Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Passing Show: Political Litter (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political Litter
Whether it was the warm, sleepy atmosphere of that sizzling first Sunday in May or just plain lack of real interest, it is difficult to say, but the circuses we normally expect in Hyde Park were notably straggling and lacking in verve. The Labour and Co-op procession doddered on to the green in bits and pieces throughout the afternoon, as did those of the Young Socialists, Socialist Labour League, etc., trying hard to look enthusiastic after the nervous strain of inching through London’s West End traffic. Even the Young Tories seemed to do better. Their platform sported a rather flabby, overfed young man, whose worldly knowledge seemed to be in indirect proportion to the size of his girth. But at least he was amusing.

Wandering across the Park from one meeting to another, you scuff your feet on the abundance of litter on the grass, and occasionally bend down to look at some of the more interesting pieces. In this way, I acquired copies of The Newsletter (Socialist Labour League), Challenge (Young Communists) and The Rebel Worker (Industrial Workers of the World)—a sad and scrappy piece of duplicated literature this last one.

Judging by the comments in their papers both the Socialist Labour League and the Young Communists are obsessed with the war in Vietnam. Both want the Vietcong to win—“Victory to the heroic Vietcong Fighters” screams The Newsletter, ignoring the obvious point that if heroism is the criterion, then both sides have that in plenty. Despite fierce opposition to the Labour Government, both Y.C.L. and S.L.L. urge workers to use it to get “revolutionary demands.” These include: ending the eleven-plus, votes at 18, more council houses at low rents, making the bosses pay for the crisis—not the workers (whatever that may mean), smashing the Smith regime and arming the African workers. And after that lot and plenty more besides, Y.C.L. National Organiser Peter Carter has the cool nerve to claim “We fight to end capitalism.”

But oh, The Rebel Worker. What thrills will it have in store for us in the future? This is apparently the first English edition, describing itself also as “a revolutionary journal” and having this sort of gem in its editorial: —
  We have joined the I.W.W. because of its beautiful traditions of direct action, rank-and-file control, sabotage, humour, spontaneity and unmitigated class struggle.
Well you can take your choice from that range of so-called qualities, but how anyone can think of the class struggle as beautiful is beyond me. It is necessary, yes. Something none of us can escape, certainly. But beautiful, absolutely not. Nobody who has any real appreciation of capitalism can surely think that its relationships are other than downright ugly in every sense of the word.


And Other Litter
Do you remember the productivity and exports drive of the 1945 Labour Government? And its slogans and bulletins? “More from each means more for all” was one of the lies they told us while slapping on a wage freeze. They talked glowingly of “redistributing the nation's wealth,” “cutting the national cake” and so on, (but when they went out of office in 1951 that 10 per cent of the population still seemed to have a pretty strong hold on their 90 per cent of the accumulated wealth.

And today? Yes, the 10 per cent are still there and the present Labour Government are, of course, telling the same sort of whoppers that their predecessors did. Have you had a copy of Upswing yet? It’s their latest effort to get you working harder, and is a broadsheet prepared by the Department of Economic Affairs. Issue number one talks, of course, about the National Plan and asks the question: “Will I be better off?” Before you can get the chance to contradict it back comes the answers: “Yes. Year by year . . . There will be more to spend all round. If the Prices and Incomes Policy is maintained you will not only be earning more—the increases will go further because prices will not jump as well.” All on three per cent wage increase a year?

Upswing is noteworthy also for the impertinence of its advice to working people: “Don’t accept high prices,” it bleats. “Shop around. Give your custom to the shop where prices are lowest.” No doubt you are very grateful for that entirely novel hint. Shows just how useful Upswing is going to be. Bet you can hardly wait for the next issue.


Let's Be Friends
About 12 years ago there was a quite prominent and active organisation known as “World Friends.” I haven't heard of it for some time, but it may still be in existence. Its officers were pleasant, well- meaning and hard-working men and women. Its object was to foster peace and friendship by means of exchanged holidays between people of various countries. Probably a great many personal friendships were made as a result, but as for peace—there have been Berlin, Lebanon, Suez, Indonesia, Vietnam, lndo-Pakistan and, of course, the terrifying Cuban Crisis, all since then.

This is not to sneer at “World Friends”; at least you could say that what they were doing was better than dropping bombs. But what they never grasped was that “peace” is not just an absence of actual hostilities and the backslapping cordialities of a fortnight’s holiday abroad. It implies an absence of competition and the establishment of co-operation at all times between people everywhere. That is why peace can never be a reality while capitalism is with us.

But people are slow to learn, as you might have thought if you saw a report in The Guardian of April 18th. This tells us that there is now an organisation called “Art for World Friendship” which arranges an exchange of paintings by children from all parts of the globe. There are between 15,000 and 20,000 contributors to the scheme, and the parent body—Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—stipulate that no pictures shall have violence or war for their theme. Laudable, you may say, as far as it goes. And there’s the rub. After all, children just like everyone else are not characteristically warlike, but modern society certainly is, and it is this which will impinge on their minds increasingly as they grow up.

The Women's League is really trying a form of escapism in getting the children to ignore the fact that war and violence do exist in great measure, and there is not one scrap of evidence that such efforts will have any lasting effect in securing peace for these kids. On the contrary, there could well be a dangerous disillusionment later on when their failure becomes evident. Let us suggest to the Women’s League and others that they could do a far greater service to children and everyone else if they put their own house in order first and learned just what peace is, and the Socialist way to get it.


Gaspers
Part of the pressure for more expenditure on education has a basically commercial mainspring.” (Lena Jeger. M.P. Guardian, 15.4.66)

Next to banishing two-wheelers, universal wearing of safety belts would make a bigger dent in road casualties than anything else. It would probably bring a 15 per cent reduction, with a cash value to the community of some £25 millions a year." (John Davy, Observer, 17.4.66.)

"Our movement is symbolised by the bomb-thrower, the deserter, the delinquent, the hitch-hiker, the mad lover, the school drop-out, the wildcat striker, the rioter and thee saboteur . . ." (The Rebel Worker, May Day, 1966)

"Sleep less, eat less, work more—is the formula of Premier Forbes Burnham for Guyana independent from May 26th." (Financial Times, 10.5.66)
Eddie Critchfield


Who are the Marxists? (1966)

Book Review from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Socialist Review, International Socialism, 18s.

This book is a collection of articles from a now defunct journal, Socialist Review. Its former followers are now grouped around another journal, International Socialism. It is one of the many trotskyist offshoots which claim to be Marxist, yet which depart radically from Marx’s basic ideas on many points.

Marx argued that only the working class can free itself from wage-slavery. By working class he understood all those who, having no property, had to sell their working abilities for a wage in order to live. Today this class, composed of managers, clerks, factory workers, labourers and so on, run society from top to bottom. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, with Marx, holds that only they, acting as a united class, can be the agent of the social change from capitalism to socialism. IS sees the agent as only a section of this class, those who work in the factories, mines, railways and docks. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that they idealise this section of the working class. Seeing that most of the members of groups like IS are not themselves workers in these sorts of jobs their attitude verges on the condescending, of doing something for the poor, down-trodden workers. This attitude is a left-over from their Leninist past. Lenin, in contradiction to Marx, held that the workers were incapable of becoming socialists by themselves; they had to be introduced to socialist ideas by an enlightened vanguard. This vanguard would lead them against capitalism.

The IS group, like similar groups, has a reform programme which they call a "transitional programme." This is a programme designed to create a socialist understanding and to be realised as a transitional stage to Socialism. When these reforms are examined, for example, nationalisation of banks, national planning, State monopoly of foreign trade, it becomes clear that IS is saying that State capitalism is a necessary stage to Socialism. More than this, in fact, many of their members including some writers in this book clearly don't understand the difference between State Capitalism and Socialism; they really believe that nationalisation is Socialism and that wages, buying and selling, money, etc., will exist in Socialism. In their day-to-day propaganda the emphasis is on State capitalism rather, than Socialism as the solution to workers’ problems. The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds that capitalism has outlived its usefulness and that Socialism is possible as soon as the workers want it; there is no need for any State capitalist stage.

