Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sting in the Tail: Labour Sees Stars (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Sees Stars

The main British political parties have long-since been aping the American practice of wheeling-out showbiz stars to support them at elections.

Last month there was a big swing of Scottish "artistes" from Labour to the Scottish National Party. Labour countered by parading their famous faces before the media with comedian Robbie Coltrane topping the bill.

Alas, the show bombed when Robbie fluffed his lines by voicing support for "an Independent Scotland", which is the SNP's policy, instead of Labour's devolution policy.

Serves the Labourites right! What kind of party is it that would even want, let alone seek, the votes of those who would vote for it because some politically clueless entertainer supported It?

Where Power Lies

At a recent Socialist Party meeting a young left-winger claimed that real power lay not with parliament but in the boardrooms of big business. It Is an old, familiar argument but it bears no resemblance to what actually happens.

For example, the Institute of Directors urges the government to cut the standard rate of taxation to 20p and so bring economic recovery. The Confederation of British Industries tells the government that the way to recovery is not through tax cuts but by more government spending, training programmes, etc.

What does the government do in the face of all this boardroom "power"? It simply ignores the I of D and the CBI and steers the course it thinks is best for British capitalism.

& Where It doesn’t

The other leg of the above argument is that real power lies not only in the boardrooms but with the military brasshats.

That this belief is equally wrong can be shown by the latest cuts in the size of the army. These are so large that the House of Commons Defence Committee warned that: -
The reduction might be so great that the force would not be able to cope with crises or even peacetime duties . . .  and effectively police Northern Ireland.
ITV's Oracle 6 March
And what can the brasshats do about It? Nothing except fume with impotent rage as the number of soldiers that they have to play with is cut and cut again. Where does power lie?

Don't Bank On It

Many people have funny ideas about banks. They think banks have unlimited funds to lend, make bigger profits than any other industry and so on.

To these errors is added one from a writer in the February issue of the anarchist paper Freedom. He claims that banks are a "largely risk-free Investment" for British capitalists.

A glance at the current plight of the banking industry shows otherwise. During February Britain's "Big Four" banks, Barclay's, Midland, Lloyd's and NatWest, between them declared another £6 billion in bad debts for 1991 to add to the £4 billion total for 1990.

On top of this their combined profits fell by £700 million, their share prices are depressed and all four predict more hard times to come.

If British capitalists are looking for a risk-free investment then banking certainly isn't it.

Got Your Share?

Since 1979 the number of shareholders has increased from 3 million to 11 million now. This is almost entirely due to privatisation, the flotation of Abbey National, etc., but even so, the proportion of shares held by individuals has fallen from 28.2% to 21.3% during that time.

Now comes an organisation called ProShare which aims to reverse this decline:
The ProShare chairman said yesterday that share ownership was hindered by ignorance, high dealing costs and unfair tax treatment . . .
The Herald 21 February
ProShare plans to educate the ignorant about the risks and rewards in owning shares, press for individual investors to get the same taxation treatment as the big institutions, promote the spread of employee share owning schemes, and more.

Do we have a moral to this story? The Herald obligingly provides one for us:
It all sounds very grand and ambitious. Of course one "black Monday" could undo all the good work.

Dignity of Labour?

The quest for profit is unrelenting in a capitalist society. How unrelenting was shown in The Independent (13 March). German shipowners have been given a trial dispensation by the government on the manning levels of container ships.
And so it is that the glass lavatory has made its debut as a new navigational aid to keep up 24-hour-a-day productivity. A transparent toilet giving panoramic views of both port and starboard has been installed on the bridge of three ships owned by Hapag Lloyd, the large German shipowner. The commanding WC allows crew numbers to be cut to 13 for the 30,000 ton container ships as part of trials for new low-manning arrangements. The requirement to have at least two people on lookout at any time has been suspended as a result.
It is good to see that the workers are not taking this lying down - or rather sitting down. Indeed one of them Knut Schronder, a ship's pilot on the Kell Canal, shows a great deal of awareness about capitalism and how it works.
In a recent letter of protest to the German transport ministry he wrote: "To me this is an expression of utter contempt for human beings. Productivity must be kept up even when shitting. You can’t say clearer than that when declaring your support for an unsocial market economy."
The Scorpion.

Recovery—phantom of the economy (1992)

From the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the recent general election much time and argument in the media revolved around the current economic recession. The Conservative Party claimed that recovery was under way as a result of government economic policy. The Labour Party claimed that the Tory government had caused the slump due to high interest rates. Kinnock failed to explain, however, why the economic downturn is developing throughout the whole of the industrialised world.

