Monday, June 18, 2018

Drug profits (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The perverse priorities of capitalism are most clearly reflected in the market place; if harmful products can be sold easily, capital will be switched in the hope of realising this potential of larger profits. This often forces the capitalist class to pass legislation in which the interests of the minority of capitalists directly benefitting are sacrificed to the broader well-being of the class as a whole. Certain minimum standards of health and safety are laid down so that the usefulness of the working class to capitalist production is not too greatly impaired by such things as adulterated food, industrial pollution, or the side effects of so-called “wonder” drugs.

Naturally those capitalists profiting by the sale of a harmful product will play down the dangers and try to find a loophole in protective legislation. For when Chemie Gruenenthal, the original German inventor of thalidomide, discovered that they had produced a killer drug they at first tried to continue marketing the drug, while spreading confusion about it. Johann Goden, Gruenenthal’s representative in Cologne took the lead by suggesting that the drug be mixed with other sedatives so that “if it proves impossible to keep things dark . . .  any side effect could then be attributed to the other preparations. But heaven help us if this expedient turns into a boomerang”. Later he visited a clinic and reported back “I took the opportunity to explain our standpoint over the peripheral neuritis problem” [one of the side effects] “and did my best to foster confusion over the subjects [1] Goden was as clear as anyone could be that considerable further harm would result from further sales of thalidomide, yet he continued to work actively to that end. This drug, like so many others, was originally considered to be safe, and the harmful side effects were only discovered later. There is however an industry, operating within the capitalist system but in most countries outside its legal framework, the harmful longterm effects of whose products have been known for a very long time. Yet it is flourishing now as never before, despite the current recession. This is the narcotics industry, which lures the wrecks of capitalism with a transient escape from all its woes, but leaves them evermore desperate for the next dose, and for the money to buy it.

The cultivation of opium from the oriental poppy, concentrated mainly in the so-called Golden Triangle in South Fast Asia, predates capitalism by many centuries. It was discovered that smoking the petals in long pipes, or hookahs, helped to relieve the drudge of the continual struggle for existence. The sensations of dreamlike euphoria, relaxation and the absence of pain are however bought at a price. The development of tolerance by the body means that ever increasing doses are required to excite the same response, and this can lead to dire consequences. This is more particularly the case with the opium derivatives which can be more easily absorbed and therefore work faster. Laudanum and morphine have genuine medical uses in emergency cases but addiction to them, and more particularly to heroin, supplied in a form which can be injected into the veins, does nothing but harm to the victim. The symptoms include lassitude, depression, sallow complexion, jitters, loss of appetite and insomnia. There is also damage to the circulatory system, as veins become useless following repeated injections.

Also of ancient origin is the cultivation of cannabis (Indian hemp) and marijuana. The latter (similar to hashish, long associated with Arabia and the Levant), is a plant which flourishes in North America. Unlike the opium derivatives, this family of drugs are much less habit forming. In consequence there is a strong lobby in many countries in favour of legalising their use. However well meaning the protagonists on either side, this is really no more than an argument about the cheapest way, from the capitalist viewpoint, of controlling the problem. Marijuana and cannabis are usually smoked in tobacco laced with the drug, which can produce a growing intoxication and sense of well being. In the long term there can be vivid colour hallucinations and relaxation of inhibitions, accompanied by a lethargy that acts to prevent the sufferer from becoming violent. Cocaine, in contrast to the opiates, is a stimulant sometimes used by doctors to relieve fatigue. Its use can lead to over-confidence, garrulousness and unnatural euphoria, overdosing to weakness, emaciation and depression.

