Friday, June 7, 2019

Kings and Cabbages (1969)

From the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British monarchy, which in theory is divine, eternal, and immutable, has changed as much as many other institutions of privileged society. Today, the royal family is a pretty bloodless lot, and no matter how much the Duke of Edinburgh may play for the headlines with cheeky, irascible turns of phrase, they know their place — and keep it.

This was not always so. The Prince Regent was active in the political battles and intrigues of his day and did his best to hasten his own ascension by aggravating his father’s illness. But a monarch actively involved had to take the consequences and the London mob was not slow to show its disapproval of the man who became George IV.

Victoria also was more than inclined to meddle. She tried to obstruct Liberal policy after the 1880 election and conspired against Gladstone’s government of 1886. She condemned the cause of female suffrage as a ‘mad, wicked folly’. But she was sustained by the propaganda which represented her as the embodiment of the growing wealth and power of the capitalist class of Victorian Britain. Workers endured their miseries, children starved, soldiers died, praying for long life for the queen. This did much to refurbish the image of the monarchy, and to re-establish it as a propaganda weapon of the ruling class.

Even so, Victoria came in for some criticism when, after her husband’s death, she withdrew from wholehearted devotion to her job. When her son, Edward VII, came to the throne the monarchy became associated with the dubious activities of high society — gambling, overeating, and of course the prodigious sexual adventures of the king himself who, despite this hectic existence, was lovingly known among the slum-dwelling proletariat as 'Teddy’. The reign of Edward VII did little to improve the stability of the monarchy.

The ruling class were clearly determined that there was to be no more of this and when George V succeeded he did so as a ‘constitutional monarch—in other words, one who did as he was told. It is true that he was drawn into the fringes of the bitter struggle between Lloyd George and the 1914-18 generals but George V never committed himself and certainly did not try, once the politicians had won, to jeopardise their victory. As a whole his reign made the monarchy more secure; and this at a time during which, in other parts of the world, five emperors, eight kings, and eighteen minor dynasties disappeared.

Reluctant hero 
George V had little talent or ability (left wingers used to call him George the Fish) and the fact that he unwaveringly trod the ‘constitutional’ path was enough for this arid man to be written into British history as a ‘good’ king. His son, Edward VIII, conformed to the same requirements and emphasised the fact that the capitalist class virtually employed the monarch as their figurehead and super salesman, when he was dismissed from the job because he wanted to choose his wife for himself.

The Abdication might have been a serious blow to the royal institution and this was the signal for the public relations boys to go to work. The unfortunate subject of their labours was George VI, who seemed to be a shy, awkward, and nervous, but likeable, fellow and who was certainly a reluctant hero. This delicate man had to work hard to plug the holes in the dyke and his employers made sure they got their money's worth, subjecting him to extremities of working conditions which would have provoked the most moderate trade unionist into an immediate strike. When the press prostitutes wrote that the strain of being king killed George VI, they were probably, for once, telling the truth.

Elizabeth II has followed the same well trodden path as her father. Indeed, so colourless has been her devotion to the job that men like Malcolm Muggeridge and John Carigg (when he was Lord Altrincham), who cannot be described as fiery revolutionaries, were once moved to protest at the regularly inane platitudes of her speeches. But this, of course, is what she is paid for; a special Coronation issue of the Economist, published on May 30, 1953, made the point, delicately but firmly, when it said:
  If, in the person of Elizabeth II, Her Majesty is more majestic than in the person of the great Victoria, it is because she seeks to rule only in the hearts of her people.
As any reader of the daily press knows, the Duke of Edinburgh has done his best to have the best of both worlds. Naturally it is perfectly permissible for him, in his capacity of chief export salesman for British capitalism, to criticise British export techniques and to tell businessmen to get their fingers out (how they laughed at that during the tea-breaks in the factories and typing pools!). It is even more acceptable for him to be rude about strikers and importunate students.

