Sunday, July 29, 2018

Moneyless (2018)

Book Review from the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

A World Without Money or Politicians. By Colin Walpole, 2017. Order through Amazon.

I had two reasons to buy this. Colin is my old 'boss.' I helped him, in my very small way, develop rugby union — his favourite sport — in a local city. Ex-pat that he is, he brought rugby union with him to Denmark and developed a very decent side. The other reason is clear enough: the SPGB has put a similar argument: a moneyless society of democratic control by the world's people.

Colin's booklet does not quote Marx, economics, anything. He makes observations, discusses thoughts, that he has had for years. That might make the booklet refreshing for many who might be bored by quotes from the Grundrisse.

Colin states his thoughts a few pages in. Get rid of a money economy and replace politicians by a direct democracy: 'I've convinced myself that money gets in the way of self-fulfillment'.

Colin rips into money. If you don't have it, you'll do everything to get it. If you have it, life is easy and swell. This, though, is a weakness in the booklet. Capitalist society appears as a mass collection of commodities, to quote Marx (after all), where one – the money commodity – allows the exchange of all commodities because it is regarded as a universal equivalent. To attack capitalism, you must see it as a social relationship based on minority ownership, with majority exploitation: profits, rent and interest for the few; wage slavery for the rest. A class system with a class struggle.

I am certain people will enjoy this booklet: for one thing it shows workers are able to develop revolutionary ideas without a Leninist Party.
Graham C. Taylor

Star Wars (1981)

From the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1931 the Socialist Party of New Zealand was founded; by January 1934 they had launched their official journal. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the SPNZ, we are publishing an article from the current issue of their journal, Socialist Viewpoint.
On July 16, 1969, the quiet of Cape Kennedy space centre was shattered as a giant white and silver pencil-shaped rocket blasted the silo below its huge rocket motors with 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The 97,000-pound spacecraft lifted out of its own inferno of searing flames and smoke and trailing an almost white fiery tail it accelerated without faltering, out of the earth’s atmosphere and into the history books. Carrying its contents into space and eventually onto the moon, Apollo II made a reality out of what had been up to then the stuff of science fiction. As the 363 ft. rocket disappeared into the waiting void of space, the smoke and debris blasted high by the monstrous force of man's most powerful engines started to settle back onto the earth’s surface.

In 1969, as now, this earth was a place of puzzling contrasts. In the dense jungles of South America, in parts of Africa and in other areas of the earth, people no different biologically to the three high in the nose of the rocket lived in varying stages of primitive communism, much as they had for thousands of years. As Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin settled down to the routines which would eventually lead to a moon landing, primitive people pursued the rigid routine of survival using tools which their primitive technology and environment had given them. Between them and the white pencil of light which crossed unseen above them in the heavens, lay the historical path along which humans of modern society had passed. Apollo II represented within its building a blend of every science and technology so far known. Even the smallest nut and bolt used in its construction has concealed within it the mental and physical labours of thousands of people, the diverse technology of metallurgy mechanics and complex production techniques. Apollo represented as it carved its path out of the atmosphere the crowning achievement of the division of labour. Without this division of labour and the productive forces arranged around it, we would still be looking at the moon in wonder instead of walking on it.

Since that moon landing space exploration has continued and although at times it comes under the scrutiny of Congress with the purpose of reviewing its allocations, it continues to survive and its major programmes continue. Because space exploration is closely allied to military developments, its continuance is assured. The disturbing fact is that space research is really only the cream on a very ugly cake. That cake is the horrific development of the most technical means devised to lay waste our environment and our species.

Behind the shining suits of the astronauts and the beaming smiles of the recently returned, lies the dreadful reality of the missiles, the bombs, the spy satellites. Possibly for the sake of our sanity what else is circulating over our skies is left to our imagination. Recently with the successful launching and landing of the space shuttle the exploration of our solar system has become a distinct possibility. But is this the reason for the development of such a craft? It would appear that as before the major drive behind the development of a re-usable cargo carrying craft is the construction of an orbiting fully manned military space station. Both America and Russia are pursuing this end with great determination.

