Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Remarkable Prophecy. (1921)

From the September 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard
“ Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam,
  Drag the slow barge or drive the rapid car,
Or on wide waving wings expanded, bear
  The flying chariot through the fields of
Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above.
  Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as
they move,
Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd
   And armies shrink beneath the shadowy
' cloud.”—Erasmus Darwin, 1791.

Cameras with Bombs (2015)

Book Review from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Grégoire Chamayou: ‘Drone Theory‘. Penguin £6.99

A drone is an unmanned aerial combat vehicle or, in an alternative formulation, a flying video camera armed with missiles. They have been used in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, among other places, and in the five years to January 2014 US drones alone are estimated to have killed at least 2,400 people. In this book (translated from French by Janet Lloyd) Grégoire Chamayou looks at various issues related to the use of drones, from military to more philosophical questions.

Drones were originally deployed just as cameras, and the US military made use of software developed for sports broadcasting to track individuals. The result can be a kind of persistent surveillance, with eyes in the sky always watching people, so there is no escape for either combatants or civilians on the ground. And this is not just in war zones as the concept of a ‘zone of armed conflict’ is no longer purely geographic.

But with missiles added to them drones allow the remote-controlled hunting down of humans. The operator may sit in comfort in an air force base in Nevada, attempting to identify acceptable targets several thousand miles away and then releasing missiles at them. Air force pilots regard killing by means of drones as cowardice, as the operators are in no danger themselves. There have been claims that drone operators suffer from trauma as a result of their work, as it involves the invulnerable killing the defenceless, but Chamayou argues that there is no actual evidence for this.

Drones effectively abolish combat, as there is no way to fight against them. This creates a problem for those who see killing in war as justified on the basis that it is a matter of self-defence, with both sides at risk and liable to be killed. But if one side is more or less defenceless and the other side’s soldiers are thousands of miles away from the death zone, where is the justification for the killing? Apologists for US power have come to the rescue here, arguing that the drone is a humanitarian means of killing (for an example, see here). This is because the use of drones conforms to the principle of avoiding unnecessary risk, removing any chance of the operator being killed or injured. Never mind that it often leads to the deaths of non-combatants and, as noted above, can result in people being permanently observed and harassed and so living in a kind of psychological prison. As Chamayou says, drones ‘constitute the weapons of state terrorism’.

This book provides an instructive picture of the use of drones and how this barbaric weapon is transforming warfare in both theory and practice.
Paul Bennett

Modern Socialism. (1910)

Book Review from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern Socialism" 3rd edition, by R C K. Ensor. (Harper Brothers)

If a writer on modern biology were to begin by stating that the basis of that subject, in its modern aspect, was laid by Darwin and Wallace, and then devoted the larger portion of his space to the anti-Darwinians’ statements and writings as an exposition of modern biology, he would be denounced on all hands as one quite unfit for the task he had set himself to perform.

It is just such a position as this that Mr. Ensor occupies with regard to modern Socialism.

In the Introduction to the first edition (1907) he says of Marx, Engels and Lassalle :
 “Their ideas made an epoch, because with them two decisive qualities first come to the front in Socialism—the scientific and the political.” (Page XXXII.)
Without troubling to question the inclusion of Lassalle in the list, the above statement would be accepted as correct by all Socialists. Then it follows that a correct exposition of modern Socialism can be given by a survey of the statements of Marx and Engels, or their followers, and by no other method.

Yet in the volume under notice, apart from a couple of articles on the general view of Socialism and excluding the various programmes at the end of the book, over 190 pages are given to the views of the avowed anti-Marxians—S. and B. Webb, Millerand, Vollmar, David, Jaurès, Hervé, Sarraute, Vandervelde, Anseele, Keir Hardie, John Burns, and the Fabian Society— while only 55 are given to the views of Marx, Engels, Liebknecht, Bebel and Kautsky.

Lest any Fabian or ‘practical’ Labour Party advocate should find fault with Mr. Ensor for devoting so much space as given above to the so-called Marxian section, let us hasten to point out first that the only statement of Marx’s is taken from the Communist Manifesto, and consists of the list of reforms at the end of Section II! When it is remembered that as long ago as 1872 Marx and Engels declared in a new preface that this portion in particular had become obsolete, Mr Ensor’s object begins to peep through.

Secondly, on page XXXVI of the introduction to the first edition we are told :
  “It seemed desirable in this volume to give some excerpts from one of the many general discussions between revolutionaries and reformists, which have occurred in the great European parties. For this purpose the Millerand debate at the Bordeaux Congress of the French Socialist party has been chosen.”
And how is this purpose carried out? By devoting 21 pages to the discussion, of which 4 are given to Millerand, 13 to Jaurès, 3 to Sarraute and 1 to Hervé. All these are reformers and anti-Marxians, while no Marxian speech is given at all?

Evidently Mr. Ensor’s idea of excerpts from a discussion is to give one side and ignore the other.

