Monday, October 2, 2017

What 'Workers' Revolution'? (2017)

The Action Replay column from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
According to Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the market-worshipping Institute of Economic Affairs, in an article in the Times (14 August) headlined 'Highly-paid footballers are the purest example of a workers' revolution in action':
'If you remain attracted to the dictum that the workers should receive the “full fruits of their labour”, changes in the power structures of English football should be your stand-out example of the world you believe in.'
His argument is that developments in the football business over the last fifty years represent 'a substantial transfer of power away from the capitalist bosses and towards the employees upon whom their industry depends.'
He's being ironic of course as he is not in the least attracted by the idea that workers should receive the 'full fruits of their labour' or that there should be a transfer of power from capitalists to employees. He is having a dig at socialists. But is there anything in what he says?
Socialists don't stand for individual workers, or even groups of workers, getting the 'full fruits of their labour' even if this could be measured (which it can't). If this happened there would be nothing left for those who, for one reason or another (too young, too old, severely disabled), were unable to work. Marx himself pointed this out in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Since production is collective today, socialists say that what is produced collectively should be owned collectively. We want a world where the 'fruits of labour' belong in common to society as a whole.
Most professional footballers are simply wage workers selling their particular skill to an employer. As with other workers, their wage reflects the cost of them maintaining the particular type of labour-power they are selling. There has been no substantial change in their position over the past fifty years, certainly no shift of power from their employers to them.
A small minority of professional footballers are, figuratively as well as literally, in a different league. Their very high degree of footballing skill sets them apart.  As such skills are in limited supply, the price paid to use them is determined by the demand for them. Those possessing them are in the same position as others owning something that cannot be reproduced, such as land in a desired location or a picture by a famous painter. As in these cases, the price they get is what people are prepared to pay. This price is not a wage but a monopoly income, or rent. It has nothing to do with the amount of work these footballers do.
The football clubs – or, rather, football businesses – they play for are prepared to pay a high price because they recoup a large part of it by selling the right to televise their matches, and of course because they need to have the best players to stay in the league whose matches bring in a revenue from being televised.
The change that has taken place in football is not a workers' revolution. The most that is true is that football, like other sports and entertainment, provides a way for some individuals from a poor background to escape from this and even to join the ranks of the capitalist class.
A workers' revolution is quite different. It aims to emancipate the whole working class, by making the means of production, currently owned by the capitalist class, the common property of society as a whole. The fruits of society's collective labour will then belong to society, to be shared out amongst all the members of society in accordance with their needs.

The Coffin as a Weapon (1988)

From the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Gibraltar, two men and a woman are walking down the street. They are ruthlessly shot dead by a gang of paid killers in the employment of the British Government. The British media immediately trumpets the news of a great victory: three cowardly IRA bombers have been killed in a stand-up gun battle with an undisclosed number of SAS heroes after the despicable IRA cowards had planted a bomb which would have made the Enniskillen bomb look like a firecracker.

Unfortunately for the politicians who rushed to the begging microphones to glory in the slaughter of three human beings, the story was incomplete. Unfortunately, too, for the people of Northern Ireland, the story turned out to be no more than a chapter in a heightened saga of death and destruction.

The "brutal", "sick" and "sub-human" killers whom the brave SAS had faced in the reported gun-battle turned out to be unarmed and the bomb they had planted, and run away from, did not exist. Back to the microphones went spokespersons for the killers' employers. Ministerial comments were prefaced with. "Well . . . everybody knows the type of ruthless people . . . might have been going for their handkerchiefs but . . . " No one could have been greatly surprised when a bomb was subsequently discovered - in Spain.

“Full Military Honours”
The people of Ireland, and Belfast in particular. braced themselves apprehensively during the days of bureaucratic delay before the coffins arrived. Coffins have become a weapon of war, a Hill 60 in the grand strategy of battle between the IRA and those who provoke disorder to uphold the law. "Full Military Honours" are the final benediction that the state grants to those who, having been trained to live by the sword have fallen victim to it; a final, vital part of the respectabilisation of a foul trade. Even "enemies" are given the full treatment and. during the last war, many an RAF man put the hated swastika over a dead Luftwaffe pilot after both had been locked in deadly combat.

It's a different thing, however, for fully paid-up and licensed state killers to exchange "full military honours" with one another and allowing the same ritual for just any group of people who take on themselves the right to do what soldiers do. Having a bawling man shouting at other uniformed automatons to fire shots over a coffin draped with a piece of cloth dyed in a particular way is a final recognition of legitimacy. The presence of the padre is the church's acknowledgement of the right of the state to abrogate the "divine" prescription on killing.

It is this legitimacy which the IRA seek for their dead members. The right to indulge a ritual which elevates a fallen comrade from the status of a criminal to that of a heroic fighting man or woman. And it is because this mystique is seen as a means of differentiation between criminality and a greater morality that transcends that which the heavenly lawgiver chiselled out for Moses that the matter becomes, for both sides, a matter of principle.

The extent to which the British Government and the media had made a great victory of the Gibraltar killings in itself dictated a huge response from the IRA. If the British could make propaganda out of three killings, the IRA would make even more propaganda out of their coffins. News, in capitalist society, is big business; media people, camera crews, "experts", "news analysts" and commentators would be flying in from all parts of the world to watch three coffins carried through the sort of slum district that moulded the ideas of their human contents; wealth represented by hundreds of thousands of pounds would be expended on covering the whole macabre operation. What would the IRA do? What would the "security forces" do?

