Thursday, November 15, 2018

Fine Words (1945)

From the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard
"There must be a change of heart, if Peace is to become something better than an uneasy interval between wars."
The above is a quotation from a speech by the Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, before the T.U.C. Conference at Blackpool, as reported in the Star (September 12th, 1945).

We have heard it all before somewhere, and it is in fact a political-cum-religious gramophone record which apparently still has plenty of life in it.

Whenever working class conditions under capitalism are aggravated by particular crises within the system, such as wars and depressions, then the master class or their representatives bring the full force of their propaganda machine into play to befog the minds of workers and to distract them from the real causes of their problems. As we see from the above, the Labour leader is no exception; in fact we find that he develops the hypocrisy still further by stating that, “however perfect a machinery we may devise, it cannot be worked without the power of the spirit. A new world order cannot be made by Governments."

This is particularly interesting when we recall the eloquence of Mr. Attlee and his associates in claiming, prior to the election, that a Labour Government could and would cure everything from poverty to war.

Continuing his speech, Mr. Attlee said: “There is only one principle that can save the world, the principle you practise in your great movements, the Christian principle that all men are brothers one of another.” Strange words indeed from the man who actually participated in the direction of the war in which 30,000,000 workers were slaughtered, strange words indeed from the man who presided over the meeting which launched upon the world the indiscriminate destruction of the atomic bomb.

All history has been full of such “fine words.” Plato used them over 2,000 years ago to keep down the murmurings of the chattel slave community at Athens; in 1945 Mr. Attlee uses them to keep down the murmurings of the wage slave community in this country.

Just as the “fine words" of Plato were a means to an end, the end being the perpetuation of the City State and the domination by the aristocratic class of all other classes, so Mr. Attlee's “fine words” have a similar end, namely, the safeguarding of the private property institution and the maintenance of the master class as the dominating class in modern society; and this domination and privilege of the master class can only be maintained by the exploitation and oppression of the only useful section in society, the working class.

So the message of Socialists to their fellow members of the working class is, “Beware, 'fine words' "; the history of class domination is full of them.
Ronald L. Griffin

Barcelona conference (1989)

From the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Late last year there took place in Barcelona an international conference on the future of society. The idea was for a large number of speakers from across the world to take part in a week of discussion and debate on the question of social change. Contributors were to be of diverse political persuasions, so that the outcome would be representative, and conferences would be continued annually in different parts of the world over five years, returning to Barcelona in 1992. This first conference was timed to mark the twentieth anniversary of the events of 1968, and the radical pronouncements in the advance programme appeared promising, speaking enthusiastically of “a change in civilisation", "models for the future" and even the need to "transform society".

Having been offered the opportunity to take part in all of the seminars and debates. and to address one of the sessions, I was quite willing to see of what use this forum could be in the urgent task of propagating socialist ideas. This was in spite of the fact that speakers included certain philosophers of the "New Right”; unlike some political dim-wits of the Left who refuse to debate with those they allegedly disagree with, socialists are prepared to discuss and debate with political opponents of all persuasions. This is a point of principle based on our view that socialist revolution can only come with the winning over of a clear majority to our ideas. We can and must defeat in argument all kinds of antiquated myths which are peddled by many workers on behalf of their employers.

On arrival at the conference, however, all of my worst fears were confirmed. Although originally organised by a small group of ex-Trotskyists based around the University, the event had grown and begun to attract major sponsorship in a way that verged on the sinister and would have been comical had the wasted opportunity not been so obvious. The sponsors, it turned out. included the Sony Corporation, various banks and even government bodies. These financial institutions clearly knew a thing or two about buying off dissent, but with this intellectual mob the process clearly came pretty cheaply. Even the grandiose conference auditorium itself was situated in a bank!

The conference was opened by speeches full of pious waffle from non-entities such as a government minister and the Chairman of the bank in question. Anyone attending, other than the hundred or so invited speakers, had to pay ninety dollars just to take part. Almost all the main participants were senior academics of various disciplines. Lively debate was prevented by methods ranging from restricting to a few minutes at the end of a session, questions from the floor" to the outright censorship of taking points in writing for selection by the platform speakers.

Despite all these and other limitations, I was able to ensure that the genuine expression of socialism was heard loud and clear in several of the sessions, as well as in the text presented at one of the seminars (see separate article). It is, however, worth considering in detail some of the nonsense spoken, as this proved in the end to be a classic example of the chaos which results when capitalism's apologists try to give the system a new lease of life by discussing so-called 'alternatives” within it.

At the outset, the excited auditorium of two hundred or so were warned by an anthropologist called Bux├│ not to contemplate any return to the structures or values of primitive anthropological forms: far better no doubt to stick with the civilised certainties of the bomb and the dole queue. Lester Ruiz from New York spoke of the "deconstructivist" efforts facing us all, and the need for spiritual transformation. An ex-Communist party member from Paris called Garaudy stated that millions were dying of hunger while wheat is destroyed, but then showed his reluctance to leave the CP behind by singing the praises of Gorbachev and declaring his conversion to Islam. A born-again Christian called for a "mixed economy" with “God at the centre and love at its heart". A Communist Party member and philosopher from Georgia, Merab Mamardashvili, spoke of the need for metaphysical rebirth and mourned the passing of the “pre-revolutionary spirit" of Tsarism, while insisting that as a Marxist and Party member, he knew what he was saying and “allowed" himself to say it. "The capitalist system does not exist", he went on, and “life, in the strict sense of the term, is impossible". Even the simultaneous-translation interpreters were in stitches of laughter at this learned philosopher's ramblings. which culminated with the classic plea (quoted here verbatim) that: "I hope you understand me because I have difficulty in understanding what I’m saying myself". This comment would make a fitting epitaph to much of the pompous event itself. Meanwhile, students and scholars in the aisles scribbled notes furiously and the next philosopher was helped to the stage.

