Friday, September 15, 2017

Young, homeless, hopeless (1991)

From the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is easy to pretend that the beggars on the street are not really destitute and desperate. They are crafty kids on the make. They claim to be homeless, hut they are making huge fortunes sitting on their arses conning the vulnerable British public. No, there is no need to beg in Britain. This is a civilised country. It says so in the Sun. It says that beggars are earning £200 a day. They earn more than you do; the undeserving swines. The pretence goes on all the time. It is part of the self-delusion which sustains capitalism. But it is a huge delusion. There are homeless kids in Britain. There are thousands and thousands of them. And they will not go away by pretending that they are not really there.

According to the Independent (1 October), there are now 50.000 workers under the age of 25 in London who are homeless. Nationally, there are over 200,000 homeless youths. Many are housed in temporary hostels or cheap rented accommodation. Others sleep rough. They are the inhabitants of Cardboard City, the squalid emblem of revived Victorian values which can be seen any night of the week on the streets of central London.

Why are the inhabitants of Cardboard City out on the streets? In most cases they have left home under pressure, not by choice. Either it was too expensive for their parents to pay to keep them at home (especially with the notorious poll tax to be paid) or they were forced to leave because of violent or sexual abuse by parents. Capitalism celebrates the family, but for thousands of young workers family life is a story of intense poverty, humiliating parental oppression or hideous incest. They were free to stay at home, just like the mouse is free to snuggle up and keep warm in the cat’s basket.

Under this system the majority of young people are not free to leave the family home (if the family has one) and make a life for themselves. Out in the world the first task is to become a wage slave: to find a boss to exploit you. Some young workers leave home and enter the world of wage slavery; they are the "lucky" ones who are legally robbed and offered enough of a wage to keep themselves in food, clothing and shelter—just enough to leave them poor enough to have to go back and be robbed again the next week.

Most workers under 25 are on the lowest wages. The average worker under 21 earns only 60 percent of the wages of the average 21-35 year-old worker. In 1987 the average 16-17 year-old earned only 39 percent of the average wage. Many such workers, though employed, are too poor to afford a home. They must either rent accommodation (in a market where there is very little cheap rented accommodation, and where landlords are amongst the most unscrupulous and thieving capitalists) or else apply for council housing which is almost never available for the single person.

Those workers who cannot find a job are in a far worse position. If they cannot sell themselves to a boss who can make a profit out of them they are on the scrapheap. According to the 1977 Housing Act. from which the current legal definition of homelessness is derived, there is no legal right for anyone to be given a place to live. If you cannot afford the rent or mortgage for a home you can apply to the local council. but it is more than likely that they will completely ignore you—though some councils have been known to tell young girls who are homeless to go away and get themselves pregnant so as to win a priority place on the housing waiting list. How the profit system cherishes human life!

Thieving landlords
The 1985 Housing act stated that special priority must be given by councils to homeless people who are “vulnerable”. This excludes most homeless youths on the grounds that they have “chosen” to leave home and are therefore "intentionally homeless". Last year Thatcher was asked in the House of Commons what she expected these homeless youths to do: "Stand on your own two feet or go home to mother” was the reply from the Empress of Callousness.

The Housing Act of 1988 rubbed the faces of the young homeless further in the mud, as the Tories made it legal for their friends, the parasitical landlords, to charge "premiums” or “key money" as advance payment before a homeless person can rent a home. This was previously illegal.

So, the prospects for the young homeless worker are grim. The benefits system makes it grimmer still. Before the 1988 social security reforms were introduced it was possible for homeless youths to apply for state money to pay rent in advance. This is now abolished. Under the current law young workers may apply for a so-called "crisis loan”, only if they can prove that (a) they are destitute and (b) they will be able to repay the loan. It does not require genius to see that most claimants will fall down on one or other of the qualifications. In the absence of such a loan the young homeless workers are on their own. No money, no shelter, no hope. They can go on the game if they are female and marketable. So do many of the destitute lads who end up working as rent-boys for assorted vicars and moralising MPs. Or they can beg.

