Tuesday, February 20, 2018

50 Years Ago: Morality and Property (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under a system of chattel-slavery sheer physical force was almost the sole means of holding the slaves in subjection. It was not necessary for a community of interests between master and slave to be hypocritically assumed and inculcated. What the slaves thought was of little or no consequence to their owners: morality was considered no concern of slaves; it was held to be an attribute of and an obligation upon “free-men" alone.

On the contrary with serfdom, the greater cohesion manifested by the workers made it very necessary to use mental as well as physical means to secure their complete subjection. A pseudo-moral code was required for the workers in order to guide their activities along lines consistent with the welfare of their exploiters. But a serf who was compelled to part with both labour and produce to a non-productive lord could never he taught to believe that he was not exploited, that he was a free man. as it has been possible to teach the wage-worker of today.

The awkward problem was ingeniously solved by the Catholic clergy, the intellectual and moral guardians of feudalism. They zealously inculcated into the peasantry the idea that the categories, king, lord, and serf were of divine ordinance and unalterable. and further, that the present life with its poverty and riches, is only a preparation for the coming “kingdom of God”, where those who had been meek and humble while toiling and suffering “here below", would dwell in happiness “amongst the best".

From the Socialist Standard, January 1918.

Letters: Human Nature and Socialism (1968)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Human Nature and Socialism

Socialists are often confronted with the statement that human nature would not allow Socialism to be established, that men would not “work for nothing”, that man is selfish, the whole idea of Socialism though admittedly a desirable system of society would not work for it is contrary to the nature of man.

What the critic really means is human behaviour as conditioned by capitalism and not as he claims human nature. Human nature in fact is a basic set of desires e.g. to eat when hungry, to drink when thirsty, to sleep when tired etc. and these basic desires of man will not change under any system. On the other hand, human behaviour does change and varies from society to society. Rather it is Capitalism that is opposed to human nature, for under this system man is often deprived of basic desires of human nature. i.e. if he is hungry and has no money, he cannot eat.

A man born into a primitive cannibalistic way of life, would be conditioned from birth to accept the eating of his fellow man as the normal thing to do, until educated to the contrary. Likewise a man born into the capitalist system of society is conditioned from birth to accept this system as normal, until he is educated to the fact that there is an alternative to the capitalist system of society. The alternative being a system of common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interests of the whole community. A classless society that would end for ever exploitation, war, and poverty. A system of society whereby man would have a free, satisfying, full life. Secure for all time from the ravages of the capitalist system, with an unlimited horizon ahead to work for the betterment of all mankind.

When Socialism does eventually come to be established, a man born into this society, the final emancipation of all men, would accept common ownership and working for the needs and betterment of all human life (indeed, not working for nothing) as the normal way of life. He would look back unbelievably at a system of society, whereby the propertyless majority were exploited and used for their whole lifetime, subjected to wars, hunger and poverty, for the benefit of the propertied few, and wonder how this system lasted for so long, 
J. Cardin, 
Wallesey, Cheshire.

Clement Attlee

I read with interest in the November edition of the Socialist Standard, your “tribute" to the late Clement Attlee, and though 1 am in partial agreement with you, I feel your assessment was rather harsh.

To be true the Labour Party isn’t and hasn’t been Socialist—point accepted; but to be pragmatic (no slur on the prime minister intended) the most likely form of socialism did appear to come from the Labour Party, and this may still be true.

Attlee, “a cunning and bitter enemy or the working class”? Come now. It is an unfortunate fact that under a bourgeois capitalist representative democracy, such as Britain, all reformist parties accept the parliamentary democratic system. Why even the SPGB have stood for Westminster. Because of the innate conservatism of the populace and like the SPGB are unwilling or unable to use physical force to overthrow the government. These reformist parties, typified under Attlee’s leadership perhaps, set about reforming the capitalist system. True there was no basic change social or otherwise during the 1945-51 government. But isn’t half a loaf better than none? Soviet communism better than Tzarism, or the Welfare State better than child labour? Or at least it’s no worse.

You know, whatever the reasons and motives and whatever the ownership, Britain and the rest of the world isn’t as black as you paint it. Accepting the capitalist system for a few more years at least the reformist parties are the best hope to educate the workers if socialism is to be achieved. 1 know many in the Labour Party and Labour Young Socialists who are sympathetic to the SPGB and it is these people who can carry the word of Socialism.

I hope that Hobbes and Machiavelli were wrong when they assumed all men were naturally evil and had a propensity to do wrong. But until they are proved to be wrong we are stuck with the political leaders, under whatever guise they go. 
David Melvin, 
Surbiton, Surrey.

Mr. Melvin argues that “the most likely form of socialism did appear to come from the Labour party, and this may still be true”—even though “the Labour Party isn’t and hasn't been Socialist". We do not accept this. The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain has always maintained that Socialism will only he achieved by a majority of the working class taking conscious, revolutionary action to capture political power and institute common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Before this step can be taken workers must be equipped with an understanding of what Socialism entails.

In our work of helping to spread socialist ideas we have had to combat reformism— the concept that workers should be mainly concerned with merely improving their conditions of life and work under capitalism. But at no time have we taken up the illogical position of arguing that all reforms are useless. When we criticised Clement Attlee (Socialist Standard, November 1967) we did not do so because of the reforms which were pushed through Parliament by the governments he led. We would say that some of these (eg. the National Health Service Act, 1946) left the working class marginally better off. Others very definitely worsened the lot of the workers (e.g. post-war rearmament and development of nuclear weapons). But the overall effect of the Labour party's programme was to maintain the workers in their previous situation — propertyless wage labourers under capitalism.

We attacked Attlee for the confusion and, worse, disillusionment which he personally did so much to promote among working men and women. He claimed to be a socialist and promised that a Labour government would be instrumental in building a socialist society in Britain. As we showed, to give his policies credibility he adopted a revolutionary pose on a number of issues. After the second world war millions of workers were horrified with the slaughter and destruction of capitalism and, believing that the Labour Party stood for something different, voted Attlee into power on a great wave of enthusiasm. It took just six years for the revulsion to set in and. when this happened, many workers were convinced that they had witnessed the failure of Socialism. This, we think, earned Attlee his epitaph—“a cunning and bitter enemy of the working class”.

Mr. Melvin claims that there are individuals in the Labour Party and its youth section who are sympathetic to the Socialist Party. This is true enough and, of course, many of the present members of the Socialist Party started their political careers in the capitalist parties. The reason why each one of us left to join the revolutionary party was that we realised it was impossible to argue convincingly for Socialism to workers like ourselves from within the ranks of an anti-working class organisation.

Capitalism has got nothing to do with men being ‘'naturally evil” or displaying “a propensity to do wrong”. Nor is it necessary to paint Britain and the rest of the world artificially black. In fact, at times, the problems which capitalism confronts us with defy any attempt at exaggeration. Capitalism exists today because of a class monopoly of the means of production. This monopoly can only be broken by the combined efforts of the working class and, for this task, the workers need their own political organisation. In Britain this is the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain.
Editorial Committee

Background to Patents (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some workers look upon patents as a chance to make their fortunes, rather like coming up on the pools, with the chances just as remote. It has the added attraction of appearing to be a reward given for the contribution of some useful invention to society. They cite as example a zip fastener, and say “simple isn’t it? The bloke who invented that must have made a fortune. Wish I could hit on an idea like that." Its all part of a dream world where production and technical development is an individual affair and success comes as a result of meritorious effort.

