Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Reality of Equality (1942)

From the March 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism implies that all will have free and equal access to the means of living. Anything else, whatever it may be, is not Socialism. That is why we are looked upon as visionaries, particularly by the people who use the name of Socialism as a label for their reform nostrums. Social equality, we are told, is a dream. A vague, utopian concept with no place in practical politics. That view is also held by the majority of the working class. They have the sense of inferiority which is partly due to their subject position, but chiefly the result of the free education so generously bestowed upon them by their masters. It is not surprising that the ordinary, average working man believes that existing inequalities are eternal and inevitable, when the self-styled intellectuals who offer themselves as his leaders, share the same misconception. We hear it often. From the exceedingly bumptuous fry on the climb. The song goes something like this: “if we all started from scratch it would be the same all over again. Some would have, and others would not. The brainy and the thrifty would become rich, the dull and lazy would be poor."

We, too, are also aware of physical and mental inequalities in men, but we know that these differences can be easily exaggerated. We can quote Mr. G. B. Shaw on this point: “To the ordinary man the difference between himself and the great man is infinite. To the great man it is infinitesimal. . . . " Increased mental development due to economic advantages and better education is very often alleged to be the result of hereditary abilities. Even doctors without patients and lawyers without clients regard themselves as the natural born superiors of dockers and miners. Although probably many a docker educated to be a lawyer or a doctor would do much better in Harley Street or the Law Courts. What these people fail to understand is that all men are equal in one overwhelmingly important respect. The individual, no matter what his physical and mental development, is entirely dependent upon the efforts of the whole of society for his existence and his comforts. Take the case of the learned professor, for example. We know that even the most learned professor remembers to eat sometimes. Other men must obtain his food for him. Grimy and stunted men must dig in the bowels of the earth for the coal that warms his house. The milkman brings the milk, the baker brings the bread, and the tailor sends in his bills. A strike of railwaymen, busmen, or perhaps taxi-drivers, would no doubt cause him some inconvenience. He is utterly dependent on a society of non-professors for all of these extremely valuable ministrations. More important; modern capitalist development, with its gigantic socially operated instruments of production, has increased the dependence of the individual on society as a whole. This not only applies to individuals but to nations, and even continents. No man is indispensable; all kinds of work are necessary. In a society where an article, before it reaches the consumer, may have to pass through several thousand hands and, perhaps, travel many miles, the individual cannot assume an importance of very great magnitude. Socialism is a recognition of the interdependence of men and women all over the world. It is not a sharing-out process where everybody will start off with five shillings or five pounds, and then look after himself. Human society is not a race-track, nor is it a jungle, even though it may give that appearance to superficial observers. We know that men must work together, and in working together they are equals. Socialism is a system of ownership which is consistent with the existing method of production. We say, that as wealth is produced in common it could be owned in common. Social equality is now a necessary condition for the fuller development of society, and this can only obtain with the common ownership of the means of production.

The equality of Socialism does not mean that we shall all be obliged to eat exactly the same quantities of food, and wear exactly the same kind of clothes, or even work exactly the same number of hours It means that every member of society will receive what he requires for his own personal needs, and of the best that can be provided for him. And in return, he would be under the obligation of working in whatever capacity he was able to work, in line with his abilities, taste, or health. It would put an end to the existence of a class of property owners enabled to live without working by the exploitation of those who work. The very clever, the ordinary and the foolish, will have the same social standing. There is no absolute law of nature which lays it down that a very clever man must eat more food, or wear more clothes, than a less gifted man, or that he needs a larger house, and an army of servants to wait on him. Very clever people do not get these things to-day by mere virtue of their cleverness; they can only have what opportunity and social conditions allow them to take, and capitalists only pay for those “clever” qualities which enable them to pile up more profits.

We urge the workers to rid themselves of their slavish notions. Wage-slaves they are, but they also have the power to free themselves. They are only held in subjection with their own consent. When they decide to establish a social order which is consistent with their interests there will be no power on earth to stop them. All that is necessary to bring it about is a slight extension of their knowledge from the sphere of industry to the sphere of politics. They will have made an important step in the right direction when they begin to see that as they produce and distribute wealth for the benefit of the capitalist class, they could just as easily and more efficiently produce and distribute it for society as a whole. A world of wealth, as yet relatively undeveloped, is awaiting their strength and ingenuity. Its almost incalculable resources will never be extended to their fullest whilst allowed to remain in the hands of a minority. Doubtless many workers are even now thinking along these lines at a time when they are pouring out a torrent of steel in order to shatter cities and men.

Notes by the Way: The Changes and Chances of War (1942)

The Notes by the Way column from the March 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Changes and Chances of War
The course of war is always unpredictable, not least in the new associations of old antagonists it brings about. Who would have predicted a few years ago that Prime Minister Churchill would be receiving an official “Trade Union delegation” sent by the Russian Government, and that the delegation would be accompanied by the British Foreign Secretary? Hardly less remarkable, in view of recent relationships, was the fact that the Russians were welcomed and sponsored not merely by the Communists but by Sir W. Citrine for the Trades Union Congress.

Under recent Emergency Orders the Government has power to remove directors and others about whose efficiency complaint is made, and in cases reported in the News-Chronicle (October 7th, 1941) workers in one factory were called in to give evidence which led to the removal.

In the sphere of Imperial relationship we have seen the Australian Prime Minister calling on U.S.A. to give aid against the Japs, and saying:—
 Without inhibitions of any kind, Australia looks to America, free from any pangs about her traditional links of kinship with Britain.—“News Chronicle,” December 29th, 1941.
Another incident, also no doubt attributable to the war, was the action of a Conservative newspaper quoting extensively from Marx in an editorial. This was the Evening Standard (December 3rd, 1941), and the point of the quotation was to show how closely the Vichy clique in France resemble their predecessors under Louis Napoleon, described by Marx in his work, "The Eighteenth Brumaire.” The Evening Standard was gracious enough to attribute the quotation to "a great historian," but they softened the blow for their readers by omitting to mention that it was K. Marx.

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One Nation Should Learn from Others
That "one nation can and should learn from others" is unexceptionable doctrine. (For the benefit of the Evening Standard that, too, is a quotation from their "great historian.”) It is, however, important to pick and choose what to learn. There was a time when, according to the Conservative Press, there was nothing to be learned from Russia, but in recent months many people have been asking that the authorities here should take an example from the way pilfering and rationing offences are treated in that country. A typical example is the following from the Sunday Express (February 8th, 1942): —
   Every dishonesty, small or great, is a sabotage of the war effort, and a nail in the nation’s coffin.
   In Moscow they shoot men or women where we fine them. In Moscow they mean business.
   If the civil courts are too gentle why not have military courts for all offences against the State at war? They at least would make the punishments really fit the crimes.
Many workers, exasperated by the way in which certain people can evade the rationing regulations, may sympathise with the call for the firing-squad. It should, however, be remembered that when the accepted standards in a country are lowered and brutalised the consequences in the long run are not going to be confined to a handful of black marketeers.

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The Workers are Stretched to the Limit
As the war goes on there is more talk about the alleged slackness of the workers—what more natural than that the higher-ups should look for other shoulders on which to lay the responsibility for their own shortcomings? It is interesting, therefore, to see two statements by men in a position to form a useful opinion.

