Monday, April 11, 2016

Their industrial crisis (1979)

From the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the hollow rantings of the media are to be believed we are currently in the midst of a serious crisis. Our lives are being disrupted by their ruthless trade union action; our economic stability is being undermined by their pay demands; our needs are unfulfilled because of their greed. Newscasters bring us the latest tales of violent picketing and malicious damage by men and women who have the cheek to put their wages above our convenience. Political pundits debate the effect the ‘industrial chaos’ will have upon civilisation. Phone-in presenters invite simpletons to air their views on how ‘we can get the country out of this mess’. The Sun printed a headline gloating over the fact that a worker on a picket line was shot. The Daily Express has invited readers to form strike-breaking squads. The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement saying, in effect, that enough is enough.

The cause of all this fuss is the miserable failure of the Labour Government’s 5 per cent incomes policy, the first consequence of which occurred before Christmas when the petrol tanker drivers came out for more money. They were followed by the TGWU lorry drivers and then ASLEF train drivers. Sewerage workers in the north of England were the next to come out, followed by NUPE, the union representing relatively low paid workers such as hospital ancillary staff, ambulance men, refuse collectors and gravediggers. When these workers are doing their jobs they are portrayed as duty-motivated public servants, but as soon as they ask for more than the pittance they are paid they are pictured as ‘mindless militants’ who are no longer part of the public.

There is nothing new about incomes policies not working. Legal enactments or ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ cannot override the need of trade unions to try to obtain better wages and conditions for their members. Jim Callaghan, posing as an avuncular headmaster, has always claimed to be the man who can work with the unions, just as Labour has claimed to be the party of the working class. But such alliances have little effect when it comes to the struggle between the workers demanding enough money to live on and the capitalists, both private and State, who have always to place profits above the social interest. Despite the failure of Labour’s voluntary incomes policy. Peter Walker, a member of Heath’s 1974 Tory Government, argued in The Guardian on February 5th that
What is needed is a consensus that Britain needs some kind of pay policy until its inherently inflationary collective bargaining system is replaced by something better.
Walker is clearly not a believer in learning from past errors. Neither are the trades unions. The sterile repetition of the incomes policy — wage demand — strike — return to work-cycle has done nothing to change the fundamental position of the working class. Demands for a ‘fair wage’ or a ‘decent standard of living’ simply demonstrate that trade unionists are captives of the ideology of the wages system. Hugh Hubert, in his report from the TGWU strike headquarters in West Bromwich in The Guardian (31 January) stated that
The West Midlands men don’t seem to want or expect (the strikes) to alter anything but the contents of their wage packet.
The current wave of industrial action has brought out Callaghan and Thatcher at their anti-working class worst. Callaghan, in case readers should forget, is leader of the Labour Party which was formed at the turn of the century to speak up for the trades unions in Parliament. Speaking up about them recently in the Commons he said he would be quite happy to break through a picket line — and he and his ministers have done so, thus showing their contempt for one of the basic principles of trade unionism — and that workers who go on strike are engaging in ‘free collective vandalism’. If Callaghan is playing the part of uncle, Thatcher seems to be auditioning for the role of mother as she warns the ‘militants’ that she will not stand by while the old and needy suffer the hardships following from industrial action. What sickening hypocrisy!

These upholders of the profit system accept as an inevitable everyday occurrence that old people receive inadequate food and warmth because of the expense of providing them, that workers have to wait months for vital hospital treatment while money to the NHS is cut back, that families dwell in filth for the lack of money to live comfortably. But when members of the working class can be blamed for these things, then they become unacceptable and indefensible.

The Left has reacted in a predictably hysterical way to the ‘industrial crisis’. Confusedly, they see trade unionism as class consciousness. Organisations like the Communist Party and Socialist Workers’ Party see wage demands as the best that the working class can aspire to without their political leadership. In 1974, when the Heath Government was in a similar position, the Left predicted an upsurge in revolutionary consciousness. Their advice to the workers then was to elect a Labour Government. Sadly, that advice was taken.

How long will it be before the working class realise that the wages system can never work in the interest of those who sell their labour force for a wage or a salary? The media preaches to workers about The National Interest. There is no common interest. The trade union hacks repeat the demand for ‘A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work’. It is time that workers, inside and outside the trade union movement, recognised that their future does not lie with the prosperity of the British capitalist class, nor upon the size of their wage packet. The upheaval caused by the worker’s recent protests has shown the power of the working class When that power is used, not to merely decrease exploitation but to abolish the wages system, then the fruits of victory will be worth having.
Steve Coleman

Margaret Thatcher is a woman (1979)

From the February 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

However much the Conservative Party pay Saatchi and Saatchi it is very hard earned money because the job they have — selling Margaret Thatcher as a vote winner — is enough to make any sensitive adman take up roadsweeping for a living.

Thatcher won the Tory leadership four years ago this month, leaving Ted Heath to sulk and snipe and to await an electoral debacle to bring him back into favour. At the time the Tories might have chosen Willie Whitelaw, whose style as a political con-man is rather like that of Harold MacMillan; he does not castigate the workers but seeks to persuade them that happy capitalism is simply a matter of everyone knowing, and keeping, their place.

To elect Thatcher was very daring because she is a woman, or at least she seemed to be at the time. She can also, despite being a woman, think and learn, with a degree in chemistry and a qualification as a barrister. Even more, she is a wife and a mother (Mr. Thatcher keeps a respectful, shadow like place in the background) which means she can converse with ordinary mums in Tescos about the price of soap powder and corn flakes.

