Thursday, April 14, 2016

Royal Labour Power (1982)

From the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

We had better brace ourselves. For, no sooner has one tidal wave of media effluent—the inevitable consequences of the recent royal junketings—broken over our battered heads than another gathers pace and roars menacingly towards us. And the occasion of this impending deluge? No; not, as we might reasonably have supposed, the bloody fiasco taking place in the South Atlantic. And most certainly it is not the mounting misery and insult visited upon the unemployed, the homeless, and the dispossessed. It is, as you will have guessed, the threatened arrival of yet another parasite to swell the ranks of those many others that infest the corporate body of the working class.

Our royal masters are spawning—an activity which, arguably, is the nearest they’ll ever get to hard work in their pampered lifetimes. And even though the carefully orchestrated and sycophantic public celebration of the event may stick in our throats, the media intends to make certain that we are unable to escape their overblown attentions without a struggle. They will thrust their unctuous products at us from all quarters and by every conceivable means short of tying us to our beds and ramming them down our constricting throats with a broom handle. No matter if, as some of us must, we retch and heave on their repulsive diet: the cringing lackeys of press and broadcasting will have done their duty by queen, country and their capitalist masters. And all this on behalf of a grossly over-privileged individual who, although it will probably get no nearer its mother's milk than its royal grandmother does a pint of keg fizz and a bacon sandwich, will nevertheless in due course suck the rest of us dry.

Meanwhile we have no need to look a million miles from the royal nursery in order to remind ourselves that many thousands of other unsuspecting young lives are about to begin. It is almost rhetorical to ask ourselves what life—if it is permitted to continue—holds in store for them. One thing is eminently predictable: if we exclude the ten per cent of the capitalist class, who will have no need to work, then at best they will find themselves in the market place trying to sell their labour and brain power to the highest bidder. (At worst—and this hardly needs to be spelt out—for millions more of them life will be nasty, brutish and short.) And should these same workers have the misfortune to fall prey to, say, serious chronic illness, they will find themselves reduced to social security handouts and all the degradation that this entails.

[The Princess] of Wales—no less—finds herself, for a short hour or so, obliged to join the labouring classes? Well, to begin with, there has to be an avalanche of gaudy rubbish remarkable only for the fact that some workers seem ready actually to spend their money on it. The junk on offer will range over coffee-table glossies and inscribed glassware to the screen-printed tea-towels, decorated chamberpots, mugs, plates and so on with which the sharks who sell them patronize the poor. In short, it will add up to just another vulgar rip-off which should net its unprincipled perpetrators, most of whom wouldn’t be seen dead with their own products, a huge fortune. (As if they weren’t making enough out of the Pope’s visit.)

Then there’ll be those banner headlines: "IT'S A BOY!”, perhaps, or “THAT SLY SMILE: BUT IT’S
DADDY'S EARS”: or “OOPS-A-DAISY” accompanied by a telephoto’d picture of Pater anointing his offspring with vintage port. Of course, we could be in for a surprise: ‘THE DAY GREAT GRANDMAMMA GAVE IT THE WRONG BOTTLE’’ across four columns of The Times.

However the truth is that were the royal infant to parade, on its backside, a birth mark in the form of the Holy Grail it would make not a ha'p’orth of difference to the situation as it affects the working class. A tick is a tick and, battened onto the back of a sheep, it must inflate itself with the blood of its host. And herein lies the heart of the matter. The ruling class, in all its guises, is at the same time a dependent class. Without the broad acquiescence-benevolent or grudging—of the working class it could not survive. In order that workers may the more effectively be exploited the masters must be able to rely on the collaboration, at the point of production and elsewhere, of those same workers. One way by which they secure this collaboration is through the assiduous promotion of the mystique of royalty, or the presidency, or some other military overlordship, or whatever. Other symbols of class rule include the church, with its crass mumbo-jumbo, the military, with its bombast, the Palace of Westminster, with its traditional idiocies, and the law, with all its vicious hocus-pocus. And it should never be forgotten that our masters have had plenty of practice in their art, with the accumulated experience of hundreds of years of capitalism to call upon.

Another Machiavellian ruse in the armoury of the ruling class is to divide us against each other. With the utmost skill and perseverance, and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the media, our masters have succeeded in persuading us that we are, each and every one of us, through our “natures”, motivated solely by self-interest; that class is a myth; that our rulers are where they are through their own effort and initiative; and that the wealthy deserve “their” wealth. Indeed — or so they keep telling us — where would the rest of us be without their power to invest? (They also happen to believe that they were born to rule, although they would not nowadays advance this theory in public.)

As a class the workers have accepted this fatalistic view of society without serious question. Indeed, were this not the case the existing system of worldwide capitalism could not survive. For fundamentally to question the existing order is effectively to expose it and challenge it. A reasoned understanding, on the part of the working class, of the system which alone must take responsibility for ninety-nine per cent of human misery would effectively see off that handful of grasping thieves who, for so long, have held us in thrall. Such an outcome would necessarily place in their proper perspective those princes, prelates, military bully-boys and the like who have been permitted to be adorned, adored, and elevated to such ridiculous heights. Only through a common understanding shall the workers find the strength to sack the class who rule over them. Capitalism’s cover, blown many years ago by Karl Marx, would at last be blown by the working class itself—the same class that that courageous thinker and revolutionary fought so hard to enlighten in his own times
Richard Cooper

Russian round table (1982)

A Short Story from the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was a motley lot that boarded the Aeroflot jet for Moscow on April 13. There was the ex-Life-guardsman who bragged about sitting on his horse in Whitehall. Then the crazy little Spanish Communist waiter, who rushed around shrieking “These lousy Americans think they peeze da best Pale Ale’’. The dustman from Reading who had been in the National Front, then the SWP and now organises the CND in the local Conservative club. A lorry driver from Worthing. The daughter of Russian aristocratic exiles, born in China but now living in Sydney, talking more like Barry Humphries. A mixed-up American who was petrified “in case Reagan starts something while I’m still here”. Plus two Australian fellow-travellers, a retired Naval Officer, a pleasant young actor from the TV show Stalky & Co, a couple of retired teachers and two members of the SPGB, both with a reasonable command of colloquial Russian.

On reaching Moscow, our guide suddenly informed us that we were invited to a “round-table” discussion about the Soviet Union. The hall originally booked was unavailable and we were switched to the Karl Marx Museum, which gave us the chance to see the exhibits, which are unique. Two “experts” were there to enlighten us—the Russian Editor of Moscow News (the English Soviet Weekly) and a “sociologist”, apparently English. Little did they know that, before they were born, one of the Party members had lived in Moscow and the other had been there as a student.

The proceedings started off quietly enough. We were informed of the Soviet Union’s peaceful intentions. “Comrade” Brezhnev’s speech to the Russian Trade Union Congress, offering European arms limitation, was quoted. This brought further reference to the Russian Trade Union organisation. We were told it has two hundred million members and of its great achievements in organising production, protecting workers at work, and setting up Sanatoria and Sports Clubs.

The first break came with the question: “How can there be Trade Unions in a socialist society which, by definition, is classless?” This led to a series of “explanations” of the great difficulties Russia had faced, the disastrous effects of the war, the backwardness of parts of the economy, especially agriculture, and so on. Various members of the group then pointed out that Britain also has social security legislation; that the unemployed in Britain also get subsistence benefits; that in Britain Trade Unions also protect their members’ interests. The reporter then drew attention to what he called “workers control” in Soviet industry. The Russian factory manager, he claimed, was in an impossible position, between the devil of the requirements of the Plan and the deep blue sea of the workers’ demands. The Trade Union Committee discusses every aspect of the Plan and rejects what it does not like. “Why,” he proclaimed, “116 factory managers were sacked last year alone, as a result of trade union action ”.

