Sunday, May 22, 2016

Letters to the Editors: Is socialism practical (1989)

Letters to the Editors from the October 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is socialism practical?

Dear Editors,

Your principles are excellent but their implementation in the foreseeable future is, I’m afraid, impracticable. May I make two points in this regard?

First, you say that goods will be distributed according to needs. How would that need be assessed? Or would assessment not be necessary because goods would be available in any quantity, at any time, to anybody? If that were the case, then an increased production of goods would be imperative, which raises the question of "to what level?" From which follows the setting of a standard of living throughout the world. The task of satisfying such a high demand would be unimaginable and would surely be impossible at the level of the Western industrial states, or anything like it. What would the people in those countries do when they found that their standard of living was reduced?

My second point concerns the increased production necessary under my first point. We already complain, with every justification, that growth (i.e. increased production) involves ever-increasing pollution. There seems to be no readily available solution of that problem which, surely, your actions would make worse. How would you solve it?
W. F. Whitehead, 

In socialism, a society of production for use with free access to the means of life, an individual's needs will be determined by individuals themselves. They are, after all, best placed to do so!

The revolutionary change to socialism will require a majority of workers consciously and democratically deciding that this is in their interest as a class. They will appreciate that plans and preparations need to be made before the change-over from capitalism to socialism to ensure a smooth transition to production for use and free access. Capitalism is run from top to bottom by the working class (the employing class having long ago become economically redundant). As workers we have the knowledge and skills, and have developed the means of production to the level needed for the implementation of socialism. All that is lacking is political consciousness and the determination to win control of the machinery of the state to convert the means of life from private and state ownership to common ownership by the whole of society.

The gathering of information and projections of likely demand for goods and services should present few difficulties. For example, the development of the "bar code” system in retailing could easily be adapted to measure trends and facilitate distribution and to assess likely future needs. The larger the number covered by such estimates the smaller the effects of any sudden or unforeseen fluctuations.

Certainly, it would be one of the first tasks of a socialist society to increase the amount of goods produced to ensure enough for all. You doubt whether this can be achieved. We think your doubts are unjustified. A report by the World Commission on Environment and Development was published in 1987 entitled Our Common Future (the Brundtland report). In it were quoted the UN Industrial Development Organisation estimates that, for the consumption of manufactured goods in developing countries (the "Third World") to be raised to current industrial country levels, world industrial output would have to be increased by 2.6 times. But even under capitalism, with its production restricted to what can be sold at a profit, the output of goods increased by seven times between 1950 and 1987. Freed from the constraints of the profit motive and with the ending of the waste of the world's resources represented by armaments, banking, buying and selling and other such activities, socialism will have little difficulty in producing sufficient wealth to enable the whole of the world's people to live in comfort and decency.

Nor is your fear well-founded that the increased production necessary to do this will result in increasing pollution. Manufacturing industry is already implementing pollution control measures where it pays it to do so. A 1984 OECD survey concluded that expenditure on environmental measures over a period of twenty years had positive effects on the capitalist economy. According to the Brundtland report, "the benefits, including health, property and ecosystem damage avoided . . . have generally exceeded costs”. Clearly we have the knowledge and techniques to avoid environmental pollution—only capitalism's drive for profit prevents their immediate implementation. However, if in socialism it can be demonstrated that a productive process cannot be operated without unacceptable damage to the environment (for example, nuclear fission energy production) then it will have to be abandoned and alternatives developed in its place.

Finally, you ask how would we solve this problem. We do not exist as a political party to try to solve within capitalism the problems that it generates. We exist as a party to be used by the working class to win control of political power for the sole purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism. We cannot by minority, or "vanguard", action do it for you. If you agree with our principles then we invite you to join with us in the urgently necessary task of spreading socialist ideas. Your efforts can then help bring socialism into the "foreseeable future”.

Work and waste

Dear Editors,

You believe that in a future socialist society work will be shared. Yet no system will be so efficient as to train everyone to master every skill needed to keep a technological society running—it takes a half-lifetime to master only one profession!

Even if it were possible, the laws of the division of labour hold that someone is still going to have to do boring shop floor work and that will mean that they will have a low status. Such inequality can hardly be described as a socialist ideal.

In addition, even you now agree with the opposition to nuclear power. But just as you now believe that it's impossible to have nuclear power without poisonous nuclear waste, so it's impossible to have industry without poisonous industrial waste. De-industrialisation will be an answer to our main solution: the pursuit for human happiness.
J.D. Moreno, 
London SW19

The skills necessary for running a highly complex industrial society are collective not individual or personal. It will be for socialist society to choose how far to automate production in order to remove drudgery and danger. If they cannot be eliminated then the danger and drudgery will have to be shared by a society that will understand that the work needs to be done if socialism is to continue functioning effectively. It is in this sense that we say work will be shared. No-one will be expected to do the same repetitive and dangerous work for a lifetime.