British scientist Sir Bernard Lovell, director of radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank, has something to say on the development of space platforms.
   It’s true that over the next two decades space technology in both the USA and in Russia will make possible the development of very large space platforms, in particular it has been suggested that such platforms might beam down solar energy to Earth. It may well be that such devices will enable us in part to overcome the energy crisis that currently faces mankind. But it would be naive to see such expensive schemes purely in terms of the peaceful use of solar energy. Many experts take the view that to develop solar power satellites would be foolish because it would be far easier to collect the power on earth. They miss the point—whether or not it is economical for power, it is likely to be done because the satellites have military potential.
(Encyclopaedia of Space Travel and Astronomy)
Like other potentially worthwhile developments under capitalism the space shuttle will return very little of its amazing possibilities to the inhabitants of Earth until the social system that uses it is dramatically changed. Our technical progress over the last 200 years is indeed dramatic when viewed against our long history. Today the human species is no longer dominated by the forces of gravity and its exploitable environment has expanded dramatically as a result. In all spheres of science, knowledge is expanding at an unprecedented rate. As it expands however, it is hampered and restricted by the retarding effects that capitalism imposes upon its uses. Stunted by a social system which cannot cope with the high surpluses modern science and production can offer, the uses of the most amazing of our developments are confined to the mediocre role of maintaining the present divisions within society.

To those who are amazed and enthralled by the recent discoveries of our space environment, it must be realised that as long as capitalism remains on earth, its rockets, its space stations, its whole space technology will be used as a means to solve the problems thrown up in the competitive struggle for markets by the major powers. That is, as the ultimate weapons of war.
D. Mountford

The World in their Wallets (1982)

Quote from the November 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “No one is really rich if he can count his money," said oil billionaire Paul Getty. It's a daunting definition and narrows the field considerably for it means not just having millions, but tens and even hundreds of millions of pounds. But daunting or not there are plenty of people determinedly and unashamedly on their way there.
   For the rest of the world who aren’t Paul Gettys, “rich" means being a millionaire. And millionaires are a thriving clan. Once a unique club of the landed, titled and moguls of established business empires, now their ranks are being swelled by the glitter- and glamour-loving breed of the world's top sportsmen and rock stars, oil sheiks and inventors, whizz kids and entrepreneurs. Britain alone has 4,000 people worth at least a million pounds and whole industries have been set up to cater for their jet-set lifestyles—the cars, the parties, and the expensive demands of their beautiful women.
  And these are merely the rich. The very rich are worth up to £20 million the super-rich have amassed up to £35 million (around 60 million dollars)—and only then do you consider that you might stop counting.
From the News of the World Magazine. 17 October, 1982.

Leadership: image and reality (1983)

From the November 1983 Socialist Standard.
From the November 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the important pre-requisites for a major political figure is a personality distinctively different from any other politician. Yet all potential leaders must have one thing in common — they must conform to the current interests and values of the ruling class. In the past the bogies of Hitler and Stalin were helpful; in their day they were accepted by workers as essential to the running of society.

Naturally, for capitalists the successful personality reflects the "instinctive” ambitious drive for competition among individuals. All potential candidates in the personality stakes find it beneficial and essential to project the image of being a captain of industry or the right politician or the good union leader. To be successful, candidates must ensure that the selection process carefully irons out all the unacceptable personality traits and enhances all fashionable characteristics. For example, it would be out of character if Shirley Williams' hair did not look like yesterday's mop, and her intellectual image would look as worn out as her clothes if she failed to deliver a new set of proposals at every re-launch of the Alliance. Thatcher, on the other hand, realises that her image rests on concealing the blemishes.

Such role playing requires that participants — politicians in particular — are capable of adjusting to the specific image determined by the changing circumstances of the political arena. The constant changes forced on these personalities have in turn made them a good customer of the image makers, as the joint partnership between Saatchi and Saatchi and Thatcher well illustrated. Success has become measurable, by judging the response of working class ignorance to the performance given by the politician. When Margaret Thatcher is asked the usual loaded question by the media — why she took the decision to reduce pensions or benefits, she will do her utmost to ensure that her own personal style of response will induce a million or so tears and sighs of sympathy from members of the working class. She tries to convince them that such harsh methods were necessary to guarantee long term gains, the ploy being: what is good for capitalism is good for you. Thatcher’s TV appearance would be a non-event unless her own personal hair-dresser was in attendance to ensure that no misplaced hair distorts her image of purity and righteousness in any way.

When Thatcher is faced with striking workers it takes no more than a slight change in her tone of voice, and an affronted expression on her face to satisfy the media. Like all character actors in the personality stakes she realises that such attempts to discredit her and her policies of protecting capitalists' interests only makes her more eligible for the title of top cat, for all political personalities feed off each others' liabilities and disabilities.

