Thursday, October 17, 2019

50 Years Ago: Eight Million Undernourished (1989)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of course the stock argument of such people is that war is for national aims and all should be prepared to make sacrifice. To which Mr. Greenwood, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, though he supports the war, is constrained to reply that: "There is too ready an assumption on his (Mr. Keynes ) part that the workers of this country were having a fair share of its wealth, anyway, before the war started." And the Manchester Guardian pertinently reminds its readers that: "Before the war. Sir William Crawford estimated, eight million people lacked wages sufficient for the bare minimum of food regarded as essential to health by the British Medical Association" (Manchester Guardian, November 3rd).

So, war or no war, we are back again at the basis of capitalism, the ceaseless struggle between the "haves" and the “have-nots". Not all the academic theorisings of Mr. Keynes and all the honeyed words of the politicians will prevent the struggle from proceeding, with its customary periodic outbursts of industrial strife.

Mr. Churchill may persuade himself that ours is one of the peaceful parliamentary countries "which aim at freedom for the individual and abundance for the mass" (broadcast reproduced in News Chronicle, November 13th). but he cannot dispute the unchallengeable facts of working-class poverty.
[From an edtorial "Wages and Wartime", Socialist Standard, December 1939.]

How sweet is charity? (part 1) (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once when we wanted to avoid the importuning of charitable organizations, we only had to walk across the road to evade the flag-seller on the corner. But now these collectors seek us at our own front doors, they invade our place of work, they nobble our children at school. They write us begging letters, send unwanted Xmas cards, and issue catalogues of goods for sale. Shops selling jumble have appeared in the High Street. Large newspaper advertisements press us for support. Heart-rending unfortunates stare at us from hoardings. Charity has become Big Business.

Many workers display attitudes of confusion and guilt about charity, and before they next dip their hands into their shallow pockets they should pause, question why all these appeals are necessary, and if the voluntary contributions they are giving are doing any good. In spite of the Welfare State and the ramifications of charitable organizations the poor are still with us. As the standard of living has risen so the standard of poverty has changed. The wealthy nobles in the 12th and 13th centuries did not have the comforts the poorest take for granted nowadays. Poverty is a relative thing, and can only be assessed by comparison with the wealth that is produced. All members of the working class are poor, and some are more unfortunate than others.

All the more reason the worker may think, to spare what he can, even to deny himself, to alleviate a small part of that hardship in those less fortunate. Distress in others makes us uncomfortable. Few can hear a child cry or watch a fellow human in pain or trouble, without being moved. In man’s early days the young were protected, for in them lay the future, and the old were respected for their knowledge and experience.

As private property developed the tribal structure broke down. Hard though their lot might be, to some extent the chattel slave and serf were protected by their servitude. The slave had to be fed, clothed and housed. The serf was bound to his feudal lord’s land which was his means of life. But where this did not apply, those in distress and want had to rely on the goodwill of those who might pity them. Pity has a curious effect on the recipient. The writer remembers as a child being taken by the Country Holiday Fund from the slums of London to a beautiful village in Shropshire. We stayed at a farm; the lady of the manor invited us to tea; the vicar let us ring the church bells, and called on his congregation to be kind to the “poor little children from the East End of London.” (The effect was to create humiliation not gratitude.)

After Christianity was established in Britain, the care of the sick and needy was undertaken mainly by the monasteries. Under feudal custom one-tenth of all yearly produce was an obligation for the upkeep of the Church, and the Church was equally bound to use part of the tithes for the care of those who could not support themselves. Early hospitals such as Bart’s (founded 1123), St. Thomas’s (1200) were combined almshouses, shelters for the sick, and orphanages. Christians like to claim that charity is synonymous with Christianity, but taking with one hand and doling out crumbs of relief with the other is practised by all religions. In England, the hand that took prospered so well, that by the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII the Church owned one-third of the country.

In time the old system of fixed work-days for the feudal lord fell into disuse, and the serfs became peasant tenants paying money rents for their leaseholds, and receiving money wages for labour on their lord’s demesne lands. All they produced by their own labour on their own holding belonged to themselves (except for tithes). While the nobility fought, the peasants had no say and little interest in the struggle. When it was resolved, the exhausted nobility were ordered by the new upstart Henry VII to disband their armies of feudal retainers, who were cast penniless and propertyless onto the roads.

The wool trade was growing, and those landed gentry who sought riches saw that turning the land into sheep-walks would achieve their object. They began to enclose the common land, and drive the peasant tenant from his olding. The Reformation dissolved the monasteries and confiscated Church lands. Many of the clerics readily adapted their views and made the transition to office in the Protestant church, but the monasteries employed large numbers of lay servants, and Church lands were farmed by lay tenants, and these joined the throng of those with no means of subsistence. Some of this force of landless humans suited the needs of a rising merchant and manufacturing class who required cheap labour for commodity production, but the influx of recruits could not be absorbed as quickly as they were dispossessed, so begging and thieving were the inevitable outcome. Such relief of pauperism as was undertaken was provided by craft guilds and individual philanthropy. It became something of a fashion for nobles and rich merchants to establish almshouses during the reign of Elizabeth I, either out of a desire for immortality in stone or to “lay up treasure in the life to come”.

By the beginning of the 17th century, so troublesome were vagrancy and destitution, that the Poor Law Act of 1601 laid upon local parishes the duty of providing from the rates for the sick, needy and homeless, and putting to work the able-bodied. This established for the first time the principle, that the care of such people was part of the responsibility of the State. The State has developed into the overseer for the capitalist class of the wage-slave, and it has been discovered by slow degrees (as the chattel-slave owner learnt earlier) that to allow working-class welfare to sink below a certain level seriously affects their efficiency and consequent profitability. Running through the history of Britain from the 15th to the 19th century is the account of how the land that was the peasant’s means of subsistence was first illegally and then legally expropriated; and the once self-sufficient peasant and agricultural labourer dispossessed of any means of support, except by hiring themselves to the manufacturing class.

