Sunday, May 12, 2019

Action Replay: All Above Board (2013)

The Action Replay Column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Let’s not argue about whether chess is a sport: it certainly contains plenty of rivalry, financial shenanigans and back-biting. It’s probably lost some of its public profile since the days of Bobby Fischer and the rivalry between American and Russian players that echoed the Cold War.

But the world championship has long been ensnared in rows about money. Players, usually with the help of private backers, used to provide a purse on a winner-take-all basis. Then Emanuel Lasker, who won the championship in 1894, demanded that the challenger provide the whole of the stake, which had the effect, if not the intention, of reducing the number of championship matches. There followed lots of controversies about how to organise the championships and how to handle the money.

It was only in 1946 that the World Chess Federation (FIDE) set up an official series of eliminators and standard formats for the final champion vs challenger play-off. In 1999, FIDE was recognised by the International Olympic Committee, and Olympic-style anti-drug rules were adopted (so it must be a sport, then).

Last year, FIDE awarded the commercial rights to the world championship to Andrew Paulson, an American capitalist with his finger in several Russian pies, who has grand ideas for the game. The elimination rounds will be played in glamorous venues in big cities, with lots of media coverage. TV viewers will see the players’ pulse rates and so on. ‘Spectators will be able to see with the eyes of a grandmaster and feel with the heart of a player’, claimed Paulson (Financial Times, 21 September 2012). Sponsors, it is envisaged, will cover the costs and the sizeable prize money.

The latest Candidates tournament was held in London in March. The Norwegian Magnus Carlsen won and will challenge current world champion Viswanathan Anand in November. Carlsen, who is only 22, is sponsored by the Oslo-based investment bank Arctic Securities, for whom he works as some kind of ambassador. As Carlsen says on the company’s blog, for both chess players and banks, ‘precision is of the essence and mistakes can be fatal.’ Mind you, chess players generally play no part in global financial meltdowns.
Paul Bennett

Italy’s New Brand: 5-Star Movement (2013)

From the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The breakthrough achieved by a new political movement, the 5 Stars Movement (its official name is Movimento 5 Stelle, abbreviated as M5S), was a key result of the election that took place on the 24/5 February in Italy. For the Chamber of Deputies the M5S got 25.55 percent of the votes.  The figure for the Senate of Republic was similar. This resulted in 109 seats for M5S in the Chamber of Deputies and 54 seats in the Senate. For the old political establishment this outcome is quite drastic, but what does the M5S stand for, and will the Italian workers benefit from this electoral outcome?

Corrupt from the start
In order to understand Italian politics we need to go as far back as the artificial creation of Italy by the dominant European powers of that time (i.e., Great Britain, France and Prussia). Since its very foundation in 1861, Italian capitalism and its political establishment have been deeply linked to corruption and collusion with secret societies, such as Freemasonry and illegal organizations.

Italian schoolbooks still teach that about 1,000 men led by Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered the southern part of the peninsula, dominated at that time by the House of Bourbon that could field an army of 150,000 men. Even with the addition of rebels and help from Savoy and Britain, Garibaldi’s army could not count on more than 15,000, ten times less than the Neapolitan army (as Marx pointed out in the New York Daily Tribune 23 August 1860). How did they do it? Corruption was the main weapon used by Garibaldi’s army.

The weapon of corruption worked very well and has dominated Italian politics since. ‘Unlike the rest of Western Europe, the disintegration of feudalism in southern Italy failed to produce an independent entrepreneurial middle class’ (Judith Chubb, Patronage, Power, and Poverty in Southern Italy, 1982). This was in large part due to the colonial politics of the northern Italian bourgeoisie (Antonio Gramsci, Ordine Nuovo, La Settimana politica, Operai e contadini, 1919-1920). The banks of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were being systematically robbed by the new elite. From 1863 to 1866 the Bank of Naples lost 37 million lire (Gigi Di Fiore, Controstoria dell’Unione d’Italia, 2007). The Bank of Sicily’s director, Emanuele Notarbartolo, who tried to save it from bankruptcy, was murdered on the orders of Raffaele Palizzolo, another Member of the Italian Parliament and member of the management board of the same bank. Palizzolo was also a known Sicilian mafia boss, who took advantage like many others of the unification of Italy to make dubious investments (trafficking) for his own personal profit. The same year, 1893, another scandal involved another bank, Banca Romana, which to extinguish its debts printed fake money.  This scandal involved very important political leaders like Giovanni Giolitti and Francesco Crispi, founding fathers of Italy. These historical facts are just some early examples of how the Italian political system worked from the very beginning.

Things did not change during the Fascist dictatorship and after WWII the main party, the Christian Democratic Party (Democrazia Cristiana, DC), refined this rotten system even further. Their political machinery was based on clientelism and patronage. Amintore Fanfani, leader of the DC in the 50s, while advocating against clienteles and personality politics set up a scheme to recruit DC members called tesseramento which took clientelism to its extreme. Judith Chubb describes how these tessere (party membership cards) were crucial to get power within the DC political party. ‘The tessera of the DC is like a blank check: it can be given out to anyone – to relatives, to the deceased, to persons chosen at random from the telephone book or from health-insurance list’ (Corriere della Sera 7 November  1973). The trick was quite easy: you provide me with tesserati and I provide you with jobs in provincial councils, local government offices, agencies of the public administration. Of course the public sector grew like crazy with no equivalent growth in the private sector.

Organised crime was another very convenient partner for the political establishment because it controlled a part of the private sector, in particular the construction business. This system soon extended to the rest of Italy, in particular when ‘at the beginning of the 70s, Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian mafia) itself began to become a company. A company because, by getting a more and more hefty share – which sometimes became almost a monopoly – of the drug market, Cosa Nostra began to manage an enormous amount of capital’ (last interview with Paolo Borsellino, 1992).

