Monday, March 25, 2019

Information Bank (1979)

Party News from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the Socialist Standard will be interested to know that an Information Bank has been started by a number of party members. Its purpose will be to make available factual information in a concise form for propaganda activity. Volunteers are needed to monitor specialist journals and newspapers and to send cuttings or photocopied material to the various file “organisers”, who in turn will organise this information into an appropriate form and make it available on request.

Work has begun on five files:
  1. WORLD OF ABUNDANCE (resources, capitalism's waste, technological possibilities, population)
  4. SOCIALISM IN THE MEDIA (“Letters to the Editor" by socialists, articles on the SPGB and Companion Parties)
  5. PARTY MATERIAL AND PUBLICATIONS (Party statements, leaflets, old Standards, pamphlets etc.)
Please contact J. Howell (Mid Surrey Group-see directory) or R. Cox (Haslemere contact) for further information or if you would like to make available any material for the Bank. Every bit of help to make this project a valuable and vital contribution to Party propaganda will be appreciated.

Accidental costs (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Accidents will happen" is an old saying. Though "zero risk" is impossible with any form of technology, capitalism's priorities—profits before people—make the production and distribution of wealth an unnecessary risky business. Many avoidable accidents happen and when they do attempts are made to keep the facts secret and to cover-up or whitewash the cause or extent of the disaster. Even where governments impose regulations, these are blithely ignored by profit-seeking entrepreneurs and state-owned enterprises alike

Road Rail and Air
Railways are relatively “safe”, yet in Yugoslavia a train crash killed 153 people because the driver and his mate both fell asleep, ‘‘overtired after working 300 hours in a month”. Cars are often unsafe, and manufacturers’ recalls of unsafe models for modification are hushed up.

In Yorkshire, five coach passengers were killed when the brakes failed on a hill: no maintenance had been done on the coach for three months! Such “accidents” are preventable.

Over San Diego, California, a Boeing 727 collided with a light aircraft and 151 people were killed. Among the factors involved was “foot-dragging” by the Federal Aviation Agency in not compelling the use of a cheap electronic collision-avoidance system on all planes. “The only thing that forces an FAA ruling is when enough people get killed”, said the president of the Airline Pilots Association. Another cause of air-crashes was apparent in the Zagreb mid-air collision between a Yugoslav charter plane and a British Airways flight, which killed 176 people. The Air Traffic Controllers were understaffed and overworked. That “accident” too was avoidable.

Occupational Hazards:
Simple precautions are often lacking, even when required by Government regulations. Sweeping rainwater off the roof of a modern six-storey office block, a workman fell 55 feet and was seriously injured. A government inspector declared: “the accident would not have happened if Premier House had been fitted with a guard rail”. A lawyer defending the contractors argued that “it put the matter into perspective to appreciate that Ronmac Services’ contract was worth about £60 and to put up a guard rail would cost over £2,000”. In industries like building and mining, occupational hazards are a dime a dozen, and accidents are seldom “news”.

The TUC handbook Health and Safety at Work lists many dangerous chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, beryllium, lead, chromium and polyurethanes made from isocyanates. There is also risk from inhaling dust, the worst known effects being from blue asbestos, arsenic, beryllium and coal dust. In Islington, London, the area round a scrap metal works was found to be seriously polluted with cadmium. Cadmium accumulates in the kidneys and the amount inhaled daily in Islington was above the level known to cause kidney damage. Pollution from secondary metal plants is not normally monitored—“the problem was uncovered only by chance”—and apparently “there are no national safety standards for heavy metals in the atmosphere”. No protection for people can equal bigger profits for business.

There is also a greater fire risk with new synthetic materials-polyurethane foam, foamed, polystyrene and other polymeric substances-used in the home, especially in upholstered furniture. These produce toxic fumes and smoke or create a rapid surface spread of flame. They are cheaper than wood, wool, leather or horsehair, just as paraffin heaters are cheaper than electricity in the working-class home. Lethal fires in workers’ homes are part and parcel of their wage-saving poverty.

This has been known to be lethal for more than half a century. Yet in American schools where ceilings were cheaply built with asbestos from 1940-1973, levels of the material in the atmosphere are close to those near asbestos mines and “in some cases, exposure exceeded workplace maxima . . .  at one school, simply moving books about in one room raised the exposure level to 13.5 fibres per cubic centimetre, well above the US government’s 10 fibre limit for the workplace”. Asbestos increases the risk of lung-cancer, including, incurable mesothelioma.

In Australia, the Baryulgil asbestos mine destroys the health of its mainly Aboriginal workers: asbestos tailings are used by the local council on the roads, there is a pile of it in the school playground and vast quantities of the dust in the settlement—“and our children—well, ever since my kids were born, ever since they could walk, they’ve been playing in heaps of shivers (asbestos tailings) and coming in snow white, covered in dust”. Half the workers have died from chest and lung complaints, 90 per cent of the Aborigines have lung problems, and the oldest was only 50 when he died. The company, and the New South Wales Division of Occupational Health, and the Australian Health Commission have known and done nothing about Baryulgil for more than twenty years.

Seveso—A “Preventable Accident”:
Sometimes chemical processes go wrong. This happened on July 10 1976 at Seveso, where a cloud of TCDD (dioxin)—an extremely poisonous by-product of trichlorophenol production—was vented into the atmosphere. Accidents with trichlorophenol production had occurred previously, injuring and killing workers in the USA (1949), West Germany (1953), Britain (Coalite), Holland, France and Italy. One plant was dumped at the bottom of the sea, another down a disused coalmine. Contamination is for keeps. The TCDD poison is 500 times stronger than strychnine and curare, 10,000 times more so than sodium cyanide. It deforms foetuses and may cause cancer. It also causes chloracne, liver and kidney damage, heart failure, crippling muscle pains, and many “neurological and psychological disorders”. In spite of the known dangers, after the accident workers were allowed to work “as normal” in the plant for nearly a week. A week later the hospital and local authority were informed about the poison, and evacuation of the area was not ordered till August 2—more than three weeks after the accident.

