Friday, September 20, 2019

50 Years Ago: Beeching’s Cuts (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The axe man cometh.
This year’s report from the British Transport Commission indicated where the proposed cuts in rail services are likely to fall.

The Newport to Brecon line, for instance, in South Wales. Here, said Transport Minister Marples, a statistical half-man is being carried for one hundred and seven miles by a 160 ton train — about equal to a five-ton crane lifting a bottle of beer.

“It would pay us,” he said, “to give that man a car and close the line.”

That is the yardstick which the Beeching inquiry has had to use. Not: Is it useful? but: Does it pay? Some of the Commission’s undertakings can answer yes to this question. London Transport pays. British Road Services and the docks have increased their receipts.

Only the railways — and only some parts of them at that — fail utterly to conform to capitalism’s law of existence: Does it pay?

Mr. Marples is not alone in his recognition of this law. Labour Party spokesman George Strauss said, when the House of Commons were debating the Transport Commission’s report, that the railway losses gave people the impression that what he called “publicly owned” transport was a failure.

Mr. Strauss has his definition of a failure, and of a success. The report showed, he said, that the reverse was true because all the services except the railways and the inland waterways had made a profit.

Both Tories and Labour are united in the opinion that to succeed nationalised industry must make a profit. Which means they agree that basically nationalised industries are as much a part of capitalism’s economy as any private industry is.

One fact seems to have escaped notice. Removing the rail services from many parts of the country means that those areas are being left to depend upon road transport. This means that the government are virtually creating transport monopolies all over the country.

This is hardly consistent with the Conservative doctrine of what they like to call “healthy” competition. But really capitalism is impatient of all doctrine — except one.

Does it pay?

(from The News in Review”, Socialist Standard, August 1962)

Science facts and science fiction (2012)

The Halo Halo! column from the August 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Several news stories compete for our attention this month. The Higgs boson discovery, the revelation by religious scholars in Louisiana that the Loch Ness Monster is real and therefore proof that the Theory of Evolution is wrong (The Herald, Scotland, 24 June) and, of course, the BIG story: the marriage break-up of world famous Scientologist, Tom Cruise.

Which to choose? It’s a toss-up between the Higgs boson and Tom Cruise. (Unfortunately we can’t offer marriage guidance on this column, so we’ll have to stick to the Scientology aspect of the story.)

Can these phenomenal stories be explained in simply? Our thanks are due to the Guardian’s G2 ‘Shortcuts’ column for the following: “The Higgs Boson is an elementary scalar particle first posited in 1962, as a potential by-product of the mechanism by which a hypothetical, ubiquitous quantum field – the so-called Higgs field – gives mass to elementary particles. More specifically, in the standard model of particle physics, the existence of the Higgs Boson explains how spontaneous breaking of electroweak symmetry takes place in nature”.

Got that? Good. That should get you through even the most challenging pub discussion on the subject. Now we can move on to the advanced stuff, the minefield of theology and metaphysics that must be overcome before attempting to understand Scientology (or Tom Cruise, for that matter).

First let explain why man is a spirit: “Ask someone to close their eyes and get a picture of a cat, and they will get a mental image picture of a cat. Ask them who is looking at the picture of the cat and they will respond ‘I am’. That which is looking at the cat is you, a spirit. One is a spirit, who has a mind and occupies a body. You are you in a body”.

All clear so far? Now here’s a quote attributed to sci-fi writer and founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard: “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, start a religion”. Yes, it’s all beginning to fall into place.

Having got that sorted we’re ready to consider Scientology’s theory of human origins. We’ve learnt from the born-again brigade that evolution is only a theory. But according to Scientology even the stuff about Adam and Eve and the talking serpent is a bit dubious too.

What really happened is that 75 million years ago an intergalactic ruler called Xenu herded the populations of 76 planets together, dropped them into volcanoes, and vaporised them with nuclear bombs. The souls of the victims were then forced to watch a 3D movie for 36 days which implanted all sorts of misleading data into their memories. We are descended from them.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but we only get 500 words in this column. It’s covered in great detail on the internet though.

It’s almost as bizarre as believing in a virgin birth, the raising of the dead and the turning of water into wine. You couldn’t make it up, could you? Unless you were a sci-fi writer. Who needs facts when you’ve got faith and unquestioning belief?

Socialism v. Imperialism. (1923)

From the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist view of the Empire? What attitude would a revolutionary administration assume towards the "subject races"? These questions are prompted by the perusal of a recently issued book by Noel Buxton and Conwil Evans, entitled “Oppressed Peoples and the League of Nations” (J. M. Dent & Sons, 6s.); and the following article is an attempt to answer them.

Imperialism, like a good many other things, charity included, begins at home. The exploitation of the workers of other lands and their political subjugation is the outcome of the system of slavery imposed upon the workers of the Imperialist countries themselves, by the capitalist ownership of the means of life. Empires to-day arise out of the necessity for our rulers to find ever new markets for the commodities produced by associated labour, and also fresh sources from which to draw increased supplies of raw material. The workers of this country forge the weapons and supply the rank and file of the forces by which the coloured races of India and Africa are induced to remain loyal to the British flag; while it is only their political support which places Imperialist parties in control of those forces.

