Friday, November 3, 2017

War-Time Fairy Tales (1925)

From the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Little by little facts are leaking out which expose the hypocrisy and unscrupulousness of the Allied Government in their efforts to blacken the character of the trade rival they wished to suppress in the late war.

Through the instrumentality of Brigadier-General Charteris we learn that the tale about the German “Corpse Factory” was only a fake after all. This tale was much exploited during the war to induce or coerce men to join up and help to smash the power of the “ Hun.”

Poison gas was supposed to be another illustration of German frightfulness. Last year Professor Pollard, of London, disposed of this fairy tale when addressing the education Society of the South and West, at Plymouth. The Daily News correspondent reported Professor Pollards remarks in the following way :
 Incidentally, he said, it was a British chemist— whom he know well—and not the Germans who first proposed the use of poison gas in war. He proposed its use to the Japanese Government during the Russo-Japanese War.—(Daily News, May 12th, 1924.)
Under the influence of war fever, atrocities are always committed, hut it is the game of each side to magnify the crimes committed by the other side. Wars are among the evils born out of private property and are on the same moral level as may be inferred from the fact that religious organisations on each side urge the respective combatants to fly at each other’s throats.

When sufficient working men grasp the hollowness of war ideals and war stories it will be difficult in war time to persuade them to enlist for the purpose of murdering one another.

During the last great war I was reproached for not taking my part in the great struggle for “liberty and the protection of small nationalities.” The friend who reproached me pointed out that if everyone acted as I did England would be overrun by the Germans and our sacred fatherland would be filched from us. When, in reply, I pointed out that if everyone acted as I did there would be no war, as there would be no one to fight, my friend was taken aback, stumped; he hadn’t thought of that! And it is curious how many working men take up this attitude. They look upon working men of other nations as beings composed of different material from themselves; as aliens in thought, feelings and desires. This view is entirely wrong. Working men of other countries are of the same human material as English working men ; they are in a similar subjected position and have similar loves, hopes, fears, and desires; and finally they are duped by their masters in similar ways.

India and China (1963)

From the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The hostilities between India and China have helped to jolt the complacency of many Labourites and other social reformers who had relied on India to act as a bulwark of peaceful neutralism. The current incidents must be the last nail driven into the coffin that contains their hopes of everlasting peace, for the development of Capitalism certainly has a way of catching out its supporters!

The Indian diplomatic notes to China have a scholarly legal flavour. They say that the Indian Government inherited the McMahon boundary line from the British administration and this the Chinese should respect. But the notes fail to mention that when the British left India, they gave the option to the native states to join either India or Pakistan or remain free. Only Hyderabad, in Central India, and Kashmir hesitated. The Indian Government took both of these areas by force. Again in 1961 India marched her troops into Goa and annexed it, despite the fact that for 500 years Goa had had its own, separate history. It is obvious that mealy-mouthed legalistic arguments are only used when it suits the Indian Capitalist Government.

The Chinese Government says that the McMahon line was drawn up by the British when the Chinese Government was weak. They claim that they are no mere successors to the old regime; they repudiate the idea of two Asian powers being bound by international law over an agreement to which they were not parties. “Let us decide the boundaries for ourselves,” say the Chinese who are in possession of the territory in dispute, possession being reckoned as nine-tenths of the law.

Meanwhile, the winter is likely to prevent any further military action by either side. The Chinese, however, have prepared for their aggression by building supply roads in their rear connecting with bases in Tibet, whilst the Indians only have the use of mere tracks through very difficult terrain. Furthermore, the Indian military forces (those so-called guardians of neutralism) have been pinned down in activities against Pakistan within their own borders.

But after mentioning an exchange of words, we should then deal with the underlying economic motives, which form the basic reasons of much military action. Neither side is particularly concerned about a few miles of mountainous terrain, but with any further Chinese advance the India-dominated kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan are likely to fall, together with some of the other frontier states, into the Chinese sphere of influence.

Nepal, for instance, is in internal ferment. The previous ruling class there —the Rana clique—were thrown out by the Government of the present King Mahendra with the help of India, whose capitalist class covet the Nepalese market for their manufactures (including military supplies). But the rising Nepalese nationalists have their own interests to safeguard, and this border has been a cock-pit for the contending Indian and Nepalese supporters. On October 5th the Nepalese Ambassador in London said that Nepal's patience with India was at breaking point. These words bring back memories of Hitler, who also said much the same just before the last European War. It would probably suit the Nepalese trading interests to have China on their doorstep, so that they can get whatever they can from both sides. At present 99 per cent, of Nepal’s imports are from India and 94 per cent, of her exports, mostfy raw materials, go to India.

But there is more than that involved, for by forcing India into a state of panic and emergency the Chinese have wrecked India’s five-year plan for the time being. The plan's industrial reorganization and development promise to be a threat to Chinese interests. Meanwhile, the Chinese population expands every year by the equivalent of the population of Belgium and industrial progress continues unchecked.

Incidentally, the Chinese are not the first Government to realise that a foreign military adventure distracts the attention of workers from their own domestic troubles, one of which — the food crisis — has become urgent with the failure of successive crops.

There is an incidental lesson to learn from this little war—the State Capitalism of Russia behaves like the older Capitalism of Great Britain.

While Great Britain is protesting her friendship for India, she is shipping all supplies possible to China, through the back door of Hong Kong. Likewise, “Communist” Russia, for all her “comradeship” with “Communist” China, is the supplier of the M.I.G.’s and probably other military equipment used by the Indians to slaughter the Chinese. Wherever we look in capitalism, business is business.

The war in India is no doubt just a part of a Chinese master plan, for the surging capitalism of China must either expand or burst, even though such expansion is done in the names of liberation, and fraternity. Hence the expansion of China's sphere of influence into Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Tibet, and now the Indian border States. These are just milestones in the long march of Chinese Imperialism as it bursts bonds and expands across Asia. We can expect many more milestones yet, many more dead and maimed, many more refugees, now that the giant capitalism of China is awake and on the move. Here we see another bloodstained chapter of world history in the making, but there is nothing in it for the workers concerned. The fruits of victory will not he theirs—only the bloodstains.
Frank Offord

Trade Unions and the Cost of Living (1963)

From the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

If workers were slaves or horses and consequently were fed and housed by their owners they would have grievous hardship to put up with but would not have to trouble about the cost to their owners of providing fodder and stables: that would be the owners’ worry.

The slaves’ troubles would centre round the fact that they were being worked to the limit for the benefit of the owners. As workers are not owned but are “free,” they have the same basic grievance as did the slaves, but in addition they have to worry about their wages and the cost of living and about keeping a job. So for a century or more the trade unions, and other bodies claiming to speak for the workers have, alongside the job of struggling with the employers over wages, occupied themselves with the statistical problems of measuring movements of wages and movements of prices.

It is hard to think of any activity into which so much effort has gone with so little result. From a working class standpoint it has been almost totally misconceived and misdirected, though, of course, the masses of information, the wage indexes and price indexes, have been useful to governments and employers.

In the trade unions it started with the optimistic belief that if employers would not give wage increases under threat or actuality of a strike they might do so if presented with information about the high or rising cost of living. It was soon found that the employers were not moved by this argument whereupon the social reformers came forward with their notion that in such circumstances the government would intervene from a sense of social obligation, and compel the employers to give way.

This did seem to produce some limited result in that the better organised employers supported government legislation to enforce minimum wages for workers in some of the worst paid trades (the “sweated” trades and agriculture, for example). But the employers and the government were not thereby committing themselves to the principle that all workers were to be guaranteed a job at a reasonable standard of living and safeguarded against the effects of rising prices.

The bigger employers were protecting themselves against the competition of low-priced goods produced by the “sweaters,” and they and the government both had a long-term interest, industrial and military, in preventing the creation of masses of underfed and physically sub-standard workers. For the employers as a whole and for the government the paramount interest has always been the necessity of making profit and keeping the profit-system functioning as smoothly as maybe: which means that their paramount interest has always been, not in pushing wages up but in preventing them from rising to the point that profit is endangered.

