Thursday, August 22, 2019

Letters: Don’t die for oil (1991)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don’t die for oil

Dear Editors,

At this eleventh hour on the eve of a possible war in the Gulf I would like to appeal to our fellow workers in uniform. Whether you are waiting in readiness in the Gulf region, at home training for the eventuality or in civilian employment contemplating joining the reserve forces, you should know that you will die in vain.

I was a Royal Marine for seven years and know how confused you must feel now. I know the discomfort of endless night exercises, the pain of long route marches, the boredom of sentry duties and the natural longing to be at home with your families. That feeling of missing the children growing up, tackling the puzzles of everyday life without their fathers, is the worst feeling of all. However, you are weighing these emotions against the propaganda that you are being fed. Stories about the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and the atrocities committed by his soldiers. Stories about the mistreatment of British hostages in Iraq and Kuwait. You are told that you can right these wrongs by fighting a war in the desert.

Let me tell you that you cannot right these wrongs by bloodshed and war. Whether the stories are accurate or not, Saddam Hussein’s military regime was supported, armed and trained by the West. Just as Western governments support other murderous regimes around the world if it suits their economic purpose.

It is not for freedom or democracy or the lives of Western hostages that you will fight for and probably die. It is the economics of what lies below the soil on which the battle is fought that is the sole reason for a war. Like all wars it will be fought to secure the rights of ownership of the land and its proximity to trade routes. Nations will send their armies to fight in the Gulf in order, to secure the right of their oil companies to continue trading in the area.

However, the owners of the oil companies will not be fighting alongside you. They will be safe in their ornately-decorated offices in the capitals of the world. They alone shall benefit from a war, rights to the land will be secured, workers will produce the oil, the military will protect them while the oil barons sit back and watch the profits appear on their computer screens.

The armed forces, like the police and fire services, are part of the capitalists' elaborate insurance policy and they are about to cash in on it with a war to protect their access to Middle Eastern oil.

I urge all workers in uniform or civilian reservists to question the propaganda they are being fed and to discover the real causes of the present situation. To understand is to agree, and once you agree that this system of society is not worth dying for you should consider the only alternative.

The courage of men and women shown on the battlefield would be better spent standing up and putting forward the case for Socialism.
Andrew Wilkes 
Chichester, West Sussex

Dear Editors.

In the December issue, Keith Martin refers to my review of the book William Morris and News From Nowhere: A Vision For Our Time and states that the real purposes of this book is to confuse William Morris’s Marxist heritage, thereby reinforcing the ideas of those radical liberals and green reformers who wish to "claim” Morris as their own.

Although, as the Editorial Reply stated, there is an attempt to do this in some quarters. I find it difficult to accept that the book falls into this category. On the contrary, most of the writers show a respect and enthusiasm for Morris’s vision of a socialist society without money, wages and the state that is rarely to be found elsewhere. As the review pointed out, some of the chapters show a greater understanding and commitment to socialism than others, but it would be grossly unfair to suggest that this book is simply an attempt to confuse the issue and provide succour for reformists of every hue. If Keith Martin really thinks this, he could have at least backed up his generalisations with some facts and evidence.
Dave Perrin

Bombastic blusterer (1991)

Book Review from the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Speeches of Winston Churchill. Edited by David Cannadine, Penguin Books. 1990, £6.99.

Those who have admired Winston Churchill as a politician of unswerving principle may be shocked by the contents of this book. In reproducing some of his more notable orations, from his maiden speech to the House of Commons in 1901 to his formal farewell speech as Prime Minister in 1955, this book shows Churchill’s career to have been one dominated by unoriginal thinking and contradiction, reinforced by a good deal of bluster. Anyone who could, even in the earlier part of this century, seriously describe religion as "the great agent of civilization” deserves to be treated with suspicion, but if his earlier speeches were ridiculous and overblown, some of his later ones were downright dangerous even by the standards of a hardened capitalist politician.

Indeed this book is useful in that it shows that Churchill’s political vacillations didn’t end when he left the Conservatives to join the Liberals and then left the Liberals to join the Conservatives again. Throughout his political career Churchill set up principles and alliances only to cast them aside at a later date. For instance, in his speech to the House of Commons on 11 April 1919 warning of the dangers of Bolshevism. he stated:
  The British nation is the foe of tyranny in every form. That is why we fought Kaiserism and that is why we would fight it again. That is why we arc opposing Bolshevism. Of all tyrannies in history, the Bolshevist tyranny is the worst, the most destructive, and the most degrading. It is sheer humbug to pretend that it is not far worse than German militarism.
What "sheer humbug” then for Churchill to have allied himself with the monstrous Stalinist dictatorship against the equally monstrous Nazi dictatorship from 1941-45, and to have joined with Stalin and Roosevelt in the carving-up of Europe at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Indeed, Churchill was able to blind himself to the realities of the "Bolshevist tyranny" under Stalin to such an extent that he could bring himself to say:
  Marshall Stalin is a very wise man. and I would set no limits to the immense contribution that he and his associates have to make to the future. (House of Commons. 16 August 1945).
So much for principle and the lofty status of being "the foe of tyranny in every form". It is also interesting to note that Churchill was head of a wartime Coalition government which included the Labour Party, with Labour leader Clement Attlee serving as Deputy Prime Minister. All the more strange then, that Churchill should say that a post-war Labour government would end up instituting "some form of Gestapo".

If this book has a fault it lies in the solely chronological, rather than thematic, presentation of Churchill’s speeches. A book based on a more comprehensive collection of his speeches and articles dealing with Fascism, Hitler and the Second World War, including his praise for Mussolini’s corporate state and his admiration for the abilities of Adolf Hitler, would have proved even more illuminating.
Dave Perrin

50 Years Ago: Hitler the "Socialist" (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

One might almost gather from some of the speeches that the armies on both sides (not to mention the Finns and the Russians) are all striking a blow for Socialism.

Thus, Hitler in his speech at Berlin on December 10th. The following is from the report published in the Evening Standard (the morning papers the following day all appear not to have noticed this passage):—
  "Should Nazi methods be victorious, the ruling class in the democracies would have to renounce their dividends of 40 and 100 and 160 per cent. In Germany 6 per cent is the highest dividend, and 3 per cent of this has to return as taxes, while the remainder must be disposed of in the interests of the nation."—(Evening Standard, December 10th.)
According to a further report published in The Times (December 11th). Hitler impudently described the Nazi programme as "our Socialist work of construction." and contrasted it with what he said is the attitude of the ruling class outside Germany, who say:—"If we lose, our world capitalist structure will collapse, and the idea will spread among other peoples that labour is the decisive element."

("Strange Champions of Socialism", Socialist Standard, January 1941.)

