Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Capitalism and the Comet (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.—The Hollow Men.
T.S. Eliot, it seems, was wrong. Dr Steel, an expert on asteroids and leader of the world's largest team involved in sighting new pieces of celestial debris, recently informed the second Australian Space Development Conference that Comet Smith- Tuttle, first sighted in 1862 and rediscovered in September 1992, is on course to collide with the planet Earth on 14 August 2116.

Comet Smith-Tuttle is a 3.1-mile-wide ball of rock and ice travelling through space at a speed of 37 miles per second. The comet’s collision with the Earth will create an impact force of 20 million megatonnes, or about 1.6 million times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A head-on crash could destroy up to 95 percent of humanity.

With the plot of a thousand sci-fi novellas becoming fact, is any action likely to be immediately instigated to safeguard the future of our children's children’s children? Having been given one hundred and twenty four years’ notice of this impending event, do we agree with Samuel Johnson that “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”? Or, is it pointless to concern ourselves with something which will not directly affect a single person alive today?

Putting one in mind of Sir Boyle Roche who asked "what has posterity done for us?’’, the leader column in the Times (26 October) takes a very facetious view of the whole affair. Whilst contemplating the effect of Comet Smith-Tuttle’s arrival upon the stock market and property prices in 2116, the paper concludes that placid contemplation of the world’s fate has always worked up to now. The Times is, however, surprised at the prospect of civilization being brought to and end by a comet. It shares the existing belief that Armageddon is likely to occur through man-made pollution or nuclear war.

Should we placidly accept that the present world-wide system of society— capitalism—will still exist in the twenty-second century? Will the natural competitive elements of a system dedicated to the exploitation of the planet’s resources for financial gain, and to the economic exploitation of the majority of people living on the planet, be suspended whilst global co-operation is exercised in finding some way of averting the threat to ruling class and working class alike?

The odds of a head-on collision with Comet Smith-Tuttle are calculated at 400 to 1. The odds on the world being destroyed by an “internal’’ agency rather than an external one must be considerably shorter. Contemplate the effect of another hundred years of a social system based upon production for profit, not need. A system where political and economic control rests with a small minority. A system where the majority are forced to sell their mental and physical labour power to that minority in order to live. A system where the increasing wealth created by the majority is appropriated by the minority.

Threat from down here
Although no-one now living aged one hundred years has ever experienced the effects of a major collision with the Earth of an extraterrestrial object, they would certainly have experienced several times over the effect of a capitalist crisis of over-production. The same edition of the Times that carried the report of Comet Smith-Tuttle. carried stories with a more contemporary significance. We learn that George Soros, an Hungarian-American financier made £589 million profit from Sterling speculation during ‘‘Black Wednesday”. There are reports covering the march through London of 200,000 workers in support of the redundant miners.

The protests and demonstrations by workers against the effect of yet another capitalist crisis of over-production are understandable but misplaced. Instead of agitating for a fair day's pay for a fair day’s work the working class should be engaged in political action with the object of abolishing the wages system completely. It must be obvious that the bumblings and blusterings of hypocritical politicians and “labour leaders’’ can no longer disguise the fact that they arc powerless to influence the actions of the market system.

Capitalism has run its course. The only question is how much longer the working class are prepared to see capitalism thrash about continuing to do untold harm to millions of workers. The working class has a choice. It can continue to choose to support a social system which brainwashes them, which bullies them, which suppresses them, which makes them homeless, which makes them hungry, which makes them poor, which exploits them and which kills them. Or the working class can choose to realize that we are many and they are few. It can choose to stop its own exploitation and decide to hasten the demise of capitalism and bring about a social system based upon common ownership of the means of production and distribution. The working class can choose to abolish poverty, abolish famine, abolish want, abolish lack of opportunity, abolish the wages system. abolish capitalism.

Without an understanding of the present social system and a desire to bring about the social changes needed if we are all to have a future, simply rioting in the streets will not bring about the social revolution required to implement real global cooperation. After bringing about, and winning, that revolution, the task of preventing a comet from colliding with, and destroying the world must surely be a simple task for a world which by then has known many years of working together to clear up the mess left by capitalism.

There is evidence that the dinosaurs, rulers of the Earth in their time, were made extinct when an asteroid collided with the Earth sixty-five million years ago. We are not dinosaurs, but the social system has become one. It needs to be made extinct. Human beings are the most highly evolved species which has ever inhabited this planet. It seems ludicrous and unlikely that we should allow capitalism, which long ago fulfilled its historical purpose, to continue to prevent us all from progressing toward a collective and individual potential which individuals in the past could only dream about.

Nemesis is not a comet named Smith-Tuttle. Nemesis is the world-wide working class deciding that capitalism has served its purpose and that the time has come to end capitalism now before capitalism has any more opportunities to put an end to us.
Dave Coggan

What Socialists Want (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our aim is to see established a democratic world community without frontiers—in which the natural and industrial resources of the world have become the common heritage of all humanity, and are used in co-operation to produce wealth directly for needs, with free access for all to the available goods and services, according to their own self-defined needs.

A moneyless, stateless world commonwealth is the only framework within which current social problems can be permanently solved, since it is only on this basis that production can be oriented towards satisfying human needs. This social revolution can only be carried out when once a majority of wage and salary workers throughout the world want it, fully understand its implications, and organise democratically and politically to achieve it.

“Abolish Money” – Sinéad O'Connor (1993)

Sinéad O'Connor on SNL.
From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The music business certainly contains some odd contrasts. On 5 November, the world’s biggest music publishing company, Time Warner, handed a cheque for £26 million to Elton John and Bernie Taupin for the future marketing rights to all their songs from 1974 onwards, including the next six future albums. This was the largest advance ever paid in music history. It reflected the safety of investing in the popular material involved.

Around the same time, a fairly successful but somewhat more controversial singer hit the headlines, not just of the music press, but also in the tabloids and elsewhere. Sinead O’Connor had torn up a picture of the Pope, live on camera on the Saturday Night Live American network comedy show. This only added to an already radical reputation, which had polarised opinion between the “moral majority”, particularly in the States, who see her as a public enemy and figure of hate, and the few who have been intrigued by the passionate protests she has pursued.

On an earlier occasion, she had refused to participate in a concert which was to have ended with a rendition of the Stars And Stripes, and for this Frank Sinatra was quoted as eloquently saying that he would like to “kick her butt”. The Sun did an excited expose about her alleged support for the IRA, which later turned out to be unfounded. She horrified the music industry by refusing to collect her “Brits” and US “Grammy” awards in 1991 as she disagreed with the acquisitive and competitive ethos it represented. Then, at the time of the Gulf War, this popular singing star again distinguished herself from her musical colleagues by nailing her colours to the mast and going on record as being emphatically opposed to the war.

Ugly scenes
In the USA, ugly scenes ensued in which piles of her records have been destroyed in public (no doubt in the name of freedom of expression). In Britain, she has been ridiculed instead, through the somewhat limp wit of radio DJs, attempting pathetically to stray into the vocal exposition of their insipid conservatism.

Matters came to a head last October, when she was violently shouted off the stage at a special New York concert held to commemorate thirty years of records produced by Bob Dylan. How ironic that this smug party held for the protest singer of a previous generation should have displayed such brutal intolerance for someone who had spoken out with views which had protested against certain sacred cows in the 1990s. Did they think that the sixties had been so successful in liberating humanity that “protest” could be quietly laid to rest?

It was in the aftermath of that concert that she announced her resignation from her singing career, stating that she had striven to achieve fame only in order to obtain a platform for certain strongly-held views. She then explained these views in some detail through various press interviews. It was subsequently announced that her record company had then persuaded her to reconsider her decision, and she was therefore included in the bill for an Amnesty International concert.

So what were the ideas which lay beneath this wave of controversy?

