Tuesday, March 28, 2017

End of the long war (1994)

Editorial from the October 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

As we write, the shooting war in Northern Ireland would appear to be almost over. The relief in places like Belfast is almost palpable as people are freed from the fear of themselves or their loved ones becoming the victim of the assassin's bullet or the bomber's "mistake".

Three thousand two hundred people have died in the so-called "Long War", some 60,000 have been injured — some left limbless, some horribly disfigured, some vegetablised. The amount represented by damage to property would have provided a super home for every family in the province and vastly improved the social infrastructure — though, of course, outside of a war situation, governments would not regard spending on these essentials as being economically justified.

Who won? If winning can be defined in terms of making money, then lawyers, loss adjusters and that group of rapid-response builders who became known as the “hardboard millionaires" have had a good war. As far as the working class is concerned there were no gains whatsoever — whatever religious labels its individual members may wear.

Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein and consistent apologist for the IRA’s campaign of killing is euphoric in his ascension to the upper echelons of political chicanery. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on 8 September, he assures us that he, and. presumably, his coalition Irish nationalists, plan a fair and democratic society for Ireland: "No privileges, no perks, no special relationships . . . (no) economic favouritism for any individual or organization".

If we thought that Adams knew what he was talking about, we would have to say he was simply telling lies. Is he seriously suggesting that he and his fellow Irish Nationalists want to create a society where there will not be a minority owning class exploiting the working class — including those workers who were foolish enough to support Sinn Fein? No privileges, perks or profits for the capitalists, the minority class who are the real owners of Ireland and who can be of any nationality or religion? Come to that, no minority class owning Ireland? Even the Unionists, who are past masters in conning working-class Protestants, wouldn’t dare to serve up that sort of rubbish.

We hope that peace, or what passes for peace in capitalist society, will reign in Ireland and that the hatreds and division which the republican and loyalist nationalists have rekindled amongst the working class will soon dissipate, and workers, wiser from their grim experiences, will lend themselves to the political struggle to end capitalism and its propensity to violence.

Still there are the dead, the maimed . . .  and, surely, the heritage of crippled minds of men and women who carried out such awful atrocities for what they believed was a just cause and who are going to learn that their cause was just a squalid conflict about the distribution of capitalism's miseries. A small addition to the nearly one hundred million people who have died in capitalism's wars this century.

If nationalism was a recognised disease, its terrible toll of human life would excite the demand for a cure.

Lest we forget . . . (1994)

Editorial from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

This editorial is being written as the second world war is being re-enacted on TV. The news for June 1994 is followed by the news for 1944. This time uncensored (which is probably more than can be said for today’s news). Every bomb and bullet seems to have been recorded. What is lost by the absence of glorious technicolour in the dusty archive film is made up for in blood-soaked black-and-white. The unspoken message is repeated again and again: "Here’s something you should be proud of - we won, we won." To remind us that the business of killing Germans had its funny side, an old repeat of Dad's Army has just been repeated again. Now it’s back to how we won the war.

The reason for all this is not made clear. If the intention is to remind ourselves of the countless number of men and women who were pointlessly slaughtered - and we should remind ourselves - why the jingoistic display of 1,000 paratroopers descending into Normandy, watched by a smiling Prince Charles? Why the public display of pitiful, worn-out old warriors being interviewed displaying a strange mixture of patriotic pride for the killing along with their shame and their tears and their medals; and all-too-often total incomprehension of the obscenity and futility of it all? "Well I tried to kill him, he tried to kill me, - we both missed and that’s why we’re here." Ideal material for a Dad's Army script.

One thing to be thankful for is that enough old soldiers expressed their outrage at the Tory Party plans to make the whole thing a Conservative Party Euro-Election jamboree. The thought of Maggie Thatcher being wheeled out every night to sing "We’ll meet again" would have been just too much to bear. John Major’s Churchillian speech against the homeless beggars was bad enough: "We will fight them on the benches, we will fight them on the pavements" etc.

Of course the victims of war must never be forgotten, whichever side they were unfortunate enough to be killed by. Or the sacrifice they made. Or the lies they were fed to make them go out and kill or be killed by other ordinary, decent people. Or the children involved, or their mothers. Nicholas Humphrey, in his excellent essay Four Minutes to Midnight tells the story of Keiko Sasaki: "When my grandmother came back I asked ’Where’s Mother?’ ’I brought her on my back,’ she answered. I was very happy and shouted ’Mama!’ But when I looked closely, I saw she was only carrying a rucksack. I was disappointed . . . Then my grandmother put the rucksack down and took out of it some bones ... I miss my mother very much."

The bomb that fell on Hiroshima killed 140,000 people. The bomb that fell on Nagasaki killed 70,000. 210,000 people killed by just two bombs. How can we adequately remember the pain of Keiko Sasaki 210,000 times over? Plus the pain of the parents, children and friends of the victims of the Holocaust? And of every soldier, every civilian and every child killed? And that was just one war . . .  50 years ago.

Nor must we forget the sacrifice of those whose human dignity and humanity made them refuse to kill their fellow beings, and how they were punished for it by "their" countries. But to not forget is not enough. We’ve got to overturn this mad, bad system and never allow it to be possible again.

The future — we owe them one (1994)

Editorial from the June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why should one in four children in Britain be forced to live below the official poverty line?

Why are vast numbers of young people so deprived of hope that they turn to anti-social crime, the escapism of drugs and video games designed to divert them from reality?

Why is the number of teenage suicides rising steeply?

Why must school-kids go without books and adequate teaching resources while the uniformed killers in the armed forces never face shortages when it comes to resources of destruction?

Why must parents worry about buying the best treatment for their sick children?

Why do tens of thousands of children across the world go blind as a result of Vitamin A deficiency caused by lack of sufficient milk in their diets while milk is being destroyed because it is being "overproduced" for market demand?

Why are countless millions of young people world-wide driven to prostitution, begging, sweated labour and scavenging on filthy scrapheaps?

Why are kids sleeping in the doorways of our local streets?

Why, in a world which can produce more food than the entire population needs, are the grotesque screams of starving babies and dying, malnourished children a routine sound effect of "business as usual"?

