Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The coming election (1991)

Editorial from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The politicians are at it again. Over the next few months, urged on by the media, they will bombard us with promises, polemics and their own puffed-up personalities. We are supposed to be impressed and to vote for one or other of the parties on offer. Yet experience of past elections and past governments shows that it doesn’t really matter who wins.

Whichever party forms the government things go on as before. Inequalities of wealth and income survive; poverty, bad housing and hospital queues persist; unemployment goes up or down in accordance with the business cycle; those in work still have to struggle to keep earnings in line with inflation; pollution continues; international tensions and threat of war remain.

Despite the competing candidates, there will be no real choice in the election.The three main parties all stand for the same thing. They all support the minority ownership of the means of production, whether through stocks and shares or through state control. They all agree that the aim of production should be sale with a view to profit. They all insist that the majority of us should get a living by working for an employer and that we should have to buy rather than have access as of right to the things we need to live. In short, they all stand for capitalism.

Such differences as exist between them are merely superficial details over how this system should be run. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats may favour private enterprise capitalism slightly more than Labour, and Labour state intervention slightly more than them, but on basics they are agreed. For them there is no alternative to the present system of minority ownership and production for profit. They accept its framework and agree to work within it.

This is why their record in office is one of miserable failure to honour their promises. It is not because they are dishonest or uncaring or incompetent or self-seeking—though they may be these things too— that the politicians fail but because in seeking to make capitalism work to serve human interests they are trying to do something that just cannot be done. They are trying to make a leopard change its spots.

Capitalism is a profit-seeking system that can only work as that. It is a system governed by blind economic laws which no government can control or alter and which decree that profit-making must be given priority over all other considerations including meeting needs. All governments, whatever their original intentions, inevitably end up—Labour governments included—administering the system on its terms, giving priority to profits, restraining wages and salaries and cutting benefits and services, and generally presiding over the economy as it staggers through its boom-slump cycle. Governments dance to the tune of capitalism, not the other way round.

We in the Socialist Party decisively reject this approach to politics. An election in which the issue is which particular gang of politicians is to preside over the operation of capitalism is a meaningless irrelevancy. What is required is a fundamental change in the basis of society. Private and state ownership must give way to common ownership and democratic control. On this basis, class privilege is abolished and we all have an equal say in the way things are run. Production is directly geared to meeting needs and we all have free access to what we need. This—production for profit or production for needs—is the real issue.

Capitalism fails again (1992)

Editorial from the September 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 1980s the poor got poorer. This is not Marxist dogma but official government statistics. The Households Below Average Income survey, published by the Department of Social Security at the end of July, showed that between 1979 and 1989 the number of individuals in households with less than half the average income (the official Common Market measure of poverty) rose from 5 million to 12 million. The number of children affected increased from 1.4 million to 3.1 million, a quarter of all children.

Since average income increased in the same period this does not necessarily mean that those at the bottom became poorer. Nor, whatever some claim, is this what Marxists say has to happen. But it can happen. And it did. In the 1980s the average weekly income of the bottom 10 percent, after payment of housing costs and in April 1992 money, fell from £70 to £66. That of the bottom 20 percent remained static at £81. But this average figure disguises the fact that, while the income of those over pension age increased marginally, those below pension age suffered a drop except for single parent households who got a measly £1 more.

Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, naturally sought to emphasise another statistic: that the average income increased by 30 percent. And it is true that in the 10 years average earnings went up more than prices. So (most but by no means all) people in employment did have more money to spend. But this doesn’t mean that they were better off by that amount. There was a price to pay.

During the 1980s competitive pressures forced employers, in the public as well as the private sector to cut costs, including labour costs. This meant getting more work done by less people. Workers were sacked but the workload remained the same or was increased. Those who kept their jobs had to work harder—more labour was extracted from them. This was the story in factories, offices, hospitals and educational establishments up and down the country. In addition, more workers were required to work unsocial hours. Another official government publication Social Trends, published by the Central Statistical Office in January, recorded that, while in 1985 44.3 percent of workers were forced to work at least one weekend a month, in 1990 48.5 percent were. Similarly, those forced to do shiftwork increased from 12.3 to 13.2 percent. All this amounts to a deterioration of working conditions.

But that wasn’t the only thing to get worse. Over the same period the level and quality of public services declined, as the central government, through such devices as “charge-capping”, took steps to pass on to local authorities the capitalist market pressures to cut costs. Everywhere the provision of libraries, creches, help for the elderly and disabled, adult education, sports facilities, and the like was markedly worse in 1989 than it had been in 1979.