No government has ever abandoned this and the Conservative Selwyn Lloyd’s efforts to impose a “wage-pause” in the face of rising prices only echoed the wage-restraint policy of the post-war Labour government. What then is the use of quoting the official retail price index to show that prices are rising, against a Selwyn Lloyd or a Stafford Cripps, who both declared in their day that it was government policy to prevent wages from rising notwithstanding the rise of the cost of living?

Against this background of the real world of Capitalism, the world of profit seeking, exploitation and class struggle, the question of the statistical accuracy of the government’s retail price index can be seen in its proper perspective, but even in this narrow field trade union effort has been often based on misconception. A sixpenny pamphlet, The New Cost of Living Index, published by the Labour Research Department, may help to dispel some of the misunderstandings.

In the last half century hundreds of trade union conference resolutions have been passed demanding a more accurate index and specifically urging the government to make the index more accurate by including items of expenditure in it that were earlier excluded. Many of the resolutions rested on the fallacious belief that making the index cover more items (e.g., by bringing into it motor cars, TV sets, refrigerators, Terylene garments, dog and cat foods, etc., etc.) has the effect of raising the index figure. But the index is not a measure of total cost of a lot of articles but a measure of the average percentage price change month by month; bringing in more articles has no effect whatever on the index figure at the point when they are brought in. If, after being brought in, the new items rise in price, that will help to raise the index, but if they fall in price, that will lower the index.

If all prices always moved in the same direction and by the same percentage an index based on only one article would be just as accurate as one based on hundreds of separate articles. But as prices do not move together and an average has to be taken of all the separate movements, it is necessary for statistical accuracy that the right importance (“weight”) should be given to each item. In the original index of half a century ago foods were given a “weight” of 60 out of a 100. This meant that if food prices as a whole rose by 10 per cent, and all other prices remained unchanged the index would rise by 6 per cent. In the present index food is given a weight of only about 30 in a 100, so that if food now went up by 10 per cent, and other prices remained unchanged the index would go up by only about 3 per cent.

The L.R.D. pamphlet explains these technicalities in some detail and argues that some items are inaccurately weighted (alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and housing). It also recognises that though in the past few years this has operated mainly to make the index lower than it otherwise would be, it could operate the other way. The overweighting of tobacco, which for long helped to depress the index because tobacco prices rose comparatively little, more recently had the opposite effect because tobacco prices rose sharply. Which brings us to a defect in the approach of the pamphlet. It has a subtitle which asks, is the index “fair,” and maintains that accuracy is an important question to the workers. So far as the index as such has any effect in determining the level of wages, which is at most very little, the workers, of course, do not want it to be “fair” and accurate; they want it to be inaccurate in one direction only. Between the wars when as its critics pointed out the index heavily overweighted food, those workers, including civil servants, who had wage agreements related to the index had reason to be pleased, for as long as food prices were rising faster than other prices, because this made the index figure “inaccurately” high. They ceased to like it when food prices slumped and their pay went down with them.

There are, however, trivialities by comparison with the real issues facing the working class: their need to use trade union organisation as far as it can be used, to push up wages regardless of cost of living index figures, and beyond this, the task of replacing Capitalism by Socialism which will involve the ending of wages and prices, and the cost of living index.
Edgar Hardcastle

A Tot of Religion (1963)

From the March 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
A man who believes that when he is dead and gone, that is the end of him, is possibly going to try and save his own life to the neglect of his duty. Lots of people have been helped by a belief that if they were killed by a bullet that was not the end of it.
(Daily Telegraph, 9.12.62).
Thus says Colonel Peter Vaux, a British Army Staff Officer, advocating the indoctrination of the troops for several hours weekly in the Christian myth—the belief in a life after death. Religious instruction will be an “extra” in the life of the rank and file, a further up-to-the-minute technique in the annihilation of the enemy, wherever he may be found. Once they gave them rum before sending them over the top—now its going to be religion.

He says that the troops should be coaxed into taking an interest in religion —into the belief that though they may be killed, they will not really be dead. If they can be convinced of this, it will provide them with what many have missed in the past, that “inner strength,” which in the wars to come, will be an essential, according to St. Peter Vaux. It will enable survivors to overcome the horrors they encounter and “coolly fight on without orders and with very little information.” Lucky soldiers.

Religion always was the handmaiden of private property, and Colonel Vaux’s remarks should serve to remind us of this. Here is a man under no delusions about the prospects for a third bloodbath, and the part which religion can be made to play in getting workers to slaughter each other in their masters' interests. Enough said.
Billy Iles

Cures for Strikes (1963)

From the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strikes have been increasing in recent years and from all sides we are offered advice about how to reduce them; another Royal Commission, new laws to enforce ballots before strikes or to make “unofficial" strikes illegal, more discipline by union executives over their members, or more effective control by members of the unions and the TUC, compulsory arbitration, and so on.

None of it is new except that the name-calling alters. At present the “Communists" are the scapegoats; it used to be the Trotskyists, or Anarchists or Syndicalists, or some other group of agitators who were supposed to be hypnotising the otherwise happy and placid workers into troublesome actions.

The number of days lost owing to strikes in l962 was 5,794,000, the highest number in any year since the war. The annual average in the years 1945 to 1954 was about 2 million days. Since 1955 it has averaged about twice as many; but compared with years 1910 to 1929 the current level is very small in spite of the big increase in the number of members of trade unions from about 3 million to nearly 10 million. The peak number of days lost by strikes and lockouts was 162 million in 1926, the year of the General Strike, but over the whole twenty years from 1910 to 1929 the annual average was about 23 million days, nearly four times as many in 1962.

Every time there is a wave of strikes the demand goes up for inquiry and legislation. The Royal Commission set up in 1891 to enquire into relations between employers and employed led to the Conciliation Act of 1896, aimed to encourage the setting up of conciliation boards. The Government also established a branch of the Board of Trade to look after disputes and try to bring about peaceful settlements.

The wave of unrest during the World War, and notably the activities of the shop stewards and the numerous “unofficial" strikes, led to further inquiry and reports (the Whitley Reports) which recommended the setting up of permanent joint industrial councils and factory committees. Another innovation was the Industrial Court of Arbitration.

Some well-meaning (and some not so well-meaning) advocates of arbitration wanted the unions to renounce strikes entirely, and to rely on the benevolence of arbitrators. Fortunately most trade unionists continued to regard the readiness to strike as their necessary and proper function. They accepted the conciliation and arbitration in some measure, but they kept their powder dry.

Some idea of what happens when workers refrain from using strike pressure in the wage struggle can be seen by comparing two periods in recent history in which trade conditions and the amount of unemployment were much the same, but in one of which government propaganda in favour of “wage restrain” had more effect. In the years of Labour Government after the war many workers were persuaded that they ought not to embarrass the government by pressing wage claims. In that period average weekly wage rates were more or less continuously falling behind the rise of the cost of living. With the advent of the Tory Government in 1951, the argument for wage restraint had lost most of its pull; the earlier trend was reversed and wage rates have been rising more than prices.

While many of the panaceas that were popular earlier in the century are still being preached there is one that has hardly survived in face of experience, that is the old Labour Party belief that once industry was nationalised unrest would largely disappear. Ramsay MacDonald. Prime Minister in the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929, wrote about this in his book Socialism: Critical and Constructive (1929 edition, pages 168-9). He tells of having met the managers of industry that had been privately run and was then nationalised, the same managers having been in post before and after.
   Then the change came and the relations were revolutionised. They met the men round a table and not across it, they had to discuss with the men the whole problem of management; the men made suggestions to them, which when settled they all took part in carrying out, men and managers became co-operators . . .  They would never dream of going back to the old bad relationship. . . . The men had abandoned of their own free will the most provocative restrictions which they had enforced—or tried to enforce—as a protection against capitalism, and which inevitably hampered production.
MacDonald did not identify the industry or even the country in which it was supposed to have happened: it certainly does not happen now in the nationalised industries in this and other countries as the repeated strikes testify.