Finally, there is the inevitable r-r-revolutionary romanticism, the dreaming of mass strikes and street battles (read Cliff on the Belgian General Strike of 1960). This leads IS to dismiss with contempt the historically-evolved means to freedom—the vote. But at election times we witness the spectacle of people who dismiss the vote as “a scrap of paper" and Parliament as a “gas house" eagerly working for, and urging workers to vote for, one of the major capitalist parties in this country. This devotion to the Labour Party is maintained even when, as in Hampstead at the last election, they were faced with a socialist candidate. Not understanding the significance of the vote they use it and urge others to use it, to give political power to the owning class. Are they really Marxists?
Adam Buick

Marx v Lenin (1966)

Book Review from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Real World of Democracy by C. B. Macpherson (Oxford University Press, 12s. 6d.)

This book by C. B. Macpherson, author of the materialist study of 16th and 17th century English philosophers The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, is a collection of lectures given over Canadian radio in 1965.

Macpherson, argues that the liberal theory of democracy (competing political parties) is not the only valid one. In the “communist” and underdeveloped countries equally valid theories have been evolved. For them democracy means what it used to mean—rule by and for the poor. He correctly points out that Marx held that the working class would organise to get state power and then use it democratically to dispossess the owners of the means of production and set up Socialism. He notices too that Lenin departs from Marx in his theory of the vanguard party acting and ruling on behalf of the working class—but agrees with Lenin. What Marx overlooked, he suggests, was the question, “How can the debasing society be changed by those who have themselves been debased by it?” Macpherson says it can’t:
  In a revolutionary period, therefore, when a substantial part of the society senses uneasily that it is dehumanised but does not know quite how, or when it is so dehumanised that only a few of the people at most can be expected to see that they are dehumanised, there is no use relying on the free votes of everybody to bring about a fully human society. If it is not done by a vanguard it will not be done at all.
This was precisely the position of the pre-Marxian revolutionaries of Europe like Blanqui and the anarchists. They held that only a conscious minority could overthrow the ruling class. Marx emphatically rejected this idea. As he and Engels wrote as early as 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, the working class movement “is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” Marx argued that men change themselves in changing society; man and society change together. The Socialist Party of Great Britain still insists that the socialist revolution can only be democratic and that minority action cannot lead to Socialism. Macpherson disagrees and takes the rulers in Russia at their word, that they represent the working class and are not a new ruling and privileged class.

This is the great weakness of these lectures. When it comes to demolishing the philosophical justifications of capitalism current in the West, Macpherson is excellent. He shows how capitalism necessarily involves the exploitation of those who work by those who own the means of labour. He exposes the myth of “scarcity in relation to unlimited desires" by which social inequality and privilege is justified:
  We have been, or rather can be, liberated from the dilemma of scarcity by the new productivity of which we dispose in prospect. We can see now that men are not by nature infinitely desirous creatures, but were only made so by the market society, which compelled men to seek even greater power in order to maintain even a modest level of satisfactions . . .
   An overmastering consciousness of scarcity had to be created in order to justify the capitalist society and to give it its driving force. An all-pervasive awareness of scarcity was needed both to justify the operations of those who came out on top and to motivate those who stayed below and had to be made to work harder than they had worked before.
He speaks of the prospect of a “society of abundance” replacing “an economy of scarcity.”

However he states categorically that the social system in Russia and other one-party states are not exploiting societies:
  They do not diminish any man’s satisfaction by a compulsive transfer of part of his powers to others for the benefit of others.
Don’t they? In these states a privileged minority does monopolise access to the means of labour so that the majority can only use them at the price, as it were, of handing over a part of what they make to this privileged minority— which has evolved from the very vanguards which took power (or claimed to take power) to introduce a classless society. The lesson is that on this point Marx was more perceptive than Lenin.
Adam Buick

New pamphlet on Racism (1966)

Party News from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new Socialist Party pamphlet, entitled The Problem of Racism, is published this month. The previous pamphlet on this subject The Racial Problem, published in 1947 has been out of print for some time. The Problem of Racism is not just a revision it is a completely new pamphlet. In 1947 it was the Jewish Question that was prominent. Today it is the Colour Question. This change is taken into account in the new pamphlet which examines the colour question in Britain, America. South Africa and Rhodesia. There are chapters too on the scientific theory of race, the historical origins of racist theories and on African nationalism.

There is an unfortunate error. The reference on page 41 to Guyana should, of course, be to Guinea.

Pamphlet obtainable from Socialist Party (Dept. SR), 52 Clapham High St., London, SW4. Price 1/6.




50 Years Ago: Social Production: Individual Appropriation (1966)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the days of handicraft and petty industry, production was individual. The worker owned individually the tools with which he worked, as they were small and primitive and easily made or purchased, and, as a consequence, he owned his product. The Capitalist system which arose out of handicraft, concentrated the scattered and feeble means of production and intensified them, first by co-operation and division of labour in the workshop and finally by machinery. But “the bourgeoisie . . . could not transform these puny means of production into mighty productive forces without transforming them, at the same time, from means of production of the individual into social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men” (F. Engels Socialism, Utopian and Scientific).

Nevertheless, although in this way the productive process was changed, the old individual mode of appropriating the products, adapted to handicraft, still remained intact—while production became socialised, ownership of the means of production and the product continued individual. This is the germ of all the anomalies of present-day society, which, instead of enabling the utilisation of all the forces of production to their utmost capacity, enforces their limited use and frequent stoppage. There exists an antagonism between the forces of production and the conditions of production.
(From the Socialist Standard, June, 1916)

Sting in the Tail: Nazis (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nazis (1)
Searchlight magazine, called "the international anti-fascist monthly", covers the worldwide activities of nazis and racists and there's an awful lot to report.

Most countries in Europe and the Americas have their quota of crazies, from skinhead thugs and the Ku Klux Klan to followers of Nordic mysticism, with would-be fuhrers ten a penny. Searchlight revels in exposing their various criminal records which include murder, armed robbery, fraud, etc., and it is all very interesting.

However, no copy we have read down the years has given any sign that Searchlight has a clue as to why nazism and racism exist, let alone how to get rid of them.

The only way to eliminate these evils once and for all is to end the capitalist system which breeds the ignorance, insecurity and poverty on which they feed. Searchlight only highlights the effects, never the cause.


Nazis (2)
The Socialist Party has always insisted that the only way to deal with ideas that are opposed to those of socialism is in a rational and democratic manner. This is not the approach of the various left-wing groups.

In reporting the proposed concert organised by a neo-nazi group called Blood and Honour in London The Guardian (4 September) quotes a spokesman for the Anti-Fascist Action:
  "Blood and Honour has only one agenda — the terrorism of anyone opposed to them. We are prepared to meet like with like", said Mike Stone of AFA.
So here we have a group who propose to beat facism by adopting the tactics of the fascists. Apparently it is fascist behaviour to use violence against a political opponent — except when the violent act is being committed by someone in Anti-Fascist Action!


Heaven on Earth
In a society where people have so many troubles, the idea of a better life after death is inevitable.

A TV film, Heaven (BBC2, 1 September), asked some people what they thought Heaven will be like. Answers included ...
We'll have wonderful bodies and never get sick.
Like a billion years in Shangri-La.
Where you live forever in happiness with angels watching over you.
One man thought Heaven would be "Like New York or Los Angeles, a city", but perhaps he got heaven and hell mixed-up.

Socialists expect no life after death, heavenly or otherwise, but we strive for a worldwide society based on production for use and democratic control. That would be heaven enough for us.


What a Waste
One of the charges socialists lay against capitalism is that it causes vast numbers of people to spend their time sorting out private property rights.

The grounding of the QE2 off the American coast is an example. The big priority here is to establish responsibility and, therefore, who pays for the QE2's repairs and subsequent loss of business. To do this, teams from both the British and American marine accident departments, plus the insurers' army of loss adjusters, flew to Boston to begin their investigations (The Guardian 11 August).