The world of capitalism in which patents, copyright and trade marks are needed does not operate like that. It is a system of society with a fundamental contradiction in that it is based on the private ownership of highly socialised means of production. Patents are part of the legal superstructure of that society, turning devices and processes developed by social effort into private property. With ownership goes the right to a rake-off, when the patented item is produced commercially. In modern industry large laboratories, employing scientists and technicians and equipped with expensive apparatus, are needed to do research and development work. The main part of this work involves applying what has already been invented and it is not very often something that can be patented is discovered. It must be remembered that the owner of patent is the organisation employing the scientist. They provide the equipment, materials and even the problem to be solved. It is easy enough for the employer to arrange things so that the job for which a patent is applied has been worked on by so many people that not one of them could claim ownership. In fact patents are registered in the name of the firms or perhaps its technical or research director. On the odd occasion that an aggrieved technical worker feeling cheated out of a patent sues his employer all he can expect is the loss of his savings in legal expenses for the dubious honour of having had a go.

Like anything else under capitalism the patent system has constantly to be revised. This is largely due to the fetter it imposes on technical development. In their quest for profit capitalist firms take up anything they think will help this and in doing so find that the know-how they need has to be paid for as it is private property. Hence there is either duplication of effort through trying to find substitutes or royalties are paid. In earlier times a patentee determined to have his way could cause a hold-up in technical development. One instance in Britain was the long dispute over the rights to the process of vulcanising rubber in the middle of the 19th century. At that time rubber had immense possibilities but suffered from one great drawback, its instability. On a warm day it melted; on a cold day it cracked; it dissolved in contact with oil and even perspiration; and lost its clastic properties after only a little use. Efforts were made in Britain, America and on the Continent to overcome this. The solution was founded in America by a process known as vulcanisation. The discoverer, Goodyear, being penniless was unable to patent the process for a few years and by that time patents had been taken out in Britain by a manufacturer called Hancock who had obtained samples of the vulcanised rubber, analysed them, reproduced the process after a fashion and patented it. His patented process was not as good as Goodyears but control of the patent enabled him to keep the Goodyear process out of Britain for several years. The result was the stagnation of the rubber industry in Britain so that once the Americans overcame this obstacle they had easy picking in the British market.

Patent laws have been amended many times since and the rights of patentees restricted. Yet expensive litigation still takes place. The Rolls Royce versus Rateau case is a recent example. It lasted 49 days and expenses were estimated at more than £400,000. The importance of the case can be judged by the litigants. Rolls Royce, Europe’s largest aero-engine producer, against Rateau, a French firm which forms part of a semi-nationalised company in which America’s Pratt and Whitney, the worlds largest aero-engine producer, has a share. Had Rateau won back payment of royalties would have been due not only from manufacturers but also from the British government which had been involved in aero-engine research. A minimum estimate of the royalties due at one per cent was £3 million. Which all shows what production is about. The division of profit was the point at issue and the technicalities of the machine were the object which had been produced to get the profit. The item under dispute could have been anything from razor-blades to a process for the production of synthetic fibres for it is the question of who has the right to the income from the patent that gives rise to the litigation not that of putting the historical record right as to who first thought up the idea. All this is a far cry from the dream world of the clever mechanic and his invention.

Another aspect of the patent system which causes headaches is the process of establishing the patent. In Britain this is looked after by a government agency whose task it is to establish the validity of any claim. This involves checking whether the invention has or has not been discovered before. With the growing technical complexity of industry the number of applications for patents grows and so also the difficulties facing the Patent Office. The job of establishing the novelty of a claim can only be done by skilled scientists and technicians and the task of searching through records is slow and laborious. With the international nature of capitalism the same application will be made in several countries and there is an international body with offices in Berne. All this is part of the waste of capitalism as not only does the industrial research and development have to be done but also additional resources have to be devoted to establishing ownership. Which would be unnecessary in a rational society.

Patents are part of capitalism's fetter on production. Although most cases are lost and the patentee is unable to prove infringement due to the expense involved. Only the largest firms are in a position to go to law. With patents certain products can be monopolised and prices kept well above what they would have been had the know-how been freely available. The same happens internationally so that countries most in need of industrial know-how must pay the advanced capitalist powers for it. Generally their need for aid helps make them respect patents. Of course this does not always happen. Russia and Japan gained a large part of their industrial knowhow through copying, and ignoring such niceties as paying up. Now that they have become established powers in the world of capitalism and have industrial know-how of their own to sell they issue licenses and accept payment of royalties in the time-honoured fashion.

Socialists have no proposals for reforming the patent laws either to give the small man a chance or to prevent monopolies and price-rigging or to give the emerging capitalists of Africa and Asia industrial know-how on the cheap. In fact all these demands are but the reflection of sectional interests within the capitalist class. Rather we go for another proposal: Socialism where technical development will be devoted solely to satisfying man’s needs and not for the profit of a minority. In that situation patents, copyrights, trade marks and the like will no longer be needed.
Joe Carter

Finance and Industry: Partners in Progress (1968)

The Finance and Industry column from the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Partners in Progress

The fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia was a boon to the Morning Star. Its special enlarged issue of 7 November had articles on the coup and on the changes that have taken place in Russia since. The advertising department had cause to be proud as a large part of the extra space was taken up with adverts from Russian and British industrial organisations. There was a full page effort by Courtaulds telling of their trade with Russia. But pride of place must go to a quarter-page taken by ICI headed “Partners in Progress”. It stated:
  ICI-Western Europe's largest chemical company-enjoys a thriving business relationship with the Soviet Union.
And went on to list some of its products exported to Russia and of plants being set up there under license from ICI. It ended on technical co-operation:
   Just over a year ago this form of co-operation reached a new stage when a five-year agreement was signed by ICI and the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR for Science and Technology. This agreement—providing for technical co-operation and the exchange of information in certain fields—was the first of its kind to be concluded between the Soviet Union and a British company.
For ICI progress means a thriving business relationship and technical co-operation. Socialists know that scientific development and increased trade do not necessarily constitute progress. In the context of capitalism, in both the ICI and Russian state versions, science is used to increase productivity with a view to extracting more surplus value from the working class. It is only in Socialism where the means and techniques of production belong to and are under the democratic control of the whole of society that the results of scientific research will be used for the benefit of all.

We know that the so-called Communist Party and their unofficial organ, the Morning Star, are confused as to the nature of society in Russia. Now it seems their attitude to ICI has changed. This is what John Gollan had to say at their 29th Congress in November 1965:
  Labour's Britain of the 1970's will still be the Britain of the ICI, the Prudential, Vickers, the Stock Exchange, Eton and Harrow, the House of Lords and Buckingham Palace. We Communists refuse to accept this future (Turn Left for Progress).
There is no doubt about their attitude in that statement. They say they refuse to accept a future Britain of the ICI and so on. Yet in 1967 they accept an advert from their old enemy which points out its close ties with the Russian state. One useful aspect, however, is that the faithful followers of the Communist Party who will only accept information coming from the Morning Star have it straight from the horse's mouth: the Russian state and ICI have enough in common to be considered partners. We have one small suggestion. The caption should have read Co-operators in Capitalism.

Big Deal

The recent take-over battle in which the General Electric Company (GEC) gained control of Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) publicised the main features of capitalism which the journalistic trivia over personalities could not disguise. The first point to note is that the issue was not decided by the 150,000 or so people employed by the two companies even though it is they who carry out all the varied tasks involved in running both set-ups. Nor was the population of Britain consulted in spite of all the talk of how Britain’s interest would be served by the deal. The AEI shareholders were the important people and each side addressed their arguments to them. It was for them to decide and the point at issue was profits.

The argument raged over which management would deliver the greater profit. GEC had its record of growth in profit during the past five years as a recommendation. While AEI, in view of the stagnation of profits in the same period, could only claim that recent reorganisation would bear fruit in increased profits in the next few years.

