Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lord Amwell and the Labour Party: Pointed Criticism by Early Member of the S.D.F. (1956)

From the February 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the permission of the Daily Mail and Lord Amwell we reproduce below the article “Why I Quit the Labour Party,” published in the Mail on 16 December, 1955. It is of more than passing interest because Frederick Montague, besides having been Labour M.P. and having held office in Labour Government, was a member of the Social Democratic Federation at the time members broke away to form the S.P.G.B. in 1904. He had joined the S.D.F. in 1894 and the I.L.P. in 1895 (dual membership being quite an accepted thing at that time) and later became a member of the Labour Party. The S.D.F. which, after some changes of name, had reverted to its earlier name, lost membership and influence and disappeared early in the second world war. In 1939. the last year in which it appeared' among the organizations affiliated to the Labour Party (with a membership reduced to 500) Fred Montague was their delegate at the Labour Party Conference.

All this gives interest to Lord Amwell’s reason for leaving the party that he has supported for so long. Many of the points he makes are in line with S.P.G.B. arguments

Why I Quit the Labour Party

One-time newsboy and shop assistant), Lord Amwell, Frederick Montague as he then was, sat as Labour MP. for West Islington from 1923 to 1931 and from 1935 to 1947. He was Under-Secretary of State for Air, 1929-31; Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. 1940-41; and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, 1941-42. He was created Baron in 1947.
I quit, but not to cross any floor, only to be free. I want freedom to say without embarrassment that which I feel ought to be said about today’s labour politics and industrial tactics.

Clement Attlee’s departure provides the occasion by loosening certain ties of personal loyalty.

Labour was never very clear in its Socialist theory but I, for one, hoped for the best. Today’s attempt at “refashioning Socialism as a philosophy and finding practical programmes to meet the needs of the times” has resulted in grounding the principles by which the movement was originally inspired. Such is my view and here are some of my reasons for holding it.

“Welfare” has nothing whatever to do with Socialism, and constitutes no “silent revolution.” It did not originate with the Labour Party and was not opposed by any party. It is not a party issue. That “rascally” Tories voted against the Welfare State is not true. Naturally Tories wanted their own way on details, but they no more voted against the principle than Labour voted against having an Army, Navy, and Air Force.

It is a little disgusting to mislead electors by taking advantage of popular ignorance of Parliamentary procedure in the interest of vote-catching.

I have no objection to “Welfare.” We live in a keen Capitalist world that must be allowed to work or we starve. But I do object to the substitution of it for what we are supposed to stand for and the consequent neglect of more fundamental things. Especially do I object to calling the Beveridge system Socialist and claiming fundamental change for it, silent or not.

It is not true that “ poverty has been wiped out in Britain for ever,” as Attlee told the Russians. The authoritative figure of persons in receipt of public assistance is 1,600,000. These are not all old persons.

The fact is that “Welfare” implies the continued existence of the inherited and the disinherited—Disraeli’s “Two Nations.” It is made a substitute for Socialism on the ground that it involves a redistribution of national income—the alleged silent revolution. But Socialism is not the redistribution of money income. It is production for use and the distribution of that.

There is now full employment upon the basis of inflation, which is quite another matter. For how long? Three-and-a-half-million married women go out to work. They will not go out to work when inflation has run its course and lower prices set in. The production line at any old wage will last as long as markets are kept and no longer.

The American motor-car balloon is already sagging. Automation and “ atomation” may soon start its own silent revolution. For leisure? Oh, certainly for leisure if we don’t look out! How are you going to sell superabundance to countries also superabundant?

The Illusion
In my view it is a complete illusion that high-powered industry on a vast scale can be “taken over” as a going concern, or “planned” from the outside, without taking over and planning human beings. Stateism which under trades union rule means syndicalism was never the dream of old. Mechanism and freedom won’t mix.

