Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Citizen of the World (1976)

From the Summer 1976 issue of The Western Socialist

Mr. Gilbert McClatchie, author and lecturer on Socialist theory, died in London on Tuesday at the age of 87. For over 30 years editor of the Socialist Standard, he was an authority on the historical basis of Marxism. His latest work, Historical Materialism, was published in 1975 by The Socialist Party of Great Britain. He was also the author of The Communist Manifesto and the Last 100 Years, which was written in 1948 on the one-hundredth anniversary of the original, and is now a collectors’ item.

For many years he ran a bookshop behind Baker Street and he accumulated what is probably the only comprehensive private library in the United Kingdom of eighteenth and nineteenth century works on political economy and sociology. Even at the age of 80 he was still lecturing throughout America and Canada. He was a critic of certain aspects of Marxian theory and was anything but an unquestioning disciple. The SPGB, which he joined in 1910, nominated him as parliamentary candidate for Paddington North in the 1950s.

He was an Irishman, but a severe critic and opponent of the Irish Nationalists of the 1916 Easter period, with whom he was on personal terms, including James Connolly and most of the old members of Sinn Fein. A man of mild temper, infinite patience and intellectual integrity, he was the exact opposite of what passes these days as a revolutionary. His contribution to an understanding of the contemporary problems facing society was useful and will endure.

Reprint of news item from the London Times.

'Free enterprise' v. Life (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who hold that capitalism is about ‘free enterprise’ and ‘healthy competition’ should consider the aircraft industry. Visit any airport in any part of the so-called ‘free world’ and you will notice the vast majority of aircraft are of US manufacture.

Revelations of widespread bribery by firms like Lockheed are only part of the story. The US Government discourages foreign competition by imposing a 5 per cent. import duty on non-US aircraft purchased by American carriers. Presently, west European companies account for only 7 per cent. of the world-market (excluding Russia and China) and attempts to break US protectionism meet heavy resistance.

An example of this: US ‘feeder’ airlines (those which ferry passengers from the smaller airports to international ones) receive Government subsidies for aircraft carrying up to a maximum of 30 passengers. The increase of air-traffic has put pressure on the Government to increase subsidies to cover 50-seaters. But, if they did this, the US aircraft industry would be vulnerable to European competition in this range. According to Radio Nederland (13.4.78), a successful Dutch aircraft in the 45-seater range is expected to remain unattractive to US carriers because of Government legislation which will restrict the subsidy to planes carrying no more than 36 passengers.

Aircraft safety is another area where profits are given priority over passengers.

According to a Radio Canada International report (2.4.78), statistics covering commercial aircraft accidents only record fatalities among fare-paying passengers and leave out a host of other categories such as employees using special passes and very young children who travel free.

In ground accidents fire is one of the chief killers in aircraft. Foam sprinkler systems could easily be incorporated into aircraft but no aircraft company has, so far, done so. An executive of one large airline was reported, [in the same broadcast], as saying that, on a 650-seater ‘jumbo’, the inclusion of such a sprinkler system would reduce the payload by 8 seats. For the sake of ‘healthy competition’, it seems, the loss of eight fares is too serious to bear consideration so all the rest, including the crew, are put at risk.

Such examples—and they are to be found everywhere—illustrate how capitalism devalues human life by exploiting it for the sake of making a ‘fast buck’. As a system it offers no lasting solution to the problems confronting workers. If capitalism continues workers will pay an increasingly heavy price. Only socialism bases itself on the needs of humanity, not on exploitation.

Monuments to misery (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Historians will no doubt argue for years to come exactly what is meant by the term “Industrial Revolution” and when this social change occurred. However, one can say that in relation to Britain, the term broadly applies to the tremendous technological development that took place in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which transformed the means of production and, with them, every aspect of society. But of course, the Industrial Revolution did more than that. Its significance for the socialist lies not in the technological changes in the production process, but in the consequent development of the working class and the creation of a productive capability, previously unknown.

The working class were the new “slave” class. They were the people who would produce the wealth for the new society — capitalism. The urgent task still awaiting their attention, arises directly out of the Industrial Revolution — the harnessing of capitalism’s productive forces in the interests of all to banish deprivation from the earth for ever. For the socialist, this is not a question of techniques of production, but of social organisation.

New museums
In order to understand the nature of present-day society and why its seemingly insoluble problems remain, it is necessary to have some grounding in history. This is why the socialist will welcome the four new museums of the Industrial Revolution that have opened in Shropshire under the blanket heading of the “Ironbridge Gorge Museum”. Within easy walking distance of each other at Coalbrookdale on the banks of the murky river Severn, they trace the industrial development that took place in this area, with its natural resources of coal, iron and clay in particular.

An attempt has been made, at least in part, to take the museums to the exhibits. Constructed on the sites where the developments illustrated actually took place, they concentrate especially on the late 18th century, when in effect, a new iron-age was introduced. The ironbridge itself, situated by the (now run-down) town from which it takes its name, is a remarkable product of the early industrial activity of the district. With the growth of trade and industry along the river Severn, industrial traffic across the river became heavier through the eighteenth century. The traffic needed a bridge somewhere near to the smelting and mining districts, but the technological problems this presented proved considerable. The barges travelling along the river needed clear passage and no obstruction could be allowed in the water. On the other hand, the steep banks made it almost impossible to build a bridge by the then conventional methods, especially since it would need to be very high to allow laden barges to pass beneath. The result was an iron bridge, which at the time must have seemed almost as fantastic as flying machines to the Victorians. Yet this world’s first ironbridge was eventually built; weighing 378 tons, with a span of 100ft 6ins, it was finally completed in 1781. Immediately it became a spectacle, with people (rich people anyway) travelling miles to see it. As the guide book explains: “To build a bridge in iron was not simply a matter of whim, fancy or ostentation, but the application of a new technology to the solution of a particularly difficult problem”. The bridge has been repaired and strengthened this decade, and should last another 200 years.

