Saturday, May 4, 2019

Let’s End Charity (1981)

From the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

What do you do when someone comes to your door and say, It’s for the blind” or “I’m collecting for Cancer Research” or “we’re asking people to give to Oxfam”?

The easiest thing is to dip into your pocket, put a few coppers in their envelope and get back to whatever you were doing. That way you get rid of your unwanted caller and at the same time put at rest any conscience that may have been pricked. Harder by far is it to refuse those few coppers, and indeed few people do.

But does the money you’ve given really serve a useful purpose? Well first of all, although you may wonder how much of it actually gets to the unfortunates in whose name it was collected, you’re fairly sure that the benefit of your donation will be felt at least in some small way by a needy person somewhere. Secondly you’re reassured that the world isn’t such a bad place after all, that there are people doing something about its problems.

Not many people get further than this in their thoughts on charities, and very few indeed get as far as asking whether charities ever actually solve basic problems like hunger, homelessness and disease. In fact charities never do; think of any one you like and you’ll find that, despite the funds it’s collected in the past, its need for funds is greater-than ever. And although charities occasionally pack up, they hardly ever do so because the cause for which they were collecting has ceased to exist. On the contrary, new causes are springing up all the time.

The sad thing is that charities, despite the enormous amount of human energy and goodwill that go into them, can rarely do more than touch the surface of the problems they were set up to deal with. They can never get to the root of these problems. Only political action aimed at revolutionising the whole structure of society and abolishing its profit system can wipe out the problems that give rise to charities. Yet, in law, the benefits and privileges (like tax exemption) of a recognised charity are conditional upon its abstinence from political activity. In other words to be recognised as a charity you are forbidden to do anything which might conceivably tackle the problems of need and. suffering at their root.

Another irony is that, while for most people charity seems to be a sacred institution, the world we live in could not be more uncharitable. Apart from such large-scale horrors as food being dumped or left to rot in some parts of the world while people starve in others and human beings engaging in or turning a blind eye to the mass slaughter of other human beings, our day-to-day existence is based on the assumption that we will try to get as much as possible for as little as possible. So we will squeeze our employer for the highest wage or salary we think he can afford and he will squeeze us too, to produce as much for him as possible for as little money as he thinks we will to accept. When we go shopping we would never dream of paying double the marked price for the goods we need. On the contrary we usually try to find places where we can get the goods we need for as low a price as possible. And most of us spend time comparing prices and complaining about how little we get for our money. All this is the exact opposite of charity. None of it could be further from the ethic of “giving to help others”.

What it amounts to is that in a society which is bound to be overwhelmingly uncharitable because of the shortages and rivalries built into its buying and selling system, charity can never be more than a small closed compartment of life.

We want to persuade people of the severe limitations of organised charity and also of the unfortunate effect it has in wrongly suggesting to people that, by giving money, they are doing something about solving the world’s problems. What charities never suggest is the plain truth that the perpetual calamities and suffering they exist to cope with are due not to any inevitable defects in man’s capacity for organising the world but to a social system which puts profits-and armaments to guard these profits-before human welfare.

Charity will end when we get socialism. People won’t need it then. It’s something worth thinking about next time you slip those coppers into that envelope.
Howard Moss

Letters: Class Struggle in Poland (1981)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class Struggle in Poland

Dear Editors

I was astounded when I read the article in your December (1980) issue, "The Class Struggle in Poland". I not only find it nonsensical. but hypocritical. During the 1950s and the 1960s I attended many of your meetings and debates in Manchester and your speakers constantly attacked the trade union movement as part and parcel of the capitalist system. Now I see you support the new so-called Polish independent trade union. Solidarity. If you think that this struggle is a workers’ united movement for socialism, as printed on your front page, you must be a lot of political illiterates. Who are the people backing them? The Catholic Church and Right wing organisations all over the world who are filling their coffers with capitalistic money. To find that the SPGB have found new allies with the Catholic Church and some of the most reactionary capitalist organisations in the world, the pioneers of the SPGB must be turning over in their graves.
I. Brown 

It is ironic that I. Brown refers to us as illiterates. when it is his own failure to read the front cover of the December 1980 Socialist Standard which leads him to imagine that the setting up of independent trades unions in Poland is seen by the SPGB as a workers’ united movement for socialism. Nothing of the kind was said. The EC statement which was published in the Socialist Standard pointed out the severe limitations of a purely defensive struggle, while recognising the important uses of trade unions. It has never been the case that SPGB speakers have attacked the existence of trade unions. Far from it, we recognise the use which they can have and have had.

