Thursday, September 8, 2016

Nationalism and economic collapse (1990)

From the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is still the conventional wisdom for members of the peace movement to equate the end of the military blocs partitioning Europe with a new era of peace. Individual nations, it is said, freed from the super-powers' endless games of brinkmanship and mad arms-racing will establish a new era of peaceful co-operation.

This ignores the fact that the Cold War of the last forty or so years simply froze into place the nationalist rivalries between states which had torn Europe apart in two world wars. Now the blocs are crumbling these dangerous rivalries are thrusting themselves once more on to the centre stage.

Poland and Germany
Poland had its western boundaries arbitrarily redrawn along the Oder-Neisse river lines, including the former German city of Danzig, now Gdansk. Fully one-third of Poland is former German territory, and the substantial German minority is now beginning to make itself known again.

When Chancellor Kohl paid an official visit to Poland early in November, he was forced to cancel plans to attend a German-language mass in the country after a furious outburst by the Polish media. The venue was to have been Annaberg in Silesia, which just happened to be the site of the brutal repression by the rightwing Freikorps of a Polish uprising against German rule in 1921. It is now a rallying point for the German-speaking minority in Silesia. Germany has still not renounced its claims to the “lost territories" and has never signed a peace treaty with Poland or Russia recognising the validity of the Oder-Neisse line.

Meanwhile the pent-up frustration of East Germans over economic conditions their side of the border is spilling over into calls for German reunification, while a recent East German law forbids Poles from buying subsidised goods in East German shops. A member of the East German parliament was loudly booed when he warned East Germans to "beware of putting an invisible yellow mark on the backs of our Polish friends"—a reference to the marking of the Jews under Nazism.

The Poles have looked at these developments with increasing nervousness. Polish officials recently met with Gorbachev and displayed a sudden keenness for stressing that Russia remain the most important external guarantee of the security of the Polish state.

Polish fears were put by Russian foreign minister Shevardnadze to the European Parliament in December. Questions remained about the German commitment to its present borders, he said, “will a reunified Germany be ready to accept the existing borders in Europe and renounce any territorial claim? The Federal Republic of Germany has avoided answering that".

On 3 December the Prussian Iron Cross and Eagle were returned to the Goddess of Victory statue atop of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin for the first time since 1958. In that year they were pulled down as being a “symbol of Prussian-German militarism”.

Hungary and Rumania
To the south of Poland, historic rivalries between the rulers of Rumania and Hungary were also frozen by the Cold War. Two and a half million Hungarian-speakers were locked into the western Rumanian province of Transylvania, where ever more desperate attempts were made by Ceausescu forcibly to integrate them, culminating in the notorious plan for forced resettlement into "model" towns after the razing of the Hungarian-Rumanian villages.

After the fall of Ceausescu there are already signs that the leaders of the ruling National Salvation Front share his views on integration. Istvan Pap. a Transylvanian Hungarian who fled Rumania three years ago. calls the leaders of the Front "little Ceausescus", while the father of the dissident priest Pastor Laszlo Tokes. whose persecution sparked the anti-Ceausescu uprising, warned recently: "After all that has happened the old way of thinking will go on. The people are demonstrating for democracy now. but I fear it may not last".

One particularly ominous sign is the creation of the National Christian Peasants Party, a religious and conservative oriented party with echoes of the crypto-fascist National Christian Party of the 1930s which had a pronounced anti-semitic programme and established its own para-military organisation.

The newly-formed Democratic Federation of Rumanian Hungarians is now pressing for laws on the rights of minorities to be debated by a democratically-elected government. But the fears of "liberal” Rumanians were summed up by the dissident Hungarian playwright and regional head of the Rumanian National Salvation Front. Andreas Suto: “If Ceausescus policy of romanisation of national minorities is not reversed it will be bad not only for Transylvania but also for the whole of East and Central Europe".

The Hungarian government also remains fiercely nationalistic towards the border issue. When Ceausescu's persecution of the Transylvanian Hungarians was at its height last year, it sent furious protests and broke off diplomatic relations, leading the Economist (2 September 1989) to speculate that “if this had been 1914 it would have been war" It should be remembered that it was precisely the pursuit of territorial claims against Rumania which led Hungary to disaster in the Second World War.

The fall of Ceausescu was precipitated by the Hungarian minority in Timisoara defending one of "their" priests against persecution. before being joined by Rumanian workers, and there is growing evidence that a new Hungarian government to be elected later this year will not let the border dispute rest. One of the leading contenders in the elections scheduled for April, the populist and patriotic “Democratic Forum", has already begun spouting anti- Rumanian. anti-semitic and anti-gypsy propaganda. At the end of December Dr Csba Vass. a founder member of the Forum, visited Transylvania, telling correspondents he hoped to "bring back on to the political agenda the question of the rights of the ethnic Hungarians there".

Instability and the rise of xenophobic nationalism also marks the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. In the middle of last year one third of a million ethnic Turks in Bulgaria fled the country after an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into the Bulgarian language and suppress their Islamic religion. Bulgaria's former dictator. Todor Zhikov. actively encouraged anti-Turkish sentiment to bolster his unpopular rule, forcing Turks to adopt Bulgarian names in 1984-5 for example. After his fall, the new government met mass opposition when it tried to restore the Turkish minority's rights.
"Neo-Monetarist Dictatorship"
No-one is suggesting that all this will lead to renewed hostilities in Eastern Europe—yet. The central point is that a severe economic crisis now threatens to engulf Eastern Europe, creating an explosive situation of social disintegration in which appeals to nationalism are often the last resort of a beleaguered ruling class.

The Hungarian parliament, for example, has just endorsed Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth’s austerity budget which aims to hasten the transition from a state capitalist to a free market capitalist economy. The package aims to cut the budget deficit by one-fifth from its current level of about £500m. The IMF has insisted on at least this before it will release $350m in standby credits and $1 billion in EC funds. The Finance Minister Laszlo Bekesi pulled no punches: “There is no alternative to our programme. What is at stake is the complete collapse of the economy"

In Poland the IMF-sponsored "rescue" package aims to slash inflation from 50 per cent a month to 5 per cent by April, while government subsidies on consumer goods will be cut from 31 to 14 per cent. All wages will be frozen. Unemployment is forecast to rise from virtually zero to 400,000 while the standard of living drops 20 per cent. Already about one million of the 37 million population are acknowledged to be not earning enough to live on, and officials say the figure is probably 10 times as many (Guardian, 18 December). According to the government, "social discipline" is already in disarray, and crime is on the increase: there are rumblings of union discontent and sporadic strikes. Recent reports cite Polish workers complaining that the "Proletarian (Party) Dictatorship" is simply being replaced by the "neo-monetarist dictatorship"

The situation looks as bad in Bulgaria. Although figures are hard to come by, estimates of the country's foreign debts are as high as $10 billion. The Rumanian government has a little more leeway owing to the former dictator's fanatical policy of debt repayment. but the underlying economy is in deep trouble.

So we have an explosive mixture of economic collapse and a resurgent nationalism. This feeds on historical divisions and the need of the new ruling classes in alliance with the remnants of the old to legitimise their rule through appeals to xenophobic and racist ideologies.

These ideologies gain their strength through the hard struggle for survival experienced by workers in everyday life under state capitalism, and these struggles are set to become even harsher under the lash of free market forces now being unleashed. East Europe, now manifested in newly assertive, separate states and pulled towards conflict by the capitalist economic development they serve, looks set to enter yet another grim cycle of violence and despair.
Andrew Thomas

The Welcome in the West (1990)

From the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perestroika (“restructuring") is really a term for the move away from the heavily-centralised state capitalist economic system of Eastern Europe (Russia has never remotely been either socialist or communist; Marx would turn in his grave at the thought of being associated with any of the inhumanities carried out there in his name) towards a more Western-style of capitalism.

