Sunday, September 15, 2019

Who Wants To Pick This Bone? (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Grateful as we are to our guardians in Westminster who labour mightily to protect and nurture us we should not overlook that they also have human needs. Like a flexibly regulated system of claiming for incurred expenses. Like meeting the demands of flamboyant media producers to expose themselves to the nation’s reverential scrutiny. Like their need to relax the tensions of relentlessly legislating by giving way to laughter in the Chamber where their talents are displayed- laughter as a kind of therapy for them, side to side erupting in a booming, orgasmic release. Luckily there are in that august setting some who have a reputation for their skills in stimulating such pleasure. When any of these rise to their feet with the words “Thank you, Mister Speaker” they are not expressing gratitude for the opportunity to mouth yet another gabble of platitudes and evasions but are giving notice of the release to follow from their words. This is considered to be a useful, constructive way for Members of Parliament to spend their time.

Pleasing the Wife
The constituency of Wellingborough, Rushden and Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire is represented in the House of Commons by the Conservative Peter Bone, who can be relied on to entertain the Commons in the style to which they are accustomed by opening his contributions to their proceedings with mention of his wife: “This morning at the breakfast table Mrs. Bone was saying . . .” or perhaps “It would be a great help to my wife and the Bone household if . . .” Mysteriously, this reduces the MPs to frantic laughter, as Bone asks David Cameron to rule out any more contributions to a Eurozone bail-out or to agree that it is necessary to maintain the laws against blasphemy and blasphemous libel or to denounce gay marriage as “completely nuts” (a particular preoccupation of his; last month he strongly objected to Nick Clegg naming those with such views as “bigots”). Amid the hilarity David Cameron, perhaps wriggling on the hook in Prime Minister’s Questions, is able to get his share of laughter by a smoothly suggestive reply: “A very big part of my life is spent trying to give pleasure to Mrs. Bone” or “I wish my wife was easy to please as Mrs. Bone”.

From behind this screen of sickening drivel it may be difficult for Mrs. Bone to get herself noticed. She works as Mr. Bone’s Executive Secretary (at a top-end £40,000 a year) in which she rates herself “a one-woman focus group” who “listens to people on the ground” (which seems to include only those who agree with her). Mrs. Bone has political ambitions of her own, which were disappointed when her application to stand as the Conservative candidate for election as the local Police Commissioner was rejected on the emphatic terms that she “did not display a sufficiently developed understanding of what the job would entail and did not have a sufficiently clear vision of what she might do if elected” (requirements which might rule out her husband as well as a whole clutch of MPs). But the disappointed candidate was not put off; this, she sulked, was “bully-boy behaviour . . .  the party grandees wanted to get at Peter through me”. It might have been expected that the next step for her would be to resign from this collection of bullying exponents of the tactical underhand were it not that capitalist politics, with its competing ambitions and need to deny reality, does not operate with such consistent honesty.

And “consistent” Is not a word to be readily associated with this pair of wedded Tories.  Peter Bone’s first experience of trying to be an MP was encouraging for him when, standing in Islwyn against the hapless Labour leader Neil Kinnock, he recorded the highest ever Tory vote there. However he did not come up to this promise in subsequent elections in Pudsey and Wellingborough because he lost to swings notably worse, for his party, than the national trend. In fact when, in 2005, he eventually won at Wellingborough it was by 687 votes – a swing of only 2.9 per cent when the national swing was 3.1 per cent. Perhaps there was a message in this about him personally and his voter- averse style (in 1995 the Daily Mirror condemned him as “the meanest boss in Britain” in response to him paying a 17 year-old trainee 87 pence an hour). In action in the Commons, he was rated as a prolific speaker but in case this gave the wrong impression he was one of three who, according to The Times, “boost their ratings on the internet by saying very little, very often” with an example of one contribution of only three short sentences which was about the postmaster of the tiny Northamptonshire civic parish of Little Irchester. He is on record as describing the NHS as something which “would not be out of place in Stalin’s Russia” and for opposing regulations designed to give equal rights in goods and services to gay people. He could not have been surprised when, earlier this year, Tory MPs ejected him from the Executive of their mouthpiece, the 1922 Committee.

In February he opened a Commons debate on human trafficking – among the cruellest, most ruthless of crimes estimated to generate $82 billion a year, almost as much as arms dealing and drug smuggling. It is, in other words, typical of the capitalist system – savage and inhuman as it is driven by the all-dominant motive for profit and the abuse and waste of human life. It was inconsistent with this reality for Bone to offer the argument that an independent National Rapporteur – such as there is in Holland – would be more effective in keeping a check on the problem than the present slapdash system. Significantly he also supported his case on financial grounds: “ . . . it would do all the things we want at a fraction of the cost”. Peter Bone is one among many who claim an ability to manipulate a significant change in this horror. But in fact he is only likely to find a place in history as a feeble joker.

50 Years Ago: Betting Becomes Respectable (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the new legalised betting shops are off to a good start and working class punters adorned with the dubious honour of a mantle of bourgeois respectability wherever they can lose their fair day’s pay in a more dignified way; it may be timely to compare the old back street hole-in-the-corner betting dens of Manchester with some of the present chromium plated outfits blossoming forth under the new regulations.

No longer is there any need to slip surreptitiously down a back alley or dodge P.C. 49 and the Black Maria in a frantic effort to play up one’s pension or the rent on the elusive 2.30 winner; one awaits the result, jammed tight in a sweating mass of the unfortunate class of society, who never seem to tire of trying to gamble their way out of poverty, merely because they do not yet realise the cause of it.

Those repulsive conditions of working class punters, in grim contrast to the environment and atmosphere of Ascot lawns, etc., have given way, despite the hypocritical opposition of the men of God, to armchair betting in the main street betting shops, with loudspeaker commentaries, official receipts for all commissions, and rapid payment after results and the weigh in.

(…) [W]e point to the cause of all this gambling activity—the crazy profit system of production which divorces the producers from their products, leads them up the garden to chase shadows in State-organised lotteries, Football Pools and Bingo rackets, and the rest. This is typical of capitalism in 1962: but in a cooperative world of production for use, a money-less, class-less, trade-less community, gambling will cease simply because profits and losses, poverty, privilege and luxury will give way to the social equilibrium of production for use.

(from article by G. R. Russell, Socialist Standard, October 1962)

The Fear of God (2012)

The Halo Halo! column from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communicating with, and tending to the whims of the gods has always been a specialised business. From the earliest religious beliefs any human behaviour that might offend the deities and bring down their wrath on the whole community had to be guarded against. The task of interpreting the god’s words and satisfying their needs has always been entrusted to an elite caste of priests, oracles or holy men who jealously guarded their power and mysterious rites. And as gods have come and gone over the last few thousand years nothing much has changed in this respect.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church still try to maintain an air of mystery with their absurd rituals, robes, mitres and use of incense etc. Until recently the widespread use of Latin, too, helped to bamboozle their followers. Until the 1960’s it was used for all documents published by the Vatican.

“The language of the Roman Church is Latin. It is therefore forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in solemn liturgical functions” said Pope Pius X in 1903. And Pius XII declared “The use of the Latin language affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine”. Now the current Pope, worried about the decline of religious humbug and mumbo-jumbo amongst the clergy wants to bring it back.

This is just a harmless pantomime though compared to the bizarre and rigorously enforced blasphemy laws that are used to preserve religious authority in Islam, particularly in Pakistan. Can you imagine what would happen if a TV series like ‘Father Ted’ were to be made about a group of bumbling mullahs? Unfortunately the Islamic equivalents of Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack have never been very funny, and can be terrifyingly dangerous.

