Saturday, January 28, 2017

The fool's tale (1983)

Book Review from the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Democratic Alternative by Peter Hain (Penguin Books)

Like a good comrade I agreed to review one of several books offered to me by the Socialist Standard. Like a loser I picked this one and had to plough through 180 pages of muddle-headed nonsense. Peter Hain’s intention in writing this book is to outline how he thinks the Labour Party can win back the support it has lost and get back into power. This is to be achieved by what he calls “socialist policies", which inevitably turn out to be just another collection of reforms of capitalism.

For example, he wants to see the pound devalued, exchange controls re-imposed, price controls, a statutory minimum wage, the drug companies nationalised, a windfall tax on bank profits and, for good measure, Bobbies back on the beat. Of course, even if all of these reforms were enacted we would still be living in capitalism: the workers would remain an exploited class.

Hain still believes, despite all the evidence, that capitalism can be managed and controlled by a future Labour government. All that would be needed is the will to do it. He wants the next Labour government to work with the unions in developing yet another “National Plan" which would regulate production, trade and investment. But no government can plan these things with any hope of success because it cannot know what future market conditions will be like or what action other governments may take. In other words it cannot act independently of what is happening in the rest of the world.

Hain’s answer to the current slump is the old one of spending-your-way-out-of-it, the spending to be financed by increased government borrowing and heavily taxing the rich. This, he claims, will rejuvenate the economy and bring unemployment down; but it is not as easy as he thinks. Increased government borrowing causes interest rates to rise to levels where many employers cannot afford to borrow just to survive let alone expand. Indeed, in the last few years this “lack of liquidity" has caused many companies to go down the drain and with them a their workers' jobs. And the more taxation is a raised then the less profits the capitalists will have for re-investment or dividends. If profits fall to the point where investors are unwilling to invest then this, too, will act against reducing unemployment. Incidentally, another of Hain’s ideas for raising capital to finance extra government spending is to lay hands on trade union pension funds!

Other sure-fire vote losers proposed by Hain include giving the rank and file of the armed forces a say in the selection of military leaders, turning the diplomatic service into an instrument of “international socialism", and Britain to sell armaments only to those who ". . . are advancing the cause of human justice". Needless to say he is thinking of the likes of Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose forces are responsible for the murder of thousands of that country's citizens.

Over and over again Hain reveals his ignorance of even the simplest aspects of capitalism’s operations. He thinks that wages are paid out of profits when, of course, profits are what is left to the enterprise after all costs, including wages, have been met. He also thinks that trade unions protect their members against exploitation. If that were the case then those workers would be producing no surplus value at all. What trade unions do, to one degree or another, is to minimise the level of exploitation. As any genuine socialist knows, exploitation of wage-labour by capital is a feature of capitalism and will only be ended by socialism.

Although this book is studded with references to socialist-this and socialist-that, nowhere does the author reveal any knowledge of what a socialist society entails — a worldwide system of common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. A system that will exclude exchange relations and all the things that go with them such as money, prices, wages, profits, banks and pensions. On page 116 Hain writes: "What do we mean by . . . socialist?”, but he never tells us. Maybe this is what he meant when he warned us in the Preface that he wouldn't be "dotting the i's and crossing the t’s”.
Vic Vanni

Letters To A Man. (1917)

From the July 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Worker, - as your masters’ political agents are so fond of calling you at election times I may presume, by reason of your reading this paper, that you have at least a passing interest in “the things that matter.’’ viz., the eternal fight for existence. Being anything but a Socialist you are biased against Socialism. It doesn’t require a Sherlock Holmes to discover this fact, for if it were not so you would have joined the Socialist ranks long ago, because, as you will see, the Socialist Party is the only party, political or otherwise, which is fighting for the freedom of the working class.

Preposterous! I hear you say. But I have just cause for saying this. If a man in the street gave you a sovereign you would stay and listen with an interested mind to his explanation of why he did so. Socialism is not such a substance, to he bartered in the markets of the world, but it can assure even you and your children a life more pleasant than you can ever dream of.

As so many do, you admit, no doubt, that there is “something wrong,” and imagine that things will get better when party polities are once more the order of the day and the Liberals or the Conservatives get in—but will they?

You have been told, perhaps, that Socialism as an event is inconceivable. Was not a steam engine also “inconceivable” to the minds of men a thousand years ago?

Here are a few whys and wherefores for your digestion. Ponder over them and try, if you can, to disprove these statements.

Religion: An institution founded and resting upon the superstitions of mankind; a means whereby the superstitions regarding the unfathomable uncertainty of what is “beyond space,” is harboured and exploited to the end of keeping the people in subjection.