Drug addiction is a serious problem to the capitalist employers because the addict cannot operate as an efficient cog in the production machine, indeed is often incapable of any work effort at all. Because of this inability to find employment, the confirmed addict will turn to crime in order to pay for “shots”. It was however not until 1909 that the capitalist class were sufficiently concerned to undertake any collaborative international action in this sphere. In that year an Opium Commission met in Shanghai, involving 14 countries led by the USA, the country which had then, and still has now, the most serious addiction problem. The object was to control movement from one country to another. The first Interhational Narcotics Convention met at the Hague in 1912, and five other Conventions up to 1936 were attempts progressively to check the traffic at its source and to control opium production, importation and exportation. This Convention eventually totted up 85 signatories, but all these efforts have been almost totally ineffective. The producing countries did not take the drastic action demanded to license production and collect all the opium produced. They were unwilling for the simple reason that the trade was too profitable and the effect on their own national economics would have been too severe. Consequently cultivation has continued and efforts to illegally smuggle the drug into other countries have been intensified. Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok are the main ports involved, but there is now a growing traffic by air. In the 1950s and 1960s “Communist” China became a major source of smuggled heroin, most of the supply to Hong Kong now arriving by the overland route.

In America, the illegal cultivation of marijuana is flourishing. Both there and in the Golden Triangle record crops have been harvested in 1981. The potential profits in these bonanzas cannot of course be reaped without sales, and efforts to achieve these are now in full swing. The equivalent in the narcotics trade of the orthodox sales representative is the “pusher”. Compared to his respectable counterpart, the pusher has two big problems. The illegality of the business means that most transactions must be conducted in secret, away from the eye of the law, and that there is no legal redress against any payment defaulters. This leads to on-the-spot sanctions. A case was recently reported [2] where a lad unable to pay had his knuckles broken so that he could no longer inject himself. If an addict is unable to get drugs, he or she suffers agonising withdrawal symptom, so that this victim was put in a ghastly dilemma. In a recent court case [3] concerning the smuggling of Columbian cannabis into Britain, the smuggler had bought a £2000 computer to keep account of sales. This compelled even prosecuting counsel to remark that “the way in which the accounting was done leaves one with a degree of admiration.”

Rehabilitation of individual addicts is a long and costly process, and the success rate is low. Thus the process has been depersonalised with the main effort being spent on trying to prevent supplies reaching the country in the first place, or reaching customers if this fails. Consequently, although there are some centres attached to hospitals for the treatment of addicts, there is an inadequate number of these. Another recent court case [4] illustrates this. A Blackpool cannabis pusher who was fined £1,500, had found demand so great that he had to take his phone off the hook. “It was like feeding the 5000”, he commented. The court were told that thousands of young workers in the Fylde area were begging him to supply them with drugs. Yet the nearest treatment centre is at Prestwich Hospital in Manchester, 40 miles away and difficult to reach except by car.

Those commentators who say that the addiction problem “is no respecter of class” [2] are incorrect. They fail to see the common class position of all workers in opposition to the ruling capitalists, being confused by the subdivisions into seeing “upper” and “lower” classes, managerial classes, and so on. What they really mean is that addiction is found among all sections of the working class. If a young capitalist becomes “hooked” that presents only the relatively trivial problem of a bad example being set. The capitalist nowadays takes no part in the productive process, so it matters little whether or not he is capable of doing so. On the other hand, workers who experiment with narcotics can damage only themselves, in more senses than one. For when they come down they find that there are still no diamonds in the sky.
E. C. Edge

[1] “Suffer the Children”, The Story of Thalidomide. Sunday Times Insight Team, published 1979. Andre Deutsch.
[2] Nationwide. BBC1 TV, 15.10.81
[3] Daily Telegraph, 1.10.81
[4] Daily Telegraph, 25.9.81

My Life With Nye (1982)

Book Review from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

My Life With Nye by Jennie Lee. Penguin, £1.75.

This is an account of the lives of Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee. Bevan came from a Welsh coal mining family and, at an early age, joined the Labour Party. Jennie Lee came from a Scottish mining family and was, like her father, a member of the ILP.

They were both idealists who threw a great deal of energy into their political lives under the mistaken impression that capitalism could be adjusted to work in the interests of the working class.

The author makes several references to socialism but does not define it and one is left with the impression that, like so many people who regard themselves as revolutionaries, she means “nationalisation”.

Later, we find them helping to win World War II and when Attlee had ousted Churchill, Bevan threw himself into the task of building up the Health Service when he was not charging about the world rubbing shoulders with Tito and various other enemies of the working class.