Iron Bridge, Shropshire c.1800
The museum sites are even more interesting and focus on work done in the area including mining. In particular, the development of the use of iron following the discovery in 1709 at Coalbrookdale that it was more efficient to use coke rather than charcoal in the smelting process, threw up the possibility of a tremendous increase in the production of iron. So the development of iron and related products is reflected in all parts of the museum sites. In particular the “open air” museum successfully recreates the atmosphere of the period. Much of the old machinery of production is preserved and restored on the sites where they were worked, and the museum is also importing historic pieces of machinery from other parts of the country, which would otherwise be destroyed. Here, the visitor can see the giant double beam engines known as “David and Sampson”. Built in 1851, these monsters were used to blast air into the furnaces. Originally powered by water-wheels, they were later adapted to steam power. The large volumes of air that they could blow’ into the furnaces enabled bigger works to be constructed and operated than had hitherto been possible. The original blast furnaces are also being reconstructed, as are various other mining processes, and the museum has also started the re-creation of a small town typical of 19th-century industrial Shropshire. When completed, it will be a lesson in history, far better than most books can provide.

The omissions
The museums stand as a tribute to man’s ability to harness nature’s powers and adapt them to his needs. But apart from one or two exceptions these exhibitions have a glaring omission. They illustrate the progress man achieved at a particular time — they don’t reveal the misery, the huge amounts of suffering this imposed on men, women and children. It would be quite wrong to romanticise the conditions of the majority of people in England prior to the Industrial Revolution.

There can be little doubt that pre-capitalist England was an easy life for the aristocracy, a comfortable one for a further small section, and pretty hard going for the majority. However there can also be little doubt that the start of the Industrial Revolution introduced the most appalling working and living conditions for the majority of people. A misery was imposed on the working class, the likes of which had never been known. And the sheer size of the event, and the hopelessness of the lives of the majority of people experiencing this “progress”, makes one shudder to read about it even at this distance. This failure to illustrate what was happening to people at the time of the Industrial Revolution, is the museum’s fault; perhaps they will remedy it in time.

In order to discover what it was really like for people who did not own the means of production during the Industrial Revolution, it is necessary to turn for guidance from the museums to the history books. And undoubtedly one of the best history books for this, is Volume I of Marx’s Capital. The history of the development of capitalism with its almost all-embracing inhumanity, is movingly documented by Marx. Large sections of the work are a plea to bring to a stop the totality of sufferings that the new developments had brought.

Horrific reading
Among the many things Marx does in this regard is to describe in detail (usually taken from government reports) the actual living and working conditions of the people operating the new technological marvels; and it is pretty horrific reading. But Marx also explains why this development resulted in such suffering. In brief, it was because the purpose of the new processes was not to benefit society as a whole, but only those who were receiving the increased profits the developments brought. Marx writes in Volume I of Capital (Lawrence & Wishart edition 1970) that: “machinery becomes in the hands of capital the objective means systematically employed for squeezing out more labour in a given time”, (p.412) A little later on Marx points to the contrast between earlier society (handicraft and manufacture) and capitalist society proper (factory production) when he writes:
  In handicraft and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in a factory the machine makes use of him . . . The lightening of the labour, even, becomes a sort of torture, since the machine does not free the labourer from the work, but derives the work of all interest . . . it is not the workman that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the workmen . . . the instruments of labour confront the labourer, during the labour-process, in the shape of capital, of dead labour, that dominates, and pumps dry, living labour-power, (p. 422/3)
What Marx is saying here is that at the time of writing, the technological developments had not been harnessed to satisfy the needs of all the people, but only the needs of the minority. In the meantime, these marvellous developments were being used to destroy all purpose in work for the majority of people.

It is this aspect of the Industrial Revolution the Coalbrookdale museums fail to bring out. And this is the most important lesson for the working class. For capitalism’s inhumanity in the relentless and frequently bloody drive for profits, continues to the present. Day by day, hour by hour, the life of the workers is drained by the engines of capitalist accumulation. Instead of the wonderful advances of Ironbridge and elsewhere being harnessed to the benefit of one free human race, technology is used to increase the exploitation of the majority in the interest of the minority.
Ronnie Warrington

Winstanley: A 17th Century Utopian Socialist (1978)

Woodcut by Clifford Harper
From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gerrard Winstanley’s writings were only rediscovered in 1894 and even now not much is known about his life. He was probably born in Wigan in 1609 and later went to London where he eventually became a freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. By 1643, however, he was bankrupt and was forced to leave London to live on the land, at Cobham in Surrey. It was here, amidst the ferment of ideas stirred up by the Civil War between Parliament and Charles I (in which he wholeheartedly supported the parliamentary side), that Winstanley developed radical ideas.

Basically, he held that the earth had originally been given to mankind by God to be held in common and that landlords were usurpers. He urged that the original common ownership and free use of the land be restored and proposed that a start should be made by allowing the landless poor (one of whom he now was) to use the commons at St. Georges Hill near Cobham; hence their name of “Diggers”.

