Friday, January 25, 2019

Socialism Has Not Failed (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Crumbling Communism”, “Failure of Socialism”, “End of Marxism” these are the terms to which the media have echoed as the events in Eastern Europe have unfolded. Something certainly has crumbled in Eastern Europe but it has not been socialism, communism or Marxism. For this to have happened these would have had to have existed in the first place, but they did not. What did exist there—and what has crumbled—is Leninism and totalitarian state capitalism.

The Russian Empire
After the last war Russia extended its frontiers westwards by annexing parts of all its pre-war neighbours. At the same time it established a huge sphere of influence in Eastern Europe stretching from the borders of Sweden in the North to those of Greece in the South and embracing Finland, Poland, the eastern part of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria.

In all these countries except Finland, identical regimes were installed to the one which had evolved in Russia after the Bolshevik coup of November 1917: a bureaucratic state capitalism where a privileged class, consisting of those occupying the top posts in the Party, the government, the armed forces and industry and known as the nomenklatura, ruled on the basis of dictatorially controlling the state machine where most industry was state-owned, a situation which gave them an effective class monopoly over the means of production.

Finland was the exception in that, after directly annexing a large chunk of what had previously been Finnish territory, the Russian ruling class refrained from installing bureaucratic state capitalism in what was left. Instead, in return for Finland giving up the possibility of pursuing a foreign policy that conflicted with Russian interests, a parliamentary regime and a private enterprise economy similar to that in Western Europe was allowed to develop.

The satellite regimes installed by the Russian army after 1948 were maintained in power essentially by the threat—and in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 by the reality—of Russian intervention. At no time did the ruling class in these countries enjoy any degree of popular support; in fact what has been happening there could have occurred at any time since 1948 but for this threat. The reason it has happened in 1989 and not before is that, faced with internal economic and political difficulties, the Russian ruling class under Gorbachev has had to dramatically revise its policy towards its empire in Eastern Europe, and decide that it will no longer use its troops to prop up the puppet regimes there. Instead, it has informed the ruling class in these countries that they are now on their own and that they had better make the best deal they can with their subjects.

This is not to say that Russia is prepared to let these countries escape from its sphere of influence, but only that it is now prepared to allow the “Finnish solution” to be applied to them too; in other words, considerable internal autonomy going so far as a parliamentary regime and private enterprise capitalism in return for giving up the right to pursue an independent foreign policy by accepting Russian hegemony over the area.

Welcome advance
This is a startling development whose speed shows just how fast things can change and how the change to socialism could become a prospect sooner than many think. Who would have believed a year ago that by 1990 Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia would have a limited, but real, degree of political democracy and would abandon state capitalism for private capitalism (or, rather, for the same sort of mixed private and state capitalism that exists in the West)?

We welcome the fall in these countries of the dictatorial regimes which have dragged the names of socialism and Marx through the mud by wrongly associating them with one-party rule, a police state regime, food shortages and regimentation and indoctrination from the cradle to the grave. The coming of a degree of political democracy there is an advance as it extends the area in which socialist ideas can be spread by open means of meetings, publications and contesting elections and in which the working class can organise independently of the state to pursue its class interests.

Collapse of state capitalism
The fall of the bureaucratic state capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe and the demise of the ruling nomenklaturas there has relevance for another aspect of the socialist case. The events in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in particular confirm our long-held view that it is impossible for a tiny minority to hang on to power in the face of a hostile, informed and determined majority. Here hardline regimes, once it became clear that they could no longer rely on the intervention of the Russian army, collapsed in the face of mass popular pressure—fuelled by a determination, born of years of oppression, to kick out those responsible. 

In theory the East German and Czechoslovak ruling classes, who had shown themselves to be ruthless enough in the past, could have chosen to use physical force to try to maintain themselves in power—there is some evidence that a section in East Germany did consider sending in the troops to should down protestors—but  in practical terms this was never really likely. The rulers knew, through the reports of their secret police if not the evidence of their own eyes and ears, that up to 90 percent of the population was against them and that if they had ordered their armed forces to shoot all hell would have broken loose; the situation would have escaped from their control with a good chance of it all ending with them hanging from a lamp-post. So they decided to choose the lesser evil, as we can expect the capitalist class to do when faced with a determined, organised socialist majority, and negotiate a peaceful surrender of their power and privileges.

Private capitalism no progress
The ruling nomenklaturas in Eastern Europe are on the way out. In agreeing to give up “the leading role of the Party” and submit themselves to elections which they are bound to lose, as well as to the privatisation of large sectors of industry, they are giving up the means through which they exercised their monopoly control over the means of production. They are becoming mere politicians in charge of a capitalist state without the privileged control over production and the privileged consumption they previously enjoyed as members of a collectively-owning state-capitalist ruling class. Some of them may survive as politicians—given the tacit deal about doing nothing to harm Russian foreign policy interests there will still be a place for some pro-Russian politicians; others may be able to use the private fortunes they have accumulated to convert themselves into private capitalists, the group who are hoping to take over as the dominant section of the privileged owning class in these countries.

But a change-over to private capitalism would be no advance. There would still be a minority in society enjoying big houses, privileged life-styles and Swiss bank accounts, only these would be private capitalists instead of state bureaucrats. We therefore urge workers in Eastern Europe, if they are to avoid a mere change of exploiters, to go on and oppose the emerging private capitalist class with the same admirable determination with which they have opposed and defeated the old state-capitalist ruling class.

Socialism can only be democratic
As Socialists who have always held, like Marx, that socialism and democracy are inseparable and who denounced Lenin’s distortion of Marxism right from 1917, we vehemently deny that it is socialism that has failed in Eastern Europe. What has failed there is totalitarian state capitalism falsely masquerading as socialism. Socialism, as a worldwide society based on common ownership and democratic control of productive resources and the abolition of the wages system and the market with goods and services being produced and distributed to meet needs, has yet to be tried and more than ever remains the only way forward for humanity.
The Executive Committee,
Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Practical Socialism pt.1 (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any discussion of the subject of Socialism as a practical alternative to capitalism must begin with a clear idea of what is meant by socialism. The Socialist Party defines this under the three broad headings of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. By common ownership we mean an equal relation between all people to the means of production. By democratic control we mean that social policy and action will be decided by the whole community. Production solely for use will replace the present capitalist system under which goods take the form of commodities for sale on the markets. In socialism, voluntary co-operation will produce goods directly for needs without the intervention of buying and selling.

This definition clearly distinguishes socialism from capitalism and because the Socialist Party has maintained this as its sole political objective we are the only party able to consider sensibly how these principles of socialist organisation can be applied in the modern world.

Material Factors
At this point we have to be aware of some dangers in our thinking. Because socialism is a society which is yet to be established we might be tempted to think we have unlimited latitude in the way we consider the alternative society or that we are free to indulge our ideal personal preferences in a quite arbitrary way. This is not the case. In adopting a sound Marxian method, we have to accept that our thinking must be constrained by a background of existing material factors and unless we are guided by these we could lapse into a quite useless utopianism. Marxian literature contains extensive references to the difference between utopian socialism and practical revolutionary socialism. Marx and Engels wrote, for example, in The German Ideology:
  Communism [or socialism] is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established . . . an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions for this movement result from the premises now in existence (Lawrence and Wishart, 1970 edition, pp 56-57).
This is again emphasised later on:
  In reality and for the practical materialist, i.e. the communist, it is a question of revolutionising the existing world, of practically attacking and changing existing things. (p.62).
So Marx is here saying that to dream up some ideal state of affairs and then expect society to adjust itself to this futuristic vision is quite useless. This is not practical revolutionary socialism. The only sound method is to base our proposals on the present state of things. This shifts the focus of our thought and action from the “future” to the practical work of revolutionising the existing world.