It was clear that improvements in profits were expected to come as a result of a ruthless cutting back in the workforce. GECs record has shown what can be done for their shareholders through more intensive working of their staff; Moves included shutting down 35 regional offices and reducing head office staff from 2,000 io 200. AEI had been going in for the same sort of thing. The Financial Times of 6 November reported:
  Manpower has been reduced by nearly 9.000 and 12 major establishments closed with no reduction in manufacturing capacity . . .  but these actions alone reduce annual costs by about £7m.
Since the take-over the process continues. Cuts have been announced in AEI head office staff and more may follow elsewhere. The point to note here is that the drive to economise is inherent in the system and does not just occur when there is a merger or take-over.

Another feature of modern capitalism that the take-over publicised was the amount of common interest the parties involved had. Large shareholders were held in both firms by major institutional investors such as the Church Commissioners, the Prudential, the Co-operative Insurance. Not only did AEI and GEC have shareholders in common but they also shared investments such as the 18 per cent each had in C.A. Parsons, the leading supplier of generating equipment to the CEGB. Their interests involved agreements with firms in such fields as domestic appliances, lighting, telephone equipment, radio and television, electronic components and nuclear power stations. The take-over demonstrated how that holy cow competition works nowadays. The pressures generated by free, unbridled competition lead to its opposite where marketing and licensing agreements are entered into to try and bring some order into the anarchy of producing for sale with a view to profit. But capitalism does pave the way for Socialism in that even it needs large-scale co-operation. Its great stumbling block is of course that it is based on private property so that production solely for use, the logical outcome of socialised production, cannot be achieved.

Another publicised factor, the size of the resulting unit, is also important but it must be emphasised that the whole exercise was not concerned with increasing size for its own sake. The advantage of large groups is in the economies in design, research and marketing which large-scale production allows. In fields where AEI and GEC were competitors, duplication of design and research are cut out. The same goes for overseas sales. It is estimated that GEC-AEI will have annual sales of approximately £450m, which will make them seventh in the world league for the electrical industry. Even then they will be small in comparison with their American rivals of the same name. General Electric, whose annual sales are in the region of £7,000m. So that, in world terms, the going will be tough. In fact this was one of the pressures that led to the takeover. It is a case of running faster in order to stay in the same place. This is why mere size or the GEC Board's record are no guarantee of future success in profit making. ICI, whose management used to be the idol of the supporters of capitalism, has stagnated. BMH, in spite of mergers and rationalisation, has still found the going tough. Quality of management and size are only subsidiary factors to the main regulator—the condition of the market.

Mergers concern the owners or shareholders involved in that they hope to safeguard their investments through larger industrial units. The workers' role lies in producing the wealth from which the profit is made. Mergers take place due to the increasing competition within capitalism, but they do not guarantee any better profits as in general they are only keeping up with industry as a whole. For workers the lesson of mergers is an exercise in how the capitalist class protect their interest. They should take a hint from their masters and organise the biggest take-over of all—the take-over of the world's means of production for the benefit of everyone.
Joe Carter

Report From Moscow (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent months a mass of articles has appeared in the press dealing with Russia today. But most of these give very little concrete information on the subjects which are of crucial importance—the class structure of Russian society and the living conditions of working men and women in that country.

The working class in Russia, like workers throughout the world, sells its labour power for a wage (usually paid monthly there). The state-decreed minimum has recently been raised by ten roubles to 60 roubles a month. At the official exchange rate of £1 = 2.50 (before devaluation), this is equivalent to a monthly salary of £24. Such comparisons, however, are of limited value; what is necessary is to illustrate what this means in terms of real wages by giving the prices of goods on sale in the shops. The following list was compiled during the first half of November 1967, from commodities being sold in the stores in Leningrad and Moscow. We concentrated mainly on clothes because these are a basic essential (along with food and housing). At the same time it is fairly easy to assess the quality of articles of clothing, unlike much food which is wrapped or in packets.

Man’s suit (poor quality)                                 64.00 roubles
Man’s suit (poor quality but better than above) 82.00r.
Men’s overcoats (various styles and qualities) 75-124r.
Men’s long-sleeved shirts (cotton)                         4.50-9.00r.
Man’s short-sleeved shirt (nylon)                         12.50r.
Women’s slips (nylon and various qualities)         10.00-17.00r.
Woman’s headscarf (cheapest)                         1.33r.
Women’s knitted suits                                         27.00-31.60r.
Child’s overcoat (4 year old)                                 22.85r.
Child's windcheater (nylon)                                   20.00r.
Children's frocks (for 2-3 years old various
qualities)                                                                 5.77-12.52r.

1 kilo (2.2 lb) apples or pears                                 1.00r.
1 kilo (1.1 lb) bread                                         0.15r.
Eggs (sold in tens)                                                 0.90r.
1 kilo (12 lb) cheese                                         3.00r.
2-course meal at student's restaurant                 0.40r.

Bicycle (very poor quality)                 54.50r.
       c. 17" screen                                 234.00r.
       c. 20" screen                                 401.00r.
Motor cars (vary according to size & comfort) 2500-5000r.

It is clear from the above that workers in Russia have to be just as adept as those elsewhere in the art of eking out their wages. But, however much they may skimp and scrape, there are many luxury commodities on sale in the shops which they can never reasonably hope to buy. For example, just off Red Square in Moscow there is a store specialising in expensive shoes. Among the footwear displayed in its window were a pair of very elegant lady’s suede ankle-boots, selling at fifty roubles. When it is remembered that this sum represents nearly a month's wages for the lowest paid, it is obvious that the Moscow working man stands about as much chance of buying these shoes as a worker in London does of purchasing a Savile Row suit.

The question arises—who are the people, then, in a country like Russia who can afford such prices? One who springs to mind is Nikita Kruschev, the ousted first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Living in retirement, he has a five-roomed flat in Moscow as well as a country house on what used to be Prince Golytsin’s estate. Standing in seven acres of grounds, this building has four bedrooms and two reception rooms, while the Kruschevs are looked after by a staff of servants (two cooks, two chauffeurs, maid, gardener). As the Sunday Times put it: “Kruschev has 550 roubles a month, and with virtually all his bills paid by the State he lives at a level that could only be matched in the West by someone with a comfortable private income." [1]

It might be objected that we are relying here on Western newspapers which are inclined to distort the situation in Russia. But such reports on the easy life of the ruling class there and the other state-capitalist countries of eastern Europe are confirmed by information that can be gleaned from their own official sources. Thus the Belgrade Evening News (20 December, 1961) talked about individuals in Jugoslavia who have an annual income reaching 70 million dinars 'about $100,000 at the official exchange rate). [2]

In contrast to Kruschev's town and country residences, working class housing in general conforms to the twin standards of cheap and nasty. Despite the vast blocks of new flats which have been built since the war, some of the slums in Moscow can rival those of the East End of London for squalor and ugliness, while many of the tenements in Leningrad are without baths and date from the nineteenth century. The usual features of inadequate accommodation can be seen everywhere—children playing in gloomy backyards, washing hung from windows because there is nowhere else to dry it, buildings dilapidated and unpainted. No doubt, the occupants of these dwellings would be interested to learn that:
The Soviet state is very successfully solving its housing problem.
or that:
Though the current five-year plan period will not yet satisfy the housing needs of all the Soviet people, even the sceptics agree that the tiresome housing problem is nearing its solution. [3]
As in Britain, it is quite possible for families to buy their own apartments and, in fact, they are encouraged to do so: reports indicate that state credits for housing loans will be expanded by 200-300 per cent during the present plan. A normal flat costs from 2,000 to 6,000 roubles—depending on size and facilities—and deposit/repayment arrangements are strangely reminiscent of those in England. An initial deposit of forty per cent of the price is required, while the remaining sixty per cent is covered by monthly instalments spread over ten or fifteen years. This makes it clear that although the better-paid Russian worker can often manage to buy his own flat, it is just as much an uphill struggle for him to do so as it is for his counterpart in the West.