Propaganda funerals
Windows would be boarded up. those working in certain areas would not go to work, transport would be re-scheduled, schools closed. Some would stay behind locked doors while others would prepare for their presence in the cortège and the probable consequences. Members of the RUC would kiss their wives and mothers, dress themselves in battle gear, take their rifles or machine-guns and go to earn their wages by ensuring that flags, gun shots, black berets and gloves were not used to defy the law.

A pall of fear and expectation hung over Belfast. In the workplaces, comments were guarded or otherwise, depending on the religious mix of the workforce. People living in sensitive areas worried about the aftermath of the funerals, new slogans appeared on gable walls, epitaphs of vulgar censure or praise, according to their location.

Here and there, perhaps, a few wondered at it all. Wondered that in a world where thousands were dying every day from hunger, where tens of millions of lives were diminished by poverty, by slums and unemployment, that the sadness of a funeral should become such an occasion of madness and conflict. Wondered why so many young, unemployed denizens of slumdom, whose wives and mothers were every day degraded and insulted by an uncaring system, should want to risk life and limb for something that had no bearing whatsoever on the quality of their lives. Such people were few and even they listened anxiously to the news broadcasts.

In the event, wisdom seemed to prevail. Some time before the funerals, the IRA dressed four of their members in the sort of silly clothes that their military enemies wear, erected a board with pictures of the deceased pinned to it, and fired a volley of shots. On the other side, the RUC intimated that it was not going to degrade its members by having them attack the funerals. It seemed as though a stand-off position had been achieved that allowed the tortured minds on both sides to claim a victory.

The RUC were, indeed, visibly absent from the funerals and Sinn Fein organised a valedictory parade aimed at milking the last ounce of propaganda value out of the event. Still, there was no one present for them to fight with and, as the day passed, the news reports seemed to indicate that the tactics of both sides had been successful. On this occasion, it seemed, a funeral would pass without being the precursor of more deaths.

Somewhere in the city, however, a man was preparing a dramatic gesture. Like most of those attending the funerals, he was poor, unemployed and lived in a slum. Like most of those attending the funerals, he had learned to hate. He did not hate the system that degraded him and forced him and his wife and kids to live in poverty. He hated those whom he had been taught to believe threatened his "whole way of life". From an unmysterious source he had been given a gun and a number of hand grenades and. hyped-up on bigotry, he was waiting at the cemetery for the IRA mourners.

He killed three people and injured a further fifty. Like his enemies, who strode forward towards his blazing guns and the devastation of exploding hand grenades, he was imbued with a madness of anger that transcended a rational human being's fear of death.

After the charges and counter-charges of police collusion, after the riots, the burnt-out cars, the petrol-bombed homes, there remained three more corpses. Three more funerals.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Almost as a diversion from the central drama, two soldiers were injured by an IRA bomb and a young girl shot dead and her boy friend seriously injured when the IRA opened fire on their car because they mistakenly thought it belonged to her brother whom they mistakenly thought was a member of the security forces. In a place where life is cheap an innocent victim merely merits an official apology and their funeral does not threaten us with full military honours.

But there were three other corpses that could be exploited for political gain. Scheduled for the following Saturday, it promised to be a monumental affair for, apart from the IRA, ordinary Catholics had been affronted by their killing and angered at the loyalists who had emblazoned their slums with congratulatory messages to their killer.

Again, there was no visible police presence at the funerals and. since two of the victims were not associated with the IRA, Sinn Fein management was less conspicuous. It seemed the day would end peacefully and a city would earn a respite from the threat of more coffins.

It was not to be. As the funerals made their way along the road they were confronted with a car containing two British soldiers. Why they were there will never be known. According to the IRA, they attempted to run down mourners but, unless they were imbued with the same bitterness as that which motivated the man who had caused the funerals, this seems an utterly absurd action. Equally absurd is the official story which suggested that the soldiers lost their way and accidentally came face-to-face with the funerals. In a country where working-class lives are expendable in a filthy conflict whose outcome has no bearing on working-class lives, anything can happen and the possibility of the soldiers being deliberately sacrificed by their masters for propaganda purposes is not beyond belief.

That the men were killed with unbelievable savagery is beyond dispute. First they were beaten into unconsciousness by the mob and then taken to a sports field where the IRA claim they were shot with their own guns. Television crews were close at hand; the pictures of the disgusting obscenity were flashed around the world. It was the turn of the British to milk the death of human beings for a propaganda coup.

Politicians, media people and clergymen were in demand to condemn the undoubted horror of the killings and they performed their selective condemnations with sickening dishonesty.

An end to the violence
Again it was left to the few to rationally explain the irrationality of a system that plays politics with human lives. To argue that the perceptions and values with which the state — any state — imbues its wage slaves are deliberate disguises to cover up the real problem. To hide the fact that, whether we perceive ourselves to be Catholic or Protestant. British or Irish, our way of life is dictated by our class position in society. To show that it is our class position, and not the colour of the rag that floats at the masthead or the colour of the pillar boxes, that imposes on all of the working class its poverty and degradation.

To demonstrate that there is an alternative way of living that should be considered. A way of life that will open the gates of abundance to all human beings; that will allow each the dignity of contributing constructively to the society of which he or she is a vital part and the right to avail themselves of whatever they need or require to lead full and peaceful lives.

