Sunday, July 8, 2018

Running Commentary: Resourceful Destruction (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Resourceful Destruction

The contradictions of the profit system become more stark and bizarre. While millions starve and go without even basic accommodation food is destroyed or simply not produced, factories are closed down and millions of people are made redundant and forced into idleness.

Making the picture even more grotesque is the fact that while our means of production are being deliberately underused to protect the profits of the owners, “our” means of destruction are being developed to a degree where death and damage can be caused as efficiently as possible.

Straining with potential for the satisfaction of human needs and production, the world is in fact seething with unmet need and on the brink of large-scale destruction. The government finances research and development into many areas including medicine, the environment, science, engineering, agriculture and methods of destruction (otherwise known as “Defence”).

A recent report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Science and Technology for the 1980s, provides a breakdown of the proportions of the general research fund which each of these areas receives, and is a good indication of the priorities which all governments need to adopt in order to “properly” administer capitalism. The report shows that more than half of the funds which the government allocates to research and development is devoted to the Destruction Industry.

The grants which will be received this year by the Medical Research Council, the National Environmental Research Council, the Science and Engineering Research Council and other such bodies will amount in total to less than the £1,750,000,000 earmarked this year for research into better ways of destroying things and killing people.

Bradford Wall game

On March 7, the Sunday Times carried an article about the Labour Party candidate for Bradford North, Pat Wall, who is also a member of Militant Tendency. The article quoted some comments made by Wall at a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). These remarks were regarded as being so wildly revolutionary and, that most feared of all things in the Labour Party, “Marxist”, that Labour’s organisation committee ordered the Bradford North Constituency Labour Party to hold a re-run of the selection conference for its parliamentary candidate.

What had Wall said, to cause all the ballyhoo? Well, he said that a Marxist Labour Government (evidently not the strike-breaking, wage-freeze, arms-dealing variety we know so well) would have to deal with the capitalist state machine as soon as it took office. It would “deal with capitalism”, he argued, by "abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords and sacking senior civil servants, and military and police chiefs, and judges”. These vacant posts would then be filled by elections!

Two points need to be made. First it says a lot about the current condition of the Labour Party, when mild reforms like abolishing the monarchy and the House of Lords repeatedly and proudly espoused by Keir Hardie are greeted by them with such widespread and astonished horror. Second, it is worth observing the rather limited notion of socialism held by people like Pat Wall: for what is it about modern republics, that we should be so eager to attain? We get rid of the military and police chiefs and retain the military and police forces, but against whom will these forces be used? Then there is the sacking of members of the judiciary, only for their offices to be filled by “People’s Judges”. In all of Wall’s fiery rhetoric there was no mention of abolishing the property relations of capitalism, only of changing faces and prejudices of its high- ranking personnel.

Peking order

In this society, which places profits above people, wars, starvation, insanitary water supplies, hypothermia, terrorism and pollution are some of the ways in which life is endangered. But the human cost of capitalism is also extended in other more concealed ways.

Last month the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party directed that couples living in cities shall be permitted to have only one child, with peasants restricted to only two children. The directive indicates that some local authorities have already provided incentives and favourable treatment for families with only one child, including priority in entering kindergartens and better prospects in jobs and housing. It warns: “For those who do not follow family planning, appropriate economic restrictions must be enforced”. That is, the cost of a life for the unfortunate parents of a second or third child will be a fine.

The reason for this policy, which comes about as close as you can, along with insurance policies, to putting a price on a life, is that an increase in the birth rate has threatened the ability of the Chinese economy to maintain the already desperately impoverished living standards of most of its one billion people. This is the latest in a series of “coping-with-capitalism” policy changes which have been introduced by the Chinese government over the last two years and which have included the adoption of an American tax code system, the official recognition of a rising unemployment problem, and a switch in many industries to piece-rate work payments.

Another change of a more sweeping sort is a move to de-collectivise much of the land worked by the peasants and farm it out to family groups in the hope that a more rigorous competitive system will boost productivity. This U-turn from a pretended commitment to common ownership and equality to a boastful praising of the “merits” of private property is summed up in a New Year couplet pinned on the wall of a couple in Kao-cheng reported in the Guardian, (15/3/82):
Better live among men than in a paradise dream
Better farm my own patch than work in a team
An argument, no doubt, which the most ruthless defenders of private property will gladly applaud.

Second coming

In the search for solutions to our social problems in 1982, the theological dispute between catholics and protestants is about as meaningful as debating how many SDP political principles can be fitted on the point of a needle. The latest episode in this anachronistic religious battle centres around the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain.

On one side of this dispute catholics are excitedly awaiting the arrival of John Paul mark 2. For them, one glimpse of the visitor from Italy in the flesh and the sound of his words of divine wisdom will have a magically refreshing effect—although, if he were defrocked of his fancy costume, most of his ardent fans would walk past him on the street, unaffected.

