Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Day in School (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The telephone rings. It’s eight o’clock in the morning. I am already up, dressed and have taken the dog for a walk.

I take the call. It’s the Head of a local primary' school.

“Can you come in to do a day’s supply work?” he asks.

“Yes, of course,” I answer, trying to sound as enthusiastic as I can while my heart sinks in dismay for, although I like being with children and “interacting with them in an educational manner", I don’t like schools - for moral, pedagogical and political reasons which I hope will soon become clear.

I arrive just in time and make for the office. As I walk through the grounds and enter the building, I am immediately assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of the institution of school — where adults cease being “normal” human beings and become bossy teachers and where children cease being independent, free-thinking, individuals and become managed pupils — and instinctively react against its authoritarian ethos. But I keep these thoughts and feelings to myself.

After the usual pleasantries I am taken by the well-meaning but misguided and officious Deputy Head along tired, impersonal corridors to “my" classroom. I enter the room and quickly take stock of the situation: a collection of battered, old desks with lift-up lids surrounded by the usual uninspiring paraphernalia of secondhand learning. This will be mine and the children’s cell for most of the rest of the day.

After warning me that this is a “difficult” class, he leaves the room.

Regimentation begins
The first thing I do is find some chalk and write my name on the blackboard. While I am doing this, the bell goes. The regimentation has begun! The children, thirty-five boys and girls, aged between 8 and 9, start to wander in, depressingly dressed in their homogenising and boring school uniform.

I greet them with a warm smile, as they enter, but, when I see that they are not settling down very well —I am the second replacement they have had this term — but are in fact making "too much noise", I tell them in a firm but friendly voice to stop talking and sit down quietly, while I take the register. Thus, I start acting like a Teacher — a role that is forced upon me and all my colleagues in similar classrooms throughout the land — by the demands of the situation, where large numbers of poorly-motivated pupils are confined by law within an unsuitable space for long periods of the day.

Having completed this task, I then send them off to their maths groups — to be labelled, some inaccurately, “Good”, “Average”, and “Poor” (for the rest of their lives?). I will be having the “top set” in this room.

I manage the class reasonably well during the course of the next fifty minutes in as pleasant a manner as possible and they do, I suppose, learn something but, once again, I am left with the opinion at the end of this period that these are not the best conditions in which to encourage logical thought and numerical ability (or, indeed, any other aspect of all-round, personal growth and development). For, apart from all the various distractions, uninvited interruptions and lack of adequate resources and facilities, there are far too many children to give them all the appropriate help and attention they require as and when it is needed.

But do not imagine for one moment that the way to solve this problem is simply to reduce the number of pupils per teacher in a classroom. For such a liberal reform could never get rid of one of the main faults of our present, school-based system: the need/desire for the adult to be authoritarian. Only a radically different environment in which a healthier, more natural, i.e.. “libertarian”, approach on the part of the adult is made possible will achieve that goal.

Learning to respect Authority
The bell goes again. Everybody goes back to where they came from. (More time-wasting and disturbance.) The children in “my” class line up for assembly — alphabetically! I get them all quiet and facing the right way and, when I am sure they will not show me up in public by any displays of "inappropriate” behaviour — a powerful weapon in the armoury of the institution for ensuring that all teachers behave towards the children in the same, disciplinarian manner — we move off to the hall in silent crocodile lines for this daily dose of learning how to "respect” authority, be a “better person" and become part of “the crowd”.

At the door they are each given a hymn book. They then proceed to sit down in their customary places on the hard, bare floor while a piece of classical music is being played. When all the children in the school are assembled, the Head begins by saying"Good Morning" to everyone. “The masses” — for this is what they are now practising to become members of — chant back their reply, as if they were one. He then announces the number of the hymn and everybody starts singing. He follows this with a story from the bible and a prayer. (I start to squirm on my seat.)

When this is over, he gives out several notices, puts down one or two children who — surprise, surprise — are not paying attention, then finally reveals the number of points wInch each house has scored (for good work and behaviour) during the previous week and the winning captain comes out to receive the cup which he may keep for the week in his classroom. ("Get me out of here!" a voice is now screaming inside my head, as phrases like “No Gods, No Masters” come to mind and I begin to wonder if people like Godwin, Tolstoy, Ferrer and Goodman all lived in vain.)

Fortunately the music starts to play again and I begin to relax a little as this offensive and immoral occasion for religious indoctrination, further imposed control and forced "cultural" improvement at last draws to a close. The children file out of the hail, again in silence, and go straight out into the playground — for a welcome but limited moment of "freedom” and an opportunity to let off some steam — while I go off to the staffroom for a well-earned cup of tea.

Ten not very stimulating minutes later, I return to “my” classroom. On the way I pass children who have been told to stand in the corridor and face the wall as punishment for some “terrible” crime they have committed, while others are seated in the dining area carrying on with their work because they have not done “enough” during lesson time. (More fear, coercion and repression which will adversely affect their future development.) Then, as I walk through the building, I hear the clamour and uproar that is coming from the playground where all that pent-up energy — and, for some, hate and aggression, the origin of much bullying — is now being expelled.

“We can do better than this" I think to myself as I re-enter “my” area of this kiddie-farm and hear the bell signify the end of playtime.

Sticks and carrots
The children start coming back in, some in a fairly high state of excitement. I settle them all down again, and, when I am sure they are all paying attention, “entertain” them with an English lesson on expressions, e.g. feeling “sad”, “happy”, “cross” etc. In order to make the exercise more real and interesting, I get them to make faces demonstrating various emotions and, after we have “discussed" these — but how can there be a proper discussion amongst so many children? — they draw on A4 paper folded into quarters and then write why the person whose face they have drawn is looking that way.

Ten to fifteen minutes later those who have finished start to bring out their work. One whose drawings and reasons are very good asks if she can have a house point.

“No, I don’t believe in them.” The words are out of my mouth before I realise what I have said.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because I believe you should only do things because you want to — not because you have been bribed.” (Or frightened, I could have added.)

She accepts this answer, a bit disappointed but without too much complaint, and sits down, repeating what I have just said to her friend, while I think about how well school with its methods of behaviour modification based on a sticks-and-carrots, threats-and-artificial-incentives approach corrupts the emotions and provides an excellent training ground for life after school in a capitalist society.

“What shall I do next?” another one asks who has successfully completed this first ask.

Once again, as in all the schools I have taught in during my long and varied acquaintance with life in the classroom, I am confronted by the appalling lack of initiative and independence that is the result of an education system which is based on continual direction and imposed control, but a good thing for a society which requires a constant flow of uncritical producers and consumers who are ready to accept everything they are told by those in authority, i.e. "the boss, the priest and the politician”, as soon as they have left school.

Forced, therefore, into spoon-feeding those who have finished this first exercise with further, suitable activities (instead of being able in this authoritarian environment to encourage them to think and act for themselves), I keep the class "constructively occupied" until lunchtime and, when the bell goes at mid-day, I send the children out to play and/or dinner.

I immediately leave the building and go to a local park where I eat my sandwiches, walk around in its open spaces and breathe in some fresh air — away from all that compulsory attendance, repressed energy and unnatural growth, all that imposed discipline, open/hidden indoctrination and lack of freedom.

Built-in level of failure
I return to the classroom with just enough time to get ready for the afternoon session and look at their writing which they did in the morning. As with their maths, I find many mistakes and errors. This leaves me once again with the feeling that this system has deliberately built into it a certain level of failure, especially for those who come from a “working-class” background. (And for good reason. For who else would fill the lower echelons of its hierarchies, if everyone was educated to the same “high standard of performance”?)