One is the view expressed by the Managing Director of what is described as "a huge factory which is concentrating on production of a heavy bomber": —
  The staff is fine. I get hot under the collar when I hear the general accusation that workers in war factories are slacking. When the history of this war comes to be written, you will find that British factories turned out more machines, and finer machines, than any other country in the world.—“Daily Telegraph,” August 29th, 1941.
Recently, too, Sir Andrew Duncan, former President of the Board of Trade, now Minister of Supply, gave his view to Mr. Frank Owen. The latter, writing in the Evening Standard, says: —
  Andrew Duncan, who is a hard-headed, man and the best President of the Board of Trade for twenty years, told me the other day that he reckoned that British work, people were just about stretched to the limit. The Industrial Health Board confirms that view. So what’s the good of exhorting the workers to "Work Harder” ? It is like advising your wife, "Cook harder!” It has nothing to do with making the meal.—February 11th, 1942.
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War and the Child Pottery Workers
By 20 votes to 17 the House of Lords (February 11th, 1942) voted in favour of an Order extending the hours of labour for children, below 16, in the pottery industry from 48 to 53 a week. It is argued that this extension is necessary in order to maintain output in face of a shortage of labour, the children being required to fit their hours in with those of the adult workers. But what does it mean to the children? A view was given to the News-Chronicle by Miss Miriam Pease, formerly a Superintendent Inspector of Factories :—
  Mould-running is the most dangerous to health of trades in which children are employed. The mould-runner is well named because he runs back and forth between the moulders’ bench and the drying stove or bay.
   He never stops running while on the job.
  The child actually goes into the stove. It is hot and humid, and the shop itself it hot and dusty.—"News Chronicle,” February ,13th, 1942.
The Times said: —
  No one will question the patriotic intention of the trade union and the manufacturers’ association in agreeing to an extension of working hours. But it is highly doubtful whether the nation (not merely the industry) has any right to demand from young growing children, even in a time of acute emergency, such long hours of work, especially under the conditions which obtain generally in the pottery factories. The industry is scheduled as a dangerous trade on account of both silicosis and lead-poisoning. The children who assist the moulders work, at piecework pressure, in a hot, humid atmosphere heavy with silica. Many of the factories are said to be old-fashioned, ill-lit, and badly ventilated. It is blind-alley employment, and the work yields no training for other occupations.— “Times" February 13th, 1942.
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The Communists and Mr. Churchill
Early in 1939 when Mr. Churchill was not in the Government the Communists wanted him in. As soon as he got in they were demanding his removal. Now they are supporting him again. The following statements deserve to be recorded.

At the People’s Convention held in January, 1941, the Communists were demanding a People’s Government and a People’s Peace, and Mr. Harry Pollitt said that he wanted to see “ the victory of the people of this country over its real enemies in the Churchill Government and the policy it is pursuing at the present moment.” He added: —
  When we are united we are powerful. Let us be proud of our power and use it. The Churchill Government will be removed and a Government giving realisation to the programme and policy you are deciding to-day will be brought to power.—Report, page 48.
Just a year later, when a vote of confidence in the Churchill Government was carried in the House of Commons (28th and 29th January), Mr. W. Gallacher, the Communist M.P., was one of the 464 who voted for the vote of confidence. In his speech he particularly condemned some Tory M.P.s because, he said, their desire "is to weaken the Prime Minister.” He ended his speech by saying, "in spite of my opposition to the Municheers and my feeling that there is much that is wrong in the Government, I will give a vote for the Government when the Division takes place ” (Hansard, 28th January, col. 8B9).

The various somersaults of the Communist spokesmen in this country must be considered in relation to the changes of policy of the Russian Government, and it will not have escaped notice that a little earlier the Moscow radio’s official announcer, when sending greetings to Churchill on his birthday, had said: —
  The Soviet people join with the British ally in their good wishes for their leader Winston Churchill. We are glad that England has the right man at the helm in the decisive hour.—“Daily Mail,” December 1st, 1941.
Messrs. Pollitt and Gallacher will claim, of course, that their views are their own, honestly arrived at. We do not question this, but we may be forgiven for remarking that they are so spell-bound by the Russian example that their minds are unable for any length of time to reach or hold any conclusion other than that of Moscow.

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A Social Reform Chicken Comes Home to Roost
For many years the Labour Party imagined it was helping the workers by advocating changes in the method of raising taxes. In particular, the demand was made that the Government should raise all or most of its revenue by direct taxes on income such as income tax, excess profits tax, surtax, and less by "indirect” taxes such as taxes on beer, tobacco, etc. The argument was that indirect taxes raise the prices of the articles taxed and thus reduce the purchasing power of the workers’ wages. Not understanding what are the real factors governing the workers' standard of living the Labour Party failed to notice that no matter whether prices are higher or lower, wages always tend to fall into line, and a fall in prices brings no material change because wages fall too. Now the chicken has come home to roost because the extension of income tax to lower levels of wages has brought an outcry from the workers affected. Below is an extract from a broadcast by Mr. W. Lawther, President of the Mineworkers’ Federation, dealing with workers’ complaints about income tax.
  When I was a youngster we used to pass resolutions for the abolition of indirect taxation and for the institution of direct taxation. Apparently now that we've got what we want, we don't want it.—"Daily Telegraph,” February 2nd, 1942.
Perhaps after this experience the workers will be less ready to interest themselves in the capitalists’ problem of methods of raising State revenue and will give more thought to their own problem of ending capitalism.

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Gold Mining and the Shortage of Labour
In war-time we are told that all must work in essential industries and no labour must be wasted. Yet capitalism still goes on mining gold, refining it, and stowing it away in bank vaults. The City Editor of the News-Chronicle (February 14th, 1942) quotes from the American journal, Time:—
  “Gold,” says “Time,” "which nobody really needs is being mined at peak rates, while other crucially scarce metals are made even scarcer by the tightening pinch in mine labour, equipment, shipping space.” The British Empire Has over 500,000 workers employed in producing gold; the United States has 55,000. ‘‘Between them they swell the buried treasure at Fort Knox by a round 1,000 tons a year.”
Time says that the 30,000 Canadian miners ought to be put to other work, but adds the cryptic remark that South Africa is a different proposition since to withdraw from the Rand the 400,000 natives engaged in gold production would be to "let loose a pestilence in South Africa.”

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There Is Still Money About
The following is from an account of the auction sale of wines from the cellar of Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house:—
  I estimate that more than £17,000 was realised by the auction. Of the 1,200 dozens of hocks and moselles offered, the cheapest, a Forster Fleckinger Riesling 1936, sold at 260s. a dozen—21s. 8d. a bottle. A few dozen Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Auslese 1934 fetched 610s. a dozen—50s. 10d. a bottle. Average prices were round about 350s.-400s.
  The German wines were the focus of interest among the bidders, but champagnes, ports, sherries and clarets all fetched good prices, even for these days of restricted supplies.
   Four bottles of Cognac du Roi, Louis XVIII., 1820, were sold at £5 a bottle. What is believed to -e a record price was paid for 22 large bottles of Yellow Chartreuse at 1,360s. a dozen—£5 13s. 4d. a bottle.—"Daily Telegraph,” January 30th, 1942.
The seller of the wines, Mr. John Christie, was rather gloomy about the prospects of the rich after the war. He fears they will not be able to afford wines. "I feel,” he said, "that the patrons of the Festival after the war will prefer to see, say, iced lager on the tables around them rather than the expensive wines which they used to be able to afford. I regard this sale as a gesture to them.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Party Notes and News (1942)

Party News from the March 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Classes, Lectures, Discussions
Prior to the outbreak of the war, classes on diverse subjects were held at the old Headquarters in Southwark, and many of our readers will recall the highly successful lectures which were delivered under the auspices of the Bloomsbury Branch in Doughty Street, London. Many of the Bloomsbury lectures were repeated at various other London branches, and in some cases at branches in the provinces. War conditions, however, made it impossible for a time to continue this important activity. Gradually conditions improved sufficiently to enable us to organise a new effort aimed at developing the abilities of potential writers and lecturers, and generally fitting the members to increase their capacities for the propagation of Socialism.