The opposition to Sinead O’Connor’s pronouncements about the need to abolish money had a tiresomely familiar ring to socialists. In supposedly radical journals like New Musical Express and supposedly liberal organs like the Guardian the tired old arguments in defence of the money system were trotted out with religious devotion, as if kept permanently ready, to use at the first signs of any heretical statements made against the money god:
  “Take away money, then you take away the pillars of society . . . Money may well be the root of all evil, but what choice do we have? Right now, no money equals no power. No power equals a voice in the wilderness. Sad, but that’s the real world. (NME, 14 November). 
  So you don’t accept that human nature is essentially competitive and that money is just part of this? … But what about you, Sinead? You must have a few quid stacked away somewhere? (NME, 31 October). 
   “Mad Woman in the Attic, Part II”; “I’m not a raving loony”. Sinead O’Connor told the Sun last week. “My biggest aim is to get rid of money”, she continued. “If everyone agreed to do it at the same time, it could happen”. Unsold piles of the last Sinead CD could be the new currency.”(Guardian, 31 October).
Revolutionary socialists, who have been working for many years for the creation of a moneyless system of society, have grown used to these inane defences of the money system. They confuse the notion of a fixed “human nature” with the wide variety of human behaviours which have evolved through the conditions of various social systems. It was of note that in the main NME interview involved, O’Connor made no fewer than fifteen separate references to the urgent need to abolish the money system. Whilst socialists will want to question some of the religious commentaries which were woven in with this, it was very heartening nevertheless to see this proposal receiving this unexpected platform:
   So the only solution to all of the problems in the world — starvation, homelessness, joblessness, etc — is to get rid of money . . .  A survey has to be conducted. Let’s have a vote and see . . . ”If everyone else was going to do it, would you be prepared to live without money?” Let’s see how people feel about it — supposedly we live in a democracy. I bet you that people will be able to do it . . . as long as there exists the system of money, there will always be people who have some and those who haven’t . . .  Ninety-five per cent of the world’s wealth is owned by five per cent of the world’s population. That’s the whole problem . . . We can do it, but there’s no point unless everyone’s gonna do it, it just can’t work . . .  Look at our lives, how they’re run by money . . .  get rid of money. In one foul swoop, you get rid of the whole thing. With love, and our supposed belief in God . . . Have the faith to go through the rocky part and believe that God’s gonna help us out. (NME, 31 October).
Child abuse
She holds the view that most modern social problems had their origin in the rise of the Catholic Church and “Roman Empire” based in the Vatican, with its sanctioning of various invasions and imperialisms, and its imposition of repressive moral codes over millions of people. In her own country of origin, Ireland, she describes how alcoholism, drug-abuse and, in particular, child abuse have in her view been the inevitable legacy of that historical process. She makes no secret of the fact that her own childhood there was plagued by persistent sexual abuse. It might readily be seen that her theorising about the key historical role of the Vatican in the rise of a globally exploitative system is a reflection of her own experiences and is too narrowly based on one interpretation of the development of certain, mainly European countries and in particular of Ireland. She fails to take a broader world view of the ruling class which in fact encompasses all religions, and in many cases none. On the other hand, these arguments are soon tied in with sounder lines of economic criticism:
  We’re all trapped in a society that has been very, very carefully orchestrated and structured to control us by people who want power over us, for money . . . they took us away from the truth, brutalised us and then only offered us one God, a God outside and above us, unattainable. They made our God into money.” (NME, 31 October).
She goes on to explain that the people who did all this were the Catholic Church, especially with reference to their role in Irish history. Again, this is a peculiarly narrow definition of the minority class enemy which exploits us, and leaves out of account the quite separate evolution of ruling groups in other ways in other parts of the world. Her proposed solution, however, of abolishing the social system which is based on money, is both universally applicable and urgently needed. There is an international ruling class which certainly does impose moral codes and supervise institutionalised poverty and abuse.

Regardless of the reservations referred to above, Sinead O’Connor is to be applauded for these specific proclamations which she has pursued so single-mindedly. The profusion of panic, misunderstanding and venom with which her comments were greeted is in fact testimony to the refreshingly different and viable ideas involved.
Clifford Slapper

Greed, need and free access (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Euston area of London there is an Indian vegetarian restaurant where you can eat as much as you like from their buffet for £3.95. Punters have been known to comment that this is “a very reasonable price”. As if there can ever be anything reasonable about having to pay money in order to be able to eat. As if philosophers, in some kind of endless quest for capitalist Reason, have determined that this shall cost £3.95 and a McDonalds’ crapburger shall cost a few pence less and a piece of lettuce with meat in pastry cooked by a chef with a French name shall cost twenty quid a head—booze and service not included. There is nothing reasonable about having to pay to eat. The equivalent of one Hiroshima die every three days due to starvation—they cannot afford to buy food in a world that is subsidizing farmers to destroy food. That is reasonableness under the market system.

But let us return to our Indian buffet—as several of us do, frequently. As well as being a pleasant enough place to eat and talk, this “eat as much as you like” joint is an interesting social laboratory for those of us who advocate a social system where all human beings will have free access to all goods and services available. How often are we told that a moneyless society based upon such a principle would be utterly unworkable? Is it not the case, we are asked, that humans are naturally greedy and will always take more than they need?

Greedy person myth
This old human nature chestnut about the Greedy Person is derived from the stale old Christian belief that basically we are all sinners. According to such dismal reasoning, it is in the nature of the human species to be competitively individualistic—to want to beat his or her neighbour—to take for the sake of acquisition—to be anti-social. Modern advocates of this horrible ideal of humanity speak of selfish genes and our biological propensity to survive at the expense of others. This thinking fits in well with the economic ethos of capitalism with its ruthless war of all against all as its dehumanizing morality. It does not fit in well with what we know to be true about human behaviour. We know that humans are uniquely social animals, with a capacity for co-operation, linguistic communication. planning and empathy far more sophisticated than any other species. We know that the survival of our species has been largely dependent upon our ability to adapt to our environment and respond to it socially. We know that Robinson Crusoe is a literary myth of capitalist origin, whereas in reality “no man is an island” and life is about interdependence.

So back to our “eat as much as you like" laboratory. If the contention of our opponents were true this restaurant would be full of workers eating and eating until they can do nothing but vomit. After all, they are humans, so is it not natural for such greed to prevail? First results do not look very promising. For it is true, and cannot be concealed for the sake of the socialist argument, that quite regularly customers are seen staggering back from the buffet having balanced on to their plates the hugest mountains of food possible without it falling on the floor. It is even true that such people have been spotted, by those with the rudeness to conduct such observations, staggering over a second and occasionally even a third time to stuff themselves. Round One goes to the Human Nature Brigade. But it is an illusory victory.

What is most noticeable about the place is how the vast majority of people do not eat too much or too little, but just what they need. Nobody has to tell them what they need. They know when they are hungry. They know when they are full up. Regardless of the "freedom" to eat as much as they like, they prove that what humans like is to eat what they require, not what they can consume to the point of sickness. This is because the majority of customers are regular eaters at this restaurant. They know that they can have what they want of what is available and that is what they take.

Self-defined needs
But what of the indulgent staggerers from Round One? Two points explain their sad behaviour scientifically. Most of those who take more than they want do so because they have never eaten in this restaurant before. The idea of unrestricted access (albeit within the confines of a set price) is new to them. They are used to having to pay for exactly what they receive, and usually receiving less than they think they should, so they go crazy when the possibility of helping themselves occurs. It is possible to watch a person come into the restaurant week after week, each time taking less, being more selective, feeling more secure about the freedom to satisfy their need. Secondly, we cannot ignore the fact that all of this is going on under capitalism. Some of those who are the biggest consumers are living on a very low budget (several of the mountain-eaters are students from the nearby university) and eat more than they would normally take because for the rest of the week they can only afford to eat less than they need.