And just think how many other people were involved in the work of insuring Cunard, the ship's owners, against this happening as well as the passengers against their cruise being cancelled.

All of this is necessary in a system where private property rights are sacred. In socialism a damaged ship would simply be repaired by society without capitalism's obsession with "who pays?".


SWP "Socialism "
The SWP's paper, Socialist Worker, carried an article titled "What Do We Mean By Socialism?" (5 September) which got itself into the inevitable muddle.

For example, we are told socialism "means the abolition of classes" and yet there will still be "workers". How come?

And there will still be money and exchange relations in the SWP's "socialism
  Of course not everything will be free the day after workers take power. But the list of free goods will constantly broaden.
Only health, education, housing and public transport are mentioned as being "instantly" free, so obviously other things people need will have to be paid for which means there would still be owners and non-owners just as there are today.

Incidentally, it was good to read that socialism "does not mean rule by a central committee . . ." but this is rich coming from a party which is itself ruled by one!


Food for Thought
We are forever being bombarded by TV images of starving millions: of little children dying in front of our eyes.

To the religious this may be God's will; to the capitalist economist the working out of the market system, but to the socialist it is the completely unnecessary destruction of human beings by the insanities of capitalism. People starve while surplus food is stored in mountains or destroyed to keep up prices.

How much surplus food is being stored in Britain alone was revealed by The Independent (3 September).
  The latest figures available from the Intervention Board, the body that administers the storage of EC surpluses in the UK, show that 144,179 tons of beef and 16,009 tons of butter are held at 95 cold-storage facilities all over the country.
  More than 695,000 tons of barley, 1,510 tons of premium wheat, 11,364 tons of feed wheat and 324 tons of rye are held at 24 grain stores. A further 2,145 tons of skimmed milk are in warehouse storage.
  It is estimated that the UK's stocks of grain alone would be enough to feed Somalia for a year.

New act in the courts (1992)

Cartoon by George Meddemmen
From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

As they happily go about their business of committing crimes, criminals may not be aware that this month the new Criminal Justice Act came into operation. Normally, it would not be worth mentioning the arrival of yet another piece of law in this field, but this is the most far-reaching such Act for a very long time and what is called the criminal justice system is threatened with chaos as the courts, the prisons and the police try to digest the changes brought in by the Act.

The very words criminal justice have an interest of their own for they imply that someone who is suspected of a crime has a legal right to be told about the charges against them and to have the truth of them assessed without bias or prejudice by a court which, if it decides the defendant is guilty, will sentence them in the same objective way. If something goes wrong and an innocent person is found guilty, the appeal machinery exists to put the matter to rights. So if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to fear; and if you have done something you will be dealt with fair and square.

So that's alright, then. Except that that proposition has only to be stated to expose its fallacy. Every day, the courts and the prisons are full of people whose response, if they were told about the essential goodness of the criminal justice system, would be a bitter, hollow laugh. With damning regularity—as in the case of the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad—evidence emerges which shows that this cynicism is completely justified.

Changes
In any case criminal justice is not something which is consistent. At one time it can mean harsher penalties from the courts, at others more lenient. It once meant that some prison sentences had to be suspended—until another Act decided that that was not just. A few years later it meant the substitution of Youth Custody for Borstal training; more recently it has meant a deliberate policy of keeping younger offenders out of custody. With the new Act, criminal justice means that imprisonment should be reserved for only the most serious offence.

The changes brought about by the latest Act are too numerous to mention here. Some will be welcomed by the more neurotically punitive sentencer, like the combination order (which in practice is not expected to be available as a magistrates court sentence) which combines a period on probation with a community service order. Others may not be so welcome—fixing the size of fines by units, the number of which depends on the seriousness of the offence, multiplied by the “disposable income" of the defendant. The Act is intended to abolish the halllowed custom which encouraged courts to dish out punishment for the offence before them, adjusted to take account of a defendant's previous offences. So no more shall we hear puffed-up magistrates and judges address the quivering prison-bound wretch in the dock in such terms as “You have an appalling record, which leaves me with no choice but to . . .”. Another part of the Act which is unlikely to be welcomed by the courts is the requirement that people should be sentenced for the offences they have committed—which means not to set an example to others. This should mean the end of that traditional preamble to a sentence which began “There is altogether too much of this going on at present. This court wants the message to go out that it will no longer be tolerated. So we are going to sentence you to . . .”.

There will also be big changes in how the time to be spent in prison is calculated, how much of a sentence is served behind bars and how much under the less obvious, but nevertheless powerful, restraints of licence in the community (of which more later). It is open to question whether in the long term these changes will have any real effect. Whatever parliament says, the courts have usually been able to ensure that the people they send to prison do roughly the time the courts think they should. It has been simply a matter of adjusting the length of sentence to take account of the possibility of early release on parole, or licence or whatever. Finally, there are two requirements of the new Act which will be as ineffective as they are welcome to the ever-hopeful penal reformers. One is the sharper distinction to be drawn between offences against property and those against the person.This is in response to the many recent cases in which property was clearly valued higher than human safety, which is perfectly in tune with the basis of capitalist society and its morality.

It remains to be seen whether courts actually do treat people who have stolen large amounts of money more leniently than those who have injured someone. Another reaction to fashionable outrage is the Act placing a statutory duty on everyone in the criminal justice system, including the police, lawyers and the courts, to avoid discrimination on any grounds such as race or sex. Like “criminal justice’’, that sounds very re-assuring until we remember, for example, the repeated declarations by successive Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, that racism will not be tolerated in the force—and contrast this with how the police actually behave towards black people on the streets or in the fastness of their stations.

Economy
The reason for the new Act, with its sweeping changes in policy and application, are not difficult to see. Even under a government which time and time again has declared war on crime, the figures for recorded offences climb up and up. Since Thatcher's coming to power in 1979 there has been an increase from 2,536,700 to 5,276,700 in 1991.The traditional response to this is to impose harsher penalties, in particular more prison sentences and longer ones. There are, however, some drawbacks to this policy.

First of all, prison is a very expensive way of temporarily removing someone from the opportunity to commit crime—or at any rate from the kind of crime which goes on in the world outside the prison walls as distinct from what happens inside the prison. The cost of keeping someone locked up varies from prison to prison but for all of them it costs a lot more than it would to send a youngster to public school. On top of that, the evidence is that prison is not effective in the way it is supposed to be—it does not deter people from crime when they come out. Indeed, through their embitterment, brutalizing, or institutionalizing, or getting a criminal education, it often tends to make them recidivist rather than conformist.

The government's response to this, after years of Green Papers and White Papers, of “consultation” and “debate”, has been to form the policy of dealing with offenders in the “community” rather than in custody. The motive for this is to save money but it is presented as a policy partly inspired on humane grounds because the very word “community” suggests something warm and caring and supportive. That is why we have Community Psychiatric Nurses whose function now is to treat people in their homes when they should be in mental hospitals if the hospitals hadn’t been cut back or closed in order to save money. We have community centres where mentally bedraggled residents of some ghastly estate where alienation was designed into every pre-cast concrete slab are encouraged to tolerate their intolerable lives. We have Community Service under which people have to do unpaid work to “make restitution to society” for their offences. But if such a thing as “the community” exists it does so as a defensive organism against some of the worst of capitalism’s excesses, or to anaesthetize the systems effects in the delusion that a society based on dividing human beings can have refuges of unity.

But dealing with more offenders in “the community” causes political problems because there are few votes to be gained— and a lot to be lost—by a government seen to be soft on criminals. The Tory government's wily response to this, in the latest Criminal Justice Act, is to legislate to keep people out of prison except for the most serious offences but then to treat them in a harsher, more controlling, way in “the community”.This has the added advantage of allowing ministers to make kinky speeches about the innate lawlessness of human beings which can only be controlled by the threat of strict punishment. It is no coincidence that the drafting of the Act and piloting of it through parliament was largely the work of the militant Roman Catholic John Patten, who is now venting his vaunted theories about morality on the education system and its children.

