Monday, July 31, 2017

"Stand Up To The Yanks" (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early in September at meetings held in the London streets posters were displayed bearing the inscription “Stand up to the Yanks” They were not as might be supposed, put up by Mosley and his reawakening Fascists or by Tory Die-hards anxious to erect a barbed wire fence round the British Empire, but by the Communist Party of Great Britain. An older generation of Communists, whatever wrong theories they preached in other matters were in the main genuinely internationalist in outlook. What would they have thought of the degenerate views of their successors? What would they have thought of a Daily Worker editorial of September 9th, 1947, angrily protesting because some United States government official had said that Britain is “no longer an equal member of the Big Three”? Here are two passages from the Daily Worker article:
  “The spectacle of Britain being slurred, spat on, pushed around by its dear U.S. ally is so usual nowadays that it has almost ceased to be news.”
    "How much longer are we to tolerate a policy which brings this national humiliation?”
In saying this the Communists are as dishonest as they are inconsistent. When 19th century big business talked like this it knew that the words meant nothing without big armaments to back them up and prepared accordingly. Not so the Communists. They are campaigning for armaments to be reduced—here, of course, but not in Russia. All they are concerned with is to support whatever happens at the moment to he the foreign policy of State Capitalist Russia, and if this means inciting workers to ignorant hatred of Americans they do not hesitate. And if Russian policy should change the Communists will hurriedly switch their poisonous propaganda in another direction, as happened during the recent short-lived Russian attempt to cultivate the friendship of the Argentine dictator and during the period of the Stalin-Hitler Pact of friendship.of 1939.

In the meantime Communists in U.S.A., Palestine and on the Continent are telling their dupes to “Stand up to the British,” all with the same object of furthering Russian imperialist policy.

In Russia itself the old slogans of internationalism have long been discarded in favour of the cult of nationalism and the glorification of modern military heroes and those of Czarist times. In this the Russian Bolsheviks line themselves up with the patriotic boasters of all countries; with the Americans for whom that land is “ God’s own country," and with the poverty-stricken British workers who like to read that the British people are “the salt of the earth ” (Sunday Express, 3/8/47). Here is a specimen of the kind of lying stuff now being spoonfed to the wage-slaves of Russia:
  “A most important peculiarity of Soviet patriotism is the profound understanding of the superiority of the Soviet Socialist system over the bourgeois and all other class systems. It is precisely this peculiarity which above all characterises Soviet patriotism as patriotism of the highest kind. It follows that Soviet patriotism is in no way compatible with any manifestation whatsoever of obsequiousness by Soviet people before the modern capitalist world. Obsequiousness before foreigners is one of the relics of the past.
  ‘‘Our country has become the most advanced and progressive country in the world, and holds a leading place in the progressive development of the whole of mankind." (Izvestia, 13/8/47, quoted in the Times, 14/8/-47.)
It is legitimate for the socialist movement, being an international movement, to denounce exploitation, cruelty and ignorance wherever they are found, for socialists do not condone in one country what they condemn elsewhere. By the same standard it is sheer hypocrisy for Communists to denounce anything, anywhere, and if the Bolsheviks in Russia had any of the internationalism which characterised some of their members of a past generation they would be ashamed of the disreputable propaganda to which they and their foreign stooges have descended.

Socialists, while exposing and condemning world capitalism, extend the hand of fellowship to the working class of all lands, for only through international action by a socialist working class will Socialism be achieved.

One of the Carrots (1947)

From the November 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a trolley-bus passing through Hampstead the other day, an elderly woman, in the course of conversation, remarked that “it is the foreigners who are to blame.” Judging by her shabby clothes and care-worn expression, a lifetime of being exploited had given her little or nothing for which to thank her own nationals; but it has long been a firmly held opinion of the uninformed majority in the working class that the foreigner is responsible for our economic troubles, is for ever trying to throttle us, and simply refuses to play the game—the cad.

However, if the woman who is our subject of discussion went, for example, to Egypt, she would be astonished to find that her aggrieved cry has its echo in the Arabic tongue. The fellaheen, ignorant and exploited slaves of the great land capitalists there, look upon the luxury stores and houses owned by the French, Greeks and Jews with envy and hatred, frequently fanned into open rioting by the propaganda of the ruling class. Our worker, if of enquiring and analytical turn of mind, disturbed perhaps after visiting other lands, to find the same mistrust of the foreigner in existence, might start to wonder why States do not try to remedy tins. Why do they not try to “bring the people together”?

