Monday, July 3, 2017

Scotland—Progressing Backwards (1963)

From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of the working-class dwellings in Scotland are the product of the rash of building that took place at the beginning of the century. In Glasgow it is the tenement building with its single and two-roomed apartments, usually three-storied, that predominates.

They were built for the influx of workers from Ireland and other parts of Scotland who crowded into Glasgow during the halcyon days of British capitalism when shipbuilding and heavy engineering along the west coast were booming. Such towns as Port Glasgow, Greenock, Paisley, and all the environs of Glasgow were built on the same lines.

In Lanarkshire, at such places as Motherwell and Hamilton, the coalfields attracted workers not only from Scotland and Ireland, but also from such European countries as Poland and the Ukraine. There the houses were built mainly on the classical “miner's row” pattern, rows and rows of depressing squat little buildings, each one a replica of the other. They may have been a different model from the Glasgow tenement, but, in common with them, they were small, overcrowded, cheap, and utterly unsuitable for human habitation.

On the East coast the story was equally miserable. The housing of the working class in Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Leith, and Edinburgh is from the same sorry mould as Glasgow. Indeed, Edinburgh, which has some pretence of being a cultured city (the ‘‘Athens of the North” the locals boast) with its festival of arts and drama and its litter boxes with the legend “This city is beautiful, keep it that way,” has probably some of the most sordid slums in Europe.

Today, of course, there are changes taking place. A walk through Glasgow's back streets will show that gaps are beginning to appear in the previously unending sides of those asphalt valleys. The local authorities are being forced to demolish some of the worst properties, though sometimes they are saved the task by their helpmates, decay and ill repair. Sometimes the buildings collapse when they are empty, sometimes when still occupied. In Possilpark, in the north of Glasgow, a whole gable-end of a tenement collapsed in a high wind last January. In Anderston and Gorbals in recent years tenements crumbled away in the night while still occupied. In Balloch, Dumbartonshire, last April, an eleven year old boy was crushed to death when a condemned tenement collapsed on him and his playmates.

Of course, houses are not only falling down, some are being built. But how many? Despite the promises of local governments, the picture is far from rosy; in Glasgow last year there were only 2,000 built, the lowest since 1947. More significant than the paltry number that are going up, is the type of houses that are being built.

In those areas where the houses were of a decent standard, the authorities found that the rents were too high for the majority of workers. Indeed, Mr. D. Gibson, the convenor of the Housing Committee in Glasgow, confessed that they could not send workers from the condemned tenements to such areas as Mosspark because ‘‘They were high- minded men who put Mosspark out of the reach of the very men and women who are demanding higher standards, and people in this city in need of housing cannot face up to rents and rates of £130 per year.” (Glasgow Herald, 19/3/62.)

The same sad story of workers too poor to be able to afford anything approaching decent housing. But for an example of ‘‘progress” the next point could hardly be bettered.
“Many years ago Glasgow had taken a resolution never to build again the two-apartment houses which had been such a large part of Scotland's housing problems. Now they were faced with thousands of Glasgow's citizens, the salt of the earth, who wanted to stay in Anderston and Woodside—the places where they had been brought up—in room-and-kitchen houses with an inside toilet. They refused to go to the new housing estates of Castlemilk and Easterhouse, and Glasgow Corporation were now building 10,684 modern houses for two persons. . . . That's progress; that's the criterion of affluence in this affluent society, a room and kitchen with an inside toilet.”
But even this modest demand for a new two-room apartment is hardly likely to be met. Mr. Gibson considers it will be necessary to convert the old property in some cases—“Even if they built 100,000 new houses in the next twenty years, they still need to keep standing some 30,000 room-and-kitchen and two-room-and kitchen houses, but they must be improved. They must have an inside toilet and reasonable washing facilities, even if it was a hot shower instead of a bath. These improvements could be carried out inside the bed recess in the kitchen at an estimated cost of £750 per house which would make them habitable for another 20 years.”

What a dilemma! They are building 2,000 a year just now: even if they built 100,000 in 20 years they would still have to convert old property and this would only last another 20 years.