Labour in face of tremendous problems seems to me to be playing the old unclean party game, peddling for votes on the “Ninepence for fourpence” and “Big loaf instead of little loaf ” pattern. I have no use for it. I think the propaganda of Transport House shocking in its mendacity and its appeal to cupidity. Not thus was a loveable movement made. '

Labour’s new generation even experts like Gaitskell himself, brilliant player of the “game” as he no doubt will be, no more understand the economics of Capitalism than they do the economics of Socialism.

We are not informed as to what has happened to the untold millions made overnight on the floor of the London Stock Exchange. Silence reigns on this matter, because the untold millions are no longer told. In this notion that ledger-entries and real wealth are one and the same thing and that “there’s plenty where that came from” to go on being distributed there is the elementary fallacy that Socialists laughed out of court years ago. The fallacy of “sharing out.”

Can’t be done
I want to say these things and much more. I want to show how it is that Socialism cannot be properly dressed in Capitalist togs, that “welfare" is precariously poised, as Beveridge admits, and that a free economy is possible.

I want also to show that social reform in history has always been a process of “tidying up” when the cruder forms of exploitation have ceased to pay. There is no exception to this, and it makes a big difference once understood, to what we think about fundamentals and expediencies.

So, I quit!
Lord Amwell

Enter the Dragon: The impact of China (2005)

From the August 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1978 the Chinese Communist Party under Deng Xiaping embarked on reforms that would steer China’s economy toward transition from state-run to free market capitalism.
Since then China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown by an average of 9.5 percent per year, faster than any other country. China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December 2001 and now accounts for 13 percent of world output with a GDP likely to overtake Japan by 2016 and America by 2020, making China the world’s largest economy.
Economic “openness”
This prodigious growth is attributable to foreign investment that has utilised the country’s remarkably ‘liberal’ business climate to exploit low wage labour as a platform for the manufacture of goods and then their export to world at cheap prices.   Put simply, manufacturing has been relocated to China to undercut competition and raise profits – attracted by the almost ‘inexhaustible’ supply of cheap labour, well-developed infrastructure, tax concessions and brutally repressive state.

China’s economic ‘openness’ makes it the world’s largest recipient of foreign investment, which increased 35 percent in the year to September 2004 alone. It is further exemplified by the country’s import tariffs, which “have, on average, fallen from 41 percent in 1992 to 6 percent after it joined the WTO in December 2001, giving it the lowest tariff protection of any developing country.” (The Economist, 2 October 2004, p.6)
Joint ventures between Chinese companies and foreign multinational corporations produce 27 percent of manufacturing output (there are 4,000 involving UK companies alone) and a flourishing private sector accounts for 50 percent of Chinese GDP.

Rich v poor
Although most of the population still exists at basic subsistence levels, the purchasing power of a minority of better paid workers (but still measured in tens of millions) and the development of an indigenous capitalist class have nurtured a sizeable domestic market.  China in fact has the world’s fastest growing consumer market and sales are soaring. If income distribution remains unaltered, “by 2020 the top 100 million households will have an average income equivalent to the current average in Western Europe. This will open up a vast market for consumer goods.” (The Economist, 2 October 2004, p.11) An increasing number of American and European corporations are now investing to sell directly to this growing market.

China’s market has also encouraged the emergence of a Chinese capitalist class, comprising many who already have close ties with foreign capital and political patronage from Beijing. Within this class a small number have amassed staggering levels of wealth. 
This picture looks set to continue. Though productivity is still low compared with the developed world, running at approximately one-eighth of that in America, economic ‘openness’ is encouraging the rapid transfer of manufacturing technology that will enable China to use the industrialised countries as a springboard to raise productivity. Production will also rapidly climb the “value added” chain, utilising the 10 million graduates who join the Chinese working class each year.
But more important is the abundant supply of the resource essential to profits – human labour power. China has a population of 1.3 billion or 20 percent of the world’s population and the political elite has worked hard to mobilise this labour power to create the conditions to fuel capitalism. 
State industry has rapidly shrunk and thousands of enterprises have been sold or bankrupted and their workers sacked. An estimated 40 million have been made jobless to join the countless millions made redundant from native private industry by relentless foreign competition.
Town v country
In rural regions, where over 60 percent of the population still live, the free market deregulation of agricultural prices has driven millions from the land. Here, over 150 million destitute people are waiting to migrate and seek work at any wage, while farmers are often compelled to take unskilled temporary work between harvests to supplement meagre earnings.

