Saturday, August 10, 2019

Financial Fog. (1924)

Pamphlet Review from the February 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

I have read this pamphlet with ordinary care, but I have not the least idea what Mr. Neft is driving at. The 48 pages would be heavy at 6d., even if they contained something of value, but they are in fact full of contradictions, unsupported assertions, pious hopes, and ill-chosen quotations.

The actual proposal before the workers is the Labour Party’s scheme for halving the National Debt and reducing taxation. Mr. Neft’s main argument is this. High taxation is good for the workers; therefore, vote for the Labour Party and low taxation!

He proves quite neatly on page 43 that all taxes are paid by the capitalist class. This is, however, only a tribute to his own powers of persuasion, for when he wrote page 20 he was of quite another mind. He there says that during the war capitalist governments borrowed money for war expenditure instead of raising it by taxation, because “Only the few can lend, but ALL can be taxed,” and thus the Government “made the Many pay interest to the Few” (capitals by Mr. Neft).

He has made several startling discoveries. One is that the capitalist class live by owning all the means of wealth production, land factories, railways, etc., and “In addition, they claim £7,000,000,000 from the rest of the community ” (page 28).

He knows that there is a robber class and a robbed class, but he has found a third class, the “middle class.” These unfortunate people, who it seems neither work nor live on the labour of others, must live on their own backs by robbing themselves.

I cannot tell whether Mr. Neft wants us to think that he is a socialist or whether he wants us to be most impressed by the prominently displayed support for the levy from W. L. Hitchins, chairman of Cammell, Laird & Co.

It is certainly interesting to learn that the levy is going to benefit everybody, and that
  “As every penny taken from them as levy will be returned to them in payment of their war loans the rich will actually lose nothing ” (page 21).
With this “nothing” taken from the rich, Mr. Neft is going to pay for “an increased and improved social service, and never mind the cost” (page 44).

He calls capitalism a “social disease,” but wants the capitalists to be compensated. Still, I am not worrying, because the compensation is to come out of whatever balance is left after the “nothing” mentioned above has been used to pay for those increased social services.

It appears not to have occurred to Mr. Neft that if capitalism is a social disease it would be advisable to abolish it. He has a simple and original remedy. The capitalist class pay all the taxes; therefore, the workers should aim at becoming burdens on the taxes and thus win back some of the surplus value stolen from them in production. Mr. Neft omitted to draw specific attention to the permanent paupers who have won through to this desirable state of things. Everyone knows what a fine, prosperous, independent, intelligent and morally admirable crowd they are. A moment’s thought will show that if the capitalists could get what Mr. Neft wants them to have, it would be the finest thing that ever happened—for them.

He tells us on page 40 that “The levy can reduce taxation. . . . It can, therefore, reduce the price of commodities. “That is evident,” but that as wages will fall correspondingly, the workers will not gain anything.

Then on page 44 we learn that remission of taxes is useless, because “You can take a penny off the worker’s beer, but as soon as the tea-thief smells that penny he puts the price of his commodity up and gets the penny that the beer-thief has relinquished.”

Thus we have (1) the beer-thief voluntarily, and out of kindness of heart, reducing the price of beer by the amount of the remitted tax; (2) wages falling; (3) wages not falling; (4) the tea-thief being less kindly than the beer-thief, and putting up the price of tea; (5) the tea-thief robbing the worker of the surplus which has already been taken by the wage reduction which has both taken place and not taken place, etc.

There are two things Mr. Neft might have said but didn’t. One is that as on his own showing the capitalist class will still own the means of production after the levy, it does not matter a twopenny damn or a sixpenny pamphlet whether the capitalists have a levy or not.

The second is that the capitalist system is the evil and should be abolished.

There is also a question he might have answered. During the war when the Labour leaders were trying to prevent the workers from taking advantage of the labour shortage to get wage increases it was an article of faith with them (although fallacious) that the capitalist could always pass such burdens on to the consumer. What is to prevent them from doing this with the capital levy? If they can do so and also get it back “in payment of their war loans” as Mr. Neft promises, it looks as if they will be “ quids in.”
Edgar Hardcastle

By The Way. (1924)

The By The Way column from the February 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the heading of "The Workers’ Searchlight,” a writer in The People, 7/9/23, Andrew Buchanan, J.P., appears rather anxious regarding what he terms, the various and contradictory conceptions of "Socialism” existing. Of the writings of Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Webb he states :—
  “It would be of immense advantage if their next book would deal with the various conceptions of Socialism and ‘Control of Industry,’ held by the leading members of the Labour Party, S.D.F and I.L.P.”
With real sporting instinct we may gamble that there is one conception that they, like Mr. Buchanan, will leave severely alone, and that is the scientific conception of Marx and Engels, upon which the Socialist Party is founded. A conception that furthermore proves the above organisations to be useless to the workers. Only the Marxian conception, which renders clear an understanding of the class conflict existing under capitalist society, can explain the misconceptions of such parties as the I.L.P., S.D.F., and the Labour Party, whether such misconceptions arise from a conscious effort to confuse and sidetrack the workers, or from the sickly religious sentiment of' a large proportion of their members. The manifesto of the S.P.G.B. is a small work that deals with the treachery and confusion of the various parties existing in this country, it is a challenge to all comers, our anti-socialist J.P. included.

#    #    #    #

Another body of people with a burning desire to "do something” for the dear workers is the Brotherhood movement. One of their number outlining their so-called principles in The People, 7/9/23, and anticipating that some impudent interloper may ask, "Is it practical?” "Does it do anything?” gives the answer in the softest of Brotherhood tones :—
  “In Britain at present we are trying to help the unemployed. During the week we held a series of meetings on the Tyneside. At these we were able to offer refreshment, some good music, and a bit of good cheer.”
Beautiful! Almost gives the impression of sublime innocence, had not the dear brethren something more far-reaching to offer:—
  “We propose an industrial truce for a period of at least five years. During that period there shall be no strikes or lock-outs, and no attempt to abuse the present situation. A genuine attempt shall be made to cope with foreign competition and restore prosperity.”
As one of the methods used by the master class to cope with foreign competition, and compete in the world’s markets is to intensify exploitation, and reduce wages as far as possible, we can imagine to what depths the Brotherhood bunkumites would reduce the workers by their nonsensical proposals. Contemplate the position: The masters using every means to wring the utmost ounce of useful energy from the toilers, gratifying their profit lust, whilst the said workers are to become such abjectly servile creatures as not even to raise a murmur in protest. What a paradise—for the masters. Truly the Brotherhood reveals its' obsequious capitalist nature in every utterance.
  "By means of warm-hearted fellowship it endeavours to free society from the murmur and the subtlety of suspicion with which we vex one another and to persuade the public mind with the finer essence of generosity forgiveness and forbearance. ”
What drivel! Warm-hearted fellowship under class robbery, through the vilest form of human slavery that ever existed, forgiveness foe the wholesale murder of the workers in industry and war, forbearance amidst unemployment, wearying toil, and vile surroundings; and yet this sloppy crew would plead with you that "There shall be no attempt to abuse the present situation.” Why? for their capitalist masters’ sake they do not wish to see the workers restless and impatient, seeking the way out of their misery, spurning the proffered assistance of the liars who pretend solicitude for the workers' welfare. They declare that
  “In place of the present feud between Capital and Labour there ought to be understanding and help. Unless it is secured we shall plunge into bankruptcy.”
We declare war, bitter, relentless war upon capitalism and its defenders until victory to the workers shall be secured by the coming of Socialism.

