Friday, August 3, 2018

Obituary: J. E. Roe (1972)

Obituary from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month we heard with deep regret of the death of one of the Party's oldest members, Comrade Jonathan Roe of High Wycombe. He joined more than sixty-six years ago. Before the 1914-18 war he was a regular speaker in London, and he was one of the candidates in the first election campaign contested by the Party in 1906. The election was for the Battersea Borough Council, and the results for his ward were Blewett 57, Roe 49, Witcher 45.

Later he moved to High Wycombe, and for many years carried on an unwavering courageous struggle to give the Socialist Party of Great Britain a footing there. In 1950 he was successful in getting a small branch formed, and for a time Party speakers went regularly to the town to hold outdoor meetings. Eventually the Branch had to close down, but “Johnny” continued his socialist work with as much determination as ever.

Occasionally he contributed short articles to the Socialist Standard, and he was a persistent letter-writer advocating Socialism to his local paper and other journals. One of his pet opponents was the late William Connors, “Cassandra” of the Daily Mirror, who lived in the same locality; and the signature “J. E. Roe” was well known on the correspondence pages of left-wing papers.

Until recent years he attended Party Conferences, and never lost his zest—at the time of his death he was sending Party literature to 17 contacts in the High Wycombe area. With his vehement manner and sharp eye went immense friendliness and dry humour. He was delighted to hear from or be visited by members. The writer has a special recollection of putting a letter to the Islington Branch Secretary and a letter to Jonathan in each other’s envelopes. The result was a short note from High Wycombe: “What's this? Dear Phyllis? I advise you to pull yourself together, comrade.”

With his passing another of the remaining links with the Socialist Party’s early days has been broken, and a stalwart member lost. Jonathan Roe’s lifetime of work will not be forgotten, nor affection for him diminish.
Phyllis Howard

Pot Calls Kettle Black (1973)

From the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Benn Accuses Tories of ‘State Capitalism'
Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 March in a debate about the Government’s Green Paper on the price and pay code, Mr. Wedgwood Benn declared:
   “This code, if it comes into effect under this legislation, will mark the end of free enterprise as we know it and will usher in an era, not of Socialism— I entirely acquit the Government of any interest in that direction —but at least of State capitalism or something like it which is totally contrary to the principles upon which they presented themselves to the electorate in 1970” (Hansard, 5 March 1973, Col 52).
The Tory member who is supposed to have been overheard saying at a recent party that ‘the Labour Party made fifty promises at the last election and we’ve implemented forty-eight of them’ was not available for comment.

A Unique Exhibition (1974)

Party News from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Head Office was a hive of activity from June 15th to 22nd. The exhibition was on. Many members had been involved during the previous two weeks in transforming No. 52 into a colourful and interesting centre of SPGB history and Socialist propaganda. At a Press review, only The Guardian showed up with a consequent fair write-up of our case.

The stands were “made on the premises” at a total cost well below the hiring fee for 1 stand from Exhibition contractors. A stand was devoted to each of the following subjects:— The Socialist Party of Great Britain; Capitalism; Trade Unions; Russia; Electoral Activity; War; Marxism; Companion Parties; the Socialist Standard and Socialism.

Party literature, posters, news cuttings, photographs all combined to deal with these subjects in depth. It is not easy to choose the outstanding exhibits from the wealth of material put at our disposal. All who saw the exhibition will have their own favourites.

Here was the history of the SPGB in reality. The leaflet calling a meeting on 12th June 1904 to form a new party. Photos of many founder members — what characters! Some original copies of a Bolshevik journal published by Lenin in Geneva 1905: Letters from James Connolly to a founder member, Anderson, when they left the SDF: The Party War Statement of 1914. A superb photograph of New Zealand members standing outside their hut in the Gold Rush in the 1930s — hut complete with Socialist Standard posters: The first copy of Socialist Standard, 1904. We could go on and on.

During the week about 450 people saw the exhibition and expressed their appreciation of the general standard. Many an interesting discussion was held over a cup of tea. Sales of literature, books and donations amounted to £138. Our thanks to all members who contributed material (it is safe and will be returned shortly); to all members who worked for hours both in staging and manning the exhibition; to our Companion Parties for their contributions that gave Socialism its international flavour.