As this article is being prepared Rimsha Masih, the 14-year old girl who suffers from Down’s syndrome and was beaten up and imprisoned after being falsely accused by a local mullah of burning pages from the Koran, has finally been released after bail of one million rupees (about £6,200) was raised.

A Christian couple were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment after being accused of touching a Koran with unwashed hands. And a doctor in Hyderabad who threw away the visiting card of a pharmaceutical salesman found himself in serious trouble. The word Muhammad, part of the salesman’s name, was printed on the card. (Guardian online 19 August and 6 September).

But it’s not just the courts and mullahs who are terrified of blasphemers. In two separate incidents in Pakistan in 2011 Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down in the streets because they spoke out in favour of reforming the blasphemy laws. And between 1990 and 2010 in Pakistan, in addition to formal convictions, there were at least 34 extrajudicial killings of people accused of blasphemy. (Guardian 5 September).

And it’s not only in Pakistan where Allah strikes fear in the hearts of his followers. Here, Channel 4 has cited security concerns as the reason for having to cancel a rescreening of its documentary ‘Islam: The Untold Story’ which claimed there was little written contemporary evidence about the origin of the religion, and attracted over 1,000 complaints from outraged believers.

Why do the followers of such powerful gods feel so insecure?

Giggly Walking CCTV Cameras (2012)

The Proper Gander column from the October 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Making a hasty, ill-informed judgement about someone you don’t know is easy, thanks to the internet. You can post it on their forum thread or Facebook update, laugh, then hide behind your username and the ‘log off’ option. It’s not quite as straightforward as that in real life, as those taking part in The Audience (Channel 4) find out. In this show, a volunteer has opened up their life to the scrutiny of fifty strangers and a film crew. The volunteer has “a life-changing decision to make”, and will seek the advice of the others who literally follow him around for a week.

The first episode’s lamb-to-the-slaughter is Ian Wainwright who, being a farmer, has probably slaughtered a few lambs himself. Nice guy Ian slaves away on the farm owned by his two septuagenarian uncles, who can’t do much other than bark from their farmhouse chairs. Imposed guilt and family loyalty tie Ian to the long hours and little money. He knows he’s trapped, and that he’s not spending enough time with his girlfriend. So, should he find a new life with her, as this means leaving his uncles to an uncertain future?

The crowd of fifty start out like giggly walking CCTV cameras. They follow Ian to the milking shed, then the fields, then they meet the rest of his family, firing questions and discussing him along the way. Their initial snap judgements on his situation give way to a realisation that it involves conflicting viewpoints, and then there are tears as the decision looms. Obviously, the programme-makers milk all this for its emotional capital, much like Ian milks his cows. He takes the advice to leave the farm, and the producers must have been rubbing their hands with glee when he rounds off the programme by proposing to his girlfriend.

Maybe some choices benefit from having other people patiently look into all the pros and cons to come up with some reasoned advice. But it’s less likely that a situation will be improved by the manipulation and selective editing of a film crew. The Audience feeds on the fashionably alienated belief that if you have a problem, then the best way to get help is through a TV show.
Mike Foster

Meanwhile in Barnsley (2019)

From the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Washington DC was preparing for its bombastic military parade. It seems the US president had been inspired by his new friend in Pyongyang. Meanwhile, a few thousand miles to the east, another more modest, though worthwhile, procession took place through the streets of Hoyland Common, Barnsley.

Led by a brass band an invited group walked from the Saville Square pub where they’d assembled along a short route to an unassuming terraced house. The occasion was the unveiling of a blue plaque honouring Barry Hines, the author of A Kestrel for a Knave. Written in the 1960s, it became the film Kes directed by Ken Loach who took part in this event.

The honour of unveiling the plaque fell to Barry’s surviving brother who delivered a short speech about how the son of a South Yorkshire miner came to write the book that made his name. Speeches concluded and, following a final couple of tunes, instruments returned to their cases, it was time to return to the Saville Square for lunch.

In the foyer of the pub stood a full-size fibreglass version of the bronze statue, sculpted by Graham Ibbeson, which is to stand in Barnsley in Barry Hines’ honour. The money for this has been raised through a vigorous funding campaign led by Ronnie Steele and a dedicated group of volunteers. Beginning in January 2018, through a mix of crowd funding, the sale of bronze maquettes and live public performances by an eclectic mix of musicians, the statue has been cast and paid for.

It depicts the central character of the story, young Billy Casper, his arm extended with the kestrel perched on his hand. It presently stands in Barnsley’s new library, but the group intend that eventually it will stand on a plinth outside for all to see. Ronnie Steele gave a brief speech of thanks to all involved before declaring the buffet open. While people ate there were songs by performers Dave Cherry and Del Scott Millar, and Celtic-style traditional music by Barnsdale Hood.

There are a few political points to be drawn from this event. Common arguments against socialism are that people will not work for free and, as people are naturally greedy, free access to resources will result in people taking far more than they need.

The many, actually uncounted, hours of often quite tedious work by Ronnie Steele and his group to organise the campaign and events was entirely voluntary. The performers who gave their time to play at those events did so unpaid. All they required was a shared objective.

The buffet itself was greatly over-catered. However, people did not eat more than they wanted, each more than capable of deciding when enough was sufficient and then stopping. People had to be almost pleaded with to take remaining food away and then no one scooped up armfuls. Just a paper plate or two for family or friends who would appreciate the largesse.

And this is very much in the context of capitalism where selfish individualism is supposedly the driving force behind how people act. While this is not socialism of itself, it is a glimpse of possibility, that people without state or company direction can organise and act in a social way.

The world of mining communities as depicted by Barry Hines has gone, but the potential of the working class remains, if still largely untapped.
Dave Alton

Africa: Can it help feed us all? (2019)

From the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Africa’s Potential Bread Basket
‘It is people who make the world: the bush has wounds and scars.’ – a Malawian proverb
Global food security is one of the most serious concerns of our time. The global food system is at the root of many environmental and health crises.

Humans have made the African savanna their home since the dawn of time and have greatly affected the environment. People in pre-colonial Africa were engaged in hunting and gathering, agriculture, mining and simple manufacturing. Agriculture involved most people and there were many different systems of agricultural production in pre-colonial Africa, to suit the variety of conditions the people faced. Without modern machinery and modern inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides they were not, however, able to transform nature on a large scale and were to a large extent at the mercy of the land and the weather. Intensive agriculture makes it possible for populations to grow.

Today, Africa does not grow enough food to feed its own population and African countries have tended to satisfy their increasing demand through expensive imports from the global market. The agriculture sector in many African countries is in a perilous state. It’s a situation that results in discontent and unrest. It is stating the obvious that the solution to the food crisis in Africa is for Africa to grow more food. Africa does in fact have the ability to grow enough food not only to feed itself, but also to help feed the rest of the world.

Africa is host to 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, yet currently spends tens of billions of dollars per year on importing food. This figure is projected to shoot up to US$110 billion by 2025. Africa is importing what it could actually be producing. African countries export raw goods outside the continent to be processed into consumer products imported back into Africa for purchase. In essence, Africa is exporting jobs outside the continent, and contributing to Africa’s poverty.

The African Guinea Savannah is one of the largest underused agricultural land reserves in the world with less than 10 percent used to produce crops. An area twice as large as that planted to wheat worldwide – a swathe of land with potential fertility that runs from the coasts of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal eastwards to the Ethiopian border, then veers southeast to cover parts of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo before spreading across the continent over large areas of Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and western Madagascar. Population figures are hard to come by when looking at the savanna, ranging from two to over 100 people per square mile and roughly 45 percent live in urban centres. 

