Friday, November 10, 2017

Fattening Up the Lambs for the Slaughter (1936)

From the December 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the past few years the world situation has become more chaotic. From the end of 1929 to about the middle of 1934 capitalism was passing through possibly the greatest economic crisis of its history. With recovery has come a more intensified scramble for the world’s markets and raw materials. Imperialism is the order of the day. The large empires of France and Great Britain are threatened by the Imperial aspirations of highly-developed countries, such as Germany, Italy and Japan.

England’s need for a larger armed force to protect the economic interests of British capitalism is more imperative to-day than ever. But England’s great recruiting sergeant, Unemployment, has been very unsuccessful of late in raking in the number of recruits required. Large numbers of unemployed youths are quite unwilling to be led like lambs to the slaughter in a future war, and unemployment benefit helps them to ignore the call to “join up and see the world.’’ On the other hand, owing to the extremely poor quality and quantity of the food, clothing and shelter allowed the workers, even when in employment, a large proportion of those offering themselves for service in the armed forces do not pass the test for physical fitness.

British capitalism finds itself in a dilemma. If unemployment benefits are raised, so as to keep the workless well-fed, clothed and housed, they are not likely to join the Army or Navy. Alternatively, if the unemployed are not given sufficient means of subsistence they become physically unfit for military service. What’s to do about it? We are informed by the Daily Herald (July 4th, 1936) that:—
   The War Office is considering a system of making unfit recruits fit. The scheme is simply to fatten them up.
   After six months of reasonably adequate diet, special exercises and careful attention, the recruits are expected to be up to normal standards.
   An official said yesterday that the majority of the rejections were caused by under-nourishment.
If the working class, in the face of such an indictment of the present social order, are still prepared to allow themselves to be led to the shambles in the interests of the social parasites who control our very lives, then they have themselves to blame for neglecting to find the solution to their poverty-stricken existence.

Our advice to the workers is to study the Socialist case. Come to our meetings, read our literature. Join up in the only army in Great Britain worthy of the working class, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, with the object of wiping parasites and poverty and the danger of war from the face of the earth for ever.
H. G. Holt

50 Years Ago: A Socialist New Year Message (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is private ownership which denies the worker access to the things which would remove his poverty. Workers are not denied these things because the capitalist is privileged to own by some divine or natural right. In fact, the capitalist class emerged from obscure historical beginnings and itself had to clear the way of a previous ruling class before it became dominant. Nor is working-class poverty attributable to lack of ability, for workers organise and carry out production on behalf of the capitalists. The capitalist class, as a class, is outside the process of production. Whilst the social means of production continue to be the private property of a class who are a small minority, social contradictions are inevitable; that is to say, the majority will be poor whilst there is plenty, and wars will arise through the clash of interests between capitalist states. "Progress" will be governed by what is in the interests of the minority who own the means of production, and not by what is in the interests of the whole of society. Even with all the good-will in the world to solve social problems, by the very nature of them, the capitalist class can only apply such remedies as will leave unchallenged its privileged position as an owning class.

Only the working class is free to take the step which will remove social contradictions and the obstacles to the progress of human society.

These are truths which are topical for us at all seasons.
(From the Socialist Standard, January 1940.)

50 Years Ago: Should We Leave Politics to the "Intelligent Minority"? (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Shaw has given us another weapon with which to attack him. He now ridicules the ignorant masses who fell for Hitler and Mussolini, but has he forgotten that he has named himself among their great admirers7 Who was it who said only 18 months ago that he thought them “two highly capable revolutionary and proletarian leaders"? In saying that Mr. Shaw placed himself among the self-deluding masses who, he says, are not capable of engaging in politics.

In actual fact the working class, with all their costly errors, have not shown themselves worse than the intellectual thousand. In many respects they have shown themselves superior. It is Hitler's highly-educated university professors and others who have swallowed whole the Nazi nonsense about superior and inferior races, and it is their British counterparts who gave support to a class doctrine equally nonsensical. When Dr Ley, one of Hitler s key-men, says that “an inferior race needs less space, less food and less culture than a superior race", few people in this country would defend it as a proposition (though some are willing to apply it elsewhere in the Empire), but how many of the intellectual thousand will be prepared to repudiate the corresponding class doctrine? Mr. Shaw may pass the test, but will even Mr. Wells? And even if he does how many other comfortably placed intellectuals will reject and oppose the capitalist practice which divides the population into a "superior'' class which gets more space, better housing, more food and better quality food, and more culture than the "inferior" class?