The bell goes and the children start coming back in after the long lunch-time break but, before I can start the afternoon session, I have to settle a number of arguments which have spilled over into the classroom from the playground (where, in its bleak and barren spaces, the “law of the jungle” often seems to prevail.)

After resolving most of these problems (or, at least, sweeping them under the carpet), I ask for and obtain the necessary peace and quiet in which to take the register, following which I tell them all to read a book in silence for the next twenty to thirty minutes, as is required of them every day at this time by that wretched timetable.

I follow this calming-down period with a Science lesson on Water, a topic prescribed for these children at this stage in their schooling — whether they like it or not — by that strait-jacket of free thought and human development, the National Curriculum.

Thus, instead of invoking the children in a topic in which both I and they are interested — if ever that were possible with such large numbers — I embark upon a lesson which has something to do with Water and fits in with their previous work. I choose “the inhabitants of the seas".

Competitive individualism
To begin with I keep the lesson fairly formal but after a while I decide to make the exercise more creative by getting everyone to draw, decorate and cut out their own underwater creatures. These they are then encouraged to stick, without too much direction from me, onto a large piece of blue paper which I have fixed to one of the classroom walls and a reasonable underwater collage begins to emerge. But it is obvious from the result that they require much more practice at this kind of art-work. For their efforts are not very inventive and their choice of materials limited Also their behaviour while this activity is in progress and the arrangement of their creatures on the paper reflect exactly what their experiences both in and outside school are leading them to become, i.e.. unimaginative, disconnected, competitive individuals who know very little of self-control and social cooperation.

Soon the afternoon session is drawing to a close, so, after clearing up, I read them a story. I have brought with me The Twits by Roald Dahl. I like reading this book to children because not only does its “weird and wonderful" contents immediately grab their attention but its title, I feel, is particularly apt in these very unsuitable surroundings (for, surely, such a label must apply to those who are responsible for providing — and delivering? — this adult-imposed, keep-me-occupied-and-under- control education.)

I am half-way through a chapter when the bell goes for the end of school. I find a convenient point at which to stop, get the children to put their chairs on their desks and then release them gradually and gently from their chains. 
Colin Millen

Letters: Socialism and Communism (1995)

Letters to the Editors from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and Communism

Dear Comrades,

It was not Lenin who first claimed any difference between socialism and communism, but Marx and Engels, and the Manifesto of the Communist Party proves this. When written it could not have been thought of as the Socialist Manifesto because Marx and Engels wanted to distance themselves from the utopian socialists such as Fourier and Owen. It was after all Marx and Engels who put the science into socialism with a vision of a much higher phase in human and social development. Also in Engels’s time "Socialism was on the continent at least respectable, Communism was the very opposite" as Frederick pointed out.

Today, the once communist parties in the once socialist countries of eastern Europe now regard themselves as democratic socialists after the counter-revolutions reduced them to kow-tow to the politics of reformism. Add to this the socialist parties in western Europe whose manifestos are about reform rather than revolutionary transformation.

We should recognise that socialism can only be at its most radical in the period of transition between capitalism and communism, in other words the first stage of communism. Finally Marx and Engels knew that the spectre haunting Europe was communism not socialism.
James Nugent, 
Old Coulsdon, Surrey

Your letter confirms what we said: that Marx and Engels used the words "socialism" and "communism" interchangeably to refer to a system of society based on the social, or common, ownership of the means of production, and not, as you imply, to two different stages in the future evolution of society.

In the 1840s, as Engels explained, they used the word "communist" because at that time the word "socialism" was used to refer to the followers of Robert Owen in England and Charles Fourier in France. Indeed, the Owenites actually invented the word (the first recorded use of it was in the London Cooperative Magazine of November 1827) and called themselves Socialists. Marx and Engels didn’t want to be associated with the advocacy by these groups of going to America or into the countryside to establish small-scale communities based on common ownership as the answer to capitalism, as what they advocated was political action by the working class to establish common ownership on a society-wide level. So they called themselves Communists and wrote the Communist Manifesto (rather than the Socialist Manifesto).

By the 1880s, however, these groups no longer existed and the word "socialism" was no longer associated with setting up small-scale communities, and the emerging working-class movement for a society of common ownership and democratic control was able to call itself "socialist". So, when William Morris. Eleanor Marx and others broke away from the Social Democratic Federation with Engels's approval in 1884 they called their new organisation the Socialist League. And Engels himself called one of his best (perhaps his best) writings Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (rather than Communism, Utopian and Scientific).

In short, what in the 1840s Marx and Engels had called communism Engels in the 1880s called Socialism.

In the 20th century usage changed again. After the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 Lenin called his party "communist" to distinguish it from the "socialist” parties of western and central Europe which had been founded in Engels's day but which by then had become openly and hopelessly reformist. But he also made "socialism" a period of transition, when there would be full state ownership with everyone becoming a state employee, between capitalism and communism (by which he meant what Marx and Engels had called indifferently "socialism" or “communism" and what we call "socialism”, i.e.. a society of common ownership without money, wages, the state, etc). But this was state capitalism, not real socialism.

In 1936 Stalin proclaimed that Russia had become a "socialist country” and when the Russian army overran eastern Europe after the war it set up puppet regimes in the various countries there which, together with Russia. Stalin and his supporters called “the socialist countries". You seem to have fallen for this myth when you talk about the “communist parties" which used to govern "the socialist countries". But this — that Russia, etc were socialist — is the Big Lie of the 20th century. They were never socialist: they were always state capitalist.

You are right, however, that, since they were ousted from power by street-level popular action in 1990, these formerly ruling parties have transformed themselves into ordinary reformist parties competing with other parties for the job of running capitalism in their countries. Unfortunately, some of them, as in Hungary and Bulgaria, have chosen to call themselves "the Socialist Party". Needless to say, as far as we are concerned, they are no more socialist today than they were communist yesterday. They have nothing to do with us and are not genuinely socialist parties. 

Swedish Searchlight on Capitalism

Dear Editors,

The Swedish section of Amnesty International has now existed for 30 years. Their general secretary said during an interview: "this means that we are still needed, and at the same time we will continue to throw a searchlight on governments who oppress individuals, collectively and otherwise with torture, deportation, violence and the death penalty. We hope however that sooner or later we will not be needed".

No doubt a Swedish entry into the Common Market will certainly increase rising racism here. It would be interesting to hear the SPGB's examination and analysis concerning the performance of Amnesty encased by global capitalism.
Obajimi Holloway, 
Stockholm, Sweden

We don’t want to knock people who are doing something to try to help individual victims of state oppression, but it is clear that what Amnesty is doing is no more than this, carrying a few of the wounded off a battlefield without being able to stop the battle continuing.

We say with absolute confidence that as long as global capitalism is allowed to continue Amnesty’s work will never be done. As long as capitalism lasts there will be states and as long as there are states there will be oppression, since states are by nature oppressive institutions whose job is to maintain the status quo in the interests of an entrenched ruling class.

Blue nose out of joint

Dear Sirs,

Despite being a Young Conservative, I regularly buy your magazine and although I do not agree with much of its content, I read the articles within it with great interest in order to obtain a different perspective on the political issues affecting the world.

It was therefore very disappointing to read the article by Scorpion in the November 1994 issue which revelled in the supposed demise of the Young Conservatives. Surely a party that wishes to put its views over in a democratic setting would welcome the opportunity for young people to take part in political debate whatever their political persuasion.

The article also contained two glaring inaccuracies which require correction:

1. The Young Conservatives are not for the chop; both the Prime Minister and the Party Chairman have pledged their support for the organisation.

