Monday, September 30, 2019

Rear View: So far, so good (2019)

The Rear View Column from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

So far, so good
Faiza Shaheen in an article titled The Rich Are Getting Richer, And It’s Not Just Their Business – It’s All Of Ours (, 6 August) informs us ‘. . . the top 0.1% enjoy pre-tax incomes in excess of £650,000 a year. And guess what? The increasingly rich elite are increasingly turning their back on the rest of us – moving into spatially more concentrated areas in London and the south east.’ She adds, ‘. . . more than three quarters of us are stressed about money. Household debt is at record highs and work simply no longer pays, with 70% of children in poverty living in a household where an adult works . . .’. She also notes that most of their stolen wealth is inherited – ‘. . .the supposedly self-made nouveau riche like Donald Trump got a $400 million leg-up for his businesses’ and the ‘ 7th Duke of Westminster, for example, is worth at least £8 billion, largely because his ancestors acquired loads of valuable land in London’ – and concludes ‘when the economy is only working for a small percentage of the richest and this in turn is concentrating power and influence skewing our media, politics and inevitably negatively shaping how we feel about each other, the 99% must do more than demand a greater share of the pie – we need to change the recipe’.

So near yet so far
Faiza Shaheen is a director for Centre for Labour & Social Studies, which has the promising acronym CLASS. She notes that in the UK the 1 percent is concentrated in London and south east. Here, and worldwide, capitalism shows one of its hallmarks, class division. Poverty is found alongside plenty, the well-heeled alongside the homeless. ‘More than 6,000 homes in Kent are empty. Action on Empty Homes has revealed a total of 6,172 residential properties have no one living in them. And yet 4,723 people are either living in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough in the county’ (, 7 August). These empty homes are worth an estimated £1.8bn. And here another hallmark can be seen: production is for profit not need. Houses are built by workers to be sold on the market and those with holes in the pockets need not apply. Shaheen’s recipe for change is nothing new. Indeed, she and Action on Empty Homes are reading the same reformist cookbook. CLASS – a ‘think tank dedicated to championing policy so that the political agenda works for everyday people’ and AEH’s campaigning issues, such as ‘Council Tax can now be doubled on homes left two years empty. We campaigned against discounts for empty homes and support councils implementing new premiums’ – is thoroughly reformist.

Reform or Revolution
Nearly 150 years ago, Engels stated that there is no possibility of a rational approach to housing within capitalism. ‘As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labour by the working class itself’ (The Housing Question, 1872). ‘A social transformation and a legislative reform do not differ according to their duration but according to their content.’ A revolution is the work of a class which has gained political power in order to transform society to suit its interests; a reform is carried out only within the framework of the social system created by the previous revolution. Hence reforms cannot end capitalism; they can modify it to some extent, but they leave its basis untouched. To establish socialism, a revolution – a complete transformation of private property into social property – is necessary. ‘That is why people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society.’

Socialism or Barbarism
We have a choice, but, to quote Rosa Luxemburg, ‘without the conscious will and action of the majority of the proletariat, there can be no socialism.’ We need to seize the bakery and create our own recipes for the cookshops of the future socialist world of production for use and allocation according to self-defined need.

Letters: Planning for socialism (2019)

Letters to the Editors from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Planning for socialism
Regarding your commentary on Socialist Planning, (Socialist Standard, July and August) I found it difficult to follow your logic. For over a century the Socialist Labor Party has advocated a clear concept of socialist society based upon working-class organization in industry originally envisioned by Daniel De Leon, adopted by the original IWW in 1905: a two-fold program of economic and political action.

Economic action advocates the need for unified organization on the economic field – class conscious unionism. Political action requires organization within capitalism’s political domain by contesting and occupying the offices of the political state, for the primary purpose of disbanding them in coordination with the economic force of the working class in industry.

Socialism once established is based upon social production by industry – that is whatever industry workers are employed in planning production would be undertaken democratically in the shop, on a district-wide basis from the smallest unit to a regional and country-wide basis of democratically elected representatives. The SPGB knows this concept but has always ignored it to the best of my knowledge.

It strikes me that your organization is timidly tottering on the precipice of logical commitment. I understand why you have frequent occasion to argue with anarchists – your program, if it can be called that, offers only vague notions of an established socialist society. The SLPUSA’s concept of Socialist Industrial Unionism is a clear-cut answer to the promise of a socialist society. That there are issues that remain that can only be resolved by a functioning Socialist Industrial Union society is doubtlessly true, but to fonder endlessly with the vagaries that characterize your program of political action only is what De Leon characterized as walking with one leg. You can enlighten yourselves by reading De Leon’s As to Politics.
Bernard Bortnick, 

It is difficult to make out what concrete criticism our correspondent is actually presenting with regard to the two articles he refers to. These articles were concerned exclusively with the question of the nature of planning in a future socialist society. They were not concerned with any ‘programme of political action’ that would enable or assist the realisation of such a society. That is an entirely different subject (which we will happily discuss) but our correspondent seems keen to want to conflate the two.

To the extent that he keeps on topic he suggests that the SPGB’s programme ‘offers only vague notions of an established socialist society’. This is not exactly fair comment. True, we don’t offer a detailed blueprint – one could argue it would be unwise to even attempt this – but we do present a broad-brush picture of socialism that illuminates its fundamental operating principles in a way that we feel is quite clear, consistent and logical. See for example our pamphlet, ‘Socialism as a Practical Alternative’.

In contrast to our supposedly ‘vague notions of an established socialist society’ our correspondent offers his own conception of such a society as one based upon ‘social production by industry – that is, whatever industry workers are employed in planning production would be undertaken democratically in the shop, on a district-wide basis from the smallest unit to a regional and country wide basis of democratically elected representatives’. While we hesitate to use the term ‘country-wide’ which could be interpreted as suggesting the continuation of the nation-state into socialism – something we would emphatically repudiate – the basic idea of a tiered structure of democratic decision-making was precisely what was mentioned in the first of the articles he refers to and which he himself seems to have ‘ignored’:
  ‘From our standpoint, it is entirely possible to envisage the world’s productive resources being owned in common by the global community yet subject to a complex system of polycentric democratic planning – with multiple plans being implemented at different spatial levels of organisation: global, regional and local – (depending on the nature of the ‘resource’ in question).’
Society wide central planning, by contrast, is predicated on a uni-centric model of decision-making involving just a single planning centre and a single plan for the whole of society. While you won’t find many people actually advancing this idea as a serious proposal it is important to understand that Von Mises’s entire economic calculation argument against socialism is predicated on the assumption that this is precisely how decision-making in a socialist society would be organised – from one single centre.

