Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Running Commentary: Smashing the State (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the 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.

Reagan’s millionaires

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.

Free press?

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.
Clifford Slapper

Trade Unions and Socialism (1981)

Editorial from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the continuing debate about the role, the power and the function of trade unions there are basic misconceptions on both sides.

Some of what are often called “moderate” trade union leaders, for example, think that unions should properly involve themselves in the shaping and execution of government policy. Len Murray is one of these; a constant complaint of his is that the Thatcher government are formulating policy without first calling the TUC to Ten Downing Street. One inevitable result of this attitude is that the unions are too often preoccupied with trying to resist the irresistible—opposing the inexorable effects of the slump on employment, for example.

Then there is the less “moderate” element, who are sure that the unions can extend themselves into the ownership of industry. This element is liable to organise sit-ins at firms which are about to close when they have become unprofitable and then to entertain fantasies about the basis of ownership and control in capitalist society. At more alarming times this approach can lead on to even wilder fantasies, that a sit-in can be the first step on the road to a socialist revolution. In reality what happens is that the profit-making demands of capitalism first undermine, then grind away, the fantasies and the enthusiasm which they gave birth to.

On the other side of the debate the great misconception is that trade unions are all-powerful, that they dictate policy to governments, run industry and can exert a strangle-hold on vital points in society such as medical services. The evidence offered to support this point of view is usually the disruption which can be caused by a strike and events like the collapse of the Heath government in 1973/4 and the recent retreat by the Thatcher government in face of the miners.

In fact, on both occasions the governments of the day judged the situation in terms of capitalist priorities—that is on the likely profitability of industry at large and the possibility of notching up a victory in the class struggle. These judgements did nothing to alter the basic situation; capitalism is still there, still run on the same motives and the same assumptions. At present, for example, there is reason to think that the government sees its retreat as no more than a temporary measure, to give some time to regroup its forces. This is what happened in the surrender (or so it seemed at the time) to the miners before the General Strike in 1926. (At that time there was another pressure group at work —the coal owners—but there was little complaint in the media at a powerful minority dictating policy to the government.)

All these misconceptions can be cleared simply by a clear idea about the role of trade unions, one which fits in with their history and their reality.

The first fact to take into account in this is that we live at present in a class divided society, the division being based on the minority class ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution. This division is the direct cause of a clash over the apportioning of wealth, which takes the form of a dispute about wages and working conditions. On the one hand the working class, who do not own the means of production, struggle for the best possible wages and conditions. The more they get the less there is for the owners, the capitalist class who employ the workers.

This clash is a continuing, unavoidable feature of capitalist society. It is obvious that in this—as in any other—struggle, unity is strength. The employers recognise this; they have their own organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and overseeing them all, protecting the privileged position of the capitalist class as a whole, is the might of the state machine.

In face of this, the working class would be entirely helpless if they did not also build their own unity. Failure to do this would reduce workers’ bargaining over wages and conditions of work to a disorganised mass of separate, feeble entreaties. At present the trade unions, with all their faults (and socialists are more aware of these than anyone) represent that unity and offer the workers their only chance of offering to the employers a concerted front of resistance.

But there are many ways in which the unions, even accepting their present deficiencies, could be much more effective. To begin with, they should confine their activities to the industrial field, to the struggle to defend and improve working class wages and conditions of work. They should not be diverted in this by spurious appeals to consider concepts like the “national interest” —which means the  need of the British capitalist class to compete more successfully on the world markets.

They should not be impressed by an apparent readiness to involve them in capitalism’s legislative processes —to call them in to see the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Labour . . . These are no more than inducements to weaken their resolve in carrying out their proper function to promote working class interests on the industrial field. An effective union will not succumb to any such inducements but will single-mindedly carry out its task in those workers’ interests.

And in this there is a recognition of the limits of trade union activity. This can be only defensive; it is by definition an aspect of capitalist society, an inevitable product of that society and is restricted to operating under capitalism. Trade unions then can only ease the pressures upon workers; they cannot eliminate those pressures. They can only ameliorate working class problems, they cannot cure those problems. They can only moderate the effects of capitalism,  they cannot abolish the system.

That must be the work of a socialist working class, a working class conscious of the basic causes of capitalism’s problems and of the need to replace it with socialism. As that consciousness grows it will affect all social organs within capitalism; they will all become that more effective for an injection of aware, politically aggressive socialists. And that will apply with special force to trade unions. At present the unions are in truth a comparatively feeble lot, which should be vastly more effective given the size and the industrial power, of their membership. As the socialist movement grows, so will the strength and the effectiveness of the unions, powered by a membership no longer content to accept minor concessions from their masters but determined to have it all, for the benefit of all.

Political Notes: Stand Again (1981)

The Political Notes column from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Stand again

Is panic the only motivator of Labour MPs agog at the polls (for what they are worth) which say that the Social Democratic (sic) Party would sweep to victory at an early general election? Could conscience also be gnawing away at them?

Such questions spring to mind when reading of the anguished demands from the Labour benches that any MP who joins the SDP should at once resign from Parliament and fight a by-election under their new colours.