We are not suggesting, in case anyone should draw an absurd conclusion, that restaurants were you can eat what you like for £3.95 have anything to do with socialism. The restaurant in question is a capitalist enterprise which is run to make a profit. If they stopped making profits the deal would end. In a socialist society food would no more cost £3.95 than it would cost £39—the price of a modest lunch in a central London hotel. Socialism will be a moneyless society. People will give to society according to their abilities and take according to their needs.

What our "experiment” does demonstrate is that people are capable of behaving reasonably in determining their own needs. The newcomer to a "help yourself" situation is unlikely to behave sociably, because the market system has conditioned us to anti-social, consumerist thinking. Just as most workers would rush in and take as much as they could of everything if the shops were to abolish prices for one day under capitalism, so it is that the worker who is momentarily free to eat without restraint eats without rationality. Abolish prices once and for all, and replace this outdated system with a society of free and equal access for all, based upon self-defined needs, and the social habit of behaving sociably will emerge as surely as the habit of learning to walk for more than six feet in any one direction is adopted by prisoners released from years in a cell.
Steve Coleman

That was the annus that was (1993)

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

We haven’t been reading papers like the Mail and the Telegraph all these years without getting to know that the Queen is a historically brilliant woman but, even so, it came as a bit of a shock to learn that, with all her other talents, she can speak Latin. Or at least she can make a rather feeble joke in Latin, complaining that for her 1992 was the Annus Horribilis (when it might have been the usual sort of Annus Mirabilis with lots of money being made for her, lots of sumptuous living and lots and lots of crazily adoring subjects cheering her).

Of course she still had all these things in 1992: what she was regretting was the exposure of her children's activities and relationships in a way which would not once have happened. But this is not 1936, with the press muzzling itself over Edward VIII dallying with Mrs Simpson; nowadays a fierce circulation war among the tabloids practically guarantees the quickest and most glaring exposure of any royal misbehaviour. And then a small bit of Windsor Castle caught fire which did not leave the Queen and the other Windsors exactly homeless but which might have been a public relations triumph until some rather nasty questions were asked about how much money the Queen has, and how many homes and whether she should pay to repair the Castle. But more about the royals later; at the moment we want to consider 1992 and just how horribilis or mirabilis it was and why and what about 1993 and the year after that and so on.

We should remember, first of all. that 1992 was supposed to be the Big One, the year "we" went into Europe, the year "we” joined the ERM as a start to solving "our” economic problems, the year “we" found a new prosperity by moving towards a single European currency. It was also the year when trifling difficulties like the recession, unemployment, bankruptcies, homelessness and increasing numbers of people losing "their" house because they can’t keep paying the mortgage would be solved at a stroke by a Tory election victory. In particular a Conservative win would be such a boost to business confidence that there would be a rush to invest huge amounts of money in industry, which would trigger off a stupendous boom and stimulate everlasting popularity for John Major and his government especially his Chancellor Norman Lamont.

During the election Major was quite clear about this. For example, at the beginning of April—just before votes were cast—he told fawning Jimmy Young (who else?) that economic recovery was already under way:
  We will not see the statistics to prove it until after the event but there is clear anecdotal evidence, clear survey evidence. that it has started.
Well, enough of the voters believed that to put Major and Lamont back in their homes in Downing Street and what is the situation now? Another kind of anecdotal evidence was provided by the Confederation of British Industry conference last November. This gathering was once a congratulatory jamboree for Tory ministers but this was 1992, the Annus Mirabilis turned Horribilis. One speaker after another blamed the government for the slump (which shows that ignorance about how capitalism works, and why, is not confined to the working class) and complained bitterly about falling profits and investment and mounting bankruptcies. One speaker thought it a criminal matter:
  If the (Conservatives) election manifesto had been a company manifesto it would have landed the entire Cabinet in jail.
The government’s response to this kind of assault is as predictable as it is feeble. Last September on Sky News, Major had some explaining to do about the financial crisis which threw the government into such desperate chaos, putting interest rates up and down several times in the same day and then abruptly taking sterling out of the ERM after they had been telling us for so long that keeping it in the ERM was the only way to save it as an international currency. Major said that the government had been “overwhelmed by circumstances that neither Mr Lamont nor anybody else foresaw or could have dealt with”. This is hardly good enough since Lamont, when it suits him. claims to be able to foresee circumstances—famously he once told us all about noticing the "first green shoots of recovery" and he has by now pretty well exhausted his stock of metaphors in making the same claim. Nor is it good enough for Major to tell as that “what actually happened was an irrational market movement of a size we have not seen before" because the Tories won power in 1979 on a programme based on the assumption that the market is the rational force in society which, left to itself, will sort out all economic problems. In fact the Tories never seriously adopted that policy; the latest proof of this is their intention to intrude in the labour market by trying to hold pay rises in public sector employment below 1.5 percent.

On the matter of economic forecasts and a Chancellor’s ability to control events, Norman Lamont has recently revealed the true limits of his talents to some obviously sceptical journalists:
  What you seem to be asking me is “Why don’t I press some button and the world will change overnight and we will look up and see a rainbow in the sky". I’m afraid that it just isn’t like that and there aren’t these buttons to press.
Well rainbows make a nice change from green shoots as metaphorical portents of economic boom but the message is the same: the experts who say they can control capitalism can’t do it. If their luck is in and they are in office during a boom they may take the credit for it and so become famously popular. If things go the other way they have a rather different attitude; they don’t accept any blame but pass it on to unforeseeable difficulties, or the underhand machinations of foreigners or intractably greedy workers . . . One whose luck seemed to be in, and for a long time, was Nigel Lawson but even he has little cheer to offer Lamont. even he thinks now that Chancellors can’t make any promises:
  I misjudged the strength of the boom. The official forecasts were all over the place . . .  there was this enormous climate of optimism . . .  on the whole a good thing, much better than pessimism, much better than gloom. But again things went too far. (To Terry Coleman. Guardian, 7 November).
So Lamont is the Chancellor for whom the bad things have gone too far and Lawson was the Chancellor for whom the good things went too far. This makes sense only when we realize that capitalism makes impotent all the experts, the economists, the politicians. It works—as it worked in 1992—to its own laws and to satisfy its own needs regardless of what Chancellors do or plan to do, regardless of whether they see green shoots or rainbows or other mirages.

Royal misbehaviour
At times of crisis—if it is appropriate to use such a word about capitalism's never-ending upheavals—the system’s figureheads come into their own, reassuring everyone that, no matter what evidence is before their eyes, all is well. In Britain at such times the royal family are expected to be more prominent, to make even more meaningless speeches, to force their company onto even more distressed people. The message is that, no matter how severe their suffering as loyal, patriotic British workers they will pull through. At least that is the ideal. Our difficulty now is that unemployed people, struggling along on state benefit, are not taking too kindly to hearing this sort of cant from a woman whose personal wealth amounts to anything between £50 million and £6 billion. No-one is exactly sure about the true figure. And then there is the embarrassing fact that recently the royals have been neglecting a most important part of their job—setting an example to the rest of us in the lower orders of society.

As their marriages collapse one after the other under the spotlight of some triumphantly scurrilous press coverage, it is blindingly apparent that this family’s supposed position as guardians of the repressions of Christian marriage—which is bad enough as it is—is pure humbug. After all, the royals are paid a lot of money to do the job of telling the rest of us to be docile, unquestioning subjects of capitalism, by not being sexual adventurers, by not having unstable marriages and by not getting divorced. To some extent the royal conditions of employment can be breached and the media bludgeoned into ignoring it. But the 1990s' Windsors have simply overwhelmed the customary official concealment of their misbehaviour. So they have had a very bad press; even the fire at Windsor didn’t help, raising more inconvenient questions about the extent of royal wealth and how it contrasts to working class hardship. If 1992 was a horrible year for the Queen it was because so many of the delusions on which her position depends became under such intense and hostile questioning.