Leading contenders among those who are out to discredit Thatcher’s image are sometimes known as champions of the working class. This simply means they have taken great care to stamp themselves with the correct branding iron. In the process they also take great care that Thatcher is labelled poisonous for working class consumption. For radicals like Benn and Scargill she represents the destroyer of British Industry. They also find it beneficial, to their own image making, to emphasise the "Iron Lady” aspects of Thatcherism. All such catchphrases are easily acceptable to those who find it more convenient to blame the individual for capitalism's ills rather than the system itself. Critics of Thatcher like Benn and Scargill have become foremost experts in highlighting the “conspiracy of the media” which in return is out to mould its own brand of personality onto them. Yet without the media, neither Benn nor Scargill would possess the image of champions of the working class. It is a well known ploy within political circles that one of the best ways of getting media coverage is to attack the media for the way it represents you. To the uninitiated such double think has a certain plausibility; after all, Benn and Scargill are so obviously anti-establishment.

However, all this play acting must be confusing to those members of the working class who follow the personality stakes. It must make it very difficult to tell the difference between the next lot of good and bad guys and gals, whom they wish to place on the pedestal of hero worship. Just imagine how confusing it must be for the experts on personality on the left wing when their left- wing heroes of yesteryear become the centre-right heroes of the status-quo.

Out of the necessity to gain the workers’ overall support and to cater for individual workers’ preferences and phobias, politicians are presented as a particular ideal type. Every election is a confirmation that capitalism, despite its defects and outdated social and productive relationships, only survives because of working class support. What is not widely discussed is the reason for a fundamental contradiction in interests. On the one hand there is the majority who suffer, as a class, the consequences of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, conflict, and human misery. On the other there is a minority who profit, as a class, from these social problems. Yet the majority see no contradiction in this state of affairs and, indeed, regularly supply and provide the means for the minority to live in luxury. Clearly, the working class view of the world is distorted, both by them and for them.

Before capitalism’s image-makers can fulfil their role, and in order for them to perpetuate the process, certain conditions must prevail. They thrive on plausibility and promises, depend on a degree of gullibility and ignorance, and literally profit from a poverty of knowledge. Without these pre-conditions no image-making industry would be able to mould the working class into passive and docile individuals. Neil Kinnock, for instance, keeps the Labour party in the public limelight by painting a far rosier picture than Thatcher of a future period of prosperity. From our present experiences and past circumstances, we know there have been periods when trade has increased and unemployment decreased. Therefore, like night follows day. we know any talk on future periods of prosperity are not only plausible and a promise but a virtual guarantee. But this does not tell us what will be the main consequences of such a state of affairs: firstly, it will be a period of prosperity for capitalists; secondly, it will be followed by a period when trade will decrease and unemployment will increase.

Of course, even the most inexperienced Public Relations Officer knows that plausibility and promises are inadequate to convince people. After all, promises need constant renewal. What better attraction to capture a person’s attention than another one dressed up in the image of a leading politician? At a stroke, plausibility is retained and in addition the human interest angle is provided with a more feasible object against which to register discontent. Political figures therefore serve as a distancing mechanism between the system itself and the working class. The non-solution of problems is presented as a fault in the make-up of the personality, whereas in reality social problems demand a social solution.
Cardiff Group

Trouble at t'Mint (1984)

From the November 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a medium of exchange, money symbolises a means to an end: the production of surplus value by the working class — the foundation of capitalism. However, money has another role, also important, and that is to convey the ideology of capitalism. For instance, a fifty pence coin proclaims in its design the need for leadership, false notions such as nationalism and patriotism and all the claptrap that goes with them. To reinforce these ideas in the minds of the working class, special coins and medals are minted to celebrate such insignificant non-events as royal weddings, births and jubilees. On a more dangerous level they are also struck to glorify the butchery of misguided wage slaves in capitalist adventures like the Falklands War, where many members of the working class were killed and maimed in the interest of the Coalite Company and other concerns both British and Argentine. This conveys the idea that class dominated society is the natural order of things and was, is, and ever shall be forever and ever and ever, amen. But if coins and medals showed the reality of capitalism — people starving in a world of plenty while the bloodsuckers grow fat, the soldier bleeding his life away in the interests of Capital, rivers polluted by the industrial filth poured into them, that would encourage its demise.

