Monday, July 9, 2018

A visit from times past (1982)

From the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Having nothing but hostility to pomp, superstition and market-place morality, the Socialist Party of Great Britain views the welcoming celebrations for the visit of Pope John Paul II as nothing more or less than a reflection of the ignorance of the religiously stupefied. Everything that the Pope represents, socialists oppose; everything that socialists seek to change, the advocates of religion need to preserve. We stand for human action within the material world—they stand for the passivity of faith within a world controlled by a mythically omnipotent, super-human deity. Respect for the leaders of religion—be they popes, ayatollahs, gurus or rabbis—reflects a pathetic lack of appreciation of the potentialities of humanity.

Christianity developed in an age of mass ignorance of human and environmental evolution. In the second century the Church of Rome emerged, originally as a movement of ideological dissent against the imperial ruling class of its day. (See Karl Kautsky’s Foundations of Christianity, parts II and IV.) The new religion was adopted by the aspirant rulers of the fourth century, and it was they who ensured the power of the bishops and the unchallengable nature of the Christian dogma. In the year AD 378 Theodosius became Roman Emperor and enacted a Christian monopoly on state propaganda (previously there had been a religious battle going on between the Roman Church and the advocates of Mithraism—sun worship); later the Emperor Gratian appointed the Bishop of Rome and his successors as the official religious leaders of the Western Empire, that is, Western Europe and North Africa. The role of the Bishop of Rome (or Pope) was to direct the religious development of the Empire in line with the political interests of the new Roman ruling class, to appoint a network of agents to spread the message, and to punish members of the oppressed class who stepped out of line. In short, the role of the Popes in classical antiquity was not unlike that of the Director General of the BBC today.

Popes have done much to protect the interests of the ruling class. The cohesion of feudal Europe owed much to the power of the papacy, which gave the seal of sanctity to the dictatorship of the land-owning barons. It was only when some states began to consider the possibility of taking over the job of organising their own ideological propaganda that the political struggle known as the Reformation occurred. The Reformation did not kill off the Roman Church, although it was clearly weakened and had to adapt itself to the moral needs of the new capitalist property relationships. In the late nineteenth century it was Pope Leo XIII who issued the Encyclical Letters which aimed to provide theological justification for the policy of reforming capitalism. For example, in 1891 Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (on the condition of the working class) stated that the Roman Church was opposed both to “godless communism” and to “the excesses of capitalism”. Instead, the letter urged a humanised form of profit system under which men are no longer viciously competitive because they have decided to become good.

The Vatican has played a crucial part in providing support for religiously-based, pro-capitalist reform parties in several European countries; far from being examples of capitalism with a godly expression on its face, they have been no different from any other squalid defender of capitalist exploitation. The Papacy has never been too bothered about the democratic credentials of those capitalist leaders whom it has supported. For example, the Catholic Church supported the Christian Corporate States presided over by Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, Dolfuss and Schunigg in pre-war Austria, Peron in Argentina and Petain in France. The papal relationship with the fascist dictator, Mussolini, was strained, but this did not prevent Pope Pius XI from stating that “Mussolini was the man sent by Providence” (December 20, 1926). In modern times the Pope’s role has been to urge workers and peasants to be contented with their lot, to preserve the restrictive economic customs of past ages, to seek crumbs for the poor from the rich man’s loaf (charity) and to urge the workers to save our aspirations for another world beyond the clouds.

It is understandable that ignorant Roman slaves believed in the superstitions of religion as a way of explaining the world they lived in. Indeed, even many members of the ruling class of classical antiquity believed their own religious propaganda (just as many modern capitalists now believe theirs). It is even understandable that a few backward peasants in the twentieth century, who have yet to be influenced by scientific knowledge, might listen to the Pope and accept his explanations about the origins and evolution of the world. But here in Britain—an advanced industrial capitalist country with an experienced, relatively educated working class—the mediaeval re-enactment of a papal visit can be seen as a device to push workers backwards into the ideology of ages past. Workers who applaud and worship this affluent travelling trickster are divorcing themselves from the rationalism of modern history. In a bid to set back the ideas of workers, the Church is spending millions of pounds on an exercise designed to divert the majority class in society from looking after its own material here-and-now interests.

The believers may be blind, but the Pope and his mates have got at least one eye open: they know that when all of the religious nonsense has been uttered for public consumption, it is the material world which really matters to them. For example, when the present Pope was shot recently a Vatican medical bulletin reported that “his intestines were gradually resuming their functions and that his heart and blood circulation were good”. It is noticeable that the Pope’s expert doctors were concerning themselves with such mundane material organs as blood and heart and guts. What would the Pope have said if his doctors had told him that they were going to leave his intestines for another day and in the meantime would be carrying out emergency surgery on his invisible soul? It is also interesting that the Pope is so anxious to be close to his “creator” that on his visit to Britain he will be accompanied by Scotland Yard’s D11 unit—a team of top marksmen who will be standing by to ensure that nobody sends god’s representative on earth to visit “that wonderful land in the sky” until he has to go. The Pope leaves the nonsense of Christian practice to his deluded followers; he knows now to look after himself.

Workers of the world have no need of Popes or other parasites to speak for us or act for us or tell us how to behave. The gods which we invented in the infancy of our social existence are of no more use to modern society than totem poles or witch-doctors. It was Thomas Hobbes who wrote that “The Papacy is the ghost of the Roman Empire sitting on the grave thereof” (Leviathan). That was written in 1651; if papal authority was an anachronism then, it is a thousand times more so now that society has reached a point where humans are the gods, where the universe is ours for the taking, and where history is ours for the making.
Steve Coleman

How They Ran the Derby. A Tale of a Great Jockeying. (1916)

From the April 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard

Despite the protests to the contrary by the Daily News and other organs of Liberalism, the conscriptionists are winning point after point in their campaign. With the usual British cant, humbug and fraud, the campaign has been carried on under various disguises and pretences so beloved by our politicians, though it is none the the less effective in obtaining results, as we can see all around us.

