Thursday, December 31, 2015

English Social Democratic Parties (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Neither Marx, who died in 1883, nor Engels, who died in 1895. were impressed by the early efforts made in England to advance the Socialist movement. Social Democratic Parties did not make their appearance until the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In the eighties the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society, and the Socialist League, made their appearance, and in the nineties the Independent Labour Party. Of these parties the Socialist Democratic Federation and the Socialist League claimed to be based upon Marxism but the other two spurned “ imported ” ideas and based their “Socialism” upon “reason,” “justice,” John Stuart Mill and Stanley Jevons, liberally mixed with religion and out-of-date philosophical ideas. All of them, however, had three common characteristics; they had programmes of immediate demands that were similar, they took their starting points from the class division in society, and, although they fought each other with considerable vigour and vituperation they exchanged writers and lecturers impartially and combined for various purposes such as mass celebrations and protests against particular acts of Capitalist tyranny.

The movement that led up to the formation of these organisations was the offspring of a number of different organisations centred in Liberal-Radical clubs, groups of. freethinkers, land reformers, and admirers of Thomas Davidson—the American advocate of communities to “live the Higher Life.” who delivered some lectures in England about that time. An acute trade depression in 1879-1880 and another in 1884 contributed to the growth of these movements as also did the propaganda of Henry George, whose book, “ Progress and Poverty,” was published in 1880. Some of those who took part in founding the new parties had come into personal contact with Marx and Engels although the latter, who were not greatly interested in them, were engrossed with the progress of the movement abroad.

Looking at the literature with which the Social Democratic movement commenced one is struck by its general lack of punch and lack of concentration upon essentials. The single-mindedness, the passion, and the vigour of the Chartist movement had not been recovered. The people who were in the van[guard] of the new movement appeared to speak and write in a condescending manner, as if from outside the working class; some of them became prominent in art, literature, science, diplomacy, and spiritualism. Among these were William Morris. Walter Crane, Bernard Shaw, William Archer, Frank Harris, Havelock Ellis, Sydney Olivier and Annie Besant, although the most outstanding figures, from a theoretical standpoint, were H. M. Hyndman. Belfort Bax and Edward Aveling (the son-in-law of Marx). Frederick Lessner, an old member of the Communist League, and the International, also took a leading part in the movement although he tells us that Engels poked fun at him for his activities.

The real beginning of the movement appears to have been the formation of the Democratic Federation in 1881, although the Labour Emancipation League founded about the same time under the influence of Joseph Lane, had a clearer outlook and a more definitely working class basis. The Democratic Federation was founded by a group of radicals whose leading spirit was H. M. Hyndman, a man in a comfortable social position who had read Marx’s “Capital” on a journey to the United States in 1880 and was later an occasional visitor to Marx's house. Hyndman published the results of his reading in a little book under the tide of “England for All” in 1881. In the preface to this book he made a reference to the fact that he was indebted to the work of Marx but did not mention Marx’s name, and neither Marx nor Engels ever forgave him for this omission. It appears to us that they were unduly sensitive and suspicious. The actual wording of the paragraph of which they had complained was as follows:
"For the ideas and much of the matter contained in Chapters II and III I am indebted to the work of a great thinker and original writer, which will, I trust, shortly be made accessible to the majority of my countrymen.”
Marx looked upon Hyndman as one who had pillaged his writings, and done so badly, for the purpose of his own aggrandisement. The last sentence of the above quotation, however, does not bear this out as he called attention to, and anticipated the publication of, the work upon which he had drawn. Whatever may be said against much of Hyndman’s practical activity he certainly did more than any other writer and lecturer to popularise both Marx’s name and his theoretical ideas when they were little known in England, and he got little but scorn for his work.

As the Democratic Federation became more outspoken in its opposition to the Capitalistic basis of society it frightened away more and more of its Liberal- Radical support. At a conference in August, 1884, the name of the Federation was changed to the Social Democratic Federation and at the same time it adopted, with some modifications, the Object and most of the programme of the Labour Emancipation League, which joined forces with it. The object of the Federation was now proclaimed to be “The Establishment of a Free Condition of Society based on the Principle of Political Equality, with Equal Social Rights for All, and the Complete Emancipation of Labour"; a vague and unsatisfactory Object that left room for different interpretations and marked the limited political understanding of those who adhered to it. Attached to the Object was a nine point programme, and a list of palliatives for immediate attention. The programme was apparently intended to be a picture of the shape of future society, as the list of palliatives are preceded by the phrase “as measures called for to palliate the evils of our existing society the Social Democratic Federation urges for immediate adoption,” etc., and then follows a number of reforms such as the extinction of the National Debt. State ownership of the railways, national banks, cumulative taxation upon all incomes above a certain level, and so on. Two items in the part defined as the programme arc a striking example of the confusion in the minds of the founders of the Federation. Here are the two items: “All officers or administrators to be elected by Equal Direct Adult Suffrage, and to be paid by the Community” and “The Means of Production Distribution and Exchange to be declared and treated as Collective or Common Property.” Thus the founders of the Federation had in their minds a society in which common ownership of the means of production would exist side by side with an exchange of products through the medium of money. In spite of the acceptance of theoretical statements and arguments derived from Marx’s work they had not grasped the fact that money is only required where exchange exists, and exchange only exists where there is private ownership of property.