Numerous skills are employed to perpetuate these deceptions. For example, it is the die designers and engravers who are the creme de la creme in producing the images we see when money changes hands. For those ignorant of such matters, the Queen's head symbolises a caring monarchy and embodies the idea of the nuclear family and the maintenance of the delicate balance between state machinery and "democracy”.

However important all of this is, the prime motive of mints the world over is to make profits for their owners, be they state or private and. as with all other processes subject to the laws of the market place, they are forced to compete world wide for a share of the market. The Royal Mint at Llantrisant is no exception, and this was one reason it was moved from the site at Tower Hill. But why Llantrisant when London is considered the hub of the financial world and has all the prestige associated with it? It must be remembered that at the time Big Jim Callaghan was Chancellor and, by some coincidence, his constituency was (and still is) only a few miles away. Another coincidence was that the Labour Government was taking a battering from the Welsh Nationalist Party over its attacks on the living standards of the working class. Also, since the Labour Party had decimated the local coal mining industry, there was a ready supply of cheap labour power.

Initially, the Mint's fortunes soared, with high demand for its products, both at home and overseas. It even won a Queen's Award for Export. However, after this initial euphoria, things began to turn sour, despite the cheap labour and automated plant and inflation making paper money less valuable. Apart from the recession, which was bad enough, the competition has refused to go away. Indeed some of the Mint’s major competitors have invested in new plant, forcing the Mint to do the same again. Added to this, many of the old customers have started to produce their own coinage and to export it. The introduction of more automated plant means more "voluntary” redundancies and, with the commitment to "a quantum leap in technology” [1] over the next three years, even more can be expected. With wages kept down and productivity increased the remaining workforce face even more ruthless exploitation.

Coinage production faces competition from the use of credit cards and increasing numbers of people using bank accounts and cheques, which has led to a decrease in the amount of small change in circulation. However capitalism will always need a form of exchange, be it plastic tokens, metal coins, or sugar-coated sweets, and so the Mint is attempting to overcome the rising cost factor by introducing the manufacture — as have their competitors — of base metal coins clad in non-ferrous metal such as brass, nickel and copper. It is hoped that this process will give a saving of 30 per cent over the cost of the standard coin. With these coins the Mint hopes to win back many of the customers it has lost to the competition. This loss is reflected in figures that show that overseas sales, once 80 per cent of output, have dropped to 50 per cent. To the workforce, these trends of a shrinking market and more competition mean that the Mint has not passed the point where . . . “we can chip away at productivity through more flexibility in manpower and smaller numbers". [2] . . . for obviously, by producing a coin with a longer life, the market shrinks still further and only serves to prolong the cycle of international competition.

It is worth mentioning that despite the "Royal" tag the state is in firm control, setting financial and production targets, hiring and firing. Other coin producers in this country such as IMI, De la Rue and Birmingham Mint Products also come under the indirect control of the state. It is not for nothing that the workforce have cynically coined the phrase "The Mint with the hole”, with a few members of the workforce playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Ministry of Defence Police in trying to supplement their meagre resources by helping themselves to the product which they have produced. But the MOD Police — sometimes called the dole in uniform — and the forces of law hold all the aces. For as well as preventing unwelcome visitors getting in, they can be deployed to stop the workforce going out. Under the logic of capitalism, taking advantage of international fluctuations of commodity prices is considered legal, but it is illegal for the workers to try to take what they have produced.

As well as producing coins, the Mint also turns out "Mintos” — not a sweet, but someone usually found among management — workers who run the system on behalf of their masters — and who is imbued with the work ethic, believing it to be an honour to be exploited at the Royal Mint. These people typify the way workers are conned into a blind acceptance of capitalism. However when the workers decide to rid themselves of their masters they too will be active participants in a society of their own choosing. Whereas in the words of Dr DJ. Gerhardt, Deputy Master and Comptroller: "you are probably concerned to know whether we can now look forward to a prosperous future free from worries about job losses and redundancy. I have to reply that much will depend on circumstances outside our direct control, notably overseas demand for circulating coin, on the amount of money available to our customers for the purchase of collectors' coins”. [3] Even the capitalists cannot control their own system. It is time for the working class to organise a society where money, not people will be redundant.

[1,2]: Sunday Times, 15 April 1984.
[3] Personal letter to Mint staff, July 1982.

