Thursday, March 3, 2016

Revolution not reform, (1906)

From the September 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are soldiers of the Social Revolution. No reform can bring any economic benefit to the whole working class. Do you think Municipal Ownership will abolish poverty? If you do, read any recent description of the slums of Glasgow, where Municipal Ownership has been carried farther than any American reformer has yet proposed.

Revolution tears an evil up by its roots; reform merely shifts it from one spot to another. When New York demolished its “Little Italy,” and put a park in its place, what happened? Rents in the vicinity rose to a point that drove out all the former inhabitants, and a new, and; if possible, worse Little Italy came into being further up town. Do you think a reform like that is worthy the efforts of a workingman, not a a mere dilettante in philanthrophy ? When the Mills Hotel No. 1 was opened, within a few weeks merchants in the neighbourhood reduced wages, and when their clerks protested they could not live on the new scale, the reply came quickly : “O yes, you can. Go, live at the Mills Hotel.”

Think about that for a few minutes. Do you begin to see the economic law of the matter ? Here it is: Any reform that reduces the cost of living of the working class reduces to at least the same extent the wanes of that class.

Many forms of Municipal Ownership may and do cheapen the cost of living, but as they also reduce wages, they can be of no benefit to the working class. Municipal Ownership may reduce the amount of corruption and graft in our city politics; but whether it does or not is no concern of the working class. If graft were abolished to-morrow, the working class would be no better off economically. The workingman is robbed “to the full extent that the traffic will bear” at the factory door. Graft simply changes the mode of division of the spoil after it has been taken from the working class. To the workingman who is merely getting his bare keep like the horse in his master’s stable, it is a matter of indifference whether the wealth that he and his fellows have been robbed of is expended in the purchase of an automobile, or an alderman, a steam yacht, or a Supreme Court Judge, or in the building of an oil refinery or a railway.

Where Public Ownership is accomplished by purchase instead of by confiscation, let us see what it means. The only way a City can get the money to purchase a street railway, a water works, or a gas plant is—generally speaking—by issuing bonds. These bonds are desirable investments for the perishing Middle Class who are being driven from every other field by the captains of industry and finance. These bondholders are just as truly the owners of the municipalized plants as are the present private owners. But they have a distinct advantage. The security of their investment and the payment of their interest is guaranteed by the City Government. We still have private, not public ownership. The difference is that the City Government has now become the managing and collecting agent of the owners.

Is this reform "enough of a change for you to fight for? You damn it, when you call it a reform. No reform can help you. What you need is a revolution.

True public ownership cannot be allowed, save by confiscation. This sort of public ownership would help you, because it would precipitate the Social Revolution. Why? Because no one class of your masters. your robbers, your exploiters would consent to be stripped of their stolen goods, their means of exploitation, without compensation, while their fellows retained theirs.

Has “confiscation" an ugly sound to you my non-socialist reader? So it has to me, and that is just why I am a Socialist. At present four-fifths of the product of the toil of the working class is confiscated by the masterclass, and the object of the Socialist movement is to end for ever this hideous confiscation: but I for one do not propose to pay the thieves or the fences one penny for the goods they have “confiscated" — stolen from the workers.

Compensation? Yes, they will receive ample compensation in the privilege and joy of living in a world of equals, where poverty and misery will be unknown, and fellowship will be a living fact, and not an empty word. Can you conceive of any greater compensation than this? I can not.
Robert Rives La Monte,
in Progress (New York).

No Value Under Socialism! (1975)

From the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wealth under capitalist society takes the form of commodities. Although commodities must be articles of use, their distinguishing characteristic is that first and foremost they are produced for sale with a view to making a profit. Buying and selling is the exchange of commodities with money acting as a medium of circulation. Commodities are exchangeable because they are the material depositories of exchange value.