A brief examination of the progress of this campaign will not only be interesting in itself, but will be useful in showing clearly the sinister character of those who claim that the Allies are fighting for Justice, Freedom, Righteousness, and—er— the capture of German Trade. 

Having secured a victory in the Cabinet, their first step was to arrange a scheme to save the faces of Liberals who still professed to believe in the "voluntary" system. This was the "Registration Act" that was merely "to take stock of our resources in men," and Liberal members of the Cabinet indignantly repudiated the suggestion that it was the beginning of conscription. Based on this Act the "Group Scheme" was set up with Lord Derby, a wealthy Lancashire landowner, "with a stake in the country," at its head. He announced that, though a conscriptionist, he would do his utmost to make the "voluntary" system a success, while declaring in the same breath that he was going "to wind up a bankrupt concern." About halfway through the period allotted to the scheme he suddenly announced that the married men joining the army under the scheme would not be called up until all the single men, except those engaged in munition and other national work, had been called up first. If the single men did not come forward, "voluntarily" then they would be fetched. That master of shuffle and ambiguity, Mr. Asquith, endorsed the statement in a "pledge" of curious clearness, coming from such a source. 

This cunning move of Lord Derby, or his employers, resulted in a double success. Firstly, large numbers of married men, taking Lord Derby's remark that "he hoped it would be possible to have sufficient young men to bring the war to a successful conclusion without having to put the older and, married men into the field of operations" as another "pledge," joined up in the belief that they would escape service. Secondly, the loudly advertised claim that this scheme gave the "last chance" for the "voluntary" system drove many to become unofficial recruiting agents, who called the single unattested men "slackers," and used various means to bully these "slackers" into the army even to the extent of threatening to strike against working with them in some factories and workshops. This stupidity enabled the conscriptionists to claim that the demand for compulsion came from "the people" and not from any small section. 

Then came the notorious "Derby Report" on the results of the scheme. This Report was specially prepared to show that the scheme had failed to bring in the single men required, although it admitted that the amazing total of 2,829,263 men (married and single) had offered their services. When it is remembered that the Prime Minister admitted that 3,000,000 men were in the army before the scheme started the total becomes more remarkable still. 

But the conscriptionists were determined to have compulsion and started an agitation among the married men—attested and unattested—calling for the "fetching" of the single men. Doubtless large numbers of the married men believed that by supporting this campaign they would save themselves from being called upon to serve in the army. So the Military Service Bill was introduced. To show how completely they were bound to, and depended upon, the master class for their jobs, the majority of the "Labour" Party supported the Bill. Some of the Radical opponents of conscription, however, were not so subservient, and Sir J. Simon, Mr. Hogge, and Mr. Pringle severely criticised both the Bill and Report upon which it was based. But the most crushing and merciless exposure of the fraud of the whole report came from Mr. T. Lough (W. Islington). For some peculiar reason practically every daily paper forgot to report this speech that will be found in the Official Report of Parliamentary Debates for 11th Jan., 1916. 

It had been loudly proclaimed that the married men had joined in large numbers while the single men held back. Mr. Lough showed that not only was this not true, but that twice as many single men bad joined the army as married men, and "The whole agitation was a sham." (col. 1518). He pointed out the significant fact that while 10 per cent. of the population of France and in Germany 11.4 percent. had come forward, in Great Britain 14 per cent. had offered themselves. Then proceeding to deal with the 651,000 single "slackers," he showed that about 500,000 of these consisted of men who had been rejected as medically unfit when trying to enlist, before the Derby scheme was started. How strikingly true is this statement was shown in our leading article in the March "S.S." No wonder he could claim that his figures "knock away the whole basis on which the Bill had been brought in." (ibid). On March 16th Sir J. Simon supported this view when he described the Report as "that interesting work of imagination and fancy" and stated "that the whole calculation upon which the National Service Bill was based was a calculation got at by subtracting a figure of which, according to the Under Secretary of State for War, "no record exists, from another figure which, according to the accurately compiled."—Official Reports, cols 2294 and 2300. 

During the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons Mr. Asquith gave another "pledge" in reference to widows' sons, quoting a ballad of the time of Henry V. to strengthen his statement (12.1.16). So many "pledges" had now been given on various points that one of our members suggested that the Government had sufficient to open a pawn-shop. As mentioned in the March "S.S.," there has been a persistent consistency about these pledges. They have all been broken. The records of the Tribunals have shown the complete contempt with which these bodies have regarded that pledge of the widows' sons. Doubtless the widows' sons may gather some comfort from the fact reported in the Daily Chronicle for March 14th that the Market Bosworth Tribunal "exempted all the men employed by Atherstone Hunt," this, of course, being "an industry of national importance"—for the capitalists, who take care to enjoy themselves hunting foxes as a slight relaxation from hunting quids. Market Bosworth Tribunal could, of course, cite Lord Derby himself as one who opposed all exemptions and exceptions —except for capitalists and their fox-hunting attendants. 

