Thursday, October 3, 2019

Queen Capital’s Jubilee (2012)

From the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

An extra day’s holiday is always welcome, but why should we be celebrate the diamond jubilee of a left-over from feudalism?

Although not a deliberate decision by the British capitalist class – these things depend on historical circumstances – there are certain advantages in having a hereditary monarchy as opposed to an elected Head of State.

The capitalist class rule today through universal suffrage but this assumes that the voters will continually vote for politicians who will uphold capitalism. One way to ensure this is to inculcate a feeling of patriotism into the population, i.e. loyalty to the state. With a constitutional monarchy, this is ready-made (or rather, historically inherited). What can be cultivated is a loyalty to the monarch rather than directly to the state, as republics have to do.

In the US they cultivate loyalty to the flag. In France it’s to the idea of the Republic. This it is easier to cultivate loyalty to a person can be seen in less developed capitalist countries where some individual dictator becomes the focus (with his photo everywhere) and where the dictatorship is often expected to be inherited by one of their sons (as with Kim Il Sung, Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, etc). The same phenomenon occurred in England: when Cromwell died the title of Lord Protector went to his son.

Britain has been a constitutional monarchy since the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when parliament kicked out James II who had delusions about the divine right of kings. Parliament managed to find a Stuart who was a Protestant – one of his daughters, Mary – and, by Act of Parliament, appointed her and her husband, William of Orange, a Dutchman, king and queen. Who can (and cannot) be the monarch is laid down in the Act of Settlement of 1701, which still applies.

Mary was succeeded by her sister Anne. When she died in 1714 without leaving an heir, parliament imported a German prince who happened to be a great grandson of James I and gave him the crown. The present royal family are the direct descendants of this prince. He couldn’t even speak English. Nor could his successor. The first two Georges were not particularly popular amongst the population. Nor were their successors, George III, George IV and William IV, who were mercilessly lampooned. But they served a purpose as a focus for the loyalty of the political class, allowing continuity of the state while governments changed.

It was only under Queen Victoria that popular support for the monarchy was cultivated. With some success. This was not an accident as her reign (1837-1901) co-incided with the extension of the franchise to more and more workers, so that after 1867 even without universal suffrage a majority of electors were workers. They had to be trained to be loyal to the British capitalist state so that they wouldn’t use their votes to overthrow it. The cult of the monarchy served this purpose well and still does today. The gutter press may sometimes go for junior members of the royal family, even for Prince Charles, but they never go for the monarch or for the monarchy as such.

Socialists are of course anti-monarchists and opposed to everything the monarchy represents, from aristocratic privilege, bowing and scraping, silly titles and ceremonies to being exports salesmen and the symbol and head of the British capitalist state. But does that mean that we think there’s some advantage in getting rid under capitalism of the monarchy and establishing a republic in its place? What would be the point? Conditions in republics such as the US and France are no different from those in constitutional monarchies such as Britain and the Netherlands. And wouldn’t be in a republican Britain or Netherlands either.

It goes without saying that, if it hadn’t already disappeared by then, one of the first acts of a socialist majority in control of political power would be to abolish the monarchy as part of the democratisation of society. And, on the other side of the Atlantic, there’d be a bonfire of American flags and in France the smashing of statues of Marianne.
Adam Buick

What About the Workers? (2012)

From the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Postal rates sky-rocketed on 30 April as a prelude to the privatisation of Royal Mail, but how will the workers there be affected?
The AGM of the postal workers trade union, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), in south-west London on 25 March was a very clear example of the reformist nature of much trade unionism, the limits on its power and the differences (or lack of)  between state capitalism and private capitalism in an operation like the Royal Mail. We should also not be surprised by the cosy relationship between Royal Mail’s Chief Executive Moya Greene and the Union Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward that showed at the meeting

