Sunday, August 28, 2016

The trouble with culture (1999)

From the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The buzz word in Northern Ireland now is "culture" or—its Sinn Fein synonym—"parity of esteem". Used in conjunction with Protestant or Catholic, directly or in one of their many substitute forms, it masks bigotry and intransigence.
Back in the early 1970s I used to have to telephone a work contact fairly frequently in London. My contact was a typical Londoner, blissfully unaware of such vital matters as the Orange Order and such significant events as the Twelfth of July. It was possible for such ignorance to prevail in those days. As we discussed some unfinished matter he suggested that he would phone me the following Tuesday for further information. I told him the office would be closed then and, thinking he was missing something, he inquired, "Why?" "The Glorious Twelfth!" I replied, alluding to the fact that the 12th and 13th of July are national holidays in Northern Ireland.
He was interested, convinced now that he was being cheated: "The Glorious Twelfth! You mean the start of the Shooting Season? That's not till August!" I explained that the shooting season was a fairly continuous process here and, to his further enquiries, I explained that the "Twelfth" was in commemoration of the battle of the Boyne in 1690.
"Nineteen-sixty!" he exclaimed, displaying an appalling sense of history, "and what the fuck has nineteen-sixty got to do with now?"
In the years since, I recall that conversation as my wife and I, like all other civilised people who can get away, set out on our annual July pilgrimage from the Mecca of Orangeism. Whatever 1690 meant for most of the small population of Ireland then, it has proved a bad year for succeeding generations, irrespective of their religion or, indeed, their politics.
The mad month of July 
What's it got to do with now? Every year its anniversary brings bitterness, anger and trouble of one sort or another. Friend and foe accept the sobriquet, "the mad month" for July. Catholics, from among that endangered species of Catholics and Protestants who live together as neighbours in working class areas, frequently affirm that their neighbours stop speaking to them for a month from the 1st of July.

The Orange Order itself is made up largely of members of the working class who are Protestants. In the past it was officered first by the landed aristocracy and large farmers and later by the industrial bosses and their senior hirelings. Now, since what the Order has to offer the ruling class, in terms of bigotry and political divisiveness, is superfluous to the political requirements of capitalism, the extravagant titles of Worshipful Masters and Grand Masters is an additional sop to the working class membership.
If you substitute religion for race or patriotism—and all are ignorance-based fictions that be-devil the human race—then the Order bears a striking resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan. Like the KKK the Orange Order are Biblically Christian based. Again, like the KKK, the Order can find Biblical quotations within the hotchpotch of Bible contradictions to justify naked hatred benignly presented as genuine love. Orangeism, insofar as it contains a philosophy beyond aggressive primitive anti-Catholic godism, is a blatantly right-wing doctrine that has historically rendered invaluable service to landlordism and, subsequently, to local capitalism.
In July 1999 it hung like a sword of Damocles over the head of Trimble and those other Unionist leaders who have been forced to realise that, unless an accommodation is achieved with nationalists and republicans, the future of Northern Ireland as a separate political entity will be gravely endangered.
Of course the Orange Order and those non-Trimble and anti-Trimble unionists with which it has made common ground, are perfectly right. Trimble, in signing up to what has become known as the Good Friday Agreement, has sold out on traditional Unionism. Similarly, the political lunatics of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, waiting in the wings for a resumption of the death or glory days, are right: within the terms of the Agreement, the Provisional IRA and its political front, Sinn Fein, have also sold out.
In fact the negotiations that led up to the Good Friday Agreement were a concentrated process of auctioning off opposing principles by the contending parties for as much as they could get in return in the form of political kudos. What each has lost is the baggage of history; what each has gained is a snout in the power trough and an opportunity to draw Northern Ireland into the political realities of the 20th century.
The Unionists and Republicans who have remained opposed to the Good Friday Agreement want to stay true to their principles and what each calls its culture. There is no virtue, however, in such absurd loyalty; in essence, it is the retention of the opposing cultures that are sustained on the anger and bitterness that plants the bomb, pulls the trigger and creates lifestyles within ghettos of the most squalid ignorance.
The Orange Order, the most dominant element of the anti-Trimble camp—despite Trimble himself being an Orangeman—demonstrates this intransigent resolve to stay in the past. Every year the Order organises over three thousand parades in a season of some four months. Many of these are within Protestant enclaves but many are aggressively-staged marches on main roads that offer offence to some on ideological grounds and to others because they appear to be organised in such a way as to cause maximum disruption and inconvenience.
The zealots add a new dimension to the peculiar oddities of worshipping their God who, according to the Orange Order, is considerably mollified by the sight of men marching under banners to the sound of raucous music, with drawn swords and halberds and a piece of orange bunting around their necks. This God is a Protestant fundamentalist, circa 1690, who is not displeased by the insult or abuse offered by his worshippers to their neighbours.
Though Republican "culture", despite Sinn Fein and its armed wing, the IRA, being sectarian organisations, is not overtly anti-Protestant, its disgusting orgies of flag waving and absurd patriotic posturings in Catholic areas is equal to that of the Orange Order in giving the maximum offence to Protestants and, especially, to those Protestants who are Orangemen.
Opposing capitalist interests 
Ulster Unionism was the political expression of the interests of a small minority of very wealthy and influential local capitalists who, in the early part of the present century, felt threatened by the burgeoning pressure of Sinn Fein. This organisation, which inherited the popular mantle of Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party, affirmed it to be "the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection" to its nascent capitalist class—which Sinn Fein defined as Irish manufacturers in contradistinction to "English and other foreign capitalists".