All the stands have been dismantled but the exhibits are still in place. There are prospects that we may be able to stage the exhibition again, perhaps during the period of the forthcoming General Election.

The whole exhibition was well photographed for a permanent record. We shall in due course have a set of some 20 coloured slides and a taped commentary on the various stands; these will be sent to our Companion Parties and sets will be available for loan for Provincial Branches and Groups.

It was a great week.

* A few copies of the Exhibition programme are available on application to H.O.

New SPGB Group at Hampstead (1975)

Party News from the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an endeavour to concentrate propaganda in this area, after putting forward a candidate at the last General Election, a Hampstead Group of the SPGB has been formed. This Group will hold public meetings, informal discussions, canvass, hold literature sales drives etc. Any members living in or close to the area who are not able to attend another Branch will find plenty to do. Sympathizers, and readers of the Socialist Standard will find a good opportunity in this Group to learn more about the Socialist case.

A decision on a suitable meeting room has yet to be made; see the September issue for full details. In the meantime for further information write Hampstead Group Sc., c/o Head Office.

News of Party Activities (1976)

Party News from the August 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

General Strike Exhibition
This exhibition, organized by the TUC, was at the Covent Garden flower market from July 3rd to July 31st. It provided us with a great opportunity to sell our literature, particularly the May 1976 SS. The Centerprise bookshop had a stand in the exhibition and agreed to display a number of Party publications, and we had literature sellers outside the two entrances to the exhibition. 40 Socialist Standards were sold on the opening day!!

Party ‘Flying Squad’
Members of Westminster Branch have decided to organize propaganda raids on different areas. On June 19th, 14 members in 4 vehicles went to Birmingham and held an outdoor meeting close to the Bull Ring. A number of local members were present and, despite a wet afternoon, the meeting continued for about 5 hours. The next trip was July 10th to Woking, and there is a possibility of a repeat to Birmingham on 14th August. If interested, contact M. Tenner at 01-229 7794.

New Branches
Members at Lancaster have achieved Branch status. With the help of two London comrades, they held two public meetings in May; an excellent write-up appeared in the Lancaster Guardian. The members in Hampstead now constitute a Branch. They are continuing their weekly series of lectures and engaging in electoral activity.

See Directory for details of meetings.

New Group
Leeds/Bradford: a new group has been formed in this area. Most of those who attend the regular meetings are not yet members of the Party but there are hopeful signs that one or two may soon join (one has already made an application). Introductory Leaflets recently distributed produced several enquiries. There is a possibility of further Groups at Northampton, Bristol, Stoke area, and Brighton.

Outdoor Meetings
Glasgow: The Branch now have 11 speakers to cover the three meetings they hold each weekend, including a new station at East Kilbride (possibility of a 4th station in August). Two indoor meetings held recently proved successful. Bristol: Meetings have recommenced on Durdham Downs each Sunday. Ilford: Meetings commenced on June 4th and are held each Friday at 8.00 p.m. Very successful so far. Earls Court: Useful meetings every Thursday with good literature sales. Lincoln’s Inn: Meetings now taking place every lunchtime, Monday to Friday. Hyde Park: Meetings held from 11.0 am until 8.00 pm (weather and speakers permitting) although the morning sessions are the most successful as far as literature sales and attentive audiences are concerned. Stevenage: Mid-Herts Branch have commenced Saturday afternoon meetings. The local members require assistance from other members, particularly those living in and around London. Contact Comrade K. Knight for further details.

Propaganda Visits
Two lively and successful meetings were held in Sunderland and South Shields during April. There was an encouraging number of sympathizers and non-members present. Another useful meeting was held in Manchester during May, where it is hoped that the Branch may soon be re-constituted. Please note the Group’s change of meeting place.

Literature Sales at the Young Vic
During the month of May, one member sold, single-handed, the following literature outside the Young Vic Theatre, London, where a French-Canadian Repertory company were performing:— 21 Fulcrums, 25 Socialisme Mondials, 20 Western Socialists and 10 Socialist Standards totalling £8.60.