But even the Duke must not overstep the boundaries of his job and Philip has run into serious trouble over his attitude to the press. At one time he kept up a continuous campaign against newspapermen, covering the range from publicly saying that the Daily Express was a 'bloody awful’ paper to the childish prank of turning on a lawn sprinkler at the Chelsea Flower Show and soaking some nearby reporters.

The press does not normally take this kind of treatment lying down. The Daily Mirror rounded off its efforts in the Profumo affair with its famous front page denial of the rumour that the Duke had been another of Christine Keeler’s customers — a denial which was obviously intended to add strength to the rumour. About the same time the Sunday Express published a remarkable middle-page article which attacked Philip for his statements about the press and on other issues. The article ended by telling the Duke to lay off and warning him that if he did not the Express had some nasty facts to reveal about him.

Since then the publicity about the royal family, which has sometimes plumbed the deepest depths of monotonous stupidity, has fallen off. The comparatively low cost of Prince Charles’s investiture — £200,000 — continues the trend although it is probable that, after the investiture, we are in for another increase in publicity, with almost every newspaper and magazine competing for the silliest story about the prince’s good looks, wisdom, grace, athletic ability, courage, erudition, wit, artistry, generosity, modesty . . .

Riddled with lies
One thing which is certain is that when Charles comes to the throne we shall get a lot of nonsense about Charles I and II, all of it riddled with lies about the Stuarts being a lot of dashing cavaliers whose reigns were notable as a rollicking merry time for people of England. It is astonishing, how even the more sober organs of capitalist opinion dish out this kind of tripe — that same coronation issue of the Economist, for example, came out with this drool about Elizabeth II:
  Queens have been lucky for this country. and young queens especially. By name, Her. Majesty recalls the magical springtime of Elizabeth 1. But the parallel is closer— and equally happy—with Victoria, and either augury gives ample reason to salute Quern Elizabeth II with high hearts and hopes.
It does not need an elephantine memory to recall the super-crises and the disastrous (from the Economist's point of view) decline in the fortunes of British capitalism which have marked the years since Elizabeth II became queen. And it does not need any great powers of reasoning to conclude from this, that the personality who happens to be on the throne at any one time does not influence the course of events of capitalism.

To many people, this is a clinching argument in favour of a republic. If a monarch does nothing, they argue, if he has no influence over events, wouldn’t it be better to abolish the institution and replace it with a president who would at least be an active and participating politician? There might be something to be said for this argument were it not for the fact that presidents, too, are impotent in face of capitalism’s anarchies; they also react to events with the additional unfortunate (for them) result that all too often they lose their job if they react in the wrong way or the events are too fierce.

In truth, republics are no more stable, no more prosperous, no more controlled, than monarchies. The lives of workers in republics, like France and America, are generally the same as those of workers in monarchies like Britain and the Scandinavian countries — and any differences are not caused by the differing constitutions. Republics need have no less flummery and ceremony than monarchies and their state occasions can cost as much (as if that matters) as any coronation or royal investiture.

Working class problems are not caused by the existence of an aristocracy but by the private property society which might need an aristocrat as a ceremonial figurehead. Workers should remember this, if they decide (as they should) that they have no cause to wave a flag for their kings, queens, and princes (although they might go along to boggle at the stupefying grandeur of it all). But it is important that they should abstain for the right reasons, and see clearly that the cause of their poverty and exploitation is not to be found in palaces. To put it another way, until the working class stop acting like cabbages we shall continue to have, in one form or another, our kings.

Scotch Mist (1969)

From the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Scotland today it’s true that there is a struggle – as there is in England, Wales, Ireland, or rest of the world for that matter. But the struggle in Scotland is not, as the Scottish National Party would have us believe, the struggle for home rule, self-government, self-determination, or self anything. The struggle in Scotland, as in the rest of the world, is a class struggle: the struggle between the working class and the capitalist or owning class.

The SNP tell us, the workers, that independence from England and the control of our own purse strings will cure all our problems. What they do not seem to realise is that the problems they are going to try to solve are an integral part of the capitalist system, and history has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that within this system there is no satisfactory solution to these problems apart from Socialism.