These MPs, runs the argument, were elected by voters who (except in the case of B. F., or Brocklebank-Fowler) supported the Labour Party programme. It they have now changed their political views, those electors arc disenfranchised; the honest, democratic thing to do is to give the constituents the chance to have their say on the change.

This indignation would he more impressive if the House of Commons were not full of people who spend their time in Parliament imposing policies very different from those they were elected on. Yet none of them has so far resigned on the issue.

Labour MPs are especially guilty in this. How many of them, for example, told the electors in 1974 that they stood for cuts in living standards, medical services, for breaking strikes, for making the rich richer and the poor poorer? And how many of them eased a tortured conscience, when their government carried out these policies, by asking the voters what they thought in a by-election?

If MPs really behaved as those anxious Labour members are now demanding, the House of Commons would be pretty well empty. The bars, the dining rooms, the lobbies would no longer resound with the jolly banter of capitalism's legislators. The House is said to be the most exclusive club in the world but, as any political careerist will agree, you can take exclusivity too far.

Crooked aim

“It is the thinking person’s party” trumpeted a recent convert to the Social Democratic (sic) Party. Unkindly critics might have commented that it doesn't take that much brain to wield an Access card but let that pass, after all, the SDP are only trying to prove that they are alive and clicking in the age of the credit card. Vote now — pay later might be their motto.

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
Well how does the “thinking person” like his politics? Before he or she fills in that credit card number on the application to join the SDP, he/she is invited to agree that they "share our (SDP) aims". Now that sounds perfectly straight forward except that the SDP so far doesn’t have any aims. Indeed, according to the Guardian (10/4/81) the hairy SDP leader William Rodgers “. . . insisted that there was still a long way to go before the infant SDP has even a constitution, let alone an agreed political programme.”

It would take the thinking person — not to say one who could read and write — only a minute or so to run through the advertisement which included the application form on which they had to confess their support for SDP aims to realise that there was absolutely no hint there of what SDP aims might be.

The very most the T.P. would find would be vague promises like standing for “. . . a new future", which may be a strong contender for the Waffler of the Week award but is not a political policy worth — or even capable of — being discussed.

Of course traditionalists who relished the empty thunder of Churchill, the oiled assurances of Macmillan, the sweeping platitudes of Wilson, will welcome the SDP as a talented contributor to the art of political half-think (their stuff does not yet merit the description of doublethink).

But the SDP claims to be new, to be breaking the mould of traditional British politics. So far their supporters remain starry eyed and hopeful in their delusion but they must be aware that using a credit card is only a postponement of reality; eventually the bill has to be paid

Reagan responding

With a bullet in his lung Ronald Reagan gave out. unknowingly, some discomforting lessons for all exponents of the political assassination policy.

Anyone who thought that getting Reagan out of the way would modify his policies could not have been reassured by the fact that as a result the American working class were almost subjected to a period under the rule of Alexander Haig. The ex-Vietnam general is by reputation a harder line, farther right wing hawk than Reagan himself.

As he recovered, wise-cracking, from his wound, Reagan was borne up on a popular wave of sympathy and support. Most observers agreed that if he had been fighting the presidential election right then his victory would have been even more emphatic than it was last November.

The majority Reagan got then would not have melted away or solidified around an opponent, if the assassination attempt had succeeded. An example of this was when Johnson swept Goldwater almost to oblivion in 1964. In that campaign the Democrats coldly exploited the emotional response to John Kennedy’s killing which, far from damaging their chances, must have contributed to their crushing win.

Political murder is an established method with “extremists’ of both “left" and “right” wings but there is no reason to think that it acts against the ideas represented by the victim. The evidence in the cases of Kennedy and the attempt on Reagan (although the signs are that neither was for political ends) is that the murder of a politician induces sympathy and not hostility.

The properly effective way of dealing with an opposing theory is to prove, if possible, that it is at variance with reality. Such a method, although it has little appeal for the political romantics with guns, is the only way in which we shall build the political consciousness needed to establish a new society.

Party News (1981)

Party News from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 8 May at Guildford Branch there was a debate between E. Hardy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and Arthur Seldon of the Institute for Economic Affairs, on “the Inevitability of Capitalism". Mr. Seldon explained that we are doomed to wage-slavery for this generation and the next, and that we must therefore “make the best of it”. Our comrade Hardy pointed out that capitalism was merely an historical phase which, like feudalism in its day. had outlived its usefulness.

The world market system acts as a barrier to the satisfaction of human needs. When Hardy pointed out that the recommendations of the IEA, such as stopping inflation, reducing state intervention and having free trade, all existed in the nineteenth century and did not prevent mass unemployment, starvation and war, Seldon replied that in 1840, capitalism began to develop nicely for a while. That is. four years before Engels described the terrible poverty which existed then, and in many places still does, in his Condition of the Working Class in England.

Seldon gave two types of reason for the n "inevitability of capitalism”. First, instincts such as the “exchange" instinct and the "family" instinct. He gave no scientific proof that such instincts exist. On the contrary, most of us have nearly nothing we could exchange except our poverty and our work. Then he criticised state intervention, high taxation and other ideas which the Socialist Party has never defended.

