Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Best years of your life (1985)

From the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

No wonder it's called the silly season. While the scenes at the party conferences purported to be "serious politics", the media events outside the conference halls were what were really meant for public consumption. to show that our leaders are really human.

You know the sort of thing — Neil Kinnock finds a beach to fall over, or maybe Margaret Thatcher chances on the birth of a calf in Scarborough. All in front of the TV cameras. But that's not the end of it. In this, the International Youth Year, youth has suddenly become important to the politicians and their PR officers. This is not because of any particular concern for the health or hopes of the young, but something of far greater importance — their votes.

According to the Observer (1 September 1985). between now and the next general election two and a half million new votes will join the electoral register, bringing the total number of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four up to a decisive five million. That's not all because, as the Observer quotes a leading psephologist, the young are "trendy and more malleable than other voters" and they no longer give automatic support to the Labour Party. The evidence of previous governments has shown that despite the repeated promises from Labour politicians on jobs, peace and poverty, the Labour Party is as powerless to deal with these problems as are the other parties of the profit system.

Many of the young suffer particularly from these problems; from the prospect of a life that capitalism — through the dole queue — dictates will be useless; from nuclear war, the mere threat of which claims some psychological victims among those least used to the brutal truths of the property society; or from the artificial escape of an empty crisp bag and a tube of glue. As if this were not all, from every hoarding and magazine the young are offered Clearasil for their spots, pop stars for their emotions and carefully packaged leaders (in many flavours) to do their thinking for them.

So it's open season on the political field. The hunt is on for that prized species, the gullible young voter. Reared on mindless and unquestioning fodder from the pulpit, the press, or the classroom, they are fair game for any opportunist with a nice smile. The first shot in this massacre was fired by the SDP in the form of their "Youthblitz". According to the Observer, David Owen, who is worried at the effect of his Gang of One style of leadership, has devised a series of speeches and high profile media stunts due to start soon. From the party that delights in meaningless slogans (remember "Caring about the People, Caring about the Costs". "Compassion and Competition", and "Toughness and Tenderness"?) they now plan all this publicity under the title "Have You Got The Guts - To Take Up The SDP Challenge?", which is presumably like the Pepsi Challenge TV advert, except less honest.

On the other side of the Alliance. David Steel is keeping a lower profile, presumably because, with his style of leadership he does not need to worry so much about his image with the youth of the Liberal Party. He listens intently and earnestly to the Young Liberals every year before overruling their annually-successful conference resolutions on "defence". The leader of the Liberal Party, though, is already a pastmaster at the sordid business of capitalist politics, that of getting votes regardless of the basis on which they are given. Not for him the blatant publicity tricks of Owen, nor the degrading scraping after votes on any flimsy pretext. No, when David Steel seeks votes he's artistic — a couple of years ago he rapped on a truly unforgettable disco-funk record called "I Feel Liberal, OK”. But it had about as much chance of getting to number one as he has of getting to Number Ten.

The leader of the Labour Party must have learned something from that, for when he recently entered the pop world (appearing on a video for a Tracey Ullman single), he for once kept his mouth firmly shut. It seemed to work. His popularity rating improved immediately. Tracey Ullman, however, hasn't had a hit since. Another artist prepared to align himself with the Kinnock camp is the rock poet Billy Bragg, who appeared with Neil Kinnock as part of the Labour Party's Jobs and Industry campaign. The task of the Labour leader was to explain how it is that this time the Labour Party in office will create jobs when, in their last term of office, unemployment in fact doubled. Billy Bragg's function was to entertain a few thousand people with just himself and his guitar a relatively easy task, as it turns out, compared with that of Neil Kinnock.

The SDP, for their part, have decided on principle that they don't want to stoop to the depths of the Labour Party and use pop stars in their campaigning. This decision, however, may also have something to do with the fact that no pop group (that would like to continue selling records) is prepared to align themselves with the SDP. For the Tories, who had their bluff called in 1983 and are now vainly trying to fulfil their promises, the best policy is silence; the best argument is no argument. Their efforts will be directed towards keeping the FCS (which spells electoral liability) well out of sight.

Add to all that lot the more mature activities all other parties go in for to attract the vote of adults —such as kissing their babies — and it should be clear that only the Socialist Party is concerned with the workers' vote to the extent of what it represents. In the hands of gullible, misled workers the vote is a waste or worse. But in the hands of politically aware workers who refuse to be diverted by the rhetoric, the promises, or the pop songs of politicians, it is a potent weapon for peaceful, democratic, revolutionary change. To paraphrase Engels, the vote is like a razor-blade in that you can use it for its real function, to shave, or you can cut your throat with it.

The point then is clear. The problems that plague young and old under capitalism, as well as the insulting attempts to trick them out of the power of their votes, will continue only as long as we let it. So next time you turn on the TV to be faced with the sight of Neil Kinnock looking out of place in a Madonna video, or maybe Nigel Lawson breakdancing in the city streets for the benefit of the cameras, don't just think "What pillocks!", but rather. "What's the alternative?"
Brian Gardner

Kinnock's Tanzanian illusion (1985)

Editorial from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

You can always test the authenticity of those who claim to be socialists by asking for a definition of socialism. For example, a "socialist" who tells you that the Russian Empire, where independent trade unions are illegal and criticism of the government leads to imprisonment, is an example of socialism in action clearly knows as much about the subject as the Duke of Edinburgh does about living in a slum. Likewise, anyone who says that Labour governments have run socialism are soon answered by a Labour Party chairman who stated that “Never has any previous government done so much in so short a time to make modem capitalism work" (Douglas Houghton, The Times, 25 April 1967).

In July Neil Kinnock visited Africa, ostensibly to show his concern for those dying as a consequence of the world capitalist system which he and his party perpetuate. While there he paid a visit to the so-called socialist nation of Tanzania, presided over by Julius Nyerere. If we are to believe Martin Kettle's Guardian report of Kinnock's trip ("Kinnock counts himself as a Nyerere fan", 26 July 1985), the Labour leader was most impressed by the Tanzanian effort to create "socialism in one country". What. then, can we learn from this "socialism" ?

In 1967 the Arusha Declaration of Socialist Reconstruction initiated Nyerere"s policy of ujamaa. Stripped of its ideological pretensions, this policy is based on the assumption that state regulation of industry and agriculture will lead to prosperity for all the people. In short, it is a policy for state capitalism. At the time of the Arusha Declaration Tanzania’s most profitable export was sisal. 230,000 tonnes of which were sold annually. In 1984 a mere 47,000 tonnes were exported, largely because of the state s economic mismanagement of sisal production. Although there is no natural or technological reason for the decline in sisal production, profits are falling because strict capitalist standards of efficient exploitation have not been adopted by the state-run Tanzanian Sisal Authority (TSA). In response to this Nyerere. who is due to retire as President in November, has ordered the beginning of a process of privatisation of the sisal estates. By returning them to private capitalist ownership and control he and his government hope to increase profits. So, after a recent visit to the sisal-growing Tanga region of his country. Nyerere ordered the TSA to declare that it will sell off twelve of its thirty-nine estates to private investors within the next year. Shortly before this the state- controlled Morogoro Oilseed Processing Company (Moproco) was informed by the government that its most profitable assets were to be sold off to private investors. Nyerere insists that all of this is in line with the ujamaa policy: "ujamaa is here to stay" he stated in a recent speech (reported in Concord - a Nigerian publication - 13 June 1985). But at the same time Nyerere"s party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. is advocating the policy of tujisahihishe which is based on the assumption that “socialism" must learn from the economic methods of Western capitalism.