2. You do your article no favours by merely repeating the ’’smears" from the left wing press regarding supposed links with racist groups and acts of hooliganism.

Finally the youth wing of the Party will not merely "fade away". There is to be an "Autumn Offensive" recruitment campaign, which should see the Young Conservatives' membership increase dramatically. This will lead to more people taking part in political discussion and activity, something which you as a democratic party will surely welcome.
R. M. Lees,
Worthing and Shoreham Young Conservatives.

Our statement that the Young Conservatives were "set for the chop" was based on articles which appeared in the national press.

As for your denial of “supposed links with racists groups and acts of hooliganism", well, where have you been, because these have been reported in the media many, many times?

For example, a recent TV programme about John Major's "war on yob culture” showed how young Tory yobs in Oxford had smashed up a posh restaurant there, while a headline in the Tory Glasgow Herald (12 November 1990) read "Punch-up mars Young Conservative conference".

And you should know about the well-publicised links which such prominent young Tories as John Bercow, Stuart Millson, etc., had with the BNP. Indeed. Millson left to join the BNP.

The Punch & Judy Show (1995)

TV Review from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Breast implants, sexual fetishism, supermodels and Chippendales. Sex therapy, intimate tattoos and witchcraft. No, you won't find any of them discussed in this column, but you certainly will find them if you watch This Morning with Richard and Judy long enough.

Certainly, morning television never used to be like this. In fact there never used to be much on TV in the mornings at all outside of the kids’ summer holidays when Heidi. Barnaby the Bear and England losing at cricket made their annual appearance on BBC 1. But some years ago ITV hit out with a concerted attempt to win ratings and advertisers with its morning magazine programme from the Albert Dock in Liverpool. With its quirky mixture of high fashion, sex and astrology This Morning soon gained a cult following, particularly among Britain's students, thus demonstrating like nothing else the current poverty of student life.

Two years ago BBC 1 attempted to regain the initiative with the imaginatively titled Good Morning With Anne and Nick, hosted by the prim Tory Anne Diamond and professional bloke Nick Owen. At first it floundered badly but it has now overtaken its rival in the ratings, provoking what some at the BBC have claimed is a "dirty tricks" campaign from Granada.

The BBC version of what is basically the same programme with different presenters is more homely than its ITV rival, though it suffers from many of the same difficulties. Foremost among these is something which becomes apparent within minutes of turning the set on. Both morning magazine programmes are lowest common denominator television. They are the tabloids of the small screen. Both have their main stories, big-name interviews, guest columnists (doctors, cooks, etc.), pop stars and astrological features. True, they may not have topless models posing for their audience, but when voyeuristic TV comes via features on breast implants or leggy models parading the latest high street fashion in stockings and suspenders, the comparison with the tabloids is all too clear.

The Joan Collins Fan Club
Like all the successful tabloids, This Morning and Good Morning demonstrate a preoccupation with the good life and high society. The BBC 1 version sends professional glamourpuss Tania Bryer to all the top parties and events so that she can report back to the millions not so fortunate, in a sort of Daily Mail meets Hello! magazine feature for TV. Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan's programme is even worse on this score. This Morning demonstrates a preoccupation with high fashion which is thoroughly out of keeping with the type of audience it attracts. No doubt there are a few Kensington millionairesses who tune in, but the staple audience for morning TV consists of housewives and househusbands, the unemployed, pensioners and students. Just how many of them are likely to be able to afford the glamorous Versace outfits paraded in front of them with such frequency? A feature on wedding dresses is liable to show little costing less than several thousand pounds, as if this is the norm for a cash-strapped working class. The message appears to be that "you too can aspire to this", but the class system means that those watching are going to do plenty of aspiring with scant reward for their efforts.

Ian McCaskill
While it is not normally easy for the humble reviewer to develop a class analysis of the weather forecasts, morning television provides the opportunity. This is because Good Morning With Anne and Nick has a novel approach to weather forecasting. It does them for one person. That's right — just the one, or sometimes a couple if it is feeling charitable. Invariably it is for Quentin or Arabella from London Docklands or something similar who want to know what the weather is going to be like for their midwinter month-long holiday in Mustique. Sod Rockall, Shannon and Dogger Bank, its the Seychelles Good Morning is interested in. How else to warm the cockles of a pensioner’s heart? Whatever, it's nice to know they're thinking of us all.

But to be sure, the crisis-beset proles are not forgotten entirely. They are the fodder for the phone-ins. on embarrassing topics sandwiched between the pap. "From Ainslie in the kitchen with his seafood platter to our phone-in on crabs in the bedroom. VD clinics all over Britain have been reporting difficulties . . ." This is the sort of link Anne and Nick are good at when such a time comes, and that is fairly often. The phone-ins themselves are designed so that desperate people can tell the world about their problems and then receive a few words of advice from an agony aunt, doctor, psychiatrist or whoever else is available. They are excruciating. Not only that, but there is something worrying about programmes that devote so much of their time to such exploitation of others' misfortunes. If anyone actually puts the phone down with a problem solved it is very rare and, moreover, besides the point. The object is to get all the gory and embarrassing details out on air before the adverts come on or before it is time for the next fashion report.

If you haven’t already guessed from all this, morning TV is to be generally avoided, and it is indeed possible that many only have it on because it provides welcoming background noise at a dull time of the day. It is at best twee, invariably voyeuristic and at worst moronic. So if by any chance you're asking whether this morning is a good morning in the home of your TV reviewer, then the likely answer is no. it bloody well isn't.

And Fromm Where . . . (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1900, Erich Fromm was one of the first to attempt a synthesis of Marx and Freud (Reuben Osborn had previously made such an attempt, in his Freud and Marx, in 1937, from a Stalinist viewpoint), and to develop a Marxian social psychology. Fromm was trained in psychoanalysis, and worked with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt from  1930 to  1933, when he fled from Nazi Germany. He then went to America.

In his early essays, Fromm combined the dialectical and materialist elements in both Marx and Freud; and applied Marxian social psychology to interpret such phenomena as religion and the sado-masochistic roots of the authoritarian personality.

In 1941 Fromm wrote probably his best-known work, Escape From Freedom, published in Britain in 1942 under the title The Fear of Freedom. In it he asks if freedom is a psychological problem; and discusses in detail authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformity. He also deals with the psychology of Nazism. His conclusion is that “changing social conditions result in changes of the social character; that is, in new needs and anxieties . . . social conditions influence ideological phenomena through the medium of character; character, on the other hand, is not the result of passive adaptation to social conditions, but of a dynamic adaptation on the basis of elements that either are biologically inherent in human nature or have become inherent as a result of historic evolution”.

Fromm’s old friend, Herbert Marcuse, engaged in polemics with him during the 1950s, beginning with his Eros and Civilization. Marcuse accused Fromm of being a “Neo-Freudian revisionist”, and Fromm retaliated by calling Marcuse a “nihilist”. Fromm, however, argued that people must free themselves, whilst Marcuse, particularly in his One-Dimensional Man, looks largely to the “substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colours, the unemployed and the unemployable”, when “they get together and go out into the streets, without arms” to lead the fight against “domination”.

In 1955 Fromm wrote The Sane Society in which he deals with the concept of alienation in some depth, as well as so-called education in capitalist society and what he calls the “roads to Sanity”, a sane socialist society. In 1949 he had already written Man For Himself: An Enquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, and in 1957 he wrote The Art of Loving – not a sex instruction manual, I might add. In 1965, Fromm published a collection of essays based on a symposium of various academics such as the Polish writer, Adam Schaff, Maximilien Rubel, T.B. Bottomore and others, titled Socialist Humanism.