It will take 15-20 years to absorb this labour power, which means that, unlike some parts of South-East Asia, where labour scarcity could raise wages, Chinese based capitalism can probably hold down unskilled wages for many years. 
To most the transition from state-run capitalism to the free market variety means low wages, poor living conditions and repression. While a minority of higher paid workers has access to consumable goods, the free market has devastated the lower paid who do not have money to buy those goods. Services including education and medical care, formerly provided by the state, are now ‘fee based’, while housing is controlled by private landlords.    
The main manufacturing belt lies in the region of Guangdong and along the Pearl River Delta, where workers slave 15 hours a day, seven days a week with mandatory overtime enforced by coercive factory regulations. Migrant labour is estimated at over 100 million, more than half women from impoverished inland regions. Industrial disputes are not uncommon. 
Sometimes disputes erupt into riots as happened at the Taiwanese Stella International factory at Dongguan in the spring of 2004. The factory, employing 70,000 workers, makes shoes for Nike, Reebok, Clarks, Sears and Timberland. Factory property was allegedly damaged and ten workers were subsequently jailed for 3½  years but later freed when the company, fearful of repercussions, secured their release.

Long-term disregard for poverty and the impoverished plight of working people and peasantry may well pose a significant threat to government authority. The government has been compelled to ameliorate worker conditions and in some places unemployment insurance has improved and minimum wages increased, while cities have endeavoured to increase employment – generally by offering assistance to new enterprises to employ redundant workers. But funding is still minimal and official corruption widespread.
Nowhere is the contrast between rich and poor more stark than in Shanghai, a city of 17 million and the centre of Chinese capitalism. Here poor living conditions, overcrowding and poverty are “…a far cry from the empty streets of the gated communities in the east end of Pudong, where high walls and a plethora of guards provide a safe, insular heaven for those living within.” (China Daily, 28 April 2005)
One of China’s main weaknesses is electricity generation and the rapid increase in demand, exacerbated by household appliances and air-conditioning, has caused shortages, blackouts and power rationing.  China’s electricity generation is 70 percent dependent on coal and miners were forced to increase output by 54 percent in the four years to 2003. Rudimentary safety is ignored and a twelve-hour day, 28 days a month is the industry standard. “There were more than 6,000 deaths last year from explosions, floods, cave-ins and other accidents in China’s mining industry, accounting for 80 percent of the world’s total fatalities. Independent estimates, however, say up to 20,000 workers are killed every year as they toil underground in poor conditions for little money.” (
The ‘All China Federation of Trade Unions,’ is the only legal trade union and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Independent trade unions are banned and workers agitating for better conditions are routinely jailed. But despite the lack of organisation, skill shortages have enabled some to make gains after strikes, as in Shenzen in October 2004 and Panyu in November 2004. 
Knock-on effect
The ‘Chinese miracle’ has had a detrimental effect on many workers outside China. While the international class who live by profits has benefited immeasurably by transferring operations to China, many workers in other countries have paid the price with the loss of their jobs. Worst hit have been workers who barely survive in undeveloped countries where imports and exports mirror those of China.  The abolition of import quotas on textiles in January 2005, for example, is set to decimate jobs in Bangladesh and Cambodia where companies will be unable to compete. Another casualty has been the Mexican working class where an estimated 225,000 jobs, originally transferred from America after the introduction of the North America Free Trade Association have moved to China since 2001. Likewise, production transferred to South Korean and Taiwanese based corporations is ‘out-sourced’ to China for labour intensive assembly and then re-export.