One of MacDonald’s colleagues, the late Sidney Webb, gave his views on the subject in an address he delivered to a gathering of employers, managers and foremen in 1919, “The Root of Labour Unrest." He named a number of things the workers wanted, including the usual claim for higher wages and shorter hours, but insisted that these were less important than the workers' desire for equal status and partnership in management. Like MacDonald he thought that nationalisation by a Labour Government would bring about this change, because, as he put it, industry would then have a new function “to produce not profits, but products."

There is nothing wrong with this conception, it is indeed the basic idea of Socialism. What was, and is amiss with the advocates of nationalisation is that they fail to see that capitalism, whether private or State, can only operate on the basis of production for sale and profit.

Unrest and strikes are not the result of faulty ways of regulating the relations of “labour" and “capital" (one of Webb’s charges was that the employers showed “bad manners" in their attitude to the workers), but are aspects of the class struggle between the owning class and the non-owning class. Webb and MacDonald and all the other tinkerers are trying to abolish the symptoms while retaining their cause.
Edgar Hardcastle

Finance and Industry: The Misleading Mortgage (1963)

The Finance and Industry Column from the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Misleading Mortgage
A lot of fuss has been generated about the LCC's proposal to grant 100 per cent, mortgages. We really don’t know why. The people who could hardly wait to join the queues outside London’s County Hall are likely to find they are possessed of more hope than hard cash—and it is hard cash that will still be needed under this new scheme.

In the first place, the 100 per cent, mortgage is not to be related to the asking prices of enthusiastic estate agents, but to the LCC’s own, more realistic, valuations. This will mean in many cases that the prospective buyer will still need to find a fair amount of ready cash to bridge the gap. And he will still have to find the wherewithal to pay his legal expenses and other costs.

So far the LCC have allocated about £2¾ million to meet the cost of the scheme. This is sufficient to satisfy only a thousand applicants for houses costing about £2,750, and nobody can say he is going to get anything wonderful for this sum these days. The Council may increase the allocation in due course, but it is already obvious that whatever sum is finally allowed it will be no more than a drop in the bucket in the present housing situation.

There has been talk that pressure may additionally be brought to bear on the building societies to follow the LCC lead. If so, this is hardly likely to get very far. Building societies are of all capitalist financial institutions probably the most reluctant to stray from the safe and steady road of profitable investment. Not too much profit—but not too much worry—is their policy.

In short, we have an idea that the overwhelming majority of house-hungry members of the working class are going to find the LCC scheme yet another of capitalism’s disappointments, all the harder to bear because of the high hopes it has raised.


Tourism and typhoid
The recent outbreak of typhoid fever in Zermatt has caused the deaths of several innocent tourists and the illness of many others. It has given the Swiss tourist industry a severe knock, and Zermatt itself will take years to recover as a popular holiday resort. In the meantime, its hoteliers and shopkeepers are going to have a very hard time of it financially and there are not many outsiders, judging the facts of the case, who would not say that it serves them damned well right.

Zermatt was an expanding resort, a boom town of the Swiss tourist industry. Every year the influx of tourists grew bigger, the hotels more plentiful, the profits more encouraging, and the water supplies more precarious. But the water supplies could wait; in any case they were expensive and expense was begrudged. The main thing was to build, build, build; attract more and more visitors; make more and more profit. Even when the dreadful fact became known that the water was contaminated with one of the most dangerous diseases known to man, nothing was done about it. Tourists still continued to be attracted to the town. The germs continued to spread until one day Zermatt woke to find it had encouraged an epidemic.

This sort of thing happens all the time under capitalism, but only now and again do events really catch up with the perpetrators—a cable break, an aeroplane with a defect, an over-congested aerodrome, a collapse of a jerry-built house, an accumulation of a lethal pesticide, a "wonder drug” that does not cure but kills, the drinking water of a boom town that contains typhoid.

Only when these dreadful events occur do we realise just how revolting, how utterly pernicious in its effects upon human beings, is the capitalist profit motive. The Zermatt case reveals this in all its baseness. It was the sordid lust for profit, and nothing else, that caused the deaths and illness of those trusting but unfortunate tourists.


Together again
When the Allies got to work on German industry after the war, they made a brave show of doing something about the Krupps, the Thyssens, and the other steel barons. Their huge empires were broken up as “politically dangerous concentrations of economic power”; never again were they to come together to help threaten the peace of Europe.

Alas, as usual, capitalism quickly disposes of such naive intentions. The news is announced that Thyssens and Phoenix Rheinrohr are to come together again, just as they did in 1926 when they formed themselves into Vereinigte Stahlwerke.

The new merger will result in a firm employing 80,000 workers and selling £400 million of steel and steel products a year, the biggest turnover of all West German industry except Volkswagen. It will become the biggest single steel producer in Europe and a formidable competitor for the others.

Yet another example of the intrinsic drive for capitalism's units to get bigger and bigger—and in spite of difficulties deliberately put in the way.


Ford prunes its plants
As firms get bigger and bigger, so do the smaller ones go to the wall. This also applies to movements within the firm itself.

The new assembly plant being rapidly developed at Liverpool, plus the existing factory at Dagenham, gives Ford's two modern large-scale car-producing units. They also have a plant at Doncaster, which they got when they acquired Briggs Motor Bodies.

This factory has been quite happy to produce about 75,000 cars a year. But 75,000 is nothing in the car industry nowadays and so Doncaster will have to go. About 2,600 workers will be affected and will either have to take work at Liverpool or Dagenham, or take a chance at getting a job locally. This won't be easy because Doncaster is also a rail town and is already beginning to feel the edge of the Beeching axe.

That's another thing that happens in these mergers and "rationalisations." They bring economies in workers as well. It’s an essential part of the whole idea, of course.
Stan Hampson

Around the World (1963)

Party News from the June 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Notes of a visit to our Companion Parties for Socialism 

MELBOURNE. I met Jack Butler (Secretary) and Peter Furey. Regular monthly meetings are held in Melbourne and over twelve branch members attend each meeting. The Socialist Standard is regularly on sale at the city's Trades Hall. Although no regular public meetings are held, each member makes special efforts to put over the Socialist case, whenever and wherever possible. Comrade Charlie Saunders was contacted by ’phone. Although not meeting up with Peter O'Brien and his wife, I gather that their fourteen month old son already understands the Party case!

SYDNEY. A few members here, including Jimmie Thorburn (Secretary), Peter Bryant, Jack Taylor and Bill Clarke. The latter had previously been in Melbourne. He is a speaker and is anxious to stimulate the Sydney Comrades into organised propaganda. There are two dozen members in Sydney and up to now, when Socialist meeting have not been possible, they make a point of attending meetings of other parties and wherever possible put over our propaganda.

AUCKLAND—New Zealand. The Secretary, Trevor Gribble and his wife said that there are a dozen members who meet periodically and sell the Standard at their places of work. Ron Everson, Secretary of Wellington came to Auckland to meet me. There are over a dozen members in the Auckland Branch and they are bright and hopeful about their activities. They greatly appreciate the tape recording lectures sent over by the S.P.G.B. which they find most helpful.

VANCOUVER. Johnny and Margaret Ahrens admit that things are rather quiet there, although two shops regularly display Socialist Party literature. There are eight members in the Branch who meet periodically.

Not far away is VICTORIA where Comrade George Jenkins and branch members are able to be much more active, producing and distributing propaganda leaflets by the thousand. In general, the Socialist Party of Canada is doing quite well and is keeping an eye on all the branches including Vancouver.

LOS ANGELES. I met our comrades Smith, Miller, Jansen and their wives. Don Poirier was there in his role of general organiser of the S.P.C. and W.S.P. He broadcasts, speaks at outdoor and indoor meetings, sells literature, travels and organises. This comrade is a Socialist machine. He is having a great impact everywhere he goes. The Companion parties cannot help but do well with members such as he.