"Home Rule", as aspired to by Irish constitutional nationalists and, initially, by Sinn Fein—prepared at its inception in 1905 to accept the British "King, Lords and Commons for Ireland"—was the political articulation of an emerging, southern capitalist class which was, incidentally, mainly Catholic. Weak and inefficient, its urgent political need was a native government that could legislate protective measures that would discriminate in its favour.
Needless-to-say, this aspiration offered a direct threat to the well-entrenched capitalists of north-east Ulster—who were, again incidentally, Protestants. The economic basis for conflict was laid and the protagonists on both sides would trawl the sewers of history in their promotion of opposing bigotries.
Neither Orange bigotry nor Irish nationalism (ultimately just another form of bigotry) were born out of this conflict but, aided by the wealth of the capitalists they served and the still-virulent post-Reformation hatreds within Christianity, both strains of evil cast a long shadow over the politics of the two states that emerged from the conflict.
The opposing bigotries that now represent politics in Northern Ireland are a meaningless left-over from the past, the traditions, as Marx says, of the dead generations that weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living.
The reality of the Northern Ireland political scene today is that, despite a publicly-expressed desire for peace, and a more reluctant desire for reconciliation—if that is what is needed to concretise peace—the Trimble Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein remain prisoners of the past. Trimble is threatened by his dissidents and the Orange Order vociferously protesting about threats to their "birthright" and their "culture"; convinced that the clock of history can be reverted to the glory days of Unionist absolutism.
Similarly, Sinn Fein has those erstwhile comrades who claim the Provisionals are reneging on their principles and abandoning their Republican culture. The SDLP, too, has its problems; if it moves to accommodate Trimble it becomes electorally threatened by a more politically vigorous and now respectable Sinn Fein.
The day of decision as to whether the opposing parties can agree to co-operate in the government of Northern Ireland gets nearer but the question of whether the area is governed by a coalition of local politicians or remains directly controlled by the Westminster government will have little effect on the caprice of capitalism. The idea, fostered by the SDLP leader, John Hume and hotly promoted by local business, that foreign capitalists are lining up to pour investment into the province if the peace process proceeds is pure fiction. Certainly a peaceful environment is within the criteria required by marauding international capital but it is but one ingredient in the profit equation.
Experience should have shown us, both from local and outside examples, that under capitalism peace does not automatically mean prosperity. But the absence of killing, maiming and intimidation can bring an improvement to the quality of working class life in Northern Ireland and, especially, it can help the victims of capitalism to focus on the real cause of their problems.
Richard Montague

To all our overseas readers (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maybe you bought this copy of the Socialist Standard from one of our members at an outdoor meeting or maybe you bought it at a bookshop. But do not think that because you bought it in Britain and we call ourselves the “Socialist Party of Great Britain” our concern is only with national affairs. Far from it. We know that it is only on a world scale that the problems facing wage and salary earners in all countries can be solved. If most of the contents of the Socialist Standard concern events in Britain, this is because you have bought the journal of the British part of a movement which exists in other countries too and which publishes journals in German, French and Swedish as well as others in English (by our companion parties in the United States, Canada and New Zealand).

Our message, then, is equally addressed to you as it is to our fellow workers in Britain: world socialism is the only solution to the problems of wage and salary earners in the country you come from, problems which are basically the same—unemployment, struggles to keep wages up with prices, bad housing, schools and hospitals, racism, insecurity and so on — precisely because they have a common cause — the capitalist system of class monopoly of the means of existence and consequently production for profit.

Capitalism is international. Economically, it operates as a single system dominating the whole world (including countries like Russia, China and Cuba where it takes the form of state capitalism), but, politically, it is divided into a hundred or so artificial “nation-states”. Each of these states seeks to ensure the loyalty of its subjects by inculcating into them, from the cradle to the grave, the idea that they are members of a “nation” with a common interest against those of other “nations”. Socialists reject this mistaken and dangerous idea, regarding themselves not as British, Irish, French, American or whatever but as members of the human race, as citizens of the world.

The real division in the world is not between people of supposedly different “nationalities” but between two social classes both of which are international: a class of capitalists and state capitalists who own and control all that is in and on the Earth and a class of people who, excluded from such ownership and control, are obliged to work for an employer (private or state) in order to live. Wage and salary earners everywhere, whatever their language, legal nationality, skin colour, have a common interest.