A system of society that can do this to its most innocent and vulnerable members is badly out of order. Why is this happening in a society which claims to be civilised? The heartless conservatives wish us to ignore these facts of contemporary society. Close your eyes and it will go away. After all, the sons and daughters of the very rich will not sleep on the pavements, join the dole culture or be forced to sell sex for a few lousy quid.

The reformers, including the politicians of the left with their endless schemes to sanitise the present system, have told us for over a hundred wasted years that all we need to do is elect them to parliament and a decent future for our children will be possible?

Do not believe those who tell you that there is any worthwhile future under capitalism. The capitalist system means production for sale with a view to profit. No profit, then to hell with needs.

The role of the vast majority of us under capitalism is to make profits for the rich and privileged few. We are the raw material of their success. Our poverty is the basis for their luxury.

Socialists say that the world should belong to all of us.

Only when it does will all of us benefit from the rich abundance of the earth’s resources.

For too long we have lived cramped existences so that a minority can live life to the full.

We have sacrificed our lives to the profit system and now they ask us to sacrifice the future of our children.

Look at a group of children playing happily.

They do not think about banks, mortgages, bailiffs or ethnic cleansing.

These hateful ideas are fed to them, like poison, as they are conditioned to live under capitalism.

Contrary to capitalism’s defenders, these children are not infected by some disease-like human nature which determines that they will grow up to be beasts of the capitalist jungle.

Human beings are social animals.

That’s why children love to play together.

That’s why, freed from the burdens of employment, we like to work together.

And given a society of cooperation to live in rather than a rat-race, we will be free to live like humans.

There is no more worthwhile cause to stand up for.

What's it all been about? (1994)

Editorial from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

As we write, there has been no positive response from the IRA/Sinn Fein to the Downing Street Declaration. The Declaration itself is a contradictory and meaningless example of highly polished diplomatic draughtsmanship. It is designed to act as a political sedative while allowing the politicians to vacate the hooks to which they have become inextricably fixed by earlier actions and utterances. Indeed, we could damn the document with the same comment that Thatcher applied to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, of which she was co-sponsor: "We are dealing, not with facts, but with perceptions". In other words, not with reality hut with illusions.

The leadership of the Provos, a small number of political dinosaurs ushered on to the stage of history by bigots like Paisley and the more extreme wing of Ulster Unionism, are savouring their moment of media hype. Gerry Adams paid a publicity-seeking visit to the USA. Given that he had no intelligent contribution to make, it seemed a long way to go to repeat the old nationalist shibboleths. Though the opposition to his being allowed to go exposed how relentlessly vicious Ulster Unionism continues to be when its enemies are allowed a platform.

Thousands of people have been slaughtered. Tens of thousands have been injured. Scores, if not hundreds, have had their lives disastrously downgraded by loss of limbs. Some have died from punishment shootings and hundreds of young people are suffering the after-effects of kneecappings and other grotesque forms of punishment. Thousands more have been, or are, imprisoned. In any terms that is a terrible price to pay and it is not unreasonable for us to ask what it is all for.

The only visible dividend from this catalogue of horror is a bitter, mindlessly bitter, legacy of hatred affecting the most depressed section of the working class, divided into tribal quarrels that feed on the latest atrocity. Violence as a political weapon, used by loyalist and nationalist, has only created a situation where it is difficult to discern any logical formula for future peace and stability, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the island of Ireland.

As far as the provisional IRA activists and their politicians are concerned, their current deliberations on the Downing Street Declaration can only be concerned with their probable political fortunes if violence is removed from the political scene. Without the police Holding Centres and the thuggery of the so-called security forces and with, especially, the speedy release of all political prisoners, Provo power and influence would quickly diminish. Their very localized political effectiveness today is dependent on the same sort of discriminatory sectarian politics as the more loathsome elements of ward-healing Unionism used in the past, carried out against the sinister silhouette of the gunman. In a climate of peace, the Provos have nothing to offer.

What’s it all about? Certainly not about ending the grim economic facts that oppress political life in Northern Ireland. The British Exchequer contributes some £3.5 billion annually to keep the Province in its present impoverished position. If the Provos could force Britain to disengage from Northern Ireland, the resulting gain to the Exchequer would have a dramatic effect on the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement and the fortunes of the Major government! But in a recent opinion poll in the Republic of Ireland 71 percent said they would not be prepared to meet the per capita tax of about £1,000 per annum to subsidize Irish unity.

More than 20 percent of the people in Northern Ireland are living below the poverty line. The jobs of many of the more prosperous are underwritten by the troubles. Despite emigration, an even larger percentage of people in the Republic are on or below the poverty line. Given all this, one can only wonder at the naivete of a political movement that thinks our first priority is killing one another in order to have the postboxes a uniform colour or the pattern of the flag over the dole office changed.

Northern Ireland must surely represent a classic case study that exposes the bankruptcy of political violence as a weapon for the promotion of any cause. Together with the brutality and utter stupidity of Paisleyite bigotry, the IRA must stand as an implacable enemy of the unity it professes. And even more so of that more important, working class unity without which we can not hope to establish socialism and get rid of the evils of capitalism.

Editorial: Back to what basics? (1994)

Editorial from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

No doubt between the time of writing this piece and its publication, the definition of "back to basics" will have undergone a few more changes at the hands of our dissembling Prime Minister. We should not be surprised at this since, for most politicians, "basics" seems to refer to a collection of essentially meaningless platitudes upon which they rely when nothing is going right and they have run out of excuses for everything that is going wrong.

This technique, when skilfully applied, can create a positive image remarkably independent of concrete evidence. For example, the Tories can still use tough law-and-order slogans despite the fact that their recent performance in this area has been pitiably inadequate. And Labour is seen as, among other things, the party of racial harmony on little evidence other than rhetoric.

We must admit it is galling for Socialists to witness the success of such transparent frauds, so it comes as something of a relief to see the likes of John Major making such a spectacular hash of choosing his buzz-words. First there was the "classless society". This should have worked, since the important class division in capitalist society — that between the capitalist class and the working class — is carefully concealed.

But to try to sell even the pretence of a classless society in one of the few countries where aristocratic political privilege survives as an institution was, shall we say, ill-advised. However, it seems this faux-pas will be dwarfed by the "back to basics" debacle. Once again it is an injudicious choice of issue which is at the root of the problem.

