Monday, May 29, 2017

The Joys of Independence (1963)

Book Review from the December 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Morning After by Brian Crozier (Methuen, 36s.).

The joys of becoming an independent country are, by and large, illusory for the mass of the peoples of the “liberated” countries and not worth the effort and sacrifice so often involved in achieving it. This is a theme that the S.P.G.B. has been plugging throughout its history. We did not need to wait till after the "subject peoples” had experienced the frustrations of independence to come to our conclusions, any more than we needed to wait for the emergence of forced labour camps or the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact to prove that the Soviets were not going to introduce Socialism into Russia.

Of course, this attitude was regarded as cynical and brought us no popularity either among the people who were to be “liberated” or among the left-wing parties of the west who (except when they were in power, of course) were often in the van of the freedom movement. Nor shall we gain any popularity among the readers of this book if we point out that we could see it all coming.

Nevertheless, this book is a valuable one and worth reading. For Socialists it provides a considerable amount of evidence to support the case we make. For others it may prove something of an eye- opener.

Mr. Crozier has no difficulty in showing that in many of the countries that have thrown out the British or the French or the Dutch the lot of the average worker, far from being better than in Imperial days, is actually worse. He gives the example of Burma where four years after independence the average worker was earning £13 16s. per, not week, not even month, but year. Twelve years earlier, under British rule, the figure was £24 14s. Nothing to write home about, but the Burmese workers can hardly claim to have done very well out of the change for which they struggled. In Indonesia, a country with fantastic natural wealth, the author quotes President Sukarno’s own paper as admitting: “A city worker who only makes 6.50 Rupiah a day can never afford a litre of rice at 8 RP. He therefore cannot even support a family,” i.e., not even on rice-bowl standards. It must be comforting to a worker in Jakarta to watch his children going hungry and reflect that at least they have expelled the Dutch.

The author also has little difficulty in showing that on the freedom front most of these countries make as poor a showing as on the economic one. When one thinks of political opponents being tried in chains in the Courts of Ghana (where Nkrumah's strong-arm man was able to send his wife on a spending spree to London to buy, among other things, a £3,000 gold bed) one is almost tempted to forget (as one should not) the quite recent atrocities of the British and French in places like Kenya or Algeria. The author does not mention an item which was quoted in this journal a year or two ago about trade unionists being imprisoned and flogged in the Pakistan of General Ayub Khan, whom he regards as one of the less evil of the rulers thrown up by independence, for the crime of striking for better working conditions. One wonders if these poor devils felt the lash any less painful because it was used on the orders of a fellow Pakistani and not of an alien Briton.

There is a tendency, and Mr. Crozier is not free from it, to suggest that dictatorship is really quite good for the emergent countries or at worst, a necessary evil. This is, of course, an insult to the workers of these countries who deserve their despots no more than the European workers of Hitlerite Germany or Franco Spain. But in general this book does a useful job in showing the futility of the nostrum of independence for the working class. Would that he showed some awareness of the need for a revolutionary change in the social scene in backward and advanced countries alike.
L. E. Weidberg

Branch News (1964)

Party News from the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lewisham Branch, in anticipation of the General Election, have a full programme of meetings and activity arranged for the next few months. Their first meeting is at the Bromley Library Lecture Room. High Street. Bromley on “What is Socialism”. The date—Friday, February 28th at 8 pm (Full details are advertised in display panel in this issue). The following meeting at the same, venue is titled “Wages and Inflation", and is on March 20th. Intensive work will be put into Bromley by the branch with the help of other London members prior to the General Election when it is hoped that the Party will be able to contest the Bromley constituency. When the date of the election is known, members from all over London will make a special effort to assist in Bromley, but meantime all help will be welcome by Lewisham Branch.

We are happy to acknowledge donations from the following: Ethel L. Lee Haing, Sydney. Australia (£39 16s. 9d.). Mrs. P. de Cleve. Wellington. N.Z. (£1). “A Sympathiser” from Sunderland (10/-). and from Vienna, our comrades Frank and Pelinger £1 10s. each. It is particularly pleasing to learn that comrades so far away, whilst working hard under difficult conditions to spread the Socialist message, in addition contribute so generously to our funds.