The reason is very obvious to the socialist, but the non-socialist worker finds it hard to accept. It is that all States are run by and for capitalism, and this social system can only continue to function whilst the workers are unconscious of the class-struggle. As long as the exploited donkey class continues to he misled by the bunch of carrots (one carrot being this anti-foreigner complex) dangling before its nose, so long will the capitalist class ride comfortably on its hack.

When the donkey realises that it is never allowed to get near enough to the carrots to test their desirability, the time will be appreciably nearer when the rider is hacked off. Until then the ruling class will do all in its power to foster the idea that people act according to the dictates of some mysterious characteristic inherent in their nationality and not, as is the real fact, according to their class function. The function of the capitalist, regardless of nationality is to use the worker for his own ends. The task of the worker is to understand this and achieve his freedom, which necessarily carries with it the freedom of all mankind.

A Party No Socialist Would Join (1947)

From the December 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party of Great Britain is carrying out a campaign to increase its numerical strength and is endeavouring to give the workers adequate reasons for enrolling as members.

One would assume that as this organisation claims to be a Communist one it would do its utmost to explain Communism to its prospective new members. One would think that the manner in which the Communist Party is making Communists would be made known, and that the revolutionary composition of the Party would be preserved by the exclusion of those who have no knowledge nor a desire for Communism or Socialism.

This is far from being the case. In an article entitled “ The Party You Can Be Proud To Join ” (Daily Worker, October 4th) Harry Pollitt writes, among other things, of the Communist Party’s loyalty to the working class movement; its policy “to solve the present crisis in the interests of the common people”; and its objective of “establishing close co-operation internationally with the Socialist Soviet Union; the new democracies in Europe, and the advancing colonial peoples.”

Harry Pollitt asserts that the alternative to taking these steps is to “sink to dependence on American monopolistic reaction, surrender to the monopolists at home, succumb to our own immediate economic crisis which will be intensified by a depression spreading from America, and become engulfed in war as the outpost and vulnerable advance base of American reaction against European democracy.”

It is to be noticed that Socialism, the one alternative to Capitalism and its crises, is not even mentioned by Pollitt As for solving this crisis “in the interests of the common people"—does not Harry Pollitt know that no step that intends to leave Capitalism standing can be, to any great degree, in working class interests? Does he not know that, whether or not Capitalism is in a state of crisis, there is always a crisis for the workers? Is he not aware that, whether or not British Capitalism sinks to dependence on American monopoly, the members of the working class spend their lives depending upon their masters for the necessities of life? Does he not realise that it is not only Capitalist Monopoly, but Capitalism at a whole that grinds the workers down to wage-slavery and poverty? Is he not aware that war is inevitable under Capitalism?

The only way to eliminate the evils of the present social order is to end that order in its entirety and establish a social system wherein the means of production and distribution are commonly owned. That is Socialism.

Such a social system can only be achieved by a majority of Socialists. The making of Socialists, therefore, is the only way to hasten the coming of Socialism.

Neither Harry Pollitt, nor The Daily Worker, nor the Communist Party does this. Instead we find them deeply concerned with the health of British Capitalism and its need for more workers. We see them helping to perpetuate nationalism by asserting their readiness to fight for “national independence and economic prosperity of Britain against the offensive of the dollar dictators and their supporters in Britain — the Churchills and the Right Wing Labour leaders.” (Harry Pollitt’s speech at Ilford, Daily Worker, October 8th.)

It is possible that this new recruiting drive will draw many new members into the Communist Party, and that organisation will hail them as Communists. Actually they will be nothing of the sort. They will be those who, in their lack of Socialist knowledge, have been led to believe that Capitalism can be run in the interests of the workers.

To those who are hovering upon the threshold of the Communist Party, Socialists would say this: Read the literature of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Study our declaration of principles. Listen to our speakers.; question and oppose them, and weigh up the soundness of their arguments. We know that once you gain Socialist knowledge you will know the Communist Party for what it is—a purely reformist organisation seeking to patch up Capitalism.
F. W. Hawkins

An unrealistic utopia (2017)

Book Review originally published on the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There. By Rutger Bregman. Bloomsbury. 2017. £16.99.

Rutger Bregman is a Dutch advocate (the book is translated from Dutch) of a universal, unconditional basic income as a payment from the state to all citizens as of right and of an amount at least equal to the poverty line. A large part of the book, however, is devoted to advocating an unconditional basic income for the poor only, i.e. not a universal one (and not entirely an unconditional one since you have to be poor to get it). In other words, a proposal to merely reform the so-called Welfare State.