Why, then, is she so hard to sell? The working class do not ask a lot of their political leaders—certainly they don’t reject them for being unable to cure capitalism’s problems — but they do react against the sort of tight laced personality which Thatcher projects. Above that mask of make up, the Thatcher hair is as carefully sculptured as an expensive meringue. Her clothes, never rumpled or in disarray, might have been pasted on her like wallpaper. Her bird-like face concentrates in a formidably level stare on the tricky questions of the TV interviewer.

And when she opens her mouth her voice falls with the spaced out emphasis of so many strokes of the cane. If Macmillan came over as the confident, relaxed country squire, and Callaghan as everyone’s favourite uncle, Thatcher is a figure from our childhood nightmares — the stern headmistress. In her presence we all mentally bend over and await six of the best.

Recently she has been having the trade unions into her study to lecture them on how irresponsible they are, to try to get better wages for their members:
Parliament has placed them above the Law. Anyone who does not use power responsibly must expect his position to be reconsidered by Parliament.
Her detailed proposals to keep the unions in check — for example by making social security and tax rebates harder for strikers to get — seemed to delight some Tories (if she ever makes it to Number Ten, Thatcher will have some plum jobs to hand out to anyone who has avoided upsetting her). Others were uneasy, remembering how Heath virtually threw away power in 1974 by provoking the chaos of the three day week.

Heath also presented as a tense, gritty personality. As the election draws near, is Thatcher trying to unlace a little, to fit in more easily with what working class prejudices say a woman should be like? Keen observers of her recent appearances on television will have noticed that her hair has been ever so slightly ruffled. On one historic occasion she smilingly allowed her legs to be photographed.

That happened at the Boat Show, when an enterprising photographer nipped in beneath her as she was swung, legs demurely crossed at the ankles, high over the floor in a harness. Although the picture appeared in the Guardian, where most of the photographs come out looking like a foggy day on the Embankment, there was no question but that it showed Thatcher’s legs and so introduced an alarmingly sexual element into her personality.

What, the conscientious voter wondering where to place his cross might ask, next? Will Thatcher now appear on television looking as if she has been ravished by Brian Walden? Will we see her in a bikini? Or on Page Three of the Sun?

Politicians have been known to stoop as low in their desperation for votes. Lord Hailsham was once fond of putting us off our breakfasts by being photographed romping in the sea in bathing trunks. Fortunately he ceased to be a serious contender for the Tory leadership and so could stop his disgusting public displays.

How much of this sort of thing should be taken seriously? Well the most important thing for the working class to consider is the nature of the choice which Thatcher claims to offer. One possible effect of a woman being a contending political leader is that, when it comes to considering the choice, the debate may be diverted from the real issue into a phoney one over the alleged merits and demerits of women against men.

Which misses the point, that capitalism, whether women or men hold the big jobs, has to be run against the interests of the majority of its peoples. The real issue, then, is whether capitalism continues or whether we have a society in which all human needs are satisfied and in which people express their freedom in an absence of prejudice, including that known as sexism.

It may be late in the day for Thatcher to prove that she is a woman and successfully seduce the working class into voting for her party. Let us hope that any sense of outrage is directed against the system she represents and not against her.

Political notebook: Cynically Confounded Confusion (1979)

The Political Notebook column from the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cynically Confounded Confusion

Politics is a baffling business these days. It certainly baffles the politicians. Reggie-the-sleeping-Maudling (a politician not known for his perspicacity) when asked to clarify the position says: “I am sorry but I am afraid I cannot; nor I think can anyone else . . .  At the moment, I fear, politics in this country are (sic) trying to advance by progressively obfuscating the questions”. (The Times 29.11.78)

The plot for confusion goes something like this: The Labour Party (in government) stands for a maximum 5 per cent wage rise. The TUC supports the Labour Party. Most of the TUC is opposed to the 5 per cent. The TUC does not support the Conservative Party which however, is also opposed to the 5 per cent. But some sections of the Labour government and much of the party are also opposed to the 5 per cent. Furthermore, (if you are still with me) sections of the Conservative Party are in favour of the 5 per cent. So, for the mathematicians the equation might look like this:
PRO—5 per cent =
Most of the government, some of the Labour Party some of the Conservative Party and some of the TUC.
ANTI—5 per cent =
The rest of the government, most of the Labour Party, most of the Conservative Party and most of the TUC.

No wonder the Daily Mirror commented. “If you dig beneath the rhetoric and dissect the cliches there appears little to choose between the policy of Mrs Thatcher and the TUC”. (17.11.78) If you add to that the Labour Party for good measure you are just about home. I suppose it would be cynical to suggest that this shows that there is no real difference between the lot of them . . .

How Jim Fixes Things

Any doubts on that score would have been ended by a couple of articles in recent editions of the Observer (26 November and 3 December), in which Kenneth Harris fed Jim Callaghan with a succession of sycophantic questions and received some answers blindingly illuminating of how close the Labour Party is to the Tories. For example on the unions:

Question: I have heard it said by many who should know that no PM in living memory has got on so well with the unions . . .

Answer: Well, I'm not sure that it would be true . . . Harold Macmillan got on very well with them, although he wasn’t a trade unionist.

For example on racist immigration controls:

Question: If the Conservatives came to power, say next week, would there be much difference in their immigration policy and yours?

Answer: Not in the numbers allowed to enter . . .  I guess that they would make very little change in the numbers arriving in this country . . .

For example on the supposed ideological divide, on Labour’s commitment to a fundamentally different society:

Question: Some Labour Party members . . . say ‘The Labour Party is no longer Socialist.’ What do you think they mean by that?