In addition, something needs to be said about the very low rents which are common in Russia, and which are always stressed in the government’s propaganda material.
  . . .  the monthly rent usually makes up less than four per cent of the wages earned by the head of the family and is actually a symbolic cost only.
The Soviet Union has the lowest rents in the world. (their emphasis). [4]
In reply, it is worth repeating what Kuron and Modzeleswski had to say on this before they were expelled from the Communist party in neighbouring Poland.
  As a rule, the worker has the advantage of living very inexpensively in a government-owned building. His lodging is therefore part free. But to live and produce he must stay somewhere. At any rate, his apartment rarely has any luxuries and in most cases not even the elementary comforts. It is part of his subsistence minimum, supplied to him in addition to his wages.
   The workers receive medical care free and can buy medicines at a discount, but these are necessary in order to preserve his labour power: they are ingredients of his subsistence minimum. If free medical care were abolished and rents increased, the worker's wages, would have to be raised in proportion to the increase in his necessary expenses. These non-returnable benefits and services are a necessary purl of the worker’s subsistence minimum, a wage supplement as necessary to the worker as the wages themselves, and therefore a constituent of production cost. [5]
Transport in the cities is another subsidised service. The standard price on the metro and buses is only 0.05 roubles, while trolley-buses or trams are even cheaper. This is necessary because only a few highly paid workers can afford motor cars and therefore most working men rely on public transport to get them back and forth from work. In the same way, most long-distance travelling in Russia is by rail and here there is a very rigid system of classes in operation. In contrast to capitalist Britain with its first- and second-class seats, "socialist” Russia finds it necessary to have four divisions— ranging from wooden benches upwards. It is certainly a strange experience in “the proletarian countries” to see workers standing in the corridors of trains, outside half-empty first class compartments, because they cannot afford the price of a decent seat. Laurens van der Post recalls a similar situation when he was travelling in a Russian steamer on the Black Sea.
   Pacing up and down the deck before dinner I saw old ladies with black shawls round their heads looking for a sheltered place for themselves and their bundles on the boards against the iron bulwarks. I saw them looking out of patient, peering eyes through the windows at the stewards in white, starched jackets laying the tables in the first-class dining-saloon, candlelit, sparkling cut glass for white and red wine as well as water, ornate silver cutlery and peaked napkins spotless as Arctic snow by each place . . .  Later I saw them lying on the hard deck, heads propped against their bundles, sleeping more peacefully than I was to sleep in my de-luxe cabin that night . . .  I remembered Fitzroy Maclean’s account of a Black Sea cruise—it might very well have been in this very ship—telling how, as the passengers were nearing Odessa, the loudspeakers suddenly called: "Olga Ivanova, we are calling Olga Ivanova. This is to inform Olga Ivanova that her car and maid are waiting on the quay for her." [6]
The Russian working class, then, is subject to all the stresses and indignities which workers everywhere experience under capitalism. Some of this is recognised by the Russian authorities and the conventional explanation is that the standard of living of the people is continually improving and that this trend will be maintained until eventually a system of free access to wealth will be instituted. Any ruling class defends its privileges with an ideology and the Russian bureaucracy is no exception. A cornerstone of its "theory" is that before the transition from "socialism” to "communism" (this is a Leninist perversion of Marxism, anyway) can be effected, a new type of communist man must emerge. This peculiar creature must be completely unselfish, must always put the interest of the community above his own personal welfare, must he continually prepared for hard work, and so on. In other words, this is the very antithesis of revolutionary thinking—with socialism reduced to utopian and mystical terms.

Such arguments do not stand up to the facts. A visit to the Exhibition of Economic Achievements in Moscow makes it obvious that the technical basis for a Socialist society exists now. If the agricultural and industrial machinery on display there were applied to natural resources for the benefit of mankind as a whole, the principle of “to each according to his needs" would be an accomplished fact. What stands between the workers and such a society of abundance is the class monopoly of the means of production. In Russia this takes the form of state capitalism, with wealth concentrated in the hands of the state and the state controlled by a minority ruling class. Because of this, production today is not intended to satisfy the people's needs but instead is geared to defending and increasing the collective property of the rulers. Thus vast industrial complexes are given over to turning out murderous nuclear weapons of the type which were trundled through Red Square on 7 November. In the same way, factories are set up to build ingenious ticket machines which are then installed to prevent workers from freely using the underground railway and other services, although these are supposed to belong to the working class in the first place. In fact, the Russian government’s own statistics prove that production is carried on primarily in order to expand the means of production, which represent the class property of the bureaucracy. Already post-war industrial output has grown to 7.3 times the 1939 figure, [7]  while real wages today are less than six times what they were prior to 1917. [8] In this way the Soviet Union conforms to Marx’s general law of capitalist accumulation.
  It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.
 If the working-class has remained “poor”, only “less poor” in proportion as it produces for the wealthy class “an intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power”, then it has remained relatively just as poor. If the extremes of poverty have not lessened, they have increased, because the extremes of wealth have. [9]
A socialist revolution, carried through by the working class, will be necessary for the overthrow of state capitalism and the construction of Socialism. The material conditions for this step have all been fulfilled in Russia, as in the rest of the capitalist world. What is needed now are working men and women equipped with socialist understanding. But the spread of Socialist ideas is bitterly opposed both by the state machinery and the Communist party in the Soviet Union. Apart from its efforts to emasculate Marxism, the CPSU does all it can to falsify historical facts, not least those relating to the Bolshevik revolution. A visitor to the Red Army museum in Moscow looks in vain for any reference to Trotsky, while in the Revolutionary Museum in Leningrad there is no mention, not just of Trotsky, but of such leaders as Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Despite all this an oppressed class cannot be kept in chains for ever simply by a repressive state or bureaucratic trickery. The collapse of the tsarist regime demonstrates this completely. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which in the end makes class-conscious socialists out of them and this applies as much to Russia as to any other capitalist country. When we remember the heroism which the young working class in Russia displayed in the bourgeois revolution of 1917, we can be sure that the Russian proletariat will not be missing from our ranks when the workers of the world decide to overthrow capitalism and build a world socialist community.
John Crump

[1] Sunday Times. 16 July, 1967.
[2] Is Jugoslavia a Socialist Country? Peking. 1964.
[3] Housing Construction. Moscow. 1967.
[4]  Ibid.
[5] An Open Letter to the Party. Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski. London. 1967.
[6] Journey into Russia. Laurens van der Post. London. 1964.
[7] Material ami Moral Incentives under Socialism. Mikhail Laptin. Moscow. 1966.
[8] How the Exploitation of Man by Man was Eliminated in the USSR. Leon Onikov. Moscow. 1966.
[9] Capital. Vol. 1, pp. 645, 652. Moscow. 1961.

Modern Fundamentalists (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Human society in its development unfolds the secrets of the Universe but at no time has this been so accelerated as in the capitalist mode of production. New discoveries and inventions plus mankind’s experience have a direct bearing on all ideas that are held in society.

We are in part of an age when religious ideas, having already undergone changes in the past, are once more moving to a new field. The wide adherence to old dogmas held by the masses has now weakened, particularly in the spheres of Protestantism. Ruling classes nowadays tend not to appeal to their workers in the name of God but rather rely on slick and earnest appeals that are spiced with economic theories and plans. Apathy and small congregations along with dated theology present the churches with an almighty headache and much heart searching. The clamour for reform and ’’modernism” in order to get organised religion back in the groove again comes from the clergy of every well known sect. It is in fact largely a ’’Palace Revolution”. The South Bank rebels led by the Bishop of Woolwich startle the orthodox with their New Reformation. Rebellious Rabbis and matrimoniously minded Catholic Priests cut across the age long rules of their orders.