Last September the first of a new series of classes on Marxian Economics, the Class Struggle, and Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern History was inaugurated. Com. C. Lestor was the tutor, and the classes were conducted every Monday evening at our new Headquarters. There was an average attendance of 35 keen students whose interest and enthusiasm were maintained throughout the course, which terminated in January. Another series to be run on similar lines is under consideration.

A writer’s training class, under the direction of Comrade H. Waite, is achieving encouraging results. Already a number of articles produced by the students of this class have been published in these columns, and as the class develops its full scope more articles will doubtless be forthcoming. The tutor is at present working on a scheme which may enable would-be writers for The Socialist Standard to receive tuition by correspondence.

Friday evenings are devoted to discussion meetings at which a Party speaker opens up the discussion on a subject previously selected by the organisers of the classes. Then follows a general discussion. Since the commencement of these meetings a variety of subjects, including many of topical interest, have been dealt with. Valuable experience has been gained by members who aspire to the Party’s platform. These meetings not only serve to increase the knowledge of members, but they afford many opportunities for them to develop their abilities to speak in public. The following Party speakers have contributed to the success of these meetings: Comrades Rubin, Waite, Turner, Cash, Young, Groves and Hardy. The average attendance at these meetings is 40 members.

On Sunday evenings, lectures have attracted audiences averaging about 60 members and sympathisers. Up to mid-February the syllabus and the lecturers were as follows: History of Political Economy,” Com. Goldie; ” Dictatorships, Ancient and Modern,” Com. Turner; “ History of Socialism,” Com; Cash; “ Federal Union,” Com. Groves; and ‘‘Tendencies for Socialism,” Com. Rubin. These lectures evoked great interest amongst the members, and the series is to be continued.

Although the foregoing classes and lectures are not the kind of activities from which the Party expects to benefit financially, the students have emphasised their enthusiasm by donating liberally.

The organisers are giving serious study to the question of enlarging the scope of the classes, and duplicating them in other parts of London. The possibility of extending aid to provincial branches to enable them to organise a similar effort is also under consideration.

In a few weeks the outdoor propaganda season will be here, and it is hoped that we shall be in a position to conduct an increased number of meetings as compared with last season.

Meanwhile, arrangements for debates are being made, and proposals for propaganda meetings in Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol, etc., are being examined by the Propaganda Committee. Fixtures, as they are made, will be announced in The Socialist Standard and advertised by other means.

Annual Conference
It is probable that the Party’s Annual Conference which is to be held on Good Friday, Saturday and Sunday, will be one of the most important and interesting in the history of our organisation.

Many delegates, members, and sympathisers from the provinces are expected to attend, and “exiles” from London will have the opportunity of renewing contacts.

Arrangements are being made to hold the Party Re-union and Dance in the evening of Easter Saturday. Details of the venue and times of the Conference, and of the Re-union, are announced elsewhere in this issue.

London comrades who are in a position to offer hospitality to delegates from the provinces during Easter, are asked to communicate details to the Social Committee at Head Office. A speedy response to this request will facilitate the task of fixing up suitable accommodation for our comrades.
H. G. Holt.
February, 1942.

To All Readers (1942)

Party News from the March 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these days of rising prices and income-tax demands, we hesitate to exploit the generosity of members and sympathisers by making further appeals for donations to Party funds. Necessity, however, forces us to overcome our reluctance in this matter, since donations are the means whereby the machinery of our organised activities may be oiled. Our task is to make Socialists, and the only way to fulfil that task is by propagating Socialist ideas through the medium of our publications and propaganda meetings. As printers require payment, and landlords require rent, we must have the money to enable us to continue our activities.

Since the eaters of surplus-value have no desire to assist us in advocating their abolition, it will be obvious that few millionaires can be expected to respond to this appeal, therefore we must rely on the self-sacrificing efforts of that section of society in whose interest the fight for Socialism is carried on— that is, the working class. Our experience is that there are an increasing number of people anxious to hear our case, and with the disillusionment that will surely come to large sections of the working class as a result of the failure of other political parties to solve their problems for them, we are convinced that many of them will be eager to listen to the only organisation which promises them nothing, but urges them to organise on the political field, in order to bring about their own emancipation. For various reasons, many sympathisers are unable to actively assist us, but let us give them the assurance that every penny they can contribute will be put to the most effective use. Our task is vital. Don't let it be said that lack of funds prevented us from carrying on. GIVE US ALL THE HELP YOU CAN.

Send donations to J. Butler, 298, Halley Road, Manor Park, E.12. P.O.s, cheques, etc., should be crossed and made payable to S.P.G.B.
A. Price (Party Funds Organiser).

50 Years Ago: Revolution and Violence (1975)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

In war and in so-called peace times the property-owning class have never hesitated to use force to gain their ends. In fact, violence has often been promoted in the workers’ ranks by agents of capital to make the butchery or defeat of the workers easier.

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Hence the talk about revolution meaning violence is pure hypocrisy amongst the supporters and reformers of capitalism.

While stupid anarchists and direct actionists have also talked about force, the fact remains that those who seek to replace capitalism by Socialism do not play the capitalist game of advocating violence.

Force and violence are not revolution. Revolution to a Socialist means the complete change from capitalism to Socialism, achieved by the control of political power by an organized and informed working class. Not a revolution of a section of workers; not a seizure of government by a few intent on dictatorship, but an organized action on the part of the majority of the workers who see the necessity of becoming politically supreme in order to transform the economic system. The revolution is made necessary by economic development, and it can only be successful if the working class understands the Socialist position. Therefore the educational work of the SPGB.

(From an unsigned editorial The Real Meaning of Revolution, Socialist Standard, November 1925.)

Ring the bell, Verger (1975)

Keir Hardie is not amused.
From the October 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sad cases are often reported when old people die and lie undiscovered for weeks or months. Another has come to our attention. The Independent Labour Party, aged 83, was recently found dead. A note beside the body said it had given up the ghost in a conference hall at Easter.

The coroner said the deceased had been ailing for many years, having existed on milk-and-water alone; there was a severe congenital malformation, making it remarkable that he had lived so long. Witnesses testified that he had plenty of money but became lonely and unable to make friends. He was known in the neighbourhood as “I Yell Pea”. As a younger person he had appeared fit and well, though probably overtaking his strength; in 1931 he quarrelled with his brother, a Mr. Leigh Burr-Parti, and had never been the same man since. The deceased’s landlady said he rambled a good deal about his godfather’s cap and his desire to emulate his Aunt Cleopatra, who had been all things to all men.

His will desired that his surviving relatives should go to the aid of Leigh Burr-Parti, whom he described as a good fellow who had only got into bad company. The executors are sending out monthly funeral cards headed “Labour Leader”, and would like to hear from anyone who can think of anything else to put because they can’t.