In general, much can be done to keep contact with our comrades in the West by regular correspondence and exchange of views. They have to wait a month for the Socialist Standard, but correspondence can be sent to them more frequently and much quicker by air mail.
Joe McGuinness

Throwing Stones in the Russian Glasshouse (1963)

From the July 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the Dally Worker were content to uphold Russia as the best capitalism they know they could have cosy arguments with the admirers of other parts of the capitalist world. Without any of the contestants ever giving or receiving a mortal wound; it would be a rule of the game never to attack capitalism itself. But being cursed with the obligation of claiming that Russia is Socialist they simply do not remember that it is basically like the rest of the capitalist world and frequently hurl stones at the British Government which land plomp in the Russian glasshouse.

In their issue of January 19th they let themselves go about the Tory administration. "Tell Macmillan and his crew: In the the name of Britain—go!” This was followed by columns of ripe, corny, political questions about “duds, deadbeats and diehards ” (with a passing crocodile tear about the Labour Party’s “problem of leadership")—just the sort of stuff that the “ ins" and “ outs ” of capitalist politics have been exuding for a century.

But they also went into a specific charge about the wickedness the Government has in mind. “Tory plan is more arms and dearer food.”

“Meat, butter, cheese, bread, eggs and many other items would rise,” a “savage cut” in the workers standard of living. And the Tories, after spending £17,000 million on armaments in eleven years “now propose to spend even more.”

The only thing the Worker forgot was that this twofold charge is one that can be validly levelled at every government there is or has ever been—including the government of Russia.

For just about half a year ago the Russian government suddenly announced that meat and meat products were to have their price increased by 30 per cent. and butter by 25 per cent. But there was no “go man go” to Mr. Kruschev in the columns of the Worker, only a laboured editorial sympathising with Mr. K’s government because of the difficult decision they had to make about higher prices, and “proving” that it was all for the best because the Russian government's ultimate grand design is to achieve the highest standard of living in the world. (Can’t you hear Macmillan uttering likewise?).

And Russian capitalism also spends money on armaments. According to the Daily Worker of December 7th, 1961, Russian armament expenditure in 1962 was being increased from an originally planned figure of £3,690 million, to £5,360 million. The increase alone is just about the amount spent by Macmillan’s government in the same year. No chicken feed like £17,000 million in eleven years for Mr. Kruschev but something more impressive; say two or three times as much at very least.

Well, its a hard life trying to pick and choose between the different capitalist groups.
Edgar Hardcastle

Changing Russia (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last January the Union of Soviet Journalists decided to invite a team of Economist reporters to tour Russia. The fruit of this visit, which took place in May, appeared as an article at the beginning of June entitled "Changing Russia?" and gives us an interesting insight into the forces at work there.

Until now Russian capitalist industry has never had it so good. It has enjoyed a sellers' market. There have been shortages all round which has meant that anything produced could be sold whatever its quality. But the situation is rapidly changing. Sections of industry are finding they cannot sell their products so easily. To overcome this, bargain prices and hire purchase have been introduced. No doubt the high-powered advertising we know in the West is not far away.

Against this background must be seen the proposals of Professor Liberman for reform of the industrial incentive system. Production in Russia is capitalist though this has been obscured by superficial differences between industrial organisation in Russia and the self-confessedly capitalist countries of the West. "In the Soviet Union today," says the article, “the director of each factory is given target figures of the gross output he should seek to obtain and the costs per unit at which he should aim (plus bonuses for himself and his workers if he overfulfils them), as well as control figures on the amount of labour he may hire, the wages he must pay, and the amount of investment he can undertake. In a capitalist economy he is provided with the same sort of economic indicators by a free market." If Liberman's proposals were adopted, on the other hand, Russian industry would come nearer to that of the West. He has suggested that the industrial enterprises be required not only to fulfil their plans but also, as the Economist puts it, “to strive harder to produce the things that would be most profitable in the present state of market demand."

The development of the productive forces and the spread of capitalist relations into the countryside has created a larger working class dependent entirely on money-wages in order to live. This has led to an increased demand for consumer goods. Now that its power stations, steel works, machine tool factories and the like have been built, Russian industry has reached a position where it can meet this.

These economic changes are the basis of the growing liberalisation in Russia. The conservative elements who see their positions threatened are trying to resist these changes, but their efforts would appear vain. The 1917 Revolution overthrew Tsarist Absolutism and allowed nascent Russian capitalist industry to develop more freely and rapidly, but only at the expense of submitting the country to a more barbarous absolutism, the Stalinist regime. Now this absolutism has in its turn become a fetter on capitalist expansion and is being cast aside.

Experience has shown that a modern capitalist country cannot for long be run on police-state lines but only with the consent, even if passive, of the mass of the workers. For this reason we may see even bigger changes yet—the emergence of political democracy for instance. This is what history teaches us to expect. Changes in economic circumstances cause corresponding changes in the political, legal, ideological and literary superstructure. This is precisely what has been happening in Russia recently.

Russia now has the productive forces of a developed capitalist country yet still the political regime of a developing country. This contradiction shows itself in the disagreements between the liberal and conservative elements in Russia, in the campaign against police excesses, in the demand for more freedom of expression in poetry and art, in the Liberman controversy and in anti-Stalinism. Russian industry has developed to such a stage that political and other changes are required before it can develop further. Once liberalisation has triumphed in Russia, as it will, the capitalist character of Russian industry will have become more obvious. Russia will lose its attraction in "left-wing" circles. History, by destroying the illusion that Russia is Socialist, will once again have done our work for us.

One final point. It appears that industrial techniques are not all that the Russian rulers have learned from the West. The reporters mention as one of the official evasions the claim that "the large number of savings bank accounts proves that wealth is evenly distributed"! More interesting is the comment which follows. "In fact," explain the reporters, “it is common practice for the wealthy to avoid conspicuousness by operating several separate accounts." Yes, Russia has a wealthy privileged class too. Which is what we’ve been saying for years.
Adam Buick

Obituary: Michael Evers (1963)

Obituary from the September 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ealing Branch report with regret the death of Michael Evers, who died on July 25th, 1963, at the age of 38.

Comrade Evers joined the Party and Ealing Branch in 1951 and was for several years Branch Secretary. Members knew him as a most efficient comrade, always to be depended on to carry out any Party work requested of him by the Branch, be it his secretarial duties, canvassing or arranging and organizing meetings, film shows, etc.

Mick was determined and stubborn in whatever he did, in his football refereeing, his golfing, his enjoyment of branch social activities in which he wholeheartedly participated and the hard routine of Party work which is the essence of the Socialist movement.

Ealing members—and the writer, who knew him from the day he joined the Party—wish to record this last appreciation of Mick Evers’ ready co-operation in every activity relating to the Branch and the Party and of all the work he contributed on their behalf.
Eddie Warnecke

The "Irish Press" and the "Socialist Standard" (1963)

Party News from the October 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently the Executive Committee of the World Socialist Party of Ireland decided to launch an advertising campaign on behalf of the Socialist Standard. As we are restricted by finances, we decided to use small advertisements on a wide scale rather than larger advertisements in a few newspapers. In keeping with this decision the General Secretary of the Party sent a small advertisement (offering free specimen copies of the Standard) to the Irish Press, Ltd., for publication in their morning daily.

A short time later a letter was received from the advertising manager of the Irish Press stating that before publication of the advertisement they would need to peruse a copy of the Socialist Standard as well as being advised about its distributive outlets in the Republic of Ireland.

The request was unusual in our experience and the tone of the letter indicated that the senders, were in something of a dilemma. Viciously opposed to advertising anything that might pierce the fog of ignorance spread by the Press in the Republic, they were by virtue of their attacks on the Unionist Press in the North, like occupants of a glass house, unwilling to become involved in throwing stones. Obviously they hoped to avoid the need for an outright refusal on a “technical” issue.

But it was not to be. Our General Secretary sent them a copy of the Housing issue of the Socialist Standard, as well as the additional information requested. Doubtless the news-chiefs of the Press, who feed a steady diet of political rubbish to the Irish working class, went painstakingly through the columns of the Standard. No pornography, no four-letter words, were found; no cosy excuse for denying the W.S.P.I. the same right to advertise as is extended to the other political organisations in Ireland.