We do not envisage socialist society as one in which everyone will have all the skills to do everything ("It's your turn to be the brain surgeon this week, George!"). What we do look forward to is a situation where skills and talents currently trapped and distorted by capitalism are given the opportunity of full and free expression according to personal taste and inclination to do "useful work not useless toil", to use the words of William Morris.

Socialism before anything else will be a society of equals. Status and inequality will be meaningless concepts recalled only as hateful features of class society.

Waste is not inevitable—it is only a by-product of production which cannot be reused profitably and disposed of without incurring a loss.

De-industrialisation is not an option for the human race. Who would wish to do without the means now available to provide comfort and sufficiency for all? At a more prosaic level, would our correspondent wish to have dental treatment in the absence of a pain-killer administered by a hypodermic syringe?

The Decline of the Music Hall (1956)

From the February 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his boyhood, this writer went often to the Palace. No royal residence this; it was in the High Street, and men sold hot potatoes and chestnuts outside. Inside, it was all plush and pilasters. cherubs and chandeliers, with three gold-painted balconies receding one above another into the incredibly high domed roof. The higher you went the cheaper it was, from two shillings in the front stalls to fourpence in the gallery, where the seats were wooden steps and the tickets metal discs. There, his young blood chilled at "Sweeney Todd"; heard and saw Harry Champion, Kate Carney and Vesta Victoria, and joined in choruses which now are almost folk-songs—“Any Old Iron," “Waiting at the Church.” and “Nellie Dean."

The Palace was a roaring music-hall in the days before the wireless and the talkies. Now it is near-derelict. By itself, that might mean little: there are derelict churches, but-the mumbo-jumbery goes on. In this case, however, a minor epoch in social life has come to an end. Indeed, it had ended before the last few unsuccessful attempts to keep the Palace open with repertory, bands and nude shows. Along with the Palace, fifty others in London are boarded-up or become cinemas now: the music-hall, once the great working-class entertainment, is dead.

Fifty years ago there were seventy of them in London, and a comparable number in the big provincial cities and in Paris and New York. In addition, there were a good many local theatres providing stuff which had a clear relationship to the music-hall—domestic comedy, melodrama, and such pieces de resistance as Lawson’s “Humanity," in which an entire room (furniture, doors, pictures, and, of course, piles of crockery) was smashed nightly. Today there are not more than a dozen variety theatres in London, and the decline has been similar elsewhere.

Chief among the immediate causes is, of course, the rise of the cinema. In 1914 moving pictures were a novelty, but by the end of the war they were an American industry with a ready market in Britain. That in itself was not catastrophic to the music-hall, however. In the nineteen-twenties most cinemas were small and anything but Regal, Majestic or Super (at one bearing the last name you sat on wooden forms, and the pictures blurred when trains went by), films flourished. undoubtedly, but older people were prejudiced against them and the higher-income groups looked down on them.

The catastrophe was the coming of talking pictures. Within a year of their arrival, bigger and better cinemas were going up all over Britain; the first victims of the talkies, in fact, were the small picture-houses—either gobbled up or pushed out of business by the syndicates. The new cinemas’ splendour, in every architectural style from Byzantine to Classical Revival, put the old Palace in the shade. And admission was cheap: bear in mind that talkies arrived in Britain in 1929, at the beginning of the slump. Mass unemployment may have contributed a great deal to cinema-addiction. For threepence or fourpence you could not merely buy a dream; you could sit for several hours in warmth and comfort (some cinemas even gave cups of tea in the afternoons).

The reasons for the music-hall's decay go deeper, however. The appearance of a new social pursuit does not necessarily mean the decline of another. It may be an addition, not an alternative. The rise of television, for example, has not ousted the cinema, which in 1955 showed increases in admissions and takings over previous years. What has passed is not a form of entertainment but the social pattern of which it was part—the sort of life which produced music-halls and the social consciousness which was expressed in them.

The music-hall was not an off-shoot of the theatre: it had different roots and a different function. It originated simply as tavern entertainment, the singing of cheerful songs with choruses for everyone to join in. Because public houses were centres of social life, popular entertainment remained in them; the more so since the upper class made “serious” music and the theatre its own amusements. Thus developed the “free-and-easy,” where a chairman gave order to the proceedings but they remained an accompaniment to eating and drinking.

The music-hall as such began when public houses made special accommodation for entertainment—"saloon theatres,” where the audience ate, drank and smoked through it all. In the mid-nineteenth century there were frequent prosecutions for presenting bits of drama and opera, those being outside the licensed province of the saloons; when the restrictions and prosecutions ended, music-halls on the theatre pattern began to be built. Most music-hall buildings date from between 1880 and 1900.
In one sense, the decline of the music-hall could be said to have begun then, with the setting-up of the foot-light barrier and the performers becoming highly-paid artistes. In fact, however, the old traditions persisted. There was still a lot of drinking in music-halls, though it had to be done outside the auditorium (according to accounts, the appearance of a weak turn would provoke a wholesale exodus to the bars); conviviality remained the keynote, and performers used the same material for years, knowing that their audiences expected and wanted to join in long-familiar songs.