The SNP talk about the Scottish culture and the Scottish way of life. But in what way is the life of a Scottish wage slave basically different from that of an English, an American, or for that matter a Russian wage slave? There is no basic difference in the way of life of the world’s working class because we all suffer from the same problems such as poverty and insecurity. Independence from England will not cure the poverty and insecurity of the Scottish workers, because they will still be the wages labour and capital relationship.

There is no truly independent country in the world, because international capitalism has made sure of this, and our own experience here in Britain, especially since 1964, should have brought it home to us. The past few years should have shown us just how independent Britain is, when foreign “bankers” tell the British government how to spend money, and how it must not spend money, in order to keep the international capitalist class happy.

Class Struggle
Independence for Scotland therefore is a myth put about by the Scottish National Party, which further confuses the Scottish section of the working class and blinds them from the real struggle – the class struggle.

The outcome of the class struggle is the abolition of capitalism and an end to poverty, insecurity and the ever-present threat of war.

Socialism is a sane society, where the means of life will be owned in common by the whole of the world socialist community. By the means of life we mean the land, mines, factories, railways, and the like – in short, the means of production and distribution. In Socialism the rule of life will be : from each according to his or her ability, to each to according to his or her need. There will be no need for buying and selling, just a free world for a free people. It could be like that now, so why not do something about it ? The world is ours for the taking. So why not take it ?

James Moir

Capitalism is Everywhere (1969)

From the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since 1917 the Socialist Party of Great Britain has been trying to combat the worldwide impression that the Russian Revolution was a socialist revolution and not a capitalist one. It was not sufficient that Lenin understood the concept of Socialism. A predominating peasant population could not understand it and even if they could have done, the underdeveloped nature of the economy would have proved an impassable barrier. All Lenin could do when the Communist Party came to power in Russia was to hasten the birth of capitalism; make the big private capitalist illegal and establish government control of industry. He called it state capitalism and this is what it was.

A decade later Mao led his peasant army against the Kuomintang who were backed by the powerful landowners. The 20-year civil war culminated in 1949 in victory for Mao and the Communist Party. The Chinese People’s Republic was inaugurated. It was another victory for the Communist Party and the birth of another state capitalist rĂ©gime. Mao, like Lenin, did not accept that the socialist revolution must be one of class-conscious wage-workers who knew what capitalism was all about and wanted Socialism.

What makes us so certain that these countries are capitalist and not socialist? The presence of an economically exploiting class is not always easy to discern. What is plain for all to observe is the wages system and the buying and selling of commodities; essential features of capitalism and definite pointers to the existence of an exploiting and governing class, who own the means by which all live.

The wages contract safeguards this ownership by ensuring that the workers remain — as they have always been — propertyless, and that they are paid only the equivalent (in wages) of the labour it takes them to reproduce their own energies and support their families.

The workers’ labour power, or energy, produces a value greater than itself, i.e. more labour (work done) for which no equivalent is paid. In the selling of commodities, the unpaid labour is realised as a sum of money (profit) and is appropriated by the privileged class.

In the Western world, the profit is shared out among investors, bankers, landlords, and sometimes small owner-employers.

In the countries ruled by the Communist Party, surplus value is appropriated as we have just described with reference to the West, but the ’face' of things is different. Instead of nationalisation of just a few industries as in this country, all industry is government owned and controlled. The ‘share-out’ is among Communist Party and government officials who appropriate profit in the form of their own bloated ‘salaries’ or bonuses.

There are signs that private investment does take place, but if we lived in Russia we should call it 'fiddling’ for it is not legal and there is no stock exchange. The legal right of the Russian ruling class to appropriate surplus value is a collective right. This ‘right’ ceases if they resign from their administrative work.