The world capitalist class are continually competing against each other to sell their goods profitably on world markets, to obtain cheap and secure sources of essential raw materials; to find fields in which to invest their capital more profitably. They also compete for strategic areas in order to protect the markets, trade routes, raw material sources and investment fields they have got or want. The various armed states into which the world is divided are used by rival groups of capitalists to protect and further their interests in these clashes. They represent, in other words, not the interest of the majority of their subjects, but that of the dominant section of the capitalist class established within their borders.

In these clashes of interest between the various national capitalist groups success greatly depends on the military might of the states involved. States, and the capitalists they represent, do not deliberately seek war; for them this is often the last resort, when negotiations failed. But all states are obliged to maintain as powerful an army as they can afford, not necessarily to be used on every occasion, but to threaten and to be taken into account in the negotiations and manoeuvrings that continually arise from the underlying clashes of economic interest that are built in to capitalism.

Capitalism, in other words, is a permanent powder-keg or rather, these days, a permanently-primed nuclear bomb. Its very structure as a competitive profit-seeking system generates preparations for war (and the waste this involves), the threat of war (which is ever-present) and actual wars (which are always going on somewhere in the world).

But there is an alternative way of organising the world. There already exists a global network of productive units (farms, mines, factories, railways, warehouses) capable of turning out sufficient wealth to more than adequately feed, clothe, house and educate every single man, woman and child on this planet. Technologically, this is possible, but it will only become possible socially when the resources of the world have become the common property of all the people of the world. In other words, after the abolition of private and state ownership everywhere. Or, what amounts to the same thing, the abolition of all ownership and property since in a socialist world the resources, natural and man-made, of the planet will belong to nobody; they will not be owned at all, but will simply be there to be used. Naturally, the people of the world will have to organise themselves to use these means of production and this is the second feature of socialism: democratic organisation.

On the basis of this common ownership and democratic control production will be directed solely towards satisfying human needs. The restriction of the profit motive will be removed and as much will be produced as people will democratically decide will satisfy their needs, both as individuals and as a community. The waste of capitalism, such as on armaments and wars, will be eliminated, thus making doubly sure that ah abundance of wealth can be produced, an abundance to which every member of socialist society can have free access, without payment of any kind, according to what they judge to be their need.

Socialism will see the abolition of frontiers too and the dismantling of the various armed states into which the world is now divided. As classes will have been abolished, people really will become citizens of a united world.

If this alternative of a classless, moneyless, stateless world community, without frontiers interests you and you would like to know more or would like to help us, we invite you to get in touch:
  • If you are German-speaking: BDS, Gussriegelstrasse 50, A-100 WIEN.
  • If you are French-speaking: BP 26, 6700 Arlon, BELGIQUE.
  • If you are from Scandinavia: Bergsbrunna Villav├Ąg 58, S-75256, UPPSALA.

We also have leaflets explaining our point of view in Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Esperanto, available from any of the above addresses or from 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Letters to the Editors: "True' Socialism from France (1980)

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

"True' Socialism from France

To the Editors

I read with pleasure that the Socialist Standard had discovered our untiring efforts to show how socialism could be created and live. But I think it is good that all readers learn that ALB’s article, published in February, contains some serious mistakes or misunderstandings.

“Consumption vouchers” and, far more, “labour vouchers” are inapt words to describe the social income, as they contain an idea of scarcity. They have been used in war conditions, when you were given vouchers to get only 100g of bread a day; but they are not appropriate to Jacques Duboin’s consumption money, which has to be proportional to an abundant production. As there is no better word than the capitalist word of “money”, we keep this notion for other reasons: it shows that your income gives you the complete choice of what you think you need. The dealers have to keep accounts to allow the consumers to decide whether production has to be increased or not. (Do not forget that without profit there is no more advertising and ail its consequent misleading choices.) The necessity of keeping pseudo-prices, at least at the beginning, results not only from the desire to avoid wastage (a danger that will decrease as the sense of individual responsibility increases) but also from the fact that the consumer must be informed about the remaining difficulty to achieve what he wishes — about the raw material this production requires, its effect on the environment and the pollution it involves. No good choice may be made unless you have the most complete information and price is a good and rapid means to supply it. The most important thing you must emphasize about consumption money is that it cannot carry an interest, cannot be hoarded or loaned, and that it loses its value when it has been used once. This pseudo-money, then, has nothing to do with capitalist money in that it puts an end to that awful law which tells that “money goes to money”, widening the gap between rich and poor. This is the absolute condition without which socialism cannot live. He who calls himself a socialist and does not realise this necessity is a dreamer (remember Allende).

Free access to goods as well as worldwide socialism are our final aims, but we claim that a period of adaptation is necessary during which people’s mentalities will progress more and more rapidly as they will be free from the “prices-wages-profits” economy. Do not forget that J.Duboin was a convinced world citizen, as I and many of his followers. But if we could convince our neighbours and set up the true socialism in France, why not try? Is it not the best way to convince the others and achieve world-wide socialism?