The Diggers did not parcel out the land amongst individuals, but worked it in common with the intention of later sharing in common the fruits of their joint labour. But they were never to enjoy these fruits; for right from the start they were harassed by the local landlords: they were taken to Court for trespass, their goods were seized, their houses pulled down and their crops destroyed. While this was going on Winstanley wrote a number of pamphlets putting the Diggers’ case. Later, in 1651, he decided to put their views into systematic form; the result was The Law of Freedom in a Platform, addressed to Cromwell, that appeared the following year. This proposed a communistic — and democratic, with annually elected officials and councils — society without buying and selling or money, to be established first on the commons and on the lands seized from the King, the bishops and royalists but with the eventual aim of embracing the whole of England.

Unlike Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (which appeared in 1516 and which is more widely known among socialists), Winstanley was not painting a mere picture of an ideal society but was putting forward a practical programme for action. Needless to say, Cromwell did not take up his suggestions and Winstanley and his ideas disappeared into oblivion — we do not even know when Winstanley died.

There was in fact no reason, apart from the opposition of the landlords (including the new ones created under Cromwell by the sale of royal and episcopal lands), why Winstanley’s ideas could not have been put into practice on a small scale. In the 19th century many colonies based on similar principles were to be established and to function for a while, especially in those parts of America where there were no landlords to sabotage them. Thus, in this sense, Winstanley can be said to be the first of the “utopian socialists” anticipating by over 150 years the projects of Fourier, Owen and Cabet.

We reproduce below an extensive passage from The Law of Freedom from which the extent to which Winstanley grasped that common ownership necessarily involves the disappearance of buying and selling and of money can be seen.

The Law of Freedom (1652)

The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go to the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the butchers’ shops, and receive that they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep, or herds of cattle, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. And the reason why all the riches of the earth are a common stock is this, because the earth and the labours thereupon are managed by common assistance of every family, without buying and selling.

Even as now we have particular trade in cities and towns, called shopkeepers, which shall remain still as they be, only altered in their receiving in and delivering out. For whereas by the law of kings or conquerors they do receive in and deliver out by buying and selling, and exchanging the conqueror’s picture or stamp upon a piece of gold or silver for the fruits of the earth, now they shall (by the laws of the Commonwealth) receive into their shops and deliver out again freely, without buying and selling.

They shall receive in as into a storehouse, and deliver out again freely as out of a common storehouse, when particular persons or families come for anything they need; as now they do by buying and selling under kingly government.

For as particular families and tradesmen do make several works more than they can make use of, as hats, shoes, gloves, stockings, linen and woollen cloth and the like, and do carry their particular work to storehouses, to work upon without buying and selling; and go to other storehouses and fetch any other commodity which they want and cannot make.. For as other men partakes of their labours, it is reason they should partake of other men’s.

* * *

Every tradesman shall fetch materials, as leather, wool, flax, corn and the like, from the public storehouses, to work upon without buying and selling; and when particular works are made, as cloth, shoes, hats and the like, the tradesmen shall bring these particular works to particular shops, as is now in practice, without buying and selling. And every family as they want such things as they cannot make, they shall go to these shops and fetch without money, even as now they fetch with money.

* * *

As silver and gold is either found out in mines in our own and, or brought by shipping from beyond the sea, it shall not be coined with a conqueror’s stamp upon it, to set up buying and selling under his name or by his leave; for there shall be no other use of it in the commonwealth than to make dishes and other necessaries for the ornament of houses, as now there is use made of brass, pewter and iron, or any other metal in their use.

(Winstanley: The Law of Freedom and Other Writings, edited by Christopher Hill, Pelican Classic, 1973)

Capitalism and Hunger (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The world is overpopulated, we are told, and this alleged overpopulation (often confused with density of population) is the cause of hunger. Hence, in order to eliminate the problem of hunger, the world’s population must first be reduced.

This is the reasoning behind the many attempts to force Indian villagers to limit their families to only one or two children, whether by persuasion or compulsion. The moral persuasion advocated by Malthus in the nineteenth century has given way in the twentieth century to government campaigns for mass sterilization.

But this argument is, although widely accepted, totally false. The facts do not support it. For example, a special issue on “Food and Agriculture” in Scientific American (Sept. ’76) invite the conclusion that we are capable, now, of feeding not just the present world population but an even greater world population. The cause of hunger, starvation and malnutrition, whether in the so-called “Third World” countries or in the West, is to be found in our economic system.

Why is it that the capitalist economic system does not produce enough food? In the first place, under capitalism the production of food, like that of other commodities, is deliberately restricted. If there is “too much” food, the price falls, farmers lose profits and sooner or later, governments intervene with policies aimed at restricting production so as to maintain the market price at a profitable level, if all else fails the stuff can always be destroyed — dumped at the bottom of the sea, for instance: anything will do just so long as the market price is maintained. Above all, it must not be given away to the hungry.

Which brings us to the other half of the equation. Why are people hungry when shops and warehouses are full of stored food? Here we have to state the obvious. The only reason for most people doing without the food they and their families need is quite simply that they cannot afford it. Poverty restricts the ability of most of the world’s working class to buy what food is available—the price is too high. The old “Let them eat cake” problem!

Along with this view of food as simply a commodity to be marketed, like houses or oil, with production controlled and restricted in such a way that supply should never catch up or overtake demand, we see agriculture exploiting the earth as a source of profits. Mother earth is raped by profit-seeking agro-business. The farmer’s business is not growing food for people to eat. Like every other capitalist, he is in business to accumulate more capital. Therefore he cannot afford to concern himself much about soil erosion, the destruction of humus, the loss of wild flowers or eagles. His real concern has to be the balance sheet: that his capital investment should produce as big a profit as possible.

