Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Revolution in Home Life. (1924)

From the July 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

The assertion that Socialism will destroy the home is a pretty stale one, and, in view of the wholesale disintegration since the war of anything approaching home-life (as one time understood), it is hardly worth treating seriously. Perhaps, however, it may be worth while to review the changes in the domestic sphere that have taken place and still are taking place, since out of the present the future will grow; while the social revolution can leave no phase of social existence untouched.

What is to be the future of the home, family life, the relationship between men and women, parents and children, and so on? These are questions which force themselves on thinking minds, pressing for an answer. On the positive side we cannot be too careful of making rash assertions. The basis for the new social life has yet to be established. We are not prophets, but we may usefully reflect on the new elements now developing in society which will burst their bonds.

What are these new elements? The germ of the social revolution is the industrial revolution; the change from petty handicraft and small manufacture to large scale industry based upon mechanical appliances is the vital force which has come into conflict with established institutions in every sphere of life. In the realm of production itself the machine has welded the workers into huge masses struggling against the dominion of capital. No longer scattered in small villages, hopelessly ignorant and detached from one another, but thrown together, willy-nilly forced into common thought and action. Politically the concentration of the population in the industrial centres has shifted the balance of power. No longer do the propertied class manipulate the machinery of government without consulting their slaves. At every turn the wealthy minority is dependent upon the political support of the workers. The slaves are enfranchised. While in the field of speculation religion dies a lingering death before the onward march of science, organised knowledge, handmaid of industrial progress. Is the home alone to escape unscathed and unaltered?

What is the home? To-day for the wealthy it may be any one of two or three or more places. A town house, a country seat, a villa by the sea, a mere temporary resting place to be occupied at intervals in the ceaseless round of pleasure-hunting, sport, and what not. For the workers is it ever much more than a den in which the man retires to sleep and eat while the woman wears her fingers to the bone and her nerves to shreds in the vain effort to make ends meet?

The sentimentalist, the moralist, and the religionist all draw us their pictures of what home is, or rather what they think it ought to be. But ask yourself, fellow-worker, is not the picture I have drawn the true one?

Is the picture to remain the true one, fellow-worker? The answer lies with you! The home, like all else, has had its evolution, its growth from primitive origins, and we have not yet reached finality. You, fellow-slaves, can make it something better than it has ever been.

Consider! In the dim past the hunters wandered from place to place after the wild animals, little better organised than the animals themselves. Men lived in herds. Individuality had yet to be born. Home-life was of a primitive communal character.

From this state emerged by slow stages and revolutions the patriarchal family. The domestication of animals provided the economic groundwork for this form of home-life, and as men accumulated wealth in the form of chattels, so women passed into a similar state of domestic subordination. This arose mainly out of the division of labour adopted, hunting and pastoral pursuits being confined to the men, the women specialising in cooking, cloth-making, etc.

With the advent of slavery and agriculture the position of women underwent still further degradation. Rigid discipline and seclusion of the married women took the place of the comparative freedom of savage custom, and through the whole of history that position of subjection has taken various forms, but not yet has it been fundamentally altered.

The homes of the Roman Patrician, the feudal baron, and the modern bourgeois all contain the essential element, predominance of the male over the female. The ancient world accepted the position for what it was, a form of slavery. The medieval world sentimentalised and romanced about it, consecrated it with holy water and the prayers of Mother Church. The modern world hides its cynicism behind a veil of cant. It disguises its legal and financial motives behind an avowed concern for the highest morality.

For the wage-slave who thinks, however, the march of modern industry tears all veils asunder. He sees how little regard his masters have for morality where profits are concerned, and so he smiles at the superior notions possessed by his Press-doped slaves concerning their relation to their "unpaid- housekeepers.”

In spite of the fact that men and women of the working class alike (whether they toil for the boss directly in the factory or not) are all slaves of the boss class, one still finds numbers of men who imagine themselves “small employers of labour” because they are married, and women who are prepared to accept that position.
Where the women are themselves openly employed in industry, etc., this attitude becomes hopelessly absurd and gradually yields to the facts. Yet, though not apparent in reality, it is no less absurd even in cases where the woman remains at home. What woman can make ends meet for a family or even for a couple on the average man’s wage? How many are forced to ” take in lodgers” or dressmaking, or make petty slaves of themselves in one way or another, in order to buy the clothes they need? The economic dependence of woman becomes less and less a dependence on the individual man, and more and more upon society at large.

Time was, in the medieval handicraft period of production, when the home was the centre of industry. The wife and daughters of the peasant and the craftsman carried on numerous occupations for the family use that now form the basis of large-scale industry. The old technical basis of the home has gone, and with it the last justification (in the historical sense) for male dominance and control.

The male worker has now no property to leave to his children. From their earliest years they must go out and be exploited in return for their bread. The old paternal ties are broken. All are equally slaves to the class that owns the means of life.

The social revolution spells the doom of class ownership. It means the world for all the workers, male and female, young and old. In such a world what ties can hold, on what basis can the home rest? Private property in the means of life will be gone, legal authority of individual over individual will have disappeared. Greed and force can no longer operate under such conditions. Is it too much to believe that affection will develop in their place?

The modern powers of production can supply the wants of all. With common ownership and democratic control of those powers the last cause of individual antagonism in the economic sphere will have vanished. The economic sphere is the basic sphere. As the roots are, so shall the tree be. Leisure, education, opportunity for self-development, these shall be yours, fellow-workers, when you have shaken off your fetters. To-day your masters can call the world their home. Yet your class has made it what it is! Why not call it yours?
Eric Boden

Belfast Diary: Mason's 'Marxists' (1979)

From the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In some parts of Northern Ireland, especially those areas that have suffered the full savagery of State violence, the graffiti on the walls refers to Roy Mason, Labour's Provincial Gauleiter, as ‘The Mad Midget’.

We, of course, are concerned with the man’s mental stature and, while his crass ignorance and symptoms of personal power mania must cause many in the Province to share our concern, his recent utterings, if we allow that they are presented with more honesty than is usual, certainly do bring into question the validity of the graffiti writers’ adjective.