Answer: . . . ‘Socialism’ has always been a matter of controversy in the Labour Party, and there are millions of Labour Party supporters who aren’t Socialists and never have been . . .  The Labour Party has become—I think Harold Wilson used the word—a Broad Church.

Callaghan has in his time had many an adjective tacked on before his first name—Sunny Jim, Humble Jim, even Honest Jim—but so far nobody has called him Silly Jim. We must assume he knows what he is doing, when he insists that there is so little to choose between his party and its principal opponents. He intends himself no harm; he is, after all very fond of being Prime Minister.

Waiting at the Church

Meanwhile, back at Number Eleven, the Chancellor, Denis Healey was left waiting at the Church . . . There was he, trumpeting his agreement on wages with the TUC. On Monday The Times writes that: "Agreement has been reached between the Cabinet and the TUC Leaders on a new form of words after a month of talks . . . The six—man TUC team . . . has finally given its blessing to a document that will go first to the TUC Economic Committee tomorrow morning before being endorsed by the General Council later in the day.” (13.11.78) On Tuesday morning Denis says he will announce the agreement at 5 pm. However, the TUC did not endorse the agreement after all. Come 5.10 pm on the Tuesday and a rather sheepish Denis is heard saying “I was rather surprised at the turn of events . . .  I only hope it is fairly calm weather while the dust is falling.” (The Times 15.11.78)

Hope for calm weather is about as useful, as hoping for calm seas in the Bay of Biscay in March. Still Denis’s efforts are not totally wasted. He still hopes for some agreement to sell the workers lower wages.

What a waste

While on waste, here is a little puzzle. What have the following in common: 30,000 tons of cauliflowers, 23,000 tons of tomatoes, 60,000 tons of peaches, 41,000 tons of apples, 16,000 tons of oranges and 28,000 tons of mandarins?

Give up? Answer: They were all surplus produce of the EEC last year (See The Times 14.11.78) Some of it was sold off, but the majority was simply destroyed.

Funny system really; plenty of people are hungry, there is a huge world food shortage we are told, and one corner of the world spends some £1860 million in disposing (euphemism for destroying) of surplus food. Still it gave the Prime Minister an added opportunity to sound off about how unfair the EEC was operating for Britain (euphemism for the British capitalists). Speaking at the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet in November last year (a place not noted for its food shortage) Jim thundered about Britain paying too much to the EEC and getting too little in return. Good for votes, that one Jim! Jim did not explain that one of the reasons for Britain entering (and staying) in the EEC was the hope that it would in the long term keep prices down; that would mean lower wages can be paid; which is part of the object of the whole thing; which is where we left our Denis . . .

Watergate — South African Style 

From the other side of the world, a South African Commission of Enquiry has reported that Ministers in the South African Government have been responsible for a huge amount of bribery and corruption. The scandal has already been christened “Muldergate” after the name of the leading politician involved. The report actually suggested that Dr. Mulder, the former Minister of Information (George Orwell should be living at this hour) had been guilty of concealing the truth. If all politicians who were guilty of that one were prevented from continuing to act as politicians there would be none of the breed left.
Ronnie Warrington

A question of class (1978)

Editorial from the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The working class comprises all those who have to work in order to live. Those by contrast, who own sufficient wealth, not to need to go to work each day, make up the capitalist class. It follows, then, that the majority of the population is the working class. In Britain about one per cent of the population own forty per cent of the wealth and about five per cent own seventy five per cent. The political case for socialism turns on this idea.

The capitalist class exploits the working class, by extracting surplus value from each of us every day. To work for eight hours a day, is to be paid, in the form of wages, only a fraction of the value of that time. So, it is in the interest of every member of the working class to get rid of the system of society which causes such exploitation.

There is another view on the subject of class. According to this conception, there is indeed a working class, but it is not made up exclusively of those who have to sell their labour power in order to live. There are at least two variations on this viewpoint. One says: ‘only those people who are “productive” workers, are in the working class.’ A “productive” worker is one who contributes, directly, to the production of surplus value. This is more or less the picture according to which only those who dirty their hands—“vast impersonal forces”—are fit to count as members of the working class. So, teachers, civil servants, those who work in banks, insurance companies and those who work in clean offices with clean typewriters are outside the working class. A number of organisations purporting to have socialism as their aim hold this view —some of the Trotskyist groups, and sometimes the Communist Party (though not in the British Road to Socialism). It leads them to behave oddly—a member of the Socialist Workers Party who is a teacher will imitate a Cockney or a Geordie accent, sit in the ‘public’ bar and generally imitate our fellow ‘horny handed men of toil’. But this is not just a laughing matter. The ‘horny handed men of toil’ conception of the working class has odd political consequences. Those who opt for it believe that only those who dirty their hands are exploited. Instead of the abolition of capitalism being in the interest of the majority of the population, it is in the interest only of a small minority of it. The view, anyway, is not Marx’s. He held that the working class is exploited as a class, so even if an individual member is not contributing directly to the production of surplus value, he or she is contributing as a member of a class.

The other view of this kind is that offering a purely economic criterion of membership of the working class is too simple. There are further influences at work which play their part. For instance, ‘ideology’ plays a role. If someone has control of a group of people— if he or she is a foreman for example, then, when acting out that role, he or she is not in the working class.