Unfortunately, there were no begging microphones, no column inches, for that message. The people who own and control the media, like others of their class who own and control the rest of the means whereby we live, might be sickened by the coffins of the victims of violence but they do not want a solution that might involve them taking their places as ordinary human beings in the only form of society that can guarantee peace.
Richard Montague

Not Struck by Moonstruck (1988)

Film Review from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Moonstruck (Directed by Norman Jewison.)

I had my doubts about Moonstruck in the first few minutes where, during the opening credits, Dean Martin started crooning Amore. He warbles the same song at various other (probably significant) points in the story, and each time he did so my doubts became more serious. After all, here was a much talked about, much hyped film whose leading lady (Cher) won an Oscar for her performance, that is, in reality little more than a variation on the sentimental love story theme of girl meets boy, they encounter obstacles to the course of true love which they overcome in the end and live happily ever after. It's true that there are a few funny one-liners like when Cher tells papa that she is going to get married and he replies "But you did that once already!". But in general, the film plays unashamedly on stereotypes of Italian Americans.

Cher plays a beautiful young widow living with her eccentric extended family: elderly grandfather and his numerous dogs with whom he enjoys more and better communication than with other members of this family; mother (in real life a relative of US presidential hopeful. Michael Dukakis) a tired, long-suffering Italian "mama"; father - a rich, philandering plumber; and various assorted aunts and uncles who appear during crucial scenes, no doubt to add to the sense of "family".

Cher gets herself engaged to a wimp of a man who she doesn't much care for (a good thing in her mother's view since love is no basis for a marriage). He leaves temporarily to visit his own dying mama in Italy. While he's away Cher starts an affair with the gormless but passionate Nicholas Cage, who plays the fiancé's estranged brother. (He lost his hand in a bread slicer. lost "his girl" at the same time and can't forgive his brother on whom he blames everything.) But true amore conquers all, it would seem. Cher gets to keep the one-handed baker without upsetting the wimpish brother who doesn't want to marry her now anyway. His mama back in Italy has made a miraculous recovery and he believes that she will die if he marries (they're all a jolly superstitious lot in this film). The two brothers are reconciled; the rift between Cher's mama and papa caused by his womanising ways is also miraculously healed across the breakfast table; all the loose ends of all the sub-plots are tied up, so they all look set to live happily ever after as, mercifully for the last time, Dean Martin tells us "That's amore".
Janie Percy-Smith

Strikes in the Health Service (1988)

From the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Contrary to press reports at the time, the strike by night nurses at North Manchester General Hospital in January was not the first in the British medical service. In 1922 asylum workers at Radcliffe Mental Hospital, near Nottingham, resisted attempts to cut wages and increase working hours but the strike collapsed and the branch secretary was forbidden to enter the hospital again. There was a greater degree of trade union militancy in mental hospitals during the 1920s and 30s because the decline in manufacturing industries between the wars led to recruitment of male nurses, who tended to be older than their female counterparts and experienced trade unionists. It was not until May 1962 that a further show of militancy among nurses led to widespread demonstrations against low pay and a further ten years elapsed before hospital ancillary workers took the lead with strike action.

Over the years health service staff (with the exception of senior medical and administrative personnel) seem to have been remarkably tolerant of low pay, difficult and stressful working conditions — often in outdated hospitals or redundant workhouse accommodation — and undemocratic, hierarchical structures in the different occupational groups. They have, on the whole, failed to combat their exploitation effectively despite the fact that trained nurses attained professional status and legal protection of their skills with the 1919 Nurses Registration Act.

The reasons for this prior to the formation of the National Health Service were the depressed economic conditions prevailing in the inter-war years; the failure of nurses to organise themselves into an effective trade union; the perception of nursing as a "vocation" in which high pay was seen as likely to attract undesirable people, motivated by financial consideration; and the domination of nursing by single women who, by living in subsidised hospital accommodation, were comparatively well off in spite of low pay.

The post-war period brought different problems in the struggle to improve pay and conditions. The technological advances which made nursing more labour intensive in the acute hospitals, and the severe shortage of labour in the 1950s, should have strengthened the position of nurses in the labour market; in fact this did not happen. Enoch Powell, Minister of Health in the 1951 Conservative Government, recruited nurses from the West Indies and this ready source of labour was tapped up to the time of the 1968 Immigration Act. The less popular branches of nursing such as geriatrics, mental illness and mental handicap would undoubtedly have collapsed without black immigrant labour, and the policy had the added advantage of suppressing pay levels.

The industrial expansion of the 1950s and early 60s led to an increase in trade union membership, with the Royal College of Nursing accepting male nurses and state enrolled nurses as members in 1960. The next two decades were marked by bitter rivalry between the trade unions and the RCN and as recently as 1981 the latter voted heavily against affiliation to the TUC and the use of strike action. To retain its appeal as a "professional" organisation it has concentrated on developing specialist interest groups to provide educational information in high technology areas of nursing, a successful strategy but one which caused a rift between ward nurses and managers. But probably the most divisive policies of the RCN have been a refusal to accept nursing auxiliaries as members; the jealous guarding of professional skills; and the attempt to exclude nursing auxiliaries from pay negotiations.