But China’s capitalism is also influencing the world’s working class in other ways. Worker conditions in developed countries are under attack. As The Economist euphemistically puts it: “Individual countries can maximise their gains from Chinese integration and minimise their losses by making their own economies more flexible, increasing mobility between sectors and improving education.” (2 October 2004, p.12).
Political control
The development of capitalism in China looks set to remain firmly under the political dictatorship of the Communist Party. Although in practical operation for years, free market capitalism was officially reconciled with ‘communism’ at the 16th National Congress of the CCP in November 2002 when the Party’s constitution was amended to open membership to China’s ‘business elite’ to protect the “legitimate rights and interests” of business and property owners.  The CCP has become the instrument of multinational corporations and of this ‘business elite’ and seeks to perpetuate its rule with the support of those who benefit from the system of exploitation in the world’s largest sweatshop. The Party has warned it will make no concession to ‘democratic aspirations.’ At the Central Committee meeting in September 2004, Hu Jintao, China’s President and Party leader asserted that “China would never have its own Gorbachev,” or countenance erosion of the CCP’s ruling position. Denouncing those who “fly the banner of democracy and political reform,” he warned the Party would be “pre-emptive” and “strike when they rear their heads.” (Time 31 January 2005, p.45).

In practical terms the political elite is seeking to tighten control over local government to block independent legislatures and plans to “improve the political thinking of university students to elevate the Party’s ruling power” (People’s Daily, 19 January 2005). Websites exposing corruption have been shut without explanation. Newspapers are banned from publishing anything negative about the police, government or judiciary and journalists have been ordered to stop criticism.
In this way capitalism in China is an investors’ paradise and a workers’ prison camp. Enormous profits are attained at staggering human cost, and with the growing gap between rich and poor the class struggle is set to intensify.  The integration of China into world capitalism has also had profound effects. It has drained away jobs from other parts of the world, lowered global unskilled wage rates and eased pressure on wages in other countries by reducing prices of consumable goods. These world-wide reverberations will continue.
Steve Trott

Cooking the Books: Marxism and Panda Bonds (2006)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
To mark the 112th anniversary on 26 December of the birth of Chairman Mao a new, expanded “Marxism-Leninism Academy” was opened in Beijing (Times, 3 January). According to Zhang Tongxin, of Beijing University’s Marxism Institute, “since reform, a considerable number of people have forgotten that China is a socialist country”.
By coincidence, the same day the Times reported on a number of financial reforms that came into force in the first week of January. One of them concerned the modernisation of financial markets “to steer more money to profitable projects, not white elephants, and keep the banks on their toes”. Already in 2005, the Times reminded its readers, China had seen “the launch of a highly successful commercial paper market; China’s first asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities; approval for banks to trade currency swaps and forwards; the establishment of the country’s first money broker; the first ‘panda bonds’ - denominated in yuan and sold in China by international borrowers”.
No wonder “a considerable number of people” had come to the conclusion that China is not socialist. And they are right. China is not a “socialist country” but a capitalist one. And it never was socialist. What the Chinese “Communist” Party established when they came to power in 1949 was a state-capitalist regime under their political dictatorship. The workers and peasants continued to be exploited but, from then on, by a “vanguard” which collectively exercised a monopoly, through its political control, over the state-owned means of production.
Although this state-capitalist regime was relatively successful in developing China’s heavy industry and military might, like the similar regime in Russia it proved unable to compete economically against the established capitalist powers such as the US, Europe and Japan. So, again as in Russia, a policy of “reform” was instituted involving the encouragement of private capitalist enterprise and the more rigorous subjection of state enterprises to market forces. From the point of view of the established political elite, so far this reform has been executed far more successfully than in Russia in that they are still in control of political power and on this basis can still proclaim the lie that China is a “socialist country”. Not that anybody believes them any more.
Marx wrote Capital to analyse how capitalist society worked with a view to showing how it could never be made to work in the interest of the class of wage workers on whose exploitation for surplus value it was based. He was not writing to advise political parties and governments how to run capitalism. So it is difficult to see what the Chinese government thinks it can get out of studying his writings.
Marx did write, in Volume III of Capital, about stock exchanges, financial markets and the like. Basically, he saw these as places where capitalists tried to swindle each other and small investors out of the surplus value that had already been extracted from the workers. Conceivably, Chinese government officials and the millionaires that have come into existence under the “reform” could pick up a few hints from here on how to swindle each other more efficiently.

