Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Rise of the Meritocracy (1959)

Book Review from the February 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Society in 2034
When Swift, with satirical solemnity, suggested in his “Modest Proposals” that poverty in Ireland could be abolished by raising the children of the Irish poor for food, many at the time were shocked. The current suggestion that one day all children will be raised for fitting them to the rigid requirements of a stratified society evokes no great outcry, even though the consequences would be for humans as disastrous as if the “Modest Proposals” had been put into effect.

Dr. Young’s book, The Rise of the Meritocracy (publishers, Thomas and Hudson, 15s.) outlines such a future. By A.D. 2034 Britain is ruled by an intellectual elite, a mere 5 per cent, of the population, “who know what 5 per cent, means.” It is no longer wealth assets but Intelligence Quotient assessment which fixes people’s place in society. All social philosophy is compressed into the formula, l.Q. + Effort = Merit. I.Q. prediction has been pushed back into the womb and the job of the educator is to train these “womb products” at the appropriate level. A society, presumably, where there will be equality of opportunity for everyone to become unequal.

But this exclusion of the many brings frustration and resentment among the masses, who are too stupid to realise that they have been placed in that station of life to which it has pleased their I.Q. destiny to call them. Certain intellectuals, mostly women, to whom the Meritocracy is anathema, excite the mob to revolt. The climax is reached when the Ministry of Education is gutted, a call made for a general strike as well as a great May Day demonstration to be held at Peterloo. The dissident intellectuals also frame a charter demanding, among other things, retention of primary schools, raising of the school age to eighteen and common secondary schools for all.

The book takes the form of a history of the use of the Meritocracy by an unnamed sociologist who is killed at Peterloo before he has time to submit the proofs that in a competitive world where other nations have made the Meritocracy the essence of the Establishment, social survival is only, possible by perpetuating the l.Q. way of life.

Government by the Super-Intelligent
Dr. Young’s satire is apparently a warning against what he thinks might be the outcome of present trends and widely held beliefs. First, that the working class is in economic and cultural decline; that there is a fixed and limited potential of intelligence and that these limited intellectual resources must be efficiently utilised by rigid educational discrimination if we are to hold our own against other nations.

The logic of events would seem to indicate a world controlled by “experts” and “specialists.” The dissolving of the present class structure and the emergence of a new two class system of high I.Q.s and low I.Q.s based finally by continuous selection and breeding on an hereditary principle. The only thing against Dr. Young’s views is that there is no evidence of such trends which point in the direction he adumbrates.

Dr. Young’s account of how the present ruling class is cajoled, indoctrinated and finally liquidated is thoroughly unconvincing. It is a shadowy world where politicians, psychologists, pundits and pedagogues possess enormous power and the complex character of capitalism is reduced to the dimensions of a Meccano set, whose parts can be interchanged in a most arbitrary fashion. The Aladdin’s lamp of the old technocrats’ fantasy is introduced as a device to help the story and the genie is, of course, “automation.” The ruling class—the high I.Q.s,—get enormous incomes and the low I.Q.s live quite comfortably, although, due to labour displacement, many become domestic servants. This may be good fun, but it is bad satire.

There is not the slightest evidence to show that the present ruling class is losing its grip and that effective power is passing into the hands of “experts” and “specialists” of attested I.Q. ability. History knows no ruling class that has voluntarily abdicated its power or has been persuaded out of it by those whose services it employs. The ability of a ruling class to rule is not basically a question of I.Q. assessments, but consists of tradition, cultural inheritance and social practice. A ruling class learns to rule by ruling. And the present ruling class has learned it well. It cannot, as Dr. Young imagines, be reduced to an instructed art or science. Again, people like Lloyd George, Churchill, Macmillan and many others have a knowledge of affairs born out of certain circumstances and experience not amenable to I.Q. prediction and perhaps inaccessible to I.Q. testers.

Fallacious Argument
An instructive part of the book, although perhaps not in the way the author intended, is when the dissident intellectuals of the Meritocracy argue that “people ought to be evaluated not merely in terms of their intelligence and education, but for their kindliness, courage, generosity, etc. And that people should have an opportunity to rise not in any mathematical sense but to each develop his special capacities for leading a rich life. Then we should have the classless society.” But why should sensibility, sensitivity, sympathy and ability to co-operate be excluded from intelligence rating?. The answer lies in the assumptions of present society about the nature of intelligence. In a society like the present one we have been taught to think of intelligence in a most unintelligent way, as something absolute and fixed. The most useful thing we can say about intelligence is that it is inseparably connected with the learning process. Given encouragement, sympathy and the appropriate conditions, people can go on learning all their lives. These prerequisites are gravely handicapped in present society. To-day the authorised pursuit of knowledge takes the form of the rat race of scholarships or later competitive exams, where concepts of status and privilege become the prime stimulus.

So far as the educational system becoming a power in itself, it only makes sense in the light of the requirements of capitalism, i.e., by fashioning the raw material of working class children into the manufactured article required by employers. Education, like charity, is still for the deserving poor. This may offend starry-eyed educationalists dedicated to some abstract principle of education, but they are the facts. Mental testers, administrators and teachers are only doing what capitalist society requires them to do. Many teachers, we believe, recognise this, but there is little they can do about it in practice.