The Guinea Savannah zone covers about 600 million hectares, of which about 400 million hectares could be used for crop agriculture. Currently, less than 10 percent of this area is being cultivated. This region has the potential to feed Africa and send produce elsewhere. It features a warm tropical climate with 800–1,200 millimeters of rainfall annually, allowing for a growing period of 150–210 days. The variable annual rainfall and poor soil quality make this a challenging agro-ecological environment. It supports three main farming systems:

(a) the root crop farming system; (b) the mixed cereal-root crop farming system; and (c) the maize mixed farming system.

All have potential for increasing agricultural production. The zone is one of the major under-used resources in Africa. It accounts for about one-third of the land area in Sub-Saharan Africa and underpins the livelihoods of more than one-quarter of all African farmers. Maize is the most important cereal in most African countries and also serves as a staple food source for some 200 million people in the developing countries. People have farmed grains in this area for centuries. One could try to enhance productivity through increasing use of manure to better fertilize their fields. Or to be mixing creatively different crops together that complement one another, so mixing legumes with grains, for instance — the legumes fix nitrogen and increase grain productivity. But one that is not so dependent on fossil fuel inputs from outside of the area.

According to Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank:
‘There is therefore absolutely no reason for Africa to be a food-importing region. Africa has huge potential in agriculture, but, as Dr. Borlaug used to say, nobody eats potential… Unlocking that potential must start with the savannas of Africa.’
There is indeed no ‘absolute reason’ why Africa couldn’t produce enough food to feed its inhabitants, but there is a practical one: capitalism and its production for profit instead of to meet people’s need for food (and everything else).

However, there is a cautionary note. When land is cleared and cultivated, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from the soil, and the plants, shrubs and trees that grow there. The more densely the land is packed with vegetation, the more carbon is released when it is cleared. Nevertheless, if even a small fraction is turned into farm-land – some 16 million hectares – is transformed, it could set Africa up to decrease dependence on food from elsewhere, feed itself and contribute to feeding the world.

Research scientists are studying groundwater resources in order to understand the renewability of the source and how people can use it sustainably towards a green revolution in Africa.

‘We don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes during the green revolution that has taken place in Asia, where people opted to use groundwater, then groundwater was overused and we ended up with a problem of sustainability,’ said Richard Taylor, the principal investigator and a professor of Hydrogeology at University College London. Scientists are learning how and when different major aquifers recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting groundwater recharge for more sustainability.

Using the Guinea Savannah predominantly for agriculture will inevitably, as all agriculture does, bring some environmental costs, but agriculture can also benefit the environment. This ecosystem is delicate and it needs to be kept in balance.

People attribute Africa’s problem to overpopulation yet most parts of Africa are not densely populated at all with much lower density rates than many states in America. Yet there are those in the ecological movement who tend to focus on the population issue and concentrate on family planning. Hunger is not Africa’s inescapable destiny and it can be eliminated.

There is no such thing as benevolent capitalism. Socialists know that under capitalism attempts to change the way food is produced so as to fill the empty bellies of Africans will be thwarted by the international trading system and foiled by the national ruling class. But this land is our land and should be used to feed the people and not the greed of shareholders in Wall Street, the City of London or Shanghai.

What is required is the democratic self-empowerment of the workers to replace the exploitative global economic system of capitalism by socialism so as to be in a position to genuinely satisfy the food needs of the people. This is no fantasy but a practical, revolutionary proposition to live in a world without waste, want or war, and in which each person benefits from sharing in the fruits of the Earth. Hunger is not Africa’s inescapable destiny but it can only be eliminated by ending the capitalist system.

Mental Health: In a Mad, Mad World (2019)

From the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of us are likely to experience mental ill-health at some point or another in our lives. For some it might be a short episode of low mood, or feeling a bit fed up and will usually pass within a few days or weeks at most. While for others it may include prolonged periods of intense depression and possible suicidal thoughts. And in the most extreme cases, the ending of one’s own life.

So, what are the reasons that cause so many people to feel so hopeless and helpless as to feel that they have no choice but to take such a desperate measure as suicide?

The answer to this is of course a very complex one that cannot possibly be attributed to any one single factor affecting any one person’s life. For most people who feel there is no longer any point to their existence, the chances are that their problems and challenges feel insurmountable and impossible to deal with, and as such they cannot face another day of the relentless torture associated with their thoughts and feelings of perpetual misery.

Sometimes these feelings can be caused by biological factors that affect thought patterns within the brain, while for many these feelings are entirely as a result of environmental factors.

Chemical imbalances
The brain is an extremely complex and intricate part of the functioning of the human (and other mammals) body. Comprising some 86 billion cells known as neurons, it is the command centre of the nervous system that in turn controls the body’s sensory organs and outputs information to the muscles, which in turn control movement.

The brain is responsible for producing a number of hormones associated with pleasure including dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. They each in their own unique way and when in balance are supposed to maintain a healthy and happy state of mind and mood. But what happens when things go wrong?

For some people they will no doubt take matters into their own hands. That is to say, they will quite often try to alleviate their symptoms by self-medicating in order to induce some kind of relief from the stress and/or misery that they are experiencing. This might take the form of a quick puff on a fag or maybe something stronger like a spliff – which some medical professionals say may actually worsen the situation. Some may hit the booze, while for others a coffee and a cream cake might offer a quick fix.

Should things not improve it may well become necessary to book an appointment with the local GP. No doubt having waited for several weeks for your appointment to finally arrive, it may be that having discussed the matter with your hard-pressed doctor you will be presented with a prescription for any one of the myriad antidepressant drugs available in order to try and lift your mood by restoring the natural chemicals that are missing. A further appointment will probably be made and following on from that, if the meds have worked and some relief has been found then you will probably be advised to keep taking the pills, given a pat on the back and told to come back if the symptoms worsen. On your way out you will probably pass another long line of people with identical problems waiting for their 10 minutes with the Doc and another repeat prescription for their preferred choice of antidepressant drugs. While somewhere in the background, the big pharmaceutical companies who produce these drugs are laughing all the way to the bank.

Rising Problem
In Scotland alone there has been a significant rise in the rates of suicide between 2017 and 2018. Recent figures show that in 2018, 784 people took their own life, an increase from 680 the year before, with the increase in suicide rate among young people age under 25 in Scotland, the highest annual rate since 2007. While over the last 5 years, 3,560 people took their own life. Making the average suicide rate in Scotland for that particular period 13.4 deaths per 100,000.

James Jopling, Executive Director of Samaritans Scotland, said: ‘Suicide is preventable. And that means not just looking at access to mental health services, but also at how money worries, job insecurity, experiences of loneliness and disconnectedness can impact young people’s wellbeing … People of all ages reach out to the Samaritans for a wide range of reasons – some of the most common include worries about their mental and physical health, family and relationship breakdown and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Just under a third of people who contact Samaritans express suicidal thoughts and feelings’.

While these figures are but a snapshot of the picture in Scotland, the issues are the same the world over. And while each and every government or NGO attempts to solve these issues in their own way, there will never be enough resources available to deal with the epidemic that is such a blight on what the professional politicians and leaders like to describe and convince us is a civilised society, and the only one available to us. No matter how hard they try to dress things up with their many brainwashing initiatives such as ‘resilience building’, ‘managed expectations’ and ‘dealing with disappointment’, there can be no escape from the harsh reality and brutality that is the fall-out from the present global (dis)order, and root cause known as capitalism.