Socialism is not increased state power, but the abolition of the state power. It is not high taxes, but the creation of wealth for direct use without any money system at all. This debate, which about fifty people attended, might not a seem like a great threat to the status quo. But it knocked one more nail into capitalism's coffin, by making an important point. Capitalism is not inevitable; its replacement by socialism is the start of mankind consciously controlling its own destiny. IEA members who want us to “make the best” of an insane system want us, like them, to hand over our brains, together with our work, to our bosses each week.
Clifford Slapper

Obituary: Bob Lees (1981)

Obituary from the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we report the sudden death of Bob Lees, a consistent socialist and comrade. Bob was already a party member when he arrived in Manchester from Derby in the late 1930s. He immediately became involved in the activities of the Manchester Branch, which then included many outdoor meetings in Manchester and Oldham. Bob regarded the sale of party literature as vitally important and for over 40 years had a round of regular readers to whom he would take the Socialist Standard. He had a considerable knowledge of the working class movement, with a particular interest in the Lancashire area, and was well versed in socialist theory. His bookshop in Oldham always had a good supply of Party literature. The outbreak of war caused many difficulties for the Manchester Party members. Bob took on the job of Branch Secretary during that period and played a large part in holding the Branch together. He regularly attended Branch and public meetings throughout his membership and played an active part in the movement; such comrades are hard to replace. We extend out sincere sympathy to his wife, Marion, and son. 
Wally Preston

Anti-Democrats Exposed (1981)

Party News from the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Remember the birth of the new Social Democratic Party? They were going to be the radical new face of British politics. No more secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms for Open debate was to be the order of the day. The guardians of democracy had arrived.

Now. it takes more than a bunch of ex-Labour careerists to persuade the SPGB that anything new is happening. So, on 6 March of this year a member of our Islington branch wrote to the Islington Gazette with the following message about the so-called Gang of Four:
  Rumour has it that a new ‘Democratic Socialist Party' will soon be on the scene, nationally and perhaps locally. As an active socialist in Islington. I can appreciate the sympathy which many local people would feel for it. Many of us are appalled by the patronising arrogance and undemocratic elitism of the traditional Left. Most of us are unimpressed by the absurd efforts of that tupenny circus, the Liberal Party, to convince us that its political opportunism is somehow more virtuous than that exhibited by its opponents. All but the privileged and the naive are beginning to see through the vicious defence of capitalism of the Tories. So, ought the new Council for Social Democracy to be welcomed as a radical alternative? Most certainly not.
   A gang of political careerists, with a sterile programme of more nuclear arms madness, more Keynesian economic nonsense and more of the same old profit system which serves the few and exploits the many, is no alternative at all. Despite the media's frantic efforts to give the Gang of Bores a chance to spell out the case for Social Democracy, they have failed to offer anything but the same old social inequality, class division and oppression which arc the hallmarks of capitalism. Contrary to the confused views of the leftist-guard-dogs of the state, socialism means social democracy: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution by the entire community. The Utopians who want to reform capitalism from a nightmare into a paradise may indeed follow the new set of leaders, but I for one shall be staying in the Socialist Party of Great Britain and fighting for real social democracy.
Tire following week (March 13) a letter appeared from one Tim Jilani. who said that he found ‘the prospects of the Council for Social Democracy very exciting as it represents the resurgence of political thought of the radical middle ground.’ On March 20 the Gazette published a reply from an Islington SPGBer. pointing out that:
  There simply Is no middle ground between escalating militarism and the human desire for secure survival, between production for profit and production for need, between the dictatorship of the few and the democratic co-operation of the many.
In the same issue was a letter from a so-called social-democrat called Edward Partridge, who wrote that:
  As a local active supporter of the Council for Social Democracy, I challenge [the SPGB) to substantiate its bland assertion that the SDP . . .  is no alternative at all. 
Socialists, being democrats, never turn down challenges. So in the Islington Gazette of April 3 we issued a public acceptance of the challenge and stated our intention to debate with the social-democrats whenever and wherever they wished. Then we waited for the ‘Democrats’ to respond (first making sure that a copy of the letter was sent to them).

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
Then came the Greater London Council election campaign. The Social Democrats were very active, taking four full-page ads in the Islington Gazette at an approximate cost of £1,000. But despite all the noise coming from their direction no reply was received to our letter. When a Party member stopped the SD candidate, Douglas Eden, and asked him what he intended to do about the debate, he replied that his election agent was ‘dealing with it'. Now, Douglas Eden is the kind of political trickster from whom one would not buy a proverbial second-hand car. In the event the electorate did not buy his second-hand policies either and Eden lost the election.