Paddington and Marylebone Branch have a very full programme arranged right up till April. Full details in the meetings column. Glasgow also have a very full programme in preparation for the General Election. Details of their immediate meetings are advertised in this issue.

We regret that a printing error was made in Branch News in the December Socialist Standard. Under activity in Swansea reference was made to the “ Anti-Panzer Group”—this should have read the “Anti Nuclear Group”

We are very sad to learn of the death of our comrade Mark Bredon of West Ham Branch. Due to illness he had not been around very much of late, but he will be well remembered for his visits to Head Office and Conferences despite great difficulty in walking. He had been a Party member for more than thirty years.
Phyllis Howard

Branch News (1964)

Party News from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the December issue who ordered a year’s subscription for the Socialist Standard should be feeling justified on seeing the first issue for 1964. Those who did not send in their subscription form are reminded now, and with this special issue as an example of Socialist literature subscription forms should now be pouring into Head Office. The more Standards sold, the less the overall cost and other fields of propaganda can be embarked upon with more cash in the “kitty".

Wembley Branch have had a most successful literature canvass—all their Standard stock was sold out, the latter part of the canvass was in a new area for the Branch —Queen’s Park. The canvassers were impressed by the interest taken, some people bought two copies and asked that they be called on again.

Mid-Herts. Group have been operating for just over a year. Much progress has been made and it is hoped to arrange a series of meetings in the New Year based upon the policies of the Conservative, Liberal and Labour Parties. These may take the form of discussion debates or a lecture from a Party speaker. When these arrangements are complete it is hoped to have leaflets printed and distributed to advertise the events.

South East Essex Branch holds its first meeting of the New Year on Monday, January 13th and will then meet every two weeks from that date.

During last month’s by-election in Marylebone, our local Branch members produced a special leaflet for the occasion. They also attended the meetings of the contesting parties, and keenly questioned the candidates. At Labour's meetings our comrades successfully put their points, exposing the weakness and anti-socialist nature of the Labour Party. At the Conservative meetings our members tried hard and well, but were faced with the strange phenomena of a candidate who refused point blank to answer oral questions from anyone. This Tory candidate apparently has aspired for the premiership. His arrogance and rudeness, plus his hollow phrase-mongering only made him look very foolish as well as incompetent.
Phyllis Howard

Cooking the Books: The Price of a Home (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everybody is supposed to aspire to owning their home. It is true that, in the insecure world that capitalism is, owning where you live does give you a measure of security. But it's pretty expensive and dependent on having regular employment for twenty to thirty years. And the house doesn't become yours till you've completely paid off the loan you took out to buy it; up till then it belongs to the bank or building society you got the loan and they can repossess it if you default. Having a mortgage round your neck also tends to make you less inclined to go on strike; which of course was one of Mrs Thatcher's calculations when she pursued the policy of turning workers from renters into owner-occupiers.
Renting is now increasing as stagnating wages and rising house prices make buying a house too expensive for more and more workers. Actually, it's not the price of houses that is rising, but the price of the land on which they are built. Most of the cost of buying a home is for the land, as can be seen in the difference between what a building is insured for and the price at which it will sell.
Commenting on the financial results of the house-building firms Bovis, the Times (21 February) noted:
'Ultimately, building houses is not rocket science and profits are not driven as much by the cost of supplies or labour as by a company's skill at acquiring land at the right price.'
Hence the phenomenon of 'land banking' where property speculators buy up land and leave it unused while waiting for the most profitable time to develop it.
Land, as it is not the product of work, has no value in the Marxian sense. It has only a price, which is determined solely by demand. Some plots of land have a higher price than others because they are located where firms and people want to use it. Location is all-important. Henry George, the late 19th century land reformer, pointed out that as cities and towns grew the price of the land on which they were built went up to the benefit of those who owned it. The centre of London is still owned by aristocrats such as the Duke of Westminster whose ancestors got fabulously rich without having to lift a finger or invest a penny and still the money rolls in.
This is why pro-capitalist reformers like Henry George proposed a 100 percent tax on increases in land values. Others, equally pro-capitalist, proposed land nationalisation. Today's reformers are less bold. They only propose tinkering to try to bring land prices down. The charity and reformist campaigning group Shelter is proposing:
'greater powers for councils over land in their area. Land would be sold to developers with proposals that most closely meet community needs, rather than selling to the highest bidder alone. Shelter said lower land prices would mean developers did not need to keep house prices “artificially high”' ( i paper, 2 March).
That's assuming that developers are out only to make a normal profit from merely building houses whereas, as the Times article points out, they are also out to make money out of rising land prices. And, do Shelter expect cash-strapped local councils not to get the best deal they can for the land they own or control?
Housing is a good example of the irrational way that capitalism treats meeting a basic need. What in a society geared to meeting people's needs would be a straightforward question of deciding how best to use land and then doing it is complicated under capitalism by such extraneous factors as profits, loan repayments and the price of land.