Army and Navy: Armed forces composed of, but nevertheless used for the suppression of, the working class; a means whereby the capitalist is enabled to exploit the people, and when the exploitation is so severe that the workers strike, to force them to submission; a weapon also to keep his markets in ether countries safe from brother capitalists, and to seize every opportunity that may be presented of extending his markets by force.

Capitalism: The present social system, based on private ownership of the tools and implements of production and the natural resources of the land, whereby the worker is forced to sell his labour-power for a pittance in order to obtain the necessaries of life. The improvements in machinery' and methods tending in all normal times to produce an army of unemployed, the capitalists are enabled to exploit the labourers to such an extent that the workers are crushed and beaten until their one absorbing reality is the struggle for existence.

Now Mr. Worker, ponder over these facts out in the “free and open” (but mind you are not standing on a landlord’s preserves) and ask yourself, not whether it is right—for with that we are not concerned but whether it agrees with your idea of the fitness of things that you should toil all your days for a bare subsistence, until age makes you no longer able to compete with your fellow workers in the labour market, when you are assisted out of this world through the medium of the workhouse or a dollar old age pension.

Not even then is exploitation complete, for a Board of Guardians has just found out that the soil in their cemetery, where the graves have been levelled off, is very fertile, and that potatoes should be grown there—"in the interest of the nation.”

Mr. Worker, it is to your interest, if you understand the position, to increase the membership of the only Socialist party in this country—the Socialist Party of Great Britain-- by yourself becoming a member of it.
A. J. Stuart

Wage-Slaves and Warriors. (1917)

From the July 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

Apparently the one objective of the ruling class engaged in the European conflict at present is to “win the war,” no matter what the cost to the people they keep in subjection, and who wage the war for them. The one social distinction is to be obtained in the bloody ampitheatre of Mars. The saddest and most ironic thing about the world conflict is that the workers have waged the war against the wrong people.

In all history it is the greatest instance of misdirected energy: it should have been their own ruling and exploiting class that they should have struggled against, and in the countries called the workers’ own, and which will be their own when they take possession.

“Crush German Militarism!” is our masters’ cry here ; but they would dearly love to have an English militarism as well organised, efficient, and as much a menace to their rivals as that which they denounce. Meanwhile there is no need to take a personally-conducted trip to Flanders in order to crush “Prussianism”: we have plenty of the English variety here! The Germans alone can destroy their own particular brand of that pestilential growth. Let us hope that they will do so before long, uprooting, capitalism also in the process, once for all!

As the war proceeds, veil after veil of lying nonsense is torn aside, and the ghastly truth, —apparent from the start to the Socialist— appears to the disillusioned and war-harrowed masses, the truth that not one nation's rulers care a damn about “honour,” “truth,” and “liberty”; that in this war no great principle is at stake ; but that, instead, the most hellish war of all ages is being waged for capitalistic rivalry and gain, for world markets and commercial supremacy.

Whilst every secret of science has been probed to see if it can be pressed into the service of war, and the wage earners are annihilating each other in patriotic frenzy, they themselves have seen every so-called right and liberty they had suppressed by capitalist despots. In England there are at the present time (according to statements made at the Leeds Conference) 74 Englishmen incarcerated without a charge being preferred against them, and without any means being afforded them of making a defence. And many others who decline to take part in the war on principle, are in the prisons of “their own” country.

Nevertheless, the “fighting for freedom with the strength of free men” goes on, and the duped workers become more and more enslaved by the class whose interest they are lighting for. The civic rights of the vaunted “democracy” have been made to function as a door-mat; the incubus of debt rears itself daily to more colossal heights; the British casualty lists alone are some 30,000 weekly. The astounding apathy and complaisance with which the people accept these things is one of the features of this, the “Great War for Freedom,” the “War to End War.”

Every country involved is piling up its human wreckage of maimed and dead, creating sorrow and suffering to the one sordid end of capitalist advantage. Noble arid devout ministers of religion are “doing their bit” by preaching the incumbent duty of destroying the “Huns": vicarious sacrifice is a parsonic privilege. Others among them have become exemplars, and have gone out with rifle and bayonet to fight men equally as deluded as themselves, perhaps, in the vain hope that this is the “last war,’' and through it will come about the Brotherhood of Man.

Nature has made the world very beautiful, but, alas! Man has turned it into a veritable inferno. Whilst Spring has been decking the countryside in loveliness comes the news that 4r millions of the manhood of Europe have been killed and wounded ! Yet the war goes on!

Will the workers never learn the lesson of reason and wisdom except through untold suffering and unspeakable pain the lesson that they, as a class throughout the world, have but one enemy, the INTERNATIONAL CAPITALIST CLASS?