Similarly with regard to agriculture and peasant proprietorship. On page XLI it is stated that “the nearest approach to a volte-face which Socialists have attempted since Marx has been in relation to Agrarianism . .  . Marx thought that the advantage of concentrating capital would be felt in agriculture as in other industries; but in spite of a temporary confirmation of this view by the mammoth farms which sprang up in Western America, it now appears very doubtful.”

Yet the very article chosen to defend this view by the “most brilliant, up to date and elastic exponent . . .  M Vandervelde,’’ proves up to the hilt the correctness of Marx’s view by showing how the number of peasant proprietors in Belgium had been reduced to “barely a few thousands, who can still painfully, by a hard toil, by a real exploitation of themselves and their families make the two ends meet. The rest have fallen into the proletariate, or cultivate for someone else's profit , and this diminution of cultivating ownership in consequence of insufficient capital, of partition due to the laws of inheritance, of the ever-growing aggravation of fiscal and military charges, is to be found indicated in the official statistics.” Page 206 (Italics ours )

Far from being a real description of modern Socialism, the book has been written to defend the job-hunting bargains of the I.L.P. and Labour Party under the guise of showing how the Continental “Socialists" do the same thing, and thereby to justify the actions of these who claim to be Socialists here. This is shown not only by the great preponderance of space given to the Reformists, but also by the fact that though two editions of the work have been published since a party based on Marxian principles was formed in this country in 1904—the Socialist Party of Great Britain—no reference to it is made anywhere in the book. The old I.L.P. absurdity that Socialism means the Socialisation of capital is again trotted out. Capital being the instrument of exploitation, to talk of ‘‘Socialising" it is a contradiction in terms. The statement in the preface to the third edition that "the second piece by M. Millerand and the piece by Mr. Burns might not have been chosen today after the final secession of their authors from the ranks of regular Socialism” (sic) merely expresses the chagrin felt by the Labour Party managers at the success of Burns in making an individual bargain with the Liberals.

At the head of Burns’ article is a note saying "after 1895 he drew closer to the Liberal Party." This is utterly incorrect. As shown in the Socialist Standard for January 1906, Burns openly avowed his full adhesion to the Liberal Party in 1893, when, in the House of Commons, he defended Asquith over the shooting of the miners at Featherstone. Yet when the Labour Group was first formed in Parliament after the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee, John Bums was made its first chairman. It was not going over to the Liberals that was s crime from the Labour Party's standpoint —that was the game they were playing themselves and in which they were successful in 1906 —but the individual bargaining was the sin.

As a collection of the views of various reformers, at home and abroad, the book has a certain value; as an exposition of modern Socialism it is entirely misleading, while the confusion existing in the mind of the author is shown by the following gem: "Socialism is essentially an appeal (!) on behalf of the interests of one class, the proletarians, against what the other, the capitalists, conceive to be theirs. Socialists can either emphasize this contrast, the Class War, and rely wholly on conscious proletarian support, or they can take the line rather of reconciling the opposition in a higher unity, the Solidarity of Classes, pleading with the capitalists that they have misconceived their interest and that the true interest of all the community is that of the workers.” (Page XXXV.)

It was probably due to this mental condition that Mr. Ensor, when running as Labour candidate for Poplar at the late L.C.C. elections, advised the workers, on bis programme, to vote for the other capitalist candidate—Sir John McDougall.
Jack Fitzgerald

Christian Socialism (1910)

Book Review from the May 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Is Socialism Atheism? A Prejudiced Answer” by James Adderley, of the Church Socialist League. 1d. (Frank Palmer.)

The value of this apology for the brain-softening affliction known as “Christian Socialism” may be gathered from a few quotations.

“Socialism," says Mr. Adderley, “whatever it may have meant in days gone by, now means the Movement going on in all civilised countries towards a gradual change in the social system by which the State (that is the whole community, rich and poor alike) shall eventually own and control collectively for the common benefit the land and capital which is now, for the most part, owned and controlled individually for private profit.”

To know whether Socialism is Atheism it is obviously necessary to know, first of all, what Socialism is, and Mr. Adderley fails, consequently, at the very outset. His definition describes State Capitalism. His ideal is a nation organised into a kind of huge post office. “The poor ye have always with you,” Christ is reported to have said, and his faithful minister sees “rich and poor alike” even in the state of society he conceives as his ideal.

Starting with such a false definition of Socialism, the rest of Mr. Adderley’s pamphlet is wasted labour as far as his argument is concerned, but it is so typical of the mentality of the “Christian Socialist” that it may detain us a little longer. The very phraseology is of a piece with the rest —“ Movement going on . . .  rich and poor alike . . . shall eventually . . .  for the most part.”

His definition of Atheism is equally precise.

“A Christian who says he believes in God but manages his business without regard to honesty or justice or mercy is practically an Atheist. A man who says he does not believe in God but tries to be honest and just and merciful is less of an Atheist than the other. . . . Socialism, if it makes for justice, mercy, brotherhood, etc.,” [only one “etc,” Mr. Printer.] “cannot be called Godless or Atheist even if its professors say that they do not believe in religion,” and so on.