It is ironic that so many of those delusions fester so powerfully among the class whose suffering should compel them to deal only in reality. Unlike Lamont's forecasts, one which is well on the way to being realized is Shelter's estimate in December 1991 that over the next five years more than a million families would become homeless. At that time Shelter said there were nearly 3,000 people sleeping rough and 55,300 households in temporary accommodation. By June 1992 the figure for Greater London alone was nearly 43,000 representing over 100,000 people—an increase of 12 percent over the year. Shelter's director recently described what this means:
  . . . families in bed and breakfast are forced to live in often overcrowded, usually depressing and sometimes downright dangerous hotels for anything up to two years. Imagine what it must be like to have no privacy, for your children to have nowhere to run and play, to have to share a bathroom with an average of 16 other people and a cooker with 21.
It is not just the homeless who are destitute. In 1989—the last year for which official figures are available—12 million people were living below a poverty line of half the average income; by now. as unemployment gets worse, that figure will be much higher. And what does this do to human relationships, so often fragile anyway in capitalist society? The NSPCC lists unemployment and family debt as key causes of child abuse; Relate, the marriage counselling service, calls it all “devastating". Especially poignant is the fact that unemployment is now hitting those areas in which one seemed relatively safe from it, while Tory MPs sat on Gibraltar-like majorities. Among the leafy towns of the South-East and the Home Counties a bitter lesson is being taught—that economic booms are not everlasting, that workers who experience a brief, relative prosperity do not do so through their own ingenuity but because capitalism is then operating in such a way as to allow it.

The hopes that 1992 was to be an Annus Mirabilis were based on misconceptions encouraged by deliberate deceit. It has turned out to be a typical year, in which a huge burden of misery and fear has fallen on an enormous number of people. For those who understand capitalism, as a year it came up to expectations. So what about the New Year? It could see the start of serious work for a society free of delusions—a society without classes and their representatives whether royal or political. We don't need aristocrats and political confidence tricksters to run the world; we can do it ourselves for ourselves. And. yes, we can do it now. In 1993.

Letter: Who’s right about human nature? (1993)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The article on human nature we published last August has provoked a critical response from one of our readers. We publish below a long extract from his lengthy letter, together with our reply.
Your article "Is Human Nature a Barrier to Socialism?” (August Socialist Standard) requires comment.

Following a somewhat sloppy overview of the history of evolutionary theory you decide on an onslaught on your defined “social darwinism” and suggest that "painstaking work in the field” by Schaller, Goodall and Fossey “has shown unequivocally that these animals [chimps, gorillas, orang-outangs) do not fundamentally possess any of the characteristics of aggression . . .  that have been attributed to them”.

One can only assume that the comrades who produced this statement have read very little of the author they cite. The fullest account is surely that of Jane Goodall in her The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behaviour (1986). In her chapter on Territoriality. she reports (from many sources, including your George Schaller) that territorial behaviour is widespread in the animal kingdom while in the higher (primate) species it often adopts a frightening and vicious form. Interestingly, the form of the behaviour is determined by, among other things, the size of the territory and the size of the group occupying it. If the territory is small, the boundaries are visited daily and intruders are frightened off—using the ritual behaviour explored so competently by Konrad Lorenz.

If the territory is large, boundaries are less well monitored but the hierarchy within the group is much more rigidly enforced—(again evidence of the findings of Lorenz vis-à-vis the “functions” of social groups). Typically gibbons occupy “smaller” territories, baboons “larger” ones. The early work on the nature of territorial aggression was that of Robert Ardrey who argued that mans most immediate ancestors were apparently non-aggressive apes resembling chimpanzees or gorillas.

He suggested the move to aggressiveness was brought about by environmental factors—he noted the likely effect of increasing aridity in Africa in the relevant time period and the consequent development of carnivorous habits in proto-humanids. Armed with weapons and searching for limited protein resources supplied by animals of the plain, men soon began to compete, formed territories.

Are the chimpanzees of today territorial? Ask Jane Goodall—and she replies strongly in the affirmative. Intruders from the occupied territories are aggressively expelled. boundaries are visited frequently and monitored, boundaries last for a number of years. The manner of the expulsion is determined by the size of groups, however, rather than the locality. If groups are equally balanced there will be auditory displays, ritualized aggressive displays and both sides will retreat. But if one party is considerably smaller, it will simply turn and run.

Among the chimpanzees the sense of group identity is strong; they clearly differentiate between “them” and “us”. Infants and females within the group are protected—those belonging to another group are frequently killed. Non-group members arc not only attacked but the style of the attack may differ from that used in squabbles within the community. Victims (from other groups) are treated more as though they were prey animals—they are “de-chimpized”.

Chimpanzees differ from most other species in that interlopers are not simply chased away but are assaulted and typically left to die. Moreover they do not just attack interlopers but frequently make aggressive raids into the very heart of the "opposing" camp's territory where adult males, and to a lesser extent, females, are killed. Jane Goodall has documented for the National Geographic the total extermination of a "tribe” of chimps in this manner.

The conclusion that Jane Goodall has drawn from her research is rather different from the implications of your article:
  theirs is a form of territoriality that has shifted away from the relatively peaceful, ritualized maintenance of territory typical for many non-human animals, towards a more aggressive type of behaviour, in the chimpanzee, territoriality functions not only to repel intruders from the home range, but sometimes to injure or eliminate them: not only to defend the existing home range and its resources. but to enlarge it opportunistically at the expense of weaker neighbours; not only to protect the female resources of a community, but to actively and aggressively recruit new sexual partners from neighbouring social groups, (p. 528).
She continues by reporting favourably the views of her colleagues who have agreed that “the early practice of warfare would have put considerable selective pressure in the development of intelligence and of increasingly sophisticated co-operation among group members” and further that "the powerful pressure that warfare almost certainly exerted in the development of the human brain . . . if early humanid males were inherently disposed to find aggression attractive, particularly aggression directed against neighbours, this trait would have provided a biological basis for the cultural training of warriors". She speculates on the theme of evolutionary development.

Of course the work of Goodall. Lorenz and Ardrey and the others you refer to should not be seen as hostile to the development of socialist consciouness per se.

We cannot understand ourselves as a species if we do not appreciate our origins from the animal kingdom. We are the product of our history (nature) and of our environment (nurture). We differ from other species in that we have become “self-conscious". In Hegelian terms we are "nature" becoming conscious of itself. It is only by understanding that we are inseparable from our history and our environment that we can even hope to change the world— and, of course, in changing the world we change ourselves.
Bob Potter 
Hove, East Sussex

We did not say that the anthropoid apes never behaved in an aggressive way. What we said was what you quote: “that these animals do not fundamentally possess any of the characteristics of aggressiveness and the rest that have been attributed to them”. By “fundamentally” we meant something built-in to their genetic structure that compelled them to act aggressively on all occasions. Jane Goodall certainly recorded aggressive behaviour by chimpanzees but that is not the point at issue which is whether or not this behaviour is inherent. Even you concede that it is a function of size of territory.

Goodall was one of a number of researchers whose work helped dispel the myth, perpetuated by such films as King Kong, that the anthropoid apes were ferocious and dangerous wild beasts. Her later Ardrey-like speculations on the significance of the territorial behaviour of chimpanzees for human behaviour cannot detract from this.

The naturalists of the later part of the 19th century regarded the Great Apes of the pongid line, gorillas, chimpanzees and orang utans, as by nature ferocious aggressive animals. No objective research on how these animals actually behaved was undertaken before about 1960. When it was, the research workers found that the stereotype held by the Victorians of nature red in tooth and claw was completely erroneous.

Instead they all found that these animals' behaviour was very much like the behaviour of human beings, generally pacific and co-operative but also aggressive under certain circumstances. The real difference between human beings and the Great Apes is that the behaviour of human beings is mostly learned behaviour. In other words, human beings can invent new behaviour. The anthropoid apes can't do this very much so that their behaviour remains more or less constant.

