Saturday, September 28, 2019

Running Commentary: Moore or less? (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Moore or less?
Connoisseurs of the repellent in politicians will find much to absorb them in the career of the Right Honourable John Moore MP. Promoted after the last election to take charge of the Department of what is quaintly called Health and Social Security, Moore was soon marked down — or should it be up? — as a Rising Star.

Apart from the fact that he is a wealthy man, he combined good looks with a huge appetite for work, physical fitness and the most arid of Thatcherite policies. Basking in a bond of mutual admiration with the Prime Minister, Moore began to look like a future occupant of Number Ten himself and the political scribes raked through their stock of oleaginous adjectives to describe him, coming up with words like dashing, dynamic, ambitious . . . It would be most churlish of anyone, not to be grateful that so vastly talented a man should give himself to cherishing our health and welfare.

But things did not go as expected and now words like "lack-lustre", "feeble" or "indecisive" are more likely to be attached to him. This comes about partly through the gathering crisis in the National Health Service, highlighted by accounts of desperately sick babies having to wait for life-saving operations, of nurses at the end of their badly paid, hardworked tether and a procession of eminent doctors to Moore's office to demand that more money be allocated to the NHS.

Moore's response to this pressure — the current Tory orthodoxy — is that the government's policies are steadily building a strong economy, which is the best safeguard of an even higher investment in health care. Beside the pictures of those babies and those nurses, this came across as dogmatic, evasive and uncaring of anything other than the balance sheets. In any event he put the case ineptly; suddenly Moore is seen as a sickening political liability rather than the flavour of the month.

John Moore MP
He could expect little sympathy among his own party. His apparent position of Thatcher's blue-eyed boy, and the media nonsense about him. served to unite the competing ambitions of other leading Tories into one to undo him. There have been whispers about the fragility of his loyalty to Thatcherite policies — that he was a precinct captain for the Democratic Party during his time in America and once an ardent follower of the dreaded Ted Heath. His recent illness called into question his physical ability to cope with high office. The skids, in other words, have been placed under the once inexorable upward march of John Moore.

It all makes a diverting little story of the horrors of capitalist politics — not a profession for the squeamish. But however ruthlessly they compete against each other all politicians are agreed that the social system should continue and that they should employ themselves in trying to persuade us of this. Moore's job, as far as this goes, is to tell us that we must accept inferior health care in the "national interest". At present, this is an assignment too tricky for him. If, as so many of his colleagues hope, Thatcher decides he is not up to it, there will be no real change — someone else, similarly ambitious, similarly cynical, will take his place to try to convince the workers to carry on denying and betraying their own interests.


Heroic neurosis
If you think that men are naturally aggressive and that wars are fought, not to protect or enlarge capitalist interests but as an outlet for this "natural" aggression, a Dr Wilson has got news for you.

He is an army psychiatrist and does not agree with you (BBC Today programme, 20 January). His job is to alleviate psychoses and nervous breakdowns of soldiers who have been in battle.

Things have improved, he says, since World War I, when men returning — or running away — from battle, shaking and crying in shell shock, were branded cowards and deserters, dismissed the service with ignominy in the first case and shot in the latter. Nowadays he and his colleagues are employed to recondition and return them to service (which, of course, makes much more economical sense to those who employ them).

Everyone who goes into battle suffers, he says. Battle is the most terrible experience; it is the worst thing that can happen to anyone (not the most exciting adventure, as some would have us think. We all remember the advertisements "The Army Will Make a Man of You"). Men who have seen their mates blown to pieces don't go back to fight for causes but to avenge the dead and injured or because they see it as the only way to prevent the same fate befalling them. If you can't get them back for that, you'll never get them back.

So much for "natural aggression". Of course modem long-range conventional and nuclear weapons overcome this problem for those in whose interests wars are fought. Death at a distance — whether in battle or by starvation — does not have the same impact, even when shown on television. In those circumstances Dr Wilson could return to his earlier task of trying to recondition the civilian casualties of the system.


Get moving
How many people noticed that recently we went through seven days called National Motivation Week? National what? you may ask. Well it might have been better known as Behave Yourself and Get On In the World Week; its Director (the source of whose authority must be something of a mystery) expressed the essence of what the week hoped to achieve with the insightful assurance that "Inside many yobs is a yuppie trying to get out”.

So it was all a matter of a concentrated effort to rid society of the yob — which, as we all know, is a threat with which civilised life is at present confronted. Yobs are non-motivated; they are non-responders, non-achievers. Aimless cynicism is their distinguishing trait; they doubt their ability ever to improve their lives so they give up trying and divert their energies into loutish, disruptive behaviour.

National Motivation Week aimed to rescue these poor people from their yobdom and turn them from morally impoverished failures into yuppies, who are not aimless, who respond to the morality that people are esteemed according to how rich they are and whose motivation is as conspicuous as a Porsche on a council estate. Yuppies, in other words, are supreme examples of the benefits of motivation.

We are familiar now with campaigns which aim to concentrate reformative effort onto some problem during a defined period. We remember World Refugee Year, which ended with more refugees in the world than it began with; Children's Year, which did not stop children being abused, beaten and killed by their families; 1987 was Shelter for the Homeless Year, which could be bad news for anyone without a home.

But what if National Motivation Week, spearheaded by its dynamic if shadowy director, manages to do better? What if all the yobs and under-achievers are suddenly uplifted into starry-eyed, thrusting yuppies? Apart from those who may feel that as a cure this may turn out worse than the disease, we will see the end of one misled and distorted view of capitalism and its frustrations only to have it replaced with another, just as baseless and futile.

In spite of all the obstacles which capitalism places in the way, human beings are constantly giving evidence of their motivation to care for and co-operate with each other. These drives are misdirected and often stifled by a social system whose basis takes no account of human interests. Yobs and yuppies — and all the other caricatured derelicts of capitalist morality — are just people who have yet to understand their social origins.

What prognosis for the health service? (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a society where goods are produced solely for profit, the fact that social needs are subordinate to the demands of profitability can be demonstrated quite simply by the fact that coal mines are closed, the elderly die of cold each winter; food production is curtailed despite widespread starvation in "underdeveloped" countries and malnutrition among the poor in "developed" countries; houses stand empty and building workers are unemployed while people are homeless or live in substandard dwellings.

Services are provided, at a price, to ensure a profit, or are state-funded to facilitate profitability or avoid social disorder (which also affects profitability). It was in this spirit that the Public Health Acts of the last century were passed to eradicate the cholera epidemics, which threatened rich and poor alike, and to combat Chartism and civil disorder. The National Health Service of 1948 was formed in accordance with these same economic rules; the workers' health needed to be conserved because of a shortage of labour and the social unrest of the 1930s had to be averted in the post-war reconstruction of industry.

In recent years capitalism has undergone one of its periodic slumps and state-funded services have been reduced as profitability has been adversely affected. And, in terms of profitability, it is unnecessary and uneconomical to conserve workers' health when there is a reserve army of over three million unemployed.

Concern about the National Health Service and industrial unrest among nurses has reached unprecedented levels. A national survey carried out by the Association of Community Health Councils of England and Wales showed that 50 per cent of health authorities are cutting services to patients by closing beds, wards or specialist units and that: "Parts of the NHS are on the brink of collapse and will fall apart this year unless immediate action is taken" (Guardian, 4 January. 1988). A study by the Incomes Data Services stated that nurses receive the worst compensation in British industry for working a continuous three-shift system and that "A flood of nurses may leave the health service because of proposals by the Government to alter their pay structure" (ibid.).

