Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: July 1972 (1972)

The Review of the Month column from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home

Connoisseurs of political scandal, with all its romantic implications, had their appetite whetted by the blowing open of the Poulson affair, which was in fact first ventilated in the scandal-hunting Private Eye. This was no Profumo affair, there was apparently nothing in it to suggest that the press was about to have such a merry time as in those high summer days of 1963. But Maudling, conforming to the proprieties of capitalist government (which exist, even if in a strange, half-lit world of their own) knew he had to resign from the post of Home Secretary. There will now be an enquiry, which presumably will be intended to prove something or other. One conclusion it will not reach is that the whole thing is really irrelevant. Capitalism is a system which might be called basically corrupt, since it works on the basis of a mass robbery which is perfectly legal because the ruling class make it so. But within those bounds it is of no account, whether politicians or businessmen spend all their time handing out and taking bribes, fiddling the books or any of the other activities which sometimes come to the surface of the system’s very murky waters. If capitalism were administered in such a way that there was never the faintest breath of a scandal, it would still be one vast swindle on the mass of its people. It would still deprive the majority of us of the fruits of our labours. It would still produce poverty, still condemn its people to lives of suppression, still produce conflicts right up to the scale of a nuclear war. Whether it is run corruptly or not, capitalism will never be able to operate in the interests of most of its people.

As Maudling left the Home Office, is was remembered by his enemies that one of his failures was in Northern Ireland. So much has happened there, since Maudling was the minister responsible, that it comes as something of a surprise to remember his part in the dispute. Yet it is in fact not so long ago, that he was dabbling in some of the “solutions” put forward. This is a measure perhaps of the speed with which events have moved in Northern Ireland. It is certainly an indication of the futility of all the efforts to end the fighting there. This is a conflict between sections of the ruling class over the right, and the method, to exploit the workers of the country. It has been worsened by the bigotries which both sides have stirred up in an effort to get their way. In the present social set up there is virtually no hope of solving the problem; the best that is possible is a suppression of its symptoms for a time, until they break out again.


In the end the McGovern bandwagon rolled home, its wheels running over a few famous Democratic toes in the process. Now McGovern says he is planning to win the presidency in the same way as he won the nomination. He has made a start, by coining a new slogan “Come Home America”. Of course all politicians have to have some catch phrase to identify them to the voters, no matter how dishonest or inane it may be. Kennedy promised the New Frontiers, Johnson the Great Society. McGovern’s slogan is equally loaded, since he also made a clear promise that he would immediately stop bombing North Vietnam and, within a specified time, withdraw all American troops from Vietnam. Some of his critics claimed that in this, and in his slogan, he was pushing for a return to the isolationist politics of old but as isolationism is now a dirty word McGovern could be relied on to deny that charge. The important issue now is what the American working class will make of the election, and of this man who is said to be a dangerous radical (whatever that might mean) but who would probably fit comfortably into the Liberal Party were he a British politician. If the workers in America take a mature and conscious attitude to the election they will not be deceived by any promises or programmes for their “prosperity”, or by any slogans. They will realise that leaders are not to be trusted to solve working class problems, simply because they cannot. The issue in the election will be capitalism or Socialism, and in that the workers themselves must act for themselves.


Parliament goes off for its long summer holiday, leaving Westminster silent except for the tourists who come in ever increasing numbers to gaze at the seat of parliamentary power of British capitalism. The politicians go to their various holiday haunts—Wilson to his cottage in the Scillies, Heath to win a few yacht races around the coast. At the same time, they assure us that we are not unguarded; they keep in touch with events and the red despatch boxes are still delivered, in a crisis the ministers would come flocking back to take over again. Meanwhile, the working class are also taking their holidays — usually a couple of weeks which they might spend abroad if they can afford a package tour. It is a good time for them to reflect, as they take it easy on the beach, on the function of politics in capitalism; on the way they are deceived into trusting their leaders to run society when they are in fact doing it themselves. On the fact that they do all the useful work but allow a minority to appropriate the results of their work. Then they might think about what they can do about it and come back, bronzed and refreshed, determined to start doing it.

For Socialism (1972)

Party News from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Majority Understanding                                       Not Minority or Direct Action

This will be our theme for a week’s special propaganda 17th-24th September. The subject is topical and 
important. It brings into question many of the dangerous policies advocated by so-called Left Wing 
groups. The question of leadership, Parliament and above all the need for a majority of people to understand Socialism before it can be established.

Our preliminary plans show extra outdoor meetings in London during this period; others in Glasgow', Edinburgh, Merseyside, etc. Special literature sales drives will also be held. The Socialist Standard will be a special issue featuring this theme with two colour front page. We appeal to readers and sympathisers to support these meetings and assist in selling literature. Full details will appear in the September issue.

We would hope that you might consider a personal sales drive either where you live or at work. A
postal order for 70 p. will bring you a dozen copies. Send your remittance to the Literature Secretary,
S.P.G.B. 52 Clapham High Street, London, S.W.4.
Propaganda Committee.

Merely a Town Rising (1972)

Book Review from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Paris Commune of 1871. The Views from the Left, ed. Eugene Schulkind. Cape. £1.50.

This is another telling of the heart-rending story of what went in in the working class arrondisements of Paris in the spring of 1871. It is presented as a series of pronouncements, many of which were made by the communards, and it must be commended as, at the least, a useful addition to the research and documentation of the event.

“The Commune was not socialist; it wasn’t even revolutionary.” Many of its declarations are but conventional objections to monarchism, pawn-brokers, mortgages, priests and so on mixed up, as is the case today, with rent strikes and wage rates. Gleams of clearer understanding shine through the fog: “It is necessary, citizens, to eliminate wage-labour, the last form of servitude,” and. “Brothers in the Army, you were workers yesterday and will be workers again tomorrow.” The men who spoke in such language displayed a degree of comprehension which is, sadly, seldom shown by “leaders” who are put up to speak on behalf of the workers a hundred years later.

Predictably, appeals to the army had no effect. Marx’s fear that lack of preparation (education) among the working class, including soldiers, would lead to defeat was only too awfully realised when Thiers, and his "cabal of place-hunting barristers”, loosed on to the citizens the mercenary army, which they had bought out of Prussian captivity for this purpose. Horror-stricken, The Times reported that the frenzy of slaughter has rarely been equalled in civilised society.

Marx is represented by his Civil War in France, and by his letter to Nieuwenhuis of 22 Feb. 1881 and, as always, he rewards re-reading with further interest. Penetrating comment is to be found, of course, in passages from Engels. Lenin provides the longest contribution from one pen; with Trotsky he brings the study to a conclusion, fittingly, perhaps ?

