Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The 'Right to Work' campaign (1976)

From the December 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone on the dole will probably not take long to come across the Right to Work Campaign which, during the past year or so, has been particularly vociferous in its condemnation of unemployment. Under the guidance of the National Rank-and-File Organizing Committee marches, public meetings and petitions against unemployment have been arranged by this campaign. Back in March there was a special protest walk between Manchester and London. In September many of the leftists who support the campaign marched down to Brighton to picket the TUC.

The obvious feature of these demonstrations is that they are dominated by organizations such as International Socialists, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and the Communist Party, together with groups of members from the Labour Party and trade unions. Like the women’s liberation groups, CND. Shelter, the squatting campaigns and the “Troops Out of Northern Ireland” movement, the Right to Work Campaign is not concerned with fundamental social change. A survey of their demands as printed in their literature and stated in speeches at their public meetings reveals that this campaign is concerned with trying to secure the creation of jobs. Along with this, the campaign makes reformist demands which might be expected: equal rights for women, a thirty-five-hour week, stopping cuts in government expenditure, etc.

Methods advocated include the nationalization of private industries, the occupation of factories, and overtime bans. All these methods have been tried before. A “Right to Work” campaign is nothing new, nor are ideas of direct action by workers to try to preserve jobs. Similar campaigns have been launched in the past in various countries. In Italy shortly after the end of World War One workers by the thousand occupied factories in an attempt to keep their jobs secure; and, of course, in Britain during the nineteen-thirties there were marches and demonstrations against unemployment and the creation of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. The fact is that whenever capitalism is in a depression the “left” seeks to increase its following by urging workers to resist unemployment.

The record of these movements is not only that they have achieved nothing, but the capitalist class has ignored them. In several cases instead of the condition of the working class being improved, more authoritarian governments have emerged. In 1921-22 in Italy, the efforts of workers to overcome unemployment by occupying factories were rapidly succeeded by Mussolini’s right-wing government which established fascism. More recently, in France attempts at syndicalism in the spring of 1968 were followed by the French electorate giving a stronger mandate to the Gaullist government. The earliest “Right to Work” campaign took place during an economic recession in France in 1848. Groups of workers in Paris were encouraged to take more militant and violent action. Troops were sent against them and a “government of order” was eventually established under Louis Napoleon.

Under the capitalist system the right to employment does not and cannot exist. Those who have sympathy with the Right to Work Campaign should ask themselves whose duty it is to provide this work. Production under capitalism does not take place to satisfy people’s needs but to produce goods to be sold at a profit. The nature of a trade recession is that for the time being goods cannot be sold as they are in boom periods: production therefore has to slow down or cease. The Right-to-Work campaigners do not say how a right to produce and distribute unmarketable commodities can be given effect. The situation is underlined by unemployment figures from all over the world, both in the past and at present.

But that’s not all! Not only is the Right to Work Campaign by its very existence dooming its supporters to disillusionment. If a quick recovery from the depression gave the appearance that it had partly succeeded, this would only confirm the working class in an acceptance of capitalism. After all, what is so wonderful about employment — being exploited? No, hasten the day when the majority of workers will reject syndicalism and reformism in all their guises including campaigns like this. Hasten the day when the majority will realize that the only wav out from a world of unemployment and generally meaningless employment under capitalism is by democratically abolishing that system and establishing Socialism. In such a system unemployment would not only be a feature of the past, but there would be an abundance of purposeful and interesting work.
Vincent Otter

Editorial: Too Little and Too Much (1954)

Editorial from the January 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Crazy Food Situation
An argument used more and more frequently nowadays by opponents of Socialism is that while the case against capitalism may have been true long ago it is no longer true today because capitalists and governments have in the meantime acquired a social conscience and have removed the old evils.

A case in point is the way in which, during periodical trade depressions, merchants and politicians could be complaining that there was too much of everything in the market while if they had looked around they would have seen millions of people cold and hungry and in desperate need of the goods that the shopkeepers could not sell. Marx dealt in detail with this characteristic of capitalism and showed that too much in the market meant only too much to be sold at a profit; it did not mean too much or even enough for human need.
   "It is not a fact that too many of the necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely.”— (Capital,” Vol. III., page 302.)
During the last ten years there has been much talk in international conferences, such as those of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, about the impossibility of the situation arising again of people starving while unsold food was being piled up in warehouses. Governments have formally adopted policies of “full employment” and the large political parties in this country have agreed in demanding maximum production by the workers, assuring them that they could not produce too much.

Now let us turn to the food situation. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has campaigned for years to make governments and peoples aware of the state of world food supplies. First they pointed out that until last year world food production had not even kept up with the growth of population and only did catch up in 1953. But catching up meant merely that it was no worse than it had been in 1939. There isn't enough produced even if it were evenly distributed and made freely accessible which it is not

Professor de Castro at the F.A.O. conference in Rome on 23rd November, 1953, pointed out as other experts have done that “sixty out of every hundred human beings are going hungry." (Daily Herald, 24th November, 1953.)

If three out of every five people in the world have not enough to eat is it possible that there is food being piled up because it cannot be sold? Listen to the Times and Financial Times on the subject

The Times, in a leader on 14th December, was explaining why the present Government and Minister of Agriculture is in a different situation from that which faced the Labour Government six years ago:
   "They cannot overlook that world supplies of food have in the interval become ample, that mere are large and growing surpluses, and that world prices of most kinds of food have fallen sharply and are still falling.” -(Times, 14/12/53.)
The Financial Times, four days earlier, published an article on “The World Wheat Surplus." Here is an extract:—
   "For the present it would seem that there is an absolute world surplus of wheat—not one merely created by the dollar barrier.”—(Financial Times, 9/12/53.)
The Financial Times writer went on to say that though the wheat situation is unhappy at present, supply and demand may be in balance again in three or four years time. And how will this balance be brought about? A main factor will be that the production of wheat is expected to fall in some of the chief producing countries. “In North America the recent high yields are not expected to continue and the U.S. is also planning to reduce acreage."

Doubtless the writers of these estimates of the food situation would, if asked, express sympathy with the needs of the world's poor; but, as exponents of capitalist doctrine, they could logically have added “but what have the undernourished millions to do with profit and capitalism?"

The Story of Albert (1954)

A Short Story from the February 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the true story of Albert, who after many years of patient and steady work bought a motorcar. How happy they were the day it arrived home. There it was outside the door, the magic carpet to happiness.

Nor more queuing at dirty, noisy railway stations, let die conductor bawl “No standing inside!” as loudly as he liked. Albert's wife and two daughters were so excited they could hardly eat, so the car was saving money already, just like the salesman said.

Not only that; it was there at the door advertising Albert’s prosperity and success. Let ’em all take a good look, especially that stinking little snob of an insurance agent opposite! Ha! ha! he still did his rounds on a push-bike, dm poor twerp!

Albert was no gilded parasite. He'd started at the bottom and come up the hard way! A boy in a fruit warehouse at twelve bob a week and his tea. That was twenty-six years ago. Only had two jobs all his life. As solid as a rock. In twenty-six years he’d risen from errand-boy to chief salesman, earning twelve pounds a week, not twelve shillings, and bonuses of anything up to £150 a year on sales.

What had those Socialist cranks been saying round Lincoln’s Inn? Two classes in society or something! One lot who did all the work because they had nothing; and the others who had it all and therefore did nothing!

What tripe! Look at him, got where he was by hard work, hadn't he? Hadn’t done him any harm, had it? Buying a house, and now his OWN car. How could they say that workers don’t own anything?

He could have had a car before the war if he'd liked, when they were cheaper, but a man who has spent his whole working life almost, in one job, is cautious and very careful. And so our Albert, “quite rightly, when all’s said and done ” lived strictly within his means and refused to be tempted. .

Now, it was a piece of cake. He was still very careful. It was only a second-hand car and not a very big one. Just an ordinary comfortable reliable family saloon. It was reliable enough. It broke down most reliably nearly every time Albert essayed the pleasures of the open road. Small things, at first, only details, but every time it came back some new fault developed till major complications set in. Garage bills came thick and fast, like Good King Wenceslas’ snow “deep and crisp and even.”

At last Albert was in it, his small bank account was swallowed up, he was at his wits' end.

What would the neighbours say? To keep up with the car, Albert fiddled the books. For six whole days he reigned, until the auditors caught up with him.

He had embezzled (Oh! Albert!) nine pounds. At Bow-Street Albert took his place on the seat worn smooth by an endless line of sinners, to plead guilty to three charges.

“Magistrate was quite nice about it” “Are you sure that this has not been going on for more than six days?” he asked the detective.

“Quite sure, Sir,” was the reply.

“ Has he lost his job?” “ Yes Sir.”

“People who betray their trust usually go to prison,” said his worship. “ Your good character stands you in good stead, there will be a fine of £5 on each of the three charges.”

Albert asked for time to pay. Perhaps he could sell the car, although this was not so easy now, to pay the fines.

He has managed to get another job. Lucky to get it, really. After all, as his new guv’nor said, he couldn’t expect very much more under the circumstances, starting at the bottom again, at forty-six.

Of course, he’d have to sell up the house. Couldn't keep up mortgage repayments on those wages, apart from the fact that the Building Society had turned nasty. Houses weren't fetching quite so much now, either.

This is almost the end of our story.

Today, standing in the bus queue Albert no doubt muses betimes upon the perplexities and paradoxes of our modern age.

His brief, though disastrous, incursions into the realm of property ownership have taught him nothing more than a greater respect for auditors.

About Books (1954)

Book Reviews from the March 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even in these days of scientific research, men cling to some very peculiar superstitions. Some of the beliefs and superstitions held by man in his less enlightened past now appear to be downright ridiculous. Worship flows from superstition and Mr. H. Cutner in his book,“A Short History of Sex-Worship" portrays for us some of the queer ideas, customs and forms of worship of bygone days.

For primitive man fertility was something to worship. Good crops and plentiful cattle meant an adequate food supply. Large families ensured many hands to sow and till and hunt and work. Famine and barrenness were things to dread. Small wonder that in his imaginings he conceived gods of fertility who had power to make or mar his existence. Such gods would need to receive sacrifices and to be worshipped in order to induce them to cast a favourable eye in the direction of the worshipper.

From such superstitions arose many religious cults and practices. The sun and the seasons came in for a good share of worship; so also did the human sex organs. This worship of man’s generative powers is known as phallic worship and has played a great part in the ideas and practices of many religious cults.

Mr. Cutner traces the history of phallic worship from earliest times, through the days of ancient Egypt, biblical times, the ancient Far East, Rome and India and shows us how many of the old-time phallic practices have passed into modem religions in a disguised form. He quotes from many sources but we think that the ideas of some of the authorities are a little far-fetched. It appears to us that some of them have seen a phallus around every corner and have mistaken everything that even remotely resembles a male or female sex organ for a sex symbol. We get the impression that some completely irrelevant factors have been viewed solely from an angle suitable to the investigator’s foregone conclusions.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cutner, in presenting this material to us in a concise and easily readable form, has done good work. Collected into his 215 pages is more useful material on the subject than is usually found in far weightier tomes.

The book is published by Watts and Co. in paper cover for 2s. 6d. and is available to members of the S.P.G.B. from Head Office book department.

From Australia comes a novel by a certain Frank J. Hardy entitled “Power without Glory.” The theme of the story is expressed in a quotation from Charles Kingsley that precedes part one of the book,

“A working man who deserts his own class, tries to get on and rise above it, enters into a lie.”

The story opens in 1890 and leads us through a series of Australian political events up to very recent years. It tells of a young working class man who, by unscrupulous and callous methods, rises out of his class to become a millionaire. Our knowledge of Australian political history is not sufficiently detailed for us to distinguish if all the political events narrated are completely factual. The names of a number of prominent and well-known Australian politicians appear in the story with very little said to their credit.

The author tells us in his concluding note that his book, and others to follow, will not advocate the class struggle but will recognise its existence; that Capitalism, having served its purpose, is convulsively passing, to be replaced by a higher social order. Socialism. Mr. Hardy's sympathies obviously lie with the Australian communists.

The book is illustrated but not well produced having a paper cover and poor quality print, which leads us to suppose that the author had some difficulty in finding a publisher.

We referred recently to books by Jack London and one by Irving Stone. We have recently read Irving Stone's story of Jack London entitled, "Sailor on Horse Back.” This is an earlier book of Mr. Stone’s and the style is not so mature as in “Darrow for the Defence.”

Jack London was undoubtedly a sincere, well loved and exceptional man. An illegitimate child, reared in poverty, he became a news-boy, a pirate, a laundry worker, a seal hunter, a tramp, a gold prospector, a lecturer, a farmer and, after many other things, one of the world's foremost novelists and short story writers. As a writer he earned fabulous sums, every penny of which, Mr. Stone tells us, was mortgaged before London received it because of his super-generosity and harebrained schemes to build boats, houses and farms.

Jack London was called a socialist. Some of his writings, such as his small booklet, “The Strength of the Strong” are masterpieces of educational propaganda dressed in story form. We would classify him as a “Rebel Labourite ” but much of his writing was useful in helping workers to an appreciation of their class status in capitalist society. His life was a series of sensations culminating in suicide in November, 1916. The story of his life makes interesting reading.
W. Waters

Work, Welfare and Wages (1954)

From the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a glossy and expensive technical magazine called “Mass Production.” Probably you don’t read it—which is a pity, because there is a lot written in it about you. But you may not appreciate this at first, because you are referred to as “it,” and “it” is human labour. 

In the March issue of “Mass Production” is an article by “Commentus” entitled "Work, Welfare and Wages,” which deals with problems of incentives and labour-management relationships. It is written (as, indeed, is the whole publication) from the point of view of management, and when “Commentus” writes “we” he means those who are looking after the employers’ interests. He questions “the value of attempts to foster the family spirit in the families.” The homely phrase “human-touch personnel technique” is used in connection with this family spirit, and it is really not surprising that “Commentus” finds that such calculated bonhomie doesn’t fool anyone. Plaintively he asks “Even if the managing director condescends to wear a carnival hat at the get-together party, does it really encourage the chaps in the factory to greater effort?”
   “Then there it the alleged subtle attempt at production boosting by giving people the line that their work it of social significance. No doubt it is—but most people will go on thinking (if they think about it at all) that the firm is in business to make money and not for the benefit of the community. That the community does in fact benefit is not relevant unless the firm was started from purely altruistic motives—which is highly improbable! Likewise, talk about their part in the firms' achievements makes very few of the workers swell with pride. They have a rooted idea that the firm is in business to make money —the actual product is in a sense only a by-product"
And so we see that the much-discussed theories of harmonious relationships in industry have failed to measure up to the realities of capitalist production. Despite the lines that are given them, workers can’t get rid of the “rooted” idea that the firm is in business to make money. Perhaps the roots of this idea lie in the fact that firms do make money. In any case, wage claims are being pressed, and it seems that false substitutes are less and less likely to be accepted.

Comparisons with American productivity are becoming more frequent, and talk of high-wage paying Capitalism in this country is increasing in technical circles. If higher wages are to be paid then the employers will do all they can to ensure that no appreciable inroads will be made into profits. To achieve this more mechanisation will be carried out; fewer operatives but more technicians will be employed. “Commentus” writes:
   “It should provide both cheaper products and higher wages—not to mention profits! But will the mere button-pushers, although in clean, comfortable surroundings, then complain of the monotony of their effortless task ?”
It would be a very disturbing thing indeed if the “mere button-pushers” did not do very much more than just complain. It would indicate that they had been fully transformed into appendanges of machines and instruments of capital. If this is the price to pay for higher wages, then workers may well reconsider whether they are aiming at the right target. All the family spirit, hygiene and welfare measures that could be devised could not compensate for such loss of humanity.

Are these the sort of “improved” conditions that can be expected from Capitalism? If they are, then socialists want no part of them. People are not instruments for purposes outside themselves—they are less than human to the extent that they submit to being just another commodity in the world of capital. Only Socialism will abolish their commodity status and make them whole men and women.
Stan Parker

Pensions and Poverty (1954)

From the May 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

In April, 1908, a young man lost a bye-election in North-West Manchester. He had been President of the Board of Trade in Mr. Asquith’s government, serving on the cabinet with Sir Edward Grey, Haldane and Lloyd George. A brilliant future was predicted for him. His name was Winston Churchill. He was not out of Parliament for long. In the Manchester Reform Club after the count a messenger brought a telegram from the Liberal party in Dundee, inviting him to contest a pending bye-election. Before Dundee voted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his budget, with provision for the payment of old age pensions.

The decision of the Liberal government of 1908 to introduce the Old Age Pensions Act was first announced in the King’s speech in January of that year and was met with cries of, “The country can’t afford it!” (The annual cost was £6 million—today it is over £275 million.) Nevertheless, the year saw the Act passed, granting to people of 70 or over a pension of from 1s. to 5s., subject to a means test. After 1908 many Acts covering sickness and unemployment insurance were passed, including the Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pension Scheme of 1925— which introduced contributory pensions—and the Old Age Pensions Act of 1936. which allowed non-contributory pensions at 70. Thus when the 1939 war came the Statute Book carried a mass of legislation dealing with national insurance. The system had developed piecemeal and contained many inconsistencies and much overlapping between government departments, local authorities and the Approved Societies.

To unravel this tangle an inter-departmental committee was set up in June 1941, under the chairmanship of Sir William (now Lord) Beveridge, to survey the whole field of social insurance and allied schemes and to make recommendations on their inter-relation. This committee produced in November 1942 the famous Beveridge report. At that time, in the depth of the war, the report appealed widely as a design for a great new world and many extravagant hopes were conceived. Beveridge, himself was, apparently, less sanguine. In the Sunday Times of 14/2/54 he says, “The Beveridge Report . . .  was a model . . .  of financial caution and of moral responsibility, above all in regard to pensions.”

In February 1946 the National Insurance Act 1946 was debated in the House of Commons. Although the Bill was sponsored by the Labour government of the time, the Conservatives gave their support and the second reading was taken without a division. The Act implemented many of Beveridge’s recommendations and covered a wide and complex field. The principle of the “subsistence level”—that is, benefits as of right high enough to command the bare necessities of life—was accepted and a method of adjusting benefits to allow for changes in the cost of living was devised. Minimum old age pensions were immediately raised to 26s. per week, thus rejecting Beveridge’s proposal of a gradual increase over a period of years. Perhaps it was this splash of generosity which moved Mr. Arthur Greenwood to say in the debate on the Bill, “ It . . .  is a contribution to the better life which . . .  the people of this country richly deserve . . . which will enable the people . . . to tread the path of greater freedom with great dignity . . . ”

As laid down in the National Insurance Act of 1946, retirement pensions were easily the most expensive of benefits. It was estimated at the time that in the first year of their payment they would account for half the cost of the entire National Insurance Scheme and by 1976 for two-thirds of the total cost In addition, many people receiving pensions at the new higher rate had only contributed amounts in accordance with the former (lower) pension. Thus it was expected that even if pensions remained at 26s. per week, the expenditure of the pension fund would eventually exceed its income. But the rise of prices since 1946 has reduced the buying power of the 26s., so that in 1951 and again in 1952 it was necessary to apply the principle of the "subsistence level” and increase the minimum retirement pension. Today it stands at 32s. 6d. And old age pensions, whatever the amount will become steadily payable to an increasing number—in the next 20 years the number of people of pensionable age will rise from seven million to 10 million.

These factors have aggravated the problem of balancing the accounts of the National Insurance Fund. The government actuary’s report on the scheme for 1951-52 estimated that only 5 per cent of expenditure on retirement pensions is covered by past contributions: this year is expected to be the last in which the fund’s income from contributions and exchequer assistance will balance with its expenditure. In the future there will be a growing deficit which will rise to about £417 millions by 1978 and which can only be eased by such measures as: (a) reducing pensions; (b) postponing the minimum pensionable age; or (c) increasing contributions. Once again, “. . . the country can’t afford it! . . .” The Manchester Guardian of 10/2/54 commented, “ The problems involved . . .  are such that it could make the financing of National Insurance a main issue at the next election.” So we are nearly back to Dundee, 1908!

Nobody should conclude from this that the life of an old age pensioner is one long spree of riotous extravagance. In fact, the worry of making ends meet presses as heavily today as ever. Both the News Chronicle and the Manchester Guardian have recently published a series of articles on the serious distress of old people. A letter to the editor of the News Chronicle on 4/3/54 told of an unexpected visit on a woman pensioner which found her without a fire, making a dinner of a slice of dry bread and a meat extract cube dissolved in water. In the Manchester Guardian of 11/11/53 appeared the story of a W.V.S. worker who helped to distribute cheap lunches to old people in Poplar. Among those she served was the blind man who lived alone in a room at the top of a lodging house, who never had a fire, a plate or a saucepan. He would sometimes grumble and swear, sometimes smile obsequiously, at the women who brought his food. And there was an old woman who lay in a room congested with dusty Victorian furniture, who never spoke, only glared and spat into a kitchen bowl. These are not exceptional cases. In his report for 1953 the Medical Officer for Brighton recorded some terrible poverty amongst the aged and contended that their lot has actually worsened since the introduction of the so-called Welfare State. The National Federation of Old Age Pensioners’ Associations calculated in May 1953, after a survey of 2,700 pensioners, that the 32s. 6d. per week fell short of a single pensioner's actual needs by 6s. 6d. and that many pensioners were consequently living below the line of subsistence. These facts are hard to reconcile with Mr. Greenwood's promised path of freedom and dignity.

Inadequate pensions have compelled more and more people to apply for National Assistance. In December 1953 nearly one and a quarter million persons who were drawing National Insurance benefits were also receiving National Assistance. About 80 per cent, of these were old and sick. The needs of a single person, excluding rent, are assessed by the National Assistance Board at 35s. per week. In most cases an additional average of 11s. 6d. per week is granted for rent. This payment is subject to a means test. According to the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners, it leaves less than 2s. to be spent on food each day. This, then, is the outcome of the hopes and the promises to care for the aged. We have a pensions scheme, which, whilst fast running into the red, does not provide benefits large enough to keep pensioners on the level of bare subsistence, so forcing them to submit to a means test to obtain assistance which in turn is insufficient. The reformers’ plans have once more gone awry: the means test of so many unpleasant memories is with us again. Lord Beveridge said in the House of Lords on 20/5/53 that “National Assistance, which the experts and I thought would have to continue on a small scale and would gradually diminish, is increasing year by year. Today there are at least twice as many people, nearly two million people, in receipt of National Assistance, subject to a means test, more than there were three or four years ago.”

Old people may well wonder why their burden is always so heavy. Firstly, they are not poor because they are old; but because they are old workers: their poverty is the distilled, concentrated poverty of the whole working-class. It is a condition which only the working-class experience—aged capitalists do not need to apply for National Assistance. Secondly, capitalism is not much interested in old people. Workers live only by their wage, which depends upon being able to work. When working ability is impaired by approaching old age the wage is threatened and eventually ceases. Employers, in their own interests, have most use for young workers—the old, if employed at all, are relegated to such jobs as nightwatchman or doorkeeper. Some firms are generous to their superannuated employees, but they are the exception and have little effect on the problem.

The decline in the working usefulness of old people is reflected in the community at large. They become unwanted, sometimes even by their own families. They are pushed from place to place and increasingly regarded as a nuisance. Some are left to decay in filthy, remote rooms. Others, like the old lady and the blind man in Poplar, maintain a fierce, abusive independence; perhaps they are the most pitiful of all.

It is fear of coming to this that makes workers support pension schemes in our workplaces and pay into the old age endowment policies which the insurance companies organise. The advertisements of these schemes aim to excite response by playing upon the dread of aid age. “ If it hadn’t been for him I should not have been provided for,” says the widow-like lady of one advertisement. The benefits of these schemes may ease old people’s poverty, but its abolition is well beyond their scope.

Despite the years of legislation since 1908, to grow old can still be a catastrophe. Pensions, allowances, cheap subsidised tobacco come and go—the pensioners’ poverty goes on, seemingly for ever. The history of old age pensions is one of despair, makeshift, futility— and distress. It is a fair sample of the history of reformism itself. This lesson must be learnt. Said Henry V to his reluctant soldiers before Agincourt, “Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot . . . " A melancholy phrase. Yet somewhere there must be hope. Is it too much to ask that old men should for once remember? We will settle for that. As a beginning.

The Roma - Someone to Kick (2017)

From the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Not that long ago, before the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety and sanctuary, the target of the populist media and opportunist politicians was the Roma who were fleeing discrimination and persecution in their home countries. To the frustration of many, the Roma were EU citizens and therefore were entitled to go where they pleased within the EU. They were, also to the annoyance of many, largely non-Muslim, being mostly Christian and little threat to European 'culture'. So for the purposes of vilification the Roma were instead stereotyped as anti-social criminals. And just to make sure, in many places local anti-begging ordinances were passed to turn many of the Roma into law-breakers. Campaigns were initiated by central government and city authorities to evict and remove the Roma from the streets. They were even deported by some countries. In 2008 Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla said 'Roma are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the EU, but too often they are Europe’s forgotten citizens. They face persistent discrimination and far-reaching social exclusion.'
Europe’s Roma were driven from northern India between the 11th and 12th centuries by invaders of the Ottoman Empire. The first laws against 'Gypsies' were passed in Germany, and then Hungary, in 1476 when King Matthias of the latter country ruled that all Gypsies be employed as slave-labour. Within a century, anti-Gypsy laws had been introduced in most of the other countries of Europe.
Most people do not realize that the Nazis were just as intent upon the genocide of the Roma as they were on the extermination of the Jews. 'Many groups were victimized [by the Nazis], but only the Jews and the Roma were victims of the Final Solution, victims of genocide', said Prof. Ian Hancock, the director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin. About 1.5 million Roma lost their lives and some countries such as Germany, Austria, and the Baltic states lost their entire Roma populations.
Compensation for Roma survivors of the Holocaust came many decades after the Jewish survivors began receiving their compensation. Petre Matei, a researcher at the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, said that one of the reasons that the Roma began to receive pensions decades after the Jewish survivors is because there is still a lot of discrimination against the Roma.
'The authorities said, ‘The Roma had nothing anyway, so what should they be compensated for?’' said Mirjam Karoly, the senior advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. 'They were second-class victims' (tinyurl.com/yc4jtydp).
The compensation for Roma survivors has varied from country to country. For example, a year ago, it was announced that Roma survivors in the Czech Republic would get a one-time payment of 2,500 euros. In Romania, survivors began to receive monthly pensions from Germany two years ago. Because the compensation came 70 years after the end of the war, very few of the survivors were still living. Of the 300 Roma Holocaust survivors in Romania who applied for German pensions because they were deported to concentration camps, 200 survivors received the pensions which average approximately 200 euros monthly plus a sum of approximately 12,000 euros which is supposed to make up for the money that they should have been paid in the last 10 years. The other 100 Roma concentration camp survivors did not receive the pensions because they were younger than 11 years old during the war, so the German authorities decided that they were too young to perform forced-labour.
According to Ion Duminica, a Roma researcher at the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, at the so-called 'work-camps,' the Roma perished from hunger, typhus and from the cold. There were cases of cannibalism, with parents trying to save their starving children by feeding them dead family members. 'The Roma said, ‘We wished that we were executed like the Jews'', said Duminica, who interviewed survivors.
Marin Alla, the director of the Voice of the Roma Coalition, explained 'None of the Roma Holocaust survivors in Moldova currently receive German pensions', although Jewish Holocaust survivors in Moldova who were in camps, ghettos and labour battalions have been receiving a pension of 336 euros per month since 1998.
'They mistreated us then and they still mistreat us now,' said Artur Cerari, the Roma Baron of Moldova who is regarded as the most respected Roma leader in the former Soviet Union.
Has the victimisation and maltreatment of the Roma ended or lessened? While the average European says he is very comfortable with having someone from a different ethnic origin as a neighbour (with an average result of 8.1 on a scale of one to ten, where ten represents ‘totally comfortable’ and one ‘very uncomfortable’), the situation is completely different when it comes to having a Roma neighbour.
In the Czech Republic and in Italy, almost half of respondents would feel uncomfortable (average Czech score 3.7; average Italian score, 4.0. Slovakia 4.5, Bulgaria 4.8. This is also the case in Ireland at 4.8.Travellers and Roma people remain the most shunned groups by the Irish general public. While two percent said they would 'avoid' Polish people, and nine percent would avoid Africans, 37 percent would shun Roma people. The findings on attitudes to Roma were the 'direct result of entrenched, institutional and societal racism and oppression', said Maria Joyce, co-ordinator of the National Traveller Women’s Forum.
The continuing open discrimination against the Roma is a stain on several European nations. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova recently singled out Bulgaria’s Vice-Prime Minister Simeonov for making racist remarks against Roma people. The current Czech President Miloš Zeman, when asked by a Romani woman for his opinion of Romani people, answered: ‘Romani people should stop destroying apartments and should go to work, and then I will consider them normal people’.
80 percent of Roma people in the EU are at risk of poverty, the European Commission has stated. In Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria, more than 60 percent of Roma children are segregated from other children in schools, according to the Commission's data. Slovakia is still discriminating against Roma children by placing them in segregated schools, despite the threat of fines from the European Union. Romani children in Slovakia are routinely assessed as having ‘mild mental disabilities’ and are then sent to special schools where they receive an inferior education. Researchers found a pattern of cultural bias among those responsible for placing children in special schools, which resulted in the misdiagnosis of dozens of Romani children.
'Romani children in Slovakia are being failed by a discriminatory primary school system which continues to segregate them and seriously hinder their education, condemning them to lives of poverty and exclusion,' the report said. Slovakia’s ingrained prejudices meant Romani children stood less of a chance from the moment they step in the classroom and became trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, marginalisation and despair.
130,000 children do not attend school in Bulgaria, and the majority of them are Roma. 22 percent of the Roma are illiterate and only nine percent have a secondary education even though it is compulsory, a recent study showed. The government has now organised teams to go around the country to convince Roma parents to send their children to school. But the ruling coalition of conservatives and ultra-nationalists is threatening to impose fines and suspend benefits for parents who fail to enrol their children. And those further to the Right seek to criminalise school non-attendance.
Aidan McGarry in 'Romaphobia' (tinyurl.com/y827f6wy) identifies the exclusion of the Roma as part of the nation-building in European countries. McGarry describes how the new nationalist states needed to point to populations who did not belong to the mythical nation-state so that by contrast, they could exalt their preferred subjects and create a national unity. Fomenting Romaphobia (and anti-Semitism) allowed nascent nation states to find the outsiders against whom these exalted subjects could unite.
An article at the Telesur website (tinyurl.com/yaqjr678) explains that Roma people have always been part of the fabric of European societies, but have been allowed to remain on condition of fulfilling the role of the least favoured in society, lower than serfs and in some instances, legally enslaved. The exploitation of Roma labour was used to amass great wealth for the Crown, the Church and the landowners, while the Roma people were kept in degrading conditions and brutalised so they didn't rebel against their lot in life. This ensured that whatever your station in life, there was always someone lower to look down upon and who could be exploited further, in much the same way that the wealth of the ruling class in the UK and the US was built upon the backs of black people through colonialism or enslavement.

About Books (1954)

Book Review from the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Thompson (1775-1833), Britain’s Pioneer Socialist, Feminist, and Co-operator,” by Richard K. P. Pankhurst (Watts & Co. 15s.)

Is it possible to establish Socialism in one part of the world whilst the remainder stays predominantly capitalist? That question is right in the forefront to-day. One hundred and thirty years ago the topical question was, "Is it possible to establish Socialism in one part of the country whilst Capitalism prevails in the remainder?” The change in the form of this question since the early days of the last century, gives a clue to its answer. The development of Capitalism, with the close knitting together of all the corners of the earth, has caused men to leave behind the parochial outlook of the 1820’s as they will ultimately discard their present nationalist one.

The Socialism of first half of the nineteenth century was a different proposition to the Socialism that we expound to-day. Marx and Engels labelled it “Utopian Socialism.” The amount of literature that the Utopian Socialists turned out and the general extent of their propaganda was astounding. They developed some fantastic pictures of a future society and planned to set up Co-operative communities in various parts of this country, anticipating that these communities would eventually squeeze capitalism out of existence. Such ideas were the product of the early days of industrial capitalism and denote the immaturity of the working class of the time.

But the propaganda of the “Utopians” had a very useful critical element. They attacked every principle and institution of capitalist society and the ideas they propounded were instrumental in forming and clarifying the thinking of their successors, including Marx and Engels.

The foremost names amongst the “Utopians” are St. Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen. But one of the most able and energetic propagandists of the time was William Thompson, an Irish landowner, who devoted his life to the movement.

William Thompson (1775-1833), Britain’s Pioneer Socialist, Feminist, and Co-operator,” by Richard K. P. Pankhurst, has been published by Watts & Co. at 15s.

Mr. Pankhurst traces the life of Thompson from his birth in Cork in 1775 to his death on 28th March, 1833, at Rosscarbery and in doing so he introduces us to the personalities, the arguments and the struggles of the first co-operative societies. Thompson is shown to be an outstanding thinker of his day and the evidence is presented in the numerous and illuminating quotes from his works that sprinkle the pages of this book. Thompson’s main writings were four books, “An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth ” (1824), “Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretentions of the Other Half, Men, to Restrain Them in Political and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery” (1825), “Labour Rewarded—the Claims of Labour and Capital Conciliated; or How to Secure to Labour the Whole Product of its Exertions” (1827) and, finally, “Practical Directions for the Speedy and Economical Establishment of Communities, on the Principle of Mutual Co-operation, United Possessions and Equality of Exertions and of the Means of Enjoyment” (1830).

The extracts from these works indicate that Thompson was in advance of other prominent economists and philosophers of his time—such as James Mill, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Robert Owen. He was the only one of the “ Utopian Socialists ” who clearly saw the class division of society, the need for the abolition of property and, especially, the need for political action on the part of the workers.

The final chapters of Mr. Pankhurst’s book are devoted to showing the influence that Thompson had on his contemporaries and successors, in particular on Karl Marx. The author quotes many sources from individuals who have claimed at one extreme that Marx absorbed Thompson’s ideas, lock, stock and barrel, to the other extreme that Thompson had but a fleeting influence on Marx. Probably the most level statement is one attributed to Schumpeter:
  "The Socialist thinkers of the nonage provided many a brick and many a tool that proved useful later on. After all, the very idea of a Socialist society was their creation, and it was owing to their efforts that Marx and his contemporaries were able to discuss it as a thing familiar to everyone. Many of the Utopians went much farther. They worked out details of the Socialist plan, thereby formulating problems—however inadequately— and clearing much ground. Even their contribution to purely economic analysis cannot be neglected. It provided a much needed leaven in an otherwise stodgy pudding and stood Marx in good stead.”
We can commend Mr. Pankhurst’s book. It has involved a lot of research and is interestingly written, presenting a heap of information in a pleasurable style. We would suggest that a preliminary reading of Frederick Engels, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” and “The Communist Manifesto” by Marx and Engels will ensure that the reader gets this life of William Thompson in perfect perspective.
W. Waters

Leaders and Led (1954)

From the July 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

In capitalist society the workers may find themselves short of many things but they are never short of “leaders.” The business of becoming a leader is an art which is followed by many for reasons which range from a mistaken sense of service and guidance to those who desire power solely and consciously in their own interest. Whichever the category to which the prospective leader belongs, his actions have the same result as far as the working class is concerned. The quest for places in professional leadership circles is a cunning and often ruthless task, the accent being on the cunning and ruthless method in countries openly dictatorial in form, while in the more democratic countries the method is more varied and subtle but none the less successful. In any case, we get our leaders either born great, having achieved greatness, or having greatness thrust upon them.

Our educational system is a vital part of the machinery for maintaining the idea of the desirability of leadership. The recent conference of the National Association of Head Teachers was treated to an address by its president. Miss Armstrong, in which she waxed eloquent on the leadership idea. She states that leaders are chosen for their “ability to lead” and she extolls democracy as being a situation that opens a way for the “humblest born to attain high prominence in the State as leaders.” We cannot but deplore and condemn such a view on democracy.

Miss Armstrong believes that one of the duties of teachers is to produce leaders though she does qualify this by saying that some teachers may disagree with this view. She, however, is full of hope that “brilliant children in Grammar Schools should be educated for leadership.”

In conformity with her leadership views she clinches her argument with reference to the teaching of religion in schools and its importance in bringing about the kind of society she wants to see (obviously, the leaders and the led). In this context she does not mention those teachers who disagree.
While on the subject of leadership in the religious sense, one finds that it has gone to extraordinary lengths in that home of strange causes, the U.S.A. where, we are told, the 1936 Convention of the followers of a Mr. George Baker, alias “Father Divine,” established by unanimous vote, that he (George Baker) was God Incarnate. Since 1936 this particular God enterprise has gone on from strength to strength and is now a full scale profit making enterprise. Perhaps “Father Divine” had the good fortune to have been educated by one of Miss Armstrong’s “teachers of faith and sound conviction" ?

Finally, to come to a more “earthly” kind of conference—that of the British Legion, held recently, where once more the question of pensions arose.

Disabled ex-servicemen know more about leaders and leadership than most; they have their medals and their disablement to prove it. Sir Ian Fraser, Tory leader of the disabled, as usual raises his voice on their behalf, supported by other “lesser leaders" of Churches, T.U. branches, Co-ops’, etc.

Examples, given in the press, of the budgets of some of our disabled, are indeed heart rending. It is more so to the Socialist who finds the aim of the “great attack" against a niggardly government is to increase the present miserable amount of pension to something only a little less miserable. Our view, of course, is that workers, fit and unfit, would be better employed in struggling for a world where everyone—barring accident and natural causes—will be able to keep his health and limbs intact during his natural span of life.

To sum up: Socialists have no use for leaders; leaders imply the led. Socialists are people capable of doing their own thinking. Thinking people will not require leaders rather than administrators. Just as at the moment sons and daughters of the workers are bought and employed as administrators for Capitalist enterprises both State and privately run. This is the meaning of the Head Teachers’ leader’s plea for education in leadership—to perpetuate the prevailing system. Socialists want to change the prevailing system.

The chief reason for people supporting the continuation of Capital, even whilst grumbling at its deficiencies (as the Disabled Men’s Organizations are doing) is because they are led to believe that there is no alternative. Socialists know otherwise and want others to know too.
W. Brain