Tuesday, June 4, 2019

50 Years Ago: Sir William (2013)

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

Nobody who has troubled to keep an eye on the trade union movement will have fainted with surprise at the news that the New Year Honours List brought a knighthood to William Carron.

Carron, president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (motto, carved impressively on the presidential chair, “Be United And Industrious “), is the latest in a lengthening line of trade union knights, preceded by such as Tom O’Brien of NATKE and Tom Williamson (now a life peer) of NUGMW.

One thing these men have in common. They are all what is known as “moderate” trade union leaders. And “moderate” is another of the euphemisms beloved of the Capitalist press.

It means a trade union leader who can be relied upon to angrily denounce unofficial strikes. It means the sort of leader who suffers the wage restrictions of a Labour government and who cooperates in drives for greater efficiency and productivity. A man who thinks that it is a good idea for the unions to be represented on the National Economic Development Council and other such bodies, which are designed to promote co-operation between the workers and the employers. It means a man who does his best to ignore the fact that there is a class struggle in Capitalist society. .

But this is not what trade unions are there for. The unions should concern themselves with protecting and advancing the interests of their members. They should be struggling for higher pay, shorter hours, better working conditions, and so on. But where do honours come into all this?

Honours are reserved for the people who have served Capitalism in some way or other; they are the establishment’s mark of appreciation.

It is a bitter commentary on the standing of the trade unions today, and on the standard of consciousness of their members, that the men at the top are so often coming to wear a coronet or some other bauble to show that Capitalism has looked upon them and found them good.

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

Obituary: Stan Royal (2013)

Obituary from the February 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our oldest and longest-standing member, Stan Royal, died in November a few weeks short of his 98th birthday. He was born in Fulham in 1914 and joined the Socialist Party in 1942. During the war, as a carpenter by trade, he was directed to work on bomb damage. Afterwards he and a brother set up their own business. Later he worked as a surveyor pricing jobs for Ealing and then for Wandsworth council. He was an active member of West London branch until he retired to live near Arundel in Sussex but still kept in touch.

Logical conclusions (2019)

Book Review from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Give Them an Argument: Logic for the Left, by Ben Burgis, Zero Books 2019

Socialist Party pamphlets used to carry the slogan ‘Incontrovertible Facts and Logical Argument’. As far as humanly possible, we still use these essential tools in making the case for socialism. However, these days much political argument takes place via the Internet where SHOUTING and fake news often take the place of facts and logic. Ben Burgis exposes the logical fallacies used in contemporary political debate (mainly in the USA) and provides examples of well-formed arguments, such as:

Premise One: Either social democratic reforms will be sufficient to solve the problems of capitalism or those problems can only be solved by expropriating the means of production.

Premise Two: Social democratic reforms will not be sufficient to solve the problems of capitalism.

Conclusion: Those problems can only be solved by expropriating the means of production.

Burgis describes himself as a Marxist, but there is a curious reluctance to follow his arguments through to their logical conclusion. He argues that businesses which move from country to country in the search for lower wages is something enabled by ‘particular policy choices’. ‘Different choices,’ Burgis claims, ‘would lead to different outcomes’. But the particular policy choices here are the logical consequence of a global system of production for profit. And then there’s the antagonism between wages and profits – that (other things being equal) higher profits are the result of lower wages and, vice versa, higher wages eat into profits. Burgis says that ‘in a different economic system’ technological advances could mean that workers could vote themselves shorter shifts or working fewer hours ‘for the same paycheck’. Not if it interferes with profit-making, they won’t.

Burgis is clear that socialism is the movement for the working-class majority of the population to take charge of society. Winning socialism means ‘(a) convincing a huge mass of people who don’t currently think that anything but capitalism is possible that there even can be a different kind of world and that they should fight for one, and then (b) going through an immensely complicated process, full of pitfalls and problems, in which that enormous group of people figures out together how it can all work’. This is fine as far as it goes. The trouble is it is missing conclusion (c): that in any post-capitalist society worthy of the name, wage labour and capital have been abolished.
Lew Higgins

Mogg/Corbyn: Duelling Dinosaurs (2019)

From the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jacob Rees-Mogg has called Jeremy Corbyn a ‘Marxist’ on more than one occasion. Is this delusion or cynicism? This ‘known Marxist’ is a politician who campaigned to remain in a capitalist trade bloc, their current political stance to nit-pick over the EU Customs Union.

The election of a ‘left-wing’ candidate as Party Leader has laid Labour bare as equal managers of capitalism in Britain. The fundamental belief held within the Labour Party is that what is good for business is good for workers. 

It is the absence of Marxist economic theory and the approach associated with this which renders Corbyn and his followers intrinsically incapable of challenging capitalist and reformist politicians in the Labour Party. By the same logic, it has also left Corbyn’s Labour unable to differentiate their position from the classic arguments for nationalisation and increased funding for the NHS.

This should not come as a surprise. Corbyn and his kind have consistently been far more interested in foreign policy debates than in Marxist political economy. For as long as state capitalist regimes and religious conflicts remain a priority to the British left, false titles such as Marxist will remain easily attributable to these politicians. This of course also applies to minor ‘Socialist’ parties who seek to influence Labour from the outside, unwilling to even stand candidates against a party which wouldn’t have them as members.