Capitalist agriculture has found a few crops exceptionally profitable. In some areas, the West Indies for instance, monoculture has replaced the cultivation of a variety of food and other crops. In Europe a lot of arable land is now devoted to non-food crops — barley for the brewers in Britain, grapes for the wine trade on the Continent. Cotton, tobacco and sugar are all still dominant in many areas noted for their hunger. Forests are felled for the sake of a quick buck. Rivers are polluted by profit conscious industries. The seas are scoured to the point where even herrings become scarce; they are drilled for gas and oil and suffer pollution from oil tankers, all in the interests of maximising their owners’ profits.

Capitalism puts pressure on agriculture and industry alike to produce as cheaply and as fast as possible. Hence the excessive use of pesticides and mineral fertilisers, with consequent damage to the soil and destruction of the eco-balance. In our society the earth is capital — wealth which must be used to produce profits.

The working class throughout the world suffer poverty and hunger. This hunger is not a natural phenomenon. It is not caused by the alleged inability of people to grow enough food. It is caused by the fact that, on the one hand, it is often more profitable to grow non-food crops, and on the other hand, food is produced as a commodity to be sold at a profitable price and is therefore never produced in sufficient quantity to satisfy all man’s needs, any more than housing is. Profits first, people’s needs last — that’s capitalism.

Only if we end this system where production is primarily for profit, only if we end the money-based economy and the wages system based on class ownership of the earth and other means of production, only then do we stand any chance of both satisfying human needs and at the same time developing production techniques which will safeguard the natural environment. It is high time all “friends of the earth” recognized that profit-based capitalism is the real enemy both of those who are concerned about the problem of the “starving millions” and of those whose main concern is ecology and the environment. In Socialism there will be no conflict between the satisfaction of human needs and care for the environment.
Charmian Skelton

Ignoramuses of the world, unite! (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is worth briefly noting a letter from Sir Keith Joseph in The Guardian of April 28. He quotes with approval Sir Harold Wilson’s dictum that “inflation is the mother and father of unemployment”. He merely complains that when he, Joseph, said the same thing earlier, Wilson clobbered him for it. It is well known to all but these ignorant politicians that the worst unemployment was in the ‘30s, when the figure approached three million. At this time there was not a hint of inflation, if anything there was deflation. It appears, therefore, that unemployment was born without a mother and father. These are the leaders whom the working class elect every few years. Could they possibly do worse, by thinking for themselves, instead?
Lew Higgins

The world steel crisis (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour government, as its White Paper published at the end of March on the British Steel Corporation shows, has once again been forced to face up to the realities of capitalism. Its policy of pumping money into a bankrupt industry in order to try to preserve jobs is to be abandoned.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of how capitalism works could have predicted that such a policy could only be temporary since it goes against the whole logic of capitalism, which is to produce wealth to be sold at a profit not so as to provide jobs for workers. In effect it poured money raised by taxes on other sections of capitalist industry down the drain; something which no government can do indefinitely. The House of Commons Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which, under a Labour chairman, is the watchdog for the capitalist class on such matters had already said “enough, no more”. The Labour Government has now bowed to the inevitable and fallen into line with the logic of capitalism.

It is an interesting story which illustrates the futility of the reformist policy of trying to make capitalism work other than as an unplannable profit-making system. In February 1973 the then Conservative Government proposed closing a number of steel works. The Labour Government, elected in 1974, reversed this decision and told the BSC to keep them open for a longer period. Now only three years later the Labour Government itself proposes “early closure dates” for these same plants on the grounds that they are a burden to the BSC’s finances and productivity. The White Paper openly recognises this as a breach of previous promises:
  It must be recognized that the proposed advancement of these closure dates involves serious departures from previous understandings and commitments made by the British Steel Corporation (British Steel Corporation: the Road to Viability, Comnd 7149).
It does not say, however, that the BSC made these commitments under instruction from the Labour Government. We recognise the problems of the steelworkers who will be losing their jobs in a time of high unemployment. They are victims of the operation of capitalism whose inexorable law of “no profit, no production, no employment” cannot be overcome by the action of any government nor, we might add, by the most militant trade union action. Many of the workers involved seem to realise this and have switched their demands from trying to keep the plants open to trying to get as big a redundancy payment as possible.

The crisis in the steel industry, which is worldwide and not just confined to Britain, illustrates very neatly the anarchy of capitalism and how it leads to periodic crises in particular industries.

There are three main steel producing and trading groups in the world. The United States, Japan and the Common Market. The Common Market can legitimately be treated as a single unit since, under the 1952 Treaty of Paris which set up the European Coal and Steel Community, the Commission in Brussels has considerable powers in this field and is charged with managing the common affairs of the steel industries in the nine member States, essentially those of Germany, Britain, France and Italy.

In the years 1973 and 1974 the steel industry was booming, as our graph of ECSC production of crude steel over the last twelve years shows. In these conditions the various capitalist and state capitalist enterprises involved, in Japan and America as well as in Europe, planned massive expansions of their productive capacity, not to mention the plans for new steel works in the so-called Third World. In 1973 the BSC, for instance, adopted a development “plan” which involved increasing its crude steel productive capacity from the 29 million tonnes it was that year to 43 million tonnes in the 1980s.

