Saturday, December 15, 2018

Running Commentary: Today’s Technology (1987)

The Running Commentary Column from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today’s Technology
The Today newspaper, notable for its fuzzy colour and its equally fuzzy comment, has been sold to News International — another title to add to Rupert Murdoch's ever-expanding collection. It is perhaps an ironic consequence for a paper which, when it started, was seen as symptomatic of a trend towards a wider range of newspapers made possible by new technology and lower production costs.

In fact, Today was very quickly sold off to millionaire, Tiny Rowland, whose Lonrho company already owns the Observer, prior to its recent sale to Murdoch. The promise of a plethora of new newspapers has not been fulfilled. The concentration of ownership in the hands of a few media tycoons continues unabated. Once again the laws of capital have been more than a match for the potential benefits that could be obtained from advances in technology.


To a Labour Supporter
So, the Tories are going to be in power for another four or five years. Four or five more years of handouts for the rich and poverty for the poor. Four or five more years of official praise for money values, competition and the profit motive. Four or five more years of "that bloody woman" preaching in her horribly affected voice the survival of the richest in this rat-race society of ours.

An appalling prospect, isn't it, the only consolation being the failure of the shamefaced Tories of the SDP? But we should not forget that what we are up against is not the twisted attitudes of one insufferable individual. What we are up against is a system which forces governments to give priority to profit-making over satisfying needs, whatever the personal attitudes of their members.

We've seen other governments — Labour governments, to be precise — composed of ministers committed to improving the lot of ordinary people being forced by the economic laws of the system to do just what the Thatcher governments have been doing: attacking wage and salary levels, cutting benefits, closing hospitals, charging for health care, wasting resources on arms, presiding over growing unemployment. The only difference has been that whereas Thatcher has been unrepentant about doing these things, Labour ministers have been apologetic about it but the end result has been the same. Living standards and social services have been cut to give priority to profit-making.

So what can we do to achieve a better society, one geared to meeting needs? An understanding that we are up against an economic system operating according to blind economic laws which not even governments can control or alter suggests that, to be effective, we should direct our energies at getting rid of that system rather than changing the personnel who preside over it.

At one time the Labour Party did claim to want to replace this capitalist system of production for profit by a socialist system of production for use even if this manifested itself more in words than in deeds. Now it merely claims to be able to administer the system in a more caring way than the Tories. Against the better inclinations of many of its ordinary members, it has employed the slick publicity tricks it once despised to present itself as a more acceptable, alternative government of capitalism. The Nice Party as opposed to the Nasty Party.

But this superficial approach to politics is self-defeating because, as experience of past Labour governments has shown, accepting to govern within the system means accepting in the end to govern, reluctantly or otherwise, in accordance with its economic laws. All governments end up being uncaring not because they are composed of uncaring people but because they are presiding over a system which, being based on putting profits before needs, is by nature uncaring. If we are to change things, then the whole profit system must go. In other words, socialism remains the only solution. Socialism — common ownership, democratic control, production for use and distribution according to need — is therefore an urgent necessity.

The best way — the only way — to advance the cause of socialism is to concentrate on advocating it. presenting socialism, and nothing but socialism, as the only solution to the problems ordinary people inevitably face under the present system in such fields as housing, education, health care and the environment. In other words, to get at the cause rather than seek to deal with effects; to advocate fundamental change rather than mere defensive action within the system.

In this way we work to build up the strong and determined body of socialist opinion without which the present system cannot be abolished and a better society achieved.


Disenfranchising the Poor
The poll tax, which received such little attention during the election campaign, has now rocketed to the top of the political issues charts as people begin to appreciate its implications.

The plan is to replace the present system of rates — a tax on property — with what the Tories have chosen to call a community charge — a tax on people. It is scheduled to come into effect in England and Wales in 1990 and in Scotland in 1989. The poll tax will be levied on every adult in the country irrespective of their ability to pay. The theory is that it will increase the number of people contributing to the cost of local services which, it is argued, will be beneficial both economically — 35 million poll tax payers as opposed to 18 million ratepayers — and politically. The political argument is that those who are at present not liable to rates have little incentive to vote for local authorities that will reduce public spending. In other words the government sees the poll tax as a means of increasing support for local Conservative politicians.

During the election campaign the actual consequences of the introduction of the poll tax were hardly discussed. Instead the focus was on the more appealing idea of the "abolition of the rates". In fact for many people the poll tax will leave them substantially worse off. Those who will benefit will be those who are most wealthy since, within any local authority area, everyone will pay a flat rate poll tax. So. for example, an average household in which there are two adults in Liverpool currently pays £500 a year in rates whereas on present figures the poll tax per person will be £301. The presence of a third adult in the household will mean that the total poll tax bill will increase by a further £301.

Those on low incomes will be able to claim a rebate of up to 80% of their poll tax charge and those living on social security benefits will have their income support (due to replace social security from next April) increased to cover the 20% which everyone must pay. However, they will receive 20% of the national average poll tax charge so they will be substantially out of pocket if they live in an area where the poll tax exceeds the national average.

The financial costs of the poll tax may well be so high that many people will attempt to avoid paying it. That shouldn't be too difficult: the problems of administering a system of poll tax on a highly mobile population are likely to be enormous and it has already been estimated that the new system will cost twice as much to administer as the rates. But the cost for those who do decide to opt out of paying their poll tax could well be disenfranchisement. The most reliable list of local adult residents is the electoral register which is likely to be used as a checklist for the collection of the poll tax. Many people faced with the prospect of paying community charges which they can ill afford, may decide that it is worth sacrificing their vote to avoid paying. Is this the increased choice that Thatcher promised us if she achieved her third term?

One Green World (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

All over the world the present economic system plunders and wastes the Earth’s non-renewable mineral and energy sources. All over the world it pollutes the sea, the air, the soil, forests, rivers and lakes. All over the world it upsets natural balances and defies the laws of ecology. Clearly this destruction and waste cannot continue indefinitely, but it need not; it should not and must not.

It is quite possible to meet the basic material needs of every man, woman and child on this planet without destroying the natural systems on which we depend and of which we are a part. The productive methods that would have to be adopted to achieve this are well enough known:

  • The practice of types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil;
  • The systematic recycling of materials (such as metals and glass) obtained from non-renewable mineral sources;
  • The prudent use of non-renewable energy sources (such as coal, oil and gas) while developing alternative sources based on natural processes that continually renew themselves (such as solar energy, wind power and hydroelectricity);
  • The employment of industrial processes which avoid the release of poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere;
  • The manufacture of solid goods made to last, not to be thrown away after use or deliberately to break down after a calculated period of time.
The Obstacle: the Profit System
So what stands in the way? Why isn’t this done? The simple answer is that, under the present economic system, production is not geared to meeting human needs but rather to the accumulation of monetary wealth out of profits. As a result, not only are basic needs far from satisfied but much of what is produced is pure waste from this point of view—for example all the resources involved in commerce and finance, the mere buying and selling of things and those poured into armaments.