In spite of the theories and claims of the politicians, there is no evidence that the level of crime is affected by Acts of parliament or criminological theories or the vote-catching neuroses of politicians. Crime is just another aspect of the society we live under, dominated by a minority class which lives by the parasitic process of stealing from the majority through the exploitation of our wage labour. This theft is perfectly legal—like much of capitalism's violence against the person—because the parasites have seen to it that there is a huge legal and penal system to make it so, to bring to account anyone who indulges in theft or violence outside the law.

The exploited majority must exist on a lower social and economic level than those who exploit them. Workers in factories and offices are aware of how their social betters enjoy the results of that exploitation, in their sumptuous and glamorous life-styles and their contempt for how the majority are condemned to live. It is not envy which makes workers want to have some of that life-style, but an inevitable struggle to even things up a little. That is what crime is mostly concerned with, for the overwhelming majority it is offences against property and property rights.

In most cases the workers accept their depressed place under capitalism with an apathetic docility, dreaming of ending their misery with a big pools win. In some cases the criminals view it rather differently; theft is a faster, more lucrative way of getting a living and there is always the possibility of the equivalent of scooping the pools—the big tickle. Between these two delusions there is really nothing to choose—and while they persist the ruling class gets on with the more secure and predictable method of legal theft.
Ivan

The politics of Class War (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

What are we to make of the Class War Federation? According to the tabloids, who have not been slow to recognise this growing group within British politics over the past decade. Class War (CW) comprises a collection of wild-eyed revolutionary hooligans; the walking, swearing seeds of civilised destruction. But then, when have the booze-soaked brains of Sun and Daily Mail journalists ever come up with a valid definition of what a revolutionary is?

Many on the Left dismiss CW as a gang of loudmouthed lumpenproles whose entire existence is dedicated to gratuitous violence and offensively-stated propaganda. Some police and politicians imagine that behind every urban riot and act of vandalism there are CW organisers in the wings ticking off a list of targets. Others dismiss Class War as a prolier than thou version of Private Eye: satire for those who get their kicks out of wounded cops and dead aristocrats. Whatever worth there is in these analyses, there can be little doubt that plenty of people are talking about Class War, both the newspaper and the federation.

Our analysis will ignore the question of style. Revolutionaries are not identified by image or affectation, but by what they stand for and what they do. Our purpose is to examine and criticise the politics not the pose.

Areas of clarity
Class War understand more about what a socialist society will be like than any of the pseudo-socialists on the Left. We quote from their book Unfinished Business, the Politics of Class War (from which all the other quotes come):
  There will be no need to work for a capitalist to survive. The revolution will mean us clocking off wage slavery for good . . . [A]fter the revolution we can and will survive without (money]. Money will not be replaced by something with a different name that does the same thing such as bartering, coupons, tokens, etc. . . . Just by its existence, money is a measure of the failure of society to organise the production and distribution of goods for the benefit of all; IT HAS TO GO . . . We seek to do away with artificial boundaries and borders. The world will not be divided into countries or States . . .There will be no limitations on travel.
A wageless, moneyless, stateless world society is not a bad start as far as revolutionary vision goes. But ideals are cheap. How does CW do on some of the other basic revolutionary tests so regularly failed by the Left?

On several, they do pretty well. For example, the Left’s long-running sick love affair with the capitalist Labour Party has been one of the enduring comi-tragedies of the twentieth century. Not so CW:
  "At times we have no choice anyway but to fightback . . . This is where the role of the British Left is crucial to the ruling class. As long as they can divert us into stupid campaigns like getting Labour elected, the ruling class are safe”. 
Again, how often do we find leftists romanticising the role of the trade unions, seeing them as bodies of immense working-class struggle? Whilst socialists understand the need for unions as defensive combinations of our class (in which many of us are active) we are well aware that bodies committed to fighting for crumbs will do little to abolish the wages system. CW argues, correctly, that the unions are crucial to the role of "regulation stability and control . . .  In advanced capitalist countries like the UK. capitalism cannot function without the help of the unions".

CW opposes Leninism and those sects which stand for “taking control of the State with a vanguard party on behalf of the working class”. CW avoids falling into the trap of leftists who patronise feminists who are seeking women’s liberation without socialism:
  The objectives of equality for women can only be achieved as part of a wider social revolution . . . The idea of ‘wages for housework’ is an illusion. We believe the only real solution to low pay and no pay for women is the removal of capitalism.
That much-loved concept of the pseudo-socialist, the state that will live on into the new socialist society, is rejected by CW: “We see no transitory workers* State . . . as the Left does, we have learnt the lessons of history". Finally, CW seems to understand clearly the role of mass culture as a means of feeding workers with capitalist ideology, and, unlike many leftists, they are firm in their rejection of religion: “Once you believe in divine beings or forces above humankind with superior power over our lives then you give up the right to control your own life yourself".

These areas of clarity are refreshing contrasts to the usual trash of left-wing thinking, and puts in question the popular claim that CW is just a bunch of noisy but vacuous graffiti kids. Unfortunately, in with the positive points are a load of major negatives—illusions, misconceptions, follies. We urge the supporters of the Class war Federation to think about these seriously.

How many classes?
This is no academic question, although for years it has been a key area of attention for the pseudo-intellectual sociologists. They are concerned to classify people in accordance with the market needs of a consumer-commerce society. That is why they break up the working class into an upper and lower section (often several sections) and are committed to the false view that there exists a middle class.

Our definition of class is clear: there are those who need to work and those who don’t. There are us workers who must try to sell our mental and physical energies in return for a wage, salary or giro cheque, and there are capitalist parasites who live off the proceeds of our work by receiving rent, interest and profit. The profit of the capitalists comes from the legalised robbery of the workers. We give them everything they have. They live in privilege and luxury out of our productive efforts. There can be no common interest between the class of exploiters and the class which is exploited: our class, the overwhelming majority. Willingly or otherwise, the antagonism between robber and robbed takes the form of a constant class conflict. The only way to end the class war is for our side to win. We must throw the very small minority who own the means of wealth production off of our backs. We are many, they are few.

We would expect an organisation called Class War to agree with all this. And at one point in their manifesto they do: “Struggle is inevitable because society is divided into two opposing camps, the working class and the ruling class, who are fundamentally at odds in this world” (our emphasis). But, aside from this accidental clarity, CW’s analysis of class is hopelessly confused and should be abandoned sooner rather than later. In chapter 3 on “Class" they claim that there are three classes under capitalism: ruling, middle and working. They claim that the ruling class in Britain comprises 5 percent of the population—which is probably much larger than the real size of the capitalist minority. They then claim that “the middle class" comprises 20 percent of the population and includes doctors (but not nurses, who are listed as workers), social workers, researchers, teachers and small employers.
The reasoning behind this false division is that the middle class are those with more power than the workers. In fact, this power which people in the middle class think they have is illusory. There are those who imagine that a “good” accent or a college degree or a job with a monthly salary puts them in a higher class. Look around the dole offices and see how wrong they are: these are just the deluded workers who are being hit, especially in the South East, now that the recession is cutting into welfare services, banking and insurance and other so-called safe jobs.

The myth of the middle class was invented by sociologists who saw themselves as being an intellectual vanguard for such a class, and CW has fallen into the trap of accepting their self-deceit. But there are practical questions which CW had better face up to. In the event of a working-class revolution, are we to assume that millions of teachers and social workers—or, put more clearly, people given a salary to teach infants to read or paid a wage to work in old people's homes or centres for the mentally handicapped—will be regarded as part of the non-working-class enemy? Are we to assume that a nurse with a posh accent or a bank clerk who plays golf at the weekend (both defined as working-class by CW) will be inherently more revolutionary than a junior doctor working sixty-plus hours a week for a pittance or a newsagent who employs a couple of part- time staff? We suggest that CW’s ridiculous class analysis is based upon a romanticised view of the workers as horny-handed sons of toil who wear cloth caps and drop their aitches and a large dose of sociological nonsense based upon middle-class guilt.