A number of wreaths and tributes were received, many of them from obscure people who signed themselves “M.P.” A Mr. Benn wished everyone well; Syd Bidwell wanted to see “real socialist literature”, as this is something he has missed reading; Mr. Heffer, Mr. Allaun, Mr. Atkinson and others sent messages of goodwill but were interrupted by coughing fits while they were writing. There was also a message from Highgate Cemetery saying that one of the occupants was turning in his grave.

Our suggested inscription for the tombstone is: The ILP was one of those who were going to show how to achieve Socialism by swifter and surer methods than Socialist ones. Its present-day counterparts repeat that they know quicker ways. The ILP’s history shows the boot to be on the other foot. Those who want Socialism are constantly made to wait — by the likes of them.
Robert Barltrop

A Rival For "The Beano"? (1975)

From the October 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

A prize for ingenuousness is due to Lord Bruce of Donington. In a letter to The Times of 23rd August he wrote about the Government’s anti-inflation policies getting insufficient support from the press, who are controlled by wealthy barons without sympathy for a Labour government. Therefore, said Lord Bruce, the need is for a government-controlled newspaper “on lines similar to the BBC” which would give “a fair presentation of the whole panorama of domestic and foreign affairs, of life as it is unsensationally lived”, etc.

The Times seems to let its letter-writers get away with anything, but most newspapers would think about their reputations before publishing wild stuff like this. When did the BBC go in for “a fair representation” of things? Political minorities occasionally get their existence and views made known in the “biased”, “untruthful”, “misleading” press Lord Bruce complains of; but not on the BBC. It is as difficult to get even a letter published on the radio as in a national newspaper, unless you are in the House of Lords. Does he really claim that the BBC does not suppress and trivialize under the editorship of smug individuals, as he says (quite rightly) happens with the press?

Lord Bruce is the former Labour MP Donald Bruce. He should be old enough to remember a pre-war incident when a trade-unionist was to broadcast. At the microphone he announced that cuts had been made in his script, by the BBC; he would therefore not read it, but would send it to the press. Moreover, a government-run publication is as susceptible to pressure groups as privately-owned ones are to commercial interests. Before the last general election Mrs. Whitehouse asked the party leaders for their views on the moral and political content of broadcasting. Presumably, if her association were strong enough, it would make the answers it wanted the condition of electoral support.

This newspaper, he says, would be produced in competition with the existing ones. As he knows quite well, in modern times a pro-Labour propagandist newspaper has never held its own in such competition for any length of time — the reason for the position he objects to. What Lord Bruce apparently wants is a Labour newspaper supported by the government. He is entitled to argue for such a project — but not to humbug his readers that the BBC provides a model for journalistic high-mindedness.
Robert Barltrop

Can Science Benefit Mankind? (1975)

From the October 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the modern capitalist class began its struggle against feudal rule, it was compelled to enlist the aid of empirical science and materialist philosophy. As feudal rule and the mediaeval church were historically connected, any struggle had to begin with the discrediting of existing religious ideas or religious practices.

The Reformation, sparked off by Luther in Germany in 1520, was the first major revolt against the Roman Catholic Church, then the centre of feudalism. The second was the advent of Calvinism in Holland and England (Cromwell). The French Revolution of 1789, and the German revolution of 1848, finally established the supremacy of the capitalist class over the political power and property of the church. From then on, religious institutions had to conform to the laws that were devised mainly for the commercial and industrial advancement of developing capitalism.

The church had previously “saved men’s souls” by suppressing their intellectual development, and any philosophy or science was only allowed strictly on the oppressive terms dictated by the church. For example, no anatomical research of corpses was allowed up to the 15th century; physicians had to take up metaphysics if they wanted to continue research. Astronomy was astrology; chemistry was alchemy; science, such as it was, was in the hands of the priests. The language of science was the dead Latin of the church which had the effect of holding back the publication of new discoveries. The church itself had adopted many of the myths of Greek mythology, and the old Buddhist and Norse legends. They also accepted the Mosaic law that the earth was 5,000 years old and was based on spontaneous universal creation by a God. The church made sure that men would not be in a position to explain their environment, and what they did not understand they would worship with superstition.

The capitalist class needed science more than religion; you cannot base modern wealth production on the myths of the book of Genesis or Buddhist legends. The process of wealth production and distribution needs a full scientific understanding of the working of the laws of nature and the harnessing of those laws to the needs of the capitalist social system. One of the drawbacks of teaching several generations to think scientifically is the impossibility of arbitrarily shutting off the process. Where do you draw the line? How can you restrict thinking and the spread of ideas? The simple answer is that you cannot. The capitalist class, as with the church before it, wants the spread of knowledge to be under the control of the ruling body, but unlike the church which required ignorance, capitalism requires scientific knowledge in order to survive. So they try to square the circle by channelling the enquiring mind along the lines of new myths, or old myths refurbished. One of the ancient myths of capitalist society is that the production of wealth and its distribution is due to the energy and activity of the capitalist class.

It is to the discredit of international scientific bodies that they do little to refute this fantastic claim on the most elementary scientific basis. The reason is not difficult to find — they have become respectable. Their institutions are concerned with perpetuating the commonplaces of accepted practices. The Royal Institution and its international counterparts are castrated organizations, always looking over their shoulders to see if they are in harmony with their masters’ desires. No criticism is made of the disorder and anarchy surrounding the social order. They think that “realism”, as they describe it, should always have priority. This “realism” is nothing other than a servile acquiescence to the social relations of capital, and is a prostitution of the scientific method. It must be apparent to any group of scientists, particularly those engaged in medical science, that facilities for research are limited by the deliberate withholding of grants by governments and others. It must be frustrating to know the solution to a medical problem and be effectively debarred from carrying it out. Yet very few voices are raised in protest. In short, science has become bourgeois and is dependent upon capitalism for its operation and expansion.

In an article entitled “Science and the Quest for Human Purpose” (Times, 21st June 1975) Sir George Porter, Director of the Royal Institution, discusses the future of man in relation to science. He states that most of our worries and anxieties stem from a “lack of purpose which was rare 100 years ago”. He is referring to the large number of scientific discoveries made during the last century when capitalism was progressing and expanding. The purpose of science then, as now, is to serve the financial interests of the ruling class. Sir George also regrets the absence of a new philosophy and purpose. We wonder where Sir George has been these last hundred years.

There is a new philosophy and purpose — it is called Scientific Socialism. Its scientific basis was laid by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels over 100 years ago. Broadly speaking its purpose, to quote a phrase of Sir George, is to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This cannot be done by bourgeois science, but only by the application of a progressive proletarian science. We can well understand Sir George’s rather uncertain thoughts on the future of man. Capitalism is certainly in need of some kind of “spiritual revival” in the sense that they long for the good old days. What with no comfort from the theologians, and an uncertain economic future, it will have to find some mystic source of support.

Sir George ventured the opinion that the future of man rests with science, and thinks that the proper study of man may be through physics, chemistry and biology. We do not agree. The study of man must be concerned with his social being, his social relations and social organization, and the development of his productive forces. Physics, chemistry and biology are ancillary to man’s social organization, as are all branches of learning. What men need is the science of society — an investigation into the phenomenon of wealth production and distribution, the arrangement of social classes and the reason why social changes occur. In other words, what man needs is information about society, and bourgeois science will not provide that kind of information. We know about physics, chemistry and biology, etc.; what is now required is a form of social organization, Socialism, where we can benefit from existing knowledge. The benefits of science today accrue to the ruling class not to society generally — that is why it has become respectable. Far from serving mankind, it serves one kind of man — the capitalist.

