Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why all this fuss about Welsh? (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

So Gwynfor Evans did not need to fast after all. Wales will have its all-Welsh TV channel. The Tories, after saying they would break their election promise, are now going to keep it. Nicholas Edwards, Secretary' of State for Wales, after first insisting that his party would not be deflected by threats of violence, justified its second U-turn by saying that it “could not withstand the threat of violence”. “We misjudged our ability to convert opinion”, he added.

In fact, the issue of the fourth channel figured no more than tiny in the preoccupations of the majority of people in the highly populated parts of Wales. A certain number of them would, if asked, have probably declared themselves in favour of a Welsh-only service on Channel 4. But this would only have been because they wished to get rid of the Welsh programmes at present on the other channels. Hunger strike or no hunger strike there was never any question of people getting seriously worked up about TV in Welsh, and still less of their giving support to a campaign of violence in favour of it. A visit to Westminster by the Archbishop of Wales and other assorted dignitaries was enough to convince the Tory leadership that the population of Wales was up in arms and ready to fight to have Welsh on telly. But the powers-that-be got it wrong again, just as they did over devolution.

Ironically it is the Tories’ second change of mind, more than their first, which may do them the most harm among the electorate in Wales. For they will not be thanked by the non-Welsh speaking majority when it fully sinks in, as it has not yet done, that the fourth channel will be seen everywhere in Britain but that only in Wales will it be transmitted in Welsh. And even Welsh speaking viewers will probably be disappointed with a service which is almost certain to be of low quality owing to lack of funds from advertising.

But why all this fuss about Welsh? What is actually happening to the language? Well, from being the majority language in the last century and that of half the population (929,000) in 1901, Welsh is now known, according to the 1971 census figures, by only 20.9 per cent (less than 600,000) of the population of Wales.* And even this figure is probably an overestimate based on false information given by nationalist sympathisers on their census forms. What makes the future for Welsh look even dimmer is the census figure of 13.6 per cent for children aged 3 to 10 knowing the language. This decline is due to the development of British capitalism which in the 19th and early 20th century brought to Wales large numbers of industrial workers from England and Ireland (their descendants now probably form the majority of people living in Wales), which in the inter-war years caused many native Welsh speakers to emigrate to England in search of work, and which all along has exerted tremendous direct pressure on the Welsh language by its preponderant use of English in business, administration, education, technology and communications generally. It has forced Welsh speakers to get to know and use English for reasons of social and economic survival, and the incentive to know, use and transmit Welsh has been reduced accordingly. Now, less than 1 per cent of people in Wales are Welsh- only speakers and between 1961 and, 1971 alone Welsh lost speakers at the rate of about 200 per week.

To arrest this decline in the language and encourage its wider use is one of the stated aims of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party, and was the reason given for its leader’s proposed fast. In recent years its efforts on behalf of the language seem to have had a certain degree of success with government agreement to bilingualism on road signs, notices and official forms and an expansion in Welsh-medium schools. But it is doubtful whether any of this or indeed any of its activities at all have actually led to more people knowing Welsh or using it regularly. On the contrary the evidence points to a continued decline in the use of Welsh accompanied by a decrease in sympathy for the language among non-Welsh speakers due to the nationalists’ policy of trying to impose Welsh on those who neither understand it nor want to learn it.

This is a process which will almost certainly be accelerated by the coming all-Welsh TV channel. English-only viewers will resent having to miss programmes available to people elsewhere and this will make them less likely to sympathise with efforts to keep Welsh alive. In addition the lower quality of programme on the Welsh channel will make Welsh speakers more likely to tune in to English programmes instead and so miss what is at present the only contact some of them have with the native language. So by their action Plaid Cymru may well have done the language more harm than good.

Plaid Cymru were successful however in finding the issue they so badly needed to rally support. In last year’s general election only 8.1 per cent of all people in Wales voted for them. Their stock had gone down dramatically after the March 1979 devolution referendum. Here they had hoped for a massive vote in favour of a Welsh assembly, which they saw as a half-way house to independence. The 4 to 1 majority against what in reality would have been no more than a modest administrative reform left them shattered. Their argument that nationalism is the only solution to the problems of a backward Wales where wages are lower and unemployment higher than the national average was emphatically rejected by the people of Wales. After that groups of militants tried direct action tactics (bomb attacks on holiday homes) to attract attention to their cause, but it was the TV issue that gave the nationalists a chance to get back into the limelight “respectably”. It is worth noting however that Gwynfor Evans’s threatened fast, although in itself a peaceful form of protest, carried with it a deliberate menace of violence. “The responsibility for any acts of violence that may occur as a result of my hunger strike lies on the doorstep of our government”, said Evans in a newspaper interview (South Wales Evening Post, 1 September 1980) and this underlined the dictatorial nature of nationalist attempts to impose their will on the non-nationalist majority.

But even if the nationalists managed to win the support of the people of Wales and to bring into being an independent state would the evils they now see as being inflicted on Wales by rule from London be eradicated? For the answer one need only look across the Irish Sea where almost 60 years of independence has left Eire with the same combination of unemployment, inflation, industrial conflict and bad housing as Wales and has left the Irish language virtually dead. A faction within the Welsh Language Society, the direct action wing of the nationalist movement, has apparently learned this lesson and sees the Welsh language and culture as more likely to survive by struggle within the present arrangements than by the winning of formal political independence from the rest of Britain. They recognise that an independent Wales would continue, for all practical purposes, to be totally dependent on its bigger more powerful neighbour and that the pressure on the language would continue and probably intensify due to its supporters sitting back on their victory.

