Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Fat of the Land (1975)

From the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even a newspaper like The Sun should be asked to explain itself at times. On 22nd November its editorial said: “Britain’s future is bleak, sombre and perilous . . . the British are fat, lazy, complacent — and deeply in debt”.

Who are “Britain” and “the British” in this statement? Clearly, The Sun does not mean everyone. Harold Wilson and Edward Heath are both fat, but they are not deeply in debt with bleak futures. Denis Healey is fat. So is Reginald Maudling. The Houses of Parliament are full of fat people, and they are only outweighed by the Institute of Directors. Nobody supposes, however, that these are the target of The Sun's unkind words and its sombre warning.

What it means is the working class, and it’s a funny thing how the idea of a working man being fat is equated with national disaster. In the late nineteen-fifties a report that 5 per cent, of working-class children were obese was greeted in much the same way as Noah received the forecast of rain. The proper, acceptable proletarian physique is thin as a whippet, with only muscular development in the working parts. Anything above that is degeneracy, and doom to the rate of surplus-value. Haven't you ever wondered why they put weighing-machines in public places everywhere ?

The Sun was in fact commenting on, and supporting, a report on “Britain’s plight” by the Hudson Institute of America: experts say poverty is on the way. On the same page, pronouncements to the same effect by James Callaghan, the Labour Foreign Secretary, were reported :
Britain is teetering on the edge of a plunge into poverty . . . Mr. Callaghan said: “I hope we are touching bottom. I hope we don’t go further down—but the indications are not good.”
On 5th December similar forecasts and warnings were given in a review by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. According to this, in 1975 prices will rise still higher and unemployment will grow. Both teams of “experts” had plans to urge. The National Institute thought import controls would prove necessary; the Hudson Institute would remedy things by “a new national six-year economic policy” run by “Britain’s best economists and administrators”.

The latter scheme is presumably to ensure that, whatever happens, the fat and the thin remain distinguishable. How little use it would be otherwise is shown by one of The Sun's remarks:
Leadership—or lack of it—is one element, of course. We are all of us unfortunate to live in an age of political pygmies.
But perhaps we are already beyond the stage where we could be rescued by inspired leadership.
Which is saying that things have come to a crisis under unimpressive dolts, but would be no better under geniuses.

The fallacy of all this is treating the impending crisis as an abnormality. Words like “doomsday”, “peril”, “saving Britain” and “the Dunkirk spirit” imply it to be a millennial catastrophe; but that is only a way of calling for more sacrifices from the workers. The reality is that the crisis is a normal phenomenon of capitalism.

It has nothing specially to do with Britain, with policies adopted by governments in this country or the attitudes of trade unions. It is in fact world-wide. Other countries have trade crises and large-scale unemployment (how does the Hudson Institute, which attributed Britain’s problems to the “lazy, complacent” population, explain the depression in America ?).

What is most normal of all is working-class poverty. Callaghan’s talk of a “plunge” into poverty is, for the majority of the population, like warning someone standing on a cigarette paper that he’ll fall. What kind of “plunge” for the homeless? or the pensioners, the unemployed, the low'-paid who cannot afford to buy newspapers? It recalls the Liberal speaker in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists frightening his hearers — “men wearing broken boots” and “toil-worn women” — about the “Black Ruin” of Socialism, and the author’s comment:
It never occurred to any of these poor people that they were in a condition of Ruin, Black Ruin already.
Because of the perennial cry that “we” must wake up and (vide The Sun) “fight to make it all right”, it is useful to bear in mind that British industry was highly prosperous when that episode was written.

The 1975 outlook for the working class is bleak and sombre; not for the reasons given by the “experts” (whose predictions are only guesses), but as the perpetual situation under capitalism. It is worth pointing out that in the post-war years Socialists have been told repeatedly that capitalism has changed or is under control, and a major slump could not happen again. Will you believe us now, please ?

One other statement made by The Sun needs explaining. It said:
For too long we have deluded ourselves into thinking that "redistribution” of wealth—i.e. soaking the rich— was the answer to our problems.
The “delusion” has been spread by the reformists of the Labour Party, which The Sun supports. The “plain fact” that insufficient wealth is produced is the consequence of capitalism, which Labour and The Sun support. Socialists have for over seventy years exposed these phoney remedies and pointed to the only solution to the problems.

The plain fact is that there simply isn’t enough wealth to redistribute.
Robert Barltrop

Our cover illustration is of the successful Socialist Party meeting held in Trafalgar Square in September. With acknowledgements Suomen Kuvalehti, Helsinki.