Thus the rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution saw an enormous increase in human misery. A "free” worker who could not find a job, or who was unable to work because of illness, found himself and his family destitute. Some workers formed friendly societies in an attempt to help each other. Machinery meant that women and children could take part in production. Working conditions in the factories were so bad that medical observation reported the “rapid spread of malformation of the bones, curvature of the spine, heart disease, rupture, stunted growth, asthma, and premature old age among children and young persons”.

As capitalism developed so did the need for and nature of charity. The contrast between the resultant luxury on one hand and poverty on the other became more apparent. Societies for the relief of this or that affliction sprang up in the 19th century. These were sponsored and supported by the rich: characteristically, the capitalist could not enjoy his dinner and claret with a hungry waif staring through the window—besides, the organization gave his wife and daughters something to do! Yet still distress continued, and so widespread was the problem that the capitalist class became concerned about their potential labour force, and introduced the Welfare State to care for the working class from the cradle to the grave.

Charities Register
What has been the result? Next time in the library look for the Charities Register. There are over 100,000 listed covering every conceivable (and inconceivable) need. Each has to satisfy the Charity Commissioners’ definition of a charitable cause. Most are competing for your cash. These are only the registered charities, and take no account of the hundreds of thousands of informal projects that go on, such as pub and club collections, sweepstakes, school funds, coffee mornings etc., held for strictly local objectives and not included in official statistics. The welfare umbrella, it seems, leaks badly.

This puts the donor in something of a quandary; there is the problem of which charity to support, for it is certain one cannot help all. A choice must be made between this misery or that. Does one Help the Aged or Save the Children? Help the blind or the deaf? Support cancer research, kidney machines, multiple sclerosis, or spastics? Are you more touched by Dr. Barnardos or the Distressed Gentlefolks’ Aid Association? And people have now become aware of distress beyond these islands. Television brings painful sights uncomfortably into our sitting-rooms. Do earthquake victims move you more than flood disasters? Whose need is greater, famine victims or war refugees? We must not forget our four-footed and feathered friends, catered for by the RSPCA, RSPB, PDSA. Blue Cross, World Wildlife Fund, etc., etc. There are even charities for those who do not care much for some of the human race. There is a classified list under the heading "Promotion of the Efficiency of the Forces”. A typical rifle-club charity will have as its declared aim: "To encourage skill in rifle shooting by any of Her Majesty’s subjects so that they will be better fitted to serve their country”.

When workers contribute to charity they must not lose sight of the fact that their donations merely reduce the obligation of the government, so that the taxpayer, i.e. the capitalist class, is being subsidized instead of the charitable cause. If they argue, as some do, that the government will only offer the bare minimum, and it is necessary to fill the void where the State will not or cannot intervene, then they should acquaint themselves with the conduct and efficiency of the mammoth organization of charity today. The effect of the capitalist ethic on even such a worthy object as trying to relieve distress is startling!
Alice Kerr
(To be continued)

How sweet is charity? (part 2) (1978)

From the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The purpose of this article is not to look at the phoneys and frauds who operate in the area of charity work, although there are many examples. Neither is it to make cheap gibes at the dedicated work of many voluntary charity workers who mistakenly devote time and effort for purely altruistic motives. (Those who make a career of running charities must answer for themselves. An advertisement in The Times on 28th September, 1977 sought a “social secretary to the Director-General of a well established charity”. The salary offered £6,000 per year. What is the Director- General paid?) This article is concerned with the respectable charities, to examine their development and rĂ´le in a competitive capitalist society, to question who benefits from them, and to show how all the effort and money expended will never cure, and does very little to relieve, distress.

Originally charities were set up and financed by the wealthy, but in their modern form they draw their income from several sources. Public donations are their mainstay, and their fund-raising activities are concerned with persuading the public to voluntarily levy a tax upon themselves. They may draw some income from foundations and trusts. These are set up by wealthy capitalists (e.g. Nuffield, Rowntree, Wolfson), and are more generous on paper than in fact: the capital remains tied up in the donors’ companies — thus they retain control and possible tax advantages, and the dividend is what is actually donated. These grants are subject to the whims and interests of the trustees of the foundation. The Government and local councils make grants to some charities. They often prefer to reimburse a charity for handling a social problem (however haphazardly), rather than have it become part of the social services. In addition charities draw investment and rent income on assets, and some dabble in commercial activities and sweepstakes.

Charities are legally obliged not to take political action or they lose their status, but the border-line is ill-guarded by the Charity Commissioners. Charities do indulge in political lobbying, and frequently get wide publicity when they make their erroneous opinions available. Recent statements include one by Oxfam that the populations of advanced countries should cut their intake of meat in order to solve the world’s hunger problem; and another by the Family Planning Association that too many children are the cause of poverty. Shelter is trying to persuade local authorities to make condemned slum clearance properties available for occupation.

