Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rubbish about Royalty (1975)

From the March 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the more risible sights of capitalism is when its politicians and journalists think they must appear to be down on unfair stakes. The crisis does it, of course. Here is the Man in the Street, and they have nothing to offer him but unemployment, cuts, shortages and rising prices; and there are the Very Rich, rolling in luxury as ever. In ordinary times the vulgar opulence is the fun of the fair and Our National Heritage, but in times like these it is an inconvenience. So out come the false noses and falsetto imitations, and across the stage they go.

On this occasion it centres on royalty. The Queen has a private income which is secret but estimated (The Guardian London Letter, 28th January) to be £300,000 a year. From the Government she gets £980,000 a year, and on 12th February the Prime Minister almost brought apoplexy on some Labour MPs by announcing that she wanted another £270,000 and proposing to give it to her. A tribe of her relatives and hangers-on exist on the Civil List of government allowances. Prince Charles has £105,000 a year, Princess Anne £35,000, and the young princes Andrew and Edward £20,000 each. The Sunday Mirror on 26th January told us about the Queen’s Hereditary Champion, the Master of the Horse, the Keeper of the Swans and:
Enough Brigadiers, Admirals and Air Marshals, equerries to mount a blitzkreig; a smothering of Mistresses of the Robes, Ladies of the Bedchamber — ho! ho! — Ushers with, and without, Sword, Sergeants at Arms, Constables, clergy with powers of bell, book and candle — apothecaries with vials of goodness knows what!
There are three “official” royal residences besides Buckingham Palace: Windsor Castle, Balmoral and
Sandringham House. (The last, according to the London Evening News on 6th February, has 274 rooms.) In addition there are the racehorses and limousines and the Royal Yacht, which was attacked scathingly in The Sun on 27th January:
She sails endlessly round the world at a cost of £7,700 a week, stopping off occasionally to pick up this or that royal couple for a dream honeymoon . . . When her royal hull was noticed to be less than gleaming, 80 gallons of exclusive royal blue paint were flown from Portsmouth to New Zealand by commercial jet at a cost to the public of £2,180 . . . Her fuel bill, alone, makes nonsense of the oil crisis. While British motorists are confined to 50 mph to conserve the odd gallon. Britannia bums her way through a ton of oil every seven miles.
Veblen with his theory of “conspicuous wasteful consumption” as the apotheosis of class societies would have loved that. It sounds like the crazy pomp of a barbarian super-chieftain; and that is its genealogy.

However, the details are no more offensive than the criticisms of them now being made for public consumption. Royalty has to be surrounded by servility. In R.H.S. Crossman’s diaries published in the Sunday Times, the former Labour minister described the ritual of induction to the Privy Council:
. . . the “fantastic ritual” of rehearsals. He recalled that for over an hour “16 grown men” were taught to stand, kneel on a cushion, raise the right hand holding the Bible and advance three paces to kiss the Queen’s hand.
Of the Queen, Mr. Crossman wrote: “In our ten minutes she talked, as I am told she always does, about her corgies. Two fat corgies, roughly the same colour as the carpet, were lying at her feet. She remarked how often people fell over the dogs . . .
It may all be a printing error, of course. Perhaps it was some corgi dogs which were being trained to sit up and beg and lick their mistress’s hand, and a couple of putty-coloured Labour MPs that were lying on the carpet. But, assuming the scarcely-believable to be true, there is something Crossman’s diaries do not tell us. If it was so pathetically degrading, why was he in it?

There are also the comic sop-gestures which if they were imitated in everyday life would not deceive a child, but are intended to persuade the working class of something or other. The Evening News big headline on 6th February was: The Queen tightens her belt. What was the dour, austere step taken? A plan for improvements at Sandringham House, which was to have cost £250,000, has been postponed as “inappropriate when many face difficulties.” The Queen will keep the money in her pocket instead. Noblesse oblige.

The name which has become well known for attacking royalty is the Labour MP William Hamilton. That is a piece of good luck for the journalists and commentators. Hamilton is an earnestly nonentity; so the press can have the luxury of criticizing the extravagance and forelock-touching and the secrecy over the Queen’s wealth, and at the same time disparaging Hamilton. He is reported in various papers as saying he does not want actually to abolish royalty.
The object of my book is not to destroy the Monarchy.
(News of the World
Sack the lot except the Queen, her husband and Charles. Pay them properly taxed salaries and take over the two Duchies.
Does it matter? Hardly at all. Hamilton gave his case away in a TV interview on 31st January. Explaining the origin of his hostility to royalty, he recalled his father’s wage as a miner between the wars — £2 a week — and went on: “And it is still the same today, there are the rich and the poor.” Yes, it is. One has to ask if he seriously thinks, then, that putting down the royals would alter it? And, if this is still the position after the voluminous Labour reforms for which he has worked, why has he not thought of working for Socialism instead?

But there is an opposite fallacy which should be mentioned too. It is the idea that a surge of resentment of the sheer plutocracy the Queen represents in an indication that the working class are up in arms against the system. Unfortunately, no. The fact is that royalty’s popularity has always had ups and downs. Indeed, it was never widely popular until the nineteen-thirties, when a number of factors turned feelings in its favour. In particular, the British monarch was practically the only European head of state whose speeches were not warlike harangues (the reason being that he had and has no powers in that direction).