In our own day, what are the important elements which constitute the present state of things? These are the conditions of the working class and the problems they face in their continuing struggle with the capitalists or the state. These also include the availability of the vastly developed powers of production, world communications, the administrative machinery and political institutions. Therefore practical socialism has to develop its proposals from the problems faced by the working class now and the material means which are presently to hand to solve them once released from the constraints of class society.

Marx’s Day
In criticising the utopians of his own day who based their ideas on highly abstract concepts such as the “essence of man” or “ideal man”, Marx did provide an excuse for them: “In Germany, a country where only a trivial historical development is taking place, these mental developments, these glorified and ineffective trivialities, naturally serve as a substitute for the lack of historical development.” This referred to the fact that capitalist industrialisation was at its most advanced in Britain and therefore Britain provided the conditions for a revolutionary socialist movement based on the realities of the class struggle. However, in world terms, this development was relatively local and Marx’s comment can also apply to the great difference between the position that he was in and the state of things as they now exist at the end of the twentieth century.

At the time Marx was writing relatively few of the world’s population were engaged in the class struggle between capital and labour and these workers did not have the vote. Now, the vast majority of the world’s industrial population get their living as wage workers. Goods are now produced by a worldwide structure of production. The development of world communications has broken down the barriers which separated peoples in the nineteenth century. In every sphere of life there has been a development of useful administrative institutions, including many world bodies. Millions of the world’s workers are free to organise politically. As distinct from Marx’s day, now there is not only a common interest in the establishment of socialism among workers throughout the world but the political means of attaining it exist together with the productive and administrative means of socialist organisation. So, in the nineteenth century the lack of historical development did not only apply to the utopians criticised by Marx; it was also a greatly inhibiting factor for him too when it came to putting forward practical revolutionary proposals for how socialism could be organised to deal with working class problems. What he was able to do was formulate the sound principles on which the work should be done.

Practical Movement
Marx also recognised that the success of the socialist revolution would depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas could only develop through a practical movement:
  Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution (pp 94-5).
A great deal has been made of the remark by Marx that he was not interested in writing recipes for the cook-shops of the future. His point was to emphasise his dissociation from those utopians who construed socialism as an ideal futuristic society. For Marx, a practical movement had to formulate its proposals and set its revolutionary objectives within the framework of possibilities and limitations given by the conditions of the here and now; and this was vital for the work of changing ideas.

These conditions have been vastly altered. As we now see, the limitations on revolutionary activity since Marx’s time have been greatly reduced and, conversely, the possibilities have been greatly expanded. As we are now active in a highly developed world capitalism which has established an adequate material basis for socialism, it is our task to apply the principles laid down by Marx in pursuing the work of revolutionary socialism. In this way our practical proposals for the re-organisation of society on a socialist basis can now support analyses of working class problems with descriptions of alternative arrangements developed directly from everyday experience. This is indispensable to the work of building up the socialist movement.

The key to developing our revolutionary proposals from the known facts of everyday experience is given by the distinction Marx made between the usefulness of production and administration on the one hand and the value factors which determine their economic mode of operation under capitalism on the other. When we say that socialism will produce for use, this will not be new: every society must produce for use. Marx put it as follows:
  So far as therefore labour is the creator of use value, is useful labour, it is a necessary condition, independent of all forms of society, for the existence of the human race: it is an eternal nature imposed necessity without which there can be no material exchanges between man and nature and therefore no life (Capital, Vol.I, Chapter 1, section 2).
When we argue that production in socialism will be solely for use, the word “solely” is an important qualification which accepts that production for use already takes place, but under capitalism is subject to the economic constraints of class interests. When we come to the question of how production solely for use will operate in socialism we begin with the fact that a world-wide structure of useful production already exists and therefore we already have a working model in front of us. The task is to identify the useful mechanisms which co-ordinate production and distribution now as distinct from the value factors of buying and selling in the markets, which under capitalism constrain useful production. In socialism, these useful mechanisms will operate on their own, freely and directly for need. In addition, our proposals for practical socialism should include the ways in which useful institutions and decision-making bodies could also be adapted from “the existing state of things”.

Pieter Lawrence

Special Powers in Northern Ireland (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Socialist from Belfast outlines some of the repressive powers at the service of the Unionist government of Northern Ireland, powers which have been used not only against republicans but also against Socialists.
“Troubles”, almost a euphemism when applied, as it frequently has been, to the violence and brutality that is our history, is never too far removed from the Northern Ireland scene. The state itself, comprising six of the north eastern counties of the Province of Ulster, is officially known as Northern Ireland but the government party (Unionists), who have ruled with a large majority, slightly and quite unnecessarily swollen by electoral malpractice, have a fondness for the term “Ulster”.

Since the inception of the state the Unionist government have had an Act of Parliament known as the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act, despised generally by the most mildly liberal under the title ‘Special Powers Act’. The excuse given for the Act is the continued existence of an armed threat by the IRA, though members of the government, when it suited their purpose and their audience, have derisively relegated the military prowess of the IRA to the mere ability to chop down a few trees.

In the early twenties and forties and again in 1956 the IRA did engage in armed attacks but only the most partisan could claim that they represented an effective threat to the state. Unionist apologists claim that the Special Powers Act rendered the IRA threat abortive but it is perhaps more pertinent to ask whether the IRA is responsible for the Act or the Act responsible for the IRA. Indeed it could almost be said that the SPA is the government’s way of reciprocating the IRA’s service of helping to keep it in power for, just as Government spokesmen preface their declaration with a reminder of ‘the threat’, so the IRA in turn, can cite the continued existence of the SPA as proof of their contention that Northern Ireland is an undemocratic, totalitarian state, maintained by force and coercive legislation.

It would need a very lengthy article to set out the powers of the government under the Special Powers Act. It is briefer, and as accurate, to say that there is little that they can not do within its provisions — or, indeed, outside those provisions — for a clause in the Act makes it an offence to commit an ‘offence’ not specifically covered by the Act but deemed by the ‘Authority’ to be contrary to the Act! The ‘Authority’ is the Minister for Home Affairs but he has powers within the Act to delegate his ‘Authority’ — thus making it possible for part-time policemen or ‘B’ Specials (exclusively Protestant para-military police) to become practical ‘do-it-yourself’ legislators.

Habeas corpus, right of trial by jury, rights of property, even post-mortem right to coroner’s inquest, in fact all the sacred cows of what passes for freedom in capitalist society, are ridden over roughshod by the Special Powers Act. Small wonder that the South African Prime Minister said recently that he would give all the repressive power of his ‘Suppression of Communism Act’ for one clause of Northern Ireland’s SPA.

It is typical of the Unionist Party’s lack of political sophistication that the SPA has become a permanent feature of law in Northern Ireland; that this mailed fist is constantly on display on Unionism’s political counter to shock the conscience of ‘democrats’ and reformers who begin their protest, not with an absolute denunciation of such power in the hands of government, but against the maintenance of such powers when they are unnecessary.