Value has nothing to do with the physical properties of a commodity. However much we may examine its physical structure, we will not discover therein one scrap of value. This is because value is purely a social product, not a natural one. Definite historical conditions are necessary for the full development of exchange value, those conditions are capitalist production. Insofar as commodities have value, they are the embodiments of one identical social substance, viz. human labour. When we speak of value we are not referring to the useful qualities a commodity may have. We are referring to how much it is worth, its exchange value.

The labour which creates value is abstract homogeneous human labour, the average labour of society. This average labour may vary, depending on the stage reached in society’s powers of production, on its technology, but not any particular time it is given. A particular commodity can be exchanged for any other however diverse their uses may be provided they be equal in value. If we take two different commodities in the proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions are, a given quantity of one can be equated to some quantity of the other. This equation tells us there exists something common to both in equal quantities. Yet this third thing is neither the one nor the other, it is that both are products of labour.

We have been dealing with what constitutes value, and its social nature, but the magnitude of value contained in a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time it takes to produce it. Only necessary labour time counts because that is all society requires in the production of exchange values. Any commodity which owing to inefficiency took longer for its production than the time socially necessary would not represent more value, and would have to sell on the market for the same as those produced in the time socially needed.

Again a particular commodity may at one time contain more value than at another. This would be when owing to greater difficulty in the technical or natural conditions of production the socially necessary Labour time would increase, and therefore also the value of the commodity. The reverse would obtain when owing to greater productivity of labour, due to improved machinery, or more favourable natural conditions, it would then take less socially necessary labour time to produce, therefore a decrease in its value.

Do the products of labour always have to take the form of commodities, where man loses control of his own product? Only in competitive capitalist society where production is determined by the profit motive and the market, and the great productive technology necessitated by capitalism is only allowed to function in the interests of accumulating capital.

People in Socialist society in contrast will be able to produce and plan in relation to human requirements. There will be no commodities, therefore, no value and no surplus-value. The means of production will not be owned by a privileged class. Socialism will bring into line production with satisfying human needs.

Let us look a little closer at what production for the satisfaction of human needs means. Two aspects of production would apply under Socialism which do not under capitalism. First the quantitative requirements of society would be satisfied owing to the tremendous impetus Socialism would give to production in the release of a huge number of men and materials, now engaged in the requirements of capitalism. Those men and materials would be contributing to the satisfaction of human needs.

To give some idea of the scale of the release of men and materials which Socialism would give, just consider some of the things, necessary to capitalism which would have no place in Socialism. Such things as the production of weapons of war, the vast quantities of materials and paper used in commerce including packaging, advertising, banks and offices. The machinery, paper and metal used for money is no small item. Then add to this the energy required, human and otherwise. Yet, we have merely scratched the surface, the list is endless. Men have filled books about it; Vance Packard in his book The Waste Makers describes in detail the mountains of rubbish produced. The continuous change of superficial style and the built-in obsolescence, all in an effort to sell more, so that the owners of the means of production may increase their profit. All is accepted as normal practice by capitalism’s standards.

The people of Socialism then, would produce for use and not for profit thereby satisfying the quantitative aspect of production. Then there is the aspect of the function of man labouring, the satisfaction to be obtained from doing something useful and creative. How would Socialism effect this very vital part of human life? Work would certainly not be looked up as a necessary evil. It was William Morris who wrote: “If pleasure in labour be generally possible, what a strange folly it must be for men to consent to labour without pleasure”.

This is not the attitude of trying to reduce working time to a minimum by more use of machinery in order to allow more leisure time for more fulfilling activities. The fullest use of machinery would be made where it could alleviate unpleasant work, or to cope with vast quantities when required. This is not to say that there would be no unpleasant work under Socialism. But what constitutes unpleasant work? What may be unpleasant to one, may to another mean the height of pleasure. Again, to have to perform the same task for the best part of one’s life presents a thoroughly depressing prospect. But to take part in an activity for a period of time, then to do something else depending on one’s interests and abilities would make tasks interesting which would otherwise be tedious. Socialism would allow a new awakening of interests and abilities that lie slumbering to develop, thus enlarging the scope and fulfillment of human life.