This was the signal for a barrage of questions from the now thoroughly restive audience:
“How can the workers control production if the government does?” 
“Are the workers allowed to go on strike?"
(“Well! No! there is no need to.”) 
“Who appoints the factory managers?”
“Does the Communist Party control the trade unions?”
(“Only in the sense that they are the most active members.”) 
“What about the obviously flourishing black market?” 
“Why are there queues outside the food shops?” 
"How can you call it socialism when there are wages?”
“Did not Karl Marx call for the abolition of the wages system?” 
“Can you have a money system in a socialist society?”
By this time our experts were getting decidedly tetchy. A member of the SPCIB proceeded to outline the real nature of socialist society and point out that state capitalism operates in Russia. This apparently filled our hosts with the greatest respect. They called her “professor”, saying “With regard to the lady professor’s last question”, and “with great respect to the lady professor’s great knowledge of the subject . . .” Finally, the senior speaker climbed down and freely admitted that socialism had not been, and could not yet be, established in Russia because the problems of production had not been completely solved. But he claimed that the Russian people understood this, too. “We are working towards it”, he said.

It was pointed out, amid general agreement, that nobody underestimated the enormous achievements of the Russian people in turning a vast, barbaric feudal cess-pit into a modern industrial country in the shortest time in the world’s history. We realised the frightful toll of two world wars but we, like Lenin, had done our best to persuade the workers not to slaughter each other. To call the set-up in Russia socialism was untrue, and to claim to be “building socialism” while establishing state capitalism was dangerously misleading.

What our experts thought about all this, they did not say. They certainly looked as though they were thinking very hard. But that could have been indigestion.

Darwin and evolution (1982)

From the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 and died in Bromley, Kent, in 1882, one hundred years ago. Darwin’s great contribution to human knowledge is contained in his book, The Origin of Species, which sets out a theory of organic evolution by natural selection.

Darwin had arrived at the theory of evolution as early as 1837 but proceeded no further with it until he found an explanation for the fact of adaptation. The solution occurred to Darwin when he read Malthus's essay, The Principles of Population. It is a curious fact that Malthus’s mistaken view of population, which was to become the basis of Social Darwinism, prompted Darwin to develop his own theory. Indeed, we might say that Social Darwinism existed before Darwinism.

The theory of natural selection contends that all living things show a tendency to vary and that heritable variations (each of which may originate from one or more mutation) are transmitted from one generation to another. Those individuals affected by heritable variations, which give them a definite advantage over their fellows, will be more likely to survive in the struggle for existence and more likely to reproduce their kind. The less favoured individuals will tend to die out. Thus, in the course of many generations the species will tend to show a gradual change in the direction of a more favourable adaptation to its environment and a new species will emerge which is distinct from the original one.

With the knowledge and development of Mendelian genetics, the discovery of DNA, the development of molecular biology, and the formulation of the genetic code, the theory of natural selection has become sophisticated and is often termed as Neo-Darwinism. This theory has been subjected to a number of modern criticisms. For example, it has been argued that once species come into existence they persist for millions of years with little or no change (homeostasis). It has also been argued that when evolutionary changes do occur they are concentrated into relatively brief periods. The most recent criticisms of Neo-Darwinism have constituted a revival of Lamarckism: the theory that certain characteristics acquired during a parent’s lifetime can be passed on to the offspring. Darwin himself accepted this theory. It was the German biologist, August Weismann, who demonstrated the invalidity of Lamarckism. He showed that the hereditary substance—germ plasm—is transmitted from generation to generation without being influenced by bodily cells acquired during the individual's lifetime. Modern research work by geneticists supports Weismann’s thesis. Claims have been made for cytoplasmic inheritance a non-molecular genetic mechanism in the cytoplasm (all the protoplasm excluding the nucleus). But it is now known that organells (specialised parts) of the cytoplasm (chloroplasto and mitochonaria) not only contain DNA, but also the machinery for transforming DNA into protein. Nevertheless, a number of experiments have been made, the success of which do not rule out the possibility of genetic mechanisms not dependent on the replication nucleic acids. Yet. as John Maynard Smith points out:
It seems unlikely that they have been of major importance in evolution. The vast majority of inherited differences between organisms which have been analysed have turned out to be caused by differences between nuclear genes . . . The inheritance of acquired characters would lead to deterioration rather than evolution. On the other hand, homeostatic genes, resembling the self-correcting codes used for programming computers which always reverted to their original form after mutating, would make evolution impossible. (The Theory of Evolution, p. 73)
None of the critics of Neo-Darwinism is arguing that evolution has not happened, but some of them are questioning the course it has followed. What is significant is not the way in which evolution has occurred, but the fact that it has occurred. We have only to refer to the fossil record to confirm its reality.

The most important qualitative event in the evolutionary process was the emergence of humanity. When physical evolution brought Homo Sapiens into being it gave rise to a unique organism. Humanity set in motion a new kind of evolution, which is not biological and established by inherited physical variations, but is social, cultural and technological. In social evolution, humanity makes itself by developing culture through successive stages. Nature transcended itself, so to speak, and created a being which is more than just a Naked Ape. Homo Sapiens is not merely an animal repeated, but is qualitatively something higher, something which has never existed before. Humans have an ability to think conceptually and this enables us to determine our own mode of existence.
Harry Walters

Letter: Russia, Women, Transition . . . (1982)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The SPGB’s characterisation of modern Russia as ‘state-capitalist" is, I would argue, somewhat mistaken. At present the most relevant interpretation of the country has been made by Corrigan, Ramsey and Sayer, in an article published in the New Left Review, on which I draw heavily.

Capitalism has three specific and necessary features: 1) production units operate independently so that goods are produced as commodities and resources through a market system; 2) capital accumulation through the extraction of surplus value, is in Marx’s words “the direct aim and determining motive of production"; and 3) the foundation of this exploitation is the wage relation.

In the case of 1 and 2, they cannot be applied to Russia because the overwhelming majority of resources “are allocated through the plan often uncconomically by capitalist market rationality. The absence of market laws in turn means no compulsion to accumulate comparable to capitalist economies. Accumulation has occurred, but has resulted from political decisions about priorities and necessities, of a characteristically Bolshevik kind.” Moreover, the third condition is difficult to maintain: “even if we allow that the workers do not exercise political power (an over simplification) and are effectively removed from the state-owned means of production, the contents of this separation are very different to that under capitalism. Also, real guarantees of employment mean that wage levels are not subject to supply and demand determination of capitalism”.

Those who propose the state-capitalist thesis have singularly failed in specifically outlining capitalist relations in Russia. The SWP case rests on the analogy between military competition between Russia and the West, and economic competition within capitalist economics. Bettleheim on the other hand, inflates necessary into sufficient conditions for capitalist production: confusing surviving capitalist elements with a fully-fledged capitalist system.

In my view Russia contains elements of capitalism, socialism, and elements unique to itself. It is a class-divided society, but they arc not based upon the private ownership/non-ownership model of the means of production. Rather, they are based upon authority and legitimation created and maintained by control of the means of communication (mass media, books, etc.) and control of the means of coercion (the armed forces, moral and ethical pressure).

Unfortunately the SPGB views the women’s movement as a type of “bourgeois deviation”, of little relevance to socialist theory. They derive their primitive views from the archaic and mostly erroneous writings of L. H. Morgan, a 19th century anthropologist, via an interpretation of Engels. The latter adapted the work of the former and claimed that society moves through three stages of marriage which result in the limitation of women's freedom. Essentially, in order to protect the descent of property through the male line Engels claimed that with industrialisation male domination would be removed, even before the advent of socialism. He linked male domination to private property in a grossly mechanistic way. He felt it would disappear because a) the working class family lacks private property, b) because the woman becomes a wage earner, thus achieving economic [in]dependence from her husband and family, and c) because the working class family lacks the instrument of male domination through bourgeois law. This is deficient in a number of ways; i) he fails to analyse the ideology of domesticity and male superiority and ii) he presumes that the monogamous family would end among the working class as women were drawn into the labour market; these are but two.