The same sentiment probably remains today, despite the criticism: the alternative to monarchy could be a dictator, or a Nixon. Looked at from another point of view, this brings us to the truth. Are things any different for the working class in the countries where they have no monarchy? Manifestly they are not. The class division of which royalty is a tiny, if spectacularly absurd, part exists just the same. The great majority spend their lives struggling to make wage-labour’s ends meet, and other people with other titles lap up the fat of the land.

One other reason why many of the working class don’t mind royalty too much is that it gives them pageantry and a show. That should not be dismissed. We all need colour and variety in life: and the fact that large numbers of people get them from a royal wedding every few years and from distantly viewing other splendours is a testimony to the meanness of life under capitalism — another kind of poverty. Establishing Socialism does not mean simply getting rid of parasites; it is the opening of the doors to living.
Robert Barltrop

Guevarian Ideology (2005)

Book Review from the March 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Che Guevara Reader: Writings on Politics and Revolution. Edited by David Deutschmann. Ocean Press. £15.95  

The reader comprises speeches and articles that trace the development and implementation of Guevara’s theories from 1956 to a time shortly before his death in October 1967. The book falls into four sections covering the period prior to the Cuban Revolution, Guevara’s work in the Cuban government, international issues and selected letters.

Guevara’s ideology combined romanticism with elitism. He passionately believed that an enlightened conspiratorial minority could establish ‘socialism’ and use political power to free the ideas of the uneducated masses – a theory where mass political consciousness emerges after a revolution initiated by a small minority or vanguard. In this struggle, the vanguard is the “the catalysing agent that create[d] the subjective conditions necessary for victory” as well as the “generator of revolutionary consciousness.”

Guevara was essentially a guerrilla leader engaged in a war of national liberation. He believed that only violent revolution, waged in the countryside, could end colonial exploitation and introduce ‘socialism’ into Latin America. Urban areas were to remain essentially passive being vulnerable to betrayal and superior military force. The basis of this struggle was the peasantry, but his attitude is ambivalent, fearing that peasant ignorance, isolation and hunger for land makes them unreliable and in need of direction from “revolutionary intellectuals.”

In the second section on the ‘Cuba Years 1959-65’, we gain an insight into the difficulties of ‘Democratic Centralism’ and the organisation of the state-run capitalism that followed the Cuban insurrection. The economy is based on commodity production where imports are dependent on maximising exports at competitive market prices. As with the rest of Latin America the central problem is the “one crop economy,” with Cuba “slaves to sugarcane.” His speeches call for diversification and increased output prompting the introduction of ‘emulation,’ involving setting factory and individual output targets to maximise industrial output. His theories were greatly influenced by Lenin, who is quoted throughout his works. In the article entitled, ‘On the Budgetary Finance System’ Guevara uses a quotation from Lenin in an attempt to explain how state capitalism is a step towards an eventual ‘socialist’ society, necessitating the introduction of capitalist accounting methods, price setting, money, factory profit, bonuses and formal contracts with monetary penalties.

But increasing output means greater incentives and this conflicts with Guevara’s image of ‘socialist morality’ where work and achieving output targets is the workers moral obligation, his “social duty.” Cuba, he claims, is ‘on the road’ to ‘socialism’ while the transition to ‘communism’ a distant vision in the future. At the same time he is compelled to accept that trading with world capitalism necessarily imposed severe limitations on his action, in short acknowledging that the economic conditions dictate the country’s direction. National defence, nationalisation, industrialisation, agrarian reform and the development of foreign trade, particularly with Russia, are all urgent issues that have to be addressed if Cuba is to survive.

In the years following the Cuban Revolution his speeches impart increasing frustration as the vanguard attempts to impose ‘socialism’ on the ignorant masses that neither understood nor wanted it. In passionate speeches to students, cadres and trade unionists he repeatedly stresses the need for education to strive for the ‘socialist ideal’ and eradicate the bad habits from the “previous epoch.”

The third part of the book is a collection of Guevara’s speeches and articles on international issues. Not unexpectedly, the rhetoric is anti-Americanism and anti-colonialist and the message to the people of Latin America is to follow Cuba’s example and create “many Vietnams” to expel US imperialism and achieve economic independence. Other speeches demand fairness in trade and an end to dumping, price fixing, foreign debt and foreign bases – in fact all the things you might expect from a leader struggling to administer capitalism in an underdeveloped country surrounded by a hostile world.

A book of limited historical interest carrying a bankrupt anachronistic prescription for violent revolution to be orchestrated by a vanguard and leading inevitably to state-controlled capitalism.
Steve Trott

Bordiga and the First World War (2017)