From the socialist point of view there is very little of value in this book, although it is an interesting document in that it records the strong belief among many young people of the nineteen-thirties that Russia was being formed into a workers’ paradise. They can now see how wrong they were. The so-called Communist Party was strong in numbers and even managed to get two members into Parliament. Now, world events have reduced CP membership and those who are left are disenchanted with recent events in Poland and Afghanistan.

Bevan may have been sincerely anti-capitalist in his early days but it seems that he came to the conclusion it was not so bad after he had ceased to be a wage-slave.

As a personality, Bevan was probably everything that Jennie Lee has said that he was, but he was definitely not a socialist.

SDP — moderate magic? (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the SDP was launched last March it was fashionable to say that it couldn’t grow because it had no roots. Its opponents wrote it off as short-term opportunism that was bound to fail. Few people considered it a serious threat to the Labour-Tory see-saw. But it has grown. Now, less than a year later, it’s got almost thirty MPs, about 70.000 members and is way ahead in the opinion polls. No one is writing it off any more - not even Labour left-wingers who, while continuing to revile the Social Democrats as opportunists, have now got to admit that at least they look like being successful ones.

Will the SDP ‘break the mould’ and, as Shirley Williams predicted after her by-election victory at Crosby, ‘sweep on to victory at the next election’ (The Times, 28/11/81)? The old adage of a week being a long time in politics may apply here just as much as it was seen to apply recently to the apparent fervour for nationalism in Scotland. But supposing the SDP did come to power at the next election is it possible to know what would happen to Britain?

Although the SDP has been widely attacked for having no policies, the criticism isn’t altogether fair. It hasn’t got a manifesto as such but it is possible to piece together the broad lines of what it says it will do as a party of government.

First of all the statement Twelve Tasks for Social Democrats issued at the party’s launch shows a clear commitment to continued British membership of the Common Market and support for active participation in NATO with the aim of multilateral disarmament. And these two platforms have been confirmed on many occasions since. It’s true that many of the other points contained in the launch statement (“consistent economic strategy”, “schemes to conserve energy”, “mixed economy”, “fair distribution of wealth”, “better environment”, “equal rights”, “imaginative generosity”) are, as Ian Bradley, SDP sympathiser and author of the first book to be published on the party, [1] says, “so vague that they border on the platitudinous”.

But they are no more so than many of the proposals that the other parties commonly advance when they are out of office, and the SDP can point out that some of the suggestions in their twelve-point programme (proportional representation, incomes policy, apprenticeship schemes, decentralisation) have been amplified since they were first made and in some cases even ‘costed'. They can point for evidence of this to the discussion papers issued for the SDP's first conference last October, to various pronouncements made by their leading figures, and to the idea advocated by Roy Jenkins, the party’s probable leader, of an ‘inflation tax’ which would fine employers for giving workers pay rises beyond a limit laid down by the government.

What is there to be said about the more concrete of these SDP policies? The Ecology Party has described them as a ‘recycling of politics’, and it is indeed difficult, despite the SDP’s claim that they will ‘change the face of Britain’, to find anything in them that hasn’t appeared in one of the other three parties’ manifestoes before and that could possibly make any fundamental difference to the lives of the majority of people in this country in the future.

If we take as an example membership of the EEC, it would be hard, even for the most ardent ‘Europeanist’, to show that it had been of any particular benefit to British wage and salary earners, and even harder to show that future membership will make much difference either. Then, being in NATO, far from helping to bring about world disarmament as the SDP suggests it would, has so far meant increasing amounts of resources spent on bigger and more lethal weapons and the nightmare of nuclear war as near as ever. Incomes policies which aim to punish employers for paying their workers too much have been tried before too (for example by the last Labour government). As they have the effect of depressing living standards and increasing industrial unrest, they founder on opposition both from workers through their trade unions and from employers.

As for the ‘mixed economy’ (part-private, part-state ownership), it’s precisely what the Labour and Tory parties, despite their lip service to other ‘philosophies’, have always practised when in government and it has done nothing to solve problems such as the financial worries, insecurity, unemployment, boredom and dissatisfaction experienced by the vast majority of workers in both sectors. Finally other proposed SDP measures like decentralisation (or regional assemblies) and proportional representation can only be described as new inasmuch as they’ve never actually been tried in Britain. They’re certainly not new as far as Europe goes. Both have been in operation for many years in, for example, Italy, yet Italians (as this writer can vouch for from personal experience) would not think of claiming that this gives them any superior say in the way decisions arc made about their lives.