We do not, of course, disagree with everything Mr. Adderley says. We agree, for example, that
 “The Labour Party in Parliament consists to a great extent of rather puritanically minded, unorthodox Christians.” (Page 11.)
He also states that Mr. Keir Hardie himself said in his (Mr. Adderley's) hearing some 15 years ago: “Send me to Parliament for the sake of those for whom Christ died.” We understand that Mr. Hardie’s meaning was, of course, “ For Christ’s sake send me to Parliament!”

How little knowledge Mr. Adderley has of “human nature,” Socialism, or of sociology in general may be seen from the conclusion of his pamphlet:
“ ‘This is a dream: it is against human nature,’ says the Anti-Socialist.
“I grant you it is a dream. I grant you it is against human nature as we know it.
“ ‘Human nature’ is a tough nut to crack. But my religion impels me to believe that it can be redeemed and changed by the power of Him who came to save mankind.”
To the understanding mind Mr. Adderley's brochure is yet another demonstration of the incompatibility of Socialism with Christianity, in spite of the fact that it contains no discussion of the question worthy the name. Its title, indeed, is unjustified. It could have been entitled, with a much greater degree of justification, “From Nebulae to Balderdash.” Perhaps it is not yet too late. I offer the suggestion for what it is worth.
F. C. Watts

The Price of a Life (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone asked to think of a product of capitalist society that is designed to kill would probably think of armaments, in all their many forms. But if it were suggested that capitalism also produces quite ordinary products such as motor cars, deliberately calculating that they are going to kill a certain proportion of their users, most people would not believe it. But it happens to be true.

One thing most workers would agree on, though, is that everything has its price; work, play, necessities, luxuries, food, drink etc. — all have this in common. Although most workers don’t realise it, above all capitalism prices a worker’s labour-power; the price being of course, wages. But capitalism does not stop at pricing a man’s ability to work, it also prices human lives themselves. In a remarkable legal case in the USA the horrifying fact was revealed that the Ford Motor Company decided it was cheaper (more profitable) to kill and maim people than incorporate a small design change in one of their models; a design change which would only cost something between $9-11 for each model.

The full details of this story of capitalism’s gross inhumanity in the search for profits was revealed in a report of the case in The Sunday Times (12/2/78). The Ford Pinto is one of a number of smaller American cars. It appears that the fuel tank for this car was (and in the case of those cars already on the road, still is) placed right at the rear. This meant that if hit from behind, even quite gently (a common accident) there was a strong chance of the petrol tank buckling, the petrol spilling out and the car bursting into flames. Several reports in the 1970s had pointed this out, and Ford were well aware of the risk. The car in which 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw was travelling was involved in just such an accident. The vehicle was hit from behind, the petrol tank exploded, and the driver was burnt to death. Richard however was “lucky” — he survived. Now 52 operations later (with more still to come) and horribly scarred for life, he has won his court case against Ford.

The jury in the case awarded Richard $128 million (roughly £66 million), punitive damages. That is, they not only gave Richard compensation for the injuries he suffered; they also punished Ford, imposing specially heavy damages. They did this because it was shown that Ford had killed and maimed deliberately. The Californian jury were presented with some shocking evidence, the results of detective work undertaken by Richard’s lawyers. In order to obtain this huge sum of damages it was not sufficient to show that the car had a design fault. Ford knew all about this and anyway they had a defence — the car met all government safety standards at the time. (This would not have been sufficient to prevent Richard getting a more normal level of damages — the current rate against Ford in the USA for this sort of horrible injury seems to be between $500,000 and $1 million). But Richard’s lawyers discovered that not only were Ford aware of the potential hazard of the car, but that they deliberately calculated the cost involved in altering the design, and the cost involved in terms of personal suffering) if they did not alter the design.

Ford’s calculations were that approximately 180 deaths and 180 serious injuries a year would result from the faulty design (though some estimates put the figure nearer to 1800 deaths a year and one journal estimates the death rate at 5000 a year). They then worked out the likely “cost” of each death or injury. They did this by adding up such items as victims’ pain and suffering ($10,000) fatal burn injuries ($67,000) medical expenses, loss of future earnings etc. Based on these grisly figures (and not forgetting the costs of damage to the car!) Ford put the total benefit (“savings”) of a design change at slightly less than $50 million. Let The Sunday Times take up the story of how this particular capitalist enterprise calculated from there:
 The figure of $50 million was set against the costs— $11 million worth of modifications per Ford vehicle sold—of $137 million. That, Ford engineers observed, was almost three times greater than the benefits, even using a number of highly favourable benefit assumptions! They could not envisage any development which would make compliance . . . cost effective.
The further evidence that Richard’s lawyers were able to produce to support their claim for punitive damages came from — a “star witness”. This was H.F. Copp, a retired senior design engineer, who had worked with Ford for 20 years. (The fact that he had retired was rather important — otherwise presumably he would not have dared give evidence against Ford for fear of being unemployed for life). This is how the Sunday Times continues its report
  Copp had worked on Ford’s successful Capri range in which the petrol tank rode, saddle-style, above the back axle; he was certain this was the safest design. . . . What could a designer like him do, Richard’s lawyers asked, if “corporate management” specified the location of the petrol tank? “Follow corporate policy” Copp replied. Had Ford’s top management, in fact, issued a design directive for the Pinto’s tank? "Behind the rear axle, beneath the floor.” Could he estimate how much extra it would have cost to place the Pinto’s tank above the axle? “About $9 more per car."
So why didn’t Ford introduce the safer design that Copp (and others) advised? Quite simple really — a Ford engineer explained that in the “ferociously competitive small-car market” Ford had to be extremely price-conscious (price here referring to cars of course — not human lives). The car was governed by the 2000 limit: “. . . it was not to weigh more than 2000 pounds and not to cost more than $2000 . . .  An increase in production costs could price a compact car out of its market”.