Erich Fromm actively opposed the Vietnam war, and all other wars in which the United States became involved. He died in 1980. Of all his works, I have found his Fear of Freedom and The Sane Society the most useful, although all are worth reading.
Peter E. Newell

Blogger's Note:
From the same issue of the Socialist Standard, see also 'To Have or To Be . . . ' 

Poland - crisis of state capitalism (1982)

Editorial from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The crisis in Poland is not a crisis of socialism. They are not socialist military dictators who have formed a junta to coerce the Polish workers into what the Western press sickeningly calls ‘moderation’. They are not socialist banks that are banging on the door of the Polish Politburo, demanding the repayment of financial loans. They are not socialist journalists who compose the propaganda which the Polish media pours out in order to blind workers to their real interests. They are not socialist bureaucrats who sit in luxurious offices in the Kremlin and applaud every measure by the Polish rulers to subdue and humiliate the workers they exploit. It is not socialism which has been tried and found wanting; the social system which has led to misery for millions of Polish workers is STATE CAPITALISM.

The crisis of Polish state capitalism has its immediate origin in the investment boom of the early 1970s. In 1973 Poland had the third fastest national growth rate in the world. To pay for this investment it was necessary for the Polish government to borrow from the Western banks: in 1971, Poland’s foreign debt stood at 700 million dollars; by 1975, when the boom was in full swing, the debt had reached 6,000 million dollars. The interest on the loans was so great that the Polish government had to borrow more from the Western banks in order to pay its previous debts: by 1980 Poland owed approximately 27,000 million dollars to Western capitalists. With the shortage of consumer goods on the market, Poland’s private farmers — who own 80 per cent of all agricultural land — refused to sell their produce in return for money which could not buy them what they need. The scarcity of agricultural produce — meat in particular — led to price rises. The Polish workers, having been pushed to breaking point in a productive drive to produce enough profits to pay off their masters’ debts, regarded the increase in the cost of already scarce food as the final straw.

All of these problems were direct consequences of world capitalism: the farmers could produce enough food to feed everyone; the industrial workers could produce consumer goods and have plenty to eat; but under capitalism, financial debts come before food (profits before needs) and that is why the military has attempted to crush the working class organisation, Solidarity, while the wealth producers of Poland arc suffering, many on the verge of malnutrition.

The distortion of the idea of socialism has been one of the greatest political crimes of our age. So-called socialists who were once praising Stalin from the distance of Western Europe are now claiming to support Solidarity, even though many of them have not repudiated their Leninist sympathies. Yet as early as January 1918 the Leninist attitude to trade unions was clearly expressed by Zinoviev: “trade union independence is a bourgeois idea . . . an anomaly in a workers’ state”. In November 1920 it was Trotsky who proposed the sacking of the elected leaders of the Russian railway union so as ‘‘to replace irresponsible agitators . . . by production-minded trade unionists”. Even in the midst of the great strikes of August 1980, the New Communist Party’s newspaper referred to Solidarity as “the Gdansk wreckers” and stated that “irresponsible individuals, anarchic and anti-socialist groups are attempting to exploit work stoppages . . . for their own ends”. In the 1930s the Socialist Party of Great Britain had its meetings smashed up by members of the British Communist Party because we dared to expose the anti-socialist activities of their hero, Stalin. Today in 1982 we are still as hostile as ever to the pseudo-socialists of the Left who advocate state capitalism.

The only alternative to the system which oppresses the workers of Poland and all other lands is WORLD SOCIALISM: a society without frontiers, classes, property or rulers. Only democratic political action by the working class, without leaders or dogmas, will lead to the of a socialist society. By their actions, the workers in Solidarity have won the admiration of socialists, even though we strongly oppose their nationalist and religious illusions and even though we recognise the limitations of trade union action. Having defied their masters and combined together, the next step which the Polish workers must take is to organise a class conscious democratic political party to aim for the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. To this end, the Socialist Party of Great Britain offers support to our fellow workers in Poland.

Letter: Shelley (1982)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

With regard to your review of Paul Foot’s Red Shelley in the October Socialist Standard, you omitted to point out that Queen Mab does contain some magnificent attacks on buying and selling (which Foot ignores, logically enough for a supporter of the SWP which does not realise that these are incompatible with socialism).
Hence commerce springs, the venal interchange
Of all that human art or nature yield;
Which wealth should purchase not, but want demand
And natural kindness hasten to supply
From the full fountain of its boundless love,
For ever stifled, drained and tainted now
(V. II, 38-43). 
All things are sold: the very light of Heaven
Is venal; earth’s unsparing gifts of love,
The smallest and most despicable things
That lurk in the abysses of the deep,
All objects of our life, even life itself,
And the poor pittance which the laws allow
Of liberty, the fellowship of man.
Those duties which his heart of human love
Should urge him to perform instinctively,
Are bought and sold as in a public mart
Of undisguising selfishness, that sets
On each its price, the stamp mark of her reign
(V. II, 177-188) 
A brighter, morn awaits the human day
When every transfer of earth’s natural gifts
Shall be a commerce of good words and works;
When poverty and wealth, the thirst of fame,
The fear of infamy, disease and woe.
War with its million horrors, and fierce hell
Shall live but in the memory of Time,
Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start.
Look back, and shudder at his younger years
(V. II, 177-188). 
Adam Buick, 

News in Review: Labour Conference (1962)

The News in Review column from the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Conference
It has been obvious for a long time that the Labour Party leadership would be sweating on the top line over their Annual Conference this year.

Hungrily, they watch a general election draw near, with the Tories getting the worst of the current by-elections. For some time they have held down the elements which the Conservative press have played up as the voters’ bogy men, and Gaitskell has successfully disentangled his image from that of Foot, Cousins, the CND, and so on.

All this could have been upset by a big, headline-catching row at the Conference. And the issue which could easily have caused a row was the Common Market.

Gaitskell has decided that he has an election winner here. But outright opposition to the Common Market could have split the Labour Party anew and lost them a lot of votes.

Capitalism’s political parties have had a lot of practice at dodging this sort of problem. The answer to it is to produce a statement which actually says nothing definite about the matter it is supposed to be dealing with.

So the Labour Party now says that, although it is a good idea for British capitalism to join Europe, it should only do so on conditions which make its acceptance by the Six all but impossible. This, they hope, will catch the votes of those who favour the Common Market and of those who do not.

The Labour Party also hoped—and they pulled it off—that the statement would suffocate any embarrassing questions and arguments at the Conference.

So there are several questions we can ask outside the Conference. And we hope they are embarrassing.

Is it worthwhile, even for voters who support capitalism, to vote for a party which cannot make up its mind on an important capitalist issue like the Common Market? Is it worth voting for a party which is so hungry for power that it will make any twist and turn if it thinks this will win a few measly votes?

And to the Labour Party members who call themselves Socialists: Can the Labour Party be a party of principle when it is so ready to bend its policy to any of capitalism's passing breezes? Should a Socialist Party bother about an issue of international capitalist economy like the Common Market?

And finally: Does the Labour Party stand for Socialism?

Answers to these five questions: No. no, no, no and no.

Rail Strikes
The rail strikers haven't a hope of success.

Doctor Beeching has said that he thinks some sections of the railways can be run profitably and, as a preliminary to boosting these, he is busily cutting away the dead wood of the other lines and services which do not pay.

This is quite in accordance with capitalist practice. Workers on the railway, —and in other industries—who regularly revive capitalism with massive votes for its political parties at election time cannot logically complain when the system works in the only way it can.