Twist and turn as they may, capitalisms’ reformers, whether the Labour Party brand like Mr. Gibson, or Tory, Liberal or Communist, are bereft of an answer. Like the system they support, they find in the housing situation that every time they patch up in one place, something falls down in another.
Richard Donnelly

A Socialist Tour (1954)

From the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following brief account of the visit to this country of two American colleagues is reproduced from the September-October Western Socialist as [it's] likely to be of interest to our readers—Ed. Com.)

Fulfilling the ambition of many years, two American comrades took a two-week trip to Britain to meet the members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and participate in their activities.

Never to them did life in the Socialist movement seem more momentous and meaningful than those two weeks.

Here are a few of the highlights.

While flying across the ocean, the comrades engaged a fellow plane passenger in an intensive (12-hour) explanation of Socialism. When the plane landed at Shannon, Eire, he gave them a dollar for a Western Socialist subscription; a few hours later, when the plane landed at London, he decided to join company with them for the day, meet the SPGB comrades, and attend the outdoor meeting at Hyde Park. 

From the time they landed at London airport, and were met by two wonderfully patient comrades with motorcar and motorcycle and driven to an inviting home for a most refreshing reception, until they left Prestwick airport two weeks later with friendly farewells from Glasgow comrades, they were simply overwhelmed by the sheer warmth and cordiality of the comrades. Everywhere they went they received a grand welcome, and the hospitality in the homes was genuinely gracious. A welcoming social was held at the Head Office, London, at which about 150 comrades exuberantly expressed themselves in group dancing, singing and discussing—for a most enjoyable evening.

The afternoon of their arrival, the comrades headed for their first outstanding destination—Hyde Park. There they met a goodly number of comrades and saw some SPGB speakers in action. They had little time to listen for, in response to persistent requests, they took the stand to speak to large and attentive audiences. The crowds at this and other outdoor meetings at which the comrades spoke, looked and acted much like those on Boston Common and asked similar questions. However, at every meeting, they asked about conditions in U.S., the possibility of Socialist expression, the influence of “McCarthyism.” Opposition came mainly from a few vociferous Communists; heckling was far less than anticipated, and there was usually a round of applause for Socialism.

Starting with the meeting at Hyde Park, the comrades were almost completely absorbed in Socialist activities. In the fifteen days in Britain they spoke at eight outdoor meetings (Hyde Park 2, Lincoln's Inn Field 3, East End Market 1, Portsmouth 1, Glasgow 1), ten SPGB Branch meetings, one Executive Committee meeting, and a lecture at Workers' Open Forum, Glasgow. Besides these organized meetings, there were numerous group discussions with comrades until the wee hours of most mornings. It was inspiring and instructive to listen to and participate in the critical and interesting discussions on various aspects of Socialist theories and analyses. At every branch meeting the need was stressed for closer co-operation, correspondence between the overseas comrades, articles for the WS. Emphasized was the fact that WE ARE AS ONE and WE ARE NOT ALONE.

While in London an extremely encouraging message was received from a Glasgow comrade stating that a 17-year-old member had just appeared before a Tribunal and had been exempted from military service. “Part of my defense on behalf of the comrade was the production of a copy of the January, 1945 Western Socialist (in which appeared a most effective article dealing with a Socialist analysis of war by the young defendant's mother). All the Glasgow members present at the Tribunal agreed the WS was a very powerful card to play."

A meeting with two members of the Editorial Committee, both of whom had helped edit the Socialist Standard for more than 30 years, proved very valuable. There was an exchange of information, helpful suggestions were offered, and closer cooperation in the future was assured. Most important was the fact that surplus articles would be made available for The Western Socialist thus enhancing the possibility of its monthly issuance.

To reciprocate in a small way for the splendid cooperation by the SPGB with the WSP throughout its existence, the American comrades made a donation toward launching a fund to employ a full-time paid organizer. This project, which was presented to the Executive Committee for consideration, received a very favourable response wherever the comrades travelled. Incidentally, while in Glasgow, a comrade made a generous donation to the WSP.