ALB blames my father (he uses the word “mistake”) for exaggerating the impact of mechanisation and automation on employment under capitalism. This impact, nevertheless, appears easily when you look at the official data: in any western country and for several decades it has appeared obvious that production increases while employment decreases. This is the reason why he stated that income must become independent of labour. And production can now be realised with fewer and fewer workers. Evidence of this is given by the drift of labour from the first to the second sector, then from the second to the third, while the production of each sector has kept increasing. Productivity in the third sector is about to be boosted in the coming years as a result of computerization. It must overall be kept in mind that official statistics will take into account all useless, nay harmful jobs that the capitalist consumption society has created.

The most surprising criticism published by the Socialist Standard is that Duboin made a mistake in “accepting the myth that banks can create credit”. It is no longer possible, for socialists, to ignore a fact of so important consequences. May one forget where the power is? If there were some naive readers who had to be convinced, let the answer come from the House of Commons, that had appointed a committee to report on this affair; this gave Mr.McKenna. Chairman of the Midland Bank, the opportunity to declare: “Banks create deposits, but I am afraid that the man in the street should not be happy to learn that banks create and destroy money, yet this is the truth”. Let now the Governor of the National Bank of Canada state during an official inquiry: “It is the very office of banks to make money, exactly as steelmills make steel”. Colin Clark, an Australian economist and financial adviser to the Queensland government wrote: “In business circles, one could still find people trying to deny that banks create or destroy credits; I doubt however that those people could find one single genuine economist to share in this strange point of view”. If all this were not sufficient, just have a look at the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1954 edition volume III, p50) where you will read that: “Banks do not lend their money, nor their customers money: they create credits as deposits on which their customers may draw checks”. Do not forget that J. Duboin had been a junior Minister, in charge of the French Treasury; this gave him the opportunity to measure the power of banks. From this knowledge he could predict how dangerous this power would be if socialism ignored or tolerated it. World-wide Socialists cannot afford to make such a mistake.

As our aims seem really to be much the same, I would sincerely be happy if this could help to achieve our common purpose. As I have endeavoured to continue, chiefly through the publication of his newspaper, my father’s fight since his death (which occurred not in 1973 but in March 1976 at nearly 98), I do wish there will be the best mutual understanding between writers and readers of the Socialist Standard and those of La Grande Releve
Marie-Louise Duboin
Le Vesinet, France


REPLY
M-L Duboin’s letter unintentionally confirms the point we were trying to make in the article she criticises: that, in the movement inspired by the ideas of her father, mixed up with the correct insight that the “prices-wages-profits” system must be abolished are all sorts of confused views, often bordering on currency crankism.

1. She objects to us saying that what her father called “consumption money” would better have been called “consumption vouchers”. She feels that this latter term suggests too much the ration cards of the war and immediate postwar period. Not necessarily. Even the “labour-time vouchers” Marx mentioned would have been “proportional to an abundant production” and would have allowed the individual a free choice of the various goods available for personal consumption. But this is not the real point. Under both the system mentioned by Marx and that proposed by Duboin, individual consumption would still be rationed, being restricted by the number of vouchers a person had. Our point is that today, given the tremendous development of the means of production since Marx’s time, society could, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control, apply the long-standing socialist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; in other words, institute free access to goods and services according to individual need.

2. M-L Duboin argues against the immediate introduction of free access on the ground that people are not yet ready for it. “A period of adaption is necessary”, she claims, “during which people’s mentalities will progress”. What exactly does she mean here? Can this be the old objection that, if goods were free, people would grab more than they needed so that shortages would soon re-appear? If so, it is a peculiar objection from someone claiming to stand for a society of abundance. We don’t think this problem would arise because, if people can be assured (as they will be able to be) that the stores will always be adequately stocked with what they need, then there is no point in grabbing or hoarding. To do so would be to behave in a quite abnormal way. Grabbing is a product of scarcity and insecurity, not of abundance. In any event, socialism is not something that will be introduced from above for a population which will not know what to expect; it is something that will have been introduced by a majority which wants it and understands its implications. A “sense of individual responsibility” will thus already have developed before socialism is established.

3. We don’t really see the relevance of the reference to Allende. Perhaps M-L Duboin is trying to say that his fate is a warning as to what awaits anyone who tries to introduce “socialism” while retaining the present monetary system. But Allende was not a socialist, nor was he trying to introduce socialism. He was a reformist trying to extend State capitalism in Chile. His experience is thus irrelevant as far as the establishment of socialism is concerned, though of course we agree that socialism cannot be established without abolishing money.

4. Socialism cannot be established just in France or just in Britain or in any one country alone for the simple reason that capitalism, the system socialism will replace, is already a world system. The developed means of production which make possible a society of abundance only exist on a world scale and as an integrated world-wide network. A society of abundance in one country is therefore just not possible.