These reports are to some extent confirmed by the strike of 38 night nurses at North Manchester General Hospital on the 7 January 1988 and the news, a few days later, that the Manchester Royal Infirmary is on the verge of bankruptcy unless more funds are provided in the near future to offset debts incurred by the cuts in their income for the current financial year. In the short term, over 140 redundancies have taken place in a desperate attempt to balance the books.

The Manchester nurses' decision to strike was provoked by the government's intention to reduce the extra pay for night and weekend work and, at the same time, alter nurses' working hours, making the shifts more unpleasant, to provide greater flexibility and economy of labour at the expense of nurses' wages and free time. Enhanced rates for nurses working nights and weekends have been paid only since the mid-1960s and took several years to reach the level of time and one-third for Saturday and night work and time and two-thirds for Sundays and bank holidays. As poor as these rates are, compared with industry, they have been pegged at the 1984 level of pay for trained nurses and. consequently, have lagged behind still further. It is not surprising that the British Medical Journal stated that one in five qualified nurses do one or more extra jobs to supplement their low pay.

It is in keeping with the government's plan to run the health service as cheaply as possible that general managers have been bribed with the offer of bigger bonuses if they can make further savings in the budget of their district health authorities. Further redundancies; closures of more beds and specialist units; the extension of "flexible" hours of working for health service staff will be attempted as the general managers boost their earnings at the expense of their fellow workers and turn a blind eye to the distress of patients as waiting lists for hospital treatment increase.

Although increased productivity and harder work are almost tenets of faith of capitalist government, pay cuts and redundancies are the rewards for an increased patient turnover of nearly forty per cent in the last two years in many British hospitals. To add to the problems of providing an adequate health service there is a shortage of school-leavers which has led to a fall in the number of nurses starting their training. The last time there was a shortage was in the 1950s when Enoch Powell. Minister of Health at that time, launched a recruitment drive in the West Indies and saved the National Health Service from collapse by the exploitation of black, female labour. The ready availability of recruits from the West Indies throughout the 1950s and 1960s also managed to suppress the level of nurses' pay. But Britain's immigration laws have stopped the supply of labour from the Caribbean to help this time.

Up to a point, the present shortage of trainee nurses will not disturb the government as much as it did in the 1950s because the health service is contracting in response to the recession and some ward closures can be blamed on the difficulty of recruitment. But the situation is quite serious — the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital has closed wards recently because of a shortage of trainee nurses (Manchester Evening News, 8 January, 1988) — and the government knows that closing children's wards causes emotions to run high, which can pose problems at election times.

The difficulty of recruiting nurses in London because of the high rents and prohibitive house prices has forced the government to abandon the sale of nurses' homes in the capital and consider providing £20 million to improve nurses' accommodation in the Oxfordshire and Metropolitan regions (Independent, 22 August. 1987). And the Manchester strike forced the government to abandon cutting the rates for nurses' night and weekend work, although the attempt to alter their working hours is still going ahead despite widespread opposition from the health service unions.

The increased turnover of patients and poorer laundering, catering and domestic services has led to increasing stress levels for staff; junior doctors work excessively long hours trying to cope with the rising numbers of admissions. The government's attempt to "privatise'' hospital laundering, catering and domestic services has led to a poorer quality of service due to cuts in the workforce and the use of more part-time, temporary staff. Even where hospital "in-house" tenders were sufficiently low to prevent these services being contracted out to private firms they were still at the expense of staff redundancies. Either way, fewer workers were expected to try to provide the same services as before.

Nurses are also manipulated in this way. Bank nurses, particularly the less expensive enrolled nurses, are employed to cover shortages of staff due to sickness. Thus a trained nurse may languish at home for a week or two and then be asked to work a day or night shift at short notice. These nurses receive no holiday or sick pay and demonstrate how "flexible" labour is merely an euphemism for further exploitation.

As much as the National Health Service is unnecessary from capital's viewpoint in a recession — and John Moore. Secretary of State for Social Services is trying to get a Bill through Parliament to allow hospitals to make a profit, to shift the burden for health care back to the individual — it is also recognised that health services provide a safety valve by "patching-up" the problems created by poverty, poor housing, pollution and stressful, alienating work.

It is unlikely that nurses will leave in the large numbers predicted by Incomes Data Services because there are few alternative jobs to go to. And although the private health sector is expanding it cannot provide employment for all the nurses currently employed by the National Health Service. Even the emigration of nurses has slowed because of contracting health services abroad.

Although there will be further cuts in health provision with an extension of charges for prescriptions, dentistry and other treatments, the government realises that it cannot afford the unpopularity of dismantling the National Health Service with the risk of a return to the political unrest seen in the 1930s. But above all it cannot risk people questioning what makes them ill; for if the workers realise that they suffer from unnecessary illness and early deaths because capitalism makes them poor, and that it is preventable, then they might want more than a reformed health service.
Carl Pinel

Danger: capitalism at work (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Conservatives were the first government to act on the issue although the dangers had been known for 15 to 20 years" declared Francis Maude, Minister of Consumer Affairs, in the House of Commons on 13 January. He was referring to the government's intention to bring in legislation to ban inflammable foam furniture from the beginning of March 1989. In trying to score a point off his Labour critics the Minister avoided having to answer the real question: if the dangers had been known for 15 to 20 years, why wasn't anything done before?

The short answer is: because we are living in a capitalist society where furniture, like everything else, is not produced for use but for sale on a market with a view to profit. If satisfying the need for it was the sole reason furniture was produced, then the problem of having to ban the use of inflammable foam or any other dangerous material in its manufacture just wouldn't arise. Only furniture that was comfortable, solid and safe would be produced. But under capitalism the main reason furniture is produced is not to satisfy needs but to make a profit. Of course what is produced has to have some minimum use, otherwise it would not sell, but safety is a secondary consideration especially if catering for it will increase the cost of production.

Profit is the goal of production under capitalism. It is why production is undertaken and is what every firm, whether private or state-owned, must seek to obtain. Profits are created in the process of production in the form of surplus value and represent the unpaid labour of the producers, the value of what they produce over and above what they are paid as wages. Profits, however, are realised — converted into money (the form in which they really are profits) only on the market when the products in which they are embodied are sold.

All firms are therefore engaged in a competitive struggle to sell their products, precisely in order to realise the profits that are embodied in them. To succeed in this struggle they must be competitive in the sense that their production costs must be low enough to allow them to sell their wares at the going price and at the same time make enough profits to be able to invest in more up-to-date cost-reducing equipment. Competition can oblige all firms to run fast just to stay still. To remain in the race for profits, firms must stay competitive and to stay competitive they must continually increase productivity; to increase productivity they must make profits and accumulate them as capital invested in new. more productive equipment.

The furniture industry is no exception to this rule but. as an industry producing overwhelmingly for sale to wage and salary earners, it has an interest in keeping its prices low, not just through increased productivity but also through keeping the quality low too. The consumption of wage and salary earners is limited by the size of their wage packet or their salary cheque, so they are under constant financial pressure to go for the lowest-priced furniture on sale. This means that when there are two pieces of furniture on offer it will be the one with the lowest absolute price rather than the one with the lowest price-quality ratio that will tend to sell the best. In other words, the furniture industry is one of those industries that can make more profits by selling a large amount of low quality, low-priced goods than by selling a small amount of higher quality, higher-priced goods.