So the nationalists may be cock-a-hoop over the Tory surrender and convinced they have won a famous victory for the language. But, as they will realise later, that victory is illusory, short-term and in reality part of a longer-term process of defeat. In the history of capitalism their action will be seen as a hard fought exercise in futility. For—let there be no mistake about it—as long as capitalism continues to live, the Welsh language will continue to die. 
Howard Moss

* Statistics are taken from: Report on the Welsh Language, H.MSO, 1963; Census 1971: Report on the Welsh Language in Wales, HMSO. 1973; and D. Halsom and M. Burch, A Political and Electoral Handbook for Wales, Gower Publishing Co, Farnborough, 1980.

Political Notes: Labour's nuclear duplicity (1980)

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

Labour's nuclear duplicity

An article in the Guardian (September 25) is pretty revealing about the way the Labour Party leadership (and in particular the last Labour government of 1974-79) struggled with the task of doing all the dirty work necessary in the interests of British capitalism while at the same time keeping at arms length all those naive Labour idealists who had believed in the sincerity of their leaders’ protestations—while they were in opposition.

The article is a review of a book called Britain and Nuclear Weapons by Laurence Freeman. The story is all too familiar. The Labour Party in opposition had said all the usual “progressive” things about disarmament, like “Ban the Bomb”. When the Foots and the Benns and the rest of the slippery conmen had become the government, the needs of British capitalism took over — including the need to replace the ageing Polaris submarines with spanking new models (and not much chance of doing a trade-in—almost unused, one owner, immaculate trim . . .). The book “explains the embarrassed silence of the Labour Party leadership throughout the ’70s while £1,000,000,000 was being spent on a new Chevaline warhead for the Royal Navy. As a separate issue, the nuclear deterrent had been quiescent for a decade. The important thing was to keep it that way, maintaining the force without drawing attention to it”.

Such is the contempt of the Labour leaders for the sheep who follow them. And how justified this was, was evinced by the antics on the issue of the nuclear deterrent at the shambles which they called a Conference. Here we had these same leaders with the impudence to support more of the same CND rubbish that had been exposed for what it was by the end of the ’60s. And why should they not? They knew that not a single delegate in the Winter Guardians (the pun was made by the typewriter but let it go) would tackle them on their record. It’s the old story, of course. As long as workers behave not like homo sapiens but like sheep, they must expect their leaders to go on fleecing them.

German elections

As expected, the Social Democrat-Liberal coalition under Helmut Schmidt won the German elections at the beginning of last month. Once again we have to record the sad fact that the working class in a country have misused the power the vote gives them and have returned to power political parties pledged to maintaining the capitalist system which is the root cause of the problems they face. For the German Social Democratic Party, despite being descended from the party which Marx and particularly Engels had mistakenly hoped could be an instrument for socialism, has long since ceased even to pretend to want to change the mixture of private and state capitalism which exists in Germany and other Western European countries.

The only surprise—though quite without significance—was the relative success of the Liberals, or “Free Democrats”. At one time the possibility of them not winning any seats in the Bundestag was seriously discussed, but in the end the threat posed to them by the “ecologist” Green party came to nothing. Most of those sympathetic to the ecologists failed to put their vote where their mouth had been, a bogeyman like the demagogic Christain Democratic opposition leader, Franz-Josef Strauss, being enough to send them scuttling back to vote for the Social Democratic Party as an imagined “lesser evil”.

One factor in the German workers’ misuse of the vote might be that they were not encouraged to treat the election as a serious affair. Anybody visiting a German town in the weeks leading up to the election could be pardoned for thinking that he had come at Carnival time. He would not have been able to walk down a shopping street without being offered badges, balloons, stickers, wine, beer and, maybe, even a leaflet, though most of this would have been taken up with a smiling photo of some candidate and his name in big letters plus a list of vague electoral promises.

The two big parties organised mass rallies at .which the political level was no higher than at the conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties in America-brass bands, rhythmic chanting and foot-stamping and cheering whenever the great Leader—Helmut or Franz-Josef—paused, precisely to allow for pre-arranged cheering to break out. There can’t even be the satisfaction of recording that a reasonable percentage chose to abstain as a vague sort of protest against this farce which the major parties made of the election. For the turn-out was over 90 per cent and of these nearly 98 per cent voted for one or other of the three major parties.


Following the recent assassination of the former dictator of Nicaragua, General Somoza (no tears, by request), the obituaries referred to the fact that the country had been run as a family property of the Somozas for fifty years. The founding father (founding uncle, actually) was a murderous tyrant in the best South American tradition. This Somoza’s rise to power was engineered by the USA and when the attention of the President was called to his monstrous tyranny, he replied in the immortal words: “I know he’s a son of a bitch. But he’s our son of a bitch”. And who was this president? Nixon? Johnson? No, the great reforming New Dealer—Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.

Nuclear survival

The Observer (October 5) had a report from America which gave a grisly account of what was in store for those who were lucky enough to be part of the small minority who survived the holocaust of a nuclear war. With lethal doses of radiation all around, and with the impossibility of organising any sort of life amid all the destruction, the only iron rations a sensible person would have with them would be the “formula” which the Euthanasia Society is going to publish (in a booklet which it seems they dare not issue). It has of course been clear all along that even if such extreme measures as covering your head with a jacket, whitewashing the windows or—the ultimate defence—hiding under the staircase where the Angel of Death can’t find you, would save you from the effects of a megaton H bomb onslaught (and obviously the writers of the government pamphlet on the subject must have been wetting themselves laughing while they were writing), you would be awfully jealous of those who were lucky enough to have been killed and free from the pain of life in this capitalist vale of tears.

Not that this has prevented a mini-boom in nuclear shelters—there is, as they say, one born every minute. And a man called Popkiss—the son of a Chief Constable, no less—has, according to the Guardian, published a book whose first edition has sold out (get your order in for one of the next edition at once). Scorning the government measures as quite inadequate, Popkiss gives better instructions for the lucky readers. This includes methods of getting to the countryside as soon as Armageddon starts. This is going to be difficult, it seems, because the authorities will block the roads with their traffic and their tanks. But Popkiss has no doubt that he will be able to get away. He has carefully noted all the back doubles out of Southampton where he lives. And if you buy the book you will get to know all these useful tips. (As the Guardian reporter pointed out, Popkiss will find that all the back doubles of Southampton will be blocked by all the thousands of readers of his book. However, he will have made a pile out of it by then. You can’t win ’em all. And you can’t take it with you.)