(From an editorial "Democracy and Understanding", Socialist Standard, March 1940.)

50 Years Ago: The Stalin Dictatorship (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The late Prince Kropotkin stated at the outset of the Russian revolution: "The Bolsheviks are not what the Western workers think they are". He was correct. The Western workers thought them to be Socialists: they were mistaken.

Socialism is the noblest cause that ever appealed to the world or to man; the Bolsheviks defamed those who would not accept their leadership and have dragged the working-class movement into the sewers of opportunism and corruption: they used their organisation, the Communist Party, as a means of enabling them to influence the Labour movement of the Western world in the interests of Soviet Russia: the Communist Party became the foreign office of the bureaucracy of the Kremlin, and now. under the dictatorship of Czar Stalin, functions as the ruthless tool of imperialism.
[From the Socialist Standard. April 1940.]

Sting in the Tail: Recipe for Profit (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recipe for Profit

Marks and Spencer, Britain's biggest retailer, have given 24,000 sales staff a whopping pay rise of 26%!

They already pay at least 30% more on average than other stores, so what lies behind this seeming capitalist generosity?

M & S pay more because this keeps staff turnover down to 20% yearly while the figure for other stores is around double that.

The reason for the 26% pay rise is that M & S must compete for staff with other employers in a situation where fewer school-leavers are coming onto the labour market. Sainbury's had just offered its junior staff rises of between 8.5 and 15% so M & S had to top that.

There is an old recipe for baking a rabbit pie which begins "First catch your rabbit". M & S know that before they can declare their usual big fat profit they must first catch their workers.

Theory v. Practice

"Competition good, monopoly bad", has been the constant refrain of this government.

They are all for competition because, they say, it promotes efficiency, gives consumers choice and keeps prices down while monopoly does the opposite.

Yet the government have been turning a blind eye to many takeovers which reduce competition. For example, British Airways' swallowing of British Caledonian and GEC's purchase of Ferranti's radar business.

The government has simply recognised that the likes of BA and GEC have to compete worldwide with rivals which are even bigger than they are, so they must increase market share by eliminating competition or risk being swallowed up themselves.

So competition may be the government's theory but the relentless trend towards monopoly is the practice.

Midlands Miracle

Ever-ready to supply its readers with spiritual insights The Independent has a Religious Affairs Correspondent and he has recently been reporting on miraculous events in the Midlands.

It would seem that there have been three reports of God's name appearing in Arabic inside aubergines!
  Tasleem Moulvi, of Kingnewton Street, Leicester, told The Independent yesterday that her mother found two significant aubergines on Friday night when she sliced them open after visiting another one, exposed in Bakewell Street. One, sliced twice, shows the Arabic characters for Allah repeated three times; the other, she said, appeared to contain a verse from the Koran, though this had not yet been deciphered.
Cynics may be tempted to think that it was merely a "sell by" date that had leaked through but Ms Moulvis has no such doubts.
  "It’s quite clear," she said. "You don't even have to have a magnifier. Everyone who has been round to see it and pay their respects has said it's a message that it's going to be the end of the world or whatever. It is a message to tell all the Muslims, and all the other faiths, that this is the true faith. No other religions have had this happen to them."
Well come on all you devout Christians in the Leicester area. Are you going to take this lying down? Get out there and search through the greengrocer's shelves. There is sure to be the odd banana or two that contains the Lord's Prayer or the Sermon on the Mount.

Speak Out, Nigel

When Nigel Lawson was the Chancellor of the Exchequer he was fond of attacking "inflationary wage rises".

Now that he has quit that role and is safely seated on the board at Barclays he can forget all that nonsense. Just as well really, for it would be embarrassing if he kept on espousing the myth that pay rises cause inflation.

You see, the Chairman of Barclays, Sir John Quinton's salary has jumped to £332,920 — an increase of 25%; and that of an unnamed highest-paid director to £470,283 — an increase of 47%!

We await with interest Mr. Lawson's next outburst on inflationary wage rises!

A Horror Story

In February this page dealt with the plight of Brazil's Yanomami Indians whose lands have been invaded, with government approval, by hordes of gold miners who spread death and disease.

Now the miners are in retreat but not because of new-found government compassion for the Indians. This is due to the collapse of the price of gold following the anti-inflation programme of Brazil's new government.

This fall in price — from 900 cruzeiros a gramme to 200 — means that "hundreds of thousands" of miners have been abandoned to their fate in the rain-forest.