Books Received
World Crisis — Essays in Revolutionary Socialism, by Nigel Harris and John Palmer. Hutchinson. £2.50.
Anarchism Today, by Apter and Joll. MacMillan. 75 p.
The Political Theory of Anarchism, by April Carter. Routledge and Kcgan Paul. £1.00.
A Working Life, by Polly Toynbee. Hodder and Stoughton. £2.00.
Between Two Worlds: The Political Thought of Graham Wallas, by Martin J. Wiener. OUP. £3.50.
The Russian Revolution of 1917, Edited by Dimitri von Mohrenschildt. OUP. £1.60.
The Unholy Hymnal, Edited by Albert E. Kahn. Wolfe Publishing. 75 p.

50 Years Ago: The Way Out For Irish Workers (1972)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The main struggle in Ireland is not, and never has been, a struggle of wage workers against masters. Here and there in the history of Ireland there have been minor struggles on the part of the workers, but the greater part of the stage has always been occupied by the national struggle for freedom of enterprise on the part of the various groups that might benefit by greater freedom to exploit Irish industry. As Ireland exists principally by agriculture the small farmers or peasants have figured largely in the strife.

An Irish Sinn Fein Republic will not solve the difficulties of the wage labourers and farmers — it will, in fact, intensify their misery. They will then be under the control of the same people who control affairs now — Irish buyers — Irish capitalists — without being able to salve their wounds by blaming all their troubles upon the English oppressor.

The way out of the difficulties facing the Irish town and country workers is the same as the way their fellow workers have to follow, no matter what country they chance to exist in. That way is to join with their fellow workers the world over in the struggle to put an end to capitalism by introducing Socialism. Anything short of this will only bring in its train bitter disillusion. They who tell the Irish workers to organise for anything less than this are their enemies.

(From an unsigned article “The Communists and Ireland” in the Socialist Standard, August 1922.)

Marx, Co-operatives and Capitalism (2014)

Book Review from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent failure of the co-operative bank and its rescue by hedge funds seems an apt time to review Richard Wolff’s latest book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Haymarket Books), which advocates co-operatives as the way towards economic democracy for the working class.   Wolff rejects the label ‘co-operative’, perhaps because of its historical baggage, and chooses another term, ‘workers self-directed enterprises’ (WSDEs), to describe what he advocates.  In practice, though, what Wolff advocates is indistinguishable from the historical aims of the co-operative movement to re-distribute profit amongst its members.  Wolff is also an open advocate for long-established co-operative projects such as Mondragon in Spain.  Wolff’s aims, though, run deeper than support for extending the popularity of co-operatives as presently understood.  What Wolff seeks to do in Democracy at Work is to redefine working-class co-operative production as socialism in action:
  ‘ . . . in a socialist economy, workers – who produce the surplus – themselves appropriate and distribute the surplus . . .  socialism and communism are differentiated from capitalism in terms of being non-exploitative, since the producers of surpluses also appropriate and distribute them.’ (p.105)
The case against regarding co-operatives as a definition of, or even a route to, socialism is best dealt with by quoting from Wolff’s recent book where he sets out how his workers self-directed firms may co-exist with other capitalist firms:
  ‘WSDEs and capitalist enterprises will . . .  manage their challenges and disappointments differently. Consider a WSDE troubled by the problem of falling revenues (because of lack of demand, technological backwardness, or shortage of inputs). That WSDE could well decide to lower individual wages and salaries and thereby enlarge the surplus available to solve the problem (via advertising, installing advanced equipment, securing new input sources, and so on). The workers who collectively lowered their individual wages would be the same workers who received and the used the enlarged surplus to solve the problem.  In contrast, workers in a capitalist enterprise would more likely resist such a solution since other people – the capitalists who exploit them – would receive and decide what to do with any extra surplus realized by lowering individual wages.  Distrust accumulated from conflicts and struggles between capitalists and workers would contribute to such a result.  Thus WSDEs and capitalist enterprises would likely find and implement different responses to similar enterprise problems.’
Wolff is, of course, describing the actions not of two different types of social organisation (one allegedly socialist and one capitalist) but of two models of capitalist firm.  The solutions to the problems faced by the different types of firm are not different solutions but the same solution.  The difference is that one in scenario the solution (cutting wages, increasing intensity of labour and mechanisation) is enforced by the workers as a collective employer on themselves and in the other scenario enforced by a single employer owner or board of directors.  

Wolff’s incredible suggestion is that capitalism run by the workers would avoid the conflict between an employing class and an employed class – the problem is cured, the conflict resolved, by the workers becoming their own employer.  It will be quite clear to anyone with a cursory acquaintance with the with the work of Karl Marx that Wolff’s cure for capitalism is quite different from anything that Marx worked for or that could reasonably be derived from his writings.  However, this is precisely what Wolff claims for his WSDEs – that they are derived from Marxian economic theory:
  ‘The alternative economic system that begins to emerge in Marx’s writings differs from capitalism in how it organises the production and distribution of the surplus. . . . [In WSDEs] it is the workers –and not a separate, small group of persons, as in capitalism – who play the key roles of appropriating and distributing the surpluses they generate in production. The producers and appropriators of the surplus are then identical…’ (p.105)
Here we must beware of  a Wolff in Marxian clothing as Wolff’s ‘surplus theory’ supplants Marxian analysis.  To prove the point let’s take a quick look at what Marx actually said about co-operatives in his own lifetime.  Marx was enthusiastic about the emergence of co-operatives and what they portended for capitalism.  Writing for the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) in 1864, he wrote:
   ‘The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands . . .’
Again for the IWMA in 1866:
  ’We acknowledge the co-operative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show, that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.’ 
In Volume 3 of Capital Marx argued of co-operatives that ‘the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.’

However, in each case Marx also described the limitations of co-operatives:
  ‘ . . . however . . .  excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries. . . .  To save the industrious masses, co-operative labour ought to be developed to national dimensions, and, consequently, to be fostered by national means. Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economic monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labour. . . . To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes.’ (IWMA 1864) 
  ‘Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wages slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalist society. To convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.’ (IWMA 1866) 
  ‘The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system’ (Capital, Vol.3)
So Marx was saying that workers taking control of their own productive work processes, of organising co-operatively in firms, appeared to be a positive reaction on the part of workers to private capitalism.  As such it was a source of growing confidence for the working class, proof that the historically progressive role of private capitalists had come to an end:
  ‘Co-operative factories furnish proof that the capitalist has become no less redundant as a functionary in production as he himself, looking down from his high perch, finds the big landowner redundant.’ (Capital, Vol. 3)
Of itself, though, co-operatives represented an accommodation of workers to capitalism and not a social transformation.  Through the experience of engaging in co-operative enterprises Marx believed that workers would come to realise their limitations as a force for social change and grasp the need for political action in order to socialise production generally.  From Marx’s viewpoint in the middle of the second half of the nineteenth-century this was probably a reasonable, if optimistic, assessment.  By the early twentieth-century, however, it was far clearer that co-operatives were not evolving into a revolutionary response to capitalism.  Instead they were being seen by some ex-Marxian socialists such as Eduard Bernstein as proof that capitalism was slowly evolving towards socialism from within, that revolutionary political action was not required. 