But this is to make things far too complicated. It has the absurd consequence that someone may be in the working class when not acting out his or her role as foreman and not in the working class, at least by that criterion, when acting that part. Of course culture and ‘ideology’ influence the working class—indeed one of the problems is to overcome the all-pervasive “capitalist” thinking—but they do not determine who is in the working class. Whether or not someone watches BBC 1 or BBC 2 does not determine their class membership. They are in the working class because they have to work each day for a wage.

Class membership is determined by the ownership or non-ownership of the means for producing wealth. Those who own sufficient not to need to work make up the capitalist class. The working class is made up of all those—most of us—who have to work each day for a wage. It is in most of our interest, therefore, to get rid of the cause of this state of affairs—capitalism.

Race—having it both ways (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ruling class must look on racial tension in exactly the same way as lawyers look on law-breaking. There is a famous story of an Old Bailey barrister who said he wanted crime reduced, but not abolished entirely. The capitalists’ opinion of ill-feeling between the various colour groups in our cities, white and brown and black, is precisely the same: a little is good, too much is bad. Too much would cause trouble. People fighting in the streets overnight would not make good workers the next day, and so on. But in some respects a little of it can do nothing but good to the ruling class. If white workers blame their poor housing and working conditions on people with darker skins, while Asian and West Indian workers blame their troubles on prejudice and discrimination among people with lighter complexions, then workers of all colours will be kept from thinking about the real cause of their poverty — their class position in capitalist society. Hence the pious exhortations by politicians, church-leaders, and media spokesmen generally, telling the workers to love their neighbours and backing it up with threats to have the police and courts deal severely with anyone who does not love his neighbour enough, while at the same time both major parties deliberately keep the racialist pot boiling — Mr Callaghan by passing an Act to exclude British passport holders on the sole ground, in effect, that their skin is not pinky-grey and Mrs Thatcher by public forebodings that if coloured immigrants ever grew to as much as seven per cent of the population, the other ninety-three per cent might feel “rather swamped” by them.

Tapping a new reservoir
The capitalist class and its state brought in the coloured immigrants. When capitalism was having one of its periodic booms, there were fears of workers being in short supply. That might have led, the ruling class thought, to an upward pressure on wages. So other workers were deliberately brought in, from areas where the standard of living was even lower than the lowest normal standards in this country, to make sure that the native-born British proletariat did not take advantage of the situation. David Wood, the main political correspondent of The Times, recalled (in an article on 6.3.78) that he felt uneasy about the influx in the 1950s. He asked “a senior Conservative” what was happening, and the naive young journalist got a straight answer, in which current capitalist tactics were frankly explained to him. “In conditions of full employment and without an incomes policy, how could any economic minister or any industrialist keep down wage rates without tapping a new reservoir of cheap labour? Were scarce nurses underpaid? Then let the Ministry of Health recruit in the Caribbean”. (Which they were doing, incidentally, when Enoch Powell was Minister of Health).

So coloured immigration took place in order to supply British industrialists and the British state with “cheap labour”.

The limits of brainwashing
The growth of racialism, and the strong support obtained by the National Front in some areas, is itself a testimony to the excellence of the propaganda machine which serves capitalism. So far it has succeeded in preventing most of the workers — the large majority of the population, dirty-handed or white-collared — from discovering the real reasons for their discontent. With a sustained barrage deafening every one of us from the cradle to the grave, in the schools, on radio, TV, and films, in the press and in the pulpit, the message has ben hammered home that the present capitalist system is unchangeable and will inevitably continue to the end of time, that it is the best system ever devised by the wit of man, and that no worker can ever have any fundamental grievances. Yet as soon as the worker — thus unendingly brainwashed to accept the system under which he suffers — finds another group in his vicinity whom he can, however implausibly, blame for his condition, how fiercely does he immediately begin to blame them! The worker is told repeatedly that his living and working conditions are as good as they could possibly be, and moreover that they are getting better all the time — and yet, as soon as the slightest apparent opportunity occurs, how much bile pours out forthwith! The pressure that exists, tightly restrained, in a boiler, can best be seen when a small valve is opened and a scalding jet of steam immediately escapes.

Having it both ways
So long as racialism is kept to mere dislike among different groups, providing each race with a scapegoat to blame and averting any approach to the real problem, the ruling class can enjoy the benefits of working-class disunity without running the risks of open conflict among the workforce. They can reflect, too, on the achievements of their educational system. To the capitalist state, education is always a difficult problem. It must educate the workers to run the factories, mines, farms, transport systems and so on, providing both the rank-and-file labourers and the foremen and managers; yet at the same time it must avoid encouraging people’s intellects to develop to the point where they will begin to think for themselves (at which point they would introduce a system run for their benefit and not for the benefit of their present rulers). The various irrational propositions widely accepted in the arguments over immigration show how successful the educational system has been in preventing such a development. For example, we are told that immigration must be stopped, because Britain cannot take in any more people; this in a country where emigration exceeds immigration, and has done each year since 1964. If all migration was stopped, therefore, we are likely to have not fewer, but more, inhabitants. Again, it is alleged that a small minority will swamp the vast majority: a new departure in the history of swamping. The British have claimed for centuries the right to travel and settle anywhere in the world — America, Australia, Africa, Asia, everywhere; there is scarcely a corner of the globe that has not seen its British immigrants, usually as rulers telling the natives what to do, moreover. But now, as soon as a few non-Britons — a mere handful in proportion to the British exodus — decide to come the other way, the air is suddenly full of British voices explaining how obviously right it is that everyone should stay at home. Again, we are informed that all these immigrants are coming here and “stealing our jobs”: and in the same breath, it appears, they are coming here and refusing to steal our jobs, and are living on social security. The immigrants, the cry goes up, are taking over all the best council houses, and are living the life of Reilly; and at the same time, they are existing with whole families crammed into single rooms, and are threatening public health standards.

