Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Lady Thatcher's Shadow (1997)

From the July 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Margaret Thatcher casts a long political shadow. She may have failed to fully transform the Tory Party but Thatcherism had a far-reaching effect on the Labour Party.

A remarkable political unanimity existed for three decades following the end of the Second World War. Both major parties followed broadly similar policies aimed at creating full employment through government intervention in the working of the economy. Additionally both parties were committed to the so-called welfare state and accepted the economic theories of Keynes which claimed that the boom and slump cycle of capitalist economic activity could be smoothed out by government intervention. Conservatives willingly dropped their minimal intervention political stance and bid for support on an openly reformist platform. There was a general shift in politics towards collectivist thinking. However capitalism remained as anarchic as ever and was not to be controlled and run smoothly to order.

General economic expansion in the post-war period was punctuated by increasingly severe economic recessions, and Britain’s share of world trade continued to decline. By the time the OPEC cartel quadrupled oil prices in the early 1970s a section in the Conservative Party was ready to accept the ideas of the New Right. Less state intervention in economic life, complete free trade, and strict control over government spending as advocated by the New Right theorists drew an increasing number of adherents, among them Thatcher. Here at last was a body of ideas that could provide the movers and shakers in the party with an intellectually respectable anti-statist ideology despite the fact that Conservatives saw themselves as resolutely non-ideological.

It had been the achievement of Conservatism in the nineteenth century that it adapted the strong individualist tendencies of Liberalism (the ideas associated with laissez-faire economic policies) to the more traditional aristocratic values of social order and cohesion, deference, community and reciprocity. Thatcherism was a revival of this earlier strand of Conservatism emphasising self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, free markets, and small enterprise. It was intolerant of other, paternalistic, strands of Toryism typified by those she called the “wets”. Many in the party were appalled by these developments and Lord Alport was moved to write to the Times in 1985 expressing his opinion that “Thatcherism is not Conservatism.” But her strong leadership qualities were attractive to large sections of the working class and she became the Conservative Party’s strongest asset.

Success and failure
Some of the changes implemented between 1979 and 1990 were obvious successes for Thatcher’s programme. The sale of council houses and the privatisation of state enterprises are not going to be reversed. Control of local government finances is too useful a tool for Labour to want to abandon and in any case was something they themselves had been attempting to do while last in office. Similarly, the laws restricting trade union rights and controlling their internal organisation are likely to remain with only minor modification. Again this is something Labour had been trying to address, and they have recently again distanced themselves from the trade unions.

But Thatcherism failed to fully convert the workers in Britain to acceptance of the joys of popular capitalism. The sale of state-owned industries saw millions buying shares just to sell them shortly after to realise a quick profit. However the number of shares held by private investors continued to fall—a trend which went against the Conservative policy on share ownership. Capitalism was for Thatcher a system designed to bring wealth to the many, and her ideal was an obvious impossibility—’’Every man and woman a capitalist” (Observer, 8 May 1983). (If we were all capitalists who among us would continue to suffer the indignity of having to sell ourselves for a wage or a salary?)

By late 1984 the British public had become largely indifferent to privatisation. Unemployment was stated to be the top priority by 75 percent of respondents in an opinion poll in August 1984, as opposed to curbing inflation which was given top priority by a mere 18 percent. The “drag up” effect by which Thatcher expected a general rise in economic prosperity through the promotion of “enterprise” also failed to materialise. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the 1990s revealed that “the gap between rich and poor is at its widest for 50 years . . .  millions of people have no stake in future prosperity” (Independent, 10 February 1995). Howard Davies, Director General of the CBI, and a member of the report team, said it was a problem which could not be ignored and a solution would have to include more government intervention. (Financial Times, 10 February 1995.)

The “Thatcher revolution” was not delivering the economic goods any more successfully than the abandoned interventionist Keynesianism. Indeed, the policies were increasingly out of favour among the leaders of British industry for whom the “red meat” was getting a little rancid. Peter Morgan, Director General of the Institute of Directors complained that British business recovery had been “. . torpedoed by runaway inflation . . . This awful recession . . .  is a failure of government economic management. It is a government failure.” (Financial Times, 24 April 1991). The Iron Lady had become a political liability.