A fascinating trip through the heart of England was made possible by the splendid cooperation of a Lancashire comrade who drove 215 miles to London in his “jalopy" and then travelled back with the comrades through Oxford, Warwick, Stratford on Avon, Litchfield, Kenilworth, and the Midlands to Burnley where wonderful hospitality awaited them. While plenty of the countryside was beautiful, a perpetual poll of blackness and misery seemed to hang over the entire industrial area. Much seemed to remain just as Engels described it in 1844. The stone barrack-line slums were everywhere; the smoke seemed to darken everything.

The trip to Burnley made possible a hasty visit to Manchester where, within a few hours, a meeting at the home of a comrade was arranged. About 25, among them a charter member of the SPGB, met for a stimulating discussion of Socialist problems.

One of the most inspiring incidents of the visit took place at a comrade's home. There, in a kitchen, a group of comrades from England, Ireland, Scotland and United States discussed their common problems, spoke the same Socialist language, adhered to the same principles. Before leaving for the Workers’ Open Forum meeting, they stood around a table, firmly grasped hands in a symbol of international solidarity, and expressed the hope for the speedy realization of an international Socialist conference.

Climaxing the trip (only a few hours before plane time) was a meeting at the Workers' Open Forum, Glasgow, addressed by the two comrades. The hall was jampacked by more than 450 workers who, except for some heated opposition in question and discussion by a small group of Communists and Anti-Pariiamentarians, enthusiastically received and loudly applauded the Socialist case.

After the meeting the comrades were surrounded by well-wishers, and more than a hundred lined the side-walk to cheer them on their way. En route to the airport, a fifteen-minute stop was made at a comrade’s home, where a goodly group of Glasgow members, who had been present at the meeting, expressed great enthusiasm, sang comradely songs, and further cheered the comrades on their way. Awaiting them at the airport, 30 miles away, was another group of Glasgow comrades who stayed with them for a grand confabulation until enplaning time, almost 3 a.m.

In a letter recently received from a comrade at Burnley, Lancashire, the Mowing estimate of the trip is expressed:
   “That your visit to England and Scotland aroused tremendous interest is beyond doubt. In London and Manchester (and over the 'phone to Glasgow) we learned from many comrades something of the great enthusiasm which is but one of the results of your tireless endeavours to visit as many branches and meetings as was possible during your all too brief stay. . . .  Our Comrades in America will feel tremendously encouraged when they realise the full import of your visit to Britain. I feel sure that I am merely expressing what hundreds here are already thinking and saying, that your momentous visit must and will be the forerunner of many more involving many comrades. And equally important, it must be two way traffic, and who knows?—maybe it won't be very long before delegates from all the Companion Parties will be converging on some city in Europe or America for the first Socialist International Conference."
George Gloss

Letter: Is Marxism Wrong? (1968)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

“The whole doctrine of Marxism rests on the materialist conception of history”, says L Laurat in Marxism and Democracy. You are no doubt aware of the renewed interest in theories of history and historicism (Isaiah Berlin: Historical Inevitability; E. H. Carr: What is History?; G. R. Elton: The Practice of History, etc.).

You must also be aware of the fact that the Marxist conception of history and other forms of determinism have come in for a great deal of criticism—indeed they have been utterly discredited. The Marxist explanation of such events as the Reformation, the English Civil War, and the “scramble for Africa” are now recognised to be faulty if not demonstrably wrong.

In the light of later research and knowledge of history would you still reaffirm the materialist conception or would you concede that some modification is necessary?

T. Young, South Oxhey, Watford, Herts. 

Mr. Young’s conjectures about the present status of Marxism are shared, no doubt, by many who have taken a passing interest in historical inquiry. His remarks, however, tend to be so general that we feel it would lead to a more fruitful exchange if he would be more specific in his criticism. We therefore invite a supplementary letter from him.
Editorial Committee

Tobacco For The Old 'Uns (1947)

From the July 1947  issue of the Socialist Standard

About once a week since Budget Day in April we have been treated with statements that the Chancellor is trying to find out ways and means so that the old age pensioners can still have their bit of ’baccy despite the rise in price consequent on the increased tax. The obvious solution would have been to have increased the old age pension by a few bob a week. The wiseacres who control our destinies must have thought of this solution, but evidently it does not appeal to them. So instead they have spent weeks devising complicated schemes involving coupons, rebates, and such like. All this in order to save the Exchequer (or ultimately the capitalists who bear the taxes) a few thousand pounds which otherwise might have benefited those pensioners who do not smoke. Could anything be more contemptible from a so-called “Labour” Government, which is supposed to have the interest of the working class. It’s “heart” may be for the workers, but it’s mind is for the capitalists, as Socialists have always pointed out that it must be.
R. M.