Striking lessons (1985)

From the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alighting from the tube at Waterloo, I met up with the other 25,000 teachers for the march to Hyde Park. The number of people present was impressive: "the biggest staff room in the world", a friend remarked. The demonstration was part of the industrial action in the teachers' pay dispute. Fifty years ago. the idea of teachers engaging in this sort of industrial action would have been unthinkable to many teachers, who saw themselves not as "workers" but rather as part of a sociological group usually dubbed "the middle class" who were somehow outside the skirmishes of the class struggle. In fact, anyone who has to seek a livelihood by selling herself or himself for a wage or a salary is in the working class and the only significant difference between a teacher and a dock worker is a snob social value and not a difference in economic class. It is partly due to their earlier reluctance to engage in concerted union action over their wages and conditions that the teachers' necessary relative poverty in the wages-system has so clearly worsened.

Despite the popular left-wing image of the working class as comprising of mostly people who work in factories, mines and docks, the composition of the workforce in capitalism has undergone considerable change during the last half-century. The majority of workers today are employed in the service industries. In 1983, for instance, the number of employees working in manufacturing industries totalled 5,748,000, compared with a total of 12,906,000 employees working in Education. Health. Finance, Transport and Communications. Public Administration, Distribution and Catering. (An Economic Profile of Britain 1984. Lloyds Bank Group)

When people suffer a contradiction between their prejudices and their daily experiences, it is experience which is ultimately the stronger force. There was for a long time a pressure for workers in jobs like teaching to avoid taking militant action in unions to improve their pay and conditions; Keith Joseph recently referred to teachers as "normally a model for moderation and civilised values". Nevertheless, despite being told to refrain from the messy business of campaigning for higher pay and despite being told to be content and proud to be wearing a "white collar" (even if there is a economic dog-lead between it and the employer's hand), experience cuts deeper then snob values; the rent, after all. has to be paid. In recent years, industrial action by civil servants, teachers, bank workers and journalists has shown that such workers have not been conned into believing that they are in an economically privileged position aloof from the class disputes of their fellow workers. There must be many executives and managers now with one eye on the lengthening Professional and Executive dole queue who realise the relative weakness of workers who, because of the work they are doing, are not organised in unions themselves. although even unions are relatively powerless to stop unemployment in a recession.

The claim of the teachers is for a substantial pay rise as there has been a 30 per cent reduction in their pay in real terms since 1974. Teachers carry out a wide range of tasks outside their contractual hours like preparation, marking, conferences, meetings and organisation of activities which if taken into account mean that teachers are having to exist on an even worse level of poverty than can ordinarily be expected in capitalism. Teachers usually end up by working a fifty hour week for forty weeks which is the equivalent of a forty hour week for fifty weeks. The position of all wage and salary slaves is one of relative impoverishment. Whether we are paid a low wage or a high wage, it is the fact that we do have to exist in this manner — being hired by an employer with just enough to get by with, so that we may return the following week or month in the continuing relationship of subservience — that is significant.

When we use the term "exploitation" it is to refer to the relationship between the small minority who own the means of life and the great majority who produce all of the wealth and live in poverty. We are not out to quarrel about the varying degrees of poverty suffered among ourselves. So long as that is all that workers are doing — arguing about whether a teacher should get more or less than a civil servant or a transport worker — the wealth owners will be laughing all the way to the bank. The wages system is really a form of institutionalised robbery whereby the rich get rich by paying the wealth producers less than the value of what they produce. In return for a price (a wage) the boss buys the labour-power of a worker for say a week. During that week the worker produces or helps to produce goods worth greatly more than they could buy back with their wage. That is the nature of exploitation in capitalism. The price of the labour power of a service worker. like a teacher, is calculated with reference to such factors as how much on average needs to be spent in the training of the worker and roughly what standard of living needs to be enjoyed (or suffered) by that worker in order for him or her to be in the right sort of condition for the demands of the job. Also taken into account is the need for money to be available for workers to rear another healthy generation of geese to lay more golden eggs. But this last factor is progressively being taken account of less as females have entered the workforce more prevalently and two incomes have almost become an expected prerequisite (from the employer's view) for having a family.

