Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Floating To Nowhere — The currency chaos (1973)

From the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The cynic who said that the only lesson of history is that men never learn from history was knowingly exaggerating, but he also had it wrong, at least in regard to the history of capitalism. A few people have learned from past crises what kind of system it is and the economic laws on which it operates. And if the crisis is big enough memory of it will last for years among capitalists and workers alike as something they would like to avoid happening again.

However, two things undermine their fears in course of time. As, in the main, neither capitalists nor workers fully understand how capitalism works they are always ready to accept new quack remedies for capitalism’s ills. And governments, always with an eye on solving the immediate problem and winning the next election, will time and time again flout past experience and simply hope that something will turn up to save them. (The Daily Mail, 10th July, which solidly backs the Government over the currency crisis, frankly admits that the Tories are simply “gambling on prosperity”.)

An interesting case in point is the German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Like others of his generation he was for years committed to avoiding a recurrence of the great German inflation of the nineteen-twenties and similar events after the second world war, but has recently declared that he would "rather have inflation than unemployment”. He need only look up the records to see that he may get both. In the ’twenties, when inflation got out of hand, nearly 30 per cent, of the workers were unemployed.

Creating Weakness
Marx, the economist whom modern economists do not want to know, pointed out certain basic facts about capitalism. The capitalist, having acquired surplus value in the form of commodities, through the exploitation of his workers, needs to turn these commodities into money. Through long and hard experience it was appreciated that in the interests of capitalists as a whole there is great advantage in having it in a stable form — either gold or its equivalent, a paper currency convertible into gold at a fixed rate.

This was how the pound became a world-accepted currency in the nineteenth century, and the dollar in this century. The purpose of the gold link was to prevent the depreciation of the pound or the dollar, and consequent rise of prices, through the excess issue of an inconvertible currency. That is now all in the past. First the pound and then the dollar became inconvertible currencies issued in increasing quantities and losing their purchasing power month by month.

It is not speculators who make a currency "weak”, but its continuing loss of purchasing power which gives speculators their opportunity. And it is not only speculators. Capitalists all over the world who have sold goods for pounds or dollars do not want to hold them because their purchasing power goes on falling. The Chairman of the Arab countries’ Economic and Social Development Fund put the point in the course of a protest against the American Government’s refusal to allow dollars paid to the Arab countries for oil, to be converted into other currencies: "Why should we produce more and then be stuck with dollars we cannot make use of? It would be better to leave the oil underground.” (Financial Times, 10th July 1973).

Cheap Makes Dear
If of course the dollars were convertible into gold at $35 an ounce as they used to be, nobody would fear to hold dollars. At present the dollar and pound are described as “floating”. All this means is that instead of being devalued and immediately fixed at the lower level they were devalued and allowed to fluctuate about the lower level.

The pound was devalued in 1967 by the Wilson government and again in 1971 by the Heath Government — on the latter occasion with the enthusiastic support of Tories, Labour and the trade unions on the ground that it would make exports cheaper to foreign buyers and thus encourage production for export. The other side of the coin is that devaluation makes all imports correspondingly dearer. So the Labour Party and trade unions which protest against the higher prices of imported goods are protesting against the inevitable result of an action they approved of.

The governments and capitalists are becoming aware of the fact that while the depreciation of currencies may seem to be of short-term advantage, at least to exporters, the competitive depreciation of currencies such as the dollar and pound creates a chaotic situation which may make all international trading operations more difficult. This is leading some capitalists and economists to see that in the long run capitalism will have to re-learn the need to have stable currencies and that there is no better way than to restore gold convertibility at a fixed rate, in short the end of inflation.

And what does this offer to the workers? In nineteenth-century British capitalism there was no inflation. Prices in 1914 were actually slightly lower than in 1814. In between, prices rose moderately in booms and fell in depressions. And what the workers got was exploitation and poverty all the time, relieved somewhat in booms and worsened in depressions, with unemployment similarly.

Nobody has produced — or will produce — any policy which will change the nature of capitalism. Those who really do learn the lesson of history will concentrate on getting rid of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Branch News (1963)

Party News from the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Excellent work was done during October and November in the Glasgow Woodside By-Election. The campaign commenced with canvassing the Socialist Standard. This produced good results. Some members were disappointed that sales did not reach the results of the Municipal election in Kelvingrove last April. This was probably due to the time of year and bad weather. However, 307 Socialist Standards and 57 pamphlets were sold. When the election campaign really got going 18,500 manifestos were distributed also 500 leaflets introducing the Party. Six indoor meetings were held in addition to outdoor meetings. Glasgow Branch were pleased by the large amount of press publicity, although they regretted that the candidate's remarks were not always correctly reported. Radio and television reportage was good although the time allowed was very restricted. 83 votes were polled for the Socialist Party of Great Britain and a quote on the result from the Glasgow Herald (23/11/62) stated: "With 83 votes to his credit. Mr. Valler of the Socialist Party of Great Britain was not downhearted. 'There are,' he announced proudly '83 politically mature people in Woodside'".