Under the present system, in time of peace or war, the workers are compelled to produce wealth prolifically ; they receive about one third of what they produce, the rest is legally stolen from them, and used to their injury. And so we get the most intensely ironical fact of millions of dispossessed wage-slaves, fighting each other in groups, in their masters’ interests alone, they themselves having previously produced all the wealth which the capitalists quarrel over. All their energies of mind and body have made the prodigious accumulation of wealth which the capitalists keep only to use against the workers, whose very lives are but pawns in the hands of the class that has exploited and continues to exploit them.

Apparently no sacrifice is too great for the working class to make when capitalist interests are at stake. When are the workers going to fight for their own interests ?

The most deplorable fact of our present social life is the lack of class-consciousness among the workers. They do not realise that they are wage-slaves. They do not grasp their own all-importance. They do not understand their own all-powerfulness. Chloroformed by superstition and custom; content to let the present regime continue, they drift into fatalistic folly, and political and intellectual thralldom. It is this attitude that has made the breeding bed for the war.

What a price is paid by the working class of the world for political ignorance! What a penalty is suffered for the proletarian misconception called “Patriotism”!

What, then, is the remedy? Reforms, palliatives of any kind, are useless. They are but anodynes to lull the ever-recurring pain that is produced by this system of production for profit. The cause of the evil must be eradicated. That cause is the capitalist system.

Workers, study SOCIALISM! Organise class-consciously for the conquest of the political machinery, and for your complete emancipation from your present slavery. Yours is an irresistible power: wield it, and win
The World for the Workers.

The Magazine War (1960)

From the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three million pounds is spent every day in this country by young unmarried people up to the age of 24. There are plenty of industries—cosmetics, clothing, and so on—which are eager to help them spend this money: the magazine publishers also are after their share. 

Young girls, for example, can choose from an increasingly wide range of picture papers with names—Roxy, Valentine and so on—which indicate that they are very different from the magazines which used to be read by young girls, full as they were of tuck-shops and winning goals scored at hockey. The raw material of these magazines is the weakest of love stories, sometimes— incredibly—involving a famous singer. Some of the strips are said to be inspired by the title of a song hit, although it is usually difficult to discern the connection. Pop singers are prominently featured, giving advice, reviewing records. All of which probably helps to sell the latest products of the recording companies. The characters in the strips have invulnerable morals. Every girl, like a piece in a jig-saw puzzle, must find her boy. Of course, there are obstacles, but love—innocent, chaste and eternal—solves everything in the last picture.

Who publishes this twaddle? On the one hand, Fleetway Publications Ltd. puts out Roxy, Valentine and Marilyn. On the other, Odhams Press Ltd. is responsible for Mirabelle, Date and Marty (named after a rock and roll singer). At the moment, Odhams are setting the pace; Mirabelle and Marty are glossy, with some of the stories told in photographs: Fleetway are trying to catch up with the saucy (and pricey) Honey which, like Date, was introduced last month. Of course, the magazines kick off with a free gift—Marty gave transfer portraits of current heart-throbs, which could be ironed on to a blouse or headscarf.

The picture romance magazines are a sideshow in the war between the two great publishing houses. Fleetway is the result of the Daily Mirror, in December. 1958, paying about £16 million for Amalgamated Press Ltd. (Womans Weekly, The Autocar, Marilyn), which had been owned by the Berry family. Odhams, which was already publishing Woman, John Bull, Picturegoer, etc., paid nearly £2 million in April, 1959, to absorb Hulton Press (Lilliput, Housewife) and a month later bought—for £12.7 million—their bitterest rival, George Newnes Ltd. Newnes had published Womans Own, Tit Bits and the Practical Householder, etc.; they also owned C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd., the publishers of Mirabelle. Odhams is now the largest of the magazine groups with an enormous printing works at Watford.

These two publishing giants are fighting for the fivepennies of the little girl who daydreams at her typewriter or the factory machine. Yet it is difficult to find anybody who will admit to both reading and enjoying the picture love books Here are two opinions:
17 year old: Well, they’re all the same. I don't like them, although 1 do read them. Some of my friends buy them every week and my little sister gets lots of them. I suppose they must like them or perhaps it's the pictures and transfers and things they give away.
18 year old: I just pick them up and read them and then I think, well, I don’t know—why did 1 read that? 1 mean, it never happens, does it? You get on a 'bus and look at a chap and he looks at you and oooh! Well, it never happens, does it? It's not what you find in them, it's girls about sixteen wishing they could find what's in them.
Nevertheless, Marilyn and Mirabelle, for example, each sell nearly 400,000 copies every week. Put this fact alongside the lament of a London librarian, a few years ago, that “Children of fourteen and fifteen seem to want only books written for five-year-olds. And the older teenagers hardly ever enter the public library at all.” It seems a rather depressing picture.