5. We did not say that the trend referred to by Jacques Duboin for machines to replace living labour does not exist, but only that he tended to exaggerate it. When he says, for instance, in his Economie distributive de l'abondance that “hundreds of examples could be given of a machine replacing 10, 50, 100 and often more workers” (3rd edition, 1946, p.16), this is misleading. If you just look, as Duboin is doing here, at the labour displaced at the last stage of the production of a particular commodity by the introduction of a new machine, then you get a one-sided picture. For the labour displaced at this stage will have only been made possible by the extra labour employed in earlier stages to design, construct, install and maintain the new machine. There is of course an overall displacement of living labour but of the order of a few percent and not of the fantastic figures sometimes found in Duboinist literature (and, to be quite frank, sometimes too in our own!). A further reason why overall productivity only increases at a relatively slow rate is that a new invention is never applied in one fell swoop in all the workplaces producing a particular commodity, but only slowly as competition gradually forces all the producers to adopt it. We hasten to add that we fully accept that in socialism, where the profit and labour-cost considerations that apply under capitalism will no longer exist, mechanisation and automation will really come into their own as means, not only of producing abundance, but of eliminating dull, boring, repetitive and dirty jobs.

6. Duboin thinks that her belief about the banks’ supposed power to “create deposits” must be regarded as proved because certain individuals she names have said so, notably the members of the MacMillan Committee 1931 (Committee on Finance and Industry). What she fails to realise is that, for every “authority” she quotes supporting her belief, there is another denying it.

Thus she quotes the Governor of the National Bank of Canada. But Mr. Jackson Dodds, the General Manager of the Bank of Montreal, retorted: “Now, banks are given well defined powers under the Bank Act, but the power to create something out of nothing is not one of them.” She quotes Colin Clark as saying that he knew of “no genuine economist” who denied it. Edwin Cannan, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy in the University of London provided an argued case against the belief. (An Economist’s Protest by Edwin Cannan, pages 256-266). As also did Professor Gregory, who was a member of the MacMillan Committee. Then there was Mr. Walter Leaf, Chairman of the Westminster Bank and President of the Institute of Bankers:
“The banks can lend no more than they can borrow—in fact not nearly so much. If anyone in the deposit banking system can be called a ‘creator of credit’ it is the depositor; for the banks are strictly limited in their lending operations by the amount which the depositor thinks fit to leave with them."
Duboin quotes in support of her belief Reginald McKenna, who was a member of the MacMillan Committee. When Major Douglas, founder of the Social Credit movement drew from that Committee’s report the quite logical conclusion that it meant that “new money has been created by a stroke of the pen”, McKenna wrote: “There is nothing to justify the claim by Major Douglas that I agree with his view on the creation of credit”.

What Duboin should do is to examine critically the astonishing case put by the MacMillan Report on para. 74. It was blatantly rigged. It worked out a series of ten successive loans to depositors, extending over a considerable period, but while it assumed the deposit of cash by a depositor, no depositor or borrower in their Alice in Wonderland bank ever withdrew cash. Duboin really should not go on believing that the fact that a committee is government appointed is a guarantee that it won’t utter nonsense. Incidentally, when members of the Committee were approached about para. 74, several of them disowned it.

M-L Duboin can rest assured. Socialism will neither “ignore” nor “tolerate” the banks. Together with the rest of the paraphernalia of buying and selling, they will quite simply not exist in Socialism. We combat mistaken ideas about mythical powers supposedly possessed by banks because they lead people to imagine that the solution to social problems lies in monetary reform rather than a change in the basis of society.
Editorial Committee



E.P. Thompson and CND
A well-known historical figure, with whom I am sure the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson is acquainted, once said that when history repeats itself the first time it is tragedy, but when it does so a second time it is farce. Thompson, in calling for a “campaign for a bomb-free Europe” (Guardian, 28.1.80), lecturing under the title “Protest and Survive” and supporting demonstrations against American Cruise Missiles in Britain, is attempting another farcical repetition of events, fated to follow the same path as did the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Bertrand Russell's Committee of 100.

We must ask ourselves if these utopian popular movements have helped to bring about nuclear disarmament, or even decelerated nuclear stockpiling. The answer must be “no”. Indeed, despite the existence of such groups, hideous wars have continued throughout the world, using not “the Bomb”, but the more conventional instruments of torture and disablement. Do Thompson and his followers wish to reenact past “peace” movements; to initiate yet another naive grass roots campaign?

Alas, it is the same old story. Thompson is seeking to eradicate one particular instrument of war, while ignoring the reason for such instruments; indeed, the very cause of war. Surely war is the inevitable outcome of individual nations striving to protect or extend their respective markets and spheres of influence, to the benefit of their economic and political rulers; that is, the product of capitalism and its inherent rivalries. The pressing need is to extirpate the cause of war, not its tools.