Much of the government-inspired rhetoric put over by the orthodox economists claimed that a consumer-led recovery was imminent. Norman Lamont actually claimed that the recovery had begun last June. The Bank of England in its Quarterly Bulletin claimed last November that “a modest recovery may now have begun" (Daily Telegraph, 15 November). A fall in inflation has been given as a sign that recovery is on the way despite the fact that inflation fell to almost insignificant levels during the slump of the 1930s and that downward pressures on prices are a feature of all recessions.

For many months the public have been subjected to a whole new terminology with the object of convincing them that the recovery is under way. We are now bombarded with terms such as "kick-starting" the economy. The commencement of the present economic downturn was denied and described as a "slowdown in growth". When the facts emerged to indicate otherwise the term "soft landing" replaced the term "recession". As the economy continued to deteriorate, as instanced by increasing numbers of personal and business bankruptcies and housing repossessions, it was conceded that there was a recession but it was argued that it would be a "shallow" one of short duration. Every time the economic indicators fail to indicate recovery the likely date for it is extended by six months.

A consumer-led recovery is a myth. There has never yet been one in economic history. Consumer upturns come last in the economic recovery cycle. The indicators of recovery that one would expect to see are: a rise in commodity metal prices such as copper, lead and aluminium; an increase in machine tool production; an expansion of the construction industry (factories, plant, etc). In the money market long-term interest rates on borrowed money would become higher than short-term rates—at present the reverse is the case, indicating a lack of confidence amongst capitalist investors in the longer-term economic prospects.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
A fall in the number of net bankruptcies would be another indication that the slump is ending, but this statistic was removed from the Central Statistical Offices indicators under Mrs Thatcher and replaced by CBI economic forecasts; in other words, the employers’ view of the economy. An increase in job vacancies accompanied by a fall in unemployment are also signs of an economic upturn. Increase in housing starts usually occur some months ahead of a recovery.

It hardly needs emphasising that none of these indicators are at present positive. Unemployment is approaching 3 million. Business and personal bankruptcies have reached record levels according to Dunn & Bradstreet. and around 1200 businesses have failed each week during the first quarter of this year. Despite the budget car sales have failed to increase. Housing repossessions increased to over 70,000 last year compared to 44,000 in 1990 and 12,000 in the mid-80s.

Slumps are inherent in the capitalist mode of production based on the ownership of the means of production by a minority and where the motive for production is profit. The present economic crisis is occurring against a background of a fall in world trade throughout the advanced industrial economies. It is the longest crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In terms of the housing market crisis, in the UK it is even worse than then. People have been conditioned to believe that rising prices are a permanent way of life, forgetting that this has only gone on since 1939 and that prices can come down.

At the same time we are witnessing a massive world-wide credit crunch commensurate with the colossal banking debt overhanging the world economy. This debt has been estimated at over $25 trillion weakening the banks in a way that has also not been seen since the 1930s.

Against this background the arguments of the politicians are irrelevant. It is significant that this potential banking crisis was not touched on in the election debate; neither was the cause of economic crises. Not understanding how capitalism works the politicians are reduced to frantically seeking signs of a visible recovery in place of the phantom one they insist is here but which defies identification.
Terry Lawlor

Obituary: George East (1992)

Obituary from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

George East, who died in March at the age of 79, received his introduction to socialist knowledge when he became a temporary agricultural worker at the beginning of World War Two. Associated with the People Pledge Union for some time before the war, he had been registered as a CO on condition that he worked on the land. In the rural areas of Barnet, he had the good fortune to find himself working alongside a number of Party members. Meal times and inclement weather provided opportunities for discussion, and as a result he became a member of the Party in 1942. He was among those who formed the Edgware branch, which for a number of years held very successful indoor and outdoor meetings. George acted as secretary and treasurer at various times during the life of the branch. His early years as a sign-writer made him a useful and valued member of the Party subcommittee advising on design and lay-out for posters and pamphlets. An amiable comrade, he will be remembered with affection by all who knew him. Our condolences go to his family and friends.
A. P.

Smith or Gould—who cares? (1992)

From the July 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

No doubt it will be John Smith—the John Major clone—who will emerge this month as the new Leader of the Labour Party. Whether his rival Bryan Gould will get the deputy leadership as a consolation prize is by no means certain, but Gould has at least shown himself capable of discussing political ideas in a way that is rare in the top echelons of the Labour Party these days.

In a book published in 1985 entitled Socialism and Freedom he discussed what would have to be the features of a socialist society. The specific institutions of such a society, he argued, were not ends in themselves; they were means to achieve a situation where every individual human being would have the maximum freedom to shape their life. This, he went on, could only be achieved by spreading decision-making power as widely as possible. The “overriding aim" of socialists, therefore, must be:
to maximise the power (and therefore the freedom) exercised by each and every citizen. This can be done only by diffusing power as widely as possible—in other words, by sharing it equally.
On this definition, a socialist society was a “society in which power is equally shared by all".