This is what the two articles set out to refute and in the process shed light on the workings of a socialist society itself. Society wide planning is not only completely impractical, it is also at odds with the very nature of socialism itself. The only alternative to a uni-centric model of planning is – obviously – a polycentric model. But in acknowledging this we are also inescapably acknowledging that the overall pattern of production will be unplanned. Instead, this pattern will be the emergent outcome of a self-regulating system of stock control based on the principle of feedback. Understanding this is key to refuting the economic calculation argument itself.

So while our correspondent is right to emphasise the importance of democratic decision-making in socialism it is also important to acknowledge that a great deal of decision-making will not, and need not, be subjected to a democratic vote. It can simply be devolved to people on the ground. What point is there, for example, in organising a vote on whether to replenish a store’s supply of baked beans, for example? None that we can see. Such a decision can be taken ‘automatically’. It is only where genuine differences of opinion might arise over the allocation of resources that there will be a need to resort to democratic decision-making.

In short, we should not over-egg the democratic pudding but strive instead to strike a more reasonable balance which is what these articles have attempted to do. It does us no favours to caricaturise socialism as a society of endless debates and perpetual committee meetings, leaving nobody with much time to actually get anything done. – Editors.

While I am a fellow socialist and broadly agree with your views, I was very disappointed to see the attached image on page 10/11 of the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard. Does the artist not know of the existence of the Republic of Ireland? Is it implying that the UK will invade said Republic to put an end to the hard border?
Mick Kennedy

Cooking the Books: Who, where or what is NAIRU? (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Having a constant pool of unemployed workers is deliberate policy’, was the headline of an article by Van Badham in the Guardian (26 July) with the subheading ‘The purpose is to maintain an economy for the benefit of the rich under the pretext of fighting inflation.’ She referenced an article on the website of the Reserve Bank of Australia on ‘Estimating the NAIRU and the Unemployment Gap’.

NAIRU, what’s that? The article explained:
 ‘The NAIRU – or non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment – is a benchmark for assessing the degree of spare capacity and inflationary pressures in the labour market. When the observed unemployment rate is below the NAIRU, conditions in the labour market are tight and there will be upward pressure on wage growth and inflation’ (LINK).
The assumption here – and that’s what’s wrong with the theory – is that it is wage increases that cause inflation as the rise in the general price level, i.e. of all prices. Wages in general and inflation do move in line, but this is only because wages are a price, of people’s working skills, and as such rise with all other prices when there is inflation.

That wage increases cause other prices to rise is a fallacy that socialists have long had to deal with, going back to Marx’s talk to English trade unionists in 1865, later published as the pamphlet Value, Price and Profit. Basically, an increase in wages, if it can be imposed, will be at the expense of profits. That employers could recover this by increasing the price of their products assumes that they are not already charging what the market will bear, which would be stupid of them. If, on the other hand, they are charging this they cannot increase the price as this would reduce their sales. They are obliged to take a hit on their profits.

As the word itself implies, ‘inflation’ is an over-issue of a currency, which results in each currency unit coming to be depreciated and so producing a rise in the price of all goods. It has been practised by all governments since the end of the last world war. They blamed the resulting rise in the general price level on workers obtaining wage increases and sought to protect these eating into profits through ‘incomes policies’, ‘pay pauses’ and ‘wage freezes’.

After the 1970s these policies were abandoned, largely because it was unnecessary as the end of the post-war boom led to an increase in unemployment which itself restrained wages. The ideology that wage increases cause inflation, however, was not abandoned. Keynes’s successor as chief capitalist economist, Milton Friedman, proclaimed that the rate of unemployment that resulted in no inflation was the ‘natural’ one. As governments hadn’t entirely abandoned inflation as a policy but aimed to maintain it at about 2 percent a year, the name was changed to ‘non-accelerating’ rate as the one that would keep inflation at this level.

Badham is right that governments are maintaining ‘an economy for the benefit of the rich under the pretext of fighting inflation’ but they don’t create unemployment as a deliberate policy; that would imply that they could avoid it, which they can’t. It is just something they accept and justify by theories such as NAIRU. It is also completely cynical and hypocritical since, at the same time that they are hounding the unemployed to find a job and reducing their dole to encourage this, they are accepting that many won’t, even shouldn’t find a job (the Reserve Bank of Australia says this should be 5 percent of the labour force),

The Scale Of It All (2019)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘We are going to die – and that makes us the lucky ones’ is a quote from Richard Dawkins. Despite its melancholic tone it is, in fact, a statement of celebration because he goes on to explain that of all of the millions of possible genetic combinations generated by sexual activity, the meeting of a specific sperm and egg is the product of a purely chance encounter; an unimaginable number of other people could have been born instead of us – but against all the odds here we are. This is an example of a perspective that can give us a whole new understanding of who we are and what we could and should do with our lives. Being conscious of the universe in which we exist is rare and, for all we know, possibly unique in the vast nothingness that is most of the universe. Together with awe this kind of perspective presents us with a responsibility to ourselves and to our species. We know that nature is indifferent to our survival as a species so it is our responsibility to protect the tiny corner of the universe (the Earth) that alone sustains us.

Many claim that they have no time for such philosophical considerations and certainly capitalism presents the vast majority with an unending struggle for existence that distracts us from what we do best – think. Of course the hysteria of modern wage slavery and consumerism can also serve as an excuse to avoid the fear that many feel when confronted with meaning and mortality. Education so often tells us what to think instead of how to think. But life is not a riddle or an equation with just one correct answer; it is more akin to a journey of experience and contemplation of not only the individual but of us all from the past, in the present and the future. Together with the idea of just how lucky we are to exist at all here are some other examples of perspectives that might help us to look up occasionally from the mundane monotony of life in capitalism.

The observable universe is 93 billion light years in diameter and a light year equals 9.46 trillion (9.46 x one million million) kilometres (the Earth is 12,742 kilometres in diameter). Such size and distance is barely conceivable and yet we have a number for it. This is the beauty of scale; once a standard measurement of size is achieved then everything else can be described as a magnitude of it. These numbers make most of us feel totally insignificant as individuals but what of the size of the collective intellect that produces them? If your physical size as a human being is important to you then the numbers concerning the infinitesimal are equally mind-boggling. The smallest known object is a sub-atomic particle called a quark and it measures minus 100,000,000,000,000,000,000th of a metre. The average radius of an atom is 300 trillionths of a metre which is some 10,000 times the size of its nucleus and the smallest form of life known is a virus that comes in at a mighty minus 10,000,000,000th of a metre. It feels as if we’re somewhere in the middle of the almost infinitely large and the possibly infinitely small; doubtless this has something to do with the ‘anthropomorphic principle’. This balance of perspectives can help protect our conception of ourselves from both the fear of insignificance and the hubris of over importance.

Having dealt with space let’s move on to time. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. The Earth is a mere 4.5 billion years of age and life first emerged a billion years later. Humans first came on the scene about 800,000 years ago. Again, in this context, our average 80 years or so of life doesn’t seem to amount to much but then some species of mayfly only live for a few hours. For the vast majority of its existence humanity lived in hunter/gatherer communities and communism would seem to be the default social organisation for our species.