The Silent Conspiracy (1993)

Book Review from the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Silent Conspiracy: Inside the Intelligence Services in the 1990s by Stephen Dorril. (Heinemann, London, £16.99.)

The existence, and function, of the modern state is accepted and not questioned by most people. Yet the state has not existed, in the words of Frederick Engels. “from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it. which hail no notion of state power" (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State). The state came into existence with the emergence of class society.

The modern state, therefore, exists to facilitate the running of capitalist society as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and to look after and protect the interests, internally and externally, of the owners of capital—the capitalist class. Although at various times, and in varying degrees, in different countries, industries and means of transportation have been owned and run by the state (the nationalized industries), the central core of any modern state comprises the civil service, the armed forces and the police. Such organizations are there for all to see. But many of their functions, departments and offshoots remain secret, semi-secret and largely unaccountable. They are sometimes referred to as "the secret state”. This book deals in part, in some detail, with aspects of those parts of the modern state generally described as the security and intelligence services, largely in the 1980s and into the 1990s.

There are useful chapters on MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHO). Spying on trade unionists and unions as well as organizations such as CND are discussed. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the subsequent decline of the Communist Party, more emphasis by the security service, as well as the so-called secret intelligence service, is now put on other “subversives” and “terrorists" within the United Kingdom, and industrial spying by foreign capitalist states, "friendly” or otherwise.

The Silent Conspiracy provides useful information for socialists, striving for a world of production for use and the satisfaction of needs, and shows how necessary it must be for a socialist majority to gain control of the state. The book demonstrates just how impossible it would be for "revolutionaries" to abolish the state by “smashing” it. A socialist majority would have to dismantle the repressive apparatus of the state and, obviously, close down such organizations as MI5. MI6 and GCHO. No doubt the buildings, computers—and their staffs—could be put to different use. And as quickly as possible after a socialist majority wins control of the State. Socialism would have no use for a coercive stale machine.
Peter E. Newell

Modern Political Ideologies (1993)

Book Review from the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern Political Ideologies. By Andrew Vincent. (Blackwell.)

Starting with the origin and history of the concept of ideology, through Marx’s and Engels’s differing uses of the term, Vincent gives an analysis of its contemporary usage: a set of beliefs which has a view of society and how it ought to be. He then gives, from an unstated liberal viewpoint, detailed accounts of the “traditional" ideologies—liberalism, conservatism, socialism, anarchism, fascism—including accounts of feminism and ecologism, in all their manifold complexity.

Of particular interest to us is the chapter on “socialism”. Some insights are revealed:
despite the fact that Marxism is often regarded as a deeply statist doctrine . . . one looks in vain within the corpus of Marx and Engels's writings for any positive theory of the state. What one finds is an overwhelmingly negative analysis of the state.
But Vincent’s liberal standpoint leads him to look with favour on something that has been called “market socialism". Enough has been said in this journal about this contradiction in terms. It has to be said, however, that this concept illustrates a problem which pervades the whole book, and other books like it, the assumption that politics completely overrides economics. It is almost as if all that is needed to live the good life is to discover the right political principles and then live by them. But the global economic system, as Vincent partially realizes, is based on the accumulation of capital out of profits. When, as now, there is a widespread failure of profitability with its resultant social distress in terms of increased unemployment, poverty, ill-health etc, political principles can be rendered null and void. Even when the profit system is working "normally" it offers severe problems for most people: problems which governments are largely powerless to prevent or cure.

