way of distributing consumer goods in the early days of socialist society — but Marx was clear that such vouchers would not be money, could not be money in fact, since money implied commodity-production which socialism precisely abolishes in favour of production directly and solely for use.

Thus when Norman doubts that full free access to all consumer goods and services will be possible and suggests as an alternative "satisfaction of the basic needs of all, plus equality of monetary incomes over and above that", what he is suggesting is a distribution system where basic needs (housing, basic foodstuffs, education, health, transport) would be provided free, but where other less basic needs (what? Surely not rare wine, artistic masterpieces and exquisitely-carved  furniture!) would only be satisfied on production of a voucher, equal amounts of which would be distributed to each member of socialist society to use according to their individual choice. Put this way, Norman's scheme would be an alternative to Marx's, but the problem which Marx felt socialist society would certainly have had to face had it been established in his day has since been to all intents and purposes solved by the subsequent development of the forces of production.

Today there is no longer any need to think in terms of vouchers as a means of distributing goods in socialist society. This is why we emphasise free access to consumer goods and services according to individual needs as the socialist mode of distribution and as something that could be implemented very rapidly once capitalism has been abolished.

Having said all this, it is nevertheless encouraging that "contemporary political philosophers" should have begun to discuss a moneyless society.
Adam Buick

A Quotable Quote (2001)

From the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
"There are no nations! There are no Russians! There are no Arabs! There is no Third World! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems—one vast and immanent, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichsmarks, roubles, rin [???], pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural [sic] order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things . . .
"You . . . howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT, and AT&T and Du Pont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world now. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state—Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions like the good little systems analysts they are, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do.
"We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies . . . The world is a collage of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable laws of business. The world is a business . . . !!"
(Part of a speech by the American tycoon Jensen, in the novelisation of the film Network, Sphere Books Ltd, 1977, pp.130-1.)

Bloggers Note: Jensen's - played by Ned Beatty - actual speech can be viewed at the following YouTube Link.