At this level of abstraction, we can agree with Gould. We don't want common ownership and democratic control for their own sakes but because we think that these provide the only basis on which all humans can live the best life that is now possible. We can also agree that the way to ensure this is by diffusing decision-making power equally amongst all the members of society. However we wouldn't leave the argument there as Gould does.

This equal decision-making power must apply, in fact must especially apply, to the control and use of the means for providing for the material needs of the members of society. Every member of society must be in a position to have an equal say in deciding how the means of wealth-production—the productive resources, natural and human-made, at the disposal of society—are to be used.

What we are talking about here is a classless society in which the means of production belong to no-one in the sense that there is no group within society that has an exclusive, or even a more than equal, say in the way they are used. This is the same as saying that they belong to everyone—that they are “commonly owned”.

Needless to say, Gould doesn’t go this far. In fact he doesn't regard common ownership in this sense as being a necessary feature of a socialist society. Which must mean either that he is a sloppy thinker or that he doesn’t think that it is possible to diffuse power that widely.

Gould is, however, fully aware that we are living in a society in which decision-making power is far, very far, from being equally distributed. After giving some examples of progress made this century away from inequality (the main one being the achievement of equal voting rights in political matters for all men and women), Gould gives the following accurate picture of the situation today:
   The owners of capital—whether private or public, individual or corporate—still own, control and enjoy the fruits of the wealth-producing process and buy and sell working lives as though they were commodities. Economic power is still concentrated in their hands, with the necessary correlative that it is removed from the hands of the bulk of ordinary people for whom the wage relation bargain remains unequal and demeaning.
    The law still underpins the whole concept of succession and inheritance, so that private property—essentially an artificial, social concept which needs the backing of the law to protect it—can be accumulated to an extent well beyond that needed to satisfy even the most outrageous appetites for personal consumption.
    The welfare state, though valuable and important in itself, remains a palliative for dealing with the casualties of a system which necessarily produces major and self-reinforcing inequalities and injustices. The search for private profit remains the major motivation for economic activity.
Faced with this capitalist reality Gould rejects a policy of “total abolition and replacement" of capitalism in favour of one of “control and reform". This of course is the gradualist and reformist policy that the Labour Party has always pursued. At the turn of the century a genuine argument could go on between what appeared to be two alternative ways to socialism, but the experience of the last 90 or so years has settled the issue. The policy of the “control and reform" of capitalism is not a road to socialism at all. There have been five periods of Labour government, during which Labour was in office for a total of 20 years, yet the situation today is as described by Gould above.

In fact the failure has been even greater as instead of the Labour Party gradually changing capitalism it has been the other way round: capitalism has gradually changed the Labour Party. At one time Labour theoreticians like Gould would have argued that the long-term aim was to actually establish a socialist society in which power, including the power to control the use of the means of production, would be equally shared. Now, however, Gould is reduced to arguing that a socialist society is an impossibility and that the most "socialists" can achieve is some precarious progress towards less inequality:
Socialism is not a destination at which we shall arrive one day. There are no final victories in politics. Socialism is a constant struggle against the forces in society which naturally tend towards the concentration of power.
To a politician whose party has tried and failed to reverse the capitalist tendency towards increasing inequality, it must indeed seem that this tendency is “natural", and given the maintenance of the basis of capitalism—class ownership and production for profit—it does act as if it were a natural law in that there is nothing that can be done to stop it operating.

In using the word "natural" in this context Gould is admitting that all the Labour Party is now trying to do is not to make progress towards a socialist society, however confusingly defined, but merely to slow down and delay capitalism’s tendency to increased inequality. "Socialism" has become not a new form of society but merely the empty dream of a less unequal capitalist society.

But even this watered down version of Labour's original programme is too radical for the likes of Smith for whom a penny on or a penny off the standard rate of income tax is all that politics is about.
Adam Buick

Boris and the Bolsheviks (1992)

Book Reviews from the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

To The Finland Station. By Edmund Wilson. Penguin 1991. £7.99.
Boris Yeltsin. By John Morrison. Penguin 1991, £8.99.

The late Edmund Wilson's book was originally published in 1940. with the subtitle "A Study In The Writing and Acting of History". The aim was to demonstrate a progressive development from the French Revolution of 1789 to the Russian in 1917. As Wilson stated in his 1971 introduction:
This book of mine assumes throughout that an important step in progress has been made, that a fundamental “breakthrough" had occurred, that nothing in our human history would ever be the same again. I had no premonition that the Soviet Union was to become one of the most hideous tyrannies that the world had ever known.
In the same introduction Wilson made it clear that he expected socialism to be the outcome: "the Russian Revolution was . . .  to scrap a commercial civilization and to found, as Trotsky prophesied, the first really human society".