Letter from Denmark (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a teacher with socialist ideas I hold that the only sensible thing in a sane society is to teach children when they want to be taught and what they want to be taught. I feel sure that most of children want to explore the world in which they live. We all know of children who don't come home in time because they are engaged in play or in the act of investigating things. And who does not know children who keep on asking questions of all kinds? I find such behaviour characteristic of most children and I think all questions must be answered in a way satisfactory to the children at the time. If their request for information is not satisfied by us, we cannot hope that the abilities and talents which each child possesses will he developed fully!

Yet to develop these is precisely one of the stated aims of education in Denmark! The law says that the purpose of education is: “to further and develop the children's abilities and talents to strengthen their characters and give them useful knowledge.’’ The wording of this paragraph gives the teacher quite a wide scope on the theoretical level, for it is not defined in detail how to strengthen their characters and what useful knowledge is. Every teacher will interpret it his own way, and this makes if appear very democratic. But such a law should also give a socialist teacher a chance to try out his ideas in this field.

However, theory is one thing, practice another. What is actually happening at school?

A child starts at seven and leaves again at fourteen at the earliest. For each year of school a syllabus has been worked out—that is to say, by the end of the school year the pupil is supposed to know a certain number of things. At the later stages of school life examinations take place. If you pass these well, your chances in adult life arc good. If you happen not to be bright at the right things it's just your hard luck. The result is that teachers, parents and often the children themselves become very ambitious with regard to examinations. This means that the teacher asks questions to which he already knows the answers, and the children answer them as best they can. A teacher may ask : “How did the Norwegian and Danish people react to the German occupation?” The teacher knows the answer, and for some reason which is not apparent to the child it is desirable to know this fact. Motivation for knowing the two peoples' reactions is completely lacking. By the time you have lived your school life in this way for 7 years at least it has become quite natural to think in terms of “What am I expected to answer now?” In a class of 15 year olds a teacher had once asked everybody to watch a TV programme about 3 religious altitudes with the purpose of using the programme as basis for discussion. Nearly everybody had managed to see the programme, but when it came to the discussion nobody had anything to say except the teacher. She could provoke no one to speak. How good her techniques in this direction were I cannot say, but after the lesson a girl told her that of course all pupils had an opinion but did not like to put it in front of the class. In this case the children had to make up their own minds about a question and by now being so used to have a set answer to learn, the pupils found the idea of speaking freely awkward. This phenomenon cannot in many cases stimulate and develop the interest of learning.

But with the stated aims of education being as they are, a teacher should be able to change this situation. A number of things have to be considered in this connection It is impossible for a teacher to avoid examinations and tests. He, or she, will be judged on the basis of examination results, for the future employers must know your qualifications when you apply for a job. It is clear, therefore, that a good teacher is still one who can give knowledge which will give the best chance for a job to as many children as possible; and those will have the best chances who can enter into frictionless co-operation at their future factories, offices or other places of work. In today’s society technical skill is of utmost importance, and so the emphasis in the syllabus has been shifted from classical subjects to technical skills.

Some people hold that the fact that children are no longer expected to have so much exact knowledge and that demands in this direction have been eased considerably, is a sign of progress. It is true that there is a tendency towards teaching children how to find out things themselves, but at long as examinations and tests do not examine this quality in children it is pretty irrelevant to base your everyday teaching on this alone.