Let us take a look at what it is that has impressed Kinnock about Tanzania. Clearly, it is not a socialist society. Apart from the fact that socialism cannot under any circumstances exist in one country, there is nothing about the Tanzanian economy which distinguishes it from capitalism. Production is for profit; workers receive wages which are less than the value of what they produce; the state exists in order to regulate the profit system; access to goods and services is determined by how much money people possess. Tanzania can be characterised as a state-capitalist country — a nation in which the main productive forces have been nationalised.

Kinnock does not understand the difference between state ownership (capitalism) and common ownership (socialism) and therefore he is "a Nyerere fan". But. in the light of recent economic developments in Tanzania, there is reason to believe that Margaret Thatcher might be joining Kinnock in the fan club. After all. what can be more acceptable to Thatcher's outlook than the transfer of centralised state ownership to private ownership? Is not Nyerere"s policy in relation to Moproco and TSA not a Tanzanian version of Thatcher s policy for British Telecom and Britoil?

If Kinnock is a fan of such policies in Africa may we assume that a future Labour government led by him would do the same in Britain privatise the unprofitable NCB, perhaps? The hard fact for partisans of the conflict between state capitalism and private capitalism is that neither offers any alternative to the problems generated by a society which produces for profit rather than need. Some private-capitalist countries will nationalise industries when it is profitable to do so (that is why nationalisation in Britain was initiated by avowedly capitalist parties) and some state-capitalist countries will privatise, as Tanzania is doing now. None of this has anything to do with socialism, which will only be established when workers get rid of both private and state capitalism. For Neil Kinnock to help spread the illusion that there is socialism in Tanzania is proof either of his political ignorance or his dishonesty; whichever it is, we can be sure how far to trust him when he preaches to workers about socialism.

To A New Reader. (1923)

From the September 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is now in its twentieth year. This may or may not seem a long time. Measured by the life of a man, it is a considerable slice; compared with the life of mankind, it is but a minute. During our twenty years of existence as a party we have had but one essential thing to say; all else has been by the way. Briefly (and yet once more) it is this.

You are poor. You are poor because you are robbed. You are robbed because you are slaves—hired slaves or wage slaves. You are slaves because you own nothing but your power to labour, and must therefore hire your labour-power to those who own the means of livelihood. These are the masters. Owning your means of life, they can lay down the terms upon which they will hire you. Their terms are, that in return for the hire of your labour-power they will give a sufficient sum to enable you to support life and reproduce your kind. This sum is called wages, and the system based upon wage labour is called capitalism. At different times in history the wage slaves have revolted at the hardships of their condition. Hitherto they have always been beaten, either by starvation or brute force, although sometimes a little amelioration or palliative has been thrown to them. These have had some temporary value and, in the case of the granting of the vote, a tremendous possibility. But as the workers have never yet been inspired with anything beyond the immediate need, they remain slaves. That is the important thing to remember—they remain slaves.

Now, the Socialist case is this. There is no need for anyone to be poor. There is no need for anyone to be robbed. There is no need for slavery in any form. The workers are held in subjection by the armed forces of the nation. The control of those forces is vested in Parliament, and Parliament is composed of men who have been elected there by the votes of the workers. The workers must revolt once more, but it must be a conscious, intelligent revolt this time. It must be aimed, not at some trumpery ephemeral object, or the securing of some little easing of their slavery. They must, by means of their votes, capture Parliament and the control of the armed forces. They must then proceed to reconstruct society. Instead of the product of the nation’s toil being divided among the handful of immensely rich who own the means of wealth-making, each member of the community would receive according to his need. The colossal waste of capitalist society; its competition; its advertising; its over-production; its under-employment; its petty industry; its production of shoddy, and so forth, would be eliminated, and human effort would yield enough for a high level of comfort for all.

We differ from all other alleged working-class parties chiefly in this, that we say the achievement of Socialism is so immediate and so urgent that it dwarfs everything else. We say that if all the effort now diverted to the gaining of some momentary object were concentrated upon getting Socialism, our goal would be in sight. Think of the dozens of "aims" which have possessed the Labour Party and the I.L.P. since their formation. Old Age Pensions, State Insurance, Eight-Hours Day, Single Tax, Free Trade, Votes for Women, etc., etc. "Aims'' so "revolutionary” that either capitalist party can select any one of these aims and pass them on the Statute Book without blinking. And when they are passed, are the working class any better off? They are still slaves. Assuming they got their latest demand—the Capital Levy— where would it leave the workers? Still slaves.

Another so-called workers' party, the S.D.F., which changed its name to the S.D.P., and then again to the B.S.P., and then split up into the N.S.S. and B.S.P., and then somehow changed back to the S.D.F. again—this chameleon-like party thinks the greatest thing we can have at the moment would be a citizen army!

One other claimant to the title of a workers' party is the Communist Party, and we have dealt with them so often.that it seems like labouring the point to devote further space to them. But a new reader may like to know that their object is the same as the Labour Party's; they have tried desperately hard to affiliate with them; they have helped them at elections; and in Parliament they are anxious to assume the Labour Party's harness, through the latter's whips. Their difference from the Labour Party is quite minor, and mainly confined to methods. The quickest way to rouse the workers from their apathy is to make a noise, they say. The bigger the noise, the bigger the crowd. Having got the crowd, lead them. Never mind where, at the moment, but gradually the crowd will instinctively turn to you as their natural leaders. Then, when capitalism’s great crisis occurs, take your place at the head of the mob and lead them, the half-baked, the wholly-baked, and the three-parts-baked, on to the conquest of society and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such is the essence of the Communist Party’s outlook.

We prefer that the workers should know where they are going; should be conscious every step of the way. This process is slower. Noise and firework have no place in it. We expect no huge, wild influx of members, immediately followed by similar slumps. We expect a steady growth composed of those who realise their servile position in society; who can see how it has historically come about; and, above all, those who can see that the only way to end servility is for the workers to gain political control, so that society may be run for the benefit of the whole of its members, and not, as at present, for a few. If any of those who read these lines would like to take the first logical step to their emancipation, and are convinced of the soundness of our position, we cordially invite them to apply for membership of our Party.
W. T. Hopley

The Ravings of a Hired Scribe. (1923)

From the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘‘If Labour Rules,” is the subject of an article recently contributed to the columns of ‘‘The Sunday Pictorial” by the chief contributor to that journal, Mr. Lovat Fraser. Mr. Horatio Bottomley once occupied the position of chief contributor to the “Sunday Pictorial,” but since his well-earned “retirement” the position has been occupied by Mr. Fraser.

It appears from his article that Mr. Fraser is scared out of his wits. He is shuddering, at so much per ‘‘shudder,” of course, lest something disastrous should happen to "British Working Men.”

The source of the trouble is that a conference has been held at Hamburg. The conference was convened for the purpose of devising ways and means of uniting the “Socialist” movement on an international basis. The British delegation, which numbered over forty, included such real live “representatives of British Labour” as J. H. Thomas, Arthur Henderson, and Sydney Webb

Mr. Fraser tells us that after a good deal of talking at Hamburg, a new organisation was formed, which is to be known as the ‘‘Socialistche Arbeiter Internationale.” The name is sufficient to make any ‘‘true Britisher” turn upside down, but there is something far more terrible. The President, Otto Wels, is a German. The two French members of the executive are notorious pro-Germans. The two members from the United States are not American born; one being by birth an Austrian, and the other a Russian Jew. And if all that is not sufficient to transform the blood of the average Britisher into liquefied margarine, "every man upon the executive is an avowed champion of Germany.”