“Seveso should never have happened”, concluded The Economist. Yet the plant was run in compliance with Italian government regulations in that area over 300 chemical plants were breaking the notoriously lax regulations. The Economist emphasised that “Other Sevesos could happen, other Minamatas (a Japanese fishing village poisoned by mercury), other PCBs (a chemical whose nasty effects were not recognised till twenty years after it had been in widespread use)”.

In Michigan USA, cattle were fed PBB flame retardant accidentally mixed — more than once—into feedstuff. Health damage to the population has been serious—90 per cent of the people of Michigan had the chemical in their bodies five years later. PBBs are “close chemical cousins” of PCBs which are now regarded as carcinogens. PCBs are very long-lived in the environment, “in 1968 over 1000 Japanese were poisoned by eating rice oil contaminated by PCBs. Infants-unborn at the time of the incident-were poisoned by absorbing PCBs from their mothers’ milk”.

Living On A Dump:
In the USA 30-40 million tons of dangerous waste is produced each year. There are at least one thousand dumps which are “a serious danger to human health” and many others where information is lacking. No registers are kept of former chemical dumps. And in August 1978 Love Canal, where houses and a primary school were built over tons of waste chemicals, was declared a disaster area. “People who walked in the pools of foul-smelling chemicals found their shoes burnt through, and dogs became sick and lame . . . Health inspectors found no less than 82 chemicals — 11 of them known to cause cancer in animals, and at least one a known human carcinogen.” Miscarriage rates were 50 per cent above average and birth deformities are common among the children.

Such land is cheap to build on. Where the working class is treated like garbage, their houses will be built on garbage, and their children will make mud-pies in garbage. They will pay the price with cancer, epilepsy, asthma, liver, kidney and bladder complaints, miscarriages, nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts-byproducts of the production of pesticides in an economic system which cares passionately about profits and treats working people as expendable. Capitalism kills—by carelessness. Avoidable accidents expose the capitalist system’s priority—profits before people.
Charmian Skelton

Road and rail—Sunday Times 13/4/75 and 20/4/75. Air-crashes—Sunday Times 1/10/78. Occupational—Woking News and Mail 10/4/75. Chemicals—New Scientist 1/3/79, 7/12/78. Asbestos—NS 11/1/79 and 29/3/79. Sevcso—The Economist 17/6/78. PBBs and PCBs—The Observer 15/10/78, NS 11/1/79. Living on a Dump—The Listener 11/1/79.

Next: oil and nuclear risks, secrecy, negligence.

On the beach (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everyone — that is, every City Editor, every investment analyst — loves a growth industry. It usually doesn’t matter what the growth is about; the firms which supplied the ovens and the gas to the Nazi concentration camps must have been a growth industry. What matters is growth — the vision of an ever-developing, ever-expanding and therefore, it is assumed, an ever more profitable business.

One of the great growth industries of recent times is the tourist trade; sometimes, as if it were a political theory, called tourism. Six per cent of total international trade is attributable to tourism — more than iron and steel and surpassed only by motor vehicles, chemicals and fuel oil. The World Tourism Organisation, who may be supposed to be not entirely impartial in the matter, claims, “Tourism is no longer a cottage industry . . . today [it] has developed into a major industry".

Britain, advertised as a place where the scenery varies from the simply pretty to the dramatic and where there are buildings dating back to the Roman occupation, is one of the world’s big tourist attractions. Last year 11.72 million tourists came here, to stare at the scenery, photograph the buildings and dazedly shell out their cash to the riotously charging barrow boys of London. During that same year, 12.86 million people travelled abroad from Britain. Those who came in here spent £857 million more than those who went out spent abroad a bias on the balance of payments such as to please any City Editor.

For a favourable balance of payments, like a growth industry, is everyone’s favourite. This (although there are arguments that even by the standards of capitalist accounting the advantages are often more apparent than real) is one of the inducements for the ‘developing’countries to build up a tourist trade. In these cases, the state takes a close interest in the trade; there is usually a Ministry of Tourism and some impressive government subsidies and investment as well as other help. Sometimes the capital for the development has other sources. One American travel firm planned to take over an entire African country, with “no economy, no nothing” and to “merchandise it . . .  so the entire country is run as a beautiful place’’. (The money was to come from Rothschilds.)

This drive to ravage some defenceless part of the world into a paradise for the tourist trade gives tourism a bad image. The industry has its apologists, whose efforts sometimes have a note of desperation:
  Anyone concerned with the motivation of travel has to realise first that he is reaching deep into one of the major conflicts of the human mind; a desire for sameness, the return to the womb, if you wish; conflicting with the motivation to reach out and discover the world. In a sublimated fashion, a trip is therefore a form of birth or rebirth. (Dr. Ernst Dichter, Address to the Department of Travel, Kashmir, October 1967.)
Rather closer to the reality of the balance sheet the trade says it aims to supply hopeful people, on their annual release from the job with a little money to spend, with the Four Esses — Sun, Sea, Sand. Sex. And in pursuit of the profits to be made from that, the tourist trade has invested millions into ships, aircraft, motor coaches, airports, roads, beaches. It has raised hotels which all appear as if they have been built from the same Lego set, where among the palms and the sunbrellas workers can lie roasting like fowls on the spit, hoping to take a sun tan back to the office.

Behind the illusions, tourism has had a dramatic, even drastic, effect on the social fabric of the places it has invaded. In 1955 Torremolinos was a tiny, poverty-stricken village on the south-east coast of Spain. Then the developers’ eye fell upon it and now the Lego is everywhere, the Thomas Cook brochure describes it as ". . . exuberant [with] all the essentials of a modern resort: bars, boutiques, restaurants, beer cellars, clubs, golf courses, yacht marinas . . . One observer has summed up this trend:
  Tourism . . . is no less an industry than steel manufacture and its introduction into Alpine valleys has been no less destructive of total population patterns and traditional culture than if each hotel had been a blast furnace. (The Geography of Recreation and Leisure, Cosgrove and Jackson.)
This aspect is beginning to worry the tourist trade, and much of the writing on it is now concerned with a call for something called a Tourism Policy, by which is meant a controlled development of tourism. It also worries the ecology lobby. The summit of Mount Snowdon is literally being worn away by the millions of feet which trample over it. In the season, a city like London suffers exhaust fumes made even denser by the fleets of taxis, cars, buses, coaches needed to move the tourists from one box office to the next. Outside the city the big jets scream to and from the airport on their carpet of noise, a 707 at take-off generates the same sound level as all the world’s population shouting in unison — and this can happen every few minutes, nearly every hour of every day.