The reason the Unionist Party has not in the past been able to remove the SPA as an obstacle to its political respectability is that its membership is rooted in organisations like the Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory, both Ku-Klux-KIan-like in their opposition to anything other than Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, both mentally standing still since the days of former ‘troubles’. These are the people whose pronouncements can make or break even Unionist politicians, a political Mafia to whom the merest departure from the thinking of the last century is treason.

Despite its ‘justifications’ of the Special Powers Act, the government, is obviously embarrassed by the Act and, while they do not wish to incur the wrath of their more militant supporters in—and out of—the Orange Order, neither do they in this age of mass communication seek the further embarrassment that must follow the unsparing use of the Act. Hence, the vision of tyranny conjured up by the Act is a good deal wide of the truth and, indeed, the government is presently considering legislation to deal with problems arising out of the present disorders despite their almost unlimited powers under the SPA though, of course, it could be claimed that they (the government) are introducing legislation in order to avoid using the merciless SPA against their own extremists who are so obviously the architects of the present disorders.

But if the Act is used sparingly today it has not always been so. Given the excuse of a few IRA explosions the government has in the past shown no reluctance to use the SPA brutally and unsparingly. Police bullies—and, naturally, given such powers and answerable only to their own superiors, many policemen behave like thugs (as the graphic pictures taken during the police-sponsored Derry disorder in October last showed)—raided homes and showed faint regard for the occupants or their possessions; men and women were arrested and held indefinitely without trial and anything ‘deemed’ by the ‘Authority’ (‘delegated’) of course, to be possessed for an ‘unlawful’ purpose was confiscated.

But the Act has not only been used against those accused of militant republican activities: on one occasion four trade union officials were arrested and imprisoned during a strike under the powers given to the government by the SPA and members of most parties opposed to the Government have been harassed to a greater or lesser degree with its authority.

On the humourous side—and the ‘conspiracy-orientated' mentality of the political police has been known to create humourous situations!—the writer can recall an incident that occurred many years ago. A motor vehicle which he had parked was stolen and recovered some hours later by the police. Some weeks later he was “pulled-in" for questioning by the political police. After some verbal fencing with the Head Constable and Detective Sergeant who were conducting the congenial interrogation—they were anxious to know if the Socialist Party was making progress —the sergeant remarked that he had heard about the writer's car being stolen whereupon the Head Constable suggested the possibility of the theft being the work of members of the Communist Party in retaliation for attacks made on that organisation from our outdoor platform.

More serious were the occasions when members of the political police contacted a party member's workplace repeatedly leaving ‘messages' for the member to report at the local police barracks. On yet another occasion a party member’s employers were contacted anonymously by telephone, and advised of the members political associations—coincidentally, he had been questioned by a political detective on the day previous to the telephone call and had been asked the name of his employer!

Still more serious was the case of a young man who, some years ago, became interested in the World Socialist Party. A somewhat timid young man, he was pulled in by the political detectives of Glenravel Street Barracks, in Belfast. He was advised that he was being foolish in having anything to do with the Socialist Party and that he should steer clear of our local office. Later he was again pulled in and the same political cop who had ‘advised’ him against attending our meetings suggested that he should now resume attendance at our meetings and let him know what was ‘going on down there'. The unfortunate man was assured that his services would not leave him out of pocket. He was given the impression that he had fallen foul of a dangerous conspiracy and, such was the fear transmitted by the police officer, that for a time he tried playing both ends against the middle, all the time fearful of what we might do to him if we discovered he was a police informer. In fact, we used him to feed back the most remarkable stories! In the end he emigrated to America.

These and many more incidents that could be cited are of interest insofar as they demonstrate the repressive political climate in the Province and the attitude of the authorities to almost any form of organised opposition to Unionism, Every group or party, however, ‘constitutional’ in their political approach, is suspect and its activities curbed either by legal bans or police intimidation or by the authorities giving free rein to the hooligan element among the government's most rabid supporters. A good example of the last was when a visiting speaker of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, speaking on behalf of the WSP in Belfast, was attacked by Paisieyites. The police, made no attempt to prevent the attack or apprehend any of the attackers but instead immediately arrested the Socialist speaker—while the mob was breaking up the Party platform—and put him overnight in the police cells. A solicitor briefed to defend the speaker, being familiar with the local form, advised him to plead ‘guilty' to the charge as he would most likely be sent to prison ‘if’ found guilty by the Court. The following day an incurious magistrate fined the Socialist £10 on condition that he return to England immediately!

All this, however, is the mere reporting of events in one more of world capitalism's trouble spots. For the Socialist the tragedy of the Northern Ireland situation is in the fact that the working class are under the illusion that the outcome of the present struggles will in some way affect their condition. It does so but only insofar as it demonstrates the futility of yet another approach to the solution of their problems.

Like all reforms pressed forward to the point where resistance proves too costly or embarrassing to a capitalist government, the reforms demanded by the Civil Rights movement will be granted—and with them the illusion of change. More years of disunity and perhaps fratricidal strife will remain to confuse the workers and make easier the job of exploiting them. The reforms themselves, however justified, will be virtually meaningless for the working class for they leave untouched the real cause of the problems they are meant to solve.

Doubtless many of the very capable people who have come into prominence in the Civil Rights struggle will go into politics and it is even likely that a new political party will be forged in an attempt to unite the forces of opposition to Unionism. Regrettably, and confidently, we can say that such a party will be just another pawn in the game of capitalist politics, urging the working class to mortgage their most valuable possession, their votes, for the promise of the reform of capitalism and not its abolition.

This is why the World Socialist Party urges the young workers and students who have demonstrated their courage and organisational abilities in carrying through the struggle for reform to recognise the emptiness of their victory and turn their attention to the basic problem afflicting our world —capitalism.

We would indeed welcome them in the struggle for Socialism!
Richard Montague

World Socialist Party of Ireland: Election Statement (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Workers,

After months of demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, violence, fiery oratory and government indecision, the opinion of you, the voter, is being solicited in an attempt to solve the Unionist Party’s political crisis.

Doubtless you will be subjected to a spate of even more fiery speeches and emotional appeals by the politicians seeking your vote. To them your vote is important and they will devote a lot of time and thought to ways of getting it from you.

Might we suggest, then, that before giving your vote you, too, should spend a little time and thought on the issues that affect you, as a member of the working class, and the attitudes of the vote-seekers to those issues.

The World Socialist Party of Ireland is not putting forward candidates in this election because we feel that it is more important to devote our meagre resources to putting our case to as many workers as possible throughout the Province rather than confining our activity to one or two constituencies. Unlike our political opponents, therefore, our motives are beyond suspicion: our purpose is not to get your vote but to gain your attention in order to state our case.

No Change Expected
However enthusiastic you are in support of a particular candidate or party you know that their political success will not make any real change in your conditions of life. Yet that is what it is all supposed to be about: the speeches, the promises and the plans are all designed to persuade you that it all means something to you but, despite your enthusiasm, experience has taught you not to expect any real change and your only consolation afterwards is in the thought that it might have been even worse if the ‘other crowd’ had been elected!

It is true that in Northern Ireland the 'other crowd’ have always been kept out by the Unionist Party’s skilful manipulation of religious bigotry. You may be one of those who hold the view that the electoral success of Labour, or Liberal, or Nationalist, or ‘Communist’ politicians would reflect a substantial change, but all these ‘changes’ have been applied to capitalism elsewhere throughout the world and yet your problems remain those of the working class internationally. It is true that these problems assume different forms in the local conditions of their origin but all the problems of your class, including those that you may feel are peculiar to Northern Ireland, are duplicated throughout the world of capitalism.