Since GLC polling day (May 7) Islington branch’s secretary has waited by his letter box every morning to see if the bogus democrats have decided to reply to what was a response to their challenge to defend our case. Not a word has been heard. On July 3 the following letter from a member was published in the Islington Gazette:
   In the Islington Gazette (April 3) I issued a public challenge on behalf of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the so-called Social-Democrats to come out into the open and debate their policies. Then the voters of Islington would be able to choose between the revolutionary stand taken by our party which the Social Democrats prefer to attack by means of unsubstantiated slander and the reformist manifesto of their party. So far there has been no response at all from the ‘Brave New Face of British Politics’ — not even a letter to say that the democrats refuse to debate. Perhaps we should have offered them a TV debate with Robin Day or David Dimbleby loading the questions in their favour. But to debate in front of ordinary workers — why, it would be beneath their dignity, wouldn’t it?
The Social Democrats are cynical liars when they talk of the need for free, open and tolerant debate. We have proved that they are scared of debate because their bankrupt policies will be exposed by the logic of socialists. The editor of the Islington Gazette is to be congratulated for revealing these people for what they are — political eon-men.
Steve Coleman

Some taxing questions (1981)

From the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The propagandists of capitalism are always lecturing the working class about our alleged obligations and responsibilities (to the capitalists, of course). We are told that to ask for higher wages is irresponsible, that all pay increases must be earned by higher productivity, that “restrictive practices" must be abandoned. The implication of all this propaganda is that the workers are somehow managing to cheat the capitalists and take more than they give whereas the capitalist system could not operate without the system of legalised theft through which profits are made. Putting that aside for the moment however, one might expect the capitalists, having struck this moral attitude, to set a good example themselves. This is far from the case however; taxation is a good example of their hypocrisy.

The capitalist class throughout the world is divided into various groups, each of which operates a state machine in its interests. To use the terms “country" or “nation” for these entities is to fall into a trap set by the ruling class, to create the illusion that the state represents the interests of the whole population. In order to run the services provided by the state, taxes are raised by the capitalist governments. Part of the fantasy concerning the nature of the state is that the whole population is contributing to the funds raised by taxation, and is receiving certain benefits in return. The truth, however, is that the capitalist class alone contribute to the national exchequer; the other social class the working class-does not pay taxes.

At first sight this assertion appears absurd. After all, many workers on their weekly or monthly payslips will see that a certain amount of money has been deducted for “income tax". And often when we buy something, the price tag will tell us that “value added tax” has been included. The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in the way wages arc determined.

In order to have access to the means of living, workers must sell their labour power, physical and mental energies, to an employer. Labour power is a commodity and its value, about which its price fluctuates, depends on the labour time necessarily involved in its production and reproduction. The wage or salary which the worker receives is the price of the labour power, on average just enough to keep the worker and any dependants in a state fit to carry out the tasks required by the capitalist class. Of necessity it must be the net wage, the worker’s take-home pay, which represents the price of labour power. Thus the “income tax” deduction on a worker’s pay slip is. in fact, part of the employer’s payment to the exchequer, and not a charge on the worker.

Now, in view of all the denunciations by the capitalist media of the “greed” and “irresponsibility” of the workers, what sort of example is set by the capitalist class when it comes to their own responsibilities in the matter of paying taxes? Sixty years ago Lord Clyde, a High Court Judge, set the moral tone in delivering judgement in 1920 in the case Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services and D. M. Ritchie v IRC:
No man in this country is under the the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his finances or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest shovel into his stores.
More up-to-date illustrations of capitalist ethics are given in the Granada TV Production series Business Decisions. The programme screened on 28 June last was devoted to tax problems. The TV Times billing posed the following questions: “How far can a business go to minimise its tax bill? How far will the Inland Revenue go to pursue offenders and change the law?” The assembled panel of executives, civil servants and “experts” were in basic agreement that to stretch the letter of the law to its limit for the purpose of tax avoidance was perfectly legitimate, indeed laudable. When it was suggested that “the government needs this money”, a company finance manager said simply “I need it too ”.

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
One thing is certain however: if some capitalists can reduce the tax bill they pay to the state, either more must be extracted from the other capitalists, or the services provided to that class as a whole will have to be reduced. The hypocrisy in the attitude expressed by this finance manager does not lie so much in saying that “his” firm need the money (although many who have massive resources will say this) but in the sharp contrast between the morality displayed here and the continuous demands for sacrifices from the workers. The distinction drawn in the programme between tax avoidance which stays just within the law, taking advantage of loopholes in it, and tax evasion, which the state is usually compelled to punish severely, is one which is of some concern to the ruling class although in reality no difference in principle is involved.

The use of tax havens has become increasingly common, so that it is now probably the most popular method of tax avoidance. A tax haven is a country where a taxpayer from a different country may achieve some relief from the taxation in his place of origin. Small states such as Lichtenstein and the Cayman Islands, which do not need to provide much in the way of services, are famous as tax havens. The revenue authorities in these places know that there is only one reason for a non-national forming a company there. However, some eminently respectable financial centres can also be used as tax havens. It is not, for instance, generally realised that Britain comes into this category, despite all the propaganda from the ruling class about “penal rates of taxation”. There are considerable attractions for non-residents, or even foreign nationals temporarily resident here. A UK registered company controlled from abroad pays no UK corporation tax on its non UK income and is free of capital gains and capital transfer taxes. This has made a useful and prestigious base for many multi-national businesses.