The "law-and-order" issue is perfectly safe so long as leading Tories are not overcome by a compulsion to rob banks or beat up OAPs. It can safely be assumed that this is unlikely to happen. No such assumption can be made, however, about the kind of behaviour for which Mr Yeo was forced to resign. Of course we have no particular opinion on the rights or wrongs of his conduct or of that of all the others but neither did we urge workers to vote for them.

Unfortunately for the ex-minister, the people who did urge workers to vote for him were people who genuinely believe that the country’s problems are due in large part to a decline in family values. This is a nonsensical belief which is easily disproved, but it is one widely held among grass-roots Tories and actively encouraged by their party’s propaganda.

A great many Tory Party members, especially constituency workers, would be likely to reconsider their position if they thought that their official party stance on moral issues was a pragmatic rather than a principled one. These are precisely the people to whom John Major is appealing in his "back to basics" campaign and it will be interesting to see whether they are considered more or less valuable to his party than his cavalier colleagues.

There is an important point here because many of the apologists for Yeo and his ilk come down firmly on the side of the latter. Indeed, they appear to be making the topsy-turvy complaint that the grass-roots are out of touch with the grandees.

Now, while it’s all very well to argue that constituency workers have no right to dictate an MP’s morals, this is to overlook the fact they have an absolute right to withdraw their support and no obligation even to give reasons for doing so. In other words, when we get "back to basics" it is Yeo who is reliant on their support and not they on his patronage.

These are the kind of "basics" which appeal to socialists, not for any moral reasons, but simply because they mean that, given the political will, the working class can at any time dump its would-be leaders. That’s the basis of democracy. In fact democracy means not following leaders at all but deciding for yourself. And that’s not going to be possible till we’ve got rid of the present system and the hypocritical politicians it spawns.

Which Way to a Better Life? (1995)

Editorial from the November 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have only have one life: this one. There is no afterlife, nor does reincarnation exist. This life is the only life we have, and the only way we humans can improve it is by our own collective action. No Messiah or other Saviour is going to come and lead us to a better life. We are on our own.

Things here on Earth could certainly do with improving. According to the United Nations, more than a billion on the planet live in a state of absolute poverty. Some 550 million go to bed hungry each night. More than 1.5 billion lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

This is in a world where, at the same time, resources are wasted on the manufacture and development—and always, somewhere, sometime, the use—of missiles, bombers, fighters, warships, tanks, rockets, bombs, mines, guns and other weapons of individual and mass destruction; and where each year food is dumped because the price is not right and where farmers, in the most productive parts are paid to "set aside" their land from agriculture and not produce food.

Can something be done about this? Yes. if we set aside all the anti-human dogmas about "original sin" and "misused free will" to be found in the sacred texts and theologies of all religions and look at the situation objectively and rationally. If we do this we can sec that the root cause of mass human suffering is that wealth today is not produced directly to satisfy human needs but for sale on some market with a view to profit.

The things we need to live and enjoy life are produced today only if there’s a financial profit in it for the private firms, state concerns and rich individuals who own and control the world's productive resources. It is this that causes the economic and military rivalry and the neglect of human needs we see all around us. And these will go on as long as sectional (private or nation-state) ownership and production for profit continue.

The collective human action that is needed to improve human life on Earth is democratic action to make the resources of the world the common heritage of all humanity. It is only on this basis that we humans, without Messiahs, prophets, gods or any other type of super-being, can freely direct production towards the satisfaction of our needs and so ensure that every man. woman and child on this planet has adequate access to food, clothes, housing and all the other things needed to live an enjoyable life.

That’s the real answer to religion's false claim; to concentrate single-mindedly on making life on Earth— and. when we get there, on the moon and on the other planets—the best possible. After all. it’s the only life all humans are ever going to have.

The Destroyer of Worlds (1995)

Editorial from the August 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

In May 1945 four Japanese cities, including Hiroshima, were designated as possible targets for the US atomic bomb. Although American bombing raids were encountering only minimal resistance, the chosen cities were to be spared any aerial bombardment in order that the effects of the new bombs could be accurately assessed.

The first bomb, "Little Boy" (uranium gun) was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August at 8.16 a.m. —the height of the Japanese rush hour when the maximum number of people were exposed. No prior warning was given. On 8 August, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The very next day "Fat Man" (plutonium implosion) was dropped on Nagasaki.

Until the atomic bombs were dropped the American President, Harry Truman, had insisted that unconditional surrender and the removal of the Japanese Emperor were the only possible terms he could offer— despite warnings from some of his own advisers that such conditions were unlikely to be accepted and comprised a major obstacle to ending the war. Almost immediately afterwards, however, the proposals were modified allowing the Emperor to remain.

The claim that the use of the atom bombs prevent an imminent invasion is completely unfounded. In this case contingency invasion plans had been prepared but it was never expected that they would need to be activated. The earliest date proposed for even a preliminary incursion was 1 November 1945 and for a full invasion not until Spring 1946—nearly eight months after the bombing of Hiroshima. The official US Strategic Bombing Survey produced quite soon after the war stated that “certainly prior to 31st December 1945, and in all probability even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, Japan would have surrendered, even if Russia had not entered the war. and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated”.

The US was not concerned with this, but with flexing its imperialist muscles in order to achieve its position for the post-war settlements.

The dropping of the atomic bombs has rightly been described as “barbaric" but the conduct of war is a thoroughly nasty business and its consequences invariably strangely similar. In any war. treachery, deceit, cruelty and power posturing are commonplace. It would be a serious mistake to imagine for one moment that had any of the other imperialist powers succeeded in making atom bombs first, they would have behaved much differently.

Another Stretch of Hard Labour? (1995)

Editorial from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago this month saw the election of the first majority Labour government in this country. Many myths surround the record of this government. In reality, it was a pretty grim experience for workers.

Rationing continued. Strikes were illegal (and strikers were prosecuted). Housing conditions remained appallingly bad (one of the government’s spectacular failures). The nationalisation measures were an irrelevancy for workers that merely changed their bosses and transformed the former shareholders into government bondholders still drawing an unearned income.