Wish Fulfilment
So why are so many people thrilling to the SDP if all it has to offer are these more-of-the-same policies? Well, first of all, the evidence of two MORI polls was that at least 50 per cent of SDP supporters were ignorant or mistaken as to its probable policies. And it’s hard to imagine that even informed supporters are excited about the specific policies on offer. What’s more likely is that the SDP’s support is based not on policies at all; but on the attraction of the individuals offering them.

The so-called Gang of Four have been carefully portrayed, both by their own expensively acquired publicity machine and by a highly sympathetic media, as sane, purposeful, trustworthy personalities who, if only given the chance, will produce a brand new political broom and use it to sweep spotlessly clean. They’ve been expertly projected as the team capable of doing a job that others, through lack of honesty, integrity or ability, have failed to do in the past. The party that these nice, reliable, sincere, intelligent people are trying to get off the ground is one based on honesty, virtue and common sense. How can such a venture be anything but ‘a good thing’?

It all smacks of an exercise in wish fulfilment and is ironically reminiscent of the hopes so many people had in 1964 when they elected the first Labour government for thirteen years with a leader referred to at the time as a ‘political magician’. That leader's name was Harold Wilson.

Realities of Government
Will what happened to Harold Wilson also happen to the magicians of the SDP? Well, to an extent it already has, because all four of them are past failures. They’ve all served as ministers in governments which no impartial observer could describe as successful. Will tilings change for them in the future? Is it ‘all different now’ as Crosby SDP voters kept telling reporters who tried to remind them of Shirley Williams’ record as a Labour minister?

In the past governments have failed to deliver the expected goods because the conditions they found once in office didn’t allow them to. And it couldn’t be any different for the SDP. Put in charge of a system which operates through the market, buying and selling and production for profit, the SDP would find, as the other parties have found, that conditions change continuously and unpredictably. Its plan, for example, to reduce unemployment by apprenticeship and job creation schemes would depend on whether its revenue from taxation allowed such schemes to be funded. And this in turn would depend on whether the world market, over which governments have no control, decreed high or low profits for the employing class which funds the government with taxes from those profits. These schemes in any case would be nothing more than a short-term expedient, would conceal a certain amount of unemployment for a time. They couldn’t possibly cope with the rise in the jobless that, if the present recession goes on, will occur whichever government is in power. Employers will not employ people, not even under an SDP government, unless they can find profitable markets for their goods.

So niceness, sincerity, reliability — these things would have nothing to do with the practical conduct of an SDP government. The professional economic forecasters are always divided among themselves on the future conditions the market is going to create and the politicians of the SDP would be unable to read into the future with any greater clarity. Whoever it is that finally formulates the Social Democrats’ election manifesto the leadership, the MPs or their local ‘policy groups’ — the administration called to put that manifesto into effect will find that many of its best laid plans will have to be delayed, altered or simply abandoned.

Duplicity and Deception
For all their need to play it by ear, however, an SDP government would, we can be quite certain, pursue one policy to the bitter end — the policy, unspoken but fundamental and shared with all the other parties, of perpetuating a system in which the vast majority of a country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small minority of its citizens while the majority of the people — the wage and salary earners — are hoodwinked into believing that this system is run in their interest. The Gang of Four did this when they were members of Labour governments and they will do it as members of an SDP government.

Already they have begun to tarnish their new laundered image, to show the kind of duplicity and deception necessary for running the British profit system. Firstly David Owen, at a public meeting in Swansea attended by this writer (9 July 1981), declared that the two main planks of his party’s foundation were EEC membership and multilateral disarmament but then told a unilateralist questioner that the SDP still welcomed into its ranks those who favoured unilateral disarmament. Then Shirley Williams, in her campaign at Crosby, referred to Graham Page, whose 19,000 Tory majority she needed to overturn, as ‘a healer not a divider of one person from another’ (Sunday Times, 25/10/81). Yet she must have known that this was the man who, three years ago, called for a total three-year ban on all immigration to Britain.

