Thursday, February 2, 2017

News From Wales (1963)

From the June 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Coinciding with the plans to close down railways in Wales comes the plan for the dispersal of the civil population in the event of a nuclear attack. The chief — and practically the only area of dense population in Wales — is the county of Glamorgan and a part of Monmouthshire, so the “plan”—if it can be so called—is presumably mainly concerned with the towns of Newport and Swansea and the City of Cardiff, together with the immediate surroundings. Swansea was named in Hansard as one of the 19 areas in England and Wales from which a part of the population might be dispersed.

The Civil Defence Authority, it is stated, would set in motion the scheme for assembling the threatened population in Swansea (it is not stated whether before, during or after the 10 minute warning), though one may suppose it will be during the 10 minutes period of grace. The tragic farce is that no one knows where or when the town’s population would be removed to safety (Western Mail, 9/4/63). “Details for dispersal plans do not exist,” states Mr. Thomas, Assistant Chief Defence Officer, “But I am sure that someone will get on the ’phone and tell us what to do"

These gentlemen are going to be extremely busy during the 10 minute interval — so busy indeed that they can only ensure that “ . . . 43 per cent, of the population would be dispersed . . .  to what are considered to be less likely areas.” We note with “gratitude” the facts that 57 per cent. of the townspeople are likely to be left behind, also that those who are taken out have no guarantee that they will be safe in their new location. The Western Mail points out that “It is widely recognized that the ‘fourth danger—’ fall-out—may even affect reception areas.”

To come back to where we started the “plan” states that the transport for dispersal would be mainly by train but that “other planner,” Dr. Beeching, has so arranged it that the main artery, the Central Wales line, will be non-existent!

The whole sorry business, then, amounts to this—that 70,000 people of Swansea are to be alerted in 10 minutes, are to be transported on a non-existent railway line to an area which is quite likely to be contaminated by the “fourth” hazard (fall-out), leaving 57 per cent, of the population behind. This problem is, indeed, full of disastrous overtones. It is probably the reason why Swansea has appointed an educated man, the town’s Director of Education, to see it through!

With this vital news in the air all other news appears flat, but for good measure, and to be fair, one must report that the various political organizations continue to be active on such vital items as demanding the issuing of police summonses, the recording of Council Meeting Minutes and Rate notices in Welsh, not to mention the singing of the Welsh National Anthem in cinemas and Bingo sessions.

Socialists in S. Wales, whilst constantly pointing out the complete chaos and the inability of the “planners” of capitalism (who cannot even “plan” their own demise with any accuracy) are all too often accused of being unrealistic and “idealistic.” A comparison of the present “plan” for evacuation with the Socialist proposition should quickly enable the critics to decide who are really the unrealistic ones.
W. Brain.

Charity begins at work (1963)

From the June 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

From time to time appeals appear in the Press or are broadcast on the radio to provide food or shelter for starving or homeless people in such parts of the world as Korea, the Congo or (latterly especially) Algeria.

Easter is traditionally the time when charitable appeals are intensified, and various bodies affiliated to the Freedom from Hunger Campaign then made a particular point of drawing attention to the contrast between the fitness, security, wealth of, for example, the readers of The Observer and the plight of the unfortunates in these countries. War on Want pointed out that so many were starving, homeless, suffering, orphaned or despairing; the Save the Children Fund asked for “shillings or pounds” to provide “food, warmth, life itself ” for starving children. The United Nations Association asked readers to covenant one per cent of their incomes for seven years to “help in education, research and training for the underdeveloped countries ” so that parent could be aided “in the fight for food ’’—heading this appeal, “ No Eggs for 2 out of 3 People in the World.” Elsewhere in the same paper the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, yet another affiliated body, asked for help for “children with hunger-swollen stomachs—without food all day,” and mentioned 634 cases of malnutrition in one centre; it said that £2 would send four children daily meals for a month. Similarly, the previous Sunday in the same paper, War on Want claimed that £15 would provide a Tent Home for eight destitute Algerians.

No doubt the well-meaning organisers of such appeals are frequently hard put to it to carry out even a fraction of their good intentions, for they compete not only with everyday demands on our purses, but also with innumerable other appeals for aid to Tibetan refugees, limbless ex-servicemen, incurable cripples, cancer research, homes for children and the aged, distressed gentlefolk, and residential clubs for sailors (to mention only those that appeared alongside the Freedom from Hunger trio).