#    #    #    #
 "The time had come when someone should speak instead of waiting for Socialists to explain or exploit evils. People were asking for ideals, and it was the man with such who was after all the most practical and 'got there' every time” (South London Press, 2/11/23).
What a harvest awaits the advent of these practical people to-day. In Great Britain alone over 40,000 men, women and children succumb annually to that dread disease tuberculosis, a disease admitted by all authoritative opinion to be due to poor resistance to infection, through bad conditions, i.e., bad housing, insufficient food, etc.
  "The sanatorium treatment has taught this lesson—that Tuberculosis is more a social and economic than a microbe problem, and could be more or less eradicated in a generation if the nation seriously attempted to improve the social conditions of the people. Better feeding and better housing are surer weapons against Tuberculosis than vaccines” (Dr. Muthu, 25 years Mendip Hills Sanatorium: Daily News, 23/8/23).
But these conditions are an inseparable part of capitalism; it breeds them and fosters them.
 “When these are remedied this fell disease will as surely disappear in the same way as leprosy, typhus, smallpox, and typhoid fever ” (Daily Mail Year Book, 1923, p. 4)."
How does our idealist “get there”? He is so very practical, you know. By removing the cause? Oh dear no! A few months away from the original breeding ground, improved conditions—for a time, and then—the victim is returned to the same old source of infection to become acquainted with the same old conditions such is the remedy of the people who are the “most practical.” Disease is only one of the effects of the social conditions of to-day, and the only real service to suffering humanity is rendered by those who seek to establish a sane and healthy system in place of capitalism with its multitude of disorders.

#    #    #    #

What superficial observers of the social conditions of to-day we Socialists appear to be, for here in our midst is a source of social corruption unestimated by us, and yet so great in magnitude that common or ordinary mortals cannot even imagine its devastating influences!
  “I do not think it is possible for the ordinary reader to imagine the moral decline, the mischievous influence over all alike, which spring, from this evil thing. The steady receipt of money for which no equivalent in work is rendered makes against everything that is good in the receiver's life. I do not hesitate to say that tens of thousands of people in these islands have learned, or are learning at this very time, to live without work" (General Booth: Daily Mail, 14/12/23).
Without work—how sad, and terrible, and all that was once noble and idyllic in their tranquil lives bartered for a paltry pittance—a dole: surely the end of everything. It is not poverty, nor prostitution, your filthy slums or your work-burdened lives that casts a gloom over your existence, but, according to the comic opera general, the return by your masters of a microscopic portion of the wealth stolen from you in order to effect them a cheap insurance against the more costly discontent that might arise from your desperate plight. Is work such an elevating and ennobling pastime that it should be the sole purpose of your existence? The capitalist idlers and their charity mongers would have you believe so, that they may continue in affluent security; when all partake in the needful work of an organised community insulting charity for you and senseless luxurious debauchery for your masters will be relegated to the many absurdities of a class society.
W. E. MacHaffie

The Police: Bourgeoisie’s Boot boys? (2019)

From the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the 1984/85 miners’ strike it was the police who were the state’s storm-troopers in its assaults upon strikers. The brutal treatment they dished out to the pickets to intimidate them and their families caused an outcry. It drew attention to the extent that the capitalist class would use the powers of the state to protect its own interests. The criminal law was enthusiastically applied against the miners even though their picketing was not an offence.

Those who have been on a protest march and been on the receiving end of a truncheon will share the same perspective as the persecuted miners, that the police are the hired thugs of our class enemy. The police are a class creation. We should know that the police were created by the ruling class to control the working class, not help them. They’ve continued to play that role ever since. We don’t want better policing. We understand only too well that they do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police in their current form entirely, and we want to live in a world where a repressive force is not necessary.

Among many communities there exists a lack of confidence in the police and little trust in their accountability. The police have come to be regarded by many on the Left as impermeable to socialist ideas, yet the fact remains, however, that the police are made up of members of the working class who, too, are required to sell their ability to work in whichever way they can. Like any other wage slave, the police have to do what their employers – the state – order them to do. The Socialist Party does not seek to pick on the monkey but targets the organ-grinder. The Left see the police as the enemy, but why single out one section of the working class as the source of our problems? The Left advances the idea that any attempt to establish socialism democratically and peacefully through the constitution will result in the police being used, along with the armed forces, to suppress that movement.

This argument assumes that police have economic and political positions apart from the rest of society and hold pro-fascist sympathies. However, members of the police force usually live in the community and seek its approval and respect and will often turn a blind eye to the law if it is in conflict with what the community thinks is right. For sure, many in the police hold obnoxious political opinions, but consider just how often these reflect the prejudices of other workers. The personal views of the police will not change until the way most people think changes and the indoctrination that many of our fellow-workers have suffered is undone. Our case is that those in the police share much the same attitudes as other workers and when these workers understand and desire the socialist alternative the same ideas will be accepted as much by the police. The police are as susceptible to socialist ideas as any section of our class.

Police strikes
That police are subject to the ideas prevailing in other sections of the working has been illustrated recently in other countries such as Bolivia (2012), Brazil (2008/2013), Argentina (2013), Portugal (2013), Iceland (2015) and Ireland (2016) where police have been protesting against their conditions or going on strike.

We have seen similar occasions even here in the UK. In 2008 and 2012 industrial action of sorts took place when police held protest marches. In 2007 police officers in Britain were banned from taking strike action or even discussing it. However, this year the rank and file voted overwhelmingly to explore the option of lobbying for full industrial rights if their claims were not met. ‘The feedback from our members is that we are rapidly approaching the situation where they want to bite back,’ a spokesperson said. ‘If we are to be treated no differently from other public sector workers, we need to explore whether we should have the same rights as other public sector workers.’

A hundred years ago, in 1919, police shared the heightened discontent of other workers.

In the US, Boston police officers went on strike on 9 September. They sought recognition for their trade union and improvements in wages and working conditions. The strikers were called ‘deserters’ and ‘agents of Lenin.’ All of Boston’s newspapers called it ‘Bolshevistic.’ The police strike ended on 13 September, when Commissioner Curtis announced the replacement of all striking workers with 1,500 new officers, who were given higher wages. The strike proved a setback for labour unions. No police officers in the US went out on strike until July 1974, when some Baltimore police, estimated at 15 to 50 percent of the force, refused to report for work for several days as a demonstration of support for other striking municipal unions.

As mentioned in May’s Socialist Standard, Winnipeg’s City police were supportive of the general strike there and were all dismissed for expressing support and for not signing a loyalty pledge not to take part in the strike.

In Belfast in 1907, the local police had mutinied against their instructions to safely escort blackleg strike-breakers during the dock-workers dispute which then led to their own pay rise demands. But as always there was a high price to be paid for that militancy. When the police union was outlawed by the Police Act of 1919 a national strike was called despite the fact that less than half the police were members. In Liverpool 932 out of 1256 struck. Riots took place where looters fought with soldiers and special constables, while a battleship and two destroyers steamed from Scapa Flow to Merseyside. The strike collapsed and every single striker was dismissed, never to be reinstated. Besides unemployment it meant eviction from a home and loss of pension.

A second police strike started on 31 July, 1919. It was a disaster. Only about 1,000 men struck in London, all of whom were instantly dismissed, and although a bitter struggle continued for some time – for example, strikers broke into the Islington section house to force the inmates to join them, eventually being forcibly ejected – the strike was absolutely crushed, and along with it the Police Union.

There were numerous arrests during the strike, and there were even a couple of sympathetic stoppages – of railwaymen at Nine Elms, and the tube motor men. One other interesting feature of the dispute was when Inspector Dessent of Stoke Newington Station, the only Inspector to strike, formed his men up in a body and marched them to the main strike meeting at Tower Hill.

The sacked men never got their jobs back, but many of them became active in the labour movement. After the defeat, the Herald League’s paper, Rebel, noted a large influx of new members from the Police Union. Tommy Thiel, on whose behalf the first strike had been fought, joined the Communist Party, as did a number of others. A local striker, Henry Goodridge, joined the Labour Party and eventually became Mayor of Hackney. Another Islington man, Sergeant William Sansum, who had been arrested and bound over during the 1919 strike, was arrested again for his support of the General Strike in 1926. Sansum, by this time a boot salesman, got three months in prison.

There had been considerable support for the 1919 strike from the labour movement, but many supporters, looking back on police harassment, or police inaction while they got bashed by jingoes, felt a bit awkward – to put it mildly – with their new allies.