The management changes within nursing and economic pressures on the National Health Service brought about a certain unity among nurses. Privatisation of ancillary work in some hospitals also gave rise to the fear that nursing would be the next service to be exploited by entrepreneurs, and this served to foster a degree of trade union solidarity with ancillary workers, at least among lower grades of nurses. But nurses remain essentially divided among themselves: professionalism. exemplified by the RCN, and trade unionism, represented by COHSE, NUPE and NALGO still contest control of the labour market.

By the 1980s mass unemployment had altered capitalism's priorities for health care and further cuts in patients' services followed. For nurses, this meant a greatly increased turnover of patients: pressure to be more "efficient" led to earlier hospital discharges. often with earlier readmissions as a consequence. High technology nursing, which is particularly labour intensive, has led to the admission of patients who would have been considered untreatable in the past. And the increased mortality rate among middle-aged. unskilled male workers over the last 40 years, together with the rising numbers of old people in the population, have put intense pressure on dwindling resources.

The final straw which led to the Manchester nurses' strike was the government's intention to reduce shift pay, even though it is the worst of any British industry working a continuous three-shift system and one-fifth of all qualified nurses do one or more jobs to supplement their income. The strike achieved its aim: the government backed down, although the Prime Minister tried to save face by declaring that the Pay Review Board's recommendations would only be considered if no further industrial action took place. The Sunday Express portrayed the dispute as a lightning strike engineered by left wing extremists, even though the decision to strike was taken three months in advance and emergency cover for the wards was arranged.

On 21 April the government announced that nurses would receive a pay award averaging 15.3 per cent and that the recommendations of the Pay Review Board would be funded in full. Thatcher's claim that the award had been granted because of the RCN's no-strike rule conveniently ignores the fact that the government tried to reduce nurses' shift pay before the Manchester strike.

A closer look at the pay award shows that it is not quite as generous as the newspaper headlines suggested: a considerable number of nurses will receive just over four per cent. The largest rises will go to London, where the government's recent policy of selling off hospital accommodation for nurses has caused an acute nursing shortage. The other big awards will go to those working in specialised units, the outcry at the deaths at Birmingham's Children's Hospital having forced the government's hand.

Hospital ancillary workers remain badly paid in spite of having taken strike action in the past because the low market value of their work gives them little bargaining power, particularly when there is a surplus of unemployed labour. Trade unions are defensive organisations. They work within the wages system trying to improve pay and conditions and therefore have a vested interest in the prosperity of the organisations in which their members are employed. At a time of economic expansion they are able to take advantage of the need for labour and the profitability of the industries in which they are employed to gain concessions from their employers. During a slump, however, they are limited to trying to protect their conditions of employment, and the difficulty of doing so is confirmed by the Low Pay Unit. Of the employers they checked only 7.9 per cent were paying below the legal minimum in 1970 but the figure increased to 13.4 per cent in 1974; 31.5 percent in 1981 and 35.0 per cent in 1982.
What. then, can be said about the potentialities and limitations of trade union action, in the health service and industry generally? Something Marx wrote is as true now as it was a hundred years ago. and particularly apposite in the nurses' case:
      The working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects . . that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.
                                                                                                                                                 Carl Pinel

Kibbutz conflict (1988)

Book Review from the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Status. Power and Conflict in the Kibbutz by Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Avebury 1988

The first kibbutz was established in 1910 and the movement now involves about 3.5 per cent of the population of Israel. This study is concerned with systems of stratification that have arisen in Kibbutzim and not with an overall analysis of their social organisation.

Kibbutzim are democratic to the extent that all members are entitled to participate in all debates and top executive positions are elected bi- or tri- annually. The absence of private ownership of the means of production and the irrelevance of money in defining status also make the kibbutz an interesting phenomenon. Yet we ought not to forget the existence of hired workers, who participate in the production process but are not commune members. With an average membership of 300-400 the kibbutz is also a very limited alternative.

The absence of wages or shares ensures that material differentials do not create social distinctions. although social status exists as "a function of one's prestige (esteem and sympathy) and power (influence, authority and independence)" (p.33). The fact that kibbutzim are entrepreneurial also means that prevailing social perspectives are carried through to the workings of the kibbutz, with top executive posts often limited to those with specialist abilities.

Ben-Rafael argues that the kibbutz represents a conflict between the spirit of democracy" and the "spirit of capitalism"; increasingly it is the latter that prevails. This affects not only internal stratification but the relationship of the kibbutz to its environment. Increasingly, due to professionalisation of jobs, members must look beyond the kibbutz for employment. The philosophy of the kibbutz has also undergone changes — the family is reasserted and early notions of equality between the sexes have not been achieved. In short, capitalism has inevitably had its way.
Philip Bentley

A children's story for thinking adults (1988)

A Short Story from the September 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Prince, a pimp and a priest met one day by chance. They were good friends, these grasping thieves, except that they thoroughly hated each other, healthy competition being what it is. They voted for the same political parties, these men — or different ones putting the identical views; it did not matter much. The priest voted to preserve the order which his invisible master had ordained and which greater sinners than he dared to question. The pimp, whose prostitutes worked in his factories and said "thank you" when raped by the profit system, voted for politicians who knew a principle when they saw one, and knew a bribe even better. The Prince, like unelected members of the House of Lords, was not allowed to vote and. furthermore, did not need to waste his time doing so.