Still the mythical millions failed to materialise, and so another lie was started, that the Tribunals were granting an "enormous number of exemptions" (Daily Mail, 19.2.16). The facts were in such glaring contradiction to this lie that the conscriptionists saw the need of starting another. Lord Derby practically admitted the fraud of the whole business when he said that neither the Group Scheme nor the Compulsion Act had brought in the men "expected." Even a conscription Act does not seem capable of producing men that, as Mr. Lough had shown, had never existed. So a fresh, lie—that these "slackers" were hiding in munition factories and reserved occupations—was hatched, and a campaign was begun among the married attested men calling for "fair play" and the fulfilment of the "pledge" that "single men should go first." Having been nicely caught in the net, some of these men are prepared to assist in this campaign, but in reality they are only helping the conscriptionists to carry out their full programme. The number of men who can be spared from munition and other works of national importance will be small, and realising this, the conscriptionists have already started their last move. Colonel Yate voiced their views when on March 14th he asked the Prime Minister if he was "aware that married men who had attested are being laughed at and ridiculed for doing so by other married men who have not attested, . . . and whether he will now consider the question of treating all married men of military age upon the same footing" (Official Report, p. 1850.). This drew forth the retort from Sir W. Byles, "Are the married men shirkers now ? "

But a far more dastardly trick has now been brought to light. When the Compulsion Bill was passing through the committee stage a prolonged discussion took place on Jan. 18 as to the position of those men who would refuse to take up military service. A large number of members, including Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. King, Mr. Morrell, Mr. Outhwaite, Mr. Harvey, Mr. Leif-Jones, Mr. Rowntree, Mr. Allan Baker, Mr. Snowden, and Mr. Byles, raised the question from various points of view. For a long time the Attorney-General, Sir F. E. Smith, acting for the War Office, refused to give any undertaking on the matter, and even pretended for a while to misunderstand the questions. At length a statement was drawn from him and embodied in the Act in the following terms :
   a man who is deemed to have been enlisted and transferred to the reserve under this section shall not be liable to suffer death in respect of failure to obey an order calling him up from the reserve for permanent service. (Military Service Act, clause I, section 2, Subsection c.)
On the 14th March Mr. Snowden raised the question in the House again, and as practically all the newspapers misrepresented his question it will be preferable to quote the Official Report.
   Mr. Snowden asked the Under Secretary for War if the undertaking given by the Attorney-General in the House of Commons on 18th Jan. last . . . extends to a person taken by force under the Military Service Act 1916, who refuses to submit to military orders and discipline; and if so, if he will state what is the maximum penalty of imprisonment in such a case.
  Mr. Tennant: I think my right hon. friend's assurance was limited to the conscientious objector. I think it must be obvious that once a man, deemed to have been enlisted under the Military Service Act 1916 joins for duty with the colours he must be subject to the Army Act in exactly the same way as any other soldier. . . . It would obviously be improper for the death sentence to be applicable to those who have enlisted voluntarily and inapplicable to those who join the Army under compulsion. (Italics mine.)
Note the dirty evasion by the "Honourable" Tennant. The question had nothing to do with a person who "joins for duty with the colours," but with one who refused to join at all.
  Mr. Snowden: Are we to understand that the pledge of the Attorney-General which was incorporated in the Act is now withdrawn, and if a person who refuses to act as a soldier because he thinks he has been unjustly treated or because he has conscientious objections he is to be shot ? Are we to understand that to be the purport of the Right Hon. gentleman's reply ?
   Mr. Tennant: No, Sir, the Hon. gentleman is not to understand that. What the Attorney-General said was that no conscientious objector would be subjected to the death penalty. I think the Hon. member should put the question to my Right Hon. friend.
  Mr. Snowden : I have tried to do so, but the question was not accepted at the table.
 Mr. Tennant : I have been in communication with my Right Hon. friend, and the answer I have given is the joint answer agreed upon.
For cool effrontery and calculated contempt for the working class this would be hard to beat, even by the gang that hold such a gigantic record in that direction. With the Act in operation scarcely a fortnight, an important clause is torn out upon "the joint answer agreed upon" by two officials without any legal authority being given them for doing so. Violent resistance to the law was strongly deprecated by Sir John Simon. What does he think of this deliberate violation of the law by two of his colleagues, one of whom is the Attorney-General ? 

But the capitalist class of this country is being rapidly pushed on to the horns of a dilemma. Practically all the men available for military service have been taken up. As the Daily Chronicle, (17.3.16) says, "The orange has been nearly sucked dry." More men for the Army can only be obtained by taking them from munition works, and the mills and factories engaged in the trade and commerce of the country so necessary for the maintenance of credit and exchange abroad. The enormous importance of the latter point will be clearly seen when it is remembered that England is the financier for the Allies. The appalling ignorance and extreme narrow-mindedness of the militarist section is quite capable of causing them to involve the business of the country in ruin for the purpose of increasing an army that ultimately could neither be armed nor fed. 

The replacement of men by women and of skilled men by unskilled takes a certain amount of time, and this is just what the militarists cannot spare. Signs are not wanting that this replacement has reached its limit for the present, as is shown by the thousands of women vainly seeking employment, and by the fact that many employers, despite the bait of low-priced female labour, are finding that such labour-power can be too dearly bought in bad production and damaged machinery, and are refusing to take more into their works. Even so violent a recruit for the Army as Mr. J. H. Thomas, the "labour" M.P., warns the Government that "It was impossible to replace a single skilled man by an unskilled married man," (Times, 16.3.16) and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Balfour, admitted that they could not increase their production of aeroplanes because the manufacturers of aeroplane engines were unable to obtain more skilled men for this work. The remedy of the conscriptionists is to take the men that are at work. 

Amidst the vast blunders and glaring stupidities perpetrated by the ruling class and its agents we can see the low cunning that, with them, takes the place of the intellectual capacity and grasp required for a scientific organisation of society. The swindle of the Registration Act, the setting of the married men against the single, the attested against the unattested, and so on, are the mean, despicable methods, below the level of Fagin, that they love to employ. 

Yet it is to such crafty ignoramuses and slimy incompetents that the working class have handed not only the control of social affairs, but their own limbs and lives for these scum to dispose of as they please. 