It was during a television interview in December last: Little Mason was spluttering out personal pronouns relative to his winning his war against the Provisional IRA. Everyone in Ireland who did not agree with him was wrong; a full package of civil rights was now being enjoyed by everyone in the Province (!); he was prepared to allow devolution . . .

It was Mason’s usual vapourings, consequential only in so far as they sometimes provoke a death-dealing response from his opposites in violence, the Provos. This time, however, having exhausted his reserves of standard condemnations of the IRA, Mason delivered the ultimate castigation—the Provisional IRA are ‘Marxist based’.

Ironically, Mason was merely repeating what we had already heard a few weeks earlier from another exponent of State thuggery, the Prime Minister of South Africa.

Now, if our imagination stretches to the possibility of Mason’s knowledge qualifying him to make such an assertion, we, as Marxists, would claim the right of reply. Since the etiquette of debate proscribes the assumption of lunacy in our opponent, we must claim that Mason’s statement is a contemptible lie. Unlike him however, we arc prepared to substantiate our claim and, indeed, provide him with a forum if he has the courage to accept our challenge.

The political objective of the IRA is to set up an independent state in Ireland administered by a federal government drawn from the representatives of the four provinces in the country, each of which would have its own assembly with legislative authority in respect of matters affecting it. The system of economic organisation would be capitalism (and it could not be otherwise), though the Republicans envisage large scale nationalisation and cooperatives—and, like Mason’s Labour Party, imagine that this has something to do with socialism. In victory, the Provos would have their own State  institutions with, doubtless, someone like Mason to use the full vigour of State violence to stamp out any manifestations of militant discontent that might arise from the continuation of capitalism’s miseries.

In fact, in matters of political and economic doctrine, there is only a difference of emphasis between the proclaimed policies of the Provisional IRA and the British Labour  Party. Even on the question of means, there is a basic similarity between the Labour Party as a British Administration in Ireland, and the Provos; both subscribe to violence. In the case of the Provos, this is to win, and in the case of Mason’s administration to retain, power undemocratically.

We in the world socialist movement base our political and economic philosophy on the writings and teachings of Marx and the implications of those teachings in twentieth century capitalism. Marx discovered the laws of motion of human society and formalised these in the Materialist Conception of History; he showed the beginnings and development of class conflict and the role it would play in the future development of society; he dissected the nature of commodity production and demonstrated that, as long as the wages/money system continues to exist, there will be an enslaved class condemned to want, or dire misery.

Marx amply demonstrated that among the hallmarks of capitalism is the existence of a working class divorced from ownership of, and control over, their means of life; a class obliged to sell their mental or physical abilities for a wage or salary. The amount of wages, existing or achievable, were not his direct concern: he was concerned with the fact of wage slavery and not the temporary condition of the slave—thus, his advice to workers, in opposition to the ignorance conjured up in the slogan ‘A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ was to inscribe on their banner ‘Abolition of the wages system!’

This entails the conscious and democratic establishment of a world-wide system of common ownership and production for use. in which all humankind would have free and equal access to the bountiful potential of the earth. It entails a world free from capitalism’s wages/money system; a world where the material basis for conflict and violence could not exist; a free, frontierless world where the complex and despotic government of people will give way to the simple administration of things.

Abolition of the wages system! That’s what Marxism is about! That simple, straightforward statement of aims, exposes Mason and his political ilk for the liars, or fools, they so obviously are.
Richard Montague (Belfast)
World Socialist Party of Ireland

The War Crisis in the Middle East (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Workers.

There are few subtleties about the present Middle East conflict which threatens the world with yet another global war. The conflict is about oil; about who will own and control those areas of the Middle East which produce about a third of the world's oil and which contain vast untapped reserves of this key raw material, ft is about this oil, about the territory in which it is located, the pipelines and ports through which it flows, its price and. ultimately, how it affects the profits going into the pockets of rival sections of the International capitalist class, that conflict has arisen.

If the conflict sharpens, if it gets to the point where you have to be convinced that you should go out and kill Iraqis because the oligarchy of thieves who ruled in Kuwait or the bloody tyrants who rule in Saudi Arabia are being plundered by Iraq's latter-day Hitler, then the engines of state propaganda, leaders, politicians, and media will doctor reality. Oil might well become "our way of life", and Arab sheiks who cut off heads at the merest whiff of democratic challenge might become pillars of "Western freedom"!

You know that there is at least one war going on every single day. Ceaselessly, throughout the world, the scientists and the factories are hard at work turning out armaments the cost of which are beyond our imagination and men and women are being made frighteningly proficient in the business of killing.

Assessments of the total number killed, since the second world war, in which some 50 million people died, vary enormously but are most commonly put at around 25 million.

Of course the world of capitalism, which means all the nations on this planet - including those who organise capitalism under the aegis of the State and lyingly call it "socialism" - have endemic problems which might well bring about conflict. For example, according to the United Nations relief agencies, some 15 million children die every year of starvation or poverty-related diseases. These deaths occur, largely, in what is called the Third World. In the First World of highly developed capitalist states medical terminology disguises the number of lives terminated annually by diseases of poverty.

Since the last world war, then, up to half a billion people have been killed by poverty and war. Even in a world where we have become inured to the obscene statistics of capitalism's horrors, such figures must apall; even more so, they must surely make any intelligent and civilised human being ask who was fighting the wars and why were they being fought?

It can be said quite categorically that none of the wars was about poverty; no nation on earth mobilised its scientists, its finances, or its armed forces, because 40,000 children under the age of five are dying every day and could be saved by a small fraction of the wealth required to maintain the world's war machines. None of the wars that have occurred this century have been concerned with any of the problems that permanently confront the majority of people in every country - the working class.

And yet, despite the incontrovertible fact that wars have nothing whatsoever to do with working class interests, it is the working class that, almost exclusively, is called upon to do the killing, the suffering and the dying. It sounds incredible that we workers can be conned again and again into killing and risking our lives when it is patently obvious that we will not be the beneficiaries of victory and that we have not got anything an enemy would want to fight for.

Events have moved rapidly in the Middle East. Until the present crisis broke, our leaders and the media were generally hiding the truth about the barbarities of the Hussein regime in Iraq, which, according to Amnesty International, has the worlds worst record for using torture and murder against political opponents. Iran was cocking a snoot at the West: Ayatollah Khomeini and his fellow clerics were the favourite media baddies, therefore Hussein, who was butchering Iranians, could not be depicted as a ruthless despot.

