Sunday, August 21, 2016

Youthquake (1980)

The Briefing Column from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the past few weeks several incidents of gang violence among young people have received a fair amount of adverse publicity. First there was the wrecking of a train and the attack on some of its passengers at Neasden tube station, one consequence of which is that London Transport staff are taking industrial action to press for better protection. The resultant inconvenience suffered by passengers is encouraging them to blame the weekend stoppages on “those mindless hooligans” who are threatening “law and order” as usual. Then there were the Bristol anti-police riots, provoked by a raid on the ‘Black and White Cafe’. Despite the demonstration offered by these disturbances of the unity of interest of the working class (of whatever ethnic origin) in the face of harrassment, they caused a great deal of suffering among the local population. Finally, over Easter weekend, there were turbulent scenes on the South Coast, as gangs of young wage-slaves celebrated their short holiday from work with a drunken spree of violence.

These are mere outbreaks, however, of a tension which ferments permanently and inevitably among working people. There will be many more similar riots for the newspapers to use to increase sales. One point that won’t be made by the capitalist press, though, is that there is unlikely ever to be, among the squalid struggles of violent rival gangs, a proportionate representation of young members of the capitalist class. The conditions which induce such behaviour in some young workers do not exist for children of the rich.

Reactions to the violence ranged from indignant demands for harsh punitive measures to “liberal” offers of care and rehabilitation. In the former category lies Home Secretary William Whitelaw’s “short, sharp shock”, the futility of which is dealt with in the April Socialist Standard. The “liberal” alternative may seem less harsh, but is just as futile, since it involves gently casing the so-called culprit back into the social relationships which caused his or her behaviour in the first place. The reason for society’s failure hitherto to prevent gang violence and all other manifestations of frustration and discontent is that only effects are treated. To remove the cause of the problem would entail the abolition on a world scale of the institution of class ownership of the means of life. Thus social engineers are employed for the farcical task of patching and mopping up after the perennial disturbances occur — truly a labour of Sisyphus.

The hypocrisy of capitalism is such, however, that violent behaviour is morally condemned and publicly abhorred only when the nation is not at war. As soon as a war is declared, unlimited kudos are gained by workers prepared to inflict the most barbaric cruelties upon workers of another nation. A system of society which is inherently violent and antagonistic, in which mass destruction is constantly recurrent in the form of war, and in which property has to be defended by intimidating, armed force, cannot be expected to produce anything other than violent behaviour on the part of its victims.

The cause of the frustration suffered by members of the working class has deeper roots than the reformers believe. At school we are prepared for lives of wage-slavery by subjection to discipline, rules, enforced working-hours and authorised punishment. The school-child soon learns to treat the hours from 4 o’clock onwards as his or her own, submitting, during the first part of each day, to such restraints as may be imposed by the authorities. When this pattern is transferred to the office, the warehouse, the workshop or the factory there is usually nothing but dull acceptance on the part of the victim. Inside the stipulated hours you belong to your employer with, once again, only the evening “your own”. Throughout every working day we are regulated, ruled and regimented for the sole purpose of creating profits. We arrive home, change our clothes (with all the satisfaction due to a symbolic rite) and try to relax. But before long we are setting alarm clocks for our next day’s donation; we spend our lives, even from our school days, waiting for the bell, the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the year. It is this grinding monotony which creates frustration and leads, in some cases, to the few hours which are “our own” being frittered away in agonised rituals of a destructive kind. It does not foster thought or social harmony, but aggression and desolation.

When the working class organise politically and consciously for the establishment of socialism, the means of production and distribution will become the common heritage of all humanity and wage labour will give way to voluntary, co-operative work, with free access for all to the goods and services produced by society. No longer will the vast majority of the population spend all of their days making profits for employers; no longer will working people be alienated from the means of production, from their creative activity and its products, from each other or from themselves.

Gangs of youths trying to relieve their week’s frustrations and anxieties by getting drunk and going on a violent rampage epitomise the capitalist system, based as it is upon conflict, force and degradation. Only when social ownership has been instituted can interests be universally harmonised and sordid outbreaks of tension in the form of vandalism or gang-warfare become a thing of he past. Meanwhile, the cause of socialism can only be advanced by patient, peaceful persuasion. Those who have reached a state of positive and explicit dissatisfaction with the way things are should not give vent to their feelings with impotent, sporadic savagery, but organise democratically to establish a society geared to their material interest.
Clifford Slapper

An Englishman's home (1980)

From the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine a village perched high in the Welsh mountains, so picturesque that it becomes a favoured spot for weekends “away from it all”. More and more of its houses are bought up by people who only spend occasional weekends there, or who let the house to holidaymakers during the summer and leave it empty for the rest of the year. As the number of permanent residents drops, the village shop finds there is insufficient custom to keep going and closes down, the local telephone box is removed, and bus services may be withdrawn altogether. The village ceases to function as a community.

It is such considerations that lie behind the spate of arson attacks, now numbering over thirty, on English-owned holiday homes in Wales since December last year. Besides helping to depopulate the countryside (a process which is taking place anyway), the demand for holiday homes increases house prices so that they are beyond the reach of many local people. The county of Gwynedd has more second homes than it has people on its council house waiting lists.

And then there are the nationalist factors also; the claim that the influx of holidaymakers and weekend residents from England dilutes the supposedly Celtic character of north and west Wales and pushes the Welsh language further into oblivion. The nationalist argument (which in truth is sometimes a purely racist one) is however misplaced. The same kind of rural depopulation and distintegration of communities is taking place in the Lake District. And it makes no odds whether the owner of the second home lives in London or in Cardiff.

The existence of normally empty second homes alongside homeless people is a graphic illustration of the contradictions of a society which breeds palaces and hovels, kings and paupers. It is capitalism which is responsible for the social and physical devastation of the countryside in Wales as elsewhere. Any solution will involve fighting the causes of the decay not just its symptoms, and so will have to be a global not a purely national one.
Paul Bennett

Running Commentary: Strikers condemned (1980)

The Running Commentary column from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strikers condemned

More than 5,500 workers were out on strike as a wave of industrial unrest spread to hitherto uninvolved plants. The week-long spate of walk-outs and go-slows affected 27 firms in five cities. A total of more than 8,700 people had stopped work since strikes started and more than 750 of them had been dismissed as a result. The dispute was over pay, a shorter working week and guaranteed pension funds. A spokesman for the employers’ association said he was “gravely concerned’’ and the trade union congress issued a statement expressing hope that the government would “respond constructively in solving the problem”.

These familiar events took place a few weeks ago, not in Britain or the industrialised West but in newly “liberated” Zimbabwe. The government’s response, however, was somewhat blunter than European wage slaves are used to. (Give them time and they’ll no doubt learn to refine their language.) Mugabe’s spokesman pointed out that all strikes were at present illegal; that companies that had dismissed their workers were within their rights; and that strikers were liable to arrest and prosecution. Any of the black population who remained in doubt as to the nature of their recent “liberation” had the position forcefully explained to them by the new Minister of Labour, Mr Kumbirai Kangai. Freedom, he said, did not mean that a worker could do or behave as he wished. “Discipline at work must remain part and parcel of the freedom we have attained” (The Times, 22 March). He told the strikers that his colleagues were deeply disappointed in them, and that by behaving in such a manner they were hurting themselves and the government. The new Minister of Mines echoed his remarks: “We believe in a competitive economy . . .  a lot of teaching of the people is necessary”.