But for the present the pollution which it causes is a lesser worry for the tourist industry. Of more immediate concern, because it offers an imminent threat to profits, is the bogey of saturation. If too many people visit the same place and overwhelm the available facilities, they may have the kind of experience to persuade them not to buy that holiday again. London, which lies fourth in the league table of saturation, measured by tourist nights spent per 100 residents, is getting near that point. Moving around the city in the summer is difficult, almost impossible, as the visitors from abroad add their weight to the rush-hour miseries of the travelling workers. In Westminster Abbey the crush is so great that an admission charge has been imposed, and after paying to go in the visitors are channelled along roped-off routes with no waiting allowed to look at anything.

This illustrates a contradiction of tourism which (although it may not occur to the Ford worker inflicting his Spanish on some hapless English-speaking bartender on the Costa Brava) is typical of capitalist society. Tourism has grown from the pressures of industrial capitalism. It was the concentrations of urban life — factories, close-piled slums, relentless exploitation — which spawned the need to get away from it all as well as the faster and more efficient means of doing so.

It took some time for the workers to establish that a holiday is an essential part of the recreation of their labour power. As this need is now accepted, and as many workers now get three or even four weeks break each year, the tourist industry has grown to market that recreation. This can assume some startling forms but who cares, as long as it sells? So holiday camps marshall their millions into obedient queues and into nerve-wracking competitions to find the funniest face in the place. Package tours take care of everything except stomachs abruptly overfull of unusual food and booze. Jet planes pack in their economy passengers as tight as a bus, easing the discomforts with the plastic smile of a leg-weary hostess. Somewhere among all this gusty enjoyment, say the industry’s salesmen, batteries are recharged; the line at Ford’s flows freer for it.

So big business is interested in an efficient holiday industry and the tourist trade has answered this by itself becoming big business. It is becoming increasingly harder for the small firm to survive. The British hotel industry is dominated by companies like Trust House Forte (who try to promote a cosier image by advertising that all their employees wear unctuous smiles) and Grand Metropolitan (who also own Express Dairies, Watneys and the Express Newspapers). Behind them is some of the latest, most expensive technology, Holiday Inns has a central computer link-up which is said to be the world’s largest private communications network.

In package holidays, three firms — Clarksons (the largest in the world), Thomsons and Horizon account for over half the business originating in Britain, leaving the rest to seventy-odd smaller operators. Governments offer a wide range of subsidies (in Britain a grant of £1,000 was available for every hotel bedroom completed before 1973), tax allowances, low interest loans and so on. They also invest a lot of money directly in the trade; two-thirds of the airlines in the IATA are wholly or partly state owned. At the same time, governments impose laws on safety and consumer standards, many of which can be met only by the bigger operators. The 1971 Fire Precautions Act, which laid down regulations about fire safety in hotels, caused thousands of small hotels and guest houses to close or to change their use.

These laws are designed to prevent the profit motive running riot to the point of being counter-productive and to encourage a more orderly investment of capital in the industry. A bad experience, caused by a rush to get a quick profit, can damage the industry overall; and that is the sort of thing governments are supposed to prevent. The film Jaws showed how tills operates, and there are many examples of it in real life. In 1962 the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt suffered an epidemic of typhoid caused by its neglect of the water supply in favour of building hotels, ski lifts and the like. In 1973 the typhoid bacteria was found in the water in Miami. The authorities could not ignore the problem, as had happened at Zermatt; they advised everyone to boil all their water but refused to use words like ‘contamination’ which, although accurate, might have damaged their holiday bookings.

Workers who spend their lives on the treadmill of exploitation need to buy a holiday once in a while, to restore themselves. The industry which sells these holidays is now big business and operates under all the contradictions of any capitalist enterprise. The rush to invest in tourism has proved environmentally damaging — although the ‘environment’ is usually an essential part of the commodity which the industry sells. In some ‘developing’ countries the tourist trade has been built up at the expense of other industries which, by the standards by which capitalism judges profits —might well prove to be more worthwhile. A mess which is typical in a society where wealth is turned out to make profits and not to satisfy human needs.

There is a final irony. Holidays are about illusions, about forgetting reality for a while. But the trade which markets those illusions is itself being forced up against its own reality. And it is not always having a lovely time.

Election result: They won—you lost (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now the election is over you may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was all about. Maggie is well installed in the power seat she so blatantly wanted, the Labour Party is licking its wounds, the Liberals are picking up the pieces of Steel’s Battlebus (or was it a blunderbuss) and one or two kilted academics are doing historical theses on the rise and fall of the SNP.

But back in the council houses and the factories, one thing has emerged; nothing much has happened. The change is in inverse proportion to the noise that the parties of capitalism made during the election campaign. Most people are still workers. So in order to brighten your day, here is a simple quiz. Here are quotes from Labour, Liberal and Tory Manifestos and material for the 1979 Election. Your job is simply to identify who said what. Answers below, together with an assessment of your results.