As we have seen with Palizzolo, the connection between political class and organised crime has always been there, but now in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it became obvious, with people like Giovanni Gioia, Fanfani’s political secretary, Salvo Lima, a collaborator of Gioia with important connections with Cosa Nostra who was murdered by Cosa Nostra itself in 1992, and Vito Ciancimino, DC politician, mayor of Palermo and mafia member. To confirm Borsellino’s statement, we could just consider that Silvio Berlusconi started his empire by getting a surety from the Bank Rasini of Milan that was involved in Cosa Nostra money laundering. The best buddy of Silvio Berlusconi, Bettino Craxi, leader of the Italian ‘Socialist’ Party (Partito Socialista Italiano, PSI), became clearly important when Cosa Nostra and the DC were having some ‘marital’ problems in the early 80s. It was known that this traditionally small party (9.6 percent of votes), which still carried the hammer and sickle logo until 1985, at once became ‘important’ and notoriously corrupted to the core.

To an extent, the Italian political class underwent a transition in the period from 1969 to 1977, which in Italy was characterised by intense social and political unrest connected with the first serious economic troubles since the end of WWII. At the conclusion of this phase, the national political class represented not only a relative obstacle to the healthy development of Italian capitalism, but started to act as an absolute brake: the public debt boomed and in 1985 reached the warning level of 80 percent of GDP (in 1970 it was only 40.5 percent).

If in the past Italian politicians were not so different from their counterparts in other European countries – maybe just slightly more naive and less concerned with an effective capitalist industrial policy – from the first ‘pentapartito’ (i e. five parties) government in 1981 they began to act as a simple parasite clique who prompted an artificial economic development making use of what Marcello De Cecco referred to as ‘criminal (or bastard) Keynesianism’: unbalanced and unproductive public expense, generalised political corruption at all levels, competitive devaluation of the currency, high taxation rates on salaries together with widespread tax evasion in the self-employment sector, and, finally, heavy reliance on the protected export of low-technology goods related to the existence of the European Common Market.

Enter Beppe Grillo
When in 1986 Beppe Grillo, a successful comedian from Genoa, made a joke about the PSI being corrupt he said what everybody knew already. Grillo was banned because of this joke from Italian television. This showed how little people were then allowed to say in the mainstream media and how bad the political situation was.

Grillo’s activism against the political establishment became even more pronounced after that. At that time he was working in theatres, touching upon topics like corruption, pollution, consumer association matters, unemployment, bank scandals, etc. People who did not follow him in theatres could still see him on television on Tele+, where his live performances were broadcast every now and then. Grillo’s performances got mainstream media coverage when he talked about scandals like Parmalat’s, which broke before the media and justice system knew about it. The internet was the real breakthrough for Grillo. He could finally reach many more people, and his blog became the most popular in Italy.  Through Grillo’s blog, meet-ups were and are organised to allow ‘Grillo’s friends’ to meet face to face, discuss local problems and organise action groups, for instance against a local council that wants to build a new incinerator. In this way Grillo’s friends or followers started to become more and more proactive. In 2007 on the 8 September, a very symbolic date for Italy, a V-Day (Vaffanculo = Fuck off) was organised to gather as many followers as possible to protest against the political establishment. This was a great success, connecting 220 cities at the same time. On this occasion Grillo declared that he did not intend to create a political party but rather to eliminate them.

Grillo specified later that the M5S is in fact a movement and not a party. At the end of 2009 the M5S was founded. For some, Gianroberto Casaleggio is the real mind behind the M5S. It does not matter to us if behind Grillo there is Grillo or Casaleggio or Grillo and Casaleggio. What matters is what this political movement is about. They claim that they want to empower the citizens, getting rid of the old caste of politicians and their old systems based on clientelism and patronage. That’s reasonable and necessary in a country like Italy. We can sympathise with such a movement over this point, in the same way that Marx did with liberals like Garibaldi and Francesco Crispi in their battle against the Bourbon monarchy (Karl Marx, New York Daily Tribune, 8 August 1860), without this meaning that Marx was a liberal.   

The Five Star Movement’s platform
So let’s have a brief look at the M5S political platform. M5S complains that the state is disjointed from the citizens, that the constitution (which represents bourgeois law) is not applied, and that the state’s cost far outweighs its efficiency. Here a cry for bourgeois legality was expressed through the M5S.  Of course this message also appeals to workers, who have experienced years of abuse from the political class. M5S also proposes that the salary of the members of parliament be in line with the national average; this point has been seen as socialist, but in fact is just a sign that when a capitalist economy is in crisis politicians should get the blame too. Nothing socialist there! We think that the capitalist system itself should get the blame and not just its servant politicians.

An interesting proposal is to make debate available to all citizens with internet access via the live streaming of public meetings. This is not direct democracy, but the principle that workers could participate more closely in political debates is interesting. Following the same line, there is the proposal that new laws should be online three months before they are approved to get citizens’ comments. It is not clear if these comments will be enough to change the proposed laws or even stop them, but again the principle of participation is interesting. M5S asks for referendums without a quorum condition and for the obligation on Parliament to discuss laws proposed by a people’s initiative. All these efforts to make Parliament more accessible to the workers are welcome, however very limited they are by the fact that economic power will be still in the hands of a few who will be influencing the political world anyhow. A more transparent way of doing politics in Italy is the main reason why the M5S got such a large vote. This expressed a feeling amongst many, even some of the upper class who rely on the bourgeois legality of the constitution, that the current political system was not representing them. 