Most scientists, like other workers, are socially and politically ignorant about the state of society. Some are religious, spiritualists, reformers, etc., but they are trained thinkers and should recognize the existence of social science which is fundamental to a true understanding of the scientific method. Darwin was able to solve the problem of how there originated vegetable and animal species in the struggle for existence. Marx succeeded in solving the problem of how there arise different types of social organization in the struggle of men for their existence. The spirit of research was the same in both thinkers despite the different fields. The capitalist has enjoyed the fruits of Darwinism; let us move quickly to the application of the science of Marx. The introduction of scientific Socialism will mean the freedom of all science to develop and fulfill its true social function — as a practical tool for society’s benefit.
Jim D'Arcy

Poverty Anonymous (1975)

From the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

If it would be wrong to say that poverty is an old friend of the working class, it is certainly a companion from the womb onward.

It is an ignorant delusion to believe that poverty is abolished during booms and times of so-called full employment, and only returns from banishment when there is a slump and unemployment. All the conditions of hardship, misery and deprivation, which are currently receiving so much media coverage, are there all the time. A slump simply makes them more widespread and sharpens the degree of suffering.

Poverty is an inherent part of class society. Under capitalism, the means of wealth production are concentrated into the hands of a minority class, or their state machine (which comes to the same thing). Wealth, the goods and services of society, is produced for sale with a view to profit. The vast majority are employees. By definition, they are propertyless. They must sell their working abilities for wages in order to live. They spend their lives as appendages to the factories, offices, mines and machinery owned by those who employ them. They are hired and fired at the dictate of the world market and the profit margin. They are alienated from life in any meaningful sense of the word. The wealth they are able to obtain, either through wages (if employed) or so-called Social Security (if unemployed or sick) is generally enough to keep them in working order and maintain themselves and families between pay-days.

That there are many workers in “better” paid jobs, who think of themselves as middle-class, in no way changes the basic situation. In fact it often accentuates it.

Poverty leaves a terrible imprint upon all who suffer it. Not only in the physical struggle to get by, but even worse are its mutilating effects on the personality and the mind. There is nothing so brutally pathetic, as a worker with a job who counts his “prosperity” in terms of hard work and rails against other workers who live on social security, without working. Poverty of the mind can be seen in the acceptance by most workers of the perverse ideology of their capitalist masters. It is this which anchors them to capitalism so that the whole ridiculous set-up keeps going.

It is not uncommon to hear workers in this country argue that if places like India, and other starving areas in the world, were brought up to the standard of living in Western Europe “we” would have to make sacrifices. This reflects the capitalist ideology, in that it glibly looks to solutions within capitalism. Whilst it is true that poverty is a relative thing and that the degree of poverty among workers in most of western Europe is not so extreme as that of many people in India, this becomes a convenient argument in favour of workers here being content with their lot.

The real perspective in which to see the issue, is in terms of the technological capacity for world abundance, as against the inhuman, profit-motivated performance of capitalism with its vast wastefulness and destruction (no less so in India). Capitalism subjects modern technology to the strait-jacket of the market. Over-population is one of the absurd myths that help to make capitalism seem plausible. It is sheer humbug to talk of over-population in a system which destroys vast amounts of food each year, or simply does not produce it. As we write, the Daily Mail (20th October 1975) carries a story of nearly a quarter of a million tons of apples destined for destruction, because
 . . . the cost of shipping them to the hungry millions in Asia would be far more than their value.
Nowhere in the world are there any wealthy people starving. But even in the wealthiest countries there are poor people who go hungry.

John Pilger, the well-known and widely-travelled journalist, has seen poverty in many parts of the world. On 28th February 1975 the Daily Mirror carried a report he sent from Detroit. After a brief reference to the American Dream and Henry Ford’s promise to make the workers rich, the report gets down to the ugly realities of capitalism.

At the time of the report there were more than 8,000,000 Americans unemployed. In Detroit, the car industry was at a standstill with 26 per cent, (officially) unemployed. A young unemployed worker who was interviewed said:
  Guys who thought they had it made are now getting a taste of what the poor and the blacks have always had. I’ll say this; when the supplement runs out it won’t be only the blacks who’ll be picking up a brick to get some food.
Government food stamps are regarded as “the badge of poverty”. There are 37 million Americans who qualify. Pilger details a picture of abject poverty. He says:
  In the last three months since the lay-offs began in earnest, the Detroit Health Department has reported 150,000 cases of malnutrition, mostly among women and children.
And further:
  The same food which Washington sends to the starving of India is being sent to the heartland of American industrial wealth: and incredibly, people get this food with a medical prescription marked, in large type, MALNUTRITION.
Six months later, Pilger was in Liverpool and another report appeared in the Daily Mirror (14th August 1975). He interviewed a family who live in a three-year-old block of council “barracks”, where damp has destroyed lino, bedding and clothing. The rent for this unhealthy hole was £9.45 weekly. The breadwinner was unemployed. They were £50 in arrears of rent and had been threatened with eviction. The father, who is up at first light every day following up job ads, said: “Watching my kids pushing down bread and marge just to stop hunger pains is the greatest humiliation.” They were told by those champions of the needy, the so-called Social Security: “You should be more thrifty, you should be less wasteful.”

Pilger goes on to cite a report by the Child Poverty Action Group, showing that 5,000,000 people (in Britain) were spending as little as £1.60 per head each week on food, and this was diminishing. This was at a time when the average amount was £3.46. The penalty for two people being unemployed or sick in July 1974 was to be condemned by the Welfare-State to live on a pittance of 29 per cent. of average earnings. By November this year, it is expected to fall to 27 per cent.

Pilger slates Wilson and Healey, and calls them “jugglers and manipulators”. He says they “have lost all grasp of what is happening to millions of people in this country”. People who buy above-average amounts of baked beans and margarine and less than half the average amounts of butter, meat and fish. People who under a Labour government suffer hunger and among whose children rickets is returning.

Pilger, like the Daily Mirror and the media as a whole, comes to no conclusion. He lamely poses the question: "Where have all the radicals gone?” The “radicals” are those do-gooder reformists who built that supreme political irrelevance the Labour Party. Which, with the support of the Daily Mirror, is currently running British capitalism. The radicals, who were going to “tax the rich out of existence” a generation ago, seem resigned to the “compromise” of starving the poor out of existence. The Labour Party has long been stripped of any pretence of being other than a capitalist party.

Capitalism mocks all who try to tame it. The very morning the Daily Mirror announced 1,000,000 unemployed (25th July 1975) it carried a front page story about the Kleenex tycoon’s wife Roberta Kimberley, who filed a claim for expenses in her divorce case, which included £1,000 per month for food and £300 per month for flowers. Meanwhile, back on the other side of the class jungle, the nationalized (state-capitalist) gas and electricity authorities, with the aid of energy-man Benn, were making various ludicrous suggestions as to how the poor might be enabled to pay their ever-rising gas and electricity bills.

Determined as ever not to learn from history, the “Communist” party, IS, the WRP, the “bad boys” in the Labour party and the trade unions, are busily drumming up the schemes of the moment and proffering useless advice to the government on how to run capitalism — without crises. Poverty, despite all the schemes of the “left” and generations of reform legislation, is as virulent as ever. Socialists have never been deluded that it would be otherwise.
Harry Baldwin

Letters: Is this right needed? (1975)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is this right needed?
I have received various publicity pamphlets and a few copies of the Socialist Standard. I am, after reading them, very impressed with the ideals and motives for your work and for the fresh insight into social problems which you have. I am however dubious as to your views on religion. I agree that the church can be a voice for middle-and upper-class moderation and as such a threat to the cause of Socialism, but I feel that many people, like myself, do not believe everything they are told by the priests. As such I think that it is the Socialist Party which is wrong on this issue, and I feel that the workers should have the right to worship as they wish.