Indeed, there are many Solidarity members who follow the Catholic Church, although for some of them it may be only for tactical reasons. But there is no evidence to show that the Church, as such, is backing the new union and there is some evidence to show that the Church is in league with the Polish government. The following article, which appeared in the West German newspaper, Der Spiegel, in January 1981, provides evidence of the Catholic Church’s real role in the recent developments:
  Ever since early September 1980 there have been secret contacts between the Soviet leadership and the Vatican. The aim has been to find a method of damming up the revolt in Poland which has been inconvenient for both sides. One of Moscow's first emissaries to Rome was one of the directors of the foreign dept., of the CPSU, who in September met the Vatican representative responsible for Eastern policy together with Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of the Curia . . . the secret talks were mainly concerned with the situation in Poland. Cascroli assured the Moscow representative that the Pope and the Vatican would do everything possible “to ward off the misfortune facing Poland”.
The SPGB has not changed its position regarding the uses and limitations of trade unions, although we suspect that I. Brown, after years of listening to SPGB speakers without hearing what they were saying, has at last understood where we stand.

End Charity

Dear Editors

This week 1 read for the first time The Socialist Standard and I was struck by the quality of its articles: well thought-out and well written. However, I disagree with the article, "Let’s End Charity’’ because I don’t think charities pretend to “solve" basic problems, but to solve the problems or at least alleviate the fate of individuals or communities crushed by the world situation or by official machinery. They have not the time to wait until the whole world has turned socialist. I see that my copy bears the number 918, vol. 77 and that vol. 27 appeared 50 years ago. The Socialist Standard hasn’t changed the world nor solved the basic problem. Meanwhile Oxfam has been digging wells in India and saved hundreds from starvation. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has saved many of them. Dr. Barnardo has housed orphans; Shelter has found shelter for quite a few people without roofs over their heads. All partial benefits, I agree. But benefits all the same and for some of the beneficiaries it made the difference between life and death. And, come to think of it, if I hadn’t taken pity on the chap who was peddling your periodical in front of the tube station I would not have had the pleasure of coming to know it. Made me feel good . . .
R. Leys

Thank you for the compliments and we hope that you will become a regular reader. You are correct when you say that the SPGB has been working for a long time and yet socialism has not been established. But at least we can say that the work we have done has helped to build up a principled socialist movement and that we are now nearer to establishing socialism than we were when we started. Oxfam and the other charities have been going for a long time too. They have had larger funds than the SPGB, many more supporters and much greater official approval. And yet they are further from eradicating poverty now than when they started. More people are starving throughout the world today than when Oxfam was formed. More communities are being destroyed. More poverty exists worldwide, in both absolute and relative terms, than it did fifty years ago. Indeed, the NSPCC, which you mention, has recently had to appeal for funds in The Guardian not so as to stop parents beating children (and why do parents beat children?), but so as to pay the salaries of their full-time officials and keep the administrative machine going. Charities have done a great deal of hard work and achieved many specific beneficial results. But the general problems of the working class are more important than specific examples of amelioration. The point is that the profit system as a whole is bigger and more ferocious than the goodwill of charities. Capitalism cannot be humanised by the rich giving to the poor. What is needed is for the class which is poor to dispossess the class which is rich so that we may have a society in which we will all live in a condition of security and equality. If every worker who donated time, energy and money to charitable causes would have been working for socialism we would now be much nearer to such a condition. So, our message to R. Leys is that he should stop feeling sorry for others and start looking after his own material interest. When he does that he will realise that there are millions of workers throughout the world who are impoverished due to their own acquiescence in a system which robs them of the fruits of their labour.

Different Socialisms

Dear Editors

Because there are several different kinds of socialism available to the casual reader, I am somewhat confused as to the real meaning of socialism. I do not really understand why there are several different kinds of truth (socialism) instead of just one. People want a better life. That is a single, simple truth. If people could work together, co-operatively, towards a common goal, they could possible achieve a better life. Is there a difference between socialism and the co-operative movement, or sharing together in a group for the common good? I feel that capitalism will no longer be an effective method for improving society, but neither is argument between socialist groups.

The Soviets believe that they are socialist, which means total government control. I think local control is a better method, but competition between groups could result in one group taking control of another, which would not be local control. A larger food co-op can buy products cheaper than a small co-op, but how big is too big?

I am not theoretical and do not care to read theoretical articles which result in more useless verbiage. People talk and write as they will, but the poor are today in great need. The point should be to stop talking and move towards a common goal, such as a workers’ co-operative in an agricultural setting, where the people are as self-sufficient as possible, and even export food and clothing for sale to the outside. That would be socialism in action, which would be an example for all the world to examine.