The Nature of Your Problems
Let us take a look at you conditions of life and your problems as a member of the working class and try and trace the origin of those problems.

Whether you are a factory worker, high-salaried manager, teacher, doctor, dustman or scientist you are dependant on a wage or salary in order to obtain the necessities of life. In a very few instances that wage or salary may be sufficient to cover such needs as are consistent with the standard of life normally associated with your job or profession; in the great majority of cases it is wholly insufficient and in many instances it is pitifully inadequate. Whatever your wage or salary, however, one thing stands clear: you are a member of a social class whose members, in order to live are dependant on the sale of their mental or physical abilities to work and the wage or salary you earn is, generally, only such as will permit you to maintain your self and your family in the circumstances of your accepted ‘station in life’ thus assuring that you must continue to sell your skills or abilities. You are a member of the working class and, as such, we submit, you share a common economic interest with all other members of your class.

Your class problems range from dire poverty and social degradation on the one extreme to frustration and insecurity on the other extreme. It is your class that has to face the prospect of unemployment, has to live in slums and ‘working class dwellings’, has to continue with its nose to the grindstone of industry, has to face continual insecurity, has to rob its children of their childhood in order to push them through the mill of capitalism’s competitive ‘educational’ system of job apprenticeship . . . these are some of the evils of working class life and if you think about your own particular problems for a moment you will have little difficulty in relating them to the fact that you are a member of the working class.

The Other Class
On the other side of the social scale we have the capitalist class, the small minority of people who own not only the means and instruments for producing wealth but the very resources of nature which provide the ‘raw materials’, so to speak, of wealth production. The members of this class do not have to work, they can enjoy a life of wealth and privilege on the surplus value created by the working class.

This class owns, and by virtue of that ownership, controls all the productive resources of society; whether that ownership is through the medium of private or public companies or corporations or through the medium of bond holding in state or municipal enterprises, the capitalist class are the effective owners and controllers of the means whereby the rest of society lives.

Unlike ‘left wing’ reformers and moralisers, it is no part of our case to suggest that the members of the capitalist class are simply greedy or evil people: their greed is a vice of capitalism and is not peculiar to any particular class. We do not condemn capitalists, we condemn capitalism as a social system while recognising that it is an inevitable stage in the history of our social evolution. Nor is our condemnation based simply on the facts of its miseries—its poverty amidst organised waste, its degradation of human life, its wars, crises and all its other social failings: our condemnation is based even more on the fact that it has long since outlived its usefulness as a means of developing society’s productive resources and now only blocks the way of a sane alternative that can provide the material basis of a full and happy life for all mankind.

Parliament and the Law
Capitalism exists today simply and solely because you and your fellow members of the working class, who produce its wealth and endure its miseries, permit it to exist.

It is parliament that makes the law and it is the law that says it is legal for capitalists to own Nature's resources and the tools and instruments of production which the working class have produced. The law further enshrines the right of the owners of wealth production to use their property in their own interests— to produce wealth for sale and profit and not for the satisfaction of human needs.

When there is no profit in employing workers, in building homes, in clothing or feeding the needy the law does not require the owners of society’s means of production to provide these things nor does the law ensure capitalism when its profit needs create the conditions for crime, bad social relationships, violence and war.

In fact the law is made to suit the needs of capitalism and is relevant to the needs of the working class only insofar as such needs are compatible with the requirements of capitalism to disguise its function, keep down social discontent and prevent open rebellion.

That Vote
It is for the purpose of getting into parliament and tinkering with such law and its social and economic by-products that you are now been showered with speeches, promises and pamphlets by the various candidates and parties. You are being asked to give your assent to the continuation of the very system that denies you even the hope of a full and happy life!

What, then, should you do with your vote in the present election—accepting that all the candidates and parties, irrespective of their political labels and speeches support the continuation of capitalism? Well, let us first tell you about the alternative to capitalism, Socialism, and then see if we can resolve the problem of what you should do with your vote.

As we have shown, it is parliament which makes the law and it is the laws made by parliament that make possible the usurpation of the means of production by the capitalist class and the consequent enslavement of the working class. Obviously, therefore, it follows that if we are to change things the working class must organise for the purpose of electing its own representatives to parliament and making the means of production the property of society to be used solely for the satisfaction of human needs.

No Market
Given such a change, all the complex mechanism of the present market economy could be scrapped. Means of exchange, money, would no longer be required, hence wages and social classes would disappear as would the need for banks, stock exchanges, doles, most of the clerks, ticket clippers, insurance and sales agents and all the vast hordes of people whose present function is necessitated only by the existence of capitalism.

All could then enter into the co-operative and efficient activity of producing the requirements of the human family and, freed from the obstacles which capitalism’s buying-and-selling imposes on production, enough could be produced to satisfy the needs of all and all would have free and equal access to the fruits of such production.

Of course it sounds a staggering proposition! Conditioned as you have been to the vast complicated economic arrangements required by capitalism, you are as staggered as were those who once thought they lived on a flat earth when first told they lived on a globe! You can accept that members of the working class can run this society from top to bottom, can even formulate the tremendous mathematical data and technical knowhow to build a computer or send a man into space and yet you are staggered by the simple proposition that mankind can own in common the resources of his world and can use those resources to provide for his needs without markets, money and all the other useless and wasteful obstacles of capitalism.

Ample Evidence
Capitalism has provided us with ample evidence that it cannot be operated in the interests of society as a whole. All the schemes and plans of its political apologists have been tried and yet the old miseries prevail, sometimes eased a little by the politicians’ schemes and just as often aggravated by them!

Yet Socialism is a feasible proposition NOW! Its introduction is delayed not by the capitalist class but by the working class: it is your ignorance that prevails against it; your reluctance to look beyond the narrow limits of capitalism that keeps that system in operation; your vote that gives it legality.

Now, perhaps, we can look again at the question of what you should do with your vote when there is no representative of Socialism to give it to. If you accept the Socialist position you will realise that in giving it to any candidate or party in this election you are pledging your support for capitalism; but you can register your disapproval of capitalism by going to the polls and writing across your ballot paper the word “Socialism”.

Next Time . . . ?
Whether you make such a protest or simply refrain from voting, what is really important is that you join with us in the World Socialist movement and ensure that next time there is a Socialist organisation sufficiently strong locally to challenge the parties of capitalism at the polls.

#    #    #    #

Every Thursday evening from 8 to 10.30 p.m. the Belfast Branch of the WSP holds informal discussions at the branch room, 13 Queen's Square Belfast (beside Albert Clock). You are cordially invited.

Enquiries and free specimen Socialist literature from General Secretary, WSP, 13 Queen’s Square, Belfast.