Unemployment increased. Homelessness increased. Pollution increased. More people got into debt. Suicides, crime and drug addiction all went up. More sites of natural and historical interest were destroyed. Housing standards were lowered. Business got into the schools. Advertising was allowed on the radio. Need we go on?

Faced with these facts only a die-hard defender could claim that capitalism is a benign system which provides steadily rising living standards for the whole working class. Capitalism never has been and never will be like that. Those in work will always be under pressure to work harder while those not in work will never get more than a pittance. That is all capitalism can offer. Which is why it must be replaced by socialism—a society where poverty will be impossible since the overriding social aim will be to satisfy everybody’s needs, not to make profits.

Socialist Manifesto (1992)

Editorial from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people think that whichever government is elected it will make no real difference to their lives.

Most people are right.

Most people think that political leaders are dishonest timewasters.

Most people are right about that.

Most people think that the world is in a mess: millions unemployed, homelessness and house repossessions, kids on the streets, a collapsing health service, wars, ecological destruction, countless millions starving while farmers are paid to let food rot.

Yes, society is in a hell of a mess.

Most people think that little can be done to change it.

They’re wrong.

Society does not have to be like this. We live under a system where:
  • Production is for profit, not primarily for need.
  • The richest 10 per cent own over half of all personal marketable wealth.
  • The richest one per cent own three times as much as the poorest 50 per cent added together.
  • The economy is run to make the rich stay rich at the expense of the poor.

The world market can never be run in the interest of the majority of us who produce the wealth but do not possess the major resources. No tinkering with the profit system by any government can ever make it comfortable, secure and happy for the majority of us.

All of the politicians in this election are asking you to vote for them so that they can run capitalism—continue the mess—carry on putting profit before needs—piling on the misery. 

What we need is a new way of running society based on:
  • The common ownership of all resources by the whole community, not just a rich minority.
  • Democratic control of the community by everyone, without distinction of age, race or sex, instead of rule by unelected company directors or state bureaucrats.
  • Production purely for use, not profit.
  • Free and equal access to all goods and services—an end to the market and to money.

Only the Socialist Party stands for that alternative: genuine socialism.

A vote for the Socialist candidate means that:
  • You reject the policies of the profit system.
  • You understand and want the real socialist alternative.
  • You do not need leaders to do your thinking and run society for you.
  • You are going to vote for yourself—for a change.


Cuts, cuts and more cuts (1993)

Editorial from the December 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

In drawing up his budget Kenneth Clarke had a problem. As the man in charge of the finances of the capitalist state in Britain, he has to find the money to pay for the government’s activities. But because he couldn’t find enough, at least not without undermining profit-making, he has had to cut back on government spending.

Not that this was new. It’s been going on for twenty or so years now. Every Chancellor over this period has faced the same problem, and every one of them - Labour as well as Tory - has adopted the same solution of curbs on government spending. This has not been because they were uncaring or mean (though some of them tried hard to give this impression) but because they were forced to by the operation of the profit system.

Governments are entirely dependent for their finances on the profit-making sector of the economy. This is the sector where the profit motive reigns supreme. Where unless businesses calculate they stand to make sufficient profits they won’t employ workers to produce wealth. As governments are not engaged in producing wealth themselves, the only way they can get money is by taxing or borrowing from this sector.

So they have an over-riding financial interest in the health of the profit sector and in doing nothing that would adversely affect the profit-making, and profit-taking, that goes on there. This places clear limits on how much they can spend since to overdo it is to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

This has always been the case, but the problem got worse when the post-war boom came to an end in the early seventies. Since then profits everywhere have been squeezed by the increased competition on the world market. So government spending, coming in the end as it does out of the profits of the profit-making sector, has also had to be squeezed. When Chancellors say they haven’t got the money to maintain public services at existing levels they are telling the truth. They haven’t. The cupboard really is bare.

Governments, not just in Britain but everywhere, have had to resort to drastic measures to raise money. They have had to sell off state assets to the private sector. They have undermined the integrity of their civil service by introducing into it the degraded standards of the marketplace and by hiving off whole sections to private business. They have considerably worsened the working conditions of public sector employees. And they have drastically reduced the scope and level of services provided by national and local government.

Some blame the "wicked Tories" for all this. But the Tories have essentially been the agents - the all-too-willing agents, it is true - of economic forces beyond the control of any government. Government spending has had to be squeezed over the past twenty years to allow the profit-seeking sector to retain more of the reduced profits they have been making. As the Tories have been in power for most of this period, they have had to do most of the dirty work. In other countries - France, Spain, Australia, for instance - it is the Labourites who have done this, apologetically perhaps but they have still done it.