The Naked Ape School of Human Nature revived a completely erroneous concept of how modern anthropoid apes behaved, one of violence, and claimed that we humans descended from them differing only in being relatively hairless. when in fact the human line in evolution moved away about 9-12 million years ago in the shape of Ramapithecus.

In any event, conclusions about human behaviour cannot be drawn from animal behaviour. This was the major mistake of the Ardrey group. They attempted to extrapolate from the animal kingdom, particularly from the behaviour patterns of the modern anthropoid apes (but also of greylag geese) and apply them to human beings. But findings which may be authentic for apes and geese do not thereby apply to homo sapiens. Attempts to do this by Ardrey, Lorenz, Morris and Storr have been shown to be completely erroneous by many of the foremost anthropologists of the day.

Taking into account that our critic has insinuated that we have not read very much of the relevant research work, we suggest he would do well to broaden his own horizon in this field by reading some of the following Orang Utan, Orphans of the Forest by Monica Borner with Bernard Stone house. Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens? by John Lewis and Bernard Towers, Man and Aggression, edited by Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression by Ashley Montagu, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by Erich Fromm, Evolution in Action by Julian Huxley, and Prehistoric Man by Vratislav Mazak (to name a small number of many).

Letters: Hypocrisy about drugs (1993)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hypocrisy about drugs

Dear Editors,

November saw what was billed as European Drug Prevention Week, yet another disingenuous smoke-screen perpetrated by governments and their statutory bodies. It will no doubt have had the effect of lowering any awareness of the genuine issues relating to excessive drug-use in society, whilst also diverting people from the social causes of drug-abuse.

A genuine drug-awareness week would have exposed the hypocrisy of the governments of the western world and their “War on Drugs” with which they target cocaine, opiates, marihuana and other recreational drugs. Simultaneously they support and protect the producers of alcohol and tobacco (the two biggest killers in Britain) and their markets. In return for this protection (subsidies to farmers, licences permitting the sale of products, etc.) they extort massive amounts of taxes. Protection rackets like these would be familiar to the Colombian cocaine cartels which have been so demonised by Kenneth Clarke and others.

Socialists should need little reminding that the moral values of a particular society often bear close relation to the economic interests of that society's ruling class. This is demonstrated by current attitudes in legal and governmental circles to illegal and legal drugs. However, perhaps we should expect some changes in coming years as western businessmen and women and their respective governments realize that there are certain profits and tax revenues for all who are in a position to stake a claim. These kind of changes remain unlikely whilst governments use drugs as a handy scapegoat for the problems obvious to all in our blighted inner-cities.

Drug Prevention Weeks and similar campaigns such as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No!” offer nothing to disaffected youngsters facing a life on the dole, or years of tedious wage-slavery. Is it any wonder that whilst life on the capitalist treadmill offers us so little many workers find solace in drugs? Those who then develop drug problems such as physical or psychological addiction have insult added to physical injury by their treatment by the authorities. Rather than supportative and sympathetic treatment for what are medical problems, drug users are more likely to be castigated as social deviants, criminals and outcasts.

Whilst the establishment of a socialist society would not eradicate all drug problems it would certainly offer people opportunities to engage in cooperative. socially-useful work and foster feelings of social solidarity. Such a society would be far removed from the competitive, individualistic capitalism of today in which so many workers find solace in both legal and illegal drugs.
Peter Owen 

Socialism and Religion

Dear Editors,

Very interested to see your endorsement of Tory Michael Caine’s criticism of all religion as cant (Sting in the Tail, November).

Some of us are not only Christians but Socialists as well, opposing war as an immoral pointless means of defending markets and supplies.

Some of us are Christians who believe that capitalism equals exploitation, making the rich richer at the expense of the poor, and that Socialism is the answer to this injustice. Christian Socialists condemn injustice committed by Christian and non-Christian.

Tarring all Christians with the same brush is akin to equating all socialists with supporters of Stalinism.
Ken Cole 

We still see an inconsistency in being committed to the establishment of a free, socialist society through the democratic self-organisation of the working class without leaders and believing that humanity needs to be saved by some supernatural being who supposedly lived and died 2000 years ago and will return some day to establish his kingdom on EarthEditors.

Drop the "Great"

Dear Editors,

From time to time readers write in to the Socialist Standard objecting to the “Great” in the Party’s full title, Socialist Party of Great Britain.

A few years ago you correctly pointed out to one such critic that you no more thought Britain was actually a “Great” country, as opposed to other capitalist nations (all of them that is) than you thought Clapham High Street was actually higher up than other streets.

Unfortunately there will always be a number of readers of socialist literature who feel irritated or offended by your use of “Great".

Since it does not matter. Great Britain and Britain being interchangeable terms, why not drop the “Great” from the Party’s title now?
R. Taylor
South Shields

In point of fact we now generally refer to ourselves simply as the Socialist Party, reserving our full title only in the international and historical contexts and for formal purposesEditors.

Between the Lines: The Road to Nurenberg (1993)

The Between the Lines column from the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Something dangerous is happening. Mind manipulation has become one of the growth industries of the late twentieth century. Three examples from the year just gone: the use made of the media by Clinton, Perot and Major. Each in their own way showed that leaders with money can afford to have contempt for democratic debate.

The Clinton Presidential campaign was a masterpiece of saying nothing winningly. Millions of Americans were sucked within the emptiness of Clinton's fake-smile reformism. They abdicated their power to control their own lives to a man committed to the continuation of their exploitation — a man advised by well-paid media consultants (i.e. propagandists) whose task was to trample all over their political intelligence.

The bizarre earthiness of the Perot campaign appeared to be a contrast to all that. But it was not. The key to the Perot style was the appearance of the man next door being projected with the aid of millions of dollars on to a Texan billionaire whose class interests were diametrically opposed to those with whom he chatted from the screen as if he leaning over the fence. The entire Perot campaign was a media hoax, made possible solely by the possession of huge funds.

The Tory election victory last year was again a victory of form over content: of the myth of Major, the local lad made good, over Kinnock, the unreliable loser. These were big moments in what could have been wide, intelligent popular debates. That is certainly what workers looked for when they campaigned for the vote. The danger is not just that these perversions of democracy are happening, but that they go un-noticed, unchallenged. It is as if arrogant media men who believe that the dignity of human intelligence is degradable to a sordid exercise in mind manipulation have invaded our living rooms and, through the medium of TV, created a world where workers are mere followers, extras in the movie of life, spectators upon our own world.

How odd it now seems that half a century ago workers thought that they were fighting to defend democracy. What they were fighting for, amongst other economic aims, was to preserve and consolidate the more subtle dictatorship of capital of Britain and America against the crude thuggery of fascistic and naked dictatorship. A chilling reminder of that Nazi moment in history was BBC2's showing of Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 propaganda classic, Triumph of the Will (12.05am, Saturday 19 December). This was the famous film in which Hitler's presence at a Nurenberg rally was presented as an inspiring romance of nationalist inspiration. It had an enormous impact, apparently causing German cinema audiences to weep with uncontrollable joy.

Viewed today the film's propagandist zeal to aggrandise the Fuhrer and turn the worshipping followers into a single, amorphous mass of robotic dancers to the fascist will, seems transparent and even faintly ridiculous in its pretensions. In Iran, Iraq, China and many more dictatorships too numerous to list the transparency might be less evident: what would be more obvious is the similarity to the backward propaganda methods of those states.