The essence of the music-hall was what the modern entertainments industry calls “audience participation.” That was not merely a matter of singing choruses and shouting responses; it involved the whole of the music-hall’s material. The performers had the same working-class background as the audiences (respectable people 60 years ago would rarely let their sons and daughters go on the ordinary stage, let alone the music-halls): Harry Champion was not a man who “did” Cockney songs but a real, raucous, Cockney-speaking Cockney. Their humour was less devised than distilled from everyday life in pub, street and kitchen; so, too, their sentiment.

Neither the humour nor the sentiment goes down today, of course. Both came from a recognition of common (often earthy) joys and misfortunes. Albert Chevalier personating the old man rescued from the workhouse and singing “My Old Dutch ” brought tears to the eyes of strong men—because the separation of husband from wife in the workhouse was all too often the fate of the old. Something similar can be said of almost every music-hall song. They celebrated food and drink, made wry humour out of nagging wives and perfidious husbands, were sentimental over illness, absence and death.

For various reasons, that background faded and when it had happened the music-hall was dead. The State assumed more and more responsibility for children, the ill and the old. Popular newspapers and magazines pushed ideas of genteelness at the newly board-school taught public; the man who had met his doom at Trinity Church kept quiet about it. And beer-drinking diminished, as public houses ceased to be centres of social life; with it, the scenes and episodes which were its consequences.

The decline of the music-hall is part of the disintegration of community life which has taken place in this century. There is nothing communal about the cinema: everybodv comes in and goes out at a different time from everybody else, appreciation is individual, and the performance goes on regardless of the audience's response. A good many people, in fact, scarcely go to see the film at all (at least one cinema in East London before the war had double seats for the amorously inclined). The cinema is entertainment for a society congested with lonely individuals, where life is too split-up and “private" to allow either the communal enjovment or the common recognition of poverty and misfortune from which the music-hall drew its vigour.

Mention is often made of a seeming loss of vitality from everyday life in the last 25 or 30 years. George Orwell, in “The Road to Wigan Pier,” refers to a “Punch” cartoon of the nineteenth century in which a bunch of street-boys are saying: “ 'Ere comes a swell! Let's frighten 'is ’oss!” and comments that nowadays “they would be much likelier to hang round in vague hopes of a tip.” The music-hall of not so many years ago would provide much more food for that contention, when the audiences were uninhibited in their reactions to performers. The writer once heard a character actor break off a Shakespeare declamation to say: “Yes, and if I come up there you won’t be so — clever, my lad!”

The real point, however, is that so much of former communal activity and responsibility for living has now been handed over to authority-bearing specialists. It used to be the poor that helped the poor: now it is the State. Similarly, former objects of common concern, sentiment and indignation are now the subjects of State ministration. “Standing up for one’s rights” nowadays means writing letters of complaint to the right quarters.

It is too easily taken for granted that the days of the music-hall were “bad old days” (except by those who assume the very opposite because “a pound was a pound,” as if everyone really did have five times as much money before 1914). Obviously there is not much to be said for drunkenness, street fights and so on that were common sights, and still less to be said for the workhouse system of those days. What is overlooked is that the breaking-up of community life has created different sorts of problems. A good deal is heard today about the increase in incidence of mental and nervous diseases, but few people ask why it is happening.

One reason, at least, is that the atomizing of social life frustrates one of man’s greatest needs—for recognition and acceptance by his fellows. Twentieth-century civilization is an unsatisfactory world for most of the people in it, largely for that reason. In spite of the mechanization of work and leisure, neither gives much satisfaction to most men and women: the mass frustration and lack of fulfilment implicit in 99 out of a 100 films and novels is itself a condemnation of modem civilization.

The first object of social organization is the satisfaction of people’s needs: that is what first brought men out of caves and trees to form tribes and communities. Our society does not do that. Indeed, it does not aim at doing it: it places sale and profit above all other things, and makes commodities of the means of satisfying needs. The world represented by the music-hall had many undesirable features: because ours is in some ways different, that does not mean it is in many ways better.
Robert Barltrop

Time running out, say scientists (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
   Humans would have to make wide-reaching changes in attitude and lifestyles quickly if they are to survive the changes begun by pollution and deforestation. scientists told an Auckland symposium at the weekend.
   Scientists and researchers said the human race might die out without a new spirit of co-operation and collectivism. They said it was becoming increasingly likely that the planet would reorganise its systems to rid itself of pollution, the greenhouse effect, and ozone depletion. While the planet would survive, there was a fair chance the human race would not, they said.
So opened a news item that appeared on 27 March in the Wellington newspaper The Dominion under the heading "Scientists issue 'last chance' warning". Professor John Morton was quoted as saying that it looked as if humanity was likely to fail while another lecturer. Edward Goldsmith, was equally pessimistic. Economic and industrial policies, he said, had caused "the most terrible soil erosion and deforestation and were altering the ozone layer and climates", adding that “if our policies remain unchanged there is no question about it. there is no way man can survive another forty years".

