Sunday, August 19, 2018

Letter From Europe: Racism and anti-racism in France (1985)

The Letter From Europe Column from the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

They seem to be everywhere. Posters in blue, white and red proclaiming "France and the French First". "Three million immigrants. Three million unemployed". “Halt to anti-French racism" and other such slogans and signed "le Front National".

The Front National is almost the exact equivalent on the French political scene of the National Front in Britain. Like the British organisation, its original members were a mixture of traditional conservatives and neo-Nazi lunatics. But, unlike the National Front, the Front National has, thanks to proportional representation, been able to overcome the credibility gap. Ten of the 81 French members of the European Parliament sit for the National Front and a solid phalanx of National Fronters are expected to be elected to the French National Assembly in next March’s general elections — ironically, thanks to the change over to proportional representation which the outgoing "socialist" government has decided to introduce as its only chance of avoiding utter defeat. Already the Front’s leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is regularly interviewed on news and current affairs programmes as an established national political leader.

Le Pen, an ex-Poujadist MP and paratroop officer, founded the National Front in 1972. For the first ten years his party was just one of a number of small competing extreme right-wing grouplets and in fact was unable to get enough signatures to present Le Pen as a candidate in the 1981 presidential elections. The breakthrough came in 1983 in the municipal elections when Le Pen himself was elected a municipal councillor for the 10th arrondissement of Paris, in the past a "communist" party stronghold, while in Dreux. an industrial town west of Paris with a high immigrant population, the National Front's list obtained 17 per cent of the votes, enough to go through to the second round. In the event the National Front and the traditional conservative opposition parties did a deal which resulted not only in the election of a number of National Front councillors but also in some of them being given municipal responsibilities.

Although the National Front claims to be a proper political party with a full range of policies on defence, Europe, law and order and so on. it is basically a one-issue organisation with a single crude political message: Arabs Go Home! Over the years there has been a considerable migration across the Mediterranean of workers from France’s ex-colonies in North Africa — Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia — to fill labouring and other lowly jobs in France. The figures show, however, that most migrants to France since the war have come from Southern Europe, from Portugal, Spain and Italy. But it remains true that the North Africans are the most conspicuous and, as Muslims, the most "alien” of recent migrants and as such the perfect scapegoats for an anti-immigrant party like the National Front.

Although the evidence seems to be that the National Front has expanded at the expense of the traditional conservative parties, the Gaullist RPR and ex-President Giscard’s UDF, it is clear that its rise has been a direct result of the failure of the reformist PS-PCF government that came to power in 1981. These parties had promised to end the economic crisis, to reduce unemployment and to improve the living standards of ordinary people. They did none of these things, basically because they are not within the government’s power to do: the capitalist economy works according to certain economic laws which demand in particular that priority be given to profit-making over popular consumption and governments, whatever their political colour, are in the end forced to comply with them. The PS-PCF government had learned this when, after only a year in office, they were compelled to impose a wage freeze. So not only were their promises not honoured but the crisis got worse, unemployment continued to rise steadily and living standards were reduced. This failure earned them the resentment, even the hatred, of large numbers of ordinary people which the National Front was able cleverly to exploit, blaming immigration and immigrants rather than the workings of capitalism for their continuing problems and worsened conditions. But since immigrant workers generally perform the most ill-paid jobs and live in the worst housing conditions it should be clear that they are fellow victims of capitalism rather than the cause of other workers' problems.

The government's reaction to the rise of the National Front has been to proclaim that it has been just as firm on immigration as the previous government and that it too is just as keen on tracking down "illegal immigrants''. In other words, to give in to anti-immigrant sentiment as a means of preserving votes which could make the difference between victory and defeat, especially at local level.

Mitterrand, who with his repeated wordy declarations on “human rights" must be a front-runner for the Nobel prize for hypocrisy. expressed the following sentiments in 1983 (at the time of the Dreux municipal election):
   Illegal immigrants must be sent back to their countries (Républicain Lorrain, 1 September 1983).
   I must protect the employment of French people . . . Illegal immigrant workers must therefore leave France (Le Monde, 17 September 1983).
Of course at the same time Mitterrand preaches that all human beings are equal, and that discrimination and racism are bad. but this does not alter the fact that the line between being "anti-immigration" (like him) and "anti-immigrant" (like Le Pen) is a thin one easily crossed in the minds of the politically ignorant electors who vote for one or other of the parties of capitalism, including his own PS and the PCF.