A hundred years ago these arguments took place around the debate in the labour movement as to whether reform or revolution was the way towards socialism.  Today we face similar arguments from Richard Wolff but from a different direction.  Between the early Marxian socialist movement and today occurred the state capitalist revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and so on.  In rightly rejecting these state capitalist political models, radicals such as Wolff (influenced by post-modernism) have unfortunately felt the need to dispense with the materialist conception of history, arguing it to be irrevocably determinist.  However, rather than leaving Marx behind Wolff engages in the mystifying process of appropriating Marxian clothing for his co-operative strategy for social change.  If there is little enough merit in Wolff’s arguments in Democracy at Work for co-operatives as a route to meaningful economic democracy, they also lacks integrity in attempting to associate WSDEs with Marxian economics.
Colin Skelly

Satanic Mills (2014)

Book Review from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spindleopolis: Oldham in 1913. Alan Fowler and Terry Wyke, Oldham Council and Manchester Metropolitan University £3.95.

A century ago Oldham, with a population of 150,000, was the world’s leading town for the spinning of cotton, with 10 percent of all the cotton spindles in existence. There were also thousands of looms for weaving, and large factories that produced textile machinery, such as Platt Brothers. The townscape was dominated by smoke from the chimneys of the coal-fired mills, though the more recent ones were powered by electricity.

The mills were very profitable, most paying an annual dividend of eight percent. The mill-owners, of course, lived in more scenic surroundings away from the noise and smoke and the pavements made dangerous and unpleasant from the habit of public spitting. Oldham apparently had a reputation as a prosperous town (which can only mean in comparative terms). Children worked full-time from 14 years, and from 12 they split their time between work and school. Many married women worked in the mills, and it was only the combined wages of parents and children that kept workers’ heads above water.

Housing was often expensive and overcrowded, but home-ownership was surprisingly widespread, with about one house in three owned or being bought by its occupants. An enlightening aside is that workers’ houses were increasingly being built with front doors that contained letter boxes. Holidays were mainly the annual ‘wakes week’, usually featuring a stay in Blackpool.

Workers organised themselves in unions such as the Oldham Spinners. Politically, the town veered between supporting Liberals and Conservatives (Winston Churchill was MP 1900-06). Sadly, the major event of 1913 for many residents was the visit of the king and queen in July.

The First World War disrupted the cotton trade, and enabled Japan and other countries to take over the markets once served by Oldham and other Lancashire towns. The cotton industry gradually declined, mills were closed, and Fred Dibnah found a kind of fame demolishing their chimneys on TV.

This booklet was prepared to accompany an exhibition ‘When Cotton was King’ at Gallery Oldham. It includes some superb contemporary cartoons by Sam Fitton from the Cotton Factory Times
Paul Bennett

Material World: Myth of Peaceful Buddhism (2014)

The Material World Column from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many have a soft spot for Buddhism as a religion and it frequently escapes criticism. After all, it is a religion where the belief in gods is not a necessary pre-requisite. The popular conception is that all Buddhists are peaceful, simply by virtue of the fact that they call themselves Buddhists. Nothing could be further from the truth. States where Buddhism is the dominant tradition have engaged in many wars and other conflicts over the past centuries. And Buddhist monks have a long tradition of supporting kings and warlords in their conflicts. Particularly in south-east Asia, Buddhism has been the religion allegedly followed by many feudal rulers, in the form of an hierarchical organised religion. Buddhism holds a certain amount of political influence in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Buddhists are just like people of other faiths: subject to desire, anger, and ignorance. Buddhism differs only in that it offers the promise of freedom from desire, anger and ignorance to those who seriously practise. Many so-called Buddhists do not engage in serious practice. The thing about these ‘peaceful religions’ is often a product of the Western imagination, the idea of these far-off people living these incredibly peaceful and wise lives.

Buddhism certainly has much within its precepts about pacifism but as with the Christian crusaders or Islamist militants violence has been justified in the name of a higher good. Buddhist rulers and monks have been no exception. Any religion sooner or later enters into a pact with state power. Buddhist monks looked to kings for support, patronage and order and kings looked to monks to provide the popular legitimacy that only they confer. When Buddhism has become an established religion and a theocracy you have as brutal a feudal despotism as any other, for instance, the monastic version of Buddhism practiced in Tibet, Lamaism. Until recently the Dalai Lama was in effect head of state, not simply a religious leader. This often led to political rather than theological disputes with other leading religious Lamas.

Buddhist nation states have historically sought to use Buddhist doctrine to justify war. The links between Zen Buddhism and samurai warrior culture were partly responsible for the collusion of Zen and Japanese militarism in the 1930s and 1940s. For several years Japanese jingoism seized Zen, and its teachings were twisted and corrupted to excuse killing. Zen institutions not only supported Japanese military aggression but raised money to manufacture war planes and weapons.

Tamils are Hindus and they constitute a majority in Northern Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese are Buddhist and have been perfectly willing to exercise ruthless violence against Tamils. In the Sri Lankan civil war hard-line monks were at the vanguard of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, which viewed the Hindu Tamils and Sri Lanka’s smaller Muslim population as outsiders. They joined the government with their own party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya or National Heritage Party. The monks used their new power to argue vociferously against any self-determination for the Tamils in the north, opposing even the more limited measure of autonomy. In religious terms they justified the suppression of the Tamils on the grounds that a fracture in the nation state is a tear in the sacred fabric of a land which represents the well-spring of their belief. Roads have been renamed after Buddhist monks. While many Hindu temples and Christian churches were destroyed in the war, new Buddhist stupas and statues are being built.

In Rakhine State, Myanmar there has been civil strife between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims whom the Burmese government views not as citizens but as illegal immigrants and therefore affords little protection,  and this has led to a refugee crisis as the Rohingya flee from pogroms inspired and led by Buddhist monks. Dr. Muang Zarni, a Burmese human rights activist and research fellow at the London School of Economics has described the 969 movement as a neo-Nazi Buddhist organisation. 969 stands for three things: the 9 stands for the special attributes of Buddha, the founder of the religion; the 6 stands for attributes of his teachings of dharma; and finally, the last 9 stands for special characteristics or attributes of the clergy (LINK.).