In practice it often happens that children ask you questions which do not lie within the subject you happen to be teaching. Many of these questions are very important to the children and would be interesting to discuss, but mostly pressure from above stops a teacher from taking up such questions. If you are a teacher who wants to satisfy these very relevant demands made by the children, you are in a dilemma. You want to do a thing which you are prevented from doing because you are at the same time subjected to quite contrary and different demands from the authorities.

So my conclusion must be that you cannot change one part of society successfully without changing all other parts. When some changes have taken place in education, I see their cause lying in changes in the methods of production. New techniques for producing goods developed all the time, and the worker is then required to learn new things all along. It means that more emphasis must be put on his ability to readjust himself to newly adopted techniques. Therefore children now in school must learn different things from what their parents had to learn. There is also a move away from direct authoritarianism. The latter change is, I think, due to the realisation by those in control that contented people are better producers, and these are important for capitalists to make bigger profits. Capitalism will run smoother in this way. So to me, the whole aim of society will have to be changed if any radical change is to be expected in our schools.
A. Peterson,

Another stretch of Labour rule (1966)

From the April 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

He has it all now; even the place in history which he is said to pine for. Mr. Harold Wilson will be remembered as the first Labour Prime Minister to lead his party back to Westminster with an increased majority.

It has never happened before; but then never before has there been a government like this one, and never before has there been a Labour Premier like Mr. Wilson. Never before has the so-called left wing, with its nostalgia for the days when Labour dabbled in theories of what it called Socialism, been so thoroughly tamed. The Labour government has made a public pride of the fact that it would have none of theories or principles; its first concern has been to run British capitalism as its day to day affairs demanded.

This is what is meant by a word which was often used to describe the Wilson government during the election: pragmatic. The Economist said on February 26th: "Mr. Wilson has been a socialist in small things and a pragmatist in big ones.” William Davis, the Financial Editor of The Guardian, wrote on 28th February: ‘‘I do not believe . . . that . . . Wilson the pragmatist would go easy with the trade unions and aim nasty blows at business men.” And Mr. Wilson himself claimed, when he was being interviewed in television's Election Forum on March 10th, “We have been a pragmatic government.”

It is also what was meant by the slogan on which the Labour Party fought the election: You Know Labour Government Works. Not, we should notice, You Know Labour Government Is Socialism, nor even You Know Labour Government Is Good For You. Only the claim that Labour government works. And now that they are back again stronger than before it is time for those who voted for a return of Labour government to ask themselves what is meant by the word “works”.

What was the record of the last Labour government? To begin with, they did take off the prescription charges and they did increase pensions, as they said they would in their 1964 manifesto to The New Britain. These are the usual sort of sops which new governments dish out, giving them the chance to pose as benefactors of the working class. The sops are also an excuse for a government to claim that they stick to their principles—that, in other words, they are not pragmatists. It is, of course, convenient for governments to make such claims occasionally, at other times it is convenient for them to make the opposite claim.

The Wilson government did not bring in any measure concerned with what was once thought to be a basic principle of the Labour Party. They did not introduce any nationalisation measures. They talked about steel; indeed the nationalisation of this industry has been the cause of so well-publicised an argument that it would have been difficult for a Labour government to drop the idea entirely. It was a typical piece of Wilson manipulating that his government kept saying that steel was about to be taken over but never actually got around to it.

Nationalisation is not, and never has been, anything to do with Socialism. The point is that the Labour Party always claimed that it was Socialism in itself; it is no coincidence that they have changed their mind, as they have come out openly as an alternative administration of British capitalism which the voters can try when they get tired for a while with the Conservatives.