Unemployed, homeless youths have little prospect of finding a job: no address, no job—no wage, no address. They are out in the cold. At best, there is the chance of super-exploited, non-unionised casual labour—for some. The others have no chance.

The dangers of living alone in a strange city are fearful and life-threatening. The temptation to seek easy refuge in drink and drugs is not to be condemned by those whose system has created the problem. Weeks and months on the streets causes physical damage to the bodies of the homeless workers and lasting psychological distress. Even if capitalism was brought to an end tomorrow, this would leave tens of thousands of profoundly emotionally-damaged people whose lives as social rejects has wounded them no less than the casualties of capitalism's wars.

Many workers like to pretend that the homeless young workers do not exist. In helplessness or self-deception, they look the other way when they see them. The pernicious tabloid rags tell lies about these modern paupers, claiming that they are con-merchants on the make. And the law punishes them. The police use the 1824 Vagrancy Act to fine homeless kids who are caught begging. It is a punishable offence to be so poor that you are forced to beg from other poor people.

Pathetically, the reformists seek their limited solutions within the capitalist system. There is a Campaign to End the Vagrancy Act which boasts that it has abolished the Act in Scotland in 1982. Well-meaning people in CHAR (the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless) plead with the ruling class to offer a few pounds more to the unemployed, to build a few more council slums, to offer jobs for the poorest of the poor. None of this will solve the problem. In fact, if asked, those campaigning for these miserable little reforms will admit that the problem is further from being resolved now than when their campaigns began.

The problem of young workers who are homeless is only an extension of the problem of all workers who are too poor to live as well as society could allow us to live. For the truth is that we could all live in decent comfort and equality if only the madness of the profit system is cast aside and we begin to live without the social barriers of sale and profit.

In a world socialist society of production for need, where all goods and services would be available to all people on the simple basis of free access, the concept of begging would not exist. And children will ask how it was that once there were young men and women sleeping in cardboard boxes on cold and rainy nights, pleading for pennies from passers-by. They will, perhaps, pretend that this could never have been so. It was an illusion, surely, dreamed up by some awful creator of horror fantasies. Such forgetting is for the morrow; for now we have the Earth to take back from the thieves who have stolen it from us.
Steve Coleman

Propaganda from Iraq (1991)

From the February 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Last year we received, via the Iraq Embassy in London, the following circular letter signed "Comrade Latif Nasayyif Jassim, Member of the Regional Leadership of the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party. Baghdad. Iraq". Jassim is also the Iraqi Minister of Information.
The Foreign Relations Bureau of the Regional Leadership of the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party is pleased and honoured to extend its warmest greetings of friendship and solidarity, reaffirm its keenness to maintain our relations with you on the basis of our common principles, and present to you herewith a copy of the documented historical and legal paper recently published on the question of the relationship between Kuwait and Iraq.

The paper also offers a political review of the conspiratorial role played by the former Sheiks of Kuwait, in collaboration with the United States of America, in order to destroy the economy of Iraq, undermine its national security and impoverish its people to the benefit of imperialist and zionist interests.

We are confident that these facts will help you to understand the background of the events taking place in the Arab Gulf region and to follow their developments. We stress our categorical rejection of the USNATO invasion of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, along with our conviction of the ability of the Arab Nation to settle Arab problems without foreign intervention and on the basis of the initiative of H.E. President Saddam Hussein announced on 12 August 1990. We also reiterate our resolve to resist the military alliances with which Washington plans to fetter the Arab Nation in order to ensure its absolute hegemony over our oil and free will.

Comrades and Friends,

We call upon you to denounce the inhuman economic boycott and blockade aiming at starving our people, depriving us of our medical needs and our children of their milk.

We also call upon you to expose war mongers and aggressors, and to uphold the peace option as a means to resolve all problems in the Middle East on basis of uniform criteria and principles.

Our reply:
We are fully prepared to denounce all war-mongers in the area: Bush. Mitterrand, the unlamented Thatcher—and His Excellency President Saddam Hussein. As the Gulf Crisis reaches its flashpoint, we of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties overseas, constituting the Movement for World Socialism, reaffirm our unequivocal opposition to all the belligerents, be they major powers defending the interests of their capitalists or despotic oil-producing states anxious to extend or maintain their arbitrarily-established frontiers and to raise the price of their oil on the world market.