The M5S political platform includes several points about sustainability. Capitalism is not sustainable so to try to reconcile this with the health of the planet raises contradictions by definition.  In terms of economic policy the M5S wants to introduce class actions, abolish the dummy corporation system in the stock exchange, and abolish the so-called Biagi law in which workers with temporary contacts have no rights for holidays, sick leave or maternity leave, and have restrictions on their pension payments. Article 18 of the Workers’ Statute (Statuto dei Lavoratori, 1970) says that an employer ought to have a fair reason to fire an employee. Several governments have wanted to modify it, so allowing the employer to fire their employees quite easily, to create what they call ‘flexibility’. Grillo in his blog proposed that this article should not be changed but that instead the taxes on enterprises should be lowered. The fact that the M5S is against Biagi’s law and does not want to change Article 18 was a crucial point to gain votes from the working class. In principle not changing this article is good. Unfortunately the real problem is that the worldwide free labour market has considerably reduced the working class’s bargaining power. Instead of hoping that lower taxes on enterprises would solve the problem, workers should get involved in international movements to fight against capital. Instead, M5S national reformism seems to be the preferred way.  

Moreover the M5S tries to counter the anarchic nature of capitalism by proposing to forbid the closure of food and manufacturing industries which have the internal market as their main market and to ban cross share-holdings between the bank system and the industrial system; also that financial advice  institutes should share responsibility for losses; that a salary limit be established for the CEOs of corporations in which the State is the main shareholder; abolition of stock options; abolition of state monopolies such as Telecom Italia, Autostrade, ENI, ENEL, Mediaset, Ferrovie dello Stato. This is the part that seems to interest the Occupy Movement. M5S wants to reduce the public debt so as to reduce the costs of the State. As the Italian State costs a lot, the money will also need to come from somewhere else. Benefits to unemployed people are also mentioned in M5S’s programme.

M5S reached political power rather quickly as an anti-establishment movement, because in Italy politics, corruption and crime are so interconnected, and public opinion, influenced by bourgeois ideology, can no longer stand it. In economic terms, the M5S response is a Keynesian mixed economy, with the old illusion that government intervention will be able to control or even cure the anarchic nature of capitalism. Unfortunately, the mixed economy already proved to be ineffective in taming capitalism. But can the M5S at least get rid of corruption and collusion? We shall see. 

It may be interesting, from the social science point of view, to notice that reformist movements are becoming more and more hybrid and decoupled from traditional left and right alignments. The internet has become a powerful medium for people organization, but still people need human contact and public speeches to get convinced. For many people representing the old establishment, this has been a real revolution.  For the working class this is yet another reformist movement. The Italian bourgeoisie is in such bad shape that this quite moderate movement, which aims at a capitalist system regulated by the government with no obvious links to organised crime, seems to be asking a lot. The need to apply bourgeois legality is so urgent that voters from all sides were attracted to the M5S. Workers voted for the M5S with the hope that cuts to state expenditure and the abolition of Biagi’s law could improve their condition. Unfortunately, capitalism does not have a good face or a bad face, it follows profit. And although it is very appealing to kick the old politicians up the arse, the situation for workers is unlikely to be improved by M5S political reforms.

Why the Left Needs a Thatcher (2013)

From the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
(Reprinted from the Socialist Standard, May 1989)
So, Thatcher is dead, the victim of a rotten egg that she told the workers it was safe to eat. The offending chicken has been ritually slaughtered by the Guildford Association of Conservative Ladies. The funeral cortege passes slowly through the streets of London, which have been cleared of beggars the night before. Behind the coffin march vast rows of stockbrokers and workers with red-rimmed glasses and portable telephones; they have gone from deepest Surrey and deepest Sussex, from Hants and Herts and Bucks and Beds. In Dorset the firm selling black armbands (made by cheap labour in Hong Kong, of course) is expecting a boom. The cops and soldiers, saddened by the loss of an Empress, pacified by the overtime bonus paid out for funeral duties, march tearfully. Behind them shuffle the silly old proles who will weep at anything: they wept when Charles and Di got married and when the Queen Mother swallowed a trout bone (who would have believed she’d outlive Thatcher) and when The Firm got Dirty Den in Eastenders. They cried with joy when they received the letter telling them that Maggie was going to let them buy their council slum, and with fear when a letter came informing them that the whole estate had been bought by a property company on the Isle of Dogs. The media whores march along, forgiving the old girl for her excesses; after all, she was a character to write about. And who is this tailing on to the procession? They are weeping more than anyone. They feel deserted, they have lost a cause, Satan has descended to Hell and the children of righteousness have no-one to blame for their misfortunes. With Thatcher goes into the grave Thatcherism: a decade of leftist illusion being carried away to be chewed up by the worms. What will they do without her?

The British Left needs Margaret Thatcher. Bankrupt of ideas or vision, all that is left for them to do is detest hers. The Left rarely talks of capitalism—except, as at the Labour conference last year, when Kinnock said that his government would have to run it better than the Tories. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. Eight Labour governments have demonstrated that the miracle cannot be performed. Whoever runs it, the capitalist system must exploit and oppress the working class; that is its inherent nature. So, the debate on the Left is about how to run capitalism. And to do the job as ruthlessly and callously as the system demands has come to be called Thatcherism.

Most of the Thatcher policies are hated by the Left for good reasons. Thatcher is a militant class warrior. Not even The Daily Express would ever have called Wilson or Callaghan that. Laws have been passed in the past ten years which have hurt workers and blunted our instruments of self-defence. The unions have taken a battering; services like the NHS, which Labour had boasted was the cream of the reformist gains, have been attacked and then attacked again. It is understandable that many workers see in Thatcher the personification of all that is wrong in society. The question they must ask themselves is, Would society have been a much better place to live in had Thatcher never come into office? The answer, based on the hard evidence of history, is that Thatcher has not been governing capitalism, but that it has governed her. Just as it governed the Labour government before she came to power. That is why the last Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, introduced the policy of monetarism as a means of cutting the state budget in a bid to deal with inflation. It was under the last Labour government that expenditure limits within the NHS were first introduced. It was the last Labour government which took on the low-paid workers of NUPE and NALGO in the winter of 1978—when Callaghan told the unions that they would have to take cuts in real wages. Back in the mid-Seventies there were “Fight The Cuts” rallies being organised across the country. Whose cuts were being fought but those of the last Labour government? It was under the last Labour government that unemployment doubled to the then “wholly unacceptable” level of one and a half million.

