Monday, September 5, 2016

"War can solve no working class problem" (1980)

From the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and War

Anything which in the slightest way encourages the workers to retain the blighting and poisoning belief in nationalism and so-called national interests, perpetuates the dangerous illusion of class harmony and plays always into the hands of the capitalist class. Only class-conscious socialists can speak across the frontiers of the capitalist nations to the working class of the world and they can do so only because they are entirely free from the taint of so-called national interests which can be none other than capitalist interests.

War can solve no working class problem. It cuts across the fundamental identity of interest of the workers of the world, setting sections of this class at enmity with each other in the interests of sections of the capitalist class. It elevates force into the position of arbiter in place of the common human desire for mutual peace and happiness. Its effect is wholly evil. It depraves all the participants by forcing them to concentrate upon the best methods of producing misery and of annihilating each other. It elevates lying, cheating, disabling and murdering opponents into virtues, confers distinctions upon those who practise these means most successfully, and inaugurates training courses on a vast scale to produce efficiency. Young men and women, in their most impressionable years, have the vile methods of warfare impressed upon them so thoroughly that they lose a balanced outlook on life and are impregnated with the idea that force, with all its baseness, and not reason is the final solution in all problems. Many of those who have been subjected to the atmosphere of war remain addicted to violence when war has come to a temporary end.

Socialism is completely opposed to war and to what war represents. At the same time it is the only solution to the conditions that breed war. It is a new form of society in which the people of the world will work harmoniously together for their mutual benefit, for there will be neither privilege nor property to cause enmity. No coercion will be needed because each will gain from co-operating harmoniously with his fellows. But it is a new social system that demands understanding of its implications from those who seek to establish it. One important implication is that coercion does not solve problems but only breeds fresh ones, and war is an attempt to coerce. Above all war is one of the means employed by the ruling class to maintain their privileged position at the expense of the subject class. With the establishment of Socialism war will disappear and humanity will have taken the first step out of the jungle.
From “The Socialist Party and War "

Scum (1980)

Party News from the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

A leaflet published by Islington Branch for distribution to cinema audiences at the film. “Scum


The film you have just watched depicts the institutionalised brutality which is an inseparable part of the British state machine. The original version was banned as a television play by the 'authorities of the BBC because it was thought to be too one-sided to be shown to a mass audience. If the BBC employed similar editorial standards in the Nine o’clock News we might treat their claim to neutrality as having some meaning. In fact, it is the conscious intention of the media to “entertain” us with the likes of Starsky and Hutch and Porridge rather than let us see progammes which will set us thinking about the kind of society' in which we live.

Having come out of the cinema, aware of what goes on in the name of justice and order, you may conclude that something has to be done. Willie Whitelaw and the Short Sharp Shock Brigade believe that something should be done: they say that those who step out of line should meet with even worse forms of punishment. They justify, in the name of Discipline, the incarceration of inarticulate people who express their anger in acts of violence, mentally retarded people who fall foul of the law and can’t be accommodated in overcrowded psychiatric institutions, people found in the possession of cannabis in what is supposed to be a free society. Such offenders are locked up, humiliated and depersonalised for having the audacity to be born into a society which cannot provide for their human needs. Those who advocate law and order really mean violence in the defence of the.present order; they mean the legal retention of the status quo in which 10 per cent of the population own approximately 90 per cent of accumulated wealth.

Probably most people who watch Scum will not be of the “hang ‘em and flog ’em” mentality. They will be concerned and distressed by what they see. They will be outraged by the brutality which is being tolerated. They will be moved by a sense of hostility to authoritarianism and disregard for human dignity. These feelings are understandable, but liberal sentiments have never solved the problems facing us all. Some may look towards legislative reform to solve the problem—but that, at best can only lead to ‘improved’ borstals, not the abolition of the crime and punishment system itself. But it is clear from the film that it is not how you lock people up, but that you lock them up which is the inhumane act. Some may criticise the borstal system on moral grounds, claiming that it is un-Christian and that if only those in power knew what was happening they would put a stop to it. In fact, the penal system is quite in line with the cruelty and imposed discipline of Christianity, as was shown in the film by the Christian borstal governor. Neither is it true that those in power would be willing to eradicate the conditions and attitudes portrayed in the film. Their main concern is that the working class should stay in line and produce profits for them; if a few of us step out of line we can expect no sympathy from the mighty rulers who depend upon our consent for their power.

Prison and borstal are part of the entire inhibiting structure of the capitalist system. Prisons and borstals exist all over the world, including the so-called socialist countries, because capitalism prevails worldwide. Where there is capitalism there are two classes: those who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth and the majority who produce but do not own the wealth. The legal system—laws, police, courts, prisons, borstals, armies—exist to protect the position of the minority against the majority. As long as this system lasts, so will the violence of the state. The only positive political response is for the majority us to gain control of the state machine for the purpose of abolishing the capitalist system. The only response to the crimes of the state is democratic political revolution. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands without compromise for Socialist Revolution.

We want a society without laws, without police, without prisons and borstals. We want a society of rational human co-operation. We want a society of common ownership and democratic control of the world around us. Don’t just walk away from Scum feeling indignant and powerless. Put your indignation to a positive use by joining with us in the work of building support for the principles of Socialism.
Islington Branch

The Cloak of Religion (1930)

From the July 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the eyes of the class that is supreme in society, religion is for the people, as Napoleon once pointed out, but not for the rulers. It is something to stupefy or drive into a frenzy the mass of the people, as the needs of the governing class demand.

Since the days of the native medicine man religion has been a prop and a handmaiden to each ruling class, and a priestly group has evolved parallel with the growth of government. So much has this been so that each social revolution of the past has had a religious glamour cast over it and has involved modifications of the creeds of the defeated rulers.

Apart from its philosophic unsoundness, the success and the curse of religion has been its propagation of the myth of another world.

When the oppressed are weary from the hopeless struggle for existence, and might be moved to rise and throw off the yoke of oppression, the deadening hand of religion stretches out to them, bids them to be of good cheer and be patient, all will be well in the hereafter, where “all good people” will live in a heavenly rose garden. Many rise to the bait, as it is so comforting to think that this vale of tears is but a path to paradise. And so places of worship have arisen, palatial, beautiful and impregnated with incense; their pulpits have resounded with the mocking cry, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The promise has meant a good deal to those who looked for no rest on this side of the tomb, and has helped to blind them to the possibilities of rest in their real life.

Religion has not been a giver of rest but a scourge to drive the masses on to toil unresistingly. The demonstrations of scientists that religion is, on the one hand, an attempt of the ignorant to explain natural forces —of whose workings they are ignorant, and, on the other hand, a weapon in the hands of a ruling class to help to keep the workers in subjection—have made little progress in the workers’ minds in the past, because knowledge has been the privilege of the rulers and their henchmen, and the masses have lacked time and opportunity to learn.

In the later Middle Ages the ruling class in their own circle ignored the precepts they preached and permitted a considerable amount of scepticism in the writings of the professional groups, cynically conscious of the fact that it would never reach the understanding of the "lower orders.”