Does nobody want to know the little fact that there is a simple method of avoiding a nuclear holocaust? Simply abolish capitalism, the cause of all wars in the modern world (and of all the other social evils as well). Why wait till the bombs are falling?
L. E. Weidberg

Leonardo for sale (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British Empire, which not only killed but also strove most officiously to keep alive, has been dead for some time. No longer are there school room maps which, with Britain at their centre, colour one third of the world’s surface red. No longer do pith-helmeted Tommies form defiant squares against naked, capering savages. No longer do the grim, grey battleships of the Royal Navy steam through the Channel mists, keeping at bay those hordes of gesticulating, treacherous foreigners.

These are now historical jokes, material for trendy satirists or playwrights hoping to make their name by an exposure of the personal frailties of the Empire builders. But some of the other symptoms of British capitalism’s decline we are still encouraged to take seriously and to regret. Among these is the sale and the export of works of art by owners in this country to buyers abroad — which, we are told, threatens something called the British Heritage.

This threat has in fact been at work for about a century but it was not until 1952 that it was officially recognised and since then there has been a sort of system for checking, delaying and perhaps stopping the export of works of art. The system does not, need it be said, embrace such objects as the mahogany aspidistra stand which has languished in some working class home in Mafeking Street, Fulham, since grandma got it as a wedding present. Items come into the system only when, apart from anything else, they are worth over £8,000.

They are then investigated by various “experts” who may advise the Minister of Arts to use his powers to delay the export. If a British collection can then offer as much as the export price, the Minister may refuse an export licence and the work stays in this country. In practice comparatively few objects are scrutinised by the “experts” and as a result there is a steady flow of them from Britain which, while it may satisfy the sellers and the dealers who rake in their commission, is alarming to all those people who think that there is nothing more worth protecting than the British Heritage.

One of the latest in this line is Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, a portfolio of notes and drawings about water and cosmology. This manuscript is owned by the family of the Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall, Norfolk and there promises to be some desperate agonising when it goes up for auction at Christies in December. For one thing, such is its rarity that even the art experts have no idea of its price; that is why it is going for auction, where it may fetch £4 million, or £8 million, or £10 million . . .

While the trade was getting its breath back. Arts Minister Norman St. John Stevas, already famous for his garish shirts and his giggling, stepped boldly forward to defend the British Heritage. “I would”, he exclaimed, “be very annoyed if this work of Leonardo’s left the country . . . I am determined to do all I can and use every means”. The Guardian warned of the work being in “grave danger” of being exported—as if once it left these shores it would disintegrate—and the Daily Telegraph reported criticisms of “greedy and inconsiderate” auctioneers operating on the accepted capitalist principle of making as much money as they can as fast as possible.

There need be no surprise that in all this excitement, overlayed as it was by a froth of frustrated patriotism, some important facts have been overlooked. Nobody seemed interested in asking whether this phrase the “British Heritage” had any meaning and, if it had, what relationship it could possibly have to the work of a mediaeval Italian. Nobody wondered whether any Italians had been as “annoyed” as Stevas, when the manuscript was originally exported from that country. Nobody particularly cared how, or why it came to belong to the Earl of Leicester. Although Holkham Hall is open to the public in the summer, the Codex was not on view but nobody asked whether it might be more widely seen if were sent abroad.

The Leonardo manuscript came into the possession of a former holder of the title of Earl of Leicester—whose family name was Coke in 1717. When the Earl died in 1759 the title became extinct and the estates at Holkham were inherited by his great nephew Thomas Wenman who, perhaps in gratitude, marked the event by changing his name to Coke. When he died in 1776 Holkham passed to his son Thomas who, after the customary schooling at Eton followed by a Grand Tour, returned to England on a breath of mannered scandal to inherit not only the estate but also the Parliamentary seat for Norfolk.

At that time the Holkham lands were unenclosed and poorly cultivated, growing rye and supporting inferior livestock. After enclosure Coke, in the agricultural boom of the Napoleonic Wars, invested a small fortune in their development from a sandy rabbit warren into a thriving agricultural workshop, visited by admirers from all over Europe. He raised the rent roll from £2,000 to £22,000 and won the support of his tenants by giving them security of tenure, although under some fairly rigid controls. Not that there were that many tenants left, after the enclosures: “I look around”, Coke told an Enquiry in 1808 “And can see no other house than mine. I am like the ogre in the tale, and have eaten up all my neighbours.”

Coke was a staunch opponent of George III and was what is called a sportsman, which means that he hunted enthusiastically and was able to slaughter an impressive quantity of game birds with his guns. At the age of 68 he married for the second time and of this marriage there were five sons and a daughter. He was raised to the peerage in 1837, reviving the old title and becoming another first Earl of Leicester. The present Earl lives in South Africa and Holkham is inhabited by his son. Lord Coke, who elaborates on the Palladian splendours of the place:
It has marvellous paintings by Rubens, Clause, Van Dyck and other masters; Greek and Roman sculpture; one of the finest private libraries in the country; and furniture designed by William Kent.
All these treasures come from, and are perpetuated by, the exploitation of socially inferior people. The first Earl of Leicester refined and intensified that process to the limits of the knowledge and the equipment available to him in his day. Not that the exploited have ever objected; Coke’s tenants collected the money to raise a monument to him, after his death and there is little reason to think that working class attitudes are significantly different today. We need not weep for the Leicesters; typical of their class, they enjoy the best things in life and are tossing out only one of the treasures they have amassed, if perhaps the most valuable.