The French "Communist" Party, of course, is a past-master in this hypocritical game of behaving in a racist way without actually having to utter racist or anti-immigrant sentiments (the incident of the bulldozer sent by one of its mayors to demolish a hostel for African workers at Bitry in the South of Paris in December 1980 is not likely to be forgotten for a long while). There is also a very real sense in which the PCF helped to pave the way for the National Front. A widely-used PCF poster proclaimed "Produisons français" ("Produce French"), which the National Front capped with another reading "Produisons français. d'accord, mais avec des travailleurs français" ("Produce French, yes, but with French workers").

A more interesting reaction to the rise of the National Front than this, or the traditional Trotskyite policy of "Smash the Fascists" (which provided wonderful free publicity for the Front during the 1983 municipal and 1984 European elections), has been the campaign SOS Racism with its badge in the form of a hand proclaiming "Touche pas à mon pote" ("Hands Off My Mate"). Here the appeal has been not to violence but to people's common humanity.

This naive approach runs the risk of being exploited politically (and in fact the government has already begun to do so), but it has had a remarkable success. In schools in the big towns in particular, children whose parents came from various parts of Europe. Asia and Africa study and play together and therefore tend to know that racism is a load of nonsense. But then so is nationalism, and the logic of the argument "we're all human beings" should lead to the conclusion "and we have only one country: the world”. There is no automatic guarantee that this conclusion will in fact be drawn, but appealing to people as members of the same human race is a much more fruitful response to racism than shrill calls to use violence against misguided workers, who have imbibed racist nonsense. It at least allows a reasoned dialogue to take place, the only logical conclusion of which can be a recognition that world socialism is the only way to end racism and all other forms of oppression and discrimination.
Adam Buick,

The Silliest Story! (1990)

A Short Story from August/September 1990 issue of the Socialist View

Stephen was born the year The Revolution started, the year Two Thousand and Three. I was not very much involved at the beginning and, indeed, the changes, by the time I did get involved, were so great and so rapid that my part in The Revolution was largely confined to the fateful election when an overwhelming majority of people formally established Socialism.

That was nine years ago. For just over a year before that, the word Socialism was on everyone's lips; there were nightly arguments on the T.V. and the radio and all sorts of people were arguing, pro and con, in the papers. 'Free Access!' became a cliche and, as the clarion grew, so the governments of the countries where the demand was most urgent, responded by widening the area of free public access to various goods, and services. Indeed, the form of capitalism that was eventually swept away by the democratic action of a majority of socialists was dramatically different to capitalism before the turn of the century-

Nine years on, I can't even recall the first place, I think it was Germany, where the people opted for Socialism. Britain was next, though just two days ahead of the United States and Bulgaria, but Britain probably provided the biggest human interest story. The TV cameras were out in the London parks – there was several million people gathered, celebrating, in Hyde Park alone – when the 'News Flash' came through. The ex-king, Charles something-or-other, a very rich parasite and an eccentric recluse who had abdicated the previous year, had committed suicide by jumping off a parapet at the Buckingham Apartments, which up to the time of his abdication had been one of his palace homes.

When I think about that, the suicide of the old king, I have suddenly realised that that was probably the last great item of 'news' to occur on these islands. The word, news, is rarely used now, except by some very old people – almost as though it had unpleasant associations with the terrible things that used to happen before Two Thousand and Three. Then of course, 'news' was about wars, about the terrible realities of the old world: poverty, insecurity, world hunger, unemployment, slums, vandalism and all the other things that simply don't happen anymore.

The word 'information' is now generally in vogue. In the participative democracy in which we live, it is important that people are provided with accurate information to enable them to register their opinions which, since last year, can be done through a system of buttons on the television set.

Many words have fallen into misuse. Even the word 'socialism' itself is seldom heard. That's why I wanted to tell you about Stephen. He had gone with some other young people on a trip to the museum and returned with a facsimile of one of the old 50p pieces that people exchanged for goods before the advent of Socialism. The fact sheet that he had been given with the coin contained information about how money was used in capitalist society. Stephen was intrigued.