It is not easy to discover how much charities collect and distribute. J. P. Gallagher in his informative book The Price of Charity—which studies not the principle but the method and organization of charity—describes how difficult it is to obtain accurate figures. He gives examples of how “some very august charities indeed” show “net income” from local fund raising activities, so that it is impossible to know how much has actually been given and compare it with the amount that reaches headquarters. He shows how they try to hide legacy income; they may decide to allocate the whole of good-sized legacy to administration, and the ratio of expenses to revenue will drop sharply. Another ploy is for large legacies to be allocated to the capital account and not appear in the general income and expenditure account, so that voluntary workers are not tempted to take things easy. He writes:
  The whole philosophy behind a lot of charity accounts is that if they are made difficult enough, fewer people will bother to study them in detail and ask what will almost certainly be regarded as impertinent questions! The aim—which is understandable—is always to present the best possible face. But for charities this means emphasizing their heavy costs and playing down income, especially from legacies. It is true! There are charities who will say unashamedly that they like to show in their accounts the lowest possible routine cash income in the hope that it will inspire donors to give more. Another, sometimes conflicting, aim is to make the ratio of expenses, most especially the administrative bracket, appear as favourable as possible. There is a ‘low admin, expense league’ among charities today! There are several arguable ways of carrying out this exercise and almost all charity accounts will reflect one or more of the tricks of the trade.(The Price of Charity, J. P. Gallagher, p. 99. Our italics)
Having collected their unrevealed donations and paid their obscure expenses, it might be reasonable to suppose that the balance would then be speedily despatched to the unfortunates on whose behalf the appeal is made. But first the charities have more pressing needs. They must allocate money to cover the next year’s appeal for more funds, and then they must acquire assets so that they have stability for the future. Apparently they see no prospect of curing the distress they are seeking to relieve. Recorded assets of 100 of the big fund-raising charities at the beginning of 1972 were £200,994,000. In addition the Official Custodian for Charities held no less than £162,848,825 on behalf of various charities smaller than the leading 100. The assets of 50 of the major trusts and foundations totalled £712,717,000. These assets are in property, commercial and industrial investment, local authority and government bonds. A registered charity gets 50 per cent. rate rebate, and may at the discretion of the rating authority get up to 100 per cent. Legacies up to £50,000 are free of tax, and they pay no taxes on charitable income or assets. Some individual figures that can be quoted for 1972 are as follows. (Gallagher could not obtain later figures at the time of compiling his book.)

In 1976 Christian Aid, who were concerned about the future of sterling, sent £1,700,000 overseas into safer currencies (Sunday Times, 31st October 1976). From these figures it will be seen that charities have a considerable stake in the capitalist mode of production.

Not content with the proceeds of investment and general fund-raising, some charities are now venturing into commercial activities. These are not confined to selling Christmas cards. Brian Walker, the director of Oxfam, says directly: “I’ve tried to make sure the commercial side is as effective as the compassionate side”. Oxfam’s retailing ventures (old bric-a-brac) had a turnover of £2.75 million in 1975, and Oxfam is buying —with charity cash—the freeholds of 200 of its 600 shops. Oxfam has been tempted to go into development projects, and in 1975 negotiated with Indira Ghandi a land development scheme in Orissa, the poorest state in India. A report in the Sunday Times Business News on 31st October 1976 stated: ‘‘the scheme involves forced land resettlement of the peasantry, a great deal of arm-twisting by the local government and far-away Delhi.” Another new Oxfam venture is Bridge, a subsidiary which helps sell handicrafts and some produce from the “poor third world”. Bridge made £81,000 profit on a 1975 turnover of £175,000. To quote the Sunday Times again, “Many a Parsee exploiter of the poor Indian peasant would have drooled at that.” Roy Scott, the Oxfam executive charged with building up Bridge, resigned in 1976 because he felt that “exploitation and corruption had crept into the project”. His statement indicated that too much of the profit came from the low wages paid to Oxfam workers in the rural factories. Although he has withdrawn himself from its murky activities, he concluded a letter about his resignation to the Sunday Times: “I wish it well.” Oxfam featured a starving Indian child holding out a begging bowl in its 1976 advertising campaign.

Considering that they are all supposed to be purveyors of “compassionate good works” there is a surprising amount of rivalry, jealousy, and squabbling in the charity movement. According to the Sunday Times report, Help the Aged has squads of car-borne fund-raisers scouring the country so successfully that their rivals Age Concern are speaking of them as locusts devouring all the charity cash in their path. The five leading overseas charities— Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Red Cross, War on Want—were forced by the BBC to link their interests together and make joint appeals, because of the squabbles about who should get air time for special disaster appeals. The former communications director of Christian Aid, David Smithers, and the boss Dr. Slack are quietly threatening to sue each other over some uncharitable remarks each has said about the other. David Smithers wrote to the Sunday Times (7th November 1976) on his resignation and said:
  In the last financial year for which there are certified accounts (1974/5), of the £4.2 million received in donations, legacies, and interest on investments Christian Aid actually disbursed, on my calculations, less than 49p in the £ on physical help to the world’s poor. Yet its major appeal in the press during the year featured a distracted woman holding out a sick or dead baby, and rightly claiming that she and millions like her might be dead by Christmas unless help was given . . .
. . . My testimony after some years as a senior executive and chief globetrotter for Christian Aid. is that only a small proportion of the money disbursed actually reaches the “poorest of the poor” for whose benefit the money is given. So much of its spending is clerically orientated.
The Sunday Express on 3rd April 1977 reported on a vicar in Somerset who was running a Silver Jubilee appeal and found in three of the returned envelopes the respective sums of 1p, 2½p, and 7½p. He was angrily and publicly rebuking the anonymous donors for their “meanness”, when a parishioner reminded him about the “widow’s mite”. The vicar replied that allowing for inflation (perhaps he had divine help for his calculations), the widow’s mite would be worth at least 50p by now! His attitude is shared by most of the charities, who have a low opinion of those from whom they beg. Gallagher quotes charity officials saying that people donate as a “sop to the conscience” and “to keep up with the Joneses”, and says they use methods which in effect shame people into giving money. These range from highly emotive pictures and appeals to mild blackmail. The Trades Description Act of 1968 does not cover charity appeals if the appeal is solely to gather donations. We are all familiar with the forlorn pictures, hard-hitting advertisements, and sensational presentation. Parents of schoolchildren will be aware of the appeals they bring home frequently for national and local charities. They are often organized into task forces, finding sponsors for swims, walks, and other activities. As charities are presumably well aware that schoolchildren do not have incomes, they must also know that they are getting at parents through their children. Another insidious method of collecting, pioneered by Bamardo’s, is the scheme where workers are asked to have a small weekly sum deducted from their wages at source. A worker refuses to contribute at the expense of looking too mean to give 2p or 5p a week. In the Aberfan disaster of 1966 when 116 children and 28 adults died in a coal tip avalanche, £1.5 million was raised, which with interest grew to £2 million. Yet the final accounts list £150,000 paid out towards the removal of local coal tips—something it might be thought that the National Coal Board should have paid for entirely.