Here and There: Harry Pollitt (1936)

The Here and There column from the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. H. Pollitt has written a series of articles in the Daily Worker on Communist policy. In the last, article, May 11th, he says: —
  “The peoples want peace. They want to be shown the clear road to be able to keep peace. The working-class movement has the sacred duty of showing them . . . what road has to be taken.  . . . Let the working-class movement of Great Britain lead the way to peace. It can do— it shall do!”
  "Forward, then, to the greatest Crusade for Peace this country has ever known: —
  For the defeat of the National Government;
 for helping in every way the German people to overthrow the Hitler Government, the Government that is the chief war incendiary in Europe to-day;
 for the expulsion of the Japanese invaders from China and for a democratic Japan;
 for the expulsion of the Italian plunderers from Abyssinia, and the liberation of the Italian people from Fascism;
 for a world front of workers and peasants and all friends of peace against the instigators of war.”
If Mr. Pollitt ever gets the time to ponder on his inane slogans he might ask himself and try to explain how the working-class movement could effect the expulsion from Abyssinia of 250,000 Italians, armed with guns, tanks, aeroplanes and poison gas, without war. Having settled that problem he might also try to explain in what way the working class would benefit by the expulsion of the armed forces of Italy from Abyssinia and of the Japanese from China.

Come, Mr. Pollitt, the Daily Worker will be read with interest for your reply!

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Thieves’ Progress
Slave-ridden, barbaric, semi-feudal Abyssinia has been "annexed” by capitalist Italy. The annexation, inevitable otherwise, might have been prevented by the intervention on the side of Abyssinia of strong capitalist Powers like Great Britain and France. The intervention did not take place, despite the vociferous demands that it should by many capitalist interests, supported as usual by soft-headed Labour and Communist Party leaders. Italy’s new Abyssinian Empire, situated as it is on the British sea route to India, and in a strategic position among British African colonies, gives Italy a vastly increased bargaining power with British capitalism. The conquest has doubtless caused intense concern to British interests. That the British Government did not intervene to prevent this possible threat to its interests and prestige suggests that they had hoped for a result less decisive—a compromise giving Italy a less dominating position, or that they had considered the cost too great and the possible consequences at the moment too grave. For it is certain that if British capitalism became involved in another war that smaller capitalist Powers would seek to embarrass her by throwing off her domination, by demanding concessions, and even, if the opportunity occurred, by grabbing part of her wealthy Empire.

It is indeed a hard world for capitalist countries that have the responsibility of owning enormous wealth.

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Capitalism’s Health
“The disappointing thing to me about the Budget is that it reveals an altogether unpleasant healthiness about the capitalist system."

It must be discomforting to Mr. Maxton to reflect that six years ago he made a dramatic forecast that the capitalist system would collapse within six months. He was wrong, as we pointed out then, and as events proved. He is now disappointed in capitalism’s “unpleasant healthiness.” That much he has learned. If Mr. Maxton had the ability he might, by study, understand the workings of the capitalist system: why, in times of crisis, it appears to be collapsing and at other times shows “unpleasant healthiness.” It is more likely that Mr. Maxton will understand capitalism better and ultimately acquire Socialist understanding only as events force their lessons home to him. That is, in the same way that the mass of workers will acquire an understanding of Socialism.

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Postmen and Knights
The Annual Conference of the Union of Post Office Workers, held at Brighton, at its sitting on May 5th, had a minor breeze. Sir Walter Citrine, General Secretary of the T.U.C., who was a fraternal delegate, came very near to being refused a hearing. A resolution was moved to delete his name from the list of fraternal delegates. This drastic action was proposed because Sir (formerly Mister) Walter Citrine had accepted a knighthood. The voting was amazingly close. The resolution was defeated by 1,081 votes to 910. In explanation, lest it be inferred that the respectable postmen recognise the emptiness of titles and the futility of working men possessing them, the resolution was supported mainly on the ground that it was conferred by the National Government. The delegates supporting the resolution staged a walk-out when Sir Walter rose to speak. An awkward situation, through which, it may be assumed, the dignity of his title helped Sir Walter without undue embarrassment.

#    #    #    #

Socialism versus Reforms
The Socialist argument that reforms have only a limited benefit for the working class is graphically supported by the following from the News Chronicle (March 12th, 1936): —
  Sir John Orr’s report on Malnutrition is no pleasant reading for a lazy afternoon; and it should dispel the belief which seems to be gaining currency in lazy circles that malnutrition is due to ignorance of food values rather than to poverty. It is easy for well-fed persons to accept such doctrines as the truth.
  Proof, if proof be needed, that poverty is, in fact, the villain of the piece can be found in Stockton-on-Tees, which boasts one of the best Medical Officers of Health in England: .
  In the last five years Stockton has re-housed nearly half its worst slum population in one of the country's best designed and spacious housing schemes.
  Economy and efficiency have made possible a rent in this new district of barely one shilling per week per head more than was paid in the slums.
  And in the last five years the only really noticeable difference between the slums and the new area has been a big increase in the death rate among those who have been better housed. The slum death rate remains the same.
  That one shilling per week per head means, in fact, sufficient food to make the difference between life and death.
We oppose reformist policy on the grounds that reforms do not solve the working-class problem of poverty, even though reforms might have some immediate benefit. The reform dealt with above— better housing—would appear to be definitely harmful to the working class: the position being that health suffers and the death rate increases as more money is spent on rent and less is spent on food. And after a hundred years of reforms we have as much poverty and more reformers than ever.
Harry Waite

Why the Budget does not Matter (1936)

Editorial from the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the Cabinet is the instrument of the ruling class, what of the Budget, for which the Cabinet, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible? Those who do not know the secret will tell you that the Budget is of vital concern to every man and woman in the country. That is the message delivered to you from the platforms of Conservatives and Liberals, Communists and Labourites. Yet again it is not true. The Budget is and must be, under capitalism, a capitalist question. The Cabinet’s function is to protect the property of their masters. The Budget is the method by which the necessary armed and civil forces are financed. The merit of the Budget system in this country is, from the capitalist standpoint, that it is closely surrounded by constitutional checks and safeguards, so that there is now no longer any danger of the Monarchy, the House of Lords, the Army, or any section of the capitalist class itself, usurping the powers exercised for the ruling class as a whole.

In modern times the Budget expenditure has included a growing amount of money which is not devoted to maintaining the armed and civil forces, but to what are called social services, the old-age pensions, unemployment pay, and so on. It is here that one source of confusion about the Budget easily arises. Another source of confusion lies in the fact that much of the money raised for the Budget appears to be a burden on the workers. Hence, we have the Labour Party, the Liberals, and Tories warning you that you have an interest in the nature and amount of taxation, and in the purposes to which Government expenditure is devoted. In an immediate sense there is a grain of truth in this statement. If (which is by no means necessarily the case) the removal of a tax on some article leads to a reduction of price, and if wages remain unchanged, then the workers are at the moment that much in pocket. If, therefore, wages were something fixed and constant, we could say, as the Labour Party does, that lower prices, the removal of taxes on foodstuffs, rents restricted by law, and greater Government expenditure on social reforms are the way to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, and thus raise the standard of living of the latter. Yet you know yourselves that all the social reforms, the death duties on big fortunes, the surtax and other levies on the rich have not made any noticeable alteration in your position in the past 50 years. The Labour Party is mystified at this failure of events to follow the course it expected them to follow.