The relationship between a man and a woman is often one of domination and subordination/acquiescence. In short, one of exploitation, and moreover, one which cannot be simply reduced to a class relation, a phenomenon of capitalism. The working class male possesses domination and authority over the female not because he owns private property or the means of production. His authority is made possible by the subordination of the female via a process of legitimation, i.e., male ideological hegemony. If we forget Morgan and look at modern anthropological data, we will see many examples of such relationships. There have been numerous examples of societies in which the means of production were communally-owned, with little or no private property. However, sections of the tribe/group accrued wealth and power, which appeared to the subordinate sections as legitimate and desirable. It was justified on religious, moral, mystical, ethnic, hereditary and pseudo-rational grounds. These beliefs were inculcated via socialisation. Male dominance will have to be overcome in post-capitalist societies, as well as present ones, and must be the work of women themselves. All socialist groups must support the women’s movement.

My final point is in connection with the SPGB’s utopian notion of “no transitional society” between capitalism and communism/socialism. That is, the creation of a classless, moneyless, private propertyless, totally-free, equal society, almost immediately after the downfall of capitalism. This notion seems to be premised on the belief that during “late capitalism” the working class will gain a perfect understanding of what socialism is, and what action is required of them. Having done this they will automatically elect, via universal suffrage, the SPGB who will begin the rapid transformation. The multinationals and the capitalist classes will realise that it is “a fair cop” and will hand over the ‘goodies.’ Of course you cannot have socialism in one country, so the previously described process will take place on a world scale.

One is left with the impression that the SPGB owes more to Tolstoy and the anarchist movement than to Marx and socialism. The problem of a class-divided society based upon authority and domination, cannot be dismissed with a trite slogan, such as “state capitalism”, nor male oppression as a "bourgeois deviation”. The major problem of authority-domination relationships must be overcome with transcendence capitalist relations, and other major problems— something that can only be achieved in a transitional social development. Nevertheless, we should give the SPGB the benefit of the doubt and not label them as mystical anarchists, and put it down to some simplistic and mechanical views on capitalism, socialism and society in general; if only because a non-Bolshevik socialist party is badly needed. Although it needs to be a thinking one!
Ray Berringer 
North Humberside

It’s a pity that the writer quotes so extensively, for what he has to say is more interesting than the NLR stuff, which is easily disposed of.

It is claimed to be a necessary feature of capitalism that production units operate independently through a market. Yet in this country the National Coal Board does not operate independently of the Central Electricity Generating Board, there is cooperation between the boards on coal output for power station input, both directly and via the government. In the USA the aircraft companies are not independent of NASA and the USAAF. In general it is absurd to insist that large production units must remain independent of major customers in modern capitalist society. Interestingly though, those who use this argument to show that Russia is a special case, often make much of the dreadful conspiracies between multi-national corporations.

The “elements of socialism” that people profess to see in Russia arise from confusing nationalisation with socialism, a weakness in most left-wingers, which they could cure by asking themselves a simple question: does nationalisation of the major production areas bring socialist society any nearer? If it does, then Russia must be closer to socialism than Britain. Marxism and socialism are the most unpopular social theories in Russia today: if you advocated the socialism of the SPGB in Red Square you might be ignored by the people, but whisked off to jail by the secret police. So the subjective conditions for socialism, democracy and class consciousness, are almost totally absent.

We are told that capital accumulation proceeds in Russia, not by the extraction of a surplus from the workers, but results from political decisions. All governments would be delighted if this were so, for they would then only have to take the necessary decisions and decree that all production be profitable, making capital accumulation great enough to fund any level of government spending.

In fact the so-called plans of the Russian government have been little more than successive accommodations to reality. Starting in the 1920s everything was to double in five years; by the 1970s ten per cent increase in production over five years has become acceptable. So a rate of growth barely sufficient to ensure the replacement of worn-out stock is hailed as a triumph of a “planned economy”.

The early plans hoped to extract a surplus from the rich peasants—“de-kulakisation”. That didn’t work, the grain wasn’t forthcoming. The next plans encouraged collective farms, but they proved hopelessly inefficient. Then shock-work and the Stakhanovite movement were encouraged, to push up industrial production levels and flood the countryside with agricultural machinery; but the workers resented the increase in the rate of exploitation, so concessions had to be made to them. Thus arose the mass of welfare benefits and heavy subsidies on basic items all in short supply. At this point Russian society has got stuck. On paper the plans allocate whatever resources a production unit requests; in fact every unit has to fight for what it can get in a cycle of inventory-taking, estimation, planning and allocation. All ensuring that the most efficient exploiters—the industries that extract the greatest surplus from their workers—are the ones that get the largest allocations. So the foundation of Russian production is still the wage relation—the smaller the bundle of commodities the workers can appropriate, the greater is the mass of surplus accruing to the state for division among the elite, the Politbureau and the managers.

Can socialists support the women's movement, when, as the writer proclaims, overcoming male dominance ‘must be the work of women themselves’? Many of the feminist groups are exclusive preserves into which men are not allowed. So the efforts of male socialists would be limited to cheering from the sidelines and agreeing with whatever the women decide. Support on those conditions is not worth having or giving.

A society divided into nations whose armed forces wave nuclear weapons about in the hope of frightening others away from the markets and raw materials that all countries covet, periodically blowing the opposition away in wars, when sufficient patriotic fervour can be drummed into the workers—is not a society where equal relations, non-dominance and toleration can be fostered. In brief, workers are encouraged by turns to hate the “bloody huns”, “grasping frogs”, “lousy gooks” and so on; both during the trade wars and actual wars. Not surprisingly. this attitude spills over to others as “dirty yids”, “bleeding pooftahs” and “silly moos” in the domestic and local tyranny of wife-bashing and street brawls. A society transitional between capitalism and socialism would have to be one without war, if tolerance and equality were to be achieved. Does the next step in the argument need to be spelt out? Capitalism without nations, armies, wars and international competition is the reformer’s pipe-dream—what everybody who stops short of socialist conclusions would like the world to be. For this reason the SPGB is not prepared to sully socialism by working with those who are trying to turn capitalism into the impossible—a transitional society of non-socialists. Apart from that, socialists do what they can in their personal relationships, without believing that they are changing the world with such behaviour.

With regard to the comments about Morgan and Engels: the SPGB is prepared to discuss the matter. We consider the work of Morgan and Engels provides a starting-point from which to look at social evolution, tribal common ownership and the origin of private property society; in answer to those who hold that social institutions are permanent, that capitalism has always existed and will continue to do so. But the letter-writer is not concerned with such things, he knows “essentially” what Engels said and that it was “mechanistic”. Arguing against dogma derived from secondary opinion is a lengthy business, so we will restrict ourselves to a single counter-quotation; in Engels’ book his theory is quite sophisticated:
With the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair. (Emphasis added)
(The Origin of the Family . . . Lawrence and Wishart, 1972, p. 139.)
How the various classes or privileged groups justify their dominance is a minor matter as far as socialists are concerned, because the tightest legitimations of privilege can disappear with the smallest social change. The almost universally-held belief that wealth grew from abstinence and frugality, ceased to be credible in the Edwardian period of “conspicuous consumption”. Generations of “socialisation” into this belief just evaporated then. Now this argument may be generalised. Almost any position may be justified, belief in it inculcated by socialisation, establishing the ideological hegemony of those whose interest it serves. But when another lot of people with different interests come along, they can take the same “data” and justify a completely different position, blowing down the other ideological house; proving that the “legitimation process” is a quite secondary problem. It is the support that workers give to capitalist society (private, mixed, state, and peculiar) which generates the morals, attitudes and behaviour that go with this society. Withdraw that support on the basis of socialist understanding, change society by democratic revolution and the requisite cooperative morals will arise, difficult to under.

The last paragraph of the letter is difficult to understand. The writer appears to want a thinking, non-Bolshevik political party, that will overcome authority and domination, along with other major social problems, transcending capitalist social relations, by achieving a non-socialist transition world. Is he writing a manifesto for the SDP? Does he want a revolution or not?

Big Bangs and Whimpers (1982)

From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where do Cruise missiles come on your personal list of production priorities? First, last, or not at all? Similarly, where do you place housing, food, clothing and entertainment? Do you know anybody who puts Cruise, Trident and Pershing II missiles first? Probably not. How is it then that over the northern hemisphere there are around 50 million people engaged in wielding weapons of destruction, servicing, administering to them, designing, manufacturing or testing new ones? Is it that the system of war production has got out of control? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Well, you could join in the Campaign for a Nuclear-Free Europe; you could go and cheer E. P. Thompson at the next CND rally. If you’re good at spitting fire you could stomp church and civic halls up and down the country, fulminating against NATO and the eastern bloc, who’ve turned Europe into the world’s most dramatic nuclear theatre.