Blogger's Note

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russian Capitalism: A Correction

On page 107 of the July Socialist Standard we stated:
There are signs that private investment does take place, but if we lived in Russia we should call it ‘fiddling’ for it is not legal and there is no stock exchange. The legal right of the Russian ruling class to appropriate surplus value is a collective right. This ‘right’ ceases if they resign from their administrative work.
Some of these statements are not strictly true and we now correct them. Certain forms of private investment, such as bank accounts, are not illegal in Russia. Nor does the monopoly the Russian rulers exercise over the means of production have formal legal backing. It is a de facto monopoly resting on their control of state power. Finally, members of the Russian ruling class do not of course resign, though they may be cut off from getting their share of the exploitation of the Russian workers through losing their job in a purge.

Editorial Committee

Letter: What about Cuba? (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard


I would be very interested to know the SPGB policy on Cuba, China and the USSR. Conceptions like the abolition of wages which the SPGB advocates are beginning to take place in Cuba. I can understand that the SPGB have a very good case for saying that the USSR is a state capitalist society, but the problem seems much less clear on Cuba or China.

Do the SPGB imagine that socialism could possibly be achieved without force in Cuba to create a social democracy if not a socialist society.*
C. D. E. Meesom 

Why does Mr Meesom think “that the SPGB have a very good case for saying that the USSR is a state capitalist society”? From the earliest days of Bolshevik power the Socialist Party argued that only capitalism could emerge there and since the late 1920s we have applied the state capitalist label to Russia. Over the years more and more people have come to accept this but many have done so without fully understanding how capitalism works. Thus we now have Maoist groups referring to the ‘red bourgeoisie’ in the Kremlin and attempting to prove that Russia must be capitalist by the foreign policy it pursues. Similarly there are groups of dissident Bolsheviks who identify the consolidation of capitalism in Russia with Stalin’s triumph over Trotsky and the other opposition forces. But although Russia does, of course, pursue a capitalist foreign policy and although Stalin was instrumental in industrialising the Soviet Union on a state capitalist basis, these are not the basic reasons why Russia must be a capitalist country (and why China and Cuba must be as well).

Because of the way in which the capitalist system works, the ruling class of any country is not a free agent but is subject to certain pressures which act on it remorselessly. It must compete with rival ruling groups for markets and supplies of raw materials and, such is the pace of industrial innovation in the modem world, it must continually accumulate capital — and at an ever-increasing rate. When Marx produced his analysis of 19th-century British capitalism in Capital he noticed how this affected individual factory owners:
  . . . the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot except by means of progressive accumulation. (Capital, Vol. I. Moscow, 1961. p592).
Today these same pressures can best be seen acting on whole industries and on entire national capitals, since capitalist development has virtually eliminated the individual factory owner of Marx's day. Faced with this inescapable need to accumulate capital, the rulers of any country have only one way in which they can act — just like the 19th-century mine master or steel lord they must attempt to increase the amount of surplus value they are wringing out of the working class. So, to take the most obvious example, the pressures of world capitalism acting on Mao and these Chinese leadership are forcing them to develop a modern industrial base (which involves a nuclear weapons programme) just as a generation earlier Stalin had to set his sights on 'catching up with America’. And the development of steel plants, power stations, and nuclear weapons in China is being paid for, as always, in working-class misery.

If we turn to Cuba, it would be a simple matter to point to various features of that island which prove that it cannot be socialist. We could refer to the opponents of the regime in jail (anarchists, trotskyists, even out-of-favour members of the ruling party such as Escalante), to the semi-Stalinist attitude of the authorities towards Cuban artists, to Castro's support for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But what really proves Cuba state capitalist again is the way its economy works. The aim is to build up industry and to mechanise agriculture and this is being achieved by screwing down the working class (not in an absolute sense — the workers are better educated, probably healthier than under Batista — but in a relative sense, by extracting more surplus value from them). As Che Guevara put it: "The working class is not putting forth its full effort".

As for utopian experiments such as the 'Island of Youth’ (formerly the Island of Pines) where only low wages are being paid and such things as food and housing are supplied free we have already dealt with these in an earlier Socialist Standard (December 1968). As we said then, "the Island of Pines must be seen within the context of the overall state capitalist economy".