I am sure many would agree that E. P. Thompson is a very talented writer of history: learning its lessons, however, demands a different sort of talent.
Rob Bishop
Eccleshill
Bradford



Poverty and housing (1980)

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

Successive governments have taken it upon themselves to tackle the problem of “sub-standard” accommodation for the working class. In 1868, 1875, 1879 and 1882 local authorities were given powers to deal with insanitary property and in the twentieth century, an official housing shortage has been designated. Pious politicians tell us that decent housing is a basic human requirement, but exactly what constitutes “decent housing” is left open to interpretation. We are bombarded with figures telling us that there has been a change in the pattern of occupancy, from 90 per cent rented accommodation in 1914, to 52 per cent owner occupation in 1974. (In that year 17 per cent of homes were privately rented and 31 per cent publicly rented.) Such figures do not take into account that, according to government figures (Social Trends 9), 33,720 people were homeless in 1976; and even these figures only refer to those registered as such with a local authority.

While there is such homelessness, there is much property standing empty — for the only reason that those who are homeless cannot afford access to it. Such people are the victims of the property society in which human needs are subservient to profit-making. For them the 1975 Housing Rents and Subsidies Act offers little comfort, for they do not have the luxury of a rent to pay. They are homeless because of rent arrears incurred, mortgage default, the fact that a landlord has repossessed the property, the loss of a tied property.

But it does not end there, for the accommodation that is occupied, although fulfilling the basic requirement of shelter, offers little more. According to Peter Townsend’s Poverty in the United Kingdom: a Survey of Household Resources and Standards of Living, 22 per cent of accommodation suffers from some form of structural defect. 16 per cent of households have no sole use of a toilet and 3 per cent do not have sole use of a sink or wash basin.

His study also points out that 17 per cent of households do not have sole use of a fixed bath or shower and that 4 per cent do not have sole use of a gas or electric cooker. Governments may pay lip service to the problems of poor housing, but the poverty in which capitalism forces the majority of society’s members to live still allows 44 per cent of households to have only one (or even no) room heated in winter, and for 2 per cent to have no electricity for either power or lights. John Wheatley, the Minister for Health in the 1924 Labour Government, dreamed of a garden city in which the working class might live in council accommodation. But in practice council accommodation has offered no more a solution to housing deprivation than the possibility of “home ownership”. Council housing estates are now graded according to their stress factor and those members of society who have least choice of accommodation are often placed in high stress areas.

Absurdly, the working class are prepared to live in the accommodation that capitalism provides, and even go so far as to invent a mythology whereby they can stand proud in the midst of their squalor. The inhabitants of “high status” suburbs look down on the council estates; the inner cities have been deserted by those climbing the social ladder and those inner cities, once “high status” districts themselves, have become areas of multi-occupancy, with their privately rented furnished and unfurnished accommodation. Rather than seeing a common interest between themselves and the other victims of capitalism, they see each other as threats to the standards of living they have achieved.

The only way we can gauge the actual conditions in which we live is to examine the potential that society can offer. The apologist claims that the standard of living has risen, but that does not mean that our position as members of the working class has changed. The property relationships that exist within capitalism deny the working class access to the potential society is capable of creating, and it is only by recognising this fact that we can begin to understand the extent of the poverty in which all members of the working class exist.
Philip Bentley


Has CND learnt nothing? (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The eminent historian, Professor E. P. Thompson, is not a very foolish man, although the eminent Catholic preacher, Monsignor Bruce Kent, undoubtedly is. Yet both of them have combined their energies to lead the re-enactment of what must be the most pious and futile reformist campaign of the twentieth century: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At its peak, in the mid-sixties, 100,000 marchers could be rallied by CND to express their opposition to nuclear arms. The result of the marching and the songs of protest and the moral cries for peace had all the potency of Canute before the waves: governments went on stockpiling arms of ever-increasing ferocity in their effort to expand and protect their areas of capitalist domination.

Leading Labour politicians were among the ranks of CND in the sixties, but what became of their pacifist sentimentalities when in office? The Labour Party, just like their Tory rivals, is forced to run the squalid military operations of the system it presides over when in power. While in opposition, opportunists like Joan Lestor and Michael Foot commit the next Labour government to all kinds of futile, but vote-catching reforms: they promise to remove Cruise missiles and to spend no more than at present on nuclear bombs. Even if the hypocrites break with tradition and do what they have promised, the world will be no closer to peace and security. Opposition to certain kinds of militarism is not enough. The widespread loss of civilian lives at Dresden in 1945 was no less atrocious because it was carried out by “conventional”, rather than nuclear, warfare; the military threat in Ireland is not diffused because only bricks and bullets are commonly used; all wars are damaging to the health and safety of the working class, whether they are based upon nuclear warheads or bows and arrows. Instead of attempting to eradicate militarism, CND merely seek to limit it.