Of late years a change has gradually come, and from two directions; both of which are due to the profit-making root of present society—and are beyond the power of capitalism to cope with.

One cause is the mighty machine industry of to-day, which has demonstrated to workers, without the need of books, the natural source of supernatural phenomena, and, at the same time, the power of human capacity to harness the forces of nature. The oil engine, wireless, and the aeroplane have been among the remarkable educators of the average man during recent years.

The other cause is the cheap and wholesale production of literature which brings within reach of all, often in a very handy form, the very latest results of scientific investigation in all fields of thought, and also lays bare the method of scientific research.

Books are articles of commerce, like other commodities, and money invested in printing yields just the same kind of profit as money invested in oil production or any other ware. Consequently, newspapers print scientific reports and works of a scientific nature are written because the sale of newspapers and books is profitable. Workers read and learn, and their growing wisdom is reflected in a gradually clearer understanding of the world and their particular place in it.

Thus the blind scramble after profit leads the capitalist to dig the grave of his system, and, as the hold of superstitions weakens, the worker loses his reverence and respect for the things that; he has been taught to regard as the eternal institutions of divine wisdom. Religion, like a cloak, is thrown off when it is worn threadbare. In similar fashion, the system whose evils it has been used to cover is subjected to scientific examination, and failing to provide for the needs of the majority is displaced by one that does so.

Back To The Future (2016)

The TV Review column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pick any recent decade, and an argument could be made that it was pivotal in shaping the trends of our current (oddly nameless) decade. The 60s saw the erosion of many repressive attitudes, the 90s brought us the internet and mobile phones on a wide scale, and the 00s gave us a financial crisis and reality TV. In The 80s With Dominic Sandbrook (BBC 2), the historian makes the case for the decade of legwarmers and Rubik’s cubes. Sandbrook likes to use these kinds of symbols to highlight significant social developments. At various times he invokes Delia Smith, the Austin Metro and a Chesterfield vs Mansfield football match as representing the spirit of the time. But his argument isn’t as shallow as this might suggest.

For him, Delia Smith’s straightforward recipes symbolise how working couples had less time to cook, the Austin Metro was a patriotic attempt at revitalising British industry, and rivalry between supporters of Chesterfield and Mansfield’s football teams was based on whether each town’s miners went on strike. He wants us to re-evaluate some of our assumptions about what and who pushed society’s changes, especially during the 80s’ first half.

Sandbrook says that Margaret Thatcher’s reputation as the driving force behind the economic, social and political changes during the decade has been overstated. He argues that she embraced, rather than caused, the trends which were shaping society, such as the rise of consumerism and fall of traditional heavy industries. With or without her influence, many British industries were in a long-term decline due to wider market forces. The communities which relied on mining, in particular, ‘faced unemployment and disintegration’ due to their decline, and Thatcher was ‘a very convenient scapegoat’. The manufacturers she championed, such as the producers of the Austin Metro car and BBC Micro computer were hoped to be the businesses of the future, although both brands ended up overtaken by imported competitors.

The more successful industries during the 80s didn’t just produce commodities, but also commodified our identities. According to Sandbrook, consumerism isn’t really about the stuff we buy, but more about how our purchases relate to our image. During (and since) the 80s, taste was something which defined our personalities, whether we’re sloanes choosing jackets for the office in Next or New Romantics buying a Duran Duran LP. Previously, our identities were formed more by where we worked, especially in the politicised and unionised heavy industries. One symbol of this shift among countless others is the opening of the Merry Hill shopping centre near Dudley, built after the nearby Round Oak Steel Works closed.

Sandbrook says that ‘the real authors of change were us’, rather than Thatcher. As markets shifted, we focused on spending more on ourselves, and our homes. One symptom of this was the rise in popularity of video recorders. According to Mary Whitehouse and the mainstream media, much of the time we were using them to watch ‘video nasties’. The moral panic over gory films brought out deeper social anxieties about the intrusion of the big, bad changing world into our lives. Other tensions, such as the Brixton race riots and appearance of AIDS, exposed anxieties about Britain’s changing demographics.

For Sandbrook, these kinds of ‘identity politics’ were also central to the 1984 Miners’ Strike. He argues that the popular impression of the strike being the flashpoint in ongoing rivalries between the left and right wings of politics is misleading. He argues that the real conflict was within the miners, between those loyal to the unions and those who wanted to maintain their income by working. Sandbrook’s analysis is that the real faultline of the Miners’ Strike was between ‘collective loyalty and individual aspiration’. Changes in employment patterns are more fundamental than the ideologies of the political parties and unions.

For this reason, he tells us it’s a myth that Thatcher won the 1983 general election because of the Falklands War, as voters were really thinking more about jobs and the economy. Her cause was helped by latching on to trends like entrepreneurialism and individualism, and by being media-savvy. Thatcher’s government wanted to use the then-new Breakfast Television for propaganda purposes, as shown in a hitherto-secret memo.

In contrast, the Labour Party of the time was held back from electoral success by not concentrating enough on society’s changes. Grainy footage shows the 1980 Labour Party conference sharing a venue with Mike Yarwood and the Nolans. While the acts might have changed, the performances are similar again today, with conflicts between left-wing tendencies and those wanting to appeal to the centre ground (within the Labour Party, that is, not the Nolans).

Sandbrook’s main point is that the impact of market forces on us was what changed society during the early 1980s. The industries which traditionally lent themselves to collective action through unions were replaced by the industries which promoted the individualistic consumer. His perceptive argument puts economics in a rightfully prominent place, without relying on dry financial statistics. And any documentary with a soundtrack of Tears For Fears and The Human League is worth a watch.
Mike Foster

Socialist understanding is the key (1980)

From the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

It cannot be stressed enough, that without a widespread and clear idea among workers of what a socialist society entails, it will he unattainable. The reason is simple. The very nature of socialism—a moneyless, wageless world of unrestricted access to the goods and services provided by voluntary cooperative effort—necessitates understanding. There is absolutely no way in which such a sweeping fundamental transformation of social relationships could be thrust upon an unwilling, unknowing majority by some minority, however enlightened or well meaning.

In the first place such a minority would not have the power to do this against the might of the state, which is at present directed towards securing the continuation and the smooth and orderly functioning of capitalism in one form or another. The point to note though is that the state is able to do this because of the active or passive consent of the overwhelming majority. Being imbued with a capitalist ideology this majority continues to elect capitalist parties to power or, in places like Russia, to acquiesce in state capitalist dictatorship. Only by supplanting this capitalist ideology with a socialist outlook can majority support be gained to accomplish the necessary act of capturing state power to ensure that it cannot be used against the socialist transformation of society.

Secondly and most importantly, even if it were possible for a socialist minority to capture power, the majority would still need to participate in the complex process of modem socialised production, which has given rise to the possibility of socialism and which socialism will inherit. In socialism individuals would not be compelled to cooperate through the economic coercion of a wages system or the political tyranny of a state. It would not be socialism otherwise. How then could individuals be persuaded to participate in running a socialist society?