There cannot be much wrong with education from a ruling-class point of view, while it produces millions prepared to accept unthinkingly such propositions as these.
Alwyn Edgar

Highland grouse (1978)

Book Review from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who Owns Scotland by John McEwen EUSBP £1.50 (paperback)

This book sets out to list those people who are the real landowners in Scotland. The author, who is over 90 years old, has worked in forestry in Scotland practically all his life and writes from the inside; the book is heart written in sorrow.

The work is in two sections. The first lists actual ownership of Scottish land, in terms of thousands of acres. McEwen starts by giving a league table of the top 100 landowners. At the head is the Duke of Buccleuch with what McEwen calls an “obscene” 277,000 acres. The Countess of Sutherland, whose ancestors were as ruthless as any in the last century’s highland clearances, owns only 185,000 acres, while poor old Lord Home has a mere 54,000 acres. Poverty indeed; he doesn’t know where the next grouse is coming from. This section then divides Scotland into areas, and looks at the ownership of each part of it. The results are pretty well what one would expect. The total area of Scotland is 19.068,807 acres ("Our land” as the author so childishly calls it). Of this, 16,500,000 are owned privately (as opposed to owned by the State) and of this figure 12,000,000 are in estates of 1000 acres or more. The chances are that many countries in the Western world would show a similar pattern.

The second part of the book consists of a series of essays under the general title of “Management and Husbandry of Our (sic) land”. Here McEwen ranges over his pet topics, complains about bad husbandry, the "sadistic anti-social-blood-sportsman”, the failures of the forestry commission etc.

It would be nice to welcome this analysis; but it is impossible to do so. To begin with the book contains many petty mistakes, revealing that the editing has been undertaken carelessly. This may not be important; but it makes one wonder just how carefully the tables have been checked.

More important is the fact that the author is a confused Labour Party supporter. This results in a book that is “all right” if all one wants to do is quote a few impressive sounding statistics (e.g.: in 1874 the Sinclairs held 187,000 of the 471,000 acres of Caithness, now they hold only 52,000 acres, etc), but useless if one wants to understand the basis of land ownership in a capitalist society, and its twin brother, rent. The author’s analysis of the cause of problems relating to land is, quite frankly, hopeless. For example, he claims that the formation of the Forestry Commission in 1919 “with the objective of establishing state-owned forests was one of the finest things which ever happened in land ownership and land use in Britain.” The Forestry Commission was formed as a result of the war time shortage of timber, and the need for what McEwen disarmingly calls ‘‘everyday domestic use”. But what he does not realise is that capitalism does not want timber for “everyday domestic use”; it wants timber for sale at a profit. How this elementary observation has escaped McEwen is quite baffling. As a result, his "solutions” become naive to the point of absurdity. So for example in calling for lower agriculture prices (the farmers will love him for that) he says this can be achieved by eliminating the “middle-man”.

The book concludes with a call for the Labour Party to do something. And what should they do? Why, establish a Royal Commission of course! This should “enquire deeply into the failure of private landlords in their so-called stewardship of land in Britain.” That will frighten them on the grouse moors and in the deer forests. And after the Royal Commission? — nationalisation of the land. Nationalisation of coal, or railways, or electricity etc has solved no workers’ problems. Why nationalisation of the land should do so McEwen can’t explain. He doesn’t even try. The book shows how pointless are “the facts” unless they are interpreted, through socialist understanding, in the interests of the majority.
Ronnie Warrington

Ear'ole sociology (1978)

Book Review from the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Learning to labour: How working class kids get working class jobs, by Paul E. Willis, Saxon House, 1977, price £3.95, pp 199.

The title of this book is misleading. Its aim is not so much to examine why working class kids get working class jobs, but why certain working class kids go in for jobs involving manual labour. The paradox as seen by the author is that some working class kids (in this study male, white kids), actually choose manual labour as an occupation.
There is no obvious physical coercion and a degree of self direction. This is despite the inferior rewards for, undesirable social definition, and increasing intrinsic meaninglessness, of manual work: in a word its location at the bottom of a class society.
This “paradox” is explained by Willis in terms of a cultural rejection of the conventional views of the worth of education by a group of school-boys, the 'lads’, who together participate in and create a counter-school culture which decisively affects their attitude to school and to work.

In part one of the book Willis looks at the behaviour and views of the ‘lads’ both inside and outside their secondary modern school in the adult working class world the 'lads’ can hardly wait to enter. Interspread in this section of the book are fairly lengthy transcripts from group discussions and individual interviews with the author. We learn that the ‘lads’ deny the value of mental work, regarding it as ‘cissy’ and fit only for the ‘ear’oles’ (the conformists) and for girls; they reject the ideology of individualism, of working hard now to get certificates to make their way in the labour market, and they refuse to co-operate in the formal teaching of the school and flagrantly break its rules on every conceivable occasion. Resentful of the authority of the teachers, school has become for them a battle of wits against authority, where they do as little work as possible and entertain themselves at the expense of the teachers, the ‘ear’oles’ and sometimes, also at the expense of members of their own group. The ‘lads’ regard themselves as superior to the ‘ear’oles’ — sharper, more mature, more sexually experienced and generally more aware of the adult world outside where, they argue, wits count for more than certificates. The counter-school culture also includes a strong cult of machismo reflecting itself in a pride in physical toughness and ‘masculinity’, and a virulent sexism (women are inferior, women are to be sexually exploited although their ‘own’ women should be domesticated and motherly). Along with ‘ear’oles’ and women, immigrants are also regarded as inferior in some way. Their machismo includes racism as well as sexism.