Maximilien Rubel, who has written several times to the Letters column of the Socialist Standard, chided the conference for ignoring the threat of nuclear war and pointed out Marx's recognition that the majority most affected by social problems must act to end their cause — the market system itself. He spoke against the state capitalist Russian Empire and attacked in advance next year's Paris celebration of 1789. adding that rather than “indulge in vanity of inventing new cultures", the speakers should declare themselves against “the insane nihilism of the political barbarians" who own and control the world. Rubel also pointed out that 1968 was a useless starting point unless it was recognised as a complete failure. Like others who spoke some sense or showed tell-tale signs of having ventured beyond their studies during the past year, he was patronised and dismissed by both the organisers and the majority present.

While these enthusiastic “experts" pontificated in a bank, the streets of Barcelona overflowed with some of the worst poverty in Europe. We were surrounded by social problems of which many speakers seemed ignorant, as they shunned as too “political" any talk of the majority repossessing the earth as the necessary prelude to any real social change. An official survey in the old quarter of Barcelona in 1985 found 25 per cent of the children there suffering malnutrition and more than half of the families living in sub-standard housing. Life expectancy was ten times lower than in other districts. These and other statistics were lucidly presented in a television documentary shown late last year (Cities Fit to Live In: Salud. Barcelona, TVE Barcelona/ Channel Four, November 1988), which ended with this refreshing piece of honest commentary:
  In the nineteenth century, Barcelona fought to demolish the stone walls hemming her in. The challenge she faces today is to bring down the invisible walls that divide one citizen from another, and to set all her citizens on an equal footing. Only then will it be possible to talk about health as a state of total physical, mental and social well-being, and not simply an absence of illness.
Clifford Slapper

Human Nature and Morality (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

After Marx died there grew up a legend that his theory of social causation was too narrowly mechanistic to provide accommodation for any sort of ethics. No doubt Marx, in combating the sentimental “moralising” of certain Utopian contemporaries who called themselves “the True Socialists”, had leaned so far backward as to give semblance if not substance for fathering on him views whose alleged paternity he would have disclaimed.

The humanistic socialism combated by Marx, like its contemporary counterpart, was a pseudo-political trend, inspired by the literati, philosophers and pundits. Moses Hess was for a time their most representative spokesman. For the early humanists as with the latter day ones, socialism was not a question of “by bread alone”  – even though bread might be included. Socialism was primarily a question of moral values. Stress was laid on brotherly love, the dignity of man and concern for the individual. From such political piety, socialism came to be defined as “the ethics of love”. Then, socialism took the guise of contemporary humanism. Now, humanism assumes the role of contemporary socialism.

Like many of the views Marx fought against, the arguments of the True Socialists have turned up over and over again in a variety of social situations, tricked out each time in fresh frills and flounces, as if making their first bow on the stage of world history.

Humanism the classless ethic
Common to all shades of this humanistic approach is the tenet that socialism is not basically a question of economic interests but humanitarian ideals. Not a matter for the stomach, but an affair of the heart, and that a moral revolution must be the prelude to the social revolution. Not only, argue the humanists, have men and women altruistic feelings, but implicit in these feelings are the ideals of communism. All that is necessary is to encourage and help promote these altruistic tendencies, to actualise the Brotherhood of Man based on universal love.

If our true nature is some residual and permanent quality of the human species, then every individual is at least in embryo a communist. But what the right kind of social conditions necessary for this are, the humanists all through the ages have been very vague about. Again, if our essence is our “true nature”, then this human essence transcends all social systems and classes. Landed proprietors, capitalists, peasants and wage workers are all equally capable of actualising their “true nature” into the communist way of life. Thus, while many humanists have called for the abolition of all classes they have done so in the name of an abstract classless ethic. While they will admit that the class struggle itself is inevitably engendered by the competitive character of capitalist society, they nevertheless hold that it militates against the growth of humanistic ideals by giving emphasis to material differences instead of stressing human sameness. Many humanists have even talked about the necessity of prosecuting the class struggle, but how can one ask people to disregard class interests and then call upon one class to oppose another?

Human nature as an historic variable
The ethical assumptions of all varieties of what is called the humanistic socialist view are based on the fixity of human nature. They share this view with theological theorists, the difference being that the former hold that this basic human nature is good and the latter that it is bad. Marx denied that human nature can be placed in such absolute categories. Both Marx and Engels held that human nature was not an absolute constant but an historic variable. In fact, they always insisted that the “human nature” to which humanists and the clericalists appeal, each in their different ways, cannot serve as a guide to social organisation. It is not human nature which explains society, but society which explains human nature. There is no given human nature independent of time and place. There is only an historical human nature, that is a specific expression of human nature in a definite social context. To put it more precisely, to understand the nature of the human one must understand the nature of the society in which humans live. When we adopt such a criterion we discover that there is no immutable human nature, no homogeneous pattern to which a universal appeal can be made for the justification of concrete social questions. There can be no overall moral agreement or ethical unity in a social system split by class interests and antagonisms.

Class demands v. ethical neutrality
Contrary to what humanists believe, all ethics can be shown to have a class bias in a class system, and further there can be no genuine class ethic unless backed by class demands. That is why on concrete social issues one cannot appeal to “Man” or “the normal human”. Neither is there some ethically neutral tribunal to which opposing class rights can be impartially referred.

Capitalist society consists of buyers and sellers of labour-power. The worker as a seller of labour-power cannot assert his or her “right” to maintain or improve living standards via ethical appeal or moral law. Nor is the capitalist under a moral obligation to waive or even remit in any way the unpaid labour of the worker — profit — back in the form of increased wages. Not only has the capitalist a legal right to profit, but from his standpoint a moral right as well. Behind this moral right stands custom, tradition, religion, the classless ethic — and the State. As Marx points out in Capital, “There is here, therefore, an antimony, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchange. Between equal rights, force decides”.