Finally the SDP’s application form for founder membership of the party asked for a £9 subscription and proclaimed: ‘If you really want a party that’s in nobody’s pocket it will mean digging into your own’. It also said that, unlike the Labour and Tory parties, the SDP had ‘no pipeline from big business or trade unions pumping money into its funds. It will belong to its members and no one else.’ Now, articles in the Observer (15 November 1981) and the Sunday Times (6 December 1981) have named a large number of leading industrialists as supporting and making financial contributions to the SDP. The chairman of the SDP’s finance committee is David Sainsbury, finance director of the grocery chain. A trustee is Clive Lindley, millionaire owner of the LCI group and a former longstanding Labour Party supporter. Other supporters include Lord Sainsbury, Sir Claus Moser of Rothschilds, Edmund Dell of Guinness Peat, Cob Stenham, financial director of Unilever, the Rowntree company, John Lambourn of Commercial Union, and John Harvey-Jones, new chairman of ICI. The Sunday Times article also revealed that the party organises lunches for potential donors at its headquarters in Cowley Street, where, according to SDP recruiter Anthony Sampson, ‘the business side is critical’. And this is the party that was to be ‘in nobody’s pocket’.

Quantum Jump
‘Social Democracy’ is a bright new label but the stuff inside the bottle is as unpalatable as ever. Far from taking the ‘quantum jump’ Shirley Williams talks about in her recent book [2], her party can only limp along the same well trodden path as the parties that preceded it. Yet social democracy does have another meaning. For the socialist pioneers of the last century it meant a moneyless, leaderless society of free access, voluntary cooperation and complete democratic control — socialism. And this kind of society not the SDP’s — will be the real ‘quantum jump’, ‘humanity’s leap’, as Frederick Engels put it, ‘from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom’.
Howard Moss

[1] Breaking the Mould? The Birth and Prospects of the Social Democratic Party, Oxford, Martin Robertson, 1981.
[2] Politics is for People, London, Penguin, 1981.

The Birth of Compromise (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

That creaky old monster, the British Labour Party, is in danger of drowning. Even with a Tory government presiding over mass unemployment and endless cuts, Labour’s “alternative” is seen by many workers to be equally unappealing. There are some who may be shocked at the Socialist Party of Great Britain failing to mourn the demise of a political institution which for seventy-five years has claimed to stand for workers’ interests. But the record of Labour governments of strike breaking and cutting workers' living standards in the way the profit system demands, proves their claims to be untrue. To find the root cause of the problem, we must move from the Labour Party’s death throes to its birth pangs.

In the 1870s, after a long history of persecution, British trade unions were legalised, and in 1874 two miners elected to parliament. But by the mid-eighties still only eleven MPs were workers, although the working class formed about three-quarters of the population. After 1867, only a minority had the vote and the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party took it in turns to run capitalism, much as the Conservative and Labour Parties have done since the First World War. There was sometimes little to choose between them, but many workers preferred the Liberals, who made particular efforts to appear more radical than their rivals. The working class lacked unity, but mechanisation and concentration of capital reduced the divisions between skilled and unskilled labour. Large-scale production encouraged workers to recognise their shared class position as one of poverty and dependence, squalor and insecurity.

In the 1880s, small political groups were formed, such as the Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation and its break-away group, the Socialist League. Some of their members, particularly those in the Socialist League, had a very clear view of socialism as a system to replace the world order of capitalism, and of the need for democratic action to set up a system of production for use rather than profit. The majority of workers did not support the socialist proposal of freeing themselves from their wage-slavery, and the eleven MPs referred to above voted in the House of Commons as Liberals. A debate arose as to whether workers should try to get representation in Parliament on the basis of supporting capitalism, or whether the movement for socialism should first work towards majority support and then use Parliament to end the system rather than run it. The former idea, which was to win the day at the turn of the century, was expressed by Hubert Bland in Today, June 1887:
A popular organisation must be created for the express purpose of working existing political machinery (our emphasis).
At the same time, the Liberal Gladstone announced that he was prepared to “back the masses against the classes” (The Times, 29/6/1886), that is, the workers against the capitalist class, although he was so “radical” that he regretted the “leaning of both parties to Socialism, which I radically disapprove” (J. Morley, Life of Gladstone, ii. p.346). In fact, both parties were simply making concessions to workers to win their votes, and Lord Randolph Churchill more cautiously wrote that “we have so to conduct our legislation that we shall give some satisfaction to both classes and masses”.