1. Employment
(a) The . . . will pursue policies which give a high priority to the return of full employment
(b) We need to concentrate more on the creation of conditions in which new, more modern, more secure, better paid jobs come into existence
(c) We have an unjust industrial society in which most workers are pitted against management and are denied any share in decision taking or in profits

2. Housing
(a) In the first session of the next Parliament we shall therefore, give Council and New Town tenants the legal right to buy their own homes
(b) Councils should be required to build more homes for sale
(c) . . .  does not oppose the sale of Council houses to sitting tenants who want to buy

3. Education
(a) We see education and training as a lifelong process that must be as widely available as possible to people of all ages
(b) The . . . party believes in equality of opportunity
(c) We must restore to every child, regardless of background, the chance to progress

4. The Individual
(a) Our policy will be to tilt the balance of power back to the individual and the neighbourhood, and away from the bureaucrats of Town Hall, Company Board Room, the Health Service and Whitehall
(b) Bureaucracy and powerful organisations triumph at the expense of individuals who feel powerless to influence decisions that affect them
(c) I want to expand peoples’ rights, not restrict them. I want people to have more say in their own lives

5. Europe
(a) We therefore, propose fundamental reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to produce competitive prices, avoid structural food surpluses and encourage efficient farming
(b) Our policies for the reform of the CAP would reduce the burden which the community budget places upon the British tax payer
(c) The CAP raises serious problems for British Agriculture — distorting the balance of production; decreasing consumption through inflated prices in the shops; and stopping the industry from growing. That is why . . . seeks a fundamental reform of the CAP.

6. Law and Order
(a) We will fight against crime and violence, which affect all western societies. We will continue to back the police with proper resources and manpower
(b) The steady increase in crime can only be checked in the short run by recruiting many more police, by improving working conditions . . . having the greatest practicable number of policemen “on the beat’’ by day and night
(c) Surer detection means surer deterrents. We also need better crime prevention measures and more flexible, more effective sentences. For violent criminals and thugs, really tough sentences are necessary. But in other cases, long prison terms are not always the best deterrent

7. Environment
(a) The quality of our environment is a vital concern to all of us . . . We shall continue to give these issues a proper priority. Subject to the availability of resources we shall pay particular attention to the improvement and restoration of derelict land, the disposal and re-cycling of dangerous and other wastes and reducing pollution
(b) . . . is proud of its record on environmental matters. . . . will: develop policies for resource conservation. Use our campaign for a better environment to provide the basis of secure employment, for example in pollution control and in waste re-cycling
(c) 1. Conservation and wiser use of scarce resources especially land and energy; 2. War on waste and pollution; 3. Tire need to preserve the natural environment for future generations 4. A re-ordering of our economic and social priorities to put them on a sounder basis

8. Northern Ireland
(a) For the present direct rule remains the only viable alternative. Any change can be made only with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. We will work to make it more accountable and democratic
(b) Its future still depends on the defeat of terrorism and the restoration of law and order
(c) There must be no capitulation to violence. Direct rule must continue for the time being

9. Women
(a) Equal opportunities for men and women in all spheres, especially equal pay for work of equal value
(b) We will progressively eliminate the inequalities that still exist in the social security and tax systems
(c) (NB One of the parties appears to have nothing to say on the subject. When I telephoned their head office the spokesperson said they were in favour of equal rights for women)

10. Animals
(a) We shall update the Brambell Report, the codes of welfare for farm animals and the legislation on experiments on live animals. We shall also re-examine the rules and enforcement applying to the export of live animals
(b) We will have stronger control on the export of live animals for slaughter, on conditions of factory farming and on experiments on live animals
(c) Support for demand of the General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection for a Royal Commission on Animal Welfare

11. The Promises
(a) I appeal to you, as a voter concerned with what is best for Britain, to throw your support behind the fresh approach which the . . . party represents
(b) We make no lavish promises
(c) It is the message of hope for the future based on a record of promises kept, that . . . . puts to the British people

Answers to quiz at the bottom of the post

How did you score?

  • If you were under 10% successful, score well on cynicism 
  • If you were 10% to 40% successful, score well on desperation 
  • If you were 40% to 60% successful, score well on the law of averages
  • If you were 60% to 80% successful you must have written the manifestos
  • If you were 80% to 100% successful, I do not believe you 
  • If you were 100% or over successful, you answered each question roughly as follows:

 “That quote was taken from the manifesto of a capitalist party; one that stands for a society which puts profitability first; one which supports a world of mass starvation and food surpluses; a world of shortages and under usage of potential both in terms of labour and physical resources—a world of stock piled weapons of destruction; a world where a full satisfying life is denied to the majority. That is—capitalism. That is what Labour, Liberal and Tory all stood for in the last Election”.
Ronnie Warrington

Answers to the Election Quiz

Letter: Organisation—Industrial or Political? (1951)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received from an opponent of the S.P.G.B. the letter reproduced below. Our reply to his criticism follows. The opening paragraphs of the letter need a word of explanation. In the columns of the Socialist Standard we publish articles expounding the S.P.G.B. case, written by members. We also publish, and reply to, statements from opponents opposing the S.P.G.B. In order to avoid misunderstanding we insist that the statements opposing our case shall be in the form of letters and not in the form of articles. This seems to us to be a reasonable precaution against needless confusion, but our critic does not agree; though why he wants his statement to appear as an article, not as a letter, we do not know.
Editorial Committee.

The Editorial Committee,

Dear Sirs,

I received your letter of 11th inst., enclosing my article dealing with the present capitalist political crisis. The article is a scientifically constructed statement, pointing unerringly to the inescapable conclusion that there is but one solution, the establishment of a new social order—Socialism.

The reason given for non-publication, that “it is not our practice to publish articles in the Socialist Standard unless written by members,” is not well taken; it is an evasion of criticism, and comes with very bad grace from an organisation claiming Marxism to be the basis of its stand.

The establishment of Socialism demands political and economic organisation. The Marxian observation is: "Only the economic organisation can set on foot a true political party of labour, and thus raise a bulwark against the power of capital.” (Marx, to Hamann, Treasurer of the Metalworkers’ Union, in Hanover, 1869.)

In capitalist countries, such as U.S.A., Great Britain, Germany, etc., the tactics of the proletarian revolution are two-fold, political and industrial. Without the political organisation, the class-conscious economic organisation cannot be forged. Without the class-conscious economic organisation, the socialist political ballot cannot triumph.