With power within their reach to take control of the social forces for themselves, with the means, by way of capturing political power, of abolishing wars by uprooting their cause—the capitalist system of production for private profit —with the future showing clear and splendid because of the enormous powers of production now at hand and being developed, making it possible for all to enjoy the best that human knowledge an power can produce, the Socialist sounds a clarion call to the working class: 

Away with superstitions, religious or economic. Be men and women in the full sense of the word, self-reliant and confident. Come out to take your glorious heritage, for you have no thing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.
Jack Fitzgerald

Pathfinders: UBIquity (2018)

The Pathfinders column from the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

A word of warning to those who hope science and scientists will come to the rescue and Save the Planet with some ingenious method that hasn’t occurred to the rest of us. Two UCL academics, Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, have put forward ‘A manifesto to save Planet Earth (and ourselves)’ with what they see as the answer to the Anthropocene crisis (BBC Online, 7 June - Link). Following the usual polemical tactic of ‘scare the pants off us’ followed by ‘knock some sense into us’ they propose a two-fold solution. The first of these, Half-Earth, involves reforesting and re-wilding half of the Earth for the benefit of its non-human species. As a way to reverse environmental pollution and global warming the idea has some merit, although some re-wilders are surely going too far in suggesting the widespread reintroduction of wolves, particularly into Britain. ‘Reforesting’ though is often a greenwash term for the common practice of cutting down slow-growing hardwoods and replacing them with fast-growing pine and conifer softwood plantations, which is hardly a like-for-like replacement destined to do anything constructive about species habitat loss. Half-Earth may be good for the planet, as the authors argue, but in capitalism it is only likely to occur if it’s also good for profits, and these two goods are not normally found in the basket.

The other idea is the evergreen and ever-present notion of the Universal Basic Income (UBI), long-time darling of the Green Party and now floated by Corbyn and McDonnell’s Labour Party, and tried out after a fashion in small pilots in Canada and Finland. This is the idea that there would be an unconditional basic income for every adult in society, regardless of whether they had a job, the aim being to decouple paid work from consumption and thereby break the soul-destroying cycle of getting and spending which is supposedly responsible for runaway consumerism, plastic continents, moral bankruptcy and everything else.

That UBI has a lot of support is hardly surprising. To those struggling to keep heads above water, it would be a lifeline or at least a polystyrene swim float, while to social progressives it would represent either a big step towards universal equity (UBIquity?) or even, perhaps, a back-door exit into socialism along the dark and dank lower colon of money and class society.

The problem is, you don’t need a weatherman to know it wouldn’t work. UBI would have to come out of the tax on the profits of employers, but these profits are derived from the hard work of the workers, and the only thing forcing these workers to work hard in the first place is their relative poverty. Release them from that poverty, and the employer’s profits accordingly collapse. Imagine if you won the lottery tomorrow. Would you go back to work? Would anyone? This is the central dilemma of the worker’s condition in capitalism. We want more than anything to get rid of the misery and stress. But that stress is the very thing holding capitalism together, and it can’t afford for us to alleviate that stress or it starts to fall apart like a human pyramid injected with a muscle relaxant.

But this wouldn’t really happen either, because workers would never be allowed to keep hold of this UBI windfall for long. What the employers would actually do is start cutting wages across the board, by roughly the amount of UBI. Perhaps they wouldn’t do it immediately, but by incremental steps, by failing to raise wages along with the rising cost of living, until they’d erased the gain entirely. They’d do this because they’d know that you, the worker with the windfall, could afford it. And why not? Look at it from the boss’s point of view. Would you pay £2 for a tin of beans when you knew you could get it for 50p? No you wouldn’t. And a boss wouldn’t pay over the odds for a worker either. In the end, the benefit of UBI would be cancelled out and nobody would be any the better off. The only way for us to beat the capitalist game is to stop playing it.

Dark Materials
Douglas Adams immortalised the idea of a depressed robot in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Radiohead subsequently sang about a Paranoid Android. Now a team at MIT has built an AI system that makes Marvin look as perky as a springtime Pollyanna (BBC Online, 2 June - Link). They wanted to see what kinds of conclusions an AI would reach if it was only fed on the very worst information from all ‘the dark corners of the net’, so they fed it on an exclusive diet of murders, beheadings and gruesome accidents, while a control AI got a more balanced input of people and fluffy animals. When ‘Norman’ (named after Norman Bates in the film Psycho) was shown Rorschach inkblots, it saw murder, death, suicide and gore galore, while its control partner saw birds and vases of flowers. Where happy Harry saw ‘a person holding an umbrella’, morbid Norman saw ‘a man shot dead in front of his screaming wife’.

Yes, it’s tempting to laugh, and why not? Any computational system is only as good as the information being fed into it, and lately there has been concern about the intrinsic bias in some of that information, including charges of ‘machine racism’. As the article goes on to point out, an AI trained on Google news, when asked to complete the statement: ‘Man is to computer programmer as woman is to X’, responded with ‘homemaker’.

The very fact that scientists can depress a computer is a significant milestone on the road to utter nihilism, but it’s our own mental health we should be worrying about. As we have previously observed in this column (August 2017), an overload of bad-news bias is bad for us too, making us less likely to see the potential for improving the world and more likely to give up in fatalistic resignation. Maybe that’s why the capitalist press loves it so much. But we socialists at least ought to consider giving ourselves a more balanced diet, with a spoonful of optimism thrown in occasionally.

Hands up for the Enterprise Culture (1996)

TV Review from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

This column noted a couple of months ago the peculiar phenomenon of non-employment at large in Roy Clarke’s BBC TV sitcoms Last of the Summer Wine and Keeping Up Appearances. Now, it appears, the soap operas are at it too. There has always been a disproportionately large number of shopkeepers and stall-holders in EastEnders (though given its focus on Albert Square street market this can be forgiven) but for the denizens of Brookside Close, Liverpool, non-employment seems a more unlikely proposition, obviously barring unemployment, of course. This has not deterred the scriptwriters, though, who seem to be carrying a bizarre torch for Thatcherism.