It is clear that in this situation, arising out of the competitive nature of capitalism combined with the restricted incomes it imposes on wage-earners, if no controls exist then furniture manufacturers will use the cheapest material in the manufacture of their goods even if this material is dangerous to the user. This is not contested by people in the trade; indeed, it is taken for granted, as can be seen from recent comments by them in the press.

A safer foam material has been available for some time but has not been used in all furniture because it is more expensive than the dangerous foam. The marketing manager of Dunlopillo, a firm that can produce the safer type of foam, was quoted as saying: . . .
  the [furniture] manufacturers are in a cut-throat business. They won't ask for more expensive foam unless they have to (Independent, 6 January 1988).
A similar view was expressed the next day by the merchandising director of Harris Queenway, the furniture retailers:
  We are in a commercial world. I still have my doubts whether the public will buy the safer furniture. They seem more affected by price and comfort (Independent, 7 January 1988).
After March 1989, if the government's legislation goes through, only the safer furniture will be available in shops. Before supporters of capitalism cite this as an example of how conditions under capitalism can be improved by reforms, they ought to reflect on the fact that, on the minister's own admission, nearly 20 years went by between the discovery of the danger and the banning of the incriminated material. In the intervening period hundreds of people have died unnecessarily, including the 12 over Christmas — without whose deaths ministers would have gone on giving for even more years the same reason for doing nothing as that given by one of their predecessors in 1980: "Alternative fillings would lead to soaring costs in the production of furniture”.

Even if some legislation to protect people's safety and health is eventually enacted, the long delay in reaching this stage is in itself proof of the inherently anti-social nature of capitalism in which it is normal that profits should come before safety. What has happened in the case of dangerous foam in furniture is the general rule every time that some issue concerning people's health or safety arises under capitalism. Two members of the Green Alliance environmental lobby group give us another recent example:
  In 1976. the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended changes in our air pollution regulations. Six years later, the Government agreed to consider these recommendations. After a further four years it published a consultation paper. Shortly after the election, however, it announced that there was no parliamentary time for legislation (Independent, 13 January 1988).
Legislation will no doubt eventually be passed, perhaps in time for a minister to declare "our party was the first to act on this issue although the measure to protect people's health had been recommended for 15 to 20 years".

Its exactly the same story with regard to water pollution. In 1975 the EEC Commission proposed a Common Market framework directive "on the quality of water intended for human consumption". Five years later, in 1980, the EEC Council of Ministers adopted the directive, giving Member-States two years (to 1982) to incorporate it into their national legislation and a further three years (to 1985) for the higher standards to be applied. The directive, however, also allowed for exceptions and for a longer time-limit for compliance if justified. The higher standards, which in any event represent only the minimum that scientists consider should be done to reduce the danger to health, have still not been applied in Britain. The British government has in fact invoked one of the exception clauses to request a delay in implementation until 1989.

Among the substances whose presence in water is to be controlled are nitrates. These chemical substances have been linked to stomach cancer and to the “blue baby" syndrome. They get into drinking water through some of the artificial fertilisers farmers spread on their land to increase yields — to be able to stay in the race for profits — being leached off by rain into water supplies. The problem is particularly acute in East Anglia. The National Farmers' Union are demanding compensation for the "loss of competitivity" that will result if restrictions are imposed on their use of nitrate fertilisers.

That water supplies have been polluted by artificial fertilisers has been known for many years but nothing much has been done about it until now because, as the NFU rightly points out, to do so would have reduced the competitive power of farming firms which, like all other firms, are in business to make profits rather than to supply useful things. This is a classic example of the environment being polluted as a consequence of the competitive struggle for profits.

Another dangerous farming practice has been the use of anabolic steroids to fatten up cattle for sale. These stay in the meat and are still there when it is eaten by humans, and so get passed on to us. As a result of a scandal a few years ago, a ban on the use of these hormones for this purpose was adopted and came into force in Common Market countries on 1 January 1988. Once again complaints about loss of profits have been made, revealing why they were employed in the first place. Michael Leathes, secretary-general of Fedesa, described by the Times (24 December 1987) as "an animal health association funded by the European animal drug manufacturers", stated:
  The ban will result in the loss of about 10 per cent extra bulk in an animal that a farmer would expect from using previously legitimate implant steroids — that effectively kills his profit.
Some of those involved in the administration of capitalism are very well aware of the limitations that the operation of its economic laws impose on what can be done to reduce the danger to health and to the environment resulting from current farming practices. Consider the following statement by James Kerr, Head of the Farm and Countryside Service to the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture:
  While it is right and proper that environmental considerations should be given much more attention than in the past, it must be not be forgotten that farmers are in the business of producing food and unless they can do this efficiently they will not be able to compete in the marketplace and will go out of business. Such a situation is clearly not in the interests of either farming or conservation. Farmers must therefore continue to take advantage of new developments in technology to remain viable (Europe in Northern Ireland No 38. December 1987).
It is not that all new cost-reducing techniques are necessarily more anti-ecological than the techniques they replace but simply that the effect on people's health and on the environment is not the deciding factor in their adoption, as it would be if the aim of production was to provide for needs rather than to make profits.

It is true that in the end capitalism is forced to take some account of these considerations but only after the damage has been done — after some source of water has been polluted. after people have died or had their health damaged — and then only to the extent that the damage done raises production costs, either directly or through reducing the productive efficiency of wage-earners, to a level where it becomes less costly to take steps to reduce pollution than not to do so.

Too little, too late is neither a rational nor a satisfactory approach to protecting the environment and people's health and safety but it is the very most that the rigid economic laws of capitalism will ever permit.
Adam Buick

Whose Budget? (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every year, in the months before the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the Budget speech, the media engage in the popular game of guessing what changes in taxation will be made and giving advice about what the changes ought to be. The professional politicians concentrate on the second aspect: each one. according to party, telling us how, if the government adopts the right financial and taxation policy, the whole nation will benefit, the "right" policy being the one at present advocated by the Tories, the Labour Party or the Alliance. The detailed remedies are sharply divided. Increase income tax and the corporation tax on company profits, or reduce them? Increase government expenditure or cut it down? Get government revenue mainly from income tax or from VAT? Spend more on defence or on education and the health service? Go for more inflation and rising prices or less? The variety is endless.

There are a few things the three main parties have in common, as shown by their programmes at last year's general election. They all promise to reduce unemployment, to do something to help the poor and to get rid of class divisions in society. (The Alliance called their Programme Britain United). Over the size of government expenditure they divide into two camps: the Tories want to cut it down, while the Labour Party and the Alliance want it to be heavily increased, these two conflicting policies being their main remedy for unemployment. The two arguments go like this: The Tories say that if the government spends less and therefore raises less by taxation and borrowing, this leaves more for the public to spend, which creates more jobs. The other two parties say that if the government spends more this creates jobs and reduces unemployment. The Alliance programme put it:
  We will give more spending power to the poorest people in our society, which will itself generate more economic activity.
Both arguments are nonsense. Transferring "spending power" from the government to the public or from the public to the government does not increase the total and does not generate anything. In the years of rising unemployment from 1979 government expenditure not only went up sharply every year but represented also a higher proportion of total national income. Another test is to look at what happened when government expenditure was consistently lower than it is today. Measured against total national income, pre-1914 governments spent less than a fifth of the amount now being spent. But that low expenditure no more prevented the Great Depression, with its heavy unemployment, which lasted for 20 years from 1875 to 1895, than did high expenditure prevent the depression which began in 1979.