We, however, did not need confirmation that African nationalism is the ideology of a would-be ruling and exploiting class. It is those workers, black and white, who dreamed that the election of Mugabe’s Zanu PF party would further their interests that have had an early and rude awakening. African nationalism may talk of democracy, but this is not its concern at all. The history of the continent’s independent states shows that any attempts of the working class to organise themselves have been resisted. One function of the new Zimbabwe State will be to hold down the working class in the interests of capital accumulation, to train the work force to become hardworking, obedient wage slaves. And as in all other countries, the important social division is that of class, not colour or race.

Marx and the monetarists

Some of the Chancellor’s best friends are monetarists, but you’ll be relieved to hear that Karl Marx isn’t among them. In his budget day television broadcast, Geoffrey Howe suggested that the government’s policy of restricting the “money supply” as a means of combatting inflation would have met with the approval of socialism’s greatest theorist. “It is a great pity”, he said, “that its (monetarism’s) practical, commonsense importance has been so confused by arid, theoretical dispute”, adding that “even” Marx had believed in it. The Chancellor had possibly picked up this, to him, amusing titbit from the guru of “monetarism” himself, Milton Friedman. Interviewed in the Guardian (1 March), Friedman declared:
“The quantity theory of money is a scientific proposition. It is not political. Karl Marx was a monetarist, because he believed that increases in the supply of money push up prices.” 
Sir Geoffrey has not exactly got it right. The Marxian explanation of inflation and the views of modern monetarists differ in important respects and have been discussed in our pages many times. Over the years, the Socialist Party has been alone in pointing out that inflation is the result of governments printing too much money, but this is not synonymous with Friedmanite doctrine and should not be confused with the present government’s views.

First, Marx only accepted the Quantity Theory of Money (which says, basically, that the level of prices is determined by the amount of money in circulation) as valid where inconvertible paper currency is in use; where the currency was gold (and/or a convertible paper currency) this was not the case. On the contrary, said Marx, refuting the ideas of the classical authors of this theory, Hume and Ricardo, it was the level of prices (and of economic transactions) that determined the quantity of money in circulation — and which, we might add with Marx, still determines the quantity of an inconvertible paper currency that should be issued to avoid inflation.

Second, by “money” Marx understood basic cash — notes and coin. He did not include, as most modern “monetarists” do, bank deposits in the “money supply”. Third, Marx was merely concerned here with analysing and understanding how capitalism worked, not with laying down a monetary policy for capitalist governments to pursue. He must not be regarded, therefore, as an advocate of a non-inflationary currency policy.

Cheap life and death

The News of the World of 23 March told of an elderly widow who got into serious debt paying for her husband’s funeral, even when the insurance she had taken out was added to the Government death grant. The latter was fixed at £30 in 1967, since when prices have trebled. The Labour opposition’s move to increase the amount to £45 (intended, no doubt, to show their newly-found “compassion”) was resisted by the Government in the person of Mrs Chalker, Under Secretary of Health and Social Security. She accepted that some people had extreme difficulty in meeting funeral costs but had “nothing but understanding for them”. As if to compensate for this, a group of Tory MPs tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Chancellor to increase child benefit by £1.20 instead of the proposed 75p.

In the same week, five Civil Service unions issued a pamphlet criticising the proposed engagement of 1,000 extra inspectors to stop what the government considers to be £50 million in social security “fiddles”, and claiming that the same number employed on income tax evasion would save ten times as much. (Since, over a 20 year period, only one business in twenty has its returns investigated, the unions may well have understated their case.) The general secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation remarked: “If we could get it all it would be enough to take 5p off the basic rate of income tax”. (Guardian, 20 March)

Two other recent articles in the Guardian emphasised yet again capitalism’s priorities, this time in the field of health. In one (10 April), Dr Alf Spinks, former director of research at ICI, stated that cost prevented the full testing of chemicals in daily use to see whether they could cause cancer. In the other (20 March), Dr Tony Wing o(the European Dialysis and Transplant Association remarked that many of the 1,000 kidney patients who die in Britain every year could be saved if money were available to give the treatment. We also had the Sunday Express (6 April) reporting, on its front page, the plans of American medical firms to set up in Britain and Europe “Buy your Blood” collection points that could also involve the purchasing of human organs for spare part surgery. The “British” blood would then be sold on what is a growing international market.

All these news items show capitalism for what it is: a system of society incapable of meeting the needs of its members; that employs cost-benefit analysis in the treatment of human suffering, as in all spheres of social life. The working class will be made the scapegoats for capitalism’s problems so long as they aspire to nothing better than “5p off” instead of “3p off’.

Still, there is some good news. The Daily Telegraph of 6 April reported the building of a factory at Old Buckenham, Norfolk, which will be producing veneered polystyrene coffins for workers at “half the price”.
Melvin Tenner

The Dangers of Racism (1980)

From the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The root cause of modern race-prejudice is the capitalist system of Society, a society of competition and struggle: struggle between worker and worker. For the working-class, who constitute the overwhelming majority of its population, it is a society of poverty and insecurity: to most of them it offers not the slightest chance of escape from a lifetime of constant, heartbreaking effort to earn a living. For the working-class, it is a society which breeds war and strife, in which their masters, on whose behalf they fight, use every device to stimulate antagonism and hatred between them.

From the cradle to the grave, they are subjected to a mass of propaganda which deadens their minds, works on their prejudices, and endeavours by every means possible to turn their thoughts away from the real cause of their troubles. They are the tools of political leaders and demagogues who make them promises which they do not keep. Disappointed, they exchange one set of political leaders for another, whose promises are no more fulfilled than the promises of those before them. They become disillusioned, bitter, and cynical: fair game for dictators and "strong men” who promise to lead them to a "promised land", but instead lead them into greater disasters and misfortunes.

All the time they are experiencing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, competition for jobs, struggles to "rise up the ladder". They seek to escape from the harsh world of reality in dreams and games of make-believe, in football pools and cinemas, but only for brief moments, for capitalism soon brings them back to things as they are, and not as they would wish them to be. They still have to contend with poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and war. For the working-class, Capitalism is a society of mental, social, and economic frustration; as such it breeds race-prejudice as a swamp breeds pestilence.

To the extent that Socialist ideas permeate the minds of the working class, wherever they may be, to the extent that workers realise that their interests are in common, irrespective of race, and opposed to the interests of the capitalist class, irrespective of their race, to that extent they will become proof against race-prejudice and will work together for the establishment of Socialism which will end, once and for all, the problem of race-prejudice.

In the words of our Declaration of Principles: ". . .  the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex".
From SPGB pamphlet "The Racial Problem  A Socialist Analysis" (1947).

The case for socialism (1980)

From the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


Society is a collection of human beings who are consciously co-operating in the production and distribution of wealth. Survival is a fundamental human desire and the test of any particular society is its ability to provide for the survival and happiness of its members. If men and women are faced with innumerable problems, which are not natural but the consequence of the way in which society is organised, then it is in the material interest of the victims of these social problems to seek a solution.

Two things are necessary for the production of wealth: natural resources — land, minerals, crops, animals — and human labour, which is the attribute of all who possess energy. Without labour natural resources would not become wealth; without natural resources human energy could not be reproduced. In modern society people do not produce wealth without the aid of tools and machines and computers. These are the means of wealth, production and distribution. They are the means of human survival; the means of life.

