Monday, January 21, 2019

What’s new about Tory racism? (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Shock! Horror! Have you heard the latest rumour? According to the media . . .  according to "usually reliable sources", it seems that racists have been "infiltrating” the Conservative Party. Oh. the awful scandal of it. After all these years of tolerance and open-mindedness, the party at which Enoch Powell was once the most popular guest has allowed the whiff of racism to stain its reputation. Could it have been that when Margaret Thatcher made her 1979 speech about British folk feeling swamped by aliens, her harmless words were misinterpreted by racists who imagined — perish the thought — that she was trying to lure the "paki-basher vote” away from the National Front?

Well, now it is all out in the open. The political advisor to the Monday Club has resigned, staling that it has been taken over by racist infiltrators. A BBC Panorama documentary exposed the alleged manoeuvrings of Tory Action, a band of right-wing loonies who apparently resent the fact that Thatcher has committed the sin of appointing Jews as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Certain Tory MPs. including the last relic of the Empire. Harvey Proctor, are accused in a recent Young Conservative report of having close links with known racists, including members of several barmy fascist outfits, such as the National Front. The new Tory chairman. John Selwyn Gummer. has promised to take firm action (in the tradition of his predecessor) against any members of the Conservative Party who are discovered to hold racist views. Perhaps Gummer should make a study of Tory party history before he asserts with such self-righteous hypocrisy that his party would never tolerate racist infiltration.

Back in the 1880s there was a steady flow of immigrants entering Britain in order to escape from anti-semitic persecution in Russia and Poland. In 1894 the Marquess of Salisbury introduced a Bill in the House of Lords which was intended to diminish the number of immigrants entering Britain, that is, to increase the number of Jewish workers who would be destined to stay in Eastern Europe to face murder and persecution. By 1898 Salisbury was the Tory Prime Minister and a similar Bill was placed before the Lords by Lord Hardwicke, who declared that:
  It would be a very serious matter if the type of population which is now to be found in many districts of the East End. where there is a strong alien element, were to become at all a common type in the poorer districts of our large cities. It would mean, my Lords, that these classes would become to a great extent non-English in character, and that, both in physique and in moral and social customs, they had fallen below our present by no means elevated standard.
Tory racism was more explicitly expressed in 1902. when Major Williams Evans Gordon, the Conservative MP for Stepney —an area of dense immigrant settlement— moved an amendment to the Queen's Speech calling for control of immigration. His speech is too rambling to quote in full (it was made in the House of Lords on 29 January 1902 and is worth reading) but, to give an idea of his approach, here are some samples: "Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders . . . It is only a matter of time before the population becomes entirely foreign . . . The working classes know that new buildings are erected not for them but for strangers from abroad . . . A storm is brewing which, if it be allowed to burst, will have deplorable results". In order to encourage the brewing-process, Evans Gordon formed the openly anti-semitic British Brothers’ League and organised a rally at the People’s Palace in the Mile End Road. Stepney which, according to contemporary accounts, was identical in its racist style and content to the more recent gatherings of the National Front.

So influential was backbench Tory racism that, in 1904, the Balfour government introduced legislation to deal with "the alien problem”. This was opposed by most Liberals — although by no means all of that party were opposed to the racist sentiments of the government; for example, the Liberal MP. Cathcart Watson, referred to the Jewish immigrants as “the refuse and scum of other nations" (Hansard, 18 February 1903).