But Riefenstahl was in the mould of 1984, and by and large we can say that 1984 has passed and the uncouth propaganda of leader-worship has not triumphed. But the road from Nurenberg has not led to democracy. It has led to the triumph of sophisticated media trickery. We shudder — and rightly so — at neo-Nazi fools performing imitation goosesteps. and other more sickening acts, in the streets of Germany, but the biggest threat will not come from them. It will come — it already does come — from those whose dismissal of the intelligence of the majority is not reflected in the culture of the jackboot: it is exhibited by the culture of TV-run politics. It is no more sensible to let a factory owner organise his workers in a strike than to allow these money-governed mind-manipulators to tell us how and what to think. Something dangerous is happening and it is only the vitality and will to organise ourselves for ourselves that can overcome it.
Steve Coleman

50 Years Ago: The Rich are no Longer with Us (1993)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

All sorts of people who profess to know the facts go on telling us that the old inequalities have disappeared and the rich are no longer with us. All we can say is that if the rich have gone there are still some people about who are able to spend a lot of money as witness the following headline in the News-Chronicle (December 23. 1942): “Grapes 85/ - a pound; Roses 4/6 each in West End Orgy of Spending”.

But the facts are not really in dispute. The ownership of land, factories, railways, etc, is still predominantly vested in the numerically small capitalist class, and if their profits are being heavily taxed during the war they have no doubt that things will improve for them when the war is over. We have yet to hear of heirs to millionaire estates refusing to accept them because they will be valueless or unnecessary in the new world after the war.

Lord Glanely, 71-year-old shipowner and racehorse owner, recently left estate worth £1,813,625, on which death duties amounted to £860,722 (Daily Telegraph, November 27, 1942). and note the following from the Evening Standard (December 15. 1942):—
  The Duke of Westminster's estates have been estimated to be worth about £20,000,000. He has sold portions of them, such as the great family mansion in Park Lane, on the site of which Grosvenor House now stands, and eight acres in Millbank. on which Thames House stands. He still owns 600 acres in Mayfair and Belgravia, in addition to 30,000 in Cheshire, and an estate in Scotland.
  The Duke, now 62, lives at Eaton, Cheshire. He was in the Home Guard for a time, but the reduction of the age limit barred him from further service.
[From “Notes by the Way” by “H", Socialist Standard, January 1943.]

They said it . . . (1993)

From the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

  • It is tough out there in every industry— Michael Heseltine’s son Rupert after being made redundant 
  • Conservatives do not stab people in the back—Rhodes Boyson MP 
  • No aristocrat has ever died of this disease—Bert Connor, chairman of Clydeside Action on Asbestos.
  • The Prince and Princess of Wales do not have a bottomless pit from which to draw money—Buckingham Palace spokesman.
  • To be identified as the child of a politician is just terrible—son of a former Cabinet Minister and Chairman of the Tory Party.
  • If a woman upsets you, alright. It's part of their function in life—Judge John Lee, Hereford Crown Court.
  • What we see is obscene and should not happen in a civilised society—Director of Kent Social Services on the homeless.

Letter: Half Way House? (1978)

 Letter to the Editors from the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a newcomer to the Socialist Standard, I am struck by the fact that you appear to make no distinction between various stages of socialism. You talk of socialism as a classless, moneyless, stateless society, based, presumably, upon the principle ‘‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.” I had always thought this principle to apply to a developed stage of socialism, which some would call communism; whereas the socialist principle is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” and relates to a society where money still exists as a medium of exchange and state-power remains, though exercised by the working class. Could you clarify your position on this matter? Do you in fact envisage socialism as having transitional stages?
John Southcote 

The idea of a transitional period between capitalism and socialism (or communism—the words mean the same thing) was concocted to explain away the dismal reality of the Russian revolution after 1917. Capitalism has performed the historical task of clearing the way for socialism; apart from anything else it has reduced the class struggle to one where there are only two classes. When the working class have won the struggle they can set up socialism immediately; there is no need for any half way house.

The proponents of a transitional society never define it in any concrete terms; what sort of class structure will it have; who will own the means of production; will there be a coercive state machine?

The entire concept is a dishonest attempt to cover up the fact that capitalism exists in places like Russia just as it does in England and the USA. When the international working class want socialism they can have it; the socialist revolution is the next step in social evolution and there is nothing in between.

Which Way to Socialism: Militant Tendency or SPGB? (1982)

Party News from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
This debate took place at Ruskin House, Croydon, on 24 February. Bill Sheppard represented the Militant Tendency and Steve Coleman the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Pressure of space has prevented us publishing the debate in full but we welcome comments on this shortened account.
SPGB: According to the press, my opponent is a militant. This is very good. It is important that we should be militant about our political principles. According to the media, my opponent is a Marxist. I have read Marx and I agree with his analysis of capitalism. I agree with Marx that capitalism is based on the legalised exploitation of the wealth producers by those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution. I agree with Marx that the state only exists to protect the power and privilege of the exploiting class. I agree with Marx when he urged workers to abolish the wages system and establish a classless, moneyless society.

The newspapers tell me that my opponent is nothing less than a social revolutionary who wants to destroy civilisation as the Daily Express has always known it. Well, so do socialists. We want to destroy the “civilisation” of the H-Bomb. We want to destroy a “civilisation” where millions die of starvation while food rots. We want to destroy the “civilisation” which compels the mass of humanity to accept wage slavery. So if the media is accurate—if my opponent and his friends are a bunch of militant, Marxist, social revolutionaries who are committed to getting rid of capitalism and establishing socialism—then my opponent is not my opponent but my friend.

But when we ask where to join this new revolutionary crusade, my opponent points me in the direction of a broad church called the Labour Party and says, “There it is. This is where the revolution’s starting . . .” At election time he will be canvassing for the Labour Party—he will be recruiting workers to join it. More than that: my opponent will be feeding workers with the illusion that by supporting the Labour Party they are contributing to the establishment of socialism. The SPGB argues that if you are a socialist you must oppose all anti-socialist parties; that the policies which the Militant Tendency wants Labour to adopt are inimical to the class interest of the workers; that the place for socialists is in a party which is united by a scientific analysis of capitalism and an obtainable vision of socialism.

Marxists stand in opposition to capitalism, a system of minority power where the productive machinery is possessed by a minority class: 10 per cent of the British population own more than half the accumulated wealth. Under capitalism the vast majority of people own no major stake in the productive machinery—they only own their mental and physical energies which they must sell to capitalists. The working class is in a position of compulsory exploitation, and are only permitted to produce wealth if it can be sold on the market. And it will only be sold on the market if it is profitable for the capitalists. In other words, wealth is produced under capitalism for profit and not for use. If there is no profit there are devastating consequences: food is dumped in the sea while people starve; cars are left standing in fields; homes remain unoccupied; workers are actually paid not to produce wealth.

If you claim to be a Marxist—as my opponent does—you see that these problems are all a necessary part of the system. Unemployment is not caused by wicked Tory governments or Labour leaders who are not carrying out Left wing policies. Marxists seek to end the system, not to re-arrange the furniture within it. The Labour Party is not, and never has been, a Marxist party. At the beginning of the century it decided to work within capitalism and pick up whatever crumbs were available.

The Labour Party has spent the last three quarters of a century showing workers what can be done within capitalism. It has used troops to smash strikes, initiated the production of the Atom bomb, passed racist immigration legislation, acted as recruiting sergeant in two world wars. It can do all of these things and more because it is a party which decided from the beginning that it must work within the narrow limitations of the profit system. At the beginning of the century there were socialists who rejected this narrow, “possibilist” strategy of the Labour Party. They were the militants, the Marxists, the social revolutionaries; they were the men and women who formed the SPGB and its Companion parties in other countries.

But my opponent wants it both ways. He wants to be in the Labour Party. He wants to be part of this great movement which has grown popular by basing itself upon workers’ lack of political understanding . . . but at the same time he wants the Labour Party to act like a Socialist party. It is a nonsensical strategy. The manipulators who imagine that you can spring socialism on to the working class by surprise-that all you have to do is manoeuvre a few Trotskyists into key posts in the Labour bureaucracy and the workers will reward you with their votes—are learning a hard lesson: you cannot have socialism without socialists.

Militant Tendency has the same political problem as Ramsey MacDonald and Lenin (whom they much admire): they do not believe that workers are capable of becoming conscious socialists. They do not accept the Marxist principle that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”. They think that we need leaders. They think that we need a Leninist vanguard-a workers’ state presided over by a bureaucracy. This always leads to state capitalist dictatorship.