Nationalisation was not the only matter on which Labour government “worked”. The days when Hugh Gaitskell raged against the barely concealed colour bar in the Commonwealth Immigration Act were quietly put out of mind and the Labour government were seen in practice to impose harsher restrictions on coloured immigrants than the Tories had done. This was all part of a sordid, dangerous auction in which both sides were bidding for the racialist vote, in an effort to win certain constituencies where racial feeling runs high. On this issue alone the Labour Party were revealed as a vote-grabbing, expedient conscious, unprincipled political rabble. Did Labour government “work” for the coloured immigrant, as it made his life even harder than it need be under capitalism by pandering to the racist prejudices of the frustrated workers around him?

It seems a long time ago, now, that the Labour Party were deceiving supporters of nuclear disarmament that they would get rid of the independent British Bomb. In the 1964 election they made great play of what they called the “myth of the independent British nuclear deterrent,” and claimed that anyone who supported this myth did so only because of a nostalgia for the days when Britannia very nearly ruled the entire world.

But myth or no, the fact is that there has been no change in the British nuclear weaponry. True, the Labour government said that they were opposed to the Multilateral Force and would prefer something which was for all practical purposes the same—something called the Atlantic Nuclear Force. That was about the only change they went out for. Certainly they never wanted to abolish the British Bomb, let alone all Bombs, let alone war itself. The greatest contribution the Labour government made to the field of so-called Defence was that they introduced, under the guidance of Denis Healey (a man who was once regarded as an extreme Communist)—the policy of what they called cost-effectiveness. This was another way of saying that they were determined the British capitalist class should get full value for the immense amounts of money they spend on weapons.

On many other matters the Labour government, in proving that they worked, upset many of their supporters. These supporters thought that their government would judge an issue like the war in Vietnam on humane grounds. Had they known anything about the workings of capitalist parties they would not have been so disappointed when Mr. Wilson so wholeheartedly supported the Americans in their actions there. While Mr. Wilson did so, of course, the bombings went on and the Vietnamese villagers and their children perished wholesale beneath the napalm.

On wages there was less excuse for disappointment; the Labour Party have always made plain their intention to try to control them. But even solid Labour trade unionists were upset when their government actually introduced the Prices and Incomes Bill, which was the sort of measure no Conservative government had dared to bring in. In their battles in this field, the Labour government were openly standing for the interests of the British capitalist class against the wage claims of the workers—many of whom worked so hard for Labour’s return.

There is no reason to suppose that this next Labour government will be any different. They have made it clear that their first pre-occupation will be with the problems of the British capitalist class; the very first specific object stated in their manifesto in the last election was: “It is our aim to achieve balance in our international payments by the end of this year.” Plainly, more disappointments are in store for the friends of Labour rule.

This, then, is what is meant by a Labour government which works. It means a few minor reforms, most of which are of no benefit to the working class. It means the abandonment of principle and its replacement by mealy-mouthed expediency. It means a disregard for human problems and welfare, and a pandering to the bleakest of prejudices. It means a continuation of the social system which terrorises and degrades human beings all over the world. 

There need be no surprise that little interest was shown in the alternative to capitalism at the election. The biggest change of opinion is called a landslide; it would need a veritable earthquake in social awareness to change society from one of despair into one of hope. The earthquake did not, of course, happen and the foundations of capitalism—the self deception, the prejudice, the apathy and the plain ignorance with which the working class blight their own lives—are unshaken.

The Election: What is at Stake? (1966)

From the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 31st the electorate will once again go to the polls and perform the act which Socialists consider is of crucial importance to the way in which society is organised — they will vote. Like other elections in the past, this one will generate its own groundless optimism. Once again, the illusion will be fostered that here is a fresh opportunity at last to solve the problems which have been a burden for so long. In spite of the enduring failure of all varieties of political parties to overcome such problems as war, poverty and the general chaos that is a constant feature of Capitalism, the Labour and Tory parties will go blandly into this election as if the experiences of the past had never occurred.

Once again, there will be the cheap traffic in promises. Once again, there will be the contrived differences between parties who are united in their defence of Capitalism. Once again, there will be the complete failure to face up to the realities of life in 1966. Once again, the politics of personalities, gimmickry and opportunism will take precedence over a serious understanding of the difficulties besetting society.