The lesson is clear. The idea that capitalism can be reformed, by means of a growing public sector and an expanding welfare state, into a better system of society (an idea once entertained, believe it or not, by the Labour Party) has been utterly discredited and disproved in practice.

The fact is the profit system can never be reformed so as to work in the interest of the majority of the population. It can only work as a profit system, by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. And governments have no alternative but to dance to this tune.

What we need is a peaceful, democratic social revolution to replace the profit system by one based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. Then we can produce to meet our needs, not for profits. And society can accomplish its true aim: serving the welfare of its members by ensuring that we have no worries over satisfying our material needs.

Bosnia—who started it? (1993)

Editorial from the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

“What do you expect? They’ve been at it for centuries” is a common reaction to the situation in Bosnia. as if it was somehow part of the nature of Balkan Man to kill, rape, burn and otherwise generally feud with neighbours just because they speak a different language or come from a different religious background.

Certainly Socialists condemn without reservation the murderous acts of all groups fighting in Bosnia, who have introduced a new and disgusting word— “ethnic cleansing”—into the language. But there is another side to the story.

Not so much now but until fairly recent times, the Balkans was a region of key strategic importance for the various competing capitalist powers. The rulers of Tsarist Russia dreamed of gaining control of the Bosphoros as an outlet to the Mediterranean. Imperial Germany, and its junior partner the Austro-Hungarian Empire, wanted to control the area to protect the planned Berlin to Baghdad railway and trade route to the Middle East. The British Empire had an interest in neither of these rival powers dominating the area and so pursued a policy of propping up the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Each of these powers had its pawns in the region. Russia projected itself as the protector of the area’s Orthodox Christians (Serbs, Rumanians. Bulgarians). Austria played the Catholic card (Croats, Slovenes) while the Ottoman Empire relied on the Moslems (Turks, Albanians but also Slav-speakers, as in Bosnia).

These were the groups that were set against each other on the ground, as the various Empires vied for control of the Balkans. The so-called “historic” rivalry between these groups was artificially stirred up by the competing imperialist powers in the sixty or so years up until the First World War. And, as so often happens in these cases (we’ve seen it nearer home in Northern Ireland), once turned on such passions unleashed to serve capitalist interests can't be turned off just like that, however much some of the powers with a current interest in the area may now wish to.

The First World War led to the break-up of the German. Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires. An artificial state called “Yugoslavia” (literally, the Land of the South Slavs) was set up ruling over peoples speaking a variety of languages (mainly Serbian, Croatian. Slovenian and Macedonian). It was so unwieldly that it proved impossible to hold it together other than by dictatorship, before the war that of the Serb monarch and afterwards by Tito and his clique.

In practice Yugoslavia was Greater Serbia, but the death of Tito and then the overthrow of the state- capitalist regimes in the rest of Eastern Europe seriously weakened the Yugoslav regime. Greater Serbia began to shrink as the various provinces—Slovenia, Croatia, then Bosnia, then Macedonia—broke away. The capitalists of Slovenia and Croatia, as the most developed parts of the “former Yugoslavia”, had their own economic reasons for wanting to break away. But this wasn’t the only factor. In the background was the newly re-unified Germany, anxious to flex its muscles in its re-found role as the most powerful state in Europe—and anxious to recreate its former spheres of influence in eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Germany pressed the other European states and America to recognise Slovenia, Croatia and, with more difficulty, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The rulers of the former Greater Serbia decided to resist militarily, conquering a third of Croatia and two-thirds of Bosnia. This was not what the major capitalist states had intended and their response has simply been to try to contain the problem and stop it spreading to the rest of the Balkans, by holding the ring while their pawns of yesteryear battle it out amongst themselves.

If Socialists were stronger on the ground both here and in the Balkans we might be able to do something more than re-assert the principle that workers the world over have a common interest. As it is, all we can do is to place on record our abhorrence of this latest manifestation of capitalist barbarity and call upon our fellow workers in Bosnia not to be led by war-mongers into slaughtering each other. That way they certainly have no future.

Editorial: Wrong questions (1993)

Editorial from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throughout the media and in everyday discussion questions are being asked about mass unemployment. Where will we find the “green shoots” of economic recovery? When will we see the end of the slump?

These questions are not new. They have been asked many times before and as in the past no one knows the answers. There are political promises and no shortage of economic forecasts but the record of both only tells us how useless they are.

The questions might just as well be shouted into a void in the hope that an echo might suggest what is going to happen next. An appeal to gods would be just as good. Indeed, the world of economics has become one of mystery to be interpreted by gurus, a priestly caste of so-called experts with little to offer more than a hope or a prayer.

It is asked when will people begin to spend again? Where can we find the money for better health services? How can we invest more in housing? Where can we drum up the resources to help those in desperate need?