John Major’s first move on succeeding her was to reshuffle the cabinet. He appointed to it the arch interventionist Heseltine. Political commentators expected Major “ . . .  to listen less to the political theoreticians and gurus beloved of Mrs Thatcher [the] radical right-wingers who campaigned for him knew perfectly well that he was not ‘one of us’.” (Economist, 11 December 1990). While advocating “prudence” in public spending (“We must not . . . run in with our chequebooks flapping” (Economist, 1 July 1989)). He struggled with the economic recession he had inherited declaring that “a strategy for growth is what we need . . . ” Inflation was running at above 10 percent, industrial output falling at the rate of 11.5 percent, retail sales falling at 5.75 percent, with unemployment again rising.

Labour Mark Two Tory Party
Margaret Thatcher’s real significance lay in the agenda she set for political  debate. If she failed to fully transform the Conservative Party Thatcherism had a far-reaching effect on the Labour Party. Labour consciously and deliberately set about transforming itself into a Mark II Conservative party by ditching any pretence of having anything to do with changing society. Accepting the values dictated by a market economy Labour now talked of “ . . .  efficient, competitive industry . . .  capturing the markets at home and abroad” (Neil Kinnock: Making Our Way: Investing in Britain's Future, Blackwell. 1986, p.60). Labour more  than ever before accepts the market as the arbiter in the setting of economic goals. Clause 4 has been totally abandoned only to be replaced by the  anodyne commitment to “ . . .  a united  and prosperous society and to the fair distribution of wealth and opportunity . . ." (Guardian, 30 January 1995). Blair has dedicated himself to the promotion of a “dynamic modern economy (Economist, 14 January 1995).

The harsh realities of capitalist economics have forced the Party to realign their policies to the new consensus to such an extent that the Institute of Directors were pleased to report that “Labour has moved massively toward the Conservative agenda” (International Herald Tribune, 2 May 1997). In addition we have been reassured by no less a person than Lady Thatcher that Blair will “not let Britain down” (Guardian, 14 March 1997). It is little wonder that ’Bagehot’ could note in the Economist (7 January 1995) that one could forget accusing the “new” Labour Party of “being socialist” because “sometimes it is stretching things to describe it as left wing.”

Those who voted for the Labour Party cannot say that they were not warned in advance that Labour intends to run capitalism. We predict that Labour will fail to run capitalism in the interest of the vast majority who make up the working class in Britain, just as Lady Thatcher did.
Gwynn Thomas

Woe to the Vanquished (1934)

Editorial from the March 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour parties in different countries that go under the names of Communist or Socialist, in spite of the futile nature of their reform policies, are, as a rule, an expression of the discontent of the more advanced workers. In spite of the trickery and place-hunting of leaders the rank and file is made up of many who are prepared to give up their all in the defence of ideas and parties that they believe will bring an end to working class suffering.

The civil struggles that have become such a common feature of social life on the continent of Europe during post-war years are instances of two important problems that the capitalists as a class are endeavouring to solve. On the other hand, they want to cut down the huge state expenditures, much of which is looked upon as an unprofitable employment of money by large sections of the capitalists who object to some of their brethren living upon them, and, on the other hand, they want to curb the dangerous tendencies of working class discontent.

For both purposes they require a stronger and more centralised state power, free as far as possible of party strife.

During the building up of this more centralised state power different groups of capitalists endeavour to exploit the movement for their own ends. Hence the bewildering welter of warring parties with apparently conflicting aims. Upon one question, however, these capitalist parties are united, and that is on the need to crush out anything that suggests an attempt by the workers to lift from their shoulders the burden of exploitation. It is for- this reason that antipathy to “Marxism” is a prominent feature of all these capitalist movements. The name of Marx is synonymous with the class struggle and Socialism. Hence the ruthless means employed against individuals and organisations that pay court to Marx—even when his name and ideas have been taken in vain—by those who for a while obtain the spoils of power.

The ferocity of the repressive measures is often the offspring of panic on the part of the ruling class, who, fancying their privileged position challenged, let loose the feelings of the jungle and savagery has its way.

There has just been an example of this in Austria during a struggle that has been long anticipated. The struggle was provoked by the Government with a cunning that is familiar, and of which we had an example here during the War, when the bulk of the men of this country were brought into the army and the munition works by the skilful use of Derby Scheme and Conscription Acts. The Austrian Government has recently made no secret of its intention to crush out the Social Democratic Party and the haste with which it brought into use artillery against the workers makes glaringly evident the grimness of its determination. The Government intends that the lesson shall be salutary and that neither women nor children, neither the aged nor the non-combatants, are safe from its ferocity when they let loose the revengeful guns.