But the slum property of Irish landlords was falling in on its hapless inhabitants causing death and destruction. The Press, along with the other newspapers, carried the stories of tragedy; the Socialist Standard revealed the brutal hand of capitalism in the misery of slumdom. The Press, as pious upholders of Irish capitalism, could not afford to advertise an indictment of the system from which it draws its revenue.

Accordingly, some fourteen days later, our General Secretary received an almost-pleading letter in which the advertising manager of the Press said: “. . . we would ask you to excuse us from publishing your advertisement just at the moment”.

It seemed almost sadistic to prolong the embarrassment of the newspaper set up by De Valera and his cohorts in 1926 to “promote the ideals of freedom”. However, our General Secretary tried again; he requested publication of an advertisement merely stating the fact of our political existence and the address of our Head Office, but this again was refused—with the hypocritical assurance that the publishers of the Press had nothing against our organisation!

All this from the paper that prattles about freedom and denounces the Unionist Press in N. Ireland for discriminating against the nationalist minority. There is nothing to commend the editorial policies of the Unionist newspapers; we would be less than honest however, if we failed to admit that usually we are given fair representation in their columns, and we have never had an advertisement questioned or refused by the most rabid of the Unionist papers. This in an area represented by Irish Press Newspapers as an armed concentration camp where minorities are ruthlessly silenced.

The Socialist Standard will be pleased to publish any statement by the Irish Press setting out the reasons for refusing to accept our advertising. Surely the “great men in the struggle for freedom” who grace its columns and its Board of Directors have sufficient courage to come into the open and defend the attitudes of their paper. Or has absolute power corrupted absolutely?
Richard Montague

Memories of a Lovely War (1963)

From the November 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

In A few month's time we are going to be submerged in an orgiastic flood of journalism to mark the fiftieth anniversary of one of the formative experiences of modern history. Already, hardly a week goes by without some promise of the coming deluge of words. This, in itself, is an indication of the enormous effect which the First World War has had upon the world.

Without wishing to anticipate any of the articles which are going to pour out of Fleet Street we can see, looking back, that 1914 marked a stage in the growing up of modern war. It was a terrifyingly new, different war, which gathered the strands of the wars of the previous fifty years and plaited them into a rope which noosed in millions of people. It flattened and mangled beyond recognition an immense area of the Franco/German frontier. It terrorised civilian populations who, behind the firing lines, had previously thought themselves safe from danger. It subjected its combatants, in the liquid trenches of the Western Front, to agonies of fear and endurance such as they had never conceived of in their worst nightmares.

We can see evidence of the massive death roll of that war, in the poignantly long list of names on the memorials of the tiniest English villages. We can stand before these memorials and picture what life was like there before 1914. And we can imagine what life was like, after the war had purged the world of its dream that its forty-year-old tranquility was to go on forever. The First World War was, as we have said, one of the formative experiences of modern history. When its bloodshed and horror had stopped rolling backwards and forwards across Europe, those who had eyes to see knew that life could never be the same again.

And what did all this achieve? The soldiers of both sides were promised that they were suffering and sacrificing in a great enterprise to build a better, safer world. But the events which followed 1918 justified those people who, for one reason or another, had maintained that war was futile. 1914-18 solved no problems—it only lined up the world for the next great conflict, which in its turn created the problems over which another world war has so often threatened to break out. What war does, very effectively, is to debase and to brutalise human beings, to encourage the worst aspects of human behaviour, to turn the world into a charnel house in which worthwhile human values are battered down and overridden in the general glorification of violence, lies and prejudice.

These reflections have been provoked by one of the more fatuous of the ceremonies connected with the fiftieth anniversary of 1914. Last September, the Green Howards’ Old Comrades Association decided that this year their annual reunion should be something special. They were expecting to get about a hundred of their 1914-18 veterans along and for them, instead of a beer-up and a sing-song in the barracks gym, they wanted a little touch of authentic nostalgia. So they dug out a trench on a piece of waste land in Yorkshire. They lit a brazier fire there. They provided beer and sausages and they put up signs, just like those in the old trenches, which said “ Blighty 300 miles, Paris 79.” And in that trench, on a Saturday afternoon in late September, the old soldiers of the Green Howards remembered their experiences of fifty years ago.

They made a touching picture, although perhaps not in the way they intended. They all wore their best suits, one or two with watch chains. They drank their beer, of course, out of bottles—after all, this was the trenches. One of them sat on the parapet and, his leg cocked on the sandbags, played the old favourites on a mouth organ. They sang. Some of thorn even wore tin hats, to make it more like the real thing. They seemed to enjoy it, if a little self-consciously.

In its way, this was an interesting event. Those old soldiers cannot have forgotten what happened in the real trenches. They cannot have forgotten the mud, the shellfire, the fear and the sudden death. They cannot, either, have been amused by their memories. So why the clowning about? Perhaps their powers of endurance have been working overtime, perhaps that old human ability to make light of the most crushing burdens, to pass off a paralysing experience with a joke, was blanketing the events which are unpleasant to recall. Perhaps they were remembering only the feeling of comradeship, of being in a mess together and helping each other through it.

Or were they remembering their war as a job well done, and taking the credit for their part in it? Was their fun really so harmless?

They were, after all, members of an Old Comrades Association and the object of their exercise, as the military types like to put it, was to open a big campaign to recruit old solders of the Green Howards. To the working class at large this is probably unobjectionable enough—perhaps even laudable. Nobody summons up sympathy like an ex-serviceman who is in difficulties; apparently the working class swallowed all that wartime propaganda about a grateful country. That is why they look with such an indulgent, kindly eye upon the Old Comrades. But like most of the popular attitudes which do their bit to keep capitalist society in being, this one is based on a number of glaring fallacies.

Old Comrades’ Associations, it is true, do a certain amount to help their members who are in difficulties. An ex-serviceman whose body has been smashed up in a war will often turn to them in desperation for help in putting his case for a pension or some other equally paltry benefit. The fallacy behind this soft of charitable activity is that it is quite useless to support capitalism on one hand while trying to patch up its victims on the other. The Old Comrades’ Associations who weep over the hardships of old soldiers at the same time do their best to perpetuate the militaristic attitudes which are so essential to a country’s war effort. Is there not a contradiction here? To put it mildly, it is a little too late after a war to feel sorry for the pain and suffering and the wrecked lives which the war inevitably produces.

Patriotism is another of the Old Comrades' pet themes. See them in the parades, proudly wearing their medals, loyally saluting whoever happens to be representing the British ruling class at the march past. Yet patriotism is another enormous fallacy. Apart from the fact that nobody has any right to be proud of something — like nationality — over which he has no control, it is also true that patriotism denies the essential interests of the working class. It splits the British workers from those abroad and in other countries it works in the same way. It ignores the fact that all workers everywhere have the common interest of abolishing capitalism and all its wars and other conflicts. There is indeed little hope for human society as long as it is divided into disputing nations, whose ruling classes are sustained by the fallacious patriotism of their respective working people.

The Old Comrades are recruiting people for the wrong reasons and they are bringing them together to remember the wrong things. They are part, in fact, of the machinery of war and they do their bit in fostering the illusion that there is something clean and manly in being a soldier and exposing yourself to danger in the protection of your master's interests. (One of the Green Howards Old Comrades knows a lot about exposing himself to danger — he is the most decorated private soldier in the British Army). They are part of the Big Lie that war is glorious and useful.