Whereas the transcripts of the ‘lads” views make part one interesting to read, part two tries to present a theoretical analysis of the ‘lads’’ counterculture and here there is nothing to lighten the turgidity of the academic sociologist’s prose. Basically Willis argues in this section that the counterculture resolves his ‘paradox’ by providing a cultural explanation of why the ‘lads’ choose manual work. The counter-culture focuses on toughness and ‘masculinity’ and on immediate gratification. Manual work appears to possess these attributes and so the ‘lads’ choose manual work as an act of self-affirmation and in no way see it as socially or economically inferior.

Willis argues further that much of the counter-culture is more insightful than the official school culture into real working conditions under capitalism (for example that work is not intrinsically interesting — the point is to be tough and cheat the boss as much as possible, and that it provides a better preparation for working life than the school culture. Willis also tries to argue that its insightfulness (called penetrations) is potentially radical in some respects (he argues that their insistence that all work is the same and that the worker should yield as little to the boss as possible, is suggestive of an intuitive understanding of abstract labour under capitalism). Against this Willis also recognises the reactionary elements of their culture — its sexist and racist prejudices, and its acceptance of the authoritarian structure of society (their response to authority at work is to cheat the boss or beat up the boss’s son at a dance, rather than challenge authority itself). Thus Willis presents the counter-school culture as a mixture of “progressive” and “reactionary” elements, largely mirroring, in a creative process of self-affirmation, the wider culture of the manual section of the working class.

The main thesis that the acceptance of the counter-school culture constitutes the explanation for boys going into manual occupations is, however, not borne out by the material presented in the book. In addition, the work as a whole is shot through with the muddled thinking and prejudices of a ‘middle class’ sociology .What is the paradox anyway? Why does our sociologist consider manual work to be more ‘intrinsically meaningless’ than the so-called middle class work of pen-pushing or salesmanship? Certainly some non-manual occupations offer greater economic rewards and security, and these differences within the working class should not be overlooked, but the assumption that all forms of manual work are not intrinsically interesting reveals a degree of cultural snobbery on Willis’ part.

As a work of analysis on the cultural reaction of the working class to employment under capitalism, it is a pity that the work is marred by a misunderstanding of class relations. We are told on page 123 that the middle class is dominant. This is not correct. The capitalist class is dominant — the ‘middle class’ represents a group within the working class. The more interesting question than why some working class boys choose manual work, is why does the working class choose its domination by capitalist society?
Viv Brown

From America: California's "Boston Tea-Party" (1978)

Letter From America from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The state of California has long been known as a hatchery of unusual religious and political movements. The list is a long one even in the lifetime of the average senior citizen today. Now, lightning strikes at the California ballot boxes in the form of a tax revolt, dubbed by its instigators a modern version of the Boston Tea Party, directed against property tax rates and Government spending, and ordaining limits on such rates so low as to shake the political structure of the State to its roots and put fear into public employees from coast to coast. The thunder from that first bolt, and others to come, will reverberate long before subsiding. It represents a cry from the hearts of masses of workers who have not yet learned the real cause of their misery and who are bringing joy to a section of the capitalist class — big property owners — providing them with windfall profits such as they have not seen in many a moon.

The effect in California was quick: noticeable numbers of state, county and municipal workers received immediate “pink slips” (dismissal — Ed. Comm.) and most other public employees are on an unofficial “red alert”; summer classes in schools have been cancelled along with other, social, programmes; some localities have even lost their fire stations, which now sport posters advising: "If your house is on fire call Jarvis” (leader of the movement and co-sponsor of the so-called Jarvis-Gann Amendment). The extent of the cutbacks may have been exaggerated since the State politicians are sitting on a huge tax surplus which will be parcelled out in relief to the communities. But the message, nevertheless, seems clear. There is widespread disapproval among employed workers of the “fat” in State services, generally, and welfare programmes in particular. The crux of the problem, according to popular misconception, is Government mismanagement of the monies milked from long-suffering tax-payers with whom the working class strongly identifies. Does the working class really pay taxes, if not directly on a home then indirectly through higher rents, not to mention everything else they buy and through the withholding on their pay? Before discussing this question a brief explanation of the American elections system may be in order.

Presidential elections are four years apart but one-third of the US Senate, 100 per cent, of the House of Representatives, a percentage of state Governors, and other political state officers are up for grabs every two years. Besides the regular elections in November, however, many of the states have primary elections earlier in the year in which the voters have an opportunity to determine the candidates the contesting parties will field in November. Along with the political hopefuls there is usually a list of propositions (proposed amendments to the state constitution) that appear on the ballot. In the case of California, the ballot in June, 1978, carried the proposition that now limits the property tax to 1 per cent, of assessment and confronts the State apparatus with a loss of about 50 percent. of its annual revenue (some $7 billion, it is claimed). Mr. Jarvis, incidentally, is director of the California Apartment Association. He and Paul Gann, another big real estate operator, lobbied unsuccessfully in Sacramento for years for legislative action to reduce the property tax. They finally must have realised that it is easier to bamboozle the working class — a majority of the voters — than the politicians and so crusaded for the petitions needed to put the proposition on the ballot. If the politicians won’t curb their outrageous spending let us, the taxpayers, cut the spendable monies — show them who is the boss. This was the message sold to the working class of California. They bought it with gusto.