Economic unity—the solidarity of the working class—is the only solid fact from which political unity can be reflected, without which there can be no political conquest. Thus the economic organisation is the “lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.” (Marx, “Value, Price and Profit,” last paragraph.)

The revolutionary political ballot proclaims the RIGHT of the working class to own and control the means of wealth production, the class-conscious economic organisation is the MIGHT to enforce that RIGHT.

No pure and simple ballot-box decision, however crushing, can dislodge the usurping capitalist class from ownership of the industrial factors of production. The proletarian revolution must guard against having weak spots in its armour.

The last paragraph of Marx’s “Value, Price and Profit,” quoted above, repudiates the position that the armed forces of the State can be converted into levers of emancipation, and, in reference to the lesson of the Paris Commune, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it in its own interests." (Marx, Preface to Communist Manifesto, 25th June, 1872.)
Yours fraternally,
John Robertson.

The S.P.G.B. holds that power is in the hands of those who control the machinery of government including the armed forces, and that the working class cannot remove capitalist dominance and introduce Socialism until, through socialist political organisation, they have conquered the powers of government for the purpose of introducing Socialism. There are many people who believe that during the past six years the working class have been in control of the machinery of government for the purpose of introducing Socialism. They are quite wrong. The working class are not socialist and the Labour Government was placed in office to administer Capitalism. Its faithful efforts to do so have naturally left unsolved the working-class problems that Capitalism produces, with the consequence that many workers are turning from political action towards industrial action. Having got no benefit from the wrong political action they mistakenly decide that no political action is of much use. A similar change of outlook took place after the earlier Labour Governments, and in 1926 led to the abortive general strike.

We may therefore expect, and are already encountering, revived advocacy of the kind of argument contained in the letter from our opponent. At the risk therefore of restating what should, in the light of working-class experience, be obvious, we again place on record the important proposition that while the working class must in self-defence organise on the industrial field, and use their only weapon there, the strike, there is a definite limit to what strike action can achieve, for in the last resort the capitalist-controlled State forces can, and will, crush strikes, both large and small.

As for the future and the establishment of Socialism, it is obvious that when a majority understand and want Socialism this will express itself in the trade unions as well as politically. Nevertheless the key to the achievement of Socialism will still be in political organisation and action to gain control of the machinery of government.

Now for some details of our correspondent’s argument.

We are first asked to pay attention to what Marx in 1869 is alleged to have told Hamann, a metal worker of Hanover. Our correspondent does not tell us what is his authority for believing that Marx used the words quoted. The point is important for the words were not recorded in a letter but are Hamann’s version of an interview. An English translation of a fairly lengthy passage (which includes the remark quoted by our correspondent) will be found in “Marx and the Trade Unions” by A. Lozovsky (“Martin Lawrence,” 1935, page 153). According to Hamann Marx is alleged to have told him, among other things, that “If the trade unions really want to accomplish their task, they must never associate themselves with any political unions or become dependent upon them in any way and also:
   “The trade unions are schools of Socialism. In the trade unions the workers are trained to become socialists.”
In view of these and other statements that are out of harmony with Marx’s known attitude, we agree with Lozovsky when he claims that it is impossible that Marx can really have made the statements in the version attributed to him by Hamann. And, to save needless argument about something that is now beyond the possibility of direct proof, we would add that if Marx had made these statements to Hamann then he would have been wrong. To take one example: except to a very restricted extent, are the trade unions schools of Socialism? Does concentration on fighting for the day-to-day wage demands of the particular section of workers in each particular union school them to take the all-embracing international and class view that is implicit in accepting the socialist case? In 1869 Marx, with his, at that time, understandably optimistic view of the prospect of international solidarity of trade unionists, could hope that that would happen. Events have proved him wrong; the trade unions have made only small progress, if any, towards that desirable condition. Trade union activity has not broken down the nationalistic and capitalist outlook of the mass of trade unionists; and Marx’s statement in the “Communist Manifesto” 1848, that “national differences, and antagonisms between peoples, are daily more and more vanishing ” has been shown to be exceedingly premature, to say the least.

We are next told that “economic unity . . . is the only solid fact from which political unity can be reflected ”; but our correspondent does not pause to notice that there is in existence no such solid fact of economic unity (i.e., industrial organisation on a class, socialist basis), yet there are in existence political parties of socialists. Ought they then, in his view, to wind up and wait in the hope that class organisation on the industrial field will come into being?

Our correspondent then gives us what he says Marx wrote in the last paragraph of “Value, Price and Profit.” According to this version Marx is alleged to have written that the economic organisation is “the lever” for final emancipation. What Marx actually wrote was that the unions should use their organised forces as “a lever”! Such a small change of words, but such a large distortion of meaning.

Lastly our correspondent resurrects once more the hoary misrepresentation of a passage in Marx’s “Civil War in France.” Marx did indeed write that the working class “cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (“ Labour Publishing Co. Edition,” page 28). He was writing about the situation in France in 1871 where the State machine included organs “of standing army, police, bureaucracies, clergy and judicature,” which originated with the absolute monarchy, and he merely pointed out that “while the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society.” (Page 32.)

Or, as it is put in our Declaration of Principles, the working class must conquer the powers of govern- men “in order that this machinery, including the armed forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation.”
Editorial Committee.

Blogger's Note:
A follow up to this correspondence appeared in the March 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard.

The Hand-Made Tale (2019)

The Proper Gander Column from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we’re stuck at work, stressed out and fed up with the usual hierarchies and procedures, who hasn’t daydreamed about doing something more imaginative and fulfilling? Days spent not being a small cog in someone else’s machine, but doing what we’re passionate about to make an end product of which we can be proud.