The whole system of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by the imperative drive to pursue economic growth for its own sake and to give priority to seeking profits to fuel this growth without consideration for the longer term factors that ecology teaches are vitally important. The result is an economic system governed by blind economic laws which oblige decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

This growth-oriented and profit-motivated capitalist system exists all over the world, in the West in the form of an economy dominated by large private enterprises and multinational corporations and in Russia, China and other such countries in the form of a state capitalism.

If needs are to be met while at the same time respecting the laws of nature, then this system must go.

What is the Alternative?
If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way we must first be able to control production—or, put another way, able to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature—and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of the means of production.

By common ownership we don’t mean state property. We mean simply that the Earth and its natural and industrial resources should no longer belong to anyone—not to individuals, not to corporations, not to the state. No person or group should have exclusive controlling rights over their use; instead how they are used and under what conditions should be decided democratically by the community as a whole. Under these conditions the whole concept of legal property rights, whether private or state, over the means of production disappears and is replaced by democratically decided rules and procedures governing their use.

This is why a fully democratic decision-making structure must be an essential feature of the system that is to replace private and state capitalism. The centralised, coercive political state must be dismantled and replaced by a decision-making structure in which everyone is free to participate on an equal basis.

It is possible to envisage, for instance, the local community being the basic unit of this structure. In this case people would elect a local council to co-ordinate and administer those local affairs that could not be dealt with by a general meeting of the whole community. This council would in its turn send delegates to a regional council for matters concerning a wider area and so on up to a world council responsible for matters that could best be dealt with on a world scale (such as the supply of certain key minerals and fuels, the protection of the biosphere, the mining and farming of the oceans, and space research).

A Needs-Oriented System
Given the replacement of the coercive political state by such a democratic decision-making structure, the network of productive units could then be geared to meeting needs. We deliberately use the word “geared” here because what we envisage is not the organisation of the production and distribution of goods by some central planning authority but the setting up of a mechanism, a system of links between productive units, which would enable the productive network to respond in a flexible way to the demands for goods and services communicated to it.

If the existing situation, where needs are not met in such basic fields as food and housing, is to be avoided then people must be guaranteed access to the goods and services to satisfy their needs. We think the best way to do this is not for some central authority to distribute purchasing power to people but to let people choose for themselves what their real needs are and then to take, in accordance with this choice, what they need from the common store of goods. In other words, a system of free access to goods and services in which money would be unnecessary and so would cease to be used.

Signals to the network of productive units as to what to produce would thus come from what people actually chose to take from the common stores under conditions of free access. This would essentially be a question of stock control which we can envisage being done, in the first instance, at local community level. In this case needs would be communicated by local communities to the productive network as demands for given amounts of specified goods and materials. This would then be communicated throughout the system from supplier to supplier and if necessary to other regions or to the world level, again as demands for given amounts of specified goods and materials.

Such a system of production to directly supply needs would be essentially self-regulating as the productive system would be responding to real needs in much the same way as the market system is supposed to respond to monetary demand. It is the alternative both to the mechanisms of the market and to central state planning.

Naturally, if people are guaranteed the satisfaction of their needs in this way then work will also be radically transformed. From being a drudgery performed to obtain a money income, work can become meaningful. What will be produced will be useful things that people really need. The whole employee/employer relationship will come to an end. Instead there will be free and equal women and men working together to produce what they need.

In these changed circumstances work can become a voluntary service organised on a democratic basis. People will be able to choose the work they do, in a sector of production they feel suits them. Productive units can be run by a democratic council elected by all those working in them.

In the needs-oriented society we are describing here the concept of “profits” would be meaningless while the imperative to “growth” would disappear. Instead, after an initial increase in production needed to provide the whole world’s population with an infrastructure of basic services (such as farms, housing, transport and water supplies) production can be expected to platform off at a level sufficient to provide for current needs and repairing and maintaining the existing stock of means of production.

What is envisaged here is a society able to sustain a stable relationship with nature in which the needs of its members would be in balance with the capacity of nature to renew itself after supplying them.

We Call It Socialism
So, to sum up, the alternative to the present capitalist system of profit-seeking and monetary accumulation involves:

  • the absence of any property rights, private or state, over natural and industrial resources needed for production;
  • the existence of a non-coercive democratic decision-making structure;
  • the guaranteed access for all to what they need to satisfy their needs;
  • the orientation of production towards the direct satisfaction of real needs in a flexible and self-regulating way without the intervention of money and buying and selling;
  • the organisation of work as a voluntary service under the democratic control of those working in the various productive units.
We call this system “socialism”, but it is the content, not the name, that is important. In any event, it obviously has nothing in common with the existing state capitalist regimes (as in Russia and China) or proposals for state control (as by the Labour left) which are often erroneously called “socialist”.

Getting from Here to There
The means by which the new society can be achieved are determined by its nature as a society involving voluntary co-operation and democratic participation. It cannot be imposed from above by some self-appointed liberators nor by some well-meaning state bureaucracy but can only come into existence as a result of being the expressed wish of a majority—an overwhelming majority—of the population. In other words, the new society can only be established by democratic political action and the movement to establish it can only employ democratic forms of struggle.

Because the present system is, as a system must be, an inter-related whole and not a chance collection of good and bad elements, it cannot be abolished piecemeal. It can only be abolished in its entirety or not at all. This fact determines the choice as to what we must do: work towards a complete break with the present system as opposed to trying to gradually transform it.

Gradual reform cannot lead to a democratic, ecological society because capitalism is an economic system governed by blind, uncontrollable, economic laws which always triumph in the end over political intervention, however well-meaning or determined this might be. Any attempt on the part of a government to impose other priorities than profit-making risks either provoking an economic crisis or the government ending up administering the system in the only way it can be—as a profit-oriented system in which profit-making has to be given priority over meeting needs or respecting the balance of nature. This is not to say that measures to palliate the bad effects of the present economic system on nature should not be taken but these should be seen for what they are: mere palliatives and not steps towards an ecological society.

The only effective strategy for achieving a free democratic society in harmony with nature is to build up a movement which has the achievement of such a society as its sole aim.
Adam Buick

About Socialism (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?
It is a political party, separate from all others, Left, Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a world social system based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles printed in this introductory leaflet were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.

2. What is capitalism?
Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?
No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such a promise is like offering to run the slaughter house in the interests of the cattle.

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?
No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country, rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised British Leyland are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalised. Nationalisation is state capitalism.

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?
No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In Russia and its empire, in China, Cuba, Albania, Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolised by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?
Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use, not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require, and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self- defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary, in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?
Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children living below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more: yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.

8. What about human nature?
Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to co-operate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.

9. Are socialists democrats?
Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that Socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with Socialism — the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want Socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no Socialism without a socialist majority.

10. What is the next step?
Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up, but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear a nuclear war may join CND. but as long as nation states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes which many sincere people are caught up in, but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it, and establish Socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and an enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.


If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress towards Socialism.



Letter: Class Consciousness (1987)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Letters Editors.

Thank you for the useful and thoughtful response to my recent letter (Socialist Standard May 1987), a number of very interesting points were raised which clarified your position on a number of issues.