With the development of a working class conscious of its own interest and its consequent assumption of political power, capitalist Empires will follow all other forms of exploitation to the limbo of forgotten things. In their place will arise an association of the workers of the world for the purpose of co-operating to satisfy their common needs and to establish the opportunity for the highest possible development of every human being, irrespective of race or sex.

The realisation of such a system implies, without a doubt, a lengthy process of self-education of the working class the world over. Even with the overthrow of capitalist authority in Europe and America, that process might be far from complete. But such an overthrow would enormously accelerate its pace. The emancipated workers of the West would be able to utilise all the technical and literary resources of their late masters in the task of spreading among the workers of the East the knowledge necessary to achieve the social mastery of the economic forces of the world. They would be driven to do so, not by any imaginary "humanitarian” or "philanthropic” motive, but by the same forces which had impelled them to emancipate themselves, their class interest. For the fullest satisfaction of human wants to-day the world is necessary. Therefore, Socialism cannot be otherwise than international.

The authors of the above-mentioned book are far from taking up the Socialist position. Their attitude may be gauged by statements such as the following: “The immediate application of ideals may not be possible even if a British Government inspired by good-will is placed in power. In all probability it will prove able to lay its plans for an efficient League of Nations, and for a general reform of tropical administration, but it cannot hold its hand until ‘capitalism’ has been abolished at home, much less abroad. The urgencies of the moment will occupy much of its energy” (p. 71). From the context and several other passages in the book, we are left to assume that the Labour Party is to supply the “government inspired by good-will,” while “ the urgencies of the moment ” would appear to consist chiefly of the “emancipation” of the Armenian peasants from the control of the Turks, and of the Koreans from that of the Japanese !

Details concerning the atrocities committed by these two Imperial powers occupy quite a considerable portion of the book, yet one looks in vain for any similarly frank attitude towards the methods adopted by British, American, and the late Russian administrations. Such incidents as that at Amritsar are very briefly referred to, while British policy in Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and India generally is whitewashed on the ground of the economic backwardness of the natives’ social order.

The nationalist movements in these various countries are criticised for their alleged extravagance of demands, yet the economic explanation of these movements is left as vague as that of Imperialism. Nowhere do the authors clearly put forward the simple fact that capitalist interests dominate in the political sphere. According to them, it is the “needs of the world” which impose limitations upon the “national right of independence,” while the nation in turn is regarded as a uniform entity, though they admit that the very “conception of nationality” eludes definition (p. 11). The class division in society is ignored.

As a remedy and preventive for the “too obvious evils of Imperialism” on the one hand, and the inconvenient “extremism” of Oriental Nationalists on the other hand, the authors advance the Mandation system of the League of Nations, with such reforms as would give greater direct power to the Council of the League. What appears to be lost sight of is the fact that no capitalist power can be obliged to “accept a mandate.” It will naturally do so only when its interests dictate such a step, and the methods of its administration will conform to those interests according to the conditions obtaining in the mandated territory. A case in point is Tanganyika Territory (late German East Africa), where the system remains practically unchanged except for the fact that British, instead of German, capital reaps its advantages.

The fullest development of the League of Nations, in accordance with the authors’ ideas, could only amount to the collective (and possibly more efficient) exploitation of the coloured workers by the larger capitalist groups. Inasmuch as competition would be restricted, the political power of these groups would be strengthened as against the rising bourgeoisie of the East, with a consequent throttling, to a further extent, of the ever-expanding forces of production. From this policy the workers of Europe and America have nothing to gain and everything to lose. The elimination of-competition among their capitalist masters means increased competition among the workers themselves. Their interests demand co-operation with the object of satisfying social needs rather than the production of luxury in idleness for a few.

If the Labour Party stands for the more efficient organisation of capitalist exploitation, nationally and internationally, that is one more argument in favour of our ceaseless opposition to that body. The above book simply provides additional evidence that this is the case. It is a good illustration of the extent to which “Liberal” capitalist principles are in the ascendant in the intellectual outlook of the up-to-date “Labour Leaders.” From first to last, working class interests are away in the background, effectually obscured by the shibboleths of Gladstonian “democracy.” In the view of the authors, it is the diplomats and not the workers who are the agents of “progress" (pp. 72,73).

To the Socialist the practical problem pressing for solution is not national or racial, but economic and social, cutting across all ethnical and geographical distinctions. The class struggle over the possession of the means of production and the products of labour is to us the supreme issue.

In opposition to all this distracting talk about this, that, or the other local “question,” what better answer can be given than that contained in the manifesto issued by the Socialist Party of this country on the outbreak of the Great War, in the September issue of this paper :—
  “Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow-workers of all lands the expression of our good-will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalist and the triumph of Socialism.”
Eric Boden

Rent and Houses. (1923)

From the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

House and tenement owners in Scotland are squealing because the Government, which represents property owners generally, have not taken steps to save them from the results of their own ignorance and neglect. According to the Rent Act passed by the late Government, house owners should give notice to vacate premises when increasing rent. Many of them did not do so, hence numerous summonses for return of rent illegally charged, and a withholding of rent until the debt is paid off.