It is a sobering thought that this double standard is so openly admired by so many workers. It illustrates again how little pressure is yet being exerted for the abolition of capitalism, despite the misinformed optimism of a few left wingers. People generally act in what they believe are their best interests, and tax avoidance is only one quite small illustration of capitalists doing just that. To denounce them for doing so, as many left wingers do, is to miss the point completely. The trouble is that the working class have an incorrect appreciation of where their true interests lie, still believing that the capitalist system can somehow be made to operate, like some great tropical tax haven, to their benefit.
E. C. Edge

Socialism the answer (1981)

Editorial from the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a a time, not so long ago, when the politicians could talk as if slumps and unemployment, and the power these gave to employers to enforce wage cuts, were all in the past. We now had a new breed of wiser, cleverer leaders who had learned from those days and the unenlightened thirties would never come again.

Well once again the real world of capitalism is upsetting the dreams of its politicians’ speeches and programmes. And the people who are suffering in this are the working class; the screw is being turned on their wages, their working conditions, their sense of security.

It is ironical, that this pressure is especially severe on workers in the aircraft industry, both those making aircraft and those operating them. For this industry was a post war boom spot which, because it was comparatively young and had obvious scope for development, was widely regarded as one where jobs would be safe for a long, long time. Then there was the glamour of big airliners with their uniformed crews roaring off to far away places, which made a job with them seem very desirable.

But much of the glamour is now being rubbed off, by some stern economic realities. The staff of British Caledonian have recently accepted a management suggestion that they forego a pay rise this year, although they have a contract which allows them an annual increase. Pan American has a plan to cut its employees' wages by ten per cent. British Airways has announced its intention of cutting its workforce by 9,000 by June 1982 and imposing a wage freeze until the end of September 1982.

In this grim situation the unions seem almost powerless; at most they can protect some of their members from the worst of the effects. It would be useful, if this were to prompt trade unionists to ask themselves why their organisations can do so little and why it all happens anyway.

In all industries, whether glamorous or not, workers are employed so that their employer can make a profit. If there are no profits, then workers are likely to be sacked; for example, the Chief Executive of British Airways said, when announcing the airline’s economy plans, that BA is losing money at the rate of £200 a minute: “No business can survive losses on this scale”, he added. Part of the process of profit production is the workers selling their ability to work — their labour power — for a wage. Labour power then is a commodity, like everything else which is produced to be sold.

The price of a commodity fluctuates around its value, or what is needed to reproduce it, but at any one time it corresponds to the balance struck between the competing pressures of supply and demand. If there is a shortage of bread, its price will tend to rise; if there is a surplus (in terms of the market) of labour power its price — workers’ wages — will be under pressure to fall.

This is a fact of capitalist life which is often obscured. For example an airline pilot, as he jets across the oceans, will not easily accept the idea that he is doing something as sordid as selling his ability to control the aircraft. But at times it is made compellingly obvious by our very living experience. This is happening now to airline crews, whose wages are under the squeeze along with all the other employees and who are likely to have to face some forcible redundancy.

Just as workers are up against capitalist reality, so are the trade unions which are there to protect them. And this illustrates the important fact that, at best, the unions can only be defensive of workers’ wages and conditions (at other than best they can, and do, operate against their members’ interests); they can only try to ward off the harsher effects of capitalism but they cannot deal with the basic cause of those effects.

This must be the act of the working class on the political field and here we are discussing a social revolution with the object of fundamentally changing society. Such a revolution will end the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution and make them the property of the entire human race. It will abolish all the relationships typical of capitalism, including the all-pervading one of wage labour to capital, in which labour power is a commodity to be bought and sold—or, when it is not required, thrown onto the nearest scrap heap of social security.

Yet the human ability to work, to conceive, to design, to make, is a vital, precious force in human society. When socialism is established it will be applied to produce wealth which will not be commodities but will be objects produced solely for use. Socialism’s wealth will therefore be freely available to all its people. Socialism will liberate labour power and allow it to realise its full range of ability for the benefit of the human race. The possibilities of this are awesome.

So how do we achieve this? It will be a start, in the growth of working class consciousness which is needed for the establishment of socialism, for frustrated trade unionists to grasp the reason for their lack of power in face of the slump. The next step for them is to stop thinking in terms of defending their position as workers and in terms of abolishing it, by setting up a classless society. This will involve the world working class cooperating to take over the society which they now design, build and operate. In their concern for human welfare and progress, trade unionists need look no farther than the case for socialism.

A bad case of Flew (1981)

Book Review from the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anthony Flew, Professor of Philosophy at Reading University, is a committed opponent of the case for human equality. Last September he debated with the SPGB on the argument that “equality is just a socialist myth”. His latest book. The Politics of Procrustes, is a readable account of the confused and occasionally vicious views of a defender of capitalism.

Like most anti-socialists, Flew fails to give any clear definition of “socialism". Despite his claim that he aims “to clear up some of the confusion to be found around and about the notion of socialism” (Chapter One) he soon arrives at the typically confused definition of socialism as “state ownership and direction of — in the hallowed words of the original Clause IV of the Labour Party — all the means of production. distribution and exchange”. He proceeds to make the outrageous claim — rejected even by most Labour Party supporters — that the Labour Party “has been for more than sixty years, and still is, both in theory and in practice, socialist”. With Professors of Philosophy like Flew "clearing up the confusion" about the meaning of socialism in such a manner, we may well repeat the question of Karl Marx: “Who is going to educate the educators?".