Finally, Mr. Meesom asks if we think Socialism can be established 'without force’. The Socialist Party has always held that political power should be used to establish Socialism. In other words the state machine, which is the public power of coercion, will be used to force the capitalists to give up their privileges and hand over their wealth to the community. Whether or not this use of political power will involve actual physical violence — the setting in motion of the armed forces, the firing of guns and the killing of people — will depend entirely on the reaction of any pro-capitalist minority at the time of the socialist victory at the polls.

We think it unlikely that, faced with a determined socialist majority in control of political power, a small pro-capitalist minority would be so foolish as to take up arms to prevent the establishment of Socialism. But if a violent minority tried to prevent the implementation of a democratically expressed will for Socialism, then the socialist majority would have to use violence against them. As the old Chartist and socialist slogan put it: "Peaceably if we may; forcibly if we must”.
Editorial Committee

* We reproduce Mr. Meesom's letter exactly as he wrote it. We would say that only socialism will be a social democracy.

Letter: Myths, Equality and Race (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard


I have recently become acquainted with the facts of race. As I believe that you are honest men at heart I feel sure that you will be able to peruse (and take action upon) the enclosed document in the spirit of scientific investigation and its strict regard for truth. I am sure you will agree that the facts presented in this document make nonsense of the egalitarian myths propounded in Socialist dogma.

David J. Hidson,
London SW7

The document Mr Hidson encloses is a leaflet issued by the National Front, headed ‘Are You a Multi-Racialist?’ which discusses a recent article in the Harvard Educational Review by Dr Arthur Jensen, an educational psychologist. On the back, under the irrelevant and misleading title ‘Human Progress and the Race Problem' is a photocopy of an article, Negro IQ Handicap’, on the same subject from the Sunday Telegraph of March 23, 1969.

Socialists have never said that all men are equal, in the sense of having the same abilities and the same needs. Far from it; we have always recognised that each individual human being has different abilities and needs, a point summed up in the old socialist slogan "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

The NF leaflet asks if we think that ‘‘children of all races possess the same potential at birth”. First, let us have a look at ‘the facts of race’.

The word race is a technical word in the science of biology (Dr Jensen, an educacational psychologist, avoids the word and uses ‘group’ instead, judging by newspaper reports). It refers to a sub-species, a subordinate division of a species. For instance, homo sapiens is a species so the various races of mankind would be its sub-species. Biologists have never been able to agree on how many races there are, and indeed never will, since where you draw the line will always be a matter of convenience and argument. Some argue that mankind is so mixed that it is not worth trying to draw any lines and that the concept of race has no use in the study of mankind. Of course there are recognisable differences in physical and mental characteristics between individual human beings and these can be the subject of scientific investigation and classification. Whether biologists use the word race or not here is not our concern as socialists. That is up to them and we would not presume to tell them what to do in their own subject.

The word race is also used outside biology as a political term. On this we do have something to say. Sometimes it is used as a synonym for nation (another vague concept), language group, those who share a common tradition, those with the same range of skin colour. Even in otherwise careful books and journals you can read about ‘the Celtic races' (language) or the black race’ (skin colour). This causes no end of confusion. So we say the word should be banished from political discussion and confined, if used at all, to a specialist term in biology.

We can now return to the NFs question: Do we think that "children of all races possess the same potential at birth”? This is meaningless, but can be boiled down to two questions:

Do we think that all children possess the same potential at birth? Not necessarily.

Do we think an individual child’s ‘race' is a guide to his or her potential? No, nor does Dr Jensen.

Given the fact that human beings are not the same or of equal ability, it is a valid line of scientific research to see if there is any correlation between the inequality of intellectual skills and some physical characteristic like skin colour.