And those Thatcher policies which Labour did not implement before 1979, they are now ready to accept as their own. Before 1979 Labour was opposed to British membership of the Common Market. Now they agree with Thatcher that Britain should stay in. Labour was opposed to selling off council houses. It is now Labour policy to sell them. Labour was opposed to selling off nationalised services, such as Telecom. It is now official Labour policy not to take back such services from private hands, lest the votes of the shareholders be lost. Labour made noises of opposition to the monstrous Tory laws aimed to limit union powers. Kinnock is now on record as opposing any substantial alteration to those laws in the event of a future Labour government. So, where does the Labour Party actually disagree with the wicked Thatcher who is supposed to stand for everything that they are against? Membership of NATO? Both parties agree that Britain should stay in. Troops in Ireland? Both parties want to keep them there. The nuclear bomb? With passionate unilateralists like Neil Kinnock, the men at the Pentagon need have no fears that both British parties of capitalism will be with them on the day. The chief differences between Thatcher and Kinnock are these: she admits to being a swine who will do whatever the system requires of her, he lies about it; she is in power, he is not.

Some of the Left are of the view that capitalism has been fundamentally changed by the Thatcher years. It is no longer the same system. It is now a new phenomenon called Thatcherism. It is, to be frank, very difficult to know what such people are talking about. The Communist Party’s latest policy document New Times, claims that we are now living in a period of “post-Fordism” in which the old working class has disappeared and been replaced by a new Thatcherite breed. The CP’s response to these “new times” is to seek some sort of broad, popular front reform movement, comprising every brand of political timewaster from the SNP to the SDP, with a view to offering the voters a better lifestyle under the system than Thatcher has offered them. The entire theory is flawed by two basic mistakes.

Firstly, the working class never was just that group of people who wore cloth caps and worked on the line at Ford. “Post-Fordism” is a mourning at the funeral of a class which has not disappeared at all, but is now exploited in new areas of the economy. There are vastly more workers in the service industries now than in manufacturing, and over the last ten years the move away from making to selling has been a characteristic of the European and US economies. But the workers in these countries are still wage (and salary) slaves, legally robbed by their employers. You don’t have to be a miner to be in the class struggle.

Secondly, the assumption that the way to fight a system is to concentrate all of your forces into defeating its leader of the moment is as foolish politically as it would be militarily for the Warsaw Pact to imagine that it could win the next world war by knocking off the current head of NATO. The Communist Party theorists argue that the crucial battle is at election time when a non-Tory alliance must win the day and slay the Thatcherite dragon. But what if a new dragon in the form of an Owen or a Kinnock or a Hattersley is elected instead? Surely, it is the job description and not the person appointed to do the job which is the real issue. The point of the battle should be to put an end to the dirty job of running capitalism. But, disloyal to the working-class interest in its death throes as much as it was at the outset, the CP is of the view that it is better to have capitalism run by “the lesser evil”. And who are they, who spent most of their political history telling us that Stalin was “the lesser evil”, to advise the workers on such matters? The foolish tactical plans of Professor Eric Hobsbawm for a broad anti-Thatcher alliance are to the cause of socialism what Groucho was to Marxism.

Back in 1979 the Socialist Party took the same principled position that we take now. We are opposed to capitalism and all who seek to run it. We do not want reformed capitalism or the profit system better managed. We are not looking for “nice” leaders or any kind of leaders for the workers to follow. The wages system is against the interest of the workers and only workers’ self-emancipation will solve the problems that we face. We were told not to waste our time upon such revolutionary ambitions. Many on the Left urged us to join the Labour Party and achieve what little could be achieved. After all, that was the party of the workers, so we were told. The present writer was even urged by Neil Kinnock no less (when the latter was Shadow Minister of Education and the former was a persistent questioner at a meeting) to join the Labour Party and help swell the ranks of “real socialists”. We were told that with just a little harder push Tony Benn would take the leadership and set the world ablaze. those who joined the Labour Party in 1979 have not had much for their subscription money. The Tories have won three elections, with millions of trade unionists voting for them, despite the fact that the union leaders count them in as affiliated members of the Labour Party. Foot was elected as Labour leader (to loud cheers from the Left) and proved to be an utter failure; then Kinnock was elected as the Left’s choice against Hattersley. Now Kinnock is detested by the Labour Left—before he has even had a chance to betray them in power.

Most political commentators, and most of the more candid Labour leaders, do not think that the Labour Party will win the next general election. Indeed, a split in the Labour Party is on the cards. Where Labour is in power locally it has shown that it can be just as ruthless at cutting essential services as the Tories. In short, after ten years of degrading and unprincipled compromise of the few principles that they once had, the Left stands without much hope, without much support and with a few cranky theories of further opportunism about joining with Dr Owen, the Greens and the Nats to form a reformist alliance. The so-called hard left retreats annually to Chesterfield to lick its wounds, praise the achievements of Gorbachev and listen with devotion to the guru, Benn. The other hangers-on to the Labour Party (who have urged workers to vote for them in every election) have turned into parodies of themselves. The Workers’ Revolutionary Party is now busy singing the praises of the Russian dictators and the SWP has degenerated further than ever, existing now as a group engaged in a few single-issue reform campaigns, such as opposition to the poll tax and—the sign of real senility—support for the Khomeni regime in its territorial conflict with Iraq. The Left which warned the Socialist Party that we would be left behind while they stormed the fortress has been left seriously wounded, largely by its own utter lack of principles.