Certainly, the National Health Service was a laudable attempt to take buying and selling out of health care, but it was clear that, capitalism having other priorities, it wasn’t going to last. It was in fact the Labour government itself that first breached the principle of a free health service—to find money to pay for rearmament, including a British atom bomb.

As an attempt to humanise capitalism and make it work in the interests of the majority the post-war Labour government was bound to fail. And it did. We shall be chronicling this failure month-by-month in our “Fifty Years Ago" column.

It will make instructive reading, especially as it looks as if there's going to be another Labour government in a couple of years. Not that this will make any significant difference to people’s lives. Nor that those who will vote it into office will be expecting this anyway. They will be, as they have often been urged, “voting Labour without illusions" Just to get the despicable and corrupt Tories out.

It is clear that a Blair Labour government has nothing, literally nothing to offer workers, except a reshuffle of government personnel. Labour bums on ministerial seats instead of Tory ones.

Lady Thatcher—the other member of the Blair-Thatcher mutual admiration society—says she believes Blair will do what he says. So do we. He will enforce "the rigour of competition" Which is just what those with jobs have been experiencing under the Tories, in terms of increased workloads, speed-ups and redundancies. He will support the "enterprise of the market". Which in recent years has brought mass unemployment, begging in the streets and homelessness.

At least previous Labour governments waited till they were in power before doing these things. Blair has advanced Labour practice on this matter. He has got his betrayal in first, before getting elected. Who's for not supporting Labour, with or without illusions?

Editorial: A Touch of Class (1995)

Editorial from the June 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Middle England, middle class, the middle ground—political parties today are in a muddle over the middle. Desperate for the votes of the middle income earners, Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Tories will claim to be able to move mountains for the "middle classes", though it remains to be seen whether the so-named grouping are really as interested in any of the main parties as the parties themselves appear to be in them.

But who are the "middle class" and what differentiates them from the workers?

The answer is nothing—or, at least nothing of any substance—for the "middle class" is really but one section of the working class of wage and salary earners. Though the so-called "middle class" is not destitute like some workers are, its basic economic position is that of the working class as a whole and it is their status as workers that really shapes these peoples’ concerns—wages and salaries versus profits for the few and pay-outs for the fat cats; improved conditions of work rather than speed-ups and lay-offs; the worries over indebtedness, loans and mortgages as opposed to the opulence of those who can live off rent, interest and profits without doing any work.

If Tony Blair and John Major think that they can permanently shackle the better-off section of workers to capital’s viewpoint, as they would wish, then they may be in for a shock—just as Mrs Thatcher was. They can try telling the teachers, lecturers, doctors and nurses that all will be well in the land of free market competition if the middle-of-the-road lieutenants of capital are left to oversee it. But if they open their eyes the warning signs are already there from the increasing numbers who have learnt differently. The increasing numbers of the so-called "middle class" who have experienced the ruin of ruthless competition and the madness of market forces being let rip. Passing election victories notwithstanding, Blair and Major may find out soon enough that whoever plays around in the middle of the road is liable to get knocked over.

What Socialism Means (1995)

Editorial from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard


We begin with these three points because they are vital to any kind of an understanding of what we mean by socialism.

We reject the idea that socialism has been tried in countries sometimes referred to as socialist. These countries were based upon state capitalism. Look below at our definition of socialism and ask yourself if this in any way describes the police states of modern China and Cuba or the old regimes in Russia and eastern Europe.

We reject the idea of socialism in one country. National socialism equals non-socialism. The capitalist system is global and so must the system which will replace it.

We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders or battling armies, but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.

So what does Socialism mean then?

That’s a straight question, so here’s a straight answer.

Socialism means a global system of social organisation based on
  • COMMON OWNERSHIP: All the productive wealth of the world will belong to all the people of the world. No more transnational corporations or small businesses and therefore nobody will own the world. It will be possessed by all of its inhabitants.
  • DEMOCRATIC CONTROL BY ALL: Who will run socialist society? We all will. There will be no more government and governed. People will make decisions freely in their communities, in regions and globally. With the existing means of information technology and mass communication this is all possible.
  • PRODUCTION FOR USE: Instead of producing goods and services for sale and profit, the sole reason for production will be to satisfy needs and desires.
  • FREE ACCESS: A society in which everyone owns everything, decides everything and only produces anything because it is useful will be one in which all will have free access to what is produced. Money will cease to have any function. People will not work for wages or salaries, but to give what they can and take what they need.

It’s a great idea, but ... But, what?

A Common World (1995)

Editorial from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now widely agreed that life should be organised in ways that protect the environment. This is a question of the natural conditions on which all our lives depend so it is a matter of basic self-interest. How, then, do we do it? At least two powers of action are required. We need to be able to control production and we need to co-operate with each other. Socialism would give us these powers.

With common ownership the planet will be held in common by all people and on this basis democratic decisions about how best to organise life in non-destructive ways could be freely made. There would be no economic constraints preventing us from using ecologically-sound methods. We would carry out the work through direct co-operation.

Many thousands in the Green movement might agree that this would be a desirable way to live but, tragically, at the same time they imagine that such a world can be achieved through reforms of the market system. This is impossible. The capitalist system has destructive features which cannot be removed through reform.

How is it possible for us to choose non-destructive production methods when these are in the hands of corporations which must place profit before needs? How is it possible for us to co-operate when we are dominated by economic competition? How is it possible to build a stable way of life, a non-growth system in balance with nature, while retaining a market system which is driven by a relentless pressure to renew its capacity for sales at a profit? Capitalism is primarily a system of capital accumulation and with any faltering of this anti-social aim it breaks down in crisis and a worsening of all social conditions.

The Green movement must face up to these questions which, if they ever gained political power, would surely haunt their term of office and all their efforts would break down in failure and disillusion. In these circumstances the cause of ecology would be set back for generations. The false belief that problems can be solved by reforming the market system has led to the death of every decent hope for humanity throughout the entire century.

To avoid such a disastrous outcome we urge all those who wish for a world organised solely for needs— which includes the urgent need to protect the environment—to join the work of establishing socialism. It is the only sure and practical way forward.