At present, the state already gives the poor 'free money' but conditional, besides means -testing, on being sufficiently unfit for work or seemingly actively seeking work, as the case may be. Bregman’s case against this is that it would be cheaper to make such payments unconditional as this would avoid the administrative work involved in checking entitlement and organising bogus courses for the unemployed; that 'free is cheaper' if you like. A number of pilot schemes are being carried out, as in Finland and Canada, to see if this is true. Bregman lists some previous ones which he says have shown that it is.

What he really wants, though, is an unconditional, non-means-tested, payment to everyone. His case for this has certain similarities with the case for socialism: that we are living in an age of potential abundance (he writes of a 'Land of Plenty') but that this abundance is not used to directly improve people’s life but is wasted on such non-wealth-producing activities as investment banking, advertising and legal services (since he doesn’t envisage the disappearance of money his list is shorter than ours). The resources exist, he points out, to eliminate poverty, improve education and health care, and provide a comfortable retirement for all. For him, it’s the introduction of a universal unconditional basic income that will enable this.

Some of the objections to this are the same as those raised against socialism – that if people were given free money (or had free access) the incentive to work would be undermined. Bregman counters: 'There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the vast majority of people actually want to work, whether they need to or not' and 'Stable and meaningful work plays a crucial part in every life well lived.'

In any event, he does want people to work less as he also advocates a 15-hour week. This, he says, should be enough to provide an adequate plenty for all. The resources for this would come from increased automation, the end of the consumerist mentality, and from what is currently wasted in wealth-shifting rather than wealth-creating activities.

Bregman includes the word 'utopia' in the title but is it a realistic one? Since he doesn’t object to the market mechanism or even to profit-making his scheme is to be introduced within capitalism. This is not realistic. One of the objections to such schemes, and which socialists share, is summed up in one word: Speenhamland.

In 1795 the magistrates in the Berkshire village of that name decided to make up the wages of poor farm labourers up to a minimum level with payments from the Poor Law rates. This was a subsidy to their employers who were thereby enabled to continue paying below subsistence, or starvation, wages. Marx pointed this out in Volume I of Capital :
'At the end of the eighteenth and during the first years of the nineteenth century, the English farmers and landlords enforced the absolute minimum of wages by paying the agricultural labourers less than the minimum in the actual form of wages, and the remainder in the form of parochial relief.' (Chapter 24, section 4)
That a universal UBI would be a subsidy to employers is in fact a major socialist objection to it which Bregman is unable to counter. Indeed, in the Swiss referendum on the matter in June last year, the advocates of a UBI openly stated that everybody’s wages would and should be reduced by the amount of 'free money' from the state.

The other socialist objection is that ignores the economic imperative of capitalism, enforced through competition, to accumulate more and more capital out of profits, and so profits must come first before meeting the consumption needs of the population. Catering for these is kept to the minimum to maintain productive efficiency or, in the case of 'free money' payments to the poor, to the minimum needed to avoid bread riots. Bregman shares the illusion common to many would-be reformers of capitalism that production under capitalism can be made to give priority to people’s consumption instead of to profits. It can’t, as the failure of numerous reformist government that have set out to do this is testimony.

This said, Bregman’s book is very readable and he lands some effective punches on the status quo. He also has a pertinent criticism of those he dubs 'underdog socialists', Old Leftists nostalgic for what capitalism used to be like until the mid-70s:
“Reining in and restraining the opposition, that’s the sole remaining mission of the underdog socialist. Anti-privatisation, anti-establishment, anti-austerity. Given everything they’re against, one is left to wonder, what are underdog socialists actually for.”
And he does get Marx right when he writes that, for Marx, ‘releasing the proletariat from the shackles of poverty required a revolution, not a basic income.’
Adam Buick

BDS Election Campaign (1974)

Party News from the January 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, our companion Socialist Party in Austria, decided to put up a candidate in the Vienna municipal elections which were due to take place in the spring of 1974. Due to the total lack of ability on the part of the elected Mayor, the SPO (the Austrian Social Democratic Party) were forced to recall him and put forward a new man. As it was feared that their opponents would use the intervening period until 1974, the SPO, who are the majority Party, decided to bring the elections forward to 21st October 1973. This made extra problems for us in that, with our meagre resources, we had to try and obtain the 100 signatures in a much shorter time and, in the event, this proved impossible and we managed only 73. In spite of this we regard our activities as having been successful. It was the greatest effort ever made by the BDS. Never before have we visited so many people in such a short time and made them aware of our existence. We have made a great number of new contacts which we hope to follow up in the next months. With our papers and posters, together with our leaflet, thousands of people have been made aware of our Party and our political standpoint.