This is part of an historic process. Art objects have commonly been bought, or plundered, by a dominant class as an investment, or as an act of conspicuous consumption or simply as an expression of their dominance. With the rise of British capitalism—in the days of Thomas Coke—Britain was the world leader in manufacture, trade and imperialist expansion. The great houses of the ruling class were enriched with priceless works of art from all over the world. With the decline, it is all draining away, often to the homes of some newly rising capitalist class abroad. “If we did not sell the Leonardo manuscript,” said Lord Coke, “other things would have to be sold.”

It is a curious process of reasoning, which encourages the class whose exploitation has yielded the wealth of people like the Leicesters to bemoan British capitalism’s decline and to wring their hands over the symptoms of that decline. There is a pronounced illogicality in the idea that one country should construct a “heritage” which includes works of art originating elsewhere. If the term “national heritage” means anything then the works of Rubens and Van Dyck should not be at Holkham Hall but somewhere in Belgium and those sculptures should be packed off back to Greece and Italy.

Except that there is a wider, more fundamental question. It is typical of the tensions of property society, that even inanimate objects should be given a nationality and that a work like the Codex Leicester, which scrutinises natural forces common to the entire human environment, should be considered a fit matter for an exclusive, private possession. It is typical, too, that the prospect of this work passing from one privacy to another should ferment such hysteria.

What would Leonardo have thought, to see his works being obscured by fat cheque books and frantic jingoism? Who now can argue that capitalism liberates human talents which would be stifled and distorted in a society of common ownership and free access? Tell that, if you can, to Leonardo . . .

Running Commentary: Who does Denis menace (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who does Denis menace?

Strange things happen to Labour politicians when they are out of office. They begin to get very concerned about unemployment and rising prices and cuts in public services and poverty and slums—as if these social problems had not been prominent while they were in office.

Occasionally they strike rebellious poses—a tired throwback to the days when they were more misled than hypocritical. At such times they are capable of saying the most surprising, or the most dishonest things. Consider, for example, the recent words of Denis Healey, Labour’s ex-Chancellor famous for his axe-swinging, union bashing, wage claim stifling act. All through his time at the Treasury, Healey struggled to hold wages down; his dying demand as Chancellor was that workers should accept rises of at most 5 per cent at a time when prices were going up at something like 10 per cent a year.

But now that his bottom is warming a seat on the opposition benches Healey seems to see things in a different light. Refusing to cross a picket line of striking technicians at Capital Radio, he explained: “I do not believe in strikebreaking”. He did not, as far as we know, add that he also does not believe in upsetting trade unions at the very time that he is in the running for election to the Labour Party leadership. It is not so long ago that the government of which Healey was a prominent member used troops to break the firemen’s strike and was almost daily denouncing workers who were combining to get better wages. Towards the end, such was their fervour in the battle against strikers that some ministers were openly encouraging workers to break picket lines.

Workers should not be misled by Healey’s sweet words now: his interest remains, as it was, to protect the privileged position of the British ruling class. If workers are misled enough to forget recent history and to give Labour another spell in power they will rapidly realise, as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, that nothing has changed.

Not Vestey taxing

The queues at Dewhursts the Butchers must have positively reeled under the weight of the customers’ sarcasm after the disclosure of the massive legal tax-avoidance dodges operated by the Vestey family.

Workers are very sensitive on this issue; seeing on each pay slip an apparent deduction for income tax, and reading on sales tickets the dread words “Plus VAT”, they not unreasonably come to the conclusion that they pay taxes. They further conclude that anyone who avoids paying taxes is thrusting a greater burden on the rest. From these first fallacies they argue that things like roads, nationalised industries and armed forces are actually paid for out of their wages. Some workers go so far as to imagine that they are share-holders in an enterprise called Great Britain Ltd. except that they never actually receive any dividends). What escapes them is the fact that, whatever the size of their wage, it is generally what is needed to reproduce their energies as a class—and this holds good however much or how little tax they see deducted from each payment.

So who does pay taxes? Or who does not when they should, as in the case of the Vesteys? Something of an answer to that question was contained in an indignant editorial in the Sunday Times, which first publicised the Vestey fiddle: 
. . .  its (the Vestey family) members have enjoyed the considerable pleasures of being rich in England without contributing anything near their fair share to the defences which kept those pleasures in being —against foreign enemies in wartime, against disorder and disease in time of peace.
This passage, perhaps unwittingly, illustrates the reasons for the existence of the armed and police forces, for the entire state apparatus: to preserve the rights and the privileges of capitalists like the Vesteys. It also implies that those same capitalists are obliged to pay for that apparatus; after all, even the Sunday Times is not daft enough to suggest that people who try to enjoy being poor in England pay to defend the pleasures of the Vesteys.

Workers who wax indignant at the self-image of them being robbed by the tax man would do better to consider the legalised robbery on which capitalist society is actually based. Much better, to talk about that in the meat queue.


To judge from the overwhelmingly popular reading matter on any tube train or in any ’bus queue, many people are not aware that reading certain newspapers can seriously damage their health. One danger, for example, is the development of chronic blind spots about society. At a time when, to take only two facts, some 15 million children die each year from the effects of malnutrition while the nuclear powers cosset the capability to destroy much of what we are encouraged to call civilised life, those same newspapers prefer to devote much of their space to crushingly boring non-issues.

There is, to begin with, the question of who Prince Charles will marry and whether, when he eventually gets to the altar, he will be capable of consummating the union so that the newspapers can have some more fun about a royal offspring. This matter commands a lot of attention in the popular press although it is about as relevant and meaningful as a London Transport ’bus timetable.

Then there has been another battle of suitors of a different kind—the epic struggle between Peter Cadbury and Lord Harris over who shall be boss of Westward Television, settled at last when Cadbury threw in the towel. Support for one side or the other in the non-history making event was determined by which contestant, in the opinion of the voting shareholder, offered the better chance of getting Westward’s licence to print money renewed by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Lord Harris was second-in-command at the Home Office during the Labour government; he did not become famous for any tolerant attitude towards the working class while he was there and prisoners hoping to get out a bit early were not cheered when, just before Labour were kicked out of office, the Home Secretary appointed Harris Chairman of the Parole Board. He was given a big job at Westward by Cadbury, in the hope that someone so much in the know would be able to do a lot to ensure the renewal of Westward’s franchise franchise.