Some 10,000 years ago in a very limited region the Neolithic Revolution took place and humanity began its inevitable and brutal journey into private property. The agricultural surplus was stolen first by nomadic raiders and then by those who controlled the warriors who evolved to protect it from such depredations. Given the incredible speed of technological advance we now find ourselves with the possibility of returning to our default socialist economic arrangement. We live primarily within a world we have created (a culture) which has stood outside of nature and it is only within this cultural arena of political action that we can liberate ourselves from the slavery of private property and re-enter the natural world as its protector. For those who are exasperated by the failure of the arrival of the revolution we can only point to the timescale of our incredibly young species and its meteoric cultural evolution. It took the capitalist class many hundreds of years, from its medieval origins, to achieve its present political and economic hegemony. In many ways modern socialism has just begun as both the knowledge and aspiration that can make it possible.

Some of the more scientifically-minded readers will observe something of an anachronism in the previous text; 100 years ago Albert Einstein synthesised time and space in his theory of General Relativity. This conjured up a demon that both science and philosophy have yet to fully comprehend, the black hole ‘singularity’. This one- dimensional object is supposedly infinitely massive, infinitely small and bends space-time, you guessed it, infinitely. It would seem that if we follow scale to its logical conclusion it loses its coherence and meaning because we cannot imagine the infinite. Perhaps everything – ideas, worlds, energy, matter and even nothingness will eventually succumb to the embrace of the singularity. To comprehend nature and to find our place within it is humanity’s true destiny but first we have to liberate ourselves from the infantile squabbles for money and power of the tiny irrelevant ruling elite. Part of socialist consciousness is to recognise the potential of our species after the resolution of the political struggle using our knowledge of philosophy and its young progeny, science.

No Outsiders: Class Inclusivity (2019)

From the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two Birmingham primary schools starting the new autumn term will see the reinstatement of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme, dedicated to teaching LGBT rights and earlier suspended after being strongly opposed as non-age-appropriate by Muslim parents, an opposition widely interpreted as homophobic (BBC News, 3 July –

The ‘No Outsiders’ programme presupposes that children have to be taught to accept diversity, whereas in reality the opposite is true. Outside the grip of parental or social indoctrination, children have no natural reason to be intolerant of others. Children have to be taught to be racist, sexist, or anti-gay. They are loaded with prejudice like a gun is loaded with bullets.

Muslims in Britain suffer their own share of discrimination, so you might imagine that such a marginalised group would be more sympathetic and respectful of other groups in the same situation (in the jargon, ‘intersectional’) and so less likely to dish out discrimination of their own. But you’d be wrong.

For example, racism is notorious in the gay community. For ‘a glaring personification of the lack of intersectionality that exists within broader gay culture’ see ‘Gay bars can be mind-bogglingly racist’ (LINK).

Gender surrender
Then there is the trans-terf war, which has ripped the LGBT community apart to the point where dialogue and compromise have become well-nigh impossible. This is partly a product of post-modernist ‘queer’ (LGBT) studies, in which the concept of gender as being socially constructed has moved the emphasis away from simply ‘owning’ identity towards ‘performing’ it, thus disappearing Alice-like down the rabbit hole to a Wonderland where anyone can identify as anything and any attempt to deny this is an oppressive act.

The fuss isn’t so much about women self-identifying as trans-men, it’s mainly the other way round. Many women are furious at what they see as a new form of male colonialism, in which men, accustomed to getting their way on everything else, now attempt to hijack womanhood itself. Others see it as an existential threat, a sinister plan to ‘deconstruct’ that womanhood out of existence. You can’t fight for equal rights if you don’t even exist.

Here is a domain where common sense has no sway. Is it reasonable for a man self-identifying as a woman to be allowed to swim in the women’s swimming areas of Hampstead Heath in London? No, you say? Yes, according to new rules from the City of London Corporation (Evening Standard, 23 May – LINK). If a man self-identifies as a woman, should s/he be entitled to enter women’s refuges? You might call that crazy, yet Women’s Aid has indeed caved into this very demand and changed their entry policy accordingly (LINK). Some situations you simply can’t win. An attempt to combat the colossal rate of violence against and rapes of trans-women in male prisons resulted in one trans-prisoner being admitted to a women’s prison and then committing several sex offences against women inmates (LINK).

Lesbians meanwhile are proposing to quit the LGBT collective (‘Get the L out’) in protest at the idea that someone with a penis must be accepted as an authentic lesbian, with the further implication that if they refuse to have sex with such a ‘lesbian’ they are being somehow oppressive.

Such protestors in turn are pejoratively labelled TERFs (Trans-Excluding Radical Feminist) by transgender activists. Do most trans-women really expect to speak for all women? Do they really have a male colonial agenda? Do they really expect lesbians to accept them as ‘dykes with dicks’? Almost certainly not. Most trans-women would just like to get through the day without being spat on or hospitalised. They are rejected as men, obviously, but women are also slamming the door on them as women. So they are treated as sideshow freaks, as something less than human, as a perfect target for violence and murder (‘Transgender hate crimes recorded by police go up 81%’, BBC News, 27 June –

Why has this situation blown up now? It’s partly a matter of technology. Successful transitioning from one sex to the other has not been possible until comparatively recently, so society has never really had to deal with this debate before. It raises all sorts of new questions about what we mean by gender, and whether we can continue to see things in binary categorisations (male/female, straight/gay) or whether in fact these are more like shades on a spectrum. And academic LGBT theory is running far ahead of the herd. Capitalism has only very recently started to normalise homosexuality, and then only in some places, and that has an ancient pedigree. There is really no precedent for people changing biological sex, and that is a challenge too far for those brainwashed with gender stereotypes and looking for someone easy to punch.

Now even anarchist and class-war political groups have waded in and taken up mutually hostile and hard-line positions. Liberals wanting to do the right thing are utterly perplexed. Express an opinion at your peril.

This is the war of all against all, the political nightmare of identity politics, a world of echo chambers and mutual rage, a world where everyone shouts and no one listens, where class consciousness evaporates and the working class eats itself alive. Who’s right, in all this? That’s just the point – everybody and nobody. Identity politics is never a battle of right versus wrong, it is always a tragedy of right versus right. In the multiple pile-up of discriminations capitalism engenders, nobody escapes completely innocent or unscathed.

So much for gurus
You might at least expect the Dalai Lama to rise above it all. But this widely-revered guru and living saint (and self-declared feminist), again caused a furore recently by reiterating his 2015 remarks that any female Dalai Lama ‘must be attractive, otherwise it is not much use’ and ‘[If not] people, I think prefer, not see her, that face’ (Telegraph, 2 July – LINK).