Electoral Activity
Three Branches in London are undertaking electoral activity with a view to contesting the 3 constituencies of Hampstead, Marylebone and Lambeth Central. Hampstead and S.W. London Branches are distributing leaflets in their respective areas whilst Westminster Branch is canvassing in Marylebone. More Support is Required for These Activities: contact the Central Organiser NOW!

How many Grunwicks to Socialism? (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Time to take stock. After more than a century of trade-unionism, in 1977 the elementary struggle for recognition is still being fought. The Labour Party, formed in 1906 to gain trade-union representation in Parliament, is the Government of the day responsible for running capitalism and maintaining the so-called law and order of the ruling class. The coercive state, which includes the police, behaves no differently today than it ever has. The state is the executive power of the capitalist class.

Labour governments have never sought a mandate to end capitalism; when in power they can only run the system for the dominant class. All those leftists and trade unions picketing outside Grunwick have repeatedly urged workers to vote for capitalism and wage-slavery run by the Labour Party.

Instead of inscribing on their banners “Abolition of the wages system” as Marx urged trade-unionists to do more than a hundred years ago, they are fighting to get one reactionary capitalist not to stop exploiting workers but to recognize the unions’ “right” to bargain and dispute about the degree of exploitation. The ugly eruption at Grunwick is only a highly publicized manifestation of the class struggle. It will not be the last. Trade unions can only resist the pressures of the system. They cannot change its effects because they do not challenge the capitalists as owners of the means of production. This ownership is the crux of the matter, and the solution lies in the political field.

The so-called National Association for Freedom, and the Tory MP, who rush to serve the master class whip in hand only show how virulent the conflict of class interests is. The only “freedom” that concerns them is the freedom of the owning class to amass profits. The few Labour MPs and Ministers who have shown their faces in a bid to salve their consciences only demonstrate the uselessness of leaders and their complete impotence in face of the property interests and profit motive of capitalism. They set out to tame capitalism and have become its helpless servants.

Socialists do not seek to capitalize on industrial disputes, particularly when one group of workers clashes with another. The task for Socialists is to urge workers to look beyond the incessant turmoil of the day-to-day struggles engendered by capitalism. To take up the struggle for Socialism and end the servitude of wage-labour once and for all. The same energy and effort now being expended on purely limited objectives could, given Socialist understanding, change society completely. Then, from a world-wide basis of common ownership of the means of production and distribution, mankind can redirect social production to the free satisfaction of human needs. Better than an eternity spent bickering over pittances!

The attainment of Socialism awaits majority understanding and the use of the ballot-box for that exclusive purpose. Workers of all lands, unite for Socialism!
Harry Baldwin

Ten years on (1978)

Editorial from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

This issue of the Socialist Standard deals with the August 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia which overthrew the Dubcek government and installed another which was more in line with the interests of the Russian ruling class.

In no sense do we celebrate this event; but as it will be a matter of wide comment it is essential that the unique socialist attitude be heard.

The Russian invasion was a shock to many people but there is little indication that the lesson has been drawn from it. To begin with, it exposed again the hypocrisy of the Russian government’s championing of movements for national self-determination and showed that, when they saw their interests threatened, the Russian ruling class were as quick and as ruthless in their response as any of the more traditional imperialist powers.

In that way the invasion was an exposure of the true nature of society in Russia; if former events like the invasion of Hungary had left anyone still thinking that Russia is anything other than a typical capitalist state, the sight of the tanks rolling into Prague should have been more than enough to convince them.

Of course the hypocrisy did not flow in only one direction. The western capitalist powers were weeping crocodile tears for poor little Czechoslovakia while they were conveniently forgetting their policies in places like Cyprus, Aden, Malaya, Suez and Vietnam.

In fact, imperialism and conquest, of one sort or another, are an inescapable part of capitalism. This social system produces wealth with the object of selling it to make a profit and that holds good in Russia just as it does in Britain or America. One consequence of this is that markets are vital to capitalism, as the places where the wealth can be disposed of.

A large part of the story of imperialism is the story of the grabbing, or the protection, of markets which one power has cornered. Another is of the fight to annexe, or keep rivals away from, sources of valuable raw materials like oil or uranium. This is very much the story of the Middle East and it may one day be the same for the North Sea.