As Karl Marx observed, capitalism exerts a constant downward pressure on the living standards of workers as the owning class try to get the best screw from the wealth producers as possible:
   Such being the general tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did so they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. (Value, Price and Profit)
As a employee, with all the insecurity that entails. I am obviously better off united with fellow employees in an organised union than I would be facing my employer on my own. Nevertheless, there are two sorts of drawbacks with trade unionism one minor and one major.

The minor drawbacks of trade union campaigns arise from the fact that because most of their membership is not yet socialist, unions sometimes put forward arguments that socialists reject. A strike, for instance. on racist grounds is not something that socialist trade union members would support. One of the lines of argument advanced by the teaching unions as part of the demand for higher pay has been the comparison between the current levels of pay of teachers and the police. After six years of service, a teacher can expect to earn £7,734 whereas a policeman after the same length of service can expect £12,282. This sort of observation does help to highlight the priorities of the profit system but for the owning class the utility of the police force (and the anti-social aspects of their job) is so intrinsic to the social system based on class that it is really nothing but an unobtainable moral request that says that the rat race should be made equitable and meritocratic.

Capitalism is a world wide social system which is founded on the fact that a small minority of men and women and governments own and control society's means of life. The social conflict engendered by the antagonistic interests of the wealth producers and the wealth owners means that a police force is needed in the same way as the competition between rival factions of the owning class create wars and the need for the most murderous weapons with which to fight them. These needs are endemic to the social system and you can no more have one without the other than you can have a war without casualties. Today the owning class pays an Army General (an expert in mass murder) in one year the amount that it pays for five nurses (experts in preserving life) but socialists are not in favour of trying to equalise the pay of killers and life-savers, we want the majority of men and women to change the basis of society so that there will no longer be a social need for war and its workforce.

The reason for the 30 per cent reduction in real terms in the pay of teachers is the successive acceptance, over the last ten years, of pay "increases" which were below the rate of inflation; in other words the acceptance of pay cuts. So the desired result of the current pay claim is really nothing more than restoring a standard of poverty that was enjoyed ten years ago. Even so, while the government has rejected this claim it has not been slow to award generous increases to a strangely feudal sounding group it calls "top people". A naive observer might be forgiven for believing this term "top people" to refer to those members of society who perform the very difficult and highly useful skilled jobs like nursing, mining, engineering and so forth. But this was not the sort of person the government had in mind. Their "top people" included characters like the Lord Chief Justice. Lord Lane, who will receive a rise in two stages from £64.000 a year to £75.000 a year for wearing an 18th century court costume and using Latin phrases to ruin people's lives. Others at the social pinnacle were the professional killers, the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces whose rise will be from £51,000 to £75.000. The man who presented the pay recommendations to ministers for approval was Sir Robert Armstrong. Perhaps to congratulate himself on having the idea of improving the position of “top people" and as a mark of his own self-esteem he set his own rise at 48 per cent bringing his income to £75,000.

The major drawback of trade unionism is that at best it is really nothing more than running up a down escalator. Not only will it not put an end to the system of exploitation but when engaged in without seeing capitalism as a social system, it can actually help to strengthen the ideas that hold up the wages system. The point is that class-divided society does not, and cannot ever, work in the interests of the majority. In the week that teachers decided to intensify their industrial action we learned of one of the problems of a member of the ruling class. Gerald Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, (a man. incidentally, with one "O" level to his name) said to be worth £2,000.000.000 started a case at the European Court of Human Rights. He has this problem with his rent: he is disputing the loss of £2,529,918.51 from reforms compelling the sale of freeholds to certain long-term tenants at prices well below the going market rate.
  It may well be small change to the wealthiest man in Britain . . . However, as one of his colleagues on the family trust said yesterday it is the principle that counts.
(Guardian. 24 September 1985)
Meanwhile it was announced that liver transplants at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge would have to stop because "money is running out". About a dozen patients. both adults and children, are on the waiting list and the unit's transplant co-ordinator. Celia Wright, warned that some may die.
  The father of a four-year-old girl on the waiting list. Mr Peter Maguire said: "How in God's name can you put a price on a child's life?"
(Guardian. 20 September 1985)
This sort of ugly contradiction between the problems of Gerald Grosvenor and Peter Maguire are a feature of a society that operates on minority ownership of wealth. The pay dispute of the teachers should be seen in this social setting.

Under capitalism, education is used to indoctrinate workers to be obedient and acquiescent wage-slaves. In an open letter to teachers, the Education Secretary. Keith Joseph, recently made this clear: "We are building bridges between school and work to prepare young adults better for the world of work." (Times Educational Supplement. 27 September 1985)

The public schools, on the other hand, teach prospective parasites how to be "superior" and patronising.