I never knew much about the old economics but I explained to Stephen as best I could how the old money system worked. A small minority of people owned the resources of the earth and the factories, etc. where these resources were transformed into all the things that people needed. The great majority of people owned little or nothing and were employed to carry out the work of creating all the wealth and performing all the services in society. The minority of owners, the capitalist class, had laws (regulations enforced by violence, if necessary) that required the majority class of producers, the working class, to give up the things they produced in exchange for money, called wages. These wages allowed the workers to exchange their money for food, clothing, etc., just enough to live and ensure they remained in need so they would continue to create wealth for the capitalists. That is why the Socialists always referred to the working class as wage slaves.

I had lots more to tell the boy but when I looked at him he had his head raised slightly and a smile hovered on his lips. Slowly he moved his head from side to side; 'Dad,' he said, his voice elongating the word to allow him to raise his tone as he spoke, 'Your telling silly stories again – and that must be the silliest yet!'
Richard Montague

"Human behaviour is plastic" (1986)

Quote from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Changes in social organisation involve drastic changes in human behaviour, and they in turn, depend on the fact that human behaviour is plastic and not genetically fixed. We see once again the absurdity of the notion that human nature cannot change. This commonly made assertion implies that human behaviour is essentially fixed; it is therefore the exact opposite of the truth.
(The Human Species Professor Anthony Barnett)

Observations: Special needs? (1986)

The Observations Column from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Special needs?

In capitalism it is money that determines whether or not people's needs are met. This principle applies to the "welfare state" as much as it does to the market for goods. But in the case of the welfare state it is the government which has the power to decide whose needs are to be met (through the allocation of resources) and at what level.

Take, for instance, draft regulations recently drawn up by the DHSS which will restrict the availability of single, or "special", needs payments to supplementary benefit claimants. At present single payments are intended to cover the cost of such essential household items as beds, cookers, heaters, basic items of furniture, and bedding. It is already extremely difficult to obtain this assistance. But the government now intends to make it even more difficult, through the new regulations which will exclude payments for such things as hot water bottles for the elderly and infirm, curtains, cleaning implements. light fittings and other basic household equipment. Certain claimants, such as squatters, will not be eligible for any such payments at all.

The reason given for the new restrictions is contained in a DHSS memorandum (Guardian, 10 June 1986) which states that "there has been since 1981 a rapid and continuous growth in single payments" and "in these circumstances the Government now proposes to bring expenditure back to around the 1984 level . . . and to ensure an orderly administration of the single payment system in the two years before the Government reform proposals take place". (The "reform" referred to is the abolition of single payments and their replacement with a "Social Fund" which will apply even more restrictive criteria to applicants).

So more people are clearly in need and are seeking extra assistance from the DHSS. What is the government’s response? Those needs are first defined as "special needs” and met on a highly selective basis, and later redefined out of existence. And this is called "social security” — part of the "welfare state".


There is a man in Broadmoor, sent there for killing his wife, who is a brilliant scientist. At the time he was working in the development of guidance systems for inter-continental missiles. An obsessive man, he was liable to bouts of morbid jealousy. One day his wife could stand no more and left him. After a while he gave up his job and walked, brooding, the hundred or so miles to where she was living and there he killed her. The missiles he had been working on are each capable of wiping out hundreds of thousands of people. At his trial the judge listened to social workers, police officers and psychiatrists and it was decided that killing his wife proved that the brilliant scientist was ill and must be locked away in a hospital until he is better.

Fair cops

There is enough for the people of Greater Manchester to worry about in the colourful menace of their Chief Constable, James Anderton, without all this shock-horror-probe stuff about his deputy John Stalker.

Like most of these sordid affairs, the Stalker scandal becomes more outrageous and ruthless with the dragging out of one piece of evidence after another, which hint at corruption and intrigue at what is called A Very High Level.

It all began when Stalker was given the job of looking into the shoot-to-kill policy of the Ulster police, under which some embarrassingly innocent victims had been mown down. If Stalker took this seriously he is at variance with most of the people who have any experience of these matters, who expect as a matter of course that such enquiries are really designed to sweep a scandal under the carpet.