No-one can begrudge people who have been oppressed, economically and psychologically, for so long actually getting reforms that improve their quality of life. It has been inspiring to see on TV the vast congregations of ordinary working class people thronging the centre of the major cities to make mass criticisms and demands that not so long ago would have got them run over by tanks or tortured by the local guardians of law and order and approved thinking.

In the longer term the switch from state capitalism to an economic system more like Western capitalism will be a very mixed blessing. Firstly, nothing will happen overnight. Over time, if the East European economies drag themselves nearer the capacities of those in the West, more wealth might be created But—and it’s a big but—the mass of working class people will only get a bigger share of wealth through the time-honoured principle that when the rich get richer, there are bigger crumbs falling from their tables for the poor to scrabble for.

So, who will be the rich under this system? Well, those who already have privilege and wealth stand at the head of the queue to benefit from the new opportunities that will come along. They are the ones who will be able to convert themselves to being private capitalist investors more easily than anyone else can. Perhaps some of the Party apparatchiks will need to do some agile mental gymnastics to justify their new position, but given the corruptions they administered in the name of the people and state one might imagine that their consciences will not stir a whit.

The position of the working class will not change substantially—they will remain the working class. In Poland, for example, where Solidarity now has political office if not power, this much-admired trade union has urged workers not to strike. The “restructuring" of the Polish economy will mean redundancies for workers The Polish working class is going to have to tighten its belts to help Poland become internationally competitive in the world capitalist marketplace and attract large investment from abroad as well as making the investments of its own new private capitalists profitable. Funny, isn't it, how under capitalism the least well-off have to suffer so that the already well-off can increase their wealth through profits?

What It’s Like in the West
What can the East European citizenry look forward to, then'? Since the end result of what is happening would seem to be something fairly similar to what exists in the West, examining the position of workers here will give some idea as to what East Europeans can expect.

Well, we have the vote and can vote for whichever representatives we wish, even if the choice is more than underwhelming as a rule. Political parties represent class interests and in Britain, the Socialist Party apart, no party represents the majority of ordinary people—the working class—at all.

The Conservative Party quite nakedly represents the interests of the ruling class, who wish to extend their wealth through unfettered profit-making. The Labour Party is grossly misnamed. It does not represented "labour", as can be readily gleaned from the policies adopted at its recent Party Conference It self-proclaims that it wishes to run capitalism better than the Tories, adding that it has the Leader and policies to do so.

Anyone who can remember life under a Labour government will surely recall that they, as Tory governments before, were continually at pains to limit or deny wage increases to “labour", wage demands made by workers who. faced with inflation and spiralling prices, only wished to maintain an already low standard of living.

The reason was simple. Capitalism runs governments, not the other way round. The stated goal of all parties aspiring to power is to run their country; which means running the economy in the interests of the profit-seeking capitalists. Profit is always put ahead of any concern, if it exists, for the material welfare of the working class. This is why the Labour Party, in "opposition", is loud and enthusiastic about wanting a socially caring society but. in power, has been as oppressive as any Tory government, readily adopting anti-working class policies as the needs of capitalism have demanded.

The fact that the interests of capitalists and those of workers are irreconcilable is easily revealed. Capitalists, who own the means of making wealth, continually seek to increase their profits. Profits drop if costs rise. Wage rises of any group of workers—who may only be showing a desire to stay solvent in the face of an economy that makes them poorer—are a rising cost to capitalists. Low or no wage increases mean larger profits for capitalists. That is the real equation in life.

If you have to work for somebody else for a wage or salary, no matter how much you earn, then you are a member of the working class. That applies to many who would vehemently call themselves middle class. However, class position is not a matter of imagined manners, or life-style, or amount of consumer items owned. It is the placing of the person economically, in relation to whether they own the means of wealth production but produce nothing (capitalists) or don't own them and by their labour together with that of their fellow workers produce the wealth of society.

We live in a two-tier society that mirrors this divide between the worker and the capitalist. In the area of education the "masses" attend state schools whereas the children of the wealthy attend “public" (another misnomer) schools. In the area of health, the NHS caters for the "masses" and private health-care facilities cater for the wealthy. Recently the director of ICI got a pay rise of £100,000. Many workers have to go on strike to get a paltry pay rise and could live until the end of their days (not extravagantly, but comfortably) on the annual interest such a sum could bring if it was invested wisely for them. That's the insanity and inequity of capitalism. The fat cats get fatter and workers struggle to survive while working to create profits for their exploiters.

Capitalism not a Free Society
Yet, almost from the cradle, we are fed the Myth of Democracy. We are continually told that the vote is our assurance of a free and democratic society. It does have that potential—if we vote to replace the gross inequity that is capitalism and choose instead a world that is typified by everyone's needs being met. But the millions of people, who live in poverty amidst plenty, know that choice and freedom under capitalism is determined by the amount of money you have. No money, no choice.

The well-off always expect the working class to tighten their belts at times of economic crisis. Yet it is the wealthy capitalists who could better afford to do this, but they won't. They must have their profit, which they will not tolerate becoming less. So they will lay off workers, cut production, and fight wage increases with a vengeance. All to cut costs and maximise their profit. They will be aided in this by the (any) government of the day. Democracy? Freedom? These are empty notions unless there is real equality for each citizen, including an equal right of access to the wealth of society.

In all essential respects Western capitalism and state capitalism are the same. Both have a minority, privileged class who have a monopoly of the wealth of their particular country and a majority working class who have to work for wages to live.

The Eastern Bloc currently seem to be moving towards a system of private capitalism (not necessarily exactly the same one as the West) allied with more democratic procedures for electing governments. That system has not freed the workers of the West. It is not going to free the workers of the East either. As the new governments try to put together streamlined, internationally competitive economies, the euphoric workers will soon discover that it will be their belts they will be urged to tighten as the ruthless reality of capitalism continues to prey on them.

The reforms they have achieved may ultimately come to be seen as icing on a rotten cake—very nice to look at but of crumbling fragility. On TV the sight of millions of East Germans flooding through the Berlin Wall was illuminating. Most looked round the shops, looking at expensive consumer goods they couldn't afford. The British press reported that the most popular purchase East Germans made in West Berlin was fresh fruit to take home. After the East Germans have some kind of elected assembly they are likely to find that they have voted for the availability of fresh fruit, not freedom

No matter how wonderful the reforms seem, in themselves they don't change the nature of capitalism. Profit and wealth remain in the hands of a ruling class and the working class, as ever, face an exploitation that deprives them of the wealth that they, and only they, have created.

There is, however, hope. Not just for workers in East Europe but for those throughout the world. That hope is socialism. Not the dreadful sham that passes for it in the current, so-called socialist countries but a world, to be achieved by a conscious majority of the working class voting for it, where everything is produced to meet need and not for the profit of a small privileged minority
Sandy Wilson

Letters to the Editors: Class, inflation (1990)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class, inflation

Dear Editors.

You talk a lot about the battle between the workers and the ruling classes. How do you group people in these classifications? Is a member of the ruling class someone who is connected with the government. or someone who earns more than a certain amount a year, or someone who has inherited substantial wealth, etc.? Are workers those who rely solely on their wages and benefits to survive? Into what class fall the self-employed, working for and/or by themselves? My parents have worked all their lives as dedicated teachers; they have bought small amounts of shares in government privatisations—what class are they?

Secondly, your article "Four fallacies about inflation" (Socialist Standard, August). You state that raising interest rates actually raises inflation, and that it is money supply that is responsible for inflation. In the latter point, you are to a great extent, correct; as to the former you seem to have missed the point of raising interest rates. This main aim is not to actually take money from people (although it does have this side effect)—a government wanting to do this would find it far more efficient to raise taxes—but to discourage people from creating new money: in other words, to stop new, further borrowing, and thus stopping them, as you argue, increasing the money supply and thus in turn the inflation rate. Interest rates are thus a valid means of controlling inflation over the medium-term, as has been demonstrated time and time again, the world over.
John Everett

Class is defined by the position in which people stand with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. In present-day, capitalist society there are two main classes: those who monopolise the means of production whether through legal title (as in the West) or effective control through the state (as in Russia) and those who, excluded from such ownership and control, have to live by selling their mental and physical skills for a wage or salary: in short, the capitalist class and the working class. It is true that there also exist a comparatively small number of self-employed people who could be said to form a third class, but many of these are no better off than wage and salary workers in that they have to work hard and long to repay, with interest, the money they have borrowed.