This time there were 3,000 copies of the Internationales Freies Wort (usually 2,000). Of these 1,100 were sent by post to ordinary supporters of the SPO and another 1,500 were distributed free to contacts we made. 400 went to subscribers and other regular purchasers. As well as this we had 3000 posters; to date, approximately 1,500 of these have been posted. However, as the contents are not exclusively directed at these elections, we shall be using the remainder for other activities. Apart from this we printed a leaflet (10,000 copies) of which we actually distributed 9,000 in house-to-house distribution.

This, the most ambitious activity of the BDS to date was also, of course, the most expensive and has completely exhausted our resources. We spent 9000 schilling (approx. £200) and, in spite of generous support of members and sympathisers, and in spite of the help of the comrades in Britain, some of the bills are still outstanding. (Donations please to BDS, see address on p. 15).

Nevertheless we feel it right that we should use all possible opportunities to put forward our objective, Socialism, to as many people as possible.

A Good Old Family Business (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sainsbury’s is a famous chain of grocers’ shops. Last year, after a lifetime of family management, they became a public company. The change was half-bewailed; put down to “progress” but signalling the end of old-fashioned shops where every woman was Madam and the assistants weighed things out. Their shops now are on the supermarket plan, where trolleys are wheeled down stacked-up avenues of tins to conveyor-belt checkout desks.

Sainsbury’s were paternalistic shops, full of cleanliness and service. How easy it is to lament the passing of all that, as if it were a golden age! The “niceness” for the customers was accompanied by low wages, and obtained by a regime of petty and not-so-petty tyrannies and humiliations. To work for Sainsbury’s was to be a slave. I know.

I was employed as a porter, quartered in the warehouse behind the shop. The porter’s job was to hump things and clean things, and at the outbreak of war the wage was thirty shillings a week. They made a fuss about employing you. There was an interview at the head office: references, good character, honesty and industriousness were essential. Once engaged, you were addressed by surname only like a soldier, and like a soldier called your superiors “Sir”.

The porter’s day began with sweeping the floors and washing the windows, and ended with scrubbing the long mosaic shop-floor. There was a daily schedule for cleaning — marble fascia, metal rails, the butchers’ blocks, the brass weights, the lavatories. To the warehouse walls were fixed enamel plates with paternal proverbs on them: A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place—J. Sainsbury; The Man Without a Cheerful Face Shouldn't Run a Shop—J. Sainsbury : as might be seen elsewhere All Hope Abandon Ye Who Enter Here.

The cleaning schedule in practice was carried on between the humping. Vans of groceries and meat arrived every day to be unloaded and their contents stacked and hung. But besides them there was the daylong carrying into the shop. Sainsbury’s did not let the assistants leave the counter, for fear they should do so with something from the till. As they wanted fresh supplies, they bawled towards the warehouse: Side of bacon ! Cheese ! Box of butter ! — and the porter entered like an extra in an ill- rehearsed play, burden on his shoulder and the manager behind exhorting him to hurry.

The porter wore a blue-striped coat like a convict’s, and the manager a dark jacket with a snow-white apron. Everyone else wore a white tunic and a long white apron. In that uniform, however, a hierarchy was shown. The “first hand”, the leading assistant, had red buttons on his tunic. The others’ buttons were black with numbers marking their standing in order. Only the juveniles had no numbers, signifying that they were nobodys at all.

The discipline was stringent. White collars and black shoes were compulsory, hair had to be short- back-and-sides. The highest virtue was to be “quick”; all were urged obsessively into a brisk demeanour and scurrying movements. Mistakes were unforgivable. Sainsbury’s employed “samplers”, people who went in shops anonymously to buy and look out for inaccurate weighing and other errors; assistants could be carpeted and sacked without being able to identify or contest the complaints against them.

Everyone was sent to the firm’s headquarters for training. There were courses in grocery, butchering, poultry-trussing, etc. On the course — usually a month — the trainees were lined-up for inspection by a head man, often one of the Sainsburys, every morning. Personal appearance was scrutinized, and the most dreadful condemnation was: “That’s not Sainsbury.” The courses were for conditioning as much as for teaching the trade. Assistants learned moronic jingles to chant as they knocked up the customers’ butter: “This is the shop, Built upon a rock.”