Hussein has armed forces in excess of a million. His airforce has 670 combat aircraft and helicopters provided by his erstwhile allies in the West. His ground forces have 5,500 tanks, including Russian T72s. German technology has provided Hussein's forces with the means of producing nerve gases and mustard gas they used against Iran and against Kurdish villagers. For several years Iraq was purchasing almost the entire production run of French Exocet missiles.

It is possible that Iraq will not want to face the military and economic consequences of its Kuwait adventure: possible that they might negotiate a compromise solution that will temporarily ease the tension. If that happens, only the multinational oil companies will have profited from the exercise.

It is equally possible, that they might either force, or have forced on them, a military confrontation. In that event, the current alignment of military forces in the Gulf could undergo a rapid change: those Arab governments currently numbered against Iraq could change sides, or be overthrown if, when moslems started to be killed, Hussein succeeded in promoting a jihad, or holy war, against ’"he infidels".

In that event, the combined Arab armies in the Gulf would amount to some 2.7 million men armed with over 10,000 tanks, about 2,200 combat aircraft and about 500 helicopters, as well as destroyers, frigates and fast motor patrol boats. Given the American threat that their naval forces currently in the Gulf has greater firepower than the combined forces of the combatants in World War Two and the warning that Iraq may be very close to developing its own nuclear weapons, the situation must represent a frightening threat to the whole world.

The Iraqi rulers want more oil and they also want guaranteed bunkering and port outlets to the oil markets of the world. That is why they invaded Kuwait. If they gain control of enough oil and have the facilities to move and market that oil, then, they believe, they can exercise more control over prices and. thus, make greater profits. So Iraqi war aims are commercial as are those of the Western powers, who want to protect the profits of their capitalists by securing for them a stable supply of low-price oil.

As with all wars, and threats of war, the conflict is about the squalid interests of the owning class in our society. The World Socialist Movement again reminds our fellow workers that we members of the working class own no productive resources except our ability to work. Britain and Ireland, like all other nations, belong to the world capitalist class and, when one nation threatens war on another, it is about the ownership and control of wealth; it is about resources, markets or areas of strategic importance - in a word, about things that concern us only in that our masters order us to kill and die for them.

We say to our fellow workers in all other lands, we have no quarrel with you. On the contrary, we appeal to workers in all lands to refuse to slaughter one another for, and at the behest of, our capitalist masters. We appeal to you to unite with us in the struggle to overthrow the system of capitalism which not only causes war but all the other social problems which our class endures throughout the world.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain 
The World Socialist Party (Ireland)
22 August 1990

The Work Test (1997)

From the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The profit system offers us work that is at best useless and at worst harmful.

Governments are elected to run capitalism. They don’t like paying "benefit" to people who could be employed turning capital investment into profit. Men and women who receive "benefit” (whether unemployment, sickness, invalidity, or whatever) are a drain on the profit system. Never mind that the owners of the means of wealth production are themselves a drain on the rest of us who do all the world's useful work.

To save money for the taxpayer the previous government introduced a test to weed out what it called benefit cheats. According to an unpublished report quoted in the Big Issue (2-8 June), 198,500 out of 785,000 people examined were denied benefit between April 1995 and September 1996. Many claimants failed the “all work" test.

In capitalism there are three kinds of work, only one of which will be needed in socialism. First there is work that is harmful to those who do it or against whom it is done. Second there is work that is "useful" to the profit system but useless in any human need sense. And third there is work that has a purpose, whose result does meet some human need.

There are, unfortunately, plenty of examples today of the first kind of work. There is the legally authorised killing and injuring of "the enemy" by members of the armed forces and the whole paraphernalia of occupations and "enterprises" which have violence as their end product or reason for existence: the arms manufacturers, the arms dealers, the plotters and planners, the spies and counter-spies, the propagandists, the war correspondents, and so on. Apart from a few psychopaths drawn to such destructive occupations, the people involved are mostly ordinary, respectable citizens, honest, law-abiding, kind to children and animals. It is the profit system, organised within potentially if not actually hostile nation-states, that requires such work to be done.

Besides work that is harmful to others, there is work that causes harm to those who engage in it. Coal-mining is a greatly reduced industry in Britain, but many miners in other countries still have to risk their lives and their health in dangerous working environments. Ironically, some work undertaken by members of the ruling class can be harmful to them if indulged in excessively. The Evening Standard (25 June) reported that the Duke of Westminster, with his estimate £1.65 billion mega-fortune, had been ordered by his doctors to take three months off from "running his business affairs and his work for 160 charities". Of course the big difference between the Duke and the millions of real workers is that they have to find an employer or rely on state charity, whereas he can choose whether or not to work shuffling money around.

The third kind of work is that which is really useful, producing goods or services which people actually need: producing and distributing food, making clothes and furniture, building and repairing homes, schools and hospitals, teaching, healing the sick, and so on. It is difficult to estimate what proportion of all employment in capitalism is useful—work that would still be done in a socialist world. A generous estimate would be half, but the true figure may be 20 percent or less. In our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative we discuss how we can eliminate the waste of capitalism and choose productive methods appropriate to socialism.

People who have to do harmful or useless work for a living are encouraged to believe that they have no choice in the "real world", dominated by the system that is endorsed by the voters at periodic elections. A first step towards socialism is to stop believing that this capitalist “real world" is inevitable. It’s a good idea to make the best of any job you have to work at, whether its end-product or service is worthy or worthless. But it's not a good idea to pretend that a "nothing" job—doing it only in the service of capital—is any better than it is.

Some years ago— 1968 to be precise— Ronald Fraser edited a book on Work: Twenty Personal Accounts. The accounts make fascinating reading, many of them offering a powerful indictment of the waste of life involved in capitalist employment. Take the night-watchman, for example. He describes his job as "guarding the sleep of capital". Producing nothing, this labour exists to make nothing happen, its aim is emptiness. The night-watchman has the sensation of being turned into an object, a labouring material thing. Demanding no part of himself, the job in fact demands everything, on the lowest possible level.