The battle between these two representatives of the capitalist class had little promise, not even one to change the style of the TV programmes with which tired workers are wont to renew their energies during their off-work periods. Yet the media found the story of endless fascination, fit subject for much analysis and comment. Do the workers not resent being fed this sort of drivel? Are they satisfied, to be told that this is all they are able to absorb? Is there no limit to the weight of insults which, along with their exploitation, can be heaped on their heads?

Cooking the Books: Who Funded the Brexit Campaign? (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the EU referendum the Electoral Commission released figures on the funds received by the two sides. They showed that the Leave side spent about £17.6 million and the Remain only £14.3 million. These were not contributions from grass-roots supporters but, on both sides, from individual capitalists. Since staying in the EU, and especially the single market, was in the overall interest of the majority section of the British capitalist class, how come that capitalists gave more to Leave than Remain? In fact, who were the capitalists who funded the Leave campaign, and why?

Among the dozen largest Leave donors were: Peter Hargreaves (£3.2m), Arron Banks (£1.95m plus a loan of £3m), Jeremy Hoskins (£980,000), Lord Edmiston (£600,000), Crispin Odey (£533,000), Jonathan Wood (£500,000), Patrick Barbour (£500,000), Stuart Wheeler (£400,000), and Peter Cruddas (£350,000).

What all these have in common (apart from most of them appearing in the Sunday Times Rich List) is that they are involved in hedge funds and other such financial activities.

Hargreaves, who is literally a billionaire since his pile amounts to over £1,000 million (the others are only multi-millionaires), was a founder of the financial services company Hargreaves-Lansdown. Hoskins set up Marathon Asset Management. Odey runs Odey Asset Management. Wheeler made his money out of a spread betting firm IG Index. Cruddas’s was CMC Markets. Wood’s is JO Hambro Capital Management.

It might seem strange, since the City stands to lose from Brexit, that those who funded the Leave campaign should be financiers (other financiers funded the Remain campaign). But there are financiers and financiers. The City establishment tends to see some hedge fund managers as cowboys engaging in practices it doesn’t regard as entirely above board and which it is prepared to see regulated. It is precisely such regulation that the Brexit financiers wanted to avoid.

One of the Brexit supporters, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, let the cat out of the bag when, in an article in the Daily Mail (12 April), he painted a picture of what a Brexit Britain would look like in 2020:
‘London, too, is booming. Eurocrats never had much sympathy for financial services. As their regulations took effect in Frankfurt, Paris and Milan – a financial transactions tax, a ban on short selling, restrictions on clearing, a bonus cap, windfall levies, micro-regulation of funds – waves of young financiers brought their talents to the City instead.’
That was their main aim, then, their manifesto for the referendum: allow all these practices which enhance their profits to continue. To achieve this, they in effect hired politicians, not just lightweights such as Hannan but also national figures like Boris Johnson and Farage, with a remit to go out and get a vote to Leave by any means. They didn’t really care about the NHS or immigration, but left it up to the politicians to deliver. Which, against expectations, they did.

The rest of the capitalist class are furious with them but are going to have to adapt to the result. Most of them will want a deal with the EU that allows them continued free access to the vast tariff-free single market with common standards and its coming extension to services, even if this involves accepting some free movement of labour and a payment to Brussels. Some of the Brexit funders might well be prepared to go along with this as long as there is no regulation of their activities.

The sad thing is that so many workers were led to back this maverick section of the capitalist class in the belief that they were protesting against the ‘elite’, while in fact they were being duped into pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for a part of it.

Editorial: The same difference (1997)

Editorial from the January 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a popular misconception that the reason for the deprivation and misery in Britain is because we have had 17 years of Tory rule. This is a misconception which Tony Blair and his gang of professional liars and spin doctors are keen to perpetuate. They would have us believe that they will bring back the ‘'feel-good" factor, deliver the poor from their misery and provide security for us all.

What they cynically forget to tell us is how they will achieve something that no government has ever achieved—that of running capitalism in a way that satisfies the needs of the majority. And Tony Blair has been honest about one thing: he wants to run capitalism.

In that respect he is the same as the Tories. He wants to manage a system which only really works in the interests of that small minority who live very well off the wealth which the vast majority of us produce but receive only a portion in return.

Within capitalism we can only at best hope for meagre survival. Workers don’t enjoy the security and wealth which comes from owning the means of production. Only about 2 percent of the population—the capitalist class—are in this privileged position. The rest of us have to survive on leaner pickings. This class division has changed little over the past 200 years and in many respects the gap has widened.

Is it any surprise that those who want to continue running such a system would be keen to sweep such inequality under the carpet? Be they Tory or Labour, of course they would have us believe there is no such thing as class or that we are not being screwed for the benefit of a capitalist minority and their highly paid lackeys.

No politician can help us: if we are going to improve things we will not do so by following professional politicians or leaders of any kind. We are going to have to act for ourselves to organise ourselves democratically to bring about a society geared to serving human needs, not profits.