Anti-social behaviour in socialism
If, in a socialist world we do have an organised body akin to the police, then this must be a service working in the interests of the people and be there to protect the people and society against a handful of dangerous individuals, not be there to protect a few individuals against society like the police force which we have under capitalism today.

We don’t take the totally utopian view that there will be no anti-social acts whatsoever and everybody in socialism will be angels. Crimes of passion could still take place. There will still be traffic ‘police’ ensuring safety on the road but it may be undertaken by car break-down rescue or highway maintenance patrols. There may well still be a formal trained organisation for crowd management at public events but they would be more like the stewards we have now. Psychiatric services have certain compulsory powers to prevent self-harm and harm to others for those with mental health problems – those involved can see how their work can be adapted and applied when cost is no longer an issue. Likewise those currently in the prison industry may raise alternative possibilities for those classed as a risk to society but with no treatable psychological disorder. Maybe some council departments will exercise ‘policing’ roles on antisocial behavior, just as they do now by mediating between feuding neighbours or sound abatement complaint squads in regards to noisy partying. Some form of detective/forensic department might well still remain to investigate what antisocial acts occur, but they would be more like accident investigators, sleuths in tracking down the culprit or cause, specialist Sherlocks. Either way, the coercive role of the police would be redundant, and the riot shields and batons would disappear into museums to stand alongside the swords and suits of armour.

For a contemporary account of 1919 police strikes, see the June 1919 Socialist Standard:

50 Years Ago: The Moon and Progress (2019)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perhaps it would be better if, after all, we left the moon alone. It is lovely to look at and does nobody any harm, and in any case there are plenty of problems to be tackled here on earth, before we start spreading out into space. Yet even the most fervent Luddite, the most obstinate flat-earther, must feel a chill of excitement at the thought of men out in black space, circling the moon, observing it, stepping out onto its surface.

There is near-unanimity of opinion that space flights, moon landings, and the rest are a ‘good thing’ and anyone who has doubts on the matter is immediately classified as a neurotic, reactionary crank. It is true that space vehicles can make a valuable contribution to weather forecasting, communications, and geology, if only because of their unique position for observation. Another result of that unique position is, of course, that space vehicles have distinct, and frightening, military uses — for both observation and combat. It is no coincidence that the world’s two space powers are also the world’s two greatest nuclear powers and that the other positions in the league table of space achievements roughly correspond to the positions in the nuclear power league table.

It might seem churlish to point this out, in face of the glamour of the moon shots. But is it so bad, to try to keep calm amid the hysteria and to wonder whether all technological advance is useful, why some of it happens, whether society has its priorities in order, and whether we should all fall flat on our faces in worship of the great god Progress which is supposed to feed and succour us, which we are supposed to rely on and to be unable to deny?

(Socialist Standard, August 1969)

Obituary: Frank Simkins (2019)

Obituary from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to have to report the death in May at the age of 90 of our comrade Frank Simkins. Frank was born in Battersea in South London in 1930. He had been a member of the Labour Party while a teenager but, on returning from conscripted national service (in Greece where the British Army was supporting the pro-West side in the civil war there), joined the old Camberwell branch in 1950 after listening to Party speakers at East Street, Walworth. He trained and worked as a tool-maker in various engineering factories, where he was an active trade unionist and AEU shop steward and, later until the age of 80, as a storekeeper in his brother’s motor business in Stockwell.

Frank was a regular outdoor speaker and occasional writer for the Socialist Standard and the Party’s candidate in Clapham in the 1970 General Election. He also represented the Party in elections to the old GLC and was a regular attender at Conference and Delegate Meetings (until his final illness), where he emphasised the need for socialists to support political democracy and warned of picturing socialism as a society without problems. In particular, he often argued that it was ‘inconceivable’ that every person on the planet would have their own personal car if socialism was to be an environmentally-friendly society.

Rarely seen without his trademark jacket and tie, the word ‘dapper’ could have been invented to describe him. But above all, Frank will be remembered as a polite, considerate and thoughtful man, with a good sense of humour. He was well-regarded by his comrades and our condolences go to his family and friends.

Castles in the air (1986)

Illustration by George Meddemmen
From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism the housing problem has been a constant feature of working-class life. Although consecutive British governments have enacted numerous reforms, overcrowding. shortages, slum-living and homelessness persist. The present government's 1980 Housing Act sought to broaden the scope of home-ownership by allowing council tenants the "right to buy" local authority-owned housing, in the belief that a shift of tenure offered the best solution. So what have been the results so far?

There is a popular image of owner-occupiers as a privileged minority enjoying a number of advantages denied to tenants of rented accommodation, such as freedom of choice, independence, security of tenure, high-quality housing and asset growth. In addition, the financial carrot of tax subsidies such as mortgage interest relief helped make owner-occupation a seemingly attractive proposition.

The remarkable growth of the owner-occupied sector — from 54.7 per cent in 1983 to 60.2 per cent in 1985 and a projected 67.9 per cent in 1991 — seemed to justify the Conservatives' policy on council house sales, which was popular with the electorate. Political pundits have in fact pinpointed the 1980 Act as a major factor in the Conservatives' electoral successes in recent years and Labour traditionally the party of council housing has taken note of this and reversed its policy.

Despite its apparent popularity, however, the growth of owner-occupation has not been accompanied by an easing of workers housing problems. In fact for many working-class households owner-occupation has created more problems than it has solved. Entry into the owner-occupied sector is no guarantee against squalor and the responsibilities of maintenance and repair, coupled with the pressures of regular mortgage repayments. place an enormous burden on those dependent exclusively on wages and salaries for the upkeep of their house. In this context security of tenure is an illusion and the threat of eviction and homelessness is ever present.

Contrary to popular belief, most owner-occupiers do not actually own their houses. Their right of tenure is secured only through loans which they have to repay with interest to the lending institution — usually a building society but increasingly since the 1980 Act to local authorities. The title deeds to the property are held by the lending authority until the mortgage has been fully repaid, which means that over the life-time of the mortgage — which can be as long as 30 years the owner-occupier's status is akin to that of a tenant but also bearing all the responsibilities of repair and maintenance.

If owner-occupiers get too much into arrears the loan-making body can apply for a court order to gain possession of the property. A recent report in the National Westminster Bank Quarterly Review shows that as owner-occupation grows so too does the problem of mortgage arrears and repossession. It points out that "although increasing numbers of people are entering owner-occupation. increasing numbers are being forced out" (August 1985). The 1980 edition of Judicial Statistics showed that there were 27,105 mortgage possession actions in County Courts in England and Wales. By 1983 this figure had reached 43,274, an increase of 61 per cent. This nevertheless tends to underestimate the problem of mortgage default because most of those in arrears do not figure in possession actions. Many people resolve the problem in other ways: some borrow money to pay off the arrears (even though this only delays the date of court action); others sell their house to meet their debts and either move down market or into rented accommodation, while some simply hand over the key of the property to the mortgagees.

Those forced to give up their houses either voluntarily or as a result of a court order often face difficulties in securing other accommodation. A move to cheaper housing invariably means a move to a poorer area, with all the repercussions that may have for changing jobs (if this is possible) and schools and severing family and social connections. The move to rented accommodation is not, however, as easy as it appears. As the local authority housing stock dwindles the chances of ex-owner-occupiers being rehoused are slim — a problem which is aggravated by the rules many local authorities have which effectively exclude owner-occupiers from access to council houses and place them in low priority categories for rehousing. And as for the privately rented sector, this has shrunk so much that offers of accommodation are exceedingly rare or far too expensive for those priced out of owner-occupation.

So what are the causes of mortgage difficulty? Building societies grant mortgages on the basis of the size and stability of household income, and for members of the working class this means the wage or salary derived from the sale of their mental and physical energies to the capitalist class. The conditions of capitalist production determine both the amount and the availability of workers' incomes — if the capitalist class isn't trying to cut workers' wages to the absolute minimum in order to maximise profits then it is making workers unemployed to minimise losses. Ether way workers cannot win, a fact mirrored in the insecurity of their position as owner-occupiers.