When Napoleon said that England was a nation of shopkeepers he couldn’t have had Brookside Close in mind, could he? The only family in Brookside whose principal income is from employment is the Banks family, the Close’s current token trade unionists with a penchant for scabbing, and sometime lottery winners (!). Virtually every other adult in this programme is either a capitalist or. as is more often the case, an aspiring one. An entire parade of shops has been built behind the Close in recent years, ostensibly so that all the local Alan Sugars can achieve their lifetime’s ambition of moving out of the working class. In Brookside there is only one factory worker and nobody at all who works in an office. There is, though, a restaurateur, several shopkeepers and food retailers, a taxi firm owner and freelance drug-dealer, a night-club owner, and at the bottom of the pecking-order—and somewhat more realistically—a window cleaner. And yet Brookside is supposed to be famous for its “social realism". In what kind of society are workers able to turn themselves into successful shopkeepers at the drop of a hat? Certainly not this one. Last year Jackie Dixon was a swimming pool attendant. This year she owns a top hairdressing salon and dates a famous Australian soap star who comes knocking mysteriously at her door. Pass the smelling salts.

Most adults in Britain are wage and salary earners or their dependents, or alternatively live on benefits. Those who try their hand at self-employment do not, on average, last long. If Phil Redmond and his scriptwriters care to take a look at the income statistics published each year by the Central Statistical Office they will find this borne out They will also discover that Brookside Close must be one of the most unrepresentative areas in Britain, let alone Liverpool. No unemployment, nobody on benefits, hardly any wage and salary earners and an apparent boom in the enterprise culture. A more out-of-touch scenario is difficult to picture. The soap that brought us the gritty drama of the Jordaches is, it seems, capable of losing touch with the real world like any other soap.

Gritty but bitty
While Brookside has often provided examples of excellent drama and its coverage of contemporary issues has probably been unequalled, its “social realism” has always been much more selective, despite its reputation. Let us, as they say, look at some of the other evidence. While there is no unemployment there are two lottery winners on the Close—nice and topical it has to be said, but realistic? And what about all those unnatural deaths? Nobody has died from natural causes in Brookside for years. Meanwhile virtually every house on that tiny close has experienced a murder of some kind. There have been stabbings (more than one), shootings, sieges (again, more than one), bombings. mysterious killer viruses, drug overdoses, rapes and various forms of tortures and beatings. to name just the ones that spring immediately to mind. If this is what Liverpool is like in the leafy suburbs, hell knows it must be bad in Toxteth.

In some ways, this could all be said to be unavoidable—social realism, after all, is always likely to take second place to drama and entertainment, especially in today’s media environment which understandably encourages people to forget about their lives, not re-live them. But perhaps in future media commentators might care to toss around phrases like "gritty social realism” with less abandon than they do presently, especially if the extent of that social realism is a glorification of a long-dead “enterprise culture" among the working class on the one hand, and the tabloid titillation of mass murder in the suburbs on the other. They must know that Brookside should and can—if past performances are anything to go by—do better.
Dave Perrin

Obituary: Jimmy Rushton (1990)

Obituary from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to announce the death ot Comrade Jimmy Rushton of Eccles Branch. Jimmy incurred serious head injuries after falling from a motorbike while holidaying in Rhodes, Greece. He was flown to Athens to receive more sophisticated medical attention, however he sadly passed away on the morning of 2 June. 1990.

Jimmy joined Eccles branch in 1984 where he served as treasurer and was a very active and enthusiastic member. In May he stood as a candidate for the Socialist Party in a local election, polling 101 votes in his home ward of Winton, Manchester.

Often generous to a fault, he will be fondly remembered for his kindness and selflessness. Jimmy was very outspoken in his espousing of the reality of the class struggle — his favourite saying being "never let the bastards grind you down". Jimmy will be especially remembered for the tuition he gave to younger members of the party who became great friends of his due to his affable and easy going character.

He earned the nickname "Gentleman Jimmy" from his work-mates at Barton Swing Bridge on the Manchester Ship Canal in Eccles. where he worked for over twenty years. Jimmy looked after other people but was often negligent in taking care of himself. He claimed he lived for nothing else but socialism and the establishment of a classless, moneyless society.

Our deepest sympathies go out to his mother and father, close relatives and all others who knew and were close to Jimmy.

"Young Guard is Misguided" (1963)

From the November 1963 issue of the Young Guard

The purpose of this article is to show readers why the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain considers ‘Young Guard’ as just another well meaning but misguided group who aim, whether they realise it or not, to make the running of capitalism more efficient, or supporting various reforms which they misname socialism.

In contrast the SPGB holds that the present social system, capitalism, is the cause of working class poverty and will only be abolished when the majority of the international working class understands and wants socialism.

First must be explained what we mean by the two terms.

Capitalism is a system of buying and selling, where wealth is produced for sale on the market with the idea of producing a profit for those who own and control the means of production and distribution. Socialism on the other hand, is a system where wealth is produced for use, with the means of production and distribution being commonly owned and democratically controlled by the whole society.

Anything short of this—no matter how desirable it may seem—is not Socialism. For instance there will be no money in the socialist society, therefore no need of banks and insurance companies; no armed forces, for in society there will exist for the first time a harmony of interests: where the watchword will be— from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

We say that all reformists— whether so-called leftists or rightists—who tell the workers that their administration of capitalism is Socialism are directly retarding workers realising that Socialism is their interests. Thanks to the antics of Labour Parties the world over. Socialism is now equated with shortages, controls, high rates and taxes, nationalisation and so on.

Young Socialists and Young Guard in particular are perpetuating these myths by supporting the party which, during its last term of office, initiated the production of nuclear weapons in Britain, used troops to break strikes, imposed a wage freeze on trade unionists (and intends to do so again with your help no doubt) became the first party to impose conscription in peace time and started the germ warfare establishment at Porton although your contributor ‘Fianna!, seems to think this was a devilish Tory creation (see Y. G. Aug.).