Glasgow Branch learned much from the campaign and their experience will help them when they next contest an election in Glasgow. The Branch are grateful to comrades, other branches and the London members (who went up to help on the spot) for their financial and physical help.

Wembley Branch has continued with its steady and persistent efforts to spread the Socialist case. Regular canvasses of the Socialist Standard are still being conducted and members are kept busy following up the fresh sales.

Three film shows were held during 1962 and more are planned for the New Year. The Branch met the Wembley South Young Socialists (Labour Party Youth Section) on two occasions, and very worthwhile discussions took place. It is hoped to pay them a return visit. On the lighter side, this year's Xmas Social was held again at South Ealing with the usual get-together of members and friends.

Lewisham Branch is continuing with their winter propaganda. So far they have held eight indoor lectures. Literature sales totalled £2 14s. 4d. and collections
£17 2s. 10d., with an average audience of 20.

The challenge to opponents to put their case at Lewisham Town Hall drew an audience of 40. The meeting was well reported in the local press (Kentish Mercury) under the heading "Major parties steer clear of Political Challenge".

Final arrangements are being made for a debate with the Liberal Party on February 15th at Lewisham Town Hall at 8 p.m. A challenge has again been extended to the local CND to debate on January 16th, also at the Lewisham Town Hall, time 7.45 p.m.

The branch has so far made two new members as a direct result of the lectures.
Phyllis Howard

Room At The Top (1959)

Film Review from the March 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton

Those who doubt that contemporary society fails to satisfy the needs of the majority of people should look at the ways in which so many cherish remote hopes of escaping from their position in it. It is natural to want to break away from wage slavery. The chances are slim, but the likelihood that one’s subject position in the present order of things will continue without respite until one’s dying day, is a dismal contemplation. How many dreams, we wonder, are sealed down with the football coupon?

The new film Room at the Top, which is based on the best-selling novel by John Braine, portrays a young man who is fed up with the compromise and blows to his self-respect imposed in holding his Town Hall clerkship. Determined to get out of the rut of the grim northern industrial town he was born into, he goes to settle on the fringe of a world of big houses, spacious gardens, expensive cars. Once there, he pursues his aim of making the right social contacts in order to gain the highest rung of the ladder of success.

Lucky Break Story
“The Top” for him is really that no-man’s land where higher paid members of the working class mingle with the smaller industrialists and the like. But fortunately for our social climber, the daughter of one of the bigger fish is a member of the local dramatic society and this gives him his chance to break in.

This is another cherished notion for those who find it unpleasant to face dreary reality. Known as the "lucky break,” here it takes the form of marrying the boss’s daughter. Stories in popular magazines rely heavily on these situations, but some of today’s best-selling novels, widely acclaimed by the critics, fall back on them, too. The trend in this field is for boys of the working class, who have achieved grammar school education, to be recognised by employers as superior to the pampered products of their own class. Acceptance and promotion to executive positions soon follow and the boy moves up in the social scale.

The storm of praise that greeted Room at the Top when it was published in 1957 revealed the critics agreeing that this was the stuff of which contemporary dreams are made.

Signs of Success
The ambition to “get on” and achieve a higher status in life helps to give stories such as these their wide popularity. It is recognised that only money can bring this status in such an acquisitive world as we live in. The desire for recognition in this sense is reflected in the outward signs necessary to prove to the world and oneself that you are a success. The competitive nature of the Capitalist way of life breeds the feelings of insecurity and isolation that make people strive for this kind of success.

The process is endless. The same forces that make a £10-a-week person believe that he can only be contented on £15, will still make him, once he gets it. dissatisfied on less than £20. Not to mention the sacrifices that might have to be made in order to get it. This does not mean that we should not aim to get as much from Capitalism as we can. It does mean that this approach to the satisfying of human needs is a limited one. It cannot solve the predicament with which human beings are faced in Capitalist society.

Better Human Beings
For the fact is that the working class cannot opt out of the ill effects of Capitalism without deciding to get rid of it. Reformers in spite of good intentions and with the best will in the world and the support of electors, have made plain the futility of trying to obtain beneficial results from a system that is basically harmful. Success for a few at the expense of failure for most is all that this profit-motivated system can offer. In the long run the solution for the individual is the solution for mankind as a whole: to organise the world in accord with the needs of humanity.

What are these needs? To live in harmony and peace in a world where the interest of the individual is aligned to that of society as a whole. Socialists realise that only with a foundation of common ownership can society create the conditions for the betterment of human beings.