Socialists do not have contempt for the working class. Our message is quite clear: abandon the broad church; reject the high priests of the Labour Party and their self-appointed vanguards; dismiss the archaic dogma of reformism. When workers understand socialism they will consciously and democratically organise their own emancipation.

MILITANT TENDENCY: No socialist —certainly no supporter of the Militant—would deny for a second that a socialist order is a world order that knows no national boundaries and in which commodity production has been superseded by a system of free access to material wealth produced popularly and communally. That was the programme of Marx and it is the programme of the Militant Tendency.

However, it is an essential point that you don’t get a mass movement to establish a socialist society simply by counter-posing—in a necessarily vague and abstract way—the political economy of capitalism to the possibilities inherent in a world socialist order. It is necessary to win workers to a “transitional programme”. It is necessary to fight for such a policy in the mass organisations of the movement. And these organisations aren’t all that we’d like them to be. You have to accept them because they reflect the existing level of consciousness of the working class.

The Labour Party was created by the trade unions. It’s also necessary for Marxists to intervene in the bread and butter issues of the working class . . .  It’s necessary to be involved in the way that the class struggle plays itself out on a day-to-day basis, because it’s precisely out of that struggle that socialist consciousness will develop. Up and down the country you’ll find Militant supporters at the forefront of the struggle to defend jobs, to defend the social services against the vicious cut-backs that we’ve seen at the present time.

The point of the transitional approach is to be active in the Labour Party and call upon a Labour Government to implement Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution which calls for the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Any attempt to implement Clause Four will be met by the utmost fierce resistance of the capitalist class themselves. They will use economic sabotage and furthermore they’ll try to use the House of Lords, the Monarchy and, in the last resort, they’ll try to use the army—as Chile so recently showed—to crush any attempt by a socialist government to introduce a socialist order.

For Militant, the struggle in parliament is an essential part of the struggle, but the immediate need is to establish a workers’ state. The SPGB has no concept of a workers’ state at all. But a workers’ state is simply where the revolutionary majority still has a need for a certain amount of coercion, a certain amount of repression, in order to defend the gains of the revolution against the counter — revolutionary forces. To imagine that they will simply disappear is totally naive.

The SPGB mistakenly believes that all countries are following the classic path of the establishment of “bourgeois democracy”. In the developing countries the working class, with the support of the peasantry, have to carry out the historic tasks which were once the preserves of the bourgeois in Britain, Germany and France. The role of the Bolsheviks was to carry out this mission. It’s absolutely ludicrous to characterise Eastern Europe and the developments in China and Cuba and other nations in Africa as state capitalist regimes. They should be characterised as degenerate workers’ states. State planning of production on an international basis must be the immediate aim. What nationalism shows is how rotten ripe the world is for genuine socialism.


QUESTION: Does the SPGB propose to achieve social change by using the means which are available within the system?

SPGB: You cannot get social change in the interest of the majority of the people unless the majority of the people want it. If the state is not used by the working class it is going to be used against the working class. So a socialist majority must gain control of the state machine. The socialist majority will elect delegates to do what the workers want, not leaders to act on our behalf.

QUESTION: The Generals, judges and other defenders of capitalism are all drawn from a small net of public school people. Powerful Tories will not be loyal to a democratic socialist majority. A new state is needed to replace the capitalist state. The Militant tendency is not elitist, but the SPGB is because it will only allow socialists to join. SPGB is never present on mass demonstrations. The capitalist press does not attack the SPGB, but it does attack the Militant Tendency. Therefore, Militant represents a real threat to capitalism.

SPGB: The ruling class cannot rule without the acquiescence of the working class. Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the socialist revolution will be unlike all previous revolutions because it will be a revolution of the majority. It is true that SPGB does not support demonstrations demanding capitalist reform. Unlike Militant, we do not kid workers that the system can be humanised. The capitalist press might attack the Militant Tendency, but what does this prove? Since when has the capitalist press even been correct about its political analysis?

QUESTION: How does a socialist revolution come about through using the State? Or do they advocate the destruction of the State?

MILITANT: The working class constitutes a minority in most of the globe. We cannot wait for a unified capitalist order to be established. Every workers’ revolution has shown that workers must establish Soviets that they must establish their own state. Thousands of workers have died in Chile, Spain, in the liberation movements in Africa and Latin America, fighting against the military police state. No, the state cannot be used.

SPGB: The fact is that the mass of the people are in the working class. We run society from top to bottom; workers produce all the wealth. It is the working class which possesses the power to determine the future. Any attempt to establish socialism which left power in the hands of a parliament committed to the running of capitalism and armed forces committed to the defence of capitalism would be bound to fail. The present system survives because of minority power. Any conception of revolution or social change which is based on working class followers placing their faith in an enlightened vanguard is fundamentally anti-socialist. Where access to the state does not exist, workers must establish political democracy. The SPGB wants socialism without leaders or followers. We don’t need shepherds because we’re not sheep.

QUESTION: How many of the candidates of both parties in the next election will be women?


SPGB: It depends on how many women are available and able to do it. The SPGB is not interested in the sex of the candidate, but their political principles.

QUESTION: This discussion has been too intellectual and too bookish. The average worker in a trade union would not understand what we are talking about. The trouble with the SPGB is that it concentrates on theory. Everyone present should read Marx’s Communist Manifesto which states that socialists should be involved in the class struggle, leading the way. The SPGB spends time talking about socialism to foreign workers in Hyde Park. At an anti-cuts demonstration in Hyde Park a few years ago—under the Callaghan government—an SPGB speaker said that the demonstration was a complete waste of time. The biggest barrier to socialism is the current leadership of the labour movement. If you oppose all leadership it means that you refuse to struggle against the leadership of Callaghan, Healey and Murray. If you don’t work for a socialist leadership you turn your back on socialism.

SPGB: It is claimed that the average worker cannot understand a debate which he and everyone else here has understood. He says that we are too bookish and then in his next breath he recommends us to read a book by Marx. It is elitism to imagine that workers cannot understand what we can understand. The SPGB relates theory to experience in all our propaganda: we talk about and analyse capitalism and socialism. Yes, the SPGB does say that anti-cuts demonstrations are a waste of time. But, unlike the Militant Tendency, the SPGB did not tell workers to vote for that Labour government which introduced those cuts. Unlike Militant, the SPGB did not urge workers to re-elect a Callaghan government in 1979. Socialists will not participate in struggles to appoint new leaders because we are not followers.


MILITANT: I learnt many of the ideas of Marx from the SPGB, but when I went along to a strike in Manchester and told the convenor to abolish the wages system he told me that that was what his boss was trying to do—abolish his wages. The very fact that people have to sign a piece of paper to get into the SPGB illustrates that it is an elitist party. How elitist it is to sneer at anti-cuts demonstrators for voting Labour. It is out of these contradictions that working class consciousness will come. All leaders of the labour movement should be immediately recalled if they do not carry out the wishes of the workers. The election of Scargill as President of the NUM was an important part of the class struggle. When workers see the limitations of Scargill and Benn a seizure of power will be possible.

SPGB: This debate is not about tactics, but about where we are heading. The SPGB has a clear analysis of capitalism and our case against what exists is based on a clear idea of the future socialist system. Militant admires Lenin, but Lenin’s idea of a new system was state capitalism. He wrote that if state capitalism could be established in Russia, socialism would not be far off.

Because Militant puts forward unprincipled, undemocratic tactics it has to defend all kinds of absurdities, such as state capitalist regimes and Labour governments. The way ahead does not depend on the Labour Party or the Militant Tendency. It does not depend on the SPGB either. The difference is that the Militant Tendency claims that it must provide the revolutionary leadership; the SPGB says that it all depends on the ideas of the working class which must emancipate itself.