The answer is that people would have to want to do this in the first place out of “enlightened self interest”, in basic harmony with the interests of society as a whole and recognised as such. This means that people would have to know why socialism was in their own best interest and for that they would need to know what socialism was.

But given that for socialism to work people would have to cooperate it seems reasonable to suppose that the self-interest which drove them to establish socialism would compel them to participate in the required manner. Cooperative behaviour would spring from the realisation of self interest made one with social interests by the conversion of the means of production into the common property of all.

In practical terms this means people will need to know that with free access to the abundance of wealth modern industry could so easily provide (a potential imprisoned within the structure of the capitalist market economy) there will be no need to take more than they require which would, indeed, bring about social chaos.

Furthermore, to satisfy their needs in socialism they themselves will have to produce the things they require. They will assume a sense of creative responsibility; they will sited the slave mentality that craves the direction of leaders, a mentality that is reinforced by the insidious notion perpetrated by the left, of a “vanguard party” to lead the workers. That such a reactionary notion can have no place in the socialist revolution (though it certainly did in the case of capitalist revolutions such as the Bolshevik bourgeois revolution of 1917 which still provides inspiration for many leftists) was pointed out by Frederick Engels:
The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. (1895 Introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France)
Having argued that majority understanding of socialism is indispensable to its establishment let us see how this may be brought about. One suggestion put forward by those who pay lip service to socialism is that it can be achieved through “raising consciousness" by a more rigorous prosecution of the day to day struggles of the workers.

The absurdity of this notion is apparent when we take a look at the very people who propound it—organisations like the “Socialist Workers Party” These are the people who presumably have had their “consciousness raised” and who therefore know how it is done—yet where are the indications that they know what socialism means? Certainly there is nothing in their literature in between the endless procession of pictures of banner bearing demos and inch-high expletives about “stuffing” this or “smashing” that. If anything it is more concerned with striking postures than conveying understanding, with sensationalism rather than socialism, moralism rather than Marxism.

Romantic militants
What these romantic militants want is not socialism but more of the same struggle, whereby they supposedly had their “consciousness raised", on the pretext that it leads somewhere. As they don’t want socialism they cannot possibly want to do away with capitalism. True the occasional reference is made to “smashing capitalism” but “capitalism" in this context is just a vague pigeonhole within which to deposit blame for social problems without need for further explanation. The correct analysis of the root cause of those social problems (capitalism) and their solution (socialism) are mutually interdependent. You cannot have one without the other and the left have neither.

If they did understand what capitalism was about, the left would not waste their time advancing daft ideas about “advocating policies beneficial to working people" (Socialist Worker 21.4.79) within a system which cannot possibly be run in the interests of "working people". Instead of dissipating their energies grappling with all the manifest absurdities and injustices thrown up by capitalism, they would concentrate on exposing that system as the cause of poverty, strife, pollution, racism. It is not possible to agitate for reforms which can only work to perpetuate the system, and at the same time claim to want to abolish it. By advocating reforms, the left imply the problems concerned are capable of solution within capitalism—a direct contradiction of the socialist view. The sterile prospect the left hold out is of struggle for its own sake, a vicious circle, for all they have "learnt from struggle" is that they must struggle in order to learn from it.

But let there be no misunderstanding on this score. The need to struggle in the industrial field is created by the antagonistic class interests inherent in capitalism. Nevertheless the purpose of a socialist cannot be to prolong this struggle but to bring it to a speedy end through political action. Our concern is not whether workers “learn from struggle" but what they learn and what use they put this knowledge to in the political field, where the decisive act in the emancipation of the working class will occur. Encouraging a hopelessly optimistic faith in the efficacy of industrial struggle cannot aid an understanding of capitalism. To the extent that it is shattered against the enduring reality of capitalism's economic laws, the outcome is more often than not one of despair, disillusionment and distrust for those who foster such a faith. Trade union activity is essentially defensive and limited as is explained in Marx's Value, Price and Profit.

The argument that “socialist understanding" develops out of class struggle is true enough. However the left then behave as if class struggle was something they conceived in their minds and they therefore feel obliged to go out into the world and initiate it. The idea of class struggle derives from the demonstrable fact that it exists irrespective of the knowledge or wishes of its participants. It exists because of the way society is at present organised into two classes whose interests are antagonistic. The need, then, is not to initiate it but to clarify it.

How then do socialists propose to bring about the understanding necessary for socialism? From what has been said we can identify at least two principles that define the work of a socialist party and are readily apparent in the way the Socialist Party of Great Britain conducts its propaganda. The first is total opposition to reformism because of its fundamental incompatibility with revolution. The second is to clarify, to directly transmit or embody in propaganda, what is meant by socialism. This should not be done in isolation but rather as an integral part of a coherent and comprehensive analysis of the world we live in. Analysis without a solution would be as sterile as a solution without the supporting analysis.

Shared experience
An understanding of socialism will not come by the spontaneous and automatic blossoming of this knowledge in the bosoms of millions of isolated workers. Feudal peasants could not effect a revolution in their own interests because the material conditions of their existence tended to "atomise” them, whereas capitalism, by bringing workers together in production, compelling them to organise and combine in trade unions, has willy-nilly brought into existence its own grave-digger. Mass socialist consciousness will develop out of the common experiences of workers and the interaction of ideas drawn from those experiences and through unity on the basis of socialist knowledge.

This means the growth of socialist parties around the world, armed with the strength that comes from unity, able to meet and vanquish the divisive ideology of capitalism by clearing away the smokescreen it creates between the worker and the recognition of his real real interests.

Already several such parties exist around the world but our effectiveness is limited. The spread of socialist knowledge will add to our effectiveness so that eventually we shall be able to break through the vicious circle that tends to keep us small simply because we are small. Indeed it is precisely because we are small that there is a greater significance in joining us now, rather than when we are numbered by tens of thousands.

Unlike the labour Party we do not solicit any support other than that of genuine socialists. It may keep us small but it has kept us socialist. That is the reason for what might on the face of it seem to some as an almost perverse and quixotic form of behaviour in resolutely refusing to place popularity before principles. That is why we screen applicants for membership just to ensure that they basically understand what we are about. This ties in with our opposition to the principle of leadership: leaders, in order to lead, have first to be accepted by those whom they wish to lead and that means getting support for the wrong reasons, pandering, and thus being ensnared by, the reformist aspirations of the majority. "The movement . . . will be shaped by the people it has tried to assimilate and not the people by the movement”. (On Spontaneity and organisation. M. Bookchin).

A favoured tactic of the left is that you should do the opposite of what you say you want, which means getting support for the wrong reasons. What this abandonment of principles is supposed to bring about is the gradual acceptance of your point of view by inviting people—urging them, in fact — to ram their heads firmly against a brick wall with consequences of which you were presumably aware. Thus you say, if you are in the SWP, “vote Labour" to workers and, sensing their reluctance, add a little incentive such as "W'ell at least they are not as bad as the Tories”. One can only wonder at the strange mental process whereby hatred for the brick wall is to be converted into faith in the conman who spurred you on to rush headlong into it.