In 1876 the total income of endowed charities came to £2 million. Gallagher states that nobody can be certain how much goes to charity in the UK now, but he estimated for 1973 the sum of £800 million, which includes grants from public funds, but does not include the amounts raised on local or informal projects. What benefits reached the poor and needy (and at what cost to their self esteem) cannot be assessed, but it is significant that charities were begging even harder in 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977. Is any further argument required about the failure and ineptitude of charity?

Socialism is a reorganization of society so that the means for all production and distribution will be held in common. Production will take place to satisfy the needs of all society. All will stand equal in relation to the wealth society produces. The begging bowl will disappear, and nobody need ever again experience the humiliation of charity.
Alice Kerr

Forthcoming Pamphlet: An Urgent Appeal (1978)

Party News from the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have prepared for publication a new edition of our pamphlet “Questions of the Day”. The previous editions of this work have been extremely popular because of its many chapters on a range of subjects. The new one contains freshly written additional chapters on inflation and unemployment, left-wing organizations, the women’s movement, and China. “Questions of the Day” is packed with material vital to every worker.

Most members of the SPGB and readers of the Socialist Standard will regard its reappearance as an important event. It depends on one thing: we need money. The printers’ bill will be £1,500. Our experience has always been that when we ask for money for something like this, it is quickly provided by socialists. We are sure that will be the case on this occasion.

Please send your contributions to the Treasurer, “Questions of the Day”, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4.

Notes by the Way: So they couldn’t kid Mikardo! (1956)

The Notes by the Way column from the December 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

So they couldn’t kid Mikardo!
Mr. Mikardo is Labour M.P. for Reading. Two years ago he visited Hungary and wrote about it in Tribune (17/9/54) under the title: “There’s very little poverty in Red Hungary,” though he thought their standard of living was 30 per cent below that of British workers. The declared intention of the article was to expose as fairy tales and “imaginative fiction” all the stories he had heard about poverty and discontent, surveillance by secret police, subjection to the Russian army settled in the country, etc. On the contrary, wrote Mr. Mikardo, he was allowed to see what he wanted, was able to talk freely and found people who “didn't hesitate to criticise the regime.” He saw only few Russian soldiers and only one person wearing a Communist Party badge. He ended with the cocky avowal: “Old Mikardo isn't an easy guy to kid at any time anyway.”

It looks as if Mr. Mikardo owes some explanation to the readers of Tribune.

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Pause for Humbug
  “It was one of those incredible situations that could only happen in London—Sir Anthony Eden and Russian Ambassador Jacob Malik sipping from the same loving cup. It happened last night amid the splendour of the Lord Mayor’s banquet in cathedral-like Guildhall.”—(Daily Sketch. 10/11/56.) 

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Pollitt and the Red Army
Three years ago Mr. Harry Pollitt sent “greetings to the Soviet Army.” (Daily Worker, 23/2/1953). Along with the usual thanks for the debt “we” owe to the Russian branch of capitalism’s greatest industry, that for destruction, Mr. Pollitt said:
  “We know the Soviet Armed Forces will never be used for aggression, but are on guard for peace.”
The Communist Party should send him to Budapest to tell this to the Hungarian workers—but make sure that he does so under the protection of some Russian tanks and the secret police.

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The War that saved the Peace
On Saturday, November 17th, a week after the day set aside in remembrance of two world wars “ for peace,” two men were justifying two recent wars. One was Sir Anthony Eden, about the invasion of Egypt:
  “The truth is that we have checked a drift which would have ended in the loss of countless lives and more other evils than we can ever estimate.”—(Evening Standard, 17/11/56.)
The same day Mr. J. R. Campbell, in the Daily Worker, was justifying the Russian onslaught in Hungary under the tide: “The choice that saved Peace.” He claimed that it prevented “a possible prolonged civil war. This would have been pregnant with the terrible danger of a third world war.”

Eden and Campbell did not get together to concoct their joint story beforehand. It just happens that they are in the same line of business, that of justifying the brutality of their respective capitalist groups.

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Mr. Zilliacus and arms for Israel
Writing to the Manchester Guardian (6/8/56), Mr. Zilliacus, Labour M.P. for Gorton, explained his policy for preserving peace in the Middle East. One point was, as an immediate emergency measure, the provision of arms for Israel. We wonder what he thinks of his policy now. Perhaps he can get comfort from the fact that Israel got its arms—by capturing Russian and British tanks from the Egyptian army. We await, with all due reverence, Mr. Zilliacus's new pontifical pronouncement on how to prevent capitalism causing wars.