Yet a little thought would have shown the Labour Party that its theory was wrong, and that wages are not fixed and constant. Wages follow prices more or less closely and quickly. Thus, in 1921-22, when the cost of living fell by about one-third, so did wages. Wages have been rising lately after a rise of prices. The workers do not benefit, nor have they benefited in the main, by the Government’s expenditure on social services, which appear to relieve the workers of certain expenses. In the first place, it must be remembered that the workers suffered heavy loss since the war owing to the bigger volume of unemployment. The employers' and the Government’s contributions towards unemployment pay have only partly covered this loss. We also see that, to a great extent, the grant of health-insurance, pensions at 65, war pensions, etc., has merely resulted in corresponding amounts being knocked off the standard rates of pay of the individuals concerned.

So that, in effect, the bigger Government expenditure on these things is, in the main, merely a way of restoring to the workers a part of what was lost to them through the aggravated unemployment since the war.

It is true that the workers' standard of living is itself not unalterably fixed. It is possible, in certain favourable circumstances, for the workers to win for themselves, through organised struggle, a higher standard of living. On the other hand it is possible for the standard to be beaten down to lower levels as, for example, appears to have occurred in the U.S.A. in the past 10 years or so. It must, however, be observed that any such raising or lowering represents a certain change in the relative strengths of the capitalists and workers, and is, therefore, not to be confused with the Labour Party notion that mere lower prices or lower taxes on foodstuffs, or the expenditure of Government money on social reforms, represent a corresponding gain to the workers. Unless the bargaining position of the workers has been improved for other reasons, these surface changes are followed by wage reductions which leave the workers where they were.

Let us now put the Budget into proper perspective, in relation to the capitalist class and the working class.

Not Your Fight: Keep Out
The capitalists do not live by engaging in wealth production themselves, but by living on the backs of the wealth producers. And they do this not by dishonest merchanting and shopkeeping, but by appropriating the proceeds of the workers' labour at the point of production. It has been officially estimated that in this country the workers in manufacture and mines produce each year goods to a value which (after allowing for all the expenses of production, raw materials, wages, etc.) leaves in the hands of the capitalists a surplus of about £100 per worker per annum, nearly £2 a week in respect of each worker employed. It is out of the fund formed in this way that the whole capitalist class lives—industrialists, landlords, and bankers. It is out of this fund that they have to provide the cost of the Government, which protects their property and their economic system.

The cost of the central Government is, roughly, £750 millions a year, with a further £250 millions for local Government, but a large part of this total of £1,000 millions (about one-third of it) is quite illusory. It is made up of interest on the National Debt and Local Government debts. In other words, the Government and local authorities collect from the capitalists in the form of rates and taxes money which flows back again to the capitalists (though not necessarily to the same individuals) in the form of interest on war loan, and Local Government loans.

Of the remaining expenditure something like £150 millions is spent on armaments to protect capitalist property and £100 millions on educating the workers in the knowledge required in capitalist industry. Other millions go to the Civil Service, the police and prison services.

The remaining expenditure, on war pensions, old-age pensions, poor relief, housing, health insurance, etc., is necessitated by the war-time and peace-time destruction of the workers' health and earning capacity, or is required to prevent destitution and consequent acute discontent and agitation inconvenient to the ruling class.

On the income side the Budget is a burden on the capitalists only, even if, to a superficial view, parts of some taxes appear to be a burden on the workers. Without pressing the point unduly in the case of a few exceptionally placed individual workers, whose position is, or appears to be, an exception to this rule, the working class as a whole are not affected by the amount or nature of taxation. What the workers get out of capitalism— the amount and quantity of their food, clothing, accommodation, leisure, amusements, etc.—is determined not by prices or taxes but by capitalist pressure as a whole and the workers' powers of organised resistance to it. No juggling with taxes or prices or social reforms will alter the main position—that of a subject class trying to defend itself against a dominant class—or will free the workers from poverty and insecurity. Don't be misled by the movements to alter the amount or nature of taxes and Budget expenditure. The aim, or at any rate, the effect, is merely to remove a burden from one section of the capitalists and place it on another. It is a capitalist fight, so keep out. Concentrate, instead, on abolishing capitalism.

This is our Budget secret. Master it and you will be on the way to understanding the futility of reformism.

"The Distribution of National Capital" (1936)

Book Review from the June 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Distribution of 
National Capital by G. W. Daniels AND H. Campion (Manchester University Press, 3s. 6d. 62 pages,)

This book is based on the paper read before the Manchester Statistical Society on March 11th, referred to in our April issue. It is a detailed analysis of the ownership of capital in this country in comparison with the position before the War.

G. W. Daniels is Stanley Jevons Professor of Political Economy, and H. Campion is Lecturer in Economic Statistics at the University of Manchester. They are well qualified to write on this subject. Their analysis provides a shattering answer to influential but (on this subject) uninformed people like Sir Robert Kindersley, who recently wrote to the News Chronicle on the widely propagated but almost entirely mythical redistribution of ownership supposed to have taken place since the War.

Their conclusion (p. 62) is that: —
  It cannot be said there has been any marked change in the distribution of capital in individual hands in England and Wales during the last 25 years. 
Regarding the supposed big savings of the workers, the authors conclude, as a result of their own and other investigators' studies, that the amount is not the £3,000 million that has been claimed, but less than one-third of that total. They find that the 17 or 17½ million persons, aged 25 and over, who own £100 or less, own altogether something between £500 million and £900 million or between £30 and £50 each! (p. 49).

These people represent about 77½ per cent. of the total population aged 25 and over (p. 32), but their property represents only a tiny fraction of the total property, between 3.6 per cent, and 6.1 per cent. (p. 51).

At the other end of the social scale: —
  More than half the total capital in 1924-30 and 1911-13 was owned by persons with more than £5,000 each.—(P. 51.)
These people number about 370,000, less than 2 per cent. of the population aged over 25. They own on an average about £27,000 each, compared with the workers' average of £30 to £50.

The book is somewhat technical and will not make easy reading for those who are unfamiliar with statistical studies. It is a valuable addition to authoritative works useful to combat the propaganda which safeguards capitalism by telling the workers that things are changing of themselves, if only the workers will be patient.

A further useful contribution is a statement by Sir Leo Money, whose Riches and Poverty greatly helped Socialist propagandists before the Var.

A review in The Times Literary Supplement pooh-poohed some statements about the inequality of income, saying that they were based on figures published in 1908 in Sir Leo Money's Riches and Poverty, and that this was "a ludicrously antediluvian date for an economic argument."

Sir Leo Money promptly wrote a letter containing the following: —
  “The lapse of time, unfortunately, has by no means made the figures of my Riches and Poverty ludicrous. My book said: —
  Year by year, with the regularity of the seasons, about four thousand persons die leaving between them about £200,000,000 out of total estates declared to be worth about- £300,000,000.
  "After 26 years, the latest report of the Inland Revenue shows that, in 1933-34, estates valued at £524,000,000 were left at death by 134,000 people, and that a mere handful of them, 8,334, left as much as £348,000,000 of the aggregate £524,000,000!
  “These are hard facts, which almost beggar argument. As the distribution of capital largely determines the distribution of income, it will be  apparent that inequality still reigns."
(Times Literary Supplement, March 14th.)
The defenders of capitalism who claim that inequality has disappeared or is diminishing have not the shadow of a case.
Edgar Hardcastle

Voice From The Back: A Fruit And Nut Case (2012)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Fruit And Nut Case

Capitalism is a social system based on class ownership, and sections of the owning class are always in disputes over this ownership. They have legal battles, sometimes leading to military battles, over the ownership and access to sources of raw materials and markets. Recently there has been a legal dispute over the ownership of a particular colour. “Is chocolate the first thing you think of when you see Pantone 2685C? It might be if I tell you that it is the technical name for Cadbury Dairy Milk’s distinctive purple. And it does indeed ‘belong’ to Cadbury, after a decision in the High Court yesterday that the confectioner’s purple packaging constitutes a trademark” (Times, 2 October). This dispute arose over Cadbury’s rival NestlĂ©’s objection to Cadbury registering the colour as a trademark in 2004. NestlĂ© had already lost in 2008 but decided to appeal the judgement of the Registrar of Trade Marks. Only capitalism with its emphasis on ownership could have highly trained legal minds battling for years over who ‘owns’ a colour. Madness.