We don't now hear of inflation itself being advocated as a cure for unemployment but that was Labour Party policy in the 1930s and as late as 1982 a member of the TUC General Council, Clive Jenkins, was advocating inflation “to create millions of jobs " (Financial Times 27 October 1982). Inflation should not, he said, exceed a rate of 14-15 per cent a year. Events gave him his answer: between 1978 and 1981 the inflation rate averaged 14¼ per cent a year and unemployment went up from 1,383,000 to 2,520,000. The following year it went up to well over three million.

Most workers are convinced that they have a vital interest in the Budget because it can raise or lower income tax (PAYE), and affect the price level. They believe that they would be better off if PAYE was reduced and if prices did not rise. Of course at the moment the changes take place, but in the long run the workers' standard of living does not depend on whether PAYE or prices are high or low; it depends on whether capitalism is expanding or in depression and on the effectiveness of trade union organisation. The question of wages and tax was dealt with by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations (1776). If, in given market conditions, an employer can get the workers needed only by paying them £200 a week, a tax on wages has to be paid by the employer because, in these market conditions, it is still necessary to offer take-home pay of £200 a week. In the 19th century governments accepted that conclusion and income tax was not levied on wages.

After the introduction of PAYE the amount deducted from wages has been consistently high, for many workers 25 per cent or more but the average purchasing power of workers' take-home pay is higher now than it was before PAYE and, with some short-term setbacks, has continued to rise in spite of a massive increase in prices. It has continued to rise since production began to expend again in 1981 and is now about 15 per cent higher in real terms than it was in 1979. In spite of heavy unemployment employers have only been able to get the kind of skills they need by paying more for them.

The generally accepted view is that a direct tax like income tax cannot be "passed on", but some economists take the view that corporation tax on company profits costs the companies nothing because they can get it back by charging higher prices. William Keegan, economics editor of the Observer recently wrote (24 January 1988): "He [the Chancellor] belongs to the school of thought that, in the end, it is the consumer who foots the corporate tax bill". This is a curious belief. If true, why do companies and the Confederation of British Industry keep urging the Chancellor to reduce the tax? Broadly speaking companies sell their products at what the market will bear. They cannot, at will, ignore market conditions and charge more than the market will bear if corporation tax goes up.

What the Budget contains is the outcome of conflict between different sections of the capitalist class, each trying to unload on to other sections the inescapable costs of government. Hence the representations made to the Chancellor before the Budget giving the reasons why he should reduce, or at any rate not increase, the amount levied on the group making the representations. Last year the brewers and distillers got their way and duty on alcoholic drinks was not increased. The tobacco trade, in spite of their argument that they were being "ruined" by cheap imports and high duties, had to put up with another increase.

Coming back to wages it is instructive to see what happened in the latter part of the 19th century. Having been weak and quite ineffective the trade unions grew rapidly in membership and organisation. The study made by Professor Bowley and G.H. Wood of wages and prices showed that between 1870 and 1900 average real earnings of the workers, after discounting price changes, rose by over 70 per cent (the table was reproduced in An Introduction to the Study of Prices by Walter Layton). The organised workers had been able to get a share in increased productivity and also to cut into profits. Frederick Engels, who had watched this going on. noted in 1892 "the remarkable improvement of the conditions of the workers in the great trade unions".

Where do the three parties, Tory, Labour and Liberal, stand on the struggle of the unions to get higher wages? They all profess to approve of trade union organisation but. as governments, their chief concern is to maintain profits by preventing what they call "excessive" wage increases. Every government since 1945 has introduced some kind of "incomes policy" to keep wages down. Under the Labour government of 1945-51. the Chancellor, Stafford Cripps, laid down the principle that wages must not be increased because prices had gone up; the only justification for higher wages had to be increased productivity. Thirty years later, in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-9. the Callaghan Labour government tried to restrict wage increases to five per cent while prices were rising by 10 per cent. In their 1987 Election Programme the Alliance had a proposal to discourage employers agreeing to wage increases higher than the government wanted, by imposing a special tax on the profits of such employers.

The working class should disregard how the capitalists choose to frame their Budgets. They should look to their own organisations, remembering however that there is a limit to what the unions can do. As Marx pointed out. wages cannot rise to the level at which the employers cannot make a profit. He also called on the working class to solve their problems by establishing socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

A day out in Cheltenham (1988)

From the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

An active member of the largest trade union in the country, I was recently asked by a colleague if 1 would attend a march and rally in support of trade union rights at GCHQ Cheltenham. The event was on our doorstep and it would look bad if so large a trade union did not attend the event.

I agreed to go only to find, on the day itself, just three of us there to show the district banner. But even that was not to be — not because we were unwilling but because our District Secretary would not release the banner for the day in case it got dirty or damaged. So the banner remained decorating the wall of his office.

We arrived early for the demonstration. It was bitterly cold and raining. The meeting place was the Pump Room, a huge building set in a park. After buying coffee from the refreshment stall we decided that shelter was needed and that everyone present must be a bit mad to be milling around outside the Pump Room instead of inside. At one end of the building we found double doors with the notice General Council Members Only. So we went around to the other end of the building only to find the same notice. So we went in.

The TUC steward challenged us, then reluctantly agreed to our staying in the building since it was so cold outside. When we had stopped shivering we had a look around at the columns, arches, chandeliers, a decorated ceiling — and then we spotted the bar. We all immediately felt better for arriving early. However we were told that the bar was for providing free drinks for the General Council. Of course there was no need to worry about drinking and driving since they had luxury coach transportation. We left the building in disgust and braved the elements between the Pump Room and the nearest pub.

When we returned the march had just started. There were bands playing, hundreds of trade union banners and many thousands of dedicated trade unionists from all over the country. We spotted one of our banners from the largest union in the country and marched behind it. This district had gathered much more support — at least six people were present before we joined them.

We stayed with the march until it reached the town centre. By now, none of us were interested in attending the rally and listening to the hypocritical bleatings of the leader of the General Council of the TUC. So we sneaked off to a pub and then went home. For trade unionists it was not an inspiring day.
Mike Tavener

Letters: Life in Socialism (1988)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Life in socialism
This month, two interesting letters raise the same question of how socialist society will deal with violent individuals. We hope our reply covers the point in both letters, their other points are dealt with separately.
Dear Editors.

Whilst heavily in support of the aims of your party, I am concerned about the treatment of criminally disturbed persons in your envisaged society, whilst right in your condemnation of the media hype following the events in Hungerford in August 1987. I would like to know how the SPGB sees a Socialist society handling anti-social elements such as habitual drunk drivers or gun-wielding "madmen" without resorting to coercive organisations such as a Police or Militia. (I do realise that in a society of production according to need the pressure to drink to excess would be highly reduced.)

I would also like to raise the matter of professional competence, in a recent (November) issue you talk of an after-shave brewer deciding to grow bananas, are we to take it that the SPGB thinks that anyone could tackle any job in a Socialist society just because they think themselves equal to the task. e.g. engine driver or civil engineer say? I know that the current professional bodies exist to maximise the wages of their members, but I'm also glad to know that the chap who designed the Tay bridge knew what he was doing whenever I cross it.
Yours for Socialism.
Jonathan Drane 
Newcastle-upon-Tyne


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Dear Editors.

I subscribe to your excellent magazine and can find no fault with your arguments (as an ex-Green Party member I particularly enjoyed the "green" issue) but 1 do have three questions:
  1. On a number of occasions your magazine has expressed a belief in the non-existence of God. Is this the view of the Socialist Party or just of the individual writers? Are a belief in God and a belief in Socialism mutually exclusive?
  2. You say that Socialism is not possible in one country but must be worldwide. What if a country could be totally self-reliant? I realise that there would be limits on how high their standard of living could rise because of the limits on resources available in any one country but we have this problem at an international level so couldn't a self-reliant country become socialist?
  3. Would prisons exist in a socialist society? Of course theft would be a thing of the past but surely there would still be some men who wanted to rape, hurt children etc - surely you can't see capitalism as the only cause of bad behaviour? Yours faithfully.