No doubt Young Guardites hold the absurd view that they can help convert the Labour Party to Socialism, though they might just as well try doing this with the Catholic Church, but even if this were possible who are they to play the educators?

Take a look at the ‘aims’ of YG (which can be changed anytime!) to see what we mean. For example, nationalisation has nothing to do with Socialism and we challenge YG or anyone else to give just one example of nationalisation having benefited workers anywhere.

Again worker’s control is a meaningless term as the abolition of capitalism means the abolition of all classes, so where do these workers come in? Workers control is merely another method of running capitalism which even Mr. Khrushchev is now looking upon with favour. Indeed Mark Frankland, writing in the Observer (Sept. 1st) hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that Mr K’s recent speech to Yugoslav workers, on which he extolled the virtues of workers control, was a waste of breath as they—“Know quite well that their wages depend on profits from their factories.”

We also know that Young Guardites envisage profits under Socialism. Where will these come from? Will workers extract surplus-value from themselves?

To sum up; Young Guardites have as much idea of Socialism as any other reformist group. What they call ‘Socialism’ is merely a Utopian rag-bag of ideas none of which, if implemented, would fundamentally alter the wage slavery of the working class. The interests of that class lie in the abolition of capitalism and this, we repeat, they will do when and only when they understand and want Socialism.

“Fair enough” you may say, ‘But how will they get this understanding?” Our reply is that they certainly will not get it by being told that Labour administration of capitalism is Socialism. This simply draws the antagonism of the workers for the failures of that Party onto Socialism and produces a working class which, by its many disappointments at the hands of Labour, is disillusioned and more confused than ever as to what Socialism is, let alone how to achieve it.

The only way is for Socialists to preach Socialism and nothing else, at all times. The more the workers hear expounded a revolutionary alternative to the present set up, the quicker will they demonstrate that they are just as capable of latching-on as anyone else.
Vic Vanni
Ex-Secretary of Woodside Constituency Labour Party

Wood's Failings (1963)

Report from the October 1963 issue of the Young Guard

On Sunday, 8th September, a conference was held for N.E. YS. Each branch was asked to send five delegates. It had no terms of reference and nobody yet knows what it was really about.

There were three speakers, Geoff Foster recently appointed youth officer, Roland Boyce a Young Socialist and lastly the prospective candidate for Sunderland.

Comrade Boyce excels in self control, a fact that he himself pointed out repeatedly, and only once declared he was getting annoyed.

He was, quite justifiably getting annoyed at comrade Foster who opposed a suggestion that the YS should get down into the dole queues. Comrade Boyce quoted the example of Peterlee (Durham) where an unemployment committee had greatly helped in a council by-election.

Unemployment in the N.E. is not only a Tory headache but seems to cause the Labour Party much embarrassment. The Unemployed Men’s Association in West Hartlepool was almost used by its President as a means of getting him elected against a Labour candidate as an SPGB candidate (it shows how contemptuous of the Labour Party many working people are when they turn to two ends of nothing like the SPGB).

In my own town the unemployed men’s association meets, believe it or not, in the Conservative Party headquarters. How the hell that happened I just do not know. But this may be partly explained by a remark made by the prospective Labour Party candidate for Sunderland. “The Labour Party must be careful that people do not believe it gets into power only on the backs of the unemployed.”
Vic Wood
Middlesbrough Y.S.

Letter to the Editor from the November 1963 issue of the Young Guard

Wood's Failings


As a member of the SPGB (and also a reader of Young Guard) may I draw your readers’ attention to the complete inaccuracy of the part of your report from Middlesbrough YS (October 1963) which refers to the SPGB.

The Chairman of the Unemployed Workers’ Committee in West Hartlepools, a Mr. W. Aves, is in no way connected with the SPGB. The facts are that Mr. Aves announced his intention to stand at the next General Election as an unofficial Labourite against the official Labour Party candidate. He has since changed his mind. Mr. Aves also tried to get adopted as Liberal candidate—but they wouldn’t have him. If Vic Wood can confuse this gentleman with the SPGB then it can only be assumed that he is unaware of the SPGB position. Despite this he feels competent to direct two sneers at the SPGB.

First, he suggests that our members are the type who climb to prominence on the backs of unemployed workers after the fashion of ILP and CP labour bleeders in the 1930’s. As a matter of fact the SPGB regards such activity as reformism.

Second, he refers to the SPGB as “two ends of nothing”. This is a very ungenerous way to refer to the group which pioneered the view that Russia is a form of State capitalism; which has since its foundation rejected the idea of “leadership” declaring that the workers must emancipate themselves; which has always exposed the fraud of nationalisation and which, finally, has always emphasised the democratic nature of Socialism. I say ungenerous because today all these ideas are circulating amongst sections of the YS and particularly amongst Young Guard supporters.

I trust that Vic Wood will have the decency to apologise and withdraw his inaccurate statements.

Adam Buick
Newport (Mon) SPGB

Making Work. (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot of people seem to think that making work is a good thing, that capitalists who provide employment are useful people, in fact, that they are so necessary that workmen cannot do without them. It is my purpose in this article to try to show that this is not true.

As it is very difficult to to deal with a community of 40 millions of human beings engaged in thousands of different ways in earning a living, I propose to reduce the community to say 100 men. Now we will suppose that one man owns all the land and another all the machinery, the other men therefore hare nothing, but are able and willing to work. The Landowner says, "Well, my friends, I will give you the opportunity of working on my land, but you must grow rose trees and give me a third of them by way of rent;" the owner of the machinery, tools, etc., says, "Well, my friends, you cannot plough and dig without tools, I will let you use my tools, but you must give me a third of the rose trees you produce by way of interest.”