I should think that co-operative socialism would, in fact, be revolutionary, because it would give hope to the members Books and magazines are important, but socialist groups have been talking for years and I can’t see any real, visible progress towards socialism. If some sort of progress isn’t made within a few years it will be too late. Reagan and Haig seem to be determined to destroy the world in their own way, and I believe that to form a workers’ cooperative movement is the only way out of this capitalistic retrogression.

I enclose a contribution, not for your magazine, but for your general fund, because I can buy your magazine at a nearby store and I don't wish to read articles that can’t be put to immediate practical use. Time is short, as mentioned. We don’t have time to read and argue. There is only time to do. Socialism must be promoted by whatever means possible, even on the BBC and I TV.
Tom Todd 
Moseley, Birmingham

We do not accept that there are different kinds of socialism. There is either capitalism (production for profit) which exists throughout the world today, including the misnamed communist countries, or socialism (production solely for human need) which the SPGB is the only party in this country standing for. Socialism will be a worldwide co-operative community and will replace the worldwide system of production and distribution which capitalism has created. Some aspects of socialist living will be localised for the sake of convenience, but the primary concern of socialist society will be to provide for the complete needs and desires of the people of the world.

Your ideal of an island of socialism within the sea of capitalism will not be achieved so long as the resources of the earth, and the means of producing and distributing wealth, are the private property of a minority class. You refer to workers’ co-operatives selling food and clothing to the outside world. But production for sale is a feature of capitalism. Where would the co-operative get the capital to invest in production? How much would it sell its commodities for? Would it have trade unions to protect the wages and conditions of those working on the co-operative? What would the co-operative do if a rival firm produced goods at a cheaper rate? In short, how could a community within capitalism detach itself from the inherent features of that society? It could not.

What is needed is a worldwide movement of the people who produce all of the wealth of society (the working class) to take political action to gain control of the productive and distributive machinery of society. Then we can have world socialism. Practical action is useless without theory and Tom Todd is advised to visit the Birmingham branch of the SPGB and help to turn the vision of socialism into an immediate, practical reality.

50 Years Ago: Russian Illusions (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is claimed by many that the Russian Government has discovered a means of developing Russian industry on Socialist lines and free from the disturbing effects of the world trading conditions that affect the other capitalist countries. Actually, the more Russian industry enters into the world market as importer and exporter, the more Russian industrial conditions will be affected by conditions outside.

For example, the world slump in prices has hit Russian industry as badly as any, and has necessitated hasty and difficult modifications of the so-called Five-Year Plan. Estimates were based upon the exporting of certain quantities of goods at certain prices, the yield from which was to be used for machinery and other imports. Owing to the unforeseen slump, Russian exports in January and February of 1931 decreased in value by nearly one-fifth as compared with the corresponding period of 1930, and this in spite of a big increase in the quantities of goods exported. The output of the exporting industries had to be increased above the planned amount owing to the fall in the prices obtained for the exported goods in the world market, and in order to pay for the imports. The machinery and other imports either have not fallen in price at all, have not fallen as heavily, or have been contracted for at a stated price. The final result has been that imports have had to be curtailed. The imports for January and February, 1931, were one-third below those for January and February, 1930. Thus does capitalism frustrate attempts at planning.

Mr. Fenner Brockway, the new Chairman of the I.L.P., writing in the New Leader (April 17th), assumes that Russian industry is being run on a “ Socialist basis.” This is quite incorrect and indicates either a misreading of the Russian industrial system or—more probably—a failure to grasp what constitutes Socialism. In Russia, as elsewhere, goods are produced, not for use, but for sale. The producers are a wage-earning class with no effective control over the machinery of production. There is great inequality, as in other capitalist countries. The first charge on industry is the payment of interest to the investors in the State loans. The way in which inequality of wealth is growing is shown by the increasing yield from the graduated income tax. Already the yield is over £60 millions a year. The Government is now itself catering for the wants of monied people by opening shops at which goods are sold at rates far above the official prices.
(Editorial from the July 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard)