From the March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
The concluding article on the political ideas of Amadeo Bordiga up to 1917
In an article in Avanti, the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), in August 1914 Bordiga identified as a dangerous development 'a sympathetic feeling for the Triple Entente [the alliance between Britain, France and Russia], not only justifying, but praising the attitude of the French socialists, to support that Italian socialists should hasten to fight in defence of France’. This was to become the position of Mussolini, at that point editor of Avanti.
For Bordiga, the concept of ‘fatherland’ was by definition anti-socialist and a defensive war on its behalf inconceivable. In September, in an article in Il Socialista on ‘Avanti and the war’, he addressed Mussolini's attitude openly, criticising the ambiguity of the line he had taken on the war in the party’s newspaper.
The ‘Manifesto against the War’ by the leadership and the parliamentary group of the party was published soon after, of which Mussolini claimed authorship. However, a few days later Mussolini’s famous article on 'active and operative neutrality' appeared in Avanti and which led the party to dismiss him as editor. Bordiga responded to Mussolini’s article with an editorial in Il Socialista entitled 'For an active and operative antimilitarism'. In it he wrote of the ambiguity of the concept of ‘neutrality’:
'The neutrality concept has for subject not socialists, but the State. We want the State to remain neutral with regard to the war, absolutely, until the end, whatever happens. In order to achieve this we act upon the State, against it, in the field and with the means of the class struggle. So we do not want to disarm. Our war is a permanent war.'
When Mussolini then started to attack the PSI, Bordiga, writing in Il Socialista, launched an appeal to boycott him. Finally, in December 1914 Mussolini's ‘socialist’ story came to an end. Because of his continuous attacks on the PSI he was expelled from the party. Bordiga reported this news in Il Socialista with satisfaction, and stressed that 'convictions against traitors are without appeal’.
Another series of his articles appeared in Avanguardia entitled 'Socialism of yesterday before the war of today', which give us some interesting insights into his thinking:
'The war . . .  is certainly a destruction of capital, but the bourgeoisie as a class cares more for the preservation of the juridical relations which allow it to live off the work of the large majority than for the material possession of capital. Those relations, basic in every nation, consist of the right to monopolise the means of labour, which in turn are alsothe product of the work of the proletarian class. Thus for the proletariat the war is disastrous from all points of view while for the bourgeoisie it is a damage to material wealth, but it preserves and strengthens the potential relations for rebuilding such wealth, because it causes the class struggle to fade and turns it into national glorification.’
Modern states, he insisted, with their ‘democratic regimes’, maintain in economic slavery the working class who can be mobilized in 24 hours for the war front. For this reason, he noted, a revolutionary uprising will always have more chance of success in time of peace than on the eve of a war.
Bordiga, who still had some faith in the Second International, identified the real failure of socialism in the support of the socialist parties of France and Germany for the war. He argued that the leaders of those parties often due to their ‘superior culture’ (i.e. bourgeois culture) had too many links with bourgeois ideologies and felt more represented by ‘the nation’ than by socialism. So socialism must 'replace on a more solid basis antimilitarist action and review in a more revolutionary sense its parliamentary action’.
On the national question, Bordiga developed the notion that wars now were carried out by states and not by nations. He therefore distinguished wars of national unification from imperialist wars and pointed to the justification, still used today, about spreading democracy at the point of a bayonet.According to Bordiga, this was obviously a bourgeois excuse. He published an article on the principle of nationality in Avanti in January 1915. His position on this is interesting if compared with the discussion on it between Luxemburg and Lenin, of which Bordiga was unaware at the time. He developed his own independent ideas on the national question, in which he distinguished wars of national unification (which he was prepared to support) from imperialist wars. According to him, cultural identity did not match the concept that the bourgeois state had of the 'nation'. The state cared about economic interests not about cultural identity.
He went on to state, in clear contrast to the left reformists:
'Pacifism? No. We are advocates of violence. We are admirers of the conscious violence of those who rise up against the oppression of the strongest, admirers of the anonymous violence of the masses, which revolts for freedom… But legal violence, official, that the authorities are free to use in a disciplined way, … that violence… is disgusting and repugnant.'
Several time he cited Karl Liebknecht for his anti-militarism and his speech in the Reichstag on 2 December 1914, opposing the war and the approval given by the German Social Democrats to war credits. Bordiga explicitly linked his own antimilitarism to that of Karl Liebknecht, the Social Democratic members of the Russian Duma, the Serbian Socialist Party, the British Independent Labour Party (probably referring to an article by J. Bruce Glasier in Avanti in which he mentioned Keir Hardie’s position inthe Labour Party) and the anarchist Sébastien Faure in France. This list shows that he was not taking into account the other policies of these figures, only their antimilitarism.
On the Russian revolution, we limit ourselves to Bordiga’s writings in 1917. This is because post-Lenin his political views changed significantly. In 1917 Bordiga wrote a series of articles in Avanguardia entitled 'The Russian revolution in a socialist interpretation'. He saw the Russian revolution as a phenomenon that has already lasted fifty years. In contrast to Antonio Gramsci, who while supporting the revolution without reservation saw in it a contradiction with Marxian thought, Bordiga commented that, while it might seem that 'the most rigorous application of the lines of the Marxian system' was ill adapted to a politically underdeveloped country like Russia, 'here a strong Party was formed – perhaps the most orthodox in the world'. He was referring mainly to the Bolshevik movement. In fact, a few lines later he wrote of them that 'the extremist current is the most genuine … wants peace, it refuses even transitory collaboration with the other classes and calls for the seizure of power to apply the Communist Programme'. He noted, however, as did many other socialists, that socialist methods did not sit well with a country mainly consisting of immense masses of peasants.
Bordiga concluded his series of Avanguardia articles in December 1917 commenting on the triumph of the 'Maximalists', i.e. the Bolsheviks. 'Finally, the government is overthrown’, he wrote, ‘and the seizure of power by the Soviets, in which the extremists have become the large majority, has taken place. While we write, in the jumble of contradictory and biased news coming to us, it is understood that socialists work to realize a programme along simple and grand lines – the same one as that of the Communist Manifesto – that is the expropriation of the private owners from their means of production, and in the meantime proceeding logically and consequently with getting rid of the war.'
Thus began Bordiga’s transition to Bolshevism and Leninism for which he is most well-known. The pre-Lenin Bordiga, however, showed himself to have had a clear idea of what revolutionary Marxist socialism meant. He was an intransigent, anti-reformist, class struggle socialist, though with a predisposition for anarchist-type direct action including the use of violence. Post-Lenin he was to lean towards Blanquist centralism, from which we can only distance ourselves.