Under the pressure of competition each enterprise and each country expanded its productive capacity to meet the booming market demand which each assumed would continue. The result was that their total productive capacity came to exceed by far the market demand. A crisis of “overproduction” broke out in 1975 and production fell drastically.

The White Paper describes the situation, frankly bringing out the perils of “planning” under capitalism.
  There are two main reasons for the serious problem of world over capacity for steel-making. First, a huge amount of modern, highly productive new capacity was either completed or under way in Europe, Japan and the developing world before the Middle East war in October, 1973, and the steep rise in energy prices that followed it.
   When this new capacity was built or planned, continued expansion in world industrial activity was widely expected with a sustained growth in the demand for steel.
   Instead—and this is the second factor—the growth of world industry has, in recent years, fallen well below the rates predicted before 1974.
    All such forecasting is subject to a wide margin of error as subsequent events have shown. Demand for steel has tended to decline—at the very time when much of the new capacity was only just coming on stream.
This is a classic case of “overproduction” caused by the anarchy of capitalism. The steel industry has had such crises every four or five years: 1961, 1966 and 1971 were, like 1975, years in which production fell compared with the previous year. But on all these occasions production resumed its upward trend the following year. It was expected that the same pattern would be followed in 1976. “The recovery may not be uniform but on the whole it is encouraging”, wrote a German journalist that year in an article featured in four leading European newspapers. “After the worst recession for decades, affecting most of the world’s steel industry in 1975, the leading figures in the industry face the future with unwearied optimism” (The Times, 26 October 1976). So, optimistically, the steel enterprises planned to expand production again. Let the White Paper continue the story, again illustrating the unplannable nature of capitalism :
  By late 1976, with some new capacity coming on stream and with improved performance at other plants, BSC was well placed to supply demand at a time when it was generally expected that there would be an upturn in Britain and in the world as a whole.
  Instead, there was a further downturn in demand at home and overseas. United Kingdom demand for steel has fallen by 23 per cent since the 1973 peak instead of the continued growth then expected. The industry is currently operating at about two-thirds capacity, the same as Japan.
  Other EEC countries are operating at about 60 per cent of capacity and the United States at about 75 per cent.
Slowly, as 1976 did not show the expected recovery and 1977 proved to be as bad as 1975, the steel enterprises began to realise that they were faced with something more than the usual temporary “overproduction” of previous recession years. They began to talk of a more basic, “structural”, problem of “overcapacity” for which there was only one solution: mass sackings and closure of plants. In other words, the destruction of the “excess” productive capacity.

The Labour Government’s White Paper is in line with this solution which is quite rational by the logic of capitalism, but irrational and even criminal from the point of view of human needs and interests. For there is no real “world over-capacity for steel-making” as the White Paper claims; there is only excess capacity in relation to profitable market demand. From the human point of view, not enough steel is being produced; there is a real human need for more steel and steel products to construct, for instance, houses, hospitals, power stations, bridges, railways, etc. But this does not interest capitalism, so world steel-making capacity is to be cut back until it is in line with what does count, profitable market demand.

The steel industry, in Britain and elsewhere, will eventually recover from this crisis—even if this involves destroying part of its existing productive capacity. But there is no telling how long this will take. One German steel baron, Hans Birnbaum, chairman of Salzgitter (whose losses in 1976 amounted to £25 million) has been reported as stating that
  competition on the world steel market was now so strong that there would be no quick reduction in the overcapacity situation—at least while demand for steel grew only slowly. Annual world steel production was about 700 million tonnes against a capacity of 900 million tonnes, and there had been considerable expansion of capacity in Japan in the past few years. The Japanese exports to the EEC, he said, were only relatively small in terms of the size of the total market, but their exports to third world markets were ruining EEC steel sales in those countries (The Times, 19 April 1977).
One thing is clear, however, the adjustment of productive capacity to market demand will be as chaotic and anarchic as was the expansion of productive capacity which led to the 1975 crisis. We can expect to see a three-sided trade war between Japan, Europe and America, with America trying to keep Japanese and European steel out of its home market and Japan and Europe competing fiercely for external markets as indicated by Birnbaum. The Common Market too will be under strain as Britain. Germany, France and Italy struggle to shift the burden of production cuts on to each other. This chaos is just capitalism working in a normal way.
Adam Buick

La Pensionaria (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The other morning, switching on the BBC overseas service, I heard the rhythmic spelling out and clapping of what I assumed to be the name of Manchester United or some similar outfit. However, after endless repetition, I became aware that the name was I-B-A-R-R-U-R-I and I then realised that the chanters were Spaniards who had the cheek to call themselves communists and that this was a broadcast from the proceedings of the first legal congress of the Spanish Communist Party since Franco’s Civil War victory.

The first reflection one had to make, upon this realisation, was on the mindlessness. Here were supposedly politically aware workers who had taken an apparently momentous decision (more of that later) and who had the effrontery to claim to be in the vanguard of working class thought, and yet here they were mouthing slogans in praise of leadership, like so many Pavlov dogs. As if all this was not sufficiently depressing, one then had to listen to the inane commentary of the BBC reporter at the five-star luxury hotel, in Madrid, where pseudo-communists were holding their jamboree. In a voice vibrant with emotion he said that this scene was a celebration of the name of the President of the Party and he went on to say that during an interval in the proceedings this woman had enchanted the delegates by singing Asturian folk songs in the same beautiful voice which, forty years before, had thrilled the Spanish people and given her the name of La Pasionaria. What this commentator forgot to mention was that when this melodious voice was heard during the Civil War, it struck a note of horror in the hearts of thousands of people fighting in the Civil War on the Republican side many of whom La Pasionaria would condemn to torture and death in the Communist Headquarters.