While the guns were still booming the gallows were put up and the executions began in haste lest the opportunity might slip by that was provided by the excuse of unbridled passion.

The dispassionate savagery behind the directing of the guns was illustrated by the fact that in the midst of the strife the cessation of the bombardment by artillery was ordered in one of the districts of Vienna because damage was being caused to valuable property—and this was done while the artillery continued to blow to pieces even women and children who were cowering in terror in the blocks of working class flats that were the centre of the chief bombardment! Let the workers remember such incidents.

Whatever we may think of the mistaken policies of the Austrian labour movement we have nothing but admiration for the Austrian workers who put up such a determined if despairing struggle against the attempt to destroy their organisations.

As was obvious from the beginning, the Austrian Government have been successful in their object. Many working class homes mourn the death or the mutilation of participants in the struggle. The destruction of their organisations is being pursued with vigour and mercilessness.

The Austrian ruling class have been successful. They believe they will stamp out all tendency to revolt against exploitation. Their success, however, can only be temporary. The fire they have smothered will smoulder and break out again later on. When it does so, we hope that the Austrian workers will be guided by greater knowledge than they have been in the past, and will base their movement on a policy that has for its single object the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and the establishment of Socialism.

Death of Another Comrade (1934)

Obituary from the February 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we have to record the death, at the age of 32 years, of Comrade Harry Milton. He died from cancer of the lungs in Bethnal Green Hospital on December 25th.

The passing of the years accustoms us to expect news of the deaths of those elder comrades who, active in the past, retire after long and ardent devotion to Party work, and become but names to the new generation, and in the end pass from the struggle for good. But with the young and active the loss is more intimate and more of a shock.

Comrade Milton joined the Party in March, 1927. Almost immediately he became an active propagandist and later was appointed secretary to the propaganda committee. Whilst acting in this post he spoke at practically all the Party’s London outdoor meeting places, addressing sometimes as many as eight and nine meetings in one week. He often addressed three meetings on a Sunday at different ends of London, perhaps involving seven or eight hours' speaking. The time he spent on active propaganda work did not prevent him from discharging his duties as propaganda secretary with competence. In 1931 he presented the Annual Conference with a report of the year’s propaganda activities as detailed and comprehensive as perhaps any that has been given, and was commended by Conference.

About eighteen months ago, in pursuance of his employment, he went to Sheffield. The following extract out of a letter from a comrade illustrates the esteem in which he was held there.
  Although he was a member of this branch (Sheffield) for only a few months, he made a decided impression upon them and also upon numerous sympathisers and opponents.
   Last winter he made several journeys to different places in Yorkshire in the endeavour to spread the Party’s message and literature. Though dogged persistently by ill-health, he never spared himself if he thought there was an opportunity of striking a blow at the enemy.
   Harry Milton chose to spend himself in the service of his class on its highest plane. He will be remembered with respectful affection by many of us in Sheffield.
This letter expresses the feelings of all who knew Comrade Milton.

The interment took place on Tuesday, January 2nd, at Leytonstone cemetery.

We extend our sympathy to his parents and other relatives.

Meeting of Party Speakers (1934)

From the January 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

A very well attended and successful meeting of Party propagandists was held at Head Office on Saturday, November 11th. The organiser, “Robertus,” spoke at some length on problems facing speakers at outdoor meetings.

He said that, in his opinion, based on his experience extending over many years, it is a bad practice and harmful to the Party that speakers should be abusive to opponents. It should be remembered that opponents in organisations such as the Communist Party and I.L.P. are, generally speaking, just as sincere as are members of the Socialist Party, and just as certain that they are right. They are enthusiastic, and believe in the views they put forward, and should be treated accordingly and reasoned with accordingly.

There is a difference between indoor and outdoor speaking in that, with an indoor meeting, the subject can be dealt with at once. People have come there to listen to a set subject, and consequently the argument must be consecutive which presupposes considerable preparation beforehand. Outdoor meetings, on the other hand, are subject to interrupters, and must allow for the need to touch upon a number of different points; consequently the same tactics cannot be employed at outdoor meetings as indoors. That does not mean, however, that speakers at outdoor meetings need not prepare their material. Preparation is just as necessary, although the kind of subject may be different. One method suitable to outdoor meetings is to take a few current questions of topical interest and expound the Socialist view in relation to them.

Some young speakers find it difficult to speak for longer than, say, 15 minutes on a topic. If that is so, be content to speak for that period. Do not attempt to carry on for half an hour. No good is  ever done by this.