The Labour Party and the Unemployed (1908)

From the February 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Statesmanship.
The question of unemployment was the first to occupy the preliminary conference of the Labour Party at Hull. “Important” speeches were made by the “statesmen of labour," and a no less “important” resolution was passed.

Mr. Pete Curran said: “Until we are in a position to utilise the legislative machinery of the country for the purpose of curtailing the income of the rich who are in possession, and in adding to the income of the poor, we shall never solve the unemployed problem.”

Mr. J. R. MacDonald, in moving the important resolution said: “Unemployment was now part and parcel of our industrial system; it was produced by the system with the same certainty and accuracy with which the industrial system produced profits.”

Mr. O’Grady in seconding that resolution .said: “The present industrial system was a machine turning out profits on the one hand and unemployed on the other. It was inevitable that it must be so.”

From the foregoing extracts from the most “important” speeches that were uttered on the question, our readers will naturally gather that since unemployment could confessedly only end by the abolition of capitalism, therefore the resolution that was carried by an overwhelming majority urged that steps should immediately be taken to instruct and organise the working class in the work before them, namely, to concentrate upon the capture of the powers of government to the end that the productive powers may be transformed from instruments of oppression and exploitation, into the means of promoting the welfare of those who produce.

But no. That would not have been statesmanlike. It would have been too logical.

This was the resolution actually carried: - 
  That in the opinion of this conference of trade union, Socialist, and co-operative organisations, unemployment is not caused by the free trade policy of the country, and is not averted by periods of good trade, but is a permanent feature of our present industrial organisation. This conference therefore declares that the problem can only be solved by a vigorous use on the part of the Government, and of local authorities, of the legislative and administrative powers, including shortening the hours of labour of public and other employees and protecting the worker from the operation of land and other monopolies, which depopulate the country, overcrowd the towns, lower wages, and increase the share of the national produce which is secured by the idle rich. This conference consequently calls upon the Government to fulfil its promise in the King's Speech of 1906 that it would amend the Unemployed Workmen Act, and it declares that such an amendment to be satisfactory must embody the principles and general policy of the Labour Party's Unemployed Workmen Bill.
And that is so like the Labour Party. The unemployed, you see, can only disappear on the abolition of capitalism, therefore, do not let us take steps to that end, let us ask the capitalists to abolish themselves!

If no unemployed are available, the capitalist loses his great weapon in the cutting down of wages and in the speeding up of the employed, nor is any reserve army available for the expansion of production in busy times, nor are any available to take the place of strikers. Without the deadly competition of the unemployed for jobs, the employed would be enabled to obtain almost the whole available product of their labour. Profits would therefore vanish and capitalism come to an end. Yet the master class are to be asked to themselves abolish the very corner-stone of their dominant existence. This is reasonable, possible, statesman like, reform wisdom.

When we on the other hand insist that since unemployment is inseparable from capitalism, and since from unemployment flow the greatest miseries of the workers, including the wholesale starvation of children, women and men, and since, moreover, the abolition of capitalist exploitation is admittedly the only solution of unemployment, therefore the workers should concentrate upon the capture of political supremacy in order to abolish class exploitation, when we insist upon this, the only logical policy, we are dubbed impossiblists, heresy hunters, or moon-raking rainbow-chasers by those whose hard-headed, practical and "possible” policy consists in requesting of fire that it shall not burn.

A Reform Analysed.
But what is one of the principal factors upon which the Labour Party relies in its solution of the unemployed? It is the reduction of the hours of labour. There is nothing to be said against the reduction of the hours of labour as such, but as a solution of unemployment what could be more fatuous?