Now what about the obsession the working class has with taxes? A large number of wage and salaried workers do “own” some real estate in the form of generally heavily mortgaged homes. By far the majority of city dwellers, however, are rent-paying tenants. Do landlords really charge off their property taxes, or even most of them, in the rents? If this were true they would have little, indeed, to complain about. The fact is that landlords confront tenants in the same relationship as merchant to customer. They have a commodity for sale (the use of an apartment for a limited period) which the tenant buys. They will then get as much for their commodity as the market will bear, regardless of the bite of the tax assessors. What the market will bear is determined by the demand and the supply in the particular area. There are areas, even in California .where rents are relatively cheap because those who can afford better prefer not to live in them.

As for working-class home owners who do have to send revenues to City Hall: in the final analysis their income derives entirely, or almost so, from wages or salaries — just as is the case with tenants. As Engels puts it, concisely, in The Housing Question: “‘Taxes’! A matter that interests the bourgeoisie very much but the worker only very little. What the worker pays in taxes goes in the long run into the cost of production of labour power and must therefore be compensated for by the capitalist”. This terse statement sums it all up. Property taxes, gasoline taxes, withholding taxes? The assumption is that without them real wages would be greater.

Is the so-called modern Tea Party a harbinger of a return, nation-wide, to conditions of the Thirties? We are not prophets, or gamblers, but a safe bet would be that the monies needed to maintain some sort of adequate social services, including Welfare, will continue to be raised in one way or another for the foreseeable future. But whether more of the tax burden will be levied by the Federal Government or not, the various sections of the capitalist class will go on trying to shift the burden from one set of shoulders to another. And the workers will go on allowing themselves to be kidded into supporting one group or other of their exploiters — until they get the message that the enemy is not taxes but the wages system itself.
Harry Morrison
WSP (Boston)

From America: Carter, credibility, confusion (1978)

Letter From America from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The ebb and flow of popularity “out there”, where it counts, is a matter of grave and continuing concern to political leaders. Whether it be a totalitarian regime, such as exist in the “Communist” nations or the limited parliamentary democracy as we have in the West, the ruling clique must keep its collective ear to the ground at all times if it would keep its collective head on its shoulders.

In the United States of America, where Presidential power is now constitutionally limited to an 8-year maximum (two terms), it is no less true. The popular surge that sweeps one group to control of the White House can dissipate quickly in the wake of adverse events that are beyond the control of whoever may be, supposedly, at the helm. Not much more than a year after taking office, a great many of his erstwhile supporters have all but ditched Mr. Carter and are casting their lines for a substitute to challenge him in the next Democratic Party Primary elections in 1980. They are already gambling that their Jimmy, their latest Man on the White Horse, has had it. And President Carter, in the prescribed manner, has been compelled to return to campaigning and waving a big stick (“jawboning” as they call it) at Big Business, Big Labor, the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association, all of which is calculated to endear him to many millions of voters and to shore up his sagging popularity.

It is, to be sure, early and “our” Jimmy could, conceivably, be pulled out of his current tailspin by some political “victory” in Congress, by an apparent sharp improvement in inflation and/or unemployment figures, or even by escalations and outbreaks in the Middle East, Africa, or elsewhere that might rally the majority around their current leaders. But for those whose careers are intertwined with the politics of Presidential aspirants, it not too soon to seek a new bandwagon. Their eyes are fixed upon the opinion polls and they seem to see the handwriting on the wall: a significant majority of the voters, according to the polls, feel that President Carter is “not doing a good job”; over 65 per cent of “influential” Americans believe that Carter is doing “somewhat worse” or “much worse” than expectations; and Senator Edward Kennedy, by a whopping majority, leads Jimmy Carter as an acceptable candidate in the 1980 elections (even though Kennedy has stated, with apparent firmness, that he will not run for the office and will support Carter).

At this point, it should be noted that there are certain more imminent dangers facing the Democrats in the wake of their current leader’s plummeting popularity and credibility. In the Congressional (“off-year”) elections scheduled for next November, there will be about twice the usual number of House seats up for grabs because some 40 Congressmen are calling it quits — not contesting. Normally, the party in power loses seats in the “off-year” races but this time, Republicans are drooling at the opportunity to make big gains because of a Democratic President who is widely regarded as inept.

Now that, in substance, is the situation in US politics today and no more need be stated here. Public opinion polls — and elections — are political barometers and everyone reads them in their own way. It does not matter a tinker’s damn which clique captures power in Washington; whether the Man (or perhaps, someday, a Woman) is good looking or ugly; white, black, or “other”; “straight” or “gay”; religious — of whatsoever variety — or atheist; liberal, conservative or radical (right or left). If the mandate is one of continuing a society based upon wage labor and capital; buying and selling; private or state ownership of the means and instruments for producing wealth; the politicians’ performance is going to be, basically, the same. The brand name is of no importance, it is the generic name that counts. Wage labor and capital, whatever it might be called, means capitalism and while capitalism may be manipulated, in one way or another, by one variety or another of political and economic theorist it cannot be controlled.

So let us read America’s political barometer as it registers today, disregarding the particular, preferential indications and concentrating upon the general ones. The polls tell us that there is no discernible opposition in America to the present Capitalist society. The very fact that Carter has lost credibility and popularity among masses of the population and that these disappointed and disgruntled ethnics, blue collars, white collars, and whatever, are searching for a new champion to lead them proves the point. True, neither Gallup nor Harris nor any other polling organisation has ever put the one, important, question to a test: do you favour the outright abolition of the system of production for sale on a market with view to profit and the immediate introduction of a society based upon production for use, free right of access by all mankind to all that is in and on the earth? Do you favour capitalism or socialism? Such a question, at this stage, would cost the pollsters, themselves, credibility.