In a society such as capitalism, based on a permanent class conflict, there can be no genuine appeal to a neutral ethics. That is why Marx never invoked Humanity, Justice or Mercy as agencies for solving social struggle. For the same reason he rejected the abstract classless morality of Kant and Christ. Morality for Marx is not eternal or natural but active and social. Morality to be genuinely effective must be based on needs, and in a class society on class needs. It is true that ethical ideals, like truth, duty, honour and human rights, acquire a seeming eternal form. But social analysis shows while the forms of these ideals are the same, their nature differs from social epoch to social epoch and from class to class. So if the question is posed: whose truth? whose duty? what human rights?, one will find in the answer a class standpoint. Crack the shell of a classless absolute ethic hard enough and the kernel of a class interest will be found. Marxist ethics do not invoke “Truth”, “Duty” and “Altruism” but demand a state of affairs where these things have a different content from the existing ruling morality. Humility or self assertion, unselfishness or selfishness are themselves neither virtuous nor vicious; it is the actual social situation which gives them their truly moral quality.

The demand for the abolition of classes is a concrete class demand, engendered by a specific social situation. For the working class to be concerned with the plight of its “enemies” is itself a policy of despair whose ultimate logic is the perpetuation of capitalism. That is why we reject the classless ethic of religious theory and the school of bourgeois morality with its intuitive ethics based on the private individual. For such moral views turn out to be a disguised defence of the status quo.

Obituary: Vic Heeley (1989)

Obituary from the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

We were sad to learn of the death last year of Comrade Vic Heeley, who more than fifty years ago left the National Secular Society to join our Manchester Branch. Vic will be long remembered by members living and visiting the area in the twenty years he was active there, in particular for his enthusiastic selling of the Socialist Standard. When he moved to Cornwall in the 1950s he continued to propagate our ideas vigorously and maintain contact with other members, in spite of his isolation and poor health. We salute his memory.

Intervention USA (1989)

From the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days of the enterprise culture, government involvement in industry, commerce, banking and other economic activities is not the flavour of the month. Market forces are in and intervention, or so we are told, is out.

Indeed it would appear that this is true, for all over the world, in Britain, France, Australia and elsewhere, governments have been getting rid of much of what is called “the public sector”. In fact nationalisation, the main form of government involvement in a nation’s economic activity and once seen as a device which would solve all of capitalism’s economic and social problems, is more or less a dead duck.

So obvious is this even to politicians of “the left” that the Labour Party here doesn’t intend to re-nationalise all the Tory sell-offs of the last decade, while in the so-called communist countries private enterprise is being encouraged to compete with ailing state enterprise.

From deregulation…
However, even in such times as these, governments still have to step in and intervene when they think that the interest of the national capitalist class is in danger. For example, in the United States, the very heartland of non-intervention, there has been the growing problem of the Savings and Loans banks. These S and Ls are the rough equivalent of Britain’s building societies and hundreds of them have gone bust while hundreds more are insolvent. Their losses were $6.8 billion in 1987 and $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 1988, although depositors are covered by a government insurance agency.

How did this happen? Just as nationalisation was once seen as the great cure-all, nowadays it is “deregulation” which fills the bill. This means that enterprises in an industry no longer have to conform to laid-down government regulations but are freer to operate as they see fit. This, it is claimed, will produce a capitalism without its attendant problems, will provide greater all-round prosperity, and so on.

Thus the S and Ls were allowed by the Carter administration in 1980 to borrow, not only from small investors for re-lending as mortgages as previously, but from the money markets at ever higher rates of interest. This laid them wide open to trouble, which duly arrived when the Reagan administration further deregulated by allowing the now exposed S and Ls to move into high-risk lending for big property deals and other get-rich-quick schemes of which they had no experience. The result was the spate of bankruptcies and insolvencies already mentioned.

… to regulation
At present the insolvent S and Ls keep afloat by continuing to borrow at high interest rates and their debts are estimated to be increasing by $35 million a day. Sooner or later the government will have to foot the ever-mounting bill. The implications of this are serious for American capitalism. How can it ever tackle its massive budget deficit of $150 billion while it throws away billions at this rate? More seriously, many American banks have collapsed in recent years (almost 200 in 1987 alone) and the additional collapse of hundreds more S and Ls could trigger a disastrous loss of public confidence in the entire American banking system. The Administration have therefore intervened to try to stop the rot.

Bush and his financial advisers have come up with a plan calling for a one hundred billion dollar issue of new bonds to bail out the S and Ls. The interest on the bonds is to be paid to the government by the S and Ls and the other banks though higher premiums for Federal insurance of all bank deposits. Critics of the plan say it breaks Bush’s election promise of “no new taxes” as “the taxpayer”, in the form of the banks’ customers, will have the extra premium passed onto them through higher bank charges. But this will not necessarily happen because the customers may refuse to pay up, in which case the banks and S and Ls will have to bear the extra cost themselves.

This rescue package also calls for a leaner and fitter S and L industry to be taken over and run by another government agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and amounts to back-door nationalisation. So whatever their ideological preferences any government will make use of intervention, even despised nationalisation, when it suits “the national interest”.

All of this reinforces the Socialist Party’s view that whether government use less intervention or more, they are helpless in avoiding capitalism’s pitfalls.
Vic Vanni

Editorial: Thatcheritis (1989)

Editorial from the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now ten years since Margaret Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter from Grantham, became Prime Minister. Since then she has earned her place in the Guinness Book of Records. First woman Prime Minister, longest-serving Prime Minister, only Prime Minister to win three successive general elections. She has also earned a reputation for being heartless and indifferent to the lot of ordinary people and concerned only about helping the rich. No wonder she is so intensely disliked by so many people.

She has indeed been the head of an openly pro-capitalist government that has deliberately set out to attack the working class. Her government has legislated against the unions — the only effective weapon workers have to defend themselves under capitalism — and reduced the payments the State pays to workers not in employment. It has ended subsidised housing and made workers pay for a whole range of services which in the past were available on a free basis (the latest being eye tests). It has reintroduced the Victorian distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor and again made submission to a Means Test a condition for access to most State benefits.