To-day we are witnessing some of the fruits of this false and dangerous conception when State Capitalism, with all the paraphernalia of buying and selling, wage slavery, profits, and millionaires, is propagated by labour parties as an example of Socialism in being. When the means of production are commonly owned by the whole of society there will be neither the place nor the need for the exchange of products, they will simply be distributed according to the needs of people, and therefore money will disappear as it will have no function to perform. It appears to us that the confusion has arisen partly from a failure to grasp the implications of common ownership and partly from the occasional use by Marx and Engels, in some of their writings, of the expression "means of exchange ” to denote means of distribution like transport, centres of distribution, and so forth. Unfortunately, the
Social Democratic Federation retained the reference to the common ownership of the “means of exchange” throughout the whole of its existence and thus helped to fortify the nonsensical views of numerous currency cranks. It may be added that if all the reforms advocated by the Federation had been accomplished the fundamental condition of the workers would have remained unchanged and yet, although 60 years have passed since they were framed, most of them are still the subject of wasted agitation.

Another booklet written by Hyndman, “Socialism Made Plain” which had been adopted by the 1883 Conference of the Democratic Federation, was now published as the official Manifesto of the Social Democratic Federation. Tacked on to this Manifesto were proposals for the State organisation of the unemployed, one item of which is a specimen of the feebleness of the rest. The first proposal is: “That no Government servant be employed at his or her present wages for a longer period than eight hours in each day. This alone would give room for many now out of work, seeing that the ordinary hours of work in the Post Office and other State Establishments are from ten to twelve hours, or more, in the day.” If the framers of this proposal had looked back over the previous 20 or 30 years they would have seen that, although hours of work were gradually being reduced, unemployed figures were steadily going up. What they overlooked was that as long as a system of production exists that is rooted in buying and selling for the purpose of profit, unemployment is one of its essential and permanent features. Under Capitalism unemployment can neither be abolished nor even reduced to small dimensions permanently. If there were no unemployed to threaten the security of the employed there would be nothing to stop wage demands of the workers from eventually reaching a point that would threaten the existence of the profit upon which the Capitalist lives. While the Capitalists retain control of the political machinery and the workers remain politically ignorant such a threat to the basis of the system will not be allowed to become operative. It is true that during and since the last war the workers have been in a strong position, which they have only used to a limited extent, but these times will pass away, as the experience after the first Great War demonstrated.

(To be continued)

The Socialist attitude to the Kibbutznik (1963)

From the October 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

First, we had better define our terms. Most of our readers will probably know what a Socialist is. But if, for example, you think he is a follower of say, Harold Wilson or Nikita Kruschev, you would be sadly mistaken. Socialists are people who want political power for one purpose only, to revolutionise the world we live in, and change it from a Capitalist system to a Socialist one, where the means of life are owned by society as a whole. Which of course rules out the Kruschevs and the Wilsons. They want power sure enough. But whatever labourites and communists have used power for, they have never used it for making the means of life into the common property of all the people. No sensible person even expects them to.

What are kibbutznik? They are Israelis who live in various kinds of communal settlement (the kibbutz). It is the purpose of this article to tell something about this interesting experiment, to show what the kibbutznik aim at, what they achieve, and to see what lessons they provide for those interested in Socialism.

The general background of the kibbutz movement is that among the many Jews who became Zionists (people who believed that the remedy for anti-semitism and persecution from which Jews have suffered for centuries was to form a Jewish State in Palestine) were some who felt that the economic basis of their life should be communal. These people were dissatisfied not only with anti-semitism but also with capitalism and considered themselves to be Socialists. They therefore formed themselves into groups, varying in size from a few dozen to a few hundred, for the purpose of organising their lives on farm settlements in what was formerly Palestine and is now Israel.

Most members of these groups were young Jews from Eastern Europe. They had to be young because the conditions were arduous, the land often barren and malarial, and the surrounding Arab population hostile and dangerous. And it is no coincidence that the bulk of these pioneers came from countries like Poland and Tsarist Russia, because there antisemitism was rife and so-called Socialist movements were thick on the ground. There were a number of different “movements " among the settlers roughly corresponding to the kind of left-wing movements they were used to in Europe—Labour (Mapai). left-wing and somewhat fellow-travelling labour (Hashomer Hatsair) and various orthodox religious groups.

One thing they had in common was that they were all idealists who wanted to show that there was another kind of life (and another kind of Jew) than the one of sweating in tailoring factories or furniture works or, for the go-getters and the successful minority, the chance of becoming rich exploiters themselves. They wanted to show the world that people can live in a spirit of one-for-all and all-for-one. They obtained land mainly with funds raised from the charity of Jews rich and poor who stayed in the countries of the west, and from the same source they also obtained the capital to buy materials for building their living quarters and farm buildings. The land was usually cheap because in many cases it was desert and swamp and the main asset of the group was the enthusiasm, the sweat and tears (often also the blood) of the kibbutzniks themselves.

Many readers will have already detected a similarity between this sort of movement and others which have been tried in various countries of Europe and. particularly, of America. The one important difference appears to be that, after a history of up to about 50 years, with new settlements being formed even now, the kibbutz movement can make a reasonable claim to have stood the test of time — some time at least. Any visitor to Israel can see for himself that the kibbutz are viable institutions; they work. And by and large, the majority of the people are reasonably satisfied with their daily lives.