Whatever the truth of this, there is evidence of a campaign to undermine Stalker's standing as a high ranking policeman by showing him up as an associate of criminals and of other people with a reputation for sailing rather too close to the legal winds.

There are many people who have been arrested and harassed by Anderton's and Stalker's police who coknow what it means to be subjected to a sustained persecution. They will probably appreciate the irony in the fact that the same sinister techniques are said to be now applied to Stalker.

How outrageous a scandal is it? A social system based on the interests of a small but powerful minority cannot be open about much of what goes on in the cause of protecting the standing of that minority. Secretiveness (and the British government is noted for its obsessive concern with secrecy and an elegantly worded suppression of the truth) is endemic to capitalism. When it is demanded, the welfare — even the life — of an individual is of no account; even the most devoted servants of capitalism are expendable.

There was, to put it another way, never the slightest chance that Stalker would be allowed to lift the lid off the RUC.

Meanwhile, the workers of Manchester and of the rest of capitalist society should concern themselves with such events only to take what lessons they can from them. The police are employed as a part of capitalism's coercive, privilege protecting machinery. Their role is repression, of people and of the truth when they need to. They do this to sustain a social system which, even were it morally immaculate, without a taint of evasion or corruption, would still be unsupportable for its impoverishment, degradation and murder of millions of human beings.

We must get on with working towards the abolition of this sordid mess, leaving that odious bunch of thugs and twisters to grass each other up.

Mediaopoly (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Imagine a business where the less that is produced and the fewer customers there are, the more money is made. Impossible, you might say, even within a system like capitalism. But this is precisely what is happening in some regional ITV Companies.

Unlike any other business. ITV companies make one thing (programmes) but sell another — advertising. So it is in their financial interests to cut costs (programme making) and expand revenue (advertising).

So as the quality/quantity of programmes are reduced, audiences have dropped and advertising revenues have soared because advertisers have to spend more to try and attract their target audience. A regional TV station has the monopoly on TV advertising in its area. Advertisers have no option but to go to it. As there is only a finite amount of airtime available, its price gets driven up.

In the case of TVS, for example, which has viewer ratings forty per cent lower than average for an ITV network, this has meant that its share price has been boosted from 25 pence in 1981 to the current 380 pence. Profits have exceeded forecasts in each year of operation, rising to 14 million on a turnover of 140 million pounds last year.

Even the IBA felt moved to say of TVS:
   . . . [it] has undoubtedly enjoyed considerable success in expanding the business side of its operation and attaining high levels of profitability; but the same energy and purpose have not always been fully matched on the programme side. . . .
The mechanism by which this form of decay operates is one of commercial television's best kept secrets — the Network Agreement. The five largest ITV Companies (Central. Granada. Thames. LWT and Yorkshire) dominate the system. They produce programmes for the entire network. The remaining ten regional companies — for example. TVS — have no such commitment. This assures the big five of a market, while at the same time reducing the outlay of the smaller regional companies on programme making. This cartel has made the ITV Companies very profitable indeed.

It is all the more ludicrous that this situation is administered by the IBA. the very body charged with the statutory duty (sic) under the 1981 Broadcasting Act to secure "Adequate Competition".

Legal opinion on the Network Agreement varies, but it is probably illegal under UK law. and certainly illegal under EEC law, which would mean that the 15 ITV Companies would be liable to fines of between four and ten per cent of last year's turnover (£4-10 million). It remains to be seen if the IBA will take such action.

But then, as Margaret Thatcher has assured us, private enterprise means freedom of choice. You have been given an On/ Off switch and you are free to use it. What more choice could you possibly want?
Harvey Harwood

Official Secrets (1988)

From the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present Official Secrets Act. with its notorious "catch-all" Section 2, went through all its parliamentary stages in 1911 in just 30 minutes. As a result section 2 has been variously described as "a mess”, "a blunderbuss" and now. in the present White Paper on secrecy laws, as "unsatisfactory" and "in need of reform". The proposed new legislation is likely to be much more carefully drafted and. as a consequence, potentially more of a threat to those who want to find out what the state is up to.