What would happen to the identity debate in socialism, a world of free association and free access, where nobody has power over anyone? There are no gurus to guide us there either. Nobody knows how gender and sexuality may evolve when society has stopped making war against itself. Perhaps there will be a continued trend towards post-humanism, as organic and machine technology converge in symbiosis. Maybe more people will want to change sex, or live as multiple sexes, whatever that means. Conversely it’s possible that the current preoccupation with sexual and gender identity will come to be seen as irrelevant, an obsessive hang-up among many others typical of the capitalist age. From our barred window looking out from the current madhouse, we can’t even say for sure what sanity looks like.

What is likely though is that people will adopt the practical limitation of freedom not licence. What this means is that you are free to do anything you like but you do not have licence to impose on the freedom of others. Anyone who objects to this is free to style themselves as an ‘oppressed minority’, however in a democracy there are always minorities, and not getting your way on everything is not the same thing as oppression.

Divided we fall
Returning to the present, the 2014 film Pride told the true story of lesbian and gay activists making common cause with striking Welsh miners who, for their part, had to confront their own entrenched homophobic attitudes. The film’s feel-good message was unequivocal – if we are workers, whether we’re gay, straight or whatever, we’re on the same side in the class war, and fighting the bosses is what brings us together. Class consciousness transcends all and unites all.

The problem is, this consciousness of being part of a class prevails best when the external class threat is felt urgently and equally by all affected workers, as in the case of a strike or a lockout. But it’s rare for a threat to be that localised and acute. The class war is not just a street battle or a strike, as the Left romanticise it. Class is really the dynamic expression of minority ownership of the means of living. We, the overwhelming majority excluded from and by this ownership, feel its force whenever we have to get up for work, tolerate our boss, pay our bills, swallow our dignity and accept our limitations.

Some workers face additional problems that come at them in different ways depending on who, when and where they are. Some of these forms may be just annoyances, but others can spell deadly danger. Sometimes they come from the police and the state, but often they come from other workers who are angry and ignorant and ready to lash out at somebody vulnerable and within reach. If you belong 100 percent to what society calls ‘normal’ then you won’t be especially vulnerable or exposed, and you might be tempted to downplay these effects as trivial, or even imaginary. But if you are exposed, they can loom so large that they fill your horizons and eclipse all other things. And here is why class consciousness begins to fracture and fall apart. When you suffer as a victim, you don’t care if you’re helping to victimise others. If you’re a battered wife, you don’t care if you’re also a racist. If you’re a male with your head under the boss’s foot, you don’t care about your attitude to women. If you’re attacked as an Asian, you don’t care if you’re also homophobic. Individual identities become locked into silos, and communication is cut off. Class consciousness is dead. Game over.

Hijacking at the intersection
If you don’t want the capitalist class to win, you have to force people out of these silos by offering a generalised view of discrimination they can all relate to. Intersectionality was an attempt to do this, by creating a common framework of overlapping or ‘intersecting’ discriminations, but which has largely been taken out of context and distorted.

The trouble is, some people are too fired up to focus on common frameworks, and will seize any excuse to promote their unique victimhood (the ‘I’m more oppressed than you’ game). As soon as you accept the idea that people really do have different experiences of discrimination, and you try to understand these differences in order to work together, they will twist this into a promotion of their own agenda.

This is not a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. If your class consciousness is strong and coherent, then acknowledging as workers your different lived experiences will only make you stronger. And make no mistake, it is vital to acknowledge these different experiences, because in the past what has passed for class politics on the left has too often been the uni-dimensional preserve of a dominant identity group while other groups were ignored, marginalised or even excluded. In practice this leads to a self-perpetuating cycle in which like attracts like and the circle never widens. It’s no good if you’re attracting one person but putting off nineteen or twenty others because they fear they won’t fit in. Class consciousness, properly understood, is more than just being against capitalism and bosses, it is also about ending minority ownership and all discrimination, and it requires some positive attributes too, like inclusivity, empathy, the ability to listen and share, to criticise honestly and to be open to criticism in the same way. This is the class consciousness socialists need to create, because it’s the only kind strong enough to defeat capitalism, and that means including all workers, with nobody left outside.
Paddy Shannon

Can’t A Cleaner Like Avocados? (2019)

The Proper Gander column from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Middle class’ is a term which everyone recognises, but the more you pick apart at its meaning, the more meaningless it becomes. It’s often used to refer to people with ‘professional’ jobs or who work in ‘business’ with a reasonable salary, contrasted with ‘working class’ when used to denote people who do physical labour and who have a low income. But what about admin staff in ‘business’ who have a smaller wage than a builder? And isn’t all labour physical anyway? The ‘middle class’ have to work as much as ‘working class’ people do, even if they do it wearing smarter clothes than overalls. In other words, the vast majority of us are working class, whether or not we identify as ‘middle class’.

Making a distinction between ‘middle class’ and ‘working class’ throws up all sorts of confusions, so it was fitting that BBC2’s recent How The Middle Class Ruined Britain was a confused hodgepodge of a show. It was put together by Geoff Norcott, who has found his niche as a ‘Conservative voter, leave voter, working class’ comedian. His definition of ‘middle class’ is someone who watches foreign-language films and who ‘likes a protest march so long as it’s followed by a spot of light brunch’, probably involving avocados (can’t a cleaner like avocados?). His main charge against the ‘middle class’ is the generalisation that ‘they’re hypocrites because they claim to be virtuous and caring and yet simultaneously they are doing things that serve their self-interest against other people’s’.

He finds an example of this in attitudes to schooling. He says that ‘middle class’ people claim to be fans of the comprehensive system, but wouldn’t want their own children to go to any old comp filled with hoi polloi. Instead, he argues that the ‘middle class’ resort to sneaky tricks to ensure their offspring get enrolled at schools with a decent reputation: ‘nicking the best school places is their version of benefit fraud’. Tactics include signing up with a church just to qualify for a faith school, and pretending to live in the catchment area of a preferred school by borrowing the address of a (wealthier) friend or relative. Havering Council employs ‘a dedicated team of super-sleuths’ to investigate suspicious applications for school places, which Norcott likes to make look like something from a cop show. Some parents have to resort to fibs and scams to get a school place because parts of the educational system aren’t open to all, and these are schools which have better resources. Schooling is subject to the same scarcities and divisions that other aspects of society are, so people are pushed into competing for what’s best.