Vincent pulls together a lot of information which socialists will find useful. However, for a politics which is balanced with an understanding of the economics of capitalism just keep reading the Socialist Standard.
Lew Higgins

Going private (1983)

From the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a simple belief among electors that the Labour Party is for nationalisation and the Tories are against it. While it is true that there are elements holding such views in the two Parties the reality is much more complicated. There are several different reasons why governments nationalise; because, as conditions change, governments may reverse their policies and because the outlook of the electors has to be taken into account.

The Tories, the Liberals and the Labour Party have all changed their attitude from time to time. In the 19th century Liberal and Tory governments looked on nationalisation as an acceptable way of dealing with private monopolies, and at first the newly formed Labour Party shared that view. It was a Tory government which established the Central Electricity Board in 1926, the BBC in 1927 and BOAC in 1939; a Liberal government which set up the Port of London Authority in 1908. In 1943 Churchill, as Prime Minister, said in a broadcast “There is a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise especially in relation to monopolies".

In the meantime the Labour Party, under its constitution and in line with conference resolutions, became committed to more or less universal nationalisation, and put a large instalment into operation in the sweeping nationalisation Acts of the Labour Government 1945-1951.

Then a reaction set in. The Labour Party leaders, notably Gaitskell, began to resist demands in their own ranks for further nationalisation, and the Tories and Liberals took up a positive opposition to nationalisation except in special circumstances (like the Tory nationalisation of part of Rolls-Royce in 1971 when the firm went bankrupt). The Tories actually denationalised Iron and Steel, which a later Labour government renationalised.

The present Tory policy is identical with that stated by the Liberal Party in their election Programme 1950.
Nationalisation for the sake of nationalisation is nonsense. The Liberals’ attitude is clear. Monopoly where it is not inevitable is objectionable and should be broken up. If it cannot be broken up it should, if possible, be controlled in the public interest without a change of ownership; only when neither the restoration of competition nor control is possible, should nationalisation be considered.
Among the reasons for nationalisation are military considerations, as in the Liberal government Act of 1871 which gave the government power to take over the railways in war-time or other emergencies. It was also military considerations which led a Tory government in 1928 to denationalise some Post Office cables and the Post Office Beam Wireless Telegraph Service and hand them over to a merger of the cable companies. The Post Office wireless service was undercutting the cables and driving them into bankruptcy, which the government wished to prevent, largely for military reasons.

Governments have also introduced nationalisation to secure the integration and modernisation of an industry when it appears to be impractical for private owners to secure the necessary capital for the purpose, as in the case of coal. State control had been unanimously recommended by a Coal Commission in 1919 on the ground that fragmentation into 4,000 separate owners meant waste and inefficiency, which only nationalisation could remedy. It is noticeable that the Tories have so far not seriously considered denationalisation of coal.

But the one continuing issue in relation to nationalisation has been the question of private monopolies and how to deal with them. The first Act giving the government power to buy out the railways was in 1844. Gladstone, who was President of the Board of Trade in a Tory government (it was only later that he joined the Liberals) got the Act through because the railways were exploiting their transport monopoly to fix charges regarded by business men and the government as excessive. During the debate in Parliament an MP who was Chairman of the Great Western Railway opposed the Bill and pleaded that the public should “trust in competition". Gladstone replied that the supposedly competing railways were getting together to kill competition. The Act was never put into operation but it served its purpose as a warning to the companies.