The seriousness of the threat facing the human race right now needs no further comment. What does is the implication of the comments of the scientists that "policy" is the problem and that “policies" are the cure. Despite commendable scientific endeavour in their special disciplines, they have yet to apply it to humanity in general. What we have is a particular system of society which has evolved from the relatively short historical period of private property society that is in its closing stages.

Far from the policies of governments dictating the way in which wealth is produced and distributed, it is in fact the reverse. Policies are dictated by the world-wide system of capitalism. A way to look at this is to think of a boat being tossed on the waves of the ocean, the boat is the human race and the ocean is the market system (the buying and selling of goods).

Goods are produced for sale and not for direct consumption to satisfy human needs. The competition to sell goods causes a constant vicious circle which goes like this: Profits falling due to overproduction — introduce new technology to reduce costs (spend a large proportion of profits on new capital) — sell goods in larger quantities by undercutting competitors' prices because of reduced costs — competitors forced to introduce new technology — back to the same situation where started — introduce more technology, expand capital base.

The incessant drive to maximise profits means that enterprises generally will strive to reduce costs. The disposal of wastes is a large cost to enterprises, and they will try to do it as cheaply as possible — they will bury it in trenches, pump it into the waterways, exhaust it into the air. and a variety of other polluting methods. This is not from any malicious intent but because competition forces this upon them.

Often because of political pressures governments will try and legislate to prevent pollution. In some cases this has worked, but more often it is ineffectual. Also, to worsen the problem, enterprises and governments when faced with a choice of raw materials and producer goods are forced to take the least expensive route, again due to competition. This often means that the more environmentally harmful substances are used.

To sum up, we are faced with the most serious problem ever to confront the human race next to the nuclear war threat, and workers are continuing to support a system of society which is the basic cause of both problems.

If the scientists were forced to sit down and apply their techniques of scientific investigation to human society and its evolution. they would come up with only one answer: the establishment of a system of society where production will be for direct use, goods and services will be free to all, and where all will have a direct democratic input because they are social equals. Only then can we make rational decisions concerning production and our environment without the shackles of the market system. But then it is up to us and not the scientists to establish this system.
Dave Tildesley
World Socialist Party of New Zealand

Workers dig garbage in Philippines (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Metro-Manila, is a mountain of garbage. It is the largest of several open dumps that receive the 2,700 tons of trash per day produced by the highly urban province of Metro-Manila. It is also the home of thousands of workers, many of them children, who make a living from what is thrown away by others. Along the nearby Honorio Lopez Boulevard there are hundreds of shops whose line of business is recyclable junk, ranging from bottles to paper, and from hardware to scrap metal.

Garbage is first searched by street scavengers, who push carts around residential districts and search garbage cans. Many of them work at night in order to reach the garbage cans before the garbage collectors, who collect during the day. The garbage is first searched by the garbage collectors themselves. Only afterwards does the garbage reach the dumps. The workers who live and work in Smokey Mountain consider themselves lucky, because scavenging is an honest living. There is a local saying: "While there is garbage. there is hope”.

Such a life would not exist if everything were free. However, for everything to be free, we first need to own the means of producing and distributing the things we need. The people who own these means (such as factories, farms, ships, etc), the capitalists, will only pay workers to operate them if the products can be sold at a profit. This is not because they are bad people, but because that is the only way they can remain capitalists, and therefore retain their comfortable life-style. If they were to give the products away, they would go bust, and a competitor would take over. There is nothing they can do. Only the workers have the power to change things.

So, workers dig garbage in order to find things to sell for money to pay for food while food is stockpiled in warehouses in the pursuit of profit. The price of that most basic food in the Philippines, rice, has soared There is no real shortage of rice. Rice distributing cartels have been hoarding it. The government has been forced to import rice from the USA to increase the supply on the market (and therefore bring the price down) in order to prevent food riots. At the same time there are many unemployed agricultural workers. Most of them move to Metro-Manila to find work, only to end up squatting in places such as Smokey Mountain. 

In a socialist world everything will be free, because you do not need to pay for something if you already own it. We will be able to choose to produce things with very little waste. We will be able to choose to process our waste in a clean environment. We will be able to make these choices because we will own and control the means for producing and distributing the things we will use. Smokey Mountain will fall, and never rise again.