Whatever you do, whether you live in Britain, America or Russia, you’ll have to face a stubborn problem arising from the social system that the world currently operates. You’ll have to find a way of transforming rockets into ploughshares.

Nukes are nasty
At a simple level the weaponry of Europe can be dismantled and sold as scrap. When TSR2 was cancelled in the 1960s one enterprising firm cobbled together a range of costume jewellery out of components from aircraft guidance systems. Since 1945 army surplus stores have been the usual way of recycling non-strategic junk from the forces back into the economy. Quite what could be done with the 7,500 nuclear warheads deployed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact in and around Europe — their rockets, launch platforms, bunkers and control hardware — it’s not easy to say. Perhaps, without the warheads, they could all be let off in one gigantic Guy Fawkes display; or used to launch thousands of weather and communication satellites. The warheads are completely useless for anything except destroying life and wealth.

The original US “Operation Plowshare’’, which planned to use nuclear bombs to blast a wider Panama Canal, was abandoned because of the radioactive filth it would have belched into the atmosphere and because it might have started violent volcanic activity along the Panamanian Isthmus.

Projects to develop interplanetary travel for the masses are non-starters; even capitalism’s best salesmen can’t find any suckers to go on a jerky joy-ride in a vehicle powered by nuclear squibs going bang at the tail.

The US “Operation Gas Buggy", in which a chain of buried nuclear devices were detonated to produce a vast underground cavern of gas for domestic consumption, did not produce enough gas to fuel the fleet of concrete lorries that were needed to cap the surface fractures out of which the subsequent radioactivity leaked.

Nukes are nasty and aside from their intended purpose, neither NATO nor the Eastern Bloc can find anything to do with them.

Poverty and plenty
So the slogan “rockets into ploughshares’’ is misleading. But would a society that makes only “ploughshares" in the first place be enough? For even if the nuclear factories were converted to produce agricultural machinery, most third world governments do not have the foreign exchange to buy such equipment. It needs only a little imagination to work out what happens when there is overproduction of such machinery for a non-existent — market the bottom falls out of world trade. A “surplus” of agricultural produce brings about a world food shortage in this way: as investment falls, production is cut back, land is unused until the surplus is gone; but with rising demand in the developed countries agricultural produce is sucked out of the underdeveloped countries and as neglected land cannot be made productive immediately millions starve as the price of grain soars.

Behind capitalism with its nuclear big bangs you can hear the crying of hungry people. Behind capitalism without the big bangs you will still hear the whimpers of starving people.

A much more useful slogan than “rockets into ploughshares" is “transform capitalism into socialism”. Nuclear disarmers and others should consider this as an immediate priority
B.K. McNeeney

Political Notes: A changed man (1982)

The Political Notes column from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

A changed man

Since he lost the Tory leadership to Margaret Thatcher, Ted Heath is a changed man. To begin with, he has started making jokes even if not very good ones. Like pleading with his fans at the last Tory conference not to applaud him because “it may irritate your neighbour”.

Heath’s place in British political history is fixed in the battle he had with the miners over their pay claim, the apex of a long campaign by his government to hold back wages. Soon after the defeat in the February 1974 election, Heath was banished by Thatcher to what Fleet Street likes to call the political wilderness.

But the wilderness is proving to be not so inhospitable. With time on his hands, Heath has been able to take a part-time job. He is now the Chairman of the International Advisory Council of International Reporting Information Systems (IRIS).

IRIS assembles and processes through a computer information on world affairs which it receives from the media world wide as well as its own agents. Anyone with something over £15,000 a year to spend can have access to this computerised picture of capitalism in the 1980s. Heath has been taken on to check that the information about political and economical topics is accurate.

We might wonder why IRIS should think that a politician is best qualified for a job like checking the accuracy of information. And why one like Heath, who has never been famous for consistency?

For example, there is the matter of his wage; IRIS is paying him according to the Daily Telegraph, quoting “impeccable IRIS management sources” — £50,000 a year. His hours at the job will not be too demanding; Heath says they will amount to “a few days a year”.

When Heath was Prime Minister he was always very sensitive about what he saw as workers getting too much money for too little work. But we need not fear that he will lose sleep in justifying the deal, for every capitalist politician knows that the workers’ place is to do all the useful, constructive work in society while living in poverty. And that is something which does not, and will not, change.

Square one

Fifteen years ago there was a serious housing situation in this country. Then Shelter sprang up, with its whizz kid director Des Wilson, trumpeting that they were going to rouse the nation’s conscience and make housing a number one issue so that something would be done about it.

Today there is still a serious housing situation in this country; in fact, according to Wilson — who is no longer in charge of Shelter — it is getting worse. Councils are building one sixth, and private builders about one half, of the number of houses they were putting up when Shelter was formed. Existing houses are sliding (often literally) into disrepair; local authorities say there are 547,000 unfit homes in England alone and over one million lacking one or more basic amenity.

About 1½ million people are on council housing lists; some of them have been there for years and have virtually no chance of being rehoused.

This desperate situation is illustrated for the crazy muddle that it is by the fact that some 250,000 building workers are registered as unemployed. Bricks in their millions are being stockpiled. The material is there; the human ability is there. But the profit priority of capitalism prevents the homes being built.

Wilson says bitterly “ . . . those of us who spoke out about the scandal of Britain’s housing problem in 1966, when Shelter was launched, find ourselves back at square one”. It does not seem to occur to him that he must share the blame for this.

Like all those who tinker with capitalism, Wilson assumed (for there is no evidence for anything stronger than an assumption) that the system’s ailments can be reformed out of existence. This is a policy which encourages workers to support capitalism, on the argument that it does not need to be a system which is unable to meet human needs. But that, inexorably, is the reality of it — as Shelter is now finding out.

By their blindness to this feature of capitalism, organisations like Shelter actually aggravate the very problems they claim to be able to solve. Which means that while whizz kids sparkle the suffering goes on.

The martyr of Southwark

At a stroke Peter Tatchell was transformed by Foot’s harsh words about him in the Commons. From an obscure candidate in what was once a rock safe Labour scat, Tatchell became that most ephemeral of things — a popular left wing martyr.

It all began with Tatchell’s article in London Labour Briefing, in which, in characteristically obscure wording, he seemed to advocate the kind of protest action which Foot himself was once associated with. But of course it is permissible to march, demonstrate and protest when you arc nowhere near government, or don’t want to get into office. Foot’s problem is holding together the Labour Party as an alternative administration for British capitalism. The indiscretions of his past are now an embarrassment to him.

In fact, the Labour leader cannot fairly complain. The Labour Party takes in everyone and anyone, with rarely any reference to their opinions. You pay your money; you take your membership card. In the case of Tatchell, they have recruited someone who can write this: 
Without . . .  a mass popular base consciously demanding and organising for a thorough-going socialist transformation of our society, the prospects of electing a radical Labour government look bleak indeed.
Clearly, Tatchell does not realise that if there were a mass of workers consciously demanding a transformation of society the last thing they would do would be to elect a Labour government to try to run capitalism. Their very consciousness would inform them that the Labour Party is one of their many enemies, standing for the interests of the British capitalist class.

Then again, a politically aware majority of workers will not be wasting their time electing governments, whether they are called radical or not. No government can establish socialism, which must be the task of the working class themselves, using a democratic tool to bring in the society which, among other things, will abolish government.

The Labour candidate (as he was) for Bermondsey is palpably confused. His clash with Foot is a case of misguided youth against cynical age. Not an inspiring spectacle; but then, when has the Labour Party inspired anything other than disgust?

Letter From Europe: The French bomb (1981)

From the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The wave of protests against the installation of a new generation of American nuclear missiles in Western Europe — with massive demonstrations in October in Bonn, London, Rome and Brussels has not affected France where Mitterrand and his government (despite its four Communist Party ministers) are fully behind Reagan.