So there are the simple economics; no frills, no attempts to hide it, no subtlety. Naked concern for sales means that the price of a human life is weighted in the scales against the price of a car; in this instance the human life is found to be the lighter.

Of course the very heavy damages awarded are little comfort to Richard. As poor Richard himself said after the case: “If I had a choice of whether to take this money and go through all those burns and stuff or just lead a normal life, then I’d lead a normal life”. The lesson for the world working class from this story is obvious. A society that coldly evaluates the cost of killing or maiming a human being (quite apart from the horrors of war) and decides that it is more profitable to do so than to spend a miserable $9-11 a car is no society for human beings at all; it is a society OF human beings FOR profits. If the tragedy of Richard Grimshaw and many others teaches this lesson, then perhaps his sufferings have not been totally in vain.
Ronnie Warrington

Obituary: Jack Marsh (1988)

Obituary from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

After a lifetime in the Socialist movement, Jack Marsh, of Central branch, died suddenly at his home in Manchester on the 18th January.

Jack was influenced at an early age by his father who was the first secretary of Manchester branch when it was formed in 1907. Although Jack did not formally join the Party until the seventies, for many years he regularly disposed of a number of Socialist Standards and disseminated socialist ideas among his acquaintances.

Our sympathy goes to his wife and family.

The Majority Revolution (1970)

Book Review from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Urban Guerrilla, by Martin Oppenheimer. Penguin. 5s.

Under modern industrial and political conditions the socialist revolution can only be successful if the vast majority of wage and salary earners consciously and actively take part in it. This is what American university lecturer Martin Oppenheimer argues here. Or, as he puts it himself:
  The liberation of mankind, as the Marxian saying has it, must be the work of mankind itself, must be majoritarian and democratic. No elite, whether violent or non-violent, can substitute.
Urban Guerrilla is a study of insurrection and revolution. Oppenheimer notes that most revolutionary theory today is still based on the assumption “that a minority may have to carry the revolution through”. His book is a criticism of this assumption.

Peasant-based insurrections, he sees, do not and cannot lead to the establishment of a democratic, classless society since the peasants, being incapable of ruling society, must hand over power to some minority. Such insurrections bring to power a new ruling class as has been shown in China and Cuba and now also in Vietnam. Writing of thinkers like Mao, Guevera, Fanon and Debray, he says :
  Contemporary revolutionists claiming the Marxist label are not really Marxists at all. In different ways, they all represent rule by an elite, but they use Marxist language and peasant revolution (consciously or not) to justify their present or future rule. This may not be the intent . . . but it does seem to be the objective function of the contemporary peasant revolution and of its ideologies.
In modern industrial countries an insurrection can only succeed if the vast majority of the people support it (or are at least neutral) and if the government's machinery of suppression has broken down. In the absence of these conditions an isolated urban insurrection will be crushed with great bloodshed. This was demonstrated in Paris in 1871, in Dublin in 1916, in Shanghai in 1927, in Vienna in 1934 and in Warsaw in 1943 and 1944. The same would happen, warns Oppenheimer, to any Ghetto insurrection such as advocated by the Black Panthers. Incidentally, he is not taken in one bit by Black Power realising that its aims are in no way incompatible with the present system; the American government might easily grant self-government to the black ghettos and continue to exploit them in the same way as Britain and France do their ex-colonies. Black Power, like Home Rule, is a fraud.

Over the years it has become more and more difficult so that it is now almost impossible for a minority to defeat the government’s forces:
  It is clear that modern technology, particularly the speed of communication and travel, has made that harder than ever to accomplish, even with a general strike. The use of such devices as helicopters. light bombers, and gas and napalm, while not excluding revolutionary outbreaks, makes them much more costly than a century ago.
Oppenheimer recalls that "as long ago as 1895 . . . Engels pointed out that street fighting had become obsolete in 1849".

A possible alternative strategy for an active minority in a modern industrial country is to wage a protracted campaign of violence, terror and sabotage—or even of non-violent civil disobedience—in a bid to bring about the collapse of the machinery of government. This, suggests Oppenheimer, would probably rather lead to the rise of a fascist dictatorship and, even if successful, being the work of an active minority only, could easily lead to the rule of a new privileged class as in peasant-supported revolutions.