The relation of members of society to the ownership and control of the means of life determines which class they are in. There have not always been social classes. In primitive societies, when human beings were hunters and gatherers, communities owned and controlled the means of production in common. Because wealth was produced and distributed in common, anthropologists have referred to such societies as primitive communism. Classes emerged with the development of the individual accumulation of property. Some modern sociologists would have us believe that classes came into being because some men evolved from the apes, wearing cloth caps, with cockney accents and spanners in their hands, while others evolved with top hats, Eton ties and fat wallets. Class is an economic category, not an innate differentiation.

In modern society there are two classes. One class owns and controls the means of wealth, production and distribution. Therefore, in order to be allowed to create wealth, the vast majority of people who do not own the means of life must gain permission to do so from the owning class. So wealth production, which is the primary objective of society, can only take place with the consent of a minority of its members.

Does it matter who owns and controls the means of producing wealth? It does not matter who in particular constitutes the owning class, but it does matter that the system of society at present does not produce wealth to fulfill human needs, but to make a profit for the few who own the productive forces. It is not the members of a particular class who are the cause of social problems, but the capitalist system of society. It is this system which we must scrutinise, remembering as we do so that the test of any system of society is its ability to provide for the survival and happiness of humanity.


Capitalism is the social system which has prevailed in Britain for approximately two centuries. It is characterised by the production of wealth in the form of commodities — which are goods not intended solely for use, but for sale on the market with a view to profit. The capitalist class are those who own a sufficient share in the means of life to live without working. The vast majority, the working class, have no alternative but to sell their ability to work, by hand or brain, to the owners of capital. Thus the capitalist class possess the means of production, but are under no compulsion to produce. The working class produce all the wealth, but do not own it.

The object of capitalist production is profit, but profits are not what many people imagine them to be; they are not the result of capitalists selling commodities at a price which is higher than their value. On the contrary, commodities generally sell at around their value, but profits are still made. This is because profits are made during the course of capitalist production, not in the market after commodities have been produced. The above point can be illustrated by means of a simple example: James employs Jack to produce wooden boxes. He offers Jack £50 a week as a wage—which is the price of Jack’s labour power—and pays £20 for the wood and tools needed for Jack to make the boxes. So, his capital costs are £50 (labour power or variable capital) and £20 (wood and tools or constant capital) which equals £70. James intends to sell the wooden boxes for £1 each. Between Monday and Wednesday Jack produces seventy boxes. Calculating that the value of fifty boxes equals the price of his labour power and twenty more cover the price of the wood and tools, Jack concludes that he has done ‘a fair week’s work’. But James, the capitalist, reminds Jack that he has bought one week’s labour power from him and that he must continue to produce boxes on Thursday and Friday. In the remaining two days Jack produces fifty more boxes — £50 worth of surplus value, over and above the wage paid to him. The time in which workers produce wealth over and above the value of their wages (or salaries) is surplus labour time. In short, it is a period in which they are being exploited. What is exploitation for the worker is profit for the capitalist. When James sells his one hundred and twenty boxes for £1 each, he will gain £50 profit over and above his initial capital costs. Had Jack not been exploited James would not get his profit, production would cease and it would not be of benefit for James to employ Jack so the latter would be unemployed. The object of capitalist production is for the capitalist to obtain a profit. The capitalist obtains a profit by exploiting workers. Workers are compelled to seek employment in order to live. The profit system is a system of compulsory exploitation. (The above description of how exploitation takes place is simplistic for the sake of those not acquainted with Marx’s more detailed explanation. In fact, workers are exploited during every moment of their employment and the division between the production of values equivalent to wages and the production of surplus value is not packaged into certain parts of the week.)

Capitalism is based upon private property and therefore people can only have access to goods by buying them from their owner. Those who produce wealth must spend their wages to buy the necessities of existence from those who own but do not produce it. Money exists as the medium of exchange which is necessary only because wealth is privately owned.

Because there are two classes — owners and non-owners, employers and employed, buyers and sellers of labour power there is an irreconcilable antagonism of social interests between them. The capitalist class want more power and privilege, the workers want some too. Employers want lower wages, the employed want higher wages. Buyers want low prices, sellers want high prices. The consequence of all this is a ferocious, unceasing class war. Unlike wars fought with armies on the field of battle, the class war involves us all and is always close to our lives. It is not only a war between classes, but it has, as a by product, conflict within classes. Worker fights worker for jobs, for sexual or racial superiority, for trade union differentials. When capitalist fights capitalist international war is often the result and workers are put in uniform and given guns to kill one another for their masters' spoils.

The class struggle is by no means an equal battle. The capitalist class is maintained in its powerful, exploiting position by the governments, the laws, the police and the armies of the various states of the world. The state administers over the battles within national groups of capitalists, but above all it serves to subordinate the working class. As long as the capitalist system continues, the state will ensure the legality of the exploitative process which is the source of the profit accumulated by the class which it serves. From the point of view of the capitalist class the present system is good and just and satisfying. But what of the overwhelming majority who produce the wealth?


For as long as there has been private property society there has been a struggle between classes. In the past these have been struggles of minorities to become the new ruling class. The powerful capitalist class of today had once to fight their class battles with the feudal aristocracy. Sometimes these battles were violent revolutions as in France in 1789. On other occasions the capitalists increased their power by peaceful political pressure, as in Britain in 1832 when some of them gained a parliamentary voice. Whether bloody or peaceful, the capitalist classes of the various countries owed their political victory to the support which they received from the working class. Workers supported the radical demands of the emergent capitalist ruling class because they believed that liberal capitalism would fulfil its egalitarian promise.

In 1867 many workers in Britain gained the vote. The Liberal Party was looked upon as the friend of the working class against the avowed capitalist cynicism of the Tories. By the 1890s many workers began to see that Liberal governments administered capitalism in the same brutal way as the Tories. This led to the trade union effort to set up their own party. Many workers believed that the Labour Party would be a genuine friend of the working class, but it too has been forced to govern in the same way as the Liberals and the Tories. The reason for this is that political parties which run capitalism are compelled to conform to the economic laws of capitalism. They are forced to ensure that production is for profit before need, that workers are laid off if they cannot be exploited profitably, that property is protected by the force of the law and that the working class is kept in its inferior social position. It is the system, not its administrators, which is inherently anti-social.

When capitalism was in its infancy, workers’ ideas about solving the problems produced by it were unscientific. Some devised Utopias — by no means only a feature of capitalist society — and drew up blueprints for humane societies. Others turned to religion and were informed by the ideologists of the profit system that they must suffer social degradation on earth in return for paradise beyond the grave. One impulsive, violent reaction to the new system was that of the Luddites whose only means of self-protection seemed to be to smash up the machines which were their masters instead of their servants.

As capitalism developed and the working class become more conscious of its position, trade unions were forced to defend and improve the price of labour power and the conditions of employment. Some workers hoped that trade unions could combine to abolish capitalism, but in fact the role of trade unions has concerned the rate of exploitation, not its abolition. The Labour Party’s proposals for nationalisation have been seen by some workers as the ultimate means of socialising the means of wealth production under capitalism. Indeed, nationalisation has often been mistakenly labelled as socialism. But what is nationalisation? It is state ownership of particular industries. The state, as we have already explained, is the representative of the ruling class. That is why nationalised industries have always been run as capitalist concerns.