Socialism does not mean state control and the Labour Party has never stood for the establishment of socialism. The basic features of the capitalist system are — minority class ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution: wage slavery for the propertyless majority; the production of wealth as commodities to be sold on the market with a view to profit. Those who fail to recognise these basic features of the system will fail to see through the spurious claim that state capitalism—either as proposed by the Labour Party or as practised in Russia and China—is socialism. Two opposite systems cannot be defined by identical characteristics; capitalism and socialism are mutually exclusive.

Only by absurdly distorting the real nature of capitalism can Flew and his colleagues in the misnamed Freedom Association, assert that capitalism provides us all with freedom. Flew informs his readers that "It is the friends . . . of the market generally who are in truth the friends of individual liberty.” For Flew, the buying and selling system of the market is the finest example of social Freedom:
  . . . trade is a reciprocal relationship. If I am trading with you it follows that you are trading with me. Trade is also, for both parties, necessarily voluntary . . . So, if any possible advantage of trade to the trader could be gained only at the expense of some corresponding disadvantage to his trading partner, it would appear that in any commercial exchange at least one party must be either a fool, a masochist or a gambler (p. 150).
Flew is right when he states that buyers and sellers start out in a position of reciprocity. For example, a worker selling his labour power needs a wage or salary in order to live and a capitalist buying labour power needs the worker’s mental and physical energies in order to produce profits enabling him to live. In this sense, both classes go into the market place upon equal terms, unlike in previous slave or serf societies where the producer was legally tied to the owner of the means of production. To this extent, then, we can speak of freedom. But Flew is wrong when he states that the contract between buyer and seller is “necessarily voluntary”.

The truth of the matter is that the working class is compelled to sell its labour power because it has nothing else to sell. (Such is the definition of a worker.) Legally, workers are free not to work (although it is illegal to remain on the dole for long without seriously seeking employment—and begging is illegal), but in reality it is impossible for a worker to survive for long without selling his mental and physical energies to an employer. The wage slaves who are regularly poured out of the schools and universities into the factories and offices are not entering into a voluntary condition of dependence upon wages or salaries—nobody asked them whether they would prefer to be wage slaves or capitalists: they are the compulsory victims of capitalist exploitation.

Flew argues that workers would only enter into an arrangement of exploitation, one where the capitalists’ gain results from their disadvantage, if they are fools, masochists or gamblers. The assumption is that such exploitative transactions only occur occasionally. In fact, such exploitation is the hallmark of the production of profit under capitalism. When the capitalist buys the worker’s labour power he pays a price for it which fluctuates around its value, or what is needed for the worker to subsist and to reproduce himself. But labour power is only employed if it can produce values over and above its own value. For example, if a capitalist buys a worker’s labour power for a wage of £80 a week and invests £30 in machinery and raw materials, the worker must produce commodities which will sell at more than the investment or £110 before a profit can be made.

The employer will only take on the worker if he can predict that surplus value will be produced. If the worker produces goods valuing £150, then the capitalist has made £40 profit. This unearned income is made for the capitalist at the direct expense of the worker. Workers cannot insist that they will only work long enough to reproduce their own value, for the very essence of the arrangement is that labour power will be exploited for profit. If the workers do not like the arrangement there is nothing they can do to opt out of it, for they are wage slaves dependent on obtaining money in order to survive and the capitalist class own and control the productive and distributive machinery. If the workers realise that they are being deprived of the fruits of their labour and decide to appropriate for themselves some or all of the surplus value they will be called thieves and locked up in a prison. The capitalists are not known as thieves (by those who seek to legitimise this theft) because their theft is legalised. As Flew says, workers who put up with this daily exploitation would seem to be “fools” or “masochists” do to so for long.

Having examined the real nature of the profit system, we may now return to the Professor’s ignorance of the meaning of socialism. It does not mean that instead of private capitalists exploiting the working class, a state bureaucracy will do it. Workers who are exploited by the government are no less exploited than any others. Socialism means the common ownership and democratic control of the productive and distributive machinery. In a socialist society everyone, without distinction of age. race or sex will own and control the social wealth. Instead of wage slavery, people will contribute to society as much as they are able to. Instead of buying and selling, people will take according to their needs. Instead of production for sale on the market with a view to profit, all production will be solely for human use. Socialism will be a system of society where the spurious freedom of the market place (the liberty of the capitalists to take liberties with the working class) will be replaced by free access. In a society of co-operative, conscious human control of the earth and all its resources there will be no exploiters and exploited, robbers and robbed—we will at last be free, equal social beings.
Steve Coleman

CND: No Safety in Numbers (1981)

From the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The increasing threat of nuclear war has brought new life to CND. It enabled them, in late October, to stage one of the biggest and most impressive demonstrations London has ever seen. Other large-scale activity is planned for the future. To objections that it has all been tried before and shown not to succeed, CND reply that its campaign in the late fifties and early sixties did not have the widespread informed support from all sections of the population that it has now and that with such mass support and determined activity it can succeed in getting the British government to abandon its nuclear arms.

But can CND succeed this time? If there are certain differences between the last campaign and this one, what has not changed is CND’s concern not with the reasons wars break out but with the likely effects a third world war would have. This failure to look at the underlying causes of war is a fatal flaw in anti-war movements like CND — no matter how much support they may get.