Capitalism is always upsetting dreams. 

The dream of nationalisation, for example.

Many railwaymen, and their leaders, were hot for nationalisation in 1945 and did their best to return the Attlee government which brought the railways under state control.

Now this very state control has facilitated the run down of the railways. It has made easier the national financial survey and it will smooth the organisation of the closures.

The nationalisation fans have an excuse for this. State railways, they say, are a good idea. The trouble is that the Tories are determined to undermine them. This ignores the fact that Labour Party spokesmen, too, have faced up to the capitals realities of nationalisation and have admitted that a Labour government would also be forced to close down a lot of lines and other services.

The fact is that nationalisation is something designed to solve the capitalists’ problems; it does not even faintly disturb the property basis of society. This means that most state industries must in the end conform to the profit motive.

The time for railwaymen to be kicking up will be at the next election, when the Labour Party will once again be campaigning on all sorts of capitalist reforms like nationalisation and calling them Socialism.

But it is a safe bet that the workers who have gained nothing from nationalisation will be voting and working for the party which stands for it.

Soviet income tax
Income tax is a very sore spot with a lot of workers in this country who are convinced that they carry the burden of many of the taxes which the government imposes.

So when the Russian government announced last year that they would progressively reduce, and finally abolish, income tax, a lot was made of it by the Communist Party. British workers were encouraged to think of Russia as a tax-free country, which is currently something like their idea of heaven.

At the time it was obvious, mainly for two reasons, that the abolition would have little effect upon the Russian worker.

Income tax accounts for only a small part of the total tax levied in the Soviet Union, most of which is taken directly from industry in the form of turnover tax and profits tax.

Apart from this the Russian worker pays tax no more than does his counterpart in other countries. Abolishing income tax would have had no lasting effect upon his wages.

But now the Russian government has abandoned the plan. There will be no more reductions in income tax and it will not be abolished. Of course, there had to be excuses offered for this reversal of a policy that was so ballyhooed.

The whole thing was blamed upon the international situation. Just as workers in this country were once encouraged to blame Germany for the austerities and restrictions they endured, Russian workers are now told that the Western powers are responsible for the upsetting of their government’s plans.

All this makes nonsense of the Communist Party claim that Socialism exists in Russia. If the Soviet Union is so unable to insulate itself from the other capitalist powers that it cannot even have undisturbed control of its own tax system, how can it hope to establish Socialism, even if it wanted to?

And what sort of Socialism is supposed to exist in Russia, with a full-blown tax system (including, let us repeat, a profit tax) just like any openly capitalist nation?

There is only one answer to these questions. Socialism does not exist in Russia. The Soviet Union is a powerful capitalist state which has to juggle with its finances and to deceive its workers just as the U.S.A. and this country have to.

Russia must involve itself in the international disputes of capitalism and must watch these disputes destroying its plans.

Many people regard Russia as a workers’ heaven. But all the evidence which comes from that country says that they are deceiving themselves.

‘University’ in Mississipi
From any point of view it is ridiculous that thousands of soldiers should be needed so that one person can go to school.

But the skin of James Meredith, who has been enrolled in the University of Mississippi, is a different colour from that of the students who have monopolised the University up to now.

So by asking to be enrolled, Meredith has stirred up some of the worst of the South's primitive prejudices and violence.

The United States government is on his side. American capitalism has decided that the Civil War was not fought for nothing. Developing industry needs Negro labour because it cannot afford to ignore it. Segregation is inefficient and wasteful.

No part of the United States can be allowed to opt out of the American Union—to opt out, in fact, of the development of American capitalism—on such an important matter and on grounds of ancient prejudice.

So Washington has set itself to bust segregation in the South. It has done something towards this in the schools of some of the toughest states; in Georgia and Arkansas, for example. After Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama remain to be dealt with, fortresses of racial ignorance.

For ignorance is the only word to describe the objections which the Southern Americans have to be sitting in school with, or on a 'bus with, or to eating with, the Negroes.

Knowledge has exposed the old bigotries against people of a different skin colour. It is not possible scientifically to argue that a man with a black or brown or yellow skin is any different in human terms from one whose skin is a muddy pink.

Capitalism recognises this. Wherever and whenever it can, it recruits and exploits all sorts of people impartially. This means that the interests of all capitalists—to exploit their workers as intensely as possible—are the same, whatever the colour of the capitalists' skins. It also means that the interests of all workers of any colour—to end the system which exploits and degrades them—are the same.

The Mississippi rioters could not be more off the beam. They are scientifically wrong. They are behind the times of modern capitalism. And they are acting in complete contradiction of their own material working class interests.

Ridiculous. And worse.

Past and Present: Remembrance Day poppycock (1962)

From the November 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Did you buy a poppy? You probably did. And you probably stood still when the salutes were sounded at eleven o’clock in the morning on the eleventh, and remembered the millions who died in the two World Wars. Perhaps you knew somebody—a relative or a friend—who died among them; perhaps you were one who remembered with a deep personal grief. And perhaps, because you had remembered and you had bought your poppy—you and millions like you—you felt a bit better about it.

It is impossible not to feel sympathy.

But it is even more difficult not to speak out against your illusions.

You probably think you were right to pop your money into the collecting box. The figures of the men who were crippled and blinded in the wars, and who cannot support themselves, are real enough. Obvious, too, is their plight. We sometimes get a look at them; there is, for example, a home for disabled ex-servicemen in West London which organises its own flag day in the summer, when it wheels some of its worst cases and plants them outside the local railway stations with a box propped upon their laps—or upon their chests. These men are pitifully shattered and have no hope of getting their living in the usual labour market. You think that if we all contribute something it would help them to solve that problem. Perhaps you think that only a niggard could resist the appeals to buy a flag or a poppy.

Yet we do not have to be misers to wonder how the whole thing started. And it is not for the sake of saving our coin in the box that we would like to stop it happening again. Why are these men forced to beg on the streets? To many people the answer to that question—The war, of course—closes the discussion, as if war is something which just happens, something to do with the Old Adam in us, or something to be blamed onto That Man in Berlin or Moscow or somewhere else. Anyway, nobody should stop to think about the whys and the wherefores; we should all get into uniform as soon as a war starts. If we’re unlucky we’ll get our name on one of the memorials or end up in a bath chair rattling a collection box.

This is exactly the attitude our masters like us to adopt. For those who unquestioningly accept a war are the easiest of victims for the propaganda which prepares them for the next bout of bloodletting. They easily forget the promises which are offered to excuse one war and which are broken as the next draws near. Such people in this country forgot the promises which were made in 1914-18, that that was the war to end wars and the assurances they were given in 1945 that Europe—and especially Germany— would be so organised that international disputes would be impossible in the future. Such people in Germany forgot that their country was one of the guarantors of the Belgian frontiers which they coldly violated in 1914 and that in 1919 they signed a pact which bound them never to rearm. Pacts and promises are freely broken, the power blocs in the world regroup and rearm, the war propaganda switches effortlessly from one line to another. And you, as you drop your coin through the slot and take your poppy, accept and condone it all. The war, you murmur, it's the war. There’s nothing anyone can do about that, is there?

We do not have to be misers to see that there is something we can do about it.

If you examine your poppy, you will see that it acknowledges a donation to the Haig Fund. You probably know that poppies are sold because they were the flowers which were thick in the cornfields of Flanders at the beginning of World War I, although by the time the fighting had rolled backwards and forwards over the countryside and had settled into the trenches where the guns and the gas could do their work there were very few poppies left. And you probably know who Haig was.