By 1905 Balfour’s Bill had been dropped. but the Tory racists were not happy. A number of capitalists in the West Midlands, for instance, were concerned that the introduction of cheap labour power into the East End sweatshops of London would interfere with market competition. In the by-election at Stalybridge in 1905 the Tories distributed a leaflet to all electors in which they tried to attack the Liberals for being "soft on immigration”:
  “Let them all come" is the radical cry. The radicals, by their obstruction to the Aliens Bill, are evidently glad to see all foreigners who are criminals, who suffer from loathsome diseases, who are turned out in disgrace by their fellow-countrymen, who are paupers who fill the streets with profligacy and disorder.
In the 1930s the Tories, who like to claim these days that they were the great opponents of Nazi anti-semitism, were busy trying to prevent Jewish immigrants from escaping from the concentration camps of Germany be entering Britain. One example of several was the question asked in the House of Commons by Edward Doran, the Conservative MP for Tottenham, on 9 March 1933:
  Will the Home Secretary take steps to prevent any alien Jews entering this country from Germany? Hundreds of thousands of Jews are now leaving Germany and scurrying from there to this country . . .
It must be beyond historical doubt that there were many German Jews — probably thousands — who were sent to their deaths by the Nazis because they had failed in their efforts to be accepted as immigrants into Britain and other countries operating racist policies.

In the 1950s British capitalism was in a period of expansion and it was necessary to import labour power from the Commonwealth countries. Most Tories dropped their old racist views, tempted to favour the idea of a multi-racial society by the knowledge that black labour power would be cheap and obedient. During this period Tory racism was relatively isolated, but still there were some who stuck to their gut feelings, such as Sir Cyril Osborne who declared that “This is a white man’s country and I want it to remain so" (Daily Mail, 7 February 1961). Racism was nothing new for the Mail, which, in the 1930s, had supported Moseley’s Blackshirt fascists. On 4 December 1964, Osborne was writing in The Spectator that "If unlimited immigration were allowed, we should ultimately become a chocolate-coloured, Afro-Asian mixed society. That I do not want”.

Osborne represented a strand of base Toryism which has always existed within the British ruling class. By and large it is not the outlook of the modern capitalist, who is prepared to exploit without caring about the colour of the workers’ skins. In the years of expansion the Osbornes were in a minority and most racists tended to form themselves into specifically anti-immigrant organisations, such as the League of St. George. At the same time there were a few nutters like Colin Jordan and John Tyndall who resented the defeat of Nazism and wanted to organise Nuremberg Rallies in Church Halls in Peckham; these outfits were regarded by the capitalist class as socially undesirable fools — a description with which socialists could agree.

In the 1959 General Election racism was not an issue, except in Brixton where the Tory candidate tried to win votes on an anti-black manifesto. It was in the 1960s that candidates for parliament began to see the tactical use of stirring up anti-immigration feelings in order to prove their patriotism. In October 1963 Sir Edward Boyle addressed a rally of four hundred Southall residents in which he promised that a future Tory government would set up special schools for Asian children in order to segregate them from the children of white residents. In the run-up to the 1964 election racism was used as a major propaganda weapon by several Tory candidates, especially in Birmingham and the Black Country. On 6 October 1964, Alec Douglas-Home made a speech in Bradford — specially chosen as an area with a large immigrant population — in which he defended Tory immigration policies by stating that:
 What had been a trickle of immigrants from the Commonwealth was developing into a flood. We saw that if it was not brought under control it would create very serious social and economic problems. . .
In fact, Home lost the 1964 election and it was the Labour government which was left with the dirty work — which it willingly undertook — of passing legislation designed to exclude non-white British passport-holders from entering Britain.

Workers need be under no illusion: the Labour Party has a record of carrying into effect racist policies when in office, even if many of their members are opposed to racism in sentiment. As for the Tories, they cannot stand before workers making pious noises about how much they are opposed to racism. Those of us with memories will recall the Smethwick by-election campaign, in which the Tory candidate pandered to the most disgusting racist prejudices; we recall the "rivers of blood” speech which won Enoch Powell a degree of popularity in his old party which few of its leaders have ever enjoyed; we recall the 1983 Tory Party Conference at which the likes of Harvey Proctor were canvassing support for their schemes to repatriate black workers. Indeed, these may be exceptions to the more discrete national chauvinism which infests the minds of more diplomatic Tory politicians, but there need be no doubt whatsoever that the Conservative Party includes within it a substantial body of opinion which is hostile to the idea of non-British people being allowed to live in harmony alongside British people.