From the passing of the Ten Hour Act until the present day nothing is more certain than that the reduction of hours has not in the aggregate of cases decreased, but has caused an increase in productivity. That is to say, instead of more workers being required to produce the same amount as formerly, fewer are actually required. This holds good generally. It is partly due to the fact that the very reduction of hours, by allowing a greater time for the recuperation of the strength to the worker, enables him to put forth a greater effort per hour. He is, indeed, usually compelled to do so, and to produce as much or more in the reduced working day as in the former longer hours.

Further, there are in most departments, mechanical appliances ready for adoption which for the nonce are no cheaper to work than the human machines they would displace. When, however, an increase in the wages bill threatens, these appliances are introduced to save such increased expenditure, and by reason of the continual perfectibility of the machine, particularly due to the experience born of its being put into practical daily working, the appliances improve rapidly and bring about considerable reductions in the number of workers the masters need hire in order to produce the same amount of goods as before.

Therefore the reduction of hours, unless carried to such extreme and wholesale lengths as would require a revolution to accomplish, would not reduce the numbers of the unemployed.

Any reduction of the working day that is introduced by the ruling class will, from the very interests which promote it, be only upon such a scale as is consistent with greater output on the part of the average worker employed and greater profit for the possessing class.

So the reduction of hours, as a "palliative,” instead of requiring more workers to be employed to produce the same amount of wealth as before would, in the long run, actually require less, and would have the tendency to increase rather than diminish the very evil of unemployment against which it was directed. It is, indeed, a typical palliative.
F. C. Watts

The Whole Tragic Mess (1963)

Book Review from the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain in the Sixties—Housing, by Stanley Alderson (Penguin Special 3s. 6d.). 

Let us warn you right away. If you think that Mr. Alderson will provide you with a solution to this most pressing problem you are going to be very disappointed. This is quite a well written book, and informative, particularly when you remember that it spans only 174 pocket size pages. But having acknowledged the enormity of the housing scandal, Mr. Alderson gets bogged down in advocating the usual reformist measures to deal with it.

We are left with the awfully depressing feeling that if every one of his suggestions were put into action tomorrow, the housing problem would be just as bad the day after—and for many more days after that. Like all reformist writers, he cannot see that slums, overcrowding, homelessness—in fact, the whole tragic mess—is only part of a bigger general picture of private property society with its sordid profit motive. The emergence of council housing over the past few years does not invalidate this basic contention. Indeed, it is a clear illustration, if any were needed, of the essential indignity of being a member of the working class. The author gives us a hint of this when he tells us on page 94:
  The difficulty is in becoming a council tenant. The man who set about it efficiently would get an essential job, marry young, father a child a year, find himself a slum flat, share it with another family, and develop chronic ill-health. With all these qualifications, he could even expect to get a house before he was thirty.
Like many other writers on this subject, Mr. Alderson is in favour of “a national policy for housing." He has been groping his way towards it, he tells us in the last chapter; and stripped of verbiage, what is this policy? Why, spend more money on housing, of course. He forgets some of the snags mentioned earlier in the book, all of which arise from the profit motive. For instance, on page 11, we read:
   Some of the firms building houses in vast development schemes lose money. . . . Some of the biggest and most efficient firms in the industry refuse to touch housing at all.
And again on page 22:
   What do people want? What can they afford? These are the questions that have to be answered in determining future standards of houses, motor cars, washing powders, or anything else.
So whatever may be planned and intended (and housing is probably the biggest graveyard of scrapped plans that there is) the author admits that we shall get what we can afford, and we all know what that means as far as the working class is concerned. Here is the nub of it, the reason for the poor housing standards of the past, present and future, too, why ". . .  there are houses being erected now which will give dissatisfaction to their first occupants and in ten years will be regarded as sub-standard." It is the factor which plagues and hampers the slum clearance schemes, for as Mr. Alderson points out, lots of the poorer tenants cannot even afford to pay subsidised council rents. At the same time, “many of the old and decayed dwellings needing to be re-built are in areas where there is little or no profit in rebuilding."