And yet that is the only question worth asking the electorate. We will continue to watch the political barometers for signs of meaningful change and do whatever is possible to spread the word. What else can one do that makes sense in a world of so much nonsense and confusion?
Harry Morrison,
WSP Boston

Socialism YES, reformism NO (1978)

Editorial from the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throughout its seventy four years of life the Socialist Party of Great Britain has held unswervingly to one object — the establishment of a social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth. Alone, we have stood for a social revolution to overturn capitalist society and replace it with socialism.

During this time we have often been invited to divert from our object, or to postpone its achievement in favour of doing something immediately about the problems of capitalism. For example, when there has been a slump we have been urged to forget socialism and campaign for a reduction in unemployment, or an increase in dole money, or something similar.

During the two world wars we have experienced we have been advised — if that is the correct way to describe the persecution our members endured because of their opposition to capitalism’s wars — to join the fight on our masters’ side, to become, in other words, anti-socialist, on the argument that democracy or something called the British way of life was at stake.

We have been under pressure to support Labour governments as the lesser of the Labour/Tory evil; to join marches against fascism (whatever that may mean at any particular time), to demonstrate against some laws and in favour of others. And always, we have been told, the issue was so vital that it justified our giving it priority over our declared object of socialism.

It is ironic that our refusal to take part in these activities has been abundantly justified by the fact that, after all this time, there is still an apparent demand for them; none of the problems they profess to ease has been dealt with. Each day and every day we are made aware of campaigns against some social ill of capitalism. Workers still need to fight to protect their living standards; there are still numerous movements against war, or against its more horrific weapons like the neutron bomb. And still, even after the anti-working class records of the governments of Attlee and Wilson and Callaghan, socialists are told that there is some advantage in splitting the hairs between the evils of Labour and Conservative rule over British capitalism.

No good reason has ever been advanced to support a preference for the style of poverty the working class endure under Callaghan to that they would suffer under Thatcher. And when we add that, in making such a choice the workers are throwing away the power they hold, to build a world of freedom and abundance, the argument can be seen for the madness that it is.

It is continually necessary to state our fundamentals. Socialism will end the problems which are inescapable under capitalism. Diverting our efforts from struggling for socialism does not ameliorate the problem — it ensures their continuation.

Socialism can be established only by a world wide majority of workers who consciously opt for it, in full knowledge of what it is and how it will provide a society basically different from capitalism. A socialist party, then, must work to increase working class consciousness; to advocate something other than socialism, some stop gap or diversionary idea would be to spread confusion and delay the setting up of socialism.

That is why we have always opposed the political doctrine of reformism; we have refused to campaign for anything other than socialism and all our propaganda has been directed to building up an understanding and an acceptance of the case for the new society.

Our numbers are small but that is no measure of the correctness of our case. It only proves how seductive is the appeal of the numerous campaigns of reformism. But reality is on our side; the facts support us in our insistence that the only effective campaign must be a single minded one for socialism.

Nobody Governs? (2016)

Book Review from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Who Governs Britain?' By Anthony King. Penguin £8.99.

It’s a good question, and King surveys twelve possible answers, from voters and party members to MPs and the media. One theme of the book is that the ‘classic’ form of post-war government, which lasted till the 1970s, no longer holds. The political power of special advisers has increased; fewer politicians now have extensive experience of working outside politics; ministers are expected to be more pro-active, and civil servants no longer provide them with knowledgeable critiques of government policy; parliamentary select committees are more independent-minded than previously, and the judiciary plays a larger role than it used to. But one wonders what effect all this has on the majority of the population.

King makes the important point that the UK is not remotely a sovereign state, one possessing supreme power over its own affairs. It is subject to many international organisations, most obviously the EU, but also the UN, NATO, G7, IMF, World Health Organisation and so on. Multinational companies are extremely powerful too. More generally, the UK is affected by impersonal market forces (i.e. the ups and downs of world capitalism). Quite apart from the current recession, there was the massive loan from the IMF in 1976, forced on the government after foreign-exchange reserves drained away. Back in 1931, during the Great Depression, a ‘National’ government was formed after overseas investors lost confidence in the minority Labour government.

An interesting chapter deals with the media, who report on nearly everything except their own relations with ministers and party leaders. Radio and TV are legally required to be impartial (!), but no such restrictions apply to the press. Rupert Murdoch exercised enormous influence over Tony Blair, and was described as sometimes more powerful than the Prime Minister. Many politicians are cowed by fear of having the media ridicule them or delve into their private life.

One chapter covers ‘interests’, people or groups with some cause in common. Thatcher greatly disliked vested interests (well, some of them, anyway), and trade unions are no longer anywhere near as influential as they once were. Some interests are not officially organised as such, and there is a brief reference to ‘the well off’, described as ‘the dominant interest’, with no real competitors. But there is absolutely no recognition of the power of the one percent, and how government policies defend them. Murdoch’s influence on politicians derives from his media power, but his reason for exerting it the way he does is due to his position as a capitalist.

King’s final answer to his question is that ‘no one institution and certainly no one individual’ governs Britain. He sets out a rather feeble proposal for a ‘Nordic style’ system, where parties try to accommodate their disagreements. But this will make no substantial difference, for it is capitalism and the capitalist class that rule, something most academic observers of politics fail to spot.   
Paul Bennett