However I would like to make a few further points as I think they're important.

The concept of class consciousness is a good deal more complex in my view than the recognition of a proletarian "interest" by workers. What is more, its place within the "conceptual map" (your phrase) raises important questions as regards the SPGB position especially as regards your seventh declared principle.

My reference to class consciousness ebbing and flowing has strong historical evidence to back it up. One only has to look at the role of conscious Petrograd workers in the Russian Revolution, the militancy of the Chinese revolution and the pre-1914 industrial militancy in Britain for 3 solid examples. Clearly each of these phenomena fit the concept of class consciousness which you asserted in your reply to my recent letter you did not understand.

We should perhaps talk in terms of "subjective" and "objective" class consciousness as I find that they are the only way I can make sense of this area of Marxian thought.

Subjective class consciousness (“consciousness in itself") perhaps relates to ways of thinking and feeling born out of say daily contact with capitalism and expresses itself in such vehicles as trade unions, friendly societies, and perhaps political parties other than the SPGB. Objective class consciousness on the other hand should perhaps be seen as a culmination of struggles with capitalism and expresses itself in terms of the abolition of capitalism by workers ("consciousness for itself").

Accepting, as I think you must because of the philosophical basis of all your arguments, that the achievement of this objective state of consciousness involves subjective consciousness on the way — out of antagonism comes greater insight and therefore wider consciousness. I find the hostility clause in your Principles most confusing. Surely to claim the workers' interest (i.e objective class consciousness) and therefore to be hostile to all other groups is logical — deviant to the whole thrust of the Marxist case — there are gradations to class conscious action so why be hostile and how can the SPGB claim the transcendance of antagonism when all around points to the opposite?

The fact that there are gradations of consciousness makes alliance with others far from "waste of energy" but integral to the development of a majority in support of socialism — far from being compromise to engage in the daily struggles of other people/groups is perhaps the best things socialists can do.

My letter and its reply covered other interesting points too. I acknowledge that the sixth principle of your party does raise the possibility of non-peaceful revolutionary action and I am in broad agreement with you here. I was also pleased to read the sections on the role of elections, though I would imagine the cost of an election campaign does not really merit its advocacy as something of importance by you especially bearing in mind the poor coverage of small parties in the media (I'm assuming your resources are limited here!).

Obviously 1 don't expect to keep having my letters published, however I would very much welcome a written response as a possible alternative as the issues raised are extremely important to me. Many thanks
Andrew Walker
Colchester


Reply to Andrew Walker
The issues raised in this letter are extremely important to all of us. As Andrew Walker implies in his examples of working class militancy, they are inextricably bound up with the question of what really happened in the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, and what effect this has had on working class political consciousness, not only in those nations but throughout the world.

The Socialist Party has always contended that the revolution in Russia was not (could not be) a socialist/communist revolution. The reasons we gave were, briefly, that the forces of production were far from being sufficiently developed; that the Russian working class formed only a small and relatively inexperienced fraction of the population, the vast majority of whom were peasants or serfs; and that the establishment of socialism/communism in one country was impossible.

To the extent, therefore, that the revolutionaries thought they were fighting for a socialist/communist society, we said then and say now that this was false consciousness on their part. We said the same things about the Chinese revolution. But such false consciousness is not peculiar to particular peoples. The same judgement can be made about the Diggers and the Levellers in the British revolution, or many of the French revolutionaries a century later, although they used quite different terminology to express their ideals and objectives.

All of these, as we can now see. were revolutions ushering in capitalism. What has made the historical processes so difficult to comprehend has been the piecemeal spread of capitalism round the world over a period of almost three hundred years. In eastern Europe, Russia, China, Japan, South East Asia, heavily entrenched feudalism made almost impossible the development of a bourgeoisie powerful enough to lead a successful revolution. By the time these nations came under increasing pressure to change over to capitalism. Marxists in the west were already equipping themselves with the intellectual tools for the overthrow of capitalism and the move on to the next stage in social development. And so the groups struggling for power in these countries used slogans derived from Marx to persuade their peasants and workers to fight in their revolutions, in spite of the fact that the slogans did not really fit the circumstances. A lot of remedial theorising by Lenin (and Stalin and Mao Tse Tung and others) made for greater confusion. not clarity, because it was trying to reconcile complete contradictions in the attempt to rationalise and justify domination by these new ruling classes.

These events and the theorising derived from them have reflected back again into western Europe and America. The deception, the confusion and the conflict between factions in the self-styled "socialist" countries has fragmented the followers of Stalin, Trotsky and Mao into numerous splinter groups. And it has suited the capitalist media of the west very well to go along with Lenin's fiction that state capitalism was really socialism, because the viciousness and oppression of these regimes has been used as a bogey called "socialism" to dangle in front of the working class. With events like the Moscow Trials or the invasion of Hungary or the Cultural Revolution carried out by "socialists" there is little need for them to argue the case against socialism.

To members of the Socialist Party, therefore, "the left" and the capitalist media have joined forces in this distortion of the facts and we have no choice but to oppose them all. But it goes further than this. In trying to accommodate their ideas of socialism/communism to what has been happening in Russia et al, many Leninists have lost sight of what Marx and Engels were working for. The society of common ownership, without money, frontiers, war, poverty, crime, which they called socialism or communism at different times, "the left" now sneeringly labels "utopian", or they call it “full communism" and relegate it to 500 years in the future.

This is what has helped to complicate the development of all working class consciousness in recent years. As Andrew Walker says, our consciousness is roused by our inevitable conflicts with the forces of capitalism in our daily (particularly working) lives. How we interpret that experience, however, and what sort of political action (if any) we take depends very much on the information and the intellectual tools at our disposal. If, in our search for some radical alternative to life as we are forced to live it, we are told by "left" and "right" alike that Russia epitomises that alternative, we are likely to become totally cynical or turn to religion. We have to be very persistent to investigate revolutionary politics any further.

Throughout their existence. Communist parties in Britain and other countries have pursued, not the interests of the working class, but those of the Russian capitalist class — a record which we have carefully documented. The other political parties of the left have known of our object and our analysis of capitalism, and have rejected them to form their own parties. That is their choice. They have never seemed keen to ally themselves with us — or each other.

Engaging in the daily struggles of other people/groups is all very well if they invite you to do so or ask for your help. Otherwise it is false. Instead of building working class solidarity, this creates suspicion and mistrust. Countless examples of manipulation of trade union activities by left wing groups have demonstrated this. Every socialist has more than enough to do in being active in his/her own daily struggles and in spreading socialist information and ideas.
Editors

Problems of partnership (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Almost all successful politicians are, to some extent, opportunists. Some may seek to maintain a core of non-negotiable principles — a bottom line which they will not compromise in the interests of short term political gain — but that still leaves considerable room for opportunism. Many more change their "principles" in accordance with their assessment of which way the political wind is blowing.

The current breaking of the Alliance mould illustrates precisely this. It was opportunism that persuaded the SDP and Liberals of the necessity for, first, local electoral agreements so that their respective candidates did not compete against each other, and later for joint policy statements and parliamentary spokespersons. Clearly, until the general election, both parties saw partnership as their best chance for making an impact and achieving electoral success.