But war is neither of these things. There is nothing glorious in quick, violent death nor in the reactions of the people who witness it. (Ask any old sweat of 1914-18 how the youngsters fresh into the trenches took their first bombardment.) Nor is there anything glorious in the unhappiness of those who suffer from the absence and the death of those they love. This is how Siegfried Sassoon, in his Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, saw it in 1916:
   . . .  at Waterloo Station I was visibly reminded that going back for the Push was rather rough on one’s relations, however incapable they might be of sharing the experience. There were two leave trains and I watched the people coming away after the first one had gone out. Some sauntered away with assumed unconcern; they chatted and smiled. Others hurried past me with a crucified look; I noticed a well-dressed woman biting her gloved fingers; her eyes stared fixedly; she was returning alone to a silent house on a tine Sunday afternoon.
There was nothing glorious about that woman; grief is one of the most distressing and therefore one of the ugliest of human emotions. And war is grief. Yet of all the tragedies of war, perhaps the greatest is that it need never happen. Although it is true that modern war is a product of capitalist society, it does not follow that war is unavoidable. War can only be carried on—and capitalism can only continue—as long as the working class support it. The people who fight and suffer in wartime—and in peacetime, in a different way—are the very people, the only people, who can do something about it. The supreme irony, the supreme tragedy, is that at present they choose to do nothing. They prefer to dress up in their medals, to look affectionately upon the ex-serviceman and to teach their children to serve their masters as they have done.

The future of human society rests with the world working class. If they want to, they can make a world of peace and happiness, in which men can live in freedom. This is more than a dream; it could so easily become reality. But at present even our dreams are dull, especially if we dream them from the bottom of a mock trench in Yorkshire on a chilly afternoon in late September.

The Passing Show: "Double-Think" (1963)

The Passing Show Column from the December 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

When George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-four, he was concerned in particular with what he called “double-think.” This was the term used to illustrate the crazy practice of reconciling one's self to an evil by equating it with its opposite, summed up in such terms as “War is Peace." What impressed Socialists when reading Orwell's book was that some at least of the facets mentioned in it were with us already, particularly “doublethink." Private property society has always had its double-think to help justify its existence to the underdogs, but double-think has become sharpened and enhanced under capitalism to a degree.

Take "War is Peace” for example. Countless times have we been told that we must arm to the teeth to preserve peace, never mind the abundant evidence to show the futility of such action that it does anything but preserve what uneasy peace we may enjoy. Labour, Liberal and Tory parties have all preached the same tragic drivel, and the working class have largely agreed with them.

And should war come, there will no doubt be plenty of them now to urge us to “fight for peace” (another bit of double-think), or rather for the recovery of the peace which their policies have so blatantly failed to preserve. But by then they will have quietly forgotten their previous words. In the meantime, they will continue to vote for “defence” expenditure (more double-think; no power ever has "offence” expenditure), and assure us how much in our interests it all is.

Propaganda goes on the whole time to keep us conditioned to the idea. Sometime, it is more of an undertone, but it is there nevertheless. An example of this was the row which blew up recently over the Australian government's decision to order the American TFX bomber to equip its air-force instead of the British TSR-2. In a subsequent attack on the Tory Government, Labour M.P. Denis Healey said:
  It is said that the whole (TSR-2) programme will cost us about £1,000 millions, which works out at £20 millions for every aircraft ordered . . .  does this make sense in military terms, particularly when the army is still crying out . . .  for helicopters and other transport aircraft which could be bought for only a tiny fraction of the sum? ” (Guardian, 5/11 /63.)
You get our meaning? Mr. Healey did not spend precious minutes arguing a case for armaments as such. The whole assumption behind his statement was that, of course, you agreed they were desirable. It was just a question of which armaments, when, and how much they would cost. Note in addition how you are asked to believe that it is your money which is at stake and that therefore you have an interest in seeing how it is spent.

But in truth, such is not for you. An interest like that is for the capitalist class and their spokesmen, like Mr. Healey, because the colossal sums spent on war weapons as well as other state expenditure cannot by any stretch of the imagination come from workers’ pockets. Workers get their wage packets and the rest belongs to the capitalist class, but strenuous efforts are made to delude workers otherwise. For without their support, armaments are impossible. Indeed, without it, so is capitalism. There’s the lesson to learn.

There was once and still is a man called Dr. Nkrumah who was imprisoned by the British but later became prime minister of the new West African state of Ghana. Later still he became Ghana's first president when it was declared a republic.

Not long after his rise to premiership, ugly rumours began to circulate about his dictatorial ambitions. Some of his more outspoken opponents just “disappeared” and threats and intimidation were levelled against others. During his lifetime as premier, the Ghanaian parliament passed in 1958 the infamous Preventive Detention Act which enabled his government to imprison for up to five years without trial, anyone considered a danger to the state.

Now we read that this act has been amended to add yet another five years to the period of imprisonment where the for release under the old act. “A distasteful necessity,” claimed the minister of defence in his support of the new move. Now where have we heard such words before? Ah, yes. In South Africa recently when similar powers were given to the Verwoed government.

And talking of South Africa, this brings us to the whole point. There was another of those demonstrations in Trafalgar Square on November 3rd, this time in protest against apartheid. Among the many messages of sympathy and support was one from none other than—Dr. Nkrumah. Somebody once said that those who live in glass houses should never throw stones, but clearly this does not apply to capitalist politicians. Cant, humbug and hypocrisy are political meat and bread to them. Nkrumah is certainly no exception.

The Duke again
The Duke of Edinburgh certainly gets around and simply loves making speeches. On October 30 he spoke at the Coal Industry Society’s luncheon, on the next day at a flight safety conference, and on November 5 at a nature conservation study group. A record enough to turn any politician green with envy, you might think, though it was the first of these speeches which interested us most.

“How much longer could we go on exploiting every feature of this country for gain?” he demanded to know, and continued : “Is it possible to reconcile the national need to increase prosperity with the national need to use this prosperity for the benefit of the human population?'’ He said he did not pretend to know the answer, but a few thoughts do occur to us.

First of all “we"; if by that he means the majority of us [we] do not, in fact cannot, exploit any aspect of this or any other country for gain. We are the working class, and all that we “gain” from our labours is a wage packet. That doesn’t make us very prosperous. Conversely, of course, there is the other ten per cent., and this includes the Duke, who do the exploiting and reap the benefits of ease and comfort. This other “we,” if they were honest, would answer the Duke's leading question with the words: "For just as long as we can." Or, to put it another way. “For as long as the workers are mugs enough to let us.”

Blessed are the Poor . . .
Who said that? Well whoever said it, there's one body which doesn’t believe it, and that is the Church of England. The total revenue to the Church Commissioners for the financial year ending March 31 was over £17 millions, of which more than £9 millions was from stock exchange investments and about £5½ millions from real estate rentals. In fact, stock exchange and property deals have more than doubled the Commissioners' income in the past fifteen years. Their capital assets are valued at more than £300 millions.

Rich, very rich, you would say? So would we, but not the Commissioners. Another report followed a few days after their financial one, telling us that they were not really wealthy after all. Apparently the Commissioners contribute only about half of the money needed to keep the Church working. Be that as it may, it does not really concern us. A fool and his money may soon be parted, but what interests us is where his huge sums of money come from in the first place. There is only one answer— from the exploitation of the working class.
Eddie Critchfield

Conscience and Politics (1940)

From the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The muddled arguments that arose in the war of 1914-18 with regard to the basis of conscientious objections to military service are again being dragged in by the Tribunals of to-day.
There can be no doubt that in the minds of some of those who sit on the present Tribunals only those who base their objections on purely religious, moral or ethical grounds can be considered within the meaning of the Act. In other words, those who declare their conscientious objection to military service to be largely influenced by political considerations cannot be accepted as having a bona-fide conscience such as would justify refusal of military service. I say some, not all, members of the Tribunals take this view.

The Chairman of the Manchester Tribunal has flatly declared that "there is no such thing as a political objection admissible under the Act.” This would seem to be the more popular view. But in the case of the London Tribunal, exemption was granted to a member of the I.L.P., whose appeal was mainly political in character, the applicant in question making no attempt to disguise his political convictions, nor the viewpoint of the Party to which he belonged. But the Ministry of Labour —or, to be technically accurate—its representative, lodged an appeal against the decision. The ground of the Ministry’s appeal was that such political objections cannot be accepted as valid within the confines of the "National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939,” and should, therefore, be definitely ruled out. This case aroused considerable interest in view of the many thousands of men who must be affected by the decision.