If CND did look closely at the causes of war, they would see that a nuclear war — like other kinds — would not be started by irresponsible leaders or a clash of ideologies. A nuclear war would be caused in just the same way as other wars have been, and are being, caused in the modern world — by a government or governments taking military measures to protect the markets, trade routes or sources of raw materials owned by the small privileged minorities which own most of the wealth in their countries. In short, a third world war would be caused, as were the first two, by economic rivalries between competing capitalist classes and would break out when other means (diplomacy, threats, and so on) of settling these rivalries have failed. Governments will give reasons based on personalities, individual incidents or ideologies to justify fighting wars; but when examined closely this can be seen as camouflage. The true motivations are economic — protection of the interests of their capitalist class.

If CND saw this, perhaps they would see the futility of asking governments which function — as they must — to look after their owning class, to give up their best weapons. To ask a government to get rid of its nuclear weapons is to ask it to get rid of its best means of being taken seriously by its competitors.

In these circumstances, to ask a government, as do CND, to declare itself “neutral” is to make a demand unlikely to be met. The owning class in Britain has too much to lose. But would even “neutrality” be a guarantee of safety in the event of a nuclear conflict between the big powers? History shows that it would not. The “neutrality” of Belgium and Norway in the last war, for example, did not save those countries from being invaded when the Germans found it strategically necessary.

Even if we indulge the CND fantasy for a moment and imagine not only Britain but all countries banning nuclear weapons, would this make the world safe? Rather than safe it would leave us armed to the teeth with deadly conventional weapons which, during the ‘peacetime’ period since 1945, have killed twenty million people in 130 different wars.

Instead of campaigning for the abolition of certain kinds of weapons within a system that is necessarily geared to war, we should be campaigning for a different kind of system, one that excludes the possibility of war completely. Instead of allowing their emotions to be stirred by being among massive crowds and hearing dramatic rousing speeches, CND supporters would do better to mull over whether their activity, whatever its sincerity, energy and commitment, serves any real purpose. They might also consider whether they wouldn’t do better to use their energies in a movement actively engaged in spreading the idea of a classless, frontierless world based on free access and voluntary co-operation, a world in which weapons and war, an inevitable feature of the present economic set-up, would serve no purpose and have no place.
Howard Moss

Asked and Answered (1951)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have been asked by the writer of the following letter to reply to it in the Socialist Standard.
Maida Vale, W.9.
The Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,

I have heard it stated by socialists who are members and non-members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, that a person cannot be a socialist and a doctor at the same time.

Their reason is that the activities of doctors hinder in the efforts of obtaining Socialism.

By this they mean that drugs and other chemicals which doctors use have in the long run detrimental effects on the human body.

They continue by stating that the medical approach to disease by suppressive methods, such as drugs, lead to other dangerous diseases.

All this they claim has also a detrimental effect on the brain-functions.

I have always accepted the view that doctors were members of the working class and that their intentions, in the main, were the same as the rest of the working class, namely, because of their property-less position, they have to sell their abilities in order to live, hence their interests were in common. I would, therefore, like to frame my question as follows:—
  1. Can a socialist become a doctor, and vice-versa?
  2. Where do nature-cure socialists “draw the line”?
  3. Do you think raw carrots, cabbages, wage-labour, and Capital à la Karl Marx a good combination.

Yours truly,
                           D. Brooks

Our first thought on reading the letter was that our legs were being pulled. On the assumption, however, that the questions may be intended seriously we reply that membership of the S.P.G.B. is open to those who agree with the Declaration of Principles and act in accordance with the Party’s rules. The S.P.G.B. exists to secure the establishment of Socialism and not to control the kind of civilian employment its members are compelled by Capitalism to take, or with the views they hold on medical practice, nature cure, football, chess, music, beer-drinking, etc., etc.
Editorial Committee.

Communist versus Communist: The Affair of Yugoslavia (1951)

From the February 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the rulers of Yugoslavia decided to move out of the Russian sphere to seek better terms from the American-British groups a row started that is still going on between the Communist parties of that country and Russia. The quarrel had no more to do with ideas and systems of government than do any of the quarrels between the Powers. One person who has admitted this is the Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia, Mr. Edvard Kardelj. Speaking in March, 1950, as reported in the Yugoslav Fortnightly (Belgrade, 24th March, 1950) he said:—
    "You all know that our dispute with the Soviet Government was not about whether our Socialism was more or less Socialist than Soviet Socialism. No, the crux of the matter was this: We would not allow any foreign domination; we would not allow an alien will to be imposed on the Yugoslav peoples, even though it were veiled in revolutionary phrases.”
Where we, as socialists, join issue with Mr. Kardelj is on the claim that Yugoslavia or Russia have Socialism. Both are State capitalist dictatorships with all all usual dictatorship features of secret police, censorship, and the suppression of opposition parties, and with the main features of the capitalist economic system with which the rest of the capitalist world is familiar.

It is, however, not intended to deal with these aspects here, but to glance instead at some entertaining features of the bitter dispute between the former Communist allies.