Norcott says that ‘middle class’ people’s attitudes to comprehensive schools are similar to those about social housing: something they say they want, just not near them. He rightly points out that new housing developments don’t tend to include many council or housing association-owned properties, or those which are otherwise cheaper than ones aimed at ‘young professionals’. This prices many people on lower incomes out of newly-gentrified areas, which you would have thought an ‘aspirational’ Tory like Norcott would approve of. While he at least acknowledges his own hypocrisy here, he goes for the wrong targets in those he criticises over the issue. He dislikes what he calls the ‘hard left’ who engage in protests against building developments. When he meets a group of protesters in Deptford, London, he patronises them about their placards and songs, and raises an eyebrow when he can’t think of a punchline. These protesters don’t do themselves any favours, though, by carrying out a ‘symbolic salt ceremony’ which involves one of their more eccentric number sprinkling salt on the pavement ‘to ward away the greedy evil spirits’. He then meets a ‘top dog’ from a Labour council to challenge the ‘posh boy’ about social housing still being too expensive, even though the councillor is just a very small cog in a very big machine. The real problem here is that housing is a commodity, and can’t be anything else within capitalism, whatever councillors and protesters prefer. Cheaper houses and flats, including those owned by councils or housing associations, don’t rake in much profit, and so developers are bound to build more swanky pads which do.

He says that ‘middle class’ people’s attitudes to schooling and housing show how they like to keep those on lower incomes at arm’s length, and then he jumps to another example of this: a dating app aimed only at those who were privately educated. He goes to a ‘fancy dating event’ where he pays £16 for a pint and realises that people tend to associate with others from similar economic backgrounds and those without much money get priced out of wealthier social circles.

The same applies to Westminster. It’s pointed out that these days, far fewer Labour MPs come from lower-income backgrounds compared with the past (Norcott doesn’t cite figures about the backgrounds of Tory MPs, unsurprisingly). He meets an exception to this, Gloria De Piero from Ashfield in the East Midlands, who acknowledges that the things discussed in parliament don’t address most people’s concerns. While it’s true that the working class don’t have enough of a political voice, MPs coming in from outside the Oxbridge bubble wouldn’t have any more ability to reform capitalism than any other. Even if they sincerely aimed to represent and help out their more disadvantaged constituents, they’d soon get unstuck by bureaucratic inertia and, above all, the dictates of the economy.

How The Middle Class Ruined Britain highlights some of the ways which wealth shapes capitalist society, from the kinds of houses which are built to the backgrounds of those with more power. But to see them you have to look past Norcott’s own prejudices and misperceptions. The conflict isn’t between ‘middle class’ and ‘working class’ – it’s between the majority and the system itself.
Mike Foster

Marx or Lenin? (2019)

Book Review from the September 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Marxism. By Gregory Claeys. Pelican. 500 pages. 2018. £8.99

It is a tribute to the continuing relevance of Marx’s ideas that books about him and them are still being published. Claeys’s is divided into two parts, the first on Marx, the second on ‘Marxism’ but which is in fact on Leninism.

Since socialists accept Marx’s basic ideas – his materialist and class approach to history, his analysis of the capitalist economic system, and his advocacy of the need to win political power to change the basis of society – how Marx came to these is of some interest. However, the details of his private life – that, for instance, he was irascible and didn’t suffer fools (or those he considered fools) gladly – are only marginal and of no guide whatsoever as to how a socialist working class majority in control of political power would behave.

The intellectual journey which led to Marx becoming a socialist is more relevant but not crucial. After all, he is only one socialist amongst many and few (none in fact) are likely to follow the same route, i.e., via German idealist philosophy. Claeys’s treatment of this is reasonable and he does raise some issues which socialists still debate, such as to what extent are humans social by biological nature (i.e, is human nature ‘good’ and not merely neutral?) and whether the socialist case against capitalism is based on a morality as well as class interest (Marx certainly denounced capitalism’s treatment of workers in a distinctly moral terminology).

In a bid to partially acquit Marx of the charge of utopianism, even millenarianism, Claeys places too much emphasis on what Marx wrote about producer cooperatives, at one point even seeming to suggest that Marx envisaged capitalism coming to an end through the spread of cooperative societies. In fact, while Marx was not opposed to workers forming them any more than he was to them forming trade unions, his main point was that they showed that production does not require a private owner to be carried out; producers can organise this themselves. He did not envisage socialism as a system of separate cooperatives producing for the market but as being a sort of nation-wide cooperative producing directly for use.

Apart from 20 pages on pre-WW1 Social Democracy, Part Two is of no interest. It reads like a hastily written description of what Lenin and Leninists did when in power. Lenin’s defining difference with Marx was his theory of the vanguard party, not only to seize power as a minority but to hold it dictatorially as the self-appointed representative and sole interpreter of the interest of the working class. This contrasted, both in theory and in practice, with what Claeys previously referred to as ‘Marx’s account of a fully class-conscious revolution led by a democratically organised majority’ (page 249).

Leninism is a quite different theoretical system from Marx’s. There is, however, a historical question that needs explaining: how a theory of state-capitalist development under a totalitarian single party should have come to be associated with Marx when it clearly had nothing of substance in common with what Marx as a socialist advocated? A subject for some aspiring Ph.D student.
Adam Buick

So They Say: Marching & Chanting (1976)

The So They Say column from the January 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marching & Chanting

TUC general secretary, Mr. Len Murray, found himself in a somewhat awkward position on the 26th November when an “anti-unemployment march” of 20,000 marched past Congress House chanting “Murray, out. Murray out.” In earlier times man, still groping for a greater understanding of the world in which he lived, used at least to vent his ignorant outbursts towards ends which could be respected, or which expressed some basic emotion — for rain in times of drought or even, Ee-ai-addio, we won the cup. Now we are reduced to “Murray, out. Murray, out.”

But the false god of employment, much displeased at these unfriendly overtures, felt it necessary to point out immediately that although many of those on the march were “sincere and honest” there were others, “extremist groups which are callously exploiting this concern and the plight of the unemployed for their own political ends.” But what of the many “sincere and honest” workers who were protesting at the level of unemployment: what advice could the bogus champion offer? Something which shows that the ritual chanters are not alone in their ignorance.
  The best way of overcoming the problem is by the TUC working together with the Government — not by taking part in anti-Government demonstrations.
Guardian, 27th November 75
He went on to concede charitably that the level of unemployment was “unacceptably high,” a chant which may even be heard from the Conservative congregation. But all evade the central issue: that capitalism will never run in such a way as to remove the recurring problem of unemployment. Its very seeds lie in the nature of a society which produces solely for profit. All the caterwauling cannot remove the need for workers to look for themselves into the nature of capitalist society. Only then will they recognize the implications behind Mr. Murray’s pleas to cooperate with the ruling class, even if he may not.

Shuffling Back and Forth

If asked to name a political party made up from an assortment of men and women who have ill-conceived principles individually, and none whatsoever collectively, the Labour Party must surely qualify for a high rating. It may be argued that its members are generally agreed on one notion, that capitalism is the only way in which society may be organized, but as many of its members see some imaginary difference between private capitalism and state capitalism, we can only conclude that it is a “principle” of which they are only dimly aware.