The ruling class is the class that controls political power, today the capitalist class. Owning a few shares no more makes a wage and salary worker a capitalist than being paid for doing some work makes a capitalist a member of the working class.

You seem to have completely misread the article on inflation. We never stated that raising interest rates raises inflation; in fact we said the exact opposite: that inflation tends to cause interest rates to rise. We do indeed say that inflation is a question of the "money supply" but are always careful to define this precisely, as the supply of currency (notes and coins). Others, including yourself, wrongly include bank loans; which is absurd since it attributes to banks the power to create new purchasing power whereas all they can do is to redistribute existing purchasing power, from their depositors to their borrowers. Only the central state can create new purchasing power, in the form of more currency— which the Bank of England is doing all the time at a steady rate of around 5 per cent a year, even though the economy doesn't need it. Hence, the decline in the purchasing power of the pound which shows itself as a continual rise in the general price level.

Trying to control inflation through high interest rates is one of the most absurd "anti-inflationary" policies ever to have been devised since interest rates do not, and cannot, have any effect whatsoever on the general price level. We know of no evidence of it having worked anywhere, certainly not in Britain over the past few years.

Dear Editors.

Alwyn Edgar's "Diary of A Capitalist” is obviously not compiled in a particularly methodical manner. His article in your January 1990 issue informed us that Churchill died in the “early 1950s", to be replaced as Prime Minister by Eden.

I fear that our capitalist's diary entry at that point must have been inspired by fantasies similar to those of the demonstrators he was so disparaging of. In fact, Churchill managed to survive another ten years after his resignation from Prime Ministerial office, dying as recently as 24 January 1965.

Nevertheless, I am in full agreement with Edgar's central point about the futility of socialists' concentrating their criticisms on the role of individual leaders in the running of capitalism.
Steve Cooke

An underestimate

Dear Editors,

I recently discovered your fine publication and was impressed by the refreshing clarity and concise nature of your articles. A figure given in the September issue confused me, though. A reference to Jon Bennett's Hunger Machine cited $21 million a year as being sufficient to nourish, house, educate, and provide health care for each individual on Earth. Certainly such a figure is way too high for each individual while being woefully inadequate for billions of people. Yet not even $21 billion a year would seem enough for the task. This would amount to about $21 a year per person assuming "only" one billion in need.

To demonstrate how puny a $21 million figure is in military matters consider this. World military expenses run over S2.5 billion a day! Of course only a fraction of this represents expenditures on actual hardware. In the US around half goes toward development and purchasing of weapons. The total US budget is about $300 billion for the military. This amounts to roughly 30 per cent of the world's total. At the same time we represent only 5 per cent of the population. Our beloved master class doesn't apparently believe in divine intervention to protect its material interests .
Frank Emerson

We think that you and the others who have written to us on the same point are right and that the figure given in Jon Bennett's book (it is his figure, not ours) should have read $21 billion not $21 million.

The context in which Bennett uses the figure makes it clear that the resources represented by this sum are in addition to current spending on socially useful products and services. Although he does not quote a source for this figure, we think it probable that it is based on the work of Ruth Sivard who has for years produced various estimates of what could be done if the resources squandered on means of destruction were diverted to socially useful production to alleviate the suffering of the starving and the poorest of the poor. We are not in a position to seriously dispute her figures. As she was formerly chief of the economics division of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency her estimates must be regarded as having some authority.

What we would question is the probability of such a diversion of resources being made within the context of world capitalism with its overriding need to operate profitably and to defend vested interests. Where the motive for wealth production is the realisation of profit those without the means to buy suffer. Bennett highlights this in the context of food production when he writes:
Set against this harrowing catalogue of human misery is the startling fact that there is more than sufficient food currently available to feed every man, woman and child on the planet . . .  People die of hunger because they are poor, because they cannot afford to buy what food is available.
If this is so, then the establishment of socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the world's productive resources where production will be geared to meeting needs, could solve the "problem" of hunger virtually overnight. Whether the remaining problems would need the extra resources represented under capitalism in money terms as $21 billion or some other figure must be set against the fact that capitalism is a system of artificial scarcity.

Sting In The Tail: Progress Backwards (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Progress Backwards

Socialists are often told by opponents that capitalism is a wonderful social system. The market economy that they support is lauded as progressive and liberating.

It must come as a shock to these naive supporters of capitalism to read Poverty and the Environment : Reversing the Downward Spiral, a report published by the Washington-based Worldwide Institute using United Nations statistics. Although themselves supporters of capitalism's buying and selling system, their report is a terrible indictment of the system.
For the poor, particularly in Africa and Latin America, the Eighties have been an unmitigated disaster, a time of falling incomes and rising debts, of falling food supplies and rising death rates.
The report goes on to inform us that during the last decade more than 200 million more people have joined what they term "the absolute poor" - those who do not earn enough to meet the most basic biological needs for food, clothing and shelter.

These now number 1.2 billion, almost a quarter of humanity. The report forecasts that these recent trends threaten to increase the number of "absolutely poor" to 5 billion within the lifetime of today's children.

Needless to say the Worldwide Institute's "solution" Is a complex package of massive aid and all sorts of legal enactments to ease the problem. The socialist solution is much simpler. Abolish capitalism and introduce Socialism.

Spare a Tear

What torture it must be these days for all those lifelong supporters of "communist" Russia as everything they believed in crumbles before their eyes.

For decades they insisted that Russia was the world's freest democracy, a workers' paradise in which features of western capitalism like strikes and unemployment could never happen and where such evils as racism and nationalism had been eliminated.

Of course the truth in every instance was the very opposite of what these dupes believed and now they watch in horror as the Russian government pursues policies of privatisation, competitive tendering and the setting up of stock markets.

At the recent conference of Britain's Communist Party, delegates were told by one of their leaders that the events in eastern Europe spelled the end of the road for the world communist movement. Good riddance, we say: that movement has been a disaster for the world's workers and its place is in the dustbin of history!

Rogues & Vagabonds

It must be a comfort to us all to know that the police are protecting us from a bunch of "rogues and vagabonds".

According to a recently formed pressure group there were about 3,000 prosecutions in London last year of these miscreants. They were prosecuted under the 1824 Vagrancy Act. According to The Independent (5 December 1989):
The 165 year old law allows beggars and "every person wandering abroad, lodging in an un-occupied building or in the open air" to be prosecuted if he is unable to give a "good account of himself". It deems homeless people to be "rogues and vagabonds".
The pressure group of MPs and lawyers want this 1824 Act repealed. One of their spokesmen Matthias Kelly, a barrister, said "it is not the function of the law in a civilised society to criminalise the homeless".

But Mr. Kelly is not the humane crusader against prosecution of the poor that he seems. For later on in the report we learn:
If tramps were genuinely endangering the public, they should be charged with threatening behaviour, he said. There was no justification for retaining the "archaic" Act.
What a rogue! What a "civilised" society!

Capitalism's Lottery

The winning of political and trade union rights by workers in eastern Europe should be welcomed by workers everywhere.

But as western European capital flows east to take advantage of cheap labour in "the new Korea" then this will affect workers in western Europe.

For example, the jobs and working conditions of car workers in Britain, France, West Germany, Italy etc., will be threatened now that Fiat, one of Europe's industrial giants, is to produce cars in Russia for export to the already glutted markets of western Europe. Volkswagen is considering a similar move in East Germany.