Now perhaps we can take a look at the way a typical kibbutz is run and in so doing we may be able to see how their ideas compare with those of Socialists. We will find that the kibbutzniks are not Socialists. The fact that they call themselves Socialists proves nothing. After all. so does Kruschev, so does Wilson. But we may find some features of kibbutz life which we are happy to salute as demonstrating the truth of some of the things we Socialists claim.

“From each according to his ability." That, the first half of the Socialist's golden rule for the kind of society he wants to create, is by and large a principle which works in practice in the settlements. The problem of the scrounger, the lazy man who will let his fellows do the work, is one that is always thrust at Socialist propagandists; it is not a problem that causes much loss of sleep in the kibbutz. The average settler does his best for the settlement because he knows that it belongs to him as much as to anyone. He knows he is working for his own wife and children as well as others. And he knows that the work is necessary for the settlement to survive; and acting on this knowledge, he behaves not like a rat in a capitalist rat race but like a human being.

The problem of “ who will do the dirty work " is also one that does not loom large. There is a lot of dirty work on a communal farm. It gets done because it has to be done. Those who are used to looking down on the dustman forget that this is only the case because he is regarded as an also-ran who has failed in the rat-race towards so-called better (and of generally better-paid) jobs. The kibbutznik who cleans the cowshed does so because it needs cleaning. He is doing a job for the good of all. And because of this he is looked up to and not down upon by his fellows. Surprisingly enough, this makes the cow-dung less smelly. Some people like doing the job and have only pity for the white-collared clerk in a London bank who adds up his incessant rows of figures of other people's money. Of course, they are sensible enough to rotate jobs as much as possible, when elections take place for administrative committees to run the affairs of the community, the cowman’s vote is equal to the secretary’s. He is in fact just as likely to be elected himself, and in such a process, the principle of leadership tends to get lost. Which is the best thing that can happen to it.

“To each according to his need." It is in this second half of our dictum that the kibbutz shows its essential failing. Socialism encourages a world which is built upon the enormous powers of production which capitalist society has engendered. A world where goods are so plentiful that we can all have free access to them in the way that we have virtually free access to water now. The kibbutz, far from utilising the enormous powers created by international capitalism, is by very definition a small-scale isolated enterprise. As such it cannot produce goods in teeming abundance so that all can help themselves freely. On the contrary, kibbulzniks can only have a limited ration of limited supplies. It is only their idealism that enables the settlers to run with reasonable smoothness a society where everyone must be spartan enough to take only an equal share of the modest amount available. And partly for this reason, most of the workers of Israel prefer to work for private capitalists. But think how life could be if only we all had a chance to share, not in parsimony, but in abundance.

The kibbutz is an attempt to make little islands in the worldwide ocean of capitalism. It cannot be self-sufficient (not even a giant country like Russia or the US. could be that) so it must produce its goods—normally farm produce—for sale on the capitalist market. In return it buys the things it cannot produce—clothes, bricks, glass, tractors, radios and the countless other essentials. It is therefore at the mercy of the market like all capitalist enterprises and the demand for (and the price of) its products shows the usual anarchic fluctuations of glut and shortage that the capitalist world knows so well. Socialism means, among other things, production not for sale on a market but directly for the use of human beings. No kibbutznik, be he never so convinced that he is a living exponent of Socialism, can claim that his movement has anything like this basic feature of Socialism: most of them, in fact, will hardly be aware that Socialism poses this as a basic fundamental. The kibbutz is as far from this as is every other section of our capitalist world.

The kibbutz movement has to struggle with the fact that many of its younger members become dissatisfied with their small island and are lured to the big world where there are so many of the things that large scale production offers—not to speak of theatres and pavement cafes and sea-beaches. But it has an advantage over most such experiments in that the Israeli government finds the settlements and their idealistic (and often chauvinistic) members to be valuable adjuncts of their military forces. If and when their use in this respect is less important, the kibbutz will find that the government's benevolence and support, which have been so valuable to their survival, will tend to disappear. Such are the facts of life in a capitalist world.

In a word then—the kibbutznik is not a Socialist But he is a human being who is demonstrating in practice what we Socialists have always maintained—that people can behave like human beings. And if they can do this under their own difficult restricted circumstances, how much better and easier could it all be in a society of world-wide abundance. For that is what Socialism will be.
L. E. Weidberg

Our case justified by Keir Hardie (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

James Keir Hardie, one of the earlier Labour MPs, was, at different times, Chairman of the Labour Party Annual Conference and Chairman and leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. He was largely responsible for the formation of the Labour Party and it has been claimed for him that “More than any other man, he shaped the political history of the Labour Movement.” Members of the Labour Party praise him for making their party what it is today but, for a reason which will become obvious, they never quote his detailed statement about the kind of party he claimed to be creating. It was published in 1910 by the Independent Labour Party under the title My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance.

Keir Hardie had founded the Independent Labour Party in 1893 and was its Chairman. His purpose in issuing his Confession of Faith was to rebut the charge that, by affiliating to the Labour Party, the ILP had sacrificed its “socialist” character. Some of those who made the charge were members of the ILP. He defended affiliation to the Labour Party, which was, then as now, dominated by trade unions, on the ground of its practical advantage to the ILP but also, and primarily, on the ground of “socialist” principle — in line with his own declaration three years earlier that, for him, the socialist objective was “. . . free Communism in which ... the rule of life will be — ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’.” (Keir Hardie, From Serfdom to Socialism (1907), page 89).