Short cuts or dead ends? (1995)

Editorial from the March 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world is still in terrible shape. The politicians can’t do anything about it. The economists haven’t helped. All of the people who have dedicated their time or donated to worthy causes haven’t really made much of a difference. The problems even seem to be getting worse, not better.

The situation is not hopeless unless you expect others to fix everything for you. The solution has four parts and you are a major component of all four.
  • Understand that the problems cannot be solved one by one, they are interconnected. Attempts to solve one problem usually come at the expense of other, equally severe, problems. For example, more money for day care means less money for rape crisis. More money to fight poverty means less money to counter racism. Less money for war means fewer jobs and lower wages.
  • Recognise that the underlying interconnecting cause is the profit system.
  • Educate others.
  • Eliminate the cause. Once the cause is gone, solving the remaining problems will be relatively easy.

Many people seem to think that there are shortcuts that will solve the problems one by one. Over the last hundred years, the short-cuts have failed to eliminate a single major problem. Poverty, war, starvation, and more, remain. Wouldn’t it be better to work for a long-term solution that will succeed, rather than taking short-cuts that don’t? Besides, if everyone working for the short-cuts went to work on a real solution, the long-term would get a lot closer a lot faster.

There are always problems that, it seems, just can’t wait for long-term solutions, so caring, concerned people commit to the short-term approach. But the problems don’t get solved and short-cutters settle for the occasional, unsatisfactory "victory’’. This is not good enough.

The short-cut approach only allows the problems to get worse.

We don’t have time for any more short-cuts. We need a solution. Socialism is the real solution and has never been tried.

Where should socialists go now? (1995)

Editorial from the February 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

There will be no basic change in the structure of society unless people join together and bring it about. The change from production based on profit to production solely for use will not happen on its own.

For most of this century workers looking for change have joined, supported or voted for. the Labour Party, entertaining the vague hope that it will be the vehicle for introducing a new kind of social order. Experience has taught most of them that they are wrong in expecting Labour to oppose the profit system. Those who vote Labour in the next general election will not be doing so in the expectation of bringing about socialism, but of giving the Tories a bloody nose.

At its coming special conference the Labour Party will throw out Clause Four, despite the cries of its left-wing, and with that hollow aim gone they can wipe even from the back of their minds any claim to stand for something other than the profit system.

Some went into the Communist Party. Many were genuine workers who wanted to see this rotten capitalist society destroyed. But Leninism and the belief in so-called socialist countries (which were in fact, state- capitalist) wasted their efforts. Now the Communist Party is dead.

There are the numerous Trotskyist sects, but what do they really stand for? They all tell workers to vote Labour at election time. They all stand for reforms of capitalism, never advocating the socialist demand of the abolition of the wages system. And they all have leaders and followers, with parties like the SWP appearing more like a cult than a movement, with internal opposition to the leadership banned and crazy policies handed down to the followers as party dogma.

There is one party in Britain which stands for socialism. Don’t judge us by our claims, but on the record of what we have said and done throughout our history. Never once have we swerved from the simple objective of organising politically and democratically to end capitalism and establish socialism.

Over the past year we have been heartened by a number of contacts in Britain and overseas, which, though all too few, have come from socialists who can see that we are the only party worthy of their principled support. Our intention for 1995 is to build on that and make clear to our fellow workers, be they young or old, black or white, blue-collar or white-collar, women or men. that there is one party for socialists to throw their energies into: the Socialist Party.

Beyond Cynicism (1996)

Editorial from the May 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is hardly surprising that we are living in a cynical age in which most people say “you can’t believe anything coming from a political party" or “whatever we do it will make no difference to how we live”. We are not asking you to believe what we say. We are looking for understanding, not belief. We are asking you to have the courage to realise that your understanding of why society is in its present awful mess and your desire, together with millions of others, to change society from the roots can and will make a difference to how we all live.

Everything else has been tried. We have seen attempts to reform the profit system so that poverty is abolished; all such efforts have failed, no matter how sincerely they were advocated or how energetically they were fought for. We have seen the myth that socialism has been established, when all that was really in existence was state-run capitalism; that failed. We have seen dangerous and destructive experiments with dictators, fundamentalist religion and the like; all have resulted in pain and suffering for countless millions. Capitalism has been run in every way possible. Its defenders have run out of ideas.

No wonder people are cynical about political change. It seems that everything has been tried. For capitalism, it has. The one attempt to really change society which has yet to be tried is socialism—real socialism, as defined in the pages of this journal, has never been tried and presents the one original and effective solution to the problems of our age.

We are not asking you to think about socialist ideas so that you will feel good. (Although knowing that there is an alternative to the present mess should make anyone feel better.) No, our objective is to show you that there is a practical alternative and it will only be practical to bring about socialism when you and enough people like you decide to bring it about.

The future under capitalism will be bleak. None of us can be secure from its attacks upon our lives. Even if it does not attack you economically by throwing us out of work or taking away our homes or forcing us to live in a slum or work in a sweatshop or suffer waiting in the hospital queues, there is no escaping from capitalism culturally and emotionally. We are all prisoners of a system which treats us like dirt—as no more than cogs in the profit-grinding machine. It is a prison, but we have the key to the cell door if we choose to open it.

Editorial: Some Democracy (1996)

Editorial from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are supposed to be living in a democracy. But we aren’t. Or rather, we are living only in a very partial democracy. This is because the democratic features existing decision-making institutions and arrangements have are undermined and distorted by the class structure of present-day society.

According to democratic theory, everybody should have an equal say in making decisions. This is not just in the sense of votes being of equal value but also in the sense of having an equal opportunity to express and present views should we want to do so. This equality, which is a basic condition for the functioning of a true democracy, does not exist under capitalism where some people have more money—and therefore more chance to put over their views—than the rest.

One of these people is Sir James Goldsmith, the sixth richest person in Britain with assets of £1200 million. He has his political views. There's nothing wrong with that. He is as entitled as anyone else to hold and express whatever views he wants. That's perfectly democratic. But Goldsmith is not like everybody else. He is a very rich man. He is more equal than others and has decided to use his riches to set up and finance his own political party, the Referendum Party, campaigning for a vote on the (irrelevant) issue of whether nor not Britain should stay in the European Union. That shows just how undemocratic capitalist society is.