On the other side of the dispute are assorted fanatical protestant revivalists who see the Pope’s visit as part of a conspiracy to subvert the dusty teachings of the Church of England. One of the organisers of the opposition to the Pope’s visit is the Reverend George Ashdown who recently proclaimed, brushing the cobwebs from his script, “Britain has always been the bastion of the Protestant religion. That is why Rome knows the Pope’s visit is so important. If they can seduce the House of Windsor, if they can repeal our Bill of Rights, then the Antichrist is home and dry. But God may yet intervene to stop him coming. He may send us a man, another Cromwell, a Wesley, to lead a great revival” (Guardian, 13/3/82).

Religious beliefs are superstitious and a positive hindrance to self-confident political action to solve social problems. Holding out hope and faith in men like Karol Wojtyla (currently employed in Rome as Supreme Pontiff) to help you through the various difficulties of poverty is a lost cause. In fact the conservative stand of the Church on political and industrial issues has been made quite explicit by Karol himself in his recent picas to members of Solidarity in Poland to be "moderate” in their demands and not to ask for too much, Establishing socialism cannot proceed if we are taken in by the humbug of horoscopes or of clerics telling of a future which is pre-ordained.


Under Giscard d'Estaing the French bosses agreed, with government backing, to supply the South Korean regime with nuclear power stations and nuclear fuels. The French "socialists” were horrified to find Giscard "comforting a regime of terror”, and strongly condemned “a government which lends support to a dictatorial regime for purely financial ends” (Le Monde, 23/2/82).

Now that those in France calling themselves "socialists" have gained power, what has become of the trade with South Korea? Was the recent visit of the South Korean Foreign Minister to France (as an honoured guest at comrade Mitterand’s Élysée Palace) a summons to be told that socialists do not support any governments let alone the repressive excesses of the dictatorship in South Korea?

Not quite. Since coming to power the "socialists” seem to have changed their view about the desirability of the nuclear supplies contracts with South Korea (worth 6,000,000,000 frs.) and the possibility of further deals involving a subway system and a tidal power station, and comrade Mitterand has raised his champagne glass to the successful fulfilment of the contract.

Fighting for "socialism” alongside Mitterand, French Prime Minister Mauroy recently took himself on a visit to a nationalised People's Factory where he ate roast beef and chips in the self-service canteen and actually mingled with the workers. "Nice to see you smiling when you're under new management”, was one of his caustic remarks (Guardian, 27/2/82).

Of course, selling your life for a wage or a salary in order to produce profits for a minority to enjoy keeps you in poverty whether your employer is a private enterprise or the state; but in his stroll around the factory Mauroy met one worker who seemed very pleased with the new arrangements now that her factory had been nationalised. "Now I come in at 8.12am instead of 8.00am”, she proudly informed the Prime Minister. “It's a start.”

Now that these workers have this extra 12 minutes to enjoy in the mornings we wonder whether any of them will choose to stay out later at night and make use of any of the amenities available to people in “socialist” France? A night at the Nova-Park Élysées Hotel in Paris, perhaps? A single night here in the Royal suite, for instance, costs £3,500 with VAT on top, at £616 a night (Sunday Times, 28/2/82) Breakfast is not included in this bill but then you may not have the opportunity to try it if you have to be a work by 8.12am.

Spacious middle grounds

Brian Magee was once a Labour MP. Now he has joined the SDP. Writing last month in the Observer, Magee said that both the Labour and Conservative Parties "maddened by persistent failure, have moved to extremes leaving nearly half the population of Britain unrepresented in the gap between”. The SDP is now supposed to be filling that gap but Magee unwittingly makes a very apposite point: that when both Labour and Conservative parties did persistently attempt to deal with capitalism's problems with policies that were "moderate” (whatever that is supposed to mean) they became frustrated, “maddened by persistent failure". Yet it is now the SDP which is trying to persuade us that what we need is “moderation”.

One group of people who seem to realise that the SDP would continue to run capitalism in a satisfactory' way for the ruling class are those who openly support the system of minority privilege. Two recent SDP recruits illustrate this point. In a letter last month to the Devonshire Times, Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, let it be known that he intends to join the Moderates. "Old Yellow Socks", as he is known for his colourful taste in dress, owns 38,000 acres in Derbyshire, 30,000 acres in Yorkshire, a priceless estate of 1,200 acres in Eastbourne, a small country place in county Waterford (as he modestly describes Lismore Castle) and a few more “bits and pieces”.