Buddhism can easily be used to support reactionary politics. The conflict between Buddhists and Muslims is often over land and nationalism. Buddhism is neither better nor worse than any other organised religions in its role as an agent of social control.

50 Years Ago: Death of a President (2014)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who would have dreamt, on the morning of that fateful November day, that within a matter of hours, the thirty-fifth U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, would be dead, as well as his assassin and a Texas policeman? Yet this was the news which burst upon an astounded world, and sent all the capitalist politicians into huddles.

Kennedy’s death was a tragedy for his family and friends, but at times like these it is as well to get the whole business into some sort of perspective and try to dispel some of the concentrated nonsense to which we have been subjected since the event. It was The Observer for December 1st which said that the shot which killed Kennedy ‘. . . must change the course of the world.’ But this is really just another repetition of the ‘great men make history’ theory, and has precious little evidence to support it.

The more sensible remark was that overheard between two young men in a London street the following morning. ‘Assassinations don’t really make a lot of difference,’ said one. ‘Things go on pretty much the same as before.’ Probably he was not a Socialist, but he certainly hit the nail on the head, for this is precisely what the newspapers were hastening to tell us a few days later. President Johnson would continue the Kennedy policies, said Richard Scott in The Guardian of November 28th. He could have added (but of course he didn’t) that these would as usual be a reflection of the needs of contemporary American capitalism. They were ably expounded by the new President thus:

‘. . . the unswerving support of the United Nations . . . the honourable and determined execution of our commitments to our allies . . . the maintenance of military strength second to none . . . the defence of the strength and stability of the dollar . . . the expansion of our foreign trade . . . our programme of assistance and cooperation in Asia and Africa. . . ’

There have been two Democrats and one Republican at the White House since Roosevelt and any one of them could have uttered those words. For American capitalism has become a giant in world affairs; its days of isolationism are well and truly over.

(from The Passing Show, Socialist Standard, January 1964)

Tribal Politics in Africa (2014)

From the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Africa every political leader that comes into power starts to consolidate himself  through stamping out political turncoats and the opposition. This easily gives rise to ethnic suspicions. Thus politicians take advantage of ethnic and tribal prejudices in order to win a political following. This is what took place in Kenya when Odinga lost the  elections to Uhuru Kenyatta. The Luos and Kikuyu tribes started to butcher each other.

This also took place in Zimbabwe when Joshua Nkomo lost to Robert Mugabe in 1979 –  Nkomo invited the Ndebeli to rise against the Shona – there was violence in Matebeleland and hundreds of civilians were killed.

Under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, the slogan ‘Zambia One Nation’ came to emphasise unity between tribes. Political reputations based on tribal loyalties did not exist under UNIP. Dr. Kaunda preached tribal balancing by appointing cabinet ministers from majority tribes – there was always a Lozi and Tonga as prime minister.

If there was any semblance to tribalism in Zambia under UNIP it only came from the Lozi royal establishment that had grievances with the Barotse government of 1964. The British Crown had given the protectorate to Barotseland in 1889 – but that lapsed when the governor of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Sir Evelyn Horn handed over self government to Dr. Kaunda in 1964.

Kaunda emulated the ‘communist’ bloc and played a part in sponsoring the political rebels agitating for political independence in Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. The incidence of military coups in West Africa – in Ghana and Nigeria both civilian governments were overthrown – made Kaunda promulgate a one-party state in 1973. He became commander-in-chief of the Zambian armed forces, and virtual dictator.

Kaunda threw himself wholeheartedly into the liberation struggle taking place in southern Africa and on this count alone his political reputation rests. The onset of a trade inflation in Western and Eastern countries from 1980 onwards posed economic problems in African countries – in Zambia queues for essential commodities and fuel became a recurring feature.

The promulgation of Perestroika by Gorbachev in Russia led to the fall of ‘communism’ (state capitalism) in eastern Europe and Africa. This gave rise to demands for political pluralism in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. It took the intervention of Tanzanian soldiers to evict the dictator Idi Amin from Uganda. President Mobutu was made to flee Kinshasa when the Rwandan army used the Banyamulenge to attack his army. Kaunda himself was voted out of office in 1991.

The one-party states there were ended but replaced by tribal-based politics.
Kephas Mulenga

Keeping the Faith (2014)

The Halo Halo! column from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

A large dose of gullibility and desperation must be needed before reasonable adults become hooked on the opium of the people. But once they are, a regular diet of religious hogwash is also required it seems, to keep them in a state of faith-fuelled stupor.

One website that doles this out by the bucketful is The Christian Post. Typical articles currently on offer complain of an ‘attack’ by the media when they dare to ask questions like ‘Can we trust the bible?’ or make programmes questioning ‘the true story of Christmas’ etc. This is exactly what the media ought to be doing you may think, but the true believer disagrees. After all, if God had intended us to think for ourselves he wouldn’t have sent Jesus would he?

There are also handy hints such as ‘How to overcome Impulsive Behaviours’. But instead of the righteous ‘plenty of fresh air, cold baths and healthy exercise’ advice you might expect, the Christian Post assures such sufferers that God ‘takes our sin and gives us his righteousness’, but ‘we have to study the word and spend time with God so he can do this work in our soul’.

‘How does God juggle so many prayers?’ asks another, apparently serious, article to dispel any lingering doubts its followers may have. ‘God has millions of prayers coming before him at any given moment’ it assures us. ‘How in the world does he hear each one and answer them all?’

Well, ignoring the fact that if even a single prayer were answered it would be hailed as a miracle, how indeed? This question must have crossed the mind and been worked out by most reasonably bright nine year-olds. The answer though for Christian Post readers, who are apparently not bright nine year-olds, is ‘Allow this fact to blow your mind: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day’.

These efforts to justify the big religious lie are not just childish stories or unscientific mythology; they are totally meaningless garbage, and an insult to adult intelligence. ‘Religion with the drains blocked’ as someone once put it.

It’s not just Christianity that has to come up with a constant flow of hogwash to keep the faithful in awe of course, and no list of religious absurdities would be complete without something from Islam. Here’s a few uncovered by a Cairo university committee, set up to study the fatwas issued by the Muslim Brotherhood and reported in India Today (28 Nov 2013).

When a woman goes swimming, as the word for sea is masculine, when the water touches the woman’s private parts, she becomes an ‘adulteress’ and should be punished.

Another prohibited women from eating certain vegetables or even touching cucumbers or bananas.

One directed women to turn off the air conditioning at home in the absence of their husbands as it could indicate to a neighbour that the woman was at home alone, allowing them to commit adultery with her.