A New Year Message (1975)

From the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

I had thought of writing up Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and her hoard of processed peas and baked beans. But does she warrant room in our journal for what after all is only a “shadow”? Anyway, by the time this is in print it will be 1975. A New Year and the beginning of the fourth quarter of the twentieth Century.

Doubtless Old Moore’s Almanac will map out the year ahead. “Trouble for a Royal Family; the death of a prominent Statesman; floods; dissent in the Labour and Tory Parties.” Events that repeat themselves year after year, and apart from the first and the last, there’s not much you can do about it.

We can prophesy that despite the claims of Wilson’s government to be building a “Socialist society”, Capitalism will continue through 1975, and for ever and a day, unless you are prepared to do something about it.

It is a constant source of amazement to us that you are content to put up with a world of stark contradictions. Don’t you think it just a trifle odd (to put it mildly and not rouse your hackles) that you spend your life either working or worrying about a job, and then at the end of it all, you’ve nothing to show? Don’t you think it a little crazy (mutterings: “these Socialists are a funny lot”) that everything carried on in this world of capitalism is first of all subjected to a financial yardstick? Don’t you think it just bloody stupid (“I know these Socialists are prejudiced”) that people should starve in the midst of potential abundance?

Socialists claim that capitalism has gone on for far too long. And only because you are willing to support it, and help it along. You read the papers; listen to the radio and watch the box like us. Frankly, what is your reaction when you listen to all that old chat about recessions, inflation, deflation, Common Market etc? Don’t you feel like putting your foot through the screen and saying to “hell with it all”? This at least would be a, healthy, if expensive reaction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

We want a different type of world — a new way of life. We think this earth and its riches should be at the disposal of the whole of mankind. That it should be used to meet our needs and not wasted on a market economy. A way of life based upon co-operation for the common good.

But we can’t get it without your assistance. After all, you will be running the world of Socialism, so you’ve got to know something about it and what is involved. You’ll need to take an intelligent and active interest in politics before you take the eventual plunge to strip the capitalists of their ownership and herald a new society.

In short, it’s well past time that you cast aside your political blinkers and joined up with the SPGB in the only worth-while task. We can promise you hard work; a fulfilment not to be equalled, and the comradeship of a group of men and women who put principles before expediency.

During the next week or two, many people will wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. They do it out of habit. They and you know that 1975 will be much like 1974 — if anything more harrowing. We can do nothing about your prosperity but we can offer you a Happy New Year in the ranks of the SPGB helping to make known the Socialist idea.

Of Mrs. Thatcher, I feel she has possibly lost her chance of leadership of the Tories for a mass of tinned foods. But then, she’s only a grocer’s daughter in a pretty hat.
Cyril May

In The Year ?? (1975)

From the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
The old man said, if he knew then
What he now had known
Sooner, would he have helped the seeds of socialism to be grown
He regretted being foggy minded
Being ignorant, being blinded
All that he’d been told about man's nature, about mans greed
Now he knew, it was only man’s behaviour indeed
It was only capitalism that had stopped him thinking
Stopped him reasoning, stopped him becoming a human being 
We listened in awe to his stories
None of them were fiction !
Of days when the world was full of contradiction
Of love and destruction
Of society and loneliness
Of plenty and destitution
He told of the few that advocated socialism
And their task of breaking out of a prism
That held ignorance, fear and superstition
A fuller, better life they said could be
Now it’s fact ! it’s true !
And we can vouch for that
Us children sitting on this comfortable mat
Our heads are not filled with crazy notions No forces at work to sway our emotions
Intelligence and co-operation is what we use
We come and go, we are free, you see ! 
I ask you now, who will you be
The old man ? though happy now but full of regret
Much sooner, his freedom was his to get
Or us children with lots of life ahead
No chains of slavery, all work and bed.
David Wright