Now, in the wake of the failure of this strategy to bring the desired result — a share in political power — new tactical calculations have had to be made. The split between those who favour merger of the two parties and those who oppose it is not, in the main, about disagreements over principle but about differing assessments of what will be in the best interests of the respective parties and of certain individuals within them. Not surprisingly it is those who have most to lose or gain by the adoption of the "wrong" strategy — the leadership — who have been the most impassioned contributors to the debate. Few of the Alliance leaders have emerged from the current row with much credit although it is perhaps David Owen who, more than anyone else, has been exposed as the arch political opportunist.

In the past Owen has cultivated an image as a man of principle standing aloof from the sordid business of political skulduggery. In reality any "principles" he may adhere to have consistently taken second place to consideration of his own political standing. Since leaving the Labour Party he has travelled at a considerable speed through the political "centre" so that he currently sounds as if he could quite easily be eligible for a place in Thatcher s cabinet (which illustrates also that the difference between the main political parties is not so great as political rhetoric would have us believe). It is little wonder then that Douglas Hurd felt moved to appeal to "constructive and forward-looking" SDP members to join the Conservatives.

Owen's opposition to a merger with the Liberals is, he claims, because the SDP stands for something different from the Liberals. (We weren't told that during the election campaign!) Instead of a merger he advocates a federal structure in which both parties would retain their own distinctive identities. But no doubt he also recognises that the SDP. which polled one million fewer votes than the Liberals and has fewer than a third as many MPs. would be overwhelmed in a new merged party and Owen himself would have a considerably weaker claim to be its leader.

However, Owen has this time clearly not seen which way the wind is blowing: it seems that a majority of SDP and Liberal members do want a merged party and Owen's intransigent opposition to it will leave him out in the political wilderness, unless of course he decides to make a new bid for power from inside the Tory camp.

By contrast David Steel appears to be the less egocentric and power-hungry of the two Alliance leaders. But this image may also conceal a shrewd calculation of where his best interests lie. Steel has certainly read the mood of the grassroots of the two parties better than Owen — in many areas SDP and Liberal activists are already working to all intents and purposes as a single party; and the issue of the dual leadership does provide a plausible excuse for the poor showing of the Alliance at the.polls. But it may also be true that Steel, aware of the way in which the leadership role during the election campaign was hijacked by Owen, has decided to take a calculated risk to improve his own political standing by putting forward the merger option. After all it is highly likely that he knew that Owen would not agree to it and so by proposing a merger he would effectively be ousting Owen and leaving the way clear for himself to become the leader of the new party. If this was his thinking — and such cynical political manoeuvring is not without precedent — then he has demonstrated himself to be at least Owen's equal in the opportunism stakes.

What are the implications of the Alliance's angst for ordinary workers? Firstly it gives their campaigning rhetoric a hollow tone. After all this is the political outfit which, throughout the election campaign, extolled the virtues of "partnership", "cooperation" and "consensus" as the universal panacea and held up their own organisation as a shining example of how society as a whole could be organised. And just as they denied the existence of conflict or division within their own ranks, so too they denied the existence of conflict or division — notably that of class — within society at large. Recent events have shown that their description of the relationship between their two parties was incomplete if not false. (Their description of social relationships has been equally misleading.) Now we are told that Owen doesn't think much of the Liberals at all and never did; that they have been wrong on numerous policy issues including the Falklands war, the sale of council houses, social security changes and defence. In other words he has used the Liberals as a convenient partner in his attempt to achieve his own political ambitions.

Secondly, Owen, who put himself and his party forward as the defenders of democracy, the advocates of a fairer electoral system and who left the Labour Party in part because of what he regarded as a the anti-democratic tendencies of the extra-parliamentary left, is now revealed as a man who tried to rig the ballot on merger by posing what the Electoral Reform Society deemed was an unfairly loaded question, and who has stated that he will not accept the democratic decision of SDP members — unless the vote goes the way he wants it to.

Now that the election glitter has been stripped away the Alliance leadership has been left looking rather tawdry. It wasn't after all a partnership of equals, rather a marriage of convenience between two leaders with conflicting egos and political ambitions. The lesson is clear: don't trust leaders — they're usually in it for their own selfish ends — and trust their rhetoric even less — it's likely to conceal an extremely seedy reality.
Janie Percy-Smith

50 Years Ago: Capitalism & the Divorce Laws (1987)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The sanest views were those of some of the medical men and lawyers in the House of Lords. But nearly all of them spoke as if marriage and divorce can be considered in a vacuum apart from the economic organisation of society. The fact is that capitalism makes it increasingly difficult for the population to make a success of marriage or of any other personal relationship. Looking for an ideal marriage law under capitalism is therefore as hopeless as asking the capitalist powers to honour the pious aspirations of the League of Nations. It is not in the main the greater or less facility for divorce that poisons the relationships of working-class men and women, but the problem of economic security, the need for adequate food, clothing and shelter, freedom from worry about war and unemployment and, of course, the need for the individual man and woman to be economically independent.

So the new law will be open to almost as much criticism as the old. In a few years’ time we shall have the opponents of all divorce and the seekers for that impossibility: an ideal marriage law, combining to expose the hardships and miseries existing under the law. They will be quite right, except that the miseries are caused by capitalism and cannot be cured by tinkering with divorce laws.

[From an editorial "No Escape from Holy Deadlock". Socialist Standard August 1937.]

Economics Exposed: Same old economic story (1987)

The Economics Exposed column from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 22 March of this year, the Sunday Telegraph openly mourned the passing of the Labour Party as a viable "opposition’' within British capitalism. In fact, leading politicians of both the Labour and the Conservative Party have long realised this common ground of taking it in turns to run the profit system, despite their public posturings and pantomimes. A glance at some of the economic policies with which the Labour Party tried in vain to woo the electorate in the recent general election will show just how similar these parties are in this area.

By the time of the campaign itself, the more daring claims of earlier years had been modified into the promise to reduce unemployment by at least 1,115,000 in two years at an annual cost of £5.9 billion, two thirds of which would be raised through taxation. Leaving aside for a moment the impracticality of the scheme, the brochure, New Jobs For Britain, is riddled with hypocrisy. Half of the jobs which would supposedly be created would be in the private sector. 160,000 of the suggested reduction in unemployment would, it turns out, have been by means of encouraging men over 60 to take early retirement. And despite all of the justified complaints, many from the Labour Party itself, about YTS and other present schemes not involving "real jobs", a further 360,000 of the claimed reduction would be through a "national training programme" creating “jobs and training places". Also, a further 30,000 16-year-olds would be persuaded to stay on at school, requiring a further 30,000 trainers in addition.