It would, however, be a mistake to attribute the sufferings workers have had to endure over the past ten years to the actions of one particular capitalist politician, however ill-intentioned, class-prejudiced and domineering she might be. There is no such thing as Thatcherism as something different and worse than ordinary capitalism. What Thatcher has done is to have presided over the operation of capitalism during the worst part of the slump phase of its economic cycle. During such a period redundancies and unemployment reach a maximum and governments are forced to slash social benefits as a way of lowering the tax burden on the reduced profits of capitalist enterprises.

When Thatcher endlessly repeated “There Is No Alternative” she was in fact displaying a clearer understanding of how capitalism works than did the Labour and other opposition politicians. There really was no alternative (apart from socialism, of course). Any government of capitalism during the worst part of a slump would have had to behave in essentially the same way. In short, it was capitalism not Thatcher that has been responsible.

What has distinguished Thatcher has been style rather than content. Whereas other politicians, even Tory ones, would have apologised for having to take the measures capitalism was imposing on them, not Mrs Thatcher. She applied them enthusiastically, seeing them as steps in the cultural revolution from “dependency culture” to “enterprise culture” she believes it her mission to carry out. She has openly proclaimed her aim to be the complete eradication of “State Socialism”, by which she means the theory and practice of the Labour Party — nationalisation, government intervention, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor by means of improved State benefits, subsidised housing, transport and other services — what should more properly be called state capitalism. What she wants is “to roll back the frontiers of the State” and allow the freest possible operation of the forces of the market. In this respect she is more of a Free Trade Liberal than a Tory.

The Labour Party in power has indeed been a failure — the Labour governments of the sixties and seventies not only failed to improve working class living standards as promised, but worsened them for many workers while at the same time mismanaging the finances of the capitalist State by massively inflating the currency — but this has not been the failure of Socialism. It has been the failure of reformism and state capitalism to which we in the Socialist Party have always been opposed.

Unfortunately, this has been seen as the failure of Socialism and has allowed the intellectual defenders of capitalism to seize the initiative. The Free Marketeers re-emerged from the dustbins of history to preach laissez-faire, the survival of the fittest (the profitable) and death to lame ducks and other weaklings and to proclaim that capitalism, profits, inequality, the market were no longer dirty words. Indeed their views can almost be said to have become the official State ideology under Thatcher. Faced with this intellectual offensive, the leaders of the Labour Party have conceded defeat and now promise to run the market economy better than the Tories. Few believe them and most of their activists remain nostalgic for state capitalism, but in any event capitalism whether private or state can only run in one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of a profit-taking class.

So workers should not be taken in by the so-called Thatcherite Revolution which is essentially only window-dressing, one of a number of possible ideological justifications for what any government of capitalism would have been forced to do under the same circumstances. Indeed, the Labour governments in Australia and New Zealand have pursued the same policies, not excluding the denationalisation measures particularly associated with Thatcher.

It is for this reason that we say that Thatcherism is a myth and refuse to fall for calls for the return of a Labour government or some anti-Thatcher coalition. Capitalism without Thatcher would remain capitalism, and it is capitalism and not Mrs Thatcher that is the cause of the problems facing wage and salary workers.

Why the Left Needs a Thatcher (1989)

From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

So, Thatcher is dead, the victim of a rotten egg that she told the workers it was safe to eat. The offending chicken has been ritually slaughtered by the Guildford Association of Conservative Ladies. The funeral cortege passes slowly through the streets of London, which have been cleared of beggars the night before. Behind the coffin march vast rows of stockbrokers and workers with red-rimmed glasses and portable telephones; they have gone from deepest Surrey and deepest Sussex, from Hants and Herts and Bucks and Beds. In Dorset the firm selling black armbands (made by cheap labour in Hong Kong, of course) is expecting a boom. The cops and soldiers, saddened by the loss of an Empress, pacified by the overtime bonus paid out for funeral duties, march tearfully. Behind them shuffle the silly old proles who will weep at anything: they wept when Charles and Di got married and when the Queen Mother swallowed a trout bone (who would have believed she’d outlive Thatcher) and when The Firm got Dirty Den in East Enders. They cried with joy when they received the letter telling them that Maggie was going to let them buy their council slum, and with fear when a letter came informing them that the whole estate had been bought by a property company on the Isle of Dogs. The media whores march along, forgiving the old girl for her excesses; after all, she was a character to write about. And who is this tailing on to the procession? They are weeping more than anyone. They feel deserted, they have lost a cause, Satan has descended to Hell and the children of righteousness have no-one to blame for their misfortunes. With Thatcher goes into the grave Thatcherism: a decade of leftist illusion being carried away to be chewed up by the worms. What will they do without her?

Doing what the system demands
The British Left needs Margaret Thatcher. Bankrupt of ideas or vision, all that is left for them to do is detest hers. The Left rarely talks of capitalism—except, as at the Labour conference last year, when Kinnock said that his government would have to run it better than the Tories. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. Eight Labour governments have demonstrated that the miracle cannot be performed. Whoever runs it, the capitalist system must exploit and oppress the working class; that is its inherent nature. So, the debate on the Left is about how to run capitalism. And to do the job as ruthlessly and callously as the system demands has come to be called Thatcherism.

