March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
Smashing the State
It would be suicidal to take on the power of the governmental machinery from the outside, like throwing a few stones at a rocket bomb from a distance. The state includes much more than just police and soldiers — a point very well demonstrated by the exposure of a secret Post Office circular in Time Out magazine (No. 562, January 1981). The document in question was first sent to Local Authorities in 1975. It gives details of the “Telephone Preference Scheme”, which says that in any “civil or military emergency”, only those in “categories one and two” could make telephone calls, while the rest of the population would be able only to receive calls and listen, not make calls or talk. Only ten per cent of people are in the special categories whose telephones would be able to make calls: national and local government offices, police, armed forces, MPs, judges and magistrates, newspapers, the CBI and other employers’ organisations, certain trade union offices and factories, banks and prisons.
If a growing socialist movement ignores the centres of power in present-day society we will be cut off from the vital channels of organisation. We openly contest elections on this basis. Our candidates are unimportant as individuals. We are mandating them to go and ensure, as a body, that the current powers of coercion are not used against us. There is no other way in which we can operate in organising democratically to establish a system of society which will itself be democratic. We have the power to end this travesty of democracy. The MPs elected by the workers recently voted 172 to 111 to reject a Freedom of Information Bill giving individuals access to personal files held on them by government agencies. That is just one example of what supporting the status quo means.
The massive power of the American electorate has just sent Carter back to his peanuts in the South and brought in another representative of the profit system, Ronald Reagan. The cabinet Reagan has chosen are not just defenders of the existence of property for the few and poverty for the rest. They are also owners of vast properties themselves.
Ten out of the seventeen are multi-millionaires. CIA Director William Casey has S5.2 millions and the Attorney-General, William French Smith has S5.8 millions and an income of S850,000 a year. Secretary of State General Haig has made S2.1 millions out of the American working class during the past year alone and the unearned income of the Labour Secretary Raymond Donovan is about 1 million a year (Guardian 27/1/81).
American workers should remember this when the cabinet asks them to work harder, “pull their belts in” and, if necessary go and die in battle for “their” nation. The nation and the state are controlled by that cabinet on behalf of the owning, employing class in America.
In order to sell 3.8 million copies of the Sun each day, Rupert Murdoch mounted a massive television advertising campaign, which cost thousands of pounds each second. The Sun is just one of many newspapers which Murdoch owns and controls, filling millions of workers each morning with prejudices which are protecting the power of their bosses. In Britain alone, he also has the News of the World and now, it seems, the Times empire.
At a time when we are constantly told that “the country” is going through hard times and that “we” must learn to cut down, Rupert Murdoch has enough private wealth to buy an entire newspaper network His papers build up high readerships not just by the bared flesh of Page Three, but also by fitting in with ideas and assumptions which are reinforced by other media and by social pressure and persuasion.
On any major issue the Express, the Mail, The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Sun, the Mirror and the Star can all be expected to give similar views. For example, they all say that it is necessary to have employers and workers, rich and poor, because of “human nature”. They never question the real cause of problems like war, racism, poverty; they will never take a realistic class view of society.
So whether it is Murdoch who controls The Times, or whether it is any other capitalist, such as “Tiny” Rowland (whose latest shopping list includes Dickens and Jones, Harrods, Barkers and D. H. Evans, when most people can’t even afford to buy items in those shops, let alone the shops themselves) we will read the same stories.
What are you worth?
The December 1980 issue of The Safety Representative contains an article, “How Much Safety Can We Afford?" which explains how commercial enterprises make decisions about environmental and safety measures. One method used, called “weighing in the balance”, involves a direct comparison of financial costs. “For example, we can compare the cost of preventing an accident with the costs of the damage and injury it will produce”.
This means having to put a price on human life, and the article recommends such books as The Valuation of Human Life by G. H. Mooney (MacMillan, 1977) and The Value of Life by M. W. Jones- Lee (Robertson, 1976). An alternative method, called “standard setting” involves choosing a particular degree of safety and then aiming to maintain that level.
We are not living in a democracy; enterprises are owned and controlled by small groups of shareholders. Companies compete, trying to cut costs and capture markets, in order to maximise shareholders’ profits. The outcome is this horrific pricing of human life, the cost accounting of humanity. If co-operation and production for free use replaced competition and production for profit, there would be no need to cut costs; the only standard of value would be the quality of life and the direct satisfaction of human needs.