The Guardian (31 March) reports that the flights which brought the miners' food, medicine and supplies have been cut from 130 a day to 20, and 50,000 miners, many suffering from malaria, hepatitis and hunger, are trying to reach safety by any means they can.

This episode at least proves that Brazil's government cannot now be accused of favouring the miners against the Indians: it regards them all with the same callous indifference.

Forthright Talk

Are you sick of politicians who lie, flannel and give "coded messages"? Then be grateful for Eric Forth, Industry Minister and ardent free-marketeer.

Forth told a CBI conference on Japanese investment in Britain:
Britain has one of the lowest labour costs in the European Community — one half of the costs in Germany and one third of the costs in France or Italy. Only Greece, Portugal and Spain are cheaper. The workforce is also skilled and flexible, since it is not limited by rigid labour laws.
The Guardian 1 March
So low wages and poor health and safety laws for workers are something to brag about, a tribute to Thatcher's "economic miracle" of the last 11 years!

We should hail Eric Forth as something unique — a politician who spoke the truth in plain language even if it was due more to sheer arrogance than honesty.

Too Much Nonsense

The spurt in inflation has got the "experts" airing their pet theories again. On TV recently, such economic gurus as Peter Jay and Sir Keith Joseph have blamed inflation on "too much money chasing too few goods". So competition between consumers for scarce goods is what causes prices to rise!

Anyone can test this absurd notion by walking into Dixons, Woolworths, Burtons etc., any day of the week. Will they see very few goods on display with harassed sales staff besieged by throngs of customers waving wads of money and clamouring to buy?

Of course not. What they will see is an abundance of goods with customers often outnumbered by sales staff; so the spectacle of "too much money chasing too few goods" simply doesn't exist and we can reveal to the likes of Peter Jay and Sir Keith Joseph that it is deliberate depreciation of the currency by governments which causes inflation.

Pathfinders: The Fall and Rise of the Electric Car (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Connoisseurs of outlandish conspiracy theories will fondly remember one set of nerdy non-petrol-heads who, a few years ago, were desperate to tell us at great length why and how the electric car industry had been effectively 'killed' by the existing fossil car producers. Not that the carmakers were entirely innocent of any ill-will, but the failure of this early horizon tech at that time didn't require any complicated or conspiratorial explanation. There was simply a lack of market demand and social infrastructure including charging stations. Fast forward a few years and these same nerds must now be mourning the death of their pet conspiracy, killed off by a changed political, environmental and commercial landscape. Now that France has announced a plan to phase out all diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and the UK has followed suit with a similar scheme, the electric car industry is well and truly plugged in and heating up once again.
Just last month UK inventor James Dyson announced plans to launch an electric vehicle (EV) by 2020, a time-scale some commentators say is close to impossible, given the densely-packed hurdle race of regulations the EV will have to negotiate first (Guardian, 26 September). The design is being kept under wraps, very possibly because there isn't one: “We don’t have an existing chassis . . .  We’re starting from scratch. What we’re doing is quite radical,” says Dyson, which might be code for 'we’re making it up as we go along'. But he clearly means business as he's already invested around a billion in battery technology and now plans to invest a further £1.5bn in developing the prototype. What's not a secret is that it'll be a high-end vehicle made in China for the China and East Asia market, the market which is most keen on 'clean' technology and which also buys the most luxury cars. So don't expect your next school run or shopping trolley to be a Dyson. Wags will say it sucks anyway.
The conspiracy nuts do have one small consolation while mourning the corpse of their theory – they were right that the car industry as it was would not innovate into EV development, and that the impetus would have to come from outside. And so it did, with Elon Musk’s Tesla start-up, which somehow managed to sell thousands of cars last year while still making a loss. Now Dyson’s involved you’d really expect intrepid balloonist and media babe Richard Branson to pile in some cash too, but Mr Galactic has instead plunged his millions into Elon Musk's weird and wacky maglev tube idea, which proposes to fire people across the country in bullet-pods with their faces presumably contorting into rippling G-force playdoh (Guardian, 12 October).
It’s no longer just outsiders who are making the EV play. All the carmakers are scrambling to meet the deadlines set by the UK and French governments. Jaguar Land Rover aims to have 'clean' versions of all its range by 2020, and BMW is working on an electric Mini, while Nissan is already selling its Sunderland-made Leaf EV.
Alert readers might wonder why the word ‘clean’ appears here dressed in quote marks. The filthy truth is that the electricity that powers these cars has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is almost certainly going to be a power station using gas, oil or coal for fuel. All that an EV owner can truthfully claim is that they have shifted their carbon footprint out of sight by a trick of ventriloquism. Naturally carmakers are not inclined to emphasise this point. When Tesla markets cars with the proud label ‘Zero emissions’ they are actually dealing in ‘Zero admissions’.
And why not indeed, when governments propose do the same thing and call it a carbon-trading scheme? In this ventriloquist act, heavily polluting countries buy and use the ‘polluting potential’ of cleaner (because poorer) countries. They then don’t have to clean up their own act, which means they can continue to clean up on sales. Meanwhile the poor countries at the watery end of climate change, like the Maldives, can use these carbon credits to buy themselves whatever they like, such as rubber rings or scuba equipment.
Currently what’s putting off most potential buyers of electric cars, apart from the fancy prices, is ‘range anxiety’, the fear of being stranded somewhere remote with a flat battery. Added to this is the well-known fact, after a spate of exploding Samsung phones, that lithium-ion batteries, which also power laptops and EVs, can get very hot. This appears to have been the case in June when motoring star Richard Hammond crashed an electric supercar which then caught fire and burned to a crisp. One reason why Dyson is avoiding liquid batteries and opting for the less-volatile solid-state alternative.
Technical niggles aside, the EV is sure to find ready approval among the more moneyed liberal set who don’t realise their trendy wood-burning stove is a much worse domestic polluter than gas central heating, whether the fuel is North Sea, Norwegian or fracked methane, or that their family dog is in carbon terms roughly equivalent to running two SUVs. But in the bigger picture, isn’t there something more fundamentally off-course about electric cars? Instead of building a whole new generation of EVs to run people over, clog cities and sit idle in motorway tailbacks, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether the world really needs individual modes of transport on this vast scale?
Well, some people do ask that question. But capitalism isn’t about what people need, it’s about what people want and are willing to pay for. And if people want personal transport, because public transport by ‘loser cruiser’ is not an aspiration of the upwardly-mobile, then that’s what the machine will gear up to produce, to the detriment of any logical public transport solution.
We often say that socialism is a system of society based on material abundance, however the word abundance can be taken the wrong way. It doesn’t mean that everyone can have everything they can possible imagine, including their own palace and ocean-going yacht, or ‘Cartier for everyone’ as propounded by optimistic advocates of Fully Automated Luxury Communism. ‘Abundance’ is perhaps better thought of as ‘sufficiency’, and sufficiency entails some prioritisation over production. When ordering those priorities, what socialism will have in mind first is food, shelter, sanitation and healthcare for every individual on the planet. In this context, the idea of building individual electric cars or other adult toys is likely to take a back seat.
Paddy Shannon