Michael James
Stockton-on-Tees

Reply
First, our comments on the question of restraining violent people in socialism:
Capitalism is highly selective in its definition of people who are "anti-social" and "criminally disturbed”. If the Hungerford killer had sprayed his bullets indiscriminately among Argentinian soldiers in the Falklands he would have been a national hero. Yet the motivation, the state of mind and the preparation for such acts are often similar. Much "anti-social" behaviour now is really a desperate response to the demands which capitalism makes on us; in many cases it is healthier than a docile acceptance of the indignities of wage slavery. Many human beings can't cope with the repressed. exploited, deprived lives they are forced to lead. They rarely respond as catastrophically as at Hungerford; more typically they haunt their doctor's waiting room, or their local pub or, in extremity, roam the grounds of a mental hospital. Social society will be free of those pressures, which means that most of the "bad behaviour" which is now an everyday occurrence will not happen.

But what about the few who, after all this, will cause problems? How big a problem would this be? Today, only a very small percentage of the people in prison are there because they have committed crimes of violence and of these an even smaller proportion are a danger to the public. Socialist society would be such that even that small number would be even further reduced so that, if the problem was present, it would apply to very, very few people — those who could not be absorbed and coped with through the care of the community. Without doubt, those few would have to be restrained but society's interests would demand that they be treated as the sick people that they are and the places where they are held would reflect that. Unlike the police, the military, the prisons today, this would all happen through majority will, with society's full participation and concern.

On Jonathan Drane's point about professional competence:
The function of much "professionalism" is to surround the "profession" with a mystical defence to conceal the fact of the professionals' fallibility (not every example of civil engineering endures like the Tay bridge). This is an inevitable result of the fact that "professionals" just like everybody else need to sell their labour power to an employer and to the fact that they engage in the production of wealth and services which are for sale with a view to profit. Thus "professionalism" is often aimed at separating the “professional" from the people who experience the results of it — the people who might for this purpose be called consumers. None of this will apply in a socialist society, where production will be a harmonious, cooperative effort. Socialism will be a sane society; it will of course recognise that certain jobs demand special knowledge and experience but those who have that knowledge will not be privileged, apart from the rest.

On Michael James' questions about religion and socialism in one country:
Socialists do not believe in god or in any supernatural influences (neither, strictly, do we "believe in" socialism; we advocate a social system based on common ownership of the means of life because the evidence proves that this is the best way of running modern society). There is no evidence for the existence of god; the only logical and consistent explanation of the world and what happens in it must have a material basis. Socialists affirm that this life is the only one we know of and to preoccupy ourselves with some other existence, outside the known and the material, would divert us from the task of dealing with capitalism's problems by establishing a different system.

Socialism will develop out of modern capitalism; it can't come from any earlier social system. Modern capitalism's interlocked economy and communication means that no one part of it can be self-reliant. For example, what would a "socialist country" do about international travel and safety systems7 Would it refuse to take part in them? Would it refuse to take advantage of developments in productive techniques or medical science in the capitalist part of the world? If not. how could it preserve its socialist nature when dealing with capitalism? Socialism will be a matter, not of just self-sufficiency but of abundance, of full and universal co-operation and participation in all that the world has to offer the human race.

Our brief replies may not do full justice to the questions raised in these interesting and encouraging letters. We urge Jonathan Drane and Michael James to visit their local branch of The Socialist Party. They will be warmly welcomed and have full opportunity to discuss their ideas.
Editors


Lazy people

I have read with great interest your set of principles. and would further like to know the answers to the following points:
  1. Do the SPGB believe in Parliament?
  2. Even with the support of the majority of British people. Britain would, by the SPGB's own criteria (Para 5) then only be a state capitalist nation, how is the leap from state capitalism to world socialism to be made?
  3. In the SPGB's vision of a socialist future (Para 6) it is stated that work will be undertaken on the basis of voluntary co-operation. What is to become of the minority who refuse to contribute? And what incentive is there to perform "dirty jobs" (refuse collection, sewage work, monotonous labouring)? Yours.

Paul Weston
Manchester

Reply
Socialists aim at the democratic capture of political power, as this is the only way of taking over the state machine and so changing it from capitalism's army of class coercion into an "agent of emancipation", This will entail the election of delegates, by a conscious socialist majority, to the places where the state machine is controlled in this country parliament, in America Congress and so on. That is why we are a political party and not, as some people mistakenly believe, an educative organisation.

As socialism cannot be set up separately in any part of the world it follows that it must be established world-wide and, to all intents and purposes, at about the same time everywhere. This is perfectly reasonable; our ideas are formed through our material conditions and are therefore at pretty well the same stage of development all over the world. In particular the working class in all countries have the same attitude toward the vital question of carrying on with capitalism: they all fall for the same diversions into futile reforms and politicians' promises. Just as capitalism now receives this universal support, so will the ideas of socialism.

With all the incentives to work in socialism it would be only a very, very small minority who might, for some reason, choose to stand aside from the hugely exciting and satisfying task of producing to meet human needs. If there were such people, refusing the opportunities to realise their full potential as human beings, society could easily carry them in their unhappy condition. After all, a massive amount of capitalism's knowledge, energy and resources is now wasted in unproductive effort salespeople, accountants, lawyers, police, armed forces and so on.

Much "dirty" work would easily be eliminated in socialism; all that stands in the way of this at the moment is capitalism's priority for profit above human welfare. Socialism's priorities will put human welfare first. Any such work which could not be eliminated would, we are confident, find no lack of volunteers. Since it would be essential to human society that it be done it is not conceivable that, having established socialism, people will then damage that society by refusing to do necessary work.

Paul Weston's questions are interesting and worthwhile. He would be welcome at The Socialist Party branch in his area, where he could discuss his ideas more fully.
Editors

50 Years Ago: The Communists and the ILP change places (1988)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not often that two political parties change places so completely as the ILP and the Communist Party. In 1919-1924 the ILP was busily engaged in securing the election of a Labour Government, in the belief that such a policy would secure certain immediate gains and pave the way for the gradual reform of the capitalist system. The Communists, on the other hand, denounced Parliamentary methods and preached Soviets and armed revolt. In the intervening years experience has disillusioned the ILP and sent them sneaking into the position vacated by the Communists, while the latter, under Moscow’s orders, are seeking a Parliamentary alliance with Labour and Liberals in the guise of a Popular Front.

The following is a passage from Mr Fenner Brockway’s recent book, " 'Workers' Front" (Martin & Seeker. 3s. 6d.):-
  The hope that Capitalism can be transformed to Socialism through the means of the Capitalist state  . . .  is an illusion. Socialists should use the constitution of the Capitalist State as fully as possible but they should recognise that finally they must conquer the Capitalist class through their own actions and organs, through Workers' Councils or Soviets . . .  and in the last resort, if necessary, through their own Workers' Army . . .
And now the Scottish ILP, at its conference on February 13th. 1938 (The Times February 14th. 1938), is attacking the Communists because the latter advocate the policy "of collaboration with sections of the capitalist class and capitalist governments," in other words, because the Communists have adopted the ILP's own past errors and the ILP has adopted those of the Communists!