The boom conditions of the late 1880s helped the formation of the “New Unions”, such as the Gasworkers’ and General Labourers’ Union and the General Railway Workers Union. John Burns and Tom Mann of the Social Democratic Federation organised the famous London Dock Strike of 1889. The new trade unions of this time were less exclusive than their predecessors, with lower subscription dues and more emphasis on industrial action to improve wages and conditions. But the early 1890s saw a return to trade depression, higher unemployment and consequently greater pressure to lower wages. The employers organised something of a counter-offensive on the industrial field, and the high increase in union membership of the previous decade again fell.

In 1890, the Shipping Federation was formed by shipowners to allow jobs only to those prepared to work with non-union men. In 1893. William Collison formed the National Free Labour Association as a supply of blackleg workers. In 1896, the Employers Federation of Engineering Associations was founded, to oppose the Amalgamated Engineers, and the following year the Federation responded to strikes with a six-month lock-out, which slack trade enabled them to afford. In 1898, the Employers Parliamentary Council was established to ensure direct influence at Westminster. The law courts began to reverse the terms of the 1870s statutes and overturned precedents in cases such as Lyons v. Wilkins and Quinn v. Leathern, outlawing picketing. In 1901 the House of Lords confirmed the Taff Vale Railway Company’s demand for damages resulting from industrial action by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, amounting to £23,000, which the union had to pay.

These repressive measures of about ninety years ago renewed the debate about what action workers could take. Many trade unionists supported parliamentary representation to secure legal rights for trade unions. Some argued that the Liberal Party, which many had traditionally supported, would be unable to do this, and this view was justified by the Liberal Party’s difficulties at the time. Many of their capitalist backers were going over to the Tories, partly because they wanted import duties to protect their industries from German and American competition. Liberal support for capitalism had to be blended with “the new aspirations of the labouring masses out of which the party of the future must spring” (Manchester Guardian, 11/5/1894). But there was no reason in principle why Liberal or Tory capitalists in Parliament could not support limited aims like trade union immunities and various social reforms. In any case, the idea of working-class members of Parliament carrying out these measures themselves was hard to implement. Before 1911, MPs were not paid and had to be financed, so workers approached the Liberal Party asking to be nominated as candidates. Again and again, the local Liberal caucuses refused such requests. Among those they refused were Keir Hardie and Ramsay Macdonald, who were later to sit as Labour MPs.

In 1893, the Independent Labour Party was formed. Its aims included tax reform, an eight-hour day, and “collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Exchange implies private property, though, and this contradiction is repeated in the Labour Party’s famous Clause Four. What it means is state ownership, or nationalisation, which is not socialism. The Fabian Society had been trying to “permeate” the Liberal caucuses in order to exert a secret influence. Unlike the Militant Tendency, they eventually admitted that this was a futile waste of time. The attempts of the TUC Parliamentary Committee to get Liberal backing met with little success, and so the idea developed of forming a separate party with the financial backing of the trade unions. Three points in particular are worth noting about what happened. It was not a movement for socialism, it only involved a very small minority of the working class, and it was not democratically organised.

Aside from the question of trade union rights, the reform issues adopted were similar to those of the Liberal Party: opposition to the Boer war, improved workers’ compensation, and that classical capitalist policy, Free Trade. (Later on, the Labour Party sometimes came to support instead that other reputable capitalist policy, Import Controls.) At the turn of the century (as now), very few workers actively stood for socialism. In the 1895 election, not one of the thirty-two ILP candidates was elected, and they merely stood for nationalisation, rather than common ownership. If there were a majority of socialists, millions of them, they could easily have financed some of their number to go to Parliament with a mandate immediately to abolish the profit system. But what there were instead, were trade unionists, many of whom were bitterly opposed to socialism.