And the TV programme, "1992 and All That" (Channel 4,2 December 1989), predicted that Spain and Portugal, which have been attracting investment from European big business because of their low-cost labour, are likely to lose out to eastern Europe.

So while workers will benefit from their newly-won rights, others may find their livelihoods vanish as capital continues its ceaseless search for bigger profits.

Soup Kitchen Culture

1990 is the year that sees Glasgow becoming "European City of Culture". The City Fathers have arranged a cultural feast for its citizens - Pavarotti singing opera, ballet and drama.

It is all part of the local capitalist class's efforts to project Glasgow as a worthwhile target for investment and a boost to the hotel and tourist trade. Glasgow aims to rid itself of the Red Clyde image, the razor slasher and Ranger and Celtic bar room brawls.

They have made great efforts to tidy up the buildings, floodlight well known landmarks and build a new concert hall. The local populace are proving more difficult to tidy up.

For instance The Observer Scotland reports (10 December 1989):
  Homeless users of a soup kitchen run by voluntary organisations in George Square, Glasgow, fear they may be moved from their established meeting place because they are an embarrassment to the city as it approaches the Year of Culture.
   A soup kitchen regular, known as Pat, said: "They are trying to brush us under the carpet because of the Culture Year. Culture doesn't care about us and we don't care about culture. If they are concerned about our safety they wouldn't chase us down to the Clydeside."
   A woman called Betty said:"Tell them to leave us alone. We need this soup kitchen."
Ironically the soup kitchen is located beside a statue of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet who wrote "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." True enough, Rabbie; and the Labour controlled council's hypocrisy should sadden even the most insensitive Labour Party supporter.

Obituary: Helen Rose (1990)

Obituary from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the passing of Comrade Helen (Nellie) Rose. For over fifty years she had been a staunch and dedicated socialist. Her death was preceded by a long, painful illness so that her departure could only be considered a merciful release

Nellie's adherence to socialism was unwavering. She lived in South London and was a member of the old Lewisham branch and was active in many spheres of Party work including several years as a member of the Executive Committee.

Away from the Party Nellie was a practical person and a skilled dress-maker. She will be remembered as an example of steadfast adherence to, and dedicated work for the advancement of the cause of socialism.

Between the Lines: Soap Wars (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard


While the more tedious minds were pointed towards a boat on the seas off Malta where the owl and the pussycat were carving up the future of Europe, your reviewer was waiting eagerly to see whether Rita Fairclough had really been done in down Coronation Street. In the end she had not been brutally murdered, but had simply lost her memory and gone to Blackpool—it is usually memory loss or dire poverty that leads workers to the place. Meanwhile on Britain's most watched TV programme, Neighbours (an Australian import designed to show that there are even worse things than Rupert Murdoch to be found in the outback), pantomime plots are recycled every few months on the assumption that the viewing audience suffers from collective memory loss.

Neighbours (BBC1. Monday to Friday, twice daily) and Coronation Street (ITV. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. 7.30pm) are both soap operas, but the difference between them is immense. Coronation Street is one of the best dramas on British TV. Its writers possess a grasp of dialogue and an ability to convey believable situations which is matched by the usually first-class performances of the actors. Pretentious bores may get all excited about the hidden meanings in Dennis Potter's allegedly intellectual allegory Blackeyes. but as far as this viewer was concerned Potter's offering was a load of boring, meaningless tripe. Coronation Street, on the contrary, is one of the better reasons to switch on the telly.

Soap operas are good for capitalism They keen the viewers attentive to a world which is not there. Workers watching events of a fictitious street are less likely to bother the established powers than workers who are thinking about the world outside their front doors. Soaps edit reality. Neighbours edits it to the point where life is depicted as a series of silly adventures, believable mainly by children and the childish. In the name of "good clean fun”, the programme makes sure never to expose its viewers to the insoluble miseries of poverty. Neighbours characters are involved in endless fights between good and evil; the latter always looks like it will win, just until the last moment when good prevails.

In Coronation Street there is a more genuine attempt to refer to the problems of working class life. But these are never presented as collective problems. They are not suffered by a class, but by individuals who must struggle along in their own little self-contained story-line. The main characters for showing such struggles against poverty used to be the Ogdens—now it is the Duckworths. Those families which cannot manage are depicted as rather dopey, lazy, unsophisticated and poorly-educated figures of fun. They are broke because they are daft.

Soaps do more to convey values to the working class of the late twentieth century than the Churches . They are morality plays. Alan Bradley, the man who was making life hell for Rita down the Street, finally got what he deserved. In East Enders the immoral Dirty Den was finally shot and dumped in the River Thames; rumours from the BBC are that the whole series might soon be dumped, and it won't be a day too soon. But soaps are here to stay; TV viewers love them. Granada TV, which makes Coronation Street, is currently working on a new twice-weekly soap called Families. A few lofty folk might be watching The Money Programme to see how the interest rates are doing, but most of us are fixed to our sets in eager anticipation of the moment when Deirdre Barlow catches Ken playing on the away ground with his mistress. They've got us where they want us.


My hopes were raised when I heard the commentator say they would be shooting Roy Hattersley talking about the Broadcasting Bill. Honecker under house arrest and Hattersley shot, all in one month, would be more excitement than one could stand. We have been encouraged to regard this newly-won right of being allowed to watch politicians, only from the waist upwards, as some kind of privilege. To be sure, it is better that we can see the swines at their business than being refused permission to watch. But permission has only been granted on their terms. Imagine if a trade union were to tell the BBC that its conference may be televised. but only on the basis of a long list of restrictions determined by the union so as to deny access to any images which would show it in its true light. There would be an outcry that militants are trying to censor the public's freedom. So, who gave MPs the power to determine what may and may not be witnessed of their proceedings?

In East Germany the workers have a rather different approach to these things. They do not wait to be invited into the sacred institutions of the state; they enter without permission. Did you see those pictures of German workers forcing open the doors of the secret police buildings? Here in "free" Britain it is the secret police who raid the TV studios. (Remember the Special Branch raid on BBC Scotland for daring to make a documentary about Britain's secret spy technology?). I wonder whether it would be the case that if thousands of workers surrounded Parliament and demanded to have free and unrestricted access to its business the BBC would report that with headlines about "Peoples Power"


There are few better ways to converse than while taking a walk. (Apart from anything, you can look at the scenery while your fellow conversationalist is boring you stiff with interruptions to your desire to hear yourself speak). Muriel Gray's programme Walkie Talkie (C4. 8.30pm). has included some very worthwhile wandering talkers. Arthur Scargill's explanation of class could not be faulted. He pointed out that there are only two classes and went on to develop his point in terms which our Declaration of Principles use. When Gray raised the matter of the middle class. Scargill pointed out that it was a mythical entity and that TV presenters like her, dependent upon their salaries in order to live, are in the working class. Two weeks later Muriel was walking with the Duke of Westminister, the richest man in Britain She did not need to ask him which class he was in. She ended the walk by asking if he would give her some of his money. He stopped smiling and walking and stood idle like a Duke. Rumours that he is shortly to move into a terraced house down Coronation Street are to be dismissed; those homes are for us. not them.
Steve Coleman

They said it in 89 (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

  • The industry has been drawn by commercial motives to reduce the crew on flights, with two pilots and sometimes no engineers. It’s a headlong pursuit of commercial gain at the expense of passenger safety—Terry Middleton, International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations, on the British Midland crash.
  • I am a great attender of second-hand sales for charities in my constituency. You can get very good bargains—Peter Lloyd, Under Secretary for Social Security.
  • Twenty years after the war on poverty was abandoned, this crippler of human potential again stalks the nation . . .  over half a million of our children are homeless, living in alleyways and anguish, eating out of dumpsters and selling their bodies to stay alive in an underworld of fear and exploitation—Mary Futrell. President of the USA National Education Association.
  • There will always be the needy and distressed, but not in large numbers—Baroness Phillips. Chair, Association for the Prevention of Theft in Shops.
  • I have learned not to talk to the press— Edwina Currie.
  • All is fair in love, war and parliamentary politics—John Smith. Labour Shadow Chancellor.
  • We must learn to avoid crises, since we cannot depend on our ability to manage them once they develop—Robert McNamara. US Secretary of Defence under Kennedy.