The Socialist answer to the question, “Must the products of the labour of men always take the form of commodities?” is no. Let us be done with commodities and their value. Let there be only useful production, which means let us have Socialism.
P. Young

Socialists and War (1966)

From the April 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris in 1887 when there were rumours of a war with Germany: 
“If war really becomes imminent our duties as Socialists are clear enough, and do not differ from those we have to act on ordinarily. To further the spread of international feeling between the workers by all means possible, to point out to our own workers that foreign competition and rivalry, or commercial war, culminating at last in open war, are necessities of the plundering classes, and that the race and commercial quarrels of these classes only concern us so far as we can use them as opportunities for fostering discontent and revolution; that the interests of the workers are the same in all countries and they can never be really enemies of each other; that the men of our own labouring classes therefore, should turn a deaf car to the recruiting sergeant, and refuse to allow themselves to be dressed up in red and be taught to form a part of the modern killing machine for the honour and glory of a country in which they have only the dog's share of many kids and few halfpence—all this we have to preach always. though in the event of imminent war we may have to preach it more emphatically”.
Rosa Luxemburg during the first World War:
"All demands for complete or gradual disarmament, for the abolition of secret diplomacy, for the dissolution of the great powers into smaller nationalities and all similar propositions, are absolutely Utopian so long as capitalist class rule remains in power. For capitalism, in its present imperialistic course, to dispense with present-day militarism, with secret diplomacy with the centralization of many national slates, is so impossible that these postulates might more consistently, be united into the simple demand ‘abolition of capitalist class society'".