To protect their standing in the markets and the raw material fields of the world, the powers of capitalism have built up numerous diplomatic fortresses in which the interests of one power tend to predominate over the rest. The decline of the former great empires of occupation has stimulated the development and the refinement of the technique of erecting these spheres of influence.

Under these policies a nominally independent country can in reality be part of the empire of one of capitalism’s great states. This was the case with Czechoslovakia and with Hungary and it was the decline of the British sphere of influence in the Middle East which provoked the disastrous invasion of Suez.

The simple fact is that war is unavoidable as long as capitalism lasts and with it the hypocrisy and lies which are fed to the working class the world ever. The Suez venture was justified in this country by picturing Nasser as a madman who wanted to rule the Middle East and cut “our” lifeline to the oilfields and the markets of the Far East. The American intervention (and their atrocities) in Vietnam were justified on the grounds that if they did not hold fast there the whole of Indo-China, and perhaps eventually the entire Pacific area, would collapse into Russia’s camp like a line of dominoes.

On the other side, the crushing of the Dubcek government was described as a necessary move against a counter-revolutionary subversive, which saved a little bit of socialism (as if this were possible).

The working class should not be deceived by such propaganda, pathetically transparent as it is. No capitalist power ever invades another country in order to save lives or protect anything which is in the interests of the working people of the world. They do so to foster their own sordid interests in the profit making, exploiting economy of capitalism. In the process they are usually exposed for what they are, so that only the most gullible can believe the official stories about the reasons for their actions.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia showed up the Russian ruling class but to anyone able to read, or hear, or see, this had already been done. It was done at the time of Hungary or at the time of the second world war or at the time of the Russo-Nazi pact and the subsequent invasion of Finland.

There is a clear lesson in this and it is this that the socialist standard is concerned to spell out, this month and every month. Capitalism cannot work in the interests of the majority of its people. It must produce, among other horrors, war. But naturally the mouthpieces of the capitalist class cannot be expected themselves to tell us the reasons for these events; to understand capitalism, to know what the system is bound to impose upon us, is the work of a conscious working class.

When the working class have come to that understanding it is but a small step for them to grasp the other side of the equation. The only way to abolish capitalism’s problems is to get rid of the system itself, entirely. There is only one system which can replace it and that is socialism, a world of common ownership and free access, where all the world’s people will live in harmony because for the first time in history we shall be able to express a common interest.

The Tories and the closed shop (1979)

From the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Government's proposals for amending the law on the closed shop and other trade union matters will not be presented to Parliament until later in the year. In the meantime a ‘consultative’ document has been issued for discussion with the CBI and the TUC. Its suggestions on the closed shop closely follow the lines taken by the Secretary of State for Employment, James Prior, in an interview given to the Sunday Telegraph before the election — a secret ballot before the closed shop is introduced; a worker to have the right to refuse to join a union on grounds of deeply held personal conviction; dismissal for refusal to join a union to be ‘unfair dismissal’ against which he or she can appeal; and right of appeal to the High Court for damages against a union which unfairly refuses a union card.

What is interesting about this is its indication of how the Tories have changed their attitude on the closed shop (and on other trade union issues) away from their earlier sweeping condemnation.
This had already become evident in the closed shop clauses of the Tory Industrial Relations Act 1971 and in their attitude at the October 1974 general election, after the Labour government had repealed most of the Act’s provisions and enacted the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 in its place. The October 1974 Tory election programme announced that if they won the election they would not re-introduce their 1971 Act but would “accept the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act introduced by the present government and sensibly amended by Parliament as the basis for the law on trade union organisation”.

Change of Attitude
Prior in his interview stressed this change of attitude. While saying that new Tory legislation would “protect workers from dismissal because they refuse to join a union operating a closed shop”, he went on to reject demands from some of his own party for the complete banning of the closed shop.
  I am absolutely convinced that that would be the wrong way to proceed. It would be flying in the face of the evidence of the past few years of how industry works. Most firms want it because they are dealing with one group representing the whole work force. We are right to say that the closed shop is here to stay but we can modify it by law. (Sunday Telegraph 18 February 1979)
Mr. Prior’s line is the one taken in the Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions 1968. They rejected the idea of making the closed shop illegal on the grounds, among others, that such a law could not be made effective. This was shown while the 1971 Tory Act was in operation; many illegal closed shop arrangements continued to operate on the basis of an ‘understanding’ between employers and unions.