American Notes (1932)

From the June 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Only a few years ago articles were appearing in the press of the U.S.A., informing all and sundry that there would be no more crises like there had been in the past. Lord bless you, No! The capitalists here had solved the problem, they had adopted a new method, known as mass production and standardisation. Wages were no longer to be based on the cost of production of the labour-power of the worker (in other words, the cost of enabling the wage-worker to be an efficient wealth producer and to keep him in that condition), they were now to be based on the worker’s output. The instalment plan was also boosted as a way to get rid of surplus products. Lots of propaganda was broadcasted for the wage-slaves’ especial benefit; we were given to understand that there were no classes in this great country and at the same time that any worker who had a little ambition and grit could get out of his class with very little effort.

Another sample of the same kind of piffle said that there are no classes here, that the workers are rapidly becoming capitalists themselves, directly aided by the older capitalists. No longer did the benevolent employers want all the profits. They were now anxious to hand some of it over to the workers, and advised them to buy a share or so of stock in the company employing them, to be paid, of course, out of their wages at so much per week. In some cases the wage-slaves were so ungrateful as not to care much for this great opportunity, and were frequently fired, since the employer disliked having unappreciative “partners" around. But it has been given out by a statistician that the shares thus held are like our American beer, something like one-half of 1 per cent, of the total shares issued. These shares do not give any control of the concerns, the holders having no voting rights.

Lately, the outlook has changed. Wage reductions have taken place to the extent of eleven or twelve billions of dollars, and the end is not yet in sight. Firms are still cutting their wages bill, and there is very little opposition being put up by the working class, as the labour market is very much in favour of the masters. These reductions have been going on in spite of all the talk that wages should not be reduced, that we cannot expect to have prosperity if the capitalists can’t get rid of their goods, and that if the workers’ wages are cut down they cannot buy back the products. But in spite of some capitalists seeing this contradiction, they have fallen into line with the rest and reduced wages.

In the Southern States, due to changed methods of farming, it is claimed that about six millions of people will have to give up this method of making a livelihood. They are petty farmers, share workers and croppers who* are finding that they cannot make a living and will be forced into wage-slavery. The income of these land operators is very low. In 1921 the average,-income of the Black farmer was 32 cents per day for each member of the family; renters, 14 cents; Black croppers, 18 cents; White croppers, 8 cents. The family income given for Chatham county, North Carolina, varied from $625 to $153 per year, making an average of $424 per year.

In these Southern states there is cheap power, and plenty of low-priced labour- power. The Chambers of Commerce of these States invite the capitalists to come South because of the attraction of cheap land, low taxes and easy labour laws. The State of Georgia, for instance, allows sixty hours’ work per week; no limit is put on the working day as long as the hours worked in any one week do not exceed sixty. These, and many other things, are called to the employer’s attention, in spite of the officials of capitalist concerns believing that wage reductions will worsen the depression. It is stated that factories have been opening up in the Southland at the rate of one every four days for the last five years. Here are some of the. firms that have established themselves in the South territory: Standard Oil, United States Steel, Proctor & Gamble, Goodrich and Goodyear Rubber Companies, Dupont Explosives. These and many more were listed in an article which stated that the rush down in this low-wage belt puts the Klondike gold rush in the shade. These companies know, if they do not take advantage of the conditions prevailing, others soon will, because of the larger profits expected. At the end of the year 1927, 67 per cent, of all the cotton goods in the United States was manufactured in Southern States.

In 1927, in 16 States known as Southern Territory, there were 37,350 manufacturing establishments, employing 1,679,798 workers, engaged in making more than 200 different products. In the United States as a whole, the manufacturing establishments were 191,866, with 8,353,793 workers: There is no doubt that there has been quite an increase in the South since 1927.

The wage paid by these new masters is considerably lower than the Northern wage-rate. The average rate in all industries, in Georgia, $702; Alabama, $884; Tennessee, $773 ; in North and South Carolina, $632 per year. Compare wages in the North: Massachusetts, $1,228 ; Pennsylvania, $1,382; Ohio, $1,448; for the United States as a whole, $1,300. These figures are taken from the Census of Manufacturers in 1927. It was there shown that the worker in the North is more productive than the worker of the South; that the difference in output was 7.2 per cent. But it cost the Pennsylvania employer $847 more wages to get this increase, thus leaving the advantage to the Southern field at the rate of 20.4 per cent. This is the magnet that is attracting the capitalists to the South.

Now, also, these companies do not have any unions to contend with, as this new crop of wage-slaves have not, as yet, had much experience in their new status. What they get in wages looks to them like a small fortune, the employers appear to them like great benefactors, and trade union organisers are given short shrift. They have no strikes to interfere with them. Even the staffs of the American Federation of Labour get from 10 to 20 per cent less wages than those in the North. So business is flocking to the low wage area in spite of the past assurances to the workers that a “high wage scale" would be maintained.