Most of the Thatcher policies are hated by the Left for good reasons. Thatcher is a militant class warrior. Not even The Daily Express would ever have called Wilson or Callaghan that. Laws have been passed in the past ten years which have hurt workers and blunted our instruments of self-defence. The unions have taken a battering; services like the NHS, which Labour had boasted was the cream of the reformist gains, have been attacked and then attacked again. It is understandable that many workers see in Thatcher the personification of all that is wrong in society. The question they must ask themselves is, Would society have been a much better place to live in had Thatcher never come into office? The answer, based on the hard evidence of history, is that Thatcher has not been governing capitalism, but that it has governed her. Just as it governed the Labour government before she came to power. That is why the last Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, introduced the policy of monetarism as a means of cutting the state budget in a bid to deal with inflation. It was under the last Labour government that expenditure limits within the NHS were first introduced. It was the last Labour government which took on the low-paid workers of NUPE and NALGO in the winter of 1978—when Callaghan told the unions that they would have to take cuts in real wages. Back in the mid-Seventies there were “Fight the Cuts” rallies being organised across the country. Whose cuts were being fought but those of the last Labour government? It was under the last Labour government that unemployment doubled to the then “wholly unacceptable” level of one and a half million.

And those Thatcher policies which Labour did not implement before 1979, they are now ready to accept as their own. Before 1979 Labour was opposed to British membership of the Common Market. Now they agree with Thatcher that Britain should stay in. Labour was opposed to selling off council houses. It is now Labour policy to sell them. Labour was opposed to selling off nationalised services, such as Telecom. It is now official Labour policy not to take back such services from private hands, lest the votes of the shareholders be lost. Labour made noises of opposition to the monstrous Tory laws aimed to limit union powers. Kinnock is now on record as opposing any substantial alteration to those laws in the event of a future Labour government. So, where does the Labour Party actually disagree with the wicked Thatcher who is supposed to stand for everything that they are against? Membership of NATO? Both parties agree that Britain should stay in. Troops in Ireland? Both parties want to keep them there. The nuclear bomb? With passionate unilateralists like Neil Kinnock, the men at the Pentagon need have no fears that both British parties of capitalism will be with them on the day. The chief differences between Thatcher and Kinnock are these: she admits to being a swine who will do whatever the system requires of her, he lies about it; she is in power, he is not.

What Lesser evil?
Some of the Left are of the view that capitalism has been fundamentally changed by the Thatcher years. It is no longer the same system. It is now a new phenomenon called Thatcherism. It is, to be frank, very difficult to know what such people are talking about. The Communist Party’s latest policy document New Times, claims that we are now living in a period of “post-Fordism” in which the old working class has disappeared and been replaced by a new Thatcherite breed. The CP’s response to these “new times” is to seek some sort of broad, popular front reform movement, comprising every brand of political timewaster from the SNP to the SDP, with a view to offering the voters a better lifestyle under the system than Thatcher has offered them. The entire theory is flawed by two basic mistakes.

Firstly, the working class never was just that group of people who wore cloth caps and worked on the line at Ford. “Post-Fordism” is a mourning at the funeral of a class which has not disappeared at all, but is now exploited in new areas of the economy. There are vastly more workers in the service industries now than in manufacturing, and over the last ten years the move away from making to selling has been a characteristic of the European and US economies. But the workers in these countries are still wage (and salary) slaves, legally robbed by their employers. You don’t have to be a miner to be in the class struggle.

Secondly, the assumption that the way to fight a system is to concentrate all of your forces into defeating its leader of the moment is as foolish politically as it would be militarily for the Warsaw Pact to imagine that it could win the next world war by knocking off the current head of NATO. The Communist Party theorists argue that the crucial battle is at election time when a non-Tory alliance must win the day and slay the Thatcherite dragon. But what if a new dragon in the form of an Owen or a Kinnock or a Hattersley is elected instead? Surely, it is the job description and not the person appointed to do the job which is the real issue. The point of the battle should be to put an end to the dirty job of running capitalism. But, disloyal to the working-class interest in its death throes as much as it was at the outset, the CP is of the view that it is better to have capitalism run by “the lesser evil”. And who are they, who spent most of their political history telling us that Stalin was “the lesser evil”, to advise the workers on such matters? The foolish tactical plans of Professor Eric Hobsbawm for a broad anti-Thatcher alliance are to the cause of socialism what Groucho was to Marxism.

Back in 1979 the Socialist Party took the same principled position that we take now. We are opposed to capitalism and all who seek to run it. We do not want reformed capitalism or the profit system better managed. We are not looking for “nice” leaders or any kind of leaders for the workers to follow. The wages system is against the interest of the workers and only workers’ self-emancipation will solve the problems that we face. We were told not to waste our time upon such revolutionary ambitions. Many on the Left urged us to join the Labour Party and achieve what little could be achieved. After all, that was the party of the workers, so we were told. The present writer was even urged by Neil Kinnock no less (when the latter was Shadow Minister of Education and the former was a persistent questioner at a meeting) to join the Labour Party and help swell the ranks of “real socialists”. We were told that with just a little harder push Tony Benn would take the leadership and set the world ablaze. Those who joined the Labour Party in 1979 have not had much for their subscription money. The Tories have won three elections, with millions of trade unionists voting for them, despite the fact that the union leaders count them in as affiliated members of the Labour Party. Foot was elected as Labour leader (to loud cheers from the Left) and proved to be an utter failure; then Kinnock was elected as the Left’s choice against Hattersley. Now Kinnock is detested by the Labour Left—before he has even had a chance to betray them in power.

Utter lack of principles
Most political commentators, and most of the more candid Labour leaders, do not think that the Labour Party will win the next general election. Indeed, a split in the Labour Party is on the cards. Where Labour is in power locally it has shown that it can be just as ruthless at cutting essential services as the Tories. In short, after ten years of degrading and unprincipled compromise of the few principles that they once had, the Left stands without much hope, without much support and with a few cranky theories of further opportunism about joining with Dr Owen, the Greens and the Nats to form a reformist alliance. The so-called hard left retreats annually to Chesterfield to lick its wounds, praise the achievements of Gorbachev and listen with devotion to the guru, Benn. The other hangers-on to the Labour Party (who have urged workers to vote for them in every election) have turned into parodies of themselves. The Workers’ Revolutionary Party is now busy singing the praises of the Russian dictators and the SWP has degenerated further than ever, existing now as a group engaged in a few single-issue reform campaigns, such as opposition to the poll tax and—the sign of real senility—support for the Khomeni regime in its territorial conflict with Iraq. The Left which warned the Socialist Party that we would be left behind while they stormed the fortress has been left seriously wounded, largely by its own utter lack of principles.