In conclusion, the organiser said that he is convinced that the Party has within its ranks much good material, and he hoped his remarks would help towards increasing the number of effective propagandists for Socialism.

In the discussion which followed many points were put forward. The usefulness of outdoor meetings under present-day conditions was questioned by one speaker, who suggested that consideration should be given to alternative forms of activity, such as door-to-door canvassing and advertising. This was countered by a speaker who insisted that in outdoor meetings lies the strength of the Party.

It was pointed out that, at least in some areas, it is impossible to avoid controversy about other political parties, since members of the audience are interested in such questions and throw, them up at the speaker as soon as the meeting begins.

Another member who spoke agreed that speakers must take the local situation as they find it, but would be well advised to keep off attacks on other organisations as far as possible. For the same reason as that put forward by the organiser, it is inadvisable to make a special point of attacking religion. It is far more useful to get the economic case for Socialism accepted by an individual and deal with his objections to the Socialist attitude towards religion afterwards.

Another point brought out in discussion was that at certain meeting places it is difficult to get an audience. This could never be achieved by putting the Socialist case. The only way is to attract attention by arranging for Party members to put questions to the speaker.

Another suggestion was that difficult stations should be closed down and attention concentrated on more fruitful areas.

The meeting passed two resolutions.
  The first recommended the E.C. to appoint district organisers to assist the central organiser.
  The second recommended the setting up of speakers' classes, at Head Office or elsewhere, under the supervision of the organiser.
It is intended to call further meetings to consider problems of propaganda, and the organiser will make arrangements and issue an announcement of the next meeting in due course.

News In Review: Sour Rent Act (1966)

The News in Review column from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sour Rent Act

Speaking in Salford on June 12 Labour M.P. Frank Allaun complained that the 1965 Rent Act had "gone sour on us." In other words it wasn't working as expected. This, of course, is nothing unusual for Acts to reform capitalism, especially in the field of housing. The evidence that has accumulated for over a century points to only one conclusion: there is no solution to the housing problem within capitalism. Lack of adequate housing is just one of the many problems that capitalism causes for workers. Since capitalism is the cause it is futile to pass Acts to find some solution within capitalism. There is no such solution. Such Acts are doomed to failure from the start as they try to do the impossible.

Socialists have always said that reform measures can’t be taken at their face value as they don’t always work as intended or they give rise to new problems. Labour’s Rent Act is an interesting confirmation of this. Although this Act was not intended to cut rents, those who voted Labour can be excused for thinking so. After all, had not Labour fought the 1957 Tory Rent Act tooth and nail in Parliament? Had they not pledged themselves time and time again to repeal it? Since the obvious result of the Tory Rent Act was to lead to rent increases ‘‘repeal’’ could justifiably be taken to mean "cut rents.” In fact, the aim of Labour's Act was to fix a "fair” rent—what the rent would be if supply and demand were equal, a formula bound to justify increasing controlled rents. Rent Officers and Rent Assessment Committees were appointed to work out these "fair” rents.

Now Sir Sydney Littlewood, the president of the Greater London Rent Assessment Panel, turns round and tells his Labour critics that they "did not understand the Act they had passed,” saying that they had the mistaken idea that the object of the Rent Act was to curb rents. The object was, he said, to find a fair rent.

No wonder Frank Allaun is annoyed. But those who have been cruelly deceived by Labour have much greater reason to be. They've been taken for a ride by Labour once again.

Vietnam - a reminder

Some time ago Harold Wilson startled the world, stilled a revolt in his Party and got a lot of Publicity, by suggesting a Peace Mission from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to settle the war in Vietnam.

A lot of people thought this was a dazzingly good idea.

But what happened?

The mission never went to Vietnam— it never, in fact, went anywhere.
Its members never met between themselves, let alone met the belligerents of Vietnam.

Some of the members of the Mission —for example, Nkrumah—are no longer Commonwealth Prime Ministers.

In other words, Wilson’s dazzling idea was an historic flop.

Meanwhile, the war goes on.

There will be no prizes for the next futile, vote-cadging suggestion.

Rebels too late

Few things have more searingly exposed the futility and absurdity of Labour’s so-called left wing than their “revolt” over the government’s policies on prices and incomes and Vietnam.

In all the fuss over the revolt, it seemed to escape notice that, not for the first time, the rebels were rather late.

The Prices and Incomes Bill was first introduced during the lifetime of the last government; the version which caused Frank Cousins to resign his Ministry is actually milder than the previous one.