The greater part of the proceedings at this conference, says Mr. Fraser, were really a demonstration in favour of Germany. Hence he laments :—
“Nearly a million of our countrymen died in the Great War, and if they could have risen from their graves and contemplated the Hamburg jamboree, they might well have thought they died in vain.”
And so say all of us. For, after all is said and done, one can never tell with certainty what the dead are likely to think in the event of having risen from the grave. But we think we can say without fear of logical contradiction that the last thing in the world that those who died in the Great War would be likely to think about is the conference at Hamburg. What might engage their thoughts is the reward they would have received for having rendered their services to “ King and Country." The constant visits to the Labour Exchange, and the continual struggle against starvation, are things they would most likely be concerned about. They might even think that after all the Great War was not fought in the defence of “little nations,” and that the Socialist was right when he said that the war was carried on because of the quarrel between rival groups of capitalists concerning trade routes and the world’s markets.

Anyhow, there are many reasons why they might think they died in vain, apart from what took place at the Hamburg Conference.

The chief complaint of Mr. Fraser is that in the event of a Labour Government being elected it will have to obey “a foreign pro-German executive.” Now let us hasten to assure Mr. Fraser—that is, if he needs assurance, and did not write the article whilst deliberately lowering one eyelid, that there is no reason whatever for those he represents to fear the election of a Government composed of such men as those who made up the British delegation at Hamburg. These people may use the title of Socialist, but their actions—which, we are told, speak louder than words—disqualify them from a genuine claim to the title. They have shown over and over again that they can assist in carrying on the capitalist system quite as ably as Liberals and Tories. Of course Mr. Fraser knows this, and one gathers from his article that had the executive been made up of men such as J. H. Thomas and Arthur Henderson, to the exclusion of any representative from Germany, then not a word would have been written about the matter in the “Sunday Pictorial.” We, of the Socialist Party, repudiate those who met at the conference at Hamburg. As for their professed Internationalism, we need only refer to their activities in connection with the late war to show what humbugs they are.

Our point with Mr. Fraser is to expose the hypocrisy of his pretending to shudder at the prospect of British working men being ruled by “ oreigners.”

The workers of Britain, like the workers throughout the world, are ruled by those who own the means of life, and whether those who rule are British, French, German, or Americans, matters not one iota to the working class. The point that should engage the serious attention of the workers is the means they should employ to abolish class rule altogether. If the workers enquire into the laws of capitalist society, they will learn all about the process by which they are robbed of the wealth which they produce and the reason why they are poor in the midst of plenty. They will learn that the cause of their trouble is not to be explained through the hoary old stunt of the "foreigner,” but is to be explained through the existence of the class ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production. Having learned this, they will organise politically for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of the Socialist form of society, wherein classes will not exist, because the means of living will be owned and controlled by and in the interest of the whole community.
Robert Reynolds

Capitalism makes you sick (1985)

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Illnesses are commonly, and mistakenly, believed to strike at random and are often considered to be the result of the “affluent” life-style of advanced countries. Ulcers and heart attacks, for example, are viewed as the price of success for executives although unskilled workers are four times more likely to die from ulcers than the wealthy and also more prone to develop heart disease.

Health trends, with the exception of hereditary diseases and some genetic disorders, are determined to a considerable extent by economic factors. The general health and types of diseases prevalent in population groups vary according to historical development; class differences; stages of the economic cycle; and relationships between developed and underdeveloped countries.

Life expectancy in Anglo-Saxon Britain was about 31 years, increasing to 35 in the Middle Ages, 48 in 1840 and 69 years for men and 75 years for women today. In modern Britain about 15% of the population are over 65 compared with only 5 per cent at the beginning of this century, reflecting improved survival rates in childhood and early adulthood.

The advantages of wealth in maintaining health can be seen in pre-capitalist Europe where the aristocracy were, on average, almost a foot taller than the peasants and lived nearly twenty years longer. Capitalism, by applying modern productive processes to agriculture, has revolutionised food supplies and made it possible to sustain over four thousand million people — a number far in excess of the capabilities of pre-capitalist societies.

Before the industrial revolution infectious and parasitical diseases were the major causes of deaths in Britain. Town dwellers formed only a small proportion of the total population but had higher mortality rates than the rural poor due to pollution and poor sanitary facilities. The invention of the jenny in 1764 and the spinning throstle in 1767 radically changed production methods. The farming weavers and smallholders abandoned the land to work in factories, and land enclosures and the increasing use of agricultural machinery “assisted” the migration of smallholders and yeomen to the towns.

At first mortality rates fell as the rural poor increased their earning power in the factories. But the manufacturing centres expanded rapidly: the populations of Leeds and Bradford nearly trebled and that of Glasgow increased from 30,000 to 300,000 in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. The cities became notorious for their back-to-back slum houses and open sewers. Factory work was exhausting, dirty and often dangerous. Capitalist competition, in the absence of workers’ organisations, gradually forced wages down, while the invention of new machines reduced the demand for craftsmen.

From about 1816 mortality rates rose sharply as a result of the overcrowding and poverty endured by the new industrial working class. Although smallpox became less prevalent after about 1800 with the widespread use of Jenner’s vaccine, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis and gastro-intestinal infections exacted a terrible toll. Typhus has been aptly called “the poor man’s disease” while tuberculosis, which spreads rapidly among malnourished, overcrowded populations, caused about one third of all deaths in the nineteenth century. Such was the toll of life in infancy, childhood and young adulthood among the working poor that the average age of death was 17 years in Manchester and 15 years in Liverpool.

A series of public health measures beginning with the 1848 Public Health Act, resulted in improved sanitation. These changes were spurred on by working class unrest and the fear that cholera epidemics might spread to engulf affluent as well as working class districts. The living standards of workers began to improve from about 1860 and led to improved nutrition, particularly in the consumption of meat and fruit imported cheaply from abroad. Although fluctuations in wages occurred, by 1900 “real wages” were nearly double those of 1850.

The last decades of the nineteenth century saw the need for a fitter, more reliable and skilful workforce as machines became more complex. Good business, not altruism, was the motive behind the public health legislation of the 1870s and 1880s, and with improved living conditions the death rate from tuberculosis halved from 1850 to 1900 and typhus and cholera declined dramatically. But considerable ill health remained the fate of workers during the early decades of the twentieth century. Although mortality rates improved they remained considerably higher for the poor than for the wealthy; in fact, they are only part of the picture because they do not show the chronic ill health and misery of debilitating, but not necessarily fatal, diseases.

The economic recession of the 1920s and 1930s saw a considerable hardship for the working class, who were continually afflicted by rickets, juvenile rheumatism, rheumatic heart disease and bronchitis. (Juvenile rheumatism, for example, was thirty times more common among the children of the poor in industrial towns as among the wealthy.) These diseases of poverty, which reached a peak before the second world war and dwindled after it, have started to reappear with the present economic recession. With 15 million people now living below the official poverty line, rickets has been reported in a number of British cities.

It was assumed that the National Health Service would progressively improve the people’s health, but such a view failed to recognise that poverty, bad housing, pollution, stressful, repetitive, alienating factory work and the insecurity of capitalism’s economic system are the causes of physical and mental ill health. In the United States tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles all declined considerably before the introduction of antibiotics and widespread immunisation. Even underdeveloped countries find that improved food distribution and public health campaigns have a greater impact in improving mortality rates than sophisticated medical care systems. But profits, not human needs, are the driving force of capitalism, and thus food production is actually cut back in developed countries despite widespread malnutrition in other parts of the world.