The Whip Hand

Whenever there is a slump and mass unemployment, the employers’ hand is strengthened, as a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows: “Millions of workers are ‘too frightened’ about losing their job to take time off work when they are sick, even if they are very ill, a report reveals today. The authoritative report says a culture of ‘presenteeism’ is sweeping Britain as workers decide to come into the office, rather than stay home in bed. A third of bosses have seen an increase in the number of workers ‘who struggle into work when unwell’ over the last year, according to the report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development” (Daily Mail, 9 October).

Some Good News

Every day in the newspapers socialists can read all the bad news that capitalism throws up. Millions starve while food is destroyed; children dying for lack of clean water; and lately a 14-year-old girl shot in the head by some Pakistani religious zealot because she dared to attend a school. So what is the good news? “The number of people with no religious affiliations is growing at an unprecedented rate, according to research. A third of adults under 30 in the US now say they have no faith. …. The US study was undertaken by the Pew Research Centre, a Washington based think tank. According to the latest British Social Attitude Survey, published last month, religious affiliation among Britons has fallen from 68 per cent in 1983 to 53 per cent in 2011” (Times, 10 October).

A Deadly Social System

In its unending drive for more and more profit the capitalist system ruins lives but it also ruins the world’s environment and biodiversity. “Reducing the risk of extinction for threatened species and establishing protected areas for nature will cost the world over $76bn dollars annually. Researchers say it is needed to meet globally agreed conservation targets by 2020. The scientists say the daunting number is just a fifth of what the world spends on soft drinks annually. And it amounts to just 1% of the value of ecosystems being lost every year, they report in the journal Science. Back in 2002, governments around the world agreed that they would achieve a significant reduction in biodiversity loss by 2010. But the deadline came and went and the rate of loss increased” (BBC News, 12 October). Governments can make sympathetic noises and even pass pious resolutions but profit making comes before biodiversity so more and more species of flora and fauna are doomed.

Recession? What Recession?

During the current economic recession it is commonplace to hear of workers being unable to sell their houses because of tumbling prices and difficulties in obtaining mortgages, but one part of the housing market is unaffected by economic difficulties. “An estate agent to the rich and famous is celebrating after selling £3 billion worth of property – on the same London street. Trevor Abrahmsohn has cornered the market on one of the world’s wealthiest roads, The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London – known as ‘Billionaires’ Row’. Over the last 35 years he has handled 150 house sales on the street at an average value of £20million at today’s prices” (Daily Mail, 12 October). To those members of the owning class who think nothing of spending £20 million on a house there is no economic crisis.

Pathfinders: Bodging the Badger Debate (2012)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bodging the Badger Debate

Whatever is all this fuss about badgers and the government’s badger cull in aid of? As if there aren’t bigger things to worry about. Socialists are not often accused of being sentimental animal-lovers, but don’t the anti-cull lobby have a point? Scientific surveys have shown that badger culls reduce TB in cattle herds by around 25 percent in the infected area, but increase TB by 25 percent outside the infected area due to the ‘perturbation’ effect of badger refugees running away in all directions from the shotguns. The 2007 survey concluded that closer monitoring of cattle would achieve more than badger culling, so what’s the point of the cull, apart from giving the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ brigade something fun to do now that they can’t chase foxes and hang peasants?

Some commentators argue that the farmers are exaggerating the problem anyway, since there is no danger to humans thanks to the milk pasteurising process, and there have been virtually no proper studies of the actual cost of bovine TB to the livestock industry. Badgers, after all, are a protected species. You can’t just bang away at them with a twelve bore for no reason.

If for the sake of argument we presupposed a meat and dairy industry in socialism on the same scale as now, which is a rather large and shaky assumption, this is a good example of a hot topic socialists might be having. Naturally we would hope and expect the culling question to be settled by the science, rather than sentiment. We needn’t worry that the ground was being muddied by covert class antagonisms between country squire and townie prole, or about quasi-legal questions of who exactly ‘owns’ a wild animal, whether it is all of us in some abstract way, or the private owner of the specific tract of land upon which the animal resides.

The problem arises when the science is inconclusive. A more recent survey, for example, confirms the ‘perturbation’ effect, but notes that the spread of TB outside the target area is actually quite short-lived. The ideal solution would be to vaccinate the cattle but no such vaccine yet exists. There is a vaccine for badgers, but the problem is catching the buggers and then being able to tell which ones are vaccinated and which ones aren’t, since they both present the same antibodies.

Evidence from New Zealand shows persuasively that culling works. It reduced incidence of TB by up to 83 percent, and significantly, when it was suspended due to lack of money, the incidence shot right back up again. But they were culling possums, not badgers, and the behaviour patterns of infected possums were shown to contribute to their effectiveness as a disease vector. In short, just because it works in New Zealand with possums doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work in Britain with badgers.

The culls in New Zealand were also helped apparently by the fact that the possum is not an iconic animal immortalised in some Kiwi version of Wind in the Willows, but actually a pest that nobody likes. Many pro-cullers have pointed out that nobody would be making a fuss about these culls if it were a question of rats rather than badgers, and that this sort of ‘fluffy bunny’ thinking is what is really behind the ‘scientific’ objections. However, they themselves don’t care to point out that if badger culling works because badgers are the main TB vector in some areas, then deer culling should also be done because deer are the main vectors in others. Nobody wants a Save Our Bambi media storm on their hands. Even in America, home of the deer hunter, they shy away from deer culls for this reason, instead surreptitiously making hunting licences cheaper and hoping the weekend NRA nuts will do the job for them. Meanwhile, it’s a wonder that the Berkshire Hunt hasn’t trumpeted the fact that foxes can also be carriers.

Press articles on the subject argue that the science won’t persuade anyone because it’s a moral issue, which if true is unfortunate since most objectors are meat and dairy consumers and therefore somewhat morally compromised in this area. Other moral questions such as abortion are similarly not clarified by scientific considerations. In socialism, if there are such debates, we can only say that where the science is unable to make a conclusive case, the decision will have to be taken with a show of hands, whether they are fluffy bunnies’ hands or not.


The dark side of the coin

Such is the alienating world of commodity relations that many people in rich countries don’t seem to care much about other human beings, for all that they can be reduced to blubbering sentimental wrecks over whales, badgers or trees. Well, if human solidarity doesn’t motivate them, perhaps this will. A new report reveals that up to 90 percent of tropical deforestation is not conducted by governments or licensed commercial corporations, but by the mafia. Organised crime, it turns out, controls up to 30 percent of the global timber trade (New Scientist, 6 October).