The pimp complained that there was too much laziness In the world. The Prince, sniffing cocaine with the air of a man born to be high in society, agreed that he had too often observed out of his palace windows that the workers producing and distributing all of the wealth were all fast asleep This attitude could not go on. At this point the priest, removing his hand from the gin bottle, turned to the others and said that the solution to the problem of lazy wage slaves was to pray for their souls and prey on their bodies. The Prince, who was used to agreeing anything that sounded evil, nodded with the nod of a man who knew a thing or two, but not much more But the pimp was uncertain that religion had the answers. For him the solution was more complicated. What was needed, he slurred, was strong leadership by men who, by virtue of their viciousness, would earn the respect of those who followed them.

Of course, all of them knew what was really on their minds. It was niggling away at them, damaging the hopes which lay like jelly in their fat bellies. It made them so cross that they sometimes couldn't sleep, even at night. Socialism. To hell with that cursed word. Workers with minds of their own could not be controlled. Explosions would occur, believe you me, said these crooks. Workers would not bow down to pompous, useless Princes, thought the Prince. And would they fall on to their knees, these humble workers who filled the Churches, if they had minds of their own? The priest shuddered to think, an activity which he refrained indulging in too often. The pimp had the biggest problem. What if they do not work for him? What if they say. "Look, we produce everything and give it to you, you parasitical old swine. We shall keep the fruits of our labour for ourselves in future; we shall have socialism, not wage slavery." This would be the end of the pimp. No more pimp — no more thieving, robbing, exploiting, money grabbing, profit accumulating — or enterprise, as they call it in the Fraud Court

Wise men do not sit back when their interests are under threat. At least, they should not. So, the Prince, the pimp and the priest decided on a plan “We will educate these wage slaves, to make them fit for the abuse we have in store for them. We will frighten them with gods who demand submission. We will give them politicians — to hell with what they say they stand for, as long as they ensure that wage slaves stand for what we do. We will kick the workers where it bloody hurts in the mind." And so it was that the Prince, the pimp and the priest comforted themselves with the thought that this socialism thing will not get beyond the planning stage

The plan has worked quite well, but not perfectly. There are still a few disgusting workers knocking about, shouting and haranguing with passion and logic It makes you sick to see them. They even produce their own journal; how dare they compete with the Good News of The Bible and The Sun. Still, we can win, the men agreed, for our papers have tits and lies. Millions starving while food is dumped in the sea. Bombs enough to blow us all to pieces. So what? These socialists persist in repeating the same old stuff “Abolish the wages system! Fellow workers, you have nothing to lose but your chains!" Now, who in their right mind would bother their heads with that old rubbish?

Understanding the British Economy (1988)

Book Review from the October 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Understanding the British Economy by Peter Donaldson and John Farquhar (Penguin Books £4.95. 318 pages)

The authors, in their preface, explain that while the book is intended for the general reader they hope that it will be of particular use to students of economics at lower and higher levels. As a source of information the book serves that purpose well. It tells what has happened over a number of years to production, prices, wages, imports and exports, investment, unemployment and so on together with an account of government policies, backed up with a large number of tables and diagrams.

The authors decided that supplying this statistical information is not enough: "This would make very little sense . . .  if there were no explanations of the underlying concepts of economics and no consideration of the economic theories in which they appear". So the book describes, for each problem, the different explanations as to its cause and the remedies put forward by different economists and political parties to solve it.

Economists do not often agree with each other about any economic theory. A rare exception was the body of doctrine put forward by J.M. Keynes. Most economists became Keynesian and in 1944 all the three parties in the wartime government — Tory. Labour and Liberal — agreed on operating a policy of "full employment" after the war. It did not last. The Keynesians had two policies, one for creating full employment, the other for preventing inflation. The first policy was to run a budget deficit, that is for the government to spend more than it raised by taxation and meet the rest out of borrowing. The second policy was to run a budget surplus, that is for the government to raise by taxation more than is spent and to use the surplus to pay off national debt. But what was the Callaghan Labour government to do in the years 1974-7 when unemployment and prices were both shooting up at the same time? They threw Keynes overboard and adopted that other spurious doctrine, so-called "monetarism" On this issue and on others where there are conflicting theories, the student has to decide for him or herself which is correct. not forgetting that they may all be incorrect.

Unemployment and inflation are cases in point. There are two opposite theories, both with a long history. One is that it is high prices which cause mass unemployment. In recent years this has been a constant theme in speeches by Thatcher and her ministers. The remedy, she says, is to get prices down or at least stop them going up. The opposite theory, held by many members of the Labour Party, was stated long ago by Pethick Lawrence, a minister in the Labour government in 1931, when they were faced with a huge rise in unemployment.
   I regard it as indisputable that unemployment, as it has existed in the world in recent years, is due to falling prices and that falling prices are the direct outcome of monetary policy and that unemployment is therefore without doubt a strictly monetary phenomenon.
That government's remedy was to get prices up again; they favoured inflation. The truth is that capitalism periodically produces mass unemployment whether prices are stable (as in the Great Depression 1875-1895) or falling (as in the depression of the 1930s) or rising (as in the depression of 1979-81).