What is a revolution?
There are two areas of disagreement here. Firstly, CW throws out the democratic baby with the parliamentary bathwater. Secondly, having rejected a democratic road to the new world society they commit themselves to a policy of foolhardy violence.

As to democratic change, there is a long-standing confusion on this issue which requires serious debate amongst those who seriously seek a new system of society. For us the democratic principle is paramount. There can be no socialism without a majority who want and understand it. Only a socialist majority can enact the revolution. Democracy is not merely a strategic appendage to the thought of the Socialist Party, but it is inseparable from our aim: a truly democratic society. Unless those who seek to establish socialism do so as knowing participants in their emancipation, the outcome cannot be socialism, as it is bound to be the case that those who followed others into any new system would remain followers within it. Democratic change—which means a majority who are conscious and not willing to be passive— is a prerequisite for revolution.

In different parts of the world conscious socialist majorities will express their mandate for the new social system in different ways. In Britain workers have the vote.The vast majority use it now to elect leaders to run capitalism. They are not forced to do so; workers are deceived into wasting their votes on the continuation of their class slavery. Used by revolutionary workers the vote would be the most orderly and peaceful method of giving a mandate for socialism.

CW rejects this, but we see their objection as more based upon anarchist dogma than experience. They say that “as it exists, democracy is most definitely an illusion. It fools us into thinking we can change things through the vote". They argue that instead we should elect workers’ councils or soviets with instantly recallable delegates. The Socialist Party has no dogmatic objection to workers expressing their will through such bodies—why should we? But we warn CW that these bodies can become just as anti-democratic and leader-controlled as parliaments have been if those doing the voting for them are not politically conscious. The soviets in Russia in 1917 were used by the Bolshevik leaders as a means of getting a grip on the malleable workers in them; soviet power became party power.

Parliaments with instantly recallable and democratically elected and accountable delegates sent to outlaw capitalist property rights will make perfectly useful revolutionary bodies. And they can be won now, simply by having a majority of workers using the vote as a revolutionary weapon. CW is just wrong when it claims that "the condition for us to have a right to vote in this competition is that all the candidates are on the bosses’ side". We do live in an undemocratic society and the bosses do have millions to spend on their rotten candidates, and their laws do make it very hard for us to stand against them, but we can and we have. Imagine if we revolutionary socialists had enough candidates to stand in every constituency—if we could win one in ten of the votes cast—if workers started to realise that there is a real political opposition. Could the ruling class ban us at that stage in our growth? Let them try and see how much faster we would grow.

We realise that there are long-standing anarchistic sentiments which make the case for the majority vote seem unappealing. So the debate on this matter must go on, particularly amongst people who agree on the aim of a classless, wageless, moneyless global society. But in the meantime CW is committed to a case for revolution which rejects democracy. They say that “a revolution is not ‘democratic’ in the sense that there might be a majority of our class involved”. From there on in CW’s entire revolutionary strategy is useless.

Who needs violence?
What they seem to envisage is a growing minority of workers rioting, creating no-go areas, entering into violent conflicts with the police and army and eventually bringing about a civil war. They “see violence as necessary and inescapable”. Of course, in a minority revolution violence would be inescapable—and the ruling class, backed by the most sophisticated weaponry and well- trained and paid military force, would rout the insurrectionaries. There is nothing romantic about such a prospect. Look at how the Serbs are currently dealing with the Bosnians and then imagine what would happen if a civil war, fought between an army with NATO-type equipment and a well-tooled gang of glorified rioters, was ever to be fought in the name of working-class revolution.

At times CW glibly glorifies violence, such as in a rather sick passage in Unfinished Business where they recount an occasion in the Spanish Civil War when peasants shot the local nuns and priests and then dug up the bodies of previously dead clergy in order to shoot bullets through them too. “This brilliant piece of working class propaganda sets very well the tone for dealing with religion”, comments CW. But what about dealing with the teachers and the social workers and the greengrocers and the other so-called middle class enemies who must be defeated? Shooting people, even if they are of the most confused and ideologically unpleasant kind, has nothing to do with revolution and is, in fact, a recipe for the rule of bullies and psychopaths.

CW proposes the setting up of no-go areas administered by vigilante-type workers’ militias. You cannot run an army democratically. On the contrary military organisations are notoriously authoritarian. Living on a council estate where thuggish police hassle young workers and blacks is bad news, but the way out is not to create new cops who will, as CW might put it, “sort out their own”. Workers in Ireland who have been on the receiving end of so-called paramilitary justice will be the first to warn against new self-policing squads.

CW warns of “the dangers of these forces becoming detached from our class and becoming a new power in themselves”. The only safeguard against this is to close the doors of the revolutionary movement to those who think with their fists and are happiest when they are playing authoritarian militarist roles. We don’t need them, In a majority revolution the capitalist minority will be likely to cave in peacefully, but even if they do not they could easily be dealt with by the socialist majority.

The basic prerequisite for a socialist revolution is widespread working-class self-education. The Left, who have contempt for workers’ intelligence, have always been against this. They are just officers looking for infantry. The Class War Federation seems to be still at a stage where it is willing to debate and to learn. To that end we challenge them, as workers to workers, to enter the process of public scrutiny and discussion of their ideas and ours.
Steve Coleman

Friday, November 15, 2019

Final Demands (1992)

Cartoon from the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard



They Said It . . . (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

  • I believe large wealth in private hands is only morally sustainable if it used to benefit people—The Duke of Westminster.
  • We might execute a 12-year old. It depends on the case—US District Attorney John Holmes.
  • The government deserves every sympathy in its present situationDaily Telegraph leader on the sterling crisis. 
  • We do not attribute emotions to Her Majesty—Buckingham Palace aide, on the Queen and the Fergie photos.
  • The Quayle family believes in the power of prayerDan Quayle, to a Christian Coalition rally.
  • A presidential campaign is not a democracyLyn Nofziger, Reagans political director, on the Bush campaign.
  • I'm not an expert on the economyNorman Lamont.

Shelley – Poet and Socialist (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

I became acquainted with Shelley in 1944. At the time I was eighteen years of age and a Republican remand prisoner in Belfast jail. I liked poetry and, searching for something readable in the prison library—a cupboard which they opened twice weekly to the accompaniment of bawling screws, who could see no justification for delay in lifting one of the books—I found a treasure: The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Eventually I got my own copy of Shelley and, over many, many years, I have prized it as the first real socialist literature I ever read. It is, I think, fitting that, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, an appreciation of his life’s work should appear in a socialist journal.

Poets, with their abstract notions of freedom and justice, can momentarily help a prisoner transcend the ignominy and degradation that the prison system imposes. But Shelley’s ideas of freedom and justice were no way abstract; his was no mere solace for the soul. Yes, there were the odes To The West Wind, To A Skylark, To A Cloud; beautiful word music in the classical tradition of English metrical composition.

But, more importantly, there was the wisdom that stripped to its essential ugliness a system of society that dissipates, wastes and destroys wealth in order to make its rich richer while mentally and physically impoverishing the producers of that wealth. There was the vision of a new world, a world of dignity and equality where cash would not be the measure of human need. And there was the indignation, the anguish, even the pain—sometimes written in a spontaneity of anger that defied the discipline of well-marshalled prosody. Here was a text-book of revolutionary thought that showed the futility of the cause for which I was imprisoned and extended my vision beyond the empty rhetoric of nationalism.

During his lifetime Shelley had come to Ireland to protest at the misery of the peasantry. Some Irish nationalists have equated this with sympathy for Irish nationalism but Shelley, whose constituency was the toiling masses everywhere, did not subscribe to the myth that the English working class were the beneficiaries of English imperialism. Thus, after hearing of the Peterloo Massacre at Manchester in 1819, Shelley wrote the Masque of Anarchy in which he describes the contemporary condition of the working class in England:
Asses, swine have litter spread
And with fitting food are fed;
All things have a home but one—
Thou, Oh Englishman, hast none!
This is Slavery —savage men,
Or wild beasts within a den
Would endure not as ye do—
But such ills they never knew.
This poem, consisting of some ninety-one short stanzas of varying lengths was written at Leghorn in Italy. According to his wife, Mary, when Shelley heard how the military murderers had waded into a peaceful reform protest “it . . . aroused in him violent emotions of indignation and compassion”. According to some purists, that anger adversely affected the quality of the poem.