They may therefore have been very pleased to hear of the notable effort to relieve hunger and thirst among some 2,000 refugees and unemployed from Britain and the Continent which was made on the night of Monday, April 22, at a large, old but sturdy, building some twenty miles west of Marble Arch. It seems that no actual Koreans, Congolese or Algerians were present—but one must begin somewhere, after all. None of those present is reported to have had a swollen stomach (not, at any rate, swollen by hunger) or to have been actually starving—but the drive out along the Thames Valley may well have stimulated some appetites, and who knows, some of the busier people may have had to skip lunch that day.

What is undeniably true is that a good many of the guests at that ball at Windsor Castle had been out of a job for many years, despite their willingness and availability for the duties of occupying a throne and making themselves generally useful, as advertisements for jobs phrase it, in the ceremonial service of the callous and ungrateful countries who have rejected them. Moreover, a large proportion of the rest have never been employed, and have had to rely on public generosity all their lives.

The scale of this generosity on that Monday night was most impressive. According to William Hickey in the Daily Express, the means by which the 2,000 attained freedom from hunger (and thirst) for at least one evening included: 80 lb. smoked salmon and 300 lb. fresh salmon, 500 oz. caviar, 36 turkeys, 50 ducks, 200 chickens, two barons of beef, 14 large legs of pork, 24 hams, 500 lettuces, 80 lb. tomatoes, 36 cucumbers, 360 eggs, 28 lb. beetroot, 20 lb. Belgian endive, 48 bundles of spring onions, 48 bunches of radishes, 500 lb. fresh fruit, 200 pints fresh cream, 1,600 bottles of champagne, 1,080 bottles of whisky, 720 bottles of gin, 216 bottles of vodka, 2,000 bottles of lager and 20,000 cigarettes. In case they all became hungry again by morning, a further 4,000 eggs and 6,000 rashers of bacon were provided for breakfast; otherwise, of course, there might have been no eggs for 2 out of 3 people in the ballroom. To aid them in the fight for food, 145 servants were on hand, and there were even “half a dozen volunteers from the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace” to assist in the struggle to open car doors.

Expressing the “hope that everyone will relax and enjoy themselves,” Hickey gave the total cost as between £15,000 and £20,000. This works out at not far short of £10 per head, and presumably includes Joe Loss’s fee for providing a 30-man band to play for dancing. Whether it includes the pay of the 15-man strong band supplied by the Brigade of Guards and the 40 Metropolitan policemen working a double shift within the castle precincts, or the costs of erecting 40 special traffic signs, providing “thousands of freshly cut flowers" from the royal conservatories, and illuminating the exterior of the castle with 52 arc-lamps, is more doubtful. To say that £14 or £15 was spent on each guest would probably not be a wild exaggeration.

Judging by the Press reports the following day, the benevolent hopes of William Hickey were fulfilled. At any rate there is no indication that those who danced the twist so well that midnight were unduly disturbed by the thought that what had been spent on this one “vast and glittering party” would have housed more than 10,000 destitute Algerians or provided 4,000 starving children with daily meals for well over a year, or paid the fuel bills of the 10,000 old people estimated to have died this winter as a result of inadequate heating. Why should they worry? They themselves receive, just like their ancestors or precursors, the benevolence of the greatest charitable body the world has ever known: the working class.

There were no advertisements or radio appeals, of course, for contributions to the expenses of the splendid celebration at Windsor and of the subsequent display of wealth and privilege surrounding the marriage of an actual, real live cousin of the Queen. None of the British and foreign royals and ex-royals and their favoured friends was observed standing on a street corner with a tin and a poster or a collection of little paper crowns to pin on the lapels of generous passers-by. No, this particular charity is much better organised: they save you the trouble of taking money out of your pay-packet to put it into a tin, or of writing out a cheque. In a way, you pay for it all because it comes out of the surplus value which is extracted from every moment of your working day.

No doubt a good many of those who provide this surplus value would pay for things like this even if they were asked—like the man who wrote to the Daily Express saying: “If we really want our royals—and I can’t imagine ourselves without —for goodness' sake let us foot the bill cheerfully and generously." The same poverty of imagination is presumably suffered by the thousands who waited for hours outside Westminster Abbey to catch a precious glimpse of the great occasion. But there are thousands, probably millions, more who would if pressed admit to at least an occasional hankering after a bit more of the wealth which they, and only they (together with their fellow-members of the working class all over the world) produce. After all, if you are starving or homeless it would be nice to have some food or a roof over your head, wouldn't it? Even if your food or your accommodation is not inadequate in quantity but merely inferior in quality, it would be nice have something better, wouldn't it?