And another decreed that a couple’s marriage would be annulled if they had sex with no clothes on.

Allah makes other religions look almost sensible doesn’t he?

Letter: Russell Brand (2014)

"Did someone say my name?"
Letter to the Editors from the January 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Let me declare an interest right away . . . I don’t like Russell Brand.  I was switched off his style of humour (?) when he publicly aimed it at Andrew Sachs on live radio!   That aside, I read your article about his views on socialism with some interest, although I confess not as much interest as I would have if it had been written by Frank, the mechanic in my local garage.

Why is Russell Brand’s opinion so important that it warrants a four page spread in the Socialist Standard?  Is it not because he is a ‘celebrity’?  And what is a celebrity if not a product of the very system Brand rails against? I agree with his railing …but I find it hard to take advice on changing to a socialist society from a celebrity who makes a great deal of money by acting and conning the rest of the world that he is important.  It’s a bit like Bono and Bob Geldof telling us all that we have to ‘live more simply so that others might simply live’, while they swan around the world in jet planes living the ‘life of Reilly’!

Sorry, I don’t buy Russell Brand sniping from the sidelines while taking full advantage of the very system he is decrying.   I’d sooner take a lesson from Frank my local mechanic.  He’s no celebrity, but he certainly knows a thing or two about life for a real worker.

Russell Brand is famous for being controversial in order to maintain his position in the public spotlight, and I think his conversion to the cause of socialism is just another stunt aimed at bolstering his public persona.

Ian McRae, 

Surely the main point is that Brand is (despite what people may think of him otherwise) using his celebrity to question the system, and that’s why we’ve highlighted it. Unlike perhaps the cases of Bono, Sting, etc who didn’t really challenge the system at all, but became friends with the politicians instead – Editors

Letter: IRA again (1988)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I wish to thank the workers of Calverts Press for their letter in response to the criticism of their action in appending a disclaimer to my article (Hate and Its Causes - March S.S.). Let me make it clear that my opposition to their action was not based on the argument that the workers of Calverts — like Murdoch's wage slaves — had no right to criticize what they were obliged to print. What I objected to was the method they choose — proprietorial censorship — when, as demonstrated by your publication of their lengthy letter, our journal has always provided for the expression of opposition opinion.

As to the letter from Calverts: before dealing with the "inaccuracies" and "unsubstantiated generalisation" of which 1 am accused, I would like to refer to the claim immediately following these charges that they (Calverts workers) do not "wish to enter into a political debate with the Socialist Party about Socialism, whose broad aims and principles we agree with".

Do they? Surely this is what it is all about. Whatever alleged inaccuracies my article contained (and we will examine these), its substance was largely concerned with the fact that socialism, as defined by us and "broadly" accepted by the Calverts workers, is not compatible with, or advanced by. the action of a small under-representative and undemocratic group setting up an organisation whose purpose is to kill other workers who are not prepared to concede political power to them.

They say they are aware that Sinn Fein's views would "not completely" correspond with ours. It would have been much more interesting and informative had they shown us a single point of compatibility between the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein, like earlier fascists who employed the same anti-working class tactics as Sinn Fein, do couple the word "socialism" to their fanatical nationalist and racist policies and activities but I would challenge the Calverts workers to show, from their obvious wide reading of Sinn Fein/lRA literature, any evidence whatsoever of that body displaying either the slightest knowledge of, or interest in, the case for socialism as defined by the Socialist Party — and allegedly, ' broadly" approved of by Calverts workers.

As to the numbered points made by the Calverts workers:

1) They claim that my statement that the IRA is simply a nationalist group is based on a quote from "Eire Nua" which is at least five years old and which has been "superseded" by new material. Are they saying that Sinn Fein/IRA repudiated the former document in the latter? That they confessed to an earlier error and enlightened us with a new and definitive version of what they saw as being socialism? I put it to them (the Calverts workers) that, apart from the sort of sweeping generalisations and empty rhetoric used in later statements, and quoted by the Calverts workers, the material I used is the only definitive statement extant of what the Sinn Fein/IRA see as socialism — an inevitably authoritarian political and economic bastardization of "free" and "state" capitalism. I confess, however, that I may not be as well acquainted with Sinn Fein's propaganda material as IRA supporters abroad. I am only one of the people they are prepared to kill in order to make me "free" and they do not use their open access to the media here to convince us that they have viable political and economic policies to improve our life style; such "convincing" is easier among the gullible Lefties abroad who do not see their handiwork at close range. Here, policy statements are largely confined to arguments about whether catholics are getting a "fair share" of the crumbs that fall from the table of capitalism.

2) British capitalism and colonisation can only be maintained in Northern Ireland with the collaboration of the Unionists. This, of course, is typical of the sort of utter rubbish and simplistic nonsense that is the political stock-in trade of Sinn Fein. Capitalism exists in Northern Ireland for the same reason that it exists elsewhere: because the material conditions essential to the establishment of the socialist alternative to capitalism do not exist. Since the Calverts workers broadly agree with us about socialism they will know that capitalism is a world condition, that its alternative is a world system based on conscious majority understanding, unity, co-operation and conscious democratic action. I suggest that the flaw in their "broad agreement" is the fact that they see these things advanced by an undemocratic and divisive campaign of internecine murder.

Who are the colonists? Are they that section of the impoverished wage slaves in Northern Ireland who call themselves "Protestants" and whose forbears arrived in Ireland a mere 385 years ago and later than the Gaels who arrived earlier? Are these the colonists that a cost-cutting British capitalism maintains to the extent of some £2 billion annually? If the Calverts workers believe that then the rest of their ignorance is understandable. Whatever it was in the past, the situation today is that British capitalism would gladly disengage from the economically and politically disastrous web which history has spun from earlier British policies in Ireland. The problem for the British are the consequences of disengagement both in Ireland and, arguably, in Britain and, in this regard, the IRA are more part of the problem than they are of its solution.

3) The Calverts workers challenge my use of the expression "marginally worse" in relation to the condition of protestants and catholics respectively and claim that recent figures show that catholics are four times as likely to be unemployed than protestants. Further, they claim that catholics are subject to daily harassment by the "security forces" and have their funerals noisily surveilled by helicopters.

The most recent employment statistics show that catholics are 2.5 times (not 4 times) more likely to be unemployed than protestants. Those figures reveal religious discrimination, the WSP has never denied that, but the problem is not as simple as the Calverts workers have been persuaded it is. Certainly the difference between most of the low-paid jobs available, to protestants and catholics, and the subsistence allowances made to unemployed workers generally leaves the latter only marginally worse off than the former. As a socialist, however. I find it surprising that workers claiming an understanding of socialism and. thus, an understanding of how capitalism works, can make common cause with what is a squalid and sectarian approach to the capitalist problem of unemployment.