This is making work, but the biggest dunce can see that such a community would soon be starving, since humanity does not feed on rose trees, so that the mere making of work is not a good thing. Now suppose the Landowner said, "Well, my friends, 50 of you can use my land and grow wheat, fruit and vegetables, and 20 of you can build me a palace to live in and a decent sized house which I can let to the owner of the machinery. etc., and also 98 small cottages and I will pay you in kind;" the owner of the tools says to the remaining 28 men, "If you care to make some good clothes in my factory for me to wear and some to sell to the Landowner and some shoddy clothing for the rest of the community, I will pay you in kind."

In the course of time the palace is finished and the Landowner lives in it; the wheat, fruit and vegetables are reared and the Landowner takes his share, picking out the best, out of which he pays the owner of the factory for his good clothes; the good clothing is made and the owner of the factory is well-dressed and draws his share of the best wheat, fruit and vegetables from the workers who have hired his tools, and out of that share pays the Landowner the rent of his decent house. Net result: the two rich men, without doing a stroke of work, have got the best house, s to live in, the best clothes to wear, and the best wheat, fruit and vegetables to eat, whilst the workers who have produced everything, get the small cottages to live in, the shoddy clothing to wear, and the worst wheat, fruit and vegetables to eat. It seems perfectly clear, therefore, that an injustice has been done to the workers, and that instead of being good men, the Landowner and the owner of the machinery, tools, etc. have robbed the workers of two-thirds of the result of their labour. Let us go a little further. The two owners get such a large store of wheat, fruit and vegetables, which with all their gluttony they have not been able to consume, that it becomes no longer worth their while to allow the workers to grow any more, so they (the workers) are discharged, and seeing that with all their industry, thrift, and frugal living they could not, out of the paltry share of produce allowed them, put by sufficient to live on for many days, it is not long before they are starving, whilst the owners, with all their idleness, waste, and greediness, have enough to last them many months. Poverty has now been born, but in case it might teach the workers a lesson and cause a revolt, the owners offer work off another land to about seventy, some (the biggest) they make policemen to protect their property, some magistrates, to sit in judgment on, and deal out punishment to their brother' workers, who, impelled by the pangs of hunger, help themselves to the produce which they themselves created, but which somehow or other (they don’t exactly know how) has become the property off the Landowner and factory owner.

Having now arrived at our present system of society, with its landowners. Factory Owners, Magistrates, Policemen, etc., it will be clear to you that the number of men engaged in producing food, clothing and shelter has been considerably reduced, and it is just as clear that those who are producing have to produce the same quantity as when more were producing, with the inevitable result, that they have to work longer hours or with greater intensity for the same reward. What a strange thing it is, thatHt has not yet dawned upon the minds of the workers, that it would be more fair for 98 men to rule their own lives and those of the other two, than to allow the other two to rule theirs.

The way to bring about the desired change is very simple, the 98 men must go to the two men and say, “ Friends, the land is a gift of nature to all men, machinery and all the means of production have been brought into existence by the energy and industry of the workers. We purpose, therefore, taking over the land and the means of production and working them in the interest of all and you will then have to contribute your share of the labour which is necessary to provide the sustenance and comfort essential to the well-being of the community.” If this were done it appears to me that, with our increased knowledge of organised production and distribution, the present industrial hell would be converted into a heaven of delight, where peace and plenty would bring joy and happiness to one and alL
J. H. Kennett

Letter From Europe: The French Nationalisations (1982)

The Letter From Europe column from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

President Mitterand and his PS/PC government were hoping that the nationalisation measures voted in December would be in force by the beginning of February, but an appeal to the Constitutional Council by the opposition parties in Parliament delayed matters. The Council ruled that, although the nationalisation measures in themselves were not unconstitutional, the compensation terms were not generous enough to comply with the rights of property as laid down in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. The government was thus obliged to revise this, and certain other aspects of their proposals, and to resubmit them to Parliament. Hence the delay.

The original plan was to nationalise 36 banks, two financial holding companies (Paribas and Suez), the steel industry and five other industrial groups involved in' such fields as chemicals, electrical goods, telecommunications, electronics, glass and fertilisers. Previously, the state had already acquired by mutual agreement a 51 per cent holding in two armaments firms, Dassault (Mirage jets) and Matra. Three other, mainly foreign-owned, companies—Roussel Uclaf (chemicals), CI1-Honeywcll Bull (computers) and ITT France—are to be nationalised later. The state sector in France is thus being considerably extended.

The last wave of nationalisation in France took place in 1945-6 and was initiated by De Gaulle. It involved coal, gas, electricity, civil aviation, the Renault motor firm and parts of the aircraft and arms industries. A number of banks (BNP, Crédit Lyonnais and Société Générale) and insurance companies were also nationalised. The railways had been virtually nationalised before the war and the manufacture of matches and cigarettes has been a revenue-raising state monopoly since the time of Louis XIV. To this list can be added the state oil company, ELF, set up in 1965.

France will therefore have quite an array of state capitalist enterprises, most of them competing in their fields mainly against foreign-owned firms at home and abroad (as Renault has been doing, fairly successfully for years). Although in their internal documents the PS talks about nationalisation being “anti-capitalist" and part of their strategy of “rupture" with capitalism, before the general public these measures are being justified on quite other grounds. Mitterand, for instance, has said that they will provide France with an “economic strike force", both to compete on the world market and to “reconquer the home market” from foreign suppliers, so placing these measures squarely within the logic of capitalism. He has been echoed here by his Minister of Industry, Pierre Dreyfus, who speaks from experience since under De Gaulle he was a managing-director of the state capitalist car company Renault.