However, be that as it may, I am, except for that point, a confirmed Socialist and will, through discussion and debate spread the Principles and Object among the philosophical groups which I cultivate. And anyone willing to listen. Keep up the good work, the goal is ahead!
M. Shaw

Our correspondent thinks that “it is the Socialist Party which is wrong on this issue” yet he does not offer us a reason why we are wrong. The whole idea of workers worshipping, or even needing “the right to worship”, shows considerable confusion about our position. As materialists (in the philosophical sense) we see the establishment of Socialism being brought about by a majority of men and women who understand and want it, and who realize that no-one else will bring it about for them. In short, they will be prepared to work for this end.

We argue that ideas of God and religion arose basically because men could not explain natural phenomena. They invented a “mirror image” of themselves and endowed it with supernatural powers. The fact is that all gods and religions have reflected the society from which they sprang.

Religious ideas today have become a hangover from the past and are not compatible with science or knowledge. Religion is not an individual thing, but a social phenomenon used by the ruling class in maintaining the status quo, and it should be recognized as such. It is inconceivable that an enlightened Socialist majority will have the slightest need for any kind of religious ideas. Once men understand the material basis of society, then the mysteries of religion start to unravel themselves and the need for a “God” is rendered unnecessary.

One point to note is that Socialists do not “worship” either God or anything else. All our ideas are subject to intense thought and debate which must be based on reality. We do not have “faith” in the sense that Socialism is something we accept without thinking about it, nor do we encourage this approach from members of the working class. Quite the contrary: it is because we think about it and debate that we are Socialists. When the majority of workers also examine the material conditions in the world and how they operate, Socialism will be introduced.

For further reading, see the October 1975 Socialist Standard: “Can Science Benefit Mankind?

Misconduct at the wake
I suppose i should thank your correspondent for his remarks about the ILP in the October Socialist Standard (“Ring the Bell, Verger”). In comparison to the treatment meted out to miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, we come off rather lightly. On the other hand, the ILP is delivered a belated obituary notice I would like, however, to point out that in straining the metaphor about the ILP’s demise, R. B. may well have created confusion in readers’ minds as to what actually has happened to the ILP.

Put briefly, the Independent Labour Party underwent a fundamental transformation at its Easter Conference following upon several years of deliberation It emerged from conference as Independent Labour Publications, and in its new  rôle pledged its support for the Labour Party and for socialism. In July the ILP re-launched the Labour Leader, and we received greetings from a wide section of the labour movement welcoming these developments.

The ILP, unlike the SPGB perhaps, has come to recognize the futility of sectarianism and believes that if we really wish to change society then it is necessary to be with the working class, and not expect them to seek you out in the political wilderness. R. B. is wrong if he considers that the ILP sees that there are short cuts to socialism. But nor do we believe that by standing outside the political mainstream anything can be achieved.
Barry Winter
Secretary, Independent Labour Publications.

Your letter is a cameo of the equivocation and muddle- headedness which have always characterized the ILP. You say it “underwent a fundamental transformation”. Yes: it ceased to be a political party, which is what we were saying.

“Support for the Labour Party and for socialism” is simply incomprehensible and is not elucidated by saying it is necessary to be with the working class in “the political mainstream”. The majority of the working class, including those who vote for the Labour Party, do not understand or want Socialism at present. “The futility of sectarianism” apparently means that you believe in supporting organizations one is opposed to or that are going in the opposite direction; well, everyone to his own idea of futility.

We expect in the near future to publish an article reviewing in detail the lifetime and policies of the ILP. However, there is an embarras de richesses in replying to your rebuttal of our statement that it believed in short cuts to Socialism. Here are three or four to be going on with:
  The Labour Party at the elections of 1922 and 1923 put forward a programme of constructive Social Transformation, which would lay the foundations of the Socialist Commonwealth.
(Six Months of Labour Government, ILP, 1924)  
  Let us rather begin by demanding the fairer division of wealth: let us insist, first of all, on the elementary claim to a living wage, and then enforce the wide and economic changes by which alone it can be realised and secured. The fixing, whether by combined Trade Union action, or by a Royal Commission, of any adequate figure, would drive us at once into big political changes. The demand is a battering-ram levelled at the present system.
(H. N. Brailsford, Socialism for Today, ILP, 1925)  
  But the failure of capitalism can be made a great opportunity to apply socialist principles, and to begin the transition to socialism. That is the spirit in which the problem should be approached.
(Maxton, 1931; quoted in James Maxton — the Beloved Rebel by John McNair, 1955)  
    Immediate Programme:—1. Take the Profit out of War. 2. Introduce Social Equality. 3. Establish Social Ownership. 4. Grant Democracy to the Empire. 5. Make Britain Socialist.
(ILP Election Special, Bristol Central, January 1943)

Questions on principles
I have been reading some literature that contained the SPGB’s Declaration of Principles; and while I would never condemn socialism out of hand, there are several points which I would like to raise.

The first point you make is “. . . and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced”. The working men must actually produce the goods, but a means of organization is vitally essential. As soon as someone steps out of the  rôle of actually producing, you appear to put them in a different class. Do you deny that the job of organization is essential to the efficient production of goods, and that this job of organization needs a capable person with initiative? Therefore I disagree with the words “by whose labour alone”.

Second, the class struggle "between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess”. Are you trying to tell me that all those who work to produce a car, never own a car? Those who work on making ships that may carry bananas, they eat bananas surely. I don’t deny that there is a class struggle, but I challenge you on “those who produce but do not possess”.

The sixth principle declares that the armed forces of the nation “exist only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers”. In what way do the British armed forces act directly against the workers? A standing army is kept for the defence of the country as a whole, and in times of war the rich are not exempt from military service. It is a great exaggeration to say the armed forces only act against the interests of the working class.

If socialism means equality without discrimination and freedom then I, and many, would wish for it. But while I see what I consider to be inaccurate statements of principles by the Socialist Party I cannot give them my support.
Beverley Browne

1. As you say, the job of organization is essential to the efficient production of goods, and "by whose labour alone” refers to all aspects of production and distribution and their organization.

2. The second clause in our Declaration of Principles proceeds from the first: “possess” refers to the means of living, not personal requirements. Under capitalism the means of production and distribution are class-owned. The great majority, having no share in that ownership, are forced to sell their labour-power to live: they do not possess but have to produce.

However, their ability to acquire motor-cars and bananas — and houses, clothing and hot dinners — is governed by that situation. The products are not theirs; the wealth they produce is owned by the class which owns the means of production. Members of the working class can have only what they can buy, and that is determined not by their ability to manage but by their wages (and whether they are in employment at all). Socialism means that there will be unrestricted free access by all to whatever is produced, because the means of production will be owned by all.

3. It is “the machinery of government, including the armed forces” that “exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers”. The state exists to give sanction to class ownership and protect it: by law, but ultimately by force. Against whom? The answer is, whoever assails or threatens the capitalist class in each country. The threat most commonly assumed is from another country’s capitalists pursuing their interests in the world’s markets and so threatening “ours” — and you may note that if conflict breaks out it is workers (who have no country) who are killed in huge numbers. However, armed force has frequently been used against strikes and civil unrest.