Quite apart from the hypocrisy involved here, though, and quite apart from the fact that all this would still leave over two million unemployed, these plans overlooked one key problem. Jobs exist within capitalism if and when capital is invested with a likely prospect of realising a profit. The financing of schemes through taxation involves reducing capital available for investment in the private sector (where Labour had hoped to "create" about half a million jobs), and transferring these resources into the hands of the bureaucracy which controls the state sector. The net total of capital available for investment would remain about the same, as would the prevailing market conditions which have been prohibiting investment in general. By taking some capital from private hands and "forcing” it into investment in this way, there may be a slight reduction in unemployment in the short term. But, as was seen in France a few years ago, this would very rapidly dissolve into continued mass unemployment, as the capitalist slump reasserts itself with renewed vigour.

During the election campaign, the Labour Party made some play of the claim that this latest blueprint did not depend on the more narrowly Keynesian concepts of trying to "create" credit or print money, as it had been widely recognised that this simply reduces the value of money rather than increasing the levels of wealth generated. But the alternative source of funding, that of taxation, again merely reallocates resources and is also powerless to control the inevitable capitalist trade cycle of slump and boom.

The real problem, of course, is that throughout the world market system production is geared to the profit-needs of a minority, as expressed through the fluctuations of the market. The socialist alternative, of meeting needs directly through a system of production for use, is scoffed at as loudly by Labour as by the Tories (the only difference being that the Tories" arrogance has again been allowed to wallow in power for the time being, whilst the Labour Party's dismissal of socialism has not even won them that dubious reward). In The Alternative Economic Strategy it is stated that: “Production only creates jobs if the products can be sold. Production for use is nothing more than a romantic fantasy unless there is some way of transforming social needs into effective demand". For "alternative”, then, read "same, old". It is Labour's obsession with sticking to the needs of the money system (which they cannot even get their eager hands on) which is the real romantic fantasy. Next month, we shall start to deal with outlining the ways in which socialism will be able to organise the production of wealth in the interests of humanity as a whole.
Clifford Slapper

Torture (2016)

Book Review from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Torture: Does it Work?’ By Yvonne Ridley: Military Studies Press, 2016.

To most people the idea of torture is a Hollywood fantasy, a fictional beast reserved for high budget screen plays starring the likes of Bruce Willis and Jason Statham. To Yvonne Ridley, however, the idea of torture is a very real prospect. After being captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, Ridley was held captive for ten days and, despite not experiencing physical torture, the mental strain she endured certainly qualifies her to write about such a subject. In this book, Ridley uses her experiences to produce a well-researched piece, discussing many of the key aspects of torture from the philosophical origins of the practice, to a spike in the use of torture since 9/11.

The book especially focuses on the methods used by the United States to circumvent the Geneva Convention rules and particularly the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2002. Despite the official stance of the United States against torture, a workaround was found by changing the definition of torture following the September 11attacks in New York, and renaming torture methods such as water boarding as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The classified nature of what truly occurs at Guantanamo Bay, Ridley suggests, allows for the United States to practice torture on terror suspects in private, whilst also holding a public stance against the issue.

Ridley discusses the arguments for the use of torture, with the notion of the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario and the introduction of ‘torture warrants’ for extreme cases, as well as the idea that suspected terrorists should not be treated as prisoners of war, not deserving the rights outlined in the Geneva Convention. These ideas are debunked by Ridley, pairing her experiences to interviews with ex-Guantanamo detainees and finding a range of negative connotations to the use of torture. Included in these points is the alarming fact that false intelligence fabricated by torture victims was a catalyst in the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

Overall, this book offers a great insight for those interested in the phenomenon of terrorism, with a strong and highly referenced argument against the use of torture. Ridley’s argument is perhaps summed up best by an analogy to close, in which she describes torture ‘as about as effective a weapon in modern warfare as a substandard Thompson submachine gun would have been for a soldier embattled on the front line during the Second World War’.
William Horncastle

Obituary: Bob Beckett (2018)

Obituary from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

We’re sorry to say that long-time Lancaster Branch treasurer Bob Beckett died in October of lung cancer, aged 68. Bob joined the Party around the time of the Miner’s Strike in the early 1980s and was locally famed for his encyclopaedic knowledge of indie music, once beating a gang of five of us hands down at Music Trivia. He did his own indie Festive Fifty every year since secondary school, and had the same birthday as his hero John Peel. Many of us were also impressed by his uncanny ability, like the Good Soldier Schweik, to play dumb with state authorities and thereby foil every threat and inducement by benefits staff to find him gainful employment, so that he managed never to have a paid job in 40 years, instead spending his time at home playing records. Bob was a visceral rebel against capitalism, which he saw as pointlessly idiotic, and he was well on the way to becoming that classic socialist archetype, the adorably grumpy old sod, until the big C got him first, but he coped with characteristic philosophy and good humour right up to the end. We’re going to miss him a lot, but we like to think he went on his way with a wheezy chuckle and two fingers still stuck firmly up at the system.
Lancaster Branch

Religion, Ethics or Socialism (1945)

From the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

The usual line of defence put up by the secularists when faced with the assertion that their movement is trivial and unreal beside that of Socialism has always been that Socialism could make no headway with the workers until religion had been eradicated from their minds.

We have never belittled the power of religion when used by an unscrupulous ruling class to befog the minds of those they ruled. Furthermore, we assert that it has been consciously used as a bulwark to discourage active thought by the workers on the why and wherefore of capitalist supremacy and privilege. We do not dispute the fact that Socialism cannot be achieved by a working class that believes in the supernatural. Socialism is based on the scientific interpretation of history. Religion is part of that history, and is the result of man's ignorance of natural forces. With their progress in the knowledge of Socialism the workers must, therefore, shed their superstitions and become materialistic in their outlook.

Years ago it was pointed out by Paul Lafargue and others that modern industry was rapidly performing that process. That the materialist outlook was the natural result of man's progressive understanding of nature. Lafargue pointed out that the capitalist relied for his income on stocks and shares that fluctuated in value from day to day from causes over which he had no control. He was consequently susceptible to all forms of superstition. On the other hand, the worker in his everyday life dealt with material things, their sequence and interaction. He had no belief in miracles. If something unusual happened in some industrial process, it was not luck or mischance—it was perhaps misjudgment, and he looked for the cause. That is not to say that the workers have already become materialistic. The forces at work in their everyday life are pushing them along that road. The majority have become largely indifferent to religion. In a letter from a parson which was given prominence in the Daily Telegraph, July 14, 1945, we read the following about an Englishman's religion:—
   "It is a religion of unconscious assumptions imposing no severe obligations and retranslating the behest, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' into a loose belief in tolerance and withheld judgment.
    "We shall recognise this quotation from a recent book as a substantially accurate description of the basis upon which perhaps 70 to 80 per cent. of English men and women conduct their lives."
The writer then argues that while this is highly commendable and much to be thankful for, it is not religion. We agree. The Christian religion is belief in a personal god and a life hereafter, plus worship, prayer, ceremonial and intercession, etc. Social conduct and relationships have no real connection with those beliefs, though priests have always claimed that authority in these matters comes direct from God. They also claim that belief is an added incentive to good behaviour. That the omniscient presence has a deterrent effect on the would-be wrong-doer.