A fellow recruit of Andrew’s is Roger Rosewell, who was industrial organiser for the SWP (1970-73) but who has now become an open defender of ruling class privilege, joined the SDP and published an anti-Marxist manual for employers—Dealing with the Marxist Threat to Industry. Who will be the next fighter for equality and great thinker to join the SDP? Prince Philip?
Gary Jay

What shall it profit a man? (1982)

From the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, recently had to suffer the indignity of abuse and the interruption of his sermons by chanting and slow handclaps. The reason for this antagonism? His support for the visit of the Pope to this country in May, to bless his own faithful and further the cause of Christian unity. This vociferous minority obviously have long memories. They resent the visit of the successor of the man who refused the Defender of the Faith permission to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn, thus forcing Henry VIII to proclaim himself Head of the Church of England in order to achieve his ends.

However, many religious people interested in such matters—certainly the majority of Roman Catholics in the country—are looking forward to the Pope’s visit. If precedent is anything to go by, they will trek long distances to see him or be among the tens of thousands attending one of the open air masses which will put Billy Graham’s crusade meetings in the shade. The visit will be costly, and there is even talk of a levy of £9 or £10 on every Roman Catholic adult in the country to pay for it. Obviously the Vicar of Rome, astride one of the greatest collections of wealth in the world, cannot be asked to help to defray the costs. (One wonders who paid for his visit to Poland—and why.)

On the other hand, there are some who will gain financially from the visit. One souvenir factory, instead of going broke now that royal anniversaries and weddings are over for a while, is taking on extra staff to produce plastic busts of the Pope, and Catholic headquarters are giving official approval to other selected souvenirs of “good taste’’. Although we are not sure that this description holds good in one particular case, it certainly shows ingenuity. The Daily Telegraph (4/3/82) called it “Credit Card to Heaven”—a Plastic Pope! A simulated credit card “in glorious colour”, with a picture of the Pope on the front and the usual signature panel on the reverse. It is, according to the advertisements, “manufactured to the same high specifications as the bank card in your wallet or purse”, which is probably not a vain boast as the originator, Barry Collins, learned his trade working on Barclaycards. This card is, of course, useless for earthly purchases, but it is pointed out that for £1.25 “it may open the gates of heaven’’—surely an offence under the Trades Description Act?

The cards are to be sold through parish priests and teachers, using children as the salesforce. The brochure sent out to schools says: “Get your pupils to sell to families and friends” (a novel interpretation of “suffer ye little children to come unto me”); “sell 1,000 cards and buy a colour TV or video. Use the cards as admission tickets to dances and functions”. The brochure sent to parish priests states: “Get your parish organisation involved . . . and watch your profits grow”. Special deals are offered for bulk orders from large business organisations. Collins, who is himself a good catholic, says he wants to make the Pope’s visit a success . . . “obviously I’m also in it for the money” he adds.

Church headquarters are not happy with his selling methods. “We certainly agree that this material is way over the top. It is not the type of material we would have approved.” But to an organisation which has sold “indulgences” and masses for the dead, there is nothing amiss in principle in selling heavenly credit cards.
Eva Goodman

50 Years Ago: The Nationalisation of Mining Royalties (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Great Labour Party Victory
“Six property owners have been paid more than £1,000,000 each by the State for the coal which lies beneath their estates. The long campaign to nationalise these coal royalties ended yesterday with the report of the Coal Commissioners . . .  At the time of the Sankey Commission . . . the most extensive royalty' owners . . .  were the Duke of Northumberland, the Marquis of Bute, Lord Tredegar, the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Ellesmere.” “In addition to the four unnamed owners who got more than a million, six received from £500,000 to £1,000,000 each and twenty-eight between £250,000 and £499,000. More than 11,000 claimants had less than £1,000 each. More than 2,400 go nothing.” —(Daily Express, October 31st, 1945.)

Which shows that nationalisation with compensation does not even change the personnel—the individual relationships of the capitalist class.

Nationalisation without compensation would still not be in the “public service”; it would merely transfer ownership from its previous owners to the investors in Government (State) Bonds.

[Article by “Horatio” in January 1946 Socialist Standard]

50 Years Ago: Is This What Labour Voters Wanted? (1996)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

A World Made Safe For Investors
The principal feature of the Labour programme at the election was the pledge to nationalise certain industries. In some vague way never clearly explained this was supposed to benefit the workers. It will, however, be noticed that since the Government entered office, the theme of numerous speeches by Cabinet Ministers has been that the compensation terms would be “fair” or even “generous” to the capitalist investors, while to the workers the Labour leaders' reiterated appeal is for harder work, austerity, and greater production. (. . .)