It is something of a jolt to find in the midst of so much unbelief and uncertainty the old biblical dogmas resisting, and often by using very modem techniques.

Two bodies both having their roots in the religious peasant-communist theories of the 16th century Anabaptists present themselves to us. The first, the Christadelphians, were founded in America by John Thomas in 1848. They rejected the Trinity along with the idea of a personal devil. Death must occur and a physical resurrection at the return of Christ is the divine plan for man. The new kingdom on earth will be ruled by Christ and the elect with the evils of our time removed. Those who still reject this paradise and who sin are punished by death, there being no hell. The Christadelphians base their ideas on a correct and literal reading of the Bible. Their numbers are small and are not growing. They are not so often met with and certainly lack the organising capabilities of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

This body has ideas so similar in form to the Christadelphians that the uninterested may be forgiven fur not appreciating the differences. Again they have modern roots in America and were originally known as Russellites. They proclaim the return of Christ and the physical resurrection of the dead. A great battle or struggle (Armageddon) will result in the control of the Devil. For a thousand years mankind will live under the rule of Christ on earth under extremely good conditions with no poverty, illness or death. After this period the Devil and all those who refuse to fit in to this Paradise just die whilst the rest go on living on earth for ever unmolested. The Witnesses are zealous and argue closely around biblical interpretation. They boldly proclaim their faith at your front door and have an efficient literature sales technique. In fact membership hinges around the willingness to sell and witness the faith.

The leaders arc rather like a self nominating Executive Committee and all interpretation of current events in the light of biblical prophecy rests with them. The Witnesses are found in most countries but have been viewed with suspicion by dictatorships and were executed en mass by the Nazis. They probably number several million and unlike the more orthodox Christians they are not worried by a remorseless fall out of congregation. Though there must be a ceiling on their growth rate some success in the newer types of industrial communities has caused flutterings in the hearts of the more orthodox Christians.

The third fundamentalist group that has of recent years secured a foot hold in Britain is the Mormons. They are probably the only hundred per cent all-American religion. Joseph Smith, the founder, claimed to have been shown the gold tablets of the Book of Mormon that were secreted in America. This theological work claims that America was at one time peopled by the Jews and the hand of God was much in evidence there in ancient times. The motive force behind this movement was tied to the opening up of the Golden West. As is to be expected America became the Mecca of every non-conformist and radical group, religious and secular, for here the virgin soil awaited the plough of the disciples of dissent like the Mormons.

Founding Salt Lake City after their great trek they established a community far more advanced in social graces and modern techniques than those surrounding them. Principles of welfare were embracing and well organised as a result of a tithe levy on members. From this place in Utah they have sent their preachers throughout the world.

The book of Mormon and the bible are the foundations of the faith; the former must be accepted without any qualification. They have a lay or supervisory priesthood with apostles and a President who control the church. The President is in office for life and the apostles elect the new one on his death.

These strong dogmatic creeds seemingly flourish in an environment of waning belief. They offer a strong sense of identity in a world of class and personal segregation. The struggle for jobs, position, homes and profits keeps mankind well splintered. A weekly religious gathering bolstered up by feeling that one is part of the elect of god helps to quieten the smouldering sense of isolation. Some workers can be expected under these general social conditions to seek a haven inside a mental wall of unassailable religious faith.

Knowledge of the natural world however destroys and makes inroads into these beliefs and the adherents are forced to spend fruitless hours trying to square the impossible. Workers should try to come to grips with the material and social causes of the problems that beset and worry them and not seek for answers by juggling with quotes and extracts from ancient and modern versions of the so called ’‘Words of God".

Mankind has been pondering over these scripts for some thousands of years and very little, if any, good has it done them.
Jack Law

Production for Use (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

You’ll only catch Labour Ministers using the word 'Socialism’ in two situations. One is at the Party Conference when, hand on heart, they proclaim their “socialist faith”. The other is when they are talking about planning. For many others too Socialism and planning are the same. It is true that Socialism does involve planning in the sense of working out ways to achieve given aims. But it is a simple mistake of logic to argue that because Socialism involves planning therefore all planning is socialist.

Planning is only an organisational technique, a tool that can be used in any situation where set ends are to be achieved. Thus generals plan campaigns. Capitalists, too, plan within their factories how to produce a given output as cheaply as possible so as to get the greatest profit. In socialist society free men and women will plan production to meet their needs. Clearly it is useless to discuss planning without first asking: planning for what?

The aim of Socialism will be to provide for the many and various needs of all the members of the community. The satisfaction of human needs will be the guiding principle. So the aim of planning will be to provide what human beings want. The technical side of production will have to operate always within the framework of human welfare instead of as at present within that of profit.

As the means for producing wealth will belong to the community as a whole, Socialism will be a classless society. There will be no built-in conflicts of interest between different sections of society. Further Socialism will be thoroughly democratic since a society based on the rational co-operation of free men and women can only flourish if its members play an active part in running it. This means that the whole administrative structure for planning will be under democratic control. The planners will not be bureaucrats with the power to order people about but duly-chosen delegates carrying out a necessary function on behalf of the whole community. As all human beings will have free access to the wealth they need the conditions for the corruption of officials by material favours just will not exist. And, of course, the coercive apparatus, so necessary to capitalism, will long ago have been disbanded.

Planning in Socialism, then, will be the planned production of wealth for use. This is a huge organizational task but one which mankind, thanks to its experience of capitalism, is quite capable of performing. One of the basic contradictions of capitalism is that while outside the factory or firm it breeds chaos and competition, inside it introduces co-operation and planning. Again, today millions and millions of people the world over are linked in a network of technological productive relationships. Social co-operation to produce wealth is the rule. Social planning of the use of this wealth, like its social ownership, is not. These must await the coming of Socialism. In fact their achievement is the socialist revolution. But it is not difficult to see how capitalism paves the way for Socialism.

The first task that men and women in socialist society will face in providing for their needs is to decide what and how much they want. This is not difficult. It is a principle of statistics that though you cannot predict the needs and wants of individuals and small groups the more people involved in any survey the more reliable become the figures—as individual peculiarities even each other out. It is just a matter of research and statistics to work out how much, say, bread or shoes or houses will be needed over a given period. In fact these techniques are already used today by governments, universities and market researchers. And of course socialist society would lose nothing from planning to produce a little more than strictly it needed as a kind of insurance against disasters or even against faulty statistics. If too much were produced then the result would not be the disaster it would today, with factories closing and men thrown out of work. All that would happen is that stocks would be larger and people would know how to produce less next time. Similarly if too little were produced.

So, first, it is a question of using social research and statistical techniques to estimate future needs. Such estimates could he submitted for discussion and approval to the community. Naturally, the figures could be challenged and, if demanded, estimates based on different assumptions worked out in much the same way as now the Government Actuary will work out the implications of rival pension schemes submitted by management and unions in the state industries.

Once needs have been estimated and figures for various things agreed on the next problem is to decide how they should be produced—that is, where, under what conditions, with what techniques. Working and living conditions will be something that the planners will have to take as given. Minimum standards will have been agreed on previously, by the usual democratic methods, using human welfare and not technical efficiency as the criterion. For instance, from a technical point of view it might be better to set up a power station in some beauty spot. If the community decided that this place should not be spoiled then this would have to be taken into account by the planners. Similarly some production techniques may be ruled out because the community, or even the producers involved, judges them unsafe or unhealthy or degrading. Once the community has decided what working and living conditions it will not tolerate then, respecting these decisions, the planners can begin working out the best technical way to produce the wealth required. This is a complicated task, demanding the use of computing machines, since every branch of industry is dependent, in however indirect a way, on every other. A decision, for instance, to build more electric cars will mean that more steel, rubber and other things will he needed too. But once the basic ratios are known then the requirements of any combination of needs can be worked out. These ratios are governed mainly by technology which changes very slowly. This technique, associated with Wassily Leontief. is called input-output or inter industry analysis and should come into its own in the non-commercial society that Socialism will be.