The ILP, of course, is as wrong now as it was then, so are the Communists.
[Article published in the Socialist Standard, March 1938]

The Rise of Yugoslavia - Part 1 (1962)

From the October 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The creation of Yugoslavia (the word means "State of South Slavs") was the culmination of an historical process which began fourteen to fifteen centuries ago.

The Slavs came originally from the Russian Steppes and the northern forests of Byelorussia and their history over the years had been very turbulent. Wars and skirmishes had been waged back and forth between various Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian Princes, each trying to extend the territory under his control.

But these rulers all had to submit to a more powerful enemy when the Turks invaded Europe during the fourteenth century. Bloody indeed were the battles, but the invaders relentlessly forced their way north as far as Vienna, eventually retreating some way under pressure from the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The new line of demarcation split the territory roughly in half, bringing Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Monte Negro and Macedonia under Turkish rule, while Austria-Hungary retained control of Croatia and Slovenia. The new conquerors lost no time in imposing their religious ideas. Worship under the old Bosnian Church was forbidden. The Roman Catholic Church replaced it in the north, and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the South. Although there was considerable resistance to this, it would be a mistake to think that the many peasant revolts during the next six centuries were over religious issues.

Eighteenth century poets and philosophers of that unhappy land often scratched their heads over the cause of these conflicts. Only by Marx's Materialist Conception of History are we able to grasp their true significance and realise that they had their origin in the oppressive social conditions of feudalism. Religion served only to mask the more deeply rooted troubles. For instance, the feudal set-up peculiar to the area was such that peasants owned no land whatever. They were allowed merely to work the lord's land, surrendering about fifty per cent. of the products to him. This was a constant source of struggle over the centuries and peasant claims to land ownership met with stubborn refusal. Then again, large numbers had been driven to the Velebit Mountains along the coast during the Turkish invasion, but this was very poor land. Subsequently migration took place eastwards to the fertile plain lands of Vojvodina in Serbia, to be met with fierce resistance from those already established there.

The Turks were eventually ousted from the Balkans in 1877. The Serbs did this with Russian backing, and Serbia became an independent kingdom. King Alexander 1 of the Obrenovich Dynasty was the first ruler, but he was assassinated in 1878 and was succeeded by King Peter Karadjordjevicb. Independent Serbia, it seemed, set the pace for Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia still under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was a living inspiration to nationalist dreamers, and for the power-hungry in Belgrade this was indeed a time of plotting and intrigue.

From the turn of the century there were popular demonstrations in favour of Slav unity and in opposition to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Cries of working class discontent were now added to those of the frustrated petty nobility and a thwarted Bourgeoisie. Such was the state of affairs when on that fateful June day in 1914, one student Gavrilo Princip felled the Archduke Franz Ferdinand with a gunshot which rang round the world and sparked the dry tinder of European capitalist conflict into the flame of World War 1. Four years later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed and the Versailles Peace Treaty established a new unified Balkan State under King Peter Karadjordjevicb. Yugoslavia had arrived.

Six different regions were incorporated in the new state, each of them still under the influence of one or other of the major powers. Economic development had been patchy and uneven. Most industrialisation had taken place in the north which had been influenced by the rapid growth of European capitalism. The rest of the nation was still largely feudal with peasants representing about eighty per cent. of the population.

Yugoslavia was now a political democracy, but in 1918 the Royalists still held popular sway. Organisations such as The Social Democratic Party, the Nationalist groups “Young Bosnia" and “Serbian Youth” and the Yugoslav Communist Party, were left standing. At the general elections of 1921, however, the Communist Party won 59 seats and came within an ace of forming a government. There followed a bitter struggle with the Royalists that reached its peak with the assassination of Minister of the Interior Drashkovich. The Royalists promptly blamed the C.P. for this crime, imprisoned its leaders and declared it an illegal organisation.

From now on, the C.P. had to exist, clandestinely. It received financial support from Moscow and followed faithfully (or should we say slavishly) the Russian party line. In 1936 the Party was dealt a further blow. Its General Secretary Gorkich disappeared while in Moscow during the trials and his office was handed over to Josip Broz, otherwise Tito.

But the war clouds were gathering again, and in April, 1941. Yugoslavia was overrun by the Nazis. King Peter fled to England. From then until 1945, it was the familiar story of a peasants’ resistance movement to the German occupiers, but this again was divided broadly into two opposing sections. First there were the Royalists, known as the Chetniki, under the command of General Milhailovich. The Partisans were the other major group, organised and led by members of the Communist Party. Both groups had their eye on the future and fought with the intention of establishing their own type of government after the war.

Various minor parties such as the Social Democrats, Trotskyists, and Liberals hated both Royalists and Communists and were quite prepared to support the Nazis against the resistance movement. The Nazis were quick to see the value of "divide and rule" tactics and in 1943 by promising the Royalists a share in post-war government, managed to enlist their aid against the Partisans.

The Partisans fought on against gigantic odds, but it would be wrong to suppose that their heroism and courage were inspired only by a desire to be rid of the German invader. The peasants sighed for an end to the conditions of pre-war Yugoslavia, which had many similarities to Tzarist Russia. They lent a ready ear to the Communists who promised land reform and industrial development, and clearly compromise with the old order to any extent was impossible. Capitalist development was due for a fillip after the war.

"Peoples Republic"
In 1945 a plebiscite was held and declared heavily in favour of the establishment of a "people’s republic”. The Communist Party won the ensuing General Election by a large majority and the Royalists were eliminated as a political force. A formidable task faced the new government. Forty per cent. of the towns were in ruins and one-tenth of the population had perished during the war. The survivors were asked by their rulers to work hard and deny themselves now for happier times in the future. Millions gave their enthusiastic but misguided support to the government having been told that this was the path to Socialism Where have we heard all this before?

The Communist Party leaders were now in control of the state machine and theirs was the job of changing the feudal face of Yugoslavia into a Capitalist one —with the co-operation of the workers, of course. What matter that they called the new conditions "Socialism” or the "transitional period to Communism"? Mass working class ignorance would see that they remained in power for some time to come at least. Marshal Tito, the tireless underground leader in pre-war days and fearless partisan during the war, became the dictator of the new Yugoslavia, the man at the helm of the young capitalist State.

Like their brothers elsewhere, the Yugoslav Communist Party had many times said that they would grab the state machine as a temporary measure only, and use it to usher in Socialist society, It would then wither away, they claimed. How little they understood the role of the state machine. Since their rise to power it has become progressively stronger in the administration of Yugoslavia's private property society.

The C.P. cry of "Electrification and Industrialisation" meant sweeping changes in favour of the industrial capitalists. But there had to be a compromise because agriculture was and still is a major industry, and the transformation of the peasant into a wage worker had to slow down. The average peasant had no desire anyway to exchange the devil he knew for one he did not, and stoutly resisted attempts to drive him into the factories and workshops. Collectivisation of farms was then abandoned, at least for the time being.
Remy Starc.

[To be concluded]

The Rise of Yugoslavia - Part 2 (1962)

From the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Link to Part 1

The new constitution of 1945 brought ninety per cent. of Yugoslav industry under State control. Only those which were not worth bothering about were allowed to escape, such as shoe making, watch repairing, inn-keeping, etc. Agrarian reform dispossessed the old landlords and distributed the land to the peasants according to family size. “The land should belong to those who cultivate it,” was the cry, but this was no common ownership, only the handing over of land from one set of private owners to another.