Socialists see no merit at all in having working class heads rammed against brick walls. What we need is a class conscious working class, not a concussed one. It is the power of knowledge that is the weapon the working class must forge; for example, knowing the severe limitations within which trade unions work is not a weakness or an admission of defeat but a source of strength allowing workers to struggle to greatest effect within those limitations. Likewise socialist understanding is the most effective means to combat racism, nationalism and sexism. As a systematic attack upon the ideological props of capitalism, it is not only the key to the future but also a guide to practical struggle and the transformation of the social outlook.
Robin Cox

Letter From Europe: A Shorter Working Week? (1980)

The Letter From Europe column from the June 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March last year one of the French trade union confederations, the CFDT, organised a forum of European trade union leaders in Paris to launch its campaign for a "general reduction of the working week to 35 hours in order to create jobs". Albert Mercier, one of its national Secretaries, was reported as saying that "work-sharing through a reduction in working time was clearly one of the keys to solving the current employment problems" (European Communities Trade Union Information, No. 3/1979).

The reasoning behind this proposal — which is popular among trade unionists in countries besides France —is that if the hours of work available were shared more evenly, instead of some people being unemployed while others work long hours then everybody would benefit: the unemployed would find a job while the employed would have more free time.

But this is to assume that capitalism is a system that has the aim of providing people with an income from work, whereas in fact its sole aim is making profits. And it is precisely because capitalism is going through a period of reduced profitability that unemployment is now so high. When, as now, firms cannot sell profitably as many of their products as before then they cut back production —and so the number of workers they employ. Some firms have been so badly hit by the crisis that they have simply closed down or gone bankrupt, once again throwing workers onto the streets. This is all quite normal under capitalism since it is the only way in which it is able to function.

But unemployment not only rises and falls as the capitalist industrial cycle goes through its normal phases of crisis, slump, recovery, boom, crisis, slump, recovery and so on. There is also a permanent pool of unemployed, even in times of boom. This is because, without such a pool, the workers' bargaining position would improve to such an extent that the wage increases they could then extract from their employers would eat too much into profit margins. When the pool of unemployed workers in a particular country falls too low — as it did in Britain in the 1950s — then the employers resort to importing surplus labour power from abroad, from the mass of unemployed who are vegetating in the undeveloped parts of the world. It is this that explains the presence in France of so many North Africans, in Germany of so many Turks and in Britain of so many West Indians and people from the Indian subcontinent.

So capitalism needs a certain level of unemployment in order to function as the profit-making system it is. Unemployment is thus inevitable under capitalism and nothing can be done by governments or trade unions to prevent it. In the course of time, as the current slump gives way first to a recovery and then to a boom (as sooner or later it will), the present high level of unemployment will fall. But this will not be due to any government intervention or trade union action. It will be because profit levels have been restored as a result of the conditions created by the slump itself; in other words, once again, because economic laws of capitalism are functioning in their normal way.

A shorter working week will therefore not in any way lessen unemployment—if anything, from a strictly economic point of view it is more likely to have the opposite effect since, to the extent that it increases labour costs, it will encourage employers to introduce labour-saving machinery. This is not to say that workers should not be struggling, through their trade unions, for a shorter working week. It is simply that the case for shorter hours does not rest on the possible effects, either way, on employment.

The struggle for a shorter working week is a part of the trade union struggle to ensure that workers are paid the full value of their labour power (not the same thing, of course, as the full value of what they produce). The value of a worker's labour power is determined, like the value of all other commodities, by the amount of socially necessary labour required to produce and reproduce it: by the food, clothing housing and so on that workers must consume in order to maintain themselves in a fit state to work at their particular job.

Under capitalism workers are subject as Marx put it, to the "never-ceasing encroachments of capital". One of these downward pressures exerted by employers is precisely to try to make workers work more intensely —through .speed-up, new machinery, time-and-motion and other measures aimed at increasing "efficiency". But, as we have just seen, unless this increased intensity of labour is compensated, either by a wage increase or by shorter hours or both, then it is the equivalent of paying workers less than the value of their labour power. Marx in fact noted:
". . . the immoderate lengthening of the working day produced by machinery in the hands of capital leads later on to a reaction on the part of the society, which is threatened in the very sources of its life; and, from there, to a normal working day whose length is fixed by law. On the foundation laid by the latter, something we have already met with, namely the intensification of labour, develops into a phenomenon of decisive importance" (Capital, Pelican edition, p. 533).
He based this observation on the experience of the Ten Hours Act of 1847, as amended in 1850, which introduced a 60-hour week (5 days of 10½  hours and 7½  on Saturday!). The capitalists had bitterly opposed this Act and predicted that it would ruin industry. In fact, however, this did not happen. As Marx explained, the capitalists compensated for the shorter hours by making their workers work harder:
"Capital's tendency, as soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, is to compensate for this by systematically raising the intensity of labour, and converting every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means for soaking up labour-power (p. 542).
Marx then commented:
"There cannot be the slightest doubt that this process must soon lead once again to a critical point at which a further reduction in the hours of labour will be inevitable."
In other words, as with trade union action generally, the workers have here to run fast just to stand still. The first effective reduction in working hours in 1850 was followed by an intensification of labour; this led to the workers demanding and eventually obtaining a further reduction in hours, followed by a further intensification, a further reduction . . . until today most people have a normal working week of between 35 hours (in some offices in Britain) and 40 hours (the legal basic working week in France).

The trade unions are right to demand shorter hours, but are wrong in suggesting that this is a way of reducing unemployment. They are, in other words, right but for the wrong reason. From a trade union viewpoint this is not all that serious since what counts is the result (shorter hours so as to ensure that workers continue to be paid wages equal to the value of their labour power). But from a socialist viewpoint, it is important to be theoretically sound. To suggest that shorter hours could reduce unemployment is to encourage reformist illusions; is to sustain workers in their mistaken belief that capitalism can somehow be made to work in their interest, whereas just to ensure that they are paid the value of what they have to sell — just to try to maintain their living standards — workers have to keep on running fast.

But this defensive struggle, though necessary, should not be all that workers do. To adapt a phrase, instead of the conservative, defensive slogan of "a normal working day for a normal day's work", they ought to raise the revolutionary slogan of "the abolition of the wages system". Once the wages system has been abolished through the conversion of the means of production into the common property of society, then the "never-ceasing encroachments of capital" will cease and free men and women of socialist society will organise the necessary work of wealth-production to suit their convenience.
Adam Buick

Running Commentary: Embassy siege (1980)

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

Embassy siege

May was a spiffing good month for jingoism and “those qualities which made Britain great”. Not only did the Arsenal beat those “Eyties” in Turin (a feat verging on the impossible) but we were all submerged in suffocating patriotism and national pride after “our boys” had shown those “Islam Wallahs” what we’re made of. No doubt the Iranian Embassy storming during which not many foreigners were killed — will be the subject of News of the World “I was there and our policemen are wonderful” exclusives for weeks to come, and a film starring Omar Sharif as William Whitelaw. True, Keith Joseph rather spoilt the month by muffing his presentation of the appointment of that Scots-American chappie to run “our” steel industry (what’s wrong with an Englishman?), but this was a minor abberration and surely Thatcher will take Sir Keith’s bootlaces out should he create any more bother.