Whatever its poetic qualities, Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy must rank, from a working-class standpoint, as the most didactic of English poetical works. His verse castigates every rotten facet of capitalism: its law, its judiciary, its priests, its parasite class and the foulness of its oppression. His words bear the reader along the path of anger and frustration seeking, it would seem, retribution, revenge.

But Shelley, in an age when violence was the tool of revolution, was too deeply perceptive of the need for democratic action if the revolution which he craved was to realise his vision. True, he makes us angry, makes us loathe this evil that murders people for profit but, on the crest of our anger, he stops us:
Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood—and wrong for wrong—
Do not thus when ye are strong.
What then? What should we do when “we are strong”? Shelley, the democratic socialist says we should use the unassailable power of our numbers. Poetically, he says we should think . . . decide:
Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest, close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
(…)
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.
In 1888 Marx’s daughter, Eleanor, and her partner, Edward Aveling published an appreciation of Shelley under the title Shelley’s Socialism. The justification for their assumption is abundant throughout Shelley’s poems and prose writings.

In one of his notes to Queen Mab, Shelley quotes Godwin with approval: “there is no real wealth but the labour of man”. Prometheus Unbound, The Masque of Anarchy, Queen Mab, The Ode to Liberty, these, with his prose writings, his prologues, his sonnets and his songs chronicle the misery of the peasant and the wage slave but always, there is the optimism of the true revolutionary; the clarity of vision, as here in Prometheus Unbound, of a future where:
The Loathsome mask has fallen the man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king,
Over himself, just, gentle, wise.
In this passage from Queen Mab he criticises the way money contaminates all human relationships:
All things are sold: the very light of Heaven
Is venal; Earth’s unsparing gifts of love,
The smallest and most despicable things
That lurk in the abysses of the deep,
All objects of our life, even life itself,
And the poor pittance which the laws allow
Of liberty, the fellowship of man,
Those duties which his heart of human love
Should urge him to perform instinctively,
Are bought and sold as in a public mart
Of undisguising selfishness, that sets
On each its price, the stamp-mark of her reign.
He saw money, “paper coin—that forgery of the title deeds”, as capitalism’s instrument of theft; he saw slavery as a natural result of property society; he saw the poverty and alienation of the masses and, especially, did he decry the intellectual poverty and deception which capitalism inflicted on its wage slaves.
Richard Montague

Lamont's long wait (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “We have already weathered the worst of the storm and signs of stability are already appearing".
So said Lamont on 6 December . . . 1930. No, not Norman, but Robert P. Lamont, President Hoover’s Secretary of Commerce. As Marx once remarked, when history repeats itself the first time is a tragedy, the second a farce.

Following the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 industrial production in America fell continuously until by the second half of 1932 it had dropped by nearly a half. During this period the politicians and economic “experts” regularly predicted that the bottom had been reached and that recovery was just round the corner:
1 January 1930:  “I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring and that during the coming year the country will make steady progress."—Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, in his New Year message.
15 February 1930:   “The bottom of the business decline appears to have been reached.”—Cleveland Trust Company.
15 September 1930:  “Business appears to be turning the corner, and industrial activity seems to be increasing."—Cleveland Trust Company.
5 November 1930:  “The prospect is that by March unmistakable signs of business recovery will be available."—Standard Statistics.
21 March 1931:  “The business decline, if not already ended will end in the present half year, and be succeeded by general business improvement."—Harvard Economic Society.
27 May 1931:   “We believe that the worst of the industrial depression has been witnessed."—Standard Statistics.
18 October 1931:   “The depression has been deepened by events from abroad which are beyond the control either of our citizens or our government."—President Hoover.
26 October 1931:  "Important forecast: During the winter and early spring, business will round out the U-bottom trough."—Babsons.
1 February 1932:  “In our opinion, evidence now at hand strongly suggests that business sounded bottom in the last quarter of 1931.”— Babsons.
As in Britain over the past two years, these predictions were worthless. And for the same reason. Capitalism is an uncontrollable economic system which will bend neither to the wishes of politicians nor to the opinions of experts. But Marx was wrong. Not about slumps being inevitable from time to time under capitalism but about what happens when the same event occurs twice in history. The predictions of Robert P. Lamont in 1930 were as farcical as those of Norman N. S. H. Lamont today.

(The source of the quotes above is Faith, Fear and Fortunes by Daniel Starch, published in New York in 1934.)

What is capitalism? (1992)

From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just as some "experts” once justified the relations of feudal society as “God-given” and eternal, so today others seek to justify capitalism as an eternal state of affairs, holding good for all time. Why a small section of humankind should exclusively own, control and dispose of the means of life holding the rest of us to ransom, is a question we are encouraged not to ask. History, however, shows us that existing social relations are far from reflecting "eternal truths"; that society is dynamic, and that the society of today is just as much a result of socio-historical evolution as were previous social systems. A social and economic system comes into being through its ability to fulfil a useful social function. When it ceases to be of social use, it decays, and a new social system rises out of that decay.

In our present social system (which exists in all countries) the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, communication, etc) are monopolized 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 to satisfy human needs. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

The influence of the capitalist class over the minds of the working class is also powerful. From the early stages of our life, they try to shape our way of thinking through the institutional brain-washing machine. In the society we live in vast impersonal forces are making for the centralization of power and a regimented society. The role of the workers in this regimented society today is unacceptable. They experience themselves as a commodity, as an investment, their aim is to become a success, that is to sell themselves as profitably as possible on the market. Our value as people lies in our saleability
not in our human qualities of love, reason or in our artistic capacities.

How did the capitalist system of society evolve? This system came out of the decay of feudalism. In spite of the horrors of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, capitalism was a great progressive force, which reorganized and linked up the world, developed the means of production to their present day level where they can provide plenty for all. Capitalism has now fulfilled its usefulness. Now the time is ripe for the working class to move on, into a different system of society— socialism—prior to that they must understand it, want it and accept it.
Michael Ghebre

Letters: Sinead O’Connor (1993)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sinead O’Connor

Dear Editors,

It was wonderful to see the article on Sinead O’Connor in the January Socialist Standard. I wasn’t aware just how clearly she had come out about the money system, and it is very heartening to think that this stuff is getting discussed.

I had been more conscious of her strong feelings about the abusive upbringing of children. and your article has inspired me to set out my ideas about how the two areas relate to each other. I hope I can put this fairly succinctly.

To live under capitalism is to live for some other purpose than our own fulfilment, as Erich Fromm recognises. We strive and suffer, not to grow more fully ourselves, but to amass figures on a screen somewhere. Our lives only have meaning, and our needs will only be met, if someone else can extract some value from us.To live is to be used.

Does this not echo the reality of a child whose parents simply use her to carry their hopes and fears, and do not value her for who she is? Perhaps capitalism can be seen as a big abstract parent, telling us what we can’t have, punishing us for not being good enough. In the face of this system, our deepest needs have to be set aside as we try to satisfy its endlessly changing demands.

I have great respect for the Socialist Party’s realism in facing the fact that workers choose capitalism, that we arc often resistant to ideas of liberation, no matter how rationally argued. Perhaps our acceptance of such a punitive social system is merely our replaying in a different form our punitive childhoods. The resistance to change and new ideas certainly has a very rooted quality to it. I am conscious that you may react with suspicion to these suggestions on the grounds that 1 may appear to be saying “It’s not a matter of economics, but of personal insight”. But I’m not saying that. As long as we have a money system, leaders, coercion. countries, buying and selling and all the rest of it, then humanity will be held back from realising our true potential. and poverty and violence will remain endemic. What I am saying is that this personal dimension seems to me to be a hidden obstacle on the road to a truly free and humanistic society.