There was a voluntary superannuation fund, and at Christmas a double week’s wages was given. That week, the bike-boy had twenty-five shillings instead of twelve-and-six, the manager sixteen pounds instead of eight. After the war began this bounty was replaced by what might be seen as the acme of unwelcome paternalism. Employees were advised that because of wartime conditions the double wage could not be pursued; instead, every single one would receive what he would undoubtedly appreciate just as much — a signed picture of Mr. Sainsbury.

Why did people stand for it: the regimentation and conditioning, the skinflint pay, the contemptuous pretence of benevolence? The answer, of course, is unemployment and the fear of it. Sainsburys’ empire was founded on young men having to hunt and be grateful for whatever job they could get.

The abiding terror of all Sainsbury shops was “short stocks”. At the regular stocktaking every penny had to be accounted for, every empty carton and cracked egg. If it was not and a deficiency was shown, the shop took stock every Saturday until the cause was found. It might be inefficiency or waste, or it might be somebody pilfering. Whatever it was, it brought everyone under suspicion.

Ultimately, the manager might lose his job and be relegated to an assistant in some distant branch. So the manager hunted a culprit; if he became desperate, traps could be laid. The manager and his supervisor interviewed assistants, asking if they smoked or went to the greyhounds and how they could afford it on what they were paid. The search was facilitated by the fact that many assistants “lived in”, in accommodation provided over Sainsbury’s shops.

Curiously enough, systematic pilferers were seldom found out. I kept the egg-boy’s secret as to his method, when the management were frantic. Sainsbury’s wanted young men who “could use their brains”; perhaps they got, in this connection, what they were asking for. 

It was not all that long ago. Some of the brisk young men of my own generation are still in Sainsbury’s shops. That kind of training commonly qualifies people to do nothing else, so they are condemned until retirement brings merciful release of a kind. It has been possible also to observe the progress of Sainsbury himself, the “Mr. Alan’ who inspected us and sent everyone his picture for Christmas. He was made a Labour Party Lord: a putative friend of the working class who feels strongly, no doubt about social injustice.

This is the commerce of capitalism. The necessities of life are produced as commodities to be sold at a profit, and fortunes are made in their distribution. The multiple store which presents itself as a nice old-fashioned family business has exactly the same objective as the huckstering new one; both can live only by the exploitation of the workers who produce and distribute. It is a system we shall do well to get rid of.
Robert Barltrop

Who Governs Britain? (1974)

From the March 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

By the time you read this Socialist Standard the Election will be over. On 10th February The Observer listed slogans used by the Conservative and Labour Parties in General Elections since the war. A collection of phrases of such fatuousness and irrelevance would be hard to find: questions which should never be asked, appeals which might as well be in Linear B for all the meaning to be found in them.

The latest addition, in this election, is the Tory call “Who governs Britain ?” That is, of course, the question of every election, but its implication on this occasion has been of a vital conflict between representative government and attempts by agitators in trade unions to supplant it. In his first speech of the election campaign, Heath said:
Are moderates going to sound a call loud and clear that we have had enough of the extremists in our society and the danger and disruption they cause, these few who put so much at risk by their abuse of power? . . .  The future of Britain depends on this election.
Wilson has kept out of this argument for the tactical reason that he cannot accept at election-time that there is any alternative to Tory government except Labour government. But, in office, he has sounded the same cry that Communists and other “extremists” have been disrupting the work of running the country — notably, in the seamen’s strike of 1966.

Apparent awareness of the vacuity of election appeals did not stop the Observer a week earlier, on 3rd February, publishing grist for Heath’s mill in an article on the insidious scheming of left-wingers in the trade unions. Two things need to be pointed out at once on this subject. First, the complete failure of the “extremists” — the Communists for fifty years — to achieve what they set out to do with the unions. And second, that discontent with wages and poor living standards is not an agitators’ invention. As the satirical columnist “Yaffle” wrote in 1947 (in the Labour Reynolds’ News, under a Labour government):
No working man ever knows his wage is too small until some professional Fomenter strolls up with a microscope and tells him to look at it.
   No working-class mother ever knows that her children are under-fed until some salaried discontent-monger calls round with a pair of scales and a tape measure and asks her to examine her offspring closely.
   . . . Take warning from the past. Remember the last war and recall how easily a “hero” becomes a “work-shy” and a public nuisance.
    All he had to do was to discover he hadn’t enough to eat, and say so.
Head Against Brick Wall
Does the possibility exist that industrial action on a large enough scale could damage capitalism and governments’ ability to govern? Undoubtedly this is the dream of several left-wing groups. In the speech quoted above, Heath “reminded” the miners’ union that its action “threatened the whole country”, and went on: “That is why we called this election.” Such a statement is likely to give delusions of grandeur to anyone who believes he can “threaten the country”, but it is absurdly untrue. A General Election had to be called before long, and the question for Heath was finding an advantageous time.