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The Emotions of the “New Statesman”
The New Statesman, which tirelessly zig-zags about in its search for new ways of improving capitalism, has sadly admitted, in an editorial (3rd November, 1956) that it was wrong about Israel.
  “Most British Socialists felt emotionally involved in the well-being of Israel, and ever since 1945 this journal has supported the Israelis through good times and bad. But we cannot support Israel in her present action, or rejoice when we try to estimate its long-term consequences.”
Of course, the New Statesman does not speak for Socialists, and Socialists do not decide their attitude by emotional preferences for one capitalist government against another. The New Statesman sees Israel as a group of homeless, persecuted Jewish refugees, refusing to recognise that the State of Israel is something quite different. It is a new, expanding capitalist state, backed by finance and arms from overseas, trying to establish itself in opposition to the existing Middle East states, each with its own interests and aims.

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Now Nasser’s the Pin-up Boy
Disillusionment with the failure of its fatuous policy which favoured Israeli capitalism, the New Statesman will probably spend a few years admiring another capitalist figure-head, Colonel Nasser, until he, too, “lets them down.” Mr. Shinwell, formerly War Minister and Minister of Defence, in the Labour Government, has been unable to make the New Statesman's quick somersault, and is very critical of the Labour Party’s attitude to Eden’s action. He says that “Now it seems there are many people in the Labour Party who regard Nasser as a hero.” (Daily Sketch, 3/11/56).

But Mr. Shinwell is like the New Statesman in letting his emotions decide his attitude—only his emotions are still stirred by Israel, not Egypt:
  “I glory—I repeat glory— in the fact that the Israelis have had the courage to defend themselves.”
What a pity all these emotions cannot be lavished on the working class in their struggle against capitalism.

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Abadan and Egypt
The dress rehearsal for the Eden invasion of Egypt was Abadan in 1951, staged not by Tories, but by the Labour Government. When Persia nationalised the Abadan oil refinery, the Labour Government was outraged, and though they had not even the fig-leaf pretence that this was an issue affecting all countries (the Eden argument about the Suez Canal), the Government immediately started using force to intimidate the Persian Government, which duly protested to the world at large and to the American President in particular. Mr. Shinwell discloses his part in the business:
   “When the Abadan situation emerged, as Minister of Defence, I alerted a brigade and sent them out by air to the Middle East—with the full consent of the Labour Cabinet.” -(Daily Sketch, 3/11/56.)
The Sketch adds this comment:
  “The 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group was sent to Cyprus, and British warships to the Abadan area. But Mr. Attlee ordered the evacuation of the refinery.” 
War was avoided, and the dispute was “settled” on a basis which enabled American oil companies to get a big foothold in Persian oil, a setback for British oil interests and the British Government that has rankled with them ever since.

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Movement for the Improvement of the Secret Police
The Secret Police and You is a pamphlet issued by the “Campaign for the Limitation of Secret Police Powers.” It is signed by the usual mixed bag of “ progressives,” including Labour and Liberal M.P.s, Aneurin Bevan, the Rev. Donald Soper, Kingsley Martin, etc., etc. Alarmed by such cases as that in which Mr. John Lang lost his job with I.C.I., apparently because his wife had been a Communist and he was, therefore, regarded as a “security risk,” the Campaign Council wants the procedure for vetting potential unreliables regularised and provided with safeguards for the innocent, while ferreting out the “guilty.” It has drafted a five-point code which “would impose a legal restraint on the arbitrary power of the executive and set standards both of fairness and of efficiency for the security services by obliging them to bring forward really convincing evidence.”

It thinks M.I.5 is not very efficient, and wants the job of identifying potential spies to be done by "experts.” since it is “a highly skilled business.” (Page 12).

They warn us that present procedure makes a mockery of “ all the legal safeguards of which England has boasted since the 17th century.”

On the face of it there seems to be no reason why the Campaign should not achieve some success with its proposals, especially if they can convince the Government that its M.I.5 could and should be made more efficient.

The one thing for which the Socialist searches in vain is any explanation why the working class should need a secret police. Judging from Hungary, where, at the first opportunity, the workers lynched all they could get hold of, there is at least some reason to suppose that workers don’t want a secret police at all. But here they are up against the Campaign Council.

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Professor Gilbert Murray’s support for war
Believers in the United Nations who have for years regarded Professor Gilbert Murray as a stalwart for that cause have been dismayed to learn that he defends Eden. His reasons were given in a letter to Time and Tide (10th November) in the course of which he wrote:
  “The real danger was that, if the Nasser movement bad been allowed to progress unchecked, we should have been faced by a coalition of all Arab, Muslim, Asiatic and Anti-Western States, led nominally by Egypt, but really by Russia; that is, a division of the world in which the enemies of civilization are stronger than its supporters. Such a danger, the Prime Minister saw, must be stopped instantly and since the UN has no instrument, it must be stopped, however irregularly, by those Nations who can act at once.” 
His new hope is that the U.N. will create its own permanent “Police Force.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Day-to-Day Runners of Capitalism - Part 1 (1956)

From the December 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before we get down to the matter in hand, it would be as well to make quite clear our own position on the question of political power. We shall be concerned with the plight of those who form governments under Capitalism and who try to persuade us that, with the proper policy and leadership, this system can run in the interests of everybody and even gradually disappear and become something other than just plain Capitalism.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is often accused, when we argue with Labourites and so-called Communists, of “splitting the workers.” They claim it would better serve the interests of Socialism if we stopped being “puritans" and joined them in the “day-to-day struggle.”

Our answer to these assertions is, and always has been, that we will join with any organisation provided it devotes its activities entirely to Socialism, and we have always pointed out that there can never be more than one Party in any country standing for Socialism, for the instant (supposing it so happened) two identical parties arose both firmly based on the principle of the class-struggle and clearly advocating political action for Socialism and Socialism alone, they would already be AS ONE and could but merge to form one body.

While they claim to stand for Socialism, such organisations as the Labour Party, Independent Labour Party, and the so-called Communist Party all have reform programmes of “immediate demands” on which they seek votes and, because their “something now” policies attract the support of non-Socialist voters, when elected they INEVITABLY find they have no mandate to do anything other than run CAPITALISM.