We wish to make it absolutely clear that we have no “common principles” with the so-called Arab Ba’th “Socialist" Party find that they are no “comrades and friends" of ours. We have never had any relations with them and never will have. No doubt they have mistakenly assumed that we form part of the rag-bag of trotskyist and maoist organisations like the SWP. RCP, WRP. etc, etc which have taken up a pro-Iraq position in the Gulf conflict.

The Arab Ba’th “Socialist” Party is no more socialist than was Hitler's “National Socialist German Workers Party” in whose tradition of aggressive and totalitarian nationalism it is to be placed. As the governing party in Iraq and, under a rival faction, in Syria its record in both countries has been one of oppression, torture, assassination and mass murder. And its doctrine that all Arabs form a single nation with a common interest is mistaken and divisive. Like all cultural and language groups, the Arabs are divided into two classes with antagonistic interests: workers and their exploiters and rulers. Those who are workers form part of the world working class, not of some mythical “Arab Nation".

Regrettably, the notion of a unified Arab nation-state, however illusory, still holds great sway throughout much of the Arab world. It is to this public that Baathist propaganda is addressed, in the hope that they will see Iraq’s tyrant in a Napoleonic role challenging the no longer divine rights of the billionaire oil sheiks to rule and benefit from their statelets set up and protected by the Western powers.

Naturally, as Socialists, we have no sympathy whatsoever for the oil sheiks but, equally, we hold that national entities, actual or envisaged, offer no solution to the problems of the working class majority anywhere in the world.

While the horrors of war are about to be unleashed yet again, we re-iterate even more urgently our call for the World Working Class to take conscious democratic action for the creation of a world without markets, frontiers or classes in which the oil of the Middle East will belong, together with all other productive resources, not to this or that “nation" but to all the people of the world in common—a world free, at last, from the wars that result from the competitive struggle for profits that is built-in to the capitalist system.

Obituary: Fred Kenny (1991)

Obituary from the March 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Manchester Branch were saddened recently to learn of the death of Comrade Fred Kenny at the comparatively early age of 55. Fred, a building worker, joined the Socialist Party in 1983. and was a keen literature-seller and fly-poster. He had been ill for some time and unable to attend meetings, hut his enthusiasm for socialism never dimmed.

Money-worship (1991)

Book Review from the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hayek and the Market. By Jim Tomlinson, Pluto Press, £24.95.

Hayek has been a notorious life-long opponent of socialism, and not just of socialism but even of relatively mild reformist and trade union attempts to improve working class conditions within capitalism.

After the publication of his book The Road to Serfdom in 1944 nothing much more was heard of him until he re-emerged in the 1970s to provide intellectual ammunition for the Thatcherite wing of the Tory party. So Tomlinson’s short, readable but expensive book can serve a purpose on the principle of “know thine enemy".

An Austrian by birth. Hayek began his political life as a member of that country’s school of anti-socialism associated with the name of Ludwig Von Mises. Mises argued, that without buying and selling, money and prices it would be impossible to make rational decisions about what to produce and how to produce it; production solely for use and without monetary calculation was thus a mere pipe- dream. This was the argument against socialism. But the Mises school went on to argue that, even if buying and selling, money and prices exist, rational economic decisions would still not be able to be made unless prices were fixed by the free play of market forces. This was the argument against state capitalism and reformism (but which they also, either mistakenly or lyingly, called socialism).

Hayek’s main argument was directed at state capitalism and the concept of the central planning of all economic activity. He convincingly showed that the modern productive system was so complicated that it could not be planned from a single centre and that therefore some decentralization and autonomy for producers was a necessity. He went on to argue, however, that this made the market economically inevitable, an argument that is now accepted not only by open champions of capitalism like Thatcher but also by the likes of Kinnock and Gorbachev.

But this conclusion by no means follows, since why is it impossible to conceive of a system in which groups of producers would be responding not to market demand but to real demand as indicated by what people took under conditions of free access? Why could a system of production solely for use not be able to function on the same sort of self-regulating basis as the market is supposed to?