In a socialist society the process of education will not be, as now, a sequence of disagreeable events undergone between the ages of 8 and 16. It would not involve the development of "the habit of obedience" to authority, learning how to do the accounts for the boss, the history of kings and aristocrats and how to say "I went to Frinton for my holidays" in two European languages. The word education developed from the Latin verb "educare", to lead out, and in a democratic society education will become a continuous process for all those who wish to learn about anything at any stage of life. Teachers will not have to spend their whole lives being "teachers" because people will be liberated from the constraints of wage-slavery and will be able to be creative and to participate in society as well as imparting their skill and knowledge to others.

Teachers and all other workers should recognise the very modest and limited aims of their union. As Karl Marx again pointed out:
   They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of these effects . . . that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that with all the miseries it imposes on them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto. "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword. “Abolition of the wages system!"
(Value, Price and Profit)
As the biggest staff room in the world dispersed at Hyde Park after the rally, one thought struck me in particular: the impotency of the politics of "please". Thousands and thousands of teachers gathered to plaintively address Keith Joseph with their case for the rather modest claim for a lifestyle of poverty that they had in 1974. Please Sir. So long as the social relations of class-divided society are tolerated by the majority then workers can only demand things from the powerless position of the dispossessed. Socialists are not in the political arena to negotiate with the bosses for a few more crumbs. We want a majority to democratically take over the bakery. 
Gary Jay

Between the Lines: Currie and chips (1986)

The Between the Lines column from the November 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Currie and chips

Perhaps, on the basis that if the government will not last forever it might as well go by suicide, Margaret Thatcher gave a ministerial post to the unacceptable face of medievalism, Edwina Currie. No sooner was Currie installed behind her new desk than she was throwing out insults to the impoverished of the North about how their bad health conditions were all down to too much booze, too many fags and excessive amounts of fast-food. (Evidently nobody has told Currie that capitalists investing in those products are among the biggest donators of funds to the Tory party). World In Action (ITV Monday. 6 October. 8.30pm) set out to go for the Edwinian jugular, which in her case meant sticking a microphone in front of her and letting her show her extensive capacity for insensitive stupidity. Currie's final comment that (paraphrased) if workers spend their money on unhealthy food and drink it will be their own fault if they die early is just the sort of talk which puts the lie to the myth of "caring capitalism". But the programme's method of trying to demonstrate that workers in the North are more poor than the luckier ones in the South was misleading and can only create further confusion about how to rid society of poverty.

The evidence used was a comparison between some of the poorest areas of Newcastle and a poor district in South East London. It was shown that workers tend to die earlier in the first area and that this is due to an inescapable cycle of poverty which is especially prevalent in the North. Even if this is so (and there are numerous parts of the so-called prosperous South East which are ghettoes of extreme deprivation), what conclusion would it lead to? Put more money into health care in the North? Reformists may argue for this, but within capitalism this may simply create new, worse problems for areas from which the NHS funding will be taken.

Ironically, one of the reasons for particular problems in the NHS in London is precisely a result of a central government policy to divert London NHS funding to other areas. Like the documentaries which seek to demonstrate that the real poverty is in the Third World, this programme serves only to fragment the analysis of poverty and to miss the point that deprived workers in Africa or Newcastle or Surrey are impoverished because it is profitable to let them be. That point was never made to Edwina Currie, thus allowing her to skate around the real issues, albeit on ice so thin that one hoped she was wearing her thermal underwear.

Paradise postponed

This is not a literary column but it so happens that 1 have always regarded John Mortimer as a much over-rated playwright. His current epic series (BBC2. Saturdays. 9.30pm) called Paradise Postponed is one of those tedious scripts full of apparently witty comments which leave the viewer thinking, How come I don't go around all day making witty comments and receiving them from other people? The thesis of the drama (beware of dramas bearing theses) is that after 1945 everyone expected the new government and the welfare state to create something approaching paradise, but it all failed because there are not enough idealists around.