Just as nationalisation is not socialism, but state capitalism, so are the countries which claim to have introduced socialism, such as China, Russia, Albania, Yugoslavia. The state capitalist countries have distorted the meaning of socialism and dissuaded many workers from accepting the case for a new system of society. Those workers who have sympathy with the bogus Communist Party dictatorships are committed to the elitist belief that although political revolution is necessary, the working class is too stupid to become politically conscious and must be led by an advanced minority.

In general, the political reaction of the working class to the problems of capitalism can be summed up in two beliefs: that leaders are necessary and that reforms can eradicate the evils of capitalism. Both of these beliefs are fundamentally wrong and must be countered before we can consider the political method of establishing the new social system. The idea that leaders are necessary to tell us what to do is based upon the belief that human beings are naturally incapable of co-operation and that legal coercion is therefore required. But the existence of unalterable behavioural patterns (known as human nature) is a myth; human behaviour is determined by the social environment. In the jungle system of capitalism harmony and human co-operation are impossible dreams. Given a system in which there is social equality — in which there is one common objective — there is no reason why co-operation should not be the accepted way of life. Class society is undemocratic and power is bound to be concentrated in the hands of the monopolisers of the means of wealth production. In the future socialist society there can be no leaders or classes. Such a society can only be created by politically conscious people, not by sheep-like followers. The belief that capitalism can be reformed in the interest of the wealth-producing class demonstrates an ignorance of the nature of the system. Capitalism is inevitably exploitative and undemocratic. The crises, housing problems, pollution, starvation, unemployment and wars are symptoms of the system and cannot be eradicated independently of the cause. Reformism presents an absurd programme to tackle thousands of social problems while leaving the creator of these problems intact. The socialist reaction to capitalism does not embrace utopias or gods or states or leaders or reforms.

The socialist case proposes uncompromising political revolution. Having recognised that capitalism is a system of class exploitation, that the working class constitutes a majority of society, and that the capitalist class owe their hegemony to the consent of the working class, socialists advocate the withdrawal of working class consent to capitalism. Once workers understand and desire the abolition of the present system they must organise themselves for the political, democratic conquest of the state machine, including the government and the armed forces. It is solely to this end that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is organised.


When a majority of workers have decided that they want socialism they will use their powerful political weapon, the vote, to send socialist delegates to the Parliaments of the world with a mandate to dispossess the capitalist class of the means of wealth production and distribution. Thus, instead of private ownership, there will be common ownership of the means of life. The world will at last belong to its inhabitants as a whole.

After the socialist revolution there will be no classes, for all will stand in equal relation to the means of life. The state will cease to exist as there will be no privileged group for governments to maintain and no private property for the police and armies to defend. There will be conscious human co-operation to meet the needs of the world community.

There cannot be socialism in one country, just as there is not capitalism in one country. The present fragmented world system must be replaced by a united world system. The evils of racial and national division, which now split the working class, will give way to a common social bond linking every man, woman and child on the face of the earth.

In the socialist society the means of producing wealth will be democratically owned and controlled by the community, without distinction of race or sex. The wages system, which we have demonstrated to be a system of exploitation, will be replaced by an economy in which each will give according to his or her abilities and each will take according to his or her needs. There will be free access to all wealth, without the need to buy what already belongs to you as a member of society. With the abolition of property money and barter will no longer have any use.

Socialism will be the first ever social democracy in the sense that there will be no governments, authoritarianism or imposed morality. The community will make decisions, using the advanced machinery of communication which is now available. In a social democracy the needs of minorities will be accommodated, including the needs of those who are opposed to socialism. Opponents of the new system will be given every opportunity to state the case for exploitation, poverty and war to those who care to listen.

For the first time in the history of human society men and women will live in a humane society designed to meet their needs. But is not such a projection an idealistic notion, a childlike dream? Cynics will mock, when they are first confronted with such a revolutionary proposition. We are not the painters of a pretty portrait of an unobtainable future, but scientific critics of the real world. Our idea of a future society arises from the potentiality of producing abundant wealth which has been created by capitalism but cannot be realised within the limitations of a profit system. Our readers are urged to seriously consider the case we have put and, if convinced by it, to participate in the realisation of the socialist goal. For so long as a single child starves for lack of food, and a single person is unemployed because it is unprofitable to exploit him or her, or a single drop of working class blood is shed in a war over property, the struggle for socialism remains the most urgent challenge of our time.
Steve Coleman

What socialism means (1980)

Editorial from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a system of society where the means of production will be commonly owned, democratically controlled and used to produce wealth solely to satisfy human needs. When we describe the essential features of such a society you will see why we say that socialism has not been established anywhere (nor, in fact, could it be established in just one place; it must be worldwide).

What, then, are the essential features of socialism? First, the land, industry, transport and communications will have become the common property of the whole community. This means that classes will have been abolished, everyone having an equal say in how the means of production are used. There will no longer be a propertied employing class, nor a propertyless working class. Wages will not be paid nor received as nobody will be in a position either to buy or to sell a human being’s ability to work. There will simply be people, free men and women, co-operating to produce what they need.

Second, socialism will be a completely democratic society. The limited political democracy of today will be expanded into a full social democracy. All aspects of society, including the production and distribution of wealth will be subject to democratic social control. The coercive state machine and government over people of class society — with the armed forces and police, the judges and gaolers — will be replaced by the simple democratic administration of social affairs. Those chosen by society to carry out administrative functions on its behalf will not be in any special privileged position. They will not have at their command any means of coercing people. Nor will they be materially better off than anyone else since, as we shall see next, in socialism everybody will have free access to the wealth they need to live and enjoy life.

Third, wealth will be produced solely and directly for human use. It will not be produced for sale, but for people to take according to their needs. Goods will not be priced, nor will people’s consumption be limited by the amount of money they have. There will in fact be no need for money in a socialist society, as the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” will apply.

Free distribution of wealth is now possible because modern industry and agriculture can turn out an abundance of the things people need. A world of plenty is now possible. There is no need for any man, woman or child in any part of the world to go hungry, be badly clothed or live in slums. The technical problem of producing plenty for all has been solved for a long time. The problem now is that the present social system, capitalism, which exists all over the world (including Russia, China, Cuba, Yugoslavia . . . ) places a fetter on production because it operates, and must operate, according to the rule of “no profit, no production.” What the world suffers from today is not overpopulation, but the chronic underproduction that is built into capitalism. Not only does world capitalism hold back production, but it also misuses and wastes the resources of the world. Think of the waste involved in training and equipping armed forces and of the destruction of wars. Think of the waste of commerce and finance — of banks, insurance companies, salesmen, ticket collectors, accountants, economists, cashiers. Indeed, it is probably true to say that only a minority of the world’s population is actually engaged in producing useful things. Then of course there is the deliberate destruction of wealth that is carried out every year in order to maintain prices and profits: the bonfires of coffee and cocoa, the pouring of milk down coal mines, the dumping of vegetables in rivers, the feeding of butter to pigs.

Once you take account of this artificial scarcity and organised waste of capitalism, you realise that socialism (where people will cooperate freely to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs) is not only possible but is also the only solution to humanity’s current problems.

Political Notes: Spare coppers for the police (1980)

The Political Notes Column from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


But if money is tight for education, social services, housing, OAPs, the unemployed, mothers, the sick, there is one organisation for which the benevolent Tories have always got a spare copper—the police. The Chairman of the West Midland Police Committee, Councillor Ronald Wooten, is reported as calling “for the trimming of ‘candy floss’ items, such as education and social services so that more money would be available for the police” (The Guardian 6.3.80). The Chief Constable of the West Midlands, Sir Philip Knights, explained that the increased police forces were necessary to deal with “political and industrial demonstrations”.