But the 1971 Act itself, while it laid down the principle that every worker should have the legal right to join a union or not to join a union, nevertheless provided for the establishment of certain forms of the closed shop including ‘agency shop’ agreements between unions and employers which (after a ballot) make union membership part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The clause about a worker’s right to refuse to join a union on ‘conscientious’ grounds was taken over by the Tories from the Labour government’s 1969 policy statement In Place Of Strife. This proposed that such workers be allowed to pay contributions to a charity instead of to the union, and if dismissed for not joining the union were to be entitled to compensation along with other workers ‘unfairly’ dismissed.

New Problem
Since the last legislation on the closed shop, a new problem has arisen. A railway worker sacked by British Rail for refusing to join a union took his case to the European Commission of Human Rights, claiming that “the closed shop laws violate fundamental freedoms”. The Tory Solicitor-General has attended the court but it has not been disclosed what submissions he made. If the outcome of the case is that the Commissioner rules in favour of the sacked worker being entitled to compensation and not to reinstatement, it would present no particular difficulty to Prior in his new legislation.

An early form of the closed shop was in the skilled craft occupations, in which workers had to serve apprenticeship before being regarded as qualified. A frequent dispute between the unions and employers was about the number of apprentices, the employers seeking to increase the number and the unions to restrict it.

Later the closed shop took other forms and became more widespread as the number of trade unions multiplied, including the more common form in which non-members can be employed but then have to join a union. The Royal Commission’s report estimated that two-fifths of trade union members were covered by closed shop agreements or ‘understandings’. The number has increased since 1968.

As far as the law is concerned, the issue came up half a century ago through the action of local councils under Labour Party control agreeing with the unions to employ only trade union members. This was prohibited by the Tory Trade Disputes Act 1927, which the Labour Party repealed in 1946.

One of the consequences of compulsory union membership is that workers who refuse to belong to a union, or who come into conflict with their union, may lose their jobs. In May 1978 machine minders who refused to return to work at The Observer were threatened by the National Graphical Association with disciplinary proceedings.
  Not only would other members of their union be summoned to do their work but they would also lose all casual employment in Fleet Street, which in some cases could mean entire loss of livelihood . . . (The Times 20 May 1978)
In a similar situation at British Leyland, members of the AEU on unofficial strike were threatened with expulsion and ordered to give assurances to return to work.
   If these assurances arc not received, the men will lose their jobs under Leyland’s closed shop agreement. (Daily Mail 4 September 1978)
In his interview in February last, Prior made a point of defending the action of the National Graphical Association in taking disciplinary action against its members on unofficial strike.

It only needs to be added that whatever may seem to be the advantages of compulsory trade union membership imposed by the union or the employer, the interests of the working class are best served by seeking to expand union membership on a voluntary basis only.
Edgar Hardcastle

Strikers Out (1981)

From the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The major league baseball players in the United States recently went on strike—just as "ordinary" workers are from time to time compelled to withdraw their labour in order to protect their living standards from attack. The superficial observer, knowing the high salaries which baseball players and other sports people can often earn, may doubt this similarity of interest. However, the principles involved are no different from those of a more orthodox industrial dispute. The player, like any other worker, is selling his or her physical and mental energies in return for the wage or salary which the employer, in this case the club owner, is prepared to pay. Furthermore, it is only relatively few star players who earn these high salaries. The run of the mill major league performer receives far less, but clearly also stands to lose if the stars are forced to take a cut. If these "lesser” players felt a conflict of interest with those on the higher salary levels, the strike would in all probability have collapsed quickly. The owners could have recruited a few minor league players to maintain numbers, and been able to force the stars into submission. No such break in fact occurred.