What causes inflation? Why is it that for a century before 1914 prices were stable while in the half- century since 1938 prices have gone up each year and are still going up? The authors describe some of the theories (pages 92-5). One is that if wages go up prices are bound to go up also. The experience of the years 1870 to 1914 shows otherwise. On average wages rose by 42 per cent but prices did not rise at all. They went down by 10 per cent. An inflationary rise of prices is caused by an excess issue of currency (notes and coins). Prices were stable in the 19th century because the Gold Standard prevented an excess issue of currency, as was explained by Marx in Capital Volume I (Chapter III. section 2C).

The authors state (page 93) that the 19th century theory that inflation is caused by "too much money" has been revived in the guise of "monetarism". This is not correct. Gold standard theory and practice dealt with "money", meaning only notes and coins. The modem "monetarists" deal in what they call money supply" which includes bank deposits. All of the several "money supply" indicators published by the Bank of England include bank deposits and in all but one of them the bank deposit element predominates.

Modern "monetarist" theory is based on a fallacious doctrine that the price level is wholly or mainly determined by the banks, through their lending operations. This was stated and accepted by the monetarist Milton Friedman in Free to Choose (1979. p.298). Ironically, since the popular view is that Keynesians and monetarists are in conflict, it was stated and accepted by Keynes in his Monetary Reform (1923. p. 178).

The last time the government used Gold Standard practice to halt inflation was in 1920 when the Bank of England was ordered to operate a policy of restricting the amount of currency in circulation. Millions of pounds of notes were burned, and the total of currency was heavily reduced. The result was that prices fell by 36 per cent between 1920 and 1925.

At any time in the past 50 years the government could have halted inflation by the same method. Instead they have chosen to increase the amount of notes and coin in circulation from £442 million in 1938 to over £14,000 million, an increase far in excess of what might have been called for by the growth of production and population. So that the price level is now about 23 times what it was in 1938 and is still rising. Responsibility for inflation rests with successive governments, Labour and Tory, and with no one else. It suits the interests of borrowers, and as the industrial and commercial capitalists are the chief borrowers, they have never put up really serious opposition to it.
Edgar Hardcastle

Votes from anybody (1988)

Editorial from the November 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Tories recovered from the shock of losing the 1945 general election they decided that their survival depended on being prepared to change themselves in ways which, while they might upset some of the more traditionalist members, would make them more popular with the voters It was a time for painful decisions, after all, the party of charismatic, overwhelming Churchill had been beaten by the party of mousy, insignificant Attlee They began by gradually weeding out from their candidates list the more outrageous of the moneyed incompetents who had bought their way into parliamentary seats and then subsided into a comatose membership of the world's most exclusive club. They suddenly sent trained open-air speakers out onto the street comers, to trade verbal punches with passing drunks and more durable hecklers They began to be unrecognisable from the party which had gone so confidently into that election.

Behind all this effort at going out and meeting the people could be detected the skilful hand of Lord Woolton. who had grown rich from what was archly known as the retail trade and who had then be come famous as the wartime Minister of Food with a developed ability to persuade British workers to be grateful about the meagre rations on which they had to subsist He was immortalised in the name of a repulsive but, he assured us, boundlessly nutritious hash of left-overs called Woolton's Pie. Clearly, this was a man who would go on to make history, even if it was only as someone who instructed the Tories in the lost arts of deceiving enough workers into putting them back in what they saw as their rightful place in power.

And behind Woolton was the subtler personality of R.A. Butler, the man who went on to set a record for almost becoming prime minister but whose job in those days was to recast and re-present Conservative policy to a more palatable political recipe. Butler worked on some pretty simple guidelines. Because of an imperfect grasp of recent history and some injudicious ruling class propaganda about the rewards awaiting a working class who uncomplainingly shouldered the wartime burden of sacrifices, millions of voters had opted for the Labour Party as the more likely to build the brave new post war world. The Tories had nothing to gain by offering any serious opposition to the Labour government, although they had to make the ritual attacks on it; a more productive way would be to change themselves so that they resembled Labour as closely as possible. A series of policy documents on those lines emerged from Conservative headquarters

With the passage of time, and of several general elections, the two parties grew ever more alike until one particularly astute — or perhaps it was especially imitated — observer created the policy of Butskellism, a compound of the names of the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Labour Shadow.

The Labour Party's defeat last year left them in far worse shape than the Tories were in 1945 but their response has been roughly the same — to change their programmes and their image so that they resemble, and therefore appeal to the people who voted for, the Thatcherite Conservative Party. The arguments in favour of this are a mirror image of those confronting Butler and Woolton in 1945: millions of voters supported the Labour Party, therefore to appear too dissimilar to them was to invite defeat. Another way of putting it now is that, no matter how mistaken they may believe the voters' preference for the Tories to be, the Labour Party will pander to them in order to get their support.

Predictably, there have been many voices raised in protest, from the emotional and intellectual tangles of the grass roots. The Labour Party was formed to transform society, not to act as a feeble imitation of the party which openly stands for conserving it; Labour stands for equality and compassion, not for joining in the yuppy rat race of grabbing what you can for yourself and letting everyone else go to the wall. Labour gatherings being what they are, speeches on that theme are much to the audience's taste There is, however, an obvious problem of digestion because however tempting the rhetoric in favour of the traditional recipes for electoral disaster the Labour leadership have been able to push through their proposals for the new, voter-seductive menu.