The Postal Workers Union has a history of Labour right-wing leadership which has been useful to the capitalist class who need ‘respectable’ labour leaders to maintain industrial peace and to help them push through their ‘reforms’. This was not contradicted by the 1971 national strike by Postal Workers who went “on the cobbles” for 47 days! In 2009, in London, Postal Workers went on strike for 20 days over a 4-month period and the CWU took Royal Mail to the High Court because they were about to hire 30,000 casual workers to break the strike. At the eleventh hour Royal Mail and CWU came to an ‘agreement’. The union sold out the workers which is an old story in working-class trade union struggles with the capitalist class. The CWU is a major financial contributor to the Labour Party, the same Party who wanted to privatise the mail a few years ago. (It was Thatcher’s government that first mooted the selling off of the Royal Mail to private capitalists.)  It is all rather ironic considering that the Labour Party originated as a trade union pressure group. The Labour Party is just an alternative party to administer the capitalist system and exploit the working class.

The 2012 Postal Services Act is now in force and the Royal Mail pension deficit of £8.4 billion has been transferred to the state: i.e. the Government will take on the liabilities. The deficit was caused by previous Royal Mail management taking a “pensions holiday” when capitalism was booming in the 1990s and 2000s but it all came unstuck with collapse of western financial capitalism in 2008.

Moya Greene has been Chief Executive of Royal Mail since 2010 and is a hatchet-woman for the capitalist class. Her CV is not salutary reading for a postal worker. Greene was in charge of the ‘privatisation’ of the Canadian National Railway, the ‘de-regulation’ of the Canadian airline industry, and at Canada Post she trebled profits although revenues dropped, and injuries to Postal Workers went up 15 percent, days lost to strikes went up to 36, and workers’ grievances against their state capitalist bosses at Canada Post went up 60 percent under her regime.  She is at Royal Mail to prepare the company for privatisation.

At the CWU AGM Greene said that we should welcome privatisation as it would mean “access to capital from an investor who wants the company to be successful,” and she stressed “We need capital”. She criticised the (state capitalist) system which currently operates Royal Mail with its “wrong-headed regulatory framework”, which restricts the amount of profits the Royal Mail can make. More profits will be made if the Royal Mail is owned by a private capitalist company. She offered financial carrots to the workforce by promising “a share in the success of the company” or “a stake in the year-on-year success of the company”, which is all that the CWU are asking for. The CWU campaign of ‘Keep the Post Public’ now has a lower profile as Dave Ward made no reference to it at the AGM.

Whether Royal Mail is a nationalised industry operated in the state capitalist manner or is run as private capitalist company ultimately makes no difference to the postal workers. They are being exploited by the state on behalf of capitalism or else by a private capitalist.

Fish Biscuit (2012)

Book Review from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Dharma of Capitalism by Nitesh Gor. Kogan Page. £12.99

The Dharma of Capitalism is primarily a plea for ethical behaviour in business, but it is also part of a concerted attempt to harness the forces of religiosity in the service of an ailing and discredited capitalist system.

Gor begins with the premise that 80s-style ‘greed is good’ capitalism has been discredited by the current economic crisis, and that proponents of the system must attempt to win back the “soul of capitalism” by good works and ethical behaviour. He goes on to elucidate a form of management ethics which allegedly draws on traditional Indian religious concepts. Businessmen, apparently, must aspire to achieve the Dharma (“higher purpose”) of capitalism and regulate their behaviour according to what he terms the Mode of Goodness.

Now, it has to be said that enrichissez-vous has always and will always be the spirit of capitalism, because making money is what business is all about. If you want to know, ask a successful entrepreneur like Alan Sugar rather than a failed businessman like Gor on the ruling-class dole called management consultancy. Reading a purpose into capitalism beyond gelt is seeing something which just is not there. Interestingly, Gor is co-founder of the Dharma Index, a Dow Jones guide for Hindu investors (presumably promoting makers of Bloody Big Statues and dodgy nostrums). The Muslim counterpart is the Sharia Index (buy heavy, black material, sell AK-47s). ‘Ethical’ investments yes, but money-making first and foremost.