In 1899 the TUC voted 546,000 to 434,000 to try to increase the number of workers in Parliament. Hardie secured an ILP majority on the executive of the resulting Labour Representation Committee, with his friend Macdonald as secretary. The same year, Hardie was elected at Merthyr Tydfil with the help of £150 from George Cadbury, the chocolate baron. In 1903, Gladstone made a secret pact with MacDonald that the LRC could have a clear run in thirty constituencies, provided that they demonstrate friendliness to the Liberals where possible. At the same time, the “rank and file” at the LRC Conference were actually voting that its candidates must “strictly abstain from identifying themselves with, or promoting the interests of, any section of the Liberal or Conservative Parties”. In one constituency the LRC wanted to put up a candidate where a Liberal planned to stand. Macdonald wrote to the local secretary threatening: “my executive will even go to the length of publishing a condemnatory resolution in the newspaper”.

From 1900 to 1906, the membership of the trade unions which were affiliated to the LRC increased from about a third of a million to about a million, while the membership of the constituent “socialist” groups remained at about twenty thousand, falling to fourteen thousand from 1901 to 1904. The greatest number of votes polled by the Labour Party before the First World War was about 500,000 in 1910, about one tenth of the electorate. Those workers elected as “Lib-Labs” in the first years of this century were prepared to co-operate in parliament with LRC independents, for the sake of expediency. By the 1906 election, the leaders Hardie, Macdonald and Henderson had organised the skeleton of a national political machine, modelled on the established parties. They devised a programme which only contained reform measures compatible with capitalism. Their glorified trade-union pressure group was preparing to replace the Liberal Party in its role of alternative government of capitalism. The Labour Party was born by the “back door” method of collaboration with the Liberal Party itself. In the Liberal landslide of 1906, twenty-nine out of fifty LRC candidates were elected. The ILP and Fabian Society by then accounted for less than a fiftieth of the affiliated membership.

As the Liberal Party floundered, the Labour Party rose, based on active participation by workers in the system which exploits us. In 1904, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed. In the first issue of the Socialist Standard, in September 1904, there was an editorial opposing the LRC with good reason: the LRC members had no common principles, but only the name “Labour”:
Unity is only possible among those who possess common principles. Unity cannot, therefore, be secured for any length of time by the members of the Labour Representation Committee, but even if it could, the body is not based upon Socialist principles 
which is the reason for the lack of unity in the Labour Party today. That first issue also said of the Independent Labour Party:
Having neither the courage to proclaim themselves Socialists nor to disavow Socialism, they are today coquetting with that working-class wing of the Liberal Party - the Labour Representation Committee. When the question of Socialism was raised on the committee, their chief representative declared that was neither the time nor the place for such discussion.
The victory for compromise marked by the rise of the Labour Party may have seemed complete, but it was not permanent. The Labour governments which have been formed since, have proved the impossibility of trying to legislate against the ugly effects of the profit system. The Labour Party was formed on the basis of popular support for capitalism, and it has become one of the major institutions of that system. Workers need not sorrow for it in its old age, or run to carry the SDP baby which is really its uncle. Now, more than ever, there is a chance, and an urgent need, to build a party to end capitalism, not to run it.
Clifford Slapper

'What are your views on?' (2018)