Hayek, however, ruled out this option in advance, arguing that there were only two choices: either free market capitalism or some form of statism. As he wrote in The Road to Serfdom:
The only alternative to submission to the impersonal and seemingly irrational forces of the market is submission to an equally uncontrollable and therefore arbitrary power of other men.
We deny this. The choice is not between the dictatorship of the market and the dictatorship of some state bureaucracy. A free, socialist society without either the market or the state is possible.
Adam Buick

Rise and Fall of a Pitboy (1991)

From the May 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A great future was once forecast for Michael Eaton, not least by himself. He might have made it to the top, to become a recognisable man of power and influence. Instead he is someone dominated by a feeling of “gloom and failure", of no longer being in charge of his life. Once he was a firm supporter of the professed free market principles of the Thatcher governments. a disciple of the creed that hard work, ingenuity and experience were enough to build a fortune. Now he complains bitterly about the government which undermined him. with policies which brought the recession and his own failure and which, he says, could and should have been changed a long time ago.

Eaton’s finest hour was during the coal strike of 1984-5, when he was called in to run the Coal Board’s public relations. His appointment was widely welcomed in those places where the defeat of the miners was seen as an urgent need. Eaton came of a family of colliers and he himself was a pit boy at the age of 15. He took a degree in mining engineering and, as he climbed the managerial ladder, was sent by the Coal Board to the Stanford Business School in California, where they aim to hone their students' techniques of worker exploitation. Only the highest of high flyers get that kind of schooling; at 50—seven years ago—Eaton was in the top flight, the youngest and longest serving Coal Board area director.

When the strike started Eaton was in charge of the mines in North Yorkshire. He soon showed his hand by stopping the pay of mine officials who declined to supervise the few miners who went in to work— a policy which, had it been applied nationally, would have been disastrous for the employers. But the blunder did not dent the Eaton reputation as Mr Fixit, a boss whose direct style and rough-hewn Yorkshire opinions ensured that he was "good at dealing with people”—which really meant cunning at screwing the maximum possible profit out of the labour of others.

When it became clear that Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor was unable to put the case for making useful and productive workers redundant without threatening the Saatchi brothers with simultaneous heart attacks, Eaton was given the job of trying to repair the Board’s public relations. MacGregor, as we all remember, had been taken on by the government mainly to devitalise the unions, at first in the steel industry and then in the coal mines, and to slash the industries back to a size more in keeping with their profit-making capabilities.

He was very good at that, as Arthur Scargill will agree, and anyone who doubts his abilities need only consider what has happened to the mines since the strike. What MacGregor was not good at was putting himself across as other than someone imported to impose lower standards of poverty on selected groups of workers. His low point came when he appeared in public with his head in a carrier bag; it was never completely clear why he did this but what was clear was that it was conduct unbecoming the holder of a high public office in the midst of a savage struggle with his employees.

Eaton was very different. He had known Scargill, in one way or another, for over 12 years and had played a large part in working out the government’s strategy which eventually beat the miners. But things did not turn out as planned because he clashed with MacGregor on many issues and his presence was resented by the man whose job as communications chief he had taken. His career was more or less stopped in its tracks; he did not. as many people had expected. get to be chairman of the Coal Board and had to be content with the award of the QBE for his services to British capitalism. In 1986 he resigned from the Board and with his family bought a building firm which, as the economy boomed, grew into an employer of nearly 200 workers and a valuation of about £6 million.

So far so good—at least for Eaton as he contemplated this apparent proof of the adage, which the striking miners had regarded with such scepticism, that hard work and initiative must bring success. Whatever Eaton had learned he had missed the fact that we live under a social system of economic rises and falls, a system which will not be controlled by any skill or industriousness and which takes no account of the predictions of the experts. Eaton’s business suddenly collapsed, with debts of about £2½ million and likely, when the receivers have chewed it over, to be left owing about £700,000.