It’s surprisingly rarely that socialists are asked ‘what we would do about the mafia’. This is largely because the reality of organised crime does not impinge very much on the public consciousness, for all its petty, Daily Mail obsessions with muggers and benefit frauds. Organised criminals operate outside the state regulatory apparatus, or inside states with no regulatory apparatus. They are responsible for global slavery, which the naive imagine was long ago abolished. They are responsible for counterfeit medicines which form up to 50 percent of the African market. They are responsible for wholesale and reckless fly-tipping of toxic poisons into landfill, paid for by construction and manufacturing companies who find it cheaper not to ask questions. They slaughter protected species for the tables of exclusive restaurants, engage in organ trade for rich invalids, kidnap children for wealthy childless couples, and incidentally, bulldoze rainforests.

If capitalism can be represented by a silver coin held up to the light, then it has a shiny side that we all see, and a dark side that we don’t. Inevitably we all tend to talk about the shiny side, with its democratic institutions and ethical concepts, its science and culture, carelessly forgetting that this is only half the story. What happens on the dark side is obscure, largely unreported, the stuff of Hollywood myth and legend. To look on this dark side is in a sense to look into our history, to see the truly ugly nature of the profit-motive at work, without any mitigating factors.

Technically speaking, organised crime is capitalism’s problem, not ours. It couldn’t exist if we abolished private property, any more than bank robbers could exist without banks. But while it does exist, we should remember that it is there, in the dark, a major player in world economies, as anti-human and anti-worker as they come, capitalism’s ghostly and demonic twin.
Paddy Shannon

The Pre-Raphaelites (2012)

Art Review from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain is sub-titled Victorian Avant-Garde, although the Pre-Raphaelites did not reflect contemporary bourgeois capitalist society in Britain but hearkened back to the early Italian Renaissance of the 1400s.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848, the year of Revolutions and of the publication of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto. British industrial capitalism was booming, free trade was triumphant, the Great Exhibition showcased Britain’s superiority as the ‘workshop of the world’ but the antagonisms between the capitalist class and working class were becoming visible. Dickens and Mrs Gaskell, and Engels in the Condition of the Working Class in England, described the poverty of the working class, but the Pre-Raphaelites rejected the machine age of modern industrial capitalism, believing beauty and spirituality had been lost, and wanted to provide an alternative to the materialism of the age.

The Pre-Raphaelites brought a realism to biblical subjects such as Millais’ portrayal of the ‘holy family’ as working class in Christ in the House of His Parents which shocked bourgeois sensibilities. Holman Hunt evoked bourgeois sexual guilt when a woman sees the error of her ways in the Awakening Conscience.

Ford Madox Brown portrayed a young couple sailing from the White Cliffs of Dover in the Last of England, which highlighted the fact 300,000 people emigrated in 1852, and in Work he showed labour as a noble and sacred duty in capitalism. In contrast, The Stonebreaker by Wallis depicts the exhausting toil of an agrarian worker. Holman Hunt painted a portrait of industrial capitalist and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites, Thomas Fairbairn, who had tried to smash an early trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, in 1852.

This exhibition also includes the decorative arts of William Morris, Philip Webb and Burne-Jones which covers furniture, stained glass, textiles, carpets and tapestries depicting Chaucerian themes. Morris’s ‘medievalism’ revived older forms of production in protest at the cheap, mass produced goods of capitalist society, and a desire to have “attractive work” in producing objects. Later Morris, with Eleanor Marx and others, founded the Socialist League, a forerunner of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The Pre-Raphaelites are in stark contrast to the ‘realism’ in French painting in the same period where Millet depicted Woman Baking Bread, and Courbet portrayed the Stone Breakers (a work admired by Proudhon), and the Origin of the World which depicted a woman’s genitalia (John Ruskin would have fainted). Interestingly a friend of Rossetti called Bell Scott painted an industrial scene in Iron and Coal. However this is overshadowed by the mammoth productive forces of industrial capitalism in Menzel’s the Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclops), a picture which adorns the cover of the Penguin edition of Marx’s Capital Volume 1.

Marx identified the popularity of Greek art as stemming from “the childhood of human society where it had obtained its most beautiful development”. Did the Pre-Raphaelites yearn for the adolescent phase of human history?
Steve Clayton

Dot Capitalism (2012)

Book Review from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dot.compradors: Power and Policy in the Development of the Indian Software Industry. by Jyoti Saraswati. Pluto, £17.99.

India is a major centre for software services, the provision of software for specific users (as opposed to general packages such as Microsoft Office); an example would be the system for the London Underground. This book is a useful and informative survey of the Indian software industry’s structure and history.

Four multinational companies dominate Information Technology consultancy, one of them being IBM. In addition to these global ‘Giants’, there are three Indian ‘Majors’. As an illustration of India’s role, about one in three of the employees of the Giants works in India. Partly, of course, it is cheaper to employ highly skilled English-speaking staff in India than in, say, in the US. The Giants also have a habit of poaching staff from the Majors, who spend time and money training them only to find their best workers upping sticks after a few years.

As for why such a profitable and technologically advanced industry should flourish in a developing country such as India, Saraswati rejects simple analyses in terms of just market forces or state intervention. Rather, more complex interactions need to be examined. As long ago as 1962, defeat in the Sino-Indian war revealed the importance of IT, and by 1970 the government had taken steps to set up a computer industry protected from international competition. The Indian hardware industry was unable to survive, but the software industry did pretty well, providing software for computers that did not come with ready-bundled general packages. In the 1980s the US became an enormous market for software services, which, unlike many parts of a business, can be provided by remote delivery. To aid this, the Indian government provided telecommunications infrastructure, augmented with satellite links.

The Indian software industry set up its own business club, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in 1987. But since the local subsidiaries of the global Giants were allowed to join, this eventually came to be controlled by the multinational companies. The Giants are now generally doing better than the Indian Majors, which have themselves begun to establish delivery centres abroad (in China and Mexico, for example), which they hope will be free of the poaching mentioned earlier. It is worth noting that the Chinese government has tried and failed to establish a major software service industry there, so state intervention is not enough by itself.

In case you are wondering about the title, a comprador is, in Saraswati’s definition, ‘An individual of, and in, a developing country who serves Western interests’. The top people in NASSCOM are compradors, he argues. They serve the interests of Western capitalism by, among other things, supporting improved access by the US to Indian markets in return for more visas being issued to Indian IT professionals for short-term work in the US. But clearly the embedding of the Indian software industry in global capitalism goes far beyond that.
Paul Bennett

Action Replay: Inheritance Tactics (2012)

The Action Replay column from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

We were assured that it was also about what happened after the frantic few weeks of competition: “As well as the physical legacy of the London 2012 Games … new initiatives and programmes are creating sustainable social, economic and sporting legacies at home in the UK and around the world” ( But there are many reasons for thinking that the Olympics and Paralympics won’t quite be the success the organisers had in mind.

For a start, the Games themselves are unlikely to do more than break even, which makes earlier spats about how to share out the profits look beside the point.