It is pointless to blame the youngsters alone. If a girl has a job like a copy typist or a sweet packer, she often needs about the same mental power to read one of the strip romances as she does to earn her living. And the frustration and boredom of it all means that she is receptive to the magazines which promise, as one does, “Hundreds of wonderful love scenes to make your eyes dreamy!"

There’s plenty of people to tell us that teenagers are a social problem, youngsters in difficulty over growing up. But capitalism has few tears to shed for them. For in truth they are a market, to be captured and exploited. No shareholder ever wept over that.

What is Poverty? (2000)

From the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
The state has an interest in defining poverty in such a way that only a minority are classified as poor.
It was hardly surprising, after the depredations of war and the austerity of rationing, that the early post-war years should have been a period of rising expectations. This increasing optimism was fuelled by rapid growth. The huge task of social reconstruction soaked up labour like water in a sponge. Low unemployment pushed up wages and that, together with the introduction of the "welfare state", meant that the scourge of poverty seemed to be inexorably receding. Technological advances made affordable household items that were once the province of privilege. The mass market had at last truly arrived: a veritable cornucopia disgorging its superfluity of refrigerators, TV sets and automobiles. And it was against this backdrop of rising consumption that the first green shoots of a new kind of social protest would soon emerge—from budding environmentalists to the hippies of the "flower-power" generation-fulminating against the crass materialism and extravagant excesses of the "throwaway society".
It was in these years that a spate of books appeared which seemed to capture the mood of the time. One such was one written by the economist, J.K. Galbraith, called The Affluent Society (1958). Galbraith's thesis was that we live in an age of unprecedented affluence yet our habits of thought are still rooted in the past. This was a past traumatised by the experience of "grim scarcity". We need, he argued, to radically adjust our economic thinking if we are to fully capitalise on the new prospects opening up and avoid jeopardising what had hitherto been achieved.
It was just as well that Galbraith saw fit to prudently qualify his observations, restricting their scope to what he called a "comparatively small corner of the world populated by Europeans". Yet, it must be remembered that, at the time, even among the developing countries, there was a widespread expectation that the benefits of modernisation would soon "trickle down" to everyone, heralding the end of global poverty. They had only to keep to the same trajectory of economic development that had so unerringly guided their ex-colonial masters towards the sweet pastures of capitalist paradise. Little did they know what awaited them around the corner. The 1970s' oil crisis, mounting Third World debts and the crushing, hope-extinguishing cutbacks imposed by IMF structural adjustment programmes soon put paid to such wishful thinking.
Relative poverty
But, to be fair to Galbraith, he did not suppose that the disappearance of "grim scarcity" in the so-called First World signalled the eradication of poverty altogether. There remained a more intangible, indeed intractable, kind of poverty—the "elegant torture of the spirit which comes from contemplating another man's more spacious possessions". "People," declared Galbraith, "are poverty-stricken when their income, even if it is adequate for survival, falls markedly below that of the community. Then they cannot have what the larger community regards as the minimum necessary for decency; and they cannot wholly escape, therefore, the judgement of the larger community that they are indecent."