At least this Councillor and Chief Cop have got their priorities clear; the police must be sufficiently staffed to allow thousands of them suddenly to appear when workers go on strike because of their low pay or rotten working conditions. These spokesmen for the most hard line and vicious elements of the capitalist class clearly want to ensure both that workers’ living standards are cut and that there is no effective protest that can be made. “A regular commitment to public order situations” (as Chief Constable Knights put it) is more important than a bit of extra cash for those in desperate need.


As a final irony, the West Midlands Police Committee have asked for an additional Assistant Chief Constable. They are going to get one; no question of jobs being frozen or no new recruitment here. And what will his (it will be a he) job be? Knights said that “the increased number of complaints against the force meant that the Deputy Chief Constable was overburdened”. So the new Assistant Chief Constable will deal with the complaints. No doubt the Conservative Manifesto in 1979 meant what it said: “The most disturbing threat to freedom and security is the growing disrespect for the rule of law”; it might have added, that the police themselves disregard the law when it suits them. One piece of London graffiti sums it up: “Help the Police—beat yourself up”.


It is no use being surprised at the Tory hash or the Tory harshness, or shocked that money is apparently available for overt repression, but not for “social” services. Capitalism is going through a crisis, and the workers get squeezed even harder. Thousands may march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to protest as they did on Sunday 9 March. But mere protests leave capitalism untouched. The annals of history are littered with the dead of those who only protested.


It is no wonder the Tory government is in such a mess. The Tories are making a speciality of Milton Friedmanite policies with the guru himself explaining them at peak viewing hours. He claims his monetarist dogmas will prevent everything from unemployment to World War III, as he trips through the sweat shops of Hong Kong, waving his arms and talking of freedom. Even Keith Joseph must see the incongruity. But even worse is the activity of another guru, the London Business School. This prestigious training centre for capitalist managerial hacks, has for the last few years regularly trotted out gloomy reports and urged the sort of monetarist clap-trap that the Thatcherite evangelists have preached ever since Sailor Heath was made to walk the plank. So much did Maggie love the LBS’s reports that she drafted in one of its Professors (Terry Burns) to be her government’s economic adviser. (The 1964 Wilson government tried a similar dodge. They got their economic illusionists from Cambridge the farce of the Kaldor-Balogh reign.)

The declared policy of Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe is to try to reduce the public sector borrowing requirements by further cuts in government expenditure. But the LBS is up in arms about this. The Guardian (3.3.80) comments: “By persisting with its plans to control the borrowing requirements next year the Chancellor is going out on a limb and ignoring advice from an organisation from which it derived much of its previous monetarist inspiration”. Others are getting in on the act of criticising government economic strategy. “A strong call for a Government Incomes Policy comes today from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Its February Review argues that without an Incomes Policy fiscal and monetary measures alone would not be enough to achieve conventional economic policy goals” (Daily Mail 3.3.80). Is it coincidental that the Treasury has reduced the National Institute’s budget by half for the next year?

But no wonder Thatcher is confused. After all, she is only doing what the LBS, the National Institute and Milton Friedman have been demanding for years. Even the Archbishop of Reactionism, F. Hayek, is getting in on the act, writing angry letters to the press complaining that the government is causing inflation (The Times 5.3.80). Poor Thatcher; if the Hayeks and the Friedmans, the LBSs and the NIs are abandoning her, then she really is going to be left without a friend in the world.


Still, this talk of money is a little irrelevant; after all most people don’t see very much of the stuff. A Low Pay Unit report in October last year said that a record number of people were living in officially designated poverty conditions. British mothers are given the second lowest maternity grant in Europe (only Eire is worse) and even some of the poor “third world” countries manage to find more for expectant mothers and new-born babies than Britain (The Times 23.11.79). Of course, the Tories would say, this does not matter in Britain because living standards have risen greatly over the last hundred years. That is what they would like us to believe anyway. But another Low Pay Unit report in February this year disclosed that the poorest workers in Britain earn less today in relation to average pay than in the 1880s. Nearly 6 million adult workers (34 per cent of the labour force) earn less than £60 per week. “They would have needed to earn that amount to be left with an income after tax equivalent to the official poverty line, as measured by the supplementary benefit rates for a family with 2 children . . . In fact the report states, the pattern of low pay since the 1880s shows a depressing rigidity” (The Times 11.2.80). Whether Tories or Labour are in power, capitalist interests come first.
Ronnie Warrington

What we ought to do (1980)

From the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

A major part of our lives is spent working for the benefit of another class. We sell our abilities for the highest wage we can get—and call that success, although in so doing we lose control of something irreplaceable—our  time. We’ve little say in the organisation of our working life, in what we produce, the quality of what we make and so on. We don’t need to make things which simply fall apart. Many of us spend hour after hour, every day, doing monotonous, repetitive jobs which mean little to us but which help give our masters, the capitalists, a life of freedom. Anyway, we’re only allowed to work when those masters see the chance to make a profit out of it.

And what can we have instead? A worldwide socialist society offers us an alternative way of life. First, we won’t be supporting any property-monopolising class and we won’t be wasting our time making bombs, working in banks and the like. We'll democratically control our own work as society requires and we'll only turn out the best available and possible. When we are not making for the market we won’t need to make things which fall apart.

We can achieve security, abundance and fulfillment in a socialist society. Now, what are you going to do about it?
S. F.

A new translation of Marx's "Capital" (1980)

Book Review from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1976 Penguin published a new translation of Volume I of Marx’s Capital. In his preface the translator, Ben Fowkes, gives two reasons why he feels a new translation was necessary. First, that the English language has changed since the first English edition, translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling under the supervision of Engels, was published in 1887. Secondly that, with the increased knowledge of Marx’s ideas since 1887, there is no longer any need to shield the reader from some of the more difficult passages which Marx left out, for instance, in the French edition. These, says Fowkes, can be restored despite their difficulty.

On the first point Fowkes is undoubtedly right. Today, nearly a hundred years later, the Moore-Aveling translation has become, due to changes in English usage, a bit stilted. The reader’s concentration on the particular point Marx is trying to make is made more difficult by having at the same time to transform certain old-fashioned phrases into their modern equivalents. But the ideas expressed by Marx in Capital ought to be available in as readable a form as possible since they provide a clear explanation of how the working class are exploited under capitalism and of how capitalism can only work to their detriment. Every class-conscious worker should have a go at reading Capital and may be pleasantly surprised to find that the economic theory alternates with historical accounts of the past sufferings and struggles of the working class in Britain. And the ideas expressed in Capital are of course also the basis of the economic analyses made in the columns of this journal.

Judged by this standard of making Capital easier to read, Fowkes’ translation by and large succeeds. To give an example of the sort of changes made, we can mention that the words productiveness and labourer have been replaced, in accordance with modern usage, by productivity and worker. In addition. Capital’s subtitle is translated as “A Critique of Political Economy” (instead of as “A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production”), so making it quite clear that Marx was not simply criticising capitalism but also the categories used by economic theory generally.

However, there is one change of Fowkes’ which works in the opposite direction, making understanding more difficult. A key word used by Marx is the verb verwerten and its noun Verwertung. These are everyday German words which mean literally something like “putting to good/profitable/valuable use”. Marx uses them in a special sense, in relation to “value” and “capital”, to mean the use of value or capital in such a way that their size is increased-hence a good or profitable or valuable use. Moore, Aveling and Engels chose to translate Verwertung as “expansion”, “increase” and “augmentation”, so that their English translation speaks of “the expansion of value”, the “self-expansion of capital”, and so on.