What will happen if Kinnock's Labour Party succeeds in the efforts to shade itself into the Tories, so that even their supporters have difficulty in distinguishing one from the other? It has happened before, provoking not only uneasiness among the membership of both parties but so much confusion that some of the leaders have had to cross from one side to the other (remember Humphrey Berkeley? Reg Prentice?) A formal and clearer acknowledgement that there is no basic difference between the parties which stand for capitalism may bring some disillusionment but it should also stimulate some healthy questioning. Labour supporters who are discomforted by the abrupt filling in of what they always assumed to be an unbridgeable ideological gap between them and the Tories should ask why, after nearly ten years of Thatcher government, their party is so devoid of ideas apart from an anxiety to blur, rather than to accentuate, the differences between them

No party which stands for, or is prepared to compromise about, capitalism can escape the reality that it accepts a system based on class ownership of the means of life and the consequent social wreckage of conflict and impoverishment. Labour supporters who are aggrieved at what is happening to their party must consider what responsibility they themselves bear for it.

Profit and Loss (1988)

From the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Coughs and dirty washing in Southport; burning oil rigs and polluted rivers; filthy beaches; the burning down of Old Lisbon; floods in Bangladesh and Sudan. They are all part of the world we live in. but what else do they have in common?

The answer is that each of them need not have happened. They are not "Acts of God" - natural phenomena which cannot be prevented. Although claims that even hurricanes are man-made cannot yet be substantiated to most people's satisfaction, there is no doubt about these disasters. In a world where the aim is the satisfaction of human need rather than short-term profit, the question would not even arise.

The Coal Board have an old coking plant in Southport which emits noxious gases and fumes. The manager of the unit, when interviewed on Radio 4. said "Coking is a dirty business; if people round here want the jobs, they have to put up with it". He did not add that modern plants cope efficiently, with minimal emissions. If profit can be made from out-of-date installations, why waste money by putting up an environmentally safe new plant?

There are laws governing the discharge of noxious materials into rivers and the sea. as there are governing the safety of workers on oil rigs. These are more honoured in the breach than the observance. Questions are currently being asked about Safety Inspectors' reports on Piper Alpha and Ocean Odyssey — in one case these appear to have been ignored, and in the other an "All clear" was given that should not have been. One of the worst river polluters, the Electricity Board, is too big to be brought into line. Enforcement Officers state that the Board has now promised to clean up its act within five years. When challenged about excessive pollution which, it is claimed, has been going on for ten years or more, they admit this is so but the Board claim it is too expensive to fall in line. Taking the Board to Court resulted in derisory maximum fines which did not deter them from carrying on as before.

When the Marqués de Pombal rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1766, he had very advanced ideas for his time. He insisted the main timbers of the houses be sunk into the water table to keep them permanently moist and thus prevent fires from taking hold and spreading. When the (monstrously ugly) new shopping centre was built a few years ago, warnings that this would lower the water table were ignored. Timbers dried out and when, earlier this year, a fire did start in part of the old town, it spread at speed through the dried out timbers.

It is generally admitted that both in Bangladesh and Sudan the cutting down of rain forests to sell the timber, and the consequent soil erosion, was responsible for the flooding and loss of life and meagre possessions suffered by many were already among the world's most deprived. Pictures of utter misery evoked the usual response of donations from workers, pensioners and children which, however generous, cannot get anywhere near to repairing the damage. How many watching or reading these real life horror stores stopped to think that to these emaciated, often ragged men, women and children with their bony arms, hollow chests and matchstick legs, the floods were only the latest of the sufferings and deprivations they have known all their lives?

The conclusions are clear to those who care to think. Wherever and whenever decisions on environment, health, comfort or even the lives of the many have to be made against the immediate profit of the few, considerations of the former will amount to no more than lip service. Unless it is shown that environmental hooliganism adversely affects the profits of the "Big Boys", we need not look for meaningful changes in attitude and action while capitalism remains.
Eva Goodman

The Nationalisation of Cables and Wireless (1946)

Editorial from the January 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Within a few years of the opening of the first inland telegraph service in Great Britain (in 1846) attempts were being made, not at first with success, to carry the lines across the Channel by undersea cable. The next development was the long-distance cable across the Atlantic which, after early failure, was opened in 1866. By this time, however, business and commercial interests as a whole had found that their need for a nation-wide telegraph service was not being met by the private companies, which concentrated on the most populous—and therefore most profitable—centres. Disraeli’s Conservative Government decided in 1868 to nationalise the telegraphs and in 1870 the Post Office acquired, along with the inland service, the cross-Channel cables. The latter were at first leased to private companies, but in 1889 the Post Office took over and operated them itself.

Millions of pounds were now being invested in long distance undersea cables, and a period was opening up of big profits for the cable companies which had not yet been threatened by the rival system of wireless telegraphy. At this stage, however, the imperial and war-time needs of the capitalist Powers made their influence felt. The Governments of the Empire were concerned about having cables laid on routes that would serve Empire needs and be safe during war, and they paid huge subsidies to the Cable companies to secure the laying of cables on the desired routes. One of these subsidies was the payment of £28,000 a year for 20 years, from 1893, to the Eastern and South African Telegraph Co., for a cable from Zanzibar to Mauritius. While precise figures are not known, some estimates place the total subsidies at £4,000,000 or more.

In the meantime wireless, first used in an elementary form in the nineties and developed in a different and greatly improved form by Marconi with the help of the British Post Office, entered the field.