It is utter nonsense, of course, to argue, as do the Calverts workers, that there is harrassment at catholic funerals. The "security forces" do attack IRA funerals for the reasons stated by me in an article in last month's Socialist Standard.

The Calverts workers are correct in saying that the police and military brutally harrass workers who are catholics. This thuggery, where it follows an organised pattern, is largely confined to areas where they are rejected and opposed. The fact that catholics in middle-class areas are not generally subjected to such harrassment, plus the behaviour of the same forces where and when they have been opposed by workers who are protestants, shows that thuggery is not simply visited on people because of their religion. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of state thuggery is the IRA for it is the reaction among young catholics to the brutality of the so-called security forces, and not any principled stand for socialism, that swells the ranks of the IRA.

4) The Calverts workers find my claim that the IRA practise sectarian killing to be "offensive and untrue". Apart from such cases as where IRA members have been convicted for sectarian murders — one of the more prominent of the Maze escapers, for example, was serving a life sentence for blowing up one of the many "protestant" public houses that was bombed on the Shankill Road, I accept that the weapon of sectarian murder was initiated by protestant paramilitaries, with the likely collusion of the "security forces", but the IRA have responded in the tit-for-tat sectarian murders. I have no more faith in the statements of the police than I have in those of the Sinn Fein/IRA. unlike Calverts workers who have seemingly blind faith in the IRA, but, according to forensic evidence, weapons used in many purely sectarian murders have been used in other operations admitted by the IRA.

The spectacle of worker killing worker, irrespective of their perceived justifications, is surely something that must be regretted and deplored by those who see working class unity as an essential precondition of the achievement of socialism. I find it thoroughly offensive that people claiming even broad agreement with the Socialist Party should act as apologists for those involved in anti-socialist activities.

5) The Provisional IRA did not, according to the Calverts workers, emerge in 1969 in its present form with no prior history of struggle against Britain. True, nor did we claim it had. Our pamphlet. Ireland, Past, Present and Future which. I believe, was printed by the Calverts workers in 1983 (without a disclaimer!) gives a brief history of the IRA and its service to Irish capitalism. If the Calverts workers would like to add this to their Irish studies, we shall be happy to deal with any objections they might have.

The Provisional IRA emerged in 1970 out of the, then, IRA because the latter body initially refused to become militarily involved in the sectarian pogroms that had been inspired by people like Paisley, Craig and others. An earlier military campaign, launched by the IRA in 1956 had proved wholly abortive because, as the IRA admitted in 1962 when they publicly withdrew from armed struggle, the northern catholics had not shown any commitment to the campaign. The Provisionals were born out of sectarian conflict and inevitably became part of that conflict, claiming a role as protectors of the catholics.

Space does not permit me to deal with the simplistic view of Irish history offered by the Calverts workers but even Lenin's tortured view of imperialism would be troubled to explain a form of imperialism which currently contributes to the revenues of the conquered rather than economically plundering them.

Calverts workers raise what they claim is a really serious objection to my view — that the issues that lead to the present conflict were social and economic. (No, I do not know if this particular portion of their letter was written by the same person who claimed affinity with the Socialist Party!). They ask if I am implying that, if the Unionist government had been able to provide decent homes, jobs. etc. there would not now be trouble from the catholics. I am not implying any such thing; I am saying quite categorically that the struggles of 1968/9 were about the extension of the local government franchise, about homes and jobs. I am saying that the very people who rejected the IRA in 1956, when the IRA was dependent on the old nationalist shibboleths to muster support, gave support to the Provisionals after the Unionists had met their social and economic demands with violence. I would add that the small minority of catholics who do support the provisionals are almost exclusively confined to a few given areas of absolute social deprivation.

The remarks from the Calverts workers about Irish culture, language, etc. are really amusing. Ireland today has the same Coca-Cola culture that capitalism has inflicted throughout the world and had the Provisional IRA emerged on the basis of teaching the Irish language and Irish dancing, they would have been stillborn. The Irish language despite being taught generally in southern schools and in catholic schools in northern Ireland, is only spoken by a relatively small minority of people and, as a devotee of Irish traditional music, I have to admit that despite its popularity, it very likely runs second to American country and western in Ireland.

Finally, I would say to the Calverts workers, without any fear of contradiction, that there is only one organisation in Northern Ireland which puts a clear and unambiguous case for socialism. That organisation is the World Socialist Party and one of the greatest impediments to our efforts is the existence of the IRA.
Richard Montague

Letters: Political health warning? (1988)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political health warning?

Dear Editors

So, after 84 years of uncompromisingly putting the case for Socialism in war and peace, against enemies and betrayers, the Socialist Standard has finally been forced to succumb to the undemocratic arrogance of its current printers.

Presumably, since your printers have not previously felt the need to dissociate themselves from any other article published in the Socialist Standard, their political health warning on my article, HATE AND ITS CAUSES, in the March issue, implies their agreement with everything else they have printed in the journal. Or is this the precedent that will establish Calvert's right to impose their imprimatur willy-nilly in the future?

What really intrigues me is what awful thing I have written that so offends Calvert's. Where I live, opposing legal and illegal terrorism, as did my article. involves some little degree of risk. It is a risk, however, that we Socialists have to take if we are to be faithful to our principles.

No such risk is involved for Calvert's. They can come out of their funk-hole and tell me and your readers what exactly in my article was so disturbing that they felt obliged to use the power of their property in a crude attempt at censorial refutation.

Of course they might simply refuse to allow you to publish this letter.
   Yours for Socialism
Richard Montague

Dear Editors,

I note that your publishers have added a disclaimer at the end of the article "Hate and its Causes" in the March '88 issue of your paper. I know that the issues raised by the conflict in Northern Ireland are the subject of endless argument among declared "socialists". I have never noticed such a disclaimer previously and would be interested to know what it was in the article that so offended Calvert's Press.
   Yours faithfully.
Alan Tait 

Having typeset the article "Hate and its Causes" which appeared in the March issue of the Socialist Standard, Calvert's Press contacted the editors to voice their disagreement with the ideas contained in that article. They asked for a 'right of reply' and the SSPC stated that any disclaimer or reply which they may wish to make should be in the form of a letter to be printed, at the editors' discretion, on the Letters page. However. Calvert's Press did not send us any such letter but instead printed the disclaimer that appeared at the end of the article. This was added after the typesetting and lay-out stages and hence without the Editors having seen it prior to publication.
The Editors

Calvert’s reply

Dear Editors.