That is why the Left needs a Thatcher. It needs that hideous voice and that look of contempt that leaves you in no doubt that you are being politically abused by the woman even when she is simply telling you the time. The hope of the Left is that hatred of Thatcher will cover up the fact that the opposition has nothing to offer in her place. The Socialist Party does have a clear alternative to the mean-minded narrowness of what Thatcher stands for. And when Thatcher is cold in her grave and another despicable faker is mouthing her lies, the call to the workers to transcend this system of misery will be as fresh and as urgent as ever.
Steve Coleman

Silly season 
in Scotland (1989)

Jim Sillars winning the 1988 Glasgow Govan by-election.
From the June 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The political scene is really buzzing up in Scotland. The Labourites are in turmoil over the issue of Scottish independence while the Scottish National Party is split because of something called the Constitutional Convention. To add to the fun Militant is up to its old tricks and there is a brand new “socialist" party with the usual stale ideas.

After the last general election when the Tories won only 10 of the 72 seats in Scotland the SNP floated the idea that the anti-Tory forces should join in forming a convention of MP's, councillors, churchmen and trade unionists which would draw up a plan for Scottish self-government within the United Kingdom. This, it was argued, would gain Scotland some protection from unrepresentative Thatcherism.

Preliminary talks in January between the SNP, Labour and the SLD began amicably enough but then the SNP delegation suddenly walked out. They probably felt that, after their Govan by-election victory, the convention no longer had anything to offer them and they should go for outright "Independence Within Europe". This move outraged several prominent SNP members who condemned the leadership for having made a bad error of judgement. The Scots electorate, they said, is so desperate to be rid of Thatcher that they will not forgive the SNP for abandoning the convention.
Isobel Lindsay, a member of the executive, pointed to the immediate drop in SNP support in the opinion polls and added “perhaps even more important . . .  we are alienating Scotland's thinking classes . . .” (Glasgow Herald 7 February 1989). Lindsay is a university lecturer. In the end the walkout was backed by the party’s national council by a big majority but rumblings of discontent continue.

Labour’s Troubles
What about Labour's troubles? The party's neo-nationalist wing, which includes several MP's and leading trade unionists, is openly calling for Labour to lead a Scottish UDI from the United Kingdom should England vote the Tories in again. This revolt forced Neil Kinnock to declare his support for devolution at this year's Scottish Labour Party conference although he didn't even mention it last year, an omission which doubtless had nothing to do with the SNP's low standing in the polls at that time.

Almost obscured by these events is the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party, the latest breakaway from Labour. The new party has about 100 members and believes that the only way for Scots to get rid of Thatcherism is the creation of an independent “socialist" Scotland. Alex Wood, former Labour leader of Edinburgh District Council, and an SSP leading light, gives us his idea of what socialism means.
  He firmly believes the time is right for a socialist approach to Scottish life, such as public housing, free education and a national health service (Glasgow Herald 12 January 1989).
In case anyone is wondering why Wood bothered to leave the Labour Party he says it was because, among other things. Labour has rejected the socialist transformation of society. Since he also tells us that Labour was never a socialist party anyway then what else did he expect?

The SSP says that it will appeal to disenchanted nationalists and on cue they have been joined by Alan Clayton, a prominent SNP member. He denounced the SNP's withdrawal from the convention as "shameful" and told them the correct policy would have been to stay and fight from within it. Why he didn't stay and fight from within the SNP he didn’t say. The SSP will soon follow into oblivion its predecessor, the Scottish Labour Party, formed by Sillars in 1976 and died in 1980.

Mindless Militants
Meanwhile Militant's long-running efforts to take over the Labour Party in Scotland have produced results — all of them bad. Their tactic of flooding local Labour parties with recruits and then using them to deselect Labour MP's and councillors who don’t toe the Militant line has hit a snag. Why? Because the Labour Party will not sit back and let this happen. For example 158 applicants in Pollok have been refused membership and it is Militant members who are getting the push. Three have been expelled in Cumbernauld with more to follow in Livingston and Cathcart. More seriously for them 13 alleged Militant “supporters" in their Pollok stronghold have been suspended and expulsions are a certainty. To rub it in all their candidates for office in Leith were defeated.

These antics make us think of a no-contest between two grossly mismatched boxers. In this corner the Labour heavyweight, and in the other corner the Militant flyweight. No matter how many times the flyweight gets flattened he gets up and comes back for more. He's game but is he wise? Does Militant really think the Labour Party will let them take it over? And what would they do with it if they got it? Do they imagine that significant numbers of Labour voters would vote for Militant policies? Maybe they're just punch-drunk enough to say "yes".

In conclusion, will the present nationalist upsurge in Scotland collapse like the previous one in the 1970's? This is unlikely because of the Thatcher factor. Another Tory victory at the next election along with their continued rejection in Scotland will cause many Labour leaders, activists and supporters to decide that full independence is the only hope. Margaret Thatcher is a better propaganda weapon for the SNP than North Sea oil ever was.
Vic Vanni

Economics lesson (1989)

Cartoon from the original article.
A Short Story from the June 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some people think that teachers can exert powerful control over student minds, and that consequently the only proper path for a teacher to take is that of middle-of- the-road banality. Well, my students are safe from me. Even if I wanted to turn them into agents of corruption I’d never be able to get their attention for long enough. All the debates I've organised at my training centre prove that any opinion is valid except the teacher's. I'm a different age, have a different status and occupy the opposite trench in the daily action of the classroom. So there's nothing I can say to them, and they have nothing to say to me. That’s ‘education’.