What can be done?
Regular readers of this magazine will be all too aware of the issues raised within this article, most will readily relate to its content and will need little advice or information about the underlying cause and affects that capitalism has on predominantly the working class (I would not be so foolhardy as to suggest that members of the capitalist class are somehow exempt from feelings of clinical depression). However there can be little or no doubt that the challenges faced by the working class are far greater than those at the top of the tree looking down.

So, what can and must be done to find a cure for this imbalance and exploitation?

Far be it from us to sound like preachers or motivational speakers – we’re sure you get enough of that bullshit when attending works seminars and such like. You know the kind of thing, everyone in a room for team building exercises, being forced to pair off with someone you don’t really like, or worse still, if you’ve drawn a particularly short straw, the ‘team leader’ – the company man (or woman) for whom the company is the be-all-and-end-all in their life.

Mental Health within socialism
Given that socialism – properly understood – has never had the chance to be tested anywhere in the world before it is almost impossible to know precisely how this new system of society will unfold. That said, we can be sure of one thing, it couldn’t possibly be any worse than it is for most of us under capitalism.

No more wars or terrorism, no more greed, hunger and thirst, no more decision-making based on budgets or cost effectiveness, no more social isolation or loneliness, seclusion or discrimination, no more choosing between heating or eating, and the list goes on and on and on.

With people throughout the world living their lives according to their own self-defined needs and in harmony with each other for the benefit of each other, there can be no doubt that slowly but surely as we all work together in order to reverse the damage caused by around 300 years’ worth of the destructive fallout from capitalism, people’s health, both mental and physical will improve dramatically as we all give and take our share of working together towards a truly civilised society, where no one will be left behind to fend for themselves. The elderly, the disabled, anyone born with a genetic condition and who may be predisposed to mental health issues, will all receive the best treatment and care without having to consider costs.

In truth, and for the sake of the continuation of our species, we simply cannot afford to do otherwise. 
Paul Edwards

The Review Column: Sonic Booms (1967)

The Review Column from the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sonic Booms
Let no one deceive themselves that the sonic booms over various parts of the country last July were inflicted as part of a test of people's reactions.

Firstly, it soon became clear that Wedgewood Benn's Ministry of Technology had not bothered to set up any machinery to gauge reactions to the booms, secondly the booms were nothing like what can be expected if supersonic airliners are allowed to fly overland.

If the development of other types of aircraft is any guide, the operators of the supersonic planes will want to fly them all day and all night, everyday and every night. The prospect which this conjures up is nothing like the single isolated crack of a small jet fighter in the middle of a summer afternoon, described by Wedgewood Benn as ". . . at an intensity well below that of supersonic airliners”.

Of course the booms provoked a lot of protest, but Wedgewood Benn, under fire in the Commons, had the answer to them all: 'Substantial sums are being put by this country into advanced aircraft, the financial success of which will in part depend on whether the aircraft fly from other people’s territory.'

The Concord, then, is no more than a typical product of capitalism. A lot of money invested in it; side effects unpleasant, probably dangerous; competition the driving force behind its production; no profit incentive to solve the problem of its effects.

In this situation, the comfort and safety of people on the ground are only a secondary consideration. There is reason to believe that the booms last July were not tests of our reactions, but the first step in getting us accustomed to the idea of them, in preparation for the days when they are banging off in earnest.

And this, let us remember, is what capitalism calls progress.

The Aberfan Tribunal promised that there would be no whitewashing. They produced a report full of memorable phrases (“bungling ineptitude"; "subterfuge and arrogance by the National Coal Board"; “eight years of folly and neglect”) and they laid the blame for the disaster, on the National Coal Board, its headquarters, its divisional board, and four of its officials.

In this, the tribunal followed the accepted pattern of all enquiries into disasters. Somewhere, somebody—a railway signalman, an airline pilot, a ship's captain—makes a mistake or breaks a rule. It is all too easy, afterwards, to point the finger.

Very few people care to wonder about the context in which the ‘mistakes' are made, the rules ‘broken’.

Only in passing, for example, did the Aberfan tribunal deal with the basic cause of the disaster, which was the very existence of the slag heaps, up on the mountain above the doomed village.

Tipping waste from coal mines is, after all, the simplest and cheapest way of disposing of it. In South Wales, the valleys cannot be used for the tips because that is where the pit heads and the houses must be built. So that the stuff is dumped onto the mountains, where it is a continual eyesore and menace.

Of course they could stop tipping but, as the tribunal said on this very point ". . . the reflection that to stop tipping could bring about the closure of the Merthyr Vale Colliery may well have led to the quick suppression of those doubts . . ."

Of course they could deposit the stuff underground but this, said the tribunal, was neither “technically feasible now nor economically practicable" (The Times estimated the cost of removing tip complex alone at £3 million).

Thus the tribunal accepted the economic confine within which capitalism’s industry operates. It accepted that anything which is not economically practicable must be rejected, it accepted that people must live in the constant need to work for their living. It accepted that, although a certain amount must be done to mitigate the hardships of this social set-up, in the end we must make the best of it.

The economic practicabilities of capitalism have a lot to answer for, in coal mining more than in most other industries. Aberfan was only the latest, if one of the most unusual, of the disasters caused by the ‘economic’ production of coal.

Lord Robens (as the Daily Telegraph of 7th August was unkind enough to recall) once said that the Labour Government in 1950 “washed the blood off the coal” which was normally on it when the Tories were in power.

After Aberfan it may be convenient to blame individual workers, employees of the National Coal Board. The true culprit is capitalist society—and there is still, after all, blood on the coal.

Sandys’ Racialism
One of the first to exploit the irrational fears the Detroit riots created was Tory former Minister Duncan Sandys. In a statement he called for a stop to all entry into Britain of what he called coloured people and added, for good measure, “including relatives of those who are here’’. We don’t know if Sandys has prepared a series of amendments to the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts which will provide immigration officials with a precise standard for judging who are to be considered coloured and who not. We doubt it. For Sandys seems just to be concerned with encouraging hostility between people with lighter and people with darker skin pigmentation.

Perhaps the most revolting part of Sandys statement read:
  The breeding of millions of half-caste children would merely produce a generation of misfits and create increased tensions.
The words breeding, half-caste and misfits seem to have been carefully chosen—with a view to stirring up hostility to so-called mixed marriages and their offspring. What precisely does Sandys mean by misfit? He may be subscribing to the old racialist myth that what they call race-mixing leads to physical and moral degeneration. Or he may just mean that such children will be subject to prejudice. Or perhaps he deliberately meant to be ambiguous; to suggest one thing while having a let-out if challenged. If he means that these children would be the victims of prejudice, we can only assume from the fact that his words encourage such prejudice that he thinks it a good thing; that he favours a virtual caste system under which the so-called whites are on top and the so-called blacks at the bottom. We can only suggest that as a former director of Ashanti Goldfields and other goldmining companies in Ghana he should be careful about biting the hands that have fed him for years. He should also be careful about talking of sending people back. Somebody might take his fancy French name as a reason to send him to Normandy.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What to read (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Besides Capital there are various other books and pamphlets that the student of Marxian economics might find useful. Marx himself summarised his views in simple language in an address he gave in 1865 to the First International. This was later published as the pamphlet Value, Price and Profit. The first five chapters deal with views that are no longer widely held if held at all, but from the sixth chapter onwards Marx explains his theory of value and exploitation. Engels, too, wrote a useful review of Capital for a German paper in 1868. Karl Kautsky, who did so much to popularise Marxism, tackled economics in his work The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx, which went through many German editions. This sticks closely to the form of the first volume of Capital but also incorporates material from the other volumes which were published after Marx’s death. Another German Social Democrat, Julian Borchardt, in The People's Marx, wrote what translators call "an abridged popular edition of the three volumes of 'Capital' " which, despite the limitations of such abridgements, is worth looking at. 