Greasy Pole: National Wealth Service? (2016)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Hutton is a name which in its time has distinguished some famous personalities. There was that batsman at The Oval who amassed an innings which was then a record for a Test Match against Australia. Then there was the American heiress, a member of the Woolworth family, who revelled in drugs and alcohol while she amassed a total of seven husbands. And who had just $3,500 in 1979 when she died. Then what about John Matthew Patrick Hutton who was the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness in Cumbria, once noted for its shipyards and for the largest steelworks in the world but now looks out across the North Sea at one of the densest concentration of wind farms. In July 2010 he reached the heights of Baron Hutton of Furness. But not before he had told a TV political correspondent, in confidence, that if Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of his party, ever got to be Prime Minister it would be ‘a fucking disaster’.
A long term close friend and one-time flatmate of Hutton, who continued to share ideas including his contemptuous (although less abrasively worded) opinion of Gordon Brown, was Alan Milburn, the MP for Darlington, which was once busy until it was reduced to an ominously titled ‘area of re-generation’. Near to Darlington was Sedgefield where the MP was Tony Blair but this was unlikely to have been the sole cause of Milburn being an ardent Blairite. His Parliamentary career did not begin until April 1992 and was typical in the sense that he moved between a succession of ministries, perhaps impatient that he did not work his way further up the Greasy Pole. But it was crucial that in June 2003, on the very day of Prime Minister Blair imposing a ministerial reshuffle, Milburn resigned as Secretary of State for Health on the grounds that it got in the way of him keeping to his family commitments at his home in the North East. Except that being a devoted family man did not prevent him taking a number of posts as advisor or consultant to some large companies – for example Bridgepoint Capital, which includes Alliance Medical who were competing for contracts, often dealing in the Health Service.
In any case Milburn was back in the government in 2004 as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a title fancy enough to swaddle the fact that his objective was to design a super campaign for Labour in the coming election. He did not make the start in this task which was expected of him, which brings us back to Gordon Brown who took over the job with its opportunity to launch at Blair a heated, copulatory protest – in this case concerning a recent article in the Sunday Times by Milburn: ‘You put fucking Milburn up to it… this is Trotskyism! It’s fucking Trotskyism!’ Which was inaccurate as well as abusive to the memory of that cruelly discarded Bolshevik. After Labour’s next defeat, in the 2010 election, Milburn resigned from Parliament and took on, among other responsibilities, the job of advising the Conservative/LibDem coalition government on something officially called ‘social mobility’ – a phrase open to pretty well whatever interpretation its user desired (Milburn preferred ‘…to pursue challenges other than politics’).
To put all of this situation into perspective we have to begin with the fact that Milburn was born to a single mother in a small village in County Durham and grew up in Newcastle on Tyne where he went to school. Not a lot in that of promise about social mobility. At Lancaster University he was not among the most promising of students and when he left there he had become restless enough to cultivate the uniform hirsute style of protest, joining CND and – most memorably – earning £20 a week managing a small bookshop in Newcastle. It had a name designed to tempt anyone needing an accessible source of cannabis to also see if there was anything readable on the bookshelves. It was after taking various roles in the local Labour Party and trade unions that he was elected MP and it was appropriate for the New Statesman to warn that he was widely seen as ‘the epitome of Blairite centrism and moderation’. During his time as Secretary of State at the Department of Health he devoted himself to safeguarding what was being dubbed the ‘modernisation’ of the NHS, which entailed the development of private investment opportunities in health and brought about the closure of hospitals and other services, whether there was need for them or not, and pressure on the employment conditions of doctors and other workers in the Service.
And how has Milburn fared, among the most ambitious of the designers of these changes? There had been a time in 1988 when, in tune with his most assiduously promoted self-image, he was a leading light in a campaign to defend the jobs of the workers in the shipyards at Sunderland. And in 1990 when he was a Regional President of his trade union by the name Manufacturing Science and Finance. So he has fared well. Kept busy. Bridgepoint Capital is one of his multitude of interests now; it pays him £30,000 a year for his advice on their bidding for NHS work. Six months after he joined them a subsidiary won an NHS contract worth £16 million. With his second wife, who is a barrister, he set up a company under the name of AM Strategy, operating in media and consultancy contracts in relation to the NHS; in the year-end to March 2013 AM showed accounting profits of £1,357,131. And in May 2013 Milburn declared himself ‘delighted’ to be appointed as Chair of the Health Industry Oversight Board at PricewaterhouseCoopers – a company which he praised for its ‘strong opportunities’ for growth. He may well have had a similar response to the news that his old friend and fellow Labour front bencher Hutton had been appointed to the board of Circle Holdings, which also flourishes through its contracts with the NHS.
The adjustments and confusion offered by Milburn and Hutton have been essential in their attempts to crisis manage the chaos of capitalism. In the process they have been compelled to change, adjust or abandon what they once presented as enduringly basic principles. This entire episode has emphasised our role to carry through the authentic social progress so urgent to the world.

Indefatigable socialist (1996)

Book Review from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris in Manchester and Salford by Edmund and Ruth Frow, Working Class Movement Library, Salford. £2.50.

William Morris was an indefatigable speaker and writer for Socialism over the last thirteen or so years of his life. Many of his speeches were reproduced as articles or pamphlets, and essays such as Useful Work vs. Useless Toil and How We Live and How We Might Live (the latter republished by the Socialist Party) are well worth reading today. Manchester was one of many towns he visited as a speaker for the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League.

Morris’s first visit to Manchester was in 1882, but as a businessman not a Socialist. His first furnishing and designing company took part in an exhibition, and this was successful enough for them to open a shop, first in John Dalton Street and later in Albert Square, though this did not last long. By the time he came in 1883 to speak at the Manchester Royal Institution, Morris was a Socialist, and his theme, that riches meant corresponding poverty and slavery, was not popular among the local capitalists. His subsequent visits were to speak to working-class audiences, especially in Ancoats, the world's first industrial suburb. From 1884 to 1894, Morris spoke almost every year at the Ancoats Brotherhood, an institution founded to provide leisure and educational opportunities for working people. He spoke out of doors too, in Albert Square, and, on what was almost his last visit, to a crowd of two thousand at Trafford Bridge in Salford. His favourite talk, apparently, was on "Monopoly", an explanation r of the labour theory of value.