The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries recognised that work could be more satisfying than what it has become in capitalism. This movement was a reaction to the growth of industrialism, which at that time meant ever-increasing numbers of smoky, dirty mills and factories. Its prominent members were artists and socialists who railed against how industry, and mass production in particular, churned out both dull, impersonal commodities and alienated, exploited workers. It harked back to a romanticised view of mediaeval times, when production meant individually-crafted pottery, furniture and ornaments. Emphasising how making things by hand brings us closer to what we produce, it aimed to encourage people to find pleasure again in being creative. Arts and Crafts designs were simple, light and airy, in contrast to the dominant fashion for wealthier Victorians’ homes to be cluttered, dark and stuffy. Patterns were often inspired by nature, such as in the floral motifs of William Morris’ wallpaper and William De Morgan’s pot and tile designs.

Trying to recreate both the artworks and the working practices of the movement was the premise behind BBC2’s The Victorian House Of Arts And Crafts. In this show, six craftsmen and women spend a month living and working together, each week using traditional methods to make Arts and Crafts-inspired items for a particular room of the house.

Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942)
The idea of craftspeople working together as a community comes from The Guild and School of Handicraft, founded by Charles Robert Ashbee in 1888. This was a collective of workshops run with the aim of seeking ‘not only to set a higher standard of craftsmanship, but at the same time, and in so doing, to protect the status of the craftsman’. The programme aims to reconstruct such a place, where artists can bounce ideas off each other, share knowledge and experience, and find ways of working well together. Although they are already skilled in trades such as metalwork, woodwork, pottery and textiles, the show’s six participants will only be using materials, tools and techniques from the 19th century. Through the weeks their tasks include manually printing wallpaper from carved blocks and making a chair by weaving its seat from reeds and using a pole lathe to turn wood for the legs.

As well as using practical methods most of us are unfamiliar with, the Arts and Crafts movement also championed styles of work which differ from that which many of us endure. For example, rest was important to the movement, as it makes work more dignified and allows time for ideas to develop. In capitalist workplaces, where time is money, any breaks we don’t end up working through are usually just long enough to gather up enough energy to last out the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, the programme imposes tight deadlines on the artists to complete their pieces, so they have to work with more intensity and less leisurely enjoyment than the Arts and Crafts ideal. And it predictably uses another TV trope of picking a winner each week, which again seems to go against the movement’s ethos. But despite this, the participants are in the enviable position of being able to sketch their ideas while sitting in the garden before heading to a workshop to make them real. Having the opportunity to collaborate, experiment and be creative is a nourishing experience for them, echoing the movement’s belief in the therapeutic benefits of crafting by hand.

Inevitably, the programme focuses much more on art than on the movement’s political ideas. Rather than just being nostalgic for previous ways of working, the movement aimed for a new society where work could again be personal and satisfying. This doesn’t have to mean only using old techniques. As Charles Robert Ashbee said, ‘We do not reject the machine, we welcome it. But we would desire to see it mastered’. The movement’s political views were shaped particularly by John Ruskin and William Morris. Ruskin criticised the alienating nature of employment during the industrial revolution, but naively believed that society’s ills could be cured by a ‘noble’ class of philanthropic industrialists (see Socialist Standard, June 2000). Morris’ views were more imaginative and perceptive, recognising that the drudgery and exploitation of employment will remain as long as employment itself exists. His vision of the future, detailed in News From Nowhere (1890) is of a world where work is pleasurable and voluntary, as it would be if services and industry were owned and democratically run by the community as a whole. The Arts and Crafts movement remains relevant today, not just for anyone who wants to design and print their own wallpaper, but for anyone who wants a better way of living and working. The Victorian House Of Arts And Crafts was a welcome reminder of a movement which isn’t just stuck in the past.
Mike Foster

Materialism for children (2019)

Book Review from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Everything Is Connected’. By Jason Gruhl (Illustrations by Ignasi Font. Shambhala, 2019. Hardback £12.99)

As a materialist I am thrilled to see this publication of a book for children, impressing them with the importance of openness to all life and the truth that all life is connected and all living beings part of a rich kaleidoscope. As Carl Sagan pointed out, we are all star stuff.

The publishers regularly make available works from a Buddhist perspective, and if Buddhists generally dislike what they think of as materialism, it is because the word is associated mostly with the mechanism and reductionism of traditional post-Christian western thought. Materialists, in fact, should oppose such reductionism, and be consistent – embracing the liberating realisation that all of us are the universe, that nothing is separate or outside of it, and that our atoms have made up trillions of living beings before us, and will make up trillions after us. All organisms are relatives, and the atoms that were once part of a T-Rex or a blue whale are now part of you!

For socialists too, the universe as here presented for children can help us show that physical reality can be more beautiful and wondrous than myths, and truth more colourful and resplendent than fiction.
A. W.

Rear View: Trump the Saviour (2019)

The Rear View Column from the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trump the Saviour
Given that we the people have elected the likes of Viktor Orban, Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Daniel Ortega, the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front, even Adolf Hitler, it’s little wonder that some people have turned to prayer. Well, for many Christians, including Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, those prayers have been answered and we have been blessed with Donald Trump. ‘I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president. And that’s why he’s there. And I think he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about’ (, 31 January). One contributor to the site, MJ, went so far as to state: ‘I definitely agree that God chose Donald Trump to be our president! The devil and hordes of his demons have done everything they know to try and hinder and stop him from accomplishing God’s purposes, yet he remains in office. Why? Because he has given his life to God and desires to restore Christian values to our nation to make it great again. Bless him, Lord!’

Cortez the Redeemer
The religious Left is no better. In a commentary titled ‘The Biblical Values of Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic Socialism’ (, 31 January) we are informed ‘The Bible envisions a just and equitable social order. As King explained, “God never intended for some of his children to live in inordinate superfluous wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty.” Democratic socialism seeks to build a more humane society, not by force or compulsion, but by way of the age-old democratic practice of “one person, one vote.” For this reason, democratic socialist policies can only move forward if the American people understand their value and vote for them.’ Surprisingly, there is a kernel of truth here: genuine socialism can only come about through majority understanding. But, religion, be it of the Left or Right, supports the status quo. Quotations from the Bible are offered in support of healthcare for all, a fair wage and a minimum one for all, as well as fair treatment of workers. The real message is, however, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die!