Studs Terkel, an American writer, is best known for his book on Working, subtitled "people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do". Listen to the automobile salesman: "The public thinks the automobile salesman is a rat. Some of the customers arc the real animals . . . They don’t have to be animals. It's the whole system that makes 'em animals".

The productive potential of modern industry is immense, and so is its potentiality for human liberation. In a rationally and humanly organised socialist world it could be used not only to meet basic and imaginative human needs but also to create more humane and satisfying conditions of work.

Capitalist employment offers much work that is at best useless and time-wasting and at worst harmful and destructive. The profit system treats the working abilities of men and women as commodities useful only to create marketable goods and services. It pays for workers’ skills, but everything also they are or have or want is subordinated to their "efficient” employment. It wastes them in unemployment—when no profit can be seen from employing them—and it wastes them in much of what they have to do only in the service of capital.

There is. however, an alternative. Today we have to be employed or unemployed, but tomorrow—or at least as soon as we can dissuade our fellow workers from continuing to support capitalism—we can have truly human work. As Ray Pahl put it in his book On Work: "the value system that encourages competition or greed at the expense of collaboration and altruism may not ultimately succeed”.
Stan Parker

Danger: opportunists at work (1986)

From the September 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

With friends like the National Front, who needs enemies like Rupert Murdoch? Print union pickets at Wapping were recently embarrassed by a gift of NF publicity stickers with the message:
Six thousand sacked by an American. Are you British? We’ll keep our newspapers British.
Just what might be expected of the National Front - attaching themselves leech-like to somebody else’s struggle in order to spread their nationalist propaganda, denying the internationalism of working-class interests by telling us that only foreign employers are greedy enough to try to protect their profits through giving British workers the sack. Disgusting, you might call it.

But what about the comments which Neil Kinnock made to the Sogat conference on 11 June:
If someone wishes to own the means of communication in a country they should at least have the commitment of citizenship in the country. Such a law on ownership would be fair, practical and constructive.
The Labour leader was, of course, attacking Murdoch — a “naturalised American” who applies “intercontinental ballistic management”. In rather more words than the NF used (not for nothing is he known as the Welsh Windbag) Kinnock was agreeing with the fascists that the nationality of an employer is crucial in a dispute and that there is some advantage to the workers in ensuring that only British capitalists should own British newspapers.

Does this mean that Kinnock, who has moved steadily from left wing to right under the wrathful observation of his early admirers, is now a fascist? Or that the National Front, wracked by one internal feud after another, is trying to dissolve itself into the Labour Party? There is another, simpler, explanation. Both Kinnock and the NF are practising the art of political opportunism, the readiness to exploit every issue for what it is worth in votes. It must be said that Murdoch is something of an opportunist’s dream; concentrating on attacking him makes it easier to ignore the anti-trade union records of British media moguls like Lord Matthews, James Goldsmith and the Rothermeres as well as those of other British capitalists in other industries. Workers who focus their hatred on Murdoch’s lugubrious but ruthless person are ignoring the fact that the essential class division of capitalist society, and not the personality of a single capitalist, lies at the root of the dispute at Wapping. They are ignoring the many bitter struggles which workers have engaged in with British employers in this country and in those abroad where British capitalists have invested. Those who mislead themselves in this way may also be writing off the history of continual conflict between past Labour governments and the working class and, listening to Kinnock’s honeyed words, comfort themselves with the delusion that a future Labour government will run British capitalism in some way basically different from the Tories.

These deceptions are typical of the everyday material of politicians, especially of one like Kinnock as he slavers at the prospect of power, which he sees coming closer with each opinion poll and each by-election. As capitalism grinds on it offers many opportunities to an opportunist political leader. Chernobyl, for example, has left a lot of people - who have a lot of votes - feeling pretty worried about nuclear power stations and asking whether it might not be better to replace the things with other methods of generating electricity. These people, suspicious and ungrateful as they are, might not be encouraged to find Kinnock agreeing with them, in a garrulous attack on Thatcher at the NACODS conference on 27 June:
In her nuclear infatuation she appears to have forgotten completely that this island is virtually made of coal and surrounded by a sea which rolls across a bed richly endowed with oil and natural gas. I believe . . . that coal should have primacy as the energy source of this country and that our dependence on nuclear energy should be systematically diminished.
The pit deputies probably loved it. Clearly, it was not a time to recall that the nuclear programme in this country was launched by a Labour government, who set down the first reactor on the site of an old munitions factory at Windscale, backed by Prime Minister Attlee’s personal guarantee of the highest priority - higher than all the nationalisation schemes, “free” medical treatment, more generous pensions, better organised schooling - for the murderous project. In the cause of bolstering the military standing and the international competitive power of the British capitalist class, Labour’s commitment to nuclear weapons and energy reached the depths of a blind infatuation, which had not abated by the 1960s when their Minister of Energy babbled exultantly about “hitting the jackpot” with the programme to erect a series of Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors.

There are, as we all know, liars, damned liars and politicians, whose technique of winning power is always concerned with exploiting day-to-day issues, sometimes contradicting something they said only a short time ago, sometimes attacking the very policies which they themselves carried out in the past. However there are certain problems in this, particularly because the opportunist becomes supported by - which also means hamstrung by - a mass of people who believe that capitalism’s problems are a disconnected process of separate, immediate issues. They insist on superficial, short-term measures and are not interested in any radical, permanent, revolutionary solution. So while the opportunist harvests the votes capitalism surges on, its ailments continue and the people carry on voting for their own repression.

Opportunism excites audiences, it raises hopes and in this way it helps put people like Kinnock and Thatcher - and sometimes the National Front - in power. But in terms of human welfare and progress it is insidious. An organisation aiming at fundamental social change to eradicate class conflict and the perils and the restrictions of commodity society cannot be opportunist. Its principles and policy must be hallmarked with a long-term consistency - as long as the continuance of capitalism. Socialist principles prevent us gauging every symptom of capitalism’s sickness for what it may yield in votes. They prevent us vying for support with programmes of futile reformism. Socialists are interested in the growing conscious appreciation of how and why capitalism must work as an inhumane, exploitative system and of why and how socialism must replace it.