I am a parent myself, and no stranger to the pain of wondering if I’m being as supportive and respectful towards my children as they need me to be. Maybe sticking with what we know is a way of avoiding the fear of looking at who we are and how we relate to other people. Maybe the struggle towards a healthy society is connected with the struggle to become healthy individuals.

In any event, best of luck to you (and best of luck to Sinead O'Connor).
Peter Rigg
Nelson, Lancs

Reply:
Rest assured, we don't regard the ideas of Erich Fromm with suspicion. Quite the contrary, in fact—Editors.


Class War again

Dear Comrades,
It was a pleasure to read your article on “The Politics of Class War”. The subject was dealt with very sympathetically and I hope that any members of the CWF who happen to read it. take up your offer to discuss their views further.

Although the article stated that the CWF attracted the attention of the tabloids down South, I had never heard of them or seen any reference to their organization in the Scottish Press—although, admittedly, I am out of touch with political affairs.

Nonetheless, their viewpoint as stated in your article seemed familiar. About fifty years ago when 1 was active in working class politics, there was a European organization—I think they called themselves “Council Communists" or Spartacists (I can’t recall which)—whose literature was sold by a Glasgow organization the "Workers Open Forum”. The “Open Forum” was just that—an open forum which provided a platform for all shades of working class opinion. Every Sunday evening workers could go to the Open Forum and hear speakers from the SPGB. the SLP, the ILP, the CPGB, the Anarchist Federation, the RCP and the Labour Party. Its committee also organized debates between the various organizations mentioned. Literature from these organizations was sold at all these meetings. As you will appreciate there was little opposition from the “Telly" in those days and the meetings were well attended.

It was at these meetings that I obtained the literature of the Council Communists and, speaking from a somewhat snaky memory, I recollect that their views were similar to the CWF. The exponents of their case that I most remember were Anton Pannekoek, a Dutch astronomer, who dealt with philosophical and scientific matters, and Paul Mattick who dealt with economics. I remember them mostly for their articles in the Western Socialist.

I further recollect that they organized a meeting, either in Paris or Amsterdam, to which the SPGB was invited as an observer. The Executive Committee of that time (some forty or so years ago) declined the invitation. At the time I thought the EC were mistaken in their attitude but I can no longer remember the arguments.

Can it be that the CWF are the modern counterparts of the Council Communists? Whether they are nor not, I hope that your invitation to a dialogue is taken up.
Bob Russell
Glasgow


Reply:
As far as we know there is no direct connexion between the Council Communist group you mention and Class War— Editors.


Dear Editors,

Reading the October issue I thought I'd outline a few political points regarding Class War and anti-fascism, and the naive line of the Socialist Party.

I feel there is a great misunderstanding of the transformatory process, and the tasks to be carried out by the revolutionary working class. A revolution will entail new forms of power being used by the working class; both externally for the political struggle against the class enemy/counter-revolutionary forces, and internally for the control of anti-social behaviour (as I do not believe it will disappear overnight).

The sorts of working class active units I have in mind are closely related to the local workers councils or general assemblies. These decision-making bodies monitor the decisions made; and continuous action from, by and for the class is run by the local working class active units. Accountability in the struggle guides effective working class action on problems faced, and methods used in the past to see if they're working properly, and to devise new tactics if necessary.

“Punishment” may include violence if the class enemy is involved, and educative measures within the working class (historically this is the case). This does depend upon the particular situation facing the class though.

Also, no-go areas are not the only revolutionary strategy Class War has. I envisage widespread strikes, demonstrations, pickets, riots etc. Imagining that "the capitalist minority will be likely to cave in peacefully” is unrealistic, lacking historical backup, missing the range of bourgeois forces lined up against the working class, and the levels that they have dropped to and will drop to again.

You also misunderstand the nature of anti-fascist violence (back page, Socialist Standard, October), violence is only fascist if it is used with fascist ideas and intentions behind it. Anti-fascist violence is done with revolutionary working class ideas behind it, being one of the elements of revolutionary working class strategy.

Gerry Gable (bigwig of Searchlight) is against giving a (bourgeois) democratic platform to fascists; he recently said “I was in Germany recently and the coverage they were receiving was disgraceful. They would show young thugs attacking refugee hostels,' which was okay—it showed them for the mindless fools they are but then they would return to the studio and some well-dressed articulate neo- nazi would go on to justify these attacks in what some people would accept as a plausible fashion”. One of the working class anti-fascist strategies is no platform for fascists, the others being education and agitation.

Finally, I suggest Socialist Standard readers read The Coercive State by Hillyard and Smith. It’s a bit liberal but it carries lots of useful information on the "State of Democracy". Since it was published, however, things have got worse—people off the electoral register because of poll tax, etc. The message to be drawn is that we will never win on their terms.

I support Class War (and class warfare) because it is the war to end all wars!
Dave Clark
East London Class War 
London E8


Reply:
The danger in the "transformatory tasks” outlined is that the revolutionaries punishing, educating and guiding the rest of the population might well take on the authoritarian attitudes of a new ruling class. The only way to avoid this is to ensure that no revolution proceeds unless and until a majority of workers understand and want it. It is Class War’s failure to see the crucial importance of conscious majority action which could lead them, like "revolutionaries” in the past, into the rut of leadership tactics.

We do not agree that only intentionally fascist violence is fascistic. We are hostile to fascists, not least for their policy of dragging working-class politics into the mire of violence, and we shall play our part in defeating their pernicious ideology, using the force of scientific reason. (See the article "What the Fascists Need” elsewhere in this issue).

We have read the book which you recommend, which does indeed offer a piercing critique of the viciousness of the modern British state. For the record, one of its authors is a member of the Socialist Party and can therefore be expected to understand what the state is all about—Editors.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Old King Coal in His Labour Robes (1947)

From the February 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

January 1st, 1947, saw the opening of one of the funniest political farces for a long time, the inauguration of State coal mines under the National Coal Board: time must pass before the miners discover its tragic aspects. M.P.s who had sung the Red Flag when the law was voted presided over the unfurling of flags bearing the mystic emblem “N.C.B.” – an emblem the irreverent have already happily refashioned. Notice boards were erected at the pitheads informing the coal wage-slaves that the mines are now operated by the State “on behalf of the people.” Leaflets were handed out telling the men of the stupendous transformation. Meetings were held and speeches delivered, at one of which Sir Ben Smith, now a regional coal official, told his miner audience they had reached “the end of a road.” Enough time and energy were spent on publicity to have raised a hundred thousand tons of coal, and all of it based, it, seems, on the curious notion that if you really had removed a prisoner’s handcuffs and leg-irons and thrown open the gates of his prison, you have to tell him so in case it should look to him that to-day is just like yesterday.

Cabinet ministers graced a ceremony at the Board’s London headquarters and the Minister of Fuel. Mr. Shinwell, handed over a specially bound copy of the Act to Lord Hyndley, the Chairman of N.C.B. Mr. Shinwell spoke about the campaign for nationalisation having at last triumphantly reached its goal. He said a few words about the pioneers – Mr. Keir Hardie and Mr. Robert Smillie – though it is at least open to question whether those two, if they were alive to-day, would feel gratified at what has come out of their well-meant but mistaken labours for nationalisation. The workers asked for nationalisation because they thought it would mean higher wages, and security against speeding-up and unemployment. The industrial capitalists wanted cheaper coal for their factories and thought that unification and modernisation of the mines was the way to get it. The Labour Government has adroitly wedded the two by giving the capitalists what they wanted but under the name that appeals to the workers. The catch will disclose itself in due course.