The Building Society Fact Book (1985) attributes the upsurge in arrears and possessions to the sharp increase in unemployment and the consequent fall in wages and salaries. Two major reports — the National Consumer's Behind with the Mortgage and the Building Societies Associations Mortgage Repayments Difficulties — show that owner-occupation becomes unsustainable for those households which suffer an unexpected and long-term cut in earnings. This can be brought about by factors other than unemployment, such as sickness, pregnancy. industrial disputes, marital breakdown and death.

It follows, therefore, that owner-occupiers who want to maintain their homes and stave off the bailiffs must not get sick, pregnant, go on strike, get a divorce, be made redundant or die — a tall order for any member of the working class. In the circumstances of rising unemployment the pressure on owner-occupiers is enormous, but for low wage earners it is especially acute. Workers on low wages are highly vulnerable to sharp increases in housing costs or any reduction in their income, and even the slightest rise in mortgage rates can cause severe problems.

To encourage as many households as possible to take up owner-occupation, the government has also wielded the axe to council house expenditure programmes. This has meant that council house rents have risen sharply over the past few years while tax subsidies to owner-occupiers and various other incentive schemes (shared ownership, homesteading, mortgage guarantees and council house sales with large discounts on market values) have helped to cheapen the cost of house purchase. Given the choice between slum or near slum council housing and the seemingly lucrative financial incentives of house-buying, it is hardly surprising that opinion surveys indicate a huge demand for owner-occupation.

In recent years the concept of home-ownership has been sold to workers so relentlessly that the shabby reality of owner-occupation has been submerged beneath a barrage of misinformation. Workers should not accept the well-worn fallacy that there is something fundamentally different between rented and mortgage accommodation — that council housing is somehow "socialist" and owner-occupation "capitalist". The provision of both is determined by the conditions under which those who own the means of producing houses, the land, building materials and capital, can realise a profit. These people do not care whether their capital is used to produce council houses for rent or houses for sale in the private sector. Their goal is profit and nothing else.

Under capitalism the housing market determines both the quality and quantity of accommodation within the price range of the working class. Consequently, there is very little difference in house standards between owner-occupied housing and council accommodation — in fact, owner-occupiers are marginally worse off than council tenants in this sense. The recently published Duke of Edinburgh Inquiry into British Housing reveals that the state of repair of the average owner-occupied sector has fallen below that of the average council house. The former has, on average, a higher percentage of dwellings which are officially classified as unfit (4.7 per cent); lacking basic amenities such as an inside toilet (3.3 per cent); and requiring repairs of £7.000 or more (5.3 per cent) and £2,500 or more (21.3 per cent). Many workers simply cannot afford to carry out the maintenance and repairs required on their homes, a situation which has been exacerbated by the recent cuts in home-improvement grants. In some cases workers are sent on an endless trip to nowhere for what is basically a slum house; or worse still, making mortgage repayments on a house that has been demolished as a result of structural faults or subsidence. Their homes may have been lost or fallen into an uninhabitable state but their mortgages remain the same.

In the nineteenth century Engels made the following remarks about the housing problem:
 As long as a capitalist mode of production continues to exist it is folly to hope for an isolated settlement of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the lot of workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of subsistence and instruments of labour by the working class itself
(The Housing Question)
During Engels’ time very few members of the working class could be described as owner-occupiers: the majority lived in rented accommodation. At present owner-occupation is the major form of house-tenure in Britain but the problems to which Engels was referring in The Housing Question are still with us. Homelessness rose by 6 per cent last year and the government is at present carrying out a full national survey which, experts believe, will reveal the true extent of the housing "crisis".

As long as profit takes precedence over human need the problem of housing will remain as an ineradicable feature of working-class life. The solution, therefore, lies in the abolition of capitalism nothing more, nothing less.
G. Davidson

Socialist Correspondence Club (1986)

Party News from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1983 a Socialist Correspondence Club was formed with the aim of breaking down the sense of isolation felt by many socialists across the world. Since then the number of participants has grown substantially and now includes readers of the Socialist Standard in Britain, Ireland, America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Poland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and France.

The Club's membership list is now being updated. Would readers who wish to join please contact the co ordinator. Louise Cox, at Flat 3. The Mount. Lower Street. Haslemere. Surrey GU27 2PD. England, stating their name and address, and most importantly, any specific interests they have. The deadline for all letters is the end of April. Those already on the list are asked to advise of any change of circumstances.

Shortly afterwards a complete list of members will be sent to all participants for each to decide with whom to start a correspondence. It is also planned to include with the list the first newsletter of SCC. This will include advice on initiating socialist activity in different parts of the world and details of literature and tapes which could help to this end. Short items of news and information should be sent to the co-ordinator as soon as possible.

When good news is bad news (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last year five of the eight countries in the Sahel region of Africa had record harvests. Regional production of cereals is estimated to have been 6.3 million tonnes, or 10 per cent more than in 1981, the year before the much-publicised drought and famine in the area began. Good news, you might think. Or is it?

In a world organised to serve human needs a bumper harvest would of course be good news, but we are not living in such a world. Instead, we are living in a world where food and all other goods and services are produced for sale with a view to profit. No profit, no production is the basic rule and it is its inexorable application that leads to people dying of starvation in one part of the world while in other parts governments stockpile "surplus" food and pay farmers to take their land out of cultivation. Those who starve do so because, not having the money to buy the food they need to stay alive, they do not constitute a market from supplying which a profit can be made. It is as simple as that.

But what about food aid? Quite apart from the fact that it is often used to further the foreign policy aims of the donor governments (were voices not raised against giving food aid to Ethiopia because its government aligns itself with state capitalist Russia? And was not the rejoinder that aid should be given precisely to wean the Ethiopian government away from Russia?), the amount of food distributed in this way can never be more than marginal since it goes against the whole logic of the capitalist system. If practised on a wide scale it would amount to the economic aberration of instituting production for use in one sector (producing food for free distribution to those who need it) in a world of production for profit. Production for free distribution is of course quite logical from the point of view of human interests, but if applied under capitalism it creates problems. This is why the bumper crop in the Sahel could turn out to be bad news, as explained in a specialist publication:
  When an abundant local harvest occurs it comes up against the food aid stocks of millet, maize and sorghum. This aid visible on the local markets brings about a collapse of prices. National silos, filled up with aid food, cannot accept the new harvest. The local producers then risk not finding a buyer, or if so at what price? The following year they will plant a smaller area, as already happened in Togo in 1985 following difficulties in disposing of the 1984 harvest. If in 1986 the reduction in cultivated areas were to be combined with a drought year, the situation of the Sahel would become disastrous (La Lettre de Solagral, December 1985).
In other words, in a system where food is produced for sale, giving away food free merely upsets the market and leads to a reduction in food supplies. This is quite in accordance with the logic of capitalism. In fact, so absorbed were some relief workers by a (no doubt sincere) desire to help starving areas beyond the very short term that, at the height of the Ethiopian famine, they could be found urging that limits be put on the amount of free food sent to Ethiopia. They would have preferred to see aid channelled into small-scale projects which, unlike the free distribution of food, would not have impeded the development of local production for the market.

This is a good illustration of how those who want to do “something now" (other than working for socialism, that is) are led to accept and apply the logic of capitalism. When people are starving in one part of the world while unused food stocks exist in another part, the natural, normal reaction is to ask why the food can't be transported for free distribution to those who desperately need it — and it was to help achieve this that ordinary people gave money after the Band Aid concert. But, under capitalism, while this can help relieve an immediate situation it quickly creates another problem, precisely by undermining local markets and so local food production (which, of course, is geared to selling, not satisfying needs). And this leads relief workers, who see no further than capitalism, to oppose free distribution of food on the grounds that this impedes the development of local capitalist production of food for sale on the market.