  • Does God care whether England has a goal-scoring striker?—Bishop of Liverpool.
  • I'm an Australian. I believe in equality— Rupert Murdoch.
  • Many people cannot get money from banks and with the money they would get from selling a kidney they can start a new life—Count Rainer Rene Adellmann. a trader in kidney transplants.
  • It's a shame, really, that people feel it necessary to criticise the Thatcher government after ten years' Conservative rule— Roseanne Serelli, Young Conservative
  • How can we escape the logical conclusion of the market-place that for the elderly and the chronically sick the most economic solution is death—Dr Iona Heath North London GP
  • It's just called "The Bible" now—we dropped the word “Holy" to give it more mass market appeal—Judith Young, publishers Hodder and Stoughton.
  • I am a socialist, I always will be—David Owen.
  • Since I became a Christian. I have got a much bigger house and three cars. Isn't God wonderful? Praise the lord!—American TV evangelist.

  • Space is almost infinite. In fact it is infinite. There's a lot of uncharted water in space—US Vice-President Dan Quayle.
  • I think we have attacked the Royal Family too much. We could destroy the social fabric—Lord Stevens. Chairman, United Newspapers.
  • We, as professionals, said it was just too bad that we lost the Belgrano—Rear-Admiral Gualto Allara. commander of the Argentinian sea forces, Falklands War.
  • From my knowledge of South Africa, it is made up of many and varied peoples— Margaret Thatcher.
  • She's the most marketable leader ever—Peter Fluck, Spitting Image, on Thatcher.
  • It can't get any worse. When it rains here we put buckets in the corridors. This is a big. dirty hospital we can't afford to clean. The food is poor, the laundry is rotten. We work enormously hard only to be told "cut down, we can't afford you "—Robert Johnson, consultant surgeon, Royal Infirmary. Manchester.
  • I have done nothing wrong. I don't know why people are after me—Pamella Bordes.

  • I've never had a job in my life—Rob Walker, of the Johnny Walker whisky family.
  • The new development is going to bring a lot of employment to the local community. Think of all the cleaning ladies that are going to be needed—Estate agent. Docklands.
  • After I met working men, I became a totally and completely changed person. These men from the Gorbals impressed me. because they were prepared to fight and die for British society and what had it done for them? It had done a great deal for people like me. but what had it done for them?—Lord Whitelaw.
  • The wages of sin is increased circulation—Lord Ardwick, ex-newspaper editor, on the press.
  • We are only now beginning to use the techniques Hitler was using 50 years ago—Harvey Thomas, public relations consultant.
  • These days a lot of people out here are mentally sick and should be hospitalised, but money is the factor that keeps them here. If you have money, no matter how mad you are. you could be in a good place—Joseph, one of London's homeless.
  • I see things in black and white—Terry Dicks. Tory MP.

  • It's difficult to get a lot of pleasure out of material things—Property millionaire Stuart Goldenberg.
  • I am a glutton for punishment—Ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor.
  • What about the poor, what about the oppressed? Well, if you carry on like that, we will always have them—Bob Payton, millionnaire "Pizza King ".
  • In a bad week, we pay the bills or we buy food. We always try to meet the bills first, then we see what is left—Norman Goodwin, Social Security claimant.
  • Money does give you more choice in certain areas—Property millionaire Stuart Goldenberg.
  • She was a Cordon Bleu cook and about to learn flower arranging—Andrew Neil on Pamella Bordes.

  • We want to be good citizens in countries where we invest—Sultan of Brunei, the world’s richest man.
  • A third of the total budget goes on storing and moving the food surpluses. It's shameful when much of the world is going hungry—Michael McGowan, MEP for Leeds.
  • This is more fascist rather fascism— Peking worker, on the massacre there.
  • I may not even vote, for all the good they do. Politicians are all the same, aren't they?—Lilian Hurley, secretary of a residents' association in Lambeth.
  • The more extreme a politician's views, the fewer actual points he tends to make in an argument—Professor Guy Cumberbatch.
  • You know this committee talks rather like the Bank of England. When something fails, we say it has limited success— Nicholas Budgen, Tory MP, member of the Treasury Select Committee.
  • You must be awfully busy— The Queen, to President Bush.

  • Like other Old Etonians, his problem is that he's never had to argue with a woman before—Tam Dalyell on Paul Channon, then Minister of Transport.
  • Airports are not very good at giving out information because information dissemination is not very profit-making—John Boyle chairman Tour Operators' Council
  • For all supermarkets to reduce chill cabinet temperatures to 5°C would cost £250 million. It is unnecessary—Dr Richard Pugh, chief quality controller, Tesco Stores, on the listeria outbreak.
  • A lot of our success in war is because we have this restrained aggression in us. and it comes out if we take too much alcohol—John Dore, British Consul for Benidorm on the Costa Brava, on British lager louts.
  • We would rather have hooligans than empty beds—Pedro Terpault, President Costa del sol Hotel Owners' Association.
  • Your strength is our strength. And your victory is our victory—Enoch Powell, to Russia.

  • We were in a terrible mess at that time—Denis Healey on his spell as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  • One's not surprised by anything in politics—Judy Steel. David Steel’s wife.
  • What we really need is rain, sleet or snow until September so that the children go back to school with new shoes—Ian Ritchie, shoe manufacturers C & J Clark, on the hot summer.
  • Lumps of sewage are not very pleasant aesthetically—Malcolm Gunton, Assistant Director of Environmental Health for Havant, on the state of Hayling Island's beaches.
  • It is totally unacceptable to lie in advertisements but, like all industries, estate agents want to make their goods look as attractive as possible—Trevor Kent, President National Association of Estate Agents.
  • I love it. It’s just like combat. It's the real thing—Wall Street investment broker on his job
  • It’s just the scale that's different—Multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes on his 70th birthday party, which cost him at least £l million.
  • Nobody has previously taken the road that leads from socialism to capitalism. And we are setting out to do just that— Lech Walesa.
  • Cricket is a business, not a sport: it's about balance sheets—Simon Hughes, Middlesex fast bowler.
  • I know very little about apartheid—Mike Gatting, captain of the rebel cricket tour to South Africa.

  • You've got to be a bit like a cockcroach to run your own business—Professor Paul Burns.
  • The company's not a charity. It's there to make a profit—Redundant BP worker.
  • I suppose I spend around £100,000 a year on polo excluding the cost of the horses and they can cost anywhere from £500 to £15,000 each. I hope it doesn't get too expensive—Polo player Brod Munro-Wilson.
  • Trade unions do not cause inflation, governments do—Tory MP Terry Dicks, on the ambulance crews' pay claim.
  • My politics are those of bewilderment— John Cleese, on his switch from the SDP to the Green Party.
  • How many times has there got to be appalling accidents at sea before companies stop putting commercial considerations before safety?—Judge Jonathon Crabtree. Beverley Crown Court.
  • I hope I never get so old I get religious— Ingmar Bergman.

  • It's a dialogue of the deaf and it's not good enough—Tom Sawyer, chairman of Labour Party Home Policy Committee, on their annual conference
  • There is a huge financial investment in the cholesterol scare—Dr Michael De-Bakey, heart surgeon.
  • Nobody will ever believe me but I have never been that interested in promoting myself—Edwina Currie.
  • I can come to terms with the idea that my son might die because of his illness, but not because of a shortage of money— David McKenna, whose six-year old son had cancer treatment postponed because of a cash-caused shortage of beds at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital.
  • And remember fear and greed are the prime incentives—Peter Wheeler of Corporate Charisma, a company advising MPs on their TV image.