On May Day Prince Charles set the tone for the month by defying his doctors and attending a five-course lunch at the Cafe Royal with an inch long sticking plaster reaching from the base of his nose to his earlobe; he had fallen off his pony during polo practice but could not be deterred from launching into a strong call to electrical engineers to buy British. This example of royal stiff upper lip was fallowed by noisy scenes in the House of Commons, when the Prime Minister reported on her tough stand in the matter of British EEC contributions. Anti- and pro-Europeans united in a “Wogs begin at Calais’’ atmosphere as she made clear her determination to defend the mythical “national interest”. Remind me not to send any more cheques to those greedy French farmers.

The Embassy storming, however, was enough to bring out the patriot in Anthony Blunt. We had the Prime Minister praising the SAS and police who “made all of us, on all sides of the House, proud to be British”; young Winston Churchill, an authority on Iranian affairs, contrasting the “heroic action of May 5” with the TUC’s intentions for May 14; and Tory MP Tony Marlow asking whether it wasn’t noticeable that there was a “new respect by which Britain is held by the rest of the world, based on the confidence, sensitivity and determination now abiding in Britain”. A group of about 100 British and Americans sang Rule Britannia and national anthems at Princes Gate and “Grateful” of Bexley wrote that she “certainly slept better last night . . . it (the storming) will give Britain a much needed boost after months of petty fogging wrangling in industry”.

It is not surprising that, in the midst of all this nationalistic ' fervour, reference should be made to the performance of the British workforce. The Daily Telegraph of May 1, under the heading “Modesty is ruining economy”, reported Trade Secretary John Knott’s speech to the Advertising Association’s annual conference. “Britain should cast aside its characteristic modesty and advertise its success more widely”, he said; it was modesty which did the greatest damage to the British economy and “workforces would continue to be demoralised if constantly accused of failure”. Yes, indeed. If only workers could be made to identify with, and feel proud of, “their” country and industry, think how much better they would work and how much more profit would be made for the employing class.

Labour discipline

The leadership of the Transport and General Workers’ Union also came in for some patriotic stick last month, after announcing its decision to contribute £5,000 of Union funds to the so-called Communist Party’s daily, The Morning Star. Possibly Moss Evans had been impressed by the Soviet government’s new plans for their workforce, announced in the Soviet press on January 12 but strangely unreported in the CP rag.

The Russian ruling class, which is working overtime to stir up patriotism in its less than contented population, issued a major economic decree last July to make workers abide by centralised instructions, thus destroying the last remnants of economic reforms of the 1960s which granted certain limited autonomy to factory managers. The present five year plan had forecast a very low rise in the output of consumer goods, but now not even this target is being met and some tightening up is therefore necessary. The new decree, on poor “labour discipline”, is a response to frequent absenteeism, alcoholism, wasting work time and constant job changing among a workforce deprived of any means to defend their interests collectively. Entitled “On the further strengthening of labour discipline and the reduction of labour turnover in the national economy”, it ties the receipt of various benefits, pensions and privileges to length of service. In future Soviet workers will have to repay any financial assistance they have received if they resign without showing due cause, and should they be absent from work without “valid reason” will lose their extra holiday entitlement.

What probably clinched it for the Transport and General was the-January 13 editorial of Trud (Labour), the Soviet trade union daily, which stated that: “We must actively struggle against slacking, disorganisation, absenteeism, which not only bring economic damage but do enormous harm to the work of educating the new man —the man of Communist society . . . to our regret certain trade union organisations have shown little interest in energetically taking up the task of strengthening labour discipline”.

Should we conclude that the TGWU prefers government controlled trade unions to discipline the workers to the inefficient method adopted in Britain, where private employers endeavour to follow government “guidelines” on how to control their workforce”? The “new man” of Soviet mythology might well have something to say about that. For our part, we advise workers to resist the attempts of union leaderships to involve their organisations in the campaigns of political parties, and to recognise that industrial action alone cannot achieve for them anything but modest and temporary improvements in their living standards. Unionists who want a society without imposed discipline —where the means of production will be commonly owned and democratically controlled — should examine the case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Cheques sent to 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN will be used in furtherance of this aim.
Melvin Tenner

Editorial: Wages Under Labour Government (1930)

Editorial from the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the things Labour Governments are supposed to do is to keep up wages. Since the present Government came in, there have been big reductions in the wool, cotton and jute industries, and there are now pending movements to reduce wages in building, agriculture, mining, boot and shoe production, and railways. These applications for reductions cover about three million workers.

But the biscuit must be awarded to Air. Snowden and Mr. Addison.

Mr. Snowden, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, controls the Civil Service. Their cost of living bonus is governed by an agreement, made as a temporary measure in 1920. The agreement never gave them the full increase corresponding to the rise in prices, and it is admitted that their cost of living has not fallen by as large a percentage as is indicated by the Ministry of Labour index. The staff's claim for a revised agreement was side-tracked by being referred to the Civil Service Royal Commission, and they therefore contend that until the Commission reports, no further reductions should have taken place. Mr. Snowden replied by giving them a 5 point reduction. When they protested, he replied by lamenting the “ingratitude" of the Civil Servants.

Why workers in Government employ should be grateful when a Labour Government, contrary to the whole theory of the Labour Party, reduces their pay, it is difficult to understand.

Mr. Addison, Minister of Agriculture, went one better.

According to the Landworker, of November, the employers’ representatives on a Yorkshire Agricultural Wages Committee moved for a reduction in wages, but were outvoted by the workers' and “neutral” representatives. The employers thereupon withdrew, and Mr. Addison has now asked the neutral represenatives to resign, and refuses to re-appoint them. He indignantly denies that he is looking for “neutral” representatives who will agree to wages reductions, but admits that he wants people with whom the farmers will consent to sit. But this, of course, means precisely the same thing. The farmers are not objecting to neutral representatives because of the colour of their hair, but because they voted down a wage reduction. The farmers will continue to decline to sit until they get their way, and the Minister of Agriculture, who has power to prevent this, helps the farmers under a veil of “impartiality.”

The Labour Government has failed to offer to the workers any means of escape from the capitalist system. It fails equally to help them make the best of capitalism by resisting wage reductions.

Destruction and Mass Death (1980)

Party News from the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter in South Wales Evening Post 22 October, 1980.

Why do governments spend vast sums on deadly armaments when it is clearly not in the interest of humanity that these be produced or used? The answer governments give is that it is for defence. But to defend what? Clearly not the lives and homes of their citizens, as war in the modern world always results in mass death and destruction.