The Last Meeting of The Commune (1912)

From the March 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

   In 1908 Vaillant gave the following account of the last assembly of the remnant of the Commune on May 27th, 1871 at Belleville, a working- class quarter of Paris.
  The details of that meeting are very little known, and a description by one of the actors in that last episode of Bloody Week will therefore be read with lively interest.
We were compelled, with Parent, to whom the military command had been entrusted in succession to Varlin, to abandon all hope of organising the defence. The pavilion and garden at the right extremity of the rue Haxo, near the fortifications, were abandoned; and the centre and direction of the resistance had been transferred on the Saturday to the town hall of the 20th District, then situate in the rue de Belleville, opposite the church. Ranvier and Trinquet, the elected representatives of the 20th District, seconded by several of their colleagues, made such arrangements for the transfer as were possible.

The town hall was encumbered by a crowd eagerly seeking news. But all the militants, forced back there by the defeat, were still animated by the same communard spirit, and not a word of weakness or of discord was uttered. Optimistic, but false, news came at intervals to revive hope; nevertheless, the forebodings of final defeat were accumulating. The agents of Versailles hid themselves less carefully. They were taken to the town hall, and, avowing spontaneously their guilt, were shot in the courtyard.

Toward the end of the afternoon, while Ranvier and Trinquet remained at the town hall, such other members of the Commune as could be notified and reassembled met for the last time on the first floor of a house situated on the right-hand side of the rue Haxo, where Oudet, wounded in the defence of the 19th District, had just been carried.

We numbered about fifteen, of whom two or three were militants, secretaries of the Commune.

The fact could no longer be ignored that the last moment had come, and we now examined what remained to be done. All reports agreed that the Versaillese massacre was becoming general in Paris.

I suggested sending an emissary to the nearest Prussian commander, asking him to serve as intermediary in proposing to the Versaillese Government the voluntary capitulation of the remaining members of the Commune, on the single condition that the massacres ceased and the liberty of the defenders of the Commune be guaranteed. This proposal, strongly supported by Vallès, seemed to obtain unanimous acceptance. I proceeded to draw it up.

I had finished writing it in order to get it signed, when Constant Martin declared that in his opinion it would be a mistake, and that what made and would in future make the greatness of the Commune was its end in combat, without negotiation with or capitulation to the Versaillese. Others remarked further that our proposal had very little chance of acceptance. And after a short debate it was withdrawn It was then decided that in order to mark effectively the end of the resistance it was necessary to unite all the combatants that could be found for a final attack. The rallying point was to be the place des Fêtes. But the day was already drawing to its close, rain supervened, and the attempt was a failure.

On the following morning all Paris was in the power of the Versaillese.
Translated for the Socialist Standard.

Mr. Walton Newbold Makes a Confession (1932)

From the March 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Writing in the One Big Union Bulletin (Winnipeg, November 26th, 1931), Mr. J. T. Walton Newbold makes a confession of political faith, or rather lack of faith, which is intended to be startling and is certainly interesting. It will not be understood unless it is remembered how much and often Mr. Newbold’s political views have changed. He has found a home for himself at different periods in the Fabian Society, the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, the Communist Party, the I.L.P. again, the Social-Democratic Federation, and then at the last General Election in MacDonald's National Labour group. It now appears from Mr. Newbold's article in the O.B.U. Bulletin that he never had faith in any of his parties. He says that although he has four times stood for Parliament, he never—
regarded the capture of a majority of seats in the House of Commons as in any sense a step to power. All that it could be was a step to enlightenment in the hollowness of the whole system of “democracy.”
He never expected “the Labour Government to do anything but to prove the bankruptcy of reformism."

He once ran as a Communist and claimed at the time that his constituency was converted to Communism (actually he got in on a reformist programme and with the backing of the Labour Party).

Now he declares that it was “enough to make a cat laugh," that anyone should have supposed that either he or Saklatvala was a Communist. Incidentally, it would interesting to hear Saklatvala's views on this.

Newbold opposed Churchill at Epping in 1929. At the time Newbold was trying to raise funds through the O.B.U. Bulletin and stated that he ran as a Socialist. We were able at the time to point out that Newbold had one story for Winnipeg and a very different story for his constituents at Epping. Now he declares that he only opposed Churchill in order to prevent the Tories from putting up another Tory, his object being to secure the election of Churchill.

All of this is interesting, but, like many confessions, it hides more than it discloses. We flatly do not believe it. When Mr. Newbold pretends that his woolly-headed support for all kinds of anti-working-class policies was part of an astute and longsighted manoeuvre, he is deceiving himself. It was Newbold himself who was taken in by these series of fraudulent policies, and his super-cleverness is just a face-saving afterthought.

If Newbold was so clever, he might explain how he came to land himself in his present position of being thoroughly mistrusted by every organisation of which he has been a member, as well as by the small number of organisations to which he has not yet turned his attention.