Perhaps the best original (rather than popularising) work in Marxian economic theory is Louis Boudin’s The Theoretical System of Karl Marx, written in the first decade of this century. This book is no simpler than Capital but it does deal very well with the various criticisms that sprung up after the deaths of Marx and Engels. The best pamphlet is without doubt John Keracher’s Economics for Beginners, published in America in the thirties.

Some of these works will probably not be available at local libraries but they are all in our library at head office.

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The pages of Capital reproduced on the cover are from the edition published by George Allen & Unwin, translated by Moore and Aveling.

50 Years Ago: Artists and War (1967)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world will never know what men of talent, of genius, who probably would have contributed their quota in the realms of art and literature, poetry and science,' have, through their masters’ orgy of futile organised slaughter, been crushed and destroyed in the ruthless progress of the ‘great war'. It is indeed a tragedy for the individuals and for humanity also.

* • *

To the Socialist it is pleasant to know that certain artists “continue their work as though they had never heard of the war which is now raging”. The spirit of art and that of the warrior are frankly antagonistic. One is creative and contemplative; the other is destructive, and thinks in terms of force. 
(from an article by ‘G’ in the Socialist Standard, September 1917).

How Workers are exploited (1967)

Click on picture to enlarge.
From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Law of Value holds that the values of commodities are determined by the quantities of socially necessary labour time congealed in them and that commodities, in the long run, sell at their values.

This Marxian analysis has stood the test of time. All other theories have been found wanting because they are, primarily, subjective rather than scientific. Two examples will suffice: marginal utility and supply and demand. There are no methods for measuring usefulness in any meaningful sense. Not all persons find fishing rods useful and the values of fishing rods are not governed by personal considerations. As for supply and demand, there still remains a value when supply and demand balance each other out, even though some economists maintain that there is a “natural price” when supply and demand equilibrate. Similar limitations apply to the "scholarly, profound” economic text books so popular today.

The evidence of experience has amply demonstrated that there is a correlation between the socially necessary labour time required by society as a whole for the production of commodities and the values of commodities. Both are not only measurable but labour, applied to natural resources, is the only source of wealth. (And this was recognised long before Marx’s time.)

Let us examine the unit of capitalist society: a commodity—an item of wealth for sale in the market. What distinguishes capitalism from all previous social systems is that buying and selling (the dollar bill) permeates every facet of life whether it be a rare art treasure or a loaf of bread; bibles or whiskey.

In the chart above, note the centre block. It represents the commodity. All items to the left of the block indicate hours (units) of socially necessary labour time. All items to the right of the block indicate units of value expressed in dollars.

For purposes of illustration, let us assume we are analyzing a $16 raincoat that took 16 hours socially necessary labour time to produce. Each hourly unit of labour time added $1 in value.

The manufacturer had purchased raw materials and machinery for the production of raincoats. The raw material that went into this coat cost $7 and the depreciation of the machine allocated to the coat was $1. It required 8 hours socially necessary labour time to produce the portion of the raw materials and machinery used up in making the coat. This $8 value was transferred to the value of the coat. It was a mere transfer because 8 hours socially necessary labour time was stored up in it before its use in the raincoat factory.

In order to convert the raw materials and machinery into a finished product, the manufacturer must hire labour power. Machines and raw materials, by themselves, are incapable of producing raincoats. It required 8 hours living labour to make this conversion. Living labour added $8 NEW value to the coat.

The total value of the coat is $16 produced in 16 hours socially necessary labour time.

In order to produce commodities, factory owners must buy such other commodities as raw materials, machinery and labour power (the muscles and brains of workers).

Labour power is a commodity owned by workers, who sell it in the market to capitalists. The value of labour power is determined in the same way as all other commodities: the socially necessary labour it takes to produce it, in other words the socially necessary labour time it takes to produce what a worker needs in terms of food, clothing, shelter, raising a family, training, minor luxuries, etc. This value is expressed in wages.

In the chart, the value of the commodity labour power is represented as being $4. At the end of 4 hours, the worker has created $4 worth of new value (replaced the value of his labour power). Everything should be even-steven. He had fulfilled his obligations and he should be through for the day.

But, lest we forget, labour power and labour time are not synonymous terms. Labour power is a commodity that the worker sells to the capitalist. Actually, labour power is really the only commodity that is exclusively his. However, once he sells it, it becomes the property of the capitalist to use as he sees fit. At the end of 4 hours, the raincoat is only half finished. The capitalist can only sell completed raincoats, which require 8 hours living labour to make.

Here comes the great discovery of Marx: How profits are made by selling commodities at their value and how the workers are exploited at the point of production.

The cost of production was $12 ($7 for raw materials, $1 for wear and tear of machines and $4 for labour power). The value of the commodity is $16. The 4 hours labour time the capitalist did not have to pay for are essential for profiting commodities and constitute the surplus value which belongs to the capitalist class. There is a doggerel called Surplus Value that goes:
The merchant calls it profits
  And he winks the other eye;
The banker calls it interest
  And heaves a cheerful sigh.
The landlord calls it rent,
  As he tucks it in his bag,
But the honest old burglar,
  He simply calls it swag.
Within capitalism, wealth assumes three basic forms: 1. Wealth, as such—things that satisfy human needs and social wants, part and parcel of that social animal, man. 2. In capitalism, wealth takes on the form of commodities — goods for sale in the market. 3. Likewise, wealth, within capitalism, also takes on the form of capital—wealth used to create more wealth with a view to profit. 

What is produced in capitalism is not primarily wealth to satisfy needs and wants (use values); it is surplus value for the capitalist class. It can be said that the capitalist class is a consuming class; it consumes the chief product of capitalism—profits. The workers, like the machines and the cattle, merely consume the necessities to keep them in good working order.

The ownership of the means of producing wealth (capital) rests in the hands of the capitalist class. By virtue of this ownership they are enabled to extract surplus value out of the sweat and blood of the working class.

The mechanism for accomplishing this objective is variable capital—the self-expanding capacity of labour power to create a value greater than itself. As noted above, the raw materials and machinery merely transfer their own value to the finished commodity. That is why they are described as constant capital. 

This chart serves a useful function in the movement for Socialism. It gives a visual picture of basic Marxian economics and presents a panorama of the Marxian Law of Value. For over thirty-five years it has been very effective for use in economic classes. It has been instrumental in encouraging further reading of the Marxian classics and paved the way for a clearer grasp of their contents.
Isaac Rab

The Source of Value (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
This article was first printed in the Socialist Standard in 1910
The proofs adduced by Marx in support of his contention that the origin and rise of capital can be traced, distinctly and indisputably, to robbery, fraud and violence, form only a small part, and by no means the most important one, of his profound investigations into social wealth production. The portions of his work describing so lucidly the process of the reproduction and accumulation of capital are for the purposes of proletarian enlightenment of even greater value.

Marx’s evidence as to the reproduction and accumulation of capital bears out completely his theories of Value and Surplus-Value. According to them only two factors exist in wealth production – natural objects and social, co-operative labour. 

Capital is part of the social wealth, of which the workers have been robbed and which is invested by its owners for the purpose of further robbery. Social, co-operative human labour applied to natural objects being alone necessary to produce wealth, it follows that the reproduction and accumulation of capital – a portion of social wealth – can exclusively be traced back to the exploitation of human labour.