To succeed, concludes Oppenheimer, the revolution must be essentially non-violent and democratic involving the vast majority of the population, especially white and blue collar workers "for these are the only classes which, due to their relationship to the functioning of modern society, have both the potential for making a revolution and the capability of carrying it through on a democratic basis”. To attempt a revolution without such majority support
 is almost inevitably bound to result either in a counter-revolutionary fascist society or in a revolutionary dictatorship which destroys the goals for which the revolution was undertaken.
This is more or less how we would put it too.

There are however two important points on the strategy for a majority revolution on which we would disagree with Oppenheimer.

We agree that a socialist party must be democratic and open and so reflect the society it wishes to achieve. We agree too that it must not get involved in conventional politics or seek to form the government. We cannot agree however that it should engage in the day-to-day struggle as well as agitate and organise for Socialism. To do so runs the great risk of becoming yet another conventional political party since engaging in the day-to-day struggle of people under capitalism necessarily involves advocating reforms. A reform programme would attract people who want reforms rather than Socialism. In a democratic, open party such people would come to dominate it and turn it into a instrument for trying to get reforms rather than for carrying out the social revolution. Oppenheimer is aware of this as he himself mentions the fate of the German Social Democratic Party. The best way to avoid this danger is for a socialist party, while not being opposed to reforms and always being on the side of the oppressed against the oppressors, not to advocate them.

Nor do we see why existing more or less democratic institutions cannot be transformed into instruments of the Socialist revolution. Given that there is effective universal suffrage, local councils and some central elected body like Parliament or Congress it seems pointless not to use them both to register majority support for the revolution and to co-ordinate the measures needed to carry it through. Why bother to set up also "institutions that would parallel existing structures of government”? No doubt as the socialist revolution approaches people will be organising in all kinds of informal bodies ready to take over and run society after the end of class rule, but as long as democratically-elected councils and parliaments exist winning control of them through the ballot-box must surely be central to the strategy of any socialist party in a modern industrial country.

One further criticism. Oppenheimer does not spell out clearly enough that the socialist revolution cannot take place on a national scale but must be international and lead to the establishment of a world society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life with production solely to satisfy human needs.

We detail these criticisms—all of which mind you, only arise within the context of a majority revolution—because the rest of the book is so good. We unhesitatingly recommend it.
Adam Buick

Rude Words (1975)

Book Review from the November 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

95 per Cent is Crap: A Plain Man’s Guide to British Politics, by Terry Arthur. Liberation Books Ltd., £3.50.

If nothing else, this is a handy compendium of extracts nonsensical, contradictory and self-revealing from politicians and “leading authorities”, with derisive comments made from the stance of “the man in the street”.

No partisanship is shown — the subject-matter comes more or less equally from Labour and the Conservatives, with the Liberals, Communists and National Front in tow. The author writes in a bluff saloon-bar style like that of the title (we hardly need to be told he is a Rugby player): “bloody” abounds. This is an obvious Christmas present for the person who thinks all politicians are on the make.

Anyone else, including serious students of Association football, would have reservations. Terry Arthur’s advice to all is, at every election, to put a big cross right across the ballot paper, “preferably with a short rude message . . .  If you feel dissatisfaction, register it, rather than help to keep these lunatics in business.” His view is that if we did so “we might even see a few sensible ideas sprouting up”.

Angry and impotent as many people undoubtedly feel, is this the answer? Of course not. Using the author’s own rough-and-ready kind of argument, the dangers from a government which was free of any electoral mandate would be considerably greater than from governments which have (however unsatisfactorily) to answer for themselves. To throw away one’s vote is no step towards the freedom whose lack the book laments.

The real trouble, however, is that it never leaves the surface of things. There is no sign that Terry Arthur has ever asked “Why?” — why politicians do perennially dissemble, why ineptitude is the hallmark of every policy. The same kinds of observations were being made forty years ago by “Beachcomber”: “. . . the Prime Minister, that sheep in sheep’s clothing, rises to depths undreamed of in our history. The rumour that one of his sentences at Leeds was intelligible is a gross libel. Yet the maddest thing of all is that he can find people to go and listen to him . . .”

There is an explanation, and also a positive alternative. All the politicians and spokesmen he quotes have one thing in common — they support capitalism, and are endeavouring to run it (or suggest ways of doing so). The problems capitalism produces are organic, i.e. part of its nature. Whoever sets out to solve them has, therefore, a task which cannot be accomplished. Hence their politics present the spectacle of continual floundering from one quagmire to another, and the speeches are its rationale.

The alternative is to end capitalism and establish a sane society.
Robert Barltrop

“The Mail on Sunday” on socialism (1993)

From the April 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
The 3 January issue of the Mail on Sunday contained an article by John Junor in which he referred to John Smith as "the leader of the Socialist Party”. Quite apart from the fact that we have no leader, we complained to the paper's ombudsman. Mr Chris Rees. We publish below his reply, together with our response:
I think it is fair to say that few, if any, members of the Labour Party would object to being called Socialists and many staunchly uphold the values and aims of Socialism.