This is the reason why Socialists aim at control of the powers of government. Ideas of confrontation, advocated by many “militants”, cannot win. The need is to take possession of the state’s coercive machine so that it cannot be used to prevent Socialism.

4. Socialism does mean equality and freedom. It is the only condition on which they can be obtained.

"Stupid" Workers
Quite by chance, I obtained a copy of the SS and was impressed by the contents. An article by RAB on ‘Britain’s Political Crisis’ attracted my attention. I agree with the writer that the working class are politically ignorant. However, I can find no evidence to support the writers optimism concerning the prospects for Socialism.

I have travelled extensively for many years and my job has necessitated mixing with literally hundreds of people.

I have argued with friends and acquaintances in pubs, clubs and homes on the theft, by capitalists, on the working class. Needless to say I am regarded as a crank or lunatic. I was once sacked from a good job because I told my employer that what he said about the working class being dependent upon his class was utter bilge and that the reverse was the case.

At the age of 45 I have come to the conclusion that whilst your ideals are uplifting, your remedy is nonsense.

A friend of mine has suggested that the main reason for your failure to propagate your ideas has been one of communication. Whilst I am cognizant of this difficulty I do not see it as of paramount importance.

The ruling class of this and other countries will continue to manipulate the masses for ever. The form of society may change but never the substance. Whether the dominant class is English, Russian or American does not alter the picture.

You will never free the working class of its shackles simply because they are not aware of their chains. Intellectual freedom can always be extended to those without intellect.

The ruling class govern because they make the rules and can alter or adjust these rules as they see fit. That is why you will never capture Parliament for the working class. You may say that as I understand so may everybody. Roger Bannister ran the four minute mile. I can’t.

The sad fact is the working class can never be saved. The uncharitable thought occurs to me that perhaps it doesn’t deserve to be.
R. B. Butler

it is true that many keen runners will not achieve a four minute mile but since Roger Bannister it has become a commonplace in athletics. Workers can safely ignore athletics but they cannot hide from the effects of capitalism. It is capitalism itself which makes the Socialist revolution both necessary and possible.

Human society passed through various stages until about 200 years ago capitalism took over from feudalism as the dominant social system. There is no reason to suppose that human progress must now be at an end. On this point we refer you to an article in the August Socialist StandardIdeas and Understanding— and also to a reply to another correspondent in the November Socialist Standard, headed—Class Consciousness.

On the question of communication, the spread of Socialist knowledge has been hindered by the widespread mis-use of the term Socialism. When it is used to describe everything from state-capitalism to Labour Government it is hardly surprising that workers have only attempted to solve their problems through reforms. For with the exception of a small minority they are unaware that there is an alternative to capitalism. We have every confidence in the ability of the working class to understand the simple and sound proposition that is Socialism. It is after all the working class which runs capitalism.

Our impatience is with those fellow workers who profess sympathy with our case but will not join us because they think others are not capable of doing the same. The point is do YOU understand the meaning of Socialism and are YOU prepared to work with us in The SPGB in order to accelerate the spread of this understanding.

The Socialist Future
Do you categorically abhor violence in any form in the accomplishment of Socialism? It seems to me that violent revolution has achieved nothing but misery for working people whenever it has occurred. If people want Socialism we have the machinery through the ballot. The absence of candidates is more than a slight problem but only indicates that enough people do not want Socialism yet.

Maybe one reason why people don’t want Socialism yet is that they don’t know what would happen. Your excellent article "The Social Revolution” in the September issue might have been written as a biography of me. But it stops at “only the details are missing”. I stop there too. I imagine the General Election at which Socialism is "returned”. Overnight the exploitation and inequalities of centuries stop. How? by what organization? System? by which people? Surely this is a fair question. What about the day after the Socialist election?
Greater Manchester

You have probably by now seen the November Fifty Years Ago extract on “Revolution and Violence”. The position stated there has been and is still the one held by us: “those who seek to replace capitalism by Socialism do not play the capitalist game of advocating violence”.

We are often asked why we do not supply details of economic and social organization in Socialism. From time to time articles have indicated lines on which affairs might be conducted. We can say there will be no money; everyone will have free access to everything produced; the problems of capitalism — crises, wars, inequality and poverty and their consequences — will be entirely absent. There are two important reasons why we cannot go further. The first is that we do not know. There are a few hundred of us now, and we are working for a society which will be wholly democratic; how then can we anticipate the ideas and preferences of millions in the future? Many of us have our own speculations, but (and this is the second reason) to try making a policy of them would do no-one any good. Haven’t you heard the old joke: “Come the Revolution, you’ll have strawberries and cream whether you like it or not”?

Various Questions
In a previous issue of the Socialist Standard you stated that people with religious belief are not admitted to membership of the Socialist Party. What is your attitude towards agnostics? I take the view that to deny the existence of God and metaphysical reality is as untenable as blind acceptance of God’s existence. Surely the only rational viewpoint is to realize that one cannot know the unknowable.

It appears that apart from Austria (and perhaps Sweden) your movement is confined to English-speaking areas of the world. Could you give an explanation of this, and also why a predominantly rural, Catholic country such as Austria has a Socialist party while highly industrialized urban countries such as Japan and West Germany do not?

If Socialism involves abolishing the law courts and the police force, how would Socialist society deal with crimes against the individual — murder, rape, g.b.h., etc.? What is your attitude towards drug addiction?

Has the Socialist Standard ever reviewed the following books: Karl Marx by E. H. Carr, 1934; The Marxists, by C. Wright Mills, 1963; The Next Step by Richard Acland, 1974?

Finally, how would you refute E. H. Carr’s allegation that modern economics (circa 1930) had disproved Marx’s theories, especially the labour theory of value?
R. Richardson

1. You say that there is a kind of reality which is "unknowable”, and to recognize this is “the only rational viewpoint”. It isn’t: it is a religious viewpoint under another name. The difference between ourselves and agnostics as well as religionists is that between materialism and idealism. Idealism is the belief that ideas have an existence independent of natural and social courses. Materialism holds that they arise from the interplay of those causes. The choice between these positions is not “unknowable”.
2. Socialists are a minority in all countries at present. If our companion party in Austria were a large one, we should be concerned about there being none in the other countries you mention. As it is, all we can say is that the small number of Socialists there are organized, and there are individual Socialists in other non-English-speaking countries; the counting of heads is not significant.
3. See the article “Is Crime Hereditary?” in this issue. Drugs generally are administered or taken to numb pain or misery, and when the latter is social the effective answer is to change society. Insofar as some drugs are used for reputedly “expanding consciousness”, our concern is to wake up normal consciousness to its proper application.
4. A lengthy review of E. H. Carr’s Karl Marx: A Study in Fanaticism appeared in the Socialist Standard for July 1934. It pointed out numerous errors, misquotations and mistranslations, without reply from Carr. The other books you mention have not been reviewed by us.
5. Carr claimed that Marx’s theories had been disproved by E. Bohm-Bawerk in Karl Marx and the Close of his System, published in 1896 — without, apparently, being aware of the reply to Bohm-Bawerk by Rudolf Hilferding. There have been various publications of Hilferding’s reply; it was published with Bohm-Bawerk’s essay in a single volume by A. M. Kelley (New York), 1949. Theories allegedly superior to Marx’s have been applied, including that of Keynes, who called Capital "scientifically erroneous”; and look at the results.