When, eventually, the railways were nationalised by the Labour government in 1947, far from being a monopoly they were being driven towards bankruptcy by road transport competition. In 1844 it was only the railways which were regarded as a dangerous private monopoly; but in the Great Depression at the end of the 19th century there was a growing movement in all industries for companies to seek salvation by amalgamating, so that the Committee on Trade in 1919 could report:
Trade associates and combines arc rapidly increasing in this country and may within no distant period exercise a paramount influence over all important branches of the British trade.
Subsequent Labour and Tory governments have passed Acts to deal with monopolies, but while the Labour Party has continued to seek a remedy in nationalisation, the Tories have now taken a strongly opposite view. At the 1979 General Election the Tory Programme dealt both with anti-monopoly laws and with denationalisation as a means of restoring competition. On the first it said:
In order to secure effective competition and fair pricing policy, we will review the working of the Monopolies Commission, the Office of Fair Trading, the Price Commission, with the legislation which governs their activities.
On the second, the Programme promised to denationalise the aerospace and shipbuilding industries, to sell shares in the National Freight Corporation and to relax the Traffic Commission’s licensing regulations to enable new bus and other services to develop.

In fact they have gone beyond this. Shares have been sold in British Petroleum and Britoil; the British Transport Docks Board is being partly “privatised" as Associated British Ports; British Rail's hotels and ferries have been sold, and there is a proposal to sell British Rail’s thirteen engineering workshops. It is intended to sell shares in British Airways but the airline's £l,000m outstanding debt makes it unattractive to investors unless the government first accepts responsibility for some or all of the debt.

Parliament has been dealing with the Bill to “privatise” British Telecommunications but because it was not mentioned in the Tory Election Programme the actual sale of shares will not take place until after the next election. At the Second Reading of the Bill on 9 November, the Minister of State for Industry, Patrick Jenkin, said that the public will be allowed to buy half the shares and "British Telecom would no longer be a nationalised industry but would become a private sector company”.

His case for the Bill was that it was only by being freed from Treasury control and allowed to raise its own capital in the market that it could "become a major force in the world communications market”. The company will not have a monopoly.

One of the purposes of denationalisation is to raise money for the government to help towards its planned, but so far not operated, reduction of taxation; but the main purpose of the whole policy is to restore competitiveness to British industry which has been the theme of reiterated speeches by Thatcher and other ministers. It will, she says, promote greater efficiency and lower prices, to enable British firms to meet the competition of foreign companies in the British market and exporters to invade world markets more effectively.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Socialists and Parliament (1992)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Having listened to many of your SPGB discussion tapes I think I broadly understand the Socialist Party perspective. However I still feel very unclear about the vexed question of social change and the agents by which the SPGB sees it coming about. I would be grateful if you could clarify matters for me.

The SPGB apparently favours a parliamentary road, but not a reformist one. It will be a revolution, through the mass vote of the people, which will install a majority of Socialist Party MPs. They will pass a single act which will restore ownership and control of the means of production to the people, and replace parliament by a body of delegates— presumably from communities and regions. They will be mandated to carry out the general will, which will be to establish socialism thereby abolishing classes. Is this broadly correct? If so, several questions come to mind:

1. Isn’t the SPGB position somewhat vanguardist, despite its ostensible rejection of vanguardism? I ask, because it seems that the Party sees its role as educational: to work out and communicate a theory and practice which the majority can learn and apply when they are ready to call for profound social change. At this time, would not the Party, in practice, have a leading position, showing people what to do: thus making it difficult to carry out its declared aim of disbanding and fading into the ranks?

2. How does this parliamentary revolution scenario stand up to the critique of such scenarios implicit in Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup? In that novel (as distinct from the more optimistic film version), I recall that the radical Labour Party was frustrated at every twist and turn by an international and national conspiracy on the part of the owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange. They used their economic and military power effectively to emasculate the nominal, political power of the elected government. In effect, nothing changed from what obtains today, except that the real power was more nakedly and forcefully exerted to put down revolution. And this is surely what would happen. Has the SPGB contemplated what would have to be done then to complete the transition to socialism? Does it envisage that the revolution would very quickly have to become extra-parliamentary, and possibly involve aggressive takeover of all the apparatus of real power? I can quite see the logic in the if-they-won’t-vote-for-it-they-won’t-fight- for-it maxim. But if they vote for it, will they then go on to fight for it if this becomes necessary?

3. Does the SPGB envisage any transitional stage when there might be some members elected as MPs, but not enough to form a majority? What would the strategy be? Would MPs have to behave strictly as delegates, or would they have latitude to develop a united parliamentary line for more effective opposition (effectively a whip)?