Clearly their behaviour brands them, one and all, as mere parties of capitalism, and denies them any real claim to being part of the “working-class movement for Socialism.” We in the S.P.G.B. have always clearly explained Socialism, and when contesting elections have asked for votes on that ALONE; therefore, we could never become the guardians of the system we detest.

For us Socialism can have only one Party and only one meaning; i.e., a system of living under which the means of production-land, factories and machinery, etc., are in the COMMON holding of the WHOLE community. The wages system will cease to exist, there will be no classes, and instead of buying and selling for the profit of the few, goods and services will be freely available for USE by all. We further hold that this can only arise as the result of the conscious political triumph of the world working-class in their struggle against their only real enemy, the world capitalist class.

While the left wingers clamour for a change of government, we concern ourselves with what really matters, not a change of office boys, but a change of system.

We maintain that the wages system the world over is proof of workers being exploited, either for the benefit of private shareholders or government bondholders. Those who pretend that the State can be identified with the workers would ask us to accept the absurd notion that in Iron Curtain Capitalism workers really pay themselves wages and get the profits they create back, after due deductions for the H-bomb war machine, etc. Capitalism means wage labour for the majority precisely because they are PROPERTYLESS and have no “means of living” other than hiring themselves out to an employer. Need we add the claptrap about "raising living standards” (if only workers work harder) was in common use in the capitalist world long before the present Russian rulers appeared. It is obvious to us, as it was to Marx, that it is for the wealth workers produce OVER and ABOVE the value of their wages that they are employed, and from which alone all interest, rent and profit can be explained.

It is a fundamental difference between ourselves and all other parties that they embrace LEADERSHIP while we reject it. Workers only need leaders while they do not, know either the objective or the method; no “spearhead” or “thinking minority” can ever lead the working-class to Socialism, because leadership implies the ignorance of the followers. Like Marx and Engels, we have always maintained that the movement for Socialism is the “conscious movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority.” (Communist Manifesto).

We find our work of propagating Socialism made very much harder by the confusion spread amongst workers by these “left wingers.”

An example of their confusion emerged from the reports of Mr. Tom Driberg, on a recent interview in Moscow with Mr. Krushchev, which appeared in Reynolds News for the 9th and 16th of September, 1956. At this interview, before the word spinning about the British Labour Party began, comment was made on the activities of the so-called French Socialist Party (S.F.I.O.). Mr. Krushchev did not deny this party’s claim to the title “Socialist,” but merely bemoaned the fact that they had “formed a government which was waging a colonial war in Algeria, and its leaders were obliged, in order to retain power, to take account of right wing views.” The fact that S.F.I.O. sought no mandate from its electors for Socialism and is therefore engaged in the business of running capitalism goes unnoticed by both Krushchev and Driberg; since the latter are themselves concerned in the same system, it is necessary for them to ignore fundamentals.

Labour Government
Referring to the Labour Party, Krushchev said: “God knows what it presents, it is not Socialist in aim,” and further on: “I think some Conservatives are to the left of Gaitskell.” He did not say why the Daily Worker and the British Communist Party support (at the moment) the Labour Party under Gaitskell against the more “left wing” Conservative elements. He also failed miserably to understand that left and right wings are inseparable parts of the same capitalist vulture.

Driberg in explanation said: “Our PROGRAMME for the next election could not yet be discussed, since it had not yet been worked out; that we are at present issuing statements on many aspects of POLICY which would be discussed at our Annual Party Conferences; and that a basic PRINCIPLE of the Labour Party was the basic Socialist principle of common ownership of the means of production” (his emphasis). The error contained in the end of this statement went unchallenged by Krushchev because to him, as to Driberg, common ownership means nationalisation. The Labour Party has no “basic” principles except the desire for power; if it had it would not be looking for a “programme.” From time to time the phrase “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange,” has cropped up, but the inclusion of “exchange” nullifies the rest. Common ownership can only mean free access, “exchange” is a relationship between owning groups or classes.

Krushchev, still blaming “wrong” leadership, said: “Take your existing leaders—they are more afraid of Socialism than the Conservatives are. They talk about Socialism because the word is popular with the intellectuals now as well as with the masses. It is the same elsewhere: even Mr. Nehru, who is neither a Communist nor a Socialist, talks about a Socialist Plan for India. It’s the same in Burma and Indonesia . . Interesting to note that when the interview ended Mr. Krushchev dashed away to a “luncheon” that Bulganin was giving in honour of the President of Indonesia!

Russia, of course, claims to have no “imperialist motives,” but her “peaceful co-existence” in her quest for world markets is capitalist co-existence, for exactly the same COMMERCIAL relationships confront the whole capitalist world.

Mr. Driberg wrote that people “ often use the same words—words like ‘freedom' and ‘democracy' and ‘socialism' to mean different things,” but he “would remind Mr. Krushchev, with respect, that Soviet leaders themselves have repeatedly told us that they agree that there can be more roads than one to Socialism.” It is sadly true that the words freedom, democracy and, above all, Socialism mean different things to different people, and two great contributors to this lack of clarity are the Labour and so-called Communist Parties. As for '“Soviet leaders” who agree there are “different roads to Socialism ” this only shows that Mr. Nehru is not the only one who has found Socialism a word “popular ” with the masses.

Shifting to the Conservative Party, Mr. Driberg said: “Now I do hope that, just because Mr. Krushchev happened to meet a few individual Conservatives who talked in a progressive way, he is not misled about the essential character of the Conservative Party itself. It exists to promote the interest of capitalist big business. It is the Tory Party, and nobody else, that is the ‘enemy of the working-class.' ” Too bad the Labourites and Muskovites did not know this when, during the war, they lined up and formed a coalition with these “real” enemies to fight the Germans. A shame also that Mr. Driberg’s memory of rising profits and frozen wages under the Labour Government which left “capitalist big business” as they found it, having secured government guarantees for State bondholders in the industries they nationalised, should have failed him.