In fact, what occurred was the overthrow of the feudal nobility. The "hideous tyranny” that followed served to hasten the development of capitalism. Instead of heedingTrotsky, Wilson would have done well to note what Marx had to say on the subject of social change:
Even when a society has got on the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement . . . .  it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. (Preface, Capital Vol. I).
Conditions in 1917, with only a tiny minority of socialists and the workers of the world engaged in mutual slaughter, made a socialist revolution well-nigh impossible.

John Morrison’s book, subtitled ‘‘From Bolshevik to Democrat", gives an account of Boris Yeltsin’s career. As a technocrat he made his reputation as a manager in the civil engineering industry. He became a professional Party man. Later he was promoted by Gorbachev to be head of the Moscow City Party Organisation. His relations with senior colleagues in the Communist Party became increasingly strained over the question of the pace of reform of the economy, with Yeltsin favouring a speedy transition to a “free market". Yeltsin broke with the party and defeated its candidate Ryzhkov to become the first popularly-elected president of the Russian Federation, to gain "hero" status with the defeat of the coup. The book gives a good account of the political manoeuvring within the Soviet Communist Party, but little insight into the economic weaknesses that undermined the Party’s authority.

What is clear is the lack of even lip-service to world socialism by these leaders of the movement supposedly dedicated to that end:
Ryzhkov accused Yeltsin of pursuing a destructive policy which would “lead to the collapse of a state which had taken centuries to create".
Hardly the words of someone dedicated to making the nation-state redundant. From the people in the street, it is no better:
Thousands of Yeltsin's supporters rallied in central Moscow, bearing his portrait and waving Russian tricolor flags. “Boris Nikolayevich, fate has sent you to us” said one banner.
Depressing stuff, seventy years of so-called communist education has left workers clinging to nationalism, religion and leader worship.

Under the Bolsheviks a large area of the world was transformed, from a peasant-based agricultural economy into a modern industrial capitalist society, with all the contradictions. The peasantry of former times has been transformed into a working class, literate, trained in science, technology and the skills of administration. In fact the pre-conditions for socialism have been established. More importantly, the failure of the Bolsheviks to achieve socialism is proof that it cannot be imposed from above.

Workers will find that Yeltsin will be forced to act on behalf of a social class whose interests are diametrically opposed to theirs, just as the Bolsheviks were, but. now out in the open. “The first really human society” can only be brought about by democratic action backed by socialist knowledge.
Joe Carter

Socialist summer school (1992)

Party News from the September 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 4 and 5 July Socialist Party weekend of speakers, debate and socializing was a great success. Although outside of the Party and critical of some of its aspects, I felt welcome and included. The food was wonderful and much thanks must go to our hosts and caterers. Having toiled from the bus stop up the hill, I was greeted with a cocktail, lunch and a splendid view over the Gloucestershire countryside. For a moment I had the illusion of having stumbled into William Morris’s News from Nowhere. After lunch, proceedings continued with an impressive piece of oratory exploring a socialist vision of the future and the poverty of alternative aspirations.

Where Socialists look to a moneyless cooperative society where creativity is released and humanity grows in myriad ways, cynicism rules amongst the non-socialists. A John Major version of "Imagine”, including lines such as "Imagine no inflation, it’s easy if you try”, may not have been the musical highlight of the weekend but illustrated the theme. Imagination was shown to be, just as much as theory, a weapon of revolutionary struggle and a central aspect of Marx’s system.

Other discussions addressing such topics as sex, economics, ecology and personal freedom looked in greater detail at the possibilities of a socialist society, one where individuals rather than the blind economic force of capitalism, might determine progress. One of capitalism’s most dangerous ideological ruses is to dress up our present decaying order of ecological degradation, mass poverty and alienating work as the only way that things can be. The lesson of the weekend was that we could imagine alternatives and work towards a socialist world.

Contributions to the discussions were wide-ranging and well-informed, covering such diverse issues as democracy, political practice and vegetarianism. For me the event was both very enjoyable and contributed to my understanding of socialism, I look forward to similar occasions. The Social Democratic Federation of which William Morris was a founder member and which the Socialist Party split from in, I believe, 1904, used the slogan “Educate, Agitate, Organise". I feel there is a greater hunger for radical education amongst those disillusioned by the failures of both capitalism and the Leninist Left. This hunger can perhaps be fuelled and filled by rigorous but comradely debate such as the Libertarian Socialist weekend, in particular, and the activities of the Socialist Party in general have provided.
Derek Wall 

Derek Wall helps edit Green Revolution and is writing a book examining Green politics and Marxism that will be published by Greenprint in 1993.