The hearing of the case took place at the Appellate Tribunal on December 6th. On behalf of the Ministry of Labour it was urged that, whilst the Act might cover religious, moral or ethical objections, it did not provide for political ones. The political objection in this case, said the Ministry, could only be construed as objection to a particular Government, to a particular war, and not against war as such.

Fenner Brockway, as the advocate and witness on behalf of the applicant, put up an excellent defence. After hammering home the experiences of the poverty and unemployment of the applicant and his family, facts which had indelibly stamped themselves on the latter’s mind, and thus influenced and moulded his opposition to the war, Brockway proceeded to deal with the political bias of the Ministry of Labour representatives. I say political bias, for that, in fact, it really is, although the argument was said to be a purely legal one ; “What does the Act say?” kind of thing. Well, the Act lays it down that: —
“(1) If any person liable under this Act to be called up for service claims that he conscientiously objects—
(a) To being registered in the Military Service Register, or
(b) to performing military service, or
(c) to performing combatant duties,
he may, on furnishing the prescribed particulars about himself, apply in the prescribed manner to be registered as a conscientious objector in a special register to be kept by the Minister (hereinafter referred to as ‘ the register of conscientious objectors ').”
Thus it is clear that, in the terms of the Act itself, no limitation is set to conscientious objection to military service. When the Minister of Labour, Mr. Ernest Brown, was questioned in the House of Commons “whether it was the practice of tribunals to discriminate adversely between those who base their appeal on religious and on ethical and political grounds respectively,” he replied "that conscientious objection is not defined in the Act and local tribunals have to use their own judgment. There is the right of appeal to the Appellate Tribunal, whose leading decisions will be circulated in order to secure reasonable uniformity.” When pressed further to say ”whether the House, in giving the right to conscientious objectors, meant to do so on all the above grounds,” Mr. Ernest Brown replied, “That is still the idea.” Yet when the London Tribunal used its judgment and granted exemption, it was the Ministry of Labour who challenged that judgment.

All these points were stressed by Brockway in his statement to the court.

An amusing incident occurred when a member of the tribunal arrogantly interrupted Brockway’s speech with the remark, “ I don’t care what politicians have said.” When informed that Brockway was about to quote the Prime Minister, the same voice said, “ I don’t care what the Prime Minister said.” The manner of this tribunal member led many of us in the Court to agree that he has but little time for conscientious objectors of any school of thought. However, judgment in this case was deferred. It was evident that the tribunal found it a none too easy task to rule out political objections to military service. It also appeared as if they wanted to skate around the Act to discriminate between moral, ethical and religious forms of conscience. Whether they went to the innermost recesses of their own minds or to some politicians of whom it might be said, "I don’t care what politicians have said," one cannot tell. The outstanding fact is that the Act of Parliament in question could not be construed to exclude the political objector, except to those with definitely political prejudices.

We have since learned that the Appellate Tribunal has declined to give judgment on the case submitted by the Ministry of Labour. Nevertheless, the tribunal decided that the name of the applicant and that of another whose case was similar, should be struck off the register of conscientious objectors. So, where are we now? Presumably, the local tribunals who granted exemption to these men in the first instance will be careful about granting such exemptions in the future.

But why should this matter of conscience be so exclusively confined to other forms of thought than those of a political nature? What, in any case, can the word conscience be made to reasonably stand for? Twist and turn as one may through the mystical and philosophical paths associated with the question, and it will be seen that conscience in its practical application in human thought and action ultimately turns upon the factor of opinion or belief, reinforced by feeling. One may reasonably insist that a sense of duty, loyalty, sympathy are the essentials of conscience, but under examination these in turn will be found to be largely conditioned by opinion or belief, plus feeling.

Charles Darwin, in his excellent though seemingly forgotten work, "The Descent of Man,’’ treats the meaning of conscience to be identical with the "moral sense.’’ He says: "I fully subscribe to the judgment of all those who maintain that, of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important."

Aside from the question whether Darwin’s chief distinction between man and the lower animals is correct or otherwise, his insistence upon the point that conscience is on a par with morality finally compels him to regard the matter as one of conviction. Later in the same work he states: "Ultimately man does not accept the praise and blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor." (Italics ours.)

Now, one could continue to discourse for quite a long time on the various shades of meaning surrounding the phrase conscience and to trace its sources from conditions in past and present social life, but still must its importance rest with the concepts which mankind forms for a line of conduct individually and socially.

With this principle in mind it will be perceived that political concepts, opinions, ideas or ideals are as much the motivating forces of human makeup as religious, moral or ethical views can possibly be. Indeed, the purely political man is as great a myth as the "economic man" ever was. Whether particular political concepts are held to be progressive or reactionary is entirely beside the point for the moment; the outstanding fact is that political ideology cannot be dissociated from what has come to be mystically confused with "affairs of conscience."

There remains one other point to consider. The Ministry of Labour’s technical case, that objection to all war, and not to particular ones, can only be accounted within the terms of the Act, is a claim of no greater substance than the one of political objection. Logically, one would have to object to all war, under any circumstances whatever, to be allowed a conscience in the matter at all. I wonder what those people would say of those who would refuse to support and pay for a religion in which they had no belief. Would it be said that only those opposed to all religion could have a conscience in that case; that only atheists could have a conscience ?

Again, supposing the Government were to pass an Act compelling all people over 21 to vote. It is certain that many would refuse to vote, on the ground that they do not believe in politics. Others would refuse to vote because there was no candidate in the field who represented their point of view. Would exemption from the penalties imposed be allowed only to those who were opposed to politics altogether, such as the Anarchist? Or, is the entire question one of political expediency, to be decided by those who are in control of the State machine according to the interests of the ruling class. With this as the root of the whole subject, we shall leave the matter for the present.
Robert Reynolds

North Korea: Capitalism in a Mao Suit (2017)