The pleas of workers to their governments to stop nuclear armaments failed on the last occasion and they will fail this time. In 1960 the first issue of the journal, International Socialism claimed
The Campaign (for Nuclear Disarmament) has been successful in two ways. It has been outstanding in that, year by year, it has brought more people into the anti-Bomb protest, doing today what the slump did between the two World Wars in the matter of baptising (sic) a new generation with political realities. Less successfully but of at least equal importance, it has edged, be it ever so cautiously and suspiciously, towards the centre of alternative power in our Bomb-ridden society.
Naive idealism of this sort was harshly exposed in the years to come. For the Aldermarston marchers of the sixties strode on to the complacent reformism of the Labour Party, the pro-Russian unilateralism of the Communist Party, the adventurism of anarchism, the sentimentality of “flower power”, or mere cynical respectability. Most of the participants in CND learned little about what causes war: they did not go on to challenge the centre of social power (or even know where it was); they did not stop a single working class life from being lost in a war. Indeed, many of those whose moral pacifism took them into CND in the early sixties found themselves supporting one of the armies in the Vietnam war a few years later. There are currently 5,000 paid-up members of CND (Guardian, 23.6.80) and recruitment may be expected to rise rapidly in the months ahead. The recruits will generally be quite sincere workers whose attitude to socialism is that it sounds like a good idea, but that it is hopelessly Utopian. But their hope for a capitalist system without war is the real Utopia and as Karl Marx wisely observed in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, when historical events happen twice they happen “the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.”

A leading player in the CND farce Act II will be the Communist Party, the historical role of which has been to defend the turns and somersaults in Kremlin foreign policy. In 1945, when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Communist parties of Europe unequivocally condoned that mass destruction of working class life as a means of defeating one of the national adversaries of Russia. L'Unita, the paper of the Italian CP, observed at the time, in an article entitled In The Service Of Civilisation,
The news that an atomic bomb was dropped by the American Air Force has made an enormous impression throughout the whole world, and has been received on all sides with a sense of panic and condemnation. This shows, it seems to us, a curious psychological perversion and a doctrinaire obedience to a form of abstract humanitarianism.
Earlier in 1945 The Daily Worker, paper of the British CP, was blatantly suggesting that
The employment of the new weapon on a substantial scale should expedite the surrender of Japan. Valuable lives in the Allied nations will have been saved by the new discovery.
No member of the Communist Party is entitled to cry in moral indignation about the callous murder of millions of Japanese workers in 1945, for their party had been the cynical advocates of such action.
It was only after 1945 that the CP changed its mind about the Bomb, but not because of any “abstract humanitarianism”. The reason was that once the Cold War commenced, the echoers of the Kremlin feared American superiority in military technology. Fear of Russian disadvantage in a war against America is why the Communist Party of Great Britain supported CND and the policy of unilateral disarmament. Those who oppose war have a duty to expose the grotesque expenditure of resources on arms by the Warsaw Pact no less than NATO.

Even some members of the CP have recently been forced to take up a more critical attitude towards Russian state capitalism. But such occasional criticism (however mild) has alienated many of the hard-line CP Stalinists, who split from the party in 1978 to form the New Communist Party. This new party is also pledged to support the revived CND, although one detects from their pamphlet, Anti-Sovietism—How To Tight It And Why, that their concern for disarmament is somewhat one-sided. The pamphlet tells us that the urgent task of the world working class is to defend the USSR from attack (p. 3), that the Russian tanks which invaded the streets of Prague in 1968 were merely intended to defeat “counterrevolutionary attempts to turn back the clock and reinstate capitalism” (p. 6) and that Russian workers “will never be drawn irresponsibly into war, or used as pawns in the interests of imperialism” (p. 11). The NCP is just the pro-Russian equivalent of the Tory party; all patriots, be they of the Left, Right or Centre, are betrayers of the working class interest.

Socialists oppose all war
It is a creditable boast that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is the sole political organisation in this country to have consistently opposed every war thrown up by capitalism. This is not because we are moral pacifists, but because as Marxist materialists we ask one question about all wars: In whose interest are we being asked to fight? In the wars of the profit system, we are urged — often compelled by law — to risk death and mutilation in a battle between rival capitalist interests over the ownership and control of raw materials, markets and strategic locations. As the working class does not stand to gain from the expansion of their masters' power, the one policy for class conscious workers is to refuse to fight in any capitalist war. The socialist objective goes beyond the negative refusal to fight: we stand for the removal of the root cause of war—the system of capitalism which is the cause of all modern social problems.