There are. obviously, different interpretations of the word “Socialist” but in general terms the Labour Party is seen to be Socialist and of course John Smith is leader of that party.

It was good of you to point out the old Press Council ruling which stated that readers of the (Evening Standard) article would clearly understand the organisation referred to and I think the same logic must apply to the article by Sir John Junor.

Copies of this correspondence will be passed to Sir John and the Managing Editor, Mr Forgham. so that they are aware of your complaint and comments, but beyond that I do not think I can usefully take the matter any further forward.
Yours sincerely
Chris Rees, Ombudsman

Dear Mr Rees.

Having considered your response, as an allegedly independent Ombudsman, the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party is astonished by its political reasoning.

Firstly, we are told that few members of the Labour Party would object to being called Socialists. It is surely the job of a newspaper to describe people as they are, not as they choose to be described. For many decades the only nation in Europe which had a title describing itself as being democratic was the tyrannical, state-capitalist police state, the German Democratic Republic. If your newspaper chose to describe the dictators of the ex-GDR as being democratic on the grounds that most of them would not object to being so called it would be a rather perverse way of defining truth.

Secondly, it is stated that "the Labour Party is seen to be Socialist”. By whom is it so seen? Its leaders rarely describe it as standing for socialism and refuse to use the term in their publicity. Most of its active members criticise it for not being seen to be socialist. So, on what grounds do you maintain your view that it is accurate to describe it in such a way?

Thirdly, and most astonishingly, you state that not only is the Labour Party seen as being socialist, and not only is its membership willing to be so described, but "many staunchly uphold the values and aims of Socialism". This is an independent conclusion of your own which presumes some knowledge of what Socialism means.

Socialists stand for the establishment of a social system in which all goods and services are produced solely for use. not profit. Do "many” Labour members “staunchly uphold” such an aim? If so, when have they ever upheld it? When, for example, have they ever argued the case for moneyless free access to goods and services instead of the existence of the market standing between people and the satisfaction of their needs? Please supply us with a single speech, manifesto (local, national or European) or press release which upholds, “staunchly" or otherwise, that basic socialist aim. We suspect that all that you, or any writers or researchers on your newspaper, will be able to come up with are Labour plans for administering, regulating or reforming the capitalist market. After all, the famous Clause Four of their Constitution commits them to support for the market exchange of commodities.

We shall publish your response to us, and this response to you, in our official journal, The Socialist Standard (which was itself established two years before the Labour Party). We commit ourselves, as democrats, to publishing any response you can give to our questions and. in particular, to letting our readers know what evidence you arc able to cite in support of your contention that many members of the Labour Party do staunchly uphold the aim of Socialism. If you wish to retract the latter contention, on the grounds that there is absolutely no evidence to justify it, we shall be pleased to allow you to set the record straight.

Glasgow Branch decides to contest election (1945)

Party News from the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glasgow Branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain has decided to contest a seat at the next municipal election in Glasgow.

Already, candidates have been selected, a campaign committee is busily engaged in the task of organising meetings, and planning the assault on Woodside (the ward to be contested), and a tremendous wave of enthusiasm has enveloped the members of the branch, who are now making an all out effort to put the S.P.G.B. bang on Glasgow's political map.

Years of unremitting toil by the small group of pioneers who struggled on determinedly against the apathy and political backwardness of the working class, is now bearing fruit; and whatever vote the party obtains at the forthcoming election, in Glasgow at least, our opponents are going to know that the S.P.G.B. is on the march, and that we mean business!

Over a dozen young speakers are now in training for the outdoor propaganda season. They will be assisted then, by a number of London speakers who will be visiting Scotland during the summer months.

In the meantime, a series of indoor lectures are being held every Sunday in the Central Halls, and the response here has been encouraging.

We expect to be installed in our own election premises very shortly:—a shop where literature will be sold, and discussion groups, etc., held every evening. Members are resolved that we must make more headway in Scotland this year than ever before in the history of the organisation.

Here is the opportunity of all members and friends to “come to the aid of the party."

We will need money, and plenty of it! How about digging deep into the pocket. Every little donation will help, and you can be assured that it will be made good use of. Address all envelopes to Socialist Party of Great Britain, Central Halls, 25, Bath Street, Glasgow, C.2. And mark envelopes "Campaign."

Every donation will be acknowledged as received.

Do not fail us, in this hour of endeavour. We have the members and the speakers, you can help us obtain the funds!
Fred Crowe (Campaign Organiser).