As the Official Secrets Act (amended in 1920) stands, it is a criminal offence to disclose or receive any official information without prior authorisation. The White Paper proposes to legislate more precisely on which kinds of information cannot be disclosed without being subject to criminal sanction. Broadly speaking those areas are defence, security and intelligence; international relations; information obtained in confidence from other governments or international organisations; information useful to criminals; and information relating to telephone tapping and the interception of mail and other communications.

Despite this narrowing down of the categories of information to be covered by the new law, no-one should be under any illusion that this will be a "freedom of information" measure. Leaks of other "less serious" material will be dealt with by means of internal civil service disciplinary measures. In other words civil servants who leak information are likely to be quietly sacked without even having the chance to defend their actions in public. Furthermore, disclosure of certain kinds of information will be subject to an absolute ban — significantly some of those areas which have caused the government embarrassment in recent years. These are telephone tapping (details of which were revealed by former MI5 officer. Cathy Massiter) and the activities of GCHQ; disclosure of any information by serving or former members of the security and intelligence services (such as Peter Wright, author of Spycatcher); and confidential information from foreign governments.

It is also worth remembering that, despite the concentration on the Official Secrets Act, there exist approximately 100 other pieces of legislation that prevent certain categories of information from being disclosed. These range from price-sensitive material to information relating to the nuclear industry and also include information on health and safety matters.

What quickly becomes apparent from a close look at the White Paper is that very little (if any) information not disclosed today is likely to be available as a result of the proposed new legislation. So, far from being the "liberalising" measure that Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary, has claimed it to be, by tightening up the existing law the current proposals will ensure that successful prosecutions for unauthorised disclosures can be bought more easily. And after the embarrassment caused by Clive Ponting's acquittal and the interminable fiasco over Spycatcher, that is precisely what the government wants to achieve.

For, in addition to the more precise specification of what kinds of information cannot be disclosed, the legislation will seek to outlaw the defence that disclosure is "in the public interest" — successfully used by Ponting in 1985. In other words, no civil servant will, in the future, be able to speak out about official negligence, malpractice or dishonesty without risking imprisonment.

The ending of the "public interest" defence and the abolition of the "prior publication" clause (that is. that a piece of information is already in the public domain) will particularly affect newspapers. They will no longer be able to make such disclosures as those by The Observer in 1984 that MI5 was secretly black-listing certain BBC employees who were deemed subversive, nor would it be able to publish details about the recent Stalker case, on the grounds that it was "in the public interest" to do so.

Furthermore there are other new laws in the pipeline which will require senior civil servants and employees of the security services to sign contracts of employment obliging them to maintain a life-long silence about their activities. Any breach of contract would lead to loss of pension rights and the possibility that they would be sued for damages by the government.

At the same time as official information is becoming more difficult for "us" to obtain, information about individuals' private lives is becoming easier for "them" to get their hands on. partly due to the potential created by new information technology. Currently Home Office. DHSS, Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise computers are being linked together to form the "government data network", which will allow information to be exchanged between government departments' own data banks. This will allow a huge amount of information on all of us to be networked together, enabling the possible construction of comprehensive “personal profiles". Once this happens it is unlikely to be very long before a national system of identity cards is introduced.

Why is this issue of information and access to it of importance to the working class? Increasingly we are subject to a diet of information that is distorted, manipulated and censored. That affects not only what we know about the world but also how we view and understand it. For example, we are frequently told that “we" are all better off now, and yet statistics about the distribution of wealth in this country are no longer available and so we have no means of assessing such statements. Information presented to us as "news" is frequently taken directly from government press releases or “leaked" officially. In other words we are hearing the news that the government wants us to hear.

Information and control over it are about power. Attempts to deprive us of information while at the same time building up data banks on our private lives, constitute a consolidation of class power.
Janie Percy-Smith

Socialism means one world (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just as capitalism is a world system of society, so too must socialism be. There never has been, and never can be, socialism in just one country because its material basis is the world-wide and interdependent means of production that capitalism has built up. The bulk of the wealth produced in the world today is produced by the co-operative labour of the millions employed to operate these means of production. What is needed now, to establish socialism, is a conscious political decision on the part of these millions across the world to run society in their own interests.