There is not much talk about high wages now. We hear that what is needed is cheaper goods, “so that the benefit to the consumers will be enlarged ”; this is to be the enticement to get the public to buy the surplus, the magic wand to induce the people to spend. All sorts of suggestions are being advocated here to get us out of the depression. The capitalists told us that high tariffs would solve the problem, so the tariffs were increased. Now we are told that high tariffs are one of the causes of the depression, and must be lowered. Prohibition is another red-herring that is being dragged out; we are told that if it were not for this law, if light wine and beer were allowed to come back, this would bring back prosperity. They forget that in other capitalist countries, where Prohibition is not the law, the crisis, also prevails. A Bond issue of five billions is being suggested, to carry on public works, but is not receiving much support at the present, since this would mean higher taxes, and we are told that what is needed, is lower taxes.

How are the workers reacting to the changed conditions here? They are looking for all kinds of solutions to the fix they find themselves in. Hunger marches are taking place, some of them organised by the Communist Party. The latest one was led by a sky pilot. Of course, the parson’s gang was looked upon as being made up of good, loyal American citizens, and considerable discretion was shown in handling them by the powers that be. While the other marches were allowed, the authorities did not view them with so much favour. The slaves are ready to back up any scheme that promises to solve their problems; unemployed insurance, the lifting of Prohibition, lower tariffs, trade with Russia, almost anything but the real solution. The Communist Party here is making a great noise about trade with Russia, and about the dole for the unemployed. They think that if they can get the wage-slaves to rally for the dole and other reforms, then these slaves will be good material and can be led to fight for Socialism at the behest of the leaders. They have not yet learned the lesson that capitalist politicians can advocate all these reforms and use them to get into office. In fact, at present they are certainly in a more favourable position to get into office than the Communist Party is. Like the reformist “Socialist Party” here, when Liberal candidates were put up by the capitalist parties, the "Socialist” ranks were depleted. This has occurred more than once, and each time we heard great cries front these so-called Socialists that “the capitalists have stolen our thunder." To get elected on a real Socialist platform is far from the minds of the leaders of either of these parties. What they are after is something to get them into office as quickly as possible. Having their ears to the ground, listening to what the workers are concerned about, they put these things in their programmes. Thus they catch the unwary, and to them what the hell else matters as long as they can get to the pie counter on the shoulders of the backward workers. The results of this kind of “tactics” have been amply demonstrated by the Labour Party in England, Social-Democratic Party in Germany, Socialist Party of America, and others elsewhere. Instead of accomplishing, what they claim, the effect is just the opposite; workers lose interest when they see that these parties, on getting into power, are as helpless as the openly capitalist parties in face of the social problem.

There can be only one solution to this problem as far as the workers are concerned, and that is a change of ownership of the productive forces, from the present form to one where they will be held in common by and in the interest of Society. All else is of no account.
Taffy Brown 
              (Workers’ Socialist Party, U.S.A.)

Crime - legal and illegal (2003)

From the May 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Crime, according to the Collins Dictionary, is “an act or omission punishable by law”. This definition is more or less what you would expect to find but nevertheless it's somewhat chilling. Nowhere is there any requirement for this “act or omission” to be either benevolent or malevolent; pro-human or anti-human. It simply has to be “prohibited by law”.

So what actually is “law”? When it comes down to basics, law is what any dominant authority actually deems to be law. Putting it crudely, if a yob wielding a screwdriver accosts you in an alleyway demanding possession of your wallet, he is effectively defining the law, albeit an extremely localised and fleeting version of it, and failure to comply, a “crime” punishable in the obvious manner.

Naturally the law undergoes a process of considerable tarting up as it rises through the scale until at national level, recorded in masses of leather-bound volumes, endorsed by an array of pompous blokes in wigs, ermine, mitres and crowns, and further supported by a compliant media, the whole idea of law and crime, or rather, statutory crime, can be readily presented to the population at large as somehow legitimate, permanent and operating in everyone's best interests.

Since the dawn of civilisation humans have lived in a variety of types of society – slave, feudal and, of course, currently capitalist. These societies have however had one thing in common; they have all featured minority ownership of the prevailing wealth of that society. Naturally, they have also featured minority control, via the law and the machinery of government. Needless to say, our metaphorical yob, suitably tooled-up, is lurking constantly in the background to concentrate the mind of the non-owning majority on compliance.

Legalised robbery
In modern capitalist society, ownership of the land, factories, transport, etc. is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority, the capitalist class, comprising around 5 percent of the population. In essence this minority employs the other 95 percent, the working class, to produce wealth and otherwise run society in its entirety. By paying them a monetary wage which represents only part of the wealth they produce, and creaming off the surplus for themselves, the capitalists maintain a privileged lifestyle whilst the working class endures varying degrees of poverty, both relative and absolute.

You may think that this situation is a bit unfair. But scrutinise the statute books until you're blue in the face and you'll find that it's all perfectly legal. But try, if you dare, to redress the balance a little; pinch a few paperclips or whatever from your workplace or life a couple of designer garments from a boutique, and you'll have those selfsame statute books flung in your face. Shock, horror, you will have committed a crime.