He was the man they gave £100,000 and an Earldom to, making him the first Earl Haig of Bemersyde in the County of Berwick, Viscount Dawick and Twentieth Laird of Bemersyde, for organising the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men. Haig was a sombre, withdrawn man who had notions that he was divinely appointed to lead his men to victory. Even for his time, his ideas were out of date. To the end, he dreamed of using his beloved cavalry on thrilling, lightning thrusts—although at the same time his infantry were finding it impossible to walk over the liquid battlefields he sent them across. His name is firmly linked with his own pet Big Push at Passchendaele, a bloody fiasco in which tens of thousands were lost to capture a few square miles of land and a heap of rubble which was anyway very soon recaptured by the Germans. It is easy now to be wise about Passchendaele, to remember the deep mud, to recall the official War Office publication which warns of the marshy nature of the Flanders countryside, and to ask, horrified, why the attack was ever allowed to happen. But perhaps the grimmest fact about it is that at the time, to the people who supported the war, Passchendaele seemed a very good idea. Haig had planned the offensive for a long time, confident that the attacks organised by the other Allied commanders would come to nothing and that he would be called upon to finish the war. The other attacks did come to nothing. So did Haig’s, if by nothing we mean the massed dead, the fear and the pain and the shattered lives and in the end the Earldom—and the poppies.

The poppies, in fact, are one of the unkindest cuts of all. There was, to be blunt, a cynical political reason for them. So great was the slaughter of that first war, so shocked was the world at what it had seen, that capitalism's masters realised that there were prospects of working class reaction. If these wars were to be a regular thing, something must appear to be done for the bits of men who came out of them. Possible resentment must be diverted from the disillusionment which was staring people in the face and fobbed off by unctuous gratitude for the penny in the box. How many of us can remember how this was done, in the years between the wars? The children drawn up in rows in the chill, depressing halls of working class schools with the dank November morning outside, being hectored by sour teachers and told that the penny they had wrung from an unemployed father—who had himself survived the trenches—was a vital part of the great virtue of charity. (In those days, the capitalist class in England were more generous in their gratitude for the dead. They always had the Two Minute Silence on November 11th, no matter on what day of the week it fell. Now they make sure that Remembrance Day is fixed for a Sunday so that production is not interrupted and nobody gets two minutes off.)

We said that we would be blunt. This is the reason for the charity sop which capitalism so carefully fosters. Charity stifles protest at the inhumanities of capitalism and it goes some of the way to conceal the true causes of our problems.

Charity solves nothing. The unemployed man in the ’thirties did not solve his problems by buying a poppy—and neither did be solve the problems of the men be thought he was helping. This is still true, even though post-war inflation means that it may be sixpence which goes into the collecting box more often than a penny. The very best that charity can do is to spread—ever so thinly, at that—a little working class poverty from one group of workers to another. Charity to the war disabled stifles the protests at their conditions and diverts the question which asks why they are broken and needy as they are.

Wars are as much a part of capitalist society as buying and selling. In fact, they are conceived and executed and fought so that buying and selling can go on. So that one power can buy its oil, or uranium, or rubber, or something else, in the most convenient and cheapest market. So that it can sell its cars or steel or chemicals in the places where it can get a good price for them. So that its ships and aircraft can carry its commodities to any place where the price is right. So that, in a nutshell, the profit motive of capitalism can be satisfied.

An essential part of this profit making is that enough people can turn out the wealth and make it possible to sell it profitably. But there would be no sense in the employers paying these people the same as the value of what they had made. There would be no profit in that. So the workers are in general paid only enough to keep them; enough to give them what they need to get up steam again for another bout of wealth production and profit making. This means that most people have to go out to work for their living and that in return they get a wage which is about enough for them to live a distinctly restricted, unambitious life and to turn out more workers who will live and work in exactly the same way.

This applies for as long as the worker is able to work. But if for some reason he loses his ability then his livelihood is lost with it and his only hope is the charity of other people. This is what has happened to the war disabled men, the men you bought your poppy for.

As long as there are people to buy the poppies without question, there will be the social system which makes war and as long as there is war there will be the wounded who will need charity and who will make the poppies for people to buy without question. . . This grisly circle could go on forever, in a descending spiral of madness and destruction.

Anybody who cares about human welfare should look for another way of dealing with this situation. It is worse than futile to be charitable to the men who come out of capitalism’s wars, the men who are some of the worst victims of the poverty which capitalism forces upon all its workers, and at the same time support the continuance of capitalism.

It is better—and this is no miser's talk—to get down to some reasoning about the causes of the poverty and the unhappiness which so deeply scars the world today. It is even better to come up with right answer. Socialism is the most plentiful and happy world we can have. And because of that it is a world away from the futile charity with which so many people excuse their toleration of capitalism today.

Running Commentary: Comic cuts (1986)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comic cuts
The newspaper business has been going through some changes recently, most noticeably the movement of Murdoch's News International to Fortress Wapping. In the process, Murdoch managed to engineer the sacking of 5.000 printworkers. His titles, including the Sun and The Times, are now being printed by members of the electricians' union.

Murdoch's manoeuvres have brought much condemnation from many Labour MPs, outraged at his tactics in deceiving the workers and saving on redundancy payments (although these tactics can hardly be said to be new to capitalism). The Sun has long been a target of left-wingers, who find its gutter journalism, cheap titillation and especially its patriotic. pro-Thatcher jingoism. offensive.

Murdoch's competitors in the newspaper business are concerned about the increased levels of profitability and efficiency he has gained. Robert Maxwell, who owns the Mirror Group, is in the most direct competition with Murdoch: he produces the same kind of comic. The Mirror also has a high proportion of scandal stories although, in an effort to appear refined, Maxwell recently ordered his Page 3 Lovelies to cover up their nipples.

In order to meet the challenge of News International, Maxwell recently imposed a change in working practices at his two publications in Glasgow, the Daily Record (which still shows nipples) and the Sunday Mail (which doesn't). The workers at these papers did not fancy a deterioration in their working conditions and being forced to produce an Irish copy of the Daily Mirror. Maxwell decided that these workers had sacked themselves — strange behaviour with four million on the dole so he shut down his Scottish operation and locked the workers out.

The reaction of Labour MPs in Scotland was not to condemn Maxwell despite his high-handed management. Murdoch was called the Dirty Digger, and an interfering foreigner (after all he is Australian). But the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, John Smith and many other Labour MPs expressed "concern" over the breakdown in "communication", and stressed the need to get these rags, which for years have spread anti-working class filth across Scotland, back to giving their "specific contribution” to the Scottish political scene.

So what is the difference between the lies of Maxwell's distorting Mirror and the Wapping-great lies of Murdoch's Sun that warrants such selective outrage from Labour MPs? Of course it could be the fact that Murdoch is a supporter of the Tories, while the "socialist millionaire" supports the Labour Party and so is courted by Kinnock & Co. at their conferences. But Labour would never betray workers' interests just to get cheap political support, would they?

The effort of the Labour MPs managed to get Maxwell back to the negotiating table, and the Daily Record back to the gutters. But not for long — while workers allow parasites like Murdoch and Maxwell to remain in positions of power and influence then we will continue to be insulted and insecure.

Sounds familiar
At the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held in February, the Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev spent much time talking about the need to reform the Russian economy. In his calls for expansion, modernisation and efficiency he sounded astonishingly like Thatcher. Factories which regularly make losses are to be allowed to go bust: "The state will not be responsible for their debts and losses", he said (all quotes. Guardian, 26 February). This could be Thatcher talking about "lame- ducks" being a burden on the Great British Taxpayer.