We have not yet read Dr Jensen’s article and so have had to rely on newspaper reports. But we will take his word for it that so-called IQ tests carried out on groups of the American population labelled ‘Negroes’ and ‘Whites’ consistently show that on average Negroes do worse than whites. So what? All that shows is that the group called Negroes on average do worse in IQ tests than the group called Whites. That is the only fact, Mr Hidson. The real question is why. Dr Jensen’s hypothesis that “genetic factors are responsible for low intelligence among Negroes” has every right to be considered. Mr Hidson seems to forget that a hypothesis (“a position assumed for the purpose of argument”) in science is not the same as an established fact. Dr Jensen’s hypothesis, or any other one for that matter, cannot yet be proved. For, although it is known that genes govern inherited characteristics and although genes governing some physical characteristics have been identified, biology has not yet discovered the genes governing intellectual skills (if there are any). Research into this is only in its earliest stages and certainly it would be premature now to say that there is an established link between genes governing intelligence and genes governing skin colour.

Anyway, this is not what Dr Jensen is saying. From a biological point of view, the American Negroes are a mixed group descended from slaves imported from North and West Africa, from immigrants from various parts of Europe, and from the original inhabitants of America. Their skin colour varies from white to dark black and Dr Jensen has not suggested that the lighter your skin the more able you are to do IQ tests. He has only said that ‘genetic factors’ are involved. Where they came from (perhaps from the Whites!) if they are is another question altogether.

So the American Negroes are not a biological race. The White/Negro division of America’s population is a political division which has nothing to do with genes or biology. And it is not a very meaningful one at that. What, for instance, is the logic of saying that anyone with an identifiable Negro ancestor is a Negro instead of that anyone with a White ancestor is a White? This is an important point, because when you are dealing with averages your results depend partly on the groups you are comparing. Say the political definition of a White had been ‘anyone with a White ancestor’. Then the groups that were compared would be different. So would the results but the individual scores would still be the same.

Dr Jensen has proceeded on the basis of the existing non-biological division of the American population. His results show that on average Whites do better than Negroes. They did not show that all Whites do better than all Negroes. This is why it is impossible to say how an individual White or Negro will do. As Dr Jensen himself pointed out:
  Since, as far as we know, the full range of human talents is represented in all the major races of man and in all socio-economic levels, it is unjust to allow the mere fact of an individual’s racial or social background to affect the treatment accorded to him. (quoted in the Financial Times, April 16).
Another passage (which oddly enough appears on an NF leaflet) from his article, however, goes further than this:
  If a society completely believed and practised the ideal of. treating every person as an individual it would be hard to see why there should be any problem about ‘race’ (quoted Sunday Telegraph, March 23).
Precisely. This is the socialist case on race. Treat human beings as individuals and work for a society where the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” prevails.

Three final points:

Even if science were to establish (which it is nowhere near doing yet) a correlation between intellectual ability and some physical characteristic, that would not alter the socialist case in the least. A world community, without frontiers, based on common property and production solely for use, would still be the solution to working-class problems. The case for Socialism has never rested on the absurd proposition that all men are the same, physically and intellectually.

What relevance have the results of Dr Jensen's IQ tests to the NF policy of ‘Keep Britain White’ and ‘Send Them Home’? Very few immigrants to Britain are American Negroes, the specific group about which Dr Jensen makes his hypothesis. What evidence have the NF for saying that what might be true of the American Negroes is true of other ‘non-whites’? Dr Jensen does not suggest any correlation between intelligence and skin colour. That is something the NF seems to have mistakenly read into his findings.

The word equal has a double meaning— the same and not inferior or superior to. Because people are different does not necessarily mean that they are inferior or superior. Yet this simple error is often made. To talk about inferior/superior is to erect some standard against which people can be judged, a standard that is manmade and outside biology and genetics. Are those who fare badly on IQ tests of less worth than those who fare well? If this is what the NF or Mr Hidson are saying, let them say it. We answer that every human being, whatever his abilities, is of equal worth and should have an equal say in the running of human affairs. That is the equality socialists stand for. Nothing in Mr Hidson’s letter or the NF leaflet makes nonsense of it.
Editorial Committee