Their insistence on not seeing the wood for the trees and their avoidance of obvious conclusions from their own position, inevitably made an utter farce of the whole interview.
Harry Baldwin
(To be continued).

Street Lamps and Desire (1956)

A Short Story from the December 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are two kinds of “leader,” one “born to lead” and coached in the proper schools, the other, risen from humble beginnings and arriving the hard way. What they have in common is the desire to remain “on top" having got there. Dai falls into the latter category. His status in the hierarchy of leaders was quite a minor one, nevertheless very important to Dai—and to those bigger leaders whom he served. Dai is a “leader” in Local Government, grown wise in the running of the affairs of “Fiddlesborough.”

After enjoying the ordinary education afforded to the average working-class child, he went to work in the mines, and his career can be said to have begun. Dai realised quite early that the average miner took little interest in union activity, apart from dues paying and occasional grousing, and less interest in political activity apart from occasionally casting a vote. He soon realised that workers were content to let others act on their behalf, and so he offered himself accordingly. He became Lodge Secretary, adding in the course of time official posts on various committees, including the Hospital Board, Y.M.C.A., and the local Civil Defence organisation.

His ultimate election to the Council was a sinecure. “Fiddlesborough” was an expanding community. New factories (manned by silicotic miners) were going up; houses being built; the social amenities needed looking into. Dai looked into them—at least he said he would, and leaders after all must lead somewhere. Dai chose street lighting as his battle cry (along with a variety of other things): he had read (on his way up) something about Lenin saying that Socialism meant the expansion of Electrical Power. What was right for a country was right for “ Fiddlesborough.” So Dai challenged the forces of Darkness and ignorance with the demand for more street lamps and power plugs in the home.

He “got in.” This was some time ago. Looking back from the modest demands of those days to the “Fiddlesborough" of today, with its 10,000 T.V. masts, 40,000 electric cleaners, not to mention the most streamlined automatic strip-steel mill in Britain, makes one gasp at the vast changes that have taken place—and all under the guidance of a town council predominantly Labour, in itself led by the powerful personality of our Dai, now Alderman David Jones, J.P., whose portrait in oils can be viewed every Wednesday and Friday in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall.

All this goes to show that the prizes offered for unstinted service are worth the effort. The workers are notoriously generous in their recognition of able leadership. Alderman Jones would perhaps agree that success, the achievement of one’s desire, can only come about by a close study of a situation. It is necessary to “hit on something,” in his case street lamps; from this one develops; one soon becomes accomplished in knowing what the workers want next, and so it is seen that happily the workers’ needs afford fresh “talking points” and increased status to the leader.

It is quite true that workers should have better street lighting, home comforts, good roads and services. It is also true that these amenities do not touch on the real problem of their lives—poverty and insecurity. Socialists continue to point out the need for the greater illumination that will expose the evils of Capitalism that actually condemn millions of people in millions of "Fiddlesboroughs” to want and starvation. A needy person’s wants are no more satisfied by walking on a well engineered highway than if he wallowed in a swamp. The world is full of leaders and would-be leaders of various stature, all busily engaged in “getting on” or trying to “stay there.”

Are you content to dribble your life away for a wage that merely keeps you in existence as a producer of wealth that you will never own for the privilege of sending your sons to any part of the world where Capitalist interests are threatened? Are you prepared to continue groping your way through the half-light of Capitalism street lamps withal ignoring the light that comes with the dawn of a Socialist World? If you are, then forget your dignity as human beings. Follow your leaders, and when the next holocaust comes along, give of your vast reservoir the sacrificial streams demanded for your leaders’ protection.

If you are no longer prepared to do these things, get down to it now. You can change "Fiddlesborough." You can change all the Fiddlesboroughs of this world.
W. Brain

Happenings in Hungary (1956)

From the December 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Freedom” has been the battle cry in countless revolutions and revolts throughout the ages, and recent events in Hungary must have recalled past sacrifices immortalised by poets, such as Byron's “Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, tom but flying, streams like the thunderstorm against the wind.”

At the present time the conscience of the world is being stirred by the heroic but unequal struggle which the Hungarians are wielding against the military forces of the Soviet Union. The iron fist closes and the rebels drown in their own blood as another paragraph is completed in the history of Hungary—another event in a chapter of foreign invasions.

Western Bloc governments and their newspapers have mostly made statements sympathetic to the rebels. American government leaders in expressing their feelings for Hungary, were reported as saying that nothing could be done until after the elections, as they did not want to do anything to prejudice their re-election—surely touching a new “low” in cynicism.

The Western Bloc of capitalist powers desire to oust the Soviet Union from Hungary in order to enjoy the same material advantages, and not because of any lofty ideals. It is a question of business, not of ideals, for the latter do not flourish in the jungle of capitalist go-getters.

The Daily Express of 9th November printed an appealing photo of a small girl under the caption— “Stepping out to a new life; a small Hungarian refugee who has arrived at the Austrian border. Behind her are horrors that her young mind could not comprehend. Ahead of her—who knows? A succession of camps and hostels; or perhaps a new home in England. But she is wary. After these last weeks suspicion is instinctive.” Then there was a report to the effect that a Wolverhampton firm offered a house, rent free, to a family of Hungarians; while a number of countries were reported as having offered sanctuary to numbers of refugees. There have been no reports, however, of sanctuary in Britain for Egyptian victims of the British military action in Suez.