This will be done by taking the means of production throughout the world into common ownership, with their democratic control by the whole community, and with production solely for use.

Common ownership will be a social relationship of equality between all people with regard to the use of the means of production. No longer will there be classes, governments and their state machinery, or national frontiers.

Democratic control will involve the whole community in making decisions about the use of the means of production. Instead of government over people there would be various levels of democratic administration. from the local up to regional and world levels, with responsibility being delegated if necessary to groups and individuals.

Production for use will bring production into direct line with human needs. Without money, wages, buying and selling there will be a world of free access. Everyone will be able to contribute to society by working voluntarily, according to ability. Everyone will be able to take freely from whatever is readily available, according to self-defined needs.

Global Problems
The motivation for this new world comes from the common class interest of those who produce but do not possess. An important part of this motivation comes from the global problems thrown up by capitalism. Ecological problems make a nonsense of the efforts of governments. War and the continuing threat of nuclear war affect us all. The problem of uneven development means that many producers in the underdeveloped countries suffer starvation, disease and absolute poverty. All of these problems of capitalism can only be solved within the framework of a socialist world. Ecological problems require the sort of long-term planning and development of which competitive, international capitalism is incapable. Converting the armaments industry (capitalism's biggest industry) from producing weapons of destruction to producing useful things to satisfy human needs will take time. Ending world hunger and poverty, above all, makes the worldwide co-operation of socialism an urgent necessity.

But this does not rule out local democracy. In fact a democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community. However, the nature of some of the problems we face and the many goods and services presently produced. such as raw materials, energy sources, agricultural products, world transport and communications, need production and distribution to be organised at a world level. Corresponding to this, of course, there would be a need for a democratic world administration, controlled by delegates from the regional and local levels of organisation throughout the world.

Development of Ideas
The world socialist movement, of which the Socialist Party is a constituent part, expresses the common class interest of the producers. Because political power in capitalism is organised on a territorial basis each socialist party has the task of seeking democratically to gain political power in the country where it operates. If it is suggested that socialist ideas might develop unevenly across the world, and that socialists of only a part of the world were in a position to get political control, then the decision about the action to be taken would be one for the whole of the socialist movement in the light of all the circumstances at the time. It would certainly be a folly, however, to base a programme of political action on the assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly and that we must therefore be prepared to establish “socialism” in one country or even a group of countries like the European Community.

For a start, it is an unreasonable assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly. Given the world-wide nature of capitalism and its social relationships, the vast majority of people live under basically similar conditions: and because of the world-wide system of communications and media, there is no reason for socialist ideas to be restricted to one part of the world. Any attempt to establish “socialism” in one country would be bound to fail owing to the pressures exerted by the world market on that country's means of production. Recent experience in Russia, China and elsewhere shows conclusively that even capitalist states cannot detach themselves from the requirements of an integrated system of production operated through the world market.

Faced with this explanation of how the world could be organised, many would reject it in favour of something more “realistic", including some who call themselves socialist. They seek to solve social problems within the framework of government policies, the state machine, national frontiers, money, wages, buying and selling. But if our analysis of capitalism as a world system is correct—and we've yet to be shown how it’s wrong—then state politics are irrelevant as a way of solving social problems. Viewed globally, state politics only make sense when seen as a means for capturing political power in order to introduce a world of free access.
Lew Higgins

50 Years Ago: Federal Europe or Internationalism (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

One direction in which change is likely after the war is in the relationship of the small and big Powers in Europe—indeed in the whole world. While the American Federal Union propagandists are urging the immediate Union of USA and the British Empire, another group favour the idea of Anglo-French Union (already offered to France by the British Government just before the French collapse), and still a third group are attracted by the old idea of a United States of Europe. Last of all it is stated by the Manchester Guardian (July 19th) that Nazi propaganda in France is popularising the idea of a Continental Union under German domination on the plea that "Europe is too small to be divided into small nations" . . . 

The true line of development is the international one. on a Socialist basis. Then there would no longer be the choice, blandly placed before us by Mussolini's mouthpiece in a recent article, of the vanquished being "reduced to the state of Chinese coolies compelled to toil for others" (Observer, July 21st). Socialists intend to build a world in which there will be neither exploiters nor exploited. Like Signor Ansaldo, we are interested in the "resources of the whole world”, but unlike him. we want them to be used for the benefit of all mankind “without distinction of race".