Some of the more daring of us may go so far as to wish that we, too, could sometimes visit the many beautiful places in the world, see more of the sublime achievements of the great painters and sculptors, have more time to appreciate literature and poetry or study languages or history or science —or simply wish that we had more chances to use our talents, our skills and abilities, our intelligence and creative ability, to the full, instead of being condemned to the grinding monotony of boring, meaningless and often futile work, day after day. Most of us assume such wishes to be unrealistic and pointless day-dreams, inevitably doomed to frustration. To have to go to work each day and devote most of your waking hours to tasks with little or no connection with your interests is as inescapable a necessity as denying some of your wants in order that more urgent ones shall be met.

Yet there is no necessity whatever for the frustrations, the deprivations and the disappointments that are our accustomed lot to continue a moment longer than we allow. It is our own willingness, as a class of workers, to go on permitting the capitalist class—the owners of the means of production, the buyers of our energies—to take all that we produce and return to us a pittance, that enables wealth to be blatantly flaunted and wasted in a world of poverty and want and threatening mass-destruction. It is because we “can’t imagine ourselves without’’ our royals, our landowners, our shareholders, our financiers, our soldiers and sailors and airmen and police, our masters and our State apparatus, that they continue to dissipate the abundant riches we produce, in the display of luxury and the machines of death.

Two or three generations ago poverty, unemployment, war, and the myriad daily frustrations and miseries of life under capitalism ceased to be necessary at all. Since that time the capacity of man to satisfy all his wants has increased many times. When the workers of the world at last see that this is so, and organise to appropriate the wealth they have created, when they do away at last with the entire system of buying and selling and paying of wages, and prices, and all that goes with it then every man, woman and child on the planet will have enough to eat, there will be ample clothing and housing for all. No barriers, political or economic, will frustrate travel anywhere over the face of the globe for all who will, and the creative potential of every human being will be used to the full.
P. R. Collins

Socialist Opposition (1950)

From the December 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Advocates of Socialism meet with curious opposition when outlining the claims of Socialism as a solution for the world’s problems. The word curious is used advisedly, for most of the opposition appears to be simply prejudice. Opposition to Socialism may be appreciated by those who understand its implications; the capitalists and the defenders, press, pulpit and politician, because it would abolish the privileged position which Capitalism assures them. The Socialist can understand this. It is difficult, however, to understand the prejudice of the man in the street, we repeat we think it curious. It is this curiosity of ours which prompts the attempt to find out what it is. Remember the Socialist comes forward with a specific claim that the only cure for the world’s social, political, and economic maladjustments is Socialism, i.e., common ownership and democratic control of the means of life. We think it reasonable to expect from those who are adversely affected by the present social system, at least a patient hearing: an eagerness to hear the socialist solution.

Remember again that within the lifetime of most adults there have been two major devastating world wars; the more than usual lean times in between the wars; the untold suffering of countless thousands directly and indirectly affected thereby. The causes of these disasters to human well being! Is it not worth while discussing?

Socialism does not pose as a “divine” saviour of humanity—it offers a solution—far more important. What an opportunity the socialist offers. He is striving like all forms of life to adapt himself more favourably to his every-day environment.

To those then who are eager to share in this effort, we are at least deserving a sympathetic hearing. But we don’t get it, otherwise our numbers would be tens of thousands strong.

So what are the difficulties? The socialist has to deal in abstractions. We refer to a social system “divided into two classes”: “the working class who produce and distribute the world’s wealth"; “the capitalist class” owners of the product and the means of wealth production.

The socialist becomes unpopular with his audiences when he describes the motives which cause the working class to support Capitalism. The worker has been “through the mill,” moiled and bludgeoned and alternately fussed and petted by the class who rule. Nevertheless, he cannot believe “he hasn’t a dog’s chance that Capitalism has got him, hook, line and sinker! No. He’ll never admit to this. The existence of the British Legion, the political working men’s club, and a host of other organisations all engaged on pouring oil on the social wounds of the masses, notwithstanding. The titled gentry make this work their life’s mission also. So our parting words are give our speakers a fair deal. The magnitude of our task is a gigantic one. Nevertheless the socialist comes forward, cheerfully, hopefully—in short philosophically, to tell you the facts as they appear. If you imagine you “will get there,” “make good,” we must agree with you because we know that when you seriously begin to study Socialism you “will get there”—with us. The emancipation of the world’s working class will not be accomplished ^ without effort—sacrifice of time and money.