In a very real sense this is a continuation of the policy pursued by De Gaulle, after his return to power in 1958, and by his successor Pompidou to try to make France a leading industrial power. De Gaulle wanted to encourage the emergence of French-owned industry able to compete on equal terms with the foreign-owned multi-national corporations which were threatening to take over the French market. These enterprises, which remained in private ownership, were brought into being and survived with help from the government, particularly in the form of orders but also by generous loans. These companies (CGE, Rhone-Poulencc, PUK, St. Gobain, Thomson-Brandt) are now being nationalised; but their role is to remain unchanged: to be French capitalism’s “industrial champions" at home and abroad. The new state capitalist concerns that have been set up will join Renault, Elf, SNECMA (aircraft engines), SNIAS (aerospace, headed by the President's brother. General Jacques Mitterand) and the others—with the exception of the bankrupt steel industry—as pace-makers for technological innovation; at least that’s what the government hopes.

The French capitalist class is well aware that these nationalisations are in no way opposed to their interests; indeed, those facing nationalisation only fought a rearguard action to get the compensation terms increased. Thus the financial daily Les Echos (14 October) headlined its front page the day after the debate on the nationalisation proposals opened in Parliament: “Pierre Mauroy pleads the case for the nationalisations. STATE CAPITALISM AND Till STRATEGY OF PACE-MAKERS”. The accompanying article explained:
   The socialist government wants to apply the doctrine of State industrial capitalism in the name of the strategy of large technological pace-makers. Pace-makers for the reconquest of the internal market, for independence and influence. Not a punishment nationalisation, but a move to give more dynamism to the factories of the Hexagon (France).
Shades of Harold Wilson and his “white-hot technological revolution”!

When a company or an industry is nationalised all that is changed is that the top management is henceforth appointed by the state instead of as previously by the biggest private shareholders. Everything else remains unchanged: the workers remain wage-earners selling their labour-power and producing surplus-value; the former owners remain capitalists living off the income derived from the compensation they are paid; the industry continues to be run on capitalist lines, producing for profit.

As practised in the long-established Western capitalist countries, nationalisation does not affect the social standing of the former owners as capitalists living off the exploitation of the workers. For nationalisation takes place within a legal framework which protects the rights of existing property-owners. In France in fact the “rights of property” are enshrined in the Constitution which requires the state to pay a “fair” compensation when it nationalises an industry or a company—something reaffirmed by the Constitutional Court in its ruling on the first version of the current nationalisation law.

Nationalisation is a buying and selling transaction between the state and the former owners. The state buys the assets in question from their owners more or less at their value. The wealth of the former owners is not reduced at all; it merely changes form. Previously they were shareholders, now they become bondholders. This is precisely what is happening in France, as Le Monde (22 January) explains:
   The shareholders of the companies to be nationalised are going to have to exchange their property titles for State bonds. These will be redeemed capital and interest over 15 years. The interest on these bonds will be paid by two sinking funds, one for the banks and one for the industrial groups, which will be constituted by grants from the budget but also by “contributions” paid by the nationalised industries if they make any profits. Each year the State will lay down how much of the interest payments are to fall on the budget of the State and how much on the industries themselves.
For 1983 it has already been decided that, of the 5,000 million francs (about £460 million) that will be needed to pay that year’s interest on these bonds, 3,000 million francs will be provided by the Budget and 2,000 million francs from the profits of the nationalised industries. The rate of interest payable will be the same as that paid in other medium-term state bonds. As can be seen, the workers in the nationalised industries will continue to be exploited by the former owners, part of whose interest will come directly from the surplus value they produce. And this is supposed to be a step towards “socialism”!

Apart from continuing to receive a property income as interest, the former shareholders will also be getting their capital back. Each year from 1983 until 1998, when the operation will be completed, a number of bonds will be chosen by lot for redemption at their face-value. Most of the former shareholders are in fact expected to sell their compensation bonds fairly quickly so as to be able to re-invest in shares. Thus, the former shareholders will, after a brief period as government bondholders, go back to being shareholders again! The bonds will end up in the hands of those financial institutions which specialise in investing in government bonds.

It has been estimated that the government will have to pay out over the 15 years a total of about 40,000 million francs (about £3,670 million) as compensation—and this is only the cost of redeeming the bonds: the interest payments (another 40.000 million francs) are in addition to this. The government upped the compensation terms (the price the state is to pay to buy up the industries it wanted to take over) twice, once on its own initiative and then again following the ruling of the Constitutional Council. The capitalists concerned must be quite happy with the final terms for the sale of their industries to the state, helped considerably as they were by the obstructionist parliamentary tactics of the opposition Gaullist and Giscardian parties, many of whose members and leaders have close connections with the business world.

The other great change often promised (but never put into practice) in connection with nationalisation is what used to be called “industrial democracy”, now revived by Benn and the Labour Party under the name of “workers’ control”. In France the term is autogestion (“self-management”) and is the official policy of the PS. In fact it is their (mistaken) definition of socialism: a society where the most important means of production would be nationalised and run by management committees composed of representatives of the workers, consumers and the government. But this would not be socialism because production for sale on a market with a view to profit would continue and the management committees, however democratically chosen, would still have to run the industry in accordance with the logic of the capitalist economy: keeping costs, including wages, down so as to remain competitive, making profits, accumulating capital, and so on.

But in any event the Mitterand government is only taking a token step in this direction. The existing elected works councils will be consulted more often and will be given more information. A number of so-called “workers’ representatives” (trade union bosses) have been appointed to the boards of the new nationalised companies, but real power will be in the hands of the government-appointed managing directors.

Even if it wasn’t just a façade, such “participation” in the organisation of their own exploitation, dressed up as an extension of democracy, is something workers in France and elsewhere would be well advised to refuse even from a simple trade union point of view. It blurs and is in fact meant to blur—the fundamental conflict of interest between wage-labour and capital which is built into capitalism. As long as capitalism lasts workers and their trade unions should avoid getting involved in the management of industry and should stick to being a permanent opposition to "management” (i.e. the owners or their agents) over wages and working conditions.
Adam Buick (Luxemburg)