America Land of Millionaires and Poverty (1945)

Editorial from the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

The illusion still persists that capitalism is all right provided it is run on proper lines, “proper” meaning the way it is done in some ether country. U.S.A. has often been paraded as the land of successful capitalism, high wages, no unemployment, no poverty. Below are some facts about that country of opportunity.
 "Another bold plan for wiping out all slums in the United States will be introduced in Congress within the next few days, and it is believed that it has a good chance of being passed.
 The plan would provide 110,000,000 dollars (about £22,000,000) annually in Federal subsidies for public housing in both cities and rural areas, where, although it is not generally known, some very bad slums exist."— (New York Correspondent of “Manchester Guardian.” March 6th, 1945).
And here are some extracts from “The Rest of Your Life," by Leo Cherne, secretary of the Research Institute of America, based on an official census. They were reproduced in the “Daily Mail" (February 23rd, 1945). First the towns:—

  •   One in four city dwellings have no private bath.
  •   More than 1,000,000 dwellings, have no gas or electricity.
  •   Many buildings have only one lavatory and one cold water tap to serve as many as a dozen families.
  •   Almost half all city tenement houses have no central heat.
  •   About one in three homes, apartments, or tenements could stand some major overhauling or basic plumbing.
  •  Altogether, more than 10,000,000 city families live in substandard slum dwellings—too many jammed into too small an area, lack of recreation space for children, dark, vermin-infested rooms.
  •   In Hartford, Connecticut, before the city's war boom made things worse, one out of every four people lived in a slum area.
  •   Across country, to Butte, Montana, more than a quarter of that city's residential buildings were “not fit to live in or needed major repairs," according to official surveys.
  •   Out to San Francisco, where the city's housing authority declared in 1942 that one out of every five homes was substandard.
  •   Down to Dixie, where the situation in Louisville, Kentucky, is all too typical, with "96 per cent, of the families living in substandard homes"—according to the city's own Municipal Housing Commission.
The "Daily Mail" quotes Cherne as saying that in 1944, two million people in New York City alone were living in tenements that were officially condemned 60 years ago, in 1885, as "foul, unsanitary, and unfit to live in."

Then the farming people of the countryside:—

  •   Nine out of ten had no private both or shower;
  •   Five out of six had no running water at all;
  •   Seven out of ten had no electric light;
  •   One out of ten had no indoor lavatory or privy at all;
  •   Three out of five had no refrigeration of any kind;
  •   Seven out of ten were without telephones
And unemployment:—
  Something has to happen in America, Cherne declares, because if after war the nation does no better than it did in 1940—its best-ever peace-time year—between 10,000,000 and 15,000,000 Americans will be without jobs.
  In 1940, despite vast civilian output, one out of every six workers was looking for a job—8,500,000 unemployed altogether.
America, like Britain, is going in for prefabricated houses and for the same reason, that the poverty stricken cannot afford anything more costly.

Of course, there is guile in the publicity given by British newspapers to this sort of thing. They believe that British workers will more readily accept their own troubles as unavoidable when they know that "rich" America exhibits the same sordid poverty. Poverty is not a necessity anywhere. Poverty to-day is due to the capitalist system and will not be remedied except by establishing socialism.

The Sociology of Revolutions. (1922)

From the September 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

For some years there has been a “boom" in “Sociology.” Not long ago the demand for books upon social affairs was so limited that the publication of small popular and cheap volumes of the kind which to-day and for the past few years have been so abundant was not a commercial proposition, except to publishing houses which specialised in such works. Before the war the output showed a marked increase. But that event which, overwhelming though it appeared in its day, we may now regard as a mere political episode hardly warranting, when compared with coming conflicts already hinted at by the “experts," the titles of the “ Great” War, gave a further impetus to the publication of “sociological" treatises, enquiries and text books—because as the problems of society multiply or intensify, so do the attempts to solve them.

Looking over the shelves of a public library one may find works on “Unemployment,” “Poverty,” “Taxation,” “Industrial Management,” “Trades* Unions, ” “Political Reform,” the “Structure of the State,” “Education,” One will see ponderous works and slim handbooks about “Primitive Society,” “Early Law and Custom," “Feudalism," "Mediaeval Guilds,” and the “Factory System.” All these will contain some useful information. Some will be sound in viewpoint and contents while others will be comparatively worthless. In such a collection, however, one subject of enormous importance to the student of society, both in its present and its past evolution, will be found to be practically, if not completely ignored, and that subject is the “Sociology of Revolutions.” Very few, if any, works will be devoted to the consideration of the place of social revolution in history, while those which mention the subject at all do so casually, hastily, and in an utterly unconvincing way.

Apart from the fact that “revolution” is always a delicate subject with bourgeoise writers and particularly so, to the extent of taboo, at a time when social problems are in pressing need of solution, there is a strong theoretical reason for this “peculiar omission.”

Revolutions are generally considered by the bourgeoise “sociologist" to be something apart from the normal processes of society, as disturbing, intruding factors unrelated to the conditions ordinarily determining social evolution and therefore outside the “proper scope” of their “science.”

This mistaken notion, although based fundamentally upon an unconscious bias and being, therefore, as the psychologist would say, a “rationalisation" promoted by a politico-economic “complex" is related theoretically to two of the basic ideas which form the usual stock-in-trade of bourgeoise socia; science.

The first of these is that evolution is usually, if not always, a “slow” and at any rate an uniform process. This idea is utterly unsound. The terms “slow” and “fast” are purely relative to some accepted standard of measurement when applied to evolution as to other aspects of motion. By what arbitrary standard are we to judge by comparison any evolutionary process to be slow or fast? The only general fact we know about universal evolution at all is that it shows no break in the continuous chain of cause and effect. The further notion that the rate of progression is uniform, is a pure fiction contradicted by facts from every branch of science.