50 Years Ago: Wise Martians? (1975)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some few months back our astronomers directed their telescopes upon our beautiful celestial neighbour — the planet Mars. Several claimed to have discovered overwhelming proof of the existence thereon of sentient beings. Their difficulties were recognised even at a distance of hundreds of millions of miles, and they had overcome them in a highly ingenious way . . .
But one significant thing seemed to escape the reflections of our astronomers. All their observations implied that the Martians viewed their planet as a coherent whole, a common possession. None was guilty of the lunacy of suggesting that the Martians were divided into separate jealous, warring gangs, each gang sub-divided into toilers and parasites. It is not impossible, of course, but all our scientists’ suggestions tacitly recognised that works of such magnitude, directed to a common end, would naturally be the work of beings who had risen superior to the stupid divisions with which we are familiar. Then let us take a celestial leaf from their (possibly non-existent) book, and view our earth as a common heritage. Let all take part in the winning of wealth from Mother Nature’s storehouse. Then let all share in the result of a co-operative mutual effort. Let us banish slavery, poverty, ignorance and wretchedness to the limbo of forgotten things. You have nothing to lose but your chains: you have a world to win.
(From an article A Happy New Year by W. T. Hopley. Socialist Standard, January 1925.)

Letters: The Middle Class (1975)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Middle Class

Although when the SPGB refers to the working class it means all people who receive a wage or salary in return for their labour-power, most people still think in terms of the “working class” to mean industrial blue-collar workers and the “middle class” to mean white-collar workers.

These two “classes” appear to represent two different outlooks on life or two different ideologies, e.g. attitudes towards thrift, private education, health and morality. These different attitudes appear to be represented by the Labour and Conservative Parties and appear to be incompatible. As capitalism’s problems become more intense the confrontation between the two sets of ideas and therefore the two “classes” will also become more intense. This is what most people think of when they hear the term the class struggle or class war.

What is the SPGB attitude to the above and how does it argue to convince the two “classes” that they share the same enemy? Since I assume you believe that Socialism can only come about when the majority of both “classes” and not just one understand and want it.
David Bird

Though, as you say, large numbers of people believe there is a “middle class” and they are in it, it has never been defined successfully. It is not necessarily white-collar occupations: income, education and an assortment of traditions add to the confusion.

We do not agree that “middle class” equals Tory and manual-worker equals Labour. Certainly some industrial areas, such as South Wales and Lancashire, have strong pro-Labour majorities and some allegedly “select” areas nearly always elect Conservatives. But the opposite is also true. Some of the most dependably Conservative areas are rural districts with a lot of poverty-stricken farm workers, while “quality” papers for the “middle class” frequently favour Labour (e.g. the New Statesman, and see “The Observer Guide to Voters” in our last issue).

You ask how we can convince them that they are all one working class. We go on expounding the working-class position, of course—but capitalism is unable to avoid making the exposure, in any case. There are large sections such as teachers and civil servants who not many years ago would have thought trade-unionism and strikes beneath them. Eventually they have had to act as, and line up with, engineers, building workmen and the rest; and begun to discover that they are not different after all. Editors.


While offering my congratulations for the extremely interesting special issue of the Standard on China, I’d like to make a few points to supplement what is said in some of the articles.

To deal with the first article first. I believe the present Chinese view is that the “socialist revolution” began straight away in 1949; I think the Chinese have changed their minds on this matter, since they used to claim, as the article states, that only in the mid-fifties did the changeover to “socialism” begin. To be pedantic for a moment, concerning the name of the Chinese party: the Chinese language only permits a word order equivalent to the “Chinese Communist Party”, but not “Communist Party of China”. This article gives a very useful account of Party control mechanisms, but I feel that it would also have been pertinent to give an analysis of who the “privileged” are: it’s not sufficient to equate them simply with “the Party”, since many lower-level Party members are just dogsbodies.

I’d agree with the article on Chinese history that far more research is needed before drawing conclusions. In the meantime, here are a couple of considerations: firstly, I think there’s plenty of evidence to show that in Imperial China it was not the state that built or managed public works (including irrigation works); rather it was the “local élite” or “gentry” (call them what you will) who stepped into the power vacuum that existed between the all-but powerless village headmen and the local magistrate. It’s easy to overlook how small the local bureaucracy was in comparison to China’s size; each magistrate had to administer such a large area that he couldn’t possibly be responsible for much of what went on in it. Secondly, it’s just not true that “manufacture and trade belonged to only three or four well-populated areas”, unless the qualification “large-scale” be added. Probably every village had its own market town within walking distance, where the peasants would go to transact business with itinerant tradesmen. It’s been suggested that marketing systems played a a vital rôle in China’s rural social structure, and that to a large extent the marketing area defined the peasant’s social horizon.
Paul Bennett,
London E.2.

Concerning the name of the CCP, we think you miss the point. It is not the possibilities of Chinese syntax, but the reason why whatever it is is universally translated into other languages as Chinese Communist Party instead of Communist Party of China. Editors.