This pamphlet, though expensive at 28 pages (9p a page!), is well illustrated, and gives a useful and vivid account of Morris’s activities in the north-west.
Paul Bennett

Uforia (1979)

A Short Story from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Italy recently there was much craning of necks and straining of eye-balls when strange objects which many people believed to be flying saucers, were spotted in the sky. Photographs, and even a film, have been produced to substantiate this, and one Italian even appeared on television claiming to have spoken to creatures thirteen inches tall with lights in their foreheads. Since then the hysteria seems to have spread, with a report in the Guardian of UFOs buzzing an American missile base.

It would appear however, that despite all this aerial activity, flying-saucers, like ghosts, never actually make any serious attempt at communication, and one might wonder why these galactic interlopers go to all the bother of traversing space only to complete a couple of laps before zooming off again.

Perhaps the reason for their reticence in making contact is that they have been tuning into earth sci-fi movies in the mistaken belief that these were actual recordings of preceding missions. They would undoubtedly derive little consolation from a movie like The Day the Earth Stood Still in which poor Michael Rennie, while merely trying to warn earth governments of the folly of their ways, only got a bullet for his trouble (despite having a ten-foot tall tin pal who dispensed instant obliteration at the clunk-click of a visor).

Another reason might be the problem of choosing a landing site. Certainly ruled out would be the grounds of the White House, where one recent uninvited guest was assisted from the premises by a dozen club-wielding policemen. Another good place not to come down is Iran where any vehicle tends to end up as an instant bonfire. Nor Cambodia, where both sides in the set-to currently going on there aren’t exactly renowned for their kindness to prisoners. A worse fate for a space visitor would be hard to imagine—except perhaps to land with a green skin in among Rangers fans at a Celtic-Rangers match.

But more probable is the apparent complexity of the society that visitors would experience. Assuming that the spectators came from a planet whose society somehow evolved differently from that of the earth—Tribal Communism, Chattel-Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism. The observation of the day to day running of the buying and selling system might be somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps to discreetly eavesdrop on one of these crafts might help to clear up the mystery.

“Our scanners show people blowing one another up, and shooting and clubbing each other to death”, 

“Is this all they do then?”. 

“Apparently not, in spite of the mayhem they appear to have developed quite a high level of technology.”

“So then, we can assume that everyone has ample food, clothing, and shelter?” 

“Now that’s an interesting point. Although the planet is capable of providing enough food to satisfy the needs of the entire population many times over, many millions are undernourished and even starving to death.”

“Perhaps they have inadequate methods of transportation?” 

“Well, here’s a transporter carrying milk and it appears to have arrived at its destination.”

“Are they giving it to the people?” 

“No they’re pouring it into a hole in the ground.”

“I see, a storage tank?” 

“No an abandoned mine-shaft. Now this looks hopeful, here are a group of people at a production unit stacking up sacks of grain in a huge pile.”

“Ah, then this time they must be storing it?” 

“Not exactly, they’re burning it.”

“Is here any logical explanation for this seemingly irrational behaviour?” 

“Well I’m not quite sure, but from what I can gather it’s some kind of weird religious sacrifice they dedicate to a deity they call profit. Apparently great numbers of these people go into production units and produce vast quantities of wealth taking only enough to keep themselves alive. On the other hand there is a small number of people who must be high priests judging by the amount of wealth that they own and consume, and by the way that the producers revere them, indulging in a curious ritual of inclining their bodies and pulling at strands of hair on the front of their heads.” 

“This is most difficult to understand. On our planet where we have long since mastered the technique of production, we simply distribute according to people’s needs.” 

“It would seem that although these people also have the wherewithal to organise themselves in the same way very few have grasped this simple proposition.” 

“Do you think we should land and inform them?” 

“Are you kidding? Look what happened to Michael Rennie.”