Shops did not do well, either. Sales overall fell during the Games period according to the British Retail Consortium especially in central London where transport and other problems led many people to stay away. Free parking was introduced in the West End for a couple of weekends to try to reverse these trends. Hornby lost £1m on their Olympic-branded toys, after “retailers lost confidence in many categories of London 2012 merchandise”, as the company put it.

Even hotels, theatres and restaurants fared badly as people stayed away from London, fearing overcrowding and inflated prices. Tourism in other parts of Britain suffered too, as tour groups that might have visited London and, say, the Lake District, preferred not to come to Britain at all.

As for the sporting legacy, the vast sums spent on top athletes were not matched by similar largesse for facilities aimed at ‘the public’. Almost two-thirds of adults don’t take part in sport even once a week, and current austerity cuts are reducing sporting facilities even more. George Osborne was booed at the Paralympics as the government sets out to replace the Disability Living Allowance with even stingier payments.

With London mayor Boris Johnson having put himself in charge of future developments at the Olympic Park, no doubt what happens there will be a combination of making a profit and providing a chance for yet more self-publicity.
Paul Bennett

Why We Need Socialism (2012)

From the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists wants to replace the present capitalist system with a new system based on common ownership instead of ownership by the few and with production directly to meet people’s needs instead of production for sale on a market with a view to profits. In such a socialist (or communist) society – the two words mean the same – money would be redundant. It’s not so much that we want to ‘abolish money’ as wanting a change to a society with a system of production and distribution in which money would be redundant and so would disappear.

Capitalism is the system which now dominates the world. No country escapes or can escape from its influence and effects. It is essentially an economic system where the means for producing useful goods and services take the form of ‘capital’, or wealth used to produce more wealth with a view to profit, and where the goods and services produced take the form of ‘exchange value’, they all have a price and have to be  exchanged for money.

The farms, factories, offices and other places where wealth is produced are owned and controlled by rich individuals, capitalist corporations and states. Under the pressure of competition, those in charge of these ‘units of capital’ are driven to seek as much profit as they can, not so much for the personal benefit of the owners (though this does come into it) as to get funds to reinvest in cost-cutting innovations so as to be able to compete with, and out-compete, their rivals. One consequence of this is that more and more capital is accumulated. This in fact is what capitalism is all about: the accumulation of more and more capital out of profits.

So, over time the means of production and their productive power have built up and society has now become able, in theory, to produce enough useful goods and services to meet people’s needs. But the economic mechanism of capitalism does not let this happen. Making profits and re-investing them as more capital always comes first.

It’s an irrational system of ‘production for production’s sake’, of ‘growth for growth’s sake’. There are other antisocial results of capitalism. Such as the recurring economic crises and slumps like the one we’re in now. Such as the wars and preparation for war that occur as capitalist states compete over sources of raw material, trade routes, markets and investment outlets. Such as putting short term cost and profit considerations before protecting the environment and respecting a balance of nature. Above all it does not allow production to be geared to meeting the needs of people for food, clothes, housing, healthcare, education an the other amenities for an enjoyable life.

People’s needs are met but only to an extent – to the extent that they have money to pay for them. There are various ways an individual can get money. They can inherit it (be born with it). They can steal it. They can beg for it. Or they can work for it – which is what most people do.

What sort of society is it where most people have to fend for themselves to get money so they can access what they need to live – and where, even in a developed country like Britain, 10-15 percent can’t keep up and are forced to rely on more or less meagre handouts from the state? This, when, from the point of view of technology, society could produce enough for all, especially if we get rid of capitalism’s artificial scarcity (the need to make a profit holds back producing enough to meet people’s nees) and its organised scarcity (not just of wars and preparation for war, but also all of the resources devoted to the counting and transfer of money).

Socialists say capitalism must go if we’re going to be able to provide a decent living for every man, woman and child on the planet.

What is needed in place of capitalism is for the Earth’s resources to become the common heritage of all. Then, they could be geared to satisfying people’s needs. If productive  resources were commonly owned, then so would what they produced. The issue to be dealt with would be, not how to sell to people what had been produced (how could you when they’re already the joint owners of it?) It’s how to share-out/distribute what’s been produced. In other words, exchange (buying and selling) is replaced by distribution (sharing-out and taking). For this, money is not needed.
Adam Buick

The Monarchy: feudal relic, democratic deficit (2012)

From the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Prince Charles’s “spider letters” show that the monarchy is not just a feudal relic but part of the “democratic deficit”.
We live in a free and democratic society, with a fearless free media who hold the possessors of power to account, bringing the spotlight of truth to bear upon their activities. Yet, what’s this? The BBC apologising and cowering like a whipped dog because one of its journalists revealed that the reigning Monarch had queried with Ministers why Abu Hamza had not been deported. That is, a BBC reporter reporting on the functions of government and the institutions of state. Precisely what a reporter should be doing in an open and democratic society. Except, what the reporter had revealed was precisely the absence of democracy at the heart of government.

This comes alongside the twin running battles the Guardian is having with the government through the information commissioner. They want the government to reveal the rules by which Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles are given the right to veto parts of acts of parliament that concern their interests. They also want the government to reveal details of letters sent by Prince Charles, lobbying government ministers and trying to influence policy. The government, apparently with palace backing, are fighting tooth and claw to stop these documents being revealed.

What is at stake is effectively monarchical interference in both executive and legislative functions of state: promoting policies to ministers and then editing bills going before parliament. These are permanent, unremovable, unelected people having key and decisive influence over the laws that we have to live under. Importantly, their veto extends to commercial matters, involving the vast holdings of the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall. That is, they have the personal right to write the laws that give them an advantage over commercial rivals.

As the Guardian notes: “In the past two parliamentary sessions Charles has been asked to consent to at least 12 draft bills on everything from wreck removals to co-operative societies. Between 2007 and 2009 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning. In Charles’s case, the little-known power stems from his role as the head of the £700m Duchy of Cornwall estate, which provides his £17m-a-year private income.” (LINK)

Such legislative power also extends to changing employment law with regards to the Royal households. So it is not just the principle of Royal interference in the law, it is also the practice that can have dramatic real-world effects for those finding themselves employed by the sovereign.

As the judges ruling in the case of the release of Prince Charles’ letters, such matters are covered by constitutional convention. That is, there is no law covering them (and so they are not directly subject to judicial oversight). In the case of Charles’ ‘Black Spider Memos’ (so-called because of his handwriting), the government was claiming they were subject to immunity from freedom of information laws because they were part of his training to be a future Monarch, and so he must be able to correspond with ministers and learn how government works (and presumably, have access to privileged information unavailable to mere voters).

This is an extension of the constitutional convention of confidentiality surrounding the relationship of the Monarch to their ministers. As the judges explained, by convention the Monarch is entitled “to be consulted, to encourage and to warn.” (LINK) (This is accompanied by its twin convention that the Monarch must act on the advice of their ministers. So, in the weekly meetings between Queen Elizabeth and her Prime Minister, we can infer that she is not merely apprised of current events, but consulted and asked for her opinion (and given an opportunity to freely give her encouragement and warnings). The principle of confidentiality surrounding these conventions is that the Monarchy is supposed to defer to parliamentary sovereignty, and be politically neutral. If, though, Elizabeth is giving opinions and warnings (and vetoes) then, practically, she is not being neutral. The cloak of silence merely covers up her political positions and actions. She is merely seen to be neutral. Convention protects her from controversy.