Socialists share the fears expressed by many members of CND that sophisticated means of killing may be used to wipe out whole sections of the human race. Who can think without fear of the
 
fact that the British government — a relatively small military power — is currently spending £1.3 million an hour on so-called defence? Who can read the HMSO Civil Defence leaflet, Protect and Survive, and feel anything but hatred for a “civilisation” which can soberly contemplate such brutal destruction? In the section of the leaflet entitled Challenge to Survival we are informed that
Everything within a certain distance of a nuclear explosion will be totally destroyed. Even people living outside the area will be in danger from heat and blast and fall-out.
As for the “lucky” survivors:
After a nuclear attack there will be a short period before fall-out starts to descend. Go around the house and put out any small fires. If anyone’s clothing catches fire, lay them on the floor and roll them in a blanket . . .  If a death occurs while you are confined in the Fall-Out room, place the body in another room and confine it as securely as possible. Attach an identification.
Those workers who join CND want a future without nuclear fall-out. But they are hopelessly wrong if they believe that CND or any other peace campaign will avert the threat which they fear. The fight against warfare can only be practical if linked to the democratic political fight for a new social order in which the means of living are owned and controlled by the whole community. To die for capitalism would be tragic; to live in the belief that capitalism can be humanised is pathetic; to organise for socialism is our only hope.
Steve Coleman

Saving capitalism (1999)

Book Review from the December 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Lugano Report. On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century by Susan George. Pluto Press.

A warning of the frustration to come is given on the cover: an endorsement by John Pilger. He claims that the book is a kind of Catch-22 of capitalism'. It is nothing of the sort. The brilliance of Catch-22 is that it points clearly to the absurdities of capitalism and its wars. The dryness of The Lugano Report points only to the bankruptcy of the ideas of the Left. Although the contradictions of capitalism are painted well, the effect is spoilt by the proposal of absurd solutions. Like Pilger, George offers a useful analysis of the state of things. Like Pilger. she stops short of logical conclusions. The frustration will be familiar to any reader of the New Internationalist.

The book's title refers to the conceit that a Working Party has been commissioned to prepare a report on the future of the global capitalist system. The commissioning parties have assumed that the system is an unlikely candidate for long-term survival, and so the Working Party is charged with “providing guidance in order to maintain, develop and deepen the scope of the liberal, free-market economy”.

The report is based on solid enough premises, but the drift of the conclusions takes the book into the lunacy of conspiracy theory. The report opens by stating that the capitalist system cannot support present or future population levels, nor can it, nor should it. There are more losers than winners in capitalism, and the numbers of losers is increasing. The discontent of the losers will threaten the stability that capitalism needs to flourish. Therefore, the losers must be eliminated. That's her basic story. and the report goes on to describe various ingenious ways of how this mass murder might be achieved. This is the most entertaining section of the book: the report's authors call on the four horsemen of the apocalypse to conquer and to spread famines, wars and pestilence. What George doesn't realise is that there is no need for horsemen or conspiracies. Wars and famines are just the logical outcome of a system that cares not a jot for human needs. You don't need a conspiracy theory to explain what is perfectly legal anyway. Wars are fought in our own interests. Exploitation is not only legal, it is good for us. Governments act in secret for “security reasons”. Famines and pestilence are unfortunate acts of god.

But this is not to take away from the power of some of the pictures she paints. I couldn't help thinking of the grisly news pictures of Blair in Kosovo when the report suggests that “saving 50 people, preferably on camera, can be a convenient curtain behind which 50,000 may be eliminated”. She also echoes Oscar Wilde's explanation of why we do not yet have socialism (“it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought”) when she says:”Post-colonial pity for the downtrodden and mercy for the afflicted . . .  have all but supplanted politics of every stripe . . .  [and] yet no one can oppose humanitarian aid without appearing utterly heartless”.

After the conclusion of The Lugano Report, which we are to see as too horrific to really contemplate, Susan George offers her own alternatives. It is a classic New Internationalist line that she takes when she furiously denounces the notion that “there is no alternative”, before showing us clearly, in the alternatives she offers, that she implicitly accepts the very ideas she thinks she is attacking. She starts off on the right track: “the goals of economic activity are profit and accumulation” and “all other values must be sacrificed to them'. She goes on to claim that “this economic philosophy is championed especially by the very large transnational corporations”, but that small-and medium-sized businesses “do not generally function according to the same impersonal and remorseless rules”. Small business good, big business bad. Great news for the owners and wage-slaves of small-and medium-sized businesses: apparently they do not have to follow the rules of capitalism!

It is perfectly clear what is to be done, she says: “find out who is responsible, and how we can make them stop”. If only we could get rid of all the evil people in charge of multinationals! The limit of Susan George's vision is of small companies serving their communities and being run nicely. What she fails to understand is that all this would mean is that we would end up being exploited by hippies and yuppies instead of by the current class of capitalists.

Her view of the state is equally laughable: “Unless we can make sure that the state retains its prerogatives, I can't see who will stand between the person on the ground and transnational tyranny”. The idea that the state. the executive committee of the ruling class, would want to do any such thing is in direct conflict with the analysis presented in the rest of the book.

Susan George places her hope for the future in “fair trade” coffee and tea, in unions working to bring wages and working conditions up to “decent levels”, and in a government that will tax the evil multinationals and steal from the financial markets to fund health and education for all. This, she says. is the “only way to pay for everything that needs doing”. In other words, what we need is a different, kinder ruling class.

The book is worth reading for the same reason that the New Internationalist is worth reading. They understand capitalism and its horrors pretty well, but not well enough to understand that it must be abolished.
Stuart Watkins