  • Shabby suits, sweaty faces and dated hairstyles could cost some MPs their seats at the next general election—Letter to MPs from TV image consultants.
  • Women, with certain exceptions, have little to offer the House of Commons—Tory MP John Carlisle.
  • Its not very encouraging, is it, to know that one of your neighbours is on the dole and from a foreign country?—Yee-Chong, Docklands resident, on local council tenants.
  • A decade ago Mrs Thatcher said she was going to transform my life, and by golly she has. I have dreams of getting my hands round her throat—Mary Martin, widow and lifelong Tory voter.
  • You can't just turn up and join, like the local Conservative Association, you know—Ray Dinnis, huntsman, on membership of the Hunt.

  • If Dickens came back he would be quite shocked. He would think: "This has a nasty familiar ring about it. I remember things like this"—Brian Redhead, on Crisis at Christmas.
  • Why can our children not be taught about England's heroes, instead of vague subjects like social trends?—Tory MP John Stokes.
  • I love spending money and it's nice to have restraints and constraints—Olga Polizzi, millionairess daughter of Charles Forte, head of Trusthouse Forte.
  • Policy is important yes. but these are things over which people's perceptions change with the state of the economy—Conservative backbencher.
  • I think he's very lucky to get away with all English gentleman balls—Tory minister, on Anthony Meyer.
  • This is a capitalist country after all—Paul McCartney.

Labour's hypocrisy (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the current ambulance dispute grinds on with the Tory government deploying troops in an attempt to break the strike, so the hypocritical cant of the Labour Party makes itself increasingly clear. At every opportunity Labour attacks the government for using troops and the police when, according to Harriet Harman, a Labour spokeswoman, the dispute could be resolved by the conciliatory and amicable arbitration her party favours (World at One. Radio 4, 23 November).

This contrasts with the Labour Party's own history, when in power, of using the forces of the state against the working class. The record of this should be required reading for all those workers who may be thinking of voting Labour at the next General Election.

Here is Labour's record for using troops to break strikes. 1945: Dockers. 1946: Smithfield porters. Southampton dockers. 1947: Road transport workers (including Smithfield), dockers, Tower Bridge operators. 1948: Buckingham Palace boiler-room workers, dockers (State of emergency declared under Emergency Powers Act of 1920). 1949: Dockers, Smithfield road haulage drivers, gas maintenance workers. 1966: seamen. 1975: Glasgow refuse collectors. 1977: Air traffic control assistants, firemen. 1978: Naval dockyard workers.

During the so-called Winter of Discontent of 1978-9 Merlyn Rees, the then Labour Home Secretary, informed Parliament of the plans made to protect the interests of British capitalism:
The government were ready at any time to call on the assistance of the Services and to proclaim a state of emergency should that have been necessary. The contingency plans were kept constantly under review by ministers. 160 service instructors were trained and 15,000 servicemen were recalled from leave over the New Year period and kept on short notice. Detailed contingency plans had been prepared for requisitioning of tankers and restricting the use of fuel to priority purposes. To put the plans for requisitioning tankers into effect would have required a proclamation of a state of emergency. If necessary parliament would have been recalled. In the event it has not been necessary to put any of these plans into operation. (Hansard, 15 January 1979. col. 1318)
When the Labour government did eventually use the troops during this major industrial dispute it was against . . .  the ambulancemen:
Ambulance crews were particularly badly paid, with a minimum basic rate of 38.44p per week and the rejection of their claim for a two-thirds increase on 12 January led to their participation in the general local authority workers one-day stoppage on 22 January. (Troops in Strikes, S. Peak, the Cobden Trust. 1984)
The Labour Party administration of capitalism under Callaghan replied by calling in the troops:
In London 50 army vehicles and 85 police were brought into use with the police providing the first line of cover backed up by the volunteer services, and troops only being summoned when these could not cope. (p. 144)
Workers should not just recall the anti-working class actions of past Labour governments but should also understand why. It is the working class who produce the wealth in society and it is the exploitation of their labour-power that has created the vast accumulation of wealth represented by the means of production and distribution. These are not owned by the workers but by the capitalist class and are used to make profits irrespective of workers' unfulfilled needs and wants. This state of affairs is made possible because the capitalist class control the state through Parliament where its various political parties, including the Labour Party, now sit. The Labour Party, throughout its various terms in office, has always supported the interests of Capital against Labour because it is a capitalist party. It has never been, is not and never will be a socialist party.

Our material class interests are diametrically opposed to the employers and their political agents. Capitalism offers us nothing and we must organise democratically and take the necessary political action to establish socialism. There is no alternative.
Richard Lloyd

Diary of the Capitalist: Sunday (1990)

The Diary of a Capitalist column from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard


One thing that keeps me happy as a capitalist is the sheer brainlessness of so much of the propaganda put out by people claiming to be "socialists". After Nigel Lawson resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I saw numbers of posters, each line in larger capitals than the last: SOCIALIST WORKER. TORIES IN CRISIS. LAWSON'S GONE. NOW GET THATCHER.

“Lawson's Gone". Why? Because after six years proclaiming that he was going to "make the pound strong", keep down interest rates, and end inflation, the economy had produced a pound falling against all major currencies, high and increasing interest rates, and high and increasing inflation. There was a growing feeling in the Tory party that he should go. and let a "new" man try to convince the simpler-minded voters that he was going "to make the pound strong", keep down interest rates, end inflation, etc. etc.

Secondly. Lawson was getting to the age when he felt he should turn his years of high office, his national notoriety, TV exposure. and so on, into more tangible resources: in other words, to retire, and go into the City. There dozens of companies would fall over themselves to give him many thousands a year each just to put his name ("Right Honourable Nigel Lawson. former Chancellor of the Exchequer") on their letter-heads—in return for nothing more energetic than attending directors' meetings once or twice a year. Adulation and applause keep politicians in public life for a long time, but there comes a point when their minds turn to more bankable assets.

Though comfortably off. Lawson had unfortunately lost some money—as the papers pointed out unkindly on his resignation—when the stock market took one of its periodic dives a few years ago. Incidentally, you'd think a man claiming to control the national economy could control his own economy rather better, wouldn't you? Strange that a man pretending to foresee the highly complex future of the whole country’s industrial and financial activities. couldn't foresee tomorrow's movement of prices on the Stock Exchange.

Because of these two factors. Lawson seized the opportunity of Mrs Thatcher's employment of an advisor (Alan Waters) who disagreed with him on some points of economic policy, to resign, and devote himself to becoming seriously rich.

And some Trotskyites issue posters which must mean, if they mean anything, that in some mysterious way far-left militants had helped to get rid of Lawson, and therefore had a chance of ousting Thatcher.


Amazing how long-lived is the belief that different faces running capitalism are going to make some significant change. I remember that in the early 1950s. enjoying a post-luncheon stroll in the West End. I saw a procession with banners demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, Churchill: it was going in the direction of Hyde Park for a rally. I walked along on the pavement, and one of the marchers said all they needed was somebody to shoot Churchill. I had to point out that Churchill was already far gone in senility, that the then premier for all practical purposes was R. A. Butler, and that when Churchill died (an event expected almost daily) then Butler, or Eden, or some other luminary, would take over, and what difference would it make? Not to mention that the police would run round and vigorously interrogate a large number of reformists like himself in order to get a confession out of somebody. And all for doing what in a week or two Churchill's lifetime devotion to brandy and cigars was going to do anyway.

But it was no good. Only shoot Churchill, he reiterated, and capitalism would come crashing down. Shortly afterwards Churchill died. Eden became premier, and capitalism, strange as it may seem, survived.


The fact that we capitalists own or control, directly or indirectly, virtually the whole of the media, is of crucial importance to the preservation of capitalist society. It isn't so much a matter of enforcing our own opinions (though that's part of it); it is a question of establishing what people ought to have opinions about. It isn't merely a matter of making sure that we win all the arguments: it is a question of laying down what people should be arguing over. No national newspaper or TV channel would dream of denouncing socialism, and attacking a moneyless, wageless society without exploitation, where people would jointly own the factories, land, means of transport and so on, and where society was really democratic, because if socialism was once brought on to the agenda, as it were, then some people might well start to think that it sounded a good idea.