In recent months the Labour Party has been called “a coalition government” in its own right, both by opponents and by its own members. So many shades of what we are loath to call “opinions” lurk within the membership that it was hardly surprising to find the Prime Minister commenting on the disunity within the ranks. As a result of Reg Prentice’s dismissal by the Newham constituency party, an internal struggle has taken place in which the dreaded extremists have emerged. Mr. Wilson has taken them to task and in doing so he seems to have found so many members whose “views” he rejects that we visualize the rest of the membership desperately shuffling back and forth like a flock of sheep trying to keep on the “safe ground.”
  I want to warn the national executive about the situation which is developing. I reject the arrogance of extremists on the non-Party anti-Party Left — people who have always opposed what we are trying to achieve — and equally the arrogance of the anti-Party Right . . .
  I have spent 13 years so far, trying to keep this party together and I do not like what is going on.
Guardian, 27th November 75
Mr. Wilson may not like what’s going on, he may “reject” this faction or that, but never so far as to discourage any and everyone from voting Labour. He does not reject the votes, because that is all the Labour Party requires from its supporters.

Back to Earth

Like the man who clutches at straws, Mr. John Stonehouse MP is valiantly trying to show that he, like so many other MPs, once had principles too. That is before he entered the cruel world of “public life.” He was signing copies of his book “Death of an Idealist” on 24th November when he remarked:
  People entered public life with ideals but found that the pressures of life warped and changed their personalities so that they were prepared to throw away their ideals.
Guardian, 25th November 1975
And as if to prove that he has now become a “realist” in the day-to-day affairs of capitalism, we note that he has reverted to his former practice of entering the lobby together with his unprincipled colleagues at the first sound of a “division bell.”

Two Views

In recent weeks the newspapers have carried several Government-sponsored advertisements which read “Inflation — we can beat it together.” The current layout shows two sincere and trustworthy faces each with a small personal commentary assuring the reader that the defeat of inflation is of paramount importance. Trades Union leaders among others have appeared. The version in the London Evening Standard of 1st December gave the views of one Pat Cole, Docker at the Royal Docks of London, whose view as an “ordinary working man” was that “knowing the cause of inflation isn’t important. Stopping inflation is.” On the other half of the page, concurring with Mr. Cole’s view, was Sir John Cohen the life president of Tesco Stores.
  Inflation is the greatest danger facing this nation. It saps our energy and lowers our morale. It leads to higher prices. It leads to unemployment, which is a useless, wasteful, and almost immoral thing to do. We at Tesco have always been aggressive traders . . . Over the years we have been committed to fighting rising prices . . . We are doing everything possible to increase our productivity and to keep our costs down so that we can minimise what is passed on to our customers.
But before Mr. Cole, and millions like him, applauds too loudly at Cohen’s drum beating, he would do well to consider their respective positions. Mr. Cole complains that most dockers “don’t even see £50 a week in take-home pay” but if he cared to examine the financial pages of his newspaper on the 27th November, he would have noted that Pre-Tax profit at Tesco improved in the twenty-four weeks up to 9th August 1975 to £9,381,000 from £8,362,000 in the same period of 1974. When Cohen says that Tescos are “aggressive traders” and that they are “committed to fighting rising prices” and increasing “productivity”, all “ordinary working men” should appreciate that wage increases to the Tesco boss, as to any other member of the capitalist class, are rising prices and as such they will fight them. The increase in productivity can only come from the working class, but the benefit accrues to the owners of the means of production and distribution in terms of increased Profit. Tescos for example anticipate “materially higher profitability” in the second half of their financial year.

If workers are given the impression that the “Fight against Inflation” is one in which the owners put aside their class interests to fight a common enemy, they are being deluded. Let the capitalists dress up as dockers themselves if this falsehood is to be projected.

Missile Order

The Society of Business Economists held a conference on the 2nd December in which they discussed the “Economic Outlook for 1976”. The report in the Times of 3rd December told us that this assortment of experts were “pessimistic about inflation and the balance of trade” and that they were “gloomy” on unemployment. The view of those attending the conference was that the unemployed would number between 1,400,000 and 1,800,000 by the end of 1976.

However, elsewhere the British Aircraft Corporation was announcing that it will be able to maintain the jobs of 10,000 of its own skilled workers for at least ten years, as well as many jobs within other factories supplying BAC with components. The Corporation had just received an order from Iran for the supply of the Rapier anti-aircraft missile system, valued at £186m. The Chairman of BAC, Mr. G. R. Jefferson commented
  We are delighted by this further expression of Iran’s confidence in us and our product.
Times, 3rd December 1975
The charmingly titled “Missiles Sales Director”, Mr. Eric Sanson, let us have more details of the “product”
  Tracked Rapier uniquely provides cross country mobility at 38 mph and is able to operate in soft sand or snow. It has armoured protection for crew and missiles, eight missiles ready to fire, high kill probability with proximity fuses, and a blind firing system.
We maintain that with the establishment of Socialism a tremendous increase in the numbers of those performing useful work will occur. Here for example are 10,000 skilled men and women who will not be engaged in making products with “high kill probabilities.”
Alan D'Arcy

Letters: Would like to know more (1976)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Would like to know more 

I saw your ad in Tribune and I think I would like to know more about the Party and its policies/views.
Firstly how would you help solve the problem of starvation today in the third world, in a capitalist society? Would the people living in the industrialized countries have to cut their standard of living to feed these people? Do you think they would stand for this? Even the unions — the members of which claim to be socialists — might say to the third world “We’re not going to have our standard of living cut!”

Do you think some unions have become too powerful — so powerful as to be able to over-ride the elected parliament and take what they want at the expense of the members of weaker unions?

Is our present police force and our over-all judicial system working satisfactorily and fairly or not? If not, what would you replace it with?

I understand your ideal is to have a world in which there are no barriers between countries (or to have no countries as such). Would there then be a world parliament to govern the people? Please give a rough outline of your system.

Also what are the Party’s views on nationalization, education, religion and the EEC (did you say "Get out”? If so, was your only reason for taking this stand because the system on which the EEC is based is capitalist?). Could a Socialist Europe be obtained through the EEC?

Does your party have any intention of putting candidates in any general or local elections? How many members have you got, and how would I go about joining you if I support your views?
Derek Clarke

1. A great deal of humbug is talked about “starving millions”. The basic fact is that capitalism does not produce food for people to eat: it produces only what can be sold at a profit, regardless of what needs exist. If the starving, or the homeless, found themselves able to pay after all, they would no longer be faced by a shortage. The case against capitalism is not that it distributes wealth inequitably, but that it cannot develop the productive powers. Socialism, by removing the monumental restriction of production for profit, will enable man to produce to meet the needs of the world’s population.