Britain as Marx's political model (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British census of 1851 revealed that for the first time the town population exceeded that of the country. Agriculture, in other words, had become a minority interest. In any event, most of those working in agriculture were wage workers so that even before this time the bulk of the active population were propertyless wage earners. With the progress of industry and the factory system, the proportion of wage workers in the population grew ever larger. Britain in Marx’s time was already a capitalist country with a working class majority, as he himself was well aware. England, he wrote in a letter on behalf of the First International to its French-Swiss Federal Council in 1870
is the only country where there are no longer any peasants, and where land ownership is concentrated in very few hands. It is the only country where almost all production has been taken over on a vast scale under capitalist bosses. It is the only country where the large majority of the population consists of wage-labourers. It is the only country where the class struggle and the organisation of the working class into trade unions have actually reached a considerable degree of maturity and universality. Because of its domination of the world market, it is the only country where any revolution in the economic system will have immediate repercussions on the rest of the world. Though landlordism and capitalism are most traditionally established in this country, on the other hand the material conditions for getting rid of them are also most ripe here (The First International and After, Pelican, p. 115).
Marx attached great importance to this fact that the working class made up the vast majority of the population in Britain. For it meant that the extension of the right to vote there would put political power potentially in the hands of the working class.

As early as February 1848 Marx had realised that universal suffrage in Britain (with its working class majority) would have a quite different social significance than on the Continent (where it was one of the slogans of those who merely wanted to see established a bourgeois democratic Republic). As he wrote in a German-language paper published in Brussels where he was then living:
We believe . . . that the English Charter, if it were to be put forward not by individual enthusiasts for universal suffrage but by a great national party, presupposed a long and arduous unification of the English workers into a class, and that this Charter is being striven for with quite another purpose and must bring about quite different social consequences than the Constitution of America or of Switzerland ever strove for or brought about (Deutsche-Brusseler Zeitung, 13 February 1848, Marx-Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 539).
At this time, as illustrated in an article he published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung at the beginning of 1849, Marx did not believe that the Chartists would be able to win universal suffrage without an armed insurrection, a perspective shared by a minority of the Chartist leaders themselves (Julian Harney, Ernest Jones and others) with whom Marx and Engels were in contact.

After coming to England Marx did not change his mind about the social significance of the Chartist demand for universal suffrage in a country where the working class were the majority of the population, even if he had now come to believe that this could now be achieved by peaceful mass agitation. In an article he wrote on the Chartists for NYDT of 25 August 1852, he wrote:
. . . Universal Suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of Universal Suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent. Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class (Marx-Engels, Articles on Britain, p. 119).
Marx returned to this question of the different significance of universal suffrage in Britain as compared with the Continent in an article published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on 5 June 1855: 
After the experiments which destroyed faith in the universal suffrage of 1848 in France, the continentals are prone to underrate the importance and meaning of the English Charter. They overlook the fact that two-thirds of French society are peasants and over one-third townspeople, while in England more than two-thirds live in the towns and less than one-third in the countryside. In England the results of universal suffrage must thus be in the same inverse proportion to its results in France as town and country are in the two empires (Articles on Britain, p. 233).
Since 1842, when “a last but futile attempt to formulate universal suffrage as a common demand of the so-called Radicals and the masses of the people” was made, Marx went on
there has no longer been any doubt as to the meaning of universal suffrage. Nor as to its name. It is the Charter of the classes of people and implies the assumption of political power as a means of meeting their social requirements. That is why universal suffrage, a watchword of universal fraternisation in the France of 1848, is taken as a war slogan in England. There the immediate content of the revolution was universal suffrage; here, the immediate content of universal suffrage is the revolution (Articles on Britain, p. 234).
Universal suffrage, in other words, would place political power in the hands of the working class who Marx expected (over-optimistically, as it turned out) would soon use it to carry out the socialist revolution, dispossessing the capitalist and landlord classes and instituting a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production.

Marx not only supported, through Ernest Jones and the People’s Paper, the campaign of the Chartist rump in the 1850s for universal suffrage, but also, through the First International, the similar campaign of the Reform League in the 1860s.

The Second Reform Act of 1867 by no means provided for universal suffrage, but it did create a situation where the majority of voters in the towns were members of the working class. The experience of the 1868 election—which returned a Liberal government and in which no working class candidate, not even those standing for the Liberal Party, was elected no doubt tempered Marx’s earlier optimism about the “immediate” content of universal suffrage being “the revolution”. But if it was no longer the immediate content, it was nevertheless still a longer term one. Now that the working class was a majority of the electorate it could, if it chose to, use the vote to gain control of political power peacefully, by sending to parliament socialist MPs mandated to institute the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In a speech in the Hague after the Congress of the First International that had been held there in September 1872 Marx declared, according to a report in the French paper La Liberte:
The workers will have to seize political power one day in order to construct the new organisation of labour . . . We do not claim, however, that the road leading to this goal is the same everywhere. We know that heed must be paid to the institutions, customs and traditions of the various countries, and we do not deny that there are countries, such as America and England, and if I was familiar with its institutions, I might include Holland, where the workers may attain their goals by peaceful means. That being the case, we must recognise that in most continental countries the lever of the revolution will have to be force; a resort to force will be necessary one day in order to set up the rule of labour (First International and After, p. 324)
That a peaceful capture of political power was a possibility under certain circumstances remained Marx’s view for the rest of his life. It was not his view, however, that the conversion of the means of production into the common property of the whole of society would necessarily be carried out without any violence whatsoever, even in Britain. Although he believed that the extension of the franchise had given to the working class the possibility of winning political power legally and peacefully, he still expected that they were likely to meet resistance as soon as they began to use this political power against the capitalist and landlord classes.

Political power
In Capital Marx had carefully recorded how the capitalist class had resisted the implementation of the Ten Hours Act passed by Parliament in 1847; and he had also observed how the slave-owners of the Southern States of America had preferred armed resistance to the possibility of Congress voting a Bill to emancipate their slaves. Marx expected a similar “slaveholders’ revolt” once the working class began to use the political power they had captured peacefully to legally dispossess the capitalists and landlords. In other words, it was Marx’s view that, in the end, the working class would have to use the full power of the State machine, including the employment of actual physical force against a recalcitrant capitalist minority, in order to establish socialism. This employment of force would, of course, be quite legal, as it would be employed by a State which had come to be controlled, after democratic elections, by a socialist working class majority. It would be the recalcitrant capitalist minority that would be acting illegally in resisting the democratically-expressed will of the majority for a classless society to be established.