It is true that there was an anti-missile demonstration in Paris on 25 October but it attracted less than 50,000 people — not even a third of the number that gathered in Brussels the same day — and it was organised by a Communist Party front organisation, the so-called Mouvement de la Paix (Peace Movement). This was originally set up at the time of the bogus Stockholm appeal of 1952 when Russia was trying to use anti-war sentiments in Western Europe to gain a respite to develop its own atomic bomb, just as it is now trying to use these same sentiments to maintain its missile superiority in Europe.

This demonstration was no more genuinely anti-nuclear missiles than the one organised in East Berlin the same day. Its most radical demand was that France change its foreign policy and stop supporting Reagan on this issue. There was no question of demanding, like CND and the Labour Party in Britain, that France should give up its nuclear weapons or that it should stop its nuclear tests, nor even that it should abandon research into developing its own neutron-bomb.

This is not surprising since the French Communist Party (PCF) is an enthusiastic supporter of the French nuclear force de frappe (strike force), and has been since 11 May 1977 when it suddenly changed its line. Ordinary PCF members, as is usual when the Communist Party performs a zig or a zag like this, only learned of their Party’s new policy when they opened their Humanite the next day. The PCF leaders justified this change on the ground that the French bomb was a fact and didn’t necessarily have to be directed against Russia.

But the hypocrisy of the PCF on this issue is easily matched by that of the French Socialist Party (PS). Even though De Gaulle was able to claim the “credit” since the first French bomb exploded under his presidency, the original decision to develop the French nuclear bomb was taken in 1956 by a government headed by a member of the PS (or SFIO as it was then known) Guy Mollet. There was nothing unusual in this since the British bomb was decided by a Labour government too. Among the leading members of Mollet’s cabinet, as Minister of Justice, was a certain Francois Mitterrand who at that time had not yet started to pretend to be a “socialist” but was still a member of one of the many obscure parliamentary groups which flourished under the French Fourth Republic.

Then, when the SFIO transformed itself into the PS in 1971 with Mitterrand as leader and began its ten-year march to power, it at first adopted an anti-bomb position. Its new programme published in 1972 under the title Changer la vie declared that the PS “refuses to accept ‘the French nuclear fact’. As soon as it comes to power the Left government will have to take the decision to interrupt the construction of the force de frappe". The Common Government Programme signed later that year between the PS. the PCF and the Left Radicals was even more explicit. Defence policy, it stated, would be based on a number of principles including the “repudiation of the strategic nuclear strike force in whatever form” and the “immediate stopping of the manufacture of the French force de frappe". It also promised that nuclear tests would be immediately stopped and that France would adhere to the Test Ban and Non-Proliferation Treaties.

The change to a pro-bomb position by the PS preceded that of the PCF and was begun by Mitterrand himself during the 1974 presidential election campaign when he was the single candidate of the Left, supported by the PCF as well as the PS. In order to win enough votes to get elected he had to appear to be a “responsible statesman”; but how could someone seeking power to manage the affairs of French capitalism refuse to accept “the French nuclear fact”? As Mitterrand declared in a radio interview on Europe No 1: “I am a realistic man of politics and I have to assume responsibility for France. But, for fifteen years, this force de frappe has become a reality, it exists” (Le Monde, 16 May 1974).

After the election was over and lost (Giscard, the man Mitterrand beat earlier this year, was elected) the PS took steps to formalise this U-turn. The most enthusiastic advocates of this were the members of CERES, the left wing ginger group within the PS, who wanted France to have a nuclear bomb so as to be able to stand up to America as well as to Russia. Mitterrand was more realistic: he and the majority of the PS never doubted for a moment that the French bomb could only be directed against Russia. Hence Mitterrand’s current support for Reagan on the issue of installing more nuclear missiles in Western Europe other than in France, which can supply its own.

This PS support for Reagan is political as well as diplomatic. A spokesman for the PS has described the mounting antiwar sentiment in West Germany as “very dangerous” and Lionel Jospin, the Party’s General Secretary, condemned “unilateral pacifist sentiments” in a speech to the party’s recent conference in Valence. The reaction of the Labour Party’s fraternal delegate was not recorded. There was also the curious article published in The Times on 26 October by Didier Motchane in which this leading figure on the CERES wing of the PS urged the Labour Party to abandon its position in support of unilateral nuclear disarmament on the grounds that if European States did not have their own nuclear bombs then America and Russia would take even less account of them. This would have appealed to Michael Foot’s hero, Aneurin Bevan, who argued that he, as future British Foreign Secretary (which in fact he never became), would be forced to go naked into the conference chamber.

As to nuclear tests, France had already stopped carrying them out in the atmosphere in 1975 but, like the other nuclear powers, had been continuing them underground. On 29 May Mitterrand’s Minister of Defence, Charles Hernu, announced the suspension of French underground tests; so it seemed that at least one of the earlier promises was going to be kept; but on 2 June Hernu announced . . . the resumption of French nuclear tests! And the’ first Mitterrand nuclear test took place, at Mururoa in the Pacific, on 4 August. An Australian MP has alleged that French underground tests have poisoned beaches in this area through leaks (The Times, 26 September). The truth is not likely to come out on this since governments are notoriously secretive in this field (the Giscard government never even announced that a test had taken place).

But Mitterrand's pro-bomb policy goes even further. Far from repudiating "the strategic nuclear strike force in whatever form” as promised in 1972, he has refused even to interrupt research authorised by Giscard into how to develop a French neutron bomb. On 28 July Hernu announced that this research would continue. Another of Mitterrand’s little hypocritical gestures was to insist, when he opened the Paris air show on 5 June, that the guns be removed from all the French aircraft on show. As soon as he left the guns were put back again and the business of arms selling was resumed as usual. Which, after all, was one of the main purposes of the show.

France is in fact the world’s third largest "merchant of death”, after America and Russia, and is likely to remain so under Mitterrand. Giscard, when he was President, made a speciality of trading arms for oil with Middle East States, particularly Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Mitterrand has not changed this policy which is an economic necessity for French capitalism Saudi Arabia’s Head of State visited France soon after Mitterrand’s election and Mitterrand has already reciprocated. But if Giscard was openly cynical about what he was doing Mitterrand and his Foreign Minister, former EEC Commissioner Claude Cheysson, have been shamefaced and hypocritical about it, trying to disguise their sordid but unavoidable economic practice behind high-sounding and grandiose phrases.

For instance, Cheysson has stated that “an insupportable totalitarian regime must not have French arms that can be used for repression”. Since most states in the world are totalitarian and since any weapon can in the end be used for internal repression, if strictly applied this would considerably limit the outlets for the French arms industry. But Cheysson has no intention of applying this principle strictly; in practice only two countries, South Africa and Chile, are being blacklisted, for sentimental reasons. All the rest are, apparently, regarded as non-totalitarian, including countries like Iraq where if you disagree too much with the President you are put up against a wall and shot. And Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a parliamentary democracy either.

As a matter of fact, of course, it was never likely that there would be a change in French policy on arms sales. Under capitalism, even in times of peace, states are always in competition with each other over markets, sources of raw materials, investment outlets, trade route and other economic and strategic questions. When it comes to negotiating over these differences the existence of a powerful armed force in the background is an important factor in the relationship of forces which decides the outcome, as Bevan with his fear of having to attend such conferences naked well understood. So each state is obliged to try to obtain the most modern and most effective (destructive) arms that it can afford, irrespective of whether or not it is actually involved in a conflict at home or abroad.