This is "relative poverty". It is often contrasted to what is called "absolute poverty"—the kind of poverty where one has barely enough to survive on—but, in a sense, that can be quite misleading. Indeed, it can lend itself to the complacent conclusion we having nothing really to grumble about; at least compared to others less fortunate. Like a child, admonished for not eating all their peas, we are told to remember "the starving millions in the Third World". So we should. Not the inference that we should be eternally grateful for living in a society that manages to put food on our plate—providing we can afford it—is, frankly, one that sticks in the gullet. For this is a society the vast majority have good reason to get rid of and, perhaps, none more so than those it lets starve in the very shadow of the food mountains it has wilfully created.
Rather than see "relative poverty" as something to be contrasted to, and separate from, "absolute poverty", it can be better understood as encompassing the latter. As the anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins, perceptively observed:
"The world's most primitive people have few possessions but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all, it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such, it is the invention of civilization" (Stone Age Economics, 1974, p.37).
In short, poverty presupposes affluence just as affluence presupposes poverty. Each only acquires meaning in and through its relation to the other. And, paradoxically, what underpins their mutual dependence is what enables us to analytically separate one from the other: our experience of material inequality. In other words, we would not be aware that we were poor unless we had reason to believe others were better off then ourselves.
It is conventionally assumed that it is the duty of government to look after the "less fortunate". But if poverty is essentially relative, how does one differentiate between those who supposedly warrant this support and those who do not? In other words, on what grounds are we to classify one person as "poor" and another, "affluent"? After all, a millionaire might conceivably be considered "poor" by the standards of a billionaire.
One approach might be to calculate the average income—or arithmetic mean—for society as a whole such that all who fell below it are deemed "poor" and all above it, "affluent". By this token, given the highly skewed distribution of wealth in society today, a clear majority of the population would fall into the former category, and a small minority, the latter. However, while this pattern of distribution remained the same, any increase in overall living standards which the state may rely upon to improve the welfare of its citizens would, by definition, have no impact on the extent of poverty among them. This is because the proportion of "poor" would itself remain unaltered. For a government committed to the alleviation of poverty, this would pre-empt any possibility of success on those terms and, so, may prove politically damaging.
It could, of course, decide to significantly alter this pattern of wealth distribution. Even so, short of everyone getting exactly the same, the optimum outcome it could thereby hope to achieve—which, in statistical terms, means eliminating any "skewness" around the "mean"—would be to reduce the ratio of poor to only half the population by this reckoning.
There are, in any case, clear limits to a policy of redistribution that a government cannot ignore in a competitive environment without hindering the process of capital accumulation. In this regard, there is undoubtedly some truth in the neo-liberal critique of the welfare state: "excessive" redistribution, involving massive increases in sate welfare, would impose an unacceptably high tax burden on capitalist enterprises which would substantially reduce their profits. That, in turn, would diminish their capacity to mobilise capital for future investment and, hence, their ability to compete in an increasingly globalised market.
Redefining the poor
Clearly, then, from the state's point of view, some other approach to the identification of poverty is needed to circumvent these difficulties. Ideally, this would allow it to conclude that the problem of poverty was, by no means, widespread. An appropriate formula could then be devised to yield just such a conclusion. By such means, a state could, if not altogether define it out of existence, at least enable this problem to "assume" manageable proportions. There are several reasons why such an approach might be officially favoured.

Firstly, the "poor" could thus be portrayed as a minority, small enough not to appear as a serious political threat and not too large as to overwhelm the state's efforts to render them some token "assistance". Secondly, by defining poverty in this arbitrary fashion, this draws attention away from a structural explanation of poverty, allowing it to be blamed, say, on personal "defects". Thirdly, by effectively splitting the working population into those officially classified as "poor" and those who are not, this facilitates the state's ideological objective of securing their support through a process of "divide and rule".
Since Elizabethan times, poverty was equated with destitution. Initially, parishes were responsible for supporting the poor but, after the 1834 Poor Law, this task was taken over by boards of "guardians", each comprising several parishes, which were overseen by a government commission. As David Donnison points out, paupers "had to pass a crude kind of means test-calculated in loaves of bread—and the relief they were given kept them alive at a standard which was intended to be worse then the lot of the lowest-paid labourers . . ." (The Politics of Poverty, 1982, p.10).
According to Donnison, one of the main purposes of the 1834 poor law was to "impose the labour disciplines required for an industrial economy". Another was to mitigate the risk of social unrest. However, the "lowest-paid labourers" were themselves not given any assistance, and this effectively remained the case right until 1971 when the family income supplement was first introduced.
Then, in the early 20th century, the meaning of poverty underwent a subtle shift, in part instigated by Seebohm Rowntree's classic surveys of poverty in York. Rowntree's notion of poverty involved the formulation of a minimum income needed to ensure the reproduction of labour power at a level of physical efficiency increasingly demanded by industry. To that end, a simple diet sheet was prepared with help from the British Medical Association which would ensure adequate nutrition at minimum cost to the state. "Subsistence poverty" was held to be a standard of living that fell below this tolerable minimum; as such, it was distinguishable from "destitution poverty"—or what we usually mean by "absolute poverty"—which was simply concerned with physical survival.
From the standpoint of the state, the advantage of setting a fixed threshold is that it enabled it to look to a gradual rise in living standards to lift growing numbers of the poor above a condition of poverty without having to seriously address the vexed question of unequal distribution. In short, it could thus hope to progressively reap the political benefits of a society that was becoming increasingly "affluent". However, at around about the time that The Affluent Society was first published, an increasing number of social scientists, led by Peter Townsend, began to question the validity of this approach.
Townsend and his colleagues, argued that, far from disappearing since the war, poverty had increased. They pointed out that the "poverty line" adopted by the then National Assistance Board (set up in 1948) was actually lower than even that recommended by Rowntree himself. Further, it was unrealistic to expect the poor to confirm exactly to such a stringent spending pattern paternalistically laid down by the state; what the state regarded as a "necessary expenditure" was not something that could be absolutely fixed for all time but constantly changed along with society itself. This called for a definition of poverty that was essentially relative and thus sensitive to the distribution of social wealth.
Their approach was one that had been anticipated, not only by Marx, but also, Adam Smith. In The Wealth of Nations Smith wrote that "by necessaries I understand, not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary to support life but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without". Such a sentiment was, as we saw, echoed by Galbraith himself.
In due course, the notion of a fixed "poverty line" was abandoned and replaced by more relativistic measures of poverty. One current example is what is known as "Households Below Average Income" (HBAI) which identifies "the poor" as those living below 50 percent of average income. But, crucially, from the standpoint of the dominant ideology, this still retains the assumption that the poor constitute only a minority and, consequently, that the majority have reason to be grateful for not being included amongst their number.
But, in truth, that majority is impoverished. It is impoverished insofar as it has no other option than to sell its working abilities to those who monopolise the means of living and whose conspicuous wealth must irresistibly provide the very yardstick by which that poverty will be starkly exposed.
This may not be the poverty of material destitution. But if the measure of a human being consists in the accumulation of material possessions to which he or she may claim the, by that token, we are demeaned. And, ultimately, it is in this devaluation of our human worth—not simply in the fact of material inequality but in the meaning this society attaches to it—that we may glimpse the very essence of this poverty.
Robin Cox