Fowkes introduces a new word to translate Marx here: valorisation (and, for the verb, valorise). While not denying that it is sometimes necessary to introduce a new word to refer to a new concept, is it really necessary in this case? Valorisation is not an entirely new word since it does already figure in dictionaries; according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary it means “raise or stabilise the value of (a commodity, etc.) by government action”—hardly what Marx meant! But valorisation, in Fowkes’ sense, is a new word, the working out of whose meaning is only going to make the reading and understanding of Capital more, not less, difficult.

It is also a pity that Penguin did not let Marx speak for himself and considered it necessary to add an 80-page introduction by Ernest Mandel. Certainly, Mandel has a knowledge of some aspects of Marxian economics but, as a Trotskyist, he is quite unqualified to write an introduction to Capital. For instance, he refers to Russia, East Europe, China, North Vietnam, North Korca(!) and Cuba as “societies in which the rule of capital has already been overthrown” (p. 16). Really? Are we supposed to accept, then, that wealth in these countries does not “appear as an immense collection of commodities” as Marx says in the very first line of Capital is the case in “societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails”? Again, Mandel talks of capitalism as being characterised by “production for private profit” (p. 11). So, production for state profit what might be called the self-expansion of state capital—as in Russia, apparently isn’t capitalism! Then, to cap it all, we are told that the working class needs a “revolutionary leadership” (p. 84)—doubtless Mandel and his Trotskyist supporters in the New Left Review who prepared this new translation for Penguin.

If all this is the price we have to pay for not having to buy editions of Capital from state capitalist Russia then it is almost too high.
Adam Buick

Letters: Jesus Christ: myth or reality (1980)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jesus Christ: myth or reality

L. E. Weidberg in the article “Jesus Christ Supermyth” (Socialist Standard February) argues no other documents exist to corroborate the New Testament. He also says that the clearest reference to the existence of Jesus outside the New Testament itself is found in Josephus, and that this was faked by a Christian. Since it is his opinion that we have lots of writings from periods even more ancient than those mentioned in the New Testament, he sees this as evidence that their text is to be cast aside in toto, for they were composed around 300-400 years after the events they purport to relate.

No student of history rejects the writings of the classical authors in our possession merely because they are late copies of the originals. Thus, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, composed between 58-50BC, is known only in late manuscripts, the earliest of which is dated around 900 AD. Similarly, the history of Thucydides (460-400BC) and Herodotus (488-428BC) have as their earliest manuscript one from around 900AD.

Between 90-160AD many works were written by the so-called Apostolic Fathers. These show an intimate knowledge of the New Testament text, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Barnabus and Polycarp, among others, all freely quote the text of the New Testament from memory. So it must have been freely circulating around the Middle East.

That text contains many references to officials in various cities, as well as customs among the various people visited by the early Christian propagandists (if I may use that term?). These references have been verified time and again by archaeological research. In proof I cite the researches of Professor F. F. Bruce in Jesus and the Christian Origins Outside the New Testament.

Early Jewish writings mention Jesus. Those who fled from Palestine at the sack of Jerusalem under Yohanan codified their religious laws and traditions. These later became known as the Mishnah. They describe Jesus as a magician who led the people astray. They say he was executed on Passover Eve for heresy. In a startling confirmation of the New Testament, Jesus is called “Ha-Taluy” The Hanged One. (Let me point out that crucifixion was a Roman, not a Jewish mode of execution. Jews stoned to death those adjudged worthy of capital punishment). They also named Jesus “Ben-Pantera”—Son of the Virgin.

Your assertion that some Christian “faked” the writings of Josephus is highly contentious. There is a Slavonic version usually seen as being a Christian interpolation; but how do we know that they did not have some text even more ancient than those which we know about to draw upon? On top of that, it was after all Origen, a Christian writer, who drew attention to the fact that Jospehus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Yet two references to Jesus exist outside the Slavonic version of Josephus. One of them says Ananias the high-priest tried James, “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ”. For the other one you must read Dr. H. St. John Thackeray’s Josephus, the Man and the Historian, p. 125. He shows that the interpretation of Josephus is not so simple. There are disputes about the whole affair among scholars.

All this shows us, then, that the text of the New Testament is quite authentic when it deals with material affairs like officials, and various customs among the people in the Middle East of those days. Doubt only enters when they begin to relate miraculous events, and religious affairs. Atheists who read the Socialist Standard reject these last as gross superstitions. Having no faith in the existence and power of God, they can obtain no comfort from the New Testament. Christians, believing both, can: we say that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”. The more we read, then, the more we are convinced.
H. C. Mullin, 

The humanist view

In case anyone thinks that L. E. Weidberg’s article attacking the historicity of Jesus is far-fetched, I am writing to support it with a summary of the evidence. The whole issue is discussed in detail in two books by G. A. Wells—The Jesus of the Early Christians (1971) and Did Jesus Exist? (1975)—published by Pemberton, and the relevant sources are presented in C. K. Barrett’s anthology, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents (1956), published by SPCK.

According to Christian doctrine, Jesus was born soon before the death of Herod the Great and at the time of the Roman census of Judaea (unfortunately, the former occurred in 4BC and the latter in AD6!), and was crucified in about AD30. Yet no contemporary evidence about him has survived, and the earliest independent evidence about him dates from about AD110; even the earliest Christian evidence dates from several decades after his supposed death.

The earliest Epistles of Paul, which date from the 50s and 60s, contain virtually no information about the life or death or about the teachings of Jesus; according to his own testament, Paul knew nothing of Jesus and rejected Christianity until he was convinced by a vision. The Gospels, which were compiled by unknown writers in unknown ways from unknown sources in unknown places between about 70 and 110, contain virtually no information which even claims to be first-hand, which is corroborated elsewhere, or which is consistent with what is known about Judaea in the early first century. There is no reference to them until the mid-second century, and it is interesting that the first Christian Fathers referred to the Epistles but not to the Gospels

The earliest non-Christian references to Jesus appeared in the 110s. Pliny the Younger, writing to the Emperor Trajan, refers not to Jesus living in Palestine in 30 but Christians worshipping Christ as a God in Asia Minor in 112. Tacitus and Suetonius, writing histories of Rome during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, refer to troubles associated with Christians in Rome under Claudius Nero; but their accounts are not reflected in any contemporary or any Christian source, and they seem to confuse Christians with Jews, which would be understandable at a time when many Jews had become Christians. Thus their story that Nero blamed the fire of 64 on the Christians was not told by Christians; and Suetonius’ reference to “Chrestus” causing trouble in Rome in the 50s is hardly evidence for Christians making trouble there then or in Jerusalem twenty years earlier. Tacitus does add that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, but this was Christian doctrine when Tacitus was writing and he may have heard it from them.

There is no Jewish reference to Jesus in such first-century writers as Philo and Josephus, and the earliest references appear in the second-century Talmud. They suggest that he was human rather than divine, and a bastard rather than the Messiah, which hardly supports Christian doctrine.