Anyone who is unaware of these facts and wants to get to know more about them has only to read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Still better, if it is possible to get a copy, they should read Listen, Comrades by El Campesino. This was the nickname given to a famous peasant general who led a Communist army in the Civil war and the book describes not only what went on in Spain but in Stalin’s Russia to which he and La Pasionaria and other Communist leaders fled from the victorious Franco. This Communist harridan continued her murderous career, under Stalin’s wing, by liquidating Communist opponents, including her husband, and it was only because El Campesino was actually able to escape from Stalin’s Russia — an even more difficult task than from Franco’s Spain — that we can learn about these things. Unfortunately, it seems that even the “reformed” Communists in Spain have not read about their former hero, El Campesino. Or perhaps they prefer to remain in ignorance. (It is worth a little digression here to mention that his memoires include some very revealing pages about the utter collapse of nerve on the part of the Stalin regime when the Germans were approaching Moscow in 1941. It is well known that millions of Russians showed that they looked to Hitler as their deliverer from the tyranny of Stalin. There is certainly a good case for arguing that, if the Nazis had behaved with some semblance of humanity towards the Russians in the area they had conquered, then even greater numbers of Russians would have changed sides).

The Spanish Communist Party has now achieved world-wide fame as the most advanced outpost of so-called Euro-Communism. It does not seem to have occurred to the scribblers of the western press that there is something remarkably inconsistent, even for Communists, in those circumstances, in appointing as their president a notorious Stalinist witch. The majority of Spanish people are a little less naive. They remembered her windy rhetoric during the Civil War about dying for liberty, rather than living under tyranny, but they noted that far from dying, she ran away to become a pensioner of Stalin, and with their mordant Spanish wit changed her sobriquet to the one at the head of this article. The Spanish Communist Party has now officially abandoned Leninism but, whatever that means, in practice none of the pundits seems to have noticed that this means they have thrown out the baby and the bathwater and the bath as well. What on earth can the party stand for minus its Leninism? They claim that the answer to that is that they are Marxist Democrats. But their new found adherence to democracy is exposed as a sham by the continuation of secrecy and leadership in their own organisation. As to Marxism, the word in their mouths is the same meaningless shibboleth as the so-called Marxist-Leninism that the Communist parties of the world have been prating about ever since 1917.

The real position now seems to be that the Euro-Communists of the western countries wish to divest themselves of the aura of conspiratorial leadership with the objective of a minority seizure of power. All they are left with is a programme of nationalisation. But, of course, there is already a plethora of so-called Social Democratic and Labour Parties who have been playing the rôle for generations. There is but one service which the Communist parties can perform and that is to leave the stage, where they now have no rôle whatever to play.
L. E. Weidberg

Voice From The Back: Minimum wage, ‘living’ wage or a world without? (2015)

The  Voice From The Back column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Minimum wage, ‘living’ wage or a world without?

In Congress, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, have introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage $1 an hour starting in 2016 to $12 by 2020, and thereafter base increases on the growth of the federal median wage. ‘No one who works hard in a full-time job should have to live in poverty,’ Murray said in introducing the legislation (Herald Net, 1 May). No more crumbs! Not even a slice of cake! Workers should demand what is rightfully ours: the whole bakery.

Earning a wage is a prison occupation

One in three full-time employees in some of the world’s largest economies say maintaining a healthy work-life balance has become more difficult in the last five years…’It’s really important in a sustainable 24-7 global marketplace to be able to offer people the ability to ebb and flow to make life work while they’re working so hard,’ says Karyn Twaronite, an Ernst & Young partner and global diversity and inclusiveness officer. ‘The workday is vast. There really aren’t start and end times, and it does have a significant overlap into everyone’s personal life in a significant way. You no longer can leave your work behind at the end of the day’ (US News, 5 May). 9 til 5? More like 24/7, except for the unemployed 1 percent! Socialists, like Marx, by contrast, claim that in a communist society there would be more leisure time, more time for education and that everyone would participate in the running of society. It’s time to break free.

Rage against the machine

Abulkasim Al-Jaberi was arrested at a demonstration against Zwarte Piet for shouting ‘fuck the king, fuck the queen and fuck the monarchy.’… The action taken against him has caused anger on Twitter and vandalism to the Royal Palace. He is being prosecuted for lèse-majesté, a crime which specifically refers to offences against the dignity of the monarch, for which the maximum sentence is five years in prison (Independent, 7 May). Socialists don’t want a Republic: we call not just for the removal of royalty, rather of all parasites. So, in the words of the radical poet Shelley:
Let us hasten that glorious day
When man on man no more shall prey
When prophets priests and kings
Are numbered with forgotten things
Deification of a dictator
‘Over the past five years I’ve often watched documentary films about Stalin, about that time on television and learnt more about him,’ the 29-year-old told AFP. ‘And now I don’t have any negative feelings towards him. He had good intentions’ (Yahoo! News, 5 May). This comes as no surprise to socialists: after all, the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production. In Stalin’s case, the process started long ago. Here is one example, part of a poem which was published in Pravda on 28 August, 1936:

O Great Stalin, O Leader of the Peoples,
Thou who didst give birth to man,
Thou who didst make fertile the earth,
Thou who dost rejuvenate the Centuries,
Thou who givest blossom to the spring . . .