That is why the Left needs a Thatcher. It needs that hideous voice and that look of contempt that leaves you in no doubt that you are being politically abused by the woman even when she is simply telling you the time. The hope of the Left is that hatred of Thatcher will cover up the fact that the opposition has nothing to offer in her place. The Socialist Party does have a clear alternative to the mean-minded narrowness of what Thatcher stands for. And when Thatcher is cold in her grave and another despicable faker is mouthing her lies, the call to the workers to transcend this system of misery will be as fresh and as urgent as ever.
Steve Coleman

50 Years Ago: Beeching’s Rail Cuts (2013)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Doctor Beeching’s casualty list was as long as anyone could have expected.

Nearly a third of the passenger route-miles to be withdrawn; almost a half of the stations to be shut down; seventy thousand railwaymen, by one means or another, to be got rid of.

The Tories have always claimed that they are the party of free competition, which is supposed to be something which will bring enormous benefits to us all. According to Conservative propagandists, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be left at the mercy of a monopoly, which will do dreadful things to our standards of living. Yet the Beeching Plan will give, over large areas of the country, a transport monopoly to the road interests. What if these interests act as the Tories have assured us monopolies always act?

This is not the only example of how flexible is the Tories’ regard for their own consistency. At one time the British capitalist class, with the support of the Labour and Conservative Parties, thought that nationalisation of certain industries was in their own overall interests and was, therefore, inevitable, desirable and morally sound.

But since 1945 the capitalist class have been taking a second look at State control. Slowly but definitely they have changed the internal structure of some of the State industries; nowhere is this so apparent as on the railways.

Which brings us to the question of whether nationalisation, apart from being a fraud upon the working class, has also disappointed the capitalists?

The Beeching Plan seems to be going out for an immediate profit from the railways, without providing the kind of facilities which the capitalist class as a whole must require from a railway system. That was exactly what nationalisation was supposed to avoid.

There will probably be a big row over the Beeching report, with both sides representing their case as the one which has everyone’s interests at heart. And inevitably the working class will be wasting their time in another fruitless controversy while the real problem—the private ownership of society’s means of life—is left to do its worst.

(From ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard, May 1963)

Investigating The Yorkshire Ripper Investigation (2019)

The Proper Gander column from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many documentaries about serial killers have a barely-disguised morbid streak to them. Gravel-voiced narration, flashy graphics and salacious reconstructions of the crimes often sensationalise the most horrendous acts. Fortunately, these kinds of cheap tactics to pull in the viewers weren’t found in BBC4’s recent three-part series The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story. Filmmaker Liza Williams focuses on the women who were attacked by the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and the police’s hunt for him, interviewing some of the victims and their families, along with detectives, lawyers and journalists involved. Williams perceptively draws out how the case highlights some of the attitudes to women common during the 1970s.

Peter Sutcliffe killed 13 women and attacked at least eight others between 1975 and 1981, with his first assault dating back to 1969 (which the police dismissed at the time). He found his victims in Leeds, Bradford and surrounding areas, leading the press to dub him the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’. Sutcliffe looked for women out alone late at night, began to talk to them and then struck them with a hammer before stabbing them. As well as the pain and grief caused to the victims’ families, communities across the north lived in fear and suspicion. Sutcliffe tended to target suburbs known for prostitution, such as Chapeltown in Leeds. Many families were struggling to cope financially, with jobs lost through the decline of heavy industries in the area, and so some women were pushed into the sex trade to bring in enough money. Police referred to the victims as women of ‘loose morals’ or ‘doubtful moral character’, and it was expected that they would treat crimes against sex workers less seriously than those against other people. For the police, sex workers were a frequent annoyance. Whenever a sex worker was arrested, they would get fined by the courts, and released to go back on the game to pay the fine, and so the cycle continued. As the number of Sutcliffe’s victims grew, police officers, trained less in ‘Public Relations’ than now, came out with statements like ‘of course we can’t cater for the killing of the odd female at any time’. The press were predictably tactless and offensive in how they reported the murders, referring to ‘good time girls’ and using headlines like ‘the hazards of the job – by a whore’.

Prevalent attitudes of the time were also highlighted by the response to Sutcliffe’s first murder of a woman not linked to prostitution, in 1977. Among many people there was the view that only now had the killer gone too far, and the police investigation was stepped up. The victims who weren’t sex workers were described as ‘innocent’ and ‘respectable’, implying that the sex workers weren’t. Alongside this was the assumption that sex workers were worth less than the other victims, and even that they deserved to be attacked.

Even though some of the victims had no connection to prostitution, the police, especially in the early years of the enquiry, focused on the theory that the killer was fuelled by hatred for sex workers. This narrowed their perspective too much; detectives followed their assumption that only sex workers were being targeted, which meant they didn’t connect similar attacks on other women, and thereby missed important information. The case also shows other prejudices among the police. In 1976, Marcella Claxton survived being attacked, and subsequently provided a fairly accurate description of Sutcliffe. However, as the documentary explains, the police, predisposed against black women, didn’t trust Marcella’s testimony, and told her that her attacker must have been black. Again, vital evidence which could have caught Sutcliffe earlier and prevented further attacks was ignored because of institutional bias.

The police investigation became the ‘biggest manhunt in British criminal history’, albeit botched. As well as not recognising Sutcliffe’s attacks on women who weren’t sex workers, the police were also diverted by fixating on a tape recording and letters sent to them by someone purporting to be the killer, which turned out to be a hoax. Sutcliffe was questioned and released nine times before being caught, which happened by chance when his car was found to have false number plates, by police officers not even assigned to the case.

In concentrating on the investigation and the stories of the victims, the documentary spends little time on Sutcliffe himself. It seems that he led an otherwise unremarkable life, on the surface. He was quiet, married, and worked as a lorry driver. He developed a fascination with corpses, and a violent anger towards women other than his wife. He targeted sex workers because of their vulnerability and likelihood to be out alone after dark as much as because he hated them. Once arrested, he soon confessed to the attacks, meaning that his trial didn’t need to determine whether he had committed the crimes, but instead whether mental illness accounted for his actions. Sutcliffe claimed diminished responsibility following his diagnosis of schizophrenia, but this defence wasn’t accepted by the jury and he was imprisoned, where he remains now.