Once produced the wealth must be got to the places where the people who want it are (strictly speaking, this is still part of the production process). As the means for producing wealth will belong to the community so, as soon as it is produced, will all new wealth. There is no question of trying to sell it since it was not produced for this purpose but to satisfy human needs—and also since of course buying and selling has no place in Socialism. There is just the technical question of getting the stuff to the distribution centres from where people can freely take what they need.

We have traced, in logical sequence, the process of planned production for use right from the decisions as to what is needed to the delivery of the goods to those who will use them. Note that this is just the logical sequence. There is no reason why the tasks of estimating what will be needed and how it can be provided could not be combined to get out a set of alternative plans to put before the community for choice.

We are not here drawing up any blueprint but merely trying to show that Socialism is technically feasible now. The technical basis for Socialism—a technology capable of providing plenty for all, skilled and adaptable working human beings, the statistical and planning techniques — has long existed. What is lacking is just the desire and will to establish it.
Adam Buick

What Plan? (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Plan was dreamed up by the Department of Economic Affairs back in the palmy days of 1965. At the time Harold Wilson described it as a “national crusade for higher productivity” and George Brown wrote that its embodied “all our hopes for maintaining full employment and raising our standards of living.” Not surprisingly the Labour Party has since then done its best to give the Plan a quiet burial.

In its aims the National Plan was beautifully simple. The overall objective was to increase national production by 25 per cent (i.e. £8,210 million) by 1970. It pointed out that the balance of payments had been in the red by £750 million in 1964 and that this had resulted in heavy loans from the International Monetary Fund. As a solution, the Plan envisaged a steady improvement in these figures: “we shall need to get back into balance during 1966 and then into surplus; by 1970 we shall need a surplus of about £250 million.” This was to be achieved largely by boosting exports which, during I he barren years of Conservative rule, had been expanding at an average rate of only 3 per cent a year. Now they were to be stepped up by “over 5 per cent a year up to 1970. No one can say that this target is crying for the moon(!)” On the other hand, imports were to be effectively controlled and, “taking everything into consideration”, these would grow by no more than 4 per cent a year. The trade deficit was in this way destined to be cut dramatically, from £534 million in 1964 to about £50 million in 1970.

The Plan also gave prominence to its schemes for expanding the labour force. “On industry's present plans 800,000 more workers will be needed if the 25 per cent increase in output is to be achieved”. The hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries were to more than compensate for any shake-out in mining, the railways and other declining areas of employment. Prices were going to be magically frozen and, since wages would be creeping up steadily by 3-3½ per cent a year on average, “our personal consumption . . . should rise by one-fifth by 1970.” “This is not a policy of restriction. It is intended to increase the value of what our pay packets will actually buy and get away from purely paper increases cancelled out by higher prices.”

The future was going to be rosy in other ways as well. Expenditure on health and welfare services was to rise from £1,238 million in 1964/65 to £1,529 million in 1969/70. To meet the housing shortage, half a million new homes were to be built each year by 1970 (as compared to 383,000 in 1964). But these were only details when compared to the underlying ambition. Once and for all the crises and upsets of capitalism were to be abolished—by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen! “We have had too many crises in the last ten years . . .  Sometimes the only quick way of dealing with these crises was by cuts and squeezes at home . . . The whole point of the Plan is to break out of this vicious circle once and for all." (their emphasis)

Although the working class in general greeted the plan with a healthy indifference, it fired the imagination of many economists. By the end of 1965, after the Plan had been in force for a grand total of four months, some of them were becoming quite enthusiastic.
   The Chancellor has every reason to feel encouraged by this ending to a year in which exports rose by 7 per cent and the average monthly trade deficit was halved. Even if he did not quite hit his target of halving the total balance of payments deficit during 1965, it is now clear that he cannot have fallen far short of it . . .  Mr. Callaghan is running to time towards his objective of eliminating the payments deficit by the end of 1966.  (Financial Times, 13/1 /66)
But 1966 was a great year for wrecking illusions. The pundits had a variety of hypotheses to account for the sorry state of the economy but they were united on one issue—all was not going according to plan. Perhaps Victor Morgan, Professor of Economics at Manchester University, spoke for them all when he said:
   The year 1966 should stand as an awful warning to those of us, both in official circles and outside, who indulge in the black arts of economic forecasting. At the end of 1965, the government was confidently looking forward, on the basis of existing policies, to a rapid improvement in the balance of payments, and this view was generally shared by academic and business economists. In fact, we have been subjected to another massive dose of deflation, and the current account deficit for the first three quarters, at £234 m., was £87 m. more than in the corresponding period of 1965.
   . . . the rate of growth of national output [is down] to an average of a little more than 1 per cent a year.
(Financial Times, 31/12/66)
Callaghan, however, remained optimistic. Nothing had gone fundamentally wrong, he argued. There had been setbacks, for a time economic recovery had even been halted, but dramatic improvements were just round the corner. A sign of this, he claimed, was that the government had “made a good start in repaying (the) debt to the Central Banks. Our reserves have been rising and we have resumed repayment of capital and interest on our North American loans.”

Contrast this to what has actually taken place. The final figures for 1967 will not be available for some weeks yet but even so we can see that the Plan is completely on the rocks. Far from being able to repay their debts to the International Monetary Fund and Central Banks, the British capitalist class have applied for further loans of $300 million. Despite the confident prediction that first 1966, and then 1967, would produce a positive balance of payments Callaghan has ruefully admitted that the capitalists still “need an improvement in our balance of payments of at least £500 million a year . . .” 

The Plan emphasised the importance of boosting exports by means of rebates to exporters and the need for heavy investment in the nationalised industries to provide the basic growth in fuel, transport and communications which would allow industrial production as a whole to increase. Yet now the government finds itself sabotaging its own plan. Among the economic reforms which followed the devaluation of the pound, two of the most important measures were to abolish refunds to exporters to the tune of £100 million and to reduce public spending (which includes capital investment in nationalised industries) by another £100 million. Apart from all this over half a million unemployed workers know that Labour’s brash predictions about creating more jobs have not worked out. And of those workers with jobs, how many now feel confident that their ‘‘personal consumption . . .  should rise by one-fifth by 1970”?

The failure to date of the National Plan is a blow to the efforts of the ruling class to strengthen the world standing of British capital. But, in the end, they can afford to take a philosophical view of it all. After all they are still the bosses and, however persistent the difficulties that face them, they can rely on the working class to keep on churning out the profits.—Or can they?
John Crump

The Fetishism of Money

The following piece, written by the late Pieter Lawrence, is the eleventh chapter of his 2006 work, 'Practical Socialism - Its Principles and Methods'.

Chapter 11

The Fetishism of Money

In Anthropology the word ‘fetish’ came to mean “an inanimate object worshipped on account of its supposed magical powers.”  This also defines the “fetishism of money.” In some tribal cultures fetish objects took the form of amulets, a practice that still continues.  In our more developed society this is dismissed as superstition.  However, despite our modern, technical culture ‘fetishism’ is a deeply entrenched part of the way we think: we worship the supposed magical powers of money.  Because our main political parties are wholly committed to the administration of the market economy the fetishism of money dominates political thought.

In Marxian theory the ‘fetishism of commodities’ is the illusion that in buying and selling the values being exchanged are part of the physical make up of the commodities themselves.   If this were true it would mean that buying and selling and the economic tyrannies of the profit system could never be removed.   In fact, the values of commodities result from particular economic relationships and in no way are they part of the goods themselves.  Beyond the relationships of wage labour/capital and the market system, in a society based on co-operation, the commodity form of goods together with their exchange values will disappear.  