There is a long history of science being used to support the status quo. Russian psychiatrists famously aided Stalin by diagnosing dissidents as insane. In 1850s America a Dr. Cartwright identified a condition that caused black slaves to flee plantations. More recently, a report written by six health professionals and human rights activists claims that the American Psychological Association secretly worked with the George W. Bush administration to justify a post-9/11 torture policy (Time, 30 April).

They won, you lost

‘The question is: who is this country going to be run for?’ Mr Axelrod said. ‘Cameron is absolutely right about the question. But it is not a question of whether the country is going to be run for Scotland. It is a question of whether the country is going to be run for the wealthy and powerful interests, who have thrived and prospered under Tory policies while everyday working people have struggled just to keep up’ (Independent, 2 May). Labour, Liberal, Tory – same old boring story. The Greens, SNP, UKIP etc., are part of it too.

Only woolly sheep need leaders

Muriquis (or woolly spider monkeys) from south-eastern Brazil live in large social groups and yet there are no leaders. Males do not boss other males or females and there is no dominance hierarchy – a truly egalitarian society. They are very peaceful primates. Males will even wait in line for their opportunity to mate with a receptive female (Independent, 6 May).

From the horse’s mouth

David Cameron’s former chief strategist has launched a stinging attack on the ‘insular ruling class’ threatening Britain’s democracy. Steve Hilton said too many of those at the heart of government go to the same dinner parties and send their children to the same schools. He said the UK’s political system is now in ‘crisis’ because the same type of people stay in charge whatever the outcome of the elections.

In what will be seen as a criticism of the ‘chumocracy’ of his former boss, Mr Hilton warned: ‘Our democracies are increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges.

‘Regardless of who’s in office, the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome’ (Daily Mail, 17 May).

Action Replay: The Big Fight (2015)

The Action Replay column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

After all the ballyhoo and razzmatazz the big fight was disappointing. All three judges scored Floyd Mayweather the winner by a unanimous decision against Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao’s best period was the early part of the fight, his bustling style unsettling Mayweather but Floyd kept Pacquiao at bay with some stinging jabs. In round 5, Floyd started to dictate the fight, using his speed, footwork and superb defensive skills to outpoint his opponent.

It later transpired that Pacquiao had entered the ring with a shoulder injury. Revealing that he had suffered a ‘torn rota cuff’ in training but had decided to continue with the contest. The Nevada State Commission (NASC) was unaware of this until they received a request from Pacquiao to have an anti-inflammatory injection 90 minutes before the fight started. Pacquiao could now face NSAC penalties and possible law suits, after not disclosing the injury in a medical questionnaire prior to the fight.

Before taking up professional boxing Floyd and Manny experienced difficult starts in life. Pacquiao once slept on beds in a gym and fought for 5 dollars in scraps organised for gambling. If he won he bought rice, if he lost he starved.

Floyd’s childhood was brutal, his mother was a drug addict and his father a loose cannon prone to violence. The story goes that when barely a year old, Floyd senior used his boy as a human shield when his uncle (mother’s side) came seeking retribution. He hoisted Floyd into the gun sight forcing the assailant to shoot him in the leg.

As far as money is concerned early indications of pay-per-view sales in the US suggest that Mayweather will earn $200m and Pacquiao in excess of £120m – not bad for one night’s work. Floyd’s next scheduled fight is in September against an opponent of his choice. Several fighters are ‘lining up’ to take on Mayweather including Britain’s Amir Khan and Kell Brook but Floyd may prefer Miguel Cotto or Saul Alvarez both previous opponents or perhaps Danny Garcia who defeated Amir Khan. Whoever the opponent is, you can be sure it will be the opponent who generates the most money at the box office and pay-per-view, because in Floyd Mayweather’s world, it’s all about the ‘Money, Money, Money’.
Kevin Parkin

Free Lunch (2015)

The Free Lunch cartoon from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cooking the Books: Marx Right About What? (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Marx was Right’ was the title of the text of the opening speech at a conference of left-wingers in New York in May. This is certainly a welcome change from the usual ‘Marx was Wrong’ found in economics textbooks. But there was a problem: the speaker, Chris Hedges, was wrong about what he thought Marx got right.

Marx, he claimed, ‘saw that there would come a day when capitalism would exhaust its potential and collapse’. Marx certainly didn’t think that capitalism would last for ever as he saw it as a passing phase in the history of humanity. Hedges, however, commits Marx to the view that capitalism will one day collapse economically (actually he thinks it’s already happening):
  ‘… as Marx warned, there is a limit to an economy built on scaffolding of debt expansion. There comes a moment, Marx knew, when there would be no new markets available and no new pools of people who could take on more debt. (…) The hoarding of wealth by a tiny capitalist elite, Marx foresaw, along with the exploitation of workers, meant that the masses could no longer buy the products that propelled capitalism forward.’
This suggests that capitalism will eventually collapse through a lack of market demand on the part of ‘the masses’ whether from their pay or from what they have borrowed. The trouble with this theory is that it doesn’t explain why capitalism hasn’t already collapsed, long ago, since the market demand of ‘the masses’ has always been limited because a part of what is produced goes to the exploiting capitalist class as profits. In fact, what they can’t buy, the capitalists can. They don’t always do, but that only causes the periodic economic slumps that are a feature of capitalism not the collapse of the whole system.