Jobless—who's to blame? (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sir—I work three shifts and on most days am able to go to various pubs for a drink. I am amazed at what I can see and hear. Many of the customers are unemployed and have been for years. They don't want work. One person told me he is getting family support. He only pays a very little poll tax, and pays a very small amount of rent. By the way, this person mentioned to me that he smokes 30 cigarettes a day and his wife also smokes. Another customer in the pub said he was disgusted that these people (men and women) get away with these perks. He pointed out the names of the darts and domino players on the team sheets. He knew them and said most of them were on income support. But they can afford to go out playing pub games at nights as well as in the daytime. (Letters, Wolverhampton Express & Star, 4 July).
Since the writer of this letter obviously enjoys the odd pint or two, we cannot say with certainty whether he disagrees with the adage that work is the curse of the drinking classes. However, from the tone of his missive it’s more likely that he would agree with the comments of Machiavelli that "one can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers". This view is one no doubt shared by the capitalist ruling class.

We must not judge too harshly this member of the working class for adhering to the opinion that all jobless wage slaves are "parasites". After all, as Marx rightly said, the prevailing ideas in society are those of its ruling class. The myth that it is in fact members of the industrial reserve army who deserve no support from their fellow workers is a useful tool in the diversionary armoury of the capitalist class—which is the real parasite class in society.

Less benefit
In between recovering from the stresses and strains that shift work imposes, what would be his reaction to recent newspaper reports that Ministers are considering cuts in unemployment benefit?
Whitehall sources say the options include restricting unemployment benefit, now paid for one year, to a shorter period, such as nine or six months. This would force the jobless to rely on means-tested income support at an earlier stage. Ministers are also considering new cash penalites to encourage the jobless to find work. (Sunday Times, 5 July).
That should remove the “perks" of the unemployed — and, by "encouraging" the jobless to get on their bikes and find a job, help to reduce the cost to the capitalist class of the only commodity the working class possesses — its labour power. Although what that section of the capitalist class, the brewers, will say when all sections of the working class stop frequenting pubs is another matter.

Should the proposals outlined in the Sunday Times story be implemented, they will no doubt meet with the approval of Daily Telegraph readers. Whether the writer of the following letter belongs to the capitalist class I don't know. She seems at odds with the Prime Minister, John Major, however, who tells us we now have a "classless" society
Sir—Most people seem to regard class as a bad thing, causing snobbery and injustice. I regard it as a good thing, causing square pegs to be put into square holes and people to diversify without strain. But whether you consider it a good thing or a bad thing it is an inevitable thing. Attempts to alter this fact—as with communism, or money, class or political correctness— merely seem to make things worse. Of course you need equality under the law and equality of opportunity but people are generally happier when they know where they arc and where they belong. The pilot may seem more glamorous; but you need mechanics and aircraft designers and air hostesses and passengers just as much. Arguments as to who is the grandest are very silly. (Daily Telegraph. 4 July).
I have no doubt that this writer's views would be much enlightened by suitable exposure to Socialist Party literature. Would the shift worker from the Black Country agree with her? Despite his condemnation of his fellow workers he is almost certainly aware that there is a "them" and “us” in society and although it is implied that an airline pilot is one of “them”, the shift worker, the pilot, the mechanics, the designers, the air hostesses and probably the majority of the passengers all share one thing in common—they belong to the working class.

The working class is that majority in society which is forced to sell its physical and mental skills for a wage or salary in order to live. The other class in society is the minority capitalist class which owns or controls the factories, the land, the financial institutions, the communications industry, etc. Membership of the working class is not just confined to that section which is in paid work—it also includes pensioners, children, the unemployed and women who do unpaid work in the home. The majority working class is economically exploited by the minority capitalist class not just in Britain, but worldwide, for capitalism is now the dominant global system of society.

More restrictions
If the recession continues to "gather pace”, as mounting evidence shows that it will, should we expect even more denigration of the unemployed working class from those of its members grimly hanging on to paid wage slavery? During August the canard of "dole scroungers" was resurrected by the Sunday Express. Shortly afterwards the news that £34m of capitalists’ “hard earned" money had been saved when Department of Employment hit squads had forced 50,000 claimants to withdraw their claims due to activities incompatible with being eligible for state handouts.