2. Trade unions do not and cannot over-ride Parliament (nor is it correct that all trade unionists even claim to be Socialists). Their function is the limited one of working to keep up the price of labour-power against counter-pressure from the employers. How much they can gain for their members depends chiefly on the state of the economy: in boom times they are relatively successful, but in times of depression and mass unemployment they are obviously in a weak bargaining position. There is no “wages fund” in which one union dips at the expense of others. If, say, the engineers gain a pay rise that does not obstruct agricultural workers from gaining one: in each case it is obtained from their respective employers, and no-one else.

3. Yes, they are working satisfactorily for the ruling class for whom they exist. “Fairness” does not enter into it. Our aim is not to improve on “justice” but to do away with it and have Socialism instead.

4. Socialism will be world-wide, with full access by everyone to everything which is produced, and therefore no money. There will be no parliament “to govern the people”, because government is required only in class-divided societies to maintain the monopoly by the owning class and keep the subject class in restraint.

5. Nationalization is a change in form made to meet capitalist requirements, and is favoured by the Conservatives and Liberals as well as the Labour Party; it has nothing to do with Socialism. The SPGB is opposed to all religion. Education is the process of training the young to take their place in society; in capitalist society, therefore, it is designed for the needs of capitalism and nothing else.

We were wrongly reported in The Guardian as advocating “Get out of Europe”. Being in or out makes no difference to the working class, whose problems can be solved only by establishing Socialism.

6. The SPGB has between six and seven hundred members. We put up candidates for Parliament and in local elections when possible. Membership is conditional on a full understanding of the Socialist case. When you think you are ready for it, apply to your nearest Branch or to Head Office.

Brainy people

Some years ago I saw a film in which the principal topic was that the wealthy were impractical, all right at brain work but not much good at mundane operations. The plot included two men, a girl and a stoker on a yacht. The two men were wealthy Parisians. The yacht was wrecked on a deserted island. The two wealthy men were always giving the stoker, the working man, money to buy something. In the end he saw they were impractical and when the money ran out he took their boots and so on. He himself adapted to the situation and caught fish with pieces of wire. Of course there came a day when an aeroplane saved them all and back to civilization.

My question is this. Has it been surveyed that, say, 60 per cent, of the wealthy cannot do practical things but are good at brain work? What do you say?
W. Popplewell

Though we have not heard of a survey, we are quite prepared to believe that most of the rich are not proficient at practical work. There is nothing inborn about it. The reason is simple — they don’t have to do it, but get their livings provided for them. The working class, on the other hand, have to be proficient in endless ways.

However, you say the rich may be “all right at brain work”. They want you to think so. That is an excuse dating back to Plato for the class division in society ("we have explained the reason why the good are useless”; “the multitude cannot be philosophical”). “Brain work” is not a separate realm from practical work: the wealthy have the working class do that for them equally.

Underlying the myth that the ruling class have all the intellectual powers is the long tradition of “culture”, i.e. the arts and philosophy pursued by leisured sections of society. We do not reject them: on the contrary, we acknowledge the contribution every social system and ruling class has made to human development until it outlived its usefulness. Subject classes have participated relatively little in this culture, except to work as required.

But modern capitalism would fare badly if it stuck to the ruling class for “brains” to run it. Hence the continual extensions and reorganizations of public education in the last hundred years, picking over the mass of working-class material for the abilities the system needs. We need Socialism — don’t we? — to allow everyone’s abilities to be realized, and to get rid of the silly superiority-distinction between “brain work” and “practical work”.

Anarchists and Violence

I don’t think you can dismiss Peter Newell’s comment as not being serious enough. These “stupid anarchists” as you call them under your article “50 Years Ago — Revolution and Violence” said right from the start that the Bolsheviks with their authoritarian socialism and centralized powers would lead to state capitalism.

Your two main criticisms of anarchists seem to be (a) they use violence and (b) they are opposed to parliamentary democracy. By definition, an anarchist is someone who holds a certain attitude and resists oppression. Not all anarchists promote violence, but the violence adopted by the state is used to keep capitalism going. To resist and fight this force is a step towards liberty, even if violence has to be employed. Obviously the use of force is inconsistent with freedom and Socialism, but how else is one to organize against capitalism which is inherently kept going by violence?

When anarchists say they are against democracy it means they are against parliamentary democracy which is the path for a party or person to take government. Anarchists see governments as representing the fetters upon society and maintaining the state’s class divisions. We fight for true democracy without political parties competing for power. Workers’ control is economic freedom and we’ll fight for it.

As an advocator for Socialism you are utterly unrevolutionary as you see it only through parliamentary methods and take up a policy of advocating and giving “Socialist understanding” to the workers.
G. Goss

Your letter provides the reason why it is impossible to take these contentions seriously. You say anarchists said right from the start that the Bolsheviks “with their authoritarian socialism” would produce state capitalism. This is a proposition quite contrary to the one made by P. Newell, whom you think you are supporting. We should be interested to hear how Socialism could lead to capitalism.
It is not disputed that anarchists in Russia opposed the revolution and suffered for doing so. That may give rise to personal sympathy, but why should we assume that “this resistance was in good cause for Socialism”? Many individuals and organizations refuse to accept the state’s authority — for example, numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses went to prison in the last war as objectors to military service — but to suggest we therefore accept them as revolutionaries is ludicrous. The ending of your letter makes clear that you as an anarchist reject Socialism.

We note that you accept our statement that anarchists accept violence, and admit that it is “inconsistent with freedom and Socialism”. In the light of that, you must not blame anyone for the surmises they make as to the meanings of the “true democracy” and “workers’ control” you promise to fight for. Similarly, you object to our policy of “Socialist understanding”, and we have to take this as meaning an intention to minority action unsupported by understanding.

We are aware of the long-established anarchist attitude to the state, and know nothing in favour of it. The state controls legal and military machinery, and you assert that “to resist and fight this force is a step towards liberty”. We would have thought anarchist experience would indicate it is a step towards prison and early graves. Our case is the different, realistic one of aiming at possession of the state machine so that it cannot be used against the Socialist revolution.

World Communication

After buying my first Socialist Standard at a dance in Bolton and having gone home and read it from back to front and being somewhat shocked at finding a party that thought along the same lines as myself and had never heard of it, I decided to find out more about it. This I did, and now subscribe to the SS although not yet having joined the party.

To get to the point, I would like to give my opinion and some of the many people with whom I have had discussions. This being the fact that whilst agreeing totally with the SPGB principles of a world socialist system, we thought the chances of the whole world voting simultaneously would be impossible. So we came to the opinion hat it needs starting off in one country. Taking our own as an example the only problems we could foresee in doing this is that people would not be able to have free movement in and out of the country for holidays etc. until other countries followed suit and joined in the Socialist revolution. Our reasons for thinking like this are that this country needs to import and see no reason reason why this could not continue as long as we controlled what we bought against what we sold instead as at present leaving it all to chance. We felt this could work as long as the difficulties were explained to the electorate and if they then still voted a Socialist Party into power it would mean they were willing to sacrifice some things for the advantages a Socialist system would bring.