Similarly, fetishism is a strong element in religion. Gods in all their great variety are products of the human imagination endowed with superior powers. This again diminishes our human powers and was well expressed by Karl Marx in the preface to “The German Ideology.”   “The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands.   They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations.   Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away.”  

But fetishism does not end with imagined Gods.  In our more secular society we have tended to replace gods with the fetishism of money. This also attributes powers to an alien force that dominates our lives.   The fetishism of money is the illusion that money brings happiness, fulfilment, has its own productive powers and has an existence independent of human beings that is able to get things done.   Particularly in politics money is given the power to solve problems.   This illusion is so strong that it is commonly thought that without money we have no powers of social action. This leaves us alienated from our real human powers, from each other, and is the basis of much social neurosis. The idea that we should be liberated from such self destructive illusions has a very modern ring.

How often do we hear it said, “we do not have the resources” when what is meant by resources is always “money”.  Every day politicians give lack of money as a reason why we cannot provide better health care, or the many other public services that are in urgent need of improvement.   Not just in Whitehall and  Westminster but in Borough, District and Parish Councils throughout the country the same mantra is chanted week in and week out, year after year,  “if only we had more money something could be done”.   This ignores the fact that productive resources are materials, industry, manufacture, transport, energy, communications, in other words, all the things through which goods and services are produced and distributed.  In turn all these resources depend on one single resource which is labour.   These are the real resources on which the lives of communities depend.   The idea that our   “resources” are inadequate is entirely false. In fact we have is an abundance of talents, skills and labour to provide for needs. 

At times throughout the world there may be many millions of unemployed people, factories standing idle, goods and unused materials being stockpiled but politicians still repeat, “we do not have the resources.”   They are unable to see the availability of real resources because their minds remain trapped within the illusion that only money resources count.   They imagine that real resources can only be brought into use by money.   They imagine that human beings can only function as economic automatons which can only be activated by injections of money.   The opposite is the truth.   The powers of the community to solve problems can only be fully released with the relationships of co-operation and the abolition of money relationships.

As part of the dogma of market economics the imagined powers of money run through every social problem.  For example, in the past two general elections the Labour Party made a commitment to reduce child poverty.  For this, they hope to use money.  “The chosen means is also clear:  a new form of child support which starts in 2003.   But it will be costly, as the budget will reveal for the first time”.  (Economist 23 Feb 2003).

“Poor children are defined as those living in households whose income, after housing costs, is below 60% of the median – the income in the exact middle of the income distribution.”  Poverty is of course relative and this degree of poverty in Britain is not as severe as the poverty of children in undeveloped countries where 40,000 children die in poverty every day.   In Britain, child poverty generally means substandard housing, poor conditions in the home, cultural deprivation, exclusion from benefits enjoyed by better off contemporaries, and poor diets (fats, sugar and carbohydrates).

That any kind of child poverty exists is a disgrace and would be easily removed in a sane society.  According to the Economist, under the Labour Government’s market system, “Progress has so far been slow.  In 1996/7, the year before Labour took office, the number of children living in poverty was 4.4 million.   By 1999/2000, this had declined only to 4.1 million. A more substantial decline to 3.5 million is expected for 2001/2 as reforms such as the working families tax credit (WFTC), introduced in October 1999, take full effect.  But this will still mean that the Government has failed to meet its earlier pledge to remove more than a million children out of poverty in Labour’s first term.   To cut the number of poor children by around a million would cost as much as £6.1billion. The pledge to remove child poverty is proving to be an expensive one”.

Clearly, the pledge is not just expensive.  Because the money available to Governments in the form of various taxes depends on the state of buying and selling, which is at best unpredictable and incapable of being rationally directed, going by experience, the hope of any Government ending child poverty is to say the least uncertain.  Reforming governments have been making this pledge for over a century and they have all failed.

Over any period, throughout the country both nationally and locally, arguments about the state of our social services are reported in the media.   What we find is that these arguments are almost entirely about money.   For example a selection of local newspaper reports from the Croydon (South London) on health services in the the late 1990’s is typical.

“As well as putting views on meetings residents get two chances to vote:  *On which patients should face cuts in services: a straight Yes or No vote on whether there should be cuts in each of the four areas of care: acute services (at Mayday and similar hospitals), mental illness, mental handicap and community health services.  Savings in the four areas adding up to almost £1 million are needed to meet a shortfall between what must be done and what there is money for.”  Croydon Advertiser 2 Jan 1998.

“The spokesman continued:  “The health authority is saying it needs to save money to balance the books and this was one of the only areas it felt it could make cut backs.   And although it is not saying there won’t be consequences it is the least harmful option.  Cutting community health services is seen as the lesser of several evils.”

“Last month it emerged that Croydon Health Authority was reducing its community health funding by four per cent despite its best efforts to keep the budget cuts at a minimum.   The cash crisis has arisen despite Croydon receiving a one off £1 million payment to help it cope with emergence admissions this winter.”  Croydon Guardian 14 Jan 1998.

“Tears for children in need and jeers for National Health Service managers in receipt of large salaries dominated the agenda when 120 residents crammed into a meeting to hear Croydon health bosses present a £2million NHS cuts package.” Croydon Advertiser 23 Jan 98.

“Outraged parents will descend on Croydon Health Authority’s (CHA) offices on Monday to protest against possible cuts to “vital” children’s health services.”  …  “Health watchdog (which monitors) the Community Health Council has already branded the proposals short sighted and warned of the serious long term consequences of cuts in preventative community services.   At the same time it recognises the CHA’s predicament and described any efforts to meet the £500,000 cash shortfall as a ‘damage limitation exercise’”.   Croydon Guardian 21 Jan 98.

Under the headline, “Five health centres face axe in bid to save £1.4million,”  the Croydon Advertiser (6 Feb 98) reported, “The trust is even looking at selling its own headquarters to reduce its £1.4ml overheads.   Over and above the threat to the five centres, the trust has also been told it must save £300,000 on services because of proposed cut backs in Croydon Heath Authority.”

A sub heading in the Croydon Advertiser  (2 Oct 98) reported, “Immediate cuts mean school nurses must reduce the services they offer to youngsters.”   This was followed a few weeks later by a report (CA 13 Nov 98) “More than half of Croydon’s school nurses have quit in protest about cuts but the health trust insists there is money available to replace them.”

A few months later the Croydon Guardian (17 Mar 99) reported, “After months of consultation and horse trading, Croydon Health Authority has finally settled on its list of haves and have-nots for this year’s funding priorities  - leaving health watch dogs and children’s campaigners ‘bitterly disappointed’.   Of the 39 schemes considered for funding, only 20 have been guaranteed a slice of the £8.5million cake – leaving the have-nots needing a miracle windfall of new money if their services are to be funded this year.”

A year later it appeared that the Government was willing to provide more money.  The Croydon Guardian (6 April 2000) reported, “Good news for patients as Croydon gets $4.4million.”   “Health services are in line for a major shot in the arm after the Government announced that £4.4million would be flowing into the borough”.   “This is absolutely brilliant news – beyond our wildest expectations,” said the chief officer of Croydon’s patient’s watchdog, the Croydon Community Health Council.   “Patients have had to put up with some real shortages in Croydon with some services being cut to the bone. There is now no excuse for not plugging these gaps.”