From the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Answers to questions put by a website in Croatia, 'Il grido del popolo'.
1.         What does your political experience say about the future of socialism?
Because we had always said that it was state capitalism and had nothing to do with socialism, when the USSR collapsed in 1991 perhaps we expected people to say 'Yes, you were right, it did have nothing to do with socialism'. Then the way would be clear to put the case for real socialism as a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with production to directly meet people's needs not for profit, and distribution on the principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'. But what happened was that people said 'socialism has been tried and failed, it is now irrelevant'. Supporters of capitalism proclaimed the definitive victory of their system and ideology and that capitalism was now the only game in town. This lasted for nearly twenty years. Then came the Great Crash of 2008 and the ensuing slump. 'Capitalism' became a dirty word once more and socialism (however defined) was discussed seriously again. This is still the position today.
2.         Your thoughts on European trade unions? Are they here to help the workers or have they sold out to corporations?
Trade unions were formed by workers to bargain with employers over the price of their labour-power and the conditions under which it is exercised. Over the years they have become huge bureaucratic organisations but still, by and large, continue to be defensive organisations for the working class. They should not just be dismissed as sell-outs. Workers should still join them and work to make them more accountable to their memberships.
3.         What is the UK future after Brexit?
Most of the UK capitalist class want to stay in the EU but their political representatives let them down by organising a referendum that resulted in a 52-48 majority for Brexit. They are probably right to think that the UK outside the EU will not be as good for them as staying in, because they won't be able to get better trade deals than they have been getting as a member. But that's their problem, not ours as socialists and workers. In or out of the EU, and whatever the Brexit terms negotiated, there will still be capitalism and the problems it generates for the majority class of wage and salary worker.
 4.         Your comment on UK foreign policy towards Russia?
That the antagonism between the West and Russia has continued despite the end of 'communism' (in reality, state capitalism) in Russia shows that the conflicts of the Cold War period were not, as presented, based on ideology but were clashes of material interests, mainly over spheres of influence (who dominates Eastern Europe, Russian access to the Mediterranean, etc).
5.         What do you think, is Corbyn a good example for the left?
The Labour Party under Corbyn represents something of a return to what the Labour Party was like in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s – proposing reforms aimed at making capitalism work for 'the many, not the few.' The Labour governments in these periods failed to do this (as it can't be done) and ended up presiding over, and even encouraging, the operation of the capitalist economic system in the only way that it can exist – giving priority to profits and conditions for profit-making over satisfying people's needs. A Corbyn Labour government would fail, and for the same reason that there is no way in which capitalism can be reformed to work in the interest of the majority. So, no, Corbyn is not a good example of what to do.
6.         How can modern left politics answer the challenges of the 21st century, when there is no mainstream socialism as in the 20th century?
It is true that for most of the 20th century the existence of a major country calling itself socialist (even if it wasn't) made socialism a subject of current political debate and that this is no longer the case. On the other hand, not having a state-capitalist regime calling itself socialist is an advantage as socialists no longer have to deal with this as a regular objection to socialism. Socialism can be presented positively as a society of common ownership, democratic control, production directly to meet people's needs and not for profit.
7.         Is socialism today important or has it lost all its 'weight' in political arenas in Europe?
Of course socialism is still relevant and important today – capitalism will never be able to solve the multiple problems it generates by its very nature for humanity in general and the wage and salary working class in particular – even if the word 'socialism' meaning an alternative social system is not a subject of political discussions. Socialism will be relevant as long as capitalism exists as, objectively and not just as a matter of opinion, it is the only framework within which the problems capitalism generates can be solved.
8.         Can you make short comments on political parties like the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist and the New Communist Party?
Neither of them is any good, if only because they both support the North Korean government and defend the state-capitalist system there as somehow socialist or pro working class. Another similar organisation, the CPBML, is as nationalistic over Brexit as the UK Independence Party. 'Marxism-Leninism' is a contradiction in terms as Leninism is a distortion of Marxism, mainly through its theory that the working class on its own can only develop a trade union consciousness and so needs to be led by a self-appointed vanguard party. This was not Marx's view; he favoured the democratic self-organisation of the working class in a mass workers' party.
9.         How to educate today's working class when more and more positions in factories and elsewhere are becoming controlled by technology?
The working class is not composed just of factory workers but of everyone who is forced by economic necessity to try to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in order to live. This is irrespective of the job they do, whether in a factory, an office, a hospital or an educational institution. Most of the so-called 'middle class' are in fact members of the majority class of wage and salary workers. Artificial Intelligence is now threatening their jobs too.
10.       How do British trade unions today work to protect workers, after all that happened with Thatcher in 80s?
The effectiveness of trade unions is largely governed by the overall economic situation, much more than by legislation. In times of capitalist expansion they can work with the labour market to increase wages; in times of slump the most they can do is slow down the decrease in real wages. The type of trade union has changed since the Thatcher years. Today the coal mines and the once powerful miners' union have gone. The big trade unions today are those in the public sector, in national and local government, the health service and education. Given the unfavourable economic situation they don't do too badly.