This Socialism asks—nay, demands. This way alone Socialism will grow and we wish you joy in the task and welcome when you join our ranks.
Billy Iles

The Election Farce in America (2000)

Editorial from the December 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Who won a majority in the US elections? Actually, neither Bush nor Gore. The non-voters did—by far. More people chose that option than voted for both Bush and Gore put together. Not that it made any difference who won since everyone knows that the Republican and Democrat parties—whose champions were both millionaire members of the ruling class—stand for the same thing: the maintenance of capitalism at home and abroad.
The farce in Florida did, however, raise an important point that will still be relevant in socialism: the need to have clear agreed-on standing rules for deciding how to count votes and settle any disputes before the vote takes place.
For socialism will of course be a democratic society with elections and referendums.
It is also a basic tenet of the Socialist Party that the establishment of socialism involves the capture of political power via the ballot-box. For this to happen presupposes the existence of a "bourgeois democracy". But while such an arrangement is undeniably preferable to political dictatorship we don't entertain any illusions about the nature of this "bourgeois democracy". It is a very limited kind of democracy indeed.
Under this kind of democracy, the population is permitted to choose between representatives of different political parties to supposedly "represent" them in parliament. This is more or less the extent of popular participation—once every other year in America—in the "democratic process"; thereafter control is surrendered to the politicians. But the politicians themselves are constrained to operate within parameters set by the economic system for which they stand. Based upon minority ownership of the means of living, capitalism can only ever operate in the interests of the capitalist minority, not the electorate as a whole.
There are other aspects of bourgeois democracy, such as free speech, which are similarly compromised by the nature of the system. In this case by the disproportionate power it bestows on those who own and control the media. And even where workers are able to exercise some measure of democratic control over their own organisations, such as trade unions, their capacity to influence events is limited by the essentially defensive nature of such organisations and their inability to circumvent the dictates of the profit system.
Socialism, by bringing to an end minority ownership, will remove these fundamental structural impediments to genuine democracy. Along with this, it can be assumed, it will bring about a marked change in the form of decision-making—from representative democracy (a weak form of democratic control) towards stronger manifestations of democratic control, notably the use of mandated delegates and direct democracy—aimed at encouraging popular participation and preventing the emergence of a new ruling class in the form of a decision-making elite.

Cooking the Books: Abolish Money – But Not Now (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists want to see money disappear, because of the rationing it means for most people, but only as a consequence of the establishment of the common ownership of the means of wealth production. This, in enabling production to be carried on to directly meet human needs, would render money redundant. With the end of production for the market and of buying and selling, there would be no need for money.
We do not envisage the ‘abolition of money’ with nothing else changing, i.e. its abolition while the rest of the economy remains capitalist. That would lead to chaos and hardship, as was seen when at the beginning of November the Indian government suddenly announced that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes (worth £6 and £12 respectively) still in circulation at the end of the year would be cancelled. Since these were used to carry out some 85 percent of cash transactions in India this was tantamount to abolishing 85 per cent of money. So as not to lose out, Indians had to exchange any such notes at a bank by that date.
Marx once remarked that, while no kind of bank legislation could eliminate a money crisis, ‘ignorant and mistaken bank legislation’ could intensify one (Capital, Vol. III, ch.30).  What happened in India has proved his point.  According to Ed Conway, Sky News’s economics editor writing in the Times (23 December), as less than half of Indians have bank accounts, this measure, aimed at catching tax dodgers and money launderers, hit the poorest half of Indians the most:
‘The real victims of demonetarisation are not wealthy ne’er-do-wells, who long ago shifted their money out of cash and into other currencies and assets: gold, Treasury bonds, apartments in London and New York. No, the real victims are, as so often, the poor.’
So, no, we are not envisaging the abolition of money within capitalism.
Meanwhile, in a more advanced part of the capitalist world, in Seattle on the West Coast of the USA:
‘Amazon has unveiled its first bricks and mortar grocery store, which does away with tills and queues and lets shoppers grab what they want and stroll out’ (Times, 6 December).
That’s more like what we envisage happening in socialism, except that, under capitalism, it is not as simple as that – the shoppers still have to pay in the end:
‘Shoppers will be billed using an array of cameras and sensors tracking their every move … Customers will need to download an Amazon Go app and tap in with their phone at special barriers when they enter, then they can take what they want from the shelves and walk out. When a customer leaves the shop the app adds up their purchases and charges their Amazon account.’
No doubt, in socialism, in some stores in some parts of the world, electronic devices will help stock control by automatically noting what has been taken, but there will be no need to record what each particular individual has taken, only what has been taken in total over a given period.
Conway, whose article is headed ‘Cash belongs in the past so let’s abolish it’, favours a cashless society because this would be ‘a hammer blow to the black market and the corrupt criminals and cronies who benefit from the anonymity of paper money.’ But the price would be an increase in the surveillance state in which the authorities would be able to know how all of us spent our money. Besides, some geniuses have invented an anonymous electronic money – bitcoins -- another waste and misapplication, alongside Amazon’s app, of human ingenuity and IT brought about by capitalism.