The article "Hate and its Causes" (Socialist Standard March 1988) contains inaccuracies and unsubstantiated generalisations concerning the republican movement in Northern Ireland. The members of Calvert's Press who have written this letter do not, though, wish to enter into a political debate with the Socialist Party about socialism, whose broad aims and principles we agree with, nor are we interested in whose version of socialism is "right", as we are aware that our and Sinn Fein's views would not completely correspond with your own. However, we would like to point out some of the inaccuracies in the article, to answer the patronising comments about our assumed (mis)understanding of socialism and to refute the hysterical accusation of censorship caused by our disclaimer.

1. The article says that Sinn Fein is a nationalist group who don't care whether their government would be capitalist or not, so long as it was "green", and that they have no knowledge of or interest in socialism. This is based on a quote from an issue of Eire Nua which must be at least five years out of date (we found it in a 1971 edition). This booklet has been superseded by a series of policy documents, including the one from which we quote:
   ". . . we believe that the present system of society is based upon the robbery of the working class and that capitalist property cannot exist without the plundering of labour; we desire to see capitalism abolished and a democratic system of common or public ownership erected in its stead. The democratic system, which is called socialism, will, we believe, come as a result of the continuous increase of power to the working class. Only by this means can we secure the abolition of destitution and all the misery, crime and immorality which flow from that unnecessary evil." (Sinn Fein Policy. 1986)
2. The writer claims that the IRA and its supporters dream of a "fairyland" where Unionists are silenced forever.

Must it be pointed out that British capitalism and colonialism can only be maintained in Northern Ireland with the collaboration of the puppet Unionists? In fact, the very existence of the Unionists is due to the British colonialists. The nationalist community in N.I. well understand this and the nature of this colonialism and its function: it divides the Irish and British working class, nullifies the power of trade unionism and maintains Ireland as a NATO base for Britain. Until British occupation of Ireland, backed up by Unionism, is eliminated, the Irish know there will be no way of realising socialism.

3. The writer says that poor conditions are "marginally worse" in Catholic working-class areas.

Recent figures give unemployment in the Catholic community as at 80 per cent. Catholics are four times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants. Furthermore, Catholics are subject to daily harassment by the RUC, UDF, British army etc., have their funerals noisily surveilled by helicopters continually circulating above, are stopped and searched when they enter or leave the country, cross a border or just walk the streets, have their doors kicked in by British soldiers . . . the list could go on.

4. The IRA are said to practise sectarian killings of Protestants, because they don't recognise their class identity.

This is offensive and untrue. There is not a policy of killing Protestants because of their religion. Members of the RUC, UDR etc are assassinated because of their political role in maintaining British colonial rule in Northern Ireland. (The two men in the car who were killed likewise. If you didn't catch any of the photos in the establishment press — let alone in An Phoblacht/Republican News — of the guns pointing out of the car window, we can oblige you with some.) On the other hand, there are killings of Catholics which can be described as racist or "sectarian", as well as the harassment of the Catholic community at large in the ways described above.

We would question the "sectarian" analysis. British imperialism uses this to justify the use of horrifying methods of brutality and repression without protest, and to uphold its colonial occupation — you will still hear people from both countries asking: "Who will keep the peace if Britain withdraws from N.I.?".

We do not agree that the IRA and Sinn Fein are anti-Protestant. The first 3 articles in their suggested charter of rights from the 1986 document state:
  1. All citizens are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Every person is entitled to the rights of citizenship without distinction of any kind, such as distinction of race. sex. religion, philosophical conviction. language or political outlook
  2. Every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.
  3. Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and religion and the open practice and teaching of ethical and political beliefs. This includes the right of assembly, peaceable association, petition and freedom of expression and communication.

5. The Provisional IRA, according to the article, emerged in 1969 as a result of housing problems and unemployment.

Of course they didn't emerge in their present form in 1969. with no prior history of struggle against Britain! The history of the IRA and the nationalist struggle against their economic and cultural oppression can be found in many books (we are sure most people realise that Britain has been in colonial occupation of Ireland for 800 years or more). But this point raises a more serious question. because it seems that the writer is implying that if a Unionist/capitalist government could provide jobs. housing etc. for all, then there would be no trouble from the Catholic community at all! The Socialist Party's analysis says that there is no reason for this or any other war in the world other than control of markets and economy. However, in most cases the cultural element is not just the superficial reason behind an oppressed people's desire for self-determination; in Ireland and most of the countries you cited, the people are oppressed as a people. We feel the writer is saying "how foolish of the natives to want their own language, culture, religion, farming methods, sport — why can't they all see this as narrow-minded and backward? If they were truly socialist they wouldn't care what language they spoke, whether they played hurley or football, and would abandon their religious beliefs quickly when it was explained to them [by clever us?] that there's no such thing as god(s)" We feel that to oppose liberation movements on these grounds, is to collaborate with the colonial class and to practise a kind of cultural imperialism.

In the past, some of the nationalist community may have been guilty of a narrow nationalism, but the white, English community continues to ignore the growing internationalism in the republican movement, and the links forged with oppressed people of other nations which share a common history of colonial repression.

There are other points we could make, but time & space may not permit. Some of us do not support the IRA in everything they do, some of us are pacifists. However, like it or not. they have the support of most of the nationalist community in N.I., who have no other organisation fighting imperialism there. Most of us agree that Britain should withdraw from N.I. and that the people there should be allowed to determine their own socialist future.

Two last points arising from last month's letter about our disclaimer: we apologise for the last minute addition of it. Due to an initial misunderstanding in the co-op, it didn't get submitted till artwork stage. But we had been given permission by the editor to put one in and/or to write a letter. Finally, we are relieved that readers do not associate the printer with what they print. Unfortunately, many of us do.
Some members of Calvert's Press

Letter: Destructive behaviour (1988)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Destructive behaviour


In reply to Keith Graham's letter in the April Socialist Standard, I agree with him that it is appropriate, and not before time, that the trade union movement take up the issue of sexual harassment at work, but the article which prompted my letter was about sexual harassment between colleagues at office parties. This is a social situation, and about behaviour with which women frequently, at worst comply, or at best excuse. There was no mention of the the "boss". If his/her attention is unwelcome, few contracts of employment insist on office party attendance, the women don't have to go.

However, this suggested analogy of the pensioners being mugged is not "by the same token", no one is passive and compliant about being mugged. Though it might be "by the same token" if the point was that they have all their lives accepted a society in which mugging in various disguises is endemic.