" . . . boundless rationality . . . " (1982)

Quote from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
The same boundless rationality, which is so much in accord with the revolutionary quality of the scientific method and the new philosophy, certainly as Bacon and the founders of the Royal Society saw it, belonged, more than to any other thinker, to Karl Marx. His conviction was that scientific socialism would extend the logic and universality of science into man’s social relations, not only learning the laws of social development, but deliberately aiding them. He makes this point most clearly in the Theses on Feuerbach, written in 1845, uniting Science, Technology and Society
Steven Rose: Science and Society, page 256.

The Passing Show: Time and Money (1958)

The Passing Show Column from the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Time and Money

Capitalism comes to different countries in different forms. The more recently a country has become Capitalist, the more efficient—from the point of view of the Capitalists—its system is likely to be: for it can draw on the experience of the rest of the Capitalist world.

Capitalism’s first need is for plenty of workers. One of the most important steps in any Capitalist revolution is to drive many of the peasants into the towns, where they can form the new urban proletariat. If this is done too quickly, agricultural production will suffer; if too slowly, industrial production will be held up. Again, even in peace time each Capitalist state must maintain a standing army, to preserve internal "order” and to deter and to threaten other states. If this army is too small, other countries are not sufficiently impressed; if it is too big, it means that some men are kept in idleness when they could be working in factories or on farms for the profit of the Capitalists.

As the Capitalists see it, one drawback of their system is that these categories—town-worker, farm-worker, soldier—are too rigid. It takes prolonged economic discomfort before a town-worker will become a farm-worker, or vice versa; if only because it usually means a man and his family leaving the area they know and moving away to another district altogether. And when in war-time the army has to be rapidly expanded, it takes time and money to set up the large organisations necessary to conscript' and train workers as soldiers.

Latest Model—Convertible

But China, which has been setting up its state Capitalist system only in the last ten years has been able to draw on the experience of British, American and Russian Capitalism, and has apparently been able to avoid some of the shortcomings of earlier Capitalist systems—shortcomings, that is, in the estimation of the ruling class. For example, over-rigid classification seems to have been avoided. According to press reports (e.g. The Observer, 9th November, 1958), the unit in the new Chinese Capitalism is not the factory or the farm, but the commune, the average size of which is “about 8.000 households”. The great advantage of these, to Mao Tse-Tung and his fellow-rulers, is that the Chinese worker is not allowed to settle down as one thing or the other; instead, he is organised in a thousands-strong labour corps, and then he and the rest are used as “workers peasants or soldiers, according to actual needs.” If this scheme succeeds it will make the American and Russian boss green with envy.

The Chinese have gone further. Communal mess halls are set up to feed the workers, and kindergartens to take care of their children: and thus the women of the commune too are “set free”—to join the labour corps. Shantung Province chums that it has "liberated six million women for productive work.” The commune owns all the land, the peasants having been compelled to hand over their individual plots to it. It runs agriculture within its boundaries on the lines of a great state farm. It also runs schools and broadcasting stations, collects the taxes—and organises the militia. But it does even more. In the last year or two thousands upon thousands of small factories have been set up throughout China: these, too, are run by the commune. It is "industrialisation without towns.” By these means the Chinese ruling class hopes to avoid the waste of the years of starving out the peasants, and the diversion of resources to build great new towns, which slowed up the British and the Russian Capitalist revolutions. The commune has replaced the town or the factory as the unit of industry, the village or the farm as the unit of agriculture, and the regiment as the unit of the reserve army. If everything which is reported is true, China’s system may turn out to be the most profitable Capitalist system we have yet seen.

Back to the alphabet

But why is this system mistaken for Socialism or Communism? Both those who support China's rulers—the Communist Party—and the majority of those who oppose them, call China a “Communist” country. The Observer article mentioned above had a sub-title "A New Communism.” This is to get the very ABC of economics wrong. A more efficient form of Capitalism does not become Communism. All the well-known features urban (and rural) proletariat, owning neither the tools they work with nor the things they produce; a money-system of exchange, which is pointless except to deprive the workers of the full value of their produce; and a resulting surplus value, which goes to support the ruling class, for whose benefit the whole system is run.


Another book has been published recently about the Churchills, from the Duke of Marlborough and his forebears down to Sir Winston. The idea behind it is a common one: that social characteristics, such as the quality of “leadership,” are passed down from parents to their offspring. No one doubts that physical characteristics. such as the colour of eyes and hair, are passed on to children in all animals, including human beings. But that social characteristics can be passed on seems a lot more doubtful, to say the least of it. In any case, full investigations are seldom made. To trace Sir Winston Churchill’s descent from the Duke of Marlborough, and to conclude that Sir Winston inherited some of the qualities of the Duke, is often done. But Sir Winston is in the eighth generation from the Duke, which means that he had two hundred and fifty-six ancestors in the Duke's generation, all of whom, according to this theory, presumably contributed as much to Sir Winston's character as the Duke of Marlborough did. And of these two hundred and fifty-six, sixteen were full-blooded Iroquois Indians. (Sir Winston Churchill’s mother had one Iroquois great grandparent). So if we accept the theory, whatever Sir Winston got from the Duke of Marlborough, he must have got sixteen times as much from the Iroquois. But whoever wrote a book about that?

The velvet glove

As a postscript to the events at Famagusta last October (when four lives were lost and two hundred and fifty people were injured in the British “search for suspects” after a woman was found murdered) a remark of Brigadier Terence Clarke, Tory M.P. for Portsmouth West, is not without interest. The Brigadier says (Reynolds News, 9th November, 1958): “We’ve had too much of the velvet glove : what we want is a bit of the mailed fist”

If four deaths and 250 injuries appear to the Brigadier to be too much like the “velvet glove,” one wonders what scale of casualties among the civilian population would be produced by his “mailed fist”

Laugh of the year

Sir Anthony Eden is reported to be among the possible candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 1958 (Sunday Express, 9th November, 1958). This Peace Prize award is always ridiculous; how can it be anything else, when it is inevitably presented to someone who supports the present system of society, which leads to wars as surely as old bread goes mouldy? But the consideration of this man, whose last service to peace was to commit aggression against Egypt on the grounds that Israel had already attacked her, makes the whole thing even more of a farce.


Those who live on the exploitation of the workers have of late years become much more coy. Once no gentleman would admit to an occupation; now the wealthy often conceal their idleness by becoming directors of companies. Nevertheless, members of the upper class themselves sometimes let slip in unguarded moments just how much work is attached to being a director.

One such admission was recorded on October 12th in the Sunday Express, which in its hot pursuit of scandal often allows the rest of us illuminating insights into the lives of the rich. Some time ago a “Kentish squire” disappeared from his home, at the same time as a riding mistress nearby disappeared from hers. The Sunday Express had to give its readers a long report on the matter, with all the details, of course: no doubt in fulfilment of the high moral duty of the newspapers to the public, about which they so often tell us. But what concerns us is the fact that the squire was a director of an estate company. If the holding of a directorship fools the world at large, it doesn’t seem to have fooled his wife. Her husband, she said, “ hasn’t worked for twenty years."

We all have our worries

On the topic of directors, an interesting little booklet has appeared recently. It is entitled “Health Problems of Directors,’’ and it is published by the Institute of Directors. Among the dangers and causes of ill-health that these gallant men have to contend with are mentioned: (1) Eating too much; (2) Drinking too much; (3) The blows to. a director’s self-esteem which come from being theoretically in charge of a concern about which his subordinates know a lot more than he does. The man at the factory bench or clerking in the office seldom realises the risks run by his boss. The Institute of Directors, of course, might lengthen its list. For any new edition of this stimulating little work may we mention these further hazards of a director’s life: (1) Falling off his horse when playing polo; (2) Barking his shin when his chauffeur is helping him from his Bentley; (3) Spraining his wrist while tucking into the turtle soup at official banquets.
Alwyn Edgar