The development of capitalist production causes ever-extending co-operation and productivity of labour, resulting in a gradual cheapening of human labour-power. Hence the proletariat, who alone produce all wealth, grow increasingly poorer, since their sole source of income is the sale of their labour power; while the idle owners of the means of production are accumulating more and more social wealth. 

So soon as it is conceded that to-day social labour applied to natural objects is the only source of wealth, the claim to the means of production – capital in present-day Society – by its capitalist owners can only be sustained on the ground of heredity or privilege.

Now whenever the possessing class find themselves in the dilemma of being faced by the irrefutable facts of history or economics, they mostly succeed, by means of their wealth, in getting the services of the strongest and most cunning of economic and political prize-fighters. But with the growing enlightenment of the toiling masses the attitude and methods of these “intellectual” pugilists undergo continual change.

Until a few years ago it sufficed for the capitalist class to oppose to the Marxian theory of Value (that labour applied to natural objects is the source of all Value) the utility theory of Jevons – according to which the value of an article depends upon its final utility, that is, upon how useful to the community another article of the same kind would be.

But as this final utility twaddle was exploded by Marxian writers and speakers, the theory was superseded by another utility theory – that of the Austrian school – the theory of marginal utility, according to which “the value of an article is fixed when one is debating whether it is worth while to obtain it or not, the decision arrived at indicating the utility of an article on the margin of production, viz., on the margin of doubt whether it be worth while to produce it or not”.

These two value theories of utility have, however, with the aid of the Fabian theory of “the rent of ability”, fully blossomed out into the “directive ability” so crudely championed by the capitalist economist Mr. W.H. Mallock, (A Critical Examination of Socialism).

Now while Marx in his Capital (p. 322) shows that “directive ability” is only “a special kind of wage-labour”, the Fabians agree with Mr. Mallock that it is an entity apart from wage-labour, possessed by a class of “great men”. Mr. Mallock considers that class to be the capitalist class. The Fabians hold that this ability is possessed by another (strange to say a third) class in society.

Mr. Bernard Shaw in The Times (2.2.1910) made an absurd onslaught on Mr. Mallock because of the latter’s alleged distortion of the Fabian “rent of ability theory”. Shaw, ignorant of economics, cuts a comic figure when he endeavours to instruct others on the subject. But this time he out-Shawed Shaw. Here is one of his “up-to-date pearls of wisdom”, taken haphazard:
  This is not a question of the difference between the Socialist and the anti-Socialist: it is a question between the gentleman and the cad. Lord Landsdowne has not asked for the hundred millions he saved Europe by making our treaty with Japan, and Lord Charles Beresford, if the German fleet attacked ours, would not refuse to conduct our naval defence unless the country were to be given to him as prize-money when he had saved it.
In order to flatten Mallock, Shaw hashes up his old balderdash, “Socialism and Superior Brains” in pamphlet form, and therein (p. 57) he gives the following definition of the Fabian theory of the “rent of ability”:
  He (your skilled economist) does not romance about capitalists inventing Atlantic steamers: he shows you the capitalist and labourer running helplessly, the one with his money the other with his muscle, to the able man, the actual organiser and employer, who alone is able to find a use for mere manual deftness or for the brute strength or heavy bank balance which any fool may possess.
So ignorant is Shaw that he does not realise that his criticism of Mallock amounts only to the pot calling the kettle black, and therefore tends to still further confuse the issue between Socialist and anti-Socialist.

Now Mallock states his conception of the theory of “directive ability” (A Critical Examination of Socialism, p. 40) as follows:
  “Though labour is essential to the production of wealth even in the smallest quantities, the distinguishing productivity of industry in the modern world depends not on the labour, but on the ability with which the labour is directed, and in the modern world the primary function of capital is that of providing ability with its necessary instrument of direction”.
All this confusion as to what are the factors operating in wealth production and the functions of the capitalist, or whether “directive ability” is an entity apart from the labour-power of the working class, is dispelled, and the issues cleared up by Marx in Capital, particularly in those chapters dealing with “Co-operation, Machinery and Modern Industry”.

The main reason so many seekers after Socialist knowledge remain reformers is that they do not realise that man is a social product and that wealth production throughout human history has been based on co-operation. With a thorough grasp of these primary Socialist principles no proletarian can remain in ignorance of the meaning of social evolution and revolution. In his efforts to trace the history of man as a social product he will discover the fact that society is an organism with its own laws of development and that the various stages of such development are determined by the evolution in the tools of production. And in his endeavour to gather evidence of the existence of the co-operative principle in human society, the worker will learn that the condition of the wealth producers depends entirely upon the ownership of these tools of production, that is, upon whether they are owned by the users, or by another class, to whom such ownership gives the power of exploitation and domination. He will also come to realise that a change in the ownership of the means of production cannot be brought about by any evolutionary process, but, on the contrary, must be accomplished, by the propertyless class, by a political revolution.

In order to be able to show that “directive ability” does not exist apart from wage-labour it is necessary to briefly summarise and illustrate here what Marx has so minutely and exhaustively propounded in Capital, particularly in the chapters on “Co-operation, Manufacture and Modern Industry”. 

In perusing such classical writings as Ancient Society by Lewis Morgan, The Origin of the Family by Frederick Engels, The History of Politics by Jenks, and other works by avowed bourgeois authors we learn that the principle of co-operation has throughout history – under savagery, barbarism and civilisation – prevailed in the production of human sustenance. Already in primitive communist society – among the red Indians who lived mainly by the proceeds of the hunt, in the Indian village community that pursued principally agriculture for its maintenance, and in the patriarchal peasant family which produced its own means of subsistence – labour was organised on co-operative lines. Under chattel slavery, where the slave rendered personal service to his master, under feudalism, where the serf was attached to the land and worked part of his time for the maintenance of his master and the other part for himself, and under handicraft, when each handicraftsman used a set of tools of his own to produce an article right out, the principle of co-operation was not obliterated but concealed.

As each producer was only able to produce a particular article of wealth, but required a variety of such articles for his sustenance, exchange of commodities was necessary, and though the principle of co-operation was hidden in the process of production, it was clearly brought to light in the process of exchange. After all, each commodity was the embodiment of one man’s activities, and therefore by the exchange of one commodity for another the exchange of men’s activities was continually taking place.

A close examination into the history of wealth production convinces us that Mallock and his supporters are speaking altogether contrary to fact when they assert that with the development of modern Industry, the capitalists, the owners of the means of production have developed a new factor, possessed by them, namely, “directive ability”, to which can be traced the origin of the greater amount of wealth produced. The records of history prove just the contrary. 

Whether we take the evidence supplied by Marx and Engels on the one hand, or by Adam Smith, Thorold Rogers and De Gibbins on the other, we find it all supports the contention that the owner of the means of production is only performing the function of superintendent in production while the same is in its infancy, that is to say, while it is in the stage of manufacture, where production is carried on with small primitive tools and by means of ever growing division of manual labour. And the aforementioned historians and economists further agree that as soon as machinery, steam and electricity are introduced into production, resulting in what we term “Modern Industry”, the capitalists engage their superintendents of labour in the same way that they purchase ordinary labour-power. In the modern factory, workshop or other place of production, the average superintendent is not a capitalist but a wage-worker, commonly called a salaried official, who, having as a rule no property, is compelled to sell his labour power to the capitalist. It is true that the salary paid to such official contains not only the price of his labour-power as superintendent of production, but often includes his pay as “hustler”, of the producers.