His argument from expediency was to point out to the ILP that if they wanted to grow quickly, and in particular, if they wanted to get members elected to Parliament, their only hope was to have the support and the votes of trade unionists and to fight elections as Labour Party candidates. He indicated that there were some people “. . . who act as though their principle reason for being in the ILP is that they may get returned to Parliament.” He did not pretend that the votes the ILP thus picked up were the votes of Socialists.

He quoted figures to show that while it had taken the ILP seven years as an independent organization to reach 193 branches and an income of £721, within nine years of affiliation to the Labour Party (1900- 1909) these figures had jumped to 887 branches and an annual income of £8,871.

But his main argument was that forming Marxian Socialist organizations and propagating Socialism failed to bring quick growth and was wrong in principle. He instanced the small growth of the Social Democratic Federation and its failure to win any Parliamentary elections. (He did not name the SPGB but had a reference to “other Socialist or pseudo-Socialist” organizations.)

He argued that Marxian Socialist propaganda did not quickly attract large numbers of workers and that it was appreciation of this which had been the reason for the formation of the ILP, based on the different policy of
. . . conducting the propaganda in such a way as would win over working-class organizations, especially the Trade Unions to the support of Socialism, rather than alienate them.
This policy, known as “getting into the workers’ day-to-day struggles”, was advocated by the ILP and later by the Communist Party and always featured in controversy between the SPGB and those two organizations.

History has dealt mockingly with Keir Hardie’s theories. In appearance everything happened just as he said it would; in essentials nothing. The tactics he urged on the ILP got them members, money and seats in the House of Commons. In the 1929 Parliament more than 200 MPs belonged to the ILP — now it has no MPs and is all but dead, though its opportunist tactics are constantly revived by new so-called “left-wing” organisations. And the Labour Party first outstripped the Liberals, then became the largest party in Parliament and formed the government, all as Keir Hardie anticipated.

But what has happened to his belief that the policy he stood for would convert the working-class to Marxian Socialism? For that was the specific claim he spelled out in his Confession:
The Labour Party is the only expression of orthodox Marxian Socialism in Great Britain.
The Labour Party practices the Marxian policy of the class struggle, following Marx’s own example, and is blamed by its critics for doing so . . .
Thus it is proved that the founders of the ILP, and even more so, of the Labour Party, were, if I may use the expression, in the direct line of apostolic succession from Marx and the other great master minds of Socialist theory and policy.
Where is it all now? Keir Hardie himself later repudiated the class struggle. The ILP and Labour Party both dissociated themselves from Marxism. It was a General Secretary of the Labour Party, Mr. Morgan Phillips, who asserted that his party “. . owed more to Methodism than to Marx.” The Labour Party, TUC and the Unions all turned their backs on Marxian economics and gave whole-hearted support to anti-Marxist Keynesian myths of “controlled capitalism”, full employment and the end of crises. Even Keir Hardie’s belief that he was building a party completely apart and hostile to Tories and Liberals proved to be wrong because twice they have been in a three-party coalition government. (Is a third time now in the offing?). Above all, nobody in the Labour Party leadership today even pretends that that party is interested in the Marxian Socialist objective that Keir Hardie proclaimed.

The Labour Party has had sixteen years in office, years of administering capitalism just like any other capitalist party. Winning the workers over to Socialism was bound to be a slow business. It was made more difficult by Keir Hardie’s policies. Events have shown how right the SPGB was and how wrong was Keir Hardie.
Edgar Hardcastle

Lot of bottle (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every day in Britain, hundreds of thousands of drug addicts are free to buy and consume the substance to which they are addicted although it is known to damage them physically and socially, and may even kill them. It is not something they push into a vein or suck up their nose or sniff from a bag. Its sale is urged on with persistent advertising whose message is that taking the drug is sociable, amusing, intellect-sharpening, sexy  . . . For anyone who hasn't yet got the point, the addicts we are discussing are known as alcoholics.

Well over 90 per cent of the adult population of Britain take alcohol to a greater or lesser extent and very enjoyable it can be. A quarter of all men and two per cent of all women are thought to drink "heavily" and six per cent of men and one per cent of women consistently drink beyond the limits prescribed as medically safe. Above — or perhaps it should be below — that are the alcoholics, an estimated 740,000 of them in the UK, whose dependence on a large, regular intake is such it seriously affects the fulfilment of their role as disciplined, conforming, productive units of the working class.

The other class in society, whose interests lie in keeping an efficiently exploited workforce under control, are in something of a dilemma over alcoholism. On the one hand they must against any threats to the requirements of the productive process, that workers be on time, in line and industrious. On the other [hand] they must take account of the fact that alcohol has an historically established place in the recreation of working energy, fortified by the influence of the mighty brewing industry (which is also a hefty contributor to Conservative Party funds). This divergence of interests causes quite a few anomalies, one of which can be witnessed in magistrates courts every day as people appear in the sock because, while it is perfectly legal to drink in public it is against the law to suffer from the effects—to be drunk—in public. On a good day it is even possible to see people charged with being drunk in a public house.