So there we have it. On the one hand, the everyday ongoing, but legal theft perpetrated by the capitalist class on the working class, and statutory crime, which likewise is the everyday ongoing reaction from the working class to try to claw back some of its losses; to make up its wages, so to speak. Unfortunately at present there is no class consciousness informing this, and the victims will all too frequently be fellow members of the working class.

Numerically speaking, big heists such as the Great Train Robbery and the Millennium Dome Diamond Raid are rare. In reality, petty larceny is very much the norm.

According to crime figures, around 95 percent of all statutory crime is property-related. This breaks down very roughly as follows: 25 percent theft from or of motor vehicles, 25 percent burglary, 30 percent other forms of theft – fraud, forgery, shoplifting etc., and 15 percent criminal damage to property. The remaining five percent comprises four percent violence against the person and one percent sexual offences.

The capitalist class in Britain numbers around 3 million people, only a small proportion of whom are in the public eye. Via the media, we peasants are entreated to revere and adulate our titled aristocracy and royalty for the fine example they set us, and to respect and emulate the new-wealth, self-made brigade – the “entrepreneurs”, the “innovators”, the “wealth-creators”, the “providers of jobs”.

What incredible effrontery. What appalling self-congratulatory arrogance. These philanthropists are after one thing and one thing only – a fast buck. Bear this in mind at all times.

Aside from all this, the overwhelming bulk of the capitalist class are unsung and anonymous. They are the inheritors of old wealth; the descendants of medieval merchants, New World traders, eighteenth and nineteenth century industrial capitalists, etc. – the swindlers, slave-dealers and tyrants of a bygone age. They may well, for the most part, be perfectly decent people; they can hardly, after all, be condemned for the particular environment into whey they happen to have been born. One thing however, is certain. If they, along with the other members of their class, collectively disappeared tomorrow from the fact of the Earth, the buses would still run, the factories and farms still produce, the hospitals still function. All as normal. These people are non-productive, surplus to requirement, useless. They are economic parasites.

The capitalist system is legalised theft; real crime, through and through. The working class is employed solely to facilitate the profit process. Where profits cannot be realised because of the prevailing phase of the economic cycle, workers are thrown on the scrap heap, goods stockpiled, food destroyed, houses left unbuilt and land uncultivated. As a result, we have massive and ongoing worldwide deprivation, starvation, disease, premature death.

Again, when rival groupings of capitalists find themselves in conflict over colonies or raw materials, the working class is mustered to resolve the situation. Murdering or being murdered in your country's cause is perfectly lawful. Unleash a missile or bomb on some defenceless city slaughtering countless thousands of innocents and you'll have a nice shiny medal pinned on your chest. Kill one person, back on Civvy Street, in a momentary act of anger or desperation and they'll lock you up for life.

Ninety-five percent of statutory crime, as already indicated, is property-related. The great bulk of the residual five percent (violence against the person and sexual, offences), can be attributed to the everyday stresses and alienations that are part and parcel of our existence in capitalist society. We are conditioned into seeing our fellow workers, with whom, economically, we have everything in common, as rivals; as competitors for jobs and houses.

Where those fellow workers also happen to possess characteristics that proclaim the greater diversity of our species, be it skin pigmentation, accent, age, gender, sexual proclivity, disability; whatever then they are all the more readily identifiable as potential targets for abuse or violence. The real enemy, capitalism itself, sits unchallenged, safely clear of the firing line.

Social behaviour
The system is almost entirely responsible for statutory crime. In socialist society, common ownership and production solely for use would prevail. There would be no legalised theft; there could not be legalised theft. Likewise, almost all statutory crime would fade away. Theft would not exist. What would there be to steal? Your own property?

People will, naturally, retain their capacity to discuss, disagree and quarrel. Likewise, romantic creatures that we are, situations will periodically arise where two persons desire the same person or partner; the Eternal Triangle as it's rather prosaically known. Consequently, tempers may flare; fists (and handbags) may be brandished. Inevitably therefore, there will be occasional, recourse to acts of violence and accordingly there will, be a need for procedures to restrain the protagonists and address the causes.

Others, too, will suffer from mental illness, brain damage, simply draw an unlucky ticket in the genetic lottery and behave, not criminally, but non-socially.

So within socialist society there will, we suggest, be regulation of sorts and maybe even places of detention. But will the inmates find themselves banged up and slopping out? Surely not. We would think that their very inability to participate appropriately in society would be sufficient reason to extend to them the finest care, compassion and support that we can muster.

Henri Charrière's book Papillon is a very moving true-life account of life in the penal colonies of French Guyana. During one of his several escapes Charrière lived with a Venezuelan Indian tribe, the Goajira, and he recounted with great warmth, their uncomplicated communistic lifestyle, describing how they lived with a commonality of purpose, without money, without judges, without laws. The barbaric punishments meted out by “civilised” Europeans to their miscreant fellows would have been totally beyond their comprehension.