Although reductions in infectious and parasitical diseases have occurred in advanced capitalist countries there has been an increase in cardiovascular diseases, road and industrial accidents, diabetes, cancers, respiratory diseases, mental illness, suicide and alcohol-related diseases — to mention only a few. Health trends are affected by booms and slumps in the economy. The higher wages gained during a boom lead to better housing and nutrition while the need for a fitter, more reliable workforce results in the provision of improved medical care, although this has a more marginal effect in producing a healthy population. During a slump the fall in wages leads to a deterioration in housing conditions and poorer nutrition. Medical care deteriorates as the capitalists’ profits are squeezed and they have less need to maintain a healthy workforce, although some firms selectively protect the health of skilled workers and executives through the provision of private insurance schemes.

However, the complexity of health trends in advanced capitalism make it difficult to evaluate whether booms or slumps are more harmful. Although better housing, nutrition and health care in booms are beneficial they must be weighed against an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, more pollution, more accidents due to increased overtime and travel, and the spread of epidemics and break up of families due to migration. During slumps smoking and alcohol consumption decreases, pollution lessens and there are less accidents. Short term unemployment appears to have little effect on health but long term unemployment causes feelings of hopelessness and depression.

Mortality rates may have improved considerably, but the stressful, alienating nature of factory work and the insecurity, poverty and pollution inherent in capitalism’s organisation of society prevents the workers from achieving the health at present enjoyed only by the wealthy.
Carl Pinel

The Old Bill's new Bill (1985)

From the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tough law and order policies are a great vote catcher for politicians, who whip up fears among workers that crime and violence are on the increase and then use those same fears to justify increased powers for the police, the building of more prisons and more expenditure on sophisticated technology with which to control and monitor workers' lives.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act. 1984 will come into effect in January 1986 and is the product of this kind of thinking. This legislation will give the police a whole range of new powers, or rather it will legalise what has long been police practice although officially proscribed. Sir David McNee, former Metropolitan police commissioner. said when giving evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure: "Many police officers have, early in their careers, learned to use methods bordering on trickery or stealth in their investigations". Translated into plain English this means that many policemen broke the law in the course of their duties. The new police bill will mean that they can continue with their old practices but do so within the law.

Road blocks
The Act euphemistically refers to police road-blocks as "road-checks" and empowers the police to set up random checks for up to seven days (although this can be extended without limit) if a senior officer thinks that a serious crime has been, or is likely to be. committed in a particular area. Given that “serious crimes" are fairly routine occurrences in most towns and cities there is no reason why the police should not be able to set up road blocks on a more or less permanent basis in such areas.

During the recent miners’ strike, police road blocks were set up, not to prevent crime (although they were justified in the High Court as preventing likely breaches of the peace) but to obstruct the freedom of movement of trade unionists. They were also used to collect intelligence about strikers. their movements and activities which was undoubtedly added to the already large store of information held on the Police National Computer. There is no reason to suppose that once the police have formal powers to set up such road blocks they will be any more scrupulous in their use of them.

Stop and search
Remember the old "sus" laws that were used routinely to harass young black people in the inner cities? Those laws were repealed but under the Act the police will have new powers to stop and search people and vehicles if they have "reasonable grounds for suspicion" that a person is carrying stolen goods, house-breaking tools, offensive weapons or articles used to carry out a theft or steal a car. "Offensive weapons" may include such everyday items as umbrellas, keys, credit cards and combs. And what constitutes "reasonable grounds for suspicion"? Why, the policeman's own perception of what is reasonable! The only safeguard offered to the public is that the police are obliged to give a reason for the stop and to record it as soon as is practicable. But, if they think a person might be too stupid to understand the reason then it need not be given.

If you are young, black, unemployed or homeless then you may very well fit the policeman s stereotype of a criminal and the police will have full powers to harass you in the streets by stopping you, asking you questions, and even searching you.

Entry and search of premises
Under the Act the police will be permitted to enter any premises, including people's homes, without a warrant, and using force if they have "reasonable belief" that in doing so they will find a person who has committed an arrestable offence or who is suspected of having committed a breach of the peace or any number of other offences. In addition, if the police obtain a magistrate's warrant (and they are rarely refused) they will be empowered to enter any building to look for evidence of a "serious arrestable offence".

These new powers are so sweeping that the police will now. quite lawfully, be able to go on "fishing expeditions" for evidence in anyone’s home, place of work or any other building and be able to use "reasonable force" in order to gain entry.

The police can arrest people without a warrant if they are "reasonably suspected" of having committed a "serious arrestable offence" or an "arrestable offence". The serious offence category covers not only crimes such as murder, rape, arson, and firearms and explosives offences, but also offences deemed to be threats to the security of the state or public order. It also covers any offence which involves serious financial loss to anyone. This includes all sorts of petty thefts since serious financial loss is defined as "serious for the person who suffers it". If the police suspect you of having committed any such serious offence they can detain you at a police station for up to four days subject to a magistrate's review.

If a policeman suspects that any offence has been committed, no matter how trivial, then a person may be arrested without warrant if certain conditions apply: if the person does not give the police their name and address, or if the police believe that the details given are false; if it is believed that the person might harm themselves or someone else, damage property, obstruct the highway or cause an affront to public decency. If you are arrested under these circumstances the police can hold you at a police station without charge for up to 24 hours.

After 24 hours the arrested person must either be charged or released. If, however, a person has been arrested for a "serious offence" then they must be brought before a magistrate after 24 hours and only at this point will they be able to talk to a lawyer. The magistrate only has to be satisfied that the person is suspected of a "serious offence", that it is necessary that they be detained in order to secure or preserve evidence and that the investigation is being carried out diligently and swiftly, for the police to be allowed to detain a suspect for a further period of up to four days.

Research into the effects of detention in police custody, including that carried out by the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. shows that after a very short time most people, kept in isolation in a police cell and subjected to interrogation (not to mention the threats and physical and verbal abuse which frequently occur), are unable to keep silent regardless of their guilt or innocence. For this reason the Royal Commission concluded that no confession made by a person in this way could ever be regarded as purely "voluntary". And yet such confessions and other evidence obtained in a similar manner will be admissible in court. Is this really so far removed from the "confessions" that are extracted from dissidents by the totalitarian regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe, whose abuses are so regularly deplored by the so-called liberal regimes of the West?

The Act also empowers the police to carry out body searches, including strip searches by a constable of the same sex as the suspected person. "Intimate" body searches will also be permitted, again by force if necessary, despite objections by the British Medical Association that there was a risk of injury. Fingerprints may also be forcibly taken from a detained person if a criminal offence is suspected.

All these measures are justified by the claim that the police need new powers to deal with the rising tide of crime and uphold the rule of law. There is an underlying assumption that given the right laws and a strong police force, together with the appropriate (tough) sanctions, crime can be eradicated or at least reduced to a minimum.

This analysis totally fails to look at the kinds of crime most widely committed and the motives behind them.

Despite the popular impression gained from the media and politicians most crime is not violent but rather consists of minor property offences. Criminals are much more likely to be shop-lifters than murderers or rapists. Such crimes must be seen in the context of a society which defends the acquisition of property so long as people play the game according to the rules. So, for example, it is quite lawful for the capitalist class systematically to rob the working class of the fruits of its labour through the form of exploitation called employment. Indeed, the greater the wealth that can be extracted from the workers the greater the praise and rewards. But if workers break the rules and try to grab a small slice of the cake by helping themselves from shops or banks, then they will feel the full force of the state against them.