On Vietnam, the Wilson government always made clear their support for American actions, including the bombing of the North.

In other words, the present government are simply carrying on the policies of the last. But in between there was the general election; that was the time for the rebels to make their disagreements known.

They might even have resigned from the Labour Party and fought on an independent platform. But they had probably all studied the fate of the Radical Alliance in Hull North.

So what did they do?

Well here are extracts from the election addresses of two of the Vietnam rebels:
  Hugh Jenkins (Putney): . . .  we need a longer period of office, with a more secure majority, so that we can get on with the job.
  Sydney Bidwell (Southall): If you . . . intend to vole Labour again . . . may I warmly thank you in advance and urge you, in the name of our just and common cause, to make absolutely sure you use your vote.
No word of dissension disturbed the orthodoxy of these addresses. Hugh Jenkins was hanging so firmly on to Wilson's coat tails that he embellished his address with a picture of the Leader, pipe and avuncular expression and all.

There was plenty to protest about last March but the rebels held their tongues. And their seats.

De Gaulle in Moscow

Statesmen do not visit each other to exchange expressions of mutual respect.

So why did De Gaulle go to Russia?

French policy is now based upon acceptance of the fact that the days of independent glory, when France was a world power, are past. They ended in the mud on the Aisne and in the graveyards of Verdun.

For a long time, France took her new place in the world as a paid-up member of the American gang—a complaisant signatory of the NATO Pact, of the EEC and so on.

De Gaulle signified the first important change in this. Under him, French policy has been to solidify Europe into an area independent of both Russia and the United States, but dominated by France.

Hence the opposition to British membership of the Common Market. Hence De Gaulle’s famous visit to West Germany—and now his trip to Russia.

This last expedition probably followed from the French withdrawal from NATO, of which West Germany is still a member. Germany may yet become a nuclear power, may yet revive her expansionist ambitions.

For about a century Russia has been France's counterweight against German expansion; this fact has not been changed by two World Wars and a lot of bloodshed.

One of the significant things about De Gaulle’s visit, however, was the way in which the Russians reminded him, delicately, that they are more than a European power.

Russian interests and influence now extend all over the world—and they will fight for them world-wide if they are threatened.

So De Gaulle had to face another reality. After the usual cloak of meaningless communique had been thrown over the visit he came home, and the disputes and intrigues of capitalism's world conflict continue.

Escalation in Vietnam

In Vietnam the American bombers spread their wings wider and more lethally as the weeks go by. This is escalation, an ugly word the use of which is almost obligatory when anyone is talking about the war there.

Vietnam is not the first war to have escalated. The First World War developed with a terrible speed, on an almost predetermined course, into something so bitter and destructive that it changed the world for good.

The Second World War escalated— and in a way if is still escalating—from simple high explosive bombs, and High Commands solemnly declaring their intentions of protecting civilian populations, to the fireballs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This development went step by step, as the war became fiercer and more desperate. Each stage was justified by the commanders to their own consciences. It was an inexorable process; it showed up the fact that the development of wars is a one-way affair; they never escalate downwards.

This leads us to the heart of the matter. As long as society accepts war. as long as it accepts the system which gives rise to war. it can have no logical objection to the effects of war.

There is no such thing as a humane war, or a controlled war fought to rules. War is its own master, with its own momentum and its own rules. 

The demonstrators, some of them incensed at the killing of children and other non-combatants, carry their banners and get themselves jailed. None of them protests against the cause of it all.

None of them, however sincere, are near the heart of the matter.

Poor Harold Wilson

Poor Harold Wilson, everyone is after him.

He has been stabbed so many times from behind that his back must resemble a kitchen collander.

Even before Wilson became Prime Minister, Aims of Industry and the Economic League were busily knifing him, with their anti-nationalisation campaign financed by private industry.

Then during the 1964 election he received another thrust between his shoulder blades from Hardy Spicers, who were apparently forcing their workers out on strike so that everyone would rush out and vote Tory.

The prospect of anyone voting against him was so agonising a wound for Wilson that he promised to expose the murderous activities of private industry in an enquiry after he was in Number Ten.

Nothing more was heard of this idea; perhaps Wilson was too busy because no sooner was he in office than the Gnomes of Zurich were at work with their daggers, threatening all he had planned.

And now the latest political flick-knife boys are the Communist Party, the '‘tightly knit group of politically motivated men" who apparently also stir up strikes but who have not yet thought of getting together with Hardy Spicers.