To link ethics with religion has been the policy of the church after Aristotle. The essence of religion being a belief in spiritual life independent of matter, it follows that it can have no concern with material conditions. Ethical standards are independent of spiritual beliefs. Moreover, ethical standards are part of the social superstructure erected by man on the economic foundations already in practice. They are modified by every considerable change in the means and methods of producing and distributing wealth. Thus the ten commandments of Moses was a patriarchal code. The Runnymede charter a feudal code, and the Franchise and Trade Union Acts, which largely dominate modern thinking, have become part of a code that could only arise in the peculiar conditions of advanced capitalist society.

Almost from the beginning of social life men have thought and planned for an ordered relationship in their dealings with each other. But a changing environment has always defeated them. In their struggle with nature for the necessaries of life, the discoveries they made always changed the nature of the problem. There could be no resting place. No period in history where they could truthfully say, "There will be no more history." Where conditions were static and man's relations within society could be determined once and for all. This has always been the dream, not only of Utopians, but of every despot and every class, throughout the ages, that has achieved power. Their dreams and plans have passed with them. Has the present ruling class any hope of achieving stability? Does society at present show any signs of being able to control and regulate the production and distribution of wealth on lines satisfactory to all? Emphatically no.

The prediction that capitalism is destined to dig its own grave is working itself out. Capitalism produces the conditions that destroy capitalism. Capitalist industry trains the working class in logical materialism. That training cannot be confined to industry. 70 to 80 per cent,.are indifferent to religion. They are not concerned with the controversy between atheists and Christians. They are looking for a solution to their own problem: poverty alongside unlimited powers to satisfy their needs. We have that solution—the object and principles of the S.P.G.B. The harvest is ripe. Go to it, reapers.
F. Foan

Endnotes (1946)

From the December 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Price Nationalisation? Mr. Shlnwell Tells the Miners
After Mr. W. Lawther, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, had told delegates at the Labour Party Conference that the miners are impatient for better conditions, Mr. Shinwell, Minister of Fuel, disclosed the attitude of the Labour Government.
He said:—
    “You are not entitled to ask from us what you were always unable to gain from the private owner.”
(Daily Telegraph, 12/6/46.) 
This was received, says the Telegraph, with "cheers and some dissent.” The miners are in process of learning that nationalisation or State capitalism solves none of their problems.


"Progress"
   "The poorest people in pre-war unemployment areas are certainly consuming more than they did in 1938.”
(C. R. Attlee, House of Commons, 27/2/46. Daily Herald, 28/2/46.)
  "Half a dozen social surveys carried out in British cities in the decade before 1939 showed that, at the prevailing wage rates, the normal wage-earner, even in steady employment, barely earned enough to keep two adults and three children out of ill-health.”
(“The Condition of the British People,” 1911-45, Mark Abrams, Gollancz.
Quoted News Chronicle, 28/2/46.)

The Worker who Leaves his Brain In the Workshop
   "The man who would at work contemptuously reject a piece of metal which was not true to a thousandth of an inch came home, opened his newspaper, turned on his radio, or went to the cinema and took whatever rubbish was offered him without question. If he only stopped to think for two minutes it could never happen.”
(Professor T. W. Manson,
 Manchester Guardian, 25/7/46.)

Bold Mr. Bevan
As Minister of Health Mr. Aneurin Bevan issued a circular to public assistance authorities early in July urging them to be firm with "work-shy ” tramps
   "The hard core of habitual vagrants, including men who are work-shy, anti-social or recalcitrant, should also be given suitable treatment. For the limited number of men in this group firmness must, when necessary, be applied if reasonable discipline is to be maintained, and a spread of idle vagabondage discouraged.”
(Reynold's News, 7/6/46.)
The Daily Herald (13/7/46) published from a reader a sensible letter of protest. He said that Mr. Bevan’s circular reminded him of another group of individuals who surely come under the same heading —"I refer to the idle rich. They don’t tramp from place to place, but they have been riding around on the workers’ backs for years.”

It would be interesting to hear from Mr. Bevan exactly why the poor tramps should be glad to work producing profit for the rich tramps, including amongst the latter the stock-holders who are receiving generous compensation under the Labour Government’s compensation schemes for the nationalised industries.

Divide and Rule in India (1947)

Editorial from the December 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British invaders of India did not create Moslem-Hindu rivalry but they certainly made use of what they found. A divided India was a weak India. Although communal riots were troublesome for the Police and costly to traders it was possible for the alien rulers to view them somewhat philosophically. British capitalists were holding down India because they made big profits out of it and they no more thought of getting out of India because of Hindu-Moslem riots than they would have thought of giving up the profits of capitalism at home because of occasional conflicts with the workers.

The enthusiasts for Indian independence, particularly the members of the predominately Hindu Congress Party, built up their propaganda on a foundation provided by two charming myths. One was that if only British capitalism would get out Moslems, Hindus and the adherents of other religious systems would forget their traditional differences and live peaceably together. The other was that India is a “nation,” all its 400 million inhabitants yearning to be united under their own Indian government. Events during the past year have shattered both. British rule has ended but the largely Hindu India and the largely Moslem Pakistan refused to unite. They are two separate States facing each other in an atmosphere of tension bordering on war. Many tens of thousands of Moslems in India and Hindus in Pakistan have been brutally murdered in communal disturbances that dwarf anything that has happened for years. Hundreds of thousands of refugees now live in misery and fear.

It may be asked, in view of what has happened, have the leaders of the Indian parties failed in their object? Were they mistaken in their myths and have their eyes now been opened? By no means. Myths are made by leaders for the deception of their followers, not for the leaders’ own consumption. The masses may now be suffering pangs of disillusionment, but not the leaders – except perhaps some curious figures like Gandhi and his circle.

Gandhi’s despair was exposed in a speech he made late in September:
  “If there is no other way of securing justice from Pakistan and if Pakistan persistently refuses to see its proved error and continues to minimize it the Indian Union Government would have to go to war against it. As for myself, my way is different. I worship God which is Truth and non-violence. There was a time when India listened to me. Today I am a back number. I have no place in the new order where they want an army, a navy, and an air force and what not. 1 can never be a party to all that.” (Times, 29/9/47.)
No, the propertied classes, the Princes, landowners, and thrusting capitalists with their expanding textile steel and engineering plants have not failed in their object, which was the same as that of the British capitalists in India, the object of preserving their privileged position as exploiters of the masses. Compared with a matter of such paramount importance words about religious and national union are of no account. It is possible some day that India and Pakistan, faced with a menacing threat from some more powerful state may unite for mutual protection, but at present they are rivals, quarreling about the division of the arms of the former British-controlled army, and manoeuvring for control of areas rich in natural resources or of strategic importance.

So capitalism runs true to form whether under the banner of Christianity, Hinduism or Mohammedanism.