In any case, the peasants’ troubles were by no means at an end. They still had to sell their agricultural produce in a market, capricious and uncertain as markets are. So that in times of glut it was less costly to leave salad stuff and soft fruit to rot, than to try and sell it. An old and familiar problem, by the way, and one of the many which prompted the start of collectivisation in 1949.

As we mentioned in Part 1, there was much reconstruction and industrialisation to complete, and as early as 1946, the government had announced a five year plan aiming at 400 per cent. increase in industrial production. Belgrade called for workers to assist with voluntary labour, and the response found expression in such projects as the gigantic iron works "Lilostroy” of Ljublijana, the Samac-Sarajevo and Doboj-Banjaluka Railroads and the Cetinje hydro-electric power station.

But in other ways also, Yugoslavia was making her presence felt. Tito had visited Stalin in 1945, and signed a treaty of mutual assistance. Russian technicians and military advisers went to Yugoslavia as a “help to fraternal countries” and quite clearly the country was earmarked for inclusion in the Soviet sphere of influence. Tito and his henchmen began to doubt the wisdom of allowing so much Soviet infiltration and signs of a rift were apparent at an early stage.

It has been said that the 1948 disagreement between the two states was a battle waged for Yugoslavia’s “Socialism” against Russian “Stalinism,” but this is quite untrue, if only for the reason that there never was any Socialism in Yugoslavia anyway. Tito himself came nearer to the mark when he said at the time:
  The real issue is the relation between one state and another. In my view they are using ideological questions as a pretext for putting pressure on us and our state.
The Yugoslav government strongly resented the Russian attempts to regulate buying and selling between the Cominform Stales, seeing it as a threat to their already weak economy.

Nor must we forget the part that Yugoslav/Albanian relations played in widening the breach. Moscow and Belgrade had agreed in principle to the unification of the two states and already their economies were becoming linked, with Yugoslav influence predominating. But the Russians were taken unawares by the subsequent agreements (signed without consulting them) to allow Yugoslav forces to be stationed in Albanian territory. According to Milovan Djilas, who was deeply involved in the dispute with Moscow, it was this military move most of all which persuaded Stalin that in Tito he had a rival rather than an ally. Yugoslavia was promptly expelled from the Cominform to the accompaniment of the most violent abuse.

In 1955, there was some reconciliation between Yugoslavia and the USSR, and since then Tito has managed to sit precariously on a rather wobbly fence, obtaining economic aid from both sides of the Iron Curtain, but refusing to join either power bloc, at least for the time being. It remains to be seen how long he can play one side off against the other in his efforts to win economic elbow room for his ruling class. Only recently, America has scaled down her financial assistance to Yugoslavia, causing Belgrade to go into a panic-stricken huddle. One result has been a renewed demand for farm collectivisation, although many of Tito’s colleagues remember its previous failure and are not enthusiastic. Neither are the peasants, who want to remain proprietors in their own right and not become agricultural wage workers.

Yet this may well be the future tendency, as industry develops and the demand for labour increases. The old peasant family proprietorship will be regarded as wasteful of labour and efficiency, and there is likely to be increasing interference by the State. There is a growing working class today in Yugoslavia facing the same sort of problems as their brothers elsewhere. Sooner or later they will have to get down to an appreciation of the need for Socialism, but there is no sign of this happening, as yet.

In the meantime, it is interesting to speculate on the future role of Yugoslavia in the changing pattern of capitalist world politics. A glance at the map will show the strategy of her position with an Adriatic coastline facing Italy and frontiers with Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Austria and Italy. As her industries develop, we may well see her jostling for a share of the markets in an increasingly competitive world. But it is difficult to view her future as other than that of a minor capitalist power at most. This does after all make sense in a world where even Germany, France and Britain—the major powers of yesterday—have been ousted from dominance, and the arena left to America and Russia, two colossi of capitalism, glaring at each other in sullen anger.

(Concluded)
Remy Starc.

Finance and Industry: Trouble in Agriculture (1962)

The Finance and Industry Column from the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trouble in Agriculture
One of the big question marks over the Common Market talks has to do with agriculture. British farmers are worried about what might happen to them if Britain is accepted by the Six, and Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are afraid for their exports of wheat, meat, and dairy produce.

British fruit growers and market gardeners see a dire threat to their interests from efficient Dutch production and from cheap Italian output ripened under natural sunshine instead of in heated glasshouses. And if Denmark eventually joins there will also be intensified competition from Danish bacon and butter.

But looming over all of them, British or Common Market, is the shadow of French competition. Only now beginning to rise to its full potentialities, with one half of the total agricultural land of the Six, the most favourable climate for agriculture in Europe, and soil fertility higher than the average, French agriculture threatens them all. With a negligible amount of farm machinery at work on its farms after the war, it is now mechanising rapidly. Tractors and combine harvesters are now replacing animals and men in ever-increasing numbers.

The shadow of surplus
Production has been rising steadily in recent years and the French Government is becoming increasingly concerned about rapidly mounting surpluses of cereals, butter and milk products, and beef, as well as fruit and vegetables. This year there will be a record wheat harvest of 13 million tons (the previous highest was 11½  million tons in 1959) which compares with the present U.K. estimate of 3.3 million tons. The French export surplus is likely to exceed in fact the total U.K. output.

The situation will be eased somewhat since the maize crop has been cut to a quarter of normal by drought. But this year’s results in general have served to re-inforce the warning to the rest of Europe that with every year that passes France will be a more and more dangerous threat—and to the French Government that they are in for bigger and bigger headaches. The French Minister of Agriculture has already announced that “ the fighting aim of 1963 will be the conquest of the external markets.”

The same pattern
As usual under capitalism, this ever increasing production is coming from fewer and fewer workers. Statistics show that, as in most other countries, the population living off the land is falling. The farmers are leaving the land and going into the towns. In France, there are 12 per cent. less people in agriculture than there were six years ago. Just how far this process still has to go is shown by the fact that it still leaves 20 per cent. of the population on the land, compared with 3 per cent. in this country.

There are clearly still great changes to come in French agriculture—and their repercussions are likely to be wide.


More absurdity
The shattering losses made by B.O.A.C. this year (no less than £65 million) reflect once more the crazy capitalist world we live in.

One of the main reasons for these losses has been, we are told, the frantic efforts made by the company to keep up with the constant developments in aircraft. So swift are the changes that planes have to be put on the scrap heap long before they have given their full term of useful life. That nearly all the other major airlines of the world are doing the same thing, and suffering equally crippling losses in the process, only makes the situation more farcical.

The apologist for capitalism will, of course, reply that progress must always be allowed full scope and that the new planes constantly coming forward will be better and safer than their predecessors. Even this is not true. The Press has been full of stories recently about whether safety is not being sacrificed in the bitter struggle among the national airlines. Allegations have been made that the strain of the new and ever more complicated aircraft on their pilots is becoming too intense, that they are being worked more hours than is safe, and that many airfields are just incapable of meeting properly the demands of the new machines.


Tailpiece
We discuss elsewhere Professor Titmuss’s new book exploding the myth of growing economic equality—a subject incidentally to which we have ourselves given attention in recent issues. Samuel Brittan in the Observer (he is Economic Editor) gave a useful review of it recently. But the most interesting few lines of his article were those in which he defined the capitalist class in a paragraph at the end. Here they are:
  The existence of a separate class of people who own the means of production (including land) and are not therefore dependent on their own personal earning power is still the basic characteristic of capitalism. . . .
Our own definition, in fact. True he spoils it all by bringing in Russia later on, but it’s a crumb of enlightenment al! the same.
Stan Hampson

Another Sea Disaster (2012)

Rena aground
From the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The MV Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand on 5 October last year, spilling fuel oil and containers into the sea. The Rena is a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessel. The crew consisted of 23 Filipinos.