Will China Follow? (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The momentous events of Eastern Europe have found little echo in China. Since its bloody suppression of the democracy movement a year ago this month, the government has carried out a widespread programme of arrest and repression. Anyone who played any kind of prominent role in the strikes and demonstrations is liable to summary imprisonment, torture or execution. Ordinary people have been pressurised into betraying their relatives or neighbours. The rulers' aim is to cow people into submission and apathy.

It should not be thought that the protests for democracy and against corruption were merely the work of a few thousand students, however much attention was centered on the events in Tiananmen Square. On 17 May last year, over a million workers marched through the streets of Peking to show their support. An important aspect of the movement was the demand for independent trade unions. After the 4 June massacre, the government bracketed the autonomous Workers Union with the autonomous Student Union as illegal organisations whose leaders must be brought to book. There were hunger-strikes and demonstrations in other parts of China too, for instance a demonstration of 300,000 in the provincial capital of Xian on 20 May. The government's response would not have been anywhere near so brutal had they just been dealing with a few students rather than a temporarily-united working population of Peking and elsewhere.

The army's actions were not just aimed at teaching ordinary workers a lesson, they were directed at “liberals" in the Communist Party who felt some sympathy with the protesters. It has been suggested that the first army firing on that fateful Saturday night, just before Tiananmen Square was cleared, was against workers and their barricades in the Muxidi area in west Peking, overlooked by the flats occupied by many middle-ranking Party officials. They, too.,were being shown that no concessions to popular demands would be countenanced.

In fact, since June, many Party members known, or suspected, to be sympathetic to Zhao Ziyang, the disgraced Party Secretary, have been purged and replaced by those loyal to the hardline leadership. In November, Deng Xiaoping, one of those with the blood of June on his hands, resigned his last official post as chair of the Central Military Commission, though he remains a power in the background. The new CP Secretary. Jiang Zemin, brought in to oversee the return to "normality ", took over Deng's post as well.