Much of alcohol's attraction lies in its ability to relax the inhibitions clamped upon us by the repressions of property society. After a few drinks the normally shy and inarticulate mat feel that they are the world's most riveting entertainer. Wheezing weaklings suddenly want to take on every man in the bar. As alcohol stiffens a usually flaccid personality, reality recedes into tomorrow's hangover; an unhappy home, a grindingly tedious job, a fearsome poverty, can temporarily be deprived of much of their menace. This is skilfully worked on by the advertising firms; as one ad puts its, alcohol (or rather a particular brand of it) is essential for those who want to "Get It Right". More perceptive, and more useful, are the memories of the childhood Glasgow of Jimmy Boyle, who was no stranger to the effects of alcohol and its uses:
Every time he was drunk he would stagger up the street shouting at the top of his voice "D. N. Dan, my name's Dan, Dan Noble". Sometimes he would throw in that he didn't give a fuck from anybody, and Dan would start this cry from the minute he left the pub till he fell into bed  . . . The best laugh was that when he was sober Dan was a quiet wee man who didn't bother a soul. The way people looked at it was that Dan, who was a widower, worked like hell all week to keep his family and this was his way of letting loose . . .
(A Sense of Freedom.)
There is however a price to be paid by anyone whose inhibitions are relaxed with alcohol (a price not. incidentally, exacted in the case of the illegal drug cannabis). Alcohol impairs many bodily functions so that drunk people often injure themselves by falling and in road crashes. About one third of drivers and nearly one quarter of all adult pedestrians killed in road “accidents” are found to have alcohol levels in their blood stream above the legal limit. Heavy drinking (like going to war, working down a mine and just being a member of the working class) is not a health-giving activity. It affects the appetite and can cause gastric complaints; alcoholics are often both over-weight and malnourished because drink supplies no dietary needs other than calories and lacks essential proteins and vitamins. It can permanently damage the heart, liver and brain and heavy drinkers have been known to ignore a serious, but curable disease like tuberculosis which will then go on to kill them.

Drug addiction of any kind is usually a costly business to indulge in, outside the pockets of the majority of people depending on a wage or state benefit. So alcoholism may be accompanied by — and blamed for — a deeper than usual poverty which in about five per cent of cases means a descent into vagrancy. Every urban concentration has its population of homeless alcoholics, drifting through the cold streets, sheltering in derelict buildings, swigging their day away on wasteland. Drink is also blamed for crime; one estimate is that about 60 per cent of the offences of “habitual” criminals were due to drink and in 1980 the Parole Board expressed their concern at the high numbers of prisoners jailed for 18 months or more whose offences were put down to drink. In France about 60 per cent of violent crime is attributed to alcohol.

In fact it is a dangerous simplification to say that drink causes crime; there is a lot more to the matter than that. Where alcohol plays a part it can be through the addict stealing because they can’t afford to buy the stuff or because it gives them the bottle for a burglary or because it encourages a release of frustrations into what are seen as anti-social acts — assaults on property rights. Released frustrations can also break out as simple, unprovoked violence and there can be nasty results from this. Relaxed inhibitions, at least for the first few pints, can bring a pleasant relief but for capitalist society it is often an expensive business in terms of medical and social services and in the effort devoted to social control through the police, courts and prisons.

So there is a natural concern among the employing class about the effects of alcohol; they need to protect their profits by ensuring an undisturbed exploitation of their workforce. Accidents at work are expensively disturbing and drunk workers can lose their inhibitions to the extent of forgetting the dangers of machinery on the factory floor. A booze-liberated tongue is not conducive to industrial discipline as it may complain about working conditions or let the manager or foreman know what the tongue-owner thinks of them.

When this has become an issue sensitive enough for the ruling class to feel that their overall interests were being damaged, there has usually been a reaction. Licensing laws were first introduced in this country under the Defence of the Realm Act during the 1914/18 war. At the time the generals were complaining that British workers at the front were being prevented from slaughtering enough German workers in the other trenches because they didn’t have the shells to fire at them. This, in turn, was said to be due to the munitions workers spending time in the pubs which could have been spent making shells. In Carlisle, where there was a concentration of munition production, it went as far as the nationalisation of the brewery and the pubs — one effect of which was that the brewery won the reputation of turning out the strongest beer in the land.

There is nothing exceptional about diverging interests among the ruling class, but in the case of their dilemma over alcoholism it is historically established. By the end of the eighteenth century alcoholism was a feature of life in Britain, marked by gin replacing ale as a popular drink, encouraged in parliament by the landed interests whose corn went into the distillation process. It was the age of cheap gin, searingly recorded by the likes of William Hogarth, when straw houses abounded where it cost only a few pence to get dead drunk and the genial landlord made no charge for the straw onto which the customer collapsed. In 1750 every fourth house in London’s notorious St. Giles’ Circus sold gin. Whatever happened in parliament, the fact was that the urban expansion following from the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution made for living conditions which gave every encouragement to seek the opiate effects of drunkenness:
In some parts of the town the cellars are so damp that they are unfit for habitation . . . I have known many laborious families who, after a short stay in damp  cellars, were lost to the community . . . The poor mostly suffer from the insufficiency of the windows in cellars. Fever is the usual effect, and I have known very often cases of consumption which can be traced to such causes. (Paper presented by Dr. Ferriar, Manchester 1790.)
During the first decades of the eighteenth century the death rate rose sharply, at one point actually exceeding the birth rate; in London between 1740 and 1744 there were twice as many burials recorded as baptisms. This was attributed not to the appalling living conditions but to the people's response to those conditions. There was a move to restrict the sale of gin; in 1751 taxes were introduced to curb its free availability and retailers were prevented from selling the stuff. Workers continued to suffer in the cellars and the slums but they could now die from more acceptable causes like consumption and starvation. This was satisfactory to the burgeoning temperance movement and to the importers of tea, which from then increasingly rivalled gin as a cheap consolatory potion among the horrors of the cities.