This blow to Eaton’s self-esteem, and to all he believed in, has been worsened by the fact that he and his family may be made homeless by the crash. And he is not happy about it:
What most upset me was when I heard John Major as Chancellor say. "if it isn't hurting it isn’t working". People like him don't appreciate—they can’t appreciate—the abjectness of failure and the consequences on your family.
He seems to have forgotten that during the miners’ strike many miners were describing the effects of the pit closures in similar terms. They talked fearfully about the depression of unemployment, about the stress of getting by on the dole, about the feelings of being worthless when they could not find an employer to exploit their labour. They, like Eaton now, felt out of control of their own lives.

The official response, which Eaton was employed to announce, was that the miners must face economic reality—that if the pits were not profitable they had to be closed, whatever the effect on the miners, because only the profitable deserves to survive. And if the miners argued for changes in government policy to keep the pits open they met the kind of implacable opposition to subsidising the unprofitable which Eaton's company got from the firms it owed money to.

An idiot
There are probably quite a few miners, redundant or still in work, who are gloating at how things have turned out for Eaton. It would be more helpful if there was a better understanding of what happened to the miners, and to Eaton’s business. Capitalism does not operate from sentiment or from any obligation other than to produce wealth—like coal, like houses— for sale and profit. The market where goods are sold is neither predictable nor controllable but when it is booming people like Eaton, and millions of workers, misinterpret this as the results of their own skills and hard work. When it slumps they assume this is the fault of the government or the City or foreign financiers or whatever. Remembering how different he saw things during the strike, Eaton said:
If anyone had suggested then that the country would he in the position it is now, they would have sent you to the Tower as an idiot.
What is the "sanity” of capitalism worth, when a man who once personified it admits the idiots got it right after all?

Utopia now (1991)

Book Review from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

I Was Robot (Utopia Now Possible). By Ernest Mann. (Little Free Press, Rt 1. Box 102 Cushing, MN 56443, USA. $7.95.)

We have always argued that many workers would arrive at conclusions similar to those of Socialists on their own, without encountering Socialist speakers or publications. This is just what happened to Ernest Mann: twenty years ago, at the age of 42, he decided that he had had enough of wage slavery and "dropped out”. Since then, he has been propagating his ideas in his own newsletter, issued from Minnesota. Many of these newsletters are now collected together in this volume. Unfortunately, this format means the book is very repetitive, and there is little sense of an argument being developed. Nevertheless, the result is lively and well worth reading.

Mann argues that basic causes of problems should be attacked, not just the symptoms. For him, it is the pursuit of profit which is responsible for the ills of society—for gross inequalities, for the bloodshed of war, for the waste of production, for people's need to obey and conform. His alternative is what he calls the “Priceless Economic System" which is a system without money or the profit motive, based on co-operation not competition, with work done by volunteers. He deals with the “lazy person" argument by pointing out that there would still be plenty of motivation to work in a society where people would be cooperating to produce the best possible, free of stress and worries. Without useless jobs and the waste of wars and so on. it would be possible to produce an abundance of goods, for people to take as they wish.

There is no doubt that the Priceless Economic System is in its essentials Socialism. The only sour note is struck by a passage leading to the conclusion. "let's get rid of Profit and get our country back!”, which is based on the idea that the American economy has been in part sold out to billionaires from Asia and north Africa. The nationalism, indeed racism, of this argument, sits ill with the rest of this book.

The other problem in Mann’s discussion concerns how to establish the moneyless society. At one point he takes the elitist position that it will be enough to convince a few “movers and shakers” of its superiority, for then the rest of the population will follow them, apparently like sheep. At other times he suggests starting on an individual basis: give away your surplus possessions, set up a group of friends and neighbours who can donate labour and skills to each other for free. Then again he proposes that, once everyone is convinced of the need for the change, they can just set a date on which to stop using money. So he does (sometimes) see the necessity for majority support for a moneyless society, but he makes no reference to class struggle or the need to dispossess the capitalist class.