Not surprisingly, the grounding of the Rena, and subsequent oil spill, has caused outrage and concern, and has been reported worldwide. The ship disintegrates on the Reef. According to Joe Fleetwood, general secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, writing in The Maritimes (Issue 36, Summer 2011/12), many in New Zealand are confused as to how the disaster happened, and who was responsible. People have a right to know, he said.

Flag of Convenience
The Maritime Union blames the New Zealand government and authorities as much as individual crew members. The authorities have created a situation where FOC shipping has been encouraged. Their “open coast” policy has meant that “unacceptable practices have become the norm in New Zealand waters”.

Many in New Zealand were shocked to discover that the FOC system operates on the New Zealand coast. They should not have been. In many of these FOC states such as Liberia, there are few regulations. Says Joe Fleetwood: “This is deregulation operating in a globalized market, with no oversight, no responsibility and no morality.” Quite. He continues:
 “Flag of Convenience ships are notorious for their exploitation of crews, and safety risks. They endanger our environment and port security, and are a threat to the future of New Zealand maritime industry… It is a cheap way of doing things. But as we all know, doing things on the cheap has a funny way of ending up being more expensive in the long run.”
Legacy of Neglect
Was the Rena faulty? Apparently, prior to its arrival in New Zealand, it had been hauled up in China and Australia for numerous issues and multiple problems.

Was a full inspection by Maritime New Zealand made given numerous documented failings? According to the union, a Maritime New Zealand “inspection” consisted of asking the Master of the Rena if the previous problems had been fixed. Presumably, he said they had. So that was OK then! Following the disaster, the Master was arrested. He was blamed two weeks after the grounding and spillage; a convenient scapegoat.

According to The Maritime, a TV3 News investigation noted that the government was repeatedly warned that New Zealand wasn’t prepared sufficiently for such an oil spill. An Official Information Act indicated that the New Zealand government had considered whether a specialist oil response vessel was needed. But it decided against. It had, it said, such vessels as “The Awanvia”, with suitable equipment which it could seek for assistance. In the event, however, it was almost five days before it arrived on site and began pumping fuel off the Rena.

Union Criticism
Not surprisingly, the New Zealand Maritime Union is highly critical. General Secretary, Joe Fleetwood complains that workers are under threat because of lack of proper regulations and enforcement in the industry. Workers are expendable. Both local and overseas workers are being harmed in the workplace because of slack regulations. And, it is worse on FOC vessels.

Says the union:
  “The incidents on Flag of Convenience vessels, including foreign charter vessels in the New Zealand fishing industry, make for a long and grim list. Sinkings, drownings, asphyxiations, severe injuries, physical attacks, underpayment, pollution and overfishing, abuse and exploitation are all documented throughout the maritime industry. For years the problem has been out of sight and out of mind.”
And not just in New Zealand, I would add. Indeed, complacent politicians come and go, and “profits kept flowing to the shipping corporations”. Fleetwood observes that in the current environment, profit comes first. “Unless we have strong unions on the job to defend health and safety, and legislation that is backed by some teeth, then we will see more and more preventable deaths and injuries.” Too true. But, unfortunately, legislation and reform measures, even if acted upon, will not solve the problems. Only the abolition of the cause – capitalism and the profit motive system – will do that.  This is what the World Socialist Party of New Zealand, and socialists elsewhere, propose and for which they are organised.
Peter E. Newell

Beyond The Global Capitalist Crisis (2012)

Book Review from the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Beyond The Global Capitalist Crisis. Edited by Berch Berberoglu. Ashgate. 2012

This collection of essays is a restatement of classical Leninist economics and politics. The authors argue that the current global crisis “is permanent and irreversible”. The theoretical framework is provided by Lenin’s theory of capitalism as imperialism, in which the contradictions of capitalism which “would have led it to collapse on the national level were thus transferred to the global level”. In 1917 Lenin “showed the way forward” by identifying the source of the crisis and its solution: “socialism – i.e. a state and society ruled by the working class”.

One contributor claims that, for a number of unexplained reasons, “actually existing socialism” succumbed to a crisis of its own in which “socialism” in the USSR and elsewhere collapsed. It’s no mystery. These state capitalist regimes stagnated under the rising costs of a bureaucratic-military state machine (since this must be largely financed out of surplus value redirected from the productive sector of the economy) and an increasingly expensive dictatorship over the proletariat.

Capitalism will not collapse, nor will the crisis be permanent – if for no other reason than that there is currently no working class movement for socialism. In the absence of that understanding, desire and action for change, capitalism in one form or another will persist. State capitalism (nationalisation or state ownership) is not socialism; nor is a step towards socialism as Lenin believed.
 Lew Higgins

Long Day’s Journey Into the Night (2012)

Theatre Review from the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (Apollo Theatre)

This 1956 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, written in 1942 and recently staged at the Apollo Theatre in London, was not performed until after O’Neill’s death.  This was because of its autobiographical nature, its inclusion of characters clearly drawn from members of the O’Neill Irish-American family and its descriptions of real incidents within it.

O’Neill was a breath of fresh air in American theatre in the 1920s, a writer of realistic dramas inspired by the naturalism of Chekhov, Strindberg and Ibsen. He avoided melodrama and sentimentality and concerned himself with tragedy, pessimism, and socialism.  He used vernacular speech and portrayed working-class characters in works like ‘Anna Christie’ and ‘The Iceman Cometh’.

O’Neill moved in left wing circles in Greenwich Village, New York City, where he met John Reed and Louise Bryant (their menage-à-trois is portrayed in the 1981 film ‘Reds’). Reed, a member of the Socialist Party of America, was in Russia in 1917 at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and wrote about it in his book ‘Ten Days That Shook The World’.  He helped form the Communist Party of America.

In the early twentieth century there were exciting times for socialism in the USA. These saw the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, an organisation which advocated the abolition of capitalism and the wage system and opposed the First World War.  The increasingly reformist nature of the Socialist Party of America led car workers in Detroit to leave in 1916 and form the Socialist Party of the United States.  This later became the World Socialist Party of the United States, the fraternal party of the SPGB.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ dissects the conflicts of  the bourgeois thespian James Tyrone (O’ Neill’s father) and his wife and two sons, and covers themes of patriarchy, the lack of fulfilment for women, addiction (alcohol and morphine), resentments, self-deception, illness, greed, failure, artistic promise, and general dysfunction in bourgeois family life in early twentieth-century American capitalism. The Irish-born family patriarch emigrated to America at the time of the Great Hunger of the 1840s when the potato famine and subsequent failure of the British government led to a million deaths and mass emigration from the Emerald Isle. O’Neill describes Tyrone’s experience of child labour and family poverty in the expanding industrial capitalism of nineteenth-century New York City.

Tyrone’s son Edmund (O’Neill) is a budding playwright, with a TB condition who has left Princeton early.  O’Neill himself left after a year because as the apocryphal story goes “he threw a beer bottle through the window of Professor Woodrow Wilson” (later the US President who promised voters to keep America out of the First World War but took them in, and later oversaw the Volstead Act which prohibited alcohol in the USA for 13 years).

O’Neill analyses the dysfunctionality of a bourgeois family in capitalism and shows the neuroses associated with bourgeois family life. Marx and Engels pointed out that the bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course with the abolition of capitalism.
Steve Clayton