It is no intention of ours to sneer at Mr. Alderson’s attempts to grapple with the vast and depressing housing problem. Perhaps it is to his credit that he has at least taken a look at it, for all too often it fosters an attitude of apathy and hopelessness. But when this has been said, there is nothing in his book to shake our conviction that bad housing is a product of private property society. The solution is no to tinker around with Schedule "A" tax reform and extensions of state power, but to institute a world of common ownership and production of goods for use. Houses will then be lived in not just out of necessity, but because they are worth living in, too.
Eddie Critichfield

Housing and Human Problems (1963)

From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

One morning in the early 1920's, a young mother trudged up the front steps of a town hall in one of the London suburbs. She was confronted at the top by a portly commissionaire, pompous in his petty authority, but she pushed angrily past him and found her way to the Mayor’s parlour at last. There was certainly no respect for civic dignity about her as she barged through the door and demanded of the official there when he was going to get her and her family somewhere decent to live.

Her husband had been unemployed for two whole years after his return from the slaughter of the Great War, and their marriage was early feeling the strain of trying to live with their young ones in two small rooms. No wonder the poor woman was at her wits end. In desperation, she pleaded— and threatened (she would drown herself and her three children, she said), but it made no difference. The official was not impressed.

You had to have a “regular” job in those days even to get on the Council’s waiting list. Eventually they took over the whole of their pokey terraced house, but by then there were three more children, so they were not much better off anyway. The young wife did not solve her housing problem. Like many others, she lived, grew old and died in the same seedy place. And like so many others of her day and since, she never did grasp the real reason for her plight, and for the sordid conditions of her life which threw a barrier between her husband and herself, so that they really hardly knew each other, even after forty years of marriage.

Perhaps you could shrug this story off if it were just an isolated instance, but the sheer human tragedy of the housing problem will just not let you do that. The lives of those affected are soaked in misery and despair in the grim struggle to raise families sometimes under the most appalling conditions. It is hardly surprising that tempers fray, nerves suffer and couples who started married life full of love and high hopes, often end up barely tolerating each other. If you think this is far-fetched, remember that social workers in London’s East End, for example, find frequently that among those who consult them about their bad housing conditions are many who are under medical treatment for nervous disorders.

Ironically enough, there is a new brand of neurosis associated with the high blocks of flats in which workers are re-housed, and in fact there is growing suspicion that the very act of taking families from streets and separating them sometimes at great heights is having an adverse effect on their health. The working class mother may have had to cope with ghastly slum conditions before, but at least she did not have to keep her young children cooped up in a flat because the playground is too far below for her to keep an eye on them. Like most workers, she is kept busy, and there is always the nagging fear that one of her kiddies will somehow escape her attention and fall to his death from a balcony or landing.

But bad nerves are only one of the evil effects. It does not take a great deal of brains to realise that cramped and dilapidated dwellings are injurious to health in countless ways. In fact, so great has this become that some local authorities deal with it as a separate priority under “Medical re-housing.” In theory, of course, you are eligible for special consideration if you have some health defect which your doctor thinks has been caused or aggravated by your living conditions. It often carries little weight in practice, though, because the shortage of workers’ houses has become so acute that only a small fraction of those available is allocated to medical cases.

In London, the housing famine is acute, and the County Council have since 1958 been able to reserve only a miserable 250 flats a year for re-housing the seriously ill. Before then, it was a mere one hundred. In 1961, the whole allocation had been used up by the spring and there were still more than a thousand urgent cases outstanding. And even if you are lucky enough to be so ill that you are offered a flat, you may find that it is one of the older blocks, without a bathroom or lift, and with a shared W.C. So your troubles are by no means over and you could easily find yourself back on the waiting list before long.

Take a look at some of the other human tragedies of the housing scandal. Understandably, we are so preoccupied with the plight of families and the bad effects on youngsters that we tend to forget the pathetic conditions that many single people have to endure. Young, middle-aged, and old are all afflicted, but perhaps the last group suffer most because of their infirmities and inability to earn a living. Mostly you will find such people in private (as opposed to municipal) dwellings, such as the oldest tenement blocks of East London. The accommodation is generally cheap, which at once tells us a lot about it in terms of dilapidation and sheer misery for the occupants. Try living for twenty years, as one epileptic did, in a room 7 ft. by 6 ft. with plasterless walls and a leaking roof, and you will get our meaning. Often there is very bad overcrowding, and conditions in many of the houses are indescribable.