To Mr. Newbold the workers have been a crowd of boobs to be led and inoculated with knowledge by the Machiavellian schemer, Newbold. He should ponder over the saying of Voltaire, that he who believes he can lead a great crowd of fools without a great store of knavery is a fool himself.
Edgar Hardcastle

Unemployment and Socialism (1982)

Editorial from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tide-like, the total of unemployment rises remorselessly, perhaps eventually to wash the Tory government out to sea. Canute-like, ministers insist that although the waves are running higher and higher the land is actually becoming drier, safer, more fertile. They assure us that whatever impoverishment and distress is being endured is only temporary; their policies are beginning to work and, with success so close at hand, must not be abandoned now. There is no other way.

A devotee of this line is the Employment (sic) Minister Norman Tebbit, who is notorious as a political bovver boy. Tebbit’s determination to protect the interests of the British ruling class is unusually combative, even for a Tory. Discussing the latest 3 million unemployment figures he was reported:
Mr. Tebbit said that he could see signs of an economic revival. Apart from the improved vacancies, he highlighted higher industrial output, lower short time working and more overtime. (Guardian 2/1/82)
Part of Tebbit's usefulness to the Thatcher government is that, careless of common popularity, he is ready to be the fall guy, to absorb much of the anger generated by the statistics. This has a value beyond the Tory party; it promotes the myth that the problems of the capitalist system are in some way connected with the personalities of the people who try to run it. According to the myth, someone like Tebbit would cause unemployment even in the middle of a hectic boom, while the problem would easily disappear if a kindlier person (Gilmour?; Walker?) were in charge instead.

This is only one of the numerous false ideas about unemployment which are so popular. In truth, people are thrown out of work when commodities cannot be sold profitably. As capitalism is a system where wealth is produced with the object of profitable sale, if there is no profit there is no production. That is a simple, inexorable economic law. The difficulty—for Tebbit as for all his predecessors—is that that profit cannot be guaranteed. There can be no confidence that as wealth is turned out there will be a welcoming market for it. If there could be such confidence, the history of capitalism would be very different. There would have been no Great Crash of 1929, no recession of the 70s and 80s. Capitalism is anarchy. It cannot be controlled or regulated, whoever is said to be in charge.

An equally important fallacy is that employment is vital to the working class, to the extent that all would be well if only the dole queues could be made to disappear. Because of this fallacy governments are often assessed in terms of the presence of significant levels of unemployment. High unemployment is rated as failure (as the Thatcher government is finding out) while full employment is rated as success.

In one sense it is natural that the fallacy should be so popular. The vast majority of people under capitalism depend on being employed for their living. Having virtually no ownership in the means of wealth production and distribution they survive by working for a wage for an employer. That is why, concisely and accurately, they are called the working class.

Depending on employment for a living means that being out of work presents a special threat. But it does not therefore follow that being in work is particularly prosperous or even desirable. The working class sell their labour power (which is what employment actually is) for a wage. This represents in general terms—over a period, under varying conditions—the value of that labour power, which is the food, clothing, shelter, recreation which are needed to reproduce labour power. Workers’ wages are generally just about enough to keep them in existence. Their level of subsistence and consumption is restricted; they live at a sub standard. When they have bought what is needed to reproduce themselves there is little, if anything, over. The working class live in poverty.

It is clear from this that the workers’ concern should extend beyond the immediate intensification of their poverty which follows from unemployment. Their interests lie not just in alleviating their stresses but in abolishing them. They should not fret about changing a government minister like Tebbit but in establishing a society which will have no use for a government and state machine. Urgently, they should consider the case for a social system opposite in every way from capitalism.

The problems of capitalism stem from its basic nature as a system of commodity production. In contrast, wealth in socialist society will be made for human use. This will fundamentally change the social character of wealth and so will also change all social relationships. To begin with, there will be no social classes; no employers and employees. People will not depend for their living on being able to sell their labour power. Production will be a free process of co-operation for the common good and wealth will be freely available to all human beings.

Socialism can be reality now; in terms of its technical and productive capacity society can today support a system of common ownership and free access. All that is needed is for the majority—the world working class—to understand socialism and to opt for it. That is the only useful lesson to be drawn from the crises of capitalism. On whether, and on how effectively, it is absorbed depends the welfare and the prosperity—perhaps even the very continued existence—of human society.

Oxfam — hungry for change? (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was a rainswept Swansea night as we made our way to the Quaker meeting room. We were going to listen — the two of us — to a talk given by the South Wales campaign organiser for Oxfam. The meeting was being organised by the local Humanists and the subject was Poverty, Famine and Population. We'd been to Humanist meetings before and the regulars recognised us. 'Good'', said the Chairman, "the SPGB. That means a good discussion."

He introduced the speaker, an imposing man of about 50 with thick greying hair, a full beard and a pleasing, intimate manner. He was also, as the chairman informed us, a local Labour councillor. He spoke without notes and a Welsh eloquence. Oxfam, he told us, was a rapidly expanding organisation. It needed to be because the problem it was facing was getting worse not better. It had changed its approach from being a mere money-collector and now, with the slogan "Hungry for Change", was putting a lot more effort and resources into trying to explain to people the causes of world hunger. It was showing, he pointed out. that there was no natural barrier to the world's population being fed. There was evidence, in fact, that the earth could already feed nine times its present population. The idea about the world being overpopulated was not based on the true facts.