All the more surprising then, what happened last week in class. It was in Economics. I’m always careful not to feed them a line they can use against me later, but sometimes you just get the urge to tell it like it is, come straight out with it, especially in a class whose remarks about blacks would send a scarlet blush through the Ku Klux Klan and who think Margaret Thatcher is a pinko. I was saying that Keynes had one approach to inflation and Friedman had the opposite, and that both approaches had long histories of being tried, sometimes simultaneously, on both sides of the Atlantic. Someone asked "Did they ever work?" and I said "No. of course not". They looked at me and I could see them thinking "That's stupid". I changed the subject. I said, the way to beat inflation is to buy property or valuables to get rid of your cash and wait for things to calm down, and when you reconvert into cash your savings will have risen with inflation, if not higher. Of course. I added, it only works for rich people who can afford to tie up their savings in long-term investments, whereas ordinary people can’t wait (I'm allowed to say that — it's in the syllabus).

Then up comes this voice saying "Don’t wages go up then?" It's the lad at the back with the 'attitude problem'. Well, I was going to say yes but somebody else said “ Course they do", so I thought Oh yeah? so I said no. The way you do. No, you see, I said following the syllabus, prices go up steadily because the producer is covering rising costs, but the value of the wage they’re paying workers is going down all the time, and the longer producers can hold their own against the unions the cheaper their labour becomes so the more profit they make. Anyway I've dealt with inflation so I move on.

A Bit of Discovery Learning
Only he's talking again. He's saying "They always get everything their own way", or something like that. I wait, pen in the air, thinking either shut up or criticise but do it right whichever. But he’s not bothering with me, he's talking to the rest of the class, saying “Snot Fair" and “Snot Right That” and then somebody else nods and says "I reckon everyone should have the same”.

I was a bit startled at first but also intrigued. Alright, I thought, why not, a bit of discovery learning, let's see if they can be bothered to debunk this old chestnut by themselves. And bugger me, the lad with the attitude came straight back with "Give 'em ten years they'd be right back where they started, rich and poor”. I was impressed, so I didn't interfere. Somebody said why, so he said it was because if everyone has the same, some would get lucky and get rich and the rest would get unlucky and end up working for them. They had a real ding-dong then, a few of them trundling out the tale that it wasn't luck it was all hard work, and I was starting to get bored after all, having decided it was all a ruse so they didn't have to write anything before lunch, and then it happened.

You've got to understand who you're dealing with here. This is a bunch of pleasantly maladjusted 'youths' who hate economics (or whatever it is they are being force-fed at the time), despise their parents while echoing their every sentiment and think that giving me a hard time is taking on the establishment. I don't expect very much, I grind through the lessons and I'm condescending but this is all the right and proper order of things and they would give me a worse time still if I was 'nice'. Educationalists regard this as unwholesome cynicism, by the way.

“We Should Get Rid of Money”
And then the lad with the attitude says:"l think we should just get rid of money altogether." It goes quiet. It's just occurred to him suddenly so he says it. And I stare at him, astonished. He doesn't know anything about socialist theory and its long embattled pedigree, and he's not a genius — not in my class anyway. He's a sixteen-year old adding two and two and making four, and there's nothing strange about that. But considering the quantum jump you have to make outside everything you know and have always known in a money-system. there really is something rather awe-inspiring about it. I didn't work it all out for myself when I was younger — I was told about the idea of abolishing money by other people and by books, and that was hard enough to swallow.

So this sixteen-year old in my class who knows sod all about economics has just reinvented the Socialist case. Perhaps the fact that I’m amazed just proves that I’m getting very jaded, but when he puts it like that, everyone can see that it's an obvious solution to the problems of market inequality and poverty that we've been talking about in the lesson. After a pause, some of the others say “Yeah, why not?" and an argument starts up.

Well, I'm outside the syllabus now but stuff it, I'm sure I read somewhere teachers are supposed to encourage original thought and besides this is too good to miss. I just sat back and folded my arms and scowled like I didn't really approve but would grant them some leeway and in front of me the class had the sort of political debate which you wish Socialist Party meetings were always like. Being a cynic myself, I correctly guessed that if I tried to pooh-pooh the whole notion with the odd cold-water objection they would keep at it all morning. So I played my establishment part like a trouper and didn't let on I was enjoying every minute of it.

What impressed me as they argued was the range of topics they were obliged to cover just from that one simple remark. Almost immediately they established that if there was no money there could be no wages, which was fine because then people could volunteer to do jobs they liked and were good at and work would be fun and not a drag, and everything people needed could be made or built or grown that way and then given free to whoever wanted it. (Not a word about the ‘human nature is evil’ myth.) Then someone noted that money and property were the same thing in a way, which must mean that there couldn’t be any such thing as robbery or muggings any more, although you'd still get rapes and murders presumably (what for, I thought, since we're all having such a good time? but I didn't push my luck with that one, in case I found out something about my students I'd rather not know).

What the Government Can Do
Someone else (they were all at it now) said he thought the government wouldn’t allow it, but the lad with the attitude replied after some thought that the government could just fuck off couldn't it, which put it fairly succinctly.

His friend was shaking his head, uncertain about this property business, because if you abolished property, what happened to trade? The reply came that ‘we' wouldn't trade with foreigners anyway, because they’d want money and we wouldn't have any. Some people agreed that Britain could be a self-sufficient propertyless state, but it didn't seem likely that the world’s millionaires would just sit there and let us steal a whole country off them. They'd only have to bomb the oil-rigs . . . They decided that a moneyless state wouldn’t last a year so it would have to be worldwide or not at all.

They probably would have gone on longer than they did but even sedition stops at lunchtime, and they piled out, having successfully avoided any ‘real work' that morning. I sat there for a while, thinking. There were a lot of things they'd left out, of course, and a lot more that was confused, but they had the basic socialist case right there. They had worked it out, spontaneously, in less time than it takes me to mark their homework. And they'd done a damn sight better job than on the homework too. Well, it cheered me up no end. I'm not a loony, I thought, my students have just proved it. And they also proved what the Socialist Party always said — the system itself throws up these ideas, whether or not there's a socialist party around to pester everyone.