The temperance movement gathered strength during the nineteenth century. Standing for exactly what was demanded of the new dispossessed class in society — a docile acquiescence in their own exploitation as wage slaves — the movement was associated with the Nonconformist church and the Liberal Party, both of them champions of the modern style of class dominance. Drunks were regarded as people in need of salvation, although from what was not made clear. Missionaries infested the London courts, pressing religious admonitions on the already troubled minds of the hapless, bewildered flotsam in the dock. As might be imagined, the missionaries were themselves not free of problems of personality:
. . . well intentioned but narrow minded, zealous but inclined to preach and apt to derive a sense of self-importance from the condescending friendship of magistrates and the deference of the humbler people with whom he has to deal. (H.R.P. Gamon. The London Police Court Today And Tomorrow, 1907.)
On the other side were the landlords, on whose acres the raw materials for alcohol were produced and the brewers, both of them powerful in the Tory Party. Many a bitter argument was played out between these sides, in terms of freedom of choice and of protecting the physical and moral well-being of the people. Hypocrisy flowed as freely as gin in the straw houses, for what was really at issue was the material dominance of one set of parasites over another. The straw houses are no longer and the temperance movement only twitches with traces of life; there are no longer excruciatingly boring slide shows at the local Band of Hope and it is very rare to find one of those brown painted, cabbage scented temperance hotels which once stood in every town. But proper understanding is as elusive as ever.

A flood of alcohol is downed every day in Britain and it is held to be responsible for a number of medical and social ailments, from damaged foetuses to road accidents. But people who must get their living in the grey monotony of an office or supplying the relentless demands of a production line need an escape from the experience of being exploited and expendable. One of the easiest, most accessible ways out is through drugs, whether hard or soft or liquid and legal. But part of being a member of the working class is an expectation of moderate behaviour; we may go to the pub but we must get home in good time so that we can be up to get to work in the morning. If we exceed the bounds of moderation the blame is often laid on some personal failings rather than on our class position and what capitalism does to us.

There is only one way to escape from wage slavery and that cannot be bought in a pub. Standing at the bar, we are not escaping but only on parole — and at that only until they call time.

Capitalism and the individual (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

An often-heard criticism of the socialist case is that at times such an overwhelming emphasis is placed on economics that concepts such as individual liberty and fulfillment seem to be neglected. The fact, however, is that such concerns are central to our argument but cannot be separated from the economic critique of capitalism, as meaningful freedom for the individual is only possible in a society where provision of the basic needs of all human beings is guaranteed.

Capitalism markets many illusions, but perhaps one of its most grotesque claims is that it can satisfy our every need. In this respect western capitalism is compared to ‘'communism". The former, we are led to believe, allows people to make choices, politically through the ballot box and economically via the market, while in "communist" society individuals are coerced by a state which regulates all political and economic life. Socialists do not dispute that in so-called communist countries there is a lack of individual freedom. However, we maintain that such societies are just another form of capitalism, where a state elite exploits human labour power for the purpose of capital accumulation. We argue that neither form of capitalism can guarantee individual freedom and fulfillment and that for real meaning to be given to such concepts the profit system in all its guises must be abolished through democratic political action.

In a free society each person would choose the means to develop his or her individual potential. Today, millions die of starvation or undernourishment when they could be adequately fed, and millions more are killed in wars which involve no working class interests. Even in "advanced" industrial societies millions are denied access to decent food, adequate housing and basic medical treatment. This occurs even though it is possible to produce enough to satisfy everyone's basic needs. While such conditions exist, as they must in a system which gives priority to profit over human needs, individual fulfillment is nothing but a sick joke. Real freedom is only possible when the means for producing and distributing all goods and services are owned in common and subject to democratic control; where the sole purpose of all productive activity is to satisfy needs. Until that basic condition is established, talk about individual rights and freedoms is just that — talk.

Even for those who do not suffer the worst effects of poverty under capitalism, the ability to develop their full potential as human beings is still missing. To supporters of capitalism, money is the magic means of securing individual satisfaction. For the overwhelming majority, however, money is only obtainable by the sale of their labour power (capacity to work), and employment is precisely what prevents most people from developing themselves as individuals. They are in jobs that do not provide satisfaction but involve boring, repetitive tasks subject to control and long hours. Employment dominates peoples lives; most work between 35 and 40 hours a week for about fifty years. Time spent outside of employment has to be organised around work hours: an early start means getting to bed fairly early and shift or night work not only ruin a person's social life but can also affect health. After working for something like eight hours, there is little time or energy left to pursue satisfying outside activities.

Individual choice is obviously dependent on the amount of money we have in our pockets or purses. The sheer monotony of work and the weekend spending spree go hand in hand: an urge to consume afflicts much of the working class, and is an attempt to overcome the frustrations of employment. Reality reasserts itself, however, and the gloss of the latest acquisition soon wears off when Monday morning comes around again. Employment clearly alienates the worker from her or his work — it is just a means to an unfulfilling end.