I didn't say that destructive behaviour of individuals should be left to Ben Elton. I wrote that such behaviour is "more effectively dealt with by Ben Elton", the word "more" got lost somewhere between me and the final edition. My point was more specific, if we are going to write about the destructive behaviour of individuals let's not discriminate in favour of, or against, one form. In fact 1 agree, we should deal with all matters affecting our class.

Incidentally, "nailing" was used because it seemed to fit the tone of the original article, and as a metaphor in tune with the time of year.

As to his suggestion in the last paragraph of his letter, perhaps one reason why we are ignored by "different working groups" is that we spend more time in fighting than out propagandering.
Janet Carter

About Socialism (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punishing the poor (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

At a time when we are constantly being told that the economy is doing well, that output is increasing and the living standards of those in work are going up, it is easy, perhaps, to forget that significant numbers of workers in Britain are not doing well, even measured by the miserable standards of capitalism. 10.43 million people are currently living at or below the Supplementary Benefit (SB) level; a further 7.61 million people live on incomes no more than 40 per cent above the SB level. In other words a total of over 18 million people are living in a state of poverty.

Life for claimants has never been easy: they have to endure the indignity of waiting for hours just to "sign on'", of having to answer numerous questions about their lives in order to secure the "right"' to a pittance of benefit which is insufficient to meet even their basic needs — food, shelter, warmth and clothing. They have to live according to a set of rules laid down by the state governing what they do with their time — how many hours they can work, whether or not they can enrol for a course at college — and even, in some circumstances, who they can sleep with and on what terms. Put a step wrong and they are likely to find their benefit stopped by officials who are trained to regard all claimants as potential "scroungers '.

This month sees the introduction of a new system of social security benefits which will make life even harder for most claimants — less money, more hoops to jump through in order to get it and more conditions attached to receiving it.

  • Supplementary Benefit is to be replaced by a new means-tested benefit to be called Income Support.
  • The old system of " single payments" — extra money to cover the cost of large items like furniture, bedding and children’s shoes — will be stopped. In its place will be the Social Fund. Instead of getting grants to help with large occasional expenses, claimants will have to ask for a loan from a cash-limited fund which they will have to pay back out of their ordinary weekly benefits. Those who are turned down for such loans will be referred to charities.
  • Family Income Supplement (FIS), the means-tested benefit that is presently paid to low income families with children, is to be replaced by Family Credit which will be available to fewer families and will be payable through the breadwinner s pay packet.

The government claims that "only" 35 per cent of claimants will be worse off under the new system. Other (more independent) sources argue that the figure will be nearer to 60 per cent (including 81 per cent of couples with children, 74 per cent of lone parents and 90 per cent of pensioners) since the government's calculations do not take account of the fact that any "gains" under the new system will be almost completely wiped out by simultaneous changes in the housing benefit system which will require everyone, including claimants, to pay the first 20 per cent of their rates. Insufficient allowance has been made for this in the scale rates which have been set for Income Support.

There are other measures in the new system which will make life more difficult for the poor: unemployed sixteen- and seventeen- year-olds who refuse to go on government “training " schemes like YTS will be disqualified from receiving any benefits at all. And the unemployed will also find themselves the target of even more "special measures" designed not so much to get them back to work, but rather to intimidate them into removing themselves from the unemployment register and thus give the illusion of rapidly falling unemployment rates. People claiming sickness or unemployment benefit will have their entitlement assessed on the previous two years' national insurance contributions instead of just the last year as at present. Those who leave a job without being sacked will find that they are deemed to be "voluntarily unemployed", and therefore not entitled to benefit, for twenty-six weeks instead of thirteen weeks. Clearly these last two measures are designed to force people to stay in the same job no matter how unsuited they may be to the work and no matter how bad the working conditions.

The new social security system must be seen in the context of other recent changes which have also hit the poor. Since January 1987, unemployed people on Supplementary Benefit have only been entitled to have half their mortgage interest paid for them for the first four months on benefit — the darker side of the owner-occupation about which we hear very little compared with the empty rhetoric about the joys of being part of the "property-owning democracy". Extra weekly payments for heating have been frozen since November 1985 and the level of Child Benefit — payable to 6.8 million mothers to help with the cost of raising 12.2 million children — has not been uprated in line with inflation.

So how should we view these new measures? Firstly, they are not entirely new — there has been a long history of punishing the poor, beginning with the imprisonment of those deemed to be vagrants and continuing, in the nineteenth century, with the harsh conditions of the Victorian workhouse. Secondly, poor people have always been divided into two categories: the "deserving'' and the "undeserving". The "deserving" poor have tended to be the elderly, widows, children. the sick and the disabled who have been seen as worthy recipients of charity for which they are expected to be duly grateful. The "undeserving" poor have tended to be the unemployed, viewed with mistrust, suspicion and fear, especially by the ruling class, nervous that those members of the working class so clearly without a stake in the present social order, might kick against a system to which they were marginal. The "undeserving" poor are not even regarded as suitable objects of charity. Rather they should be punished to deter others from voluntarily joining their ranks by making their position so uncomfortable (“less eligible") that no one would choose unemployment rather than wage-slavery. Seen in this light the new system merely represents more of the same.

The government claims that, under the new system, benefits will be targeted towards those most in need — the "deserving" poor — although even this claim is pretty empty since many pensioners will be worse oft sickness benefit will be harder to get and child benefit has already been cut in real terms. The measures against the unemployed are, however, quite clearly designed to make their lives as uncomfortable as possible. Young people will be forced to work for their benefits; the differential between benefits and wages will be widened so that even very low wages look attractive compared with what can be got on the dole; and the grounds for the withdrawal or refusal of benefits to the unemployed will be increased. At the same time the new Family Credit system, because it will be administered by employers and paid along with wages, will give low paid workers the illusion that they are being paid more than they really are. In other words, the government is continuing its attempt to create a low wage economy.

The consequences of low wages and benefits is poverty, and poverty has far-reaching effects on people's health, housing, personal relationships, sense of well-being and life chances. Already the children of the poor are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than the children of the rich. Death rates among the unemployed are 20 per cent higher than expected. Increasingly the unemployed figure in the statistics for suicide. In 1987, 100,000 families were homeless and the number of mortgage defaults was over 20,000 and rising. One million people are living in unfit housing. 5.6 million people exist on incomes below Supplementary Benefit levels because they do not get all the benefits they are entitled to.

This situation, already an appalling catalogue of misery and deprivation, can only get worse under the new benefit system. However, it would not be enough simply to reinstate the old system or even to up-rate the level of benefits — people would still be forced to live in poverty. What is needed is a new social order that does not require access to wage-slavery as a precondition for meeting basic needs and which does not punish those who are unable to work by forcing them to beg for crumbs. It's time that all workers got up off their knees.
Janie Percy-Smith