Book Review from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unveiling the North Korean Economy by Byung-Yeon  Kim (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
The global system of capitalism takes various national forms, including the ‘state capitalism’ in North Korea that has been passed off as ‘socialism’.
North Korea presents an image to the world as a society existing in a sort of Stalinist time warp, embodied in the very appearance of its latest ‘supreme leader’, Kim Jong-un, who fills out his Mao suit with the same corpulence as his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and even tops off the look by paying him a hairstyle homage.
The main development within the country that has gained the attention of the outside world is its nuclear weapons programme. But people’s everyday lives within the country are still shrouded in considerable mystery. A general lack of information about economic and social life in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) makes it hard to know what is going on. And the government, which has not published a statistical yearbook since the early 1960s, is content with this situation.
Two important sources of information about the DPRK have been the approximately 30,000 North Korean refugees living in South Korea and the companies (mostly Chinese) doing business with North Korean firms. A book published this year, Unveiling the North Korean Economy by Kim Byung-yeon, draws on surveys from those two sources to uncover the state of the North Korean economy and ponder where it may be headed. The subtitle of the book, ‘Collapse and Transition’, refers to the period of extreme crisis the DPRK underwent after the end of the Soviet Union and to its current transition that the author views as a gradual shift from ‘socialism’ to capitalism. 
Capitalism by another name
Before looking at some of the findings of the book, it’s necessary to say a word about the author’s belief that the DPRK is a ‘socialist’ country. For Kim, the state ownership of the key means of production, combined with the existence of central planning, is sufficient for an economic system to merit the label ‘socialism’.
However, as numerous Socialist Standard articles have pointed out, the nationalisation of certain means of production is simply a change in the form of ownership, not the negation of property rights to bring social wealth under the common control of all members of society. Ownership remains under restricted control, in the hands of state bureaucrats and the heads of firms. And since the aim is ‘economic growth’ (capital accumulation), not the direct satisfaction of human needs, as democratically determined by the members of society themselves, any ‘planning’ carried out under this system is geared toward that end.
The history of the twentieth century should make clear that nationalisation of industry and the existence of planning do not threaten capitalism in the least. What capitalism could not exist without, rather, are such economic forms as money, profit, wage labour, and commodities—all of which are present in the DPRK. So we cannot help but conclude that the DPRK is capitalist, not ‘socialist’ as Kim claims, although we refer to it more specifically as ‘state capitalist’ because of the predominance of state ownership.
Kim describes socialism as a ‘grand-scale experiment of an economic alternative to capitalism’ based on ‘human design’, unlike capitalism’s basis in the ‘natural evolution of society’. More specifically, he fingers Karl Marx as the culprit, who apparently ‘designed and initiated implementation of the ideal of socialism’, although Kim doesn’t specify where Marx presented his plan or in what country he began to implement it.
The editors at Cambridge University Press also let Kim get away with stating, without any reference, that Marx (who was anything but a moralist) ‘believed that capitalism was the “root of all evil”’ and ‘wrote’ that ‘central planning as the coordination mechanism can be designed to maximise both economic growth and social fairness’.
If Kim had read enough Marx to at least get his quotes right he might have gained the basic understanding of capitalism needed to recognise its existence in the DPRK. Nevertheless, the facts on North Korea provided by the author confirm that fact.
A ‘plan-less’ planned economy
Even though the existence of ‘central planning’ is one of the reasons cited by Kim for defining the DPRK as ‘socialist,’ his book demonstrates that such planning has been limited and full of contradictions from the outset. 
Kim argues that even after the DPRK, under Soviet tutelage, nationalised large enterprises and collectivised agriculture in the early 1950s, the leaders ‘lacked the necessary requirements’ to establish a ‘fully working, centrally planned economy’ since they did not have reliable data on nationalised forms or the institutions and technocrats needed to direct the system. This situation grew even worse after the Soviet Union reduced its technical help and subsidies later in the 1950s due to worsening bilateral relations after Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin (denounced by the DPRK and China as ‘revisionism’).
Kim notes that the weaknesses in the DPRK’s planning capacity forced its government to rely on the mass mobilisation of the population to meet certain production goals. One example was the ‘Chullima Movement’ from 1958 to 1961 that sought to speed up production, much like China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. Such mass mobilisations have been more common in the DPRK than China, and the author views them as evidence that ‘the country is unable or unwilling to devise and implement coherent central planning’.
Adding to the confusion of planning is the existence alongside the central plans of the Juseok Fund and ‘on-the-spot guidance’. In the early 1970s, Kim Il-sung introduced the Juseok Fund to ‘ensure a sufficient supply of inputs for high-priority sectors’. The fund is administered by the top DPRK leadership and is used to ‘circumvent the bureaucracy associated with central planning’ and lessen its power. The fund is also related to the practice of ‘on-the-spot’ guidance, where the ‘supreme leader’ tours a production site and issues specific directives.
Kim points out how the arbitrary intervention by the supreme leader in the planning mechanism ‘actually disrupts the allocation of resources and production in accordance with the plans’ and is thus ‘incompatible with the centrally planned economy’. Firms prioritise the imperatives of the Juseok Fund and on-the-spot guidance over the central plans.
The author uses the odd expression of a ‘plan-less planned economy’ to describe this situation, which suggests that the anarchy of capitalist production also reigns in North Korea.
State-owned, profit-driven
Just as ‘central planning’, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to have been chaotic, so do we find that the DPRK’s state-owned firms are by no means monolithic or exempt from the profit motive.
The author notes the many distinctions among the nationalised firms, which are ‘classified into several categories (i.e. Special, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) in terms of their size and their importance in the national economy’. There is also a distinction between ‘national’ firms that are ‘directly controlled and supported by the central planning body, and the lower priority ‘regional’ firms that belong to regional governments.
In addition to the various categories of firms, there are other distinctions regarding the state institutions to which firms are connected. As the DPRK gradually decentralised its enterprise sector, firms became connected to one of four state institutions: the army, the Workers’ Party, the cabinet, and the regional governments. The largest share of the resources produced in North Korea’ are controlled by either the Party or the army, which have their own affiliated trading companies. This disintegration of the economy into those four institutional sectors, the author argues, means that ‘central planning has been virtually destroyed in North Korea’—confined only to a few areas.
The decentralisation of state-owned firms was accelerated in the early 1990s as a response to the severe economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The author lists four key changes that emerged out of the crisis: (1) ‘Implicitly’ allowing trading in markets, (2) Opening the DPRK economy to the outside world and creating Special Economic Zones, (3) Decentralising the planning process to the level of firms and districts, (4) Allowing firms to have more autonomy for decision making.
Another aspect of decentralisation has been the liberalisation of foreign trade. Already in the late 1970s the DPRK began to permit certain large firms to engage in trade with foreign companies. A second wave of foreign trade decentralisation in the early 1990s allowed trading firms to ‘plan and execute foreign trade for themselves on the basis of their output capacity and economic conditions’. And the third wave of decentralisation, starting in 2002, made it possible for trading companies to directly sell imported good to consumers.
According to the author, ‘the decentralisation of foreign trade meant the de facto destruction of the central planning system’ because the autonomy to engage in foreign trade ‘implied that central planning could no longer control all the activities of these bodies’. Apart from the firms in the Special category, which ‘are given inputs in accordance with central planning’, all the other firms ‘must seek their own means of survival’.
Existing alongside that ‘official economy’, wherein nationalised firms are scrambling for profits, is an enormous ‘informal economy’. The author claims that North Koreans earn 62.7 percent of their ‘individual total income in the informal economy’ and obtain 59.7 percent of their food and 67.4 percent of their consumer goods through markets rather than the rationing system and official channels. Another remarkable characteristic of life in the DPRK is widespread bribery and corruption. The author writes that the ‘average spending on bribes in total household expenditures from 1996 to 2007 was 8.95 per cent, which translates into 6–7 per cent of GDP’.
In short, the closer one looks at the reality of state-owned firms, not to mention the huge informal economy, the clearer it becomes that profit is the driving force of production, as in every other capitalist country.
What was state capitalism?
The findings of Unveiling the North Korean Economy make it perfectly clear that the DPRK today is not ‘socialist’, probably even according to the author’s narrow view of that concept as centring on state ownership and central planning. But one still might wonder why industry was nationalised and agriculture collectivised in the first place. Why, in other words, was state capitalism (or what the author calls ‘socialism’) adopted as an economic model in many countries?
It’s no accident that most of those countries were only at the outset of capitalist development, with huge peasant populations and little heavy industry. In other words, they were in a position not unlike that of Japan or Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. And just as the state in those two countries drove industrialisation, so was it a driving force of capital accumulation in China and North Korea in the mid-twentieth century. 
The methods of the state-capitalist system were crude but effective in forging the material conditions and ‘human resources’ required by capitalism. But once state capitalism had swept aside the fetters to capitalist development and achieved rapid industrialisation, the system itself began to impede the ‘efficient’ (profitable) operation of individual capitalist firms.
In the Soviet Union, state capitalism was already reaching that impasse by the 1950s, as reflected in the economic reforms of Khrushchev. But the DPRK and China, still in the midst of their industrialisation, viewed the profitability of individual firms as less important than the pace of overall capital accumulation. Kim Jong-il and Mao Tse-tung denounced the Soviet leaders as ‘revisionists’ or ‘capitalist-roaders’ not merely to save their own skins as dictators but also because the contradictions of state capitalism had not yet become apparent in their countries.
Later, of course, the DPRK and China followed the same path as the Soviet Union, introducing similar economic reforms to give state-owned firms greater autonomy to pursue profit. Marx once wrote, in looking at the development of capitalism in his time, that ‘the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future’. And this was the pattern in the twentieth century as well, with every state-capitalist country obliged to eventually implement Soviet-style reforms.
The DPRK leadership is walking the same tightrope, with even less room to manoeuvre because of its rigid political dictatorship. The ‘supreme leader’ and his cohorts recognise that providing too much autonomy to firms could undermine their own political legitimacy. And yet, in the end, even the dictator must follow the dictates of capital.
Michael Schauerte