As far as we are concerned, the spontaneous reaction of ordinary people, not the tortured reasoning of the capitalist-minded relief workers, is basically the right one: free distribution of food to the starving is the solution to the problem of world hunger, but only in the framework of a society in which all wealth would be produced for use and no longer for sale on a market with a view to profit; which in turn is only possible on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the world's resources.

In such a world socialist society any starvation inherited from capitalism could be stopped immediately by distributing “surplus" and "strategic" stocks, without this in any way discouraging local food production. This is because the latter would then be geared to use and not sale and so its output would not be in competition with the food shipped in from outside. Indeed, since it is desirable that areas should be self-sufficient at least in the area's basic cereal (be it wheat, rice, maize or whatever), the longer term aim would be that local production should be expanded so as to be able to replace outside shipments as quickly as possible.

A crash programme of this type combining free distribution to relieve immediate hunger and the development of local food production, within the framework of a world community without frontiers or buying and selling, is the only way to solve the problem of world hunger once and for all.
Adam Buick

Vodka, vodka everywhere (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now common knowledge that Russia has a massive drink problem. Alcoholism has reached ghastly levels. Leningrad on a Saturday night makes Glasgow look like a vicarage tea party. The authorities are naturally worried, and Russian magazines run feverish discussions on how best to deal with the problem. As in other countries, alcoholism in Russia leads to horrifying crimes, especially brutal assaults, and even murders, some cases of which we quote later. The medical authorities and the police have organised a regular service of snatch squads to pick up dangerous drunks and transfer them to special clinics where they are dried out and sterilised before being released and presented with the bill, for alcoholics are not covered by Russian medicare. Foreign tourists on the "Metro" at night do not often realise that the five-man patrols on the stations are mainly for drunks, who can be a deadly menace. There is no control at the station entrances. The Leningrad Metro, usefully for dangerous drunks, is fitted with steel outer-doors on the station platforms, which open only when the train doors open. In Leningrad the problem is worsened by the hordes of weekend tourists from Finland, just over the border. "What have you come to Leningrad for?”, one young husky was asked in the Hotel Moscow. Strutting about in a resplendent Red Army officer's cap (which he had swopped for a bottle of vodka), he replied: "For the booze and the birds. In Leningrad, they are the best".

Russian vodka is probably the most pernicious potion on the face of this earth, making scotch whisky. Jamaican rum or Mexican tequila mild by comparison. Tasteless, odourless (unless you can call a smell like old petrol anything) and colourless, it also looks harmless (like the water it is named after) but a couple of swigs, and in minutes it sets the pulse racing and has the brain cells inflamed. Vodkas potency is compounded by the traditional Russian method of drinking. Woe betide the unfortunate guest at any Russian party or celebration who does not, upstanding, down the glassful in one spasmodic, desperate gulp. For the average non-Russian that gulp is often enough to bring intoxication, even oblivion.

Heavy boozing has a long tenuous history in Russia. When the Winter Palace was finally over-run in November 1917, the mob rapidly invaded the basement. (The sailors had already got in during the night by the unguarded back doors.) Down in the cellars they found thousands of bottles of the choicest vintages of the whole of Europe. Never having even seen such stuff before, it did not take the invading hordes long to test it. In a few minutes the greatest coup d'etat in history looked like becoming the greatest mass booze-up of all time. Companies of the Priobrahzensky elite guards were called in. They too, officers included, were soon staggering about. Eventually a special detachment of the fire brigade was called out to smash thousands of priceless bottles and pump the contents into the Neva river. Never has so much fabulous booze gone to such waste.

In the first euphoric revolutionary days the Bolshevik authorities banned the production and sale of vodka which, by the way, is not made from rotting vegetation, or crude oil but from best quality corn. They might as well have ordered the sun to stop shining. Just as in America, prohibition just would not work. Peasants promptly started up their little stills and produced a deadly brew called "Samagon'. or "Do It Yourself', which was so powerful that a slug of cold water after 24 hours unconsciousness put one out again for another spell. With NEP, the Bolshevik government re-introduced the manufacture of vodka, immediately named Rykovha after the then-Prime Minister Alex Rykov (later shot by Stalin, of course).

Typical of the present situation are the reports of court cases in the Moscow Literary Gazette:

  • "Citizen K" in a drunken condition and hooligan manner, stabbed "Citizen H" who, not recovering consciousness, died of wounds.
  • "That day I drew my wages, on the way home to the hostel we (my friends and I) bought six bottles of vodka and six of beer. When the vodka ran out one of the lads suggested we buy some more from a taxi driver. In the street I stumbled against a young girl. I was very unsteady on my feet. Her boyfriend told me not to drink so much. This annoyed me, so I outed with my knife and stabbed him."
  • "Yesterday evening my neighbour came round with a bottle of vodka. After we finished it I asked him where we could buy some more. From a bloke in the street', he replied. After he left, my girlfriend, who was very drunk, started sobbing and said she was so miserable, she didn't wish to live any more. I don't understand why I picked up the table knife or why I stabbed her. I killed her out of pity".

It will astound London cab drivers that night taxi drivers in Moscow. Leningrad and other cities are regular illicit vodka suppliers, among other things.

It is painfully obvious that the Russian government has a profound social problem. It was the confident claim of the old socialist writers that the new society (socialism) would make boozing quite unnecessary. Who would wish to drown their sorrows and ruin their health, when most of the sorrows were no longer there? Under harsh exploitation and state repression, the mood of the Russian workers is misery and frustration. expressed in an excess of swigging vodka. But this mood will not last. Russian workers will demand free speech, free elections. free organisations — in a word, democracy — and will go on to partake in the socialist revolution. We might (cautiously) drink to them.

Observations: Pop goes Norman (1986)

The Observations Column from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pop goes Norman
The British Record industry Awards (BBC 1, 10 February) consisted of the usual vacuous ego-tripping and facetious speeches from such useful members of society as the pop group Tears for Fears. The recipients of the awards were the same kind of safe, tedious performers as last year, and the year before, and so on. Phil Collins, the Eurythmics, Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen — the list of commercially successful and artistically irrelevant "stars" is endless. Of course, there was the patronising "special award" to Bob Geldof and Live Aid but in general these awards showed that Nothing Had Changed. (Although, in the spirit of tokenism for which the BBC is famous, we even had a Best Classical Recording award.)

However, this award ceremony was special, because the guest of honour was none other than our old friend Norman Tebbit. The emptiness of the speech he was to make was presaged by Noel Edmonds' blatant appeal to naked emotion when he introduced Tebbit as "a man who has recently returned to public life after a long spell in hospital" — or words to that effect: Tebbit began by saying that he didn't know much about pop music (neither does Noel Edmonds, so he was in good company) and then sallied forth into a series of facts and figures showing that pop music was an extremely high-earning export (and therefore ideologically sound as far as Norm was concerned). He praised its "competitiveness" and the fact that it gives pleasure to so many people and went on to praise Live Aid for "helping people less fortunate than ourselves". An analysis of why they are "less fortunate" was too much to hope for, but the hypocrisy of first praising competition and then shedding crocodile tears for the inevitable results of the competitive system was blatant even for Tebbit.

But the awards only served to confirm what Tebbit said — those who are most easily marketable take the awards. Of course, in this twisted society it makes more sense to waste time and effort marketing the garbled vocals of Bruce Springsteen than to ensure the free distribution of resources which would ensure that disasters like the Ethiopian famine can never be repeated.

Socialism will be a world wide society of free access, in which everyone's needs are met. Then there will be no need for faded pop stars to organise fund-raising concerts; no need for hypocritical politicians to congratulate them for doing so and no need for ceremonies in which the musically illiterate are presented with awards for selling more records than their equally illiterate competitors. Pop music will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold — it will simply not matter whether or not a record is Number One. Maybe music will then give real pleasure rather than a temporary respite from the misery of life under capitalism.