As far as the workers are concerned, their position as wage slaves, exploited to maintain a propertied class in luxurious idleness, will not be altered. The State to an ever increasing extent will be the medium through which the exploitation is carried on. The accumulated wealth of the country (the means of production and distribution) will still be concentrated in the hands of the same small minority of individuals, the capitalist class, who own it at present.
(from an article by ‘H’ in Socialist Standard, March 1946)

Greasy Pole:The Rate for the Job (1996)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

From time-to-time the people who conduct opinion polls go out and ask the Great British Public about which jobs they expect to be done by untrustworthy con-artists. When the percentages are worked out it emerges that among the people who are widely mistrusted when it comes to telling the truth, giving a "fair" deal and meaning what they say are estate agents, used-car salesman—and politicians. There is some ambivalence here, the public don’t vote for people who sell them houses and dangerous cars but they do elect politicians, supposedly to represent their interests and put to rights all manner of tricky problems.

So how do the voters feel about the recent campaign, led by a cross-party group in Westminster, to give MPs a rise—in some cases to double the basic pay of £33,000? In support of this some familiar arguments have been deployed: like MPs can’t live on what they get at present; like the wages of British MPs compare badly with those paid elsewhere: like the low pay of MPs means the most able people are put off a career in politics. And so on.

We say these arguments are "familiar" because they are often used by trade unions when they are negotiating pay deals. Whether they are strong arguments (which in any case does not affect the issue) it is interesting to note how MPs habitually respond when they are used by workers. Almost invariably our parliamentary representatives cake the view that "national interests" must override any merits in a pay claim. That is the history of all the wage restrain policies imposed by both Labour and Tory governments. It is why people who do vital and demanding jobs, like nursing and firefighting, are told that, in effect, their struggle to keep their financial heads above water is necessary—that moderate wages help us all to be prosperous. Except, that is. the wages of MPs.

Whether an MP can survive on £33,000 a year (and a few years ago an Old Etonian minister resigned because that was not enough "to live in London". He didn’t then starve to death, if Old Etonians ever do, but organised himself a job with a posh wage) it is in fact only a part of what they get. With various allowances and expenses they can pull in nearer £100,000 a year. Some of this is an allowance to pay a secretary but they often keep this money in the family by giving that job to their partner. Many of them have well paid jobs outside parliament because attendance at Westminster is not compulsory. There aren’t many jobs which pay you for not turning up and it is not difficult to guess how MPs would greet any suggestion that this should apply to nurses, fire-fighters and the rest. Then there are those "consultancies” and "non-executive directorships” and cash and other favours for questions. It all begins to make £33,000 look like the tip of a particularly lucrative iceberg.

It is true that British MPs earn less than those in other countries but parliament is essentially a nationalist organism. The people elected there protect the interests of British capitalism and should not plead that what happens abroad should influence what happens here. If they pursue that argument the MPs may find that other comparisons between them and their foreign counterparts are too embarrassing to be mentioned in the Mother of Parliaments.

Anyone who has observed the behaviour of MPs may well wonder if there is after all something to be said for the argument that lower pay means lower quality. Watching them steer their way across the lobby after a satisfying lunch, or ask sycophantic bogus questions of their Front Bench, or bray and flap their order papers during what they call debates must raise the question of how much worse they could be. And so far no MP has taken the argument to the extent of telling the House that they are an ignorant, boorish buffoon who is not worth listening to but they were the best their constituency party could get for the money.

Market place
Meanwhile MPs will continue to rant on that higher wages for other people must depend on higher productivity (more intense exploitation) and a leaner workforce (more people sacked) while they exclude themselves from these rigorous standards. Parliamentwill remain a place where the rule of the marketplace— which was once supposed to eliminate all our problems—will not apply. After all, the rule of the market place does not allow higher pay for jobs—like MPs— where there are plenty of applicants. There are always Tory hopefuls in places like the Rhondda and always Labour contestants in the South Coast towns. Indeed if the rules of the market place, which so many MPs think should be applied to the rest of us, held good for them there would be an obvious case for reducing what they earn.

It must be said that so far no MP has been stupid enough to suggest they have payment by results. This is just as well because every word they utter, every decision they take, serves to reveal how impotent they are to control capitalism and to keep the promises on which they were elected. For example after nearly 17 years of Conservative government the suffering of poverty is as awful as ever. There has recently been some publicity— as if we needed it—about what poverty does to our diets. The National Children's Homes see in their family centres nearly half the parents literally starving themselves in order to feed their children. And the government's own Office of Population, Census and Surveys has recently reached the unsurprising conclusion that death rates are higher among unemployed workers than among those with jobs—that, in other words, poverty kills and the worse the poverty the more it kills.

Facts like these should be remembered when we read about the bogus and hypocritical campaign to raise MPs’ pay. However much they get they won't be able to control this system. The issue is not what they are paid by what they do and fail to do and—the £33,000 question—why people like those who speak to opinion pollsters put up with it.