At Horden Colliery, Durham, the secretary of the local miners’ union “dropped a hatchet into a hole dug in the ground under the National Coal Board flagstaff. They were burying the hatchet, he said, as a symbol that in future there would be no dispute between owners and men. It was the end of the old regime” (Manchester Guardian, 6/1/47). The hatchet is already being dug up again long before it has had time to rust, and it is obvious that some at least of the miners have no illusions. The National Union of Mineworkers, on January 2nd, issued a statement that the miners do not intend to abandon the strike weapon. The statement was issued, the Union explained, in order to correct “a mistaken impression” that had got into the Press (News Chronicle, 3/1/47).

Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P., informed the readers of his column in the Sunday Express that “capitalism has been deposed.” “A Socialist theory of long standing is being put to an acid test. It is that if private profit is taken out of an industry, and that industry is owned and controlled for the benefit of the nation as a whole, then the workers in it will exert themselves with increased zeal and enthusiasm” (Sunday Express, 5/1/47). Of course, the tongue-in-its-cheek Daily Worker (4/1/47) had to lend itself to the same game, with a report of a fall in absenteeism under the heading “State Pits Spur Miners to Record Turnout.”

Then to crown the farce one of the “people” who now own the pits was had up in court for stealing “coal worth 1s. 6d. belonging to the National Coal Board” (Daily Express, 7/1/47). The magistrate, binding him over, said “the coal was now the property of the King and stealing it was a serious offence.” Apparently the man had thought it at least equally serious that “he had no coal at home.”

A week later another criminal act took place. Someone unknown, either “as a prank or as an expression of hostility towards nationalisation,” had stolen the N.C.B, flag hoisted at Upton Colliery, Yorkshire. He had taken it “from the 50-foot flagpole which stands near the main offices.” The local miners’ secretary told a reporter “its disappearance had caused indignation among the 700 miners at the pit” (Manchester Guardian, 13/1/47).

Then, by contrast with the flag-wagging and jollifications, Lord Hyndley, Chairman of N.C.B., told some sober facts about the Board’s plans. Writing in the Observer (5/1/47), he mentioned the problem of “the closing of uneconomic pits and consequent transfer of labour,” the raising of £150 million new capital to modernise the mines, increase output and eliminate waste, and the likelihood that out of the proceeds of the industry some £10 million a year will eventually be needed to pay interest on the capital. (What Mr. Thurtle calls “taking private profit out of an industry” is thus shown merely to consist of calling profit by another name.) Of course, Lord Hyndley gave assurances that in all that is done to secure the production of coal “at the minimum cost,” due regard will be paid to the miners; but they will find that being speeded up, and being eliminated from their jobs by labour-displacing machinery, tastes just as bitter when served out by the capitalist State under the N.C.B. Flag as it does without those trimmings.

Looking to the future, it can be seen that the pressure to screw more and more production out of the miners will he accelerated as cheaper fuels come into competition with coal. The likely development of atomic energy is one and oil is another. The Manchester Guardian (2/1/47) points out that the proposed oil pipe line from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean “would make it profitable to sell oil here at, half the present price. With the cost of coal being what it is and transport on the verge of a great; development of the continuous combustion engine or gas turbine, cheap oil would deeply affect Britain’s industrial future.”

These developments will also deeply affect the miners, and help prove to them that, far from having reached the goal of Socialism which will emancipate them and other workers from capitalist wage-slavery, the struggle has yet to be waged. The ballyhoo surrounding the inauguration of State capitalism in the coal fields serves only to mislead them and to direct their minds away from the real issue that concerns the working class.
 Edgar Hardcastle

The Economics of False Teeth (1947)

From the February 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The prolonged dispute between the official representatives of the dental profession and the Government over the scale of fees for the supply of dentures to panel patients under the National Health Insurance scheme has brought the art of mechanical (as distinct from surgical) dentistry rather prominently before the public eye. A few days before Christmas Mr. W. J. Brown, M.P., shocked the members of the profession by publishing a statement of some of the main facts relating to the production of dentures and the pay of the producers (Evening Standard, 20/12/46). In the words of Mr Brown, “In the West End you pay anything from 30 to 40 guineas for a set of teeth. In the provinces from 10 to 15. Even under the National Insurance scheme the price is over seven guineas. But the actual cost of the material which goes into a set of dentures is only about 15s. The balance represents the wages of the mechanics . . . and above all, the profit of the dentist. For the mechanic, on an average rate of £5 to £6 a week, will make several sets of dentures in a week’s work.” Here we have a fairly neat summary of small capitalist exploitation in a handicraft.

Artificial dentures, unlike boots and shoes, and clothes generally, cannot be mass produced. There is no such thing as making for stock. Every set of dentures must be moulded to a pair of models taken from impressions of the individual patient’s mouth. Hence there is little scope for machinery in the production of dentures and the capital outlay on a dental workshop is small as compared with that on the normal run of productive establishments. A considerable number of mechanics, financially more fortunate than the majority of their fellows, have set up such workshops, but the provisions of the Dentists Act of 1921 prohibits anyone not on the Dental Register from taking impressions. Hence the mechanic working on his own account can only deal openly with a member of the profession and not with the public directly. He cannot therefore obtain the full market price for his commodity under normal conditions. Moreover, even in this narrow sphere, the middle-man has managed to insert himself, and a few fairly substantial concerns, employing, perhaps, a few dozen of the more poverty stricken mechanics, have claimed their percentage of the dentist’s profit.

As Mr. Brown points out, however, the 1921 Act has not prevented mechanics from repairing and even reconstructing existing dentures, and during the war a regular rash of repair shops has sprung up in most large centres of population. The dental profession have a shrewd and probably well-founded impression that behind the mask of the repair shop a good deal of illegal impression-taking goes on. Hence their desire to wipe out the repair-shops by means of a clause in the new Health Services Bill. Side by side with this effort they are demanding nine guineas as the price of a set of panel dentures (representing about eight hours’ work on the part of the mechanic), to which the dentist himself contributes about an hour of his time, although, of course, it is highly skilled labour. Whatever the outcome of the dispute, the position of the majority of mechanics will remain that of wage-slaves. Their direct or indirect employers are not agitating for higher fees in order to have the pleasure of paying more wages. During the war the small “ sectional organisations of mechanics, inside the larger bodies such as N.U.D.A.W. (and the Society of Goldsmiths, etc., in London), gained official recognition from the associations of professional men. Little serious effort has been made, however, on the part of these associations to compel their members to take mechanics seriously by respecting the terms of the national agreement. A temporary scarcity of mechanics has enabled them to force up wages in an endeavour to meet the rising cost of living. This appears to have reached its limit and even a Trade Union hospital such as Manor House has scrapped the grading scheme and adopted a wage scale which private employers are quite willing to pay. Bemused by the fancied advantages of “nationalisation” (in some form or another), the mechanics’ officials attach more importance to co-operating with their employers on public bodies than to improving their ability to defend their own interests. Under the new National Health scheme the wage-negotiating machinery will remain, as now, under the control of a Joint Council of masters and men with an alleged common interest in “the welfare of the craft” as a guiding idea.

Mr. Brown’s article leaves the reader with the impression that the legalisation of impression-taking by the mechanics would solve the problem; but the general poverty of the major portion of “the public.” (i.e., the working class) makes intense competition either for work or customers more or less inevitable. Any considerable increase of mechanics working on their own account would lead to a considerable number going broke and losing their savings, much as happens in other branches of production, etc., where the small man seems, on the surface, to have a fighting chance. The fight is short and the longest purse wins the day. Attempts to answer Mr. Brown in the columns of the Evening Standard followed on January 1st, 1947.

Lt.-Col. Drury, representing a group of dental surgeons, held up his hands in horror that an M.P. should boast of encouraging a defiance of the law and roundly declared that mechanics had insufficient knowledge of anatomy to take impressions. Unfortunately for the Colonel’s argument, the 1921 Act also placed on the register hundreds of men who, without calling themselves dentists, had for years been operating on mouths (as well as taking impressions) without any college training. These men, obviously, had no more access to knowledge of anatomy than the average mechanic. Further, it is obvious to any layman that taking an impression is not a surgical operation. It still seems to be true that the “professional” section of society are distinguished from the rest of the working class chiefly by their larger conceit.
Eric Boden