What they are in fact defending are the economic interests of the country they govern. And that means the interests of that small minority who own the vast majority of the wealth in all the countries of the world (in 1976 the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth established that in this country 10 per cent of the population owned 61 per cent of the wealth).

This is why governments, whose job it is to keep this system of minority ownership of wealth ticking over, are putting an increased amount of effort into convincing people that survival will be worthwhile after a nuclear holocaust.

Those who have lost everything dear to them—family, friends, home—will still have one thing left: their ability to work, and this they will continue to be required to sell to an employer for a wage or salary so that business can carry on as before.

So war and the threat of war—whether conventional or nuclear—are caused by economic rivalries between the rival owning classes of different countries. When you understand this, you realise that the problem of war cannot be solved either by trying to mitigate its expected effects (Protect and Survive) or by putting pressure on individual governments to abandon their most lethal weapons.

The only way to get rid of war is to get rid of the cause of war. And this will only happen when the majority of workers decide to get rid of our competitive buying and selling system and bring in a new co-operative world-wide society of common ownership and democratic participation which will give all people free access to all goods and services.

Only in this kind of society will war, weapons and the devastating slaughter they cause no longer have any place.
H. Moss
Press Officer, Swansea SPGB.

Letter to the Editors (1980)

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

Dear Editors

I have read a few of your Socialist Standards in the library and I must say I am impressed with the truth of what you say. I am almost totally in agreement with all you say. But one of the main things that is troubling me is when you say that socialism can only come about when the majority of the people understand and want it. 1 can see that. But what I can’t grasp is how people in say Russia, where there is no democracy as such, can ever get to hear about socialism let alone vote for it democratically. Another thing troubling me is your stance against all other parties on the grounds that they aren't socialists. I can see that too. But supposing there was a chance that a limited democracy (as we have in our country) could be brought about in Russia, through pressures from other non-socialist groups—whether they be humanist, civil rights, left wing, religious or whatever—what would be your position? Support or not. If so, how far would you be willing to go to achieve it. I’d be very pleased if you could print a reply in your paper because I’m sure they’re giving a lot of people trouble like me.

Samuel Thomas

You rightly say that socialism can only be brought about by a majority of workers understanding and wanting it. Socialists, therefore, must work solely for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a society where the means of wealth production and distribution are commonly owned and democratically controlled by all the people—a socialist society.

Non-socialist parties, pressure groups and reformist movements, however sincere and well-meaning they may appear to be, direct people away from the job of establishing socialism. They aim for reforms within the capitalist system and do nothing to remove the causes of the problems they hope to solve. CND is a good example — its re-emergence merely demonstrates its total failure in the 1960s to abolish or even to simply slow down the spread of nuclear weapons.

However, the CNDers and other reformists, and the SPGB too, do have the opportunity in Britain to make their views known. In many parts of the world repressive regimes make sure that workers do not enjoy even the most limited democratic rights. But no totalitarian regime can permanently suppress working class consciousness — the class struggle causes people to look at the issues raised by capitalism and will eventually lead to their wanting nothing less than its replacement by the classless society. What is happening in Poland, for example, will happen sooner or later in other state capitalist countries. We must support such efforts by workers because they are a first step towards securing democratic rights. However, the socialist also realises the limitations of these efforts and must continually point to the necessity of working for the abolition of capitalism.

The job of the Socialist Party is clear—to put the case for socialism, to encourage workers to reject capitalism and start organising for the conquest of political power. Workers, such as those in Poland, Russia and other totalitarian countries, must start to think in terms of joining with their fellow workers everywhere to fight for a world-wide socialist society.

Is there a capitalist class in Russia? (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

To begin with, there is no such thing as a socialist country on the face of the earth. They are all, including Russia, China, Cuba, capitalist. Every country operates the wages system and in every country there are two classes—the majority who have to sell their energies in order to live and another class which buys those energies and pays me wages. In all countries, the state takes part in the process by adopting the role of employer. In England, for example, the state is the employer in the Post Office, the steel industry, the coal mines (made state property comparatively recently by Labour governments which thought — or rather said — they were introducing pieces of socialism). In many industries, however, there is no state ownership. Private capitalists run the bakeries, the clothing trade, the shops (though the state does own some shops—the betting shops known as the Tote). This system is known as the mixed economy and is of course a mixture of capitalism and capitalism rather like a bread sandwich.

In Russia, almost the entire economy is state-owned. Just as a British steel worker is the same kind of wage slave whether he works for the nationalised British Steel Corporation or for the small proportion of the industry in private hands, so it is with a steel worker in Russia. The only difference is that in Russia all workers, for practical purposes, work for the state; it is state capitalism as compared with the “mixed” economy. A distinction without a difference.

But, say those silly people in the Communist Party (and indeed in the entire press), there still remains a difference. In the west there is a capitalist class. We even know them by name. They are called Weinstock, Rockefeller, Thompson. They really do own the industries where the wage-slaves work. Can anyone name a comparable owner in Russia? Therefore there is no capitalist class there. Therefore it is not capitalism

There is of course a facet of truth here, in that individual capitalists do not own the means of life in Russia. The state does. The 64,000 dollar question then becomes: who owns the state? The answer is: A mixed bag of exploiters including the Communist Party high- ups; the top bureaucrats (apparatchiks); the top managers, artists and literateurs (those who write stuff approved by the state machine—the “dissidents” are lucky if they can scrounge enough paper to print their secret publications).

We are then told that in the bourgeois west you can see the capitalists. They are fat and well-fed and wear mink. They have yachts and country homes. But it is precisely the same in Russia. For a small minority, there are black Mercedes limousines, dachas in the country, villas on the Black Sea where it’s nice and warm. And even something that the western capitalists would not dare to claim for themselves: shops and stores where the workers are not even allowed in. Shops where they sell the caviare and the fine clothes. Such things would cause riots in London.

Anyone can go into Harrods or Fortnums and buy a Mars bar or a cup of coffee (and nobody would stop them buying vicuna coats at a thousand quid a time; for some reason the workers don’t seem to do that). Indeed a worker can lounge about at Harrods all day long and not buy a thing. But you have to have a special pass to go into the Harrods of Moscow. And the pass is not for you, chum. It is for the people who own the world.

The Russian workers have to shop in the stores where the cheap and nasty is sold. But the sheer contempt the Russian rulers have for their slaves is shown in ways that would shock western wage-slaves. A socialist propagandist went on a package tour to Russia last November, when the icy winds were blowing into Moscow from the frozen steppes. And he saw that the Russian workers were compelled to stand and freeze in queues outside the low-class stores, morning and evening.

In between they had to get themselves exploited for their pittance. And while scrabbling for their shopping they have the pleasure of seeing the capitalist class riding past in their chauffeur-driven cars to their posh warm stores where other slaves serve their needs.

History’s Carnival, the autobiography of expelled dissident Leonid Plyusch, describes how the children of the upper class have fresh fruit flown in during the winter from the Black Sea region to their opulent kindergartens.