God spot
"Gawd", you mutter, as our Brian, busily buttering up his latest Establishment worthy, rolls over invitingly to have his belly scratched. "What about some genuinely aggressive questioning for a change?" But Scargill's out in the cold these days; Brenda Dean's dangerously popular, and Hughie ("terrible twin") Scanlon s sleeping it off in the Lords alongside Joe (Lord) Gormley. We'll just have to wait until there's a nice juicy striking bus-driver for him to sink his teeth into.

But what's this? Thought for the Day. Aarrgh! Here it comes again! You'll know the sort of thing. Some vicar, attired in the gear of an archangel, arrives at the studio clutching a couple of frying-pans, a brace of walking-sticks. and a chalice of font-water. Like as not he'll be sporting six yards of striped woollen scarf (run up, hell confide unctuously. in celebration of advent) and a crash-helmet. In true evangelical style he's off to Killamey to skid down the Paps while singing the Greater Doxology to the tune of the well-known popular ditty, My Old Man's A Dustman.

“Heavens", observes Master Redhead. "Precisely", murmurs our impassioned divine. You haven't even a free hand to turn the damn thing off as you mop the blood from your lacerated face, or as you scrape the porridge from the kitchen floor. You may remind yourself that, after all, it's only three minutes. But then, it's three minutes every morning. There you are. struggling to interpret the customary BBC Newspeak, fuming, perhaps, at yet another gratuitous assault on yet another group of disaffected trade unionists when — Wham! — you're suffocating in yet another nebulous cloud of sanctimonious codswallop.

They've mugged you again. (This time it's a holy cook who manages to punctuate his pietistic diatribe with entirely disgusting recipes for goatsmeat stew.) But they won't catch you next time — will they?

The great and the good
"I have built many roads and sewers in my time"
(Employment Secretary. Lord Young, on BBC Radio 4. 20 February)
My, my! How about that, then? Of course, Lord Young is not exactly unique in his truly prodigious endeavours, is he? Take the Great Wall of China. You may have heard a broadcasting hack assert (Radio 2, 26 February) that this mighty rampart — all 1500 miles of it — was built by one Shih Hwang-ti. the first of the "universal emperors'. Swiftly on to 5th century Athens BC. Phidias builds the Parthenon. Admittedly, he enjoyed a little help from Ictinus and Callicrates, but it was a brave effort for all that. North-Westward to Rome and the Colosseum. The Emperor Vespasian rolled his sleeves up for this one. Unfortunately he was "summoned by the Gods" before he could complete it — overwork, no doubt — and his successor. Titus, to the cheers of his admiring people, finished the job — all on his own.

But what about the home scene? There have been many instances of selfless hard work and heroic devotion to duty. One in particular springs to mind: the example of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunei built anything and everything bridges, railways, ships, canals . . . One very fine example of his handiwork is his tunnel at Box. on the old Great Western line from London to Bristol. Imagine, if you will, all those spotless navvies and their wenches, sitting round their roaring fires, tankards of foaming porter clutched in their soft white hands, howling encouragement to Isambard as, shovel in one grimy fist, pick in the other, he hacks his way through miles of rock and clay. A heartening sight indeed!
Or — and here you rub your eyes — can it be possible that the nearest Lord Young of Graffham ever got to building sewers was when he presented his aristocratic backside to them?

Hurricanes and Inequality (2012)

The Material World Column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

A week after Hurricane Sandy hit large coastal areas of the northeastern United States at least a million homes were still without heat and power when a snowstorm followed a few days later. Relief had yet to reach some of the areas affected, such as the Far Rockaways, where survivors were fending for themselves as best they could.

Workers held captive
True, some manage to fend for themselves much better than others. Holed up for the duration in a first-class hotel on the island of Manhattan, the business and cultural centre of New York City, David Rohde in The Atlantic (October 2012) dramatically contrasts the position of wealthy guests staying at the hotel with the plight of the hotel workers.

While the guests were somewhat inconvenienced by the blackout, they continued to receive assistance from the hotel staff – and also, in some cases, from servants they had brought along with them. The hotel workers were too busy looking after strangers to care for – or even keep in touch with – their own families during the hurricane. (I am reminded of the slave wet nurse in the Old South, forced to suckle her mistress’ child and neglect her own.) They were not even allowed a few hours off work to go home and make preparations for the storm. Workers in restaurants and garages were held captive in the same way. 

There lies the essential difference between wealth and poverty. It is the difference between being able to command the time and energy of others and having to place your own time and energy at the disposal of others.

Manhattan is one of the most unequal places in the world. Here the top 20 percent have forty times the average income of the bottom 20 percent ($391,022 as against $9,681 per year). But the extremes of wealth and poverty don’t usually crowd together in this way. Mostly rich and poor live well apart.

Economic position and height above sea level
In American cities there is a quite close association between economic position and height above sea level. Traditionally, the wealthiest family in a town lives in ‘the house on the hill’, from which they enjoy a splendid view. The poorest, including most black people, are consigned to live in low-lying areas. These areas are especially prone to flooding. They also tend to be ugly, swampy, plagued by mosquitoes, susceptible to smog inversions, and close to railway lines, abandoned industrial sites, toxic waste dumps and other ‘noxious land uses’ (The Geographical Review, January 2006).

Even had the inhabitants of low-lying areas possessed the necessary resources, the swampy soil would have prevented them from laying firm foundations for their houses. (For this and other reasons, a rational socialist society will either drain low-lying swampy areas or leave them uninhabited.) The houses, built with poor-quality wood, could hardly be expected to resist the force of a strong wind. Brick and stone are not widely used for construction in the United States, except for the wealthy.

Economic position is associated with altitude in many cities outside the United States too – from Haifa to Port-au-Prince. Even where poor people do live well above sea level, it is in many places on terrain equally vulnerable to disaster – for example, shanty towns on unstable mountain slopes prone to mudslides when it rains hard.

Evacuate, but how and where to?
Some news reports complained that residents of poor areas ‘ignored’ evacuation orders. But how were they supposed to get away without a car? And where were they supposed to go without the money to pay for hotel accommodation? City and state authorities issue orders to evacuate, but only rarely do they offer people any help to do so.

After the hurricane subsided, survivors sifted through the rubble of their ruined homes for any objects that might still be useable. Some looked for edible food items in bags that had been thrown out of a flooded store. Then they set off through the debris-strewn landscape in search of shelter and supplies, travelling as most refugees have always travelled –on foot.

And when they finally reached an area that had escaped the fury of the storm, they were greeted by signs like the one displayed by a trigger-happy householder in Nejecho Beach, New Jersey: ‘Looters will be shot, bodies thrown in river!’ Just in case some refugee might be tempted for once to overlook the sacred laws of property.

The storms ahead
Hurricanes and other tropical storms will in all likelihood become increasingly frequent and destructive and inundate larger and larger coastal areas. The scale of the impact of future storms will make Hurricane Sandy seem a minor event in comparison.

This is, first, because energy levels will continue to rise as the oceans and the atmosphere above them heat up. And second, because the sea level will continue to rise as polar ice melts. Due to the enormous inertia of the climatic system, this is so even if decisive action is soon taken to slow down global warming – a pretty long shot under capitalism, although conceivable in the context of a socialist world community.

New York City is considering the erection of movable sea barriers (“sea gates”). A project of this kind could in principle provide protection against storm surges for a few years. Whether the vast sum required for really effective defences (estimated at $20-30 billion) will be allocated is another matter. In any case, the respite can only be temporary.

Mocking Hitlerism (2012)

Theatre Review from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, written in 1941 and first staged in 1958 was recently revived at the Chichester Theatre with a mesmerising performance by Henry Goodman as Ui.

Brecht’s play is an extended metaphor for the rise to power of Hitler with the aim that ‘the great political criminals must be completely stripped bare and exposed to ridicule,’ and to show that it was ‘resistible’. The crisis in capitalism, the support of industrial capitalism, and the failure of bourgeois liberal democracy contributed to the rise to power of the Nazis.