Anyone can sympathise with those like the character in the film who want to get away from the squalor of their childhood days. But if they do, let them remember that the system which causes their and other people’s problems will still be there. The economic structure that leads to slumps and wars and sets man against man in the struggle, not only to get to the top, but to avoid being shoved to the bottom, is unaltered. The competition for more things, higher status, greater power, will remain with its ill effects.

A positive alternative
Dreams of success today have their counterparts in the nightmares of failure. The evidence of mental ill- health indicates the high number of people unable to cope with modern modern life. The inability or reluctance to face the facts of life in a class-divided, money-collecting system indicates the failure of the social organisation. Let us see it for what it is and consider the positive alternative that Socialism offers.

It is obvious that room at the top is strictly limited. For the majority of people the lower portion of the social pyramid is where they must remain until society is changed. The important thing for workers is to recognise the need for such a change. To work for that end is the most worthwhile task of our time.
S. D.

Obituary: Clifford Groves (1959)

Obituary from the February 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a sad thought that, after several years of bad health, Clifford Groves is now dead at 52 years of age. Following the death of his wife, Ivy, also a member, he was taken into hospital with little hope of recovery. Comrade Groves’ family were Salvationists and during his boyhood he was taught the trumpet. As his mind matured he broke away from religion and, taking his trumpet with him, he used it to augment his wages by playing in a jazz band in good New Orleans style. Then he parted company with the trumpet for the mind-awakening blasts of Socialist propaganda. His experiences working in company offices and on the “road” as a firm’s representative (“high-class hawker,” to use his own description) made him more and more critical of the morality of the buying and selling of commodities until, in this frame of mind, he chanced to listen to Party speakers. Discussions with Party members ensued which not only did much for him but for the Party members also, for Groves possessed a very critical and ordered mind together with a somewhat caustic wit. Consequently Chiswick Branch members were soon polishing up and improving upon their own knowledge. He joined Chiswick in 1933 and shortly afterwards met Adolph Kohn, an outstandingly able propagandist and, in his own works, he “became Kohn’s pupil” and studied hard and long. He was soon speaking for the Party on the outdoor and indoor platforms and developed an excellent manner and clarity of expression that was a joy to hear. Some will recall his pre-war lectures on the “Popular Front” in France and, later, on the “Beveridge” Report and Family Allowances (the Party pamphlets on both these subjects were written by him).

As he developed, he became in demand as a Party representative in debate and was, at all times, calm and unruffled, even under the most trying conditions, giving of his best whether to a small audience in Cambridge or a “full house” at Kensington Town Hall. Later he became General Secretary and, in 1945, was nominated as our candidate at Paddington North in the General Election. Here, with many other Party members, he gave of his best in what, to many, was the best election campaign the Party has undertaken. (He also represented the Party in the by-election in 1946.) In 1949, signs of ill-health began to appear and, although he resigned as General Secretary, he continued on the Executive Committee for a few more years.

Few knew Groves well, but those of us who did, knew him to be a modest man and, in some ways, a shy one, who freely acknowledged the help that he had received from other Party members. To him the struggle for the establishment of Socialism was the only work worth while and represented his sole interest.

In concluding this salute to a very able propagandist for Socialism, it is appropriate to mention that, in large measure, his work was only made possible by the great help he received from Ivy, his wife, who, throughout the years took over practically all their domestic worries and responsibilities, leaving him free to carry out his Party work.
Phyllis Howard and Arthur George

A Drama of Hungary (1959)

Theatre Review from the February 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shadow of Heroes by Robert Ardrey (Piccadilly Theatre)

It is not often that we see before us on the stage a re-enactment of events only recently cast into history, whose beam has lowered sufficiently to throw a Shadow of Heroes on to our vision; that of the people of Hungary, whose struggles formed the stuff of Robert Ardrey’s play at the Piccadilly Theatre in November.

Ardrey has given us an epic, or a document if you will; a play that points no finger, no moral, but simply shows us people playing the only parts they know, in a world not of their own making.

Lately familiar-sounding names: Kádár, Gerő and Rákosi, echo about the actors who present them to us— impersonally. Rajk, the idealist, and Kádár, the dedicated plodder; who fought in the Hungarian Communist underground; Gerő and Rákosi, the suave politicians, who, after due preparation in Moscow, were returned to Hungary in the wake of the Red Army to rule for the Kremlin. 

That which followed is what we have come to know as the Hungarian tragedy and the events that lead up to it; new events in an old pattern. We are soon aware that there is no common cause between those Hungarians from Moscow and those from the cellars of Budapest.

Rajk is hanged as a sacrifice to the needs of rotten political expediency, on a trumped-up charge of Titoist conspiracy, and resurrected as a public hero at the behest of another. As an attempt to line up with the new coformity, the Khrushchev ascendency after the death of Stalin, which went astray and, instead, exploded the keg of suppressed working-class hatred for the oppression of their “ liberators ” in October, 1956.