The officer class in the armed forces has privileges which make those of their counterparts here pale into insignificance. They even have special parachutes so that their chances of landing in one piece are better than the workers’ in the ranks—who are expendable. Not long ago, the Russians made a great fuss about reducing the numbers of troops in their colonies like East Germany and the papers contained reports of trainloads of soldiers going eastwards. And when they stopped at the stations it could be seen that certain carriages were nothing better than cattle trucks. It must be so nice for the other ranks to know that they have got a Communist Party dictatorship ruling over them instead of the wicked Tsarist one. Too bad the cattle trucks are the same.

Actually, examples are not needed to show there is a capitalist class in Russia. If the majority of the people own nothing but their mental and physical energies, they have to sell them for a so-called living wage. But the workers produce a lot more wealth than they get back in wages. So where else can that wealth go except to the class that pays the wages—the ruling class, the capitalist class? An analogy is with the mediaeval Church, which was the extremely wealthy owner of the riches wrung from the peasants. Nobody owned the Church in the same way that, say, Isaac Wolfson owns a vast share in GUS but this did not alter the fact that the cardinals and the bishops and the abbots lived off the fat of the land.

It is true that the bishops could not bequeath a couple of churches to their children (they weren't supposed to have any, of course). And Brezhnev can’t leave a Fiat-run car factory in the Urals to his offspring. But if your children have all the best food and the best schools and the influence and contacts that well-placed families can provide it is more than likely that they will take their places as members of the ruling class in their turn. In any event, the vast majority of the population will remain wage slaves.
L. E. Weidberg

Poland 1980! A lesson from the past (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rosa Luxemburg (born in Poland 1871, murdered by German ex-army officers in Berlin 1919), socialist writer and teacher, had this to say on Lenin, Trotsky, democracy and socialism:
The remedy invented by Lenin and Trotsky, the general suppression of Democracy, is worse than the evil it is supposed to cure.  
Without General Elections, without unrestricted freedom of Press and Assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out of every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains the active element. Yes! We can go even further! Such conditions must cause a brutalisation of public life. 
Lenin is completely mistaken in the methods he employs. Decrees, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties: rule by terror, all these things are but palliatives. The only way to rebirth Is the school of public life itself, the broadest democracy and public opinion. It is rule by Terror which demoralises.  
The Proletarian Revolution requires no Terror methods to realise its objectives: it hates and despises violence and murder. It does not require this means of combat because it does not fight against individuals, but against institutions. It is not a desperate attempt of a minority to shape the world by force according to its “ideals": but the action of great masses of millions of people, who are called upon to fulfil a historic destiny or mission, and to transform historic necessity into reality.
All quotations from “Rosa Luxemburg” by J. P. Nettl.

These quotations from Rosa Luxemburg should be read alongside the SPGB statement, 'The Class Struggle in Poland - A Socialist Statement', which also appeared in the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard.

The best way to oppose Fascism (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Violence between the extreme Left and Right has been a recurring theme in British politics for nearly fifty years, with some of the most vicious outbreaks occurring in the 1930s. More recently there have been the punch-ups between supporters of the National Front and their leftist counterparts, and although these have died down lately we can expect fresh eruptions in the not too distant future.

In pre-war days the leftists were squaring-up to Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. Then their declared intention was to “smash the fascists” and a so-called United Front was formed to bring this about. They failed and all that the violence achieved was to attract thousands of fresh recruits into the fascist ranks. The Mosleyites continued to march, hold meetings and contest elections until the outbreak of war.

Someone claimed that the lesson of history is that people never learn the lesson of history. Obviously this is untrue (otherwise there could never have been any progress, social or technical) but such a cynical view could be justified if it was based on the antics of the leftists, because they never learn. Now many of the current crop have formed themselves into the Anti Nazi League and are determined to re-stage the same useless battles that were fought long ago.

A glance at history shows that ideas which have some roots in existing social conditions cannot be stamped out by force. For example, in Hitler’s Germany, the Social Democrats and the Communists suffered twelve years of being killed and jailed yet both those organisations re-emerged at the end of the war. Nor has more than sixty years of mass murder and repression eliminated the various nationalist and other dissidents in the USSR. More significantly, despite the killing of millions of fascists, during the 1939-45 war and the vilification of fascism by Hollywood and the rest of the media for over forty years; the growth of fascist organisations and activity in Europe is front page news today.

So the notion that fascism can be destroyed by violence has not a shred of evidence to support it. Everywhere the leftists have tried this tactic it has failed disastrously - what happened to their “street fighters” in pre-war Italy and Germany is proof of this.

Ideas are rooted in the material conditions of life; people are influenced by the economic and historic situation they live in. It is no accident that fascism flourishes whenever capitalism is in one of its periodic slumps. Then fascist demagogues, by blaming problems like unemployment and bad housing on the failure of democracy and the presence of blacks or jews, are more likely to be listened to. Fascism feeds on poverty, insecurity and fear and since these are inseparable from capitalism then fascist ideas will persist as long as capitalism lasts, no matter how many heads are cracked or meetings broken up.

The claim made by the “Anti-Nazis” that they are defending freedom by preventing the National Front and similar organisations from holding meetings is absurd. Free speech can only exist when it is open to all and it cannot be defended by those who in fact abolish it. Not only does political violence not preserve existing democratic rights, it positively weakens them by creating a situation in which the authorities may restrict or ban many forms of political activity. This much is certain: the chances of getting the socialist case across in such an atmosphere of intolerance will be considerably lessened.

The only way to deal with fascists is to demolish their obnoxious, anti-working class ideas at every turn. We would welcome any opportunity to confront them in open debate before an audience of working men and women. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this because we are confident of the workers’ ability to understand the socialist case and of our own ability to present it. Of course, this will not sound exciting enough for leftist hot-heads looking for trouble, but whatever the right method of dealing with fascists may be, theirs is absolutely wrong.
Vic Vanni

How to survive Christmas (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

“It is”, wrote George Bernard Shaw, “an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous and demoralising subject”—by which time even his stock of disparaging adjectives must have been running low. He was raging against Christmas—that time of year when, in the guise of a celebration of goodwill, workers all over the world are subjected to a massively insulting confidence trick.

For Christmas is a snare-infested time region for the mentally unwary, when they can all too easily be trapped in the delusion that peace on earth and goodwill to all men is simply a matter of charitable intentions, which best flourish in the Christian celebration of the birth of someone called Jesus Christ on December 25 a long time ago. How do we survive so menacing a time, with our intellects still working efficiently, able to look forward realistically to a society of abundance and human fellowship?

Although Christmas is the principle Christian festival it is in fact a lot older than Christianity and was appropriated by the early Christians from their pagan rivals. At the time Christianity was a feeble creed and needed to promote some sort of festival to attract new adherents—rather like the Young Tories laying on dances in a recruitment drive. Their most threatening competitors—the Mithraists— not unreasonably considering their time and place, worshipped the sun which was so vital to their existence and celebrated December 25 as the winter solstice the passing of the shortest day and the awakening of the life-giving sun.