Star sports people are expected to maintain a high life style. The fans expect it, the news media expect it, but most of all it is encouraged by those who profit most by it. If a star is using articles made by a certain company, the latter will lose no opportunity to cash in on the advertising value. Another consideration is the short life at the top for most stars, very rarely more than fifteen years. Some money has to be set aside to try and insure against the leaner years ahead. A former baseball player “Catfish” Hunter, is quoted (International Herald Tribune, 20/6/81) as saying: "The players missed their first paycheck on June 15. The next one is due on July 1. If they miss that one, you will see a lot of them crying”.

True, this strike did not attract the virulent media reaction reserved for a coalmining or dock strike. There was, however, the same misrepresentation of the real issues, the same bias against the strikers. Joe Cronin, a former star, now President of the American League, is quoted (International Herald Tribune, 20/6/81): "I can’t help but think that the guys who worked so hard through the ’20s, '30s and '40s to make the game what it is today must be sick in their stomachs over this strike. The issue they are striking over is not big enough to warrant a strike during the season.” Another former star, Ted Williams, said (International Herald Tribune, 20/ 6/81): “I don't like anything that hurts the game. As for taking sides, in my heart 1 don't know all the issues and particulars so that 1 can’t say which 1 favour. Logically the players haven't given up a thing over the past 8 to 10 years while management has.” These two statements contain a number of misconceptions.

The appeal to the “game itself” as something greater than anything at stake in the dispute appears at first sight to be neutrality, but is nothing of the sort. The implication is that the players (the workers) should, in some “higher cause”, get back to playing the game and abandon their preoccupation with “lesser things” such as pay and conditions of work. The complaint that the issue on which a strike is taking place is a small one is often voiced by capitalist apologists.

Always present, however, is the fundamental class antagonism of capitalism, which is just as applicable to baseball players and their employers as to British coalminers and the National Coal Board. Workers face the capitalists as sellers and buyers of labour power. The former want the highest price they can get, the latter the lowest. In addition, the larger the share that the capitalists take of the wealth produced, the less there will be for the workers who have, in fact, produced all the wealth!

Whatever outward appearances may be, it must always be an illusion to suppose that there is little separating the two sides. In fairness to Ted Williams we should point out that he went on to say: “But if it had happened in my time, I would have stuck with the players’ association”.

Cronin’s comment about the strike occurring during the season is significant. A previous players’ strike in 1972 took place at the start of the season, which was delayed for just over a week. The recent one did not start until the season had begun to take shape. The interest of the fans had been aroused. Airlines were making money from transporting the players to and from fixtures. Telecasting of games had further whetted appetites, and the television companies find the frequent intervals between innings (no fewer than 17 in a game of 2½-3 hours) a lucrative source of revenue from advertisers. In view of these and other considerations, the owners may well have hoped that they could turn public opinion against the strikers and so assist in the defeat of the latter. The loss of gate money due to the strikes could be used as an argument for cutting playing staffs. It goes without saying that if there is reason to believe that the capitalists welcome a particular strike, the workers should think very hard before continuing with it.

In this dispute the baseball players are acting in the only way open to them when their living standards are under threat from their employers. This might persuade them that, beneath the glamour and ballyhoo of a ball game player’s life there is a basic, unpleasant reality.
E. C. Edge

Letters: Falklands Issues (1982)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Falklands Issues

Dear Editors.

The July issue of the Standard, dealing with the Falklands War, reiterates the SPGB position about wars being caused by capitalist rivalries for markets, trade routes, etc., a litany which I myself have recited often enough.

However, the article ignores the fact that there is incontrovertible evidence that, on the British side at least. there was no economic motive which propelled the British capitalist class to send the Task Force. It is a well-known fact that for at least twenty years, far from wishing to hold on to the Falklands for economic reasons, British governments, Labour as well as Tory, have been doing their best to off-load them onto Argentina. When the war had been in progress for a week or two, there was a remarkable article by Pendennis in the Observer which pointed out that when a Tory junior minister called Ridley was questioned in the House about semi-secret attempts to do a deal with Argentina, there was a furious outcry from all sides, led by a potential leader of the Labour Party, Peter Shore (whose own government in its time had also tried to do the same deal).