Fuel was added to the fire of the government’s desire to impose further restrictions on the unemployed and others by the New Age travellers. Once again, the newspapers were full of irate letters from outraged citizens who were finding it rather more difficult than the travellers to obtain benefits. Bureaucracy demands that even those workers desperately pedalling around on their bikes looking for someone to buy their labour power, but badly in need of a break to help them over the coming months of living on £43.10 a week, notify the state in triplicate of their intentions. The unemployed are allowed two weeks holiday a year, but not to be taken abroad, and must sign an undertaking that they are prepared to rush back from their holiday destination immediately in order to fulfil their obligations to their capitalist masters.

What is the alternative for the working class? Cigarettes, alcohol, darts and dominoes are no solution to the plethora of problems, personal, ecological and worldwide, caused by capitalism. It is said that in times of capitalist crisis, workers turn to the Right for a solution to apparently insurmountable problems. Perhaps those workers who look back to April now feel conned. But their frustration would remain even if they had elected a Labour government to run the capitalists' affairs for them in the United Kingdom.

As individuals it is perhaps easier to blame your economic plight upon the unemployed, those whose skin colour is different, and upon those whose life-style appears to offend your values. As individuals it seems that we have no power to change things, even though it is obvious that change is needed. But we have the power—as a class. We have the power to bring about real freedom. The Daily Telegraph letter writer is right. Arguments as to who is the grandest are very silly.
Dave Coggan

Market not the only way to live (1992)

From the November 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many organisations (including the United Nations, Oxfam and Christian Aid) know the world has the resources for all humanity to live comfortably.

The question therefore comes to mind—why isn't the whole of humanity living comfortably?

The worldwide organisation of society will not allow human needs to be met. “Needs" are measured by the “market”. You can have anything you want, from baked beans to human beings, as long as you can afford to pay for it. We all know that what we want and need and what we can afford are not necessarily the same thing.

Supporters of the market would defend it by saying “the market system rewards hard work and enterprise". Following this “logic" means coming up with the ridiculous conclusion that because of what they are paid some people can work a hundred times harder than a nurse or an ambulance driver.
Surely the very fact that present society has the capacity for everyone to live comfortably but won’t allow this to happen is in itself proof that a new society is needed?
Those who argue against “market forces” in the NHS should consider being against market forces in all areas of life.

Those who do not want to pay the poll tax but will pay (however grudgingly) for everything else should consider the idea that we should not have to pay for anything, i.e. that we should organise society to provide all goods and services free for all.

Those opposed to the obscenity and insanity of millions starving while food is stored and destroyed should also consider the case for producing goods and services for needs instead of the current "pay or do without” and "profit before need” society.

Those who believe there is basically nothing wrong with the money system should ask themselves, doesn't the very existence of thousands of reform groups and charities tell you otherwise?

The society of mansions and cardboard boxes isn't the only way to live. You owe it to yourself to find out about the alternative.
Brendan Cummings

Slump—France hit too (1992)

From the December 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The depression, or slump, is worldwide. That’s official. Capitalism is in deep trouble. Some countries have, as yet, been less affected than others. But it is only a matter of degree. In France the politicians are despised (there have been many scandals particularly among the so-called socialists), and there is an air of gloom among retailers, despite an apparent affluence among some sectors of the working class. Nevertheless, France has not suffered the appalling political crises that have hit Britain over the last few weeks.

But let no-one be fooled.

Inflation is at just under 2.7 percent, but unemployment, with all its miseries, is officially at 10 percent. That is three million; but it is certainly at least four million. For about a year, unemployment pay is around 70 percent of the person's previous salary (which, to some extent, makes unemployment almost tolerable in economic terms); after that, it is reduced drastically. And more than one million workers have been officially unemployed for more that two years. Many have had only two or three jobs, often lasting less than one month, during the last 18 months.

For those in a job—the "lucky” wage-slaves—the "good life” is fast receding into the distant past; if it ever really existed anyway. As in the United States and the United Kingdom, most workers are heavily in debt. Less have their houses or apartments mortgaged—unlike the British, many French consider buying a house or flat over a 25-ycar period, a mug’s game. Let the landlord do the decorating or repairs, they say.

France is increasingly becoming divided, not into three classes, but two—the working class majority and the capitalist minority. The peasants are a dying class. Farmers are doomed. For years now, their sons and daughters have flocked into the towns and cities looking for and, until fairly recently, getting jobs. At the end of the last war. there were probably almost three million farms and smallholdings in France; now, there are less than 920,000. Like the majority of workers, the farmers too are heavily in debt. No wonder they get involved in often violent demonstrations—not that that will make any difference in the long run.

Of course, French capitalists are not doing all that well either. But that’s their problem. Few have been seen begging in the Metro, or along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, or outside the posh shops in the Rue du Faubourg. Exports, not unnaturally, are down: about 2 percent this year. And tourism, particularly from crisis-ridden Britain, is certain to decline in the months (and years?) to come. Sales of perfumes, cars, expensive clothes and even scotch whisky (always popular with the bourgeoisie) are all declining.