Blue Streak (1960)

From the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the Government has decided to write off its new missile Blue Streak! It was so new that it was out of date before the project got under way. They never even had the chance to fire one.

Of course, it was said to be accurate and reliable. The only thing was, it was so heavy and cumbersome that the Russians could have dropped one of their missiles on every one before we could have counted down to forty minutes, let alone four.

When it first appeared in the Government Estimates they provided £6 million for it. By the time they came to scrap it the cost had risen to £120 million. And hardly anybody said a word. £120 million just like that—on nothing.

Yet only a few short days before we had seen the spectacle of a Chancellor of the Exchequer going into tortuous details to explain why he had been forced to put an extra 2d. tax on cigarettes to prevent the economy of the country going haywire.

Socialists talk about the absurdities of capitalism so much that the new ones, and they come along every day, fail to register. The mind ceases to take them in any more. But we have a suggestion to help you remember at least one. Every time you take a puff at that fag, swearing to give them up because you’re only paying for smoke, think of all the smoke that never came out of Blue Streak!

Come to that, looking at it another way, perhaps its just as well.
Stan Hampson

Mr. Macmillan's Worries (1960)

From the May 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Having floored them at the polls last October, the Tory Party, like any good wrestler, has managed to sit on Labour's head and twist its arms. The Brighouse by-election was a good victory for the Government. Can Mr. Macmillan, then, do nothing wrong? Must he go on winning elections, until everybody else gives up? It must be very irritating for the Labour Party, who can be expected to grasp at every straw that swirls past them in the waters of defeat.

What are these straws? Mr. Amory’s Budget revealed some dissension in the Tory ranks, for whilst Labour members were cheering the Chancellor, Lord Hinchingbrooke, Gerald Nabarro and others sat in glum disapproval. More, Mr. Nabarro forced a division in the Commons. This was probably considered to be a bit thick in the clubs. Hinchingbrooke could be excused, perhaps, but that chap Nabarro, with his big moustache and loud voice and his L.C.C. education—really, it is too much. Labour, of course, gloried in it, forgetting the days when their own critics of, for example, Bevin’s foreign policy, were so unpopular. These men—Zilliacus, Platts-Mills and the rest—were called not cads, but stabbers-in-the-back, fellow travellers, and so on, and were eventually expelled from the Party. Of course, any government dislikes a split amongst its parliamentary supporters, because unity makes it so much easier to push through the measures necessary to organise British capitalism. That is why Nabarro is considered such a bounder and why Labour’s Russophiles were dealt with so sharply.

The tragedy is that workers are often taken in by these squabbles. The points at issue—whether Britain should have been more friendly to Russia after the war, whether Mr. Amory’s Budget should include such high expenditure- are unimportant to workers' lives. The cause of our poverty—the class ownership of wealth—goes on, whether one year we pay twopence less for our beer and the next twopence more for our cigarettes.

Other worries
In any case, Mr. Macmillian has other things to worry about. This month, he must see through the conference of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers and later he must attend the Summit meeting. Although the recent bloodletting in South Africa seems, in human interests, to demand some frank speaking, the statement which will come at the end of the Commonwealth conference will probably be as platitudinous as ever. Doubtless, it will touch on what is called the value of the Commonwealth. In fact, the real value of this organisation lies in the commercial ties between its members. These ties are judged on strictly economic terms. Australia, for example, found in recent years that post war inflation had decreased the value of some of the duty preferences which Great Britain allowed her. Letting the so-called Commonwealth spirit go by the board, she agitated for—and got—some alterations.