So, when Frank Gardner revealed on the Today Programme that Elizabeth Windsor had been asking her Home Secretary why Abu Hamza could not be arrested, he was revealing a dark secret at the heart of government, the secret of the reality of royal interference. The BBC apology was instant, abject and craven. It was so important to swiftly redraw the curtains because the cornerstone of this arrangement is what in international affairs is called ‘soft-power’.

One constitutional scholar defines conventions as existing:“if (i) there are precedents underpinning it, (ii) the parties to the relevant practice consider themselves to be bound by it and (iii) there is a reason for the existence of the convention” (LINK).Whilst either side of the convention may breech it, an act which is technically unconstitutional, there is no way to enforce such rules through the courts. Note that this applies to both sides. The Monarch retains the implicit capacity to cause governmental mayhem by beginning to more vigorously exert or stretch their veto capacity. Further, the Royal Family continue to retain considerable public sympathy, and it would be a hard battle for any government to publicly fall out with the Crown. A wise politician avoids unnecessary battles, and so both sides negotiate around the existence of the nuclear option (and possible mutual destruction). Through such means the Monarch, being able to excise clauses of bills affecting them, exercises a power US presidents can only dream of: the line item veto. It effectively makes Elizabeth a legislator.

In his play, The Apple Cart, Bernard Shaw explored this residual Royal power (the play’s title suggests the precarious balance of power between Crown and executive). Although his King Magnus, has been seen as in line with Shaw’s attraction to the idea of the strong leader, the play does explore this mutual relationship between the power of the elected state and the aesthetic appeal of Monarchy (what some constitutional scholars call the ‘dignified part’ of the state). He notes that for the professional politicians, the Monarchy provides an alibi and a distraction, belying their inability to compete with the real, effective power of capital. The centre of that play is the long dormant general right of Monarchs to withhold Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament. This power has not actually been used since Queen Anne, but it remains like a constitutional shark lurking beneath the waters. No Monarch could use it without bringing the whole constitutional house of cards down, but what Prime Minister would want to be in the position of facing that crisis?

Real politicians like to promote and thus bask in (and share) the popularity of the Royal Family as well as some of their unaccountable prerogative powers. The continued existence, influence and organised light-fingeredness of Elizabeth and Charles Windsor is their small price to pay. The rich pageant of the dignified parts of state provide depth and meaning to their tiny roles in a pitiless bureaucracy hemmed in by the real power of property.

The good news is for conspiracy theorists: there really is a vast, organised conspiracy at the heart of the state. The sad reality, though, is its name is government. Secrecy is the essence of warfare, and the government is an ongoing armed campaign against the vast majority of people. Should the professional politicians ever need a large-scale distraction to mobilise support, there is no doubt they would happily throw the Windsors under a bus.

**Stop Press**
On 16th October Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General used his veto under the Freedom of Information Act to block publication of Charles Windsor’s letters. He said: “Much of the correspondence does indeed reflect the Prince of Wales’s most deeply held personal views and beliefs. The letters in this case are in many cases particularly frank. They also contain remarks about public affairs which would in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.” The Guardian is understood to be considering taking the case to the High Court. His decision speaks volumes.
Pik Smeet

An Open Letter to the Miners (1984)

From the July 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow workers, you are now involved in a great industrial conflict with your exploiters, the state. Like the teachers, nurses and railway workers, your union is confronted with a government which bows to the god of profit as it tramples on the needs and aspirations of those who produce all of society‘s goods and services. But you don’t have be a miner to appreciate our message since all those who depend on a wage salary or dole cheque in order to survive suffer, in varying degrees, the effects of the same callous social system.

This letter is not addressed to your leaders, although we hope that Arthur Scargill and his fellow elected officials will take the time to read it and respond. The socialist message is directed primarily at you, the workers who are not interviewed on television or driven from one picket line to the next in chauffeur-driven cars. You are the men who dig the coal and run the mines in from top to bottom; who belong to class which produces wealth but does not posses it. We address you for two reasons: firstly, because it is only by spreading ideas to the majority that we will ever achieve real social change – leaders can’t do it for us; and secondly, because socialists know that only when workers raise their political sights will they achieve a society capable of satisfying human needs.

We start from the assumption that your struggle against the state exploiters is part of the class war endemic to capitalism. As socialists, we recognise that the task before all workers is not to win this or that skirmish or gain a few concessions which the capitalist class can well afford; our objective in the class war is to win it. Back in 1905 this was the advice given by the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the railway workers – and it is bit as applicable today as it then:
  What the workers on the railways and in every other branch of industry have to recognise is that the utility of combination, economic and political, lies in the strength it gives to fight. What they have to understand is that they can only fight to the betterment of their own position at the expense and to the disadvantage of the class that employs them. What they have to appreciate if they object to being robbed of any part of the wealth they produce, is that they will not only have to place the capitalist class in the category of irreconcilable enemies, not only will they have to fight them as such always but they will have to beat them out of existence absolutely, before they can enter into the enjoyment of the full fruit of their labour
  . . . The workers on railways and elsewhere will have to understand that it is the possession of the land and tools of production and distribution that gives the capitalist his power. They will have to understand that the only way to break that power is to force him to relinquish his hold upon the means by which all the people live. And then they will … be prepared to work with us for the capture of the political machinery of the country as the necessary preliminary to the capture of all the machinery of wealth production.”. (Socialist Standard, May 1905)
In other words, no answer short of social revolution will do if the problems of the working class are to be abolished from the face of the earth.

Media prostitutes
Unfortunately, what the majority of workers know about the miners’ strike they have received from the media. In this strike, as ever, the whores of Fleet Street have used their limited imaginative talents to defend the position of their bosses: attacks on individuals are the familiar substitute for analysis of the issues involved. On television we are bombarded with images of picket-line violence. But why did the violence start? And why need workers picket in the first place? In answer to these questions there is hardly a whisper. Of course, insofar as the reports of workers persecuting those who disagree with them are not false or exaggerated, socialists condemn unreservedly the anti-working class intimidation of fellow miners. No useful purpose will be achieved by imposing the will of one group on another; persuasion is the key to united strength. One thing is for sure: the media will not be made widely available to you to state your case and call for support from fellow workers. The so-called free press is no more than a propaganda tool of the exploiting class.

The issues at stake
The strike was called because of NCB plans to close down a number of pits and make thousands of miners unemployed. The extent of the proposed cuts has been a matter of contention between the NCB and the NUM but, even in the unlikely event that MacGregor is telling the truth, the result will be longer dole queues and the devastation of a number of old mining communities. It is in response to these facts that miners have gone on strike. The NUM, in accordance with its conference policy, is demanding that no pits be closed. In examining that demand, we need to know why the NCB had made its proposals.

Clearly, the intention to destroy large areas of the coal industry is not a result of what is popularly called Thatcherism. Neither is it a whim of Ian MacGregor’s. The object of production under the present social system – capitalism – is not primarily to create wealth, but to make profits. The government has decided that there is not enough money to be made by exploiting miners in the old way and that they need to trim your jobs and communities to fit in with the demands of the market. Remember: the government does not run capitalism; it is the economic laws of the system which force the government to dance to the market’s tune. In demanding that pits be kept open, even though the government does not regard them as profitable enough, the NUM is effectively demanding that capitalism be run for the benefit of the workers. Of course, society should be run for the wealth producers, but under capitalism that can never happen.