Marx, far from denying the need for a directing authority in modern production, emphasises the fact of its indispensableness. He writes in Capital (p. 821):
  All combined labour on a large scale requires, more or less, a directing authority, in order to secure the harmonious working of the individual activities, and to perform the general functions that have their origin in the action of the combined organism, as distinguished from the action of its separate organs. A single violin player is his own conductor; an orchestra requires a separate on.
But wisely Marx does not ascribe the ever growing productivity of co-operatively used labour to the directing authority, which, after all, is only a single organ of the social organism, and like all others, a social product, which society has nourished, clothed, taught and trained for the position it occupies.

And on the other hand, Marx does not ascribe the increasing productivity to manual labour alone, but proves that all activities, physical and mental, combined in one social co-operative mass, contribute to the production of wealth in society. To single out individuals – even the cleverest and most capable – amounts to an allegation that a man can exist apart from and independent of society. These points are brilliantly explained in the following passages in Capital. On page 311 we read:
  “Capitalist production only then really begins, as we have already seen, when each individual capital employs simultaneously a comparatively large number of labourers; when consequently the labour-process is carried on on an extensive scale and yields, relatively, large quantities of products. A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.”
On pages 315-316 we are told:
  “Just as the offensive power of a squadron of cavalry, or the defensive power of a regiment of infantry is essentially different from the sum of the offensive or defensive powers of the individual cavalry or infantry soldiers taken separately, so the sum total of the mechanical forces exerted by isolated workmen differs from the social force that is developed, when many hands take part simultaneously in one and the same undivided operation, such as raising a heavy weight, turning a winch, or removing an obstacle. In such cases the effect of the combined labour could either not be produced at all by isolated individual labour, or it could only be produced by a great expenditure of time, or on a very dwarfed scale. Not only have we here an increase in the productive power of the individual, by means of co-operation, but the creation of a new power, namely, the collective power of masses.”
And on page 319 Marx says:
  “The combined working-day produces, relatively to an equal sum of isolated working-days, a greater quantity of use-values, and, consequently, diminishes the labour-time necessary for the production of a given useful effect.”
and further on:
  “When the labourer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species.”
A cursory glimpse at capitalist production in modern times convinces us that the capitalist – the receiver of interest, profit and rent – has, as far as production is concerned, long ceased to fulfil any useful function whatsoever, and it is no exaggeration to allege that even the work of gathering in the interest, profit and rent is nowadays performed by paid menials – clerks, collectors or private secretaries. And if we occasionally find a capitalist seemingly engaged in work, closer enquiry always shows that his “work” amounts to nothing more or less than scheming how to more successfully exploit the workers. We possess, apart from the statistics of the enemy, practically no figures to prove how much surplus-value the capitalists are wringing from the toilers. The most recent census of production (1907) was taken deliberately to ascertain only the values produced and the number of workers employed in various trades. The Census Act particularly provided that salaries and wages were not to appear in the returns. But taking roughly the underestimated figures of capitalist statisticians for guidance, the surplus-value wrung from the workers in this country approximates 75 per cent of the wealth produced by them.

Now when we consider that the capitalists are not only useless members of society, but the worst of parasites on the social organism, with the result that millions of workers are either steeped in direct poverty or are on the brink of it, we see that the time has arrived when the toilers, realising their tremendous collective power both in the economic and political field, must consciously and revolutionarily organise for the overthrow of the parasite class and their own emancipation from wage slavery.
Hans Neumann

From the Socialist Standard, April 1910.

By the Way (1967)

From the September 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

In effect, a Labour Government has decided not to do much about the poverty in our midst. (Professor Peter Townsend in a letter to The Times 28.7.67).

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As far as the United States is concerned the search for peace in South East Asia never ends. (R. McCloskey, State Dept., spokesman, Washington 2.8.67).

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Soviet economists have in recent years worked out a theory of price formation for the present stage of our country’s development, and while much more has still to be done, already triumphant in the new prices is the scientific principle of the so-called socialist price of production. It embodies, besides cost price, labour inputs, depreciation of assets and capital investments. (Anatoli Klinsky, Learned Secretary, Economic Research Institute of the USSR State Planning Committee, The Times 2.8.67).

The Pace That Kills. (1913)

From the January 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Modern Street Traffic Problem Discussed.

A philosophy in a Nutshell
“Hurry on, please!” is the catch phrase of the day. It expresses the salient characteristic—with or without the please of every modern industrial centre, just as “Get on or get out!” sums up its brutal philosophy. In the roaring traffic of the highway, indeed, we have a vivid yet typical example of this “non-stop” age.

Take modern road traffic, then, as a case in point. It illustrates the rapid yet enormous changes forced upon society by economic development, and it shows unmistakably how little the hireling worker profits by the wonderful mechanical progress his physical and mental labour has made possible. The ubiquitous motor has made the dweller in the most distant hamlet familiar with its dust and dangers, but in London’s streets the “motor peril” now reaches its apotheosis.

Truly the motor is everywhere, but on the crowded roads of the metropolis its presence and speed have raised a problem for which the multitudinous highway authorities seek in vain a solution.

The streets are turned into slaughter yards, and it is no crime in the eyes of those who administer the law, for the motorist to slay the harmless passer-by. It is by far the cheapest form of murder, for it is scarcely too strong a statement to say that the motorist has practically been granted the right to slaughter any who dare to cross his path.

At inquests the motorist is almost always exonerated from blame—particularly if it is pointed out that he was sober. And even in those rare cases where this does not happen the penalty is a puerile censure, or a punishment ludicrously disproportionate to that which is inflicted when the murder is done other than with the aid of a motor.

Way for the Road Hog!
Above all the conflicting and hysterical statements anent the modern highways problem one thing is clear: that high speed is the chief bugbear. “It’s the pace that kills.” Exceeding the speed that is safe in the particular circumstances is the cause of most of the maiming and slaughter. Indeed, the law, ass though it is, nominally establishes a speed limit. Yet motorists habitually exceed that limit. In fact, travelling at the legal limit is stigmatised as a “mere crawl”. Moreover, it is not for the safety of the public that corners are rounded and roads widened and strengthened, but simply to allow greater speeds to be attained—with the inevitable consequence of a longer casualty list.

It is, further, an understood thing that the police never prosecute for exceeding the speed limit unless it is exceeded by over five miles, and very rarely even then. The car owner’s most frequent boast is of the speed at which his motor travels, and the rare fine is regarded as a certificate to the quality of his engine, and is a tribute to his childish vanity.

Despite the fact that most of those killed and maimed on the highways would still be safe and sound if a rational speed in the circumstances had been adhered to, representatives of motor associations fatuously assert that not high, but “low” speeds, are the concomitants of accident! And as though to support this risible doctrine, almost every motorist in the courts, contemptuous of the law relating to perjury, states his speed to have been at the time of the smash, between five and twelve miles an hour! That is the homage that vice pays to virtue!

Motoring magistrates are ever ready to condone the recklessness of the motorist, and sometimes even lecture pedestrians and cyclists on the nuisance and danger their existence on the road presents for the man behind the “petrol gun”! They reserve the vials of their wrath, however, for the urchin on a bicycle, whose crime was in enjoying an innocent “coast” down an incline at little more than half the legal speed limit for motors!

The Hog’s Grunt Translated.
To such a pass have things come that the attitude of the average motorist is practically that the roads are his property, and that all others are trespassers, to be hooted off. “Get off the earth or I’ll push you off!” is the sentiment expressed in the imperious howl of the motor syren.