Perhaps some seamen remember the many trade union leaders who. from political motives, tried to force the Attlee government’s wage freeze down their members’ throats.

Perhaps some of them reflect that, like all its predecessors, the Wilson government is failing to deliver the goods as promised and must find excuses for its failure.

Perhaps, in other words. Wilson’s desperate search for a scapegoat will help some people to see through the dirty, futile game of capitalist politics.

Old Tricks

One of the legends concerning Zaharoff, the ‘‘merchant of death," was that he acted as mediator in one of the South American wars at the turn of the century and helped to arrange a truce. He then sold arms to the two sides and a few months later when they had been delivered the fighting restarted. Part of this story could be re-enacted in the near future. The Times reported on 10 June:
The pro-Government Karachi newspaper Dawn reported that the Soviet Union has offered to sell arms to Pakistan on the same terms as she already sells to India.
It may be remembered that the recent war between India and Pakistan was followed by the Tashkent conference, at which Russia played the role of peacemaker. The fighting has stopped for the time being but the cause of the conflict remains. The conflict over Kashmir and other issues originating from private property society are still there. Increased arms spending by both sides provides attractive markets for the world’s arms makers.

In recent years Russia has broken into one market alter the other with its arms. So why not Pakistan? After all, business is business, and in his recent budget Pakistan’s Finance Minister. Mohammad Shoaib. announced that defence spending would increase from 1,360 million to 2,250 million rupees.

The interests of the Russian and American rulers require peace in this area. It is also vital that opportunities for profitable trade should be taken advantage of. This is just one of the many contradictions of capitalism. Zaharoff made a living by taking advantage of them when he could. Heads of state, pledged to look after the national capitalist interest, are forced to act in contradictory ways. Like talking peace while cashing on the arms market.

Labour's Honeymoon Won't Last (1997)

Editorial from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour’s emphatic victory came as no surprise and the honeymoon has already begun. Whilst it was enjoyable watching odious representatives of the ruling class like Michael Portillo lose their seats, let there be no mistake that this was still a victory which belonged to capital. The working class has elected another set of politicians to preside over the exploitation process, and that they can make no real difference to the problems facing us in our daily lives will soon become evident.

This realisation of Labour's impotence may come sooner rather than later since even by capitalist standards they were elected on a programme that contained little more than warm words. In this age of cynicism Labour calculated—quite correctly—that any capitalist politician promising an utopia simply would not be believed. Subsequently, Blair managed to combine the right balance between severely limited policy objectives which were all “properly costed” and a vision based around hackneyed cliches.

Already the new government has started to make noises about constitutional reform to the sound of a fanfare from much of the capitalist press. It looks as if devolution could be on the cards for both Wales and Scotland and there is even the possibility of electoral reform. However, none of these measures will make the slightest real difference to the lives of the useful majority. The logic of capitalist development during the last couple of decades has led to a rightwards shift in capitalist politics and the new Labour government is a reflection of this trend, not a sign of its reversal.

It is virtually indisputable that with Labour in office the owning capitalist class will continue to try to do their utmost to get more out of us for less by intensifying the exploitation process and attacking our living standards. For its part, the new government will be under pressure to cut state spending in an attempt to manage the still unusually large budget deficit and the huge national debt.

This can only set the scene for the intensification of class struggle, a struggle which is our only hope in resisting the attacks of capital. But no-one should be in any doubt that the only way that our problems can be really solved is when such a defensive class struggle transforms itself into a pro-active struggle which finally abolishes capitalism itself.

A 1932 Memory. (1933)

A Short Story from the January 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tired of the gloomy public library and its shabbily dressed habitu├ęs vainly seeking employment or feverishly struggling for news of the latest racing results, I wondered what I should do next. I went some distance along the main road and a Lyons tea shop with its stereotyped white and gold front—unimaginatively the same in Camberwell, Streatham, Balham, Poplar, Brighton, or wherever the octopus has extended its suckers— attracted me; at least the marble walls, glass tables and not-so-shabby public were an improvement, and I sat down, and awaited a cup of tea.

A man, old in experience, but still young in outlook, entered and sat opposite and ventured a remark on the weather. Another commonplace or two, and then he observed that the weather was really of not much importance; the economic difficulties were what mattered most. I could only agree and confided that I myself had been sacked with a large number of other employees about six months ago by a prosperous rubber company.