The position after the world-war 1914-1918 was that the cable companies, owing to greater reliability and lower over-all costs of cables, were more than able to hold their own in competition until the invention of the "beam" short-wave wireless system. "Beam" stations built by Marconi's for the Post Office opened up in 1926 and 1927, and were immediately able to operate profitably at charges far below those of the cable companies, and the latter saw their profits disappearing.

Now, according to the theories propounded by the capitalist text-books on economics, the cable companies should have set about discovering ways and means of improving cable transmission so that they could compete. Instead, suddenly forgetting how they had argued that the cables must be retained in British and Empire control for reasons of patriotism and Imperial defence, they threatened to go into liquidation and distribute to their shareholders the enormous reserves accumulated out of past profits (with the help of Government subsidies); with, of course, the possibility of selling the cables to foreign companies known to be willing to buy them. The cable companies were then able, in 1928, along with Marconi's, to get consent to a merger of cable and wireless companies and to the transfer to them from the British Post Office of the "beam" wireless telegraphs and Atlantic cables, and from the Empire Governments as a whole, of the State-owned Pacific cable system. Cables and Wireless, Ltd., and their associated Dominion companies, thus came to a position of dominance throughout the British Empire, though in Britain wireless telephony and certain subsidiary cable and wireless services remained with the Post Office. For a time the property and profits of the investors in cable companies were saved, but the war 1939-45 introduced or accentuated factors which have led the Labour Government to adopt its recently announced policy of nationalising the Cable and Wireless telegraph services operating from this country. This move is not the result of the application of Labour Party theory on the question of nationalisation but is dictated by events outside their control, including growing American competition. The inquiry into nationalisation of communications was going on long before the Labour Government came to power and, as the Times says, "their Coalition and Conservative predecessors, though reluctant to decide on acceptance, were almost bound to accept the same conclusion. Pressure from the Dominions, especially from Australia and New Zealand, in favour of this solution has for a long time been strong. Its motives are mixed. In part it has proceeded from the simple desire of the Dominions to have full sovereignty over communications in their own country. In part it has been due to concrete disagreements with Cable and Wireless over rates, service and policy; and these disagreements were, perhaps, accentuated by one or two specific instances in which the American companies which installed and operated new services in Australasia during the war were able to suggest rates and terms with which Cable and Wireless felt itself unable to compete." (Times, November 2nd, 1945.)

The precise terms of nationalisation are yet to be announced, but the Labour Government will follow their settled policy of compensating the investors either with a lump sum payment or Government Bonds, and intends to set up a public utility organisation to run the services.

One development of Labour Party theory is of interest. When the Capitalists had only to consider internal services such as telegraphs and telephones, and when capitalist opposition to private monopoly was strong, the solution applied by Liberals and Tories alike was to institute State ownership and State operation. The Labour Party took over this policy of State capitalism, called it Socialism, and made it the main plank in the Labour programme. Later on the capitalists developed the so-called public utility form of monopoly organisation in the Port of London Authority, the Central Electricity Board, etc., in which the State exercises control, but less directly, and in which operation is not by a State Department but by a Public Board working under restrictions imposed by law. Bereft of any basic principle of their own to guide them and able only to tag along at the heels of capitalist development, the Labour Party promptly discovered that its former favourite, the Post Office, was no longer the apple of its eye. An important additional motive influencing the trade union and Labour Party leaders, with their eyes on the problems of Labour Party administration of capitalism, was that public utilities would, they thought, free them from direct Governmental responsibility for wage disputes with the workers. They wanted the workers' votes, but did not want to appear directly responsible for their wages as employees of a Labour Government.

Of course none of these problems of capitalism have any bearing on the issue of Socialism, which is the issue of dispossessing the capitalist class the world over, and making the means of production and distribution, including communications, for the first time the common property of the whole community, operated not for profit and the needs of capitalism's wars, but for the good of all.

Censored News From Russia (1946)

From the February 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

On November 1st the Anglo-American Correspondents' Association in Moscow asked for the lifting of the rigid censorship on reports sent out of Russia. The Soviet Foreign Commissar, Mr. Molotov, rejected the protest, and said he found the protest “in general not solid" and he did not “find it necessary to give it consideration.”—(Times, 2nd November, 1945.)

In their letter of protest the correspondents described the working of the censorship. Here are some passages from their letter: —
  “Throughout the war foreign correspondents never objected to the censorship for purposes of military security. But censorship in peace-time of all dispatches, relating not only to military affairs but to politics, economics, cultural affairs, and every aspect of life in the Soviet Union destroys the value of foreign correspondence in the free world, and has created general distrust abroad of all news emanating from the Soviet Union.
  “We wish to go on record against censorship in principle. We wish also to protest specifically against the operation of the Soviet censorship. It is dictatorial and arbitrary.
   “Censors frequently tamper with the wording and distort the meaning of messages. The censorship is vacillating and capricious; it varies from day to day and from censor to censor. Some of the censors are not sufficiently acquainted with the English language to understand material submitted to them. Censors are often uninformed of current events. Frequently messages are delayed so long that they lose their value; sometimes they are actually lost in the process of censorship.
   “Hesitating to make decisions censors delay messages, sometimes for days; and this destroys the tempo of news reporting. Censors extend their authority to topics that do not come within the province of the Soviet censorship; they arbitrarily censor information that comes from non-Soviet sources and deals with non-Soviet affairs.”
The Daily Worker had no report of this when it was published in all the London papers.