Managers and workers who produce unsold goods that end up in warehouses are to suffer loss of pay and bonuses. Wage increases must be earned — they must be related to the quantity of work done. Again, Thatcher has had a lot of experience of berating workers for taking “unearned" pay rises. Since the workers produce all the wealth in society, it is difficult to see how their wages — a fraction of what they produce anyway — can be unearned.

Gorbachev also called for less central interference from the state planning agency Gosplan, in the day-to-day running of the economy. They must "allow industrial management to get on with the job". The "right" of management to manage is a common cry of government ministers and of parasites such as Murdoch and MacGregor. What this "right to manage" usually amounts to is pay cuts and job losses.

Many of the current problems with the Russian economy were blamed on failures of the past. The stagnation and inertia, bureaucracy and corruption of the Brezhnev years in the seventies are the root of today's problems, according to Gorbachev. This is one that politicians often rely on. The current problems are blamed on the failures of the previous administration, whether Labour or Tory, Republican or Democrat, or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The fact is that capitalism produces problems by its very nature, regardless of the extent of state control. Whatever reforms Gorbachev rushes through it is clear that the workers in Russia will do the hard work and suffering, while the ruling class relax in their dachas and bemoan how lazy the workers are.

The strangest thing about Gorbachev's speech to the Congress was the fact that he cracked jokes (about Lenin!). Of course Mikhail — like "our" Maggie or Neil — is very conscious of his image, liking to appear as a humorous, concerned person. He's even been compared to the "great communicator" (or bullshitter). Ronald Reagan. Now what's the Russian for Saatchi and Saatchi?

How much longer can Botha and the ruling National Party in South Africa get away with promising reforms and then failing to deliver the goods?

Botha's latest promise was made in a recent speech in which he admitted that South Africa had "outgrown the outdated concept of apartheid". But he then went on to restate the belief basic to apartheid: that South Africa consists of separate tribal peoples or nations, each of which must have jurisdiction over its own affairs while the whites retain overall control. What this means in practice is the policy of "independent” tribal homelands for the blacks — Bantustans — poverty-stricken reservations with nominal autonomy which provide a ready supply of cheap black labour for the predominantly white ruling class.

The "reforms" outlined by Botha include the restoration of South African citizenship to those who lost it when the Bantustans were granted "independence"; the extension of self-government to the remaining non-independent homelands; limited rights of property ownership for blacks in the townships; amendments to the Pass Laws so that everyone in South Africa would have to carry identity papers; and the establishment of a new National Advisory Council that is to include blacks.

Most black workers in South Africa will recognise these "reforms" as worthless, since they leave the main institutions of apartheid intact. For example, the proposed amendments to the Pass Laws would still enable the police arbitrarily to arrest blacks for being in the "wrong" area and it is likely that black access to the cities will continue to be dependent on a job and accommodation. The proposed Advisory Council represents the same kind of tokenism as the constitutional amendments which gave Indians and Coloureds separate national assemblies while the real power remains in the hands of the white ruling class.

Free speech
You would have thought that the Left had learned its lesson from last year's events at North London Poly when the Socialist Workers' Party orchestrated such favourable publicity for the National Front by trying to prevent Patrick Harrington from attending classes. But no, the Right are yet again being granted the moral high ground as defenders of free speech, as this year's intake of students conforms to the Left stereotype. Having found their feet as student radicals, they are now attempting to prevent selected demons of the Right from speaking on university and polytechnic platforms. Michael Fallon, Tory MP, was given a rough ride at Sunderland Poly, as was John Carlisle at Bradford University. An invitation to the philosopher of the new right, Roger Scruton, was withdrawn when Leeds City Council said that they could not guarantee his safety. And even tapes of American anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan, were banned at the South Bank Poly in London.

Meanwhile, students at Bristol University have just discovered that John Vincent, Professor of History, has an alter ego as a reactionary columnist for the Sun newspaper. The word went out and the Left picketed his lectures, resulting in the involvement of the police and local publicity more favourable to the "victimised Professor Vincent" than to the "lefty student yobs". Why, you might ask, if it is his column in the Sun to which they object, are they picketing his history lectures at Bristol University? Their argument is that he is using his position as an academic to lend spurious credibility to his journalistic efforts. But never mind the finer details — picketing is so much more fun than lectures and, after all, John Vincent is right wing and therefore a legitimate target for emotional tirades about racism, fascism, the Sun newspaper . . . And let's not worry too much about free speech, or the damage being done to serious opponents of capitalism.

Printers' Progress, 1986 (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
  We have, by turns, conceded what we ought manfully to have resisted, and you, elated with your success, have been led on from one extravagant demand to another, till the burden is become too intolerable to be borne, You fix the number of our apprentices. and sometimes even the number of our journeymen. You dismiss certain proportions of our hands and do not allow others to come in their stead. You stop all surface machines and go to the length of even to destroy the rollers before our face. 
  You restrict the cylinder machine and even dictate the pattern it is to print. You refuse, on urgent occasions, to work by candlelight and even compel our apprentices to do the same. You dismiss our overlookers when they don't suit you; and force obnoxious servants into our employ. Lastly, you set all subordination and good order at defiance, and instead of showing deference and respect to your employers, treat them with personal insult and contempt. 
Considerations to the Journeymen Calico Printers of Manchester by One of their Masters, 1875 History of Trade Unions, page 76; Sidney Webb, 1920.

Bloggers Note:
This passage was inserted as a block quotation in the Running Commentary column, and is only properly understood when read alongside the Wapping dispute/print unions piece in said Running Commentary column.

Socialism explained (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

From Capitalism to Socialism: How we live and how we could live. The Socialist Party. 40p.

Our latest publication is a basic introduction to the case for socialism which contrasts our present way of life with what a world society of common ownership would bring. All the main arguments for socialism are covered in seven chapters, beginning with a discussion of the lifestyle of the average worker and the restrictions imposed by capitalist society on our choice of work. What we do, where and when is essentially decided by our employer.

The second chapter deals with humans as they are, biologically and physiologically. Basically we have developed very little as a species; socially, however, we have lived through many changes. Not only can we adapt to many different surroundings, but we also have the ability to change our conditions to suit our purposes. Instead of altering ourselves to suit a new environment we have often altered our environment to suit our needs. Society moulds people, but people can equally as well mould society.

The pamphlet goes on to discuss earlier social systems and then examines capitalism in some depth. A society of common ownership how we could live — is then presented as a practical alternative. The dominating feature is the change that would take place in work, where freedom from compulsion would mean an environment suited to human needs rather than maximum profit. This section also includes two interesting lists of products and occupations that would cease to exist in socialism because they are concerned with money.

One objection to a society of common ownership is that there is just not enough wealth in the world to sustain a system of free access. But this idea is nurtured today by the artificial scarcity created by the profit system: goods and services are only produced if there is a market for them. On the face of it. goods are scarce; potentially, however, there is no shortage at all. Sometimes it may be too costly to, say, extract a mineral from the ground or irrigate barren land. Socialism would do away with all the restrictions of a private property society.

Socialists are confronted daily by those who believe that the answer to social ills is to reform society a little at a time, and a section in the pamphlet is therefore devoted to the issue of reformism. What emerges clearly is that there is no common ground between reformism and revolutionary action: if you seek reforms you openly accept the political and economic structure of society and limit your activity to effecting superficial changes. By opting for revolutionary action, on the other hand, socialists are aiming solely at a fundamental alteration in social relationships. The pamphlet shows that reforms are only accepted by governments if they do not clash with the needs of capitalism — a "successful" reform can easily be withdrawn if it becomes a hindrance to profit.