Capitalism in France, as elsewhere, will not collapse. But it will probably get worse, and deeper, before it gets better. Unemployment in France—as in Britain—is likely to remain high for a long time, particularly as old industries like coal and steel continue to contract and ultimately die. Despite French dirigisme, and a far larger state sector than in post-Thatcher Britain, France is still very much an integral part of world capitalism; and is as much subject to the unplannedness of a production-for- profit economy.

As elsewhere, French workers instead of putting their trust in politicians (the French, it should be said, are less inclined to than the British) will have to organize for the abolition, rather than the reform, of an increasingly insecure capitalism, with its inevitable booms, recessions and slumps. 
Peter E. Newell

Tory chickens come home to roost (2000)

Book Review from the February 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Explaining Labour's Landslide. By Robert Worcester & Roger Mortimore. Politico's.

Opinion polling has been a feature of British political life since 1938. (57 percent of people were satisfied with Neville Chamberlain's performance as Prime Minister). By the last general election, however, the pollsters were on trial as never before. They had, horror of horrors, got the result of the 1992 election wrong.

In the end, their predictions of Labour's victory in May 1997 turned out to be creditably close to the mark. The Tories lost 177 seats. Labour won its highest ever number of MPs, and had a majority of 179. Worcester, who founded the MORI agency in 1969 and has been closely involved with political polling ever since, and Mortimore tell the story of that election through the data the polls provided.

The Tories were doomed long before the campaign began, they argue, because of problems almost entirely of their own making. To any socialist, this is deeply uninteresting stuff. The high point of this part of the book, as it was of the campaign, is the man the Tories paid to dress up as a chicken and follow Blair around. Which of them talked more sense is still hotly debated.

And yet, this is not a boring book. It argues strongly from a position of hard facts supplied by the polls that bias in the press does swing votes. During the 1979 election, two thirds of Sun readers didn't know its political allegiance. (Its front page on polling day consisted of two words: "VOTE TORY"). By 1997, "the print media did . . . have significant influence on the voting behaviour of their readers". In this case at least, greater political awareness seems to be a handicap.

The authors are suitably cutting about the cynical and meaningless astrological "predictions" spouted by several papers. The Express, for example, claimed that "a Tory victory is written in the stars . . . Tony Blair is doomed due to the poor positioning of something called the planet Rahu". Shelley von Strunckel in the Evening Standard was cleverer, taking a whole page to hint at a hung parliament without actually committing herself to anything at all. This under the headline "Forget polls, the result is in the stars".

Most interesting for socialists though, is the section What is public opinion? Clearly for anyone concerned to see a huge shift in human consciousness, this is an important area. The book gives much food for thought. "Public opinion", it maintains, comprises three things. There are "opinions: the ripples on the surface of the public's consciousness, shallow and easily changed; attitudes: the currents below the surface . . . and values: the deep tides of public mood, slow to change, but powerful". Political convictions generally (we are told) come from this third element. To dump our upbringing for capitalism frequently entails a shift in these deep values. It is possible, as the existence of the membership of the World Socialist Movement proves. But it may not always be easy.

The book of course was not written to give us ideas about how to speed up this process of human change. But what is the alternative? A man dressed as a chicken, pecking at the heels of another man who would soon be sending bombers round the world to serve British capital's interests. Pathetic, maybe; but nine out of ten people think it was childish too—the chicken bit, at least.
Toby Crowe

Letter From Europe: Greenpeace killing (1986)

The Letter From Europe column from the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

When he visited the French nuclear testing site at Mururoa in the middle of the Pacific Ocean last October the French Prime Minister. Laurent Fabius, who was there to witness an underground nuclear explosion, described the opposition of ecologists and the population of other Pacific islands as 'irrational". What! Which is more rational: to participate in an experiment designed to develop a nuclear bomb that will kill people without destroying property; or to protest against such a patently obscene form of human behaviour?

Clearly Fabius has a warped sense of rationality, but what are we to think of the mental state of the newly-appointed French Minister of Defence, Paul Quilès who, asked what he felt just after the test explosion, replied "happiness" (bonheur) and "pride"? And Fabius and Quilès have the insolence to call themselves socialists! Not even Tory Ministers in Britain defend nuclear bombs in these terms, preferring to justify them as a necessary evil, the world being what it is.