The Catholic Church and the Pill (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mussolini’s massacre of the Abbysinians, Hitler's systematic murder of the European Jews, the American slaughter of Vietnamese—none of these atrocities, or others like them, caused more than mild rumblings in the Roman Catholic Church—and yet Catholics were deeply involved in all three. But the use of "the pill” has caused a series of explosions which threaten to blow it apart at its rotten seams. The contrast would be laughable if it were not so tragic. The Pope’s ruling on oral contraceptives has caused more Catholics to question the authority of their church than any other event this century. It has called forth more jokes than the Profumo affair. And the jokes and arguments have arisen because people are struggling to understand and digest a seemingly absurd situation. For thousands of Catholics it was a shock situation, because the pill seemed to offer the answer to all the objections that the church had raised to mechanical or chemical contraceptives. Many of them were already using the pill in expectation that the Pope would bless it, and there was a powerful lobby of bishops and influential lay Catholics urging the Vatican to take this decision. When finally, after long delay, and against the majority advice of his own Commission, Pope Paul’s encyclical forbade its use by Catholics, the reaction by Catholics and non-Catholics alike was close to incredulity.

That was seven months ago. Many non-Catholics have already forgotten it—or at least they would have done if it had not been for the way Catholics are still reacting. For many, particularly in countries like Holland, France and Britain, the resentment and disappointment have led to a continuing series of minor rebellions on other issues such as the celibacy of priests, the virginity of Mary, and the dominance of Rome. It is plain now that the Vatican must prepare for many years of dissent and controversy.

To Protestants who (loudly or quietly) detest the Vatican, it has been a matter for a certain amount of temperate glee. For non-christians and atheists it has given a satisfying sign that religion is losing its vice-like grip upon people's minds. Socialists, however, have found the whole pathetic comedy interesting and in a more complex way than it has been treated in the press and in casual conversation. Socialists oppose religion, including Christianity, not chiefly because it is wrong in its beliefs—this does not matter very much— but because religion is used as a powerful propaganda medium for persuading the working class all over the world to accept and even actively support the capitalist system which cons them out of all the wealth they produce, and uses it often in waste and violent destruction. The Roman Catholic Church, however, has always had a two-faced attitude towards capitalism because the Church’s period of greatest power and influence, over individuals and states, occurred in the feudal era, before the succession of capitalist revolutions swept through Europe. In its organisation and beliefs Catholicism is still largely feudal, but as capitalism triumphed, so the Vatican jettisoned those of its principles and practices which would have interfered with its wealth and political power. By withdrawing its condemnation of usury as a sin, the Vatican has become the world’s largest single shareholder—well over the £2,000,000,000 mark, and it remains the wealthiest owner of land and art treasures. But it fought tenaciously against the liberal elements in rising capitalism which would have cut its revenues, prevented its control of education, or interfered with its grip on the reading, the family life or the political allegiance of millions of Catholics. It is a fact that in all countries where the Vatican has retained major control capitalism has advanced least, living standards have remained low, and government repression has been ruthless.

This does not alter the fact that in Protestant countries the freedom of the individual which capitalism brought, and which the Protestant religions justified with their newer interpretations of Christianity, was chiefly the freedom for capital to exploit labour to the limit. Hard work became one of the greatest virtues (for the working class), and the freedom of the individual in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries included the freedom to starve. In other words, freedom is very valuable for those who have the wealth to enjoy it, but for most members of the working class, even today, talk of freedom is largely academic when it is set against their over-riding unfreedom—the iron necessity of selling themselves to a boss for the best part of their lives. In fact the long list of ’’freedoms” that capitalism has been responsible for all become double-edged when they operate within a capitalist society, because in so far as they make workers more free they also make them more available for exploitation. This applies to birth control just as much as all the other scientific and social developments of capitalism. The freedom to have children or not is an ironical gift when it means that a couple are free to have no children at all because they can never afford to stop or work or settle in one place. In Socialism, on the other hand, where there will be no classes, no exploitation, and no states, an invention like the contraceptive pill will really add to people’s freedom by giving them more control over nature and their own future.

On the surface some of the Catholic attacks on the use of the pill sound like socialist criticisms. For example Socialists can detect a measure of truth in the warning of the African R.C. bishop who asserted that the pill was being used as a weapon against the underdeveloped nations by the large industrial nations. But these are red herrings. Even if there were no such dangers the Catholic Church would still be opposed to anything which led to greater individual freedom and opposed to the pill in particular because it threatens to undermine the Church’s control over its members and its influence over governments. This was the real dilemma which made the Pope hesitate for so long. The pill, as the best contraceptive invented so far, has brought the Church into direct conflict with the march of modern capitalism. And, either way, the Church must lose. The bishops rail against the possibility that control of people’s sex lives may pass into the hands of the State, but this is because, for Catholics up to now, it has been in the hands of the Church. By prohibiting contraception as well as divorce the Church has ensured large families of Catholics—particularly important in the growing countries of South America; it has kept women tied to child bearing and rearing, and so economically dependent upon men and subordinate to them; it keeps fathers hard at work providing for such families or else in and out of the confessional box atoning for a succession of infidelities; and it keeps the sense of sin oppressive and ever-present. This not only reinforces the importances of priests but convinces the priest themselves that in living celibate lives they are not sacrificing a great deal. All of this would be substantially weakened if the Church allowed the dissociation of sex and childbirth by sanctioning the use of contraceptives. In fact the process of weakening has already begun, and it looks as though, by giving an adverse verdict after waiting so long, the Pope has set in motion a more rapid break-up of the Church than if he had approved. But sooner or later it was inevitable. Opposed to the pill, the Catholic Church is likely to be broken by schism; if it accepts it eventually, it will become a changed institution. Any institution which becomes an obstacle to the wages system will suffer in the same way. Catholicism backed the family and capitalism is changing the family. It may even dissolve it altogether. It needs women out at work, free and mobile like men—free to be wage-slaves. And the pill has hastened the process considerably.
Ron Cook

Now Mr. Crossman Re-organises Poverty (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the Beveridge Plan had worked there would have been no need for Labour’s White Paper National Superannuation and Social Insurance presented by Secretary of State for Health and Social Security Crossman at the end of January. For the aim of Beveridge’s National Insurance scheme was to abolish destitution and "make want under any circumstances unnecessary”. Now Labour admits that this reform which they themselves brought in in 1948 has failed. Beveridge had proposed that, in return for twenty years contributions, workers would have “earned" (could get without submitting to a prying means test) a pension that would at least be above the breadline. The post-war Labour government, however, introduced full pensions at once but these have always been below the official poverty line of National Assistance rates. In 1965, says the White Paper, a survey showed that if this had been only £2 higher “about three quarters of all pensioners would have been within the scope of national assistance”. It explains:
  When the national assistance scheme came into operation in 1948 its levels (including allowances for rent) were in most cases substantially above the level of national insurance pensions and benefits. From the start, therefore, hundreds of thousands of old people needed to supplement their national insurance pension with an allowance from the National Assistance Board. Supplementation had become the rule for those with little or no other income —not, as Beveridge’s ultimate objective, the exception. This situation has persisted ever since.
Labour has no alternative but to admit:
  It is clear in retrospect that the national insurance scheme, as it has developed over the last 20 years, has failed to achieve Beveridge’s main objective — adequate pensions and other benefits by right of contributions.
Beveridge and National Insurance have, in other words, failed to solve the problem of destitute old workers.