The conflict between Pakistan and India and their religions is being made to serve the interests of the respective ruling class groups just as British capitalism made use of communal rivalry. What could be more useful to the Pakistan ruling class in persuading peasants and workers to be content with their lot than to be able to distract their attention away from bread and butter questions towards the iniquities of Hindus and the greed and aggression of the Indian Government? And how convenient for the latter to be able to rally the masses to the need for patriotism and to defend the country against Pakistan cruelty and trouble making. Under cover of the need for a more national spirit the Congress Party in India decided early in the summer to form a rival trade union federation to combat the existing All-India Trade Union Congress. “Communist control” was the excuse but the real object is certain to be to divide and weaken the organised workers.

The chief bone of contention between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, and an invasion by tribesmen is reported in Indian circles to have been promoted and helped by the Pakistan Government. Spokesmen of the two governments have much to say about the rights and wrongs of their respective claims to take over the territory. India, which at present holds it, promises a plebiscite; to which Pakistan writers retort that it will be faked. The real reason why the issue is so important that both sides are prepared to use military force has nothing to do with the wishes or welfare of the inhabitants. Strategically, from the standpoint of defending India (as well as Pakistan) from attack by other Powers through Central Asia it is a vital area. It has also great natural wealth in its vast forests and undeveloped coal deposits and other minerals, and its water-power may become the foundation of a great electrical development.

The ending of British rule in India was to be the opening of a new era. So said the supporters of Indian nationalism. Indeed it is. For long years capitalists and administrators plundered this conquered land in the haphazard way appropriate to the times and conditions. Now the Indian workers and peasants are going to be exploited under home-born instead of alien masters. Their craft skill and muscular energies are going to serve in the modernisation and industrialisation of India and Pakistan, new Powers fighting for the markets of Asia. The workers there could learn much from the European countries and US., if only to avoid the costly mistakes made and still being made by the workers who first suffered from the capitalist industrial revolution that is now sweeping over Asia.

In the Sweet Bye and Bye (1947)

From the December 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the workers first won the franchise many of them voted for their masters out of a sort of feudal loyalty, and others were cheaply woo’d with flattery and petty bribes: only a few then saw that they had in their grasp the instrument to gain their emancipation. Then began a slow growth to political maturity. In the first stage workers went to the Liberal and Tory candidates seeking pledges of support for this or that measure, offering in return to give their vote to the candidate who promised most. Only slowly did the workers learn that a government that wishes to do so can discover numerous ways of evading an election pledge without having to make the candid admission that it was given merely to catch votes; and even when pledges were honoured the results were singularly below the expectation. Becoming more wary, the electors eventually ceased to believe in quick, easy remedies, and came to expect from the parties long, detailed and ponderous programmes promising painful reconstruction operations extending over several years, to be followed, some day, by a very nice time for all. Politically it might be called the Bog of the Sweet Bye and Bye, and we are up to our necks in it now. Behind it all is the way the world organises the production and distribution of wealth – the social system called capitalism.

Capitalism never did give security and prosperity to the workers and never did run smoothly; but now, when powers of production (and destruction) have so enormously increased capitalism is in ceaseless difficulties. Let any man or woman old enough to remember 1914 ask whether he or she ever knew as much as one three-year spell which did not include one or other of a major war, a post-war “work harder and eat less” crisis, or an “overproduction” crisis with millions unemployed. We are still in the bog of capitalism and shall be so until a majority can be won over from Labourism and Toryism to Socialism.

In 1945 millions of workers thought a Labour-Government would find the way out. The number who think so is much smaller now as was shown by the heavy swingover of votes from Labour to Tory in the recent local council elections. At the General Election in 1945 the Labour Party statement “Let us Face the Future,” said:
   “The Labour Party makes no baseless promises. The future will not be easy. But this time the peace must be won. The Labour Party offers the nation a plan which will win the Peace for the People.”
That was two-and-a-half years ago. How fare the people now? Working harder, eating less, getting day by day shabbier, they face cheerless austerity with nothing more inspiring than still more plans to replace those already scrapped, more promises about the good time coming, and more nauseating sermons from Sir Stafford Cripps about the beauty of spiritual things.

What has caused the crisis, the disillusionment, the decline of the Government’s popularity? There is no difficulty about finding the answer. This is always and everywhere the fate of Labour Governments, with their well-meant but futile policy of trying to make capitalism work. The loss of Labour votes at the council elections in Britain coincided with the smashing defeat of the Labour Government in the State of Victoria, Australia. There the issue which reduced their seats from 32 to 16 and turned them out of office was the plan of the Federal Labour Government to nationalise the commercial banks. Having at first thought that nationalisation is a better way of running-capitalism, some years of trying it convinced them – as it will convince voters in Britain – that nationalisation makes no difference; so they voted against more nationalisation. There are no “better ways” of running capitalism.

Trying to run capitalism, forces a Labour Government to do all sorts of obnoxious things that they condemned Tory Governments for doing. The Labour Government retains military conscription in peacetime, reintroduces industrial conscription in the form of direction of workers to essential industries, lets the price of necessities rise while opposing wage increases, demands harder work and more austerity, uses troops in strikes, keeps an army of occupation in Germany and stores up hatred by keeping German prisoners of war here as slave labour. Opposition to all of these evils is now left to Tories, Liberals and a handful of rebel Labour M.P.s. As the Salvation Army used to say about Church hymns, the Labour Party evangelist now has the mortification of hearing all the best tunes sung by the Tory devil.

In a recent speech Mr. Arthur Horner, Communist General Secretary of the Miners’ Union, looking at the present muddle, said he could not help thinking that perhaps Mr. Churchill at the General Election deliberately spoiled the Tory campaign so that the Labour Party would have to handle the post-war troubles and earn all the odium and loss of prestige inseparable from being the Government in power. If Churchill backed that horse he was on a sure thing. The S.P.G.B. could and did foretell that outcome long before the election. It is not difficult to foresee, once the nature of capitalism is understood; and after understanding the nature of capitalism follows, the determination to abolish it and introduce Socialism.

Before leaving Mr. Horner’s speculation about Mr. Churchill’s supposed plot a certain obvious comparison leaps to the eye. If Mr. Churchill did indeed plot a Labour triumph as the sure way to disruption of a Labour Party caught in the toils of capitalism, it provides an intriguing comparison with the well-known but now never admitted “fifth column” tactic hidden behind Mr. Horner’s own party’s professed friendship for the Labour Party. Socialists do not treacherously profess friendship but openly oppose the Labour Party, because the only way out for the working class is to establish Socialism. To reject Labourism in favour of setting up totalitarian State Capitalism on the Russian model would indeed be to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
Edgar Hardcastle

Nationalisation of Iron and Steel (1948)

Editorial from the December 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last of the big schemes of Nationalisation to which the Labour Government was pledged during the life of the present Parliament, the Nationalisation of iron and steel, is to take effect in 1950 under the terms of the Bill now being discussed. The scheme differs in various ways from the organisation set up for coal and transport and the attitude of the Government in explaining the Bill suggests that, with an eye on the next General Election, they are anxious to emphasise that it really will not make a very great difference. The Government is to take over the shares of 107 of the largest companies and place the industry under the ultimate control of the Iron and Steel Corporation but in such a way that the Corporation concerns itself with ‘‘planning the overall efficiency of the industry” without interference with the day-to-day management of each works. Unless the Corporation considers that certain directors are inefficient the existing managements will remain. Mr. Strauss, Minister of Supply, who introduced the Bill emphasised these aspects in his speech on 15th November. According to the Times (16/11/48) he described it as a way “to combine all that is best in private enterprise and public ownership.” The individual companies whose shares the Corporation will take over will retain their present identity and continue trading under their existing names. The Minister explained that "on the morning after the vesting date the only difference for them would be that the ownership of the securities had changed hands.”