Mr. Iain Macleod, the Colonial Secretary, was near the mark when he addressed the recent annual meeting of the Glasgow Unionist Association. The Guardian's report of his speech said :
Mr. Macleod said that we did not go abroad to govern: we went abroad to trade. It wasn't really true that trade followed the flag. It would be more true to say that the flag followed trade. So, if we were wise we could stay in countries we once ruled as traders, farmers, planters, shippers, business men and engineers. (22/3/60.)
Naturally, Mr. Macleod was trying to put it in the most attractive nutshell he could find, but the fact is there—empires are built upon the capitalist need for trade and expansion, which makes the deaths of the Sharpeville Africans—and of the millions of others who have been killed in defence of their master’s empires—especially bitter.

At long last, having sorted out whether it is better for the premiers to decide what their foreign secretaries shall discuss, or vice versa, the Summit meeting is at hand. It is a depressing fact that these conferences do little to ensure the future peace of the world. Perhaps the most propitious time for a Summit conference was in the war-weary year of 1945. Then, if ever, the politicians could have talked peace. Instead, as usual, they got down to carving up the world between the victors, conceiving the disputes from which a future war could be born. They divided Berlin. They divided Korea. Either of these, during the last twelve years, might have caused a third world war. There is no point in moaning over this. These conferences are arranged so that the various capitalist powers can discuss the issues of economic advantage and military power which are so important to them. Nobody can reasonably expect a peaceful conclusion. Yet workers put their faith in them, hoping that the representative of their government, like a champion boxer, will come out on top.

Which brings us back to Mr. Macmillan. Can he crush the rebellion behind him? Ride out the criticism of his neutrality on Sharpeville, captivate the Summit talks? If he can, and if that boom keeps going, working class support for his Party will probably increase. But this could have a serious effect. In 1950, a survey of the Greenwich constituency pointed to the conclusion that, if electors there had voted in accordance with their opinions (on steel nationalisation, and so on) the Tories, and not—as actually happened—Labour would have won the seat. This conclusion was repealed by a similar survey in 1951 in North-east Bristol. How ironical—and how galling for Mr. Macmillan—if he was so successful that all his supporters voted Labour!

This is no joke. In this country and all over the world, political parties are grappling for the power to organise the affairs of their capitalist class. It is working class ignorance and indifference that votes for the slick leader and the dazzling promises. Ignorance and indifference give capitalism each new lease of life, to continue its vicious contradictions.

Life and Laughter (1930)

From the March 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and so does humour. For instance: Magistrate (at Willesden, of course) :

"What is your occupation?"

Prisoner: "Unemployment!"

This was selected by the newspapers as a police court joke. So it is, but there is more humour than meets the eye. Another magistrate: "What is your occupation?"

Prisoner (or should we say defendant here): "I am a gentleman.” No! there is no laughter here, not even a smile.

Here is a Labour Government in the seats of the mighty, pledged to abolish unemployment. They are not a sad-eyed, melancholy party. Jollity oozes from their joints and mirth gushes from their mouths. How they laughed when the Liberals said they would reduce unemployment to normal (whatever that is) in a twelvemonth. How the unemployed must laugh at this date, to think what the Labour' Party has done for them. Mr. Thomas has been to Canada and several dinners, Mr. MacDonald has been to America and several luncheons, Mr. Snowden has been to Paris and several tea-fights, and Mr. Henderson has been to the Hague. And they all wear optimistic tall hats.

After all, life is very jolly, isn't it? Look at jolly old George Lansbury. He is papering the parlour with photographs from the papers, showing him at school treats, and looking at sites for Lidos, and sites for tarpaulin doss-houses, and considering other solutions of the poverty problem- There is no need for gloom, or despondency. Sir Oliver Lodge is helping. He has withdrawn his gaze from the interstellar spaces, and comes down to earth with jovial George. We believe this is the first occasion when a learned man of stifling profundity has collaborated with a real, red, one hundred per cent., out-and-out, raging, tearing revolutionary.

Such a jolly idea, too. The proposal is that those of our fellows who cannot find a master, and in consequence have no home, shall be allowed to pass the hours of darkness in the public parks. The possibility of rain is provided for by the intervention of a tarpaulin sheet between the homeless and heaven. You see how practical they are. Something now, that is the idea. None of your waiting until everybody votes for socialism. Free dosshouses in our time or in our parks, everyone can appreciate that.