“You don’t know what to do these days,” he said. “When I was young you could try your luck abroad, but to-day it’s the same everywhere; Australia has its big unemployment problem. I have been in many parts of the world and carried on businesses, but it's no good leaving this country nowadays.”

He then told me he was in the bakery business and had come over from West London to collect a little account from one of his customers.

“It must be a large business,” I said, “ if you have customers in this neighbourhood.”

“No, it isn’t that,” he replied, ” the customer moved here.”

“Not the most pleasant of occupations endeavouring to get people to pay their debts,” I observed.

“Well,” he said, “there is nothing in it when you get used to it. In a case of genuine hardship we make all the allowance we can, but if we are sure a man has the money and is being obstinate, we serve a summons. Of course, it must be very hard for all those people thrown out of work by the large companies.”

“Well,” I said, “ the large combine companies don’t think much about their employees; from their point of view it is merely a costing operation.”

“Yes, but I don’t think it helps them much,” he said.

“Why not? ” was my answer. " They make a big saving in labour costs and are able to entrench themselves and get an even bigger hold on the market.”

As a man who had been in business ventures himself, he was bound to agree, and could only add, “Well, if they continue throwing men out of work it will turn them into Socialists. And what do you think the small business man who goes under in the struggle is going to do? You know, I think it really accounts for these motor bandits.”

I told him that was my opinion, too. I might also have said that the capitalist, whether on the rocks, or secure behind the fortress of profits, bombs, bayonets, poison gas—real or vocal—is just the same and will stick at nothing to gain his ends—a fact which unemployed demonstrators and rioters might learn with advantage. What I did say, however, was that probably the hardship endured by those out of work also accounted for the increasing number of suicides.

“Oh, don’t speak of suicides,” he said, seemingly anxious to dismiss the subject, and giving an order for a second cup of tea. It was difficult not to have the suspicion that one of his hard-pressed debtors, or an employee he had dismissed had thus found a solution, "whilst of unsound mind,” to the hopeless struggle for existence. At any rate, with that remark the subject of economics dropped and this journal is uninterested in what followed.

A point which the writer would like to emphasise, however, is that the small capitalist with whom he had been in conversation was sufficiently thoughtful and understanding to perceive the inherent tendencies and consequences of capitalism, which translated into reality for the working class mean abominable conditions of living.

Monopolisation of the ownership of the bulk of the means of production by a few giant organisations is proceeding apace, and the continual reorganisation, rationalisation, and use of more intricate and labour-saving machinery which the capital resources of these organisations enable them to buy, must mean also, amid the overabundance of wealth and luxury which the working class have produced, a tendency for growing numbers of this class to be struggling to live on the dole and living in conditions of abject poverty.

The application of the only remedy for the workers—Socialism—will result from their own effort alone, and we urge them to do the little brain work necessary to understand the nature of their class enslavement. When they have done that, no force on earth will prevent them establishing a society wherein a condition of things characterised by sanity will be enjoyed by everyone.
G. M. A.

The War Game (1966)

Film Review from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is a film which depicts what this country would be like during and after a nuclear attack. Peter Watkins has spared no effort to convince us that the situation would be one of unspeakable suffering, death and destruction.

There is a fire storm and a commentator tells us the gruesome details of what happens to people when oxygen is burnt out of the air they breathe. The hopelessness of so-called Civil Defence in trying to cope with such havoc is shown. Everywhere there are people with flash and radiation burns who might have been creatures from some monster film.

There are three categories of survivors. The last of these with 50 per cent body bums or more are given up; medical facilities are practically nil. The police, who are armed, put them out of their misery. About here a parson says he favours a war for law and order. In fact, religious hypocrisy comes in for much attention. The Vatican is recorded as saying they know “our nuclear bombs will be used with wisdom.” An American church leader advises survivors to “think twice before letting a neighbour into your shelter.” In the midst of all the carnage, in the background is heard the strains of Christ the Saviour is Born. There are food riots where armed survivors kill government guards and raid the food stores.

A commentator remarks that morality goes by the board when people have been reduced to this level. Almost as though they were expected to behave as if nothing had happened.

A man-in-the-street says he was offered £1 for a loaf of bread but refused it because “you can’t eat money.” This is one point worth dwelling on, as it illustrates the whole absurdity of capitalism. It is surely the things of life such as food, clothing and shelter which people need. Money stands in the way of the fulfilment of social needs. What good would a cupboard full of pound notes be if there were no food? Yet it takes a situation of social chaos and complete breakdown of effective control before it is dimly seen that food is important but money is obsolete.