Next week, of course, I daresay they will have forgotten they ever had this conversation. But it doesn't half make me feel better, just the same. If you start getting the idea you and your small organisation are the only game in town, it can be an awfully depressing feeling.
Paddy Shannon

Letter: What is fascism? (1989)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Can you please supply a fascist's definition of the term "fascist? I have heard it used perjoratively and as an insult in this country by young people, but when I asked them what it meant they were not able to give a clear explanation.
Ted Hicks, 
Christchurch, New Zealand.

Don't worry, it’s the same in this country too, but there are not many people around these days who would call themselves fascists. Originally, the term (derived from an Italian word meaning bundle and organised band) referred to the followers of Mussolini, who was dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1945. Mussolini denounced parliamentary democracy and liberal individualism and preached the need for a strong state ruled by a single political party ("a party which governs a nation in an absolute and total way", as he put it) and the subordination of the individual to the state ("the individual only exists in so far as he is part of the state and remains subordinated to the necessities of the state").

Mussolini had his admirers and imitators in other countries. Mosley in Britain called his party the British Union of Fascists and the term came to be used generally of those holding similar anti-democratic political views, including Hitler and the Nazis. In short, fascism was a dangerous and openly anti-democratic, anti-working class doctrine. Someone who favours a one-party, totalitarian dictatorship is perhaps the best definition that can be given of a fascist.

The word was devalued when used as a general term of abuse applied to all their opponents by supporters of the Stalin regime in state capitalist Russia which, being itself a one-party totalitarian dictatorship, was badly placed to pose as 'anti-fascist". In fact the Stalin regime came to be labelled by some of its opponents, not entirely inaccurately, as “red fascist".

Nowadays, fascist is used of anyone holding racist views or exhibiting authoritarian attitudes, even though most such people would reject being so described. As we said, nobody's a fascist now!

Socialist revolution (1989)

Editorial from the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is needed is a complete change in the way society is organised. Not one of the major social problems facing the majority today has a practical chance of being solved within the present social framework. As long as a minority own or control the productive resources of the world, the bulk of humanity will suffer relative poverty. As long as food, clothing, housing and all other goods and services are produced to be sold for a profit in the market, those needs which cannot be paid for will remain invisible. Until these productive resources are owned in common, and controlled democratically by all, the millionaires will continue to hold the rest of society to ransom. And until production is geared purely to satisfying human needs without the obstacle of finance, the scale and quality of production will be compressed into what is profitable only.

How can this change come about? From production for profit to production for use, from private or state ownership to common ownership, and from the dictatorship of the boardroom to real democratic control across the world? Most people today go to work for wages or salaries, or are dependent on the dole or other meagre “benefits''. All but a small minority of capital-owners suffer lives of insecurity and economic frustration. And yet this same majority gives support, actively or passively, to the system which robs us of our dignity as well as of the wealth we create. That is the key to the change we seek. No system could stagger on forever without getting some acceptance from the millions of human beings involved in it. When a majority of workers withdraw their support for the present system, and organise themselves to introduce and run the alternative to this, then and only then can real change come.

This is what revolution must mean. As the twentieth century draws to an end. the time has long passed for the kind of violent insurrection which the barricade romantics of the Left dream of in their old-fashioned way. The battles fought by Thatcher, Kinnock and the whole of the boss class they represent, are battles of ideas. They talk of the need for the market, they favour “labour discipline”, they hate to see us workers taking our destiny into our own hands. They set the political agenda to leave no room for the end of the market system, the end of the profit system. They want to educate us into servility.

Their revolution, the birth of capitalism, was marked by events such as the French Revolution of 1789. the English ‘Glorious Revolution" and Constitutional Settlement of 1688-89 and the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. The introduction of the market or profit system, with its division between wage-workers and capitalist employers, was spread over centuries of time in different parts of the world. It was, to a large extent, introduced in parts. This, in contrast, could not be the case with socialism. The capitalist revolution meant the transfer of economic and political power from one (aristocratic) group of owners to another (money-based) minority group— with the dispossessed majority playing the part of cannon fodder, pawns in the battles of these owners. But socialism means a complete breakaway from all systems of property. It means, for the first time in human history, a consciously organised and planned end to all property relations. It must be carried out by and in the interests of the overwhelming majority across the world.

So, at this point, there would be a real leap in the development of world history, a point in time when a common control of the Earth would truly begin for the first time. And the way in which such an inspiring step can happen is by the democratic acceptance of this by a majority—the force of numbers. This would, of course, express itself in different ways in different parts of the world. One common thread in the World Socialist Movement, however, will be its understanding that means must harmonise with ends. A democratic society can only be established democratically. The socialist movement, therefore, has no leaders. It is a movement of equals. Neither does it court popularity by adopting or patronising the latest fashionable cause, seeking in vain to ease capitalism's problems one by one. We pose a clear choice for the working class throughout the world. Either continue to give your political support to the present, capitalist system, with all of its obscene contradictions. Or build a strong and conscious political movement for the socialist alternative of common ownership, democratic control and production for use, not profit.

Once this socialist majority exists, it will be necessary for us to do two things before socialism can operate as a social system. First, it is necessary to establish beyond all doubt that this is the will of the majority at that time. Second, the ruling class of today must be stripped of the political power which they have so far been allowed to hold. The state machine, with its coercive forces, must be taken over openly and democratically by that majority and dismantled; the owning class must be disarmed, by removing their control over the forces of the state. It is for these two reasons that the Socialist Party contests elections.

That, then, is what socialist revolution means. And the transformation of society, from serving the profit of the minority to meeting the needs of all, has never been more urgent than it is today. The choice is yours.