So, what does the case tell us about society’s attitudes at the time? As the documentary brings out, it was particularly shaped by views towards sex workers, not only in Sutcliffe’s brutal hatred of them, but also in the police’s demeaning assumptions. Attitudes to women, both in terms of dismissing their evidence and of them somehow being less worthy if they were sex workers, shaped and delayed the investigation. The police, being a part of the state, are bound to reflect the values encouraged by our alienating, divisive system.
Mike Foster

Our time to act has come (2019)

Party News from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘We have reached a point in history when we have the technical capacities to solve poverty, malnutrition, inequality and, of course, global warming. The deciding factors for whether we take advantage of our potential will be our activism and our international unity. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way.’ So said one of the students involved in the climate change school strikes.

She probably does not regard herself as a socialist, but she echoes the goal pursued by the Socialist Party of Great Britain since it was founded in 1904: the planet owned in common and democratically controlled by the people who live on it, with production for need and not for profit.

Brexit or no Brexit, the market system continues to stand between us and what we need to live a good life: healthy food, good housing, access to health care and a clean environment.

Take the Folkestone seafront redevelopment. A socialist society would freely cooperate to design and build this on a human scale. It would democratically agree to use resources to repair and run the Leas lift without having to beg for funding: in a society of common ownership, finance will no longer be a factor. Compare this with the powerlessness we all feel today, at the mercy of what is profitable for developers.

Voting for the Socialist Party will not of course bring about this society overnight. But it will send a signal that we will no longer tolerate a world run in the profitable, destructive interests of a tiny minority. There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.

The Socialist Party candidate is Andy Thomas.

Election leaflet for council election in Folkestone & Hythe District Council and Folkestone Town Council (Harbour ward) on Thursday 2 May.

Cooking the Books: Reform or Revolution? (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Capitalism Needs Reform, not Revolution. Dealing with the trouble spots will work better than starting over’ was the headline of an article by Noah Smith in the US financial magazine Bloomberg on 29 March.

‘When’, Smith began, ‘even leading economists are questioning the very idea of capitalism, you know the system is in trouble.’ One of those he named was Raghuram Rajan, a former governor of India’s central bank and now professor at a Chicago business school. Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 (12 March) Rajan opined: ‘I think capitalism is under threat because it’s stopped providing for the many, and when that happens, the many revolt against capitalism.’

Smith went on to set out the classic case for mending rather than ending capitalism:
  ‘For much of the 20th century, the big idea was to construct an alternative system – socialism, communism or anarchism – from the ground up. But that approach largely failed, for any number of reasons. Economic systems are complex constructs that evolve over time – even a very smart group of people is going to make huge mistakes if they try to engineer something totally different. And the implementation of radical social change is never easy – revolutions tend to be violent and chaotic, and the people who wind up in power are often those who are most concerned with preserving their dominance rather than providing for the material welfare of the people they rule over. Instead, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the most successful approach will be to modify the current system – to reform rather than revolt.’
This conclusion begs the question by assuming that capitalism can be modified to work in the interest of the many. All the evidence is that it can’t be. As an economic system capitalism is based on pursuing profits, a pursuit which has to take priority over providing for people’s needs. This explains the ‘trouble spots’ of global warming, unaffordable housing and high education and child care costs that Smith singles out as requiring reforms to capitalism.

Since capitalism is the cause of these and many other problems it is ultimately futile to try to deal with them while leaving capitalism intact. That’s just trying to alleviate symptoms while leaving the cause unchanged. To overcome them requires replacing a system geared to profit-making and the accumulation of capital by one geared to meeting people’s needs. This is only possible on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources; a revolution in the basis of society, to remove their cause,

Bringing about socialism is not a question of ‘a very smart group of people’ trying ‘to engineer something totally different’. The revolution from capitalism to socialism is not a ‘revolt’ in which such a minority seizes power. That doesn’t work, as Smith rightly pointed out. Socialism cannot be imposed from above. It can only be established by a majority who want and understand it and are organised and act to bring it about.

Nor does it involve ‘starting over’ and reconstructing society from scratch. Capitalism has already built up the technical and administrative structure that makes socialism possible. The socialist revolution consists in a charge in social relations regarding the control and use of this structure; it becomes commonly owned and democratically controlled. With this revolutionary change in basis of society, production can be geared to directly meeting people’s needs and the problems generated by capitalism solved once and for all. Otherwise they continue, however much reformists try to reform capitalism.

The Government Training Centres — A key to whose future (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The urge to cut production costs by improving technology and introducing automation has been a prime concern with capitalists in many lands, including Britain. This process involves the invention and installation of new machinery which enables the capitalist to cut his workforce and lower his labour costs. To workers this so-called redundancy means insecurity and hardship until they have found another job, probably a different one. Barbara Castle cynically calls this process “redeployment”. To help the capitalists redeploy some of these unfortunate workers into jobs where there is a shortage of labour the Government Training Centre (GTC) scheme was rapidly expanded over the course of the last six years or so. These centres mainly provide six month courses.

There are over forty-three* GTC’s around Britain teaching the basic skills for about forty-two trades. They are not very widely known about among workers who have been continuously employed but anyone who has been made redundant in a declining industry or merger, injured permanently or leaves the armed forces should know something about the scheme.

Some of the recipients of this ‘retraining’ and some of the well-meaning people running the scheme (all of them workers) believe that GTC’s are part of .Socialism. Only a few thinking people (and Mrs. Castle) know that this is not so. The GTC’s are nothing whatever to do with Socialism but everything to do with the administration of modern capitalism.