In all such questions the word “resources” has come to mean money for investment as if pounds and dollars have their own powers of production. It is assumed we cannot produce without money and therefore, if there is no money we are helpless to deal with problems. In attributing powers of production to money it becomes a fetish before which we abandon our real human powers. Instead of control we have chaos. Instead of sound prediction we are beset by uncertainty and anxiety. Instead of decision-making and action we are deadlocked into failure.

This alienation from our powers to solve problems has created a deeply sick society in which the language of economics articulates the preoccupations of a world gone mad. Inflation, deflation, interest rates, exchange rates, balance of payments, deficit budgeting, unit labour costs, etc, etc, these are the features of a destructive system which has little connection with the world of real human needs.

The trouble is people have been asking the wrong questions. So, what are the right ones?

Socialists ask, why are 400,000 workers in the construction industry idle and why are millions of bricks being stockpiled whilst families have to suffer the miseries of homelessness? Why is food destroyed and why is land taken out of production whilst millions of people are starving and whilst even in the so-called developed countries some families have to go without food? Above all we ask, why is it that the great majority of people, the producers of goods and services in industry, energy supply, manufacture, farming, transport, health, education and other useful services, why is it that we have to suffer the worst problems whilst the obscenely rich continue to enjoy their privileges?

These are the right questions and the answers need not be shrouded in mystery. The answers are plain from everyday experience.

Workers are thrown out of jobs because they cannot be exploited for profit. Similarly, building materials remain stockpiled, food is destroyed and land is taken out of production because under capitalism profit must come before needs.

At the root of this is the fact that the planet and all its resources are monopolised by a small minority of economic predators—the capitalist class. One reason why the vast majority are powerless is because we have no control over the means of life, which is our labour and natural resources.

The first step to gaining that control is to work for a world of common ownership, democratic control, co-operation and production directly for the needs of all people. These are the only means by which we can end the economic nightmare of capitalism.

The Criminal Justice Bill (1994)

Editorial from the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maybe next it’ll be curfews. The owning class are winning hands down at the moment, and we the working class are not doing much to stop them. Partly it’s this long recession that has so badly affected workers’ organisations. Poverty saps the will to fight back. Poverty sows disunity as much as discontent. The owning class use poverty against us the way a terrorist uses bombs — to frighten and weaken us. The audacity of the Criminal Justice Bill is a measure of what they think of us. Fearful, impotent, we look on as our hands are tied, our feet chained, and our pockets raided. And now they are surpassing themselves, with a frontal assault on our power to organise and defend ourselves.

This is happening because the ownership of the entire world is in the hands of a tiny minority of people. They use this ownership to subjugate the rest of us in almost every conceivable way. We resist, but we never think of questioning their property rights. We never think of abolishing the law of private property which gives them their enormous power in the first place. Instead we go on marches and grumble.

If you believe in human rights and in democracy, remember this: you will never be free until the Earth is free, and the Earth will never be free while it is held in private hands. Capitalism makes us trespassers in a world that should belong to us all in common, let’s organise to take it back.

Things Could Be Different (1994)

Editorial from the November 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism will differ fundamentally from today’s society by providing all people with the full amenities of modern life. Society does not provide for all now simply because its economy (the way it produces things) is geared not to producing what people need but to producing profitably what they can afford.

This presents no problem for some since they can afford to pay for the best of all they need. But only a small number are in this position. The vast majority of us are limited in what we can afford by what we earn in wages or salaries, despite the fact that it is us who do the producing. The minority who have access to the best are those who own and control the means of production.

In Socialist society ownership and control of the means of production will be in the hands of the community as a whole. This will enable production to be directed in the interest of all on the basis of what we need. With modern methods of demand research, stock control, statistics, and electronic computing, the means by which the needs of society can be determined are already available.

To ensure that society will provide enough, people will, as now, need to co-operate to help produce it. But with the disappearance of money at least half of today’s work becomes unnecessary. With the elimination of commercial competition this would reduce further.

With this removal of unnecessary work coupled with the full use of automation, necessary work, if shared out on a rota basis, need occupy much less of the individual’s time than it does today. Given that the findings of biological and anthropological research back up the contention that human beings would readily and harmoniously co-operate together, in the favourable conditions that will exist in Socialist society, people can work according to their ability and take from society what they need. As production and its organisation already take place on a world-wide scale with each country dependent on others for resources and skills, Socialism will [need] to be a world society.

Achieving this new society democratically requires the majority of people to express their desire for it. The immense task is telling the majority of people about it. That’s why we need a Socialist party, to campaign for Socialism and nothing but.