A good example of the way in which workers are criminalised in this way occurred during the miners' strike. Many strikers were attempting to heat their homes using coal "picked" (at great personal risk) from slag heaps. This low quality coal had been mined by them and was of little use to the Coal Board, and yet many miners were prosecuted and charged with the theft of Coal Board property. To add further insult to injury a number of miners convicted of this type of "theft" were then sacked.

Class law
Besides the institution of private property itself, one cannot ignore the kinds of anti-social behaviour which capitalism induces through the ethic which places personal gain above that of the community. Is it any wonder that the ruthless and competitive quest for personal wealth is carried over to other areas of life?
Capitalism needs a police force to protect its central institution of private property and look after the interests of the owning class in a more general sense, for example to suppress certain kinds of dissent, justified on the grounds that certain acts constitute a threat to Public Order or National Security. (The recently published Government White Paper on Public Order Law represents a move in the direction of much tighter controls on the freedom of assembly.) The liberal values of impartial justice and the rule of law are mere rhetoric when governments, acting on behalf of the capitalist class, can constantly increase police powers to harass and control workers' lives still further. The "civil rights" of the working class, at best only tenuous, look set to suffer still further erosion.

What is needed is not to make the police more accountable, or to fight this particular piece of legislation or that police practice, but to challenge the whole basis of a society which gives rise to crime and the need for prisons and police forces.
Janie Percy-Smith

Socialism - a spreading idea (1985)

Book Review from the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the signs that socialism is the solution to problems facing society today, and will finally come to be recognised as such by a majority of people through their experiences of capitalism, is that genuine socialist ideas are beginning to be discussed seriously at all levels of society. A case in point is a book recently published in France by the academic economist Serge-Christophe Kolm entitled La bonne économie: la réciprocité générale.

Kolm sets out to examine what would be the ideal economic system - "la bonne économie" (the good economy), as he puts it — the best way of organising the production and transfer of goods and services to satisfy human needs. He begins by pointing out that it is usually assumed that there are only two possible economic systems: one based on the free exchange of goods and services and one based on their forced transfer. He calls these the Market and the Plan (but we call them private capitalism and state capitalism). He remarks that this is to ignore a third possible way of transferring goods and services — freely giving and receiving. As this economy, given modem technology, could not be based on individuals giving gifts directly to each other, but on individual members of society voluntarily giving their labour to society as a whole (to all other individuals collectively) and on them receiving freely from society the goods and services to satisfy their needs. Kolm calls it "General Reciprocity".

Such an “economy" (to use Kolm's terminology). in which people would voluntarily work to produce goods and services which they would then freely take according to their own self-defined needs, is clearly more or less what we mean by "socialism" or "communism". Kolm himself distinguishes his "general reciprocity" from communism as envisaged by Marx and others on the grounds that the wording of the slogan "from each according to their capacity. to each according to their needs" does not make it clear whether this is to be implemented by giving (voluntarily) or by imperative planning (through the state). He prefers as a slogan "from each, voluntarily, according to the needs of others". He does, however, recognise a close similarity between his "good economy" and the anarchist-communism of Kropotkin; in fact he describes "general reciprocity" as the voluntary "putting on the pile" which must precede the free "taking from the pile" advocated by Kropotkin. (We argue that Marx's conception of communism was also a stateless communism and that Kolm has misunderstood Marx here.)

Having established what "the good economy" would be. Kolm then proceeds to examine whether such an economy based on giving and receiving (rather than on buying and selling or on state planning) would be practicable. For him, any economic system, as a system of production and transfer of goods and services, has to be able to solve two key problems: motivation (essentially people's incentive to work) and information (about the goods and services people need and on the best way of producing them). It is here that Kolm's argument weakens and since most of his 500-page book is devoted to seeking solutions to these two problems, this considerably undermines its value.

On motivation, Kolm has no difficulty in refuting the prejudice that a society in which work was voluntary and goods were free would not work because people are by nature greedy, lazy, selfish and aggressive. The anthropological and sociological evidence, some of which Kolm sets out, shows that there is nothing in the biological or psychological make-up of humans to prevent them co-operating for the common good. Unfortunately Kolm chooses to express this as "altruism". People, he says, can - and should - behave as altruists rather than as egoists, thus giving the impression that establishing a new society is a question of adopting a different moral code of behaviour. But this is not the case: to establish socialism people do not have to stop being selfish and become saints; they merely have to remove, by conscious political action, the barrier which coercive, class society represents to the free exercise of their nature as co-operative, social animals. In any event, and staying on the philosophical level at which Kolm conducts his argument here, socialism does not require that people should put the interest of others before their own (altruism) but merely that they should recognise that it is in their own best interest to co-operate with others to further the common interest.

On information, Kolm's solution is even weaker: he suggests retaining money as a unit of account and the use of fictitious prices, profits, rates of interest, marginal costs and so on. Thus we are asked to imagine a situation in which the goods freely available for taking from the common store would nevertheless have price-tags to enable people to compare their marginal propensity to consume with their marginal productivity or whatever! But why? Why would a general unit of account measuring economic "value" be necessary in a society based on voluntary work and "taking from the pile"? The main "information" that would be needed would be about what people wanted, but this presents no problem whatsoever; it can be gauged from what people actually choose to take freely from the store over a preceding period or simply by asking people. The question of what productive methods to use to supply the goods and services to satisfy these needs is more complicated, but can be solved without the need for a general unit of account. Calculations would still be necessary but could be done exclusively in kind, that is, they would be technical rather than economic calculations, carried out in physical quantities and taking into account social decisions regarding things like working conditions and pollution.

So, although Kolm has more or less correctly identified what "the good economy" would be, he has not fully understood all its implications. Perhaps this is because, as the last, mathematical part of his book betrays, he is more interested in studying "an economy of altruists" (in contrast to Adam Smith's "economy of egoists") as an interesting theoretical proposition than in establishing a free co-operative society as a solution to current social problems. For all its shortcomings, however, Kolm's book is a serious discussion of the possibility of a society based on giving/receiving rather than buying/selling, and as such will contribute to the spread of the idea of socialism.
Adam Buick

Marching along together (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

With thousands of others I marched behind my union banner in London last March against wage cuts and rate capping. As always, it was a field-day for the Left Wing. Every variety and type of hole-and-corner reformer: Anti-Blood Sports. Free Abortion on Demand, Gays, Lesbians, Vegetarians - you name it, they were there. Greenham Common Women, CND, Support the Miners and Keep Music Live. The road was littered with thousands of leaflets. Two in particular caught my attention.

The first was issued by the Trades Union Alliance of the Workers Revolutionary Party and wanted the TUC to call a General Strike to fight rate capping. Seeing that the GLC has pulled the rug from under their feet by setting a rate the whole stunt became even sillier, but the idea that the TUC would call a General Strike against rate capping - or for anything else - is ludicrous. The TUC cannot call a strike anyhow. It is difficult to know why the WRP think that payment of local rates is a working-class issue, since it mainly concerns local businesses. The poverty of the working class is not caused by high rates but low wages. If rates go down, wages follow. But the most comical conclusion of the WRP is the proposal to form community councils, or soviets, as the basis of a Workers' Revolutionary Government. It is unbelievable that 68 years after the soviet "experiment" - which failed to produce anything but state capitalism, with some of the harshest conditions and lowest wages in Europe a political party still talks about soviets to establish a Revolutionary Workers' Government. In 1985 the government is that party which gains the most seats at an election. This gives it control of the machinery of government, which is political power. The notion that a party can seize power by a minority revolt, using Leninist tactics, is ridiculous. There is no analogy whatever between Britain in 1985 and Russia in 1917. The Workers' Revolutionary Party is living in a cloud- cuckoo-land of street battles for soviets (which is only Russian for councils anyway).