The records of both the Labour and Tory parties make a mockery of their claim to be the instruments of social improvement. The past policies of both these parties are an indictment which no amount of hollow phrase-mongering can overcome. For all their talk of progress and modernisation, their ideas and actions are imprisoned by the limitations of the status quo—that is—Capitalist society.

What is at stake in this election? What is it that the electorate by voting Labour, Tory or Liberal will endorse?

Whatever spurious disagreements will engage the Heaths and the Wilsons during this election, in fact they have a great deal in common. Socialists talk about the means of production and by this we mean all the instruments and technical know-how that man has developed for the purpose of producing wealth, from hand tools to nuclear power stations. All reformist politicians agree that these means of production should continue to be monopolised by a small privileged section of the population.

Although the life of the whole community depends on the way in which these means of production are utilised, all reformist politicians agree that they should be geared to the profit motive. They agree that the under-privileged working mass of the population should continue to live only by selling their labour to the owners of industry.

They are agreed on preserving the root cause of the problems facing man. This applies to the wars that so-called statesmen cannot prevent, to the frustration and poverty that arises directly from the workers’ wage employment status. So far as preserving the fundamental features of Capitalist society are concerned, the Labour and Tory parties are of one accord. At stake in this election is whether or not the majority of the population will continue to acquiesce in a society of which they are victims. By voting either Labour or Tory, the working class will endorse their own exploited economic position. This is the basic conditioning factor of modern life. The trivial controversy between the large parties will avoid this fundamental issue.

Although theoretically the working class holds political power through the vote, they have yet to use it in their own interests. It is a power that can only be fully realised when the working class have the knowledge and determination to end Capitalist society.

The Socialist Party does not play at politics. It does not pander to prejudice; it does not flatter ignorance; it does not dilute its case in the pursuit of cheap popularity. The Socialist Party does not offer the corrupt relationship of the leader and the led; it offers an understanding of society and the fraternal association of men and women who are equipped by knowledge, and who know what they want and how to get it. We know that compromise will defeat the sane and rational ends to which we are committed.

The talk in this election about the balance of trade, gold reserves, prices and income policies is an aspect of the commerce and trade in which workers have no stake.

There will be promises to solve the problems of housing, urban chaos, poverty, rising prices and international conflict by men who have failed in the past and who cannot but fail in the future.

The message of the Socialist Party at this election time is a positive one. In addressing ourselves to working men and women, we embrace all those who make a contribution to the wealth and well being of society, be they factory operatives, doctors, technicians, labourers or tradesmen. Only they can rebuild the world to make it a fit place to live in, but not by electing a government to administer Capitalism.

For loo long have their skills and talents been used by a privileged minority to create profit and private luxury. For too long has human labour been subject to the crippling limitations of production for sale.

It is not enough to struggle to defend living standards under Capitalism. These workers must join the Socialist movement to take over industry itself and convert all the means that society has developed for producing wealth to the property of the whole community. Thus commonly owned and democratically controlled, the means of production can serve the needs of the whole community. This action must presuppose any attempt to deal in a practical way with the problems of our time.


CORRECTION in the April 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
We regret that the article "What is at stake? in the March Socialist Standard contained some phrases liable to misunderstanding. "Labour" in paragraph 6 should, of course, have read "Labour power", and "to take over industry itself" in the last paragraph should read "to capture political power".
Editorial Committee


The SPGB and the 1966 General Election

The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain will be contesting two constituencies in the coming election—Hampstead (London) and Woodside (Glasgow).

In Hampstead the candidate is H. Baldwin and the election agent is M. Davis. Prior to arrangement of Committee Rooms all members and supporters please contact Head Office where up-to-date information will be available.

In Woodside the candidate is R. Vallar and the election agent is M. Donnelly and up-to-date information on the arrangements is available at the Glasgow Branch rooms.