Obituary: Death of Miss Lechmere (1936)

Obituary from the May 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

The party has lost a long-service member by the death at the age of 80 of Miss Elizabeth Lechmere. She joined our ranks on March 18th, 1909, that is, twenty-seven years ago, and she was no longer young when she joined.

In times gone by she used to appear at meetings of party members, where policy was being discussed in relation to particular questions of the time, and she used to look strangely out of place in her somewhat boisterous surroundings. This was particularly true of the War years. When we saw her slight figure and grey head at a meeting of members just before the War we thought she had strayed in by mistake and would soon be frightened out. But it was not so. She attended the meeting in 1916 when the members gathered together to discuss the position of the members under the Conscription Bill.

Miss Lechmere was always a useful financial contributor and every fund opened was sure of a substantial contribution out of her slender resources, which she supplemented by writing fairy stories. Through all the troubles the party passed she remained to the end a staunch supporter of the party and its policy, and she was a comrade whose passing is very much lamented by those who knew her.

A question of class (1986)

From the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a popular view that society is composed of many "classes'' with very little in common — convenient for our rulers when they feel it expedient to set one section of the ruled against another, as often happens during a strike. Thus we are told that there is an "upper class, an upper middle class, a lower middle class and a working class" when in fact there are only two classes in present-day society: the capitalists and the workers.

No doubt the person who has a "salary" of £15,000 a year, is provided with a company car and has a mortgage on an "executive home" in the suburbs would be horrified to be described as a member of the working class. Yet. as we will show, this is exactly the case. Moreover these persons' true economic interests are identical with those they like to think of as belonging to a much inferior class.

Class conflict
Capitalism is a system based on the production of goods and services for sale at a profit. This is the prime motive for economic production and profit can only be obtained by the employment of labour — that is, by the exploitation of labour.

Many people think of profit as something which is added on by the employer when offering a product on the market. If it were, then we would need to ask ourselves why, in the production of the same commodity, profit margins vary so much, why some employers even make a loss and go out of business. We would need to ask why employers are so concerned about wage levels when all they need to do when faced with a pay claim is add to the total cost of production, including wages, an ample margin of profit. To understand what in fact happens it is useful to reverse this way of thinking and start with the market price of the commodity or service being produced. In a simplified form the "equation of production" can be expressed as follows:
By "operating costs" we mean the cost of materials, plant, equipment, premises, services, and so on over which the employer often has little control. Wages however usually form a major part of expenses and if they can be reduced then the formula shows that profits will be increased. Here we see the first indication of a conflict of interest between employer and employed.

Wages can be cut in a number of ways: simply by reducing individual wages, perhaps by employing women instead of men; by holding down wages as the purchasing power of money is reduced by inflation; or by reducing the work force by the introduction of more efficient machinery or systems. By whatever means, the aim of the employer is to reduce the wage bill — not necessarily out of greed for higher profits but often to encourage investment in the enterprise and expansion of business in the face of competitors. And the need to minimise wages applies just as much to those of the "executive class" as to any other category of worker.

For simplicity, we have used the word "employer" in describing the conflict of interest between capitalist and worker. In fact, to an increasing extent, the employers are shareholders in companies of ever-increasing size. And shareholders must be single- minded in their pursuit of profit.

Class exploitation
However, if we look again at our formula, we still need to know why there is a difference between the market price of a commodity and the total cost of its production which gives rise to profit. Put quite simply, the market value of commodities is determined by the total socially necessary labour time employed in their production. However, the employer does not expect to pay in wages the full value of the production contributed by the employees. The employer pays the market price of their employees' working abilities. In this lies profit. It is as if for part of the working day the workers provide for the value of their labour power and for the remainder of the day the value of their production belongs to the employer. This difference between the value of labour power and the value of work done is referred to as surplus value. Without it, there would be no profit. Without it, in a capitalist society, there would be no production.

The exploitation of labour must therefore be seen, not as something wicked devised by unscrupulous employers but as a necessary part of capitalist production. It must also be seen as applying at all levels of employment — from the so-called business executive down to the most poorly paid. All sell their working abilities on the labour market.
Last week's increased unemployment figures will have brought little joy to the Government. But they will gladden the hearts of those who run a new and highly profitable industry finding jobs for thousands of executives who come on to the market each month.
(The Times, 3 September 1985).
In any important sense, the executive is in the same boat as the other workers — a member of the exploited or working class with the same cause of insecurity.

What then is the extent of this exploitation? It can be considerable and apply just as much to the production of services as to the production of goods. The Dixons Group, retailers of electrical and domestic equipment, in their report to shareholders, have calculated that the profit per employee in the UK amounted to £4.700 in the financial year 1984-85. The average annual wage of their employees is not given but a profit of £4,700 per worker can be compared with national average wages in 1984 of £9,300 for men and £6,080 for women. Moreover, the exploitation of workers at Dixons is increasing. In the financial year 1980-81 it was £2.400 per employee, rising steadily to £4,700 in 1984-85. Even allowing for inflation, this is an increase of over 50 per cent.

The capitalist class
To an increasing extent national economies are coming under the control of big business and this applies as much to the sale of services as to the production of goods. Even the so-called "professions" are increasing in unit size and have become dependent on the employment of large numbers of "salaried assistants". The person who works on their own and for themselves is disappearing and the small shopkeeper is being put out of business by the multiple stores. The gap between the capitalist class and the working class is widening. Those who live by the employment of others are becoming richer and to an increasing extent their incomes derive from the interest on invested capital —investment in the means of production: land, factories, banks, shops, offices, transport. As a result, the richest 25 per cent of the adult population own 80 per cent of the country’s wealth — and the individual wealth of half the adult population is less than £5,000.

Capitalists can be defined as those who can live comfortably, without working, on the interest from their investments, as many do.

Classless society
In a socialist society there will be no classes; there will be no employers or employed. Capitalism's conflicts of interest and class antagonisms will disappear. Goods and services will be produced to satisfy human needs. For this we do not need employers. All we need is the materials of this earth and the knowledge and will to work — which we have in abundance. And, most important, production would not have to cease because a profit was not realised. It will be a world of plenty.