4. What is the view on how a mass desire for socialism will arise? I, myself, do not have much faith in a steady process of education and consciousness-raising as a trigger for social change. It will surely be material forces and events— perhaps a series of massive ecological disruptions, coupled with an immiseration of the third world proletariat beyond the point where they are willing to continue to be exploited by a first world bourgeoisie. (But the problem with this particular scenario, according to development expert Michael Redclift, is that third world people are already immiserated beyond the point where they would be likely to achieve revolutionary consciousness and take action). What do you think?

1. We do indeed say that the working class should use Parliament in the course of establishing socialism. But your summary of our position is not entirely accurate as it gives the impression that we think it will be the Socialist MPs who will establish socialism on behalf of an essentially passive even if socialist-minded majority outside Parliament. In actual fact our position is the reverse: it will be the socialist-minded and democratically self-organised working class outside Parliament who will establish socialism with the Socialist MPs as their passive instruments. The working class establishes socialism; the Socialist MPs are merely their delegates charged with carrying out certain formalities to try to ensure that the social revolution takes place in as coordinated and as peaceable a way as possible.

Similarly, although at present when there are so few socialists the role of a socialist party is essentially educational, when a majority or even a substantial minority come to want socialism its role will be transformed. There will be no separation between it and the working class since the socialist political party will be the working class organised politically for socialism.

2. Your question about a possible pro-capitalist coup is highly speculative but, yes, we have considered this. Basically, we think that such a coup would have no chance whatsoever of succeeding. Consider what an impending or actual socialist victory at the polls would mean. This would be a reflection of a desire for socialism but not by people who were prepared to do no more to get it than put an X on a ballot paper. It would reflect the determination to achieve socialism of an active majority, who would be organised at their places of work as well as on the political field.

In fact the existence of such a determined majority in itself could be expected to be a deterrent to any pro-capitalist putsch being attempted. But if such a putsch were to be staged then, clearly, the socialist majority would have to take steps to counter it. Obviously they could not, and would not, allow a usurping minority to thwart the majority will for socialism. How precisely to react would be up to the socialist movement to decide at the time in the light of the precise circumstances, but—since anyway we are in the realm of speculation here—it can be imagined that strikes and demonstrations would be organised and that in the armed forces (whose personnel would also have been influenced by the spread of socialist ideas) widespread defections and refusals to obey the usurping government would occur. The position of the putschists would be hopeless and would rapidly become untenable. The only way-out would be the very thing they sought to impede: the establishment of socialism. For once a majority want socialism nothing can prevent its establishment.

3. We have also considered the question of what a minority of Socialist MPs should do. In our view, their main task in Parliament would be to use it as a tribune to propagate socialist ideas; under no circumstances should they do deals or form alliances with non-socialist MPs; nor should they propose any reforms to capitalism. However, this need not preclude them voting for certain measures proposed by other MPs if the socialist movement outside Parliament judged doing so to be in the interest of the working class (safety and heath legislation, for instance). The Socialist MPs would at all times be answerable to the socialist working-class movement outside Parliament and be strictly mandated by it.

4. We agree with you that the "mass desire for socialism" is unlikely to arise solely from “a steady process of education and consciousness-raising”. What we say is that such campaigning for socialism will be an essential clement in the process of the emergence of majority socialist understanding. The other element will be the working-class discontent that is endemic to capitalism, and this is where “material forces and events” come in. You may be right that this could be a series of massive ecological disruptions. Or it could be a nuclear war. Or the growing dehumanization and break-down of social ties that capitalism is bringing about. Or even a particularly severe economic slump. Who knows? Who can know ?

Will the mass movement for socialism start amongst the working class in the so-called Third World? Maybe, but if it did it would not be able to succeed without spreading to the working class in the developed capitalist parts of the world. This is where the main productive resources which will allow humanity to overcome the problem of material scarcity and eliminate world hunger, poverty and disease are situated. The fate of the working class in the “Third World" is indissolubly tied to that of the working class in the "First World”.