To attribute such an incoherent view to Marx is not doing him a favour. It also assumes that the aim of production under capitalism is to meet the needs that people can pay for, that capitalism is an economic system geared to meeting paying consumer demand. Marx, on the other hand, analysed capitalism as being geared to making profits, where money is invested in production with a view to profit, most of which is then reinvested as further capital.

For Marx, what ‘propels capitalism forward’ is capitalist firms seeking profits, not what non-capitalists buy. So, if capitalism were going to collapse it would have to be from a lack of profits rather than a lack of markets. But Marx didn’t hold that view either.

In his main work, Volume I of Capital, Marx does set out (at the end of Chapter 32 on ‘The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation’) how he thought capitalism would eventually come to an end. Economics was still involved, but it was neither a lack of markets nor a lack of profits. It was the concentration and centralisation of the means of production operated co-operatively by a collective labour force. This would come into conflict with the continuing class ownership of the means of production, a contradiction that would express itself in a ‘revolt of the working class’. It would be resolved when ‘the expropriators are expropriated’ by the workers transforming ‘capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property’, ushering in a society based ‘on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.’

In short, capitalism would have to be collapsed not collapse. It would not self-destruct, but would have to be purposefully replaced by a new society.

Religion and Mythology (2015)

The Halo Halo! column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

You know what it’s like when you have a job done but due to a design fault, shoddy workmanship or whatever, something goes wrong and you have to get it done all over again? Well imagine the hassle transgender Christians will be in for if the fears of one vicar are realised.

Newly baptised babies, it seems, may be in for a shock as they lay there gurgling away, naively expecting that the pantomime they’ve just been through – where the vicar has chanted some mumbo-jumbo and splashed them with holy water – has now been completed; and that they can go home, have a nap and get on with their lives. Little do these little innocents realise that if at some point, maybe thirty or forty years in the future, they decide to have a sex change, apart from all the other problems they may face, their baptism will now be buggered, no longer be fit for purpose, and will need re-doing. And while these church christening fonts are quite big enough for even the chubbiest, bonny bouncing baby, you try cramming a bewildered and possibly agitated adult into one.

According to a report in the Guardian (22 May) following a request by the vicar of Lancaster Priory, the Church of England is to consider plans for a new baptism ceremony for Christians who have undergone a sex change. One such upgrade was required by a member of his flock, he said, ‘where we could introduce him to God with his new name and his new identity’. Well, God may be all-knowing but he’s bound to be confused by this sort of thing isn’t he?

This is interesting though because baptism, in its various forms, is one of those rituals that can be traced back to its pagan origins in mythology, and there have been problems right from the start.

The Greek hero Achilles you may remember if you were paying attention at school, who was born to Thetis, an immortal sea-goddess, and Peleus a mortal, had to be dipped in the river Styx, whose water had magical powers, in order for him to acquire the immortality enjoyed by his mother’s side of the family. Unfortunately she dangled him by the ankle which, not being submerged remained susceptible to human death. (He was subsequently killed after being hit in the heel by an arrow).

Readers of the Bible will recognise this river dipping ritual as the same as the one performed by John the Baptist on Jesus (although Jesus probably wasn’t dangled by the ankle). When he was ducked in the river by John, we are told, God boomed from the heavens that ‘This is my beloved son’, etc.

The seemingly modern idea, too, of being ‘born again’, to ‘cleanse one of their sins’, is another variation of this. In the ancient Greek world if someone who had been mistakenly presumed dead, and handed over to the god of the underworld, later turned up alive and well (something that must have been fairly common where skirmishes with neighbouring tribes was a normal way of life) in order to keep the misfortunes of the underworld away, before being re-admitted into the community they had to go through an elaborate re-birth ritual to convince the gods of their revived mortal status.

Another ancient ritual, carried out for the same purpose, required the person being ‘born again’ to spend a night crouched in a large tub. Over this the rituals normally performed for pregnant women were carried out.

It’s good to see that there’s still a decent living to be made out of paganism and mythology isn’t it?

50 Years Ago: 9 Months of Labour Rule (2015)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago this month, Great Britain elected the first majority Labour government in its history.

July 1945 was a time of jubilation for the Labour Party; but it was also a time of reckoning. Their two previous administrations―in 1924 and 1931―had been minority governments, and had been able to blame their failures onto their dependence on Liberal support in the House of Commons.

The Attlee government had no such excuse. They had a massive majority behind them and they were determined to carry out the programme they had cherished for so long. Many Labour M.P.s said―and perhaps some of them even believed―that the day of Socialism had dawned.

Reality was cruelly different, and it exposed Labour Party theories for what they were. The 1945 government were committed to running British capitalism, and they did this in basically the same way as the Tories would have done.

They fought the working class over wages. They used every weapon they could to break strikes in the docks and the coalfields. They launched the nuclear rearmament programme (which, says the Labour Party now, is based on a discredited nostalgia for outdated imperialism).

Some Labour ministers of those days became famous as political buffoons and failures. Others wore themselves into their graves. British capitalism stood undisturbed. And in the end the electors showed what they thought of Labour’s attempts to run the system, by turning them out of office.

By 1964 the memories of Labour government had grown dim enough for the workers to want to give it another try. (…).

Now once again we have a Labour government, and once again they are in the toils. British capitalism is providing them with many problems―financial, economic, international. They are disputing with the working class over wages. Many of their policies―on the Bomb, immigration, taxation―have been reversed.

And one again, like their predecessors in 1945, they are failing to solve the problems of capitalism. As this becomes more and more apparent, Labour Party support is declining, in spite of all their gimmicks and vote catching publicity.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, July 1965)