Why does racism exist? Partly, it is a relic of the ideology which the British ruling class used to defend their imperial activities in the past; partly it is a reflection of outdated nationalism which teaches inhabitants of one country to believe that they are superior to others. The ruling class will use racism to divide workers when it is opportune to do so, and they will use immigrants as scapegoats when capitalist crises require workers to be thrown out of employment.

The Socialist Party is hostile to racism in all of its forms. Our Principles make clear that socialism will involve the emancipation of all human beings, without distinction of race or sex. For us, the division in society is between exploiters and exploited; all workers are our brothers and sisters, whatever may be stamped on their passports, whatever colour their skin happens to be. Socialism holds out the prospect of one world inhabited by one people, emancipated consciously and politically from the ignorance of racist thinking.
Steve Coleman

Abundance is Feasible (1984)

Book Review from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In his latest book, The Economics of Feasible Socialism, (published last year by George Allen and Unwin) Alec Nove, who has made his reputation as an expert on the Russian economy, sets out his ideas on the kind of “socialism” he believes to be “feasible” within “the lifetime of a child already conceived”. His sights are not set very high, as the only alternative to private capitalism that he sees as possible in this period is the sort of milk-and-water state capitalism that might be advocated by a Labour or even an SDP supporter. In fact Nove even recognises that there would continue to be “extremists” in his “socialism” who would denounce it as state capitalism and urge workers to continue fighting for higher wages and better conditions. Indeed there would.

But it is not this part of his book that is interesting but rather the first chapter entitled “The Legacy of Marx” in which he attempts to show that socialism as a moneyless, wageless, stateless world commonwealth is not feasible, at least not in the next 70 or so years. He declares his position right from the first page:
  I feel increasingly ill-disposed towards those latter-day Marxists who airily ascribe all the world’s evils to ‘capitalism’, dismiss the Soviet experience as irrelevant, and substitute for hard thinking an image of a post-revolutionary world in which there would be no economic problems at all (or where any problems that might arise would be handled smoothly by the ‘associated producers’ of a world commonwealth).
Nove seems to have in mind people like Sweezy, Mandel, Bettelheim and Bertell Ollman but clearly socialists also fall into the category of those towards whom he is ill-disposed, even if we are not exactly “latter-day” Marxists. As a matter of fact we are the only group of people consistently defending the point of view Nove sets out to demolish since the people mentioned above basically agree with him that all that is feasible immediately is not a moneyless society, but some sort of “transitional society” lasting for up to two generations during which money, wages, the state and the rest would have to continue to exist.

Nove summarises Marx’s position as follows:
  Marx appears to have believed that technical progress already made under capitalism had fundamentally solved the problem of production, but that the shackles imposed on the forces of production by the capitalist system prevented  ‘the absolute development of social productivity of  labour’, such as would make possible ‘continual relative overproduction’. Marx is well aware that needs expand with rising production . . . Evidently there would still be scarcity in relation to needs at first, but, it seems, not for long. 
  Let us define abundance as a sufficiency to meet requirements at zero price, leaving no reasonable person dissatisfied or seeking more of anything (or at least of anything re- producible). This concept plays a crucial role in Marx’s vision of socialism/communism. Let us observe the consequences of—and then consider the consequences of not—accepting this assumption. 
 Abundance removes conflict over resource allocation, since by definition there is enough for everyone, and so there are no mutually exclusive choices, no opportunity is forgone and therefore there is no opportunity-cost. The golden age, a communist steady-state equilibrium, will have been reached. Gradual change, growth, will be simple and painless. The task of planning becomes one of simple routine; the role of economics is virtually eliminated. There is then no reason for various individuals and groups to compete, to take possession for their own use of what is freely available to all . . . If other goods were as easily and freely available as water is in Scotland, then new human attitudes would develop: acquisitiveness would wither away; property rights, and crimes related to property, would also vanish, not because the citizens would have become ‘good’ by reading Marxist books but because acquisitiveness would have lost all purpose. In other words, Marx did not say that, under socialism, there would be no conflicts over the allocation of scarce resources (oil, fish, iron ore, stockings, or whatever) but that these and other resources would not be scarce.
Apart from one or two snide expressions, this is not too bad as an outline of Marx’s position, indeed of the general socialist position (since Marx did not invent the idea of socialism but merely joined an already existing movement, helping to clarify its ideas). If anything, it errs by painting too rosy a picture of socialism. For instance, while it is true that in socialism we will be able to meet everybody’s material needs, it is not the case that there would be “no mutually exclusive choices” in socialism.