Brecht recasts Hitler’s rise in terms of a small-time gangster’s takeover of the greengrocery trade in Chicago (Germany), and all the major figures are featured: Dogsborough (President Hindenburg) and Hitler’s henchmen Giri, Givola, and Roma (Goering, Goebbels, and Roehm). The Warehouse Fire of scene 7 is the Reichstag Fire; a St Valentine’s Day Massacre in scene 11 is the 1934 ‘Night of the Long Knives’; and the Dock Aid Scandal of scenes 1-4 is the real-life ‘Osthilfeskandal’ (East Aid scandal).

East Aid was the ‘Weimar’ Republic’s financial support programme to heavily mortgaged Junker estates in East Prussia. This was at the same time as stringent economic and deflationary policies, 30% unemployment, and the DANAT bank collapse.  The East Aid became a major scandal in January 1933 when it was discovered the Junkers had spent the money on luxuries and weakened the position of President Hindenburg, which in turn led to pressure from the capitalist class to appoint Hitler as Chancellor.

In 1927, Baron Von Oldenburg-Januschau, a friend and neighbour of Hindenburg, got up a subscription from industrial capitalists to buy the President the highly indebted former family estate of Neudeck (the country house of Dogsborough in scene 4).  To avoid inheritance taxes, the estate was put in the name of son and heir, Colonel Oskar Von Hindenburg.  This scandal came to light at the same time as East Aid.

These scandals prompt Ui in scene 4 to declaim: ‘Say, that’s corrupt!’

Brecht shows the capitalist class helping Hitler come to power (‘in den sattle heben’ – lifting Hitler into the saddle).  Hitler courted the capitalists in his 1932 speech to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf.  The Nazis offered the capitalist class reforms to capitalism by crushing organised trade unions and ‘Bolshevism’, developing economic autarky, and rearmament as a prelude to the search for ‘lebensraum’ and markets and raw materials for the capitalist class.  

Brecht’s aesthetics and Epic Theatre were influenced by Karl Korsch who emphasised Marxism as heir to Hegel. Brecht referred to Korsch as ‘my Marxist Teacher’.

There is a powerful speech in scene 9 directed at the Nazis: ‘Help! Help! Don’t run away. Who’ll testify? They gun us down like rabbits. Won’t anybody help? You murderers! Fiend! Monster! Shit! You’d make an honest piece of shit cry out…’

In the epilogue Brecht warns: ‘though the bastard is dead, the bitch that bore him is again in heat.’
Steve Clayton

Brief Reports (2012)

From the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The next Archbishop of Canterbury has vowed that the ordination of women bishops will go ahead despite a minority of the General Synod returning a No vote blocking the move. Justin Welby announced that he had received a vision in which God showed him how to fix the Synod voting system to get a Yes result next time: ‘It was rather silly of us to have a consensus voting system, when God clearly would have preferred a simple majority. We just need one small change and then hopefully we can drag the Anglican Church kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.” Opponents were unrepentant, however, saying that Christian faith must sometimes take a brave stand against the world, public opinion, common sense and universal ridicule. A spokesman for the House of Laity said last week: ‘We don’t think our views are unreasonable. Has anyone proved scientifically that women have got souls, after all? And if you put them in water, don’t they float? I mean, doesn’t that suggest they are spiritually empty?” The progressives have powerful friends, however. David Cameron has stated he supports women bishops: ‘The Anglican Church has clearly got a serious credibility deficit, and that’s a subject I feel very concerned about, as do all my colleagues in the Coalition.’


The firm carrying out fitness-for-work assessments for the government lacks disabled access at a quarter of its premises, MPs have heard. Employment minister Mark Hoban said 31 of 123 centres used by Atos lacked ground-floor access for wheelchairs. He added that there was ‘no truth whatsoever’ in the rumour that these were all government-approved buildings and that Atos had been put there expressly to fail all applicants: “I object very strongly to the story being put about that these centres are actually tree-houses in municipal parks. They are in fact open-plan elevations in greenscaped locations.” A disabled user who wished to remain anonymous, on the grounds that she would be passed fit for work if she could remember her name, stated: ‘These centres have only got one form, for non-attendance. If you actually manage to climb up the tree they close the office and swing away on creepers. I don’t think it’s fair at all.”


A Norwich City player has been fined for carrying a police-style baton in his car. Defender Sebastien Bassong, 26, was stopped by police near King’s Cross in London in September. In mitigation his lawyer explained that Bassong is a French Cameroonian: “When he was first signed to play for an English club he enquired into racist violence against black people in this country, and was told that the police were heavily on the case. That’s why he got the baton, in case they arrested him.” A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police declined to comment.

Like Turkeys Voting for Christmas (2012)

The Halo Halo! Column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the dust, the balloons and the glitzy confetti settled on the American presidential election, and Republican voters came to terms with the fact that the man who believes that God lives on a planet called Kolob would not be their new leader, a flood of tweets and website articles were unleashed consoling them and advising how to survive four more years under Obama.

‘The American people have decided that Barack Obama should have a second term’ lamented one on the Christian Post website. ‘And behind them, in the mystery of providence, God has decided that Barack Obama would be re-elected.’

So that’s how it works. Well, you can’t argue with God can you? We don’t have to understand the ‘mystery of providence’ to see the advantage in capitalism’s glorious future of God making all our decisions for us and people only needing to vote to rubber-stamp them. And the advantage of having an all-knowing god is that, because he is all-knowing, he’s known since the beginning of time what the result of any election will be. We may as well just ask him beforehand who our leaders should be and do away with voting altogether. Or, for example, our leaders could ask: ‘Dear God, we haven’t got enough control over the world’s oil supplies. Should we invade Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran? etc.’ Think of the bother that would save. Come to think of it, that’s more or less what Blair and Bush used to do, isn’t it?

Many of the religious right were not entirely happy with God’s choice of president though. Among comments posted at the end of the Christian Post article one warned, ‘I have received a prophecy that Obama is America’s Idi Amin.’ ‘The occult puts these people into power,’ advised another. And even before the election, a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas announced that Obama’s re-election would lead to the reign of the antichrist. Donald Trump, too, went ballistic on Twitter. ‘We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty,’ he raged. And ‘This election is a total sham. We are not a democracy.’ Well, he got the last bit right. Even God can’t please everyone.

And in the race for Georgia’s 10th congressional district, Republican and creationist Paul Broun found he had more unofficial opposition than he had bargained for. Although he is a qualified doctor and a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, he informed his audience in a pre-election speech that the Earth was only 9,000 years old and that evolution and the big bang theory were ‘lies straight from the pit of hell’.

Although he was running unopposed, numerous write-in candidates were entered against him. They included ‘Anyone But Him’, ‘Anyone Else Living or Dead’, ‘A Bag of Rocks’, ‘Bart Simpson’, ‘A Burning Bag of Dog Shit’, ‘Jimmy Jack My Neighbours Cat’, ‘Luke Skywalker’, ‘Voldemort’ and, believe it or not, ‘Charles Darwin’.

In fact Darwin received over 4,000 write-in votes despite not being an American citizen and being dead. There’s hope for America yet. Over 4,000 people preferred a dead Darwin to a live right-wing religious fundamentalist.

Bed Pan Humour (2012)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are easier places to work than in a hospital, juggling bed pans with NHS bureaucracy. One way of coping is by having a gallows sense of humour to relieve the pressures with a droll remark or two. This side of life on a ward is rarely seen in earnest doctor-dramas like Holby City or Casualty. Instead, switch over to the comedy Getting On (BBC4) for a more realistic look inside our healthcare system.

Filmed in shakycam mocumentary style, the show follows the staff working on a geriatric ward. The three main characters are played by the programme’s writers, including Jo Brand, drawing on her early career as a nurse. For her character, Kim, a spoonful of wit helps the medicine go down. She wearily struggles with the stifling policies, procedures and market forces of the modern NHS.