Such talk surprised and delighted us both. Oxfam publicity had always seemed calculated to give the impression that there just couldn't be enough to go round, but that nevertheless we had to help the starving as best we could. It had also harped on the "population explosion" and said how essential it was to keep population down. Now it had changed tack and was arguing the same thing that socialists, with little support from anyone, had argued for a long time.

The speaker went on to point out the absurd contradictions of social arrangements by which many millions of the world's people starve each year in the world while large amounts of food are locked away or destroyed because of "overproduction". He told us that a number of EEC food storage warehouses existed in the Swansea area itself but that information about them was hard to come by as the authorities would not give details readily. Even the local press was reluctant to write about them for fear of losing potential advertisers in the food business. He did however have some statistics of stocks of butter and dried milk held locally and they seemed staggering, especially when they were multiplied thousands of times over to get the picture for the whole EEC. He added that other foods such as meat, fruit and vegetables couldn't be readily stored so that thousands of people had the full-time task of destroying such food. They did this every working hour of every day of the year.

Powerful stuff. But the conclusion that followed was less so. The speaker said that we in the "rich countries" had to learn to accept less to help those in the "poor countries". This brought some questions to both our minds. Didn't this contradict what he'd said earlier about the world being potentially self-sufficient many times over? If we could produce a lot more than we needed, why should we have to accept less? And could Britain's three million-odd unemployed and Europe's 30 million living below the poverty line be expected to "accept less"? And what about the majority of us who lived on a wage or salary? We weren't exactly rolling in it either.

The questions came thick and fast. An elderly woman suggested that you couldn't really talk about "overproduction" when millions were starving. This seemed to make sense but the speaker rejected it and said there definitely was overproduction. Another woman asked what concerned people could do to help. He said she could sign the Oxfam petition on the table at the back of the room which was to be presented to Margaret Thatcher when it had a million signatures. Someone else said he was glad that the overpopulation scare had been shown to be false. But then came an unexpected challenge to the speaker. An elderly but energetic-looking man at the front "declared an interest". He introduced himself as a semi-retired academic who was a specialist in population matters. He spent some considerable time listing his qualifications and the various official bodies he'd served and was serving on. Such credentials brought a hush to the audience. The speaker, he said, had drastically underestimated the population problem. It was very serious indeed. He knew this from his own professional work in the field. Oxfam was wrong to quote hopeful statistics about potential food production as they were based not on the reality of things but on the notion that people could somehow be brought to share things out, not to be greedy, and to work for the common good. And people were not like that, were they? The old "human nature" myth again, both us SPGBers were thinking, only this time in academic guise.

The speaker looked distinctly uncomfortable as he listened to the academic. In his reply he struggled a bit, then didn't seem to be doing too badly. But finally, when the questioner came back at him and asked why, if population wasn't a problem, all Third World governments were pursuing policies of population control, he was well and truly stumped.

At this point the chairman pointed to one of us who had his hand up. He was clearly hoping for succour for his speaker, and to a certain extent he got it. The first socialist point made was that academic specialists usually have a stake in their speciality and this can lead them to make exaggerated claims for its importance. So perhaps we should view with at least a little scepticism what the man at the front had said. Whatever he said, however, he could not dispute that the world could feed us all. The speaker had been right about this and the most recent figures produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation showed it beyond doubt. But such abundance was only possible on one condition — that of producing food not to be sold on the market for profit but to be eaten. And the same principle applied to all other goods and services. The reason people didn't have food was not that they didn't need it or that it couldn't be produced but that they didn't have money to buy it. The first woman had been right to say there wasn't overproduction — in fact there was probably underproduction in terms of what people really needed. "Greed" wasn't a barrier to production for need either but was simply a symptom of the insecurity provoked in people by the production for profit society existing in all countries of the world. Greed wasn't inevitable. It was a response to conditions and would have no place in a society of abundance where people would have free access to everything that was produced. And if Third World governments were trying to get their populations down, it wasn't because their first priority was to help people but because a slowdown in population growth was necessary to allow production for profit in those countries to develop as smoothly and efficiently as possible. At another moment those governments might adopt different population policies as others (France and Germany for example) had done in the past when it seemed to the advantage of the profit system there to have more people.

The other socialist pointed out that people would not get a clear view of the problem as long as they thought in "national" terms. We had to think in a planetary way and in terms of using the resources of the whole planet sanely and rationally and in the interests of all its inhabitants. But this needed political change which could only come from a consciousness by the majority of people that it was in their interest to organise things differently — on the basis of a frontierless, classless, worldwide society which produced solely for human need not profit.

All this gave the speaker a breathing space and his response seemed to be that he agreed with the socialist arguments. But then, in answer to other questions, he showed that he didn't agree, or at least hadn't fully grasped the implications. He continued to talk about people in Britain having to make do with less and about the need to help and encourage other nations to improve their lot. He appeared not to have taken the point that all the countries of the world were organised on a production for profit basis — and were therefore capitalist — for he insisted on distinguishing between capitalist and "socialist" countries (like Russia). Here, no doubt, we were seeing the lifetime reflexes of a left-wing Labourite coming into play.