Besides being the capitalist’s instrument of profit, the motor is now his chief toy—or at least it runs his “blonde” or his “brune” very close for pride of place in this connection—and to the arrogance engendered by the possession of the most powerful and speedy thing on the road is added the arrogance of wealth and class. The result is a growing contempt and intolerance on the part of the motorist toward the weaker users of the road, mitigated only faintly by spasmodic reprisals and agitations on the part of the latter.

But why go on? It is neither necessary nor advisable to recount at length the manifold abuses of the motor vehicle—the simplest statement of fact suffices.

Yet the petrol engine is a marvellously efficient instrument, and in its further development its possibilities are great for humanity. The simple question to be emphasised then arises—why should an undoubted mechanical advance spell greater discomfort, toil, and danger to the workers? It would be quixotic, or worse, to attempt to stop the development of motor traffic, and it would be equally futile to drag the red-herring of the individual “reckless driver” and the exceptional “road hog” across the trail. The trouble has deeper roots.

The chauffeur, for example, must obey his master or be supplanted by a more obedient servant. The taxi-driver must keep up the earnings of his cab or lose his livelihood. The employee of the motor-bus trust must keep carefully to his schedule times and maintain the earnings of his vehicle—indeed his wage depends on the number of miles he can run. Thus it is that other road users suffer who are too weak to cope with the powerful motor.

Inciting to Murder.
Among the weakest of road users is the cyclist, and, it so happens that the cycle is, above all others, the workers’ vehicle; and those who employ it as a means of getting to and from their daily toil, know full well how the danger grows. But the bus driver, held by the trust to an inelastic time table, with his livelihood endangered if the takings of his vehicle and its daily mileage fall, is economically compelled to make unscrupulous use of the power his motor gives him, to the detriment of others. Self-preservation makes him regard the slowly moving cyclist and pedestrian as obstacles to his livelihood, hindrances to the keeping of his time schedule, impediments to his speed in getting first to paying points on the route.

The type of mind engendered by such an economic position may be gauged from the complaint of a motor bus-driver, at a South London inquest on a victim, with regard to cyclists, that “he frequently had to give way to them”.

Not always, evidently. Indeed, when pedestrian or cyclist is killed, well, “accidents will happen”, and there is an obstacle less on the road, while after all, coroners are indulgent. If a cyclist is scared off, he becomes a passenger the more for the bus, and another source of profit for the trust—a trust which, by the way, has the sublime effrontery to pose, in an official letter to the Press, as jealous of its “reputation as the guardian of the public safety”. Gordelpus!

Of course, if every human being killed or injured by their agency was made to cause such a heavy monetary loss to the transport companies that it outweighed the profitableness of high speed and reckless driving, then the massacre would cease. But is anyone so simple as to believe this will be done? Can thugs be relied upon to prohibit murder? It is motor owners who legislate. What avails human life when put into the scales against dividends. Indeed, the attempt to make human life of more account than profits would be howled down as a dastardly, senseless, revolutionary attack upon the sacred rights of property.

A Profitable “Remedy”.
No. Whatever “reforms” may be inaugurated will not diminish, but may increase, profits. A limitation of further bus licences is already semi-officially foreshadowed, and worked for. This would mean the granting of a permanent monopoly against the public to the existing trust, and the exclusion of fresh competition, without any guarantee for public safety or convenience.

But is this question of the killing and maiming by motors the only one, or even the most important? Obviously it is not; and it is only dealt with here because it is but a symptom. It is true that nearly 150 persons have been killed outright by the motor-bus trust in the metropolitan area alone during the past year. That is terrible enough; but have not equal numbers of workers being sacrificed at one fell swoop in preventable colliery disasters—not this year alone but every year? And should we have heard so much about the motor-bus slaughter had it not suited the purpose of a set of officehunters to make political capital out of it, on behalf of that cheerless piece of humbug, “the people’s trams”?

There is, however, no need to belittle in any way the facts relating to the motor peril. They are appalling. But the rest is more terrible still. The one is but the manifestation of the greater evil, for the sinister result of modern traffic conditions has a deeper meaning than is realised or expressed by commentators in the Press. It signifies the growing pace and intensity of industrial life, the universal acceleration of production, and the decreasing value of the life of the worker when put in the balance against the pleasure or the profit of the class that owns the country. The huge and increasing size of industrial centres, and the greater distances between the workers’ home and the factory, the need for more quickly transferring labour, the greed of the rack-renter of the central districts, the knowledge that the workers’ “time is money” to the capitalist, the rush for profits of a transport trust, and the all-pervading atmosphere of hustle, recklessness, and speed that is engendered by capitalist greed and the ever-increasing world-wide competition—all these are symptoms of the deep-lying social malady.

It is not very long ago that miners were entombed in a burning mine by bricking up the mouth of the pit in order to save the property! No! the sacrifice of human life on the road is not an isolated phenomenon. The drowning of seamen for the sake of a few extra tons of cargo consequent on the raising of the load-line by a Liberal Board of Trade; the killing and maiming of an enormous and increasing number of workers in mine and factory for the sake of extra output and extra profit; and the toll of life taken on the highways for the sake of the profit or pleasure of accelerated transport, are all phases of the same fact. Men are the slaves of the machines they have created.

Modern machines, in their marvellous precision, complexity, and swiftness, bring with them the possibility, the material groundwork, of greater leisure, and the provision of the good things of life in ever-increasing abundance. Yet the only reward of those who toil is more intense labour, a less secure position, greater hardships and dangers, and a shortened life. Out of good cometh evil? Why? Because those who work are hirelings, while those who toil not own. The machine supplants the hireling, makes him redundant, and starves him instead of feeding him. The new machines and higher speeds only increase the wealth of the parasitic owner, enabling him to discharge more wage-labourers, reduce wages, and intensify toil. Thus it is that instruments capable of dispensing wealth and leisure to all, impoverish and overwork the many. Thus it is that the triumphant advance of technology has only carried our class on to ever more painful labours. We are victims of the machine only because we are the hirelings of the class that owns it. The evolution of industry leads us on, and we struggle painfully to adapt ourselves to its steps. Hitherto the workers have neglected the one needful step—the democratic ownership and control of all industrial machinery.

Speed and concentration are the order of the day. But the London transport trust, while it provides the example of the disease, hints at the only remedy. Industry after industry has developed to the trust stage, and has shown us plainly that since those who produce now run the machinery and organise industry—for absentee shareholders—they are demonstrably capable of running production for themselves! Surely the time when they will do so is near at hand! The need, the possibility, and the economic foundation of Socialism are manifestly present.

Industrial advance places the means of socialised production within the workers’ reach, and their daily trials and difficulties must open their eyes to the supreme need of realising that possibility, and of wresting the power to control from those who now usurp it. Then they will resume control of their means of life, becoming the masters of the tool of production instead of remaining enslaved; and will for the first time be able to utilise technical progress humanly and intelligently, to provide more leisure and a completer life for all.

But so long as class ownership remains, for just so long will the long list of killed and maimed continue to grow, and all remediable measures fail to keep pace with the break-neck speeding up of our daily tasks. Already we are becoming inured to the motor murders as to the butchery in other spheres of industry. The sudden development of the road motor “within the memory of a schoolboy” has struck the popular imagination, leaving scarce heeded other and more deadly fields. But soon this too will pall, and the great problem as a whole will only press more surely for solution.

Hustle and worry, then, will continue to be the worker’s lot; danger, suffering, and want dog his footsteps ever more closely, until, in the fullness of time, the scales shall fall from his eyes and he shall see how frail his fetters are. And when he feels his mighty strength, and at long last sees its obvious use, woe betide the parasites who have battened on his sweat and blood in the long night of his blindness and ignorance!
F. C. Watts