It is tragic to see during such demonstrations the number of sincere, enthusiastic young people deluded by this pathetic rubbish. Fortunately there is not the slightest likelihood of any local soviets being formed. If they were and they staged their illegal, unconstitutional revolts, they would be cut down like chaff. There is no socialism without a majority of socialists, and it can only be established by a democratic route. What the WRP mean by a Workers' Revolutionary Government they do not say. Socialism will not be a workers' government, but a classless society.

This brings us neatly onto the next leaflet, from the Holborn and St. Pancras Miners' Support Group which states that the 1984/5 NUM strike "ended amid anger and heart-rending tears . . not for the £5.000 to £10,000 every striking miner had invested in this great struggle" but for the "betrayal" of thousands of miners by "the snivelling reptile Bill Sirs; David Basnett; Murray and Chapple . . . these pea-brained Quislings now kneeling in the House of Lords"

Obviously the Miners' Support Group of St. Pancras has not learnt the lesson of this strike. The recipe for a successful strike (bearing in mind that the best strikes are those that never happen), would include these elements:
First, consider very carefully whether conditions are favourable. Fifty million tons of coal stockpiled was no recommendation for the miners to strike. Then strike only after a completely democratic ballot has demonstrated solid support. Keep the strike firmly in the hands of union members with decisions to continue or return by majority ballot only. Give no blank cheques to leaders. Do not be led astray by resolutions and cheers at Trade Union Congresses.
For the St. Pancras Miners' Support Group to complain after about fifty or sixty years of betrayals by leaders, from the General Strike onwards, shows how little they have learned. It is no use denouncing "snivelling reptiles" of leaders if members put them there and fail to control them.

Whose castle? (1985)

TV Review from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

World in Action, ITV, 11 February.

Mrs Thatcher's proud boast that she is turning the country into a "property owning democracy" is well known, but the question this programme asked was "owned by whom?" It looked at three families who have been forced to give up their homes by Court Order because they can no longer afford the mortgage payments. Fourthly, there was the man who had possession of his house only because he exists on £9 a week. His staple diet is dumplings, teabags are used twice and sometimes three times, and one gallon of paraffin is used in one heater which is carried from room to room. When his arrears are paid off he will be left with the princely sum of £16 a week for everyday needs, but he is determined to hold on so as not to lose the benefit of years of mortgage payments.

At the other end of the scale was the man used to a salary of £24,000 to £30,000 a year as a construction engineer. Made redundant in middle life, he set up his own small business but failed. The bailiffs evicted him and his family and he now lives with his mother, his wife and children staying with her parents. They are faced with a legal separation they do not want so that the wife might qualify for council accommodation. The young couple with two children who moved back into council property and lost two-and-a-half years' mortgage repayments when the building society repossessed their house were "lucky' compared with others in the programme. At least they are still together and have a roof over their heads. Not so in the last of the four case histories — the widow of a young man who committed suicide when they lost their house was still too upset to be interviewed. The common thread running through all cases was that, when the mortgage commitment was made, the people concerned were in full-time employment and the repayments were well within their capabilities. Since then they have either become unemployed or put on short hours due to the demands of the profit system.

We learnt that in some of the major cities one-third of council tenants — seduced by the rosy picture of home ownership — decided to buy their houses and are now seriously in arrears with payments. In the whole country during 1984, 30,000 were months in arrears, owing the building societies some £18 million, and 11,000 houses were repossessed. Building societies who, two-and-a-half years ago, were offering 100 per cent mortgages with few questions asked, now tell us that defaulting has not been so bad since the Depression of the 1930s.

Housing Minister Ian Gow was unperturbed because only about one per cent of those with mortgages were in trouble. (There are, of course, no figures for the many thousands in similar straits to the man existing on £9 a week.) "Everyone knows that when they decide to buy a house they're taking on responsibility", he said. What he omitted to mention was that security is an illusion under a system which puts profit before basic human needs, as those workers who formerly "owned" their homes now know.
Eva Goodman

Don Quixote! (1923)

From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The debate which took place in the House of Commons on March 20th, described by the daily papers as a Socialist debate, was a sheer farce. Those who moved and supported the so-called Socialist resolution never laid down the Socialist position; nor did Sir A. Mond deal with a single Socialist principle.

The resolution moved by Philip Snowden was dealt with in the April issue of the S.S., but some of the points raised in the discussion are worthy of notice, as they go far to prove the falsity of the position taken up by the Labour Party and the inability of Capitalist politicians to meet Socialist arguments.

In his remarks, Philip Snowden used a statement quite common with Labour leaders: "The Capitalist system is passing away.” A Conservative member retorted with the question: "Then why worry?" Obviously if Capitalism is passing away, the policy for the Socialist is to let it pass. In any case the Labour Party is not helping it to pass. Their policy is to beg and demand reforms to patch up the system and prolong it, and incidentally to confuse the workers by leading them to expect material alteration from reforms.

According to the newspaper report, Philip Snowden “disavowed confiscation and revolution." Most Labour leaders do the same, but none of them show how it is possible to pass from a system of society where the means of life are owned by a ruling class to one where they are owned in common, without revolution. Labour leaders everywhere repudiate confiscation and in doing so state their agreement with the present system, where the wealth produced by the working-class is confiscated to the use of the Capitalist class, but must not be "confiscated" back by the workers to their own uses.

On a level with the above was the comment in the "Daily Chronicle" (21/3/23) that Philip Snowden "has always, since he entered public life, been an evolutionary Socialist; and only the ignorant have ever attributed to him any belief in violence." It is only the ignorant who use such phrases. A man can only be a Socialist when he realises the need for revolution. Evolution only brings nearer the time when revolution is absolutely necessary: It can not effect the change. Socialism can only be established through revolution, consequently, the Socialist has no use for adjectives to qualify his Socialism. Being a Socialist, he works for revolution by educating his fellow-workers in Socialist knowledge. He tells them, among other things, the truth about violence. Under Capitalism the workers are kept in subjection by violence, or the threat of violence, in the last resort; and they cannot hope to throw off the yoke of wage-slavery until they are in a position to use violence successfully against those who enslave them. They can only do this when they control the fighting forces through Parliament. Violence, when necessary, is the method of the capitalist class; if necessary it will have to be the method of the working-class, when they have the power.

The most damaging part of the debate, perhaps, was the controversy as to the true position of the Labour Party. Sir Alfred said that at the last election nothing was resented more by most Labour members than to be accused of being not a Labour but a Socialist Party. The reply from the Labour benches was: "We are the Labour Party. It is the same thing." Sir Alfred replied :
“It is not the same thing. The hon. Member for Colne Valley knows it perfectly well, and so do other hon. Members, or they would not get so excited. I am extremely glad the mask is off at last. It is a clean issue between individualism and Socialism, a clean issue of private ownership against national ownership, a clean issue as to the right of the individual to the reward of his labour and his enterprise."
It is quite clear from this that Sir Alfred, as well as the Labour members, conceive Socialism as national ownership; but even this conception according to him was not publicly proclaimed as an issue by the Labour Party. That although the latter individually subscribed to nationalisation, they kept it in the background when soliciting votes. If this is true, is it because the workers already perceive that nationalisation, whenever it has been applied, has not improved the lot of those who come under it?