The Corporation and the Nationalised Companies taken as a whole will have to pay their way like any other trading concern and will, in fact, be in competition with the smaller firms that are not being nationalised. The Iron and Steel Corporation will consist of a Chairman and from four to ten other members all appointed by the Minister. The workers employed by the Nationalised firms and their wholly owned subsidiary companies will number about 300,000 but there was no suggestion that their position will be essentially altered any more than it was when coal and transport were nationalised. The main arguments used by the Government spokesman in favour of nationalisation were that not only “prosperity” but also “security and influence on world affairs” are bound up with the production of “cheap steel in ample quantities” and these requirements cannot be met if the existing ownership and organisation continue. On the question of cheapness Mr. Strauss made the point that costs of production in this country are generally higher than in U.S.A. ‘‘in spite of the fact that American wages were much higher.” (Times, 16/11/48.) He laid emphasis on the argument that 30 per cent. of the existing industry is using antiquated and inefficient plant and that it would not be possible to secure 100 per cent. efficiency without centralisation—‘‘to rationalise the industry properly and to get the maximum efficiency a single owner must replace many . . .” Naturally the shareholders are more concerned with the amount of compensation (£300 million) than with arguments about organisation. The City editors of daily newspapers have all more or less agreed with the line taken by the Sunday Express (31/10/48) that the shareholders are being swindled because the Government “will pay £300 million for assets worth at least £600 million.” The Minister’s reply to this was to point out that the compensation is based on the prices quoted for the shares on the Stock Exchange and that “nearly all shareholders who had bought their shares any time during the last 10 years or so would receive in compensation more than they paid for them.”

Once the shareholders have received their compensation stock they will continue to receive interest on it in good times and bad while the steel workers, as in the past, will be dependent for their employment on the state of trade. The Minister incidentally let out that he at least does not count on good trade lasting for over. He claimed that in planning for the amount of steel to be produced the Government need not be as cautious as private capitalists would have to be “as soon as the present boom conditions fall off ” and he argued that it would be less disturbing to the industry to nationalise the companies now “when trade is good, than in a period of world depression.” (Daily Mail, 16/11/48.)

The Tories are opposing the scheme and threaten to undo it if elected in 1950. We need not concern ourselves with the argument whether this, or some Tory scheme of State control without State ownership, would better serve the interests of British capitalism. We can be quite certain that neither scheme will alter the wage-slave position of the workers.

Pounds, Dollars and Poverty (1949)

From the December 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

We all like to be flattered, and no doubt the readers of the Daily Herald are no exception. Perhaps then, they were pleased to read in that paper’s leading article (14.10.49) that most voters understood '‘devaluation.” The leader continued:
  “The British electorate is not the ignorant, unthinking mass that the Tory Party considers it to be. The people grasped very readily the reasons for devaluation . . .” 
Far be it from me to devaluate the intellectual capacity of the electorate, but I wonder how many men-in-the-street would know what to say if asked— “What is devaluation”!

And it even seems that the Daily Herald itself is not doing its utmost to clear away the confusion when we read in the issue of 13.10.49 on Page 1, a quotation from a speech by Sir Stafford Cripps: “Discussing the cost of living, the Chancellor denied that his forecast had been too optimistic. There was no reason for immediate increases (apart from that already made in bread) on account of devaluation.” But on Page 5 (the same day) Lord Hollenden, President of the Wholesale Textile Association is quoted: “In September, he said, cotton cost 10% more than in August, wool 2% and silk 27% more. Since devaluation this rise has been greatly accelerated and costs are leaping.” According to “Time” (3.10.49): “The (British) Government last week raised the price of non-ferrous metals and of such humble objects as pots and pans. The first predictions of a 5% cost-of-living rise shot up to 10%.”

But let’s look at the advantages that devaluation is supposed to give us. We are told that “we” will be enabled to sell “our” goods at cheaper prices on the American and other markets and that this will help to reduce “our” dollar gap.

Now, we will leave it to the economists to say whether this will actually happen or not, but let's assume it does and that “Britain’s” economic problems are solved—how will this affect the workers?

I suppose the best that Sir Stafford Cripps, or any other capitalist politician of any Party, could possibly hope for is that “we” gain precedence in all the markets, that once more “we” become a “creditor” nation and again “ lead the world.”

And of course, “we” did lead the world, during the last century—that era of Britain’s greatest prosperity. And at that time, exactly how prosperous were the workers of Britain? Has the prosperity or otherwise of our national capitalist class ever made any difference to the miserable conditions of the mass of the people who create that prosperity? Do the producers ever get any of it?

The United States is “prosperous” now—but are the workers there any better off relatively than us? At the moment, some American trade unions are fighting for a national minimum wage in the same way as some of the workers in Britain are now doing. Also, according to Charles Luckman, President of Lever Brothers in America, speaking on 20.7.49:—“Twenty-seven million Americans have no kitchen sink, 18 million Americans lack washing machines, 25 million Americans lack vacuum cleaners. 1 million families need new homes this year, 40 million Americans have neither bathtub or shower.” (Quoted in the Western Socialist, August, 1949.)

So you see that, if we are poor its not because we owe America dollars, not because the pound has been devaluated or because we’ve lost “our” Empire; if we have no homes it’s not because our houses were destroyed during the war and if our standard of living is low and if we merely exist, having no opportunity to really live, its not because “our” country is no longer prosperous.

We are poor because we are workers under Capitalism. The workers have no financial interest in “getting Britain on her feet again”; whether our national capitalists are prosperous or not we as workers are always poor and we will always be so until we decide to destroy the system that legalises our exploitation.

Remember, workers, when next you read, for instance, that “Glaxo Laboratories, Ltd., have got C.I.C. consent to a 900% capital bonus” (Herald, 14.10.49) that you and your fellow-workers produced that. But ask for a fixed minimum wage of £5 a week and you are refused.

Your masters aren’t very grateful, are they?

Whether the Government is Conservative, Liberal, Labour or Communist, it makes no essential difference to you or me. All these stand for Capitalism. And for the workers, whether we are British, American, German or Russian, that means we will continue to be exploited, continue to work out our lives producing wealth for our master, faced continually with the problems of poverty, periodical unemployment and war.

And there is only one way out.

That is to abolish Capitalism and establish Socialism in its place. End private property society that robs us of the wealth we produce, and establish a world wide society that is based on common ownership and and in which there will be no Capitalist or working classes, no owners and non-owners, no wage workers and no money.

This society is coming, but it will come all the quicker if you join with us in our work for Socialism.

Wc need you, comrade!
Lisa Bryan