Let us pause for a moment and see why capitalism creates a poor relief problem. Under capitalism wealth is class owned and produced for sale so that if you want anything you must have the money to buy it. This presents no problem for those who own the means of wealth production since they get a free income as rent, interest and profit merely because they are the owners. It certainly severely restricts the choice of workers in jobs but at least they have their wages. But what about those with no property and no job—workers who are unemployed, sick, disabled or old? The government cannot really let them starve (at least not too quickly or obviously since it is not unknown for people even in Britain to die of starvation) and must make some provision for them if only to avoid bread riots. Over the years the poor relief has changed many times from the old Poor Law to so-called Social Security (a misnomer since it’s neither social nor secure). Whether the payments are made nationally or locally or after a means test or paying contribution for years their aim is the same: to provide those who would otherwise be destitute with an income however low.

Beveridge was commissioned in 1941 to report on the whole Poor Relief system. It only took him a year as the promise of “abolishing want” was needed as war propaganda. It has taken this Labour government somewhat longer as it is now over four years and three Ministers since they were elected and began their review. In November 1965 Wilson was speaking of “our proposals which will follow next year as a result of the searching review we are conducting of the social services”. But in 1966 the plea was again “next year”, and also in 1967, and again in 1968. This long delay had nothing to do with difficulties in finding whatever they were searching for. This was clearly one of those reforms sacrificed as Labour gave priority (as it had to) to cutting workers' living standards in order to secure foreign loans to help British capitalists solve their trading problems.

Labour first mooted the idea of earnings-related poor relief in 1957 in a pamphlet National Superannuation. The next year the Tories pinched Labour’s programme and brought in their own earnings-related scheme (providing full benefits only after 2000!). The Labour Party denounced this as “the Tory swindle”, a cry that was heard from their platforms up and down the country. The substance of their case was based on the illusion that national insurance contributions are a burden on the workers. The Tory plan, they said, aimed at making workers pay a larger share of the cost of their pensions.

It is true that workers do pay insurance contributions and taxes (though with PAYE they don’t have much choice) but it is not true that these are a burden on the working class. It is take-home pay which fixes how workers live and which they seek to maintain and improve. An increase in PAYE deductions as a decrease in take-home pay encourages workers to demand wage increases sooner and bigger than they would have. The Labour government realises this and their pension scheme, with its increase in contributions, can be seen as a bid to reduce workers’ living standards so that the capitalist state can have more money to spend on relief of the aged poor. Crossman has frankly declared that if workers demand higher wages to compensate for higher contributions the whole scheme will be “wrecked”. He is confident, however, that he can trick workers into agreeing to lower standards to help the financing of State poor relief.

The White Paper contains the amazing assertion, with no evidence, that “people do not want to be given rights to pensions and benefits; they want to earn them by their contributions”. There was a time when Labour used to argue that, as destitution in old age was not the responsibility of the workers but of capitalism, the cost of pensions should be borne by the state and the employers alone. The delusion of earned pensions, first created by the Tories in 1925, serves a dual purpose: it saves the state administrative troubles in sorting out who are the deserving poor and it serves to trick unwary workers into forgoing wage increases today for jam tomorrow.

Workers would be most unwise to fall for this though many, being unaware of their class position and of the possibility of Socialism, will find “National Superannuation” attractive. Surely, they will say, this is not something socialists can oppose?

We have already touched on part of the socialist case on reforms (they usually fail in the long run; they have to take second place to profits; they are stolen by openly capitalist parties). We can now go a little further. Of course socialists are in favour of workers who are off work, or retired, getting as much as they can from the state. But we do not campaign for higher pensions or sick pay, because we think that advocating reforms is a hindrance to the growth of the movement for Socialism (where those unable to work will present no problem since, with the disappearance of money, everybody whether working or not will have free access to what they need). For a Socialist party to advocate reforms is to run the risk of winning support for the reforms rather than Socialism and so of degenerating into just another capitalist reform party. Also, as the movement for Socialism grows so will capitalist governments be more willing to make reforms, so that the best way to get reforms is not to campaign for them as such but to campaign for Socialism. As the experience of the reformist Labour Party shows, if you ask for only half-a-loaf you’ll only get a few crumbs or perhaps a third-of-a-loaf. In this respect, it is significant that the proposals in the White Paper are less generous than what Labour promised both in their original 1957 plan and in the 1964 election manifesto.

There will always be the problem of old workers under capitalism and the state will have to devise some way of mitigating it. Labour’s “National Superannuation” aims to do this by reducing the take-home pay of the higher-paid so as to relieve the state of some of the burden of national assistance (now “supplementary benefit”). What we said about Beveridge in 1943 still applies.
  The Beveridge proposals will not solve the poverty problem of the working-class. They will level the workers’ position as a whole, reducing the more favourably placed to a lower level and putting the worst placed on a less evil level. This is not a ‘new world’ of hope, but a redistribution of misery 
(Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty).
Though one commentator, G. D. Gilling-Smith, has questioned whether Labour’s plan will in fact mean very much to the lowest-paid:
 Last but not least, this is not a scheme for the poor or for those who have already retired. There is to be a guarantee to review pensions for those already retired on a regular two-year basis but this merely puts on the Statute Book a practice that has already been carried out by successful Governments since 1948.
  If you earn less than £1,000 and your State pension does not meet your needs, you will still be able to seek an allowance from the Supplementary Benefits Commission, the successor of the National Assistance Board. For you the new scheme offers little except perhaps a slight reduction in National Insurance contribution levels at lower wages (Daily Telegraph, 29 January 1969).
It is not hard to see that Gilling-Smith is right when he says that under the new scheme there will still be some applying for further aid. For the basic pension formula is: 60 per cent of your earnings up to half "national average earnings” plus 25 per cent of the remainder up to one-and-a- half “national average earnings”.

The White Paper takes as “national average earnings” the figure for earnings of adult male manual workers in manufacturing and certain other industries (now £22 a week). They explain that this is used for “convenience”. Very convenient, yes, especially as this figure is way above the real national average! The Socialist Standard has many times exposed this figure as a fraud as it excludes many of the lowest-paid workers such as those in agriculture and catering. It also excludes women. The true national average is nothing like £22. Of course, if the government use this figure so much the better (it will mean that, in asking for more, higher-paid workers instead of “wrecking” the scheme will be getting bigger pensions for everybody, or perhaps that’s what Crossman means!) However, nowhere do they say they will and we suspect they’ll find some excuse for using a lower figure.

Nevertheless, even on their own figures we can show that people will still be below the breadline. Take someone whose earnings are £11 (half the alleged national average), the government’s figures say that after twenty years he would get a pension of £6.12.0 a week. The poverty line for a single pensioner is now £5.1.0 plus rent. So if your rent is above 31s. you could still get supplementary benefit. And there are many who get less than the £11. For instance, even in manufacturing industry average earnings for women aged 18 and over are only £10.19.0. And two-thirds of pensioners and 7 out of 10 of those of pension age on national assistance are women. Women are certainly going to need the “new deal” also promised in the White Paper!

National Superannuation is a reform in the organisation of poor relief made necessary by developments within capitalism, not least the continual rise of prices that has gone on since 1940 caused mainly by the currency policies of all governments.
Adam Buick

A Matter of License (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every ambitious politician feels the need to attract publicity. Not, of course, any sort of publicity—one M.P. got a lot of space in the press some time ago because the Russian secret police had photographed him, in a Moscow hotel bedroom, in what was delicately described as a compromising situation. Another is involved in the complicated scandal of John Bloom’s Rolls Razor Company.