#    #    #    #

A. Buick (Brussels): See page 225, in this issue. D. G. Featherston, D. Clark and others: We hope to publish replies to you in the next issue.

Proper Gander: Palmed Off (2019)

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

One of capitalism’s booming industries over the last few decades has been palm oil production. In the early 1960s, less than a million tonnes were being processed each year, compared with well over sixty million yearly more recently. The negative impact this has on the environment is now being reported more widely, and BBC3 has joined in the debate with a short-but-sweet documentary focusing on palm oil’s use in the cosmetics trade.

Unmasked: Make-Up’s Big Secret is presented by Emmy Burbidge, who runs her own beauty salon in Somerset. She says that more of her clients are asking about the make-up of the make-up she uses, especially whether it contains palm oil. Finding this out can be tricky, as it’s often hidden under less-than-glamorous names like ‘sodium kernalate’ and ‘octyl palmitate’. But as palm oil is used in 70 percent of cosmetics, especially oilier products such as lipsticks and foundations, there’s a reasonable chance that your slap contains extracts from palm trees grown thousands of miles away.

The oil comes from the fruit which grows in bunches on the trees’ branches. The flesh in the kernel is used for cosmetics, being more saturated than the rest of the fruit, whose oil is used as an ingredient in many foods. Being solid at room temperature, it’s useful for making in-front-of-the-telly grub such as biscuits, instant noodles and peanut butter. It’s also used in biofuels, which are gaining traction as an alternative to relying on ever-dwindling fossil fuels. In 2018, half of all the palm oil in Europe was used to fuel cars and lorries (Reuters, 14 June 2018). Unfortunately, though, palm oil-based biodiesel generates three times as much carbon emissions as fossil fuels (, 22 June 2018), so it’s less environmentally friendly than we might assume.

The main reason that palm oil has been cited as bad for the environment, however, is that to make room for its plantations, millions of hectares of rainforest have been bulldozed. In the jungles of Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria, complex, lively ecosystems have been destroyed, with the added disadvantage of losing plants which soak up carbon from the atmosphere (including that which comes from palm oil-based biofuel). The programme shows sad footage of an orangutan trying to hit back at a bulldozer driving through churned up soil and tree stumps. For the documentary, Burbidge flies to Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest rainforest, and sees through the plane window what some of this forest has been turned into by palm oil producers.

She visits an indigenous community who leased their land to a large developer company after being promised money and improved homes and schooling, most of which hasn’t materialised. Maybe one reason why the school was never built is that it would pull children away from being used as labourers in palm harvesting. Many of the people she meets are upset and even ashamed that they’ve had to sacrifice some of the forest they live in for not enough money to manage. Some producers aim for more sustainable methods by avoiding ploughing up more rainforestsand treating their workers less harshly than the more unscrupulous companies. The workers Burbidge meets don’t know what happens to the palm fruits once they leave the plantation for processing or what their oil is used for, so she introduces them to lip gloss. It’s not clear whether they think that the shiny pink goo is worth their long hours and the loss of the rainforests.

It does feel worth it, though, to the corporations behind palm oil production. The industry has become such a profit-magnet not just through exploiting workers and the environment, but because palm oil has several advantages over similar products. As well as its versatility, the palms used have a much higher yield than other oil crops. To produce one tonne of oil from sunflowers or coconuts uses up to ten times as much land than is needed to produce the same amount of palm oil. This efficiency means that it can be produced at lower costs, leaving more money to end up in the company owners’ coffers. The profitability of palm oil production is the reason behind its growth in the market, with environmental damage being a consequence which has only recently become controversial, or even noticed. But what is to be done?

Boycotting products made from less environmentally-friendly palm oil would only have a limited effect, even assuming people would know which products to avoid. As Burbidge discovered, finding palm oil’s pseudonyms on an ingredients list isn’t always straightforward, and there’s no widely accepted certification for more sustainably-produced palm oil, unlike for ‘Fairtrade’ products, for example. And how many people worldwide would bother, or even be in a position to pick-and-choose? Even if a mass boycott dented the profits of the dodgier production firms, it wouldn’t remove the profit motive which leads companies to find the most cost-effective methods, regardless of the harm to the environment. Nor would it prevent the workers harvesting palm oil from being exploited both through their labour and selling off their land whether or not they want to get dragged further into the capitalist economy.The downsides with how palm oil is produced are symptoms of wider problems with the system itself, and so it must be the system which is changed.
Mike Foster

Animal Farms: Wildlife Trafficking (2019)

From the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July this year, police forces in over a hundred countries detained nearly six hundred people in an operation aimed at wildlife smuggling, and seized over fifteen thousand animals in the process. ‘It is vital that we stop criminals from putting livelihoods, security, economies and the sustainability of our planet at risk by illegally exploiting wild flora and fauna,’ said the secretary general of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

After drugs and weapons, the trafficking of animals and their ‘derivatives’ is the third most valuable illegal trade in the world. It may be worth up to $10bn a year, though its illicit nature means that estimates are only approximate. Its prime motivation, of course, is profit, supported mainly by conspicuous consumption or display of trafficked goods.

The Caribbean, with its rich biodiversity, is one of many places from which animals are smuggled. Many smuggled animals are taken to China, where animal products are used in traditional medicine. Despite claims about turning the country into an ‘ecological civilisation’, and banning the domestic trade in ivory, the trade in rhino horn and tiger bone was recently reopened, though supposedly under strict controls. This relaxation was postponed after protests, but the situation remains uncertain. Tiger farms in China hold over six thousand animals, but there are very few rhinos, and the demand for rhino horn in China is mainly met from South Africa, where private ranches hold at least seven thousand rhinos. Demand and profits were also increased massively when a myth began to circulate in Vietnam that rhino horn could cure cancer.

To emphasise the link between trafficking humans and trafficking animals, it is often the same cartels who control both kinds of smuggling from Latin America into the US. But as clamping down on security at the US–Mexico border has increased, smugglers turn elsewhere. In 2017 over one-third of illegal animals seized in the US had come from Indonesia.

Exotic pets can be smuggled to wealthy owners who want a kind of status symbol. They may be transported in appalling conditions in order to get past customs checks, such as infant snakes being shipped in CD cases. Many die on the journey, or are vary badly treated by dealers in the destination country, or even by their eventual owners, who often abandon them after a few months.

Apart from the suffering of the animals concerned, what other kind of impact does all this have? For one thing, many people in the poorest countries depend on wild animals for food, and poaching and smuggling can reduce their food supply. Invasive species sometimes have a devastating effect on local ecology, such as Burmese pythons let loose by their owners in the Florida Everglades. Trapping and poaching can incidentally kill other species as well, for example in traps. Some non-traditional pets can have diseases that spread to humans, such as the herpes B virus and salmonellosis.

CITES is an international agreement that came into force in 1975, but countries only enter into it voluntarily, though it becomes legally binding once they do so. Yet that does not mean that it has much effect in practice. In some US states, for instance, the Fish and Wildlife Service has no officers to inspect wildlife shipments. Many smugglers who are caught just pay the fines and carry on smuggling, seeing the fines as part of the cost of doing business. Animals probably come near the bottom of capitalism’s priorities in terms of protecting the victims of crime.

And people who want ‘exotic pets’ or furs as some kind of status symbol could well look at themselves and ask if they really need such items.
Paul Bennett