As to hitching the capitalist buggy to the religious mule, this is by no means a new phenomenon and may well be part of the ‘reinvention’ of capitalism to remedy the growing but unfocused distaste for the system. But not in the clunky form presented here. The attempt to marry a few spurious and misapplied Hindu concepts and phrases to a fake happy-clappy version of capitalism can fool no-one. Hinduism, particularly the reformed (‘nice’) version promoted by the Mahatma, has a good press these days. The concept of Dharma, though, like much else in Hindu theology has been used to uphold the status quo, particularly the reactionary and oppressive caste system. Dharma, however, is probably most familiar to Westerners from the television series ‘Lost’. And appropriately enough the fish biscuit (a reward which doesn’t match the effort required to acquire it) is exactly how most workers experience capitalism.
Keith Scholey

Obituary: Bill Robertson (2012)

Obituary from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are sorry to have to announce that comrade Bill Robertson died in Brighton in March at the age of 84. He first came across the Party through outdoor meetings in Hyde Park and originally joined in 1947. He trained as a wireless operator and in 1960 went to work for the British Forces Broadcasting Network in Singapore. He returned to Britain in 1981 and played an active role in the old Brighton branch but still retained an interest in the Far East. He visited contacts in Kerala and India and spoke at outdoor meetings (we have a recording of him speaking in English with his talk being translated into the local language). In 1984-5 he spent some time in Perth, in Western Australia, transferring to the World Socialist Party of Australia and helping to produce and write for their publication of the time Socialist Comment which enabled him to display his considerable knowledge of Marxian economics. Later he returned to Britain again and settled in his home town of Brighton.

We extend our sympathy to his wife and children.

Camcordia (2012)

The Proper Gander Column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Television producers don’t usually acknowledge that they’re competing with the growing millions of people with their own video cameras. So, when a TV show is made almost entirely of camcorder footage, it either means that its producers are embracing a new trend, or they’ve found a cheaper way to make programmes. The Sinking Of The Concordia – Caught On Camera (Channel 4) probably wasn’t the first show of this kind, and it won’t be the last.

The programme knits together footage filmed by passengers on the cruise ship which ran aground in January. This has been mixed with recordings from the bridge and the rescue operation to give a narrative of the disaster. The programme starts with the last evening parties on the luxury liner, which looks even more gaudy when filmed on a smartphone. Then, after the vessel has hit the rocks, we see both staff and passengers milling around, confused about what’s going on. By the time the lifeboats are launched, the ship is starting to tilt on to its side. And when the survivors reached the shore, they found no organised help. The Captain had already left his post, and we hear the angry phone calls ordering him to return to the liner.

The ubiquity of video cameras means that any significant event is likely to be recorded by dozens of people. So, now we can preserve and share experiences more than ever before. This has been useful to analyse what went on during events such as riots and uprisings, and no doubt footage from the Concordia has been used in the subsequent investigation.

But the readiness of some people to film their lives also dovetails nicely with the guilty pleasure of voyeurism. And this programme sails closely to being exploitative at times. It is particularly unnerving when we hear the screams during a botched launch of a lifeboat and when one of the passengers continues filming his scared young children as they cry in front of him.

We’re more used to seeing scenes like this in disaster films. So when we watch real tragedies, we often unwittingly associate them with blockbusters. The technique of using ‘found footage’ of disasters has also appeared in fiction, such as in the films Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. And of course, when the disaster is the sinking of a luxury liner, we’re inevitably reminded of the Titanic, both the real event and the film which followed in its wake. These associations make The Sinking Of The Concordia – Caught On Camera even more disorientating to watch.
Mike Foster

The Socialist Party Summer School: Protest (2012)

Party News from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

6 - 8 July 2012, Harborne Hall, Birmingham

Worldwide, people have reacted to the political and economic crisis with new forms of protest. From the Arab Spring uprisings to the Occupy Movement, activists are rejecting traditional forms of political assembly, and are looking for new ways of organisation. But what will be the consequences of these new battles in the class war? Will these protests result in any lasting, positive change for the working class? Could they point towards a revolution? Or will they go the way of all reformism and just prolong the capitalist system which traps us all? The Socialist Party’s weekend of talks and discussion will examine protests in all its forms - its aims, methods and effects. 