One of Getting On’s strengths is in showing how corporate culture and its language alienate people from each other. The more a character hides behind office-speak, the less empathetic they are with the patients. Matron Damaris talks about ‘enhancing care pathways’ and ‘pushing the envelope of care a bit further’, but sounds more like a robot than someone who genuinely wants to help. Elsewhere, the trendy jargon hints at the economic strains on hospitals. Phrases like ‘maximising effectiveness’ and ‘streamlining’ are really just euphemisms for staff cuts and trimmed resources. ‘Compliance procedures’, ‘procurement solutions’ and sitting ‘on the same step of the strategic stairway’ are more important than the wellbeing of the patients.

The programme’s scalpel-sharp satire is brought to life by thoughtful, convincing performances. Particularly watchable are Vicki Pepperdine’s Dr Moore, flustered by her divorce and research into ‘undercarriages’, and Helen Griffin’s officious union rep. Anyone wanting to diagnose the problems in the NHS could do worse than checking the symptoms shown in Getting On.
Mike Foster

An accountant's charter (1989)

From the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January the government published its White Paper Working for Patients which put forward its plan for reforming the National Health Service. The leaks and rumours of the previous year were shown to be substantially correct and the government spent £1m on presenting its controversial proposals in an attempt to allay public fears, gain acceptance for the changes, and lessen the hostility which the majority of doctors and nurses had expressed.

Although the Health Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has claimed that the White Paper puts patients' interests first it reads more like an accountants charter, with its emphasis on management restructuring and financial arrangements. The White Paper aims to provide a greater collaboration between the NHS and private medicine, with tax relief on private medical insurance for the over-60s and extensions of competitive tendering which would put more services in addition to laundering, portering and catering in the hands of private firms. There would also be leasing of hospital facilities for commercial ventures such as shops and advertising.

Cheltenham Health Authority has anticipated this trend and spent £15,000 persuading firms to support hospitals in the area in return for publicity such as wards being named after them. The district general manager, Jim Hammond, has not ruled out the possibility of nurses advertising companies on their uniforms, although existing rules may prevent this from happening (Nursing Times 10 May. 1989).

Opting Out
The Health Secretary will have wide powers of appointment on the new NHS policy board and this will extend right down to the general managers of large hospitals, ensuring that pressure can be applied, if necessary, to carry out the government's policies. The government hopes to see the majority of Britain's acute hospitals opting for self-government, with the establishment of NHS hospital trusts which would allow these hospitals to set their own rates of pay and conditions of service for staff and. within limits, to borrow money.

The government knows that if rates of pay are negotiated separately in each hospital it will be difficult for the trade unions to operate effectively. At the independent hospital of St. John of God, Richmond, for example, nursing staff are faced with pay cuts of up to £3,000 a year. A skill shortage has been forecast for the 1990s, and with hospitals competing against one another this strategy could rebound if pay rates are increased in some areas to attract skilled staff, causing pay rates to spiral upwards instead of being reduced.

It is significant that the larger acute hospitals should be encouraged to opt for self-governing status as these have the greatest potential for making a profit in private medical schemes. Long-stay hospitals for the elderly, which have a relatively poor profit potential, have not been included at this stage.

Hospital trusts, formed by the hospitals opting for self-government, will remain within the NHS but will be easier to privatise in the future, in much the same way as shares were introduced into the Trustees Savings Bank. Fifty such hospitals have been chosen to receive computers to monitor patient care systems, making it easier to calculate the costs of individual patient care.

Although Kenneth Clarke has stated that the self-governing hospitals will need consultants' co-operation to be involved in management, and that the applications seeking self-governing status are voluntary, he has pledged tough action against consultants who oppose his “reforms". It would seem that the only freedom of choice on offer is the freedom to accept the government's changes.

Two-tier System
Some of the changes in Working for Patients are unobjectionable. It is proposed that appointment times be reliable and that out-patient clinics have quiet and pleasant waiting areas. But these improvements are due to the fact that the present chaotic conditions in most out-patient clinics cause 3.5 million working days to be lost by people waiting for appointments in NHS hospitals and, therefore, it makes good economic sense to improve the system. Patients are to be given rapid notification of the results of diagnostic tests, clear information and sensitive explanations of what is happening to them. These changes are long overdue improvements in current practice, but there is nothing in the White Paper to solve the staffing shortage in pathology laboratories which causes delays, or the long hours and stressful conditions endured by junior doctors which can sometimes lead to a lack of sensitivity in dealing with patients. These reforms may be no more than platitudes to make the White Paper more acceptable to the general public.

The development of a range of optional extras such as single rooms, television and a choice of meals for those who wish to pay for them will create a two-tier system with basic amenities being provided for the poor and better services being provided for the wealthy. In addition, the improvements to hospital facilities will make future privatisation a more attractive proposition for investors.

All of this is in keeping with capitalism's aim of keeping state provision to a minimum because a centrally-funded health service represents a cost against production. The wealthy are able to avoid the hardship caused by the lack of an adequate health service by purchasing private care. The burden of ill-health and caring for dependent relatives falls upon the working class, who are unable to accumulate enough from their wages to afford expensive hospital treatment.

The provision of 100 new consultants' posts in acute specialities will help to reduce waiting lists for hospital treatment but has been added to the White Paper as an afterthought and is clearly designed to "buy off” the junior doctors, who will have a slightly better chance of gaining promotion. Doctors have become increasingly militant over the hours that they work. The average weekly hours worked by junior doctors in the UK is 83 compared with 72 hours in Austria and West Germany and 48 hours in Portugal and Italy, according to the British Medical Association. It is estimated that 140 deaths a year are related to doctor fatigue in surgery alone (Which? Way to Health, April, 1988.)

The exploitation of junior doctors has been increased as a result of the 1987 circular issued by the Department of Health which required health authorities to cut the amount of money spent on locum cover to replace doctors who were sick or on holiday. It is claimed that the new posts will reduce the hours worked by junior doctors but consultants tend to create work for their staff not lessen it.

But it is not just junior doctors who are threatened: some managers have been told that their future is at stake if they do not express an interest in self-government, claims Jimmy Johnson, a consultant surgeon at Halton hospital, Cheshire [The Independent, 16 June, 1989).

Internal Market
The White Paper will raise the proportion of pay which general practitioners earn from the number of patients that they have on their lists from 46 per cent to at least 60 per cent. This will force doctors to have larger practices if they do not wish to see their incomes decline. It will also make them less willing to take elderly patients who require a lot of attention, preferring larger numbers of younger patients who are less likely to be ill. There will also be reserve powers to allow the Department of Health to control the number of doctors in contract with the NHS, which could force some doctors to take up private practice or become unemployed.

From April 1991 large general practices of at least 11,000 patients will be able to hold their own budgets with which they can acquire hospital treatment for their patients. They will be able to improve their practices with the money they save on treatments, a temptation to avoid referring patients for more expensive forms of medical or surgical intervention.

Prescription costs will be reduced by the imposition of financial penalties for doctors who over-prescribe. While it may be beneficial to reduce the amount of drugs used, there is a risk that this heavy-handed approach will encourage doctors to prescribe cheaper alternatives rather than the best medicines available.

The most controversial change is the setting up of an internal market which will allow health authorities to buy care from each other. It will permit hospitals with expertise in particular fields, such as hip replacements or heart transplants, to sell their services to both NHS and private hospitals to earn revenue. Despite the government’s protestations to the contrary, this is a backdoor method of introducing privatisation. There is also the risk that hospitals will concentrate on the services that can earn them money to the detriment of less profitable branches of medicine like the care of the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and the elderly. High-cost treatments, except for private patients able to pay large fees, will become unviable and this will accelerate the creation of a two-tier system of care.

As expected, the White Paper contributes nothing towards preventative medicine, but this is only to be expected as the state functions to protect and facilitate capitalism, which makes profits by selling goods and services to those who can afford them; there is no profit if they are not needed in the first place. The deprivation of the wage and salary working class which is inherent in capitalism is the main cause of ill-health. While capitalism lasts health care, whether state-funded or private, reformed or otherwise, cannot cure society’s ills.
Carl Pinel