The fact is that capitalism and its means of rule, the state, cannot be overthrown by industrial action. Of course changes of government can and do take place — but only at the behest of electoral majorities. Since 1970 (but by no means for the first time) a lot has been heard of “political action” by the trade unions. It should be known that no strike has ever succeeded in unseating a government or even getting one to change its mind about legislation. Certainly from time to time militants are gratified by seeing a change, though it has resulted not from their actions but from a General Election. And what does it amount to? The new administration is committed to run capitalism as the old one was, and by the same means.

Capitalism is not the government but the social system. It means the class ownership of the means of production and distribution, in the modern world. Whether industries are in private hands or under state control makes no difference (as the miners and railwaymen should know). In one case ownership is vested in private individuals, in the other in the capitalist class as a whole. Both ways, the sole purpose of production is profit, and the economic pressures and consequences of capitalism are there. The immediate concomitant of class ownership is the non-ownership of the rest, who are thereby condemned to wage-labour.

The function of the state is to upkeep this system. Before anything else, it is capitalism’s self-provided sanction. It gives class ownership its fortification, through law supported by police and prisons and, in the end, armed force. This is the simple fact which makes the idea of confrontation between militants and the state ridiculous. Before the modem state arrived, mediaeval kings could be overthrown by whatever barons raised stronger armies. It is that world, romanticized, that the confrontationists and Heath both seem to be invoking; the good knight topples the evil one, and the peasantry applaud. Twentieth- century politics is nothing like that.

Seat of Power
What has to be understood also is that this function of the state rests on the support of the electorate. The truth against which militants shut their eyes is that the majority of the working class remain, to date, in favour of capitalism; that is, they have been led to believe it is the natural order or can be brought round on their behalf. (Indeed, it is impossible to grasp how left-wing organizations dc see the working class. Their publications show the workers on one hand duped and doped by the big parties and hypnotized by the Spectacle; on the other hand, permanently seething with revolt. Which is it ?)

Obviously there are rival versions of how to run capitalism. There have also been — not any more, however — groups and individuals who have gone to Parliament believing the system could be reformed out of existence; in these cases, foreseeably, the man was oblivious to the bite and the dog it was that died. The main factor in administering capitalism is finance. Discussing aspects of government in an article in The Guardian on 6th February, Dr. David Owen wrote:
The democratic process as it is represented through our parliamentary system has traditionally focussed on the control of expenditure and this remains the central control mechanism whether the policy issue is related to the EEC or is purely domestic.
The position is that the state is provided with money by the capitalist class through taxation. The differences between the major parties are therefore largely differences over how this money shall be collected and spent. Two important points immediately arise. The first is that taxation, so often used to inflame or allure the electorate, is not a working-class issue at all. The second is that these differences all stand on the assumption that capitalism must be kept in good running order. It is tempting to believe that Labour measures for “soaking the rich” are steps to equality, and to blame their failure on mismanagement; but their basic futility is that they are conceived within the taken-for-granted frame work of capitalism. 

How to use Parliament
There is no hope, then, for reform to undermine or confrontation to overthrow the established order of who governs Britain and every other country. The strength of capitalism’s legality has been demonstrated again and again. Recently there has been the case of the local council which refused to implement an Act of Parliament, and had its powers removed and its members penalized; the same thing happened in the nineteen-fifties in attempted local rebellions against Civil Defence. In 1972 there were the ineffectual demonstrations against the government’s Industrial Relations Act and, later in the year, the disposal of the Angry Brigade group who claimed they could change society with bombs.

“Who governs Britain?” is a non-question. But Socialists have been putting forward for seventy years the means to get rid of the problems over which some workers fume and others think they must be resigned. The capitalist system continues because the majority support it. The day that support ceases, the situation will alter completely. What the majority have to understand is the nature of capitalism, including that a change of government is no change at all, and that only Socialism will be different.

The course of action then is easy. Delegates will be elected to Parliament with a mandate — which no industrial militant or reformist politician has ever had — not to administer capitalism but to abolish it. This is the state put to its final, and for the first time fruitful, use; instead of confronting the coercive machinery, the Socialists’ representatives take possession of it. Class ownership then falls to the ground, and the new world of common ownership can begin.
Robert Barltrop

Obituary: Harry Waite (1974)

Obituary from the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrade Harry Waite died in hospital on 10th February after a long and painful illness.