The level of a state’s armament is part of its negotiating strength and general credibility. This is why there is always a vast international market for arms of all sorts which no capitalist country which has an arms-producing capacity is going to refuse to supply for “moral” reasons. This is especially so in the current period of economic crisis when every little export helps. As Cheysson put it, with reference to the French arms industry, in one of his less hypocritical moments:
The arms industry employs 300,000 workers; it is an essential element of our independence as far as defence is concerned, and a factor for technological progress. The export of arms is a necessity, both for our defence and for our industry. It would be mad to deny it (Nouvel Observateur, 4 July).
This frank declaration that arms sales are an economic necessity for French capitalism shows that those who, like Mitterrand and his PS/PCF government, assume responsibility for running capitalism in any country are obliged to do so on its terms, whether they like them or not and irrespective of any moral scruples they may or may not have.
Adam Buick (Luxemburg)

Getting the clap (1981)

From the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Autumn is the time of mists and mellow fruitfulness and falling leaves and thousands of hands flailing in the applause which is offered up at party conferences for the satisfaction of the speakers. The highest form of this applause is the standing ovation, when everyone not only claps but gets to their feet to do so; it is usually reserved for the very famous or the very silly, not necessarily in that order. There must be many people who are trying to carve out a career in politics who need some advice on how to win this signal of acclaim.

To be sure, the whole matter of orchestrating an audience response at these conferences is fraught with difficulties and needs careful consideration. It is in the speaker’s favour that the delegates usually (in the case of the Tories always) come to the conference eager to applaud; it is as much a part of the proceedings as the boozing and intrigue and elbow-pressing. The whole thing is a form of gymnastics—mental, digestive and manual. Then there is the fact that the enthusiasm of the response is often in inverse proportion to the usefulness of what has been said. One example which springs to mind is the late Oswald Mosley, who could bring thousands to their feet with words like:
Hold high the head of England! Lift strong the voice of Empire! . . .This flag still challenges the winds of destiny. This flame still burns. This glory shall not die . . .
And so on. Nobody knew quite what it meant and, since Mosley’s audience was overwhelmingly fascist, nobody was expected to understand. But it certainly provoked the applause. A word of caution, though: Mosley’s ability to excite such intoxication did him no good in the end; he is not an example to be recommended to the aspiring politician.

Another method to be avoided has been practised at Labour Party conferences with some regularity: present notable practitioners are the likes of Lords Shinwell and Noel-Baker. Shinwell, is an ex-rebel of the left wing who was able to be a member of a Labour government which, in the interests of the British capitalist class, fought for six years to restrain workers’ wages. Noel-Baker is the professed pacifist who remains in a party which, among other things, supported one of the greatest wars in the history of capitalism.

These men get ovations at Labour Party conferences because they are old—the inference being that, just as it used to be on the Wilfred Pickles programme, stupidity is fit matter for congratulation provided it emits from an ancient mouth. Noel-Baker, for example, got away with the suggestion that the great power blocs should stop acting like international super powers of capitalism and follow a UN recommendation to throw away their armaments until they have only enough for “internal control”. There are obvious problems for an ambitious politician hoping to muscle in on this type of ovation; few people can produce the symptoms of senile dementia as readily as Michael Foot.

An essential ingredient in any speech designed to win an ovation is a plan to deal with some chronic problem of capitalism, or preferably several at once. This plan is best presented as the result of some dazzling flash of insight denied to lesser intellects—which helps to disguise that the plan is irrelevant or unrealistic or a rehash of already discredited ideas. The Social Democrats were on their feet applauding Roy Jenkins last month for saying that a future SDP government would keep wages in check by taxing firms which allowed rises above the government’s guidelines. There is nothing new in sleek, overfed politicians plotting to ease capitalism’s crises by an attack on workers’ living standards—nor in the listening workers hotly applauding the promise to attack them. Jenkins’s claim to be able so easily to conjure away the present crisis marks him out as worthy of his standing ovation from the bedazzled members of the SDP.

As everyone knows, a few cliches will also help to get the hands banging together. Reference to “this great country of ours” (for Tories); “this great movement of ours” (for Labour); “this great alliance of ours” (for SDP/Liberals) warms the delegates in the confidence that they are doing something historically worthwhile by just listening to such claptrap. A note of defiance is also useful—like William Rodgers, who had the SDP conference on their feet with a speech in which he warned: “If the Prime Minister calls an election she will soon discover what stuff we are made of.” Some delegates might have been a bit nervous, behind their flapping hands, at this; do they really want to show Thatcher, or anyone else, what they are—a ragbag of disillusioned Labourites and Tories hoping for a policy to turn up?

It may be necessary to aim for something less than a standing ovation. Other gratifying levels of response are “loud applause”, or “prolonged applause”, or “strong applause from the floor”, which was what greeted Michael Foot’s declaration at Labour’s conference that “Nothing that I've seen persuades me that CND was wrong.” Delirious nuclear disarmers were applauding (strongly, of course) the clear implication that if Foot ever gets into Number Ten he will set about dismantling British capitalism’s nuclear arsenal. And that brings up the interesting proposal that applause can actually work as a part of the process of self-delusion: or is it just that Labourites will believe, and applaud, almost anything?

And that is an important bit. Those ecstatic faces, crackling hands, stamping feet, are opting to prolong the social system which exploits and degrades the majority of the world’s people. They signal the persistence of the delusion that capitalism can be made free, abundant and humane. They arc not just clapping their hands but offering them up for the manacles. Didn’t somebody once say we have nothing to lose but our chains?

The Irrational Front (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Above all else, the National Front is a party which stands for capitalism. It is fanatically anti-Marxist, although it has never once stated a serious case against the theories of Marx. It is obnoxiously racist, although its average member knows no more about the theory of genetics than did Hitler’s followers at Nuremberg. It is committed to what it calls “law and order”, yet its members are notorious for arguing with their boots instead of their brains. It is allegedly opposed to the policies of the Left, yet it stands for import controls, withdrawal from the Common Market and nationalisation of the banks (all of which would satisfy any card-carrying Communist Party member). Its motto, “Put Britain First”, is a sick joke when it is considered that most of its members and supporters own virtually none of Britain. It claims that unemployment would go away by repatriating black immigrants, even though unemployment has repeatedly occurred in the history of capitalism quite independent of any immigration and is caused in no way by immigration. It even claims that birth control is a conspiracy to diminish the number of what it calls “the British race”. If ever there was a collection of ignorant and irrational clowns, whose arguments would be amusing were they not so extremely dangerous, it is the National Front.

In August of this year the Cambridge Union announced its intention to hold its 500th debate on the motion “That this House would ban the National Front”. The invitation to NF leader Martin Webster, to oppose the motion, ensured the refusal to attend of most of those who might have proposed the motion. Only one speaker agreed to speak in the debate in favour of the motion — a hypocritical act in the extreme when it is considered that he would be speaking against an opponent whom he would wish to ban from speaking. The man in question was Rudy Narayan who is currently the prospective Labour candidate for Handsworth in Birmingham. But Narayan is hardly the man to oppose the racist Webster. According to his comments in a speech in Hackney in 1977, Narayan and Webster have more than a little in common:
The Jews own most of Britain. They have learnt only too well from Hitler that control over the media, including publishing newspapers and broadcasting is absolute . . . They have infiltrated the ranks of the newspapers and publishers with total devastating ruthlessness. Looking at the almost thoughtful placing of world jewry in all these positions of power the world over, one cannot but believe that they operate nationally and internationally to a master plan. It could well be their blueprint for a Jewish takeover of the world.
Narayan’s acceptance to speak was reported in the Guardian. The SPGB Media Committee wrote to the Cambridge Union informing them of Naryan’s opinions and stating that we would oppose Webster, although we would certainly not propose any motion to ban the NF. A copy of our letter was sent to the Guardian which published the facts of Naryan’s anti-semitism in its Diary column. Before long an embarrassed Naryan, still prospective Labour candidate for Handsworth, withdrew from the debate. A week after the SPGB Media Committee had written to the Cambridge Union a ’phone call was received from the Union’s President agreeing to invite two SPGB speakers to propose the motion and to change the wording to ‘This House opposes the activities and ideology of the National Front’. At the time of writing, this invitation still stands as does our acceptance of it. The debate is scheduled for Monday, 12 October.