But really, if it wasn't for humour, where should we be? Someone suggested the other day that if we all wore our shirt tails six inches longer, we should abolish depressions in Lancashire. Of course, as usual, people thought it was a joke. You wait till George, the practical revolutionary, sees the idea. He and Sir Oliver ought to do something between them.

While we are on the subject of humour, it may be news to you that the recent great war was one long side-splitting joke. Books like "All Quiet on the Western Front," "Undertones of War," "Goodbye to all That," and so on, filled as they were with blood, brains and mangled bodies, lice, filth, disease, and death, were calculated to give the impression that modern war was no joke. That would never do. What about a crop of heroes for the next little quarrel? So out comes the Evening News with a daily page of Cockney stories of the war. One huge joke, from start to finish. The only wounded were those whose heads protruded above the trench through laughing so much. There may have been a bit of blood about in some parts of the battlefield, and one or two nasty accidents, but bless you, the Cockneys did not mind. They just laughed and carried on.

And that suggests an idea. Perhaps it will strike Mr. Lansbury too. Could not the new lotus-eaters of Lansbury Lidos (tarpaulin section) be supplied with a copy of the Evening News each evening? Before they closed their eyes in slumber they could read of the lovely times the "boys" had in France, and sigh for the next orgy of humorous slaughter. They could mitigate the rain blowing in at the sides by reading the reports of company meetings, and gathering that industry is not doing very badly after all. And possibly, they might discover a picture on the back page of Mr. Lansbury having a swing. It is a great world.
W. T. Hopley

Socialism and Art. (1930)

From the January 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “The whole way along, Capitalism has stifled Art and tortured the artist. For Art there has been a cramped and narrowed existence; for the artist starvation during his best years, and fame when he was too old to enjoy it. There never was a system which was so noxious to Art as this of Capitalism. All the accusations that it hurls at Socialism will rebound with redoubled vigour against its own lying head. The most inconceivably unrefined Socialistic state could not do worse than degrade Art and starve the artist. What will the ordinary Socialist State of our dreams do?    
  “Firstly, with regard to your genuises. Well, the bureau idea is a rotten one. We have the rudiments of it now in the various scholarships to Schools of Painting and Schools of Music, although they have not tried it yet in respect to Literature. You may discover and encourage technical talent like this—but the “chances are that genius will go unnoticed, if nothing more. In such schemes you are bound to have examiners and selectors of a sort, and anything novel (as all works of genius are bound to appear until you get used to them) may give them the impression that it is only bad or eccentric. Genius takes some little time to be appreciated, and then a whole people, is always a safer judge than an individual who is asked to give an immediate opinion. But. frankly, is there any reason why you should thus keep the artists as a breed apart, a sort of Levites? A poet eats, sleeps, and drinks, and (if he is a sensible man) plays billiards. There seems to me to be no valid reason why he should not spend three or four hours a day in some socially necessary labour, mental or physical— always giving him a choice of occupation, of course. Our error at present is not in forcing artists to take up other work in order to earn their living, but in giving them so much of this other work, or such distasteful work, that their energies are sapped and their thought deadened."    
   “And as for the community at large, it seems as clear as daylight to me that better material conditions and a freer life will bring out again all those instincts which in many men are suppressed under Capitalism. Art will give pleasure to work and beauty to the world. And beauty breeds like every other living thing—except the upper classes. The more beautiful the world becomes, the more men’s efforts will be centred on making it beautiful. On what lines these efforts will run it were a little rash to attempt to forecast. Men will attempt to abolish ugliness wherever possible; ugliness in social conditions of all sorts, in their dwellings, in their clothes, in their habits, in every single article they use. One can scarcely agree with Ruskin that the destruction of all machinery is desirable. But still, it is highly probable that in a Communist society, men, as regards certain articles of everyday use, would rather go without machinery, and do a little more work, in order to get the beauty that only handicraft can give. Many ugly things, too, that we see around us to-day. would disappear of their own accord, because they are only in existence to satisfy an artificial need created by the Capitalists in order to find an investment for a portion of their surplus capital. . . . Every man who is working for human happiness is, whether he knows it or not, following in the footsteps of the great artists of the past and clearing the road for the great artists of the future."   J. C. Squire
The above is taken from a pamphlet published by the Social Democratic Federation in 1907. It is interesting as an artist’s viewpoint, for Squire was a very fine poet, as most modern anthologies bear witness. It is also interesting from another point of view. Squire became a leading writer for one of the most influential Capitalist papers, the Sunday Times, and eventually stood as Liberal candidate for a London division. As he points out, the artist, like every other human being, must eat and drink in order to live—and the hand of Capital is heavy!