The early Christians were acutely aware of the absence of good evidence for the life and death of Jesus, so they perpetrated what were called “pious frauds” to fill the gap. In the second century Justin and Tertullian referred to official reports by Pontius Pilate, and in the fourth century Eusebius quoted letters between Paul and Seneca. Above all, some time between the early third century and the early fourth century, the famous reference to Jesus was interpolated into Josephus's history of the Jews. This forgery destroys itself, since it makes Josephus, who was a religious Jew, refer to Jesus as if he were the Messiah and a divine being. None of this material is accepted by any serious Christian scholar today.
Nicolas Walter,
The New Humanist

Our reply
Pressure on space has forced us to make some cuts in these letters—without, of course, altering their meaning. We feel they can be published without our own detailed reply, since the historical evidence given by Nicolas Walter answers the objections raised by Mr. Mullin.

Two comments we must make. The issue of whether a man called Jesus Christ lived or not is interesting, but not so vital as to destroy, or even damage the socialist case against religion and for the materialist conception of history. Workers who are suppressed and exploited under capitalism should keep their attention upon the real, material world in which they live; this is the only life we know we have and we must struggle to make it the best of all possible experiences. All religion is a diversion from the workers’ urgent task of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism. Apart from this, there is no evidence which can stand up to a scientific assessment to indicate that there is a supernatural life or any of the other mumbo jumbo associated with religious beliefs.

From this, we argue that people like Nicolas Walter would do better to preoccupy themselves with propagating socialist ideas, rather than with combatting religious ones. Religion, after all, is only one of the theories popular among non-socialist workers and which stand in the way of our getting socialism now.

Finally—we have received several letters of criticism of the article “Jesus Christ Supermyth” but only Mr. Mullin’s was suitable for publication; the others were either too long or were little more than religious ranting, or both. One who has read the article but who has not written to us is a violinist playing at the show Jesus Christ Superstar, who was seen to have the Socialist Standard on his music stand, propped open at the relevant page.
Editorial Committee

A bitter charity (1980)

The Briefing Column from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Charity is commonly understood as acts of generosity towards the less fortunate and as such it appeals to both our sense of morality and feelings of obligation. But such an interpretation fails to recognise that only certain activities can be judged as being charitable and this has been the case since the Statute of Charitable Uses (1601) and the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act (1888).

Charities today are expected to be concerned with the relief of poverty, the advancement of learning, the support of religion, and other acts not covered by the first three. What is not a charitable act is any activity of a political nature. The Charity Commission has been in existence since 1853, to ensure that charities do not indulge in activities which are not “charitable”. This body, whose existence was perpetuated under the Charities Act (1960), is expected to promote the effective use of charitable resources and make effective the work of charities in meeting the needs designated by the trust.

The Report of the Charity Commissioners for England and Wales (1969) states the legal position with regard to political activity. The Commission argued that: “a well-established principle of charity law is that a trust for the attainment of a political object is not a valid charitable trust”. It was denied that propaganda could contribute to the advancement of learning as it is understood within charity law—and of course the dissemination of any information of a political nature is propaganda. The commissioners claimed to appreciate the reasons some charities felt the need to influence policies but pointed out that charities must nevertheless work within the confines of the legal status quo.

In other words, a situation may be unacceptable, but we can only attempt to patch it up. It must not be seen as politically unacceptable, for that would involve removing the very causes which have given rise to the status quo within which the unacceptable exists. We can now begin to appreciate that the work of charity is to straighten out the ragged edges of the capitalist system while refusing to alter its basis and structure.

The Report of the Charity Commissioners for England and Wales (1978) attacked the activities of War on Want, Oxfam and Christian Aid Division. War on Want was criticised for undertaking research “into the root causes of poverty which lay in the social, economic and political structures of countries” and Oxfam was rebuked for indulging in “political propaganda as defined by the courts”. Of the activities of Christian Aid Division the report states that:
“it seeks to finance political action, mobilise public opinion, and effect structural change within societies, in an attempt to tackle those causes of poverty which lie in the economic, social and political structures of communities. We have advised the Trustees of the Charity that such activities are not within their objects nor within the scope of charitable endeavour as understood in this country”.
For the year 1978 there were 129,212 charities registered with the Charity Commission; for the most part their activities are a supplement to government programmes, in that they supplied services not provided by the state. This massive mopping-up operation highlights the failure of capitalism to provide for the needs of its people. At the same time charitable activity distracts attention from the true cause of our problems—a society in which the overwhelming majority, the working class, have only their labour power to sell on the market.

Charities delude workers into thinking that the problems created by capitalism can be solved within that system rather than pointing out that those problems are endemic to it. The activities of the charities are simply an expression of the well-meaning but impotent rage at the problems of capitalism instead of at the system itself.
Philip Bentley

Workers and parasites (1980)

From the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Colonel and Mrs. Baglie, aged 83 and 66, live in a four-bedroomed, detached house in spacious grounds near Bournemouth. His father had been managing director of a shipping firm and her family were ‘Scottish landed gentry’. They had stocks and shares worth £60,000 and savings worth at least another £30,000. They also owned land and houses in Scotland from which rents were drawn and an unearned income of £3,500 (now equivalent to over £10,000) as well as his army pension. He said, ‘No healthy person need be poor . . . I think the Welfare State has done an awful lot of harm by leading the population to expect the government to do everything for them. It has undermined the feeling of responsibility that a man owes to his family.’’ (Poverty In The United Kingdom by Peter Townsend, Penguin.) 
“A couple in their sixties were evicted from their Leicestershire council house and forced to live rough. Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council has refused to rehouse them . . . After a working life of 40 years, the man had not worked since May because of a bad back. After their eviction (due to rent arrears and deterioration of property) he lived in a dog kennel for three nights whilst his wife lived in a bus shelter.” (Reported in The Guardian, 8.12.78.) 
“The pursuit of equality is a mirage. What is more desirable and more practicable than the pursuit of equality is the pursuit of equality of opportunity. And opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal.” (Margaret Thatcher, 16.9.75.)
Lucky old workers; we’ve got the right to be unequal. As Thatcher and her capitalist friends keep telling us, those who have most to contribute to society are entitled to a bigger share of the social wealth. What would be the point of giving fat incomes to scroungers like nurses, cleaners, doctors, dustmen, typists, farm labourers, social workers and shop assistants? Such inferior beings would only go and waste their money on unnecessary commodities like decent food and adequate shelter. The ones whom Thatcher believes should be more equal than the rest of us are such useful social contributors as high-ranking army officers, managing directors, senile aristocrats and rock stars. After all, where would society be today if Rod Steward hadn’t been paid vast sums of money to give us all the benefit of his permanent sore throat—or if there were no well-paid generals who could devise various ways of blowing us up?

Who are they kidding when they tell us that the capitalist system allows people to consume wealth in accordance with their talents? If the British aristocracy only consumed in accordance with their talents there would be a wave of malnutrition throughout the Stately Homes of England. Under capitalism wealth ownership is not the result of talent or hard work; 32 per cent of land in Britain is owned (or held in trust) by titled families. The largest private landowner in Britain is a man who has so much talent to offer that he has never done a job in his entire life; he is the Duke of Buccleuch who owns 268,000 acres of land, which is approximately equivalent to the landholdings of the National Coal Board. The new Duke of Westminster, who is 27 years old and has reached the staggering intellectual heights of obtaining two ‘O’ levels, owns land worth two billion pounds—that’s two million millions for those readers who employ accountants to add up their wages.

The ownership of immense wealth by a small minority is largely the result of inheritance. So if social privilege is a reward for merit, the only merit which is being referred to is the wisdom of a baby to be born from the womb of a parasite rather than a worker. According to this theory, Princess Anne's son, who will never need to go out and sell his royal labour power, is being rewarded for his initiative, enterprise and intelligence. The fact that he is as yet illiterate and fond of making gargling noises is quite beside the point.