[From an editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1940]

Myth of the leisure society (1991)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
From the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all obsessed with technology, from the Walkman on our heads to the trainers on our feet. “State of the Art". “High-Tech”, bits of glossy phrases; pieces of intellectual titillation. Technology is also presented as the cornucopia of unbounded plenty; the key to onward and upward progress, leading to a society in which work will get less and less, leisure more and more. This, of course, is no concern to the leisured class; they know not work and to them leisure is not news.

But the working class can be fair game. We it was who created the legend of Cockaigne; the imaginary land of idleness and luxury, so different from our life experience; who are only too ready to note any hint of leisure, in preference to working as employees. People believe what they take as their interest to believe. If you are given euphemisms for the otherwise unpalatable, you will come to accept the sugar-coating for the pill.

The essence of the growing emphasis on leisure is to be found in the greatly increased and increasing capacity of the productive forces, resulting from the now extensive use of sophisticated equipment. All. we may add, from the hands and brains of the working class. When Henry Ford said “History is Bunk”, he was expressing the naked capitalist principle that only tomorrow's production and profits have any meaning, and that what you told people yesterday only subverts what you are going to tell them tomorrow.

Job losses
Once upon a time, as all fairy tales begin, the working class was considered so lazy and indolent that they could only be made to work through threats of unemployment and starvation; a piece of moral turpitude given a suitable ironic twist when they were laid off: for working hard and swamping the market. Now we are even better at it; so much so, that we’re told the virtues of idleness. There is nothing new in capitalism using and constantly developing its technology of production; but it too is getting better at it.The Sunday Telegraph in 1979 (20 March) had a director of ICI stating:
   No matter what the growth rate is in this country there is no way we are going to employ more people. The difference between a successful and unsuccessful business strategy in the modern world is the rate at which numbers of people come down.
Competition between capitalists for a bigger share of the market is the driving power to seek advantage in lower costs of production and distribution, through the use of machinery, or more effective machinery, and less labour. It is the nature of competition to allow no-one an advantage permanently, because in the race to keep the competitive edge, one capitalist organisation leap-frogs another. And so on, ad infinitum.There is nothing new to the working class in leisure. Traditionally though, it has been known as unemployment.

With what sort of logic, one wonders, can people look in wide-eyed admiration on something (made by their own hands!) that reduces their opportunity for access to the necessities of life.

To take one example of a "solution", let us look at “work-sharing” proposed by Roger Clarke in Work in Crisis:
  The general aim of work sharing as a social instrument is to so organise the volume of work available within the economy that all those wishing to work can at least find partial employment.
  Work sharing can be achieved through some of those currently employed giving up their jobs to other groups of individuals or through a new arrangement of working time which allows the existing work to be shared by more workers (e.g. twinning and trebling arrangements).
Further on in his book, Roger Clarke notes that “work sharing does involve costs”. In other words, where is the money coming from to make up for the unworked, or “leisure”, time? His solution is that:
   Those parties who are fortunate enough to have high earnings and security of employment . . . must expect to have to bear a considerably higher level of taxation which . . may be used to subsidise . work sharing . . .
It is not the fact (income tax is a book-keeping ruse to create the illusion that we have, as the saying goes, a stake in the country), but the thought behind this statement that is so outrageous. That the working class should always suffer in order to provide palliatives, protection and assistance for those who are responsible for our predicament in the first place.

So much for the cornucopia of unbounded plenty and progress. not forgetting “leisure”, of course.

The introduction of new technology will always create problems for those who produce the wealth of society until the means for producing wealth are owned in common and used to satisfy needs not make profits for capitalists. An impossible dream? Consider the following quotation which, with a nice touch of irony, Roger Clarke took from a book entitled God on Monday by Simon Phipps:
  Politics may be the art of the possible, but what is possible greatly depends upon what people want. Small minorities with conviction and a good understanding of the way power operates, can create a new public opinion. When a new public opinion comes to want a change, the range of what is ‘possible’ changes too.
That is precisely what we Socialists are engaged in doing.
Ian Jones