The pamphlet ends with a call to action. A conscious majority, using delegates and not leaders, must take control of the state and abolish its coercive functions and the profit system in all its forms.

How to arrest the police (1986)

From the April 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of the people who have come through the experience archly known as "helping the police with their enquiries" will be unsurprised at the case of the five youths beaten up by policemen in the Holloway Road and by the attempt to cover it all up. It is true to say that illegal violence is freely used by the police — perhaps to induce some hapless suspect to put their name to an incriminating statement, or to put down over-effective pickets, or even at random on the streets. In the first issue of Today (whose proprietor has cause to be thankful to the police) Derek Jameson protested: "The streets of London are becoming like New York with young coppers running wild". That may be a typical journalist’s overstatement but what can't be denied is that recent events have not helped to give the police a happy image. Last year Scotland Yard paid out a record £207,537 in damages to people who had been assaulted or "improperly" treated by their officers. One case outside London involved the Manchester police in agreeing damages of £2,000 to a deaf, disabled man who was beaten up by three policemen and left bleeding on a cold December night. What is remarkable about the recent notorious events is not so much that they happened as that they were publicised. Nor is it exceptional, that the police should find it difficult to unmask culprits in their ranks. Blair Peach was bludgeoned to death by a member of the Special Patrol Group when the streets were swarming with police yet his killer has never been officially identified.

In spite of these examples — and others like the police operations during the coal strike (of which more later) or how the Wiltshire police dealt with the Stonehenge hippy convoy or the incidents which sparked off the riots in Brixton and Tottenham — British capitalism cannot be described as a police state. Whatever happens behind the cell doors, there is a legal protection of the rights and safety of suspects in police hands. When the police deny those rights they are acting outside the law. whereas a police state would legally sanction any degree of repression. In practice this may well be the sort of thin distinction to wring hollow laughter from anyone who has been interrogated by the British police, or who knows of someone who has mysteriously died while in police custody. So yes. there is a problem; how do we deal with it? How do we control the police?

A favourite response of the left wing to these questions is that the police should be made "accountable", should carry out their job through popular consent. In fact "police accountability” and "policing by consent" are slogans almost as popular among left-wingers as "Second Front Now" and "Nationalise the Mines" used to be. In practical terms, they mean that the police should be answerable to, and so controlled by, some elected local body. Through a little disconnected logic, the argument then proceeds to claim that this would make the police democratic because they would be operating within the wishes of the majority. The case was put by Margaret Simey, who chaired the Merseyside Police Committee:
  I believe that over the past five years, the Merseyside Police Authority can claim to have explored the day-to-day actuality of whether, and if so, how policing by consent can be made a reality. All the work we have done in scrutinising our own responsibilities for finance and administration and in striving to involve the public in the provision of the service, convinces me that policing by consent is practically possible. (Guardian, 7 March 1986).
Hacking through the luxuriant verbiage of that statement, we come to an awkward question: if the people of Granby Ward in Toxteth, which Margaret Simey represents as a County Councillor, should decide as a majority to eke out their dole by helping themselves to essentials like food and clothes, how would this relate to policing by consent? Would the police themselves consent to it? The theory sounds cosily reassuring but, like all left wing nostrums, it is crippled by some basic flaws.

There are in fact examples of the police operating under what might be described as majority consent and control but these are not helpful to the likes of Margaret Simey. In the Deep South states of America the police have often been open and assertive agents of racist repression. Far from protecting human rights and safety they have been known to collude blatantly with, or even themselves commit, the murder of black people or of civil rights workers. And this happened although the major law enforcement officers — police chiefs, sheriffs — were popularly elected. Because the majority in the South wanted blacks to be repressed, the police were more or less mandated to act as racist thugs. Such examples as exist in this country are no more helpful. The GLC had something called the Police Committee which could be relied on to fulminate against excesses but which had no real influence and which the Metropolitan Police, which is answerable to the Home Secretary, effectively ignored. It is a similar story in those places — like Simey's Merseyside — which had Police Committees with closer links with the police. They were in persistent conflict with their chief constables — notable among them were Anderton of Greater Manchester and Oxford of Merseyside — who took little account of the committee's opinions. Simey described this:
  The unwelcome truth is that though much bombast is uttered about the principle of accountability. the stark reality is that the machinery for measuring that it works in practice has rusted up to the point at which it is virtually unusable.
Which brings us to the question that, if the police are to be accountable, who or what are they accountable to? The left wing argue that it must be to the community. But it is the job of the police to arrest and prosecute people for stealing, for taking wealth which they as a class have produced but to which they have no right unless they can buy it. When the police are called to arrest someone for shoplifting they are not acting in the interests of the community, which demand that all human beings have free access to things like food and clothing. They are acting in the interests of the owners of the shop.

Another example is the work of the police in helping to break last year's coal strike. Since the miners were defeated the National Coal Board have pressed on with their programme of closures. Nearly 30 pits have ceased production and over 35,000 miners have left the industry, with many more in prospect. Yet while the coal lay uncut and the miners were being labelled as redundant, the suffering among old people during the cold during February exposed — as if this was again necessary — how much need there is in the community for fuel. One survey (Sunday Times, 2 March 1986) of pensioners' homes in Croydon found that on average their living rooms were heated to 14.7°C and their bedrooms to 8.8°C (at the same time the House of Lords was enduring 21.1°C). In such conditions old people die of the cold — through hypothermia. chest infections, accidents caused by numbed senses. Hospitals were overwhelmed; one in Scotland was expecting 20 cases of hypothermia a day and a consultant geriatrician in North London predicted an extra 8,000 deaths for every degree below average in winter (Observer, 2 March 1986).

So whose interests were the police asserting, when they helped to break the strike? Certainly not those of the pensioners shivering and dying in their homes, nor of the nurses and doctors battling against the effects of cold-induced sickness and accidents. They were asserting the fact that under this social system coal and all other wealth will be produced only when it is profitable, regardless of human need. They were reminding us that we live in a society based on the class ownership of the means of life, which means the denial of access to wealth — coal. food, clothes or whatever — to the majority.

It is quite clear that there is a conflict between the function of the police and the real interests of the community. The police exist to enforce the minority property rights of capitalism, with all that they entail — the privileges of the parasitical minority, the poverty of the productive majority. That is why the police cannot encourage people, however needy, to help themselves to wealth. That is why, when the miners resisted the capitalist principle that the ''uneconomic" production of coal must cease, they met the opposition of the police, one of whose functions is to enforce that principle. Those functions ensure that the police cannot be a democratic organisation. They cannot, for example, publicise that they are about to raid the home of someone suspected of handling stolen property. They cannot consult every constable whether they would agree to go out to intercept a bunch of armed robbers. Bodies like police committees, and left wing theories like "police accountability" and "policing by consent", exist on the false assumption that capitalism can be refashioned into a benign, humane, open society and that the capitalists' privileged position can somehow be related to the interests of the community. These are clashes between reality and delusion, between the deceptions of reformism and the inexorable demands of a society based on class ownership. What it amounts to is that the police are accountable — to the class who employ them and to the privileged interests of that class. Policies for reforming the police out of their character conflict with that reality and are doomed to impotence. Discussions about how to control, or democratise, the police are futile.

There is one last vital fact to be considered. At every election the working class vote for capitalism to continue — which means for class privilege, state coercion, police repression, to continue. People like Margaret Simey airily ignore that fact but it will not go away until the working class face the realities of capitalism and of their own power to abolish the system. But the grim outlook is that many more workers will be beaten and killed by the police before our class comes to trust themselves in a truly democratic society.