No sooner was the invitation to Webster announced than various organisations, such as the Union of Jewish Students and the Anti-Nazi League, threatened to prevent the debate from taking place. A similar debate involving the fascist leader, John Tyndall, was cancelled a few years earlier as a result of intimidation from those who did not want free debate to take place.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is certain that the only way to deal with fascists is to expose their anti-working class ideas. In the field of physical violence the vicious thugs of the NF may be able to beat us, but in the arena of rational debate we are confident that Webster and his team will get the intellectual licking of their lives. We give below the four reasons why the only way to defeat the NF, along with all other of capitalism, is by reason:

1. The sole enemy of socialists is the capitalist system which puts profits before need. We are hostile to all of its upholders, be they allegedly democratic or openly fascist. No defender of capitalism can achieve power without the support of a majority of the working class. To end capitalism, working class ideas must change. The battle, then, is over the minds of the working class.

2. All racist ideas are opposed by socialists because they serve to divide the working class. We do not confine our hostility to racism to the vulgar anti-black propaganda of Webster and his bootboy adherents. We equally oppose the racism and nationalism of the Labour and Tory parties which, when in power, have passed notoriously racist immigration legislation. We also oppose the racism of the Communist Party which ran a campaign in the 1940s to repatriate Polish immigrants. Indeed, in a pamphlet called Looking Ahead in 1947 the CP’s Harry Pollitt wrote:
I ask you, does it make sense that we allow 500,000 of our best young people to put their names down for emigration abroad, when at the same time we employ Poles who ought to be back in their own country, and bring to work in Britain displaced persons who ought to be sent back to their own countries?
3. As soon as one accepts the policy of political censorships, there emerges the important question of who is going to do the censoring. Is it to be the Central Committee of the SWP or the CP? If so, can we be sure that censorship will stop at the NF? In the 1930s the CP referred to the SPGB as ‘fascists’ because we exposed the dictatorial ruthlessness of Stalin. Once the power to decide who may or may not express a point of view is handed over to a minority, whose freedom to speak or publish literature will be assured? Neither does the SPGB accept the view of the authoritarian Left that the government should be given the power to act as a political censor. As soon as governments get in the habit of imprisoning people for stating obnoxious (to them) views we hand over to police, judges and politicians the right to determine what is obnoxious and what is not.

4. Democracy must include the opportunity to make statements which arc objectionable to sections of the community. Socialists will not succeed by banning objectionable ideas—if anything, such action would give objectionable views the popularity of martyrdom. The Anti-Nazi League may feel the need to save the working class from irrational persuasion, just as Mary Whitehouse wants to protect us from seeing reflections of our own bodies on the TV screen. The SPGB has confidence in our fellow workers to listen to both sides of the argument and to reject the pernicious nonsense of the National Front.
Steve Coleman

Socialism is hope (1981)

Editorial from the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The capitalist social system continues in existence, not because it is efficient or beneficial or controllable. The very opposite is true: it exists because, in spite of the facts of experience, the people who suffer under it will it to continue.

This working class support for a society which relentlessly deprives them of the fruits of their labour, which represses and degrades them, is a continuing process. In almost their every action—in their acceptance of what they see as the need for people to be employed, for wealth to be produced for sale, for the world’s population to be divided into competing states—the working class stand up for capitalism.

At times this support may seem like mere acquiescence, as an apathetic and aimless inability to appreciate any alternative to capitalism. And at other times it goes beyond mere acquiescence, into a defiant support for capitalism in the face of all the evidence which points to the need for the system’s abolition.

One example of this is at election time when the workers crowd the polling booths with their heads full of promises from political parties which have clearly failed to fulfil the promises made in the past. At such time workers debate the “issues” of the election without regard to the fact that the debate is a sham and that the promises they are debating have little more chance of being kept than those they have debated in the past. When it is all over there are tens of millions of votes waiting to be counted, urging capitalism to carry on as before.

Another example is when the working class go to war. As the history of capitalism accumulates, the case in favour of workers laying down their lives in the system’s conflict grows ever weaker. Are there now any historians to defend 1914/18 as necessary and therapeutic for human society? Any to argue that after that massive blood-letting the world was any safer for peace, that any essential lessons had been absorbed?

Slowly, similar doubts are growing about 1939/45, although such was the emotional strength of the propaganda for that war that any reassessment will be necessarily drawn out. With more recent conflicts the process is not so slow; particularly in the case of Vietnam, which is now something of a dirty word.

Yet however weighty the case against their taking part in war, there can be little optimism that the working class will agree that they have no business (literally) in fighting in their masters’ struggles for domination in world capitalism. All over the world, workers are taking part in those struggles—American workers in El Salvador, Russian workers in Afghanistan, and British workers in Northern Ireland.

Even those movements which assert an opposition to war do so within limits that leave unchallenged the basis of capitalist society from which flows the cause of war and therefore of the horrific weapons —such as the neutron bomb—with which war is fought. This is a fundamental defect in the case of these organisations and in effect makes them supporters, and not opponents, of capitalism’s wars. And history teaches that when the crunch comes, when nations go to war, the support for the so-called anti-war movement proves fragile, even baseless.

There is in fact only one effective challenge to working class support for capitalisms’s wars and to their continuous backing for the capitalist system itself. That challenge is the socialist one, the challenge to the ideas—or rather to the misconceptions, the deceits, the distortions—on which that support is based.

Capitalist society is split into two classes—the capitalists who monopolise the means of life and the workers who, owning nothing apart from their working ability, are forced to sell that ability in order to live. It is the capitalists internationally who struggle for advantage in the competition over markets, raw material sources like oil fields, strategic places like Afghanistan. In these struggles only the capitalists stand to win or lose; the workers have no interests involved.

In war millions of workers die and suffer, killing and terrorising each other in their masters’ interests. At the end of it, when “peace” is declared, no working class interests have been served; the workers remain exploited, repressed, socially degraded. In a sentence, war solves no working class problems.

The interests of workers throughout the world is to refuse to engage in war, to recognise their common cause with workers in all other countries and to co-operate internationally to abolish the cause of war.

In a gloomy, menacing world the socialist challenge to the ideas of capitalism is the only sign of hope.

Snap, Crackle, Pop (1981)

From the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent survey established that 61 per cent of all households in the UK serve ready-to-eat cereals at least twice a week, while for all families with children the figure is 82 per cent; annual consumption is 127 oz—or just under 8 lb. a head.

The Kellogg Company of Great Britain is the second largest in the world-wide American Kellogg organisation, who manufacture in 18 countries and distribute in 150. Its 16 varieties account for a cool £240 million sales and represent 55 per cent of the British market.

In 1866, the wife of a minister of religion in Battle Creek, Michigan, decided that a diet based on grains, nuts and vegetables was essential to “right living". The Seventh Day Adventists set up an institute, known as the Battle Creek Sanatorium, to implement her ideas. In 1876 Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was appointed its chief physician and became interested in the production of an easy to digest breakfast. With his brother, William Keith Kellogg, the Sanatorium’s business manager, he developed a thin, malt-flavoured toasted maize flake, the original “com flake". In 1906 William established the Battle Creek Toasted Cornflake Company and laid the foundations of the modern breakfast cereal empire. 

The British Kellogg Company was founded in 1924 and a factory was established at Stretford, Manchester, in 1938. This is now one of the largest food factories in the world, producing over a million packets of cereals each day. Another factory was opened in 1978, and the largest cornmill in Europe, at Seaford in Liverpool, processes 960 tons of grain a day. The central warehouse in Manchester can accommodate 400,000 cases of cereal and Kellogg operate 80 road vehicles a day. It is the only food company in Britain operating its own overnight rail service to London, with an average of 30 rail vans leaving from a private siding each night.

Whichever way you look at it, with religion you’re on to a good thing. The organised churches are among the richest property owners in the world, and by distancing themselves from capitalism's worries and problems, lead a protected existence. Seventh Day Adventists, from humble beginnings, founded a breakfast cereal empire and fortune and we workers, while ensuring the continuation of their good fortunes, are exhorted to take comfort in referring our problems to the non-existent deity which is the cornerstone of their profitable existence.
Eva Goodman

The whole loaf: nothing less (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Occasionally we are told: yes, socialism is a great idea, I go along with your critique of capitalism, but sorry. Can’t join you. The problems we face today are just too compelling, too urgent to be ignored. Let’s tackle these first. Then we can get round to establishing socialism. If we don’t, if we allow them to overwhelm us, this could rule out your socialist alternative altogether. How for instance could it take root in the barren landscape of a world devastated by the bomb?