There are many other ways in which capitalism degrades people and forces them to conform. Norms of behaviour are drummed into us through the family and school. A “normal" person in their thirties should be married and have 2.5 children. Individuals are judged not for their human qualities but on the basis of surface appearance: the way they act, the car they drive, the house they live in or how much money they have in the bank.

It is possible to create a world in which the object of work will be to produce useful items for direct consumption, without the intervention of exchange and profit. With the creation of better working conditions, less need for control and production for need rather than profit, work will be more satisfying. With the full utilisation of modern productive capacity, people will work far fewer hours than they do at present and be free to engage in whatever other activities they wish to pursue. Education will mean just that; no longer will it be tied to the needs of employment.

The common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution on a world-wide basis — socialism — is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Becoming a socialist does not require you to read Marx's Capital, although people may well become interested in finding out what he really had to say. Above all, it means liberating your mind from capitalism's tunnel vision and seeing the potential of a society in which nothing has a price tag.
Ray Carr

The final frontier (1987)

From the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you ever looked up at the sky at night? If you have, you might have seen the moon, the stars and the planets. There are people who admire the beauty of the heavens but who also get excited about the potential real estate out there. You are probably not one of them. Most people have enough trouble trying to own a piece of this planet without worrying about owning a chunk of another as well.

The first enterprise to venture forth into space was the Communist Party Inc. (USSR). On October 4 1957, they launched a satellite into orbit called Sputnik 1. Capitalists all over the world were deeply shocked. So the American capitalists' minder (US government) decided to play Celestial Monopoly and even landed on the moon. Arianespace pic. (Europe), another Communist Party Inc. (China), and Gandhi & Sons (India), entered the game with down-market satellite-launching businesses.

It was all very expensive — especially the moon trips. There was nothing of value there — no gold, no uranium, no workers. The USA mumbled something about feeding people being more important than manned exploration of the moon, and spent the money in developing the Star Wars programme. There are rumours that the Russians are going to have a go at Mars. Europe, China and India are cashing in on the satellite business, especially after the Space Shuttle blew up, due to a cost-cutting exercise.

Do workers come into this? Do we get to play Celestial Monopoly as well? I'm afraid not. We make the rockets, the rocket fuel and the gallons of white paint. We even polish the rockets so that they will look good for the TV cameras. We also make the computers that guide the rockets, the spacesuits, the sticky space food . . . The list goes on. All these things are made by the wage and salary earners of the world, the working class. We do not own what we make though, which is why we can 't join in the game.

However, as far as games go, Celestial Monopoly is rather silly. Why not co-operate in the exploration and use of space, so that all people can enjoy the benefits? The same could be said for all endeavours. But the rockets and the satellites and the farmlands and the fisheries, are not owned by everyone. They are mostly owned by a minority, to satisfy their own interests. It is in their interests to use the raw materials and machinery that they own, only if the things produced can be sold at a profit. It is not profitable to feed starving people who have no money to pay for food.

What uses-of-space are profitable? Communication satellites owned by large companies are one aim. There are. of course, the spy satellites, anti-satellite satellites and perhaps even orbiting missile silos. The owners of the world take "defence" very seriously. They have a lot to defend.

Are these of any use to the working class? Communication satellites enable anyone to dial direct to any phone in the world. However, after chatting for three minutes, it begins to get expensive. The major shareholders of the company that owns the satellite can afford to talk as long as they like. How long can the people who assembled the satellite talk?

As for "defence", the wage and salary earners of the world have no country to defend. Most of the wealth in any country is owned by a minority. Yet it is the workers who produce this wealth — the workers have much more in common with each other than with those who own and control most of the world and everything in space.

Today space is for sale. It is so expensive that even capitalists are finding it difficult to exploit it. The raw materials are there. The skills are there. The people who want to use space are there. But profit is nowhere to be seen. This is why the colonisation of space is still seen as a utopian dream. The worst thought-crime in capitalism is to want what capitalism cannot give.

The day before Sputnik 1 was launched, most people thought that space exploration was impossible. Science fiction, they said. People say the same thing about socialism today. They do not believe that a society where everyone co-operates in decision-making is possible. However, the wage and salary earners of the world already co-operate in producing and distributing everything. It only remains for them to have the power to decide what will be made, and how things will be made. It is this class alone which has the power to co-operate to produce a socialist society.
George Marcelo

Between the Lines: Prejudice on parade (1986)

The Between the Lines Column from the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prejudice on parade

British TV does not have a good record when it comes to racism. In what passes for comedy the reference to offensively racialist stereotypes has made many a performer afford his first Rolls Royce; unfunny "stars" of the Jim Davidson category find it easier to get a laugh out of imitating the accent of an immigrant than to point at some of the truly laughable contradictions which capitalism throws up. The drama departments are not much better: when was the last time you saw a peak-time non-European or American play on TV - and if you can remember, is that not because the occurrence is so rare?

Even attempts to portray black lives on TV. such as C4's comedy series. No Problem, over-emphasised and parodied the blackness of the characters, as if the only justification for showing the black character on TV can be the experiences associated with the colour of his skin. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when West Indian immigration into Britain was initiated on a large scale, the BBC made several deeply patronising documentaries about what were then referred to as "coloured people" (as if the rest of us are colourless).