Worship Me or Die
‘Christianity is virtually outlawed in North Korea, where dictator Kim Jong Un is the subject of a personality cult that treats him like a god. The possession of Bibles, open religious services and any attempt to build underground church networks could mean torture, lengthy prison terms or execution’ (, 1 February). If you have ever seen North Korea from the heavens, thanks to a satellite image and technology developed by the 99 percent, the contrast with the South is astonishing. Schopenhauer wrote that ‘religions are like glow worms; they shine only when it is dark’. Atheism, whether state sponsored or not, is ultimately another blind alley. So the fight continues on two fronts, to replace religion and supersede atheism through socialist understanding.

No Gods, no Masters
Marx (1847): ‘The social principles of Christianity have had eighteen centuries in which to develop, and have no need to undergo further development at the hands of Prussian consistorial councillors. The social principles of Christianity justified the slavery of classical days; they glorified mediaeval serfdom; and they are able when needs must to defend the oppression of the proletariat, though with a somewhat crestfallen air. The social principles of Christianity proclaim the need for the existence of a ruling class and a subjugated class, being content to express the pious hope that the former will deal philanthropically with the latter. The social principles of Christianity assume that there will be compensation in heaven for all the infamies committed on earth, and thereby justify the persistence of these infamies here below. The social principles of Christianity explain that the atrocities perpetrated by the oppressors on the oppressed are either just punishments for original and other sins, or else trials which the Lord in His wisdom ordains for the Redeemed. The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility, in a word, all the qualities of the canaille; and the proletariat which will not allow itself to be treated as canaille, needs courage, self-confidence, pride, a sense of personal dignity and independence, even more than it needs daily bread. The social principles of Christianity are lick-spittle, whereas the proletariat is revolutionary. So much for the social principles of Christianity’ (Otto Rühle, Karl Marx: His Life and Works, 1929).

Passing Comments: Aggression (1952)

The Passing Comments Column from the March 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

While all capitalist powers are by their nature expansionist, this tendency is seen more obviously in the behaviour of those who came latest to the game of international grabbing; and many of these new powers are grouped together at present under the leadership of the Soviet Union. Thus one of the most telling weapons in the propaganda armoury of the Western Powers is that of “resistance to aggression." But, of course, neither bloc is unimpeachable on this count, and perhaps we should not hear quite so much about "defence against aggression” from the NATO powers if they were not in the majority in the United Nations. This majority enables the United States to get its own views as to what is and is not aggression endorsed by the United Nations. Endorsement of the American view is made all the more easy by the fact that "aggression” has never been legally defined: indeed, those who talk most loudly about resisting aggression are the most reluctant to define exactly what it is they wish to resist. It is as if there were no laws laying down what constitute burglary, merely a court which decided each time a dispute came up whether or not a burglary had been committed, and if it had been which party to the dispute was the burglar. This lack of definition is very useful to the NATO powers, for if aggression were defined it would be very difficult to explain why such open acts of aggression as that of India against Hyderabad were tacitly condoned.

Entirely justified
The Soviet Union has now taken the question up again in the legal committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris, and has submitted a long list of acts which in its opinion should be proclaimed aggressions by the United Nations. The Western Powers have of course voted against this move. The reasons for their doing so were given in The Times of January 19th with a frankness which must have been embarrassing to them. The Times said openly that a definition of aggression would mean that many acts of the Anglo-American powers would under such a definition be ruled as aggressive—
  “In fact, a detailed list of definitions would he endless and would certainly prejudge, as aggressive, many acts which when the time came could be entirely justified.... During the present tension in the world no power wishes to be committed to military action on the bask of arbitrary rules attempting to govern every eventuality.”

The wisdom of this stand from the point of view of the Western Powers was again demonstrated soon afterwards. On January 28th the American, British and French delegates on the political committee of UNO were making the usual threatening speeches about “resistance to Communist aggression” in S.E. Asia, when the Burmese delegate got up and drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that an army of Chinese Nationalist troops under General Li-Mi had invaded the Kengtung province of Burma after having been thrown out of China by Mao Tse-Tung’s forces. The Burmese army had given battle to these Chinese Nationalists, but had been unable to defeat them decisively. Two days later, in the plenary Assembly, the Burmese delegate again spoke of Kuomintang aggression, and pointed out the connection between the reluctance of the Western Powers to define aggression and their equal reluctance to act when the aggressor was one of their allies. He said:
  “Doubts were being expressed in some American quarters about the presence of any Chinese troops, in spite of confirmation by the United States embassy in Rangoon that the Formosan Government had been asked for its co-operation in getting them out. It could be seen from this example that, even when an act of aggression had taken place, people were disinclined to accept undenied facts. The Nationalist troops would get out fast enough if those states which had been against defining aggression but had favoured collective measures in the United Nations told the aggressor, accepted by many 'under another name.’ that all aid and recognition would be annulled unless the 'invaders’ were immediately withdrawn." (Times, 1-2-52.)

Home and away
It is not only those promises and pledges relating to home affairs which the Conservatives have had to discard since the election. The promises made by the Tories in international politics have also been thrown overboard. One of the main features of many Tory election speeches was a promise that if Churchill were returned to power Britain would recover her freedom and independence in world affairs, and would resume her natural position of leadership. The unspoken idea behind such promises is that a nation owes its position in the world not to its economic resources and military power, but to the “great men” which lead it. The worth of the idea can be seen in the rapidity with which the pledge has been abandoned. It was not long before the election that Churchill protested vigorously in the House of Commons against the appointment of an American admiral as Commander-in-Chief of the naval forces of the Western Powers in the Atlantic. But the realities of power—60 per cent. of the naval forces in the Atlantic are American and only 30 per cent. British —have now forced Churchill to agree to just that. In extenuation the Conservatives say that Churchill has obtained a million tons of American steel but has had to give up equally valuable tin and tungsten in return, besides paying the Americans double the present British price for their steel.