Through all this Kádár appears as little more than a pawn, a servant of the Communist Party, to be pulled up and pitched down as and when the interests of the ruling circle require it.

Finally, the intrigues of the Communist overlords for the perks and privileges of despotism, skulking from the wrath of Moscow, eventually invoke that wrath upon themselves and the unfortunate working class.

Ardrey knows little of politics and the motive forces of history (at least this is not apparent). Neither should we credit him with personal or political accuracy without verification.

But he pronounces no judgment that his narrative does not do for itself. He gives no causes; no profound analysis. Just people. This is both the strength and weakness of the play. We are free to draw our own conclusions (except for Mr. Emlyn Williams’ slight vocal insinuations). Some may draw the wrong ones, or none at all: but at least we are not told what they should be, which is refreshing and salutary.

There is an air of openness about the play: a “chorus,” or story teller, weaves in and out the action, the actors set their own scenery of broken outlines, around which the drama unfolds.

We are not involved: we sit and watch, listen and, maybe, think.
Ian Jones

To Boris Pasternak, And Others (1959)

From the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
Think of those November days that shook the world in 1917,
When power was wrested from feudal czars and blood was spilled
"For freedom’s aim ” the news proclaimed 44 the workers' state.”
Where men were free to live with dignity and without fear.
Time has passed, how goes it now? Boris Pasternak,
You would speak out, but your masters did not wish to hear,
Or wish your fellow men to hear, your criticism of the state of things: In Russia your book was banned. 
No shortage in the Western Camp of crocodile tears.
(They only use the Nobel Prize to aim against their enemies).
We are not fooled, our masters, too. dearly love their status-quo,
Would ban and bomb, their wealth and power to maintain.
For all men must stir, man’s noblest cause to gain—
And everywhere this lesson must be taught for it to grow.
We know that the freedom and the dignity are still to come,
The state of things we share is still to go.
S. D.

The Hostage (1959)

Theatre Review from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Hostage by Brendan Behan (The Theatre Royal, Stratford)

The Theatre Royal. Stratford are at present serving up an intriguing pot pourri of entertainment in the form of a new play by Brendan Behan. The theme of The Hostage is the Irish Republican Army, and its action takes place in a dingy boarding house in Dublin. The "Hostage” himself is a young cockney soldier, kidnapped and held captive, with the probability of being shot if an I.R.A. prisoner under sentence of death is not reprieved. The Theatre Royal company put it across with vigour and exuberance. They have that rare quality of acting with the audience rather to it.

A tragedy? Well, hardly. The play is a bawdy, noisy piece of cynicism, often chaotic, even more often extremely funny. Characters are crowded onto the stage without ever overcrowding it. The boarding house and its colourful and at times macabre inhabitants are presided over by a veteran from the playing fields of old England, who at some stage in his career caught a violent aversion to all things English. His caretaker is a survival from the more vigorous bomb-throwing campaigns of yesteryear. Morosely humped over a table of Guinness bottles he bemoans that the I.R.A. has lost its excitement now it has become serious and dedicated. Many of the scenes between him and his wife bring an atmosphere of the music hall into the production. There are several gay. ribald songs, sung with great enthusiasm by various members of the cast. The play ends in a babble of noise and frenzied confusion, during which the hostage is accidently killed by one of the boarders.

Mr. Behan really hits out at the I.R.A. and for good measure takes a sideways swipe at practically everything in his path. He rarely misses. Perhaps that is the trouble with the play. It is easy enough to make fun of peoples’ misguided activities, and if that is his motive he does it entertainingly. But his gibing never probes below the surface. Mr. Behan takes his people at face value and holds them before us for our ridicule. Never does he enquire into the emotional feelings that inspire people to join such organisations. Never does he enquire into the reasons for such feelings. He should know them. As a member he once shared their hardships, and presumably their beliefs. The play is no doubt an expression of his disillusionment with the I.R.A.

Brendan Behan may believe that underneath our various national labels we are all just human beings. No one in the boarding house really wants the cockney to be murdered in reprisal for the I.R.A. prisoner. The hostage even finds the opportunity for a fleeting love affair with the young Irish maid of all work. Nevertheless, we are left with the impression that Nationalism is all great fun as long as it does not get out of hand and lead to armed violence and murder. But this is the usual result of intense Nationalism, and the I.R.A., as well as Cyprus. Malaya and other places, is a grim reminder.

Brendan Behan may have realised the dangerous futility of Nationalistic organisations, but what of the people he writes about? They do not appear to share his disillusionment, and here lies the real tragedy. Nationalism is one of the greatest barriers to the establishment of a society based upon common humanity. It is a pity this side of the subject was excluded from the play. The characters are really caricatures, both tragic and comic, but only the latter side is shown.

On the whole it is rather naive and one wonders what Mr. Behan for all his fiery Nationalistic activities has really learned himself.
John Higgins