A decision to produce so much of some reproducible good will indeed not be a decision to produce less or none of some other good since resources will be adequate to produce both goods in the desired quantities, but this does not apply in the case of land. A piece of land can only be used for one purpose—build a factory on it and it can’t then be used as a playing field—and this will continue to be the case in socialism. Such decisions over land use will have to be settled consciously and democratically in the light of the preferences of those concerned.

Nove, however, has an interest in painting socialism as a problem-less “golden age” so as to be able to denounce it as “millenarian”, “utopian”, “far-fetched”, “never-never land”, “religious”, to mention just some of the terms of abuse he employs against socialism in the course of his book. He is however honest enough to admit that to prove his case he must show that abundance, as “supply balancing demand at zero price” or as we would prefer to express it where resources are sufficient to meet human needs, does not exist and could not be made to exist within “the lifetime of a child already conceived”.

“It is my contention”, he writes, “that abundance in this sense is an unacceptable assumption”:
  Over a fifty-year worldwide perspective, even on optimistic political, geological and technical assumptions, it is surely far-fetched to imagine that there will be enough for all at zero price. Saturation of demand for particular products is possible, which might bring them into the same category as water in Scotland. But is it conceivable, can it be seriously envisaged, that the world’s citizenry would be able to take whatever they wanted (even ‘reasonably’ wanted) from the amply supplied public stores. . ?
As evidence for this view he can do no more than come up with such discredited prophets of doom as the Club of Rome and the Brandt Commission and a reference to starving millions in India and China! This won’t do and is unworthy of anyone who is seriously interested in investigating whether the world’s people can avoid millions starving to death and millions more being killed in wars and other conflicts such as will be the case if socialism and abundance are not feasible and capitalism and scarcity the only possibility for the next two or more generations.

The evidence is overwhelmingly against Nove’s contention that the world’s resources, and humanity’s knowledge of how to use them, are not sufficient to adequately feed, clothe, shelter and otherwise provide for the needs of its population. We could quote from any number of technologists, agronomists, nutritionists and other scientists, but will confine ourselves to quoting W. David Hopper writing in the special issue of the Scientific American on “Food and Agriculture” that came out in September 1976:
  It is important to recognise that the world’s food problem does not arise from any ‘environment’. The limitations on abundance are to be found in the social and political structures of nations and in the economic relations among them. The unexploited global food resource is there, between Cancer and Capricorn. The successful husbandry of that resource depends upon the will and the actions of men.
So abundance already exists potentially today and it is clear that every new technological development makes the case for socialism even stronger. Nove is on especially weak ground since he contends not only that abundance could not be brought about today, but also that it is unlikely to be able to be brought into existence within the next fifty years. But technical development will continue during this period and two important advances in particular can be expected.

First, the practical application of nuclear fusion in electricity generating stations (thus providing virtually limitless energy) and the discovery of an efficient system of storing electricity (which will allow, for instance, electricity generated in off-peak periods to be stored for later use as well as allowing other forms of energy such as the sun’s rays and the wind, to be converted into electricity and stored in that form). Arthur C. Clarke in the second (1973) edition of his Profiles of the Future estimated that the first of these advances would be achieved in the 1990s and the second towards the end of the 1980s.