The Government is on the horns of a dilemma because relief has been promised to the owners, which shall be made retrospective. To break such a promise would, of course, be beneath the dignity of the "Mother of Parliaments”; while to make the tenants pay up would constitute a precedent and look too much like class legislation.. But a virtue can be made of necessity. The Government could subsidise the owners or tell them to pocket their losses. Whichever course they take, the claim will be made that it was the tenants who were considered, because they were poor workers who could not afford to pay.

Obviously, while the Act is in force, it is up to those who own houses to observe it. If they neglect to do so, with all the advantages on their side of better acquaintance with legal forms, they should submit to the penalty without squealing.

Of course, all sorts of unpleasant results are predicted if the no-rent strike is persisted in. One is that house building will cease because no-one will build unless rents are assured.

High rents and shortage of houses are undoubtedly a real hardship for the workers. Though it is nothing new for them to be herded in jerry-built drums with little or no convenience. Hutches that let in the wind, wet, and fog, but keep out the sunlight. Back-to-back tenements and flats, damp cellars and ramshackle attics are quite commonplace as "Englishmen’s homes.” There is nothing new in the fact that families of eight or ten live in a single room and take in lodgers. Pre-war newspapers often cited such instances. Why the outcry ?

The two things, shortage of houses and high rents, generally coincide. Given the first, the second follows. The capitalists who are interested in the production of any commodity always prefer to see the supply short of the demand, because it enables them to raise prices. The commodity in the present case is the use of a house for a period of weeks or months. The house owner realises his cost of production by drawing rents while the house remains habitable. He sells, and the tenant buys house accommodation or shelter, on the same basis and according to the same laws that govern the buying and selling of other commodities. Supply and demand are responsible for fluctuations in rent, while cost of production is the main level between the two extremes. When rents fluctuate upwards, either the workers must have increased wages to enable them to pay, or they must go short of other necessaries. Removals by night are far less common when there is a real shortage of houses, and private landlords as well as local councils invariably give preference to tenants who have a regular job with well-established firms, where they can be got at if pressure to pay becomes necessary.

The two alternatives before the wage workers are, therefore, to pay the landlord and go short of other necessaries, or struggle for a higher wage. But this is as much the concern of capitalists generally as it is of the workers. If capitalists require a certain standard of efficiency in their wage-slaves, the latter must be fed and clothed up to that standard. The whole question, consequently, resolves itself into a tug-of-war between one section of the capitalist class and all the rest, the workers’ standard of living taking the strain. At the moment the housing interests have the pull.

This explains somewhat the deep concern of writers in the capitalist Press about the shortage of houses and high rents. Until rents are reduced, capitalists generally cannot enforce the wage reductions they so earnestly desire without seriously impairing the efficiency of their wage-slaves. The agitation is on a par with the Free Trade movement of Cobden and Bright. The free importation of foreign corn was immediately followed by wholesale reductions in wages, because the workers could live more cheaply.

The capitalist system never did and never can insure to the bulk of the workers decent and convenient houses in which to live without overcrowding. The "council houses" are no better and no cheaper than those of the jerry-builder. House owners to-day know quite well that overcrowding suits their pockets far better than overbuilding, hence the demand that house building shall be left to private enterprise.

What is wrong is capitalism: private or class ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution for profit. The workers do not live on profits; why, then, should they produce for profits? They should organise politically for control of the State machinery in order to establish a system of society based on production for use. Under such a system, where the people controlled production and distribution through democratic administrations set up by themselves, houses would be built when and where they were needed. The wants of the people would determine the nature and extent of all production instead of, as to-day, the profits of a ruling class.
F. Foan

Letter: Commodities and Quids. (1923)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrade,

Regarding your reply to Mr. Archer, you say definitely that a sovereign is not a commodity, and you give as your reason that it can only act as currency inside the country of issue. Does that mean that a product of labour has to act as currency before it becomes a commodity, and if not, where does it fall short of being a commodity? In other words, could you clearly explain to me how to distinguish a commodity from other things?
W. W.

Answer to W. W.
A commodity is an article, or service, that is produced for the purpose of exchange or sale. Under modern conditions that means produced for the purpose of realising profit through a sale.

A product of labour falls short of being a commodity when it is produced for the producer’s personal use and not for exchange or sale. Whether a product of labour reaches the position of currency or not has no bearing on this question. Of the thousands of commodities produced today, only one acts as currency.

With the changes and developments of society, the currencies in use change their forms, and, often, some of their characteristics. In the early stages a commodity in general use may act as currency, while still remaining an ordinary commodity. Later, when the exchanges have grown far more numerous and complicated, a particular commodity is set aside to act specially as currency and will receive some social stamp or mark, to guarantee its genuineness. When it has reached this position, and only then, it ceases to be a commodity, as it is no longer produced for profit, but as an official instrument set apart for currency purposes.
Jack Fitzgerald