Running Commentary: Behind the Iron Curtain (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Behind the Iron Curtain
On 8 June, Panorama (BBC television) showed a film called “Behind The Curtain” made by Antoine Fournier, which consisted of interviews with workers in Moscow. The similarity with life in the West was quite remarkable, as the camera panned over Coca-Cola adverts, horse- and car-racing and amusement arcades. One assistant salesman on £45 a month explained how he is forced to try to earn some money “on the side” dealing in the black market. Another, dealing in the foreign clothes market, explained:
  Underground market is a very popular thing in the Soviet Union. All the young people I know do the things I do because, for two reasons. The first is a great profit, and the second is a simple interest to connect with foreigners. But there are lots of police in civil clothes who control the situation and if they catch you with the clothes, they never take you to the police station, they simply take your clothes and then resell them. Policemen have a little salary too, so we can understand them.
Here are some more excerpts from the interviews.
Can we film you at work? The bosses would never allow it.
Do you get good wages? Good pay? You must be joking . . . If I make 150 roubles a month. I’m doing alright . . . I’m just slaving away.
Do many women do your job? What can I say? There are so many of them. They need money, or they want to get a flat. But we're told a pack of lies. They’ve been lying for five years now about the flat, saying they’re going to give it to us. But we’re still living in a room like this one, we still haven’t a flat, just a room. When will you get your flat? We haven’t any idea. That depends on the boss. Go and ask him yourself. Looks like we haven’t earned it yet so they haven’t given it to us.
Are you going to vote tomorrow? Of course (they laugh) what a stupid question!
And who are you going to vote for? Don’t you have an easier question? (They all laugh cynically.) The portrait of our deputy is already hung up in the entrance!
What about Party members? If somebody joins the Party, either that means he’s a careerist, that he's already decided he wants to make a career of it, or, well it means that he’s just no good.
And Western people? First of all, I think they shouldn’t be afraid of us. We are people just like them. We live like they do.

The hysteria over the Brixton riots has faded now, but with unemployment and resentment mounting all the time, it is quite possible that there will be further outbreaks of violence in inner-city areas. Brixton was quite clearly not a “race riot”; the police were attacked as representatives of state harassment and authority. But in the aftermath, references to the “black community” in the press suggested that the main division is between blacks and whites. In fact, the whole community, black and white, is divided into two classes. There are both black and white investors, property-owners, who profit from the poverty suffered by black and white workers.

For example, a Nigerian called Chief Francis Nzeribe has said he wants to invest money in Brixton. Some people in Brixton will be allowed to have jobs, to get wages which are just enough to live one, while Nzeribe will own all of the wealth they produce for him. He owns £50 million worth of assets around the world, and heads twenty-seven companies. He has been a private arms dealer and lives in a flat in Mayfair. He has said of his plans for Brixton: “I see this as an opportunity to make money” (New Standard, 5/5/81). Colour is irrelevant.

A few years ago, the media were stirring up a popular fear that oil resources were going to run out. There was a danger of a shortage. Now the tune has changed, and they are getting worried about a “glut”. OPFC and other representatives of oil interests are complaining about the threat of falling prices and profits as hundreds of barrels of oil pour out from the Middle Fast each week, to say nothing of all of the other sources in the world. Because of the recession, world market demand is down, so supply seems to be too high to satisfy the profit demands of the owners.

Resources today are not measured by simple human needs, any more than production is controlled by them. The market rules. This is why today's glut becomes tomorrow’s scarcity. The present crisis in world capitalism is not just affecting oil, though. America has a “butter mountain” which is “growing by ten million pounds a week” (Guardian, 30/5/81); and on 26 May a Guardian article entitled: “There's an awful lot of coffee” referred to “the prospect that the world is likely to be oversupplied with coffee during the next twelve months or so”. But in today’s insane system, that will not prevent millions of people from starving to death this year, and millions more from drinking tea because it is cheaper.

China is supposed to be a People’s Republic. Its government claims to have saved its workers from the ravages of capitalist exploitation. So it is rather odd that on 15 April, Coca-Cola, the epitome of world capitalism, opened a bottling plant in Peking. But the Chinese workers will, it seems, be saved from this danger by their benevolent masters after all. At first, the drink will only be sold to people with hard currency (the Chinese ruling class). Later it may be available for “ordinary” Chinese people (the working class), but probably at a price well over what most of them could afford, (Times, 16/4/81) so thoroughly are they being drained dry by the “People’s” Parasites.

Capitalism's Casualties
Dr. Jay Herbert, chairman of the Hospital Doctors’ Association, remarked recently that more than half the country’s junior doctors work more than eighty hours a week, and that their resulting tiredness was a major cause of death in hospitals (Guardian 30/5/81). He pointed to Sunday evenings as a critical time, and said that the massive amount of overtime worked by doctors was allowed to continue for economic reasons: “Juniors are still expected to work for an overtime rate of one-third the basic rate. It is cheaper for hospitals to employ fewer doctors for longer hours than more doctors.”
Clifford Slapper