Goldsmith is reportedly prepared to spend £20 million on putting his personal political views across. This sort of money is enough to buy modern premises, publish millions of leaflets, pamphlets and press releases, insert full page advertisements in the national press, and hire office staff, canvassers and candidates. By financing a candidate in every constituency in Britain, Goldsmith is able to buy the chance to put his personal views—both in writing and via TV and radio—to every voter in the country. Just because he is rich. By contrast, we as a small but long-established and serious political party have never had the opportunity to do this.

We are not surprised at this flagrant negation of democracy. It is merely an illustration of the way capitalism prevents a true democracy, in which everybody would have a genuinely equal say in decision-making, from existing.

We will continue as best we can on our limited resources to put forward the case for socialism (we can only afford to put up a handful of candidates in the coming election). As a society based on common ownership of productive resources, socialism will be a classless society where there will be no privileged individuals and groups. Which is the only basis on which the principles of democratic decision-making can be fully applied.

One People, Many Cultures (1996)

Editorial from the August 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was once a very bad TV situation comedy entitled Mind Your Language. The basis of this so- called comedy was a well-meaning hero teaching an adult night class on the English language to a stereotype group of non-English speakers. Clichés abounded. There was the sexually-attractive French girl in a short skirt, the randy bottom-pinching Italian, the very proper but dull German, and a variety of stupid Orientals and Asians.

It was total nonsense, and it says much for the perception of the viewers that the series sank without trace. And yet the notion that whole groups of people from a particular area are genetically programmed to behave in a particular, predictable fashion is very widespread. It would be almost impossible to watch TV or read a newspaper without observing a reference to "Latin temperament” or "German thoroughness".

We are surrounded by these myths. How often in so-called learned discussion programmes on TV are we referred to the "Celtic tradition" or "Japanese efficiency”? Like fiery redheads it has become a part of received wisdom. It is, of course, complete and utter nonsense.

Depending on the country you live in, the national stereotypes are easily recognisable and often interchangeable. For years bad English comedians made a living out of depicting the Irish as stupid and the Scots as mean. But then the same jokes were told of the Polish by the Russians, and of the Hungarians by the Americans and so on.

These supposed differences are used by nationalists to divide the working class of the world. Thus you arc branded a Limey, a Mick, a Spic, a Wog. or a Polack. In fact you are a member of the human race and. if you are a reader of the Socialist Standard, almost certainly a member of the working class.

Capitalism is a divisive society, distorting the human need for community into the senseless hatreds of nationalism. It is a class-divided society and workers would do well to recognise that bus drivers in Glasgow have more in common with their counterparts in Chicago or Calcutta than they have with the Duke of Argyll or the Duchess of Sutherland.

The variety of language, dress, music, diet, or other cultural differences would be enjoyed in a socialist society. They would be the subject of admiration, wonder and delight. We will learn to dance the Saraband of Northern Spain, appreciate the wood-carving skills of the Balinese, and grow to love the shifting syncopations of African music-makers.

Diversity of cultures would be a superb celebration of the ingenuity and inventiveness of humankind, not the subject of ridicule and hatred as it is today in capitalism.

Punishing the unemployed (1996)

Editorial from the October 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

From this month the unemployed are to suffer another turn of the screw. The conditions for obtaining a measly subsistence allowance from the state have been made harsher. Many will see their poverty-line payments reduced (even further) and all will suffer increased harassment by state officials.

Why? Why should people be punished just for being unemployed? Since that’s what it amounts to. The simple answer is that this is what the profit system requires at present. It’s not a question of which party is in power. Some Tory Ministers may take an obvious sadistic delight in making the unemployed suffer. But Labour would be no different.

Blair has recently announced that Labour is now a "party of business", even a better bet for business than the Tories. They too will put the interest of business - profits - first. Just as all previous (Old) Labour governments did. In fact, any government, even if not so openly pro-business as New Labour and the Tories, has to do this. It’s part of what running the profit system involves.

If you haven’t got a job you are a drain on profits. The system does have an interest in keeping some of the unemployed in a fit state to work, in case a boom develops and more workers are needed. But by no means all of them.

Economists nowadays talk of a “natural rate" of unemployment of 6 percent as the minimum achievable. In Britain, this is one-and-a-half million people. Jobs are never going to exist for them. They are just charity cases, to be paid the minimum amount the state feels it can get away with without provoking riots in the streets or deaths from starvation.

With the financial crisis of the capitalist state showing no signs of easing, excuses have to be found to further reduce spending on the no-hope unemployed. The latest is to send them on a wild goose chase after jobs that don’t exist and to cut their dole money if they don’t try hard enough.

What can the unemployed do? Under the profit system, not much. They can organise into claimants unions and the like and maybe get DSS officials not to cut their benefit by so much or even to pay particularly hard cases a little extra. But this is no way to live. Talk about running fast to stand still!

The unemployed have every reason to struggle, also and in priority, for the end of the wages-profit- money system which doesn't even claim to offer them any hope but only misery and more misery.

Labour, socialism and the unions (1996)

Editorial from the November 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The media never asked us, but we are all in favour of the Labour Party dropping any reference to being socialist and all in favour of the link between Labour and the unions being broken.

Unions were formed by groups of workers to defend their interests at work against the pressures exerted by employers. At the turn of the last century they began to realise that such defensive action was not enough and that workers ought to take political action too.

Unfortunately, they mistakenly saw this, not as class-conscious action to win political control with a view to establishing socialism, but only as action to get trade unionists and pro-trade union politicians elected to parliament. They created the Labour Party, not a socialist party.

In their eyes. Labour’s role was to try to make things better for workers within capitalism, not to abolish it. Some favourable measures can sometimes be obtained, but the capitalist system as a whole can never be made to work in the interests of the majority. It is based on exploitation and on profits taking priority over everything else.

This is what all governments have to accept—and apply. So when Labour converted itself after the first world war from a trade union pressure group in parliament into a party of government, it set itself on a collision course with the unions as defenders of the immediate economic interests of workers.