Those who “set the agenda" can go a long way towards preventing undesirable subjects ever being heard about; that's why individual capitalists, or the state on behalf of all the capitalists, own the media (apart from the fact that only rich people could own such things anyway). 


Of course there are plenty of political arguments in the papers and on TV. These arguments are between sections of the capitalist class. Just as capitalists in one state often (or always) contend against those in other states, at worst going to war with them, so capitalists in the same state argue with each other. For example, the whole business of nationalisation versus privatisation. Some capitalists think that all industries, raw materials, etc, should be owned by individual capitalists, so that they can make a profit out of them. Other capitalists think that some materials or networks are so essential to the capitalist class generally—water, for example, or railways, or the various forms of power— that any group of capitalists gaining control of them could hold the rest of the capitalist class to ransom. Supposing the owners of all the water companies got together and said to the rest of the owning class "no more water, unless prices rise by 100 per cent or 1000 per cent”. No one can live, never mind run a profitable business, without water; so the water owners would be able to extort massive gains out of the rest of the ruling class.

Same with railways. Suppose the railway and road-transport owners ganged up on all the other capitalists, couldn't they in effect blackmail them? Ditto power—coal, gas. electricity. Is their ownership so important that the individual capitalist could best protect his own interests by making sure that all capitalists jointly—the state—should own these things? And supposing foreigners controlled “our" essential supplies? French companies already have a foothold in the ownership of British water. Suppose war broke out, and the French were on the other side? Or suppose the railways were owned by the Japanese, and there was another Anglo-Japanese war; could the Japanese owners sabotage the entire British war effort? It was considerations like these that led Bismark, for example, to insist on the state-ownership of the German railways (so troops could be rushed from one side of the country to the other in time of war). No one accused him of turning socialist; he was simply protecting (as he saw it) the interests of the whole German capitalist class.

For various reasons, some sections of the British working class have supported, at some times, state-ownership of power, or of transport, but that doesn't mean it has anything to do with socialism. 


Another argument within the capitalist class is this: do you get more profits out of in  “your" workers by treating them kindly, or by treating them badly? Does productivity go up if you remove the fear of mass unemployment, give workers good treatment when they're ill, and promise them a decent pension when they’re old? Or does productivity increase if the workers have the fear of the sack always hanging over them; if they have to work harder to pay for private medical care, and to finance their own future pensions?

We in the capitalist class argue about these things constantly; sometimes there's a majority for the kinder treatment, sometimes for the tougher. It's our argument, and that's why it's carried on in the columns of our press, and in the programmes of our radio and TV. Workers try to join in the argument. Usually (surprise, surprise) they favour the kinder treatment, though sometimes their miserable environment makes them hate even their fellow-workers, and they support the “I hire 'em. I fire 'em” school.

Workers taking part in this argument convince themselves they're really in touch with the basic issues of the day. Of course their trade unions will try to get the best conditions possible; but apart from trade-union activity, workers supporting one or other of the two main schools of capitalist thought are falling for our propaganda. Instead of arguing against capitalism, they're arguing about what kind of treatment they can hope for while remaining the oppressed class within capitalism.

You might get a similar argument among farmers. One farmer could be sure he gets a higher profit from his animals by mending the holes in the shed-roof, giving them plenty of straw, feeding them the best of cattle-cake. Another is convinced he gets higher profits by saving on repairs, buying less straw and worse food. If the animals were asked, most of them no doubt would support the kinder treatment. But either way they would be supporting their own exploitation.


The water-privatisation shares have been issued on such terms that a certain profit of over 20 per cent is assured to buyers. So many people with a few hundreds of spare money rush to buy the shares. The government then claims a triumph for "popular capitalism".

The government is Conservative. The majority of the buyers—with the spare cash, and the knowledge of share-buying necessary—would be Conservative. In past centuries they used to call it bribery.

However, people of more than one political persuasion have picked up the money offered, without in any way changing their opinions. The idea that anyone accepting the government hand-out is thereby supporting a particular version of capitalism is ludicrous. I suppose if you started a club, and promised anyone joining £100, you would have a lot of new members; especially if they could (and most would) leave immediately they'd got their £100. But to say that the grateful recipients of the £100 were showing their dedication to the club's aims would be ridiculous.


Maxwell's Daily Mirror; or the Daily Maxwell, can't leave Manchester United alone. Maxwell's reporter seizes on (not surprising) criticism of chairman Martin Edwards for his £95,000 a year “salary" at the club's annual meeting. The back-page banner headline is "This Club is Obscene" (6 December).

The main obscenity about Manchester United in Maxwell's view is that Maxwell failed in his bid to buy it. Edwards turned him down, and Maxwell is getting his revenge. But he should really control himself better. The interests of us all in the owning class are not best served by headlining how much one particular capitalist gets for doing so little.
Alwyn Edgar

Caught in the Act: The Loyalty Game (1990)

The Caught in the Act column from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Loyalty Game

As he tries to return to the backbench obscurity which he always said represented the summit ot his ambitions. Anthony Meyer leaves an important and unanswered question. How is it that politicians, who are among the most cynical, self-preserving and opportunistic of people, can get so excited about a high, and costly, moral principle like loyalty?

During that strange episode which we had to call a contest between Meyer and Thatcher for the Tory leadership the word loyalty was used a great deal, usually from Thatcher's supporters. By so much as offering himself as a rival, however hopeless. Meyer was being appallingly disloyal (he was of course called quite a few other things as well; one minister thought the urbane Old Etonian a "shit”). The gravity of this offence was deepened by its timing; the government are in quite a bit of trouble, what with the Lawson resignation, their obvious inability to control the economy and some unpopular legislation in the pipeline. This is. apparently, a time for everyone to come to the aid of the party and not to indulge in such frivolities as using their democratic right to ask whether things might be better under another leader.

This is an interesting line of reasoning, if only for the light it throws on the whole business of political loyalty. If a government is being "successful"—which usually means that it is lucky enough to be in power when capitalism is in boom or clever enough to cosmeticise its policies to dupe large numbers of workers—then there is little likelihood of its leadership being challenged and so little cause for any pressure on its MPs to be loyal. Doubts about the leadership arise when a government's policies have been discredited (as happened recently when John Major cheekily wrote off much of Nigel Lawson's operations at the Exchequer notwithstanding the fact that he—Major—was Lawson's ardent accomplice at the time in question) or when they are beginning to lose votes. This is why there were suddenly so many MPs ready to withhold their support from Thatcher and to encourage the unlikely Anthony Meyer to martyr himself. In spite of any claims they make, the dissidents have nothing better to offer than have Thatcher and her cronies. It is not a matter of the government wilfully refusing to adopt solutions to capitalism's problems which are obvious to people like Heseltine and Meyer. It is a matter of the inevitable exposure of their impotence and the equally inevitable panic about the possible electoral consequences.

Dog Licences

Was it a coincidence that among the most publicly loyal supporters of the Prime Minister were some of the most abhorrent occupants of the Conservative benches? First in the queue to vote for her was the grotesque exhibitionist Nicholas Fairbairn, one of the few Tory MPs from Scotland, who exudes conceit and arrogance with his riches and who had to leave the government some years ago when one of his lady friends disloyally threw some unwelcome light on what was delicately described as his private life. Then there was Ian Gow whose creepy, smug and well-fed appearance will remind all sensitive ex-schoolboys of their experiences of the more sadistic prefects. Gow's political life is simplified for him by his working on the principle that anything the headmistress says is brilliantly apt and correct and anyone who doubts or criticises her deserves six of the best after school. John Carlisle was so frantic that Thatcher should know he had voted for her that he signed his ballot paper, which breached the secrecy of the ballot and so. to his chagrin, disqualified his vote.