In a letter he wrote to H. M. Hyndman (the man who was later to be the moving force behind the formation of the Social Democratic Federation in Britain) on 8 December 1880, Marx declared, using the word “revolution” too loosely, if we may say so, to mean “violence”:
If you say that you do not share the views of my party for England I can only reply that that party considers an English revolution not necessary, but—according to historic precedents—possible. If the unavoidable evolution turns into a revolution, it would not only be the fault of the ruling classes, but also of the working class. Every pacific concession of the former has been wrung from them by “pressure from without”. Their action kept pace with that pressure and if the latter has more and more weakened, it is only because the English working class know not how to wield their power and use their liberties, both of which they possess legally (Marx, Engels, Selected Correspondence, pp. 313-4).
In other words, the working class could capture power peacefully if it made intelligent use of the vote and the freedom to organise politically.

So Marx’s final considered view on this question can be summed up as: possibility of a peaceful capture of political power by the working class; probability of some violent resistance on the part of the capitalists to the use of this power to legally dispossess them. As Engels put it in the preface he wrote in 1886 to the first English edition of Capital, which was published in 1887, four years after Marx’s death:
. . . the voice ought to be heard of a man whose whole theory is the result of a life-long study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion that, at least in Europe, England is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a “pro-slavery rebellion”, to this peaceful and legal revolution.
Britain thus served for Marx, not only as a model for capitalist economic development, but also, with its majority working class and after the extension of the franchise, as a model for political development.

If this lesson which Marx drew from English experience has been largely neglected, this is due to Lenin, who disagreed with Marx on the possibility of a peaceful working class capture of political power in Britain—or, rather, who put forward the absurd view that this was perhaps the case in the 1870s but not later. In actual fact, the circumstances which Marx considered made for a peaceful capture of power—a numerically superior working class, a wide suffrage, stable representative institutions—have become more, not less, widespread since Marx’s day, and not only in Britain. And they have gone so far as to make even Marx’s expected “pro-slavery rebellion” by a capitalist recalcitrant minority a more and more remote possibility.
Adam Buick

Letter: Alan Coombes (2016)

Letters to the Editors from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

To add to the notice in the August Socialist Standard, Alan Coombes (born 31 January 1927, passed away 6 June), originally from Highworth (UK), joined the merchant navy in 1946 with voyages all over the world, and finally settled in New Zealand in 1950.

Alan joined the World Socialist Party (New Zealand) in the late 1970’s, and soon became an active member in both the Executive Committee and Auckland Branch.

At the same time Alan was also active within other organizations such as: Rationalist Society, book binding at the Museum of Transport & Technology (MOTAT), chairman of Friends of Sherwood, U3A, Grey Power, and NZCTU (NZ Council of Trade Unions).

He was well known within the WSPNZ, at local and central government elections, to voluntarily take more than his allocated quota of printed leaflets, which were targeted for letterboxes and handouts in his local area. He would tirelessly spend his spare time promoting the idea of  ‘A World of Free Access’.

During the early 2000s Alan was General Secretary of the WSPNZ  – he offered his home in Kingsland (Auckland) as a venue for the monthly EC meetings – this locality was a central meeting point and was appreciated by the other EC members who attended.

After relinquishing his position of General Secretary, Alan still managed to attend both EC and Auckland Branch meetings on a regular basis at the WSPNZ’s new HQ in Manurewa, Auckland.

In later years, as Alan’s health interfered with his many interests. He found it more difficult to be actively involved with the day to day issues within the WSPNZ, but he still subscribed to the Socialist Standard, which he enjoyed reading – he then passed copies of the journal onto anyone remotely interested in the Socialist case.

Alan will be sadly missed by all who had the privilege of being associated with him – a staunch relentless advocate for the need for World Socialism. 


Political Notes: "Communist" duplicity (1980)

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

"Communist” duplicity

The bare-faced lies of the Communist Parties of the world have been with us ever since the state-capitalist coup by Lenin in 1917. It is well-known that, apart from anything else, they falsify history by turning Trotsky, who so ably played the role of Lenin’s right hand (with a knife in it) man at places like Kronstadt, into an unperson, even wiping him off group photos of the Bolshevik gang. It was fairly easy for them because they were (still are) able to see to it that the Russian workers were insulated from foreign sources where the truth might emerge.

The French Communist Party had no such luck. One would think, therefore, that they would be somewhat careful. Not a bit of it. Their leader, Marchais, who for a couple of years was one of the so-called Eurocommunists who were prepared to criticise the Russian dictatorship (just a little) has now reverted to his more congenial role of hard-liner. So at the Olympic Games, where he was given the red-carpet treatment like a head of state, he made bootlicking speeches praising the Games and lauding the “intervention” in Afghanistan (somehow one thinks that if the Yanks had done it, the word would have been “invasion” — which it certainly was).

These bootlickings duly appeared on French television and in the press where Marchais got plenty of deserved stick for such things as his references to the freedom which he found existed in Moscow. But when the speeches appeared in L'Humanite (the Paris Pravda) it was too much for the comrades and such things as the references to freedom were censored out. Which in turn was gleefully seized on by the rest of the rags in Fleet Street, Paris. The sad question remains. How on earth can so many millions of French workers still be taken in by these clumsy crooks who turn the name of socialism/communism into a sick joke?

St. Kilda memory

We are familiar with the work of anthropologists who have studied the life-styles of pre-capitalist societies and shown that human beings have not always been competitive, money conscious owners and non-owners; but their examples have usually been regarded as rather exotic—Amazonian Indians, Polynesians and the like. It was all the more interesting, therefore, to see in the Guardian (July 25) an article written in commemoration of the evacuation a mere 50 years ago of the last inhabitants of the island of St Kilda in the Hebrides.