The kind of publicity a politician looks for plays up to popular fears and prejudices and makes him appear as the man who looks after the interests of the people. Very often this means an M.P. will make a speech which, without any real evidence in support, simply repeats popular bigotries. This stimulates the bigots into thinking that the rumours, half truths and malice on which they have fed have some substance; the politicians is “only saying what everyone else thinks.”

It was this sort of reaction which gave so much support to the inflammatory utterances of Enoch Powell and which brought the dockers to the Houses of Parliament to unburden themselves to, of all people, Gerald Nabarro. This M.P. had already done enough to give him the respected title of the man who says what everyone else is thinking; he it was who asked, on the Any Questions? programme, whether anyone wanted their daughter marrying a Negro and perhaps leading to coffee coloured grandchildren.

There were, of course, many people who thought the real issue was whether anyone would like their daughter marrying anyone as pompous and offensive as Nabarro but they were swamped in the general chorus of approval of his remarks. Something similar happened when Nabarro made his famous statement last month that he had irrefutable evidence of the government’s intention to put up the road tax on private cars from £25 to £35 a year. Here again, a politician was repeating rumours which had been going the rounds for some time—as indeed they go the rounds almost every year as Budget time approaches. Nothing the government could say could make any difference; for most people there was no smoke without fire.

If this was a somewhat hysterical reaction, it was because Nabarro was playing upon a very sensitive nerve. The British working class have yet to recover from the shock of finding a few million of them running motor cars; most are still too dazed by the realisation of this pre-war dream be able to take a balanced view of the situation. The motor car is one of their most cherished possessions—if we can use that word about something which is often owned or subsidised by their employers or in fact is owned by the finance company who have put up the money for its hire purchase.

This does not stop a worker who runs a car often feeling that he has been lifted out of his class by it, or at any rate has one foot on the ladder. This has raised motoring into a political issue. People who cannot afford the money to buy a car outright talk airily of the economics of investing hundreds of millions of pounds in new roads, as if the most important thing in their life was to be able to motor as quickly, and in as straight a line, as possible between one point and another. And of course any move to make motoring dearer—to put up the price of petrol, tyres, the road licence—is viewed as a deadly assault upon the dream and so becomes a part of the politics.

There is yet another aspect of this. “Irrefutable evidence” said Nabarro and millions of workers were stirred by the phase. But just a minute. Does this mean that there will now be a widespread demand for irrefutable evidence to back up everything a politician says? Will the Nabarros of the world start a new fashion of establishing the strength of their evidence before they release their statements to the press?

Imagine the Prime Minister coming onto television to tell us that he had irrefutable proof of his impotence to deal with the problems of British capitalism, undeniable evidence that he had made false promises and that he and all his colleagues were tricksters? What if President Nixon, given a little time to settle in, said the same thing? If the rulers of Russian capitalism confessed they had proof that they were running a bureaucratic dictatorship which had nothing to do with Socialism?

Nabarro, with his sudden thirst for proof, would have to tell all those dockers that he stood for the class they are constantly fighting over wages and conditions. He would have to admit that the evidence says that skin colour does not affect a person’s capacity to learn, to act, to think nor to live in harmony with others and that there is no scientific reason against interbreeding. What he would have to say, were he to spell out the evidence about himself as a politician, hardly bears thinking about.

The confessions would not end there, Politicians would have to eat an awful lot of their words. What, for example, is the irrefutable proof on a worker’s social standing? He lives by the wage he gets by selling his labour power; this is not a gratuity from the employer. In the long run it is based upon what it takes, under average social conditions, to keep a worker alive and fit for work and able to reproduce. The point is that average social conditions are variable, from place to place and from time to time.

It seems too obvious to say that the needs of a worker in Siberia are different from those of a worker in South America; variations in climate, for one thing, give them differing standards of housing, food and clothes. What is perhaps less obvious is that social conditions vary with time. Human knowledge is expanding; the industrial ’results of that expansion lead to new products, new industries—and to a need for new markets in which the products can be sold.

This process can move faster at one time than another. Since the war it has moved pretty fast with the result that many homes have a car, television, washing machine and so on. The other side of the coin is the fact that, if these products are now practically established as part of working class living standards, this is often a reflection of new pressures upon the worker and of the intensifying of their exploitation.

Washing machines and refrigerators, for example, are actually needed in a family where the wife goes out to work, as she often has to, to balance the family budget. A washing machine is needed to do the job which a woman who works all day has neither the time nor the energy to do by hand. A fridge is needed because she has time only for one big shopping outing a week and has to have somewhere to store and preserve what she buys then. In the same way cars are needed by those workers who, because they cannot afford the rent or the repayments on houses near the industrial concentrations, are forced to live twenty or thirty miles away from their workplace.

The important point here is not simply that a worker gets a car to get a job to get a car. Nobody has yet found a way of halting what they call progress and this means that a worker in the meanest circumstances today may have built into his living standards something which, say, Queen Victoria never dreamed of. But this does not elevate that worker into the same class as the Royal Family.

Now what about Nabarro and his licence fee? Fundamentally a worker's wage, and the conditions which set the guidelines for it, are not affected by taxation. The price of petrol, for example, has gone up and down over the past few years apart from tax changes. And if the general, overriding trend has been upwards, then this is true of most commodities, including the labour power the worker sells for his wage, whether they are subject to taxation or not.

If, then, workers are concerned with their living standards, and with facts, they should spurn and despise the ambitious clowning of politicians. Let them look at the proof that they are endlessly fed with lies and promises and diversions, all of which obscure the fundamental facts of their social situation. If they will do that they will have ceased to make common cause with their enemies, and perhaps even started to identify their friends.

The Genius of Mr. Jack (1969)

From the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Julian Critchley wrote on January 6th, 1969 in The Times about the founder and joint managing director of Lesney Products, the makers of “Matchbox” range of toys, lorries and cars, a certain Mr. Jack Odell. To quote Julian Critchley: “Mr. Jack, he’s very popular. He’s one of the lads—or at least a driver employed by Lesney Products told me.” Between Mr. Jack and the rest of the lads there is a little matter of £35 million, the personal fortune which he has amassed since Lesney Products was founded by three ex-servicemen in 1947 with a capital of £600. For the record, the first factory was founded in the “Rifleman”, a disused public house in London’s Tottenham. There are now said to be 13 factories; a million square feet of manufacturing space in Hackney Wick and Leyton. The firm employs 6,000 people. In East London such has been its growth, it is popularly known as the "Lesney Wick” or the “Hackney Empire”.

Lesney Products is a business success story of classic simplicity. It sells 150 million toys a year. Its profits in 1967 were £3m. after tax. It has twice won the Queen’s Award for Industry, 1966 and 1968; 75 per cent of its production is exported, selling to nearly every country in the world, including such natural competitors in the field, as Japan and Hong Kong. Return on capital employed is 56 per cent and profit per employee is £500. The value of the company is £250m. (Vickers is less than £100m.).

Having really warmed to his subject Julian introduces us to Mr. Jack’s early life and since genius is nurtured by environment, it should perhaps explain the engineering skill of “Our Jack” (to be on familiar terms), and similarly the marketing flair of his partner, a certain Mr. Leslie Smith.