While the Labour Party were having such fun at the latest example of the Tory whips practising their well-honed aptitude for arm-twisting MPs into a reluctant loyalty, they were forgetting their own history. One of Harold Wilson's more infamous and panicky speeches warned rebellious Labour MPs about the danger of their losing their "dog licences"—which meant the official endorsement of their candidature at the next elections. At the time the government was struggling against yet another economic crisis, harried by the usual group of Labour MPs who can be relied on to demand that capitalism be run without crises, compromises and treachery.

It was to some extent loyalty to the Attlee government (as well as what can only be called a characteristic cerebral chaos) that led Aneurin Bevan to take a decidedly rightwing attitude to many of the problems confronting that government. When the dockers struck against the wage freeze imposed by another pre-war left- wing bogey.,Stafford Cripps, Bevan was in no doubts about the use of troops to break the strike. In the Cabinet's Emergencies Committee he stated what he would think, if there were to be another Tonypandy in 1948: "It would be prudent to have wide powers to deal with any trouble that might arise if relations between troops and strikers become strained". It took a couple of years for Bevan to emerge as the scourge of that governments supporters, in particular of those who loyally applied the unions' bloc vote to batter down Labour's restless left-wingers And a few more years for him to come full circle and. to the furious dismay of his admirers, to plead with a Labour Conference to vote loyally to keep British capitalism a nuclear, world-influential power. This says a lot about Bevan but it says a lot about the nature of this concept of political loyalty.

Expedient ruse

This is not a high, immutable principle which unfailingly guides the policies and actions of politicians. It is an expedient ruse, which can give an impression of unity and optimism when there is only fraction and despair. While British Tories, and British workers, have been urged to be patriotically faithful to this government the same has not been the case with workers in countries like Poland and East Germany, who have been encouraged to be actively disruptive.

When Douglas Hurd said he felt like dancing along the Berlin Wall he was not pressing East German workers into loyalty to that material example of their government's policies. He was not saying that they should have given the same blind support to the Wall that British workers were urged to give to the Falklands War. In the Tory leadership election there was a surprisingly high number of spoiled papers—surprising because if anyone (with the exception of John Carlisle) should know how to use a ballot paper it is an MP. An apparent explanation is that some of Thatcher's opponents voted for both her and Meyer so that, while effectively abstaining they could truthfully say they had voted for Thatcher. It is unnecessary to say more, to expose the sordid nature of the loyalty game, how even those who are convinced of the need to play it are ready to deny the very principles on which it is supposed to be based.

Which brings us to the key question, of how to justify an unquestioning allegiance to this social system and to the political machines whose object is to keep it in being. Capitalism regularly murders millions of people—in wars, disasters or avoidable diseases. It degrades and exploits tens of millions to provide the riches of a few. These are part of its routine and necessary operations and they are unblushingly justified by capitalism's political parties. Loyalty to this society and its leaders is at best misguided; when the leaders themselves talk about loyalty they are actually erecting a calculated protection of their own interests. The Tory Party has historically put out a public face of faithful unity to cover the inner reality of deep and savage conflicts of ambition.

In December 1989 Anthony Meyer did the unthinkable. If he had achieved the inconceivable and had become Prime Minister it would not have been long before his government also ran into trouble, needing to be buoyed up by demands not to rock the boat even though the water all around was thick with drowning people.

About Ourselves (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist Party?

An independent political party which stands opposed to all others in this country, including the Labour and Communist parties. Our only links are with similar socialist parties in some other parts of the world.

What is your aim?

The replacement of the existing capitalist system of society by a new and different system we call socialism.

What is capitalism?

A system based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth (land, industry, railways, offices and the like) by a section only of society who thus form a privileged class. The others, who in return for a wage or salary produce wealth for sale with a view to profit, make up the producing or working class. In Britain less than five per cent of the population belong to the owning or capitalist class. Most people — those who work in offices as well as those who work in the factories — are in the working class.

What is socialism?

A democratic world community without frontiers based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth by society as a whole. Socialism will abolish classes and free all humanity from exploitation and oppression. The basis of socialism is this ownership of all the means of production by the whole community; control over their use will rest in the hands of the community through democratic institutions. Wealth will be produced not for sale or profit, but solely to satisfy human needs. This means the end of buying and selling and all the other financial and commercial institutions like money, prices, wages and banks. People will cooperate to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs.

Will everything belong to the State?

No. The State does not represent the whole community; it serves the interests only of those who own the means of production. State ownership or nationalisation is one of the ways in which this class controls industry. When the State takes over industries (like the railways and coalmines in Britain) it does so in their interests. State ownership leaves unchanged the class basis of society, the profit motive and the wages system, all of which socialism will abolish. Nationalisation is just State capitalism.

What system exists in Russia?

Russian society is part of world capitalist society. It shows all the essential features of capitalism: a class who control the means of production through their control of political power; another class forced to work for wages; production of goods for sale with a view to profit and the accumulation of capital out of profits. The same goes for countries like China. Cuba and Yugoslavia. They like Russia have State capitalism.

Do you want something like the kibbutzim in Israel?

Socialism can only be a world community without frontiers. It cannot be established in one country let alone on one farm. The kibbutzim do show that human beings can live without money and can work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so that young people are tending to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

How do you advocate socialism should be established?

By the class of wage and salary earners, once a majority of them want and understand socialism, taking democratic political action to change the basis of society from the class to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Why must there be a majority in favour of the change to socialism before it can be made?

Socialism, by its nature as a system involving voluntary co-operation, could only be kept going by those who really wanted it and knew what it involved. Any attempt to establish socialism without a majority first being in favour is bound to fail.

Do you repudiate undemocratic minority action to achieve socialism?

Most definitely. No leaders, however sincere or able, can lead a non-socialist working class to socialism. Leaders who take power while a majority do not understand socialism have no choice but to develop and administer capitalism, as has been shown in Russia and by the various labour governments in Britain. When a majority do want and understand socialism they have no need of leaders, but only to organise themselves democratically.

Why do you advocate political action to achieve socialism?

It is their control of the machinery of government that now allows the capitalist class to protect their privileged position as the owners of the means of production. In Britain it is parliament that makes the laws granting them property rights and it is the police and the Courts, and if need be the army, that enforce these laws. The socialist majority must win political power in order to remove the protection the government machine now gives to class ownership and to carry through the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production.

How do you advocate the socialist majority should win political power?

By using their votes to elect socialist delegates to Parliament and the local councils. A socialist victory in a democratically-run election would demonstrate to all that a majority were in favour of the change to socialism.

Why are you opposed to all other political parties?

All of them accept the capitalist system and believe that current social problems can be solved within its framework.

Why do you think that reforms of the capitalist system are not the solution?

These problems are caused by the class ownership of the means of production which all reforms leave unchanged. The policy of trying to deal with social problems one by one by reforms of capitalism is futile, as this is to deal with effects and not the cause. We call this policy "reformism" and are opposed to it.

But surely you are not against all reforms?

We are not opposed to reforms which may bring temporary relief to some workers, but we do not regard it as the task of a socialist party to propose reforms of capitalism Were we to do this we could easily soon become just another reformist party. To avoid this danger we advocate socialism only.

Why have all the other parties failed?

Basically because capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the class of wage and salary earners It is a class system that can only work for those who own the means of production. Any party, be it Labour or Conservative, which takes power under capitalism is forced to run that system in the only way it can be and so is inevitably brought into conflict with the mass of people who work for a wage or salary. This has been proved time and again.

So it is not because the politicians are not determined enough or are incompetent or dishonest that they fail?

No. No matter how determined or able or sincere the members of a government may be they still could not make capitalism work for the good of all. The politicians fail because they have to accept the class system which causes the problems they are always promising to solve.

If you agree with these views or have any questions, please write to us or come along to one of our meetings.