We made one final intervention to say that Oxfam. for all its sincere and determined efforts, was still only scraping the surface of the problem and would not begin to solve it unless it started to alert people to the fundamental causes of world hunger. The Chairman said we should not be blaming Oxfam for failing to do what wasn't in its brief. It wasn't in business, he declared, to spread the idea of world social revolution. In a sense he was right of course, but if Oxfam was serious in its concern for causes, then, at the end of the day, it would have to draw political conclusions.

The speaker conceded that there might be something in what we said but then proceeded to show that he was still firmly entrenched in the idea of trying to solve the problem of world hunger within the framework of production for profit. Not for more than a brief moment was he going to allow himself to move outside that framework, and this was why he was such an easy prey to "specialists" like the "academic" whose arguments, if you accepted the logic of production for profit on which they were based, were difficult to fault.

As the two of us walked out into the wet, we talked about the meeting and agreed that even if the speaker hadn't seemed to move very far in our direction, it was an encouraging sign that "respectable" charities such as Oxfam were now coming to see that problems do have a cause. And even if Oxfam still wasn't looking far enough for the cause or wasn't drawing the obvious conclusions from what it found, at least some of the ideas it was now spreading could only be of help to the socialist movement. The world could feed us all, it was saying, and population wasn't outstripping resources. It was good that now not only socialists were saying these things. What would be even better would be if there were more socialists to take them to their logical conclusion.
Howard Moss
Gareth Thomas

People Against Machines in Andalucia (1981)

The Briefing Column from the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

About 1.5 per cent of the farmers of Andalucia—one of the most fertile areas in Europe own over half the land, about 11 million acres. On the other hand, 450,000 smallholders make do with 1 million acres between them.

To maximise profits the estate owners have switched from traditionally labour-intensive crops such as sugar beet, cotton, tobacco and olives to crops like wheat and sunflower seeds which can be mechanically harvested. This way they save over £20 million a year in wages. The unemployment rate among farm labourers is 20 per cent and rising. They have no land of their own and receive no unemployment pay if they fail to find work on the farms or in the villages.

One in five farm labourers is illiterate. Their motto—‘The land for him who works it’—is as it was before the civil war. One in four rural houses lacks a bathroom, one in five running water or electricity. The standard of living is one of the lowest in Europe, on a par with Sicily. In the most depressed provinces per capita income is only one third of the lowest European average.

Due to the recession the Andalucian labourer has difficulties finding work in Spain’s industrial cities or in Western Europe. Between 1960 and 1973 two and a half million people (over a third of Andalucia’s present population) left the area to find work in Europe’s industrial centres. This figure included half a million farm labourers. As a result wages began to rise. Many of the large estates, which had existed profitably on cheap labour for more than half a century, turned to mechanisation to stay profitable.

The unemployed view the new machines as their enemies and have repeatedly invaded the estates to stop mechanical harvesters. They have set fire to wheat fields and staged hunger strikes against hunger. The government has tried to create ‘communal employment’ at wages of £6 a day to alleviate some of the anger. If that does not work the Guardia Civil steps in to keep the peace.

Spain is also changing her education system to cater for the needs of a growing industry. From primary schools onwards education in Spain was once mainly private and very expensive. The standard of teaching in the few state schools that existed was very low. The state is now providing more schools and modem industry will of course require more workers with a basic understanding of the three ‘R’s, as well as more advanced knowledge.

Sympathise as we may with the plight of the farm labourers, what is going on in Andalucia is the inescapable development of captalism. Spain after Franco is slowly getting more industrialised. It is almost certain that the workers’ attempt to stop mechanisation will be fruitless.
Torgun Bullen

The Patriotism Game (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you heard about the new game they're playing in Westminster? It's called "I'm a bigger patriot than you are". In the blue comer there's the Conservative team led by Maggie "Falklands-factor" Thatcher. In the rose pink comer there's the Labour team led by Neil "I'd-die-for-my-country'' Kinnock. And sitting on the fence as usual there's the Alliance in their new yellow team colours. And the prize? Up to five years of intoxicating power; and for the winning team leader residence at that most desirable of addresses - Ten Downing Street.

The BBC put the ball into play by banning a programme about Zircon, a £500 million spy satellite, whose existence had been kept a secret from Parliament. Alasdair Milne, director-general of the BBC, showed his own patriotic colours by insisting that he had not been got at by the Conservative team coach, Norman Tebbit, but had banned the programme all on his own because it "could represent a breach of national security". However. this bold attempt to enter the patriotism game was not enough to prevent him being declared unfit to play by the BBC chief Duke Hussey.

The Tories picked up the ball that had been tossed in the air by the BBC to loud cheers from all sides and immediately appealed to the referee. House of Commons speaker Bernard Weatherill, who ruled that it was off-side for the Zircon film to be shown to Labour team supporters inside Westminster. But just as Thatcher looked as if she was going to surge ahead in the patriotism stakes, there running right beside her was Kinnock who quickly scored a couple of points for the Labour team by not only accepting the refs decision but also supporting the government's motion to stop his own team members from seeing the film. He recognised that Thatcher was wielding the national security card - always a trump - and said:
If the Government says that this is a serious matter of national security, I must take their word for it until such time as that claim is substantiated or otherwise.
This earned him and other leading lights of the Labour team a bonus point in the form of a secret briefing on "Privy Council" terms with the Foreign Secretary which convinced them that national security was indeed at stake. But just as Labour were beginning to look like seriously patriotic contenders, some renegade Labour team members were in danger of scoring an own goal by arranging a private showing of the banned film in Westminster. But they were met by a picket consisting of the Serjeant-at-Arms' linesmen. With some fancy ducking and weaving the renegades headed for Transport House where they watched the film out of sight of the ref.