Says Jack, “In my obituary I want it said, I was a damn good engineer”. Our genius is 48 and was a working class lad born in East London. He was expelled from his council school whose name he can’t remember, at the age of 13 years, 9 months. Vague as to the reasons for having been expelled, he is sure it wasn’t for theft or for chasing the girls—“Let’s just say I was a bloody rebel.” At 14 he went to work for Simms Motor Unit and from then until the age of 20 he drove a van, worked in an estate agent's office and was a cinema operator. Note, up to now no hard slogging to acquire engineering skill for our rebel genius. In 1939, where we seem to have lost a year, Jack joined the Army serving in the R.A.S.C. "The Jam Stealers”, and in the R.E.M.E. Within the short space of five years the high rank of staff sergeant was achieved with the responsibility of repairing and maintaining fighting vehicles—what a pity they were not matchbox size, since they could have stolen up on Rommel without being seen on the desert terrain.

It is however a private on 3/- a day that we catch a glimpse of that developing engineering skill that was one day today to take British Industry by storm and set an example to all our working lads. Instead of living it up like his fellow squaddies in the notorious night spots of Cairo and Alexandria he took care to buy up spare parts for primus stoves, since, we are told, for a soldier a useless primus is a disaster, nothing can be cooked and nothing can be brewed up. Jack became a spare time primus repairer and by the end of the war had saved up by hard graft £300 with which, on returning home he was able to marry. Let’s hope you get the point. The secret of the British Victory in the Middle East was not due to “Monty” but to repaired primus stoves. And if you think this is stretching it a little there is more to follow.

On demob Jack takes a job with a small die casting firm in North London, not as a skilled engineer but as a floor sweeper at 3s. 6d. an hour, to learn the business. What better position is there in which to learn the business. What better position is there in which to learn how other people make it, and to quote Jack, “If they could make it on the quality of engineering they turned out, I could do better." So our hero bought some moulds and set up on his own.

Now at about this time, by the grace of you know who, there enters into the story, a childhood acquaintance of Jack’s, a Mr. Leslie Smith, who no doubt will not object to us being on the same familiar terms and calling him “Les". Les had set up business with a relative, Rodney Smith, and when the council refused to allow Jack to manufacture on his own premises (we are not told which premises, perhaps his two up and two down, back to back) they joined forces, Jack taking his moulds to the “Rifleman” in time to save the infant company from disaster. The firm set out to manufacture die castings for the electrical and car industry, making toys merely as a fill up for quieter periods. We are told that toy moulds struck up in 1950 were prevented from going into production because of government restriction on zinc due to the outbreak of the Korean War. With the lifting of restrictions in 1952, a toy coach suitably gilded heralded in a new Elizabethan age for Les and Jack, alias Smith and Odell. It cost 2s. 11d. and over a million are said to have been sold. Time follows, and to-day a range of 75 toys sell at a standard price of 2s. 3d.

In addition to toys Lesney’s make over a million castings a week for industry which includes such companies as Plessey, Vauxhall and A.C. Delta. 1960 dawned and this was Jack's year to realise an ambition, the fruition of all that hard work and engineering skill learned while playing in the streets of a working class neighbourhood, under the hot sun of the Middle East and on the shop floor of that small die casting firm so long ago. In 1960 at the age of 40 Jack became a millionaire. "I made it with a few days to spare." The company went public; today Jack's stake is 6½ million 1s. shares which at the present market price is about £35 million. The offer to the public was 400,000 5s. shares at £1 each, if you please; the grateful public we are told oversubscribed 15 times. Leslie's climb from rags to riches was no less spectacular than Jack’s but Les is the poorer, being worth only about £34 million.

To describe the early life of Leslie, since it closely resembles Jack's, is pointless and anyway if the reader is at all interested, no doubt the Times will oblige with a back copy of the paper in question. One gathers from the article by Julian Critchley the tremendous drive, energy and skill of these two men—Jack's down to earth untrained but inspired skill in engineering and Leslie's genius as a super salesman. The way in which our two friends see eye to eye with each other is also interesting. Julian tells us that until last year both Jack and Les were entitled to draw £100,000 a year in director's fees and emoluments; neither did so, preferring to draw up a new contract of £25,000 a year for five years; what is more, and this should interest those workers tied to an incentive bonus, their Directors' fees were tied to profits as an incentive. "For," said Jack, no doubt in all humility, "when our contracts came up for renewal this year we thought we should adjust them to a realistic figure. After all no man is worth £100,000." Probably Jack was thinking that the dividends from his 6½ million 1/- shares would help to offset his wage cut.

Now it may be thought that the 6,000 workers employed by Lesney's just sit around all day and watch the two partners get on with it and that as far as Julian Critchley is concerned they don’t exist. Not a bit of it, for although we are treated to more of the activities of the two friends who, when all is said and done, with the warmth and colour of their personalities, are the real subjects of the story, some mention is made of the workers who are indebted to the foresight of the founders of Lesney Products, so popular with them.

Of the 6,000 workers employed by Lesney's we learn that none of them are in Trade Unions; there have been attempts to form them but so far such attempts have come to nothing. Jack and Les work an industrial democracy of their own, whatever that means, with every department electing representatives to a works’ council. They have been completely strike free. "We have not lost a day’s work in 21 years.” How’s that for a 21st birthday present from the workers! The company pays well and although we are not told how much, we are led to believe it is sufficient to dampen any enthusiasm for Trade Unions. Surely the result is a lesson for Barbara Castle — with more firms like Lesney's she would have no trouble at all from the Trade Unions. As Julian Critchley says "Lesney’s growth has been steady, its products with their low unit cost do not seem to have been affected by the ebb and flow of demand, or by the vagaries of Government policy."

Now, the above is all we are told about the working class comrades of Jack and Les. These working people for instance don't hobnob with Jack and his family in Jack’s 10-roomed house, which incidentally Jack didn't build as he was too busy making match box toys. This 10-roomed house has a swimming pool and an acre of ground. For holidays Jack takes 4 weeks a year in Barbados. He drives 3 cars, one of which is a Rolls Royce—"good publicity for the firm." Apart from the foregoing Spartan existence, Jack appears to have no other life than that provided by his business and a little golf. "Pleasure passes the time, but work fills it." What a glorious example he sets his six thousand workers. The real corker comes when questioned about his political views. He votes conservative but "remains a Socialist at heart." Now as one socialist to another I would like to remind Jack that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is in need of funds and a little of his £35 million would greatly help to achieve his heart's desire.
A. A. A.

50 Years Ago: Labour Unrest (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Shipbuilders and Repairers of the Thames are on strike for a 15s increase, while the Miners are balloting as to whether they shall strike to enforce their claims of a 6-hour day, 30 per cent on wages, and nationalisation of the mines.

It is a favourite dodge of capitalist heads to lay the cause of these actions of the workers on “Bolshevik agitators". But one simple fact puts this nonsense out of court. If the unrest was due to any organised agitation, clearly it would have one object or set of objects and follow a co-ordinated policy to obtain them.  . . .

A calm examination of the situation will reveal that the main factors behind the great unrest are, the high cost of living and, of greater importance, the dread of increase in the large amount of unemployment already existing with the further demobilisation of soldiers and closing down of various Government departments.

Not until the working class own and control the means of production and distribution will they be able to adjust the hours of labour to the requirements of society and the number able to work. To do this they must first understand and accept the principles of Socialism, then set to work to establish it by organising to take control of political power for the purpose of wresting the means of life from the hands of the master class. Only then will the “unrest” disappear — through its cause being abolished.

[From an article—Labour Unrest—by Jack Fitzgerald in the Socialist Standard, March 1919].

About Socialism (1987)

From the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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