Tuesday, October 1, 2019

So They Say: Slow Learner No. 1 (1975)

The So They Say column from the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Slow Learner No. 1
It is said that a little learning is a dangerous thing. The self-inflated Conservative No. 2, Sir Keith Joseph, seems to have taken the maxim at face value and decided that he for one need learn nothing at all. In a paper delivered to the Foundation for Business Responsibilities on 11th November, he urged “the need for a greater public understanding of the wealth-creating process”. However, there existed, he felt, an unsympathetic attitude in Britain towards the whole concept of profit making and this attitude had to be changed if the entrepreneurs were “to be able to get on with their function”.

It seems fortunate that this particular good shepherd has decided it necessary to guide us from the “swarm of mini-myths” which have, he thinks, brought on such an unsympathetic attitude. Few, apart from Keith Joseph himself, appears to have escaped their influence—for in the course of his remarks he managed to accuse almost everyone of this failing, including trade unions, (other) politicians, successive governments, companies, the bulk of the workers within the education system, and the population at large. But in his view, one man more than any other was really to blame—Karl Marx. Joseph accused him of being “one of the greatest myth-makers in history”, pointing in particular to the greatest myth which Marx is supposed to have propounded as being:
  That private capitalism is exploitation, but state capitalism is freedom.
Guardian, 12th November 75
Although we can only speculate on the extent of Marx’s works which Joseph must have read to draw such a conclusion, we do know that when he debated with the SPGB in April of this year he was informed by our speaker:
  The SPGB never supported nationalization, which is state capitalism. Private or state makes no difference. We are Marxist. Marx’s conception of Socialism is a society where you do not have a wages system. There would be no prices or profits.
(Reported in Socialist Standard, June 75)
Considering the clarity of this position, and the mental muddle of Sir Keith Joseph, it would have been reasonable to expect him to learn something over the past months.

Perhaps Not
The New York Times published an interview with Sir Keith on 10th November in which he stated that Britain was sliding into a “Socialist Slumdom”. He wanted to know where the “Great” had gone from Great Britain.
  Are we to be destroyed by ideas, mischievous, wrongheaded, debilitating yet seductive, because they are fashionable and promise so much on the cheap?
Quite, Sir Keith. How long will it be before you stop informing workers that the British Government is made up of Socialists, and that your own particular brand of capitalism will run in the interests of workers any better than the Labour Party variety?

Stop Press
The royal commission on the Press is examining a proposal that a state-run printing corporation he set up, and has called for the opinions of various interested parties before deciding on the issue. On 10th November, the Communist Party of Great Britain put on what they considered to be an exceptionally respectable mask. Their head of publicity, Mr. George Matthews, expressed the view that the facilities of such a corporation should be available to a “wide range of democratic organisations, particularly in the labour movement”—but specifically opposed their use by the National Front.

The CPGB felt that facilities should not be available to those who produced material which incited racial hatred. Perhaps recalling that its parent body the CPSU stands accused of exactly this practice, he added the following qualification:
  We think that there would have to be criteria. There would have to be, first of all, justification by the body concerned that it was in the public interest.
Guardian, 11th November 75.
Which immediately raises the point—what is in the public interest? Both the ruling class in Russia and in this country have an answer—the continuation of capitalism. Having accepted this general premise, all that is left for the anti-working class parties such as the Communist Party or the National Front is for them to squabble over whose discrimination is more desireable. The CPGB seems to feel that workers are incapable of recognizing the dangerous futility of National Front propaganda—so much so that they are to be "protected” from their views. There is a reason, that of obscuring the issue. Workers who adopt a class attitude and recognize the real issues facing them as a class, soon see through the dangerous futility of other reactionary political parties including the CPGB.

Slow Learner No. 2
On the 5th November while others let off Catherine wheels, rockets and roman candles, Denis Healey attempted to ignite something which looked like a damp squib, but which he assured us was in fact the Government’s plan for the rejuvenation of British Industry. The proposals aim vaguely for an extension of state control in industry and are the outcome of consultations between the government, the trade unions and the Confederation of British Industry. They are aimed, equally vaguely, at preventing a plunge in British living standards “to the level of the Mediterranean countries”. The measure of success which the “rejuvenation” will have can only be assessed later, but one thing is clear, the position of the majority of men and women will be unaltered. They will remain members of the working class, dependent on a wage or salary in order to live. That is a simple fact which capitalism teaches the working class. Mr. Healey said regarding current economic problems and the projected solutions:
  We learn slow, but we learn good.
Guardian, 6th November 75
Workers should not be dispirited at his apparent inability to learn anything at all. We live under a social system in which working-class poverty is the norm; the history of capitalism has always shown this to be so. If Mr. Healey says he learns slowly, we can believe him, but the sooner that workers put their own interests first by working for Socialism and leave the tardy scholar to catch up later, the sooner the social revolution will take place.
Alan D'Arcy

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