The daily papers claimed Sir Alfred’s speech as a victory over Socialism. As a matter of fact, according to the reports that favoured him, his objections told more against Capitalism than against Socialism. According to the "Daily Chronicle," he said: “State Socialism would make machines of everybody.” As State Socialism, or Nationalisation, is only Capitalism organised by the State in the interests of the Capitalist class—as the Post Office, Telephones, etc.—it is clear that Capitalism and not Socialism makes machines of everybody but Capitalists.

"Men work best for themselves,” said Sir Alfred. The workers, however, have no choice in the matter. The means of wealth production are owned by the Capitalist class, and the workers have to sell their labour-power to members of that class, or go without the necessaries of life.

“Taken over the whole population the decrease of, wealth is more detrimental than its division,” said Sir Alfred; but in that ease, what is to be said of the common practice of Capitalists in nearly every industry of restricting production for the purpose of keeping up prices?

"The greatest wealth accumulated by anyone who has created new undertakings is a small percentage of the total wealth he has created for the country,” was another statement described by the “Daily Chronicle,” as one of Sir Alfred’s “pungent aphorisms.” But no proof has ever been advanced that those who put capital into new, or old, undertakings, “create” anything. Capital is neither “created” nor produced by the Capitalist. The factories are built, the machinery made, installed and operated by the workers. Whether the Capitalist gain is a large or small percentage—unless he is a very small capitalist and has to do his own supervising—it is added to his banking account without effort on his part.

So much for Sir Alfred’s pitiful attempt to show that Capitalism is the best of all possible systems. When he taxes his business intellect for the purpose of remedying existing evils he is even more pitiful. On March 12th he outlined a scheme in the "Daily Chronicle” for dealing with unemployment. His suggestion was that money should be taken from the unemployed fund to subsidise employers who took men off the books of the exchanges.

Of course, such a preposterous idea could have no effect whatever on the number of workers employed. Those taken off the exchanges must either replace others discharged, or squeeze out some of those already employed.
It is not shortage of capital that is responsible for unemployment — though shortage of capital may handicap many Capitalists in a small way of business—but the lack of markets. Production is restricted by Capitalists, through agreements, to keep up prices, because unchecked competition in a limited market, with modern means of production, would bring down prices and reduce profits all round.

All the most important organisations in this country calling themselves Communist or Labour Parties have members in the Labour Party of the House of Commons. Not one of these, either in the debate, or at any time in the House of Commons, have ever said anything to make Socialism clear to the workers. Yet they have always claimed that they would be able to use the floor of the House for its propaganda. The so-called extremists, and out and out Communists, if they ever understood the Socialist position, exhibited no evidence of their knowledge when they spoke. These latter claim to be more advanced than the I.L.P. and Trade Union elements, yet they never raised a voice in protest when nationalisation was falsely termed Socialism by all those who took part in the debate.

To call nationalisation Socialism, and to hold up the Post Office, Telephones, Water Supply, etc., as examples of Socialism, is to spread confusion among the workers. When Sir Alfred Mond or Mr. Lloyd George do this they are guilty of lying; but the Labour members are guilty of that, and treachery as well, because they claim to lead and represent the workers. In any case, if they have nothing better than nationalisation to offer they are utterly unworthy of support by the workers.
F. Foan

Square Plugs In Round Holes. (1923)

From the June 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

How many working-class children follow the occupations to which they are adapted, and which would hold their interest? One could almost count them on the fingers of one hand.

One boy is of a mechanical turn of mind and is fond of the working of machinery and contriving crude mechanical toys; he becomes a baker’s boy. Another loves the open air and the things that grow in the fields and hedges; the mechanism of plants and the ways of the bee, the butterfly and the bird are intensely interesting and wonderful to him; he becomes an office boy. The sea and the lands beyond the sea calls yet another; he longs to haunt the lonely spaces of the earth; he becomes a grocer’s boy in a shop in a populous city. Such are the instances that teem around us.

The cause of this maladaptation is the source of the many evils that are constantly with the working class.

The working class child is born into a system that a certain period puts before him the problem of finding a master or starving. He must obtain employment of some kind regardless of his aptitude or desires. The family at home is growing; father’s wages no longer suffice to meet the needs, and consequently the child must accept the first job that offers, and if he is lucky(!) that means following the same trade until industry has sapped all his energy and eventually thrown him out upon the scrapheap to beg or find a place in the workhouse.

The private ownership of wealth, with consequent dependence upon wages of the vast majority of the population, is the cause of this maladaptation.

When wealth becomes common property and is democratically controlled by the whole people there will be such an abundance of workers available that the necessary work of society will not be able to absorb all this energy. It will then be possible for all the members of society to experiment in occupation until they find the one that suits them best.

This will be better for society, as work that is loved is better performed than toil that is hated. It will be better for the members of society because they will be carrying out functions that will be a fruitful means of happiness. It will be better for the generations that follow because the ideas that teem in the minds of millions will have ample opportunity to be put into operation and provide stepping stones for yet greater happiness in the aeons that are to come.

Let us then join together to root out the cause of maladaptation, and bring in the new society that is full of such promise

How the market doesn’t work (2006)

From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

When you’re out on the stump discussing capitalism – face-to-face or on-line – you can guarantee some defender of the system that has left a third of the world population without clean water, nearly a sixth without enough food, and wrought megadeaths upon megadeaths from wars within the last hundred years, will try and point out how the market is the most efficient system for allocating resources. A self-correcting mechanism without which we would all descend to barbarism and all advanced industry and technology would utterly cease to be. Leaving aside that the cogs in this marvellous mystery self-regulating machine are human beings who must be ground out to make it run smoothly, such a picture of the market system is quite, quite wrong.

A clear example stands before us from the recent news. Over the past year, television and radio has been reporting how people in well-paid City jobs have been leaving to become plumbers. The shortage of those skilled tradespeople has meant, according to market forces, that the price of their labour has risen. Accordingly, the price of a plumber’s labour or labour power (depending on whether they are self-employed or not) has risen to attract more people into the trade to fill up the gap between supply and demand. All of this sounds exactly like the market functioning perfectly.

The problem is that, at the end of January, BBC radio reported that the market for plumbing skills has become glutted – so many people were attracted into the trade that now there are more plumbers than there is work available. This can happen because, far from being the perfect mechanism for conveying information, the market can only convey information at the speed of trade. Prices will not be lowered until the plumbers start entering the market and begin lowering their prices to tout for trade against stiff competition. New entrants to the market will not be able to see that supply has been fulfilled until after the prices start to fall. People just entering training – having heard the word on the street – will not know until they are finished that the bottom has fallen out of the market, and that the arrival of them and their class mates has caused this.

However, even if some sort of mechanism was applied to coordinate between different branches of production, the problems of capitalism would still occur. Otherwise the state capitalism in the former Soviet bloc would have never collapsed and its system would have been seen to be more sturdy than the Western variety. Even with the greatest planning in the world, accidents happen, things change and perfect coordination is rendered impossible. The problem lies much deeper than that, though, in the very nature of capitalism itself.

If the plumbers could simply jump from the plumbing market to a different trade without any difficulty, there would be no problem – they would still be able to acquire the necessary use values with which to live. The problem is, however, that these workers have invested money that they need to recover – both in terms of paying for training and of earnings and promotions they would have gained had they stayed in their old careers. They have invested money in order to enter into the market, and in many cases may well have borrowed as well as using up their savings. In order to ensure they do not make a loss (which will risk their homes and families) they need to ensure that they get that money back – they have to return their initial investment back into its original form as money.