We suggest that it will be pretty much like this in socialist society. Although it will be global as opposed to tribal, people will still live in small localised communities and, freed from capitalism's physical and mental shackles, will spontaneously look out for one another. It is after all our nature to do so. What need will there be for a mass of laws to oversee this process?

Capitalism's politicians are a contemptible and shameless bunch; none more so than our current messenger-boy-in-chief, Tony Blair. Nevertheless, we are indebted to the dear chap for providing the grand finale for this article. During the last general election, he chuntered endlessly on about being “Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime”.

Socialists would readily endorse these sentiments but would take things just a little bit further than his own wishy-washy, and by no means original, list of measures. If you really want to be “Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime”, the solution is very simple – abolish capitalism and establish socialism.
Andrew Armitage

Why do we allow it? (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sometimes I’m surprised that I've managed to exist on this planet for forty years. Things may not always have been easy, but compared with a lot of others I haven’t suffered any great drama or personal tragedy during that time. It might be said that the worst part of my daily round is having to go out every weekday to earn the money that keeps us somewhere between being poor and rich. A fairly average life really.

I don’t take much notice of what the media says. Although I have to obtain hard news of what's going on in the world from somewhere, I know that the media is owned and controlled by the small minority who own most of the wealth, and so I only ever believe half of what I hear or see. It's my opinion that forty year's slog under capitalism tends to make you a bit hard and a bit cynical. I'm not an unfeeling human being, but I've been reading about disasters and catastrophes for so long that it tends not to have any effect any more.

One day in April, I was browsing through the Guardian when I came across the photograph. I was surprised by my response to it. The intense emotions it aroused are with me still. A toddler, a girl of twenty-three months, stares out at me from the newspaper. She's holding a half-eaten apple. A doll lies beside her. She is a very pretty girl. Her body is covered in shrapnel. Her right foot is missing. Her name is Adele. and she is Lebanese. She was wounded when her grandparents' house was hit by an artillery shell. Her eyes are old beyond her years.

Those of us who reside in this sceptred isle, this blessed plot, this England, are not on the whole an unsympathetic, uncaring load of citizens. But we have our own problems. After we've been at work all day it doesn’t leave much time to do things we like and want to do. Weekends pass so quickly. What wouldn't we give to be rich and employ some other poor sod to create our wealth for us! 430,000 people, the top one per cent, own 18 per cent of the UK's private wealth. The top 10 per cent own over half. 840,000 individuals, the top two per cent, own 80 per cent of company shares and 73 per cent of all land. I guess I was born to the wrong parents.

Belonging to the bottom 90 per cent means that your priorities tend to be different to those of the ruling class, that small minority who own the means of production and distribution. The building society owns the house: you'd have to have at least 30 million quid to even make no. 200 of Britain's richest two hundred, and my wages, like most people's, don't even stretch beyond the end of the week. So what option have you got? As a member of the vast majority whose only means of living is to sell the only thing they possess, their labour power, their ability to work, I suppose you’ll have to stick with the day job.

There are plenty of apologists for capitalism around to tell me how fortunate I am to be living in a free and democratic enterprise culture. I could be a black in South Africa oppressed by apartheid. I could be a famine victim in Sudan. I could be an exploited worker in South Korea. I could be trying to survive in Argentina with its forty thousand per cent inflation rate. I could be a dispossessed Aborigine in Australia. I could be subject to political repression in Eastern Europe. I could be subject to state torture and murder in Latin America. I could be a bomb attack victim of the IRA in Northern Ireland. I could be a dead student in China. I could be living in a cardboard box on the streets of London. I could be a little girl with her right foot blown off.

The world has been called a “global village". The prevailing system of society throughout the world is capitalism, albeit in different stages of development. In 1683 Montanari wrote in Della Moneta:
Intercourse between nations spans the whole globe to such an extent that one may almost say all the world is but a single city in which a permanent fair comprising all commodities is sold.
Capital knows no boundaries. Its concern is not with the quality of life for the vast majority who own only their ability to sell their labour power in order to live. Its concern is the ruthless pursuit of profit irrespective of the damage done to the planet and to people's lives.

Why in the world do we continue to put up with it? Why do we, who use our physical and mental abilities to run capitalism for the benefit of the capitalists, put our faith in leaders who promise us the earth, but only after it has been devastated by capitalism? Why, when capitalism is based upon the economic exploitation of a majority by a minority, do we take pride in “paying our way”, “living within our means", “never owing anyone a cent”? Why, when the only thing between us and socialism, a system of society based upon production for need, not profit—a wageless, moneyless, classless, stateless, leaderless society—is a lack of understanding and desire for socialism on the part of the majority of the working class, do we deny ourselves real freedom? Freedom from hunger, poverty, want and oppression.

Why do we allow a minority to kid us, to con us, to brainwash us into believing that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds, when the evidence of our daily lives tells us otherwise? How many more Adeles have to ask us, why in the world did this happen to me? When are we going to supply not the answer, but the solution?
Dave Coogan