When Labour did come to form the government— from the first in 1924 to the last, under Callaghan, in 1979—it found itself having to oppose strikes and wage demands. In fact it found itself banning strikes, prosecuting strikers, imposing wage freezes and passing anti-union laws. At the same time it was able to exploit its links with the unions to get them to swallow these anti-worker measures.

In other words, the link between Labour and the unions has been more advantageous to Labour than to the unions. If, for whatever reason, Labour now wants to end it the unions should jump at the offer. This will restore an independence they should never have given up.

It will also give them a free hand to treat a Blair government as an enemy. They will need to. The Labour Party has made it quite clear that the next Labour government will set out to be the most anti-worker and pro-business Labour government to date.

The Contradictions of Capitalism (1996)

Editorial from the December 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Through a complex combination of coercion and ideological control, a tiny minority are able to live off the backs of the immense useful majority in society. From their ownership of the means of production (factories, offices, transport systems, etc.) they are able to gain political and legislative control, not to mention their power over education and the mass media. This tiny minority are the capitalist class—the ruling élite in society.

Nominally, this group of parasites rules by consent. They are legitimised in the eyes of the useful majority they exploit who not only vote to continue their own exploitation but, at times, are the most passionate defenders of it. For the socialist this apparent contradiction is no surprise as the capitalist class have almost complete control over the dissemination of ideas. They have political, moral and cultural legitimacy—most people cannot conceive of a world where production takes place solely to satisfy human needs and where money, war and poverty are things of the past.

You may be saying to yourself as you read this that such a world will never come into existence—why bother when the capitalists have got it all sewn up?

The answer is that the capitalists have not got it all sewn up, nor can they. The daily experience of class exploitation means that the indoctrination process is contradicted by the reality of living under capitalism. The existence of the Socialist Party is testimony to the fact that workers can see capitalism for what it is and organise for its replacement. Put simply, capitalism has within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

As we approach the new millennium we can evaluate the twentieth century for what it was: the century of reform and failure to solve the problems of capitalism. We have seen state capitalism in Russia, nationalisation in Western Europe, Keynesian economics, and Nazism in Germany.

There is a ray of hope. That hope is the triumph of socialism. Free from the shackles of the market we could start to end so many of the problems which we take for granted, such as starvation and mass hunger in the midst of food stockpiles and environmental devastation.

If you know of some other solution to the problems of capitalism please tell us, if not . . .

The Shoulders of Giants (2017)

From the March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Where and how do scientific and technological ideas and developments originate? Is it just a matter of individual geniuses, or of responses to economic needs, or is it a combination of various factors?
Clearly there are individuals who make startling contributions to science. Galileo would be one; also Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, who in Victorian times laid the basis for computers and programs, and who have been described as ‘time travellers’ (Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now).

On the other hand, economic issues can definitely propel a science forward. Down to the end of the eighteenth century, it was generally accepted that god had created the world in 4004 BCE, and fossils were completely mysterious. The science of geology gradually evolved, the Geological Society was founded in London in 1807, and the first comprehensive geological map, of England, Wales and part of Scotland, was completed in 1815 by William Smith (see Simon Winchester: The Map that Changed the World). The motivation for this was in part Smith’s own determination and intellectual curiosity, but also there were social and economic changes taking place that spurred the study of the country’s geological structure. Canals had already had a major impact on trade and the transport of goods, and Smith had himself been the surveyor for the Somerset Coal Canal in the 1790s. The landowners and nobility sponsored him to survey their lands, which had become private property in the various Enclosure Acts, to see if they contained deposits of coal and other minerals. Though he eventually won recognition as the ‘Father of English Geology’, Smith also spent a period in a debtors’ prison, so grateful were those who supported and benefited from his labours.

One argument against the crucial role of individual geniuses is the existence of ‘simultaneous inventions’, when new discoveries are made by several people within a relatively short space of time. For instance, in Frankfurt, Germany is a statue to Johann Philipp Reis, the inventor of the telephone. But what about Alexander Graham Bell, you may ask? There is a big controversy here. In 1860, Reis demonstrated a rather primitive telephone that could transmit over a hundred meters, but failed to interest anyone else in his invention. It was not until 1875 that Bell developed his phone, but even then there was a dispute as to whether he or Elisha Gray got there first; and of course the dispute really centred on who registered the first patent. But even Reis was not really the first, as Johnson refers to a French printer named Scott who in 1857 was awarded a patent for a machine that recorded sound but did not play it back; so this was not truly transmitting sound. But details aside, it is clear that the idea of telephony was, well, in the air, and it was not purely down to Bell (or even to Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson).

Another example is that of the electric lightbulb, usually described as invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. But from the 1840s onwards a couple of dozen people had partially invented the bulb, many of them using the same solution as Edison, of a carbon filament suspended in a vacuum. As Johnson writes, ‘The lightbulb was the kind of innovation that comes together over decades, in pieces. There was no lightbulb moment in the story of the lightbulb.’ Moreover, Edison had assembled a team of knowledgeable people around him, who could make small but crucial improvements to his design.

One of the claims in Johnson’s book is what he calls the hummingbird effect: ‘An innovation, or cluster of innovations, in one field ends up triggering changes that seem to belong to a different domain altogether.’ For instance, the development of the printing press led to a surge in demand for spectacles, as books became more widely available, literacy rates rose and people needed help with reading. This in turn led to further experiments with lenses and hence to the invention of the microscope.

The technology of glass merits further illustration. Glass formed naturally in the Libyan desert millions of years ago, as a result of some very intense heat. In Roman times, glass-makers discovered how to make glass clearer and sturdier, resulting in the installation of glass windows and the manufacture of wine glasses and bottles. Following the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, some glass-makers sailed from Turkey to Venice, where they set up an industry producing luxury vessels for local traders to sell elsewhere. Glass-makers became concentrated on the Venetian island of Murano, where further technical improvements took place. Monks used curved glass as a reading aid in the 12th and 13th centuries, and around this time proper spectacles were developed. As noted earlier, the development of the printing press in the 1440s resulted in increased demand for spectacles.

Various people tried different uses of lenses, leading to the invention of the microscope and so to Robert Hooke’s discovery of cells. Then came telescopes, and Galileo’s discovery of the moons of Jupiter; later, glass fibres, fibreglass and fibre-optic cables, the material basis of the Internet. Mirrors enabled people to see what they themselves looked like, and may have been responsible for the rise in self-portraiture from around 1400. All in all, writes Johnson, ‘it is impossible to imagine the last millennium without transparent glass.’