It cannot be disputed that, in spite of the appallingly low allowances (just above Unemployment Benefit levels) many of the workers who pass through the scheme find their earning capacity substantially enhanced or their working lives a little more bearable. But the fundamentals of wage slavery remain the same before and after the course. And the GTC’s are a mixed blessing for other reasons: “You will be accepted for training only if there are really good prospects of finding a job in the trade’’. [1] All trades taught at GTC’s have to be justified by their usefulness to the capitalist class. Entry to the scheme is severely limited by the demand for certain tradesmen on the labour market at large. And of course “there are special panels with representatives from industry to help decide the suitability of applicants for the trade”. [2] Thousands of workers never benefit from ‘retraining’ but simply continue to queue up twice a week and accept the pittance handed out by the Ministry with the fancy name. Only those considered worthy of training are invested in — the rest are left on the scrap heap.

Let us consider the ‘lucky’ few who do get in. For them, we are told, the GTC’s are “The Key to the Future”. This slogan is more appropriate for Britain’s capitalists. Not only is it cheaper to train a worker for six months than to keep him on the ‘dole’ for a year or more, but at the end of six months there is a useful, skilled, docile, industrious worker grateful for his training and eager to make up for lost earnings. This is how he finds things. The GTC’s are normally in factory estates, use in/out clocks, keep factory hours, do some production work, have a manager rather than a Head-teacher and are run with varying degrees of arbitrariness. Every effort is made to recreate factory conditions. Trainees are told that “this is not a college of further education or a school, this is a factory in which you are the product for sale at the end of six months". As usual, when it comes to plentiful labour power — it is a buyers’ market. Ex trainees, with their rather negative certificates, have to sell themselves extra hard to convince some employers that they have been trained at all. Some capitalists, on the other hand, actually visit GTC’s in order to buy the ‘product’ in advance. This shop floor marketing is encouraged.

Inside the production line steady progress has to be maintained or the ‘product’ could be rejected before completion. Apart from weekends there are eight days ‘off’ including public holidays ; sickness is limited to three weeks, tea breaks are ten minutes and lunch breaks are thirty minutes. Confidential reports are kept on each ‘product’ which are freely available to capitalist buyers but not to trainees. So trainees are kept hard at it helping to produce themselves for the labour market, proving themselves to be good investments.

To conclude: The GTC scheme is a reformist measure, it retrains workers previously unable to find work. But the beneficiaries are few and the trades taught are only those in demand by the capitalists. The ex-trainee is just another worker, competing for jobs, working for wages, forced to do so by the same system that endowed him with his new skill. The net result is that the system of mass exploitation runs a little more smoothly. Reforms like this are virtually useless to the working class (although individual workers should feel free to take from our rulers all they can get out of them —which is not much anyway). The only sensible course of action is to organise for Socialism. In Socialism technical improvements will be designed to improve the lives of human beings — they will not cause human suffering. And there could be  limitless and continuous opportunities to learn new skills — not just a once only “second chance to learn a trade” for a few.

Employers know people aren't lazy (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

In which socialist journal did the following appear?
  Most people have a simple theory about work. They think they do not like it. The view is not just confined to employees. Throughout history, employers have assumed that unless they could hold some kind of economic or even physical threat over their workforce, idleness and indiscipline would take over.
  Those rather simplistic beliefs have never entirely squared up with some observable trends in human behaviour. Left to themselves, the majority of people do not spend their time lazing around. They indulge in pursuits like gardening and home decorating which, to the traditional observer from Mars would look exactly like work, except maybe, that a higher level of energy and dedication is exhibited.
In fact this is from an article by Frank Broadway in Industry Week (15 May), the journal of the Confederation of British Industry — the employers' equivalent of the TUC.

This should provide much food for thought for those who imagine Socialism could not work because people are lazy by nature. The fact is that the social sciences have shown Socialism to be possible. There is nothing in the nature or behaviour of human beings that would prevent them organising a society based on common ownership where work would be voluntary and where goods would be free.

The employers know well that people want and need to work. They have long cynically tried to pervert the findings of social science on this point so as to make more profits. As Broadway frankly put it:
  For nearly a hundred years industrialists have been watching, and sometimes subsidising, the infant sciences of industrial psychology and sociology in the hope that something would emerge to enable them to exercise a more dramatic influence over the motivations of their employees (our emphasis).
When employers argue that Socialism, with its democratically-controlled and voluntary work, is impractical because it is against so-called human nature, they know they are lying. It is time that the facts about work disclosed by social science found their way out of the boardrooms and the anti-human personnel departments and into the factories and offices where ordinary people work. After all it is not the employers who keep capitalism going but rather their employees who don’t yet realise that Socialism is possible.

Something is wrong with the world (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Man's ability to satisfy his material needs has never been greater. The technology exists today to ensure that no man, woman or child in any part of the world goes hungry. A vast network of productive units capable of turning out abundance spans the world. The work of producing the wealth of the world is already the co-operative effort of people everywhere; here one world already exists.

Yet strikes and demonstrations and. in some places, armed conflicts disclose world-wide social unrest. Millions go hungry while some governments pay farmers not to grow food and all governments maintain wasteful armed forces. Everyday someone is killed in some war in some part of the world. Concern is growing at the pollution and destruction caused by the unplanned and competitive exploitation of the world's resources.

In every country a privileged few control the government and own the land and industry. Wealth is produced for their profit rather than to satisfy human needs. It is their economic rivalry that leads to war and preparations for war. It is their propaganda that divides the people of the world into hostile nations.

Clearly man’s social arrangements are lagging behind his technical achievements. The class and competitive nature of present-day society dates from a past age of scarcity and small-scale production; it is out of line with the co-operation and planning large-scale modern industry demands. This conflict between modern technology and outdated class society is the root cause of today’s social unrest. Nothing short of the radical reconstruction of society on the basis of the ownership of the world’s resources by all mankind will provide the framework within which a lasting solution to current world problems can be worked out.