In a sense, this is right. The world being capitalist, states need to arm themselves with the most destructive weapons they can afford in order to deter other states from encroaching on their interests and enter into negotiations on all sorts of issues with a strong bargaining hand. Mitterrand who accepts the logic of capitalism explained this very well in answer to Gorbachev's proposal to include French and British nuclear weapons in the farcical disarmament talks currently going on between Russia and America. The French nuclear arsenal, he said, is already at the minimum level to be credible and so can't be reduced without undermining France's vital interests. A few weeks later Thatcher made the same point in answer to the same proposal.

The simple fact is that, under capitalism, no state can agree to disarm. On the contrary, all states are obliged to arm themselves and to go on arming themselves to keep up with the latest techniques of mass killing and destruction. This is why disarmament is impossible under capitalism and why so-called "disarmament talks" in Geneva and elsewhere are a cruel trick played on world public opinion. At most there might be an agreement to scrap some obsolete weapons so as to be able to concentrate resources on other, more efficient rockets and bombs. If capitalism continues, it is inevitable that more and more states will acquire nuclear weapons, so increasing the probability that they will sooner or later be used again.

States which want to develop nuclear weapons have however one problem: they need some isolated area in which to carry out their tests. This presented no problem to America, Russia, China and India with their vast land areas, but did to densely populated Britain and France. Remote Scottish islands may be alright for testing chemical weapons, but not for nuclear tests. So at first Britain used Woomera in Australia and now carries out its tests in America (hence the so-called "special relationship” between Britain and America, the complete dependence of the British state on the American state for its nuclear weapons). France, which developed its bomb later than Britain, had at first thought of using the Sahara desert in Algeria but a colonial war and the subsequent withdrawal of France from this area put an end to this idea and Mururoa, a remote Pacific island seized by French imperialists in the last century, was chosen. Here from 1963 to 1975 France carried out nuclear tests in the atmosphere, even though it had by then been scientifically established beyond a shadow of doubt that the fall-out from such tests was biologically harmful. Since 1975, however, having caught up with the three nuclear powers - Russia. America and Britain - who had signed the (atmospheric) Test Ban Treaty in 1963, France too now only resorts to underground tests. But for over ten years the French government was responsible before future generations for knowingly polluting the world's atmosphere with Strontium 90 and other radioactive substances.

Mururoa, then, is vitally important to the French capitalist state as the place where it develops its "credible" nuclear weapons in line with the advances in mass killing techniques. Indeed, keeping Mururoa is basically the only reason France wants to maintain a colonial "presence" in the Pacific area. For, despite assurances by the French government that its underground tests are perfectly harmless to people and the environment. there is no question of it carrying out such tests in France itself, say in some remote area of the Massif Central. There would be far too, many "irrational" people around to protest (as they did over the conventional weapon testing ground at Larzac. for instance), while the protests of South Sea islanders and outside ecologists can easily be brushed off . . . or dealt with in other ways.

It was because Greenpeace - and New Zealand - were protesting so much against French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and because such tests were so vital to French capitalist interests, that the French government decided to send in a team of hired killers to sabotage the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. There is still some controversy as to exactly who in the French government gave this order; it was probably the former Defence Minister. Charles Hernu (who was quite as mad as his successor, his fetish being to dress up in combat uniform and be driven around in a tank or an armoured car whenever he could), but may even have been Fabius or Mitterrand. Hernu was eventually forced to resign over the affair, but this has not harmed his political career. Far from it. He was given a standing ovation at the French "socialist" party’s recent Congress in Toulouse and has been chosen to head the party's list in the Lyons area in next March's general election. He has even been giving interviews hinting that he might be a presidential candidate in 1988 — as well he might be, as long as he keeps well away from New Zealand, where the two members of the French state terrorist gang who didn't get away are serving a ten-year sentence. Incidentally, despite declarations by Mitterrand and Fabius at the beginning of the affair that those responsible for the blowing-up of the Rainbow Warrior and the killing of one of its crew would be punished in France if found to be French citizens, the rest of the terrorist gang — whose names are known — have gone scot-free and are continuing their training as hired killers in the service of the French state. The only members of the French Secret Service to have been put in prison over the affair are those who leaked the truth to the press.

This double standard when it comes to terrorism is typical of the dirty business of administering a capitalist state. Denunciation of private-enterprise terrorist groups or of terrorist groups controlled by other states, but excuses for your own state's terrorist activities. There is even a diplomatic word for this: raison d'Etat in French. Realpolitik in German. The fact remains that the biggest terrorist organisations in the world are the various armed states into which it is artificially divided. They kill, maim and torture many, many more people than the IRAs, the ETAs and other such maniacs. It is the task of the socialist movement to sweep away all states, with their willing servants like Mitterrand. Fabius, Hernu, Quilès and other such grotesque non-entities — and establish a world stateless community in which weapons of war. conventional as well as nuclear, will not exist because they will not be needed.
Adam Buick (Paris)