Equality and Equality of Opportunity
Apparently the high I.Q. reformers of the Meritocracy have learned nothing from the reformers of the past—no, not even that they have learned nothing. They want a classless society based on the poetic sentiment of “something nearer to the heart’s desire" ignoring the fact that a privileged society conditions hearts, among other things. The latter day egalitarians, like the earlier ones, try to apply the concept of equality in a social context profoundly unequal. They even confuse themselves and others by equating equality with equality of opportunity, which is, of course, one of the major contemporary confusions. But in a privileged society opportunities are not born free and equal, and the demand for it is the demand of the underprivileged. The demand by Labour egalitarians for equality of opportunity merely turns out to be an opportunity of inequality. That is their dilemma.

We shall, of course, never grasp what human equality really means until we recognise where the source of inequalities lies, i.e., in the ownership of existing wealth resources by a privileged few.

Keeping up with the I.Q. of the Joneses
In a truly classless, society, where all members freely and equally participate in the life and work of the community, the term equality will cease to have meaning; it will have become dissolved into the every-day life and practice of social organisation. There will be no exclusion from above or inclusion from below. People will not be chosen, but do the choosing. As always when people are allowed to choose, they are for the most part sensible about it. In a classless society people will be able to freely avail themselves of a variation of choices and so richly utilise their various capacities. There will be no attempt to shape other people’s lives on some arbitrary intelligence model.
In spite of their high I.Q.S, the rulers of the Meritocracy are crass victims of their own ideology, where status and prestige are the ultimate values, and where the chosen themselves have no choice in the matter. A society where it seems families will emblazon their escutcheons not with a coat-of-arms but with I.Q. assessments, a kind of intellectual variation of keeping up with the Joneses. At least the present ruling class have a more intelligent view of the sources of their power and the reason for keeping those sources.

The book is a fusion of elements of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and Burnham’s Managerial Revolution, and a rehash to a large extent of the Superman theory of the dead thinker, Shaw. Dead in more senses than one. Like many more, the author is so busy reading the future that he misses what is going on under his very nose. He looks for problems that are not really there, instead of solutions which are right here. i.e., the supersession of present-day profit motivated society for one based on free and equal access to the means of living.

The story of Meritocracy is the story of push-button capitalism and where every push-button country is furiously in competition with every other push-button country, although why, we are never told. The author has a naive belief in the miraculous powers of increased productivity via technocracy and science. For him all human problems are really technical problems which men may fail to master and so produce the Frankenstein of the Meritocracy.

It is a twice-told tale, first told more than half a century ago. There is no more human evidence or non-human evidence for believing it now than for believing it then.

As a book it belongs more properly to science fiction than to a serious social work.
Ted Wilmott

Market myths (1990)

Book Review from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Myth of the Market. By Jeremy Seabrook. Green Books. 1990. £6.50.

Jeremy Seabrook, the journalist and writer who switched from Labour to the Green Party in 1988, provides some compelling criticisms of the mythology surrounding the market and of the effect on social relationships of the domination of market values.

The market, he shows, does not provide freedom and ever more consumer goods for all; in addition to not satisfying needs adequately, it brings social disintegration in the form of increasing crime, mental illness. drug addiction and suicides. Under the dictatorship of the market literally everything has come to be bought and sold and the social bonds linking people are reduced to cash transactions between alienated. isolated individuals.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, Seabrook does not count himself as an opponent of the market as such. In answer to the question "well what would you put in its place", he says we should think in terms of “reducing it to a minimal, functional level in our lives, putting it in its (necessary) place": "Expel the market from all those places it has inappropriately invaded, reclaim autonomy and self-reliance wherever this is possible".

Is this possible? Could the market really be tamed in this way? The market—the production of goods for sale rather than directly for use—is what Marx called commodity-production, and it dominates us today because commodity-production now exists in its most developed form, capitalism where there is not simply production for the market but production for the market with a view to profit.

The way to regain control of our lives, as individuals and as members of a genuine community, is not to go back to an ideal earlier stage of commodity production where the market had not yet emerged as a means of realising profits and was still simply a place where people bought what they needed (which is in effect what Seabrook is calling for). It is to do away with commodity production altogether and institute production solely and directly for use on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources by the whole community. Until we do that we shall continue to be dominated by the market and its values.
Adam Buick

Charity and the State (1990)

Book Review from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Giving: How to Encourage Charities More. By Nicholas True. Centre for Policies Studies. £4.95.

Capitalism does not satisfy people's needs. The result is human suffering on a massive scale. This affects individuals and their families in many ways: starvation, disease and homelessness in many countries: in others malnutrition and bad housing are the commonest forms.

Characteristically there have been two approaches to such problems. One is by legislation. In Britain this led to the Welfare State, the NHS, and to local councils taking on legal responsibility for housing the homeless. The other approach is by voluntary efforts, through a host of charitable institutions and associations. During recent years the size of this operation—in terms of receipts from covenants, legacies and other giving—has appeared to grow steadily. The "top 200" charities received over £900,000,000 in 1987-88. over three times what they received in 1979.