One man was interviewed among the survivors, who had some young children. He helplessly pleaded that he did not want the radioactive poison working in their bones.

It has been said that in 15 years time at least 12 more nations will have nuclear bombs: that the present stock-pile will have doubled in five years and that there is already enough for everyone on earth to have the equivalent of 20 tons of T.N.T. all to themselves. What a damning indictment of the system under which we live that it can only operate in such a way.

The main object of The War Game seems to be to make the point that there is not nearly enough publicity given to the facts about nuclear weapons and their effects. Information is at a minimum, the public are not being told. They partly defeat their own purpose by telling us in the film that scenes of a similar kind did, in fact, take place in Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two. The fact remains that although the working-class had close personal contact with these horrors it did not produce an attitude against such madness which is obviously to be hoped for. All the widely known suffering and slaughter of World War One did not prevent the occurrence of World War Two some 20 years later. This recalls another film, All Quiet On The Western Front, which showed the useless butchery of the First World War.

The War Game makes no criticism of capitalism as a system, and the idea emerges that hut for the menace of nuclear bombs everything would be just fine. This fallacy is something common to all piecemeal thinking. It leaves out of account the inter-relation of all the major social problems and ignores their common origin. When we are confronted with two-thirds of humanity starving and charity organisations passing the hat round, while in the same week there is an appeal for cancer research, and we know that there are still millions of ugly slums all over the world, it is ludicrous to think of problems in isolation. Neither should it be forgotten that so-called conventional weapons serve no working class interest. While all the attention is focused on one end product—the Bomb—capitalism grinds its sinister way from one crisis to another with war lurking as an ever-present possibility.

It is the questions left unanswered by such films which hold the key to the whole problem. What is the cause of war? How can it be abolished? To publicise the effects of nuclear weapons is useful but not in itself an answer to war.

The concept of nationalism is one of the attitudes which makes war acceptable to workers. This is not referred to in the film. While the idea of “the nation” survives, workers will continue to think of themselves as British or Russian etc.; and, therefore, when their ruling-classes clash over markets, oil or investments, they will wrongly believe they have something at stake.

The vital thing is to replace such fallacies with Socialist understanding, which points to the unity of working class interests all over the world. Then from the basis of a sound understanding of the world they live in, they will take the necessary political action to end the nightmare of capitalism and replace it with a world community of production for use, where the conditions out of which wars arise will cease to exist
Harry Baldwin

Reason (2012)

Book Review from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Reason Why. By John Gribbin.Allen Lane. £20.

In the 1960s, a group of heterodox Trotskyists known as the Posadists shackled the UFO craze, then sweeping the world, to ‘socialism’ (in their case doubtless meaning some form of half-baked developmental dictatorship). Their leader Juan Posadas ‘reasoned’ that since these alien visitors were technologically advanced they must also be communists, and called for their assistance and our emulation. Now it is likely that UFOs were nothing more than secret US aviation experiments (could anything be more otherworldly than stealth aircraft such as the B-2 or the F-117?), but the question remains “where are the aliens”? Gribbin answers with Occamist precision: “They are not here because they do not exist”.

Subtitled “The miracle of life on earth”, this book seeks to argue why life, especially intelligent life with advanced technological capacity, is extremely unlikely to be duplicated in our galaxy, if not, indeed, the universe. While the influence of the moon in making the earth habitable is well known, the author contends that there is a wide range of other factors at work. As an astrophysicist, he most effectively explores the really large ones to do with the peculiar position, composition and geography of our solar system, but seems on unfamiliar ground with evolution (for instance, rating the intelligence of Troodon, the most advanced dinosaur, as on a par with a baboon, whereas most reliable sources rate it as a clever chicken) and ventures not at all into history – how unlikely, looking at the untold eons of hand to mouth survival, is the evolution and survival of technological civilisation? Like Posadas, Gribbin also ventures into science fiction with a purely speculative account of the emergence of complex multi-cellular life in the early Cambrian involving the collision of Venus and a supercomet. Despite its limitations, which include a lack of illustrative diagrams, this is a worthwhile book, with a firm and easily accessible scientific background.

The implications are clear. If we are indeed alone, what a crime it is to put the fate of civilisation in the hands of the capitalist system whose reckless wars and insane waste of resources endanger our very survival as a species. As the twenty-first century progresses and human knowledge and abilities expand, it will become increasingly obvious that only socialism can provide the necessary preconditions for our continued long-term existence.
Keith Scholey