The other fallacious idea which is common to orthodox writers on social science is that evolution must necessarily be governed by the same forces and take place in the same way and at the same rate in all the different branches of the social structure. This idea touches on the central problem in the study of the social revolution.

Marx was probabIy the first thinker to address himself to the solution of this problem, and in the introduction to his “Critique of Political Economy” (1859) will be found the summary of his conclusions, in which he shows what a revolution is and how it is brought about. This passage, which is given below, has become classic, and has been translated into practically every language spoken by civilised men:—
   “In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of Society—the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of. men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes the period of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic, or philosophic—in short, idealogical forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness: on the contrary, this consciousness must rather be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the existing, conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore, mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines we can designate the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal, and the modern bourgeoise methods of production as so many epochs in the progress of the economic formation of society. The bourgeoise relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production—antagonistic not in the' sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from conditions surrounding the life of individuals in society; at the same time the productive forces developing, in the womb of the bourgeoise society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation constitutes, therefore, the closing chapter of the pre-historic stage of human society” (“Critique of Political Economy,” pages 11-13). 
R. W. Housley

Political action for Socialism (1970)

From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Marxist, Socialism is the result of social development and is seen as evolving from capitalism in much the same way as previous forms of society have evolved, that is, growth and development up to the point where change, a complete change, is essential — a revolution. Capitalism, by its own development of large-scale organisation and high technical efficiency, its production of a working class owning no property in the means of production, has performed its historical task and must give way to its successor, a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production — Socialism.

No social system, however, has ever disappeared in a mechanical fashion, out of recognition of historical necessity as it were, and there is no evidence that suggests capitalism is an exception. The class position of the capitalists generally make it impossible for them to understand that their social usefulness has ended; they are deaf to all Socialist appeals because such appeals are in essence appeals for them to commit social suicide. The poverty and destitution of a large portion of the world’s population, wars, economic crises and financial panics contain no lesson for the capitalists who will use all the power they possess to keep the present system in being. Expecting only opposition from the capitalist class, the Socialist is compelled to turn to the working class, the class which produces all the wealth, performs all the necessary services in modern society yet suffers all the social indignities of to-day, the class which has nothing to lose by a change in the system, but everything to gain. The only class which can make a revolution.

The working class is always in conflict at numerous points with capitalism. In this conflict, however, the working class lacks the understanding of its basic cause. It is and must be the work of present-day Socialists to place such understanding at the disposal of their fellow workers. Workers do not need convincing of the necessity to establish Socialism by Utopian experiments or plans, as capitalism itself gives many practical reasons as to the need to change society. The details of the future society on which Utopians love to dwell, fade into insignificance in face of the importance of gaining political power.

Political power is centred in governments as is demonstrated in the ability to make and enforce laws by means of the judiciary, police and armed forces. This power is used when necessary to protect the interest of one national group of capitalists against a competing foreign group. This can and often does, lead to war. In this modern capitalist world the educational system is under the control of the central power and in many parts of the world the whole medium of propaganda and communication is included.

This form of power which exists in all those countries where the capitalist mode of production prevails can only be maintained by the active or passive consent of the majority of the population, that is the working class. This consent must be withdrawn and replaced by the deliberate and conscious act of taking over this power in order that the basis of society can be transformed from a capitalist one to a Socialist one.

The refusal to continue capitalism and the readiness to replace it with the new form of society presupposes that a class which has become revolutionary has at its disposal the requisite organisation to carry out its purpose. In those countries which have developed a political party system, a party which has for its object the establishment of Socialism, with a built-in refusal to compromise with capitalism, will if not already in existence, have to be formed. In those parts of the world which have developed a different political form, the struggle for political power must take place in line with such development.

In 1891, Engels wrote in his preface to Marx’s Civil War in France,
  The state is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another [and] at the best it is an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy and whose worst features it will have to lop off at once.
This opinion of the state arose out of the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871. Although the state machine has developed a complexity and power which no one living in 1891 could have foreseen, it is still true that the state is fundamentally as Engels defined it, a machine for the oppression of one class by another. It also has to function as the executive committee of the ruling class.

As it becomes imperative for society to progress and remove the last form of slavery, the state which is a barrier in its present form must be taken over, altered and shaped for the task of social revolution. Once this has been achieved it can fade away.

The taking of political power and transforming it from a means of oppression to one of emancipation is the historical mission of the working class. This mission requiring as it does the conscious understanding by that class, places the responsibility on present day Socialists for creating and maintaining the organisation which can be used by the revolutionary class. Also to make available political knowledge to speed the development of revolutionary consciousness.

The false and dangerous notions about barricades and armed risings must be exposed and the difference between revolts and revolution understood and explained. For modern capitalism has been compelled to provide the weapon which can be used for its destruction. The ballot used by a sophisticated working class can make possible the use of political power to establish a world society where the problem of access to food and shelter will be solved by making these freely available to all.
Bob Ambridge