In opposition the Christians fixed on January 6 and it was not until the fourth century that they adopted December 25. By the Middle Ages the Christian takeover of Christmas was complete, along with many heathen rites and symbols like the virgin birth and decoration with seasonable greenery. For some centuries the festival was a twelve day holiday, running until Epiphany, but the Industrial Revolution finished that, for as wage slavery became the dominant mode of exploitation labour time represented riches to the employers and such lavish periods of leisure were outlawed by capitalism’s morality of employment:
“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.
“If quite convenient, sir.”
“It’s not convenient”, said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used. I'll be bound?”
The clerk smiled faintly.
“And yet”, said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work”.
Dickens’ Christmas Carol is one of the more insidious of snares waiting for us at this time of year, for it propounds the myth that the poverty which Dickens could at times expose so effectively was not an inexorable part of capitalism but something which could be cured by a timely dose of charity:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge”, said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
All that was needed, apparently, was a change of heart to make capitalism, like Scrooge on Christmas Day, wake up warm and benevolent and caring which was, as that famous Victorian miser might have put it, Humbug.

If we need any evidence on this we have only to consider the way in which the leaders of capitalism have applied the Christmas myth to dupe workers into self-destructive acts and attitudes. In wartime, for example, slogans like peace on earth have become part of the propaganda on both sides urging workers to kill and destroy as much as possible of the “enemy”. Here is part of a dose of hypocrisy stammered out by George VI during the last war, on Christmas Day 1942:
. . . the message of Christmas remains eternal and unchanged; it is a message of thankfulness and of hope; of thankfulness to the Almighty for His great mercies; of hope for the return to this earth of peace and goodwill . . . The Queen and I feel most deeply for all of you who have lost or parted from your dear ones, and our hearts go out to you with sorrow, with comfort, but also with pride.
A few years later, when British capitalism under a Labour government was locked in yet another war, in Korea, the king was on the same theme, showing us what he meant by the unchanging message of Christmas:
. . . within the last few months, our countrymen have once again been called upon to lay down their lives on the field of battle. Once more, the sorrow of mourning has come to not a few British homes; in many more there is deep anxiety for husbands, sons or brothers who are facing death, enduring hardship and sickness, far away beyond the sea. To those homes, on this Christmas Day, the thoughts of the Queen and myself turn first . . .
The unchanging message of Christmas is the unchanging message of capitalism—that workers all over the world must suffer in the interests of the parasitic minority who are their masters. The festival of Christmas did not prevent World War One, or Two, or Korea, or Vietnam and, if and when it happens, it will not prevent the nuclear World War Three (although we may on that occasion be spared some unctuous royal hypocrisy from the depths of a bunker at Sandringham). Indeed, when the troops of both sides came out of the trenches on Christmas Day in 1914 to practise a bit of goodwill the authorities acted ruthlessly to prevent such fraternity ever happening again. Properly for capitalism, Christmas was ordered to be celebrated with some loss of life.

It is part of the confidence trick, to represent such times as war as abnormal and to pretend that capitalism could be like one long Christmas Day if only all those foreigners, or strikers, or criminals, would stop causing difficulties. So the myth persists of the benefits of the traditional Christmas sparkling snow on the ground and the bare trees while indoors at home all is warm and secure as the united family tuck into the turkey beside the glittering tree.

The sober truth is that industrialised capitalism ensures that chemical pollutants more commonly float adown the winter air than snow. Home is at best one of a disciplined rank of semis being bought on some ulcerous mortgage (except for the millions who exist in slums and the thousands who, Christmas or not, are actually homeless). The family under capitalism is typical of any property relationship-bonded by the most brittle ties and operating under the inhuman pressures of wage slavery. Most of those cosy symbols, incidentally, are anything but “traditionally” English; the turkey is an Aztec bird, the tree originated in Germany and so on.

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
And then there are the presents. How frantically, since the summer, have we been urged to spend as much as possible on them. As the great day draws near the shops become ever more crammed with heaps of trash all of which, we are wheedled, makes the ideal gift. Forests of patterned paper is consumed in wrapping the things and in the tens of millions of cards which fly to and fro with the message: have a good time these next few days —it’s one of your few chances to relax, live a little and be nice to your fellow human beings.

All of this takes place accompanied by the symphony from a few million cash registers. Buying Christmas presents becomes like a contagious disease, with the fever reaching its height on Christmas Eve when the working class become positively delirious in their anxiety to spend, spend and spend. A few days later they are back at work with Christmas often a sour memory; shoddy toys lie broken and forgotten, the gift wrapped after shave now perfumes desperate bodies in the rush hour crush to work, there is a scrape of cold pudding on a plate somewhere, a few dregs remaining from that lake of booze on which a week’s wages was blued. Reality returns in the factory, the mine, the office, driving the ’bus through the city. It is a good time for the bankers and, perhaps, the pawn brokers; their patron saint is none other than St. Nicholas.

So how do we best survive it all? Well there is nothing wrong in wanting to relax and enjoy yourself, in helping yourself to some better quality food than you are likely to eat at other times, in offering friendship to other people. Peace on earth can do none of us any harm and goodwill to everyone makes us all feel a lot better. So how do we survive the reality of Christmas the myths, the hypocrisy, the pressures?

First of all, by seeing it for the confidence trick that it is. So when the boss, in a traditional reversal of roles, serves us at the firm’s Christmas dinner, we are not deceived; we know it might well be his or her job to discipline us for being late as soon as the holiday is over, or to sack us if the company’s accounts say that we don’t make a profit. Then we should be thinking about how we can convert the hypocrisy of Christmas into a stable reality, how we can establish a society of peace and freedom and plenty—a society whose people care for each other as part of their own existence in co-operation and not just as a guilt-stricken, bibulous interlude once a year.

So the Socialist Standard does not wish its readers a Merry Christmas. Instead we send them greetings for their survival of a hazardous experience and the fraternal hope that they will learn, from their survival, that the world does not have to be as it is.

Working without jobs (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

From 'Radio Times' (12.9.80)

I thought the speakers in The Collapse of Work (13 August Radio 4) tended to confuse rather than clarify. 'Work’ is the expenditure of muscular and mental energy: ‘employment’ is the result of a buying and selling transaction in which muscular and mental energy is sold to an employer in return for wages.

To suggest that employment is necessary to get satisfaction from life is a gross misrepresentation of its nature. The majority of us have to do monotonous, repetitive. unsatisfying jobs for most of our lives in order to receive the means whereby to live, and the work involved is not motivated by a need to satisfy a basic instinct, or to serve society. It is an undesirable aspect of our lives which is imposed on us by the structure of society. ‘Work' on the other hand, is a basic need in man’s make-up and he doesn’t need the incentive of wages to do it.

Only by a fundamental restructuring of society, by the abolition of the class structure based on the private (or State) ownership of the means of production, and with it the wages system, can we look forward to a society free of unemployment problems.
George Pearson
London SW20