Such a response is at least understandable: who could doubt the gravity of the problems around us? Regrettably however, and without imputing dishonesty to our sympathiser, it does not convey acceptance of our “critique of capitalism". In a nutshell, that critique yields the conclusion that the reformist approach to politics, however sincere, however well-intentioned, is doomed to failure.

What is reformism? Quite simply, political action designed to alleviate specific social problems arising within the framework of the capitalist system which thus precludes the revolutionary aim of abolishing capitalism. These problems, we argue, are a direct manifestation of the way the system operates and has to operate. They are an essential by-product of its economic conflicts, its remorseless search for profit necessarily at the majority’s expense. They will not disappear until the system itself, of which they are an organic part, has been scrapped by making the means of producing and distributing wealth the common property of everyone in society. It means therefore ending the exchange relationships of buyer and seller with their conflicting interests, in social affairs. As an attempt to doctor the symptoms of the disease while keeping intact its cause, reformism has all the efficacy of a band-aid covering a malignant growth.

To postpone socialism because certain problems present themselves which we should “in the meantime” try to resolve, not only contradicts all this. It makes the vital task of socialist propaganda that much more difficult. It implies that such problems can be solved within capitalism, that they do not derive from the capitalist basis of society.

War, for example, is seen perhaps as an act of god or some perverse politician aping the genuine article; pollution as a product of the malicious desires of greedy manufacturers. Neither is seen as the direct outcome of the competitive pressures capitalism exerts on both politician and manufacturer alike, constraining them to act in the way they do or removing them if they don’t. As Margaret Thatcher rightly observed, there is no political capital to be gained from a poor record in office. Politicians competing for votes would give the voters all they wished to remain in power—if they could. They fail to do so in spite of, not because of, their efforts.

Further, to propose action “in the meantime” to remedy such problems as war, poverty and social strife, is to invite us to believe the incredible: that these had mushroomed into existence just yesterday, or alternatively that nothing had ever been done “in the meantime” about them. On the contrary, it is precisely because such problems have survived all manner of attempted remedies throughout capitalism’s history, that the futility of reformism is evident. And it is precisely because of this that the need for socialism is specially urgent, in this age of potential plenty, in which the technology and productive powers at our disposal have long outgrown the social relationships that have brought them to this point and now work to straitjacket them. Socialism then must entail an unequivocal rejection of reformism for all its will-o’-the-wisp attractions. It must entail an awareness that the divergent aims of reform and revolution cannot be harmonised, that one cannot at the same time help patch up and perpetuate the very system one intends to overthrow.

This is where our sympathiser goes wrong. He does not grasp that to see socialism as an ultimate and long term aim pending the solution of existing social problems is in effect to forsake it altogether: capitalism will never present the opportunity to convert that ultimate aim into something immediate. Still less does he appreciate that propaganda for socialism can extract from capitalism, within the limits possible, more than any amount of reformist agitation.

There is a saying in socialist circles which sums this up: if you want more crumbs from the capitalist table then organise to take over the bakery. As socialism draws nearer the pressure on capitalist parties to contain by bribery the growth of socialist consciousness will correspondingly increase. Given this growth, the effectiveness of trade unions would be enhanced. The ability of workers to improve their lot depends on the respective strengths of the combatants in the class struggle. To the extent that more workers become socialist their collective strength will grow, through greater class unity and a knowledge of capitalism. Trade unions that now display their political ignorance of the role and nature of the Labour Party by affiliating to it, allowing that party when in power to exploit this tie in the course of demanding further sacrifices from workers in the interests of profit, will sever completely all such connections.

But this does not exhaust the matter. Obviously, socialists do not put forward their ideas in a vacuum but in a political environment already charged with prejudice. Resistance to socialist propaganda is not something innate but is conditioned by that environment. To the extent that socialist ideas penetrate popular consciousness, the efficacy of capitalist conditioning must weaken and so also must resistance to those ideas. Capitalist and socialist ideas rooted in the opposing interests of the capitalist and working class are fundamentally opposed: the one can only prosper to the detriment of the other.

Let us see what this means in more concrete terms. The purpose of capitalist ideology is to persuade workers to identify with ruling class interests. This is the function of capitalist ideology—to distort social reality, to draw a smokescreen over the basic class cleavage of society; rather than to get workers to see themselves as a class united by common interests against their exploiters.

Thus phoney classes are invented like lower middle or upper lower based upon some specious difference of occupation, dress or speech. Even in jest, the mock “Battle of the Sexes" has a serious underlying intention—the age old tactic of divide and rule. Workers with a darker skin are held to be the cause of problems from housing shortages to unemployment, against whom white workers vent their frustration.

If racism, sexism and nationalism serve the interests of capitalism by setting worker against worker, then only socialist propaganda with its appeal to class unity can effectively combat them. It alone unmasks the myths they feed on, reveals their hidden motive and attacks them at their source. Socialism, to paraphrase Aneurin Bevin, is the sword pointed at the heart of capitalist ideology.

There are those who, despite their sympathy, refrain from joining the struggle for socialism because of the urgency, as they see it, of warding off the dreaded prospect of nuclear war. Like those who join such organisations as the ANL to fight racism—or rather, racists—their viewpoint is a mistaken one. Firstly, their concern is doomed because it is confined to the effects of the problem and not its cause. Secondly, because of the incorrect assumption that since socialists have only socialism as their objective, they cannot have any impact on the issue of war.

This matter merits closer examination in view of the recent upsurge of interest in the CND. Not that we wish to deprecate the concern members of CND express—which indeed, we share. But they should be asked to explain some simple facts.

One fact is that there is hardly a political leader—the people CND urge us to put pressure on to disarm—who has not declared themselves earnestly in favour of world peace. Indeed, organisations like the UN have been set up with that as an ostensible aim while its member states busily thrust daggers into one another. Literally hundreds of disarmament talks have been held down the decades but to no end. The slaughter continues and with it, the unabated accumulation of increasing destructive weaponry.

Another fact is the CND itself, now rising phoenix-like from the ashes of its recent past. Once an organisation that claimed at its peak the support of hundreds of thousands, it plummeted towards virtual extinction. But the very fact that mass support—which we are now urged to rebuild—was achieved only to result in abysmal failure is cause for suspicion. If it is not for any lack of support that CND failed it must follow that their approach is fundamentally wrong.

War is the result of the economic rivalries inherent in capitalism. Certainly, very little can be done about the developments in capitalism that lead to war: the contraction of markets, conflict over resources and so on. But wars don’t just happen out of the blue. They depend for their successful prosecution on a considerable measure of support among the population. To this end governments are able to contribute, through their propaganda machines, to a sustained build-up of a war frenzy by skilfully and systematically exploiting the nationalist sentiments of their subjects.

Socialist propaganda can blunt any such build-up. Indeed only it can do this to any effect for it alone can answer the nationalist justification that wars require. When it came to the crunch, many who left the CND in the sixties went on to join the Vietnam Solidarity campaign in support of Vietcong nationalism. Their interpretation of war being founded on the shifting sands of moralistic idealism, it is not surprising they so easily abandoned their anti-war sentiments to support a “just” war.

Paradoxically, it is the Socialist Party of Great Britain, refusing to lend its support to the great anti-war, anti-bomb campaigns of this century, that has stood out consistently against all wars, declaring them not to be worth the shedding of a single drop of working class blood. Socialist opposition to nationalism and capitalist butchery is anchored firmly to a coherent analysis of society. Workers have no country in the possessive sense and therefore none to die for; a small minority of the population own the means of life, throughout the world. It is in the interests of competing groups within that minority that wars are fought. Whoever wins, it is the workers—who die in the battlefields—who lose on the shop- floors.

The CND failed in spite of its mass support. That could only mean, we said, that its views are mistaken. The socialist movement has achieved nowhere near the same support so far. But it is something altogether different that we ask you to consider. We are out in the cold now but just as the fire grows by the addition of twigs so our movement can become a conflagration.
Robin Cox