Many plumbers will be unable to do this, and will find themselves driven out of business, based on nothing but the mistiming of their investments and their inability to lay hands on cash. It will not necessarily reflect on their plumbing skills, their personality or anything about them, but simply the blind workings of the market. In order to obtain use values – the things they need with which to live – they must secure exchange value. To stay in business, though, they must use some of the money – exchange value – they earn to pay debts or to ensure they are not out of pocket.

This process, or turning useful things back into exchange value, distinct from the particular usefulness of any given thing, is the essence of capitalism. Anything that interrupts this process puts a spanner in the works of that shiny self-regulating machine – and miscoordination based on poor information is just one such (common) spanner. Whilst our example here is small affecting only a few thousand people at most, obviously, a major capitalist concern could lose billions of pounds and wreak havoc on millions of lives.

Some sharp-eyed pro-capitalists – skilled in misdirecting arguments from points on which they are losing – may choose to suggest that we have here accepted an important point of theirs. These people, they will claim, are willing to do the dirty work – the plumbing – solely because the price is right and they have been lured into the trade. Such nimble minds would actually find themselves too fast for their own feet. Many of the bored office workers (interviewed by journalists, another species of bored office worker) expressed their pleasure that they would find the work interesting and fulfilling, and that it was because the work paid a decent wage now that they were able to enter that trade.

So, in fact, it proves precisely our point once more – the requirements of exchange value hold back the natural co-operation and ability and desire to work of human beings, rather than enabling it. Socialism would be as prone to nature and accident as any system and so could miscalculate and produce too much of something. But as it would not be hamstrung by turning things into exchange values as capitalism is, it could just write off any waste as a misfortune to try and be avoided, rather than one to be exacerbated and spread by sackings and bankruptcies.

People’s skills could be used when required and people would not find themselves dumped on the rubbish heap and denied access to their necessities of life just because they had worked hard and finished the job or because less of that type of work were no longer required. We would be able to enter into an age where communication conveyed at the speed of light could be used immediately, without having to be grafted onto the old operating system of society – like trying to read the internet on a pocket calculator.
Pik Smeet

Letter: An Appreciation (1923)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Napier, New Zealand. 
The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
    17, Mount Pleasant,
        London, W.C.l.

I have been a subscriber to your Socialist Standard for many years, and wish to express my appreciation of the very fine matter it always contains. I have always found it extremely helpful. I confess that during the early years following the Russian Revolution, and after reading many pamphlets and books written by the official heads of the Bolshevik Party, 1 for a time thought that they “had the goods,” and that the policy of the Standard was not being supported by facts. I feel particularly grateful to the Standard and its writers on the Russian policy for the clear and able manner in which they analysed and presented the position, and convinced me that the Bolshevik policy, however necessary in Russia, was not suitable for application in the more highly-developed western nations. I feel it would be a calamity should the Standard ever have to suspend publication owing to lack of support. It is the finest little paper printed.

I enclose a postal note for 10s. Please renew my subscription for 12 months, and see you don’t let me miss a copy, please. The balance, please place to the credit of your £1,000 fund. I regret I cannot afford more.
Yours fraternally,
A. H. G.

Running Commentary: Ice-cold death (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ice-cold death

Each winter, in this land of microchips and nuclear power stations, people die a primitive death through the cold. Sometimes this is caused by hypothermia, the reduction of the body's heat below a critical level. Others die of pneumonia or suffer strokes and heart attacks as the blood pressure is forced rapidly upwards by the cold.

According to the Sunday Times of 27 January, during three weeks in this year's cold spell, over a thousand people had to be treated in hospital for hypothermia. A consultant who has made a special study of the problem tells a grim story: about nine thousand deaths a year from straightforward hypothermia and several times that figure for deaths from diseases induced by the cold.

Of course this could all be avoided if only people like pensioners heated their homes properly, except that they, of all people, know how the expense of this would be an added stress in their everyday struggle to make ends meet.

There is, to be sure, an extra state allowance which can be paid to them when there is "exceptionally severe weather". This condition is officially defined according to temperature readings taken in different points and the level required to activate the extra allowance varies from point to point.

For example, when the bureaucrats in control of benefits for East Anglia, Essex and some parts of Bedfordshire were satisfied that the thermometer was reading -2.8°C at Honnington they allowed the payments. The rest of Bedfordshire was not so lucky: although they were just as cold they were covered by a different measuring point.

People who are forced to survive on a pension or some other state allowance are those who once depended on a wage. All their working life they have suffered the indignity of hawking their working abilities to an employer. When they are deemed no longer employable they face the even deeper degradation of scraping by — or not. as the case so often is — on niggardly state handouts. Provided, of course, they are able to navigate their way through the labyrinth of bureaucratic controls and checkpoints.

This is not a problem of age or of climate but of social class. Rich people are never rushed into intensive care through hypothermia. Cold weather need not be a problem; it is capitalism's social relationships which turn it into a killer. It should be abolished. Not the weather: capitalism.

Sailors’ tales

As if they don't already have enough to worry about, the unemployed now have to contend with the pound's falling exchange rate against the dollar and the rise in interest rates.

The dollar exchange rate was one of the earliest crises for British trade after the war. If only, we were told, we could get back to the good old days when the pound was worth about four dollars all would be well. The rate was then fixed by the Treasury; devaluation, when it came, was seen as the failure of the Labour government's wild political theories.

Since then many other alleged causes of he crises have held the stage for a while. We have heard about the Balance of Payments, the Gnomes of Zurich selling sterling short, inflation . . .  Each time, the workers have been told that they could cure the problem by tightening their belts, working harder, keeping wage rises small.

Whoever is Chancellor has assured us that he has been in charge, sensitively manoeuvring the financial controls to bring the situation into balance. Now we have Nigel Lawson, who described the interest rates panic of January as a storm which blew up largely through events outside his control and which would eventually blow itself out. "Meanwhile", he said, "we have battened down the hatches and the ship remains on course."

There is a familiar ring to these confident words. Nautical and meteorological metaphors have always been very popular with devious politicians. Harold Wilson described one of his government's crises as being "blown off course". Jim Callaghan greeted a brief respite with the advice "Steady as she goes". The message is that the troubles are temporary; if we put our trust in the captain and the crew the ship will soon arrive safely in port.

Both Labour and Tory governments have wrestled unsuccessfully with the same problems. Both have used the same empty excuses, the same comforting turns of phrase, to hide their impotence. Clearly, the matter goes beyond which particular capitalist party is in power and the workers have to think about taking over the ship for themselves.

Modern times

"I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent in their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities . . . The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages."

This quotation from the very end of Marx's pamphlet Value, Price and Profit, given initially as an address to the General Council of the International Working Men's Association in 1865, has a very modern ring. The women cleaners who work for Exclusive Cleaning Services on the army base at Deepcut in Surrey had their hourly rate cut from £1.71 to £1.60 in November last year. Then, in December, they found that their wages for the month embodied a further cut of 5 per cent to £1.52 without warning.

It is presumably on the grounds of this contractual issue of warning that they have sought the help of a solicitor. This is probably what has also caused the resignation of the firm's director for that region and the restoration of the hourly rate to £1.60. Only four of the fifty cleaners are reported to be in a trade union; but even if they all were, as long as Exclusive act within the letter of capitalist law, they cannot offer much resistance to wage cuts in the present economic climate.