Struggling along on the very borderline of destitution, there is a loneliness and black despair which many times overtakes these people, and they seldom manage to get clear of their awful predicament. They are generally the ones with whom capitalism can deal particularly harshly, such as widows, divorcees, those in failing health and even mental cases. Their common misery is the product of their common identity as members of the working class.

But there is one other group who have given up the strain of trying even for the meagre respectability of a dingy furnished room. Ironically, in many cases they have lost what accommodation they had as their lodgings were closed to make way for slum clearance. They sleep anywhere they can—odd nooks and crannies, bombed sites and railway stations. During the day they do work of sorts, although clearly they do not earn much at it. For them, the hopelessness of the situation is just something they have accepted in blank apathy and each day of struggle is pretty much the same as the next. Their predicament gives us an insight into the horrible pressures which mount against single people living on their own in a place like London.

Rarely do they appear on the waiting lists of local councils. They probably realise the utter futility of trying this, because the queue is miles long as it is. As one observer has put it, they suddenly find themselves clinging to the very edges of society. Maybe some have been ill for a while, and without friends or relations to help them have found themselves on the streets. Others have drifted from one dingy room to another before succumbing and joining the rest of the destitutes.

Capitalism does things in a big way. It can produce huge quantities of goods and build enormous cities. And just as surely, in its usual contradictory way, the majority of its people have to put up with narrow, drab lives. And for the lonely ones the very bigness of capitalism's towns restrict their chances of ever belonging anywhere. This extremity illustrates perhaps most of all the underlying tragedy of the whole housing problem. To say that it is a problem of working class poverty is indeed a truism which runs like a thread through workers' whole lives. For poverty of ownership in the means of life begets poverty in so many other things— perhaps in human contact and friendship most of all.
Eddie Critchfield

Editorial: A hundred years (2004)

Editorial from the January 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year is the centenary year of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, our organisation having been founded in June 1904. But we have mixed feelings on the matter.

In one sense to still be in existence represents a failure since it means that socialism—our objective—has not been achieved. Had it been, there would no longer be any need for a socialist party, which would have long since been disbanded. Our aim in 1904 was to see ourselves go out of existence as soon as possible. To work ourselves out of a job. That we do still exist is therefore undeniably a sign that we have not succeeded.

But this lack of success is not so much ours, or at least not essentially ours, as we never imagined that the growth of the majority socialist understanding required to establish socialism depended on the campaigning efforts of socialists alone. It is the lack of success of the class of wage and salary workers in general. It's up to them, not us, to establish socialism. But, distracted by Labourite reformism on the one hand and Leninist state capitalism on the other, workers failed in the course of the past hundred years to see the need to abolish the fundamentals of capitalism—the class monopoly of the means of production and the profit motive—if the social problems they face are to be solved. And that's why we are still here.

It is also true that we have never won any election, but then, for us, elections are only a means not an end. We have never been interested in winning elections as such, in getting socialist bums on to the benches of the House of Commons at any price. Socialists will enter parliament when enough workers outside it want to send delegates there, mandated to formally wind up capitalism. But this situation has not yet arisen.

In any event, even in politics, “power” is not the only standard by which to judge success. Politics is also about ideas and their survival and effect. Here we can claim some modest success. We have not only survived as an organisation, for instance producing this journal every month since the first issue in September 1904, no mean achievement when you look at the fate of our one-time rivals over the years, the SDF, the ILP and the Communist Party. We have also kept alive the idea of socialism in its original sense.

At the time the Socialist Party was formed there was widespread agreement as to what socialism was—a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—even though there were widely divergent views as to how to get there. Here it is those who argued, against us, that the way to socialism was to get into parliament on a programme of reforms to capitalism and then to gradually re-form capitalism into socialism, who have failed. Not just to achieve socialism, or to make any progress towards it, but even to keep alive the idea of socialism as the alternative society to capitalism. The same goes for the partisans of the regime that used to exist in Russia. They, too, came to abandon the original idea of socialism, redefining it to mean the state management of the wages system, or state capitalism.