On the basis of the common ownership of the world’s resources mankind can take advantage of the potential of modern technology and democratically plan the production in abundance of the things people want and so achieve a world of peace and plenty.

To encourage a growing understanding of the need for action to establish such a democratic world community is our aim.

Letter: Unfair to Fascists (1970)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard


The January Socialist Standard rightly condemns racial persecution and the exploitation of race hatred for political ambitions (c.g. Powellism). It also correctly suggests that economic factors are often responsible for manifestations of “racial” or “national” conflict.

There is a danger in seeing everything in the human universe in restricted economic-materialist terms, as if (for instance) biological variations between humans were of no account. It is also an error, theoretically and tactically, to minimise the fact that various human groups, often irrespective of changes in the means of production, wish to retain their own distinctive languages, customs and loyalties. To ignore such human preferences for particular cultural folkways or locality identifications is to play into the hands of more appropriate fascist or neo-fascist theory and practice. Hence, the size of working-class “Powellism.”

Thus, it is a mistake to deal as you do with the Union Movement study on emigration, by the leading Mosleyite writer, Robert Row. This pamphlet, written some time ago, argues that the influx of West Indians into Britain was caused largely by bad working conditions and unemployment at home, and that with a restoration of prosperity to the Caribbean — by changes in our trading arrangements — these immigrants would be able to return. Social frictions arising from their presence in this country would then diminish. Presumably the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not suggest that Britain alone should admit immigrants from all over the outside world without any limitations whatever, or that this would not complicate our local and economic problems?

The main problem is to secure existing living-standards, at least, for British workers, while at the same time creating a saner international system whereby the "coloured" countries also develop rapidly on fair terms. In practice, the facts of racial loyalty — national development — and geo-political realities in terms of raw materials, foodstuffs, wage-rates, social customs and educational levels — also have to be considered in these matters.

Mosley has always opposed the sweating of cheap backward labour overseas, or its deliberate import at home, by international finance-capitalism, which seeks to make profits through the exploitation of low-wage labour in competition with western workers on higher wages but using similar machines. Such cut-throat competition was an integral feature of capitalism in the 1920s and 1930s, and a contributory factor in the crises of that period: it is returning in a similar form today with the re-equipment of the Far East and other countries, along with the use of immigrant labour for related purposes.

Houses, which you mention in criticising the Row pamphlet, are indeed made and used by workers, irrespective of nationality. In fact, both Row and Mosley have often proposed the mass-production of homes, as in arms-manufacture operations during wartime, by government action—combined with interest-free loans. They have also repeatedly urged, for example, that the vast western agricultural surpluses created by over-production in relation to the available market should be used to feed the hungry in the underdeveloped areas.
E. J. Parker 
London, E.17.

Socialists argue that human history can be usefully analysed only by making reference to society's economic basis—in other words, history can be understood only in terms of the mode of wealth production prevailing at any one time. This is a very different matter to seeing everything in economic-materialist terms. Others may be guilty of this; socialists are not.

Preferences (or prejudices) for particular languages, customs and loyalties are influenced by changes in the social system. The rise of capitalism entailed a powerful movement in many parts of the world, for a sort of unity between states and provinces which had previously been separate — for example in Germany. Italy and America. This unity created new loyalties, new nationalisms, new prejudices, which overrode the old. no matter how established they had been.

Social friction is not caused by the influx of workers from abroad. The cause of that friction is in the inadequacies and contradictions of capitalism — in its housing problems, its economic anarchy, in its poverty. Immigrants may highlight these problems but the problems are with us all the time: they were certainly prominent before the first West Indian worker set foot in Britain. Socialists do not think that unrestricted immigration would solve any working class problems, any more than immigration control has done. We stand for a social system in which human beings would be able to move freely all over the earth and in which there will be none of the false national barriers and patriotisms of capitalism. The problems associated with large scale migration of workers are problems of capitalism, which always needs a mobile pool of unemployed, sometimes national and sometimes international. And we should not forget that while some problems may be associated with large scale immigration, others are associated with large scale emigration.

The main task before all workers of all colours is to abolish capitalism but while capitalism lasts they must defend, and struggle to improve, their living standards. These tasks can only be done in unity. when "white" and "coloured" workers all recognise that their interests are one against their common enemy, the capitalist class. This fact may be obscured for some workers by "racial loyalty" — another euphemism for prejudice — but it is nevertheless valid.

Capitalism has always exploited its workers as best it can and its competition has always been cut-throat — what other type can there be? The fascist "opposition" to sweated labour overseas was no more than a cover for spreading racial prejudice. If Mosley was so keen to denounce exploitation, why didn’t he object to "pure-bred" British workers being exploited by "pure-bred" British capitalists, and point out that their interests lay in joining with their brother victims abroad to end the system which rests on exploitation ?

Of course the fascists have their pet schemes for housing. Which capitalist party hasn’t? All of them claim to be able to solve the system’s problems and there is nothing basically new in the fascists' ideas.

The same can be said for the apparently simple notion of sending agricultural surpluses to the "under-developed" areas. The thing which prevents a sane distribution of the world’s wealth is the profit motive of capitalist society that causes "surpluses” while people starve. It also causes some "under-developed" countries to have their own “surpluses” which they are as likely to destroy to save the market as any other capitalist state.

There is no reason to think that the fascist brand of capitalist reform is any more effective than the others--quite apart from the fact that a fascist government would mean a ruthless suppression of trade unions, other political parties and some racial groups. Socialists are always ready to meet our opponents in open debate, whoever they are. Lately, however, it has been the "anti-fascist” fascists who have been preventing us from exposing the fascist case for the pernicious reformism and prejudice that it is.
Editorial Committee