The state capitalist non-alternative
It used to be believed by many workers – including plenty of miners – that the way to make capitalism run in the workers’ interest would be to take the means of wealth production and distribution from the private capitalists and place them in the hands of the state. It was argued that the government would run the mines for the miners and not the ruling class. As long ago as 1912, when nationalisation of the mines was being advocated by certain reformists, the South Wales miners’ Unofficial Reform Committee pointed out that
 Nationalisation of the mines . . . simply makes a National Trust, with all the force of the Government behind it, whose one concern will be to see that the industry is run in such a way as to pay the interest on the bonds with which the coal-owners are paid out, and to extract as much more profit as possible in order to relieve the taxation of other landlords and capitalists.” (The Miners’ Next Step)
On that point the Unofficial Committee was quite right. Nationalisation has amounted to nothing more than state-run exploitation of miners. If workers are to learn one lesson from the strike it must be that nationalisation is no answer. Of course, there are those smooth-tongued Labour opportunists who claim that if only the state was controlled by a Labour government it would all be different. Have they forgotten that Labour did run the state when the firemen, the NUPE workers and the dockers were out on strike? Have they forgotten that it was the Wilson government which initiated The Plan For Coal, which was based entirely on the assumption that the coal industry must make a profit? Fellow worker, as a member of the NUM, you are paying part of your wage into a political fund to send Labour administrators of capitalism to parliament. Is it not time that all union support for this anti-working class party was ended?

The international struggle
As all trade unionists learn through struggle, unity is strength. But unity is not just achieved on a national basis – capitalism is a worldwide social order and workers of all lands have a common interest in joining together against the common foe. One of the reasons the NCB can sit back and smile is that they are importing cheap Polish coal. In fact, coal imports from Poland over the last three months were five times higher than for the same period in 1983. The bosses are trying to break the strike by using workers from another part of the world, and in the bargain are buying cheaper coal because Polish miners receive lower wages.

Scargill has appealed to Jaruzelski, the unelected leader of the Polish police state, to stop coal imports to Britain. Jaruzelski, who needs the money to pay off Poland’s huge bank debts, has ignored Scargill’s plea. But why is Scargill appealing to the head of a state-capitalist dictatorship in the first place? Because the workers there have no independent unions to support the British miners’ struggle. When the Polish miners were organised in their own union, Solidarity, Scargill’s comment (published in the WRP’s newspaper, Newsline) was that they should stay in the government-controlled Unions. So, Solidarity has been smashed, the Polish workers are effectively non-unionised, the price of Polish miners’ labour-power is cheap and British coal importers are rubbing their greedy little hands.

The view that there is communism or socialism in Poland, Russia or any other nation must be rejected. Instead of workers in the so-called socialist countries fitting in with the needs of their state bosses, the struggle of workers must be international. Real unity means that if workers in Britain come out on strike we can bring with us the effective support of workers around the world. There can be no room for nationalist notions, including the policy of import controls, if we are to fight and win against the international ruling class.

The power of democracy
How dare the unelected editors of Fleet Street preach to the miners about democracy. And as for the NCB: who elected MacGregor to receive his fat salary for doing the dirty work of the profit system? A fact which is undeniable is that the vast majority of miners have supported the strike. As was mentioned in the Socialist Standard two months ago, we do not notice the media or the government insisting that, in the interests of democracy, all union members be balloted before a strike ends. Nonetheless, a combination of workers is only as strong as the understanding and commitment of those involved. Leaving the decisions to leaders – even to apparently militant ones – is no substitute for the democratic involvement by all members in all important union decisions. As the Unofficial Committee realised in 1912, leadership results in organisational weakness:
 Sheep cannot be said to have solidarity. In obedience to a shepherd, they will go up or down, backwards or forwards as they are driven by him and his dog. But they have no solidarity, for that means unity and loyalty. Unity and loyalty, not to an individual, or the policy of an individual, but to an interest and a policy which is understood and worked for by all. (The Miners’ Next Step)
Conscious unity — let the bosses try to defeat that!

Fair-deal capitalism
What are the miners asking for? Insofar as the trade union fight is for wage defence, better working conditions, higher redundancy payments and keeping as many jobs as possible, hard negotiation backed up by democratic, militant trade unionism can achieve results. But let’s not kid ourselves –even if the NUM achieves what it seeks, the result will only have held back the capitalist butchery, not defeated the butchers. According to the SWP leaflet, Why You Should Support The Miners, “The first reason why we should support the miners is that they are fighting for jobs”. And what is a job, fellow worker, but wage slavery? Fighting to be exploited – to be dependent on a wage at the end of the week – having to sell your labour-power to the highest parasitical bidder. Is that really the most that workers can ask for?

Karl Marx – who gets an even worse write-up in the Daily Express than Arthur Scargill and therefore must be talking some sense – recognised that trade union action was necessary, but that it would not make capitalism a fit system in which I live. As he put it:
 Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system. (Value, Price and Profit)
As Marxists, we fight not for jobs but for emancipation from a system which turns useful work into wage slavery.

There will never be fair-deal capitalism. Workers can fight strikes from now until Prince William gets a job and there will still be a class-divided society, with the wealth-producing majority living in an economically inferior condition. Kinnock , if elected, would be no better than Thatcher, and Scargill’s rhetoric will, in the end do no more to shake the system than did Gormley’s in 1974. The fact to face up to is that there is a bigger battle to be won.

Capitalism the enemy
Your real enemy is the present system, which produces commodities to sell on the market with a view to profit. Have you ever sat down and thought about what sort of a society it is in which thousands of old workers face the prospect of dying from hypothermia next winter because they cannot afford to buy fuel? Last winter and the winter before that tens of thousand of workers perished in the cold; the market could not see them because it is blind to those without the money to attract its attention. It is sickening, is it not, that economic experts are worrying about how to cut coal production while members our own class are too poor to switch heater?

Capitalism, with its hideous contradiction of mass poverty amid the potential for plenty, is your real enemy. It persecutes you at every level, advertising itself as a world of plenty and then rewarding the wealth producers with deprivation. For too long workers have suffered under this rotten set-up, when the means are at hand to create a society of production for need in which we can all give according to in abilities and take according to our self-determined needs.

What can you do?
Socialism is more than simply a great idea; it is an obtainable alternative to the chaos of the system which puts profit before use. So, what can you do about achieving it? Well, you’ve made a start by reading this letter. If you like what it says, why not pass it on to your friends, workmates and relatives? If you agree with the socialist outlook, so might they. If you want to know more, go along to your local branch and discuss the case for socialism. The Socialist Party is very active throughout the country and we can assure you of a warm reception. If you want more socialist literature, please contact our Head Office.

At the time of writing it is not certain how the miners’ strike will end. Of one thing you and all other workers can be sure: when capital and wage labour are in open conflict, the Socialist Party takes the side of the robbed against the robbers. For it is only through the conscious solidarity of workers, that the system of legalised robbery will be compelled to make way for the reign of united humanity.
Steve Coleman