He joined the old East London branch of the Party in August 1929 and quickly began speaking and writing. His fluency and thoroughness made him an excellent lecturer, and these qualities were shown equally well in the articles he wrote regularly for the Socialist Standard in the ’thirties. For several years he was a member of the Editorial Committee and the Executive Committee; he remained on the E.C. during, and for some time after, the last world war.

When conscription began in 1939 he took a special interest in the younger members who took their stand as conscientious objectors. He gave up much time to advising them and accompanied many to tribunal hearings, and this help continued until the end of conscription in the nineteen-fifties. He was also one of the original editors in 1952 of the Party’s former internal journal Forum.

In subsequent years ill-health limited his activities, but he remained a staunch member. Harry Waite was known as a wise counsellor and a man whose personal qualities deserved esteem. Having worked hard for the Party, he respected others who did so and was always quick to defend them against criticism; former members as well as present ones made up the many who attended his cremation.

We extend our sympathies to his wife Ann, who looked after him for so long.

TU Politics, Marx and the Labour Party (1974)

Book Review from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour: The Unions and the Party” by Bill Simpson. (George Allen & Unwin. £4.50. 250 pages.)

This is an interesting book but not for the conclusions it reaches, which are much as to be expected from a trade-union general secretary on the National Executive of the Labour Party. Its interest comes from the fact that the author, in his attempt to justify the Labour Party, finds it necessary to do so by proving that Marx is out-of-date, that capitalism today is not as Marx expected it to be, and that the Labour Party, guided by Bernstein, Burnham, Keynes and others, now knows how to control and direct capitalism in the way it should go.

As background material he examines the events leading up to the formation of the Labour Party, discusses some of the controversies of the time, and sketches its history, including the General Strike and the attempts to control inflation by wages and incomes policies. In answer to the questions he poses he concludes that trade unions should go in for politics and not “direct action”, and should affiliate to the Labour Party.

The book is full of references to Marx and to Marxists inside and outside the Labour Party; to socialist society; socialist principle, revolution and revolutionaries, and so on: but none of this is to be taken literally. His ideas of Marx are hazy like those of the people he calls “Marxists”. His “revolutionaries” are not revolutionary (people who want some modification of capitalism are not revolutionaries because they use direct action or violence) and his “socialism” has no relation to what Marx and Socialists mean by the term. He does not mention the Socialist Party of Great Britain or answer our case. For him socialism means the current Labour Party concept of private and State capitalism (nationalization) and the Keynesian techniques of “managing the economy”.

The few quotations from Marx in the book include a complete misunderstanding of the traditionally misused statement by Marx that “Force is the midwife of every social system pregnant with a new one”. Mr. Simpson uses it as heading of a chapter (Chapter 7) which deals with the syndicalist-“direct action” ferment of the years before 1914, thus making it appear that Marx was advocating the use of force against the State power. The point Marx was making was the direct opposite; he was showing the way in which force is at the disposal of those who are in control of “the power of the State, the concentrated and organised power of society”. (See Capital Vol. I, Chapter XXXI, “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”.)

Marx noted the forms taken by this force, from “brute force” used by colonial powers in their colonies to “the national debt, the modern mode of taxation and the protective system” which were used by the capitalists through their control of State power “to hasten, hothouse fashion, the transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”.

Mr. Simpson’s idea of revolution and revolutionaries is illustrated by his belief that the strikes in the period up to 1914 meant that revolution was imminent:
What would have happened if the war had not started is difficult to forecast. This much can be said: if there was a time when revolutionary change was near in Britain it was surely then. (Page 69)
So the workers who had voted for capitalism in the election of 1910, and did so again in 1918, and for five years in between had been fighting to defend British capitalism at the behest of (among others) the union leaders who had been organizing the strikes, were bent on revolution — but when their leaders waved a flag at them they decided to call the whole thing off!

The argument as Mr. Simpson presents it is that while Marx “explained clearly how the capitalist system worked in a technical sense” (p. 131) he failed to forecast correctly the forces that would be operating later in an advanced capitalist society. He was wrong, says Mr. Simpson, about the concentration of capital, wrong about the workers becoming poorer, and did not foresee how it would be possible for a Labour government using Keynesian techniques to keep unemployment down to a very low level and avoid crises, so that since the nineteen-thirties all we have had according to Mr. Simpson is “a few uncomfortable lurches” (p.125).

If Mr. Simpson had understood Marx's clear exposition of what happens when a government steadily depreciates the currency, he would see that it is precisely the Keynesian techniques that have been largely responsible for the price level now being six times what it was in 1938. As it is, he has no idea what inflation is all about.