Spy stories (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Does it matter whether or not Roger Hollis and Lord Rothschild were Russian spies? The fact that Hollis was the head of MI5 and Rothschild also worked for the security services makes no difference. In fact it only goes to prove what 1 had always thought anyway. Either MI5 and M16 are staffed by incompetents: after all if Hollis was a spy then he (not to mention Blunt, Maclean, Burgess and Philby) couldn’t have been very good since the information that he gave to the Russians doesn't appear to have done much to help them gain the upper hand. Also to have appointed one double agent might have been an oversight, to appoint two was certainly careless but to appoint five and then put one of them in charge is simply astounding. Or maybe the security services are only a form of job creation for the otherwise unemployed and, no doubt unemployable, members of the international ruling class. Some take up horse-breeding or art history, others do "good works" and some go to work for the security services.

Here they can play a game that has rules of etiquette as complicated as those of cricket, is more exciting than polo, and uses a language more cryptic than that in clues to The Times crossword. What’s more you can make up the rules as you go along, swap sides half way through the game or even be on both sides at the same time. And when you're too old to play any more then you can write a book about it all and take part in a new and even more exciting game which is played by lawyers and politicians for high stakes but again with rules that are made up as they go along, conducted in coded language and with rules of etiquette beyond the grasp of us in the lower classes.

So why is it that the British government is so anxious to stop the publication of one ex-MI5 agent's reminiscences? After all it can't be for reasons of "national security" (secret code for the interests of the British capitalist class) since Peter Wright worked for the security services at the very time when they had let a group of young wags from that other refuge for the unemployed ruling class — Cambridge University — join the club. They had thought that it might be a bit of a hoot, rather a jolly jape in fact, to play for the Russians while they were still in the British team. So if there was anything in Peter Wright's book worth knowing then someone would undoubtedly have told the Russians already.

So if it's not the Russians that they don't want to see the book what's the problem? Well of course there is the difficulty that Peter Wright's behaviour just isn't cricket. After all when a chap is allowed to join the club it simply isn't the done thing to go and spill the beans about the high jinks and pranks that some of the other chaps get up to just because he's financially embarrassed. And besides it might give some of the other chaps the idea that they can break the club oath that they took when they were allowed to join. After all signing the Official Secrets Act was meant to stop the members breathing a word to anyone, about anything that goes on inside the club no matter how trivial, cross your heart and hope to die.

But it's not just a case of the ruling class stamping their feet and getting petulant because someone's not playing the game properly. It's more serious than that. It's not because of the Russians that the government is trying to ban Wright's book. Neither is it acting in a fit of pique: no government would be prepared to put its most senior civil servant through the mill in the way that Robert Armstrong, the cabinet secretary, has been in the Australian court over the past few weeks just because of pique. No. the only plausible reason to explain why the government wants so badly to ban Wright's book is that it contains things that are politically embarrassing, that it doesn't want us—workers in Britain—to find out about. (However, if the source of the embarrassment is simply the revelations that the security services put Harold Wilson under surveillance while he was Prime Minister, then I will be forced to accept the "incompetent" theory rather than the "job creation" theory. Only a bunch of totally incompetent security agents could possibly think of Harold Wilson as a political subversive). After all this is supposed to be a liberal democratic country and plots hatched in secret by security agents don't quite fit the picture. Also it might get workers thinking about who else MI5 is watching: it was only last year that another ex-MI5 operative. Cathy Massiter, told how she had been instructed to spy on members of CND, the National Council for Civil Liberties and trade unionists. That didn't fit very well with the liberal democratic rhetoric either.

The truth is that knowledge is power, and control of information is an important source of that power. To talk about freedom of information or even a free press or freedom of expression in Britain gives a highly incomplete and partial picture of the way things really are. The government controls the information that we, the working class, have access to in a number of different ways. Firstly there is the Official Secrets Act that not only makes it an offence to give information to "the enemy" but also makes it a crime for any civil servant or contractor to disclose any information learned in the course of his or her job or for anyone to receive such unauthorised disclosures. In other words there is no right to know anything at all about the work of the government or civil service. It is entirely at the discretion of the government and senior civil servants whether or not to release information. Obviously they will try, wherever possible, to only release information that shows them in a good light. And they can do that through, for example, reports and government statistics selectively made public at the most opportune time and through timely briefings during which truths, half-truths and outright lies are fed to tame Lobby journalists and then regurgitated as "news" for our benefit. But newspapers collude with the state in other ways too. For example they have representatives on the "D-Notice" committee which designates certain areas—especially relating to defence and the security services—as no-go areas for the media and sends out guidelines to that effect to all newspaper editors.

Secondly, the government can influence the broadcasting media through its powers of patronage, which means that it decides who sits on the nominally independent Board of Governors of the BBC and its ultimate control of the airwaves which enables politicians to lean very heavily on broadcasters as was the case with the Real Lives programme, or more recently when Norman Tebbit, on behalf of the Tory party, accused the BBC of bias. In certain instances, as was the case during the Falklands War, it will use outright censorship in order to ensure that only approved information reaches us.

Thirdly, the content of newspapers and television programmes is affected by the fact that ownership of the press and broadcasting media is concentrated in the hands of a small number of media moguls, notorious for their reactionary views and often working hand in glove with politicians who periodically reward them with knighthoods and peerages for their loyalty.

So the antics of Robert Armstrong in court in Sydney may appear to be just another daft ruling class parlour game but the fact that the government is deadly serious about it suggests that we should also take it seriously. It is, to use Armstrong's own memorable euphemism, symptomatic of the way the ruling class is always "economical with the truth".
Janie Percy-Smith

From An African Correspondent. (1922)

From the July 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

17th May, 1922. 
As you may have noticed, events in Nairobi took a serious turn about two months ago. The Press, as usual, describe the occurrence as a riot, though in actuality the first exercise of violence proceeded from the forces of “law and order.” They arrested a proletarian propagandist of democratic ideas, a native named Harry Thuku, on a “special warrant,” which appears to obviate the necessity of a public trial as a preliminary to imprisonment. As a result of this, several hundreds of natives assembled and held a mass meeting outside the police barracks, which lasted for something like eighteen hours! In fact, from the evening of one day till noon the next the crowd remained in the hope that their petitions to the authorities and their prayers to God (their most active spokesman being obviously mission educated) would result in the release of Thuku. The authorities, however, put their faith in things more tangible than ancestral spooks, and called out a detachment of the King’s African Rifles. This in spite of the fact that up till that time neither person nor property had been damaged, and the demeanour of the crowd was (according to the evidence of the police chief) “orderly and peaceful,” and reminded the local State parson of “a Sunday School picnic ”; while the police were armed. The arrival of the military was the signal for the beginning of the tragedy. A stampede among the crowd took place which was subsequently described as “an attack on the barracks.” The police fired, killing over a score and wounding about thirty others, whereupon they left the barracks and proceeded to clean up the streets, ably assisted by the K.A.R. At the subsequent inquiry into the incident it transpired that the police (a native body) had fired without orders! But, as the learned presiding magistrate observed, “if the authority of the Government was to be maintained, the firing must be justified.” And so, of course, he justified it. The casualties on the Government side were nil; those on the other side included women and children. No wonder the Daily Mail and other rags thought it necessary to drag in the bogey of Bolshevism, trusting in popular ignorance and credulity to swallow the ludicrous myth.

The causes of the agitation with which Thuku was associated were described at the beginning of the year in the pages of the Socialist Standard. Most important of these were the increase in Hut and Poll taxes, decrease in wages, the system of native registration and the absence of any form of political representation. Thuku was instrumental in forming the original Kikuyu Association, but as this body soon fell into the hands of a junta of Government-paid chiefs, and sought to exclude all but Kikuyu, he and others withdrew and formed the East African Association, a body aiming to unite all native tribes and races to gain political equality. He also incidentally exposed the corruption of the above-mentioned chiefs, as instanced in their acceptance of bribes from European planters for procuring labour! In vain did they retaliate by endeavouring to prevent their tribesmen from listening to Thuku. The natives flocked in thousands to his meetings, and their spontaneous demonstration following his arrest, while fatal as tactics, afforded ample evidence that they, in the mass, endorse his views. The massacre has simply intensified the bitterness with which they regard their oppressors.
Eric Boden

The rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen (1993)

From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the majority of the world's people are to solve their basic problems of poverty, insecurity and general alienation, and achieve a society of equality, they will have to join together democratically, irrespective of nationality and so-called race, to bring it about.

One of their main tasks must he the elimination of national, ethnic and racial prejudices and hatreds. They will have to recognize their identity of interests.

Such recognition is not—and has never been—easy. Xenophobia, in varying degrees, has always existed within capitalist society. And racism, an ideology or system of beliefs which claims that one so-called race or ethnic group is inherently superior to another, has been a feature of our society for a very long time.

No-one needs reminding of the horrors of Nazism during the 1930s and 1940s, for example.

Unfortunately, however, in recent times, particularly with the onset of economic recession and ever-increasing unemployment. ethnic and national hatreds have once again increased in many countries, often breaking out into bitter and bloody conflicts and civil wars. And in many countries. immigrant workers and. quite often, the children and even grandchildren of immigrants. have become scapegoats for economic ills, and have been erroneously blamed for causing unemployment or taking jobs and housing away from indigenous workers.

The flames of such conflicts and hatreds have, more often than not, been fanned by overtly Fascist and racist groups and parties; but also at times of economic recession and political crises, by mainstream, reformist parties of both left and right. 

France is a case in point.

By the beginning of 1969. there were about three million immigrants in France, of whom two million were salaried workers. There were 700,000 Spaniards, 685,000 Italians and 300,000 Portuguese. Over the following ten years or so, most of these workers merged into the general working-class environment. And like the French, the majority are at least nominally Catholic. The situation with regard to the North Africans from Algeria. Morocco and Tunisia, has been, and still is, much different, as most are Moslems.

In the sixties, the governments of France, as in other Western European countries, together with many French employers, encouraged immigration. Indeed, immigrant labour was considered indispensable for the maintenance and development of activity in certain sectors of the economy, which at the time was booming. In April 1967, a report by the Office d'Immigration stated that:
immigration has contributed to getting our economy going and expanding. Jobs which no longer attract French people, or for which there were no applicants, have been taken up by foreigners without any difficulty arising among national workers.
Immigrant workers undertook the hardest, worst-paid, jobs, particularly in the car and building construction industries. As elsewhere, immigrants had to find, or accept, cheap apartments and houses near their places of work, which tended to become ghettoes, which in turn, placed a heavy burden on municipal schooling and some welfare facilities. This was considered acceptable at the time, though many French workers began to move out into the suburbs of the cities.

By 1975 the situation began to change. As in Britain and elsewhere, unemployment began, slowly at first, to increase. And French workers had to accept jobs they had hitherto refused. Often, they complained that immigrants had taken "their" jobs, as though the jobs were theirs by right. They also accused immigrant workers of taking their apartments—most of which were appalling slums, and didn't belong to the workers anyway.

So, by 1975, the French government, realizing that the "good times” of capitalist expansion were, at least for the foreseeable future, over, halted immigration. Shortly after, the government even offered the equivalent of £1,000 to any immigrant who volunteered to return to his or her country of origin. But there were few takers. Unemployment, particularly in Algeria, was (and still is) endemic. Even life in a Paris slum was preferable to an Algerian village or a worse slum in Algiers.

By the late 1970s. however, many immigrants began to be subjected to harassment. and worse. Surprisingly—or, perhaps, not—the first really nasty assault on immigrant workers was not organized by a far-right Fascist group, but by members and officials of the Parti Communiste Français, the French Communist Party. It was on Christmas Eve, 1980.

A hostel for 300 African workers from Mali had just been renovated in the Paris suburb of Vitry. an area with a Communist administration. The Communist mayor led a gang of PC heavies with a bulldozer and proceeded to smash the place up. making it uninhabitable. The doorways were blocked with earth, and the iron railings were torn up by the bulldozer. Gas, electricity and the central heating were cut off. The Communists had no intention of being outdone by the Fascists in pandering to the nationalist and racist prejudices of local French workers. Nor did the mayor intend to lose his job.

Far right
Following the upheavals of 1968 in France a number of small far-right groups began to emerge, such as the Nouvelle Droite of Alain de Benoist and later the violent, hardline Nazi Fédération d'Action Nationale Européene (FANE), led by Marc Frederikson which has continued to exist under various names.

In Britain, the National Front was formed in 1967; in France, the Front National (FN) was not formed until 1972. Like the British NF, the French FN began life as an unholy mixture of hard-line Fascists, anti-immigrant racists and far-right conservatives, although unlike some of the pre-war far-right such as I'Action Française, the FN accepts the Republic and is not monarchist. It also attracted the support of many pieds noirs as former colonists from Algeria are known. The FN denies that it is a Fascist party, but it does display many of the trappings, symbols and attitudes of the pre-war Parti Populaire Français of Jacques Doriot. Its undisputed leader is Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was born in a fisherman's cottage in the Brittany village of La Trinité-sur-Mer in 1928. His father was killed in the war, when his boat hit a German mine. As a student in Paris, in the 1950s, Le Pen was already a right-winger, leading gangs of students on demonstrations in the Latin Quarter against “commies” and “lefties”. After his student days, he briefly became a paratrooper, in the Foreign Legion, in Indo-China. Back in France, he became a supporter of Pierre Poujade's right-wing movement and, at 27, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as one of the movement's most turbulent deputies. He soon quarrelled with Poujade, however, and. tiring of parliament, enlisted in the French Army, and was sent to Algeria, where according to a police report he supervised the electric shock torture of at least one Algerian nationalist prisoner—which he denies (if Lieutenant Jean-Marie Le Pen didn't torture any Algerians, he must have been an exception to the rule!).

On his return to France, Le Pen again became involved in various small right-wing fringe groups, and subsequently lost an eye in a street brawl following a rally. For a number of years, he was regularly seen wearing a black eye patch, looking like a Hollywood pirate. After a while, he started up a small publishing business, but was later prosecuted, and fined, for “glorifying war crimes'' by selling a record album of Nazi songs. Jean-Marie Le Pen did, however, learn one lesson: he tried to keep within the law, and he tended to use innuendo rather than direct racist remarks. He was re-elected to parliament in 1958, as an independent, but lost his seat in 1962.

Soon after the formation of the Front National in 1972, the organization was rent by a number of violent internal feuds, and some of the hardline neo-Nazi elements broke way to form groups like FANE, leaving Le Pen in control. But he. his family, and his party were broke, and living on loans. Then, in 1976, fate was kind to Le Pen. Almost overnight he became a rich man.

On 25 September 1976, Hubert Lambert. a 42-year-old alcoholic and tranquillizer addict, who dreamed of becoming a Minister in a Front National government, died from cirrhosis of the liver. Le Pen eventually inherited a half of his £3 million fortune; and with his wife and his three daughters moved into the late millionaire's luxury villa in Saint Cloud. Le Pen dispensed with his black eye patch, and bought himself a brand new glass eye and some expensive suits. He also dyed his thinning, dark brown but greying, hair blond; and he acquired two black Dobermans.

Life for French, as well as Frances immigrant. workers was less satisfactory. And was to get worse. By 1980, ethnic tensions had increased considerably.

It was not until 1983 that FN electoral support began to take off, when a municipal by-election in Dreux. a town west of Paris where immigrants made up a quarter of the population, gave them four elected councillors with almost 27 percent of the vote. They had campaigned on a purely racist platform. In December Le Pen stood in a parliamentary by-election in the Brittany constituency of Morbihan. Although he received 50 percent of the vote in his home village of Trinité-sur-Mer, his overall vote was only 12 percent. Unlike in Dreux, he was not able to play the anti-immigrant card in Brittany.

In the 1984 elections to the European Parliament, the FN took 11 percent of the national vote and, as seats were allocated under a system of proportional representation, got 10 seats.

In the local, cantonal elections in March 1985, in which half the French electorate was eligible to vote, the Front National vote was only 8.7 percent nationally, although they increased their vote in the south of the country (to as much as 30.4 percent in Nice) and in some of the Paris suburbs. Nevertheless, in the first round the Front received one million votes. During and after the elections, there were a number of attacks on immigrants in both the south of the country, and in the Paris region. And throughout the year, racist and FN slogans could be seen all over Paris and the suburbs. Front slickers, “Votez Le Pen", were everywhere—and can still be seen in many places. Front National membership was almost 70,000. And increasing.

Le Pen now had a solid base for the General Election the following March. In the main, the Front's policies were, even by the usual standards of capitalist and reformist politics, vague yet populist. Except on immigration where, if anything, they had hardened, Front National policies had not changed much since 1978.

As a throwback to Poujadism, the FN called for “la liberté d’entreprendre” and opposition to the technocrats ”de la gauche". As an even farther throwback, to the wartime régime of Vichy, they called for measures to develop the family as the basic cell of French society. Resistance to "Marxism in our schools" was also high on the Front’s agenda. And another slogan during the election was: "Yes to work for young French people means No to immigration!". Always the main Front National slogan has been: "Lutter contre 1‘immigration”.

The Front entered the election with confidence. They considered the newly-introduced proportional representation to be in their favour. In the event, the FN received 2,705,838 votes, just on 10 percent of the votes cast. This gave them 34 members in the National Assembly (plus one sympathizer). And what a weird bunch many of the FN members of the National Assembly were! There was Edouard Dupont, aged 83, who had been an official in the collaborationist Vichy wartime government: there was former Captain Pierre Sergent. aged 60, who had led the OAS secret army in France, and had been condemned to death while on the run, but subsequently amnestied; there was Roland Gaucher, who had been a pro-Nazi youth leader during the German occupation. Another oddity was Pierre Ceyrac who, besides being a member of the Front National, was also a member of the Rev Moon's Unification Church. Ten other members had opposed Algerian independence. Six of them were lawyers, and one was a big landowner. All of them, however, pressed the new government of Jacques Chirac to set up a ministry to oversee the control, and deportation, of two million North African and black immigrants (this, presumably, included the children and even grandchildren of immigrants).

Meanwhile, racist gangs, including known FN members, as well as the police, continued to harass and physically attack immigrants or anyone with a “coloured” skin. At railway stations, and in suburban streets, police presence became ever more pervasive. Foreigners were sometimes held for days on end at police discretion and then secretly expelled from the country.

Peter E. Newell