He goes on to discuss similar examples of technological innovations and their far-reaching social effects in fields such as: artificial cold, frozen food and air-conditioning; developments in hygiene and cleanliness that led to a big reduction in infant mortality and to people washing regularly; accurate time-keeping and its implications for factory discipline and working-class life. He only mentions in passing another example of the importance of economic considerations: the Longitude Prize offered by the British government in 1714 for discovering an accurate chronometer that enabled the determination of longitude at sea, which was essential for navigation and so for exploration and colonisation.

An argument against the overbearing importance of individuals is the celebrated remark of Isaac Newton, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’, though he was by no means the first person to say something along these lines. Moreover, most research nowadays is carried out by large teams of workers; over 1100 researchers at Google, for instance, while Microsoft Research is a similar size. Apple is currently building a $45m research centre in Beijing. Dyson employ over two thousand engineers in their research and development department, so it is not just a matter of the owner’s talent for inventing things.

The human struggle to understand and influence the natural world is closely related to efforts to expand production and improve living conditions. Under capitalism, profit is a major motivating force, but under all social systems human ingenuity and co-operation contribute to discoveries and inventions, and people build on what has gone before. Progress is cumulative and often results in unexpected consequences.
Paul Bennett

Nationalisation not Socialism (1908)

Editorial from the March 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some of our avowed opponents seem to have a clearer grasp of the situation than many calling themselves Socialists. Thus, whilst numbers of the latter, up and down the country, advocate the nationalisation of this and the municipalisation of that as “stepping stones to Socialism," the Daily News insists that, so far at any rate as railways are concerned, the opposite is the case. Commenting in its issue of February 12th upon the debate of the previous day in the House of Commons, it pointed out that the ruling classes of Prussia (where the railways are State property) know very well that partial nationalisation in no sense makes for Socialism, but on the contrary, when all the rest of industry remains upon the individualist plane it strengthens the existing system of Society by making it more prosperous, the balance of benefit going, in all probability, to the capitalist owners of the mines and the factories. There is, in short, it added, no large issue of principle at stake. The proposal is simply one for the more intelligent organisation of the existing system of production and distribution. A day later the Daily Chronicle wrote in a similar strain.

The view thus expressed not only represents the opinion of the Cadburys but of other equally farsighted capitalists who advocate improvements and modifications of existing methods because they recognise that their particular interests will be served by such alterations. They do not, of course, desire to interfere with the basis of capitalist industry, but to secure the removal of obstacles which prevent the full development of their businesses, obstacles placed in their way by other sections of their class. That they should be assisted in their efforts to strengthen the existing system of Society by well-meaning but short-sighted persons who claim to be out for the abolition of the very system of Society they are strengthening, in a very large measure accounts for the slow progress of the revolutionary movement.

Socialism or Palliated Capitalism?
Great has been the abuse levelled against The Socialist Party of Great Britain because of the fact that from its inception it has steadfastly set itself against the advocacy of palliatives or improvements that "strengthen the existing system of Society." No other party in this country occupies a similar position, and many who were once opposed to it on this particular point have been converted to its views. To those who still persist in such advocacy let us ask: "What are you out for?" Some will probably reply: "We are out for Socialism, but we know the working class cannot understand and struggle for Socialism until they are better fed and better housed than at present." And so they concentrate on feeding, housing, etc. If there were evidence to show that all well-fed and well-housed workers were in the forefront of the revolutionary struggle, one could understand their attitude. But there is none. Does it follow that those who throw off the shackles of religion, or who secure a “clear head” by giving up alcoholic liquors become Socialists? No, in very many cases they are pronounced anti-Socialists. And is the study of Socialism taken up and revolutionary change advocated by the well-fed domestics and flunkeys or by those whose efficiency as wage-slaves is studied by such “model" employers as the Cadburys, Levers, and the like? There is no more justification in arguing that the working class must be well fed, well clothed and decently housed before they can understand and organise for Socialism than there is for the opposite attitude that it is necessary to starve and grind them down before any real consciousness of their position and determination to alter it will possess them.

Party Pars (1909)

Party News from the March 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

The S.P.G.B. at all points of the compass are meeting the enemy or making arrangements to do so. The Anti-Socialist Union have agreed at four different places to meet us in debate. Early in March a discussion will take place between rep representatives of the two organisations at Paddington. At Tottenham a Mr Farraday  is to meet Anderson as soon as arrangements for hall accomodation have been settled. Islington and Battersea have also negotiations pending.

* * *

There is to be, too, a reawakening of a discussion already held between Anderson and a Councillor Freeman. On that occasion, when Freeman deputised for a fellow Councillor, the Party position was absolutely unscratched by the opponent. Recently, at Tooting, the same Freeman boasted that he had “wiped the floor” with our representative. He was promptly invited to repeat the performance before a Tooting audience. as things have been going all our way there. Doubtless the worthy Councillor will make good his acceptance of the invitation.

* * *

The S.L.P. is anxious to demonstrate the fact that it has at least one representative in London. The negotiations for a debate with a person reputed to represent that Party were nearing completion when it was discovered that he was no longer a member and could not act further. We understand that Mr. F. Budgen will therefore appear on their behalf.

* * *

The leaflet noticed in our leader column last mouth has been in great demand, and the supply that was at the Head Office is practically exhausted. A new one has been issued on a more general topic, entitled: “Socialism versus Social Reform.” It can be supplied to branches and others at 7s. 6d. per thousand.

* * * 

The attention of all concerned is drawn to the fact that the Fifth Annual Conference of the Party will be held at the Communist Club, 107, Charlotte St.. Fitzroy Sq.. W., on Friday, April 9th, and Saturday, April 10th, commencing each day at 10 o'clock. In the evening of Friday, at 7.30, the Annual Social will be held. Admission will be by ticket (6d. each), to be had off all Branch Secretaries or at the door.

* * *

On the 21st of March the Battersea Branch are holding a Commune Celebration meeting at the Latchmere Baths. Full particulars on the back page.
Dick Kent