But it appears that the sense of relief was short lived. Soon after the news of more money the Health Authority was again criticised for lack of investment.  The same spokesperson was reported as saying, “There was tremendous good news in the March budget of huge extra funding for Croydon.  But there is growing frustration that in spite of this, no decisions have yet been made about addressing even the most glaring of Croydon’s gaps and shortfalls.   In terms of what really matters – the services which local people get from their National Health Service – it is a mixed story of good overall progress marred by significant shortfalls.”  Services that needed urgent improvement were the Accident and Emergency Department of Croydon’s main hospital, outpatient services, diagnostic testing and neurology, children’s health services and health care provision for old people.  It was also pointed out that some 2,000 adults suffered when a physiotherapy service was suspended.

According to “Croydon’s Health Improvement Programme 2000/3” for the year 2000/1, its Health Authority planned to spend £211million on its health services.  It said that Croydon  “… expects to continue to be able to maintain financial balance, with small levels of growth available from the Comprehensive Spending Review.   However, the position will remain tight and hard choices will need to be made.   A number of priority areas are being considered for the use of Health Authority development funds.  These are: *Improving mental health.   *Modernising community nursing services for children.   *Urgent hospital and community health care.   *Tackling health inequalities.   *Improving services for people with cancer.   *Improving services for people with diabetes.  *Drugs and youth offending.   *Coronary heart disease.”

The choices that doctors and local Health Authorities must sometimes make are about priorities of care based on available money. This means having to decide that one patient may benefit from a particular treatment but, depending on costs, another patient may be denied a treatment. This is when doctors and surgeons see themselves as “acting as god.”

Whilst there is no gain in repeating examples we should note that whilst the Croydon Health Authority was battling with its tight money constraints the same battle was taking place in education.   The front page headline of the Croydon Advertiser for 23 May 2003 was, “CASH CRISIS: NOW PUPILS SUFFER”.     “Sad day; Edenham High School’s headteacher tells the media on Wednesday how a desperate shortage of money forced him to send children home.”    “More than 700 pupils were sent home from school as Croydon’s funding crisis reached new heights – and more closures are set to follow.”   “Edenham’s £500,000 funding gap is one of the biggest faced by a Croydon school.”   

In calling for the resignation of the Government Minister (a futile gesture), the editorial said, “Resign now, minister.  Enough is enough.   The Government can no longer pass the buck over the cash shortage that is throttling the life out of the borough’s schools.   The news that 720 Edenham High School pupils had to be sent home on Wednesday because there was no one available to teach them comes as a sickening confirmation of all our worst fears.  Edenham may be the first forced to take such action.   But it is unlikely to be the last.” 

Given that these reports are typical nationwide, they show how the debate that is ongoing in every locality on health, education and other services is focussed almost entirely on the provision of money.   From this, it is perhaps understandable that we are seduced into thinking that it is money that actually provides our vital services.  This illusion then becomes fixed in our minds as the only way to address our problems. One result is that we are separated from the real powers we have to provide for our needs. In reality it is people that provide health care, education and our important services, not money.

The magical powers of money to solve problems dominates the thinking of not just the world of reformist politics, it also rules the thinking of the many charities that constantly appeal for money.   A recent example is an appeal run by Oxfam on TV:  “What do we dream for our children?  Health, happiness, success?  A safe place to sleep at night? A drink of water that won’t kill them?  Never to be hungry again?  We all want the best for our children.  For some people that starts with such simple things.  All they want is a better world for them to grow up in.  It’s not much to ask and all we are asking of you is £2 a month.”

“In over 70 countries Oxfam is helping people to work themselves out of poverty.   They never give up and neither do we.  Will you stand alongside us too?  With your £2 a month we can help them with seeds, tools – help them build wells with clean, safe water, give children an education so that they can have a chance of having a real future free from hunger and pain. All people want is a better life for their children.  Please do something remarkable today and help make a dream a reality.  Telephone Oxfam today and give £2 a month”.

It is not intended here to criticise those who wish to help others in desperate need. Such willingness to help is admirable and provides hope for the future.  At the same time, the brutal facts have to be faced that during the past 25 years, during which time Oxfam and similar organisations have been appealing for money to solve problems, the numbers of seriously under nourished people has, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) almost doubled from 435 million in 1974/5 to over 800 million in 2000.   In view of this it is right to point out that when Oxfam claim to be in over 70 countries “helping people to work themselves out of poverty,” so far as the general problem is concerned the statement is misleading.   If the members of Oxfam and its supporters were to also work for a system in which we all cooperate to provide directly for the needs of people this would be a significant step forward.  Surely this is what they claim to want.

Following the volcanic eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo in Congo the Disasters Emergency Committee broadcast its Goma Crisis Appeal (25 January 2002).  This included what given amounts of money could do.  For example, “£30 will treat 18 people for severe malaria - £100 will provide clean water to 4,000 people for a week.

We may not go as far as Oscar Wilde when he wrote, “It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property.”  But it does remain true that appeals for money to alleviate suffering tend to perpetuate the system that causes the suffering.  Moreover, the idea that such suffering results from natural causes is not always the case. The main reason why communities suffer from extreme natural events is economic. For example, cheaply constructed buildings that cannot withstand earthquakes. Most dangers are known and a sane society would not need to leave communities exposed to them. This would avoid many disasters.  Where they do happen contingency plans using instant response team could exist throughout the regions and at a world level for the relief of any catastrophe.  Emergency supplies such as food, clean water and medical supplies would be maintained at strategic points whilst machinery, equipment and helpers could move quickly to any area of crisis. Appeals for money are a sad and wholly inadequate substitute for the availability of real resources and the freedom of communities to make free use of them.

Nationally, the archpriest who presides over this all pervasive fetishism of money is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who does so from his Temple of Money, HM Treasury. It is in the budget that “money” is equated with “powers of action” which are set out in money terms. In the 2003 budget the Government expected to spend a total of £456billion.   Regardless of our real human resources, this amount of money set the limits on what we could do as a country. What we could do for housing and the environment was set at £20billion; what we could do for education was set at £59billion; what we could do for transport was set at £15billion; what we could do for national health care was set at £72billion; what we could do for personal and social services was set at $17billion, and so on.

This parliamentary ritual called “the budget” has its own liturgy expressed as incantations of faith that the market economy with well managed public finances can solve our problems and deliver the promised land.  This is the endless pursuit of a holy grail, the perfect capitalist system. The language of the budget is illusory.  Under the heading, “Building a fairer society” the Government’s 2003 budget leaflet said, “A flexible and dynamic economy must go hand in hand with a fairer society so that everyone has chance to fulfil their potential. The Government is committed to eradicating child poverty and tackling pensioner poverty, providing support for families with children and ensuring security for all in old age.   It is also creating a modern and fair tax system which raises sufficient revenue for public services and ensures that everyone pays their fair share of tax.”  

Perhaps we should trust that chancellors are sincere people, in which case such lessons are delivered whilst sublimely unaware that the work they do is opposite to their moral intentions.   When a chancellor administers a tax system and distributes money to public services this is nothing less than the imposition of an economic straightjacket on all our abilities to provide for each other’s needs.  It happens in a system that is founded on putting money and profit before the welfare of the whole community. 

The fetishism of money is part of the ideology of the market system which claims uncountable victims across the world.  In the pre Colombian societies of South America, in homage to their gods, human sacrifice was widely practised.  For example, this was a cruel and gruesome ritual amongst the Aztec people in what is now Mexico. “In the heart of Tenochtitlan the pyramid rose as an architectural fetish, charged with the powers of all the offerings, and the blood from thousands of sacrificed human beings.   The structure was the terrifying centre of the Aztec world.”  (‘The Aztecs’, Richard Townsend).

Many of the sacrificial victims were children and we think of this as barbaric.  Perhaps for this reason we now prefer to keep out of our minds that because of the constraints of the market system, on a world scale we sacrifice many more children’s lives than the Aztecs could ever manage.  We sacrifice them to the god of money, on the altar of the capitalist system.
Pieter Lawrence