I do not know whether John Mortimer, who spent most of the period concerned operating in the lie-courts as a barrister, sees himself as one of the few idealists but it is evident that he is a Labourite who like so many others is now playing out his disappointment that it all ended up just as The Socialist Party always said it would end up. No, the welfare state and the other crumbs lobbed towards the proletarian voting fodder have not created paradise or anything like it. In this drama Mortimer calls on us to mourn with him over the passing of this dream: maybe he will get some agreement from the reformists who see nothing but defeatism and the postponement of any real social change as inevitable but socialists did not share in the illusion in the first place and will not share in any theatrical shedding of tears over the televised burial of Labour's sterile ideals

A puzzler for Mr Dimbleby

Your reviewer dutifully watched most of the conferences on TV and contemplated the joke which asks, how can you tell when politicians are telling lies? Answer: when their lips are moving. But I have a problem for David Dimbleby and his buddies at the BBC. Let us imagine for a moment that they began to take democracy seriously and decided to cover the conferences of all political parties, even the little parties who do not spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on such events.

So they are given the job of commentating on the conference of The Socialist Party. What would they do? Firstly, there are no socialist leaders. So there is no big speech from some pompous windbag designed to rally the faithful, no polls which can be taken to find out whether our leader is more or less, or as popular with over-85-year-old widowers than David Owen or Neil Kinnock. And with no leaders there can be no leadership splits. So all the Dimblebyesque interviews, so common with capitalist parties' conferences, about what wets think of dries and rights of lefts and cuddlies of hards (this is quite aside from Playschool, you understand?) would be redundant.

Secondly, our conferences are very democratic. So the TV merchants would not be able to hang around outside smoke-filled hotel rooms at midnight to find out whether the Milton Keynes delegation is going to give its block vote to the Dundee amendment about how big the print should be in The Socialist Standard. Thirdly, in The Socialist Party we have no secrets. Now, it is well known that journalists love snooping around looking for secrets to uncover. They poke around looking for copies of private letters between supposedly important correspondents.

In this party the only subject we would wish to discuss with the media are the principles and policy of The Socialist Party. The discussion of ideas — that will be a novelty act for Robin Day. We are not expecting the TV cameras at our next annual conference (the 83rd) and nor do we expect the capitalist media to conduct our propaganda for us. But when enough workers — the people who do not control the media — see the urgency of the socialist proposition we have no doubt that the experts in distortion will be losing no time in working out ways to spread disinformation about this party.
Steve Coleman

Taken for Granted (1987)

From the November 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

For most people, much of what we do in our daily lives is routine. Decisions are made without being taken, because we live for much of the time in "taken for granted" worlds. Behaviour is habitual and takes place in an environment which seems to be unchanging. What changes there are don't alter the substance of daily life, only the surface.

Try to think of some of the "unconsidered" activities that we take for granted. In our communication, for example, we adopt a language; to survive, we live in shelters and eat a standard diet. To earn money we journey to work; and to spend it. we go to shops.

In none of these activities do we act as programmed machines because we "choose" our words, our homes, our diets, our routes, the goods we buy and which shops we patronise. But those choices are very predictable — we are constrained by what choices are put before us. We cannot travel to work unless a workplace exists and a transport system is provided; we can only choose from the shops which exist and the goods that they provide, hence constraining our diet. In other words, the vast majority of us must simply accept the choices that are offered — we don't decide what the choices are to be.

The choices we face reflect the interests of a small minority of people who hold power in the form of ownership of the world's resources. In the taken for granted world goods and services are not produced if they do not make a profit for that small minority; and it is taken for granted that the living standards of the vast majority of people should be set according to whether and for how much they can sell their labour power or ability to work. In this way, the vast majority of us simply accept the choices we are given. But human beings are not machines and we could, if we wanted to, choose to change the way we live completely. Instead of choosing from the limited menu we face today, we could invent new recipes and set the menu ourselves.

In the world today the potential exists to satisfy everybody's needs. People would not need to eat sub-standard food, live in unfit housing and have to make do with what they can afford. Everybody would have free access to all the world's goodies. In this type of society there would be the widest possible choice. People would be free to travel anywhere they fancy. They would be free to choose what work to do and what methods they use to do it.

Socialists do not live in the "taken for granted" world. We do not take for granted that there will always be wars, starving millions and homeless people. We recognise that these problems result from the way society is organised at present and they are not inevitable. When the vast majority of the world's people decide that enough is enough, a new society can be built. Socialists are simply people who have a clear understanding of how such a society can be built and the Socialist Party exists to persuade people that a society where the world's resources are used to satisfy human need is sensible — now.
John Morgan