We hasten to add that we are not suggesting that these advances in themselves will automatically bring about socialism nor that socialism could not be established without them. We are merely pointing out that the abundance is not at all “far-fetched” as Nove claims, and certainly not in the 50-70 years to come.

In his discussion of individual consumption Nove only sees two possibilities: either individual choice expressed through purchasing power (“voting with the rouble” as the Russian economic reformers to whom he is sympathetic put it) or some bureaucratic decision as to what people should be given to consume. He adds that even if the decision about what people should be supplied with for their individual consumption were taken democratically, this still would not be superior to the market since why should 5 per cent decide what the other 49 per cent should consume? So why not leave the choice, he asks, up to the individual? Why not indeed, and this is precisely what will happen in socialism, as Nove himself vaguely recognises:
  …no better method for arriving at consumer choice is known than that of allowing the consumer to choose, and (save on farfetched assumptions of ‘abundance’) this means choosing by using his or her purchasing power, by buying in shops. . .
In other words, if the assumption of abundance is not regarded as “far-fetched” (which, as we have seen it is not) then there is an even “better method” of ensuring individual consumer choice than voting with money: free access, where there is no regulation of consumption and where, as Nove puts it, “everyone takes from the common stores the amount that he needs, and he determines what he needs”.

As can be seen, Nove is attacking socialism as we (and Marx) understand it. His arguments are very weak, but the important thing is that people should have begun to discuss socialism—as a moneyless, wageless, tradeless world commonwealth—as at least a theoretical possibility. This helps get the idea of socialism into circulation and when people realise that abundance is not far-fetched but, on the contrary, within our reach, then they can realise that a world of free access, without either bureaucratic planning or a market economy, is perfectly feasible.

In this paradoxical way then Nove has unintentionally done socialism a favour.
Adam Buick

European Elections: an appeal (1984)

Party News from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades, an appeal for support. The Parliamentary Committee of the Socialist Party, with Islington Branch and other members, are organising to contest the forthcoming European Election. The chance to bring the socialist case to workers beyond our national confines should be of concern to all socialists. The manifesto is being prepared now.

The advantages of contesting elections arc obvious, especially to Islington Branch members, who have seen a steady growth of their Branch since the last General Election which the Party contested. Elections also focus propaganda activities at a time when politics is a matter of widespread debate. So let this Election be an opportunity for all socialists to rally in support of our efforts. A general meeting to organise our campaign will be held on Thursday 26 April at 7.30 at the Prince Albert Pub. Wharfdalc Road, London N1.

World Socialist Party of Ireland (1984)

Party News from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Belfast Branch of the WSPI is maintaining the high level of activity commenced in June of last year. The Branch meets on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month at the Ulster People's College, 30 Adelaide Park, Belfast.

In order to ensure the interest of visitors, a short public meeting on a pre-arranged subject takes place between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. and is followed by a Branch Business Meeting. Additionally, the Branch organises at least one Sunday meeting in the College each month. These meetings are advertised by leaflets, 3,000 of which are distributed door-to-door.

The Party has been trying to organise public debates—especially with organisations which mis-use the word “socialist”. All such groups and organisations have been challenged but, unfortunately, our opponents fight shy of this excellent opportunity to state their case! The latest refusal came from the Communist Party. Our secretary had written to the CP requesting a debate, and after many weeks we got our answer, verbally— through a CP member: the Communist Party was too busy! The thought occurs that maybe they are busy “boring from within"—a task they must be performing very quietly, especially since there is no “mass party” of Labour fakirs here. Beneath the political cowardice of the CP's response is the comforting thought that even their leaders must know that their record and policies arc indefensible.

Next month, the Party is putting on one of the special weeks of socialist activity that have now become a feature of our propaganda strategy. Comrade Coleman of Islington Branch of the SPGB will be our working guest and speak at meetings in Belfast and Derry—or Londonderry. if you like. By either name it is an area of the grossest deprivation and a fitting monument to the obscene system that creates the material conditions in which prisoners of poverty quarrel over the name of their prison.
Press Secretary, WSPI