On 11 January martial law was finally lifted in Peking, showing that the government felt confident enough to take the troops off the streets. But, at the same time, the government and ruling class cannot be sure to count on the loyalty of the army if it is again called on to slaughter Chinese citizens. The events in Rumania, in particular, sent a shock-wave through China's ruling circles. It is hard to know how accurate they are, but there are reports that up to 1500 soldiers and officers face court martial for mutiny during last year's protests, and that many high-ranking military officials were opposed to the use of force last June. The top brass went to great lengths to ensure that the soldiers used in the massacre could be relied on. Now many officers are having their loyalty investigated, and ordinary soldiers are having the importance of unquestioning obedience drummed into them.

Economy in a mess
Economically, too, hard-line rhetoric is now the order of the day. The reforms of Deng and Zhao—decentralisation, promotion of private enterprise, special zones with privileges for overseas companies—are being partially withdrawn as the government reassumes economic authority. Wealthy private capitalists are attacked in the media and subjected to ever-higher taxes as the tentative steps towards private capitalism are put into reverse. But there are still government bonds and company shares to be traded, and a real-estate industry. buying and selling urban property, is growing fast. Joint enterprises still flourish, with over 47 billion US dollars invested so far from abroad, and in October the largest-yet solely overseas funded project was opened in Tianjin.

The economy, though, remains in a mess, despite the best efforts of the government to control the uncontrollable. Inflation was cut to 18 per cent last year, while urban living costs went up by 16 per cent. In September passenger fares on trains, ships and planes were virtually doubled overnight. Yet city dwellers' incomes increased by only 12 per cent in 1989, and over one-third of families saw a drop in their income. In the words of the State Statistical Bureau, "actual per capita income of low-income families fell". So in China, too. the poor get poorer.

A particular problem for many workers is that their factories have stopped paying bonuses, which often amount to as much as the basic wage. Industrial output has fallen as factories go on short time, unable to obtain raw materials. In the countryside, last year's harvest was better than previous years, but the government may again fail to pay in cash for the grain it has contracted to buy. Most workers employed by the state have been forced to buy government bonds, thus cutting their disposable income drastically. No wonder many workers (from 20 per cent in Tianjin to 70 per cent in Wenzhou) have taken to moonlighting. doing a second job in the evening or at weekends to supplement their incomes and make ends meet. Others vent their frustration by go-slows and sabotage.
In December the Chinese currency, the yuan, was devalued by 20 per cent, in an attempt to boost flagging exports. At the end of 1988. the foreign debt of China was 40 billion US dollars, and large repayments lie ahead. International capitalism has been wary of investing in China since last year's events (they are worried about the security of their profits, not about the slaughter of Chinese workers). But the president of the World Bank has recently been making conciliatory noises about resuming loans to China, declaring himself satisfied with the new economic plans. Tourism has begun to recover, too, though many of the luxury hotels gracing Chinese cities have empty rooms and empty coffers.

For the time being, then, the developments in Eastern Europe are unlikely to be repeated in China. The Chinese working class have shown both themselves and their rulers their potential, but have also seen the ferocity which is unleashed when the ruling class reply. Yet the economic problems which gave rise to the protests remain, and are even being exacerbated. Repression and tyranny have won the current battle, but the class war continues.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Super-Capitalist Russia (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are others whose inaccurate use of terms is due to indifference rather than ignorance: they change their terms to suit their policy. Thus, during the past few years, as policy has changed the same persons have been able to describe Russia as Socialist and as Capitalist (the Express newspaper is a case in point): others have looked round Europe and have been able to discern democracy in this or that country where earlier and later they could see only dictatorship. Hitler and Mussolini have been much to the fore in this verbal juggling. Both have claimed at times to be upholders of revolution and at others to be guardians of tradition. Both have pretended in some places and at some times that they stand for Socialism and working-class interests against Capitalism and the "pluto-democracies". Hitler, after years of hostility to Bolshevism, chose last year to discover close affinities between the Nazi and Bolshevist systems. Mussolini, likewise, while building warships for the Russians, declared that Fascism is a bulwark against Bolshevist encroachments on Christian civilisation. On the other hand, he has at times denounced Bolshevism, not for being anti-Capitalist, but for being "State super-Capitalism carried to its most ferocious expression" (The Times. November 2. 1936).
(From an article "Terms and Terminological Inexactitudes", Socialist Standard, July 1940.)