Since socialism—common ownership instead of class monopoly; production for use instead of production for profit—remains the only practicable alternative to capitalism, and the only solution to the problems thrown up by capitalism, we continue to advocate it. But, it is fair to say, we don't want to have to still exist for another hundred years.

After the Show has Passed (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern politics is a grotesque circus. An openly evil, insane, pantomime defender of the privilege and power of the one percent is placed opposite a reasonable, fairer-minded option. Today, all those with the basic common sense to put the needs of the majority first, have been enthused by the promises of Corbyn and Labour, swept up in a wave of optimism.

We would not want to pour cold water on that hope and desire for positive change, we feel it too. But there is one nagging problem. Albert Einstein sensibly defined insanity as repeating the same actions but expecting a different outcome. Not to act on what history teaches us would be criminal irresponsibility in the current global crisis. The fact is, the current world system of capitalism is the root cause of every social problem, from poverty in all its forms, to climate change, to impending nuclear war. And a vote for Labour is as much a vote for this social system as a vote for the Tories or Greens or UKIP or SNP or Liberals etc.

Corbyn has made it explicitly clear that he believes that capitalism can be modified but not ended. He and May are absolutely in agreement about one key belief – which they are both wrong about : that there will always be this system of wage slavery, of employment/exploitation, of profits and power for a tiny minority, because that’s what we have now, and profound change must be kept off the agenda permanently as ‘unrealistic’.

This same facade of picking the more ‘decent’ candidate rather than the absurd ogre has succeeded in keeping real change off the agenda in every election for over a hundred years. It was the received and accepted agenda with Trump and Clinton, with Blair, Thatcher, and especially with the Labour landslide victory of 1945. But if these well-meaning reform campaigns to soften capitalism rather than get rid of it had been even remotely successful, then we wouldn’t be back here yet again today, faced with all of the problems which incoming governments similar to or more radical than Corbyn swore they would solve.

Without exception, within months of getting in, such governments have been forced to abandon and reverse their promised policies, because unless we end the capitalist system entirely, its uncontrollable market forces continue ultimately to direct policy rather than vice versa. This may be an unpalatable fact, it will certainly be scoffed at by many, and we may be accused of pessimism or worse. But this is realistic, it is the inexorable lesson of history. A vote for any of these parties, however nice and well-meaning their profile, is actually giving your political consent to a global social system which is the most exploitative and murderous in history, and may destroy us all.

The tiny minority with vast wealth and power delight in this bullying pressure, this gross assumption that our democratic responsibility simply consists of selecting who should supervise our exploitation, whilst real change is derided by all sides as ‘unrealistic’. Real change would mean all productive resources being held in common, with the production of wealth socially organised, directly for meeting all human needs rather than to be sold in a market for profit; the beginning of real, total social and economic democracy.
Clifford Slapper

Obituary: William Travers (1974)

Obituary from the March 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist movement has had some grievous losses in recent months. From Glasgow we hear of the death of William Travers, the oldest member of the branch there. He was 90, and died suddenly at his home in Mace Road.

Willie Travers was one of the most lovable of comrades. Bright-eyed and full of almost boyish zest, he had worked enthusiastically for the Socialist Party for many years. He often came to London and spoke as a delegate at our Conferences, and his small neat figure and trim white beard were well known among members. He was a scholarly man who imparted knowledge to everyone he met: it could be Marxian economics, or a discourse on the Book of Kells. Willie had a lively relevant wit, too. It was he who rose to say to a ponderous speaker: “Let’s call a spade a spade, and not a metallic implement for penetrating the earth’s crust.” 

He continued selling and talking about the Socialist Standard to people in his area until his health became impaired by bronchitis. There are many besides the Glasgow branch members who will wish to extend their sympathy to his two daughters; and the Glasgow branch wishes also to express to them its great appreciation for their generous gift of Willie’s extensive library.