On unemployment he disregards the continuous powerful upsurge since the nineteen-fifties, to its peak in 1972. Registered unemployment then went over the million mark but his leader, Harold Wilson, contended that the real number of people out of work (registered and unregistered) “was nearer three million” (speech at Liverpool, Financial Times 10th April 72). And is Mr. Simpson still sure that the present crisis is just a “lurch”? The Labour Party Election Manifesto in February 1974 used very different language: “the most serious political and economic crisis since 1945”, and “economic perils of a new dimension; we face a crowning test of our democracy”.

When Mr. Simpson claims that the continued existence of large numbers of small businesses and retail shops shows that Marx was wrong about concentration, he not only ignores the flood of amalgamations and takeovers that are common knowledge but also leaves out of account that in every crisis (as at present) the small firms become more vulnerable. At all times their independence and that of small retail shops is more nominal than real.

He quotes the higher standard of living of workers as disproof of Marx. He says (p.120) that according to Marx “the mass of the people would become so poor (“the pauperization of the masses as he called it”) that the system would collapse and there would be a revolutionary change in society”. What Marx actually wrote was: “in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse”. It was social position, not falling real wages, that Marx referred to. His co-worker Frederick Engels saw the matter in proper perspective. When in 1892 he observed that British workers “are undoubtedly better off than before 1848” and that the condition of those in trade unions “has remarkedly improved”, he did not think this was a denial of the general view held by Marx himself. (The Condition of the Working Class in England, Frederick Engels, 1973 edn. pages 34 & 35.) But Mr. Simpson may be just finding out that in the present “lurch”, notwithstanding a Labour government, many workers are going to see their real wages falling.

Marx never supposed that capitalism would disappear of its own accord simply because of its internal contradictions and the workers’ poverty; it would need to be abolished and replaced by Socialism through the conscious organized action of the working class gaining control of State power.

Throughout his book Mr. Simpson treats the theoretical conflict between Marx and his Labour Party critics as if it is merely about different ways of achieving Labour-Party “managed capitalism”. He nowhere faces up to the fact that for Marx Socialism meant a fundamentally different social system, involving for example production solely for use, and the abolition of buying and selling and the wages system. This ought to have been considered by him because some of the people active in forming the Labour Party, including Keir Hardie, Shaw, and Sidney Webb, had broadly accepted it and presumably believed that it would be achieved by the Labour Party. It is strange that a trade-unionist who claims to know Marx does not even mention Marx’s plea to the unions to aim for the abolition of the wages system instead of seeking “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, which is what the unions and the Labour Party continue to offer them.

What, in effect, Mr. Simpson and his Party are saying is that capitalism is now different because it is “controlled” and therefore Socialism in the real sense is not necessary even if possible. So the justification of the Labour Party falls back on the arguments of those among its founders who, like David Shackleton, said in 1906: leave Socialism alone and get on with “something practical”. This basically is Mr. Simpson’s position though he is not entirely happy with it, for he notes (p.51) some of the “social evils seventy years ago yet which are still far from resolved”. Unemployment is one he names.

Another was housing, and not even the most satisfied Labourite can believe that the problem has been solved. It was not a Labour leader in 1906 who said “the number of homeless is increasing week by week and waiting lists are growing” but Labour’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Dennis Healey, in his Budget speech on 26th March 1974.

One of the sillier beliefs of the Keynesian Labourites was that their control of capitalism gives them control of interest rates, which they could reduce at will. As it happens, in the year of the formation of the Labour Party an organization calling itself “The Workers’ National Housing Association” was jubilant because they had been promised government financial aid for housebuilding of £4¼ million at interest of 3¼%. Current interest rates arc about four times as much, but when on 14th March this year the Labour Government was asked what they were going to do to stabilize interest rates their spokesman in the House of Commons, the Paymaster General, replied:
Interest rates will in the future, as in the past, have to be responsive to changes in domestic and external conditions.
Marx explained this a hundred years ago.

For Mr. Simpson all the efforts of Labour governments to improve capitalism are “socialist” and he tells with evident pride that John Wheatley, Housing Minister in the 1924 Labour government, “put through an excellent Housing Act”. Socialist? Not at all, said Wheatley himself:
The proposals which I am submitting are real capitalism — an attempt to patch up, in the interests of humanity, a capitalist ordered society.
(Hansard, 3rd June 1924)
This is what the Labour Party has been doing for years, patching up capitalism. Workers, inside and outside trade unions, should certainly take an interest in politics — but for Socialism, not for Labour Party capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle