Friday, January 19, 2018

Obituary: Comrade Rees (1959)

Obituary from the October 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Swansea Group have reported the death in Llanelly Hospital of Comrade Rees of Felinfoel, Llanelly. He was 67 years old.

Comrade Rees was crippled in the 1914-18 war, but this did not prevent him developing political interests. He was an ardent and knowledgeable materialist who, for years before joining the S.P.G.B., propagated the Socialist case on every possible occasion. It was through one of his letters to the press that Swansea Group got into touch with him; after a short while, although protesting that his disability made him only half a member, be joined the party.

Comrade Rees' death has depleted the ranks of the Swansea Group, who, for all their smallness, are doing such valuable work for Socialism.

The Labour Party Fails (1959)

From the November 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
Never before has the Labour Party fought an election on a programme and policy so far removed from even the pretence of doing anything about the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.
The five million pound election on 8th October was a triumph for Tory astuteness, a major defeat for the Labour Party, and a big encouragement for the Liberals. Almost without historical precedent, the Tories have now won three elections in succession and have increased their Parliamentary representation at each of four General Elections since 1945. From their low point of 213 M.P.’s in 1945 they have steadily grown to 298 in 1950, 321 in 1951, 345 in 1955 and now to 365. While they have grown the Labour Party representation in Parliament has steadily fallen, from its high peak of 393 in 1945 down to the present 258. And to make matters worse for the Labour Party, this last election has seen them losing many votes in both directions, to the Tories and to the Liberal Party.

Though the numbers of M.P.s has changed much there has not been a great swing over of votes. At this election about 1,000,000 more votes were cast than in 1955. Tories gained 400,000, Labour lost 200,000, Liberals gained 900,000, and “other candidates” lost 100,000. This near balance of votes has been a dominant factor in British politics since the end of the war. Under the influence of an electorate divided nearly evenly between the Government party and Opposition the Party leaders have had to restrain their more aggressive wings (the Tory backwoodsmen and the Labour “left wingers ”) in order to attract voters not committed strongly to either party. What will now happen to the Labour Party remains to be seen, but inevitably a bitter struggle will take place between rival factions there, who want to go back to “more nationalisation” and “more soaking the rich,” and those who, in the words of an Observer correspondent (October 4th, 1959) think that “the Labour Party should come to terms with capitalism, like the Democratic Party in America: that it should abandon its nationalisation plans and trade union ties, and become a modern, classless capitalist party” Squaring these divergent points of view will be made even more difficult than it was already because spokesmen for both sides will be looking for scapegoats for the electoral disaster: and looking over their shoulders at the new threat from the cock-a-hoop Liberals. As the Conservative vote, about 13.700.000, will still be slightly below the combined Labour and Liberal votes, 12,200.000 and 1,610,000, the idea may well arise at some stage of a Liberal-Labour pact to get the Tories out.

Forecasts just before the election that growing cynicism about politics would show itself in large abstentions were not borne out, the percentage voting, 79 per cent., being higher than at the last election, though lower than in 1951, when over 82 per cent. of the electorate voted. It has always been a complaint of the Labour Party that they are hampered at elections by not getting a full presentation of their case in the Press and on the air. This time the former Labour Postmaster-General. Mr. Ness Edwards, maintained that the Labour case had been fairly stated on Television and that this had counterbalanced the bias of the newspapers. Of course, when he said this he thought his party was going to win, but in any event newspaper influence on voters cannot have had the importance attached to it. In 1945, when the Labour Party had its greatest triumph, and at the 1950 election the preponderant hostility of the Press did not prevent a Labour victory and this time the heavy Labour defeat took place though they had much more support in national newspapers, including the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial, as well as the Daily Herald, and had also the support or at least the benevolence of the Guardian and Observer.

Not a Defeat for Socialism
Except at Bethnal Green, where the S.P.G.B. candidate, our Comrade Read, after a fine campaign by party members, polled 899 votes, the issue of Socialism versus capitalism was not an issue between the candidates. This did not prevent the Financial Times (October 9th) from describing the Tory victory as “A Vote against Socialism.” And many commentators wrote of the election and of the Labour Party's defeat in terms of this being the end of the “class struggle.”

An article written by Mr. Gaitskell in the Daily Herald just before polling day contained a remarkable admission about the facts of capitalism and its never-ending cleavage between the classes. Gaitskell recalled that he had been in the Labour Party for over 30 years and he conceded to the Tory claims of prosperity under Macmillan's Government the observation that in those thirty years “progress has been made.” Then he made the staggering admission that after all the reforms that have been introduced “there are still indefensible inequalities of wealth in our society — one in 100 owning as much as the other 99 have between them!" (Daily Herald, October 5th, 1959). So, after half a century of social reforms the concentration of ownership in capitalist hands is not ended, not diminished, but. if anything, increased! 
Yet never before has the Labour Party fought an election on a programme and policy so far removed from even the pretence of doing anything about the continuation of capitalism. There is quite a remarkable difference between their present tacit acceptance of capitalism and the resolutions the Labour Party used to move in Parliament in the nineteen-twenties denouncing capitalism and calling for its “gradual supersession.”

One feature of the week preceding the election was massive buying of shares on the Stock Exchange by large and small investors in confident anticipation of a Tory victory. The Tories played one card well. About three years ago City circles, with the backing of many newspapers, started a campaign to get workers who had savings, to invest in company shares and unit trusts. Then, as the election approached the City editors who favoured Macmillan warned these small investors that a Labour victory would lead to a sharp drop in the price of their holdings. This must have been worth many tens of thousands of votes for Tory candidates.

Among the defeated Labour candidates was Sir Tom O'Brien, who lost his seat at Nottingham West. Here in particular was an example of the diminutive margin of difference between the Labour and Tory policies, for just before polling day, his Tory opponent expressed his difficulty in finding anything to disagree with in O'Brien's election address: “He's got the least controversial election address I have ever seen. ‘Vote for O'Brien’ is almost the only thing in it I can quarrel with ” (The Times, October 5th, 1959). Labour leaders, with justification, charged Macmillan with having stolen their programme of reforms: which would seem to show that a majority of the workers prefer to have their reforms from a Conservative Government. If the Labour Party had been Socialist no one would steal from them.

One Labour claim was that they alone are the people able to deal with the Russian Government at a Summit Conference. Russian Government spokesmen won't have this. Moscow Radio attributed the Tory victory to the British electors longing for peace and to the fact that the Tories have a “special knack” for dealing with the Russians (Daily Mail, October 10th, 1959). Mr. Aneurin Bevan's explanation of his party’s defeat is: “We lost because our policy measured up too closely to Macmillan's” (Daily Express, October 10th, 1959).

The Other Reformist Parties
The Communists can derive no comfort from the election, either in respect of their own 18 candidates or in respect of the Labour Party, to which, uninvited, they attached themselves. In one or two of the 18 constituencies their vote increased, but the general picture was of a continuation of the 14-year decline of their vote-catching fortunes. In 1945 their 21 candidates polled over 100,000 votes. In 1950, with 100 candidates, they received only 92,000. In 1955, 17 candidates polled 33,144, and this time 18 polled only 31,000. The Daily Worker (October 9th, 1959) sadly noted that "growing support expressed by voters to Communist canvassers . . . was not translated into votes.”

The official Communist line in the Daily Worker was, “Vote for the Communist 18—elsewhere vote Labour.” The reasoning was of the usual tortuous kind and we can well understand the voter finding it hard to swallow. The essence of it was that the Tories must be thrown out because they can't be trusted, and the Labour Party put in: but as the Labour leaders also can’t be trusted there must be Communist M.P.s to keep an eye on Labour M.P.s.

The I.L.P. is in an even more pathetic plight. It can look back to the nineteen-twenties, when it boasted of over 200 of its members in Parliament: now it is reduced to fighting only two constituencies. In those days the I.L.P. was proud of its twin achievements of having built up the Labour Party and of having destroyed the Liberals: now in its own decline it sees the reviving Liberals capturing votes from the Labour Party.

The Future
The Tory, Labour and Liberal leaders all spoke as if it is possible for the Government running capitalism to control trade and employment and the price level. They all blamed the others for what goes wrong and undertook to put it right. Only Macmillan made some effort to put the matter into real perspective, as was shown in the reply he gave to the People (October 4th) to the question: “If there was a world slump, what steps would the Conservatives take to tackle the unemployment problem in this country that might result ?”

His reply contained the following warning note of what may happen
    A world slump on the lines of that of 1929 is most unlikely, but recessions in trade may well occur  from time to time, and a Conservative Government would immediately take the necessary steps to deal with them.
The fact is that the Tory Governments since 1951 have been singularly lucky, but their luck is not at all likely to hold out for another five years. The next recession may well be a much more drastic one than that from which British capitalism has just recovered: which will, of course, give the Labour Party or the Liberals (or a combination) their chance to break the long run of Conservative favour with the electors.

One thing the workers will get from the new Tory Government (workers get it from all governments everywhere, Tory, Liberal, Labour, Communist) will be the usual nauseating sermons from the rulers calling on the ruled to work harder and produce more. The working class have lost this election as they have lost every election so far held under capitalism
Edgar Hardcastle

Future of the Labour Party (1959)

From the December 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

As outsiders we look on curiously as the factions in the Labour Party argue about why they lost the election and about whether their chances would be better next time if they got nearer to the Tories or further away, or if they dropped their programme altogether. Unlike other outsiders who are butting in with advice we have no guidance to offer to the Labour Party. Our stand is a simple one. We seek Socialism and have always been convinced that the Labour Party could never be anything but an obstacle in our path: all we wish to see is the disappearance of the Labour parties of the world and their replacement by Socialist parties. But those who have not yet come to see things us Socialists do can usefully note the difficulties in which its own policies have involved the Labour Party.

Douglas Jay, the Labour M.P., who started the row. held various posts in the Labour Government. 1945-1951, and retained his seat at Battersea North in the recent election, though with a reduced majority. Writing in Forward (October 16th, 1959) under the title “ Are We Downhearted? Yes!" he admitted that since 1945 there has been “a persistent drift away from Labour towards the Tories.” and offered as a provisional answer, the following:
1 -THE BETTER off wage earners and numerous salary earners arc tending to regard the Labour Party as associated with a class to which they themselves don't belong. Few of them—least of all the women—feel themselves to be members of a “working class." We are in danger of fighting under the label of a class which no longer exists.
   If you doubt this, ask anyone who canvassed intensively in the last four weeks, particularly in the new housing estates. We must have a wider cross sectional appeal. What the public wants is a vigorous radical reforming open-minded party.
2- THE WORD “nationalisation" has become damaging to the Labour Party. This is a fact; and it is no use denying it. even if you deplore it. We have allowed the word which properly applies only to public monopoly, to be associated with social ownership as a whole. The myth that we intended to “nationalise” anything and everything was very powerful in this Election—any canvasser will agree. We must destroy this myth decisively; otherwise we may never win again.
3—Favourable economic circumstances for the Tories meant more, in terms of votes than any moral argument or propaganda vigour could counteract. True, the old people, the unemployed and badly housed, were suffering badly.
Opponents of Jay attacked him for suggesting that the Labour Party should water down its programme on Nationalisation. So far Mr. Gaitskell has not committed himself publicly in the controversy, but there is little doubt where he stood a few years ago at the time that he wrote the Fabian Tract Socialism and Nationalisation (July. 1956).

In that pamphlet he contended that nationalisation should be regarded as a means to achieving a better social system and not as an end in itself; though he frankly admitted that in the Labour Party it had often been treated as an end in itself, and indeed as “more or less identical with Socialism” (page 5). This, he said, was because many members of the Labour Party considered that nationalisation was the only way to get what they were driving at and that it could not fail to produce the desired ends. He now thinks that nationalisation is not by any means “the only way.”

The truth is that the Labour Party, in its half-century of propaganda, has accepted or tolerated the expression of many divergent views on nationalisation. Some advocates regarded it as a good business proposition; one that would show big economies, big profits and low charges. Others thought it would lead to higher wages, and others again, including Mr. Gaitskell, thought it would lead to the transfer of wealth from the rich to the government to be used to make the poor better off. (As the £53 million a year being paid indefinitely on the Government securities given to former coal and railway shareholders is probably at least double the profits they would now be getting in their shrinking industries if nationalisation had not taken place, the argument seems to be a particularly silly one).

The Whole Hog on Nationalisation
Some of the Labour leaders who want to forget nationalisation deny that the Labour Party ever intended to go the whole hog—though why shouldn’t they if they thought it such a good thing? But in 1935 the Labour Party published a pamphlet. “The Position of the Middle Class Worker in the Transition to Socialism,” by Lawrence Benjamin. In it he stated plainly that the Labour Party intended to take over the whole productive machine, land, industrial plant, warehouses, shop, stores, and the banks and financial houses. And he wrote:-
“But,” says someone in perhaps horror-struck tones, “if all the parts of the national economic machine are not privately owned, they would be publicly owned—and this means Socialism." Certainly this is true. It does mean Socialism.” (Page 9.)
The Real Dilemma
The mess the Labour Party is in is the result of its own past muddled thinking. All its groups, however divided on other things, persuaded themselves that nationalisation would be an attractive institution and a vote-catcher. They are now having to swallow the bitter truth—that the extension of nationalisation is not wanted by most workers and has nothing to offer most capitalists. (Labour parties in Austria, Germany and elsewhere have met the same drift of opinion). So now one faction would willingly drop nationalisation in order to win the next election. but this can only look like treachery to the other faction, for whom the only purpose of winning an election is to introduce more nationalisation.

The Labour Party has many other worries when it looks to its future. It would like to see the Tories reverting to their less astute policies of earlier decades, which would help to stir up interest among the workers. But according to some accounts Mr. MacMillan, himself a one-time critic of Tory “reaction,” is deliberately setting out to pursue what “Cross-bencher” calls “a Leftward reforming course.” Sunday Express (November 8th, 1959). When the early pioneers of the Labour Party dreamed of placing themselves at the head of a grateful army of electors by first popularising and then enacting a series of social reforms, they never thought of the possibility of a Tory party that beat them at the same game.

The arguments in Labour Party ranks will go on for months and years and will never be finally settled until that Party disintegrates, to give place to the Socialist Party. In the meantime the present decline of nationalisation, which we never supported, should give an added opportunity for Socialist propaganda to make headway against all the other issues.
Edgar Hardcastle

Prisons, suicide and profit (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain imprisons more people per head of population than any other European country— 97 per 100,000. Even Turkey, with a repressive government and penal laws based on the criminal code of Mussolini's Italy, and with thousands of political prisoners, cannot match Britain. And racist South Africa imprisons only 33 people per 100,000.

Neither does it look as if Britain’s prison population will decrease. A Home Office “forecast based on the assumption that crime will rise” (Guardian, 25 July 1991) suggests there will be over 54,000 prisoners in England and Wales in 1998.

For the vast majority of British inmates, theirs is a sordid world of overcrowding in decrepit prisons, slopping out, irregular visits, locked up for 23 hours a day, with frustrated and indifferent guards to contend with. Is it any wonder, then, that a significant number of prisoners, even though accustomed to a life of deprivation, inequality and humiliation on the outside, cannot cope with all that prison entails—the shock of arrest and detention, separation from loved ones, shame, anxiety and uncertainty—and decide to end their lives?

Between 1986 and 1990, 179 inmates committed suicide. In 1991 a further 42 took their own lives. Two thirds of these prisoners were on remand and were yet to be sentenced. What makes the case for remand victims so poignant is that 59 percent are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence when their cases are heard—some 27,000 out of 65,905 in 1989 (the last year for which statistics are available). An average of eight inmates a day attempt suicide or mutilate themselves—there were 3,000 reported cases last year. “We are talking about attempted hangings, slashing of the wrists, people cutting pieces of themselves" (Frances Crook, Director of Howard League, Independent, 17 April).

Judge Stephen Tumin’s 123 recommendations following his investigation into prison suicides and the 600-page Woolf Report four months later did little to better the lot of inmates or to alleviate the mental burden of the suicidal, in spite of both reports being damning indictments of British prisons, where priority was often "to process as quickly as possible a large number of prisoners with the minimum of disturbance" (Judge Tumin, Guardian, 20 December 1990).

Judge Tumin’s recommendations included redesigning cells to prevent suicide, better screening, improved codes of practice to reduce anxiety levels, and better standards regarding toilets, basins and privacy. The Woolf Report recommended that prison accommodation should match the number of prisoners by the end of 1992 and that jails should only allow overcrowding by three percent for seven days, after that on parliamentary approval. In spite of all that has been reported suicides in prisons continue apace and. although two-thirds of prisons have given more time for visits. chamber pots and overcrowding are still the normal way of life in many prisons.

In April, the government decided that the prison service in England and Wales would be taken away from ministerial control within a year to give managers increased operational independence. Kenneth Baker, the then Home Secretary, remarked how agency status would provide "the most positive environment for staff to work in and, above all, ensuring the delivery of an improved service both to the public and to those held in custody" (Guardian, 12 March). He did not mention that this would shield the government from the backlash following prison scandals and riots, and save a few quid into the bargain.

The scene now looks set for a privatised prison service with all that “privatisation” entails. In April. The Wolds prison in Hull was opened after Group 4 Remand Services beat off eight other competitors with a £4 million tender to run the £35.6 million prison, built to house 320 non-category A inmates.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, who carried out the first independent research into the management of privatised detention centres in Britain, discovered "obsessive secrecy, racist stereotyping and no tangible commitment to justice". The Howard League believes profiteering from prisons pushes up numbers and asserted that “The Wolds prison would be a showcase (for Group 4) so that other more lucrative pickings can be canvassed from other world regimes" (Guardian, 2 April).

The 50 percent cut to prison education in April contradicted the government White Paper of September 1991 put out in response to the Woolf Report: “many prisoners have inadequate educational and social skills . . . without such skills the prospects for prisoners to live fulfilling and law abiding lives on release will be greatly diminished" (Guardian, 18 April).

Prisons, all said, are made necessary by the capitalist system as they are built to house those whose “deviancy” and “anti-social behaviour” is determined by the social system they are conditioned to live in. The problem of the crimes they commit
should be approached not only as a product of the unequal distribution of wealth and chaotic labour market, but also an important aspect of the demoralising social relations and individualistic ideology that characterises the capitalist mode of production in its highest phase. (T. Platt, Crime and Social Justice, 1978).
In removing the “unproductive elements” of capitalist society. prisons strengthen "the prevalent ideology that it is individuals not institutions that are to blame for social problems and for social failures . . . [prison] therefore serves to legitimize the basic institutions of capitalist society". By keeping the "unproductive” out of sight, the prison provides an ideological veil to obscure the brutal consequences of our productive process” (M. Fitzgerald, Prisoners in Revolt, 1977).

Imprisoning those who “stray" solves nothing, for the present system of inequality, alienation and powerlessness that countless millions toil under will always churn out those willing to risk their freedom to better their lot and even things up a little bit. Only the dismantling of the capitalist system will bring with it an end to the need for prisons.
John Bissett

50 Years Ago: 1943—The War and the Workers (1993)

The 50 Years Ago column in the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The press of this country publishes reports of the wholesale extermination of Jews in Poland. We are not able to say to what extent these reports are true. The atrocity story played its propaganda part in the last war. and it is no doubt doing a similar duty in this. But bearing the record of Nazism in mind lends substance to some of these reports. The persecution of Jews as well as other minorities is inevitable in lesser or greater degree under class society. The prejudices of race, nationality, or religion is the outcome of ignorance, exploited by rulers and fanned into flames of persecution to suit their ends. In registering protests against the persecution of minorities, no ruling class can do so with clean hands. It will be a world-wide Socialist movement that will finally put an end to all persecution, including the persecution of class by class. 

From an article by "S. R.", Socialist Standard, February 1943.

Obituary: Ernie Purkiss (1993)

Obituary from the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

We recently heard of the death of Ernie Purkiss last November on the Isle of Wight, where he spent his last few years. At the tender age of barely 14 he was given the job of cabin boy on the tramp steamer run to Buenos Aires. As this was in the mid-20s the conditions may well be imagined, bordering on Conrad and O'Neill as Ernie described them. This was to be his apprenticeship and in subsequent years he plied on more or less substandard shipping all over the world.

During the war he was given the dubious privilege of doing the Atlantic run. Having been torpedoed two or three times and once having spent four days in an open boat with little or no provisions before being quite fortuitously rescued he would always claim himself lucky not to have ended up in "Davy Jones’s Locker”. Finally he managed to persuade the authorities to release him from his duties as a merchant seaman, partly as a result of a severe ulcer no doubt originating from his tramp steamer days and its concomitant "food”. Soon after he joined the Party. A not unimportant factor in this was that his father was a member and no doubt made his socialist views telling. Add to this the miserable and dangerous life of a seaman and you have a socialist.

During his Party membership Ernie would always join in the activities involved, attending branch, indoor and outdoor meetings, selling the Socialist Standard, etc. During the enthusiastic post-war Paddington election campaign he was in the thick of it on a daily basis. Some years after the war he managed to get a "soft" job in the Port of London Authority. He openly made his socialist views known there despite the usual standard objections.

One of the great pleasures of his life was, always in the company of fellow socialists, doing countless regular hikes all over Kent. Sussex and Surrey. On many an occasion wrapped up in the heat of some discussion relating to the socialist case the way would be lost, but not the thread of the argument! The countryside represented an escape from the airlessness and concrete surrounds of the East End of London. On arriving in the open fields and woods he was wont to burst into Wordsworth's Paean to Nature which he had learnt by heart.

Although Ernie let his membership lapse in later years he never lost sight of the socialist point of view and its relevance to the deprivation, horrors and suffering imposed on humanity by capitalism.
Max Judd

50 Years Ago: Why Lord Nuffield Looks After the Workers (1993)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

This solicitude for the welfare of the worker reminds us very much of the care which those capitalists who are interested in the turf lavish upon their racehorses. There are, of course, slight differences. A racehorse does not have to worry about making ends meet, about getting clothes for the children, about coupons or rations, or whether he will get a job when the war is over. In fact, he just doesn't do any worrying at all. There is another difference between the relationship of the worker and the racehorse to their common master. If a racehorse is no longer wanted, he can be sold, and perhaps eventually finish up in the knackers yard, and, in these days, as horse meat. But if a worker is no longer wanted, he is discharged, and sent about his business.

From an article by "Ramo" in Socialist Standard, April 1943. 

50 Years Ago: Contemptible Communist Propaganda Methods (1993)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another illustration of Communist malice and irresponsibility is afforded by a letter received by our West Ham Branch from the West Ham Branch of the Communist Party. It arose out of a challenge to debate.

Here is the letter, a typical piece of Communist scurrility:—
The Communist Party has NO dealings with murderers, liars, renegades, or assassins.
  The S. P. G. B., which associates itself with followers of Trotsky, the friend of Hess, has always followed a policy which would mean disaster for the British working class. They have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, told filthy lies about the Red Army, the Soviet people and its leaders, gloated over the assassination of Kirov and other Soviet leaders, applauded the wrecking activities of Trotskyist saboteurs in the Soviet Union. They have worked to split the British working class, and are in short agents of Fascism in Great Britain.
 The C. P. G. B. refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed.
C. P. G. B West Ham Branch, J Barker, Secretary.
Needless to say. none of the charges in the letter are true or have even a semblance of basis in fact.

From a statement by the Executive Committee, Socialist Standard, May 1943.

Where is South Africa going? (1993)

From the June 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a time when the battle-cries of the ANC were “Black Majority Rule" and “Sanctions Now”. But that was when Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner— in the days when “communism” was seen as a threat to those governments which advocated free-market policies.

We live, however, in unpredictable times. The last 4-5 years have been momentous in shattering illusions, beliefs, notions of what had hitherto been taken for granted. The impossible became possible. There were great shifts in public opinion. Governments have been toppled and national boundaries have moved overnight as if blown by a breeze.

Many believed the breeze reached South Africa when Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment on 11 February 1990. Headlines praising the release and eulogizing F.W. De Klerk were flashed around the world, and the 78-year struggle of the ANC seemed finally about to be vindicated.

The dreams of South Africa’s black majority appeared to have been realized in mid-1991, when the parliament in Cape Town repealed the Population Registration Act, and when De Klerk announced to a joint sitting of the country's tricameral parliament that “Apartheid now belongs to history”. Brave words, indeed, from a ruling National Party that had held power and practised institutionalized racism since 1948.

By September De Klerk was seen to be pushing South Africa towards democracy, by unveiling further constitutional proposals for a new non-racial South Africa. The scheme was lambasted by opponents as an underhand move, designed to allow the white minority to keep the “accumulated privileges of apartheid" (Guardian, 4 September 1991). Although the new proposals would extend the franchise to all adult South Africans, it would in effect, it was argued, give the whites and other minorities the right to veto important policy decisions.

It is hardly a coincidence that De Klerk s decision to free Mandela, legalize the ANC and the South African Communist Party, and begin constitutional negotiations should coincide with the discrediting of international “communism” in the wake of the end of the cold war. The South African government knew full well that any change in the constitution would not upset the country’s economic status quo. Under apartheid the black majority had laboured as wage-slaves, or rather volatile wage-slaves; enfranchised, they would still be wage-slaves but this time a little more contented. Besides, a South Africa seen to be getting its act together would be an incentive for foreign investment.

In February last year De Klerk announced that white voters would be asked in a referendum to answer “yes” or "no” to the question: “Do you support the continuation of the reform process . . . which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiations?” One month later the white voting population returned an impressive 68.6 percent "yes" vote. It is a fair guess, however, that many voters, voting either way, had their minds set when violence surrounding the campaign left 25 dead.

The entire reform process ground to a halt on 17 June 1992, when Inkatha warriors, with the assistance of the security forces massacred 42 in the Transvaal township of Boipatong. The ANC abandoned constitutional talks and Mandela was "convinced that his [President De Klerk’s] method of bringing about a solution to this country is war" (Guardian, 22 June). All sides were in agreement on the suspending of talks and within a week tit-for-tat killings had left another 70 dead.

Within three months it was the turn of the South Africa’s defence forces to have themselves a massacre, opening fire on a demonstration by 70,000 ANC supporters at Ciskei, killing 28 and leaving another 200 injured.The government, who were accused of complicity with the defence forces, awaited an ANC-led backlash, it never came. Instead, in a surprising act of volte-face, the ANC, three days later, agreed to hold peace talks with the De Klerk government.

In September Mandela signed a “record of understanding" with De Klerk, agreeing that a new South African constitution could only be shaped by an elected constituent assembly, and that there would be a non-racial interim government in the future. For good measure, and probably as way of compensation for the recent massacres. De Klerk agreed on the immediate release of 150 political prisoners. Two months later De Klerk was calling for further negotiation to be re-started by the end of March 1993 with a view to holding South Africa's first non-racial general election by April 1994.

On 4 February this year the ANC again met with the government for a further round of bilateral talks. In a meeting a month previous both sides had agreed there should be an “interim government of national unity”, though no agreement had been reached on the timescale for a new constitution. Nevertheless, it was understood that an “interim government of national unity”, consisting of parties that had secured a minimum percentage of the vote in elections, would hold power for five years following an agreement by a constitutional assembly on a final constitution.

Many in the ANC, however, objected any set-up which would give a disproportionate share of power to Chief Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader. Disagreement also remained on the suggested devolved regional plan. The ANC had pushed for a centralized authority, be it within a federal framework, while De Klerk pressed for regional autonomy on such issues as health and education.

On 1 April delegates from 26 political organizations, extreme left as well as right wing, attended a round of multi-party negotiations. The talks ended a day sooner than scheduled, with many surprised that negotiations were back on track and to continue at a lower level. A day later secret negotiations began to reincorporate the "independent" homelands back into South Africa. Matters appeared to be going smoothly.

No-one could have anticipated what would happen eight days later, when a member of the neo-nazi AWB assassinated Chris Hani, a leading ANC politicians as well as the leader of the South African Communist Party. This had been the first political assassination in almost 30 years, and many believed that previous mutual restraint had signalled an unwritten agreement between blacks and whites not to target one-another s leaders.

The ANC urged restraint on its members, hoping that something fruitful could emerge out of the death of Hani, that his death would at least induce some kind of urgency into negotiations. Meanwhile ANC Youth leaders rejected peace calls. One speaker announced to a rally in Pretoria: "It is time we told the leadership that enough is enough . . . now is the time to hit back” (Times, 13 April). In a country where peaceful demonstration has been met with violence and force, and where the black majority has for so long been denied the right of the ballot box to voice their wishes, it is little wonder that many still feel that violence can be the only tool of reform.

Hani's murder has a deadly logic for those in South Africa who hope to gain by it. those who are attempting to upset reform and derail negotiations at any cost, who will deny the black majority any rights, even if it means civil war. Thankfully their numbers are few. They include the likes of Eugene Terrcblanche, the AWB leader whose hypocritical view of the death of Nani was of an “atrocious deed". But whatever the latent motives were for the death of Hani, his assassination does not seem to have dowsed the flame of reform. On 15 April the South African government reacted to the current crisis by tentatively promising to hurry along constitutional reform.

It looks likely that in the near future an electorate with enfranchised blacks in the majority will have voted in a new constituent assembly and a power-sharing government of national unity holding power for five years, headed, probably by Nelson Mandela. The ANC are in favour of a government of national unity of limited duration. but have opposed a five-year power-sharing plan. De Klerk, however, appears to be in the better bargaining position. How smaller factions within South Africa will react remains to be seen. The extreme right-wing AWB will never be placated, neither will comfort be found in the Inkatha camp where Chief Buthelezi has warned of civil war should the ANC and De Klerks National Party reach an agreement to share power on their own. In any event, a future South Africa will probably be a highly devolved federation, with local and regional rights entrenched.

The negotiations have been taking place against the background of a South African economy in turmoil. Employment between 1991 and mid-1992 contracted by five percent and there is a continuance of capital flight—six billion Rand last year and 40 billion Rand since 1985. It is only a matter of time before the finger of blame is pointed. Should the economy continue to collapse Mandela will be blamed as much as De Klerk.

George Meddemmen.
Courting capitalism
Much has been compromised by the ANC since Mandela was released. Black majority rule has been sacrificed for a share in an interim government of national unity, in which parties with a minimum percentage of support will be given representation. Similarly, the ANC ultimate goal of a “socialist society” has been sacrificed for a share in a government with a proven track record of capitalist management.

There are now claims that the ANC elite are the new South African free marketeers, courting white businessmen and aspiring to their lifestyle. Recently the Johannesburg Weekly Mail ran a piece by a disillusioned ANC supporter, who questioned the contrasting lifestyles of the ANC elite and the black majority they represent: Mandela lives in a lavish suburb of Houghton; Zini Mandela’s honeymoon was financed by a wealthy white businessman; Allan Boesak now enjoys an extravagant lifestyle. “Are there gifts from the South African white economic elite?” asked the ANC member, “is our human suffering under apartheid rule so cheap to be bought by gifts from the white racists?”

Professor Heribert Adam, noted South African observer, commented:
On the part of the ANC/SACP, socialism has been reduced to anti-trust legislation and affirmative action. Lenin may still be quoted, but the World Bank, it seems, exerts a stronger pull . . . The more far-sighted sections of the business elite ingratiate themselves with any political leadership. (Guardian. 17 April)
The legalization of the ANC has much to do with this. Once legalized, given legitimacy, they struggled for acceptability, and were easily discredited when Winnie Mandela was indicted on charges of kidnapping and murder, and when news broke about ANC detention and torture camps. The government could even use the Inkatha movement and their own defence forces against the ANC in acts of intimidation, knowing that any backlash would damage the new moderate image of the ANC. The only way the ANC could gain acceptability in the eyes of the white minority was by sacrificing some of their long-held views and recognizing the economic system, as run by the white capitalist elite.

For the ANC there is no going back now, only forward, forward with a perspective tainted by the capitalist economic values of the white minority. The ANC now want sanctions lifted, condemn acts of violence and aggression, and frown upon the kind of demonstrations they backed only six months ago at Ciskei.

"Our ideal is a socialist society”, said Chris Hani a few months before his assassination. “socialism is the best and most cohesive system for South Africa” (Guardian, 15 February). Ironic words, true socialists will agree, in light of recent events. Socialism (not the state capitalism Hani had in mind) is indeed a "most cohesive system”, but only on a world scale. Socialists, however, will not fail to welcome recent developments in South Africa. A South Africa with universal suffrage can only bring the realization of world socialism a step closer when the chains of capitalism begin to rust through and the world’s working class begin to voice objection through the ballot box.
John Bissett

Why you should be a socialist (1993)

From the July 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Queen Mother gets some food stuck in her gob—headline news; but at least it wasn’t a fish bone this time.

Ten thousand children die of hunger—or was it a hundred thousand? They have starved in a world where farmers are paid to throw food away and “set-aside” land because there are too few people with money to buy it.

Continuing the Royal theme. Granny Parasite’s daughter, Lizzy the Second, is currently paid £300,000 a year by the Common Market as a subsidy for not growing food on her land. She is just one of thousands of privileged owners who are paid to destroy what other people need.

These starving kids whose last screams of uneconomical need hardly ever make the headlines—why should they perish in a world of plenty?

Why: the longest word in the English language. A subversive word. It can only be a matter of time before it is removed from the National Curriculum (what the government wants us to be taught). Too many people asking “Why” and they might just start coming up with some answers.

The pot-bellied corpses, whose skeleton mountains are the mirror reflection of the food mountains, are the real monuments to the profit system. Nelson stands like a frozen relic from a fancy dress ball, commemorating for wage slaves the wars that their forefathers were butchered in, but the real centrepiece symbol of this system should be a dead baby whose mother watched as nourishing food and clean water were labelled as “bad investments”.

So why is it such a good investment for millions of workers every day to give our mental and physical energies so that a relative handful of millionaires and billionaires may live off the fruits of our labour? Who put the food into the Queen Mother’s mouth—and why should we?

In a world where workers on tea plantations could never afford to have tea at the Ritz and gold miners cannot afford basic dental treatment, let alone gold fillings, why should we, the wealth-producing majority, sit back and let a minority have it all?

It has been said that the rich and powerful are what they are because there is something of quality about them which we have not got. Is this so? Is it really the case that a child of one whose name was put down for Eton at the age of six months has a naturally greater right to the good life than a baby born to a mother who cannot feed it—or one of the third of all British children living on or below the poverty line?

Is the overfilled mouth of the Queen Mother really so much more worthy of social concern than the malnourished diets and poorly heated homes of the millions who survive on a state pensions? And if not, why do we not respond with as much energy when old workers perish in poverty as when old parasites survive to have ninetieth birthdays?

Why do we live in a world of such contradictions? Must it be like this forever?

We live in a social system. It has not always existed; it will not go on for ever. In this system there is a minority who own and control the major resources of the world. The majority of us, owning no more than our ability to work, have no choice but to work for the minority. We are paid wages and salaries which are less than the value of what we produce. The difference between what we produce and what we are paid goes to the capitalist minority as profit. We make—they take. It is a bloody good system for them. For us it is lousy.

Production for profit means that we work to make the owners richer. Our pay is enough to keep us on the working treadmill from week to week, month to month, year to year, cheap holiday to co-op funeral.

Why do the workers put up with it? Why did slaves put up with being owned by their masters? Rulers can lord it over us only as long as we think that they are more important than us. And every time we vote for their parties, admire their business operations. cheer their figureheads and refuse to think of a world where power belongs to everyone, we are proclaiming the view that our masters must remain our masters.

Why do we put up with it? We were taught to do so; we grew up with morals and religious gobbledygook which told us to submit; workers have been conditioned not only to be, but to want to be, second-class. Old Ernest Jones, the Chartist, summed it up well:
We're low—we’re low—we’re very, very low.
As low as low can be;
The rich are high—for we make them so—
And a miserable lot are we!
People who think that they are low will be treated low. That is why TV ads tell wage slaves attracted to the cheap proley fodder of Big Macs that they are "eating out in style”—working-class style; the lowest that can be produced. We live in low homes, drive low cars and read the low-down from the low-down tabloid lie-sheets.

The socialist is a worker who refuses to be a slave, to be low. to submit and cheer the foolery of a system which spits on us. The socialist knows that to be human is to be conscious, with a potential for creativity and cooperation. We can join together and live as equals in a world where all production is for use and all life for living, not buying and selling. The socialist refuses to lie down and take it; we know that united in our millions we will be so strong that the parasite class will be forced to surrender their privilege and either share the world with us or else leave it for another place.

But socialists were not born socialists. No member of the Socialist Party emerged from the womb complaining about wage slavery and singing The Internationale. Socialists are workers who once believed that Queen Mothers were important and bosses must own the world and children must starve and capitalism is the only way for humans to exist.

Socialists are dangerous men and women who asked the question “Why?” and hit on a revolutionary answer. They are people who could see that the profit system will never meet the workers’ needs and that a sane world of production for use would and could.

There can be no compromise between the agenda of the Queen Mothers over-stuffed mouth (or concern about the pound and who the Chancellor is and whether the British thieves sign a treaty with their fellow Euro-thieves) and the plight of the starving child, the poverty-stricken worker, the wage-slave for whom life under the money system is one long headache.

In short, you will never solve the problems of the poor if you allow the rich to keep the world for themselves. Only when the wealth-producing majority decide that we will all be rich, in the sense of commonly owning and democratically controlling the world we inhabit, will it all change.

What do workers need to do? To begin with, a lot of asking “Why?” When you hit on the answers you will be angry. So you should be—but anger on its own leads nowhere. What we need to do is unite, with knowledge as our weaponry and cooperation as our guarantee of victory. Why not join us? Why leave it any longer?
Steve Coleman

More Economic Bunk (1993)

From the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

In last months issue we showed how most economics textbooks bolster capitalism by unsupported claims such as “consumer wants are unlimited" and entrepreneurs are vital to production. Here we shall look at what another economist has to say, about the causes of poverty.

Writing in International Sociology in 1986. Erich Weede offered an explanation of “why the poor stay poor". The basis of his theory is what he calls “rent-seeking”, part of a free-market theory. We must warn you that study of these matters will seriously damage your patience with economists. But press on.

A trio of economists who sound more like a firm of solicitors (Buchanan, Tollison and Tullock) define rent as “a payment to a resource owner over and above the amount his resources could command in their next best alternative use". All right so far? No. well never mind—it will become clearer:
  In a truly competitive market where everyone is a price-taker, rents do not exist. Therefore rent-seeking is an attempt to distort markets and to evade competition. Where rent-seeking is on the rampage, we refer to rent-seeking societies. The fundamental problem of rent-seeking societies is that they suffer from a serious distortion of incentives. There are strong incentives to engage in distributional struggles and to seek contrived transfers, but comparatively weak incentives to engage in productive and growth-promoting activities. While rent seeking decreases growth, there is no reason to expect the poor to be particularly successful in distributional struggles.
Let’s try to unpack all that. In a truly competitive market (which exists only in economists’ heads) everyone buys and sells what they have at the best price they can get, and they all live happily ever after. But people are nasty enough to seek “rents". Instead of producing things, they try to make a profit out of other people producing things. If you can organise “contrived transfers” (buy something cheap or sell it dear) you’ll get rich. Otherwise you’ll stay poor.

Not a word from Weede about the biggest contrived transfer of all: that of the capital-owning class buying the ability to work of the working class and making a profit out of selling what that labour produces. The theory of “rents” enables the existence of such exploitation to be neatly sidestepped. It also puts trade unionists in the same camp as monopoly capitalists:
  Trade unions are a special type of distributional coalition or cartel . . . workers need skilful political entrepreneurs to guide them, and the application of selective incentives and coercion . . . If workers succeed in obtaining higher wages than they could in a competitive situation, then employers are likely to offer less jobs.
So the theory not only explains poverty but also unemployment. Its all the fault of greedy workers.

Forget the class struggle between capitalists and workers. Instead, “there is a conflict of interest between urban and rural populations”. Then we are let into another secret of success: “In a conflict of interest between groups the recipe for successful collective action and overcoming resistance is to generate concentrated gains for a relatively small group and diffused and preferably invisible losses for a much larger group”. We just have to be smart enough to realise that what Weede says about urban and rural "populations” really applies not to them but to capitalists and workers.

Poor people will stay poor, and the rich will stay rich, as long as capitalism-supporting theories like those of Weede are swallowed instead of being spat out. In a smug conclusion he remarks that "it is possible that the true heroes of human history and improvement are those who aim for minor but useful reforms, who never gel tired in an uphill struggle against rent-seeking". A few useful reforms to that sentence will satisfy socialists: "It is certain that the true heroes of human history and improvement are those who aim for a major and useful revolution, who never get tired in an uphill struggle against capitalism”.
Stan Parker