But the good points of the book far outweigh its shortcomings. There are some striking images, such as the opening one of workers all wearing helmets which somehow make them slaves of the bosses. Memorable too is the idea of the Warbucks family, who have ruled Earth for millennia but who eventually decide to leave for outer space, recommending to their slaves not to continue with the money system.
Paul Bennett

Banks and the Third World Elite (1991)

From the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the protestors march again into Trafalgar Square this month to demand an end to the massive debt repayments said to be causing Third World poverty, it will be left to Socialists, once again, to point out that you cannot expect the world capitalist system to behave any differently. What strikes the socialist most forcefully is the staggering naivety of the call for banks to be nicer to their Third World clients, to Stamp Out Their Debts, as if the bankers' greed alone is the root cause of the present misery into which the majority of the world's population is sunk.

When the great lending spree to Third World countries began in the early 1970s— taking their collective debt from about $130 billion in 1973 to $612 billion nine years later when the bubble burst—there was a clear and compelling logic driving them relentlessly on.

That was the logic of profit. There was a demand for capital—for grandiose construction projects like dams and new cities to glorify the names of upstart and insecure dictators, for the bribes necessary to bypass planning regulations and plunder forests and raw materials, and for the emerging, thrusting entrepreneurs in the Indias and Brazils anxious to set up their own refining and car businesses and muscle in on the exploitation of the local labour forces previously the sole preserve of foreign multinationals.

So let's have an end to the myths that the evil Western bankers forced their largesse down the throats of innocent and unwilling Third World victims—a typically easy way out for liberal supporters of capitalism, replete with obnoxious racist stereotypes of the cowering slave.

Logic of profit system
And now the banks continue to obey the rules of the profit system by trying to secure some sort of return for their directors and shareholders. Friends of the Earth complain particularly about Lloyds Bank, said to have the largest amount of money tied up in Third World debts:
Although Lloyds could reduce much of the debt using the reserves accumulated with the help of taxpayers, responsibility to shareholders and customers is still wheeled out as an excuse for lack of positive action. (Earth Matters, Summer 1991).
The limit of the reformers' dreams is to pressurise the grasping bankers into reducing “much'' of the helpless Third World's debt, and into the bargain getting Third World countries with any rainforest left to give some of this up to the wise and beneficent West—which has already destroyed its own virgin forests—in return for some further reduction of their debts.

Even assuming this could be achieved, and the banks could be persuaded to relinquish their claim to the money which they (and most of their shareholders) see as rightfully theirs, what effect would it have? Would the local ruling classes in Benin and Argentina immediately plough the money saved into social projects to ease poverty and increase healthcare provision—or into the preservation of those rainforests?

Well, there are two simple ways to answer this question. The first is to ask how they spent the last lot of capital poured into their laps in the great lending boom of the 1970s. And secondly, even if—against all the evidence of those years—they did feel disposed to invest in the well-being of their subjects, there are other tentacles of the world capitalist system which would rapidly smother them.

Local ruling classes
Take the main institutions of global economic management set up by the US and its European, and then Japanese, partners after the war and used to keep Third World ruling classes in their place: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).

Loans from the IMF and World Bank are granted on the specific condition that countries cut expenditure on social welfare—in particular food subsidies—in favour of buying Western imports or developing an industrial infrastructure to buy Western know-how and technology. This is backed up by the current round of GATT negotiations which will compel governments to abandon subsidies for farmers and for protecting natural resources like forests. Farmers will be forced from their land, along with all the local knowledge so vital for developing a sustainable agriculture, to make way for giant transnational combines with their well-known concern for sensitive production for local needs in preference to exporting to the highest payer . . .

So even if Lloyds Bank can be persuaded to kindly ‘'reduce” the size of the Third World's tribute allowed it under the rules of the free market, and even if the rulers of Third World countries can be persuaded to kindly spend the proceeds on tackling poverty, and even if the IMF, the World Bank and the GATT negotiators would allow the money to be spent on these purposes, how much of a difference would it make to the millions of starving, homeless, exploited peoples of the world?

Socialists are often accused of being unrealistic in our demand for an end to the profit system as the only way of ending mass poverty. We are told that we must live in the Real World, where we must proceed One Step At A Time, and support causes like the Stamp Out the Debt campaign. But to support a movement which will not even acknowledge—let alone begin to think about challenging— the root cause of world poverty, is to make sure that the “real world” continues to be one in which human beings needlessly die and the Earth is systematically ravaged in the name of profit.
Andrew Thomas