As time passed, racism became inconvenient for the ruling class: it has its uses in dividing workers against one another, but the conflicts engendered by race prejudice are now regarded as an interference with the smooth-running of modern capitalism. It is for this reason that TV has in recent times become a little more sensitive when it comes to racism. 1986 began with two programmes which did more than anything I have seen on TV before to explain racism. The American Documentary (Sunday, 5 January. ITV) showed a film of an experiment conducted by an American elementary school teacher on a class of white children. She began asking them what they thought of blacks and most of them gave the conditioned answers expected from those who have been prejudiced by an all-white environment.

Her contention was that the only way to teach children to reject prejudice is for them to experience it. She divided the class into those with blue eyes (the superiors) and those with brown eyes (the inferiors). The blues were allowed to go out to play before the browns; browns were not to be spoken to by blues as they would be a bad influence on them; browns had to drink from special paper cups and wear brown collars as symbols of what they were. It was not long before the blue- eyed children assumed the role of social superiors. The brown-eyed children were seen to suffer and feel resentment. The following day the roles were reversed.

Two observations by the teacher who conducted the experiment were especially worthy of note: firstly, that spelling tests conducted during the course of the experiment showed children in the inferior group to produce below-average results, whereas those who were told that they were special achieved above-average results. This not only helps to explain how it is that those groups which society expects to achieve less tend to achieve less, but also that once people are told that they are special they are likely to achieve more than we would normally expect. A socialist society will be free from the educationally bogus categories of "black" or "white" or "kids" or "disabled" and the many other meaningless categories through which learning expectations are based on gender or "race" or parental occupation; learners will all be treated as important people and can therefore be expected to learn faster.

Secondly, the teacher observed how before the experiment the children she taught were such a lovable bunch of people who did not think of discriminating against each other; once conditioned to be prejudiced, even she was frightened by the ferocity of the conflict which emerged. Does this not demonstrate that antagonism is not inherent in human beings - it is not "human nature" - but has to be taught, conditioned, injected like poison into the minds.

Both the teacher and the documentary-makers seemed to accept the naïve notion that teaching workers to be victims of racism can eradicate racism. No doubt such an exercise can help to change ideas, but the tragedy is that capitalism breeds division and hatred as fast as idealists try to spread fraternity and there will be no eliminating racism until the material conditions which produce it are removed.

A second, equally good, stab at racism was shown in a Horizon programme entitled Are You A Racist? (Monday, 6 January. BBC2). The programme's makers placed adverts in newspapers asking for those who were racists and those who have been the victims of racism to reply. Of hundreds of replies they selected four of each category and put them in a country house for five days to explore their ideas. The result not only made compelling viewing (TV producers are slow to learn that there is little more exciting to watch than the tension created by the honest exchange of ideas), but also helped viewers to observe the inability of the racists to use rational arguments in the defence of their cause.

During the five days one of the racists changed her mind and rejected her original ideas; another spent his time in what appeared to be a condition of dazed drug-overdose (he was either very tired and was using the chance to catch up with some rest or else he was a slow thinker); the third racist, a woman from Peckham who claimed to have been mugged by blacks, held tight to her prejudice which she was utterly incapable of articulating, beyond the fact that whatever she was told she would not change her mind. The fourth racist, an exceptionally nasty bigot called Tom (described the following day as "eloquent" and "reasonable" by the TV critic of The Daily Telegraph). provided a fascinating insight into the difficulty faced by the racist - indeed, any dogmatist - in responding to ideas which contradict what they want to believe.

Tom's problem was not just that he held absurd. offensive views about other people being inferior because of their skin colour but that he could not understand why. He talked, but he listened little and heard less. Why could he not hear ideas which opposed his own? Perhaps because ideology — ideas which do not arise out of real experience, but out of imagined experience — can only be maintained by repressing the ability to be self-critical. Perhaps one day a similar documentary will be made in which four socialists and four anti-socialists are put in a house for five days to discover why they think as they do. In the end, how else can you defend the absurdities of capitalism except by struggling to protect your mind from the force of logical analysis?

Just like a Tory

BBC2's series called Comrades (Sundays) has offered British workers a peep into the Russian Empire. If it has shown nothing else it has demonstrated that Russian life has nothing to do with socialism — a classless, stateless, moneyless social system — and that state capitalism is just as bad, or worse, than capitalism in Britain. The programme on Sunday. 6 January portrayed a Communist Party official in a Pacific port town. What was notable about this woman was not that her ideas were advanced or revolutionary or inspiring (they were not), but that she was so similar to a typical politician in Britain. As one watched her at a CP-organised dinner dance, entertaining some visiting Japanese business men, it was remarkable just how much like a British Tory councillor she was.

Similarly, the section of the programme showing her sitting in her weekly surgery trying to sort out the difficulties of local workers overcrowded housing and all the usual problems — it was striking just how easily that could be any British inner-city with any politician sitting behind a desk giving the same tired excuses and promising in the same sterile way to "get something sorted out". And to think that some workers look to Russia as the place where capitalism has been transcended; they have only to watch their screens to see that the same old capitalist problems are there, with the same old capitalist leaders trying to brush them under the (red) carpet.
Steve Coleman