Social parasites
Social parasitism is not confined to the aristocracy. A parasite is an organism which lives by feeding from other live organisms. Such is the position of the entire capitalist class. They can only accumulate capital so long as the majority of people will produce wealth and receive a price for their labour power which is less than the value of their product. The exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class is the social equivalent of biological parasitism. But doesn’t it say in the Daily Express that the capitalists get their money and power by hard work? Yes, they get it by our hard work. We make the profits; they take the profits.

What about the so-called self-made-man-the capitalist who has not become wealthy except by employing and exploiting the labour of others. Freddie Laker does not fly his aeroplanes; Jack Cohen did not load the shelves at Tesco; Henry Ford did not build motor cars; Lord Rothermere never contributed a single article to his newspaper. Occasional members of the working class do manage to make their way in to the exploiting class, but they can only ever do so by riding on the backs of their fellow workers. It would be wrong to attack the capitalists for exploiting workers, as under the present system one can only exploit or be exploited. But it is senseless of workers to do the football pools or work like donkeys in the hope that they will one day join the ranks of their own exploiters. Most people are born and die in a class which subjects them to the dictates of the labour market.

Why poverty?
When our leaders tell us that the rich are being rewarded for their abilities they are also telling us something else: that the poor are deprived because of their talentlessness, stupidity and indolence. According to a survey carried out by the Rowntree Trust in 1967- 8, 9 per cent of the population of Britain (nearly 5 million people) are living below the official standard of poverty. Peter Townsend’s informative book on Poverty in the United Kingdom suggests that if a more appropriate “relative deprivation” standard is adopted, and if account is taken of the increased poverty generated by capitalism’s latest crisis, 26 per cent of the population (14 million people) could be said to be living in poverty. That is not to mention the many millions of people in the world for whom poverty means little or no food to eat, inadequate clothing and shelter, and the absence of any security. To attribute the reasons for such poverty to the inferiority of the impoverished is an insult to the working class.

Capitalism causes poverty because it limits workers’ access to wealth. Wages and salaries determine how much members of the working class can eat, where we can live, and every other aspect of our social existence. Under the wages system all workers are impoverished in the sense that we are denied ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution.

The only way to end poverty is to abolish classes and this can only happen when what is now the property of private capitalists or the state is transferred to the common ownership and democratic control of the whole community.

In socialist society there will be no more capitalists. What will become of them? Perhaps a few will put a gun to their own heads at the prospect of a world without cringing employees and debutantes’ balls. Others will conform to the new social order and may even realise the benefit of doing so. If capitalists do not like being dispossessed of their ownership of the means of life it will be too bad, for once the workers have decided in a majority to establish a new social system, the political sensitivities of redundant Queens, disgruntled Dukes and wet-eyed millionaires will not count for much.
Steve Coleman

Getting the sack (1980)

From the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the factory where I work we weren’t exactly surprised to hear that one third of us would be sacked in a few weeks’ time. The firm make foundry and quarry equipment and we knew there was a shortage of orders. First, the night shift had been taken off, then all overtime stopped, and for the last two weeks skilled platers and welders had been put to painting the factory and doing minor maintenance work. Obviously, this couldn’t last. Every company, whether order books are empty or full, must always strive to keep down costs in order to maximise the profits each of them is in business to make, and paying men the skilled rate to slap on paint is not usually the best way of doing it.

The shop stewards’ immediate reaction was to involve three unions but management’s case was that if the redundancies don’t go through then the place will close. There’s little the unions can do in the face of this so all that remains is for the stewards to negotiate the best possible financial settlement for those who have to go.

The bad news was received calmly as most of the men have been through it all often enough. Two or three of the long service men nearing retirement hope that they will be on the list so as to collect their redundancy money before they reach 65 and lose it, but most of the men can’t help being worried. Unemployment in the area around Clydebank is well above the national average and every month brings news of more closures. Some of the local newer “starts” have lost two jobs in the last year and they know that the practice of “last in, first out” will probably see them on the move again.

Of course, not one of the men sees a redundancy as a consequence of capitalist production. They see it as something that could probably have been avoided and blame it on inefficient management and all the “non- producers” (office staff) on the payroll. But booms and slumps are part and parcel of the production for profit system. The owners of any company—in this case a multi-national—invest capital to provide a factory, plant and material. Workers are hired to use these in order to produce wealth greater than was there at the start—surplus value. If, owing to a slump in worldwide trading conditions, demand for the product is slack then what is the company to do? Can it squander the investors’ money by paying workers to wear out expensive machinery by working up equally expensive materials into products that cannot be sold? There is only one course the company can take. It must cut back production to the level required to maintain profitability, and this is what is happening all over the world.

Tea and lunch breaks sometimes provide an opportunity to question some accepted ideas. For example, when workmates gripe about the wages they get, I reply that they should reject the wages system itself; when they complain about how “the country” is being run, I ask them why they allow' politicians to do their thinking for them. These contributions are generally received with disapproval or puzzled silence. After all, where else do they ever hear such ideas? When social problems are discussed by the media, both Left and Right talk in terms of patching up or otherwise reorganising the production for sale on the market system. Wages, prices, profits, pensions, and all the other hallmarks of today’s private property set-up are taken as eternal. All that is needed, apparently, is “new policies” or maybe a change of government, so the workers are never given the opportunity to think about a solution outside of the framework of the status quo.

A few days later we are told that management will “pick the team” on the following Monday. On the Monday morning one of the young platers who has seen me speaking at an outdoor meeting asks me why he is being sacked (only a guess at this stage but it turns out to be a good one). I tell him that none of us are given a job for our benefit and that the company just doesn’t need some of us any more. I start to explain the profit motive but he loses interest and tells me he will be sacked because his foreman doesn’t like him.

From the moment we start to take in ideas we are discouraged from thinking in terms of class at all. Class, like sex, is nasty and we are taught that “the nation” is what counts and how the fate of each of us depends on our own efforts as individuals. So the working class never acts as a class because it doesn’t recognise itself as such.

An older man, a rabid Labour Party supporter, does have an answer to the redundancy. He wants to see the place nationalised. I point to the vast redundancies taking place at British Leyland, British Steel, and other state owned industries and which are only a continuation of those begun by the last Labour government. I remind him that the last job he lost was in a nationalised shipyard and during a Labour government, too. I know I’m wasting my time with him but some of the others who are listening may be taking it in.

Monday drags on and everyone is on edge waiting for the axe to fall. Late in the afternoon the foremen are summoned to the manager’s office and when they emerge each has a list in his hand. They head for their own departments and the slaughter is on. Of course, the sacked men put a brave face on it but most of them cannot hope for a job locally. Any job they do get will require considerable travel involving extra expense and those with mortgages will be hardest hit. Among those sacked are two or three in their early sixties and they know they will probably never get another job.

The blow is softened by the fact that all those who are leaving receive redundancy money or (thanks to the efforts of the stewards) six weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. Some say they will have a holiday before they start job-hunting, but sooner rather than later they will have to begin hawking themselves around, filling in forms, waiting for interviews, and all that is connected with the degrading business of seeking an employer.

Being hired and fired is a part of working class culture and always will be so long as we allow capital to use us when and where it wants. Our class must one day make the capitalist system the victim of the biggest redundancy of all.
Vic Vanni