Talks include: 
  • The Occupy Movement: Ian Barker (Occupy Norwich) & Stair (SPGB) 
  • The Arab Spring: capitalism, imperialism and religion or democracy?: Janet Surman 
  • What did the Romans do for us? Bill Martin 
  • Protest and the Environment: Glenn Morris 
  • Policing the Protests: Mike Foster 

Full residential cost (including accommodation and meals Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) is £140. Concessions are available. 

To book a place, send a cheque (payable to The Socialist Party of Great Britain) to Flat 2, 24 Tedstone Road, Quinton, Birmingham B32 2PD. E-mail with any enquiries

50 Years Ago: The Grim Liberal Record (2012)

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

It is 40 years since a Liberal headed a government, but as the opposition or as ministers in coalition governments they were always to be found backing up the employers and the government against the workers, and providing legalistic arguments and formulas to justify capitalist exploitation and repression. Liberals were in the MacDonald National Government which in the nineteen ‘thirties actually did reduce the pay of teachers and civil servants without any sort of agreement on their part; just as Liberals had six years earlier helped to defeat the miners in the General Strike. And it was the Liberal Lloyd-George whose Geddes Committee in 1922 recommended saving money by larger classes, reducing teachers’ pay, cutting down civil service staffs and giving postmen cheaper uniforms.

In their History of Trade Unionism, Sidney and Beatrice Webb told how the workers were tricked by the Liberal, Lloyd-George, during and after the first world war, and by the Asquith Government before the war. (…)

No wonder Mr. Grimond does not want to claim continuity with the “great statesmen” of the Liberal Party’s heyday. Perhaps a future Liberal Government would be less crude and more astute in its handling of strikes, but essentially nothing has changed and, like any other government committed to the maintenance of capitalism, a Grimond administration will be identical with Asquith and Lloyd-George in putting first the protection of capitalist property and profits.  

(From article by H, Socialist Standard, May 1962)

Action Replay: Dog Days (2012)

The Action Replay Column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American TV series Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman and dealing with the seamy side of horse-racing, has been cancelled after three horses died during production. You might say, though, that this was simply a case of unintended accuracy from the makers of the series, for horses dying during actual racing is by no means rare.

No fewer than five horses were killed during this year’s flagship Cheltenham Festival. The number of deaths fluctuates from year to year.  There were nine at Cheltenham in 2006, though fewer in the years since then. But the Grand National is the biggest killer, with twenty-three horses dying in this one race since 1984, including two last year and another two this year. There are constant attempts to make the Aintree course ‘safer’, but these are sometimes criticised as encouraging greater speed and so making any falls even more dangerous.

The figures for racehorse deaths are far greater than usually claimed. According to Animal Aid, ‘around 420 horses are raced to death every year. About 38 per cent die on racecourses, while the others are destroyed as a result of training injuries, or are killed because they are no longer commercially viable’ (

Greyhound racing is another sport where animal welfare comes well behind human enjoyment and betting interests. When their useful racing existence comes to an end, or because they are just not good enough, many are simply killed – probably at least a couple of thousand a year in Britain, though the exact figures are not known. And many owners will not pay a vet to have a dog killed humanely but prefer to have them drowned or otherwise disposed of in some unnecessarily cruel manner.

It’s ironic that the TV series was cancelled for causing deaths, while the activities it depicted are responsible for far more deaths, and they continue.
Paul Bennett