New charities are being registered all the time. By 1989 there were almost 165,000 registered charities, and it is estimated that in total there may be 275,000. Mostly they attempt to compensate for the awful conditions created by an economic system whose priority is not the satisfaction of people's needs. This results in poverty and its associated evils—malnutrition, ill-health and bad housing. In addition, production for profit pollutes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and foodstuff on sale in the supermarket. Nicholas True does not mention these simple and obvious points.

Charities do not tackle the cause of such problems. Worse, the existence of charities enables the state to practise stinginess: welfare is very low on its list of priorities. The main beneficiary of donations to charities is the capitalist class, who otherwise would pay, via taxes, for state expenditure. Here Nicholas True has done his sums:
When the unpaid efforts of charity volunteers are added to the monetary contributions made to the sector as a whole, it can be estimated that the cost of replacing the work of the voluntary sector would be well in excess of £20 billion—or some 12p or 13p on the basic rate of income tax . . . in financial terms alone the State has an enormous interest in sustaining . . . a thriving voluntary sector.
This pamphlet shows that, since 1979, state support for charities has grown significantly, mainly in two areas, both insignificant before 1979. Of £3,680m of state support for voluntary organisations, half goes in government grants to housing associations (£1,138m in 1987-88) and training agencies (£737m). The first enables the state to shrug off any responsibility for housing the homeless, and the second helps reduce the cost to the capitalists of supporting the unemployed.

To fill the gaps in state spending on "welfare" is the function of the legion of charities. The never-ending problems they seek to alleviate are caused by the fact that what we produce is not for our use but for the capitalist class's profit. Since the state is funded by the capitalist class, you get the absurdity of the have-not's giving from the little they earn to organisations whose real reason for existence is to save the capitalist class money.
Charmian Skelton

General Election 2017 (2017)

Party News from the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
News and information on the coming election Thursday 8th June
Standing in Swansea West
Will BREXIT – whether hard or soft – do anything to solve the problems people in this country are suffering from - job insecurity, inequality, poverty, crime, poor healthcare?
The answer has to be ‘no’. And the reason is that these problems don’t come from particular constitutional arrangements. They come from the way society is organised – production for profit and ownership of the vast majority of the wealth by a tiny minority of people: the global system of capitalism.
The other parties
This is the system all other political parties exist to administer. They have different ideas on how that system can best be maintained, but all agree it must be retained.
Many of their supporters have good intentions but are unaware that, in campaigning for these, they are helping to maintain this built-in system of minority privilege. So, however different Corbyn’s policies may seem from May’s, they offer no alternative to the present way of running society.
No matter how well-meaning politicians may be they can’t control that system – it controls them. The best any government can do is try to ride its storms.
So what's the alternative?
We propose an alternative to the society based on ownership of capital and market forces that currently exists in the UK, Europe and worldwide. This alternative is a society of common ownership that we call socialism.
Not ‘socialism’ as you may understand it. Not the type of dictatorship that collapsed in Russia and elsewhere – which were forms of state capitalism in fact. Not any of the schemes for state control advocated by some in the Labour Party.
For us socialism means something completely different and something much better. We are talking about:
•           a world community without states or frontiers based on participatory democracy
•           a society without buying and selling where everyone has access to what they require to satisfy their needs, without the rationing system that is money
•           a society where people use the earth’s abundant resources rationally and sustainably, and contribute their knowledge, skills and experience freely to produce what is needed

To sum up:
•           If you don't like present-day society – with or without Brexit.
•           If you’re fed up with the way so many people are forced to live – hanging on for dear life to a job that gives little satisfaction and doing it just for the money
•           If you are sick of seeing grinding poverty alongside obscene wealth
•           If you are sick of the Earth being abused by corporations who don’t care about the future or the environment
•           If you think the root cause of most problems is the market system and the governments that maintain that system
. . . then you’re thinking like we are.
What can you do?
The new society is one without leaders just as it is one without owners and wage-slaves. It is a wholly democratic society, one which can only be achieved when you – and enough like-minded people - join together to bring it about peacefully and democratically.
If you agree with this, you will want to cast your vote for our candidate. In voting for Brian Johnson, the Socialist Party of Great Britain candidate, you will be voting for the socialism you – and we – stand for.
– Election manifesto of our candidate in Swansea West
Standing in London too
The Socialist Party is also standing in London, in Battersea and in Islington North. The candidates are Danny Lambert and Bill Martin.
Islington North, where we also stood in 2015, is Jeremy Corbyn's constituency. At that time he was just an ordinary leftwing Labour MP. In the meantime he has become the Leader of the Labour Party. This hasn't changed our attitude towards him or the Labour Party. We have always been opposed to the Labour Party and have never seen it as a vehicle for socialism.
Battersea is the next door constituency to Vauxhall which we normally contest. It is not far from our  Head Office in Clapham High Street which are being used as our election rooms.
Copies of the manifesto in London can be obtained by a sending a stamped addressed envelope to: The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. Also available are “I'm Voting for World Socialism” stickers.
Offers of help, phone 0207 622 3811 or email