It is fascinating to read remarks about these people (some of whom are still alive in England) that recall very similar observations about savage tribes. We read, for example, that for hundreds of years the islanders existed without the use of money, something that seems to baffle those workers who imagine that apes made money their first priority as soon as they got down from the trees. “There was virtually no crime and no policeman ever landed on their shores.” The island was owned by the McLeods of Skye. “All work to pay the rent (in kind) was done communally as was the sharing out of the sea-bird harvest which was divided according to need.” “Every member of the community relied on the others for survival and notions of individual payment were strange to them. Sheep, a secondary source of wealth, were owned individually but if one man lost some, the others would make up his losses.”

The island was bleak and windswept (still is) but there is no evidence from 17th and 18th century accounts that “the islanders were wretched or dissatisfied. On the contrary, authors wrote of “the relish and gaiety with which they went about their work and of their great love for poetry, music, dancing and other jollity”. But the outside world of capitalism could not leave St. Kilda alone. “The ministers and missionaries proved a decisive influence, mostly for the bad . . .  their poetry and music, banned by the ministers, died out . . . A community, which had been a weather-beaten anachronism for a millenium and flourished with it — declined and died.”


Can he really mean it?
“We should not abandon some time-honoured Labour principles namely our commitment to a mixed economy, international socialism. These principles are not incompatible with a successful economic policy” (our italics). As all the governments that have run one of these “socialist-capitalist” economies (Callaghan, Schmidt) have presided over massive unemployment (among other delights), one wonders what the idiot who wrote the above can mean by “successful”? The words of wisdom appeared in a letter to the Guardian on August 18. The writer was someone called John Horam who is apparently the Labour MP for Gateshead West.

How capitalists love “communists”
At the time of writing the present wave of strikes in Poland may be in their last throes. The friendly noises being made by Callaghan and Thatcher could mean one point being overlooked. One would think that the Western capitalists would hope that their “communist” enemies would be overthrown by their own workers. But it’s not so simple. The news at the beginning of August from Hella Pick of the Guardian (and other sources) was that the west is worried. Their banks have made huge loans to the Polish government. If it is overthrown, they are very nervous about losing their money. Capitalists—of whatever variety—are in the end sisters under their skins. Workers of the world, beware!

Dead clever
The Chinese legislature meets this weekend . . .  to remove the remnants of opposition . . . To the chagrin of foreigners here in Peking, the agenda includes corporate and individual income tax legislation with rates reportedly based on the US tax code.
(From the Guardian August 30)

How to run a “workers’ state”
Mr. Szydlak, who is a member of the Polish Politbureau, is reported to have told the workers: “The authorities do not intend to give up their power or to share it with anyone else”.
(Guardian August 21)

Even professors can learn
"If one were to ask who is the biggest capitalist on earth, one would have to say: the government of the USSR. It owns and controls practically the whole of Russian industry and agriculture . . .  The capital power of the USSR, backed as it is by armed might, is enormously bigger than General Motors or any American capitalist; and it makes ICI here look like a corner drug store.

Other communist governments would follow in that list. It now seems clear that the biggest capitalists in the present age are the socialist states themselves. And the biggest in the Western world are great public corporations like British Steel-state monopolies or nationalised industries. It now seems very hard to argue that more socialism means less capitalism. On the contrary, the state is the biggest capitalist that there is. And nationalisation, or public ownership, makes it bigger still."
(Professor George Watson, Encounter, June 1980)
L E Weidberg

“It has been the iron principle of the National Socialist leadership not to permit any rise in the hourly wage rates; but to raise income solely by an increase in performance”.
Adolf Hitler at the Nazi Congress of Hanover (quoted by Franz Neumann in his book Behemoth).

Editorial: Who Needs Leaders? (2016)

Editorial from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the wake of the vote to leave the European Union, many Labour MPs, fearing for their jobs if an early general election was called, set about to depose their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. After a vote of no confidence in him, Angela Eagle and then Owen Smith challenged Corbyn for the Labour leadership. Eagle dropped out leaving Smith as the sole challenger. Corbyn claims that he is building a grass roots movement to challenge the Tory government, whereas Smith maintains that the Labour Party needs a viable candidate to win the next general election.

In addition, the Brexit vote brought about a change in the leadership of the Conservative Party. After the resignation of David Cameron, Theresa May took over not only as the Conservative Leader, but also as the UK’s new Prime Minister.

Not only do most political organisations have leaders but that they strive to provide leadership, either for the day to day running of society or, as the Leninist parties, such as the SWP, insist, for the working class to advance towards ‘socialism’. Even the Green Party, which for many years claimed to be a leaderless organisation, has acquired a leader.

People can be forgiven for thinking that political leadership is an integral part of political life and no society can function without it. This is certainly the case under capitalism, where the minority capitalist class owns the means of wealth production to the exclusion of the majority working class. Here political parties vie to become the government of the day and rule over the workers to ensure that they are producing profits for the capitalist class and that the capitalists have the necessary access to the global markets and sources of raw materials. To these ends, they will need to run the state machine with its police and armed forces. This is as just as true in a so-called ‘socialist state’, where the means of production are in the hands of the state, as it is in an openly free market capitalist state.

In socialism, minority class ownership will be abolished and everyone will have free access to what society produces. There will be no need for a means of exchange, hence no monetary system and nation states will come to an end. Everyone will have the opportunity to participate in the decision making of society. The administration of things will replace the government over people. Therefore, a socialist revolution will require the active participation of a majority of class conscious workers who  understand the need to replace capitalism with socialism. Workers cannot be led into socialism, however ‘revolutionary’ the leadership is. This is why the Socialist Party is organised without leaders. Decision-making is controlled by the membership via our annual conferences and our Party Officers and Executive Committee are elected annually and are answerable to the membership.

Whoever is announced as the winner of the Labour leadership contest on 24 September, it will be business as usual, as the Labour Party will continue to be a capitalist party, and the next Labour Prime Minister will have to run capitalism, in ways that are not radically different from the Tories.