Have you ever thought what we would do if the majority of British people wanted to vote Socialist at the present? Would we have to say you cannot have it because the rest of the world don’t want it?
R. A. Roscow

Capitalism covers the globe and must therefore be replaced on a worldwide basis. Socialism is by definition a worldwide social system. It would not be possible to replace the market economy, with production solely for use and free access to goods and services, in one country.

Ideas do not develop in isolation. The conditions which give rise to the need for Socialism are experienced by workers in every country. It is extremely unlikely that Socialist understanding will reach maturity in only one country. (Think also of modern communications).

An immense majority of the worldwide working class ready to implement Socialism will constitute an irresistible social force. A small time lapse between the final voting for it in different areas would be of no consequence.

Fighting Talk

“Government of the people, BY the people, FOR the people” is often quoted — rightly so — as the basic principle of democracy. This form of government does NOT yet exist in Great Britain or anywhere else. Certainly there is government OF the people. We are faced at very important decisions of our lives with legal and political restrictions, enforced by an hierarchy of judges, courts, police, taxmen, local councils etc.

This governing is done BY only some of the people, namely 635 of them and several thousand civil servants. Some of these — the MPs — are, in an occasional way, responsible to the electorate, but there are more faceless men with the real power than we ever had nightmares about. With so many sanctions placed upon us the government can hardly be said to be FOR the people.

Democracy does not exist at the polling booth, and I cannot believe it ever will. Why should I be expected to choose someone to tell me what to do, instead of choosing what to do myself. True democracy lies in the brotherhood of the streets. Take up your weapons and fight, brothers!
Alan James Edward Hardy 

We are at a loss to know what fighting in the streets has to do with democracy. It can only be the policy of minorities who seek to impose their will by force.

The present form of government has the support of the vast majority of people. The electorate — at least 85% of whom are members of the working class — demonstrates this support through the ballot box. To this extent it is democratic. The working class votes for political parties which are pledged to continue capitalism (in whatever form) but this is no reason to abandon the polling booth.

Our object is Socialism. A social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for production requires the active participation of all of its members. It cannot therefore be achieved until the vast majority of the working class are organized consciously and politically for that sole purpose.

When the working class wants Socialism it will use the vote, a powerful weapon, to gain control of the machinery of government. Socialist delegates will go to Parliament with the clear mandate to dispossess the capitalist class, so that the means and instruments for production can become the common property of all. We will then have democracy in the fullest sense.


It has occurred to me that the Standard might help to clarify a question that has been popping up constantly of late.

"What will people do with their leisure time, when the hours of labour are reduced, as they are bound to be when we have finally introduced true Socialism?” “At the moment, many people are being thrown out of work or made redundant and are not very happy with all this leisure time on their hands.” This cannot be said to be due entirely to monetary problems because most of them are “doing very nicely on unemployment or redundancy pay” (their opinion, not mine).

What would be the difference? Can you elaborate on what you think it would be like under Socialism; how can you be sure that people would be able to fill their days satisfactorily as a community? It is generally considered that a high proportion of child delinquency and vandalism is due to boredom.
Doris G. Featherston 

Along with considering those to whom leisure is a problem, it is useful to think of those for whom it is none at all. People lucky enough to have interesting and creative work often scarcely know there is such a thing: the division, and the problem, do not exist. There are others, including most Socialists, who have keen interests and regret having to give up their time to go to work. We think these will be the characteristic situations in Socialism.

The problem of leisure arises from the division and circumstances of labour. Working people are obliged to spend eight hours a day at more or less unattractive occupations, with scheduled breaks and a now-you-can-go-home at half-past five, for fifty years on end. They are conditioned to this from early childhood — the school day is a rehearsal of the working day. Having gone home, they are not free at all Many are tired, not in the sense of dire exhaustion but in that they are inclined only to passive amusements which are felt to be unsatisfying. Lack of money plays a part: numbers would say that if they could afford it they would do this and that. Insofar as they have any money to spare, the grasping hand of commerce furnishes leisure-time “attractions” which fail to re-create as recreation should.

Delinquency and vandalism no doubt do result largely from boredom, but not necessarily with leisure The more likely source of them is work or school, and resentment at empty and humiliating days. It is usually said “they could find something to do”: what? It is a condemnation of capitalism that it provides such a sterile life for great numbers of people, denying them satisfactions and then reprehending them for not making better use of their time.

Transition Stage

The material you sent me seems to pose two problems: (a) If there is no intermediate stage between capitalism and Socialism (communism) there seems to be the implication that capitalism must raise the level of production to that necessary for communism. I cannot see that happening. In fact, if it did, there would be the paradox: why bother about Socialism if capitalism raises production to such a level as to allow free distribution? (b) What happens to Socialist propaganda under fascism?
J. A. Wilson 

There can be no intermediate stage between capitalism and Socialism. We either have class-owned means of production and capitalism, or common-ownership, which is Socialism. There is nothing between the two, which is neither one or the other.

Why you find the implication that “capitalism must raise the level of production to that necessary for communism” unacceptable, is a little puzzling since this is precisely what capitalism does. We refer you to The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels where they trace the history of change from one social system to another and point to the dynamic role of the class-struggle, which centres upon the question of the ownership of the means of production.

Engels explains what he calls the “fundamental proposition” of the Manifesto in his 1888 preface and concludes
  now-a-days, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class — the proletariat — cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class — the bourgeoisie — without, at the same time, and once and for all emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.
(page 56 SPGB edition.)
Marx was over-optimistic in thinking that Socialism would be established in his lifetime. This led to the view he expressed in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, that during a transition period the means of the wealth production would have to be rapidly developed. But all this was more than a century ago. Today advanced technology spans the earth. The potential for abundance exists.

This leads to what you imagine is a paradox, “why bother about Socialism if capitalism raises production to such a level as to allow free distribution?” It is the continuation of class-ownership with its restrictive profit-motive and antagonistic market-economy, which bars the way to free distribution. Only from the basis of world-wide common-ownership, can modern science and industry be geared to free-access and production solely for use. The property relations of capitalism are obsolete and form a barrier to social progress. When working-class thinking catches up with the implications inherent in these facts, they will remove the barrier.

This has a bearing on your final point about Socialist propaganda under fascism. Fascism is only a dictatorial, police-state, means of administering capitalism. Fascism cannot hold back the spread of ideas or the developments which lead to changing society. Fascism, like other forms of capitalism, exists because of working-class acceptance, acquiescence and support, in a word, because of their political ignorance. But this is not a fixed and static situation. The social problems and contradictions of capitalism continue to provide the raw material for working-class thinking. This is how Socialist propaganda was born. Socialist ideas alone hold the solution to the problems, nothing can prevent their growth and ultimate triumph.