Now the Communist parties of Yugoslavia and of the Cominform countries find nothing too harsh and insulting to say of each other, but that is only since 1948: before then they were mutually admiring friends. The Russian and British parties agreed that Yugoslavia was “socialist” and that Tito was a fine fellow, and Tito and his Communist party responded with loyal admiration for “socialist” Russia.

As late as September, 1947, Mr. William Rust, the British Communist, visited Yugoslavia and wrote in the Daily Worker telling what a fine place it was. Everyone was happy; eager to work hard, and Mr. Rust was happy to see Tito looking so bonny.
    "The Yugoslavs not only won the war, but also won their country. And out of that heroic struggle whose glory will never fade, there was born a new patriotism which now inspires feats of endurance and heroism in the labour front” (William Rust, Daily Worker, 13th Sept., 1947.)
The article was called “The People Rule in Yugoslavia” and Mr. Rust found it to be “the most advanced of the new democracies in Europe which in these days are drawing closer together because of their political affinities and close trading relationships.”

“It is,” he wrote, “a real democracy where the people rule and build a new life.”

Mr. Rust was not then to know that a few months later he and his fellow Russia-supporters wen going to be required to call Tito a scoundrelly tool of American imperialism, and to describe the Yugoslav workers as groaning under the tyranny of the Tito police state. 

And here is Mr. Rust on Tito:—
   “Before we left this wonderful new Yugoslavia which has shaken off its dark Balkan past, its backwardness and hatred between the nationalities, we spoke with Marshal Tito about our impressions. We were happy to find him looking so healthy, youthful and confident. He spoke with a quiet pride about the achievements of the people, the rising standard of living, the co-operation between town and countryside, and the achievements of the Five Year Plan.” (Mr. Rust, Daily Worker, 13th Sept., 1947.)
Those who are impressed by Communist eulogies on conditions in Russia and other satellite countries might usefully remember that this and similar Communist praise of Yugoslavia was to be completely repudiated by those who made it within a few months.

Mr. Rust died not long afterwards, but he lived long enough to be attacking the Yugloslav rulers in the columns of the Daily Worker (6th July, 1948).

On one point during his earlier admiration of the Yugoslav regime Mr. Rust accidentally turned out to be correct, for when he wrote in September, 1947, he quoted Tito as believing “that Angto-Yugoslav relations will continue to improve.”

Now let us turn to the Yugoslav spokesmen. Mr. Rust had referred to “close trading relations” between Yugoslavia and the “new democracies in Europe.” Tito on the other hand was later to complain that “ no ‘help’ had been received from the Eastern European countries, in fact they owed a considerable amount to Yugoslavia.” (Yugoslav Bulletin, London, 24th March, 1950.)

And on the same occasion Tito complained that Russia promised Yugoslavia 70 locomotives and railway wagons “ as part of war booty,” and then charged 6 million dollars for them.

But of more interest still is the Yugoslav Communists’ criticisms of the regime in Russia, made of course in flat contradiction of their earlier approval.

The following is an extract from an article in the Yugoslav Communist paper Borba, by Milovan Djilas, a leading Yugoslav Communist (reproduced in the Tanjug Telegraph Agency “Weekly Bulletin,” London, 24th November, 1950).

“The State monopoly in the Soviet Union, continues Djilas,  
.  .  .  has acquired monstrous, despotic forms in all fields of life. Thirty-three years have passed, but rotten and effete Capitalism does not fear the influence of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the Soviet Union is, unlike in Lenin's day, defending itself and shutting itself from that world. The Soviet leaders are hiding their system and its features, which are monstrous, even when compared with bourgeois democracy. Furthermore, writes Djilas, a class is in power in the Soviet Union which makes use of all class capitalist privileges. This is borne out by the periodical ‘purges' due to national ‘deviations’ in all Soviet Republics of the U.S.S.R. These deviations are either the expression of the imperialist strivings of domestic national State capitalisms against the hegemony of the dominating over-all State capitalism, or the democratic and socialist strivings of the working masses.
    “At a definite Leninist phase of the Soviet Union, the national question was solved, but it has come into a blind alley, and is becoming more and more a constitutional formality with which nobody now complies in the new bureaucratic conditions. As shown by the experiences in, the last war, in which all republics except greater Russia proved themselves relatively weak because of such an anti-socialist policy, the sharpening of the national question is not diminishing, but is becoming more acute and has led to the annihilation of entire nations, which even German capitalism under Hitler was not able to carry out except towards the Jews.
   "Leaders of the Soviet Union, concluded Djilas, are not only ‘revisionists' in theory, but also in practice, and they are acquiring and have already acquired a more expressive aspect of the enemies of Marxism, and they do not deny that distorted and false as it is, it helps them as a mask which they remodel and adjust according to the necessity of concealing their real features. They are, will be, and must be, against every resolution and democracy, which does not mean that they will not use them for definite practical hegemonistic aims.”
Readers of the Socialist Standard can well form their own opinion of these various recriminations and belated discoveries. It need only be added that now Yugoslavia is moving into the Western group of Powers the British Press is cautiously “discovering” that that dictatorship is not such a nasty kind as the Russian one.
Edgar Hardcastle