Instead of debating foreign policy, the welfare state and customs unions, a ‘known’ Marxist would be putting forward a class-based approach to contemporary capitalism. Known Marxists would argue that the exploitation of human labour is inherent in the capitalist system and that the interests of capital and labour are fundamentally opposed. In short, a known Marxist would argue for a new, socialist system of society. They would not argue for reforms to capitalism or state control of a capitalist economy.

The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg will always scaremonger with regards to social democracy, reformism and state capitalism. Despite rhetoric of a return to a fabled decent society of years gone by, their intention by this is to drum up contemporary support for further liberalised capitalism. 

Regardless of their ideological posturing, many capitalist politicians appear well aware of the polarised interests of capital and labour and the exclusive role that the exploitation of the working class plays in generating profits. Evidently, the same cannot be said of the Labour Party. This can come as no surprise, as reformism is a capitalist ideology. Whether this is conscious, or derives from ignorance, is of course a question similar to this article’s premise.

Rhetoric continues to hide the real nature of the capitalist political debate. What level of working class compensation best facilitates the reproduction of the capitalist system? Should capitalists pursue profits without state interference or should the state apply restraint to protect capitalism’s interests as a whole? Social democracy or conservatism? Free markets or protectionism? 

The only way out of these reformist binaries is socialism. Socialism is a world without wages, money and profit; in short, it is a world without economic exploitation which by nature cannot exist under the current system. In this respect it is nonsensical to call Corbyn a socialist, and it is even more absurd to call him a Marxist. However, socialists should be aware of the right-wing cynicism behind these absurd statements.
James Clark

Voice From The Back: A Redundant Society (2013)

The  Voice From The Back column from the March 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Redundant Society

Capitalism is a social system based on slumps and booms and no amount of political posturing by so-called statesmen will change that. ‘The number of jobless people around the world rose by 4 million in 2012 to 197 million and is expected to grow further, the UN labour agency warns. In a report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the worst affected were youth: nearly 13% of the under 24s were unemployed. It said global unemployment was projected to rise 5.1 million this year and by a further 3 million in 2014’ (BBC News, 22 January). This immense waste of human endeavour is the norm for capitalism. Inside world socialism think of the abundance that these millions of potential producers could contribute to society.

Bravery, Bombast And Reality

Hollywood is fond of portraying the heroism of warfare. We are asked to believe that there is something ennobling about military conflict. These figures from the USA show that the horrors of war are so great that they often force soldiers to take their own life. ‘In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy. Across all branches of the US military and the reserves, a similar disturbing trend was recorded. In all, 349 service members took their own lives in 2012, while a lesser number, 295, died in combat’ (Guardian, 1 February). War inside capitalism is far from being a noble experience. It is brutal, inhumane and terrifying.

Political Promises And Poverty

Politicians like to pose as the friend of British working families but government ministers have admitted for the first time that as many as 100,000 children from working families will be forced into poverty as a result of the government’s plans to cut benefits for the poorest. ‘Official figures show that a total of 200,000 youngsters from all families will be pushed into child poverty as a result of George Osborne’s 1 per cent cap on benefits from April, in effect a real-terms cut in welfare payments. But Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions minister, revealed in a parliamentary written answer last week that 50 per cent of those children come from families where at least one parent is in work. This new figure undermines claims by the Chancellor, George Osborne, that the cap on benefits is designed to target Britain’s jobless ‘shirkers’. The children will join the 3.6 million already classed as living in poverty. Two-thirds of those are in families where at least one parent works’ (Independent on Sunday, 3 February). The real ‘shirkers’ of course are members of the owning class who have no intention of working.

. . . And Steadily Improving Living Standards

‘Food prices are rising more than three times faster than the average worker’s pay package as the cost of living ‘crisis’ continues, official figures revealed yesterday. While the average private sector worker’s pay has risen by just 1.4 per cent – and millions of State workers are subject to a pay freeze – food prices have risen by 4.5 per cent in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. The crippling cost of the weekly trip to the supermarket is the most striking figure in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) for January’ (Daily Mail, 13 February). A food price rise of 4.5 percent against a 1.4 percent wage rise? It doesn’t take a master statistician to see this isn’t a ‘steadily improving standard of living’.

Tough At The Top?

The new governor of the Bank of England has taken over this top post at a time when we are told we will all have to make sacrifices in order to get out of this economic slump. ‘The next Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has been forced to defend his £800,000-a-year deal under questioning from MPs. Mr Carney’s base salary of £480,000 is more than that of his US and European equivalents combined – and he will also receive a £250,000 housing allowance on top. … Justifying the housing allowance, Mr Carney pointed out that London was a far more costly place to live than his present home city of Ottawa. “I am moving from one of the cheapest capitals in the world to one of the most expensive,” he said’ (Independent, 7 February). Mr Carney is an example to us all. He is prepared to scrape by in expensive London on a mere £250,000 housing allowance. Such fortitude!