It seems that this is a case of the exception to the rule. Whatever was the motivation on the Argentine side, on the British side the islands were regarded as a burden whose economic advantages were not worth bothering about. It is true that once the war had started, the same Tory government which had dearly wished to get shot of the Falklands suddenly found there was a possibility of oil riches. The coincidence should not fool a child. All Mrs Thatcher was trying to do was to invent some economic reason as well as the alleged principle of stopping aggression. She knows that the working class who compose the bulk of the electorate would like to think that ”we" were going to get some material benefits in addition to saving the world from a fascist dictator.

I think it would be less than honest if we failed to notice the incontrovertible evidence in this matter.
L. E. Weidberg
London NW3

Let's make the future (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The past makes fools of everyone, pushing and shoving us into irrational action. Does society want children starving to death, families living in slums, cities devastated by war, or food dumped in the sea? It’s not the way you or I would have designed it, yet today’s society needs mass starvation and slums and homelessness and war and waste.

The bosses blame the workers and the most stupid of the workers blame themselves. Society is in this mess because the workers . . .  are greedy, lazy, militant, immoral, unpatriotic. The sinful wealth producers, afflicted with that incurable disease called Human Nature, exorcise themselves in the churches and the voting booths in the hope that one day they will be fit to enjoy their exploitation in a world of capitalist harmony.

The workers with one eye open blame the bosses. Thatcher, the Queen and a band of top-hatted robbers are the cause of the problems, they believe. The heartless villains whose privilege and affluence is the reverse side of the workers’ poverty and insecurity, must be removed from power. Indeed, they must, but the robbers are merely reflections of the legalised robbery system and there would be no point in evicting the parasites from the palaces and penthouses, only to put in their place a new team of compassionate exploiters. The reason is not to be found in the Big, Bad Capitalists — although plenty of them are big and bad — or the inherently anti-social workers: it is not the consciousness of men and women which determines social existence.

Why, then, is the suffering in the world today necessary? It is needed because the present social system is based on minority class ownership, whereby a small fraction of the earth’s population own and control the resources of the planet and the means of producing and distributing wealth. The system puts profits for the capitalist few before the needs of the wealth producing majority: the men and women who live by selling their ability to work in return for wages or salaries. Capitalism is a profit system, where the golden law of the market is that production only takes place with a view to sale for profit. Under capitalism, that which cannot be sold profitably is either not produced or is destroyed. That is why thirty million human beings starve to death each year while food is stockpiled in artificial mountains and farmers are given government subsidies to take land out of cultivation.

Capitalism is not the fault of the capitalists or the governments which preside over it. They are the victims of a system which needs poverty in order to ensure that the wage slaves have no alternative to employment. After all, anyone with a secure income would not waste their lives working to make an idle class richer.

We have not always had a profit system. It is a relatively new horror story in the long history of human existence. For approximately four hundred centuries human beings survived quite happily in non-property societies. Capitalism is a scratch on the surface of humanity’s collective experience. In the history books of the future the whole of property society may receive no more than a chapter — or even a footnote — as a perverse period in pre-civilised society (which capitalist writers arrogantly label as Civilisation). Looked at from the standpoint of the present, capitalism seems like it has always been with us and will always remain; but then the slaves of classical antiquity thought that and so did the serfs of feudalism.

What can we say about the present which can inspire us to construct a practical future? We know that the productive forces have now reached the point of development where they can be adapted to produce for use on the basis of free access. Socialism — a society where wealth is produced for need, not profit — is now an obtainable new system. We need not be stuck with the profit system. What is necessary within capitalism — poverty, war, malnutrition, death from hypothermia, pollution, slums — would not only be unnecessary within a society where production is for use, but would be looked upon as ugly relics of an insane past.

The choice before us is not whether to have Cruise missiles or to abolish the Greater London Council or lower the age of consent for homosexuals. These petty reform issues, which seem important within the context of capitalist necessities, are diversions from the real choice we face. Shall we unlock the door to a socialist future or stay here in our uncomfortable present, like dinosaurs defying the laws of evolution, hoping that Uncle History will bring us a better future? The future is made, not given, and any worker with any sense will be making it fast before the capitalist future destroys us.
Steve Coleman