Kinnock, recognising that the activities of the Labour renegades could lose him points, launched a new attack himself by claiming that if the government side really cared about national security as much as he did, then they would not only have banned the film, but also prevented publication of an article in the New Statesman giving details about Zircon which had been written by Duncan Campbell (who had made the film). This audacious tackle left even some of his own team reeling in astonishment. After all wasn't the New Statesman a Labour supporters' mag? What was the wily Welshman up to?

The score was looking pretty even when Thatcher raised the spectre of the "enemy within", a favourite move for the Iron Lady when feeling cornered. She said:
Unfortunately, there seem to be people who are more interested in trying to ferret out information of use to our enemies than in preserving the defence interests of this country and thus the freedoms that we all enjoy.
It was a good try but Kinnock had seen it coming and had already dissociated himself from the New Statesman and the unfortunate Campbell.

But this was not the last attack the journalist was going to suffer. Three days later the government raised the stakes by authorising a raid on Campbell's home and the New Statesman's offices by its henchmen at the Special Branch. The Labour renegades led by Robin Cook tried to start a new game - the "We-support-civil-liberties-more-than-you-do" game - and began to look as though they might attract supporters away from the patriotism game. But again the Tory team upped the stakes with another surprise tackle by the Special Branch this time on the offices of BBC Scotland who had made the banned film.

At first they looked as if they might be over-stretching themselves. The BBC claimed that the Special Branch's authorisation to play, issued under Section Nine of the Official Secrets Act, did not permit them to remove anything they took a fancy to. A judge agreed and made the Special Branch give everything back to the BBC. The Special Branch withdrew, regrouped and armed with a new search warrant issued under Section Two of the Official Secrets Act, launched a new attack which resulted in them carrying off the trophies they had been looking for - anything they could get their hands on that had anything at all to do with any of the six Secret Society programmes. Kinnock was caught off balance by this new tactic and looked as if he was in danger of forgetting which game he was playing. Was it the "patriotism" game or "civil liberties"? He said that the raid was "deeply offensive to the standards of freedom" but then went on to say:
The Government was told there had been a security leak about Zircon last June - not October as the Prime Minister said. For seven months they have done nothing useful. Now they have ordered the police to go charging off to Scotland to search through the whole series.
I thought wasting police time was an offence.
Was this a crafty attempt to play both the civil liberties and the patriotism games at the same time? Would he be able to pull it off? Would people notice that he was asking for films to be banned and also condemning police raids on the BBC as infringements of civil liberties? By this time the Alliance also thought that it was safe the enter the fray. David Owen briefly jumped off the fence to give a rallying cry. "The BBC must not take this lying down" he said. Roy Jenkins was more or less obliged to stick his oar in since BBC Scotland is in his constituency and asked: "What is the supreme objective for which the Government is prepared to look as though it were running a second-rate police state infused by illiberalism and incompetence?" But what did this mean? Did he want a first-rate police state infused with liberalism and competence instead? David Steel asked a similar question: "Is the knock on the door in the middle of the night to become part of our society?"

Meanwhile the game was getting to be more and more farcical: hundreds of people queued up to see a bootleg copy of the banned film; every newspaper was carrying as many details as they could about the "not-so-secret" spy satellite; Sir Frank Cooper, former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, said that "everybody knows where everybody's satellite is and you can see lists which are published in defence journals of who's launched what, where, what its orbit is. And I think you can probably do this using schoolchildren in Milton Keynes or somewhere". And just to put the boot in completely it turned out that the "subversive" Campbell had had a friendly chat over lunch with Sir Michael Havers, the Attorney General. about the film; one of the programmes in the Secret Society series was made with the full cooperation of the Ministry of Defence; and the government really had known about the leak about Zircon and the BBC film for ages without doing anything about it. The Thatcher team tried to win back some lost ground by trying to dissociate themselves from the Special Branch and claimed that they had not authorised the raid on the BBC. So who had? Or had the Special Branch broken away and formed their own independent team?

Or maybe the Tory team weren't playing the "patriotism" game after all. Maybe it was all a front and what they were really playing was that other Whitehall favourite - "Them and Us". The rules for this are as follows: "They" are a very small team but have a number of things in their favour. They control, directly or indirectly, most of the TV and radio companies, most of the daily newspapers and other sources of "news”. What's more they have access to important information that no-one else can see unless they say so. The object of the game is for us to find out as much as we can about government, politics and the civil service. However, they have a few other tricks up their sleeve should we get too close to finding out anything that they think will show them up to be dishonest, incompetent and undemocratic: the umpires — the courts — are usually on their side so that if they say the magic words “national security" then the judges will say that we can't have the information. Also they can make up the rules as they go along to suit themselves. They can also feed us bits of "news" which show them up in a good light in the hope that this will distract us from what is really going on. And finally, if we get too close to the truth, then they can call up reinforcements in the shape of the police and Special Branch. This doesn't mean we can't win. only that it is difficult. However, we have the advantage of numbers on our side. What we don't have as yet is the determination and clear sense of purpose that are necessary. However, if they continue to behave in the duplicitous and ridiculous manner that they have over the Zircon film, then things might very well become considerably easier.
Janie Percy-Smith