Second fiddle
The subsidiary position of British capitalism can also be seen in the attitude of America in those parts of the world where the British Empire is crumbling, and where Britain is being pushed out of strategically and economically valuable areas. In Persia, America stood by when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. was given its marching orders by the Persians, and the American-led World Bank is now trying to arrange terms on which the Persian capitalists themselves can carry on the production of oil. In Egypt, America watches from the sidelines. On January 29th a State Department spokesman said that America had no intention of mediating between Egypt and Britain. “The Government was not at present contemplating any moves and it had advanced no proposals” (Times, 30-1-52). A recent report made by the Senate foreign relations committee to the Senate was even more definite:
  “The report also contains a specific assurance to the Senate from Mr. Acheson, the Secretary of State, that an attack on British forces in Egypt would not bring the North Atlantic Treaty into operation." (Times, 23-1-52).
Mr. Acheson here appears to have abandoned even the theory that aggression is only aggression when it is aimed against members of the N.A.T.O. alliance; now it seems that only attacks made on the areas where the United States has a direct influence are to be considered as aggressions. Clearly, as far as America is concerned. British capitalism’s chestnuts are to remain in the fire.

Fall in and follow—America
When Mr. Churchill addressed the American Congress on January 17th, he said plaintively “it would enormously aid us in our task if even token forces of other partners in the Four-Power proposal were stationed in the Canal Zone.” But even though, as the Times put it, such forces would be “considerably smaller than the token forces which they (the Americans) always talk of other United Nations countries having in Korea,” Congress has not even considered the idea. Later in the same speech Mr. Churchill reassured the Congress that there was no danger of British insubordination by saying “we must persevere in the tasks to which, under United States leadership, we have solemnly bound ourselves” He continued:
  “Britain and the United States were working together in the same high cause. Bismarck once said that the supreme fact of the nineteenth century was that Britain and the United States spoke the same language. 'Let us make sure,' said Mr. Churchill, 'that the supreme fact of the twentieth century is that they tread the same path.’ ” (Times, 18-1-52).
The concessions Mr. Churchill has already made, and the tone he took in this speech, make it certain that he realises how this will be done; by British capitalism following in America’s footsteps, not the other way round.

On January 20th the Sunday Express proposed that there should be a “two-tier meat system,” under which every citizen would have a small ration at a low price, plus the opportunity to buy more at world prices.
  "Socialists will argue that the mass of the nation cannot afford to pay the world price for meat. That is not true. Every family in Britain spends, on average, £1 a week on tobacco. As a nation we spend per head on drink, tobacco and gambling an average of 18s. I0d. a week. If meat were available, most sensible people would soon cut some of that spending and buy meat instead."
Here the Sunday Express employs, one can only assume deliberately, one of the oldest fallacies in numbers—the “average” fallacy—in order to put across a political point. “The average family,” we are told, “spends £1 a week on tobacco.” And “per head” we spend “on average” 18s. 10d. per week on drink, tobacco and gambling. If the Sunday Express's average citizen spends 18s. 10d. a week on these things, no doubt the Sunday Express's “average family” of 4 will spend £3 15s. 4d. per week on them. Perhaps the Sunday Express leader-writer doesn’t see his own fallacy. At any rate, if he is not being intentionally obtuse, he must be astoundingly ignorant of the living conditions among that great mass of the population of Britain which still lives on incomes of under £10 a week—some on incomes a good deal under it—if he can assume that “on average” a family of 4 will spend £3 15s. a week on smoking, drinking and gambling. The fallacy lies in the pretence that there is any real meaning in taking the average in cases where the numbers to be averaged vary greatly. For example, the leader-writer who wrote the above quotation would make a very bad recruiting officer: he might march off eight 10-year-old boys and their 80-year-old teacher to join the army on the ground that their average age was nearly eighteen.

Incidentally, if the Sunday Express's figures are correct (perhaps an unwise assumption) they indicate that the spending on luxuries among the upper class must be very high to bring up the average for the whole country to 18s. 10d. a week per head, since the workers cannot afford to spend anything like that much.

Sound Basis
Captain David Cammans, Assistant Postmaster General, perpetrated a similar fallacy when he said:
  “Mr. Bevan wants us to believe that a country which spends £778 million on tobacco, £488 million on beer. £650 million on gambling, and £107 million on going to the cinema every year cannot afford this charge of £10 million to put the national health service on a sound basis.” (Times, 4-2-52).
Captain Gammans' error here is to take for granted that there is a connection between the total figures of consumption in a country and the rate of consumption among particular groups and individuals within that country. But perhaps Captain Gammans, in spite of having been chairman of the Adamant Investment Corporation and director of five other companies before he became a minister, has been confused by the large sums involved. Let us therefore put a very simple case for the captain and any other readers who may happen to be as backward at statistics as he seems to be.

Elementary paragraph for Tory M.P.s
It is now common knowledge that there are 88,000 persons in this country who admit to having incomes of between £40 and £120 a week after tax, not taking into account income tax evasion and perquisites and expenses accounts, apart from those fortunate few who admit to having incomes even higher. Let us take a mythical figure in this income group, Sir Jasper Turnip-Head, who has an income of £120 a week after tax. In Sir Jasper’s village there are ten cottages, each occupied by a labourer and his family living on about £6 a week. Now Sir Jasper puts aside £20 a week towards extending his shareholdings, and he finds that his living expenses come to about £50 a week. Sir Jasper keeps a small yacht, and hunts regularly, and has an account with a wine and spirit merchant: altogether his luxuries and entertainments come to about £50 a week. The labourers find, though, that after the necessities of food and clothing have been paid for, and after the rent has been handed over, there is only 10s. a week for each family to spend on beer, tobacco and so on. Along comes the government investigator, and he discovers that all the inhabitants of the village. Sir Jasper included, spend a total of £55 a week in luxuries and entertainments. Sir Jasper is much moved by this news, since the country is passing through an economic crisis; so he calls the villagers together and tells them that since, on the average, each family is spending £5 a week on luxuries, they could all afford to go without quite a lot of things they now buy.
Alwyn Edgar