The Daily Express published a series of articles by Dr. Edith Bone, who was released in the recent fighting after seven years solitary confinement in Hungary on a spy charge. Dr. Bone revealed that she had gone to Hungary as correspondent for the Daily Worker. The writer, who is a reader of that paper, is unable to recollect any agitation at any time over the disappearance of this colleague. Following her revelation, the Daily Worker confirmed her statement, and, believe it or not, added that they never could understand what had happened to her all this time. However, this newspaper is inundated with letters from comrades horrified at what has been going on in Hungary, and D. N. Pritt, Q.C., has written an article entitled “Hungary; Keep your Heads” (Daily Worker, 9th November), apparently in an effort to calm these comrades. He charges the popular press version of events as a complete fabrication of the U.S. capitalists, and ends his article with the following astonishing paragraph: “We should all be as happy to realise, in 1956, that the Soviet Union prevented the establishment of a fascist government in Hungary.” Another article in the same issue plugs a similar theme, and is headed “ Deep-laid Plot,” and the penultimate paragraph reads: “In the circumstances, Soviet counter-intervention, if one may call it so, has surely been justified on grounds with which every British democrat, and especially every British worker, must sympathise.”

The line on Hungary that this organ of the so-called Communist Party publish, and appear to get away with, is surely a scathing criticism of the low level of Socialist understanding on the part of their supporters. Perhaps the most brazen statement of all is on the front page of the same issue, in heavy print, describes the Daily Worker as “the only paper that puts the class and peace issues fair and square,” and then goes on in the next sentence to put a question to their readers: “Friends of the Daily Worker everywhere—we ask you to settle one question with yourselves and then, immediately, with us. Could you, in our national situation, do without the Daily Worker NOW? ”

The pro-Soviet press claim that the revolt is an attempt by Hungarian fascists to seize control from a workers’ government. The Western Capitalist press, on the other hand, report the trouble as a clash of two irreconcilable ideologies, that of Communism versus the democratic way of life—they see materialised the combat between evil and good, between the powers of darkness and of light, of the machinations of the Devil against the will of God.

A Socialist analysis of events in Hungary reveal the revolt as a nationalist movement determined to seize control for the benefit of the budding Hungarian capitalist class and, as such not worth the spilling of one drop of working-class blood. Like nationalist movements in other industrially backward countries, the revolt is led by students and supported by disillusioned workers and peasantry.

The Observer (4/11/56) contains an article headed “Students Led Hungarian Revolt,” and starts with the statement that
  “The Hungarian revolution began as a student movement. This I can say with absolute conviction, having just returned from Budapest, where I discussed the matter with the insurgents themselves.”
  “The events in Budapest on that Tuesday evening had in fact been slightly preceded by uprisings in two other university towns—Szeged and Pecs. There the students had simply called upon the town councils to resign and had re-elected emergency committees from their own numbers.”
  “These committees of 15 to 30 members containing professors and students, had a single president, who in more cases than not was undergraduate. The attitude of the older members of the community was that this was a student movement, and as such should be led by them.”
  “The Student committee of the revolution in Budapest itself seems to be an even more powerful body. Its president, a young man named Josef Molnar, works in constant liaison with Colonel Meleter. commanding the Hungarian Army in Budapest. Almost all the students at this university of technology are armed.”
Hungary is only partially industrialised, and the expansion of the budding capitalist class is hampered by the Russian Government, who wish to keep the country as a market for their own industrial products and as source for. raw material and food supplies as well as for strategic reasons. Russian political and economic experts help to manage the country and give less opportunities for educated patriotic Hungarians to rise to the top jobs. University students, particularly in backward countries, are mostly members of better-off families. They are usually firm supporters of their national capitalism, and their educated sons have the training to act as spokesmen and leaders. It is economic interest that is the mainspring behind the action of the students, even though it is concealed by high-sounding ideals. While the personal courage of the Hungarians may be recognised, how often the call for “Freedom” masks the need for the development of a new class in society!

Some of the workers, believing that the Hungarian control will solve their poverty problem, give their support The peasants consider that an independent government will enable them to get a better market for their produce, though complete independence in the present-day world is more of an unobtainable ideal than practical power politics will allow, as Poland and Yugoslavia (not to mention a host of other small countries) have found out. This, then, is the Hungarian economic set-up which lies behind the barrage of propaganda.

The tragic bravery of the Hungarian students should not blind the workers to the fact that it is not in their interest to support the struggle of either the developed state-capitalism of the Soviet Union or the indigenous capitalism of Hungary. In other countries whenever the new ruling group is firmly in the saddle of government they lose no time in turning on the workers.
F. E. Offord

Voice From The Back: A Green And Pleasant Land? (2012)

The  Voice From The Back column from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Green And Pleasant Land?
The illusions of nationalist and religious freaks alike that England is something special and is, in the words of William Blake, “a green and pleasant land” are nonsense. “New data has revealed the number of people sleeping rough in England has risen by 23 per cent in a year. …. The statistics show that on one night in 2011 there were 2,181 rough sleepers in England, up 413 from 1,768 on the same night the previous year” (Independent, 23 February).  Surely the concept of “pleasant” should at least include a pillow and a blanket or at least a mattress?

Hunger In The USA
When world hunger is mentioned it is usually assumed that the problem is peculiar to Africa or Asia, but this is not the case. “Here in the United States, growing numbers of people can’t afford that most basic of necessities: food. More Americans said they struggled to buy food in 2011 than in any year since the financial crisis, according to a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit research group. About 18.6 percent of people – almost one out of every five – told Gallup pollsters that they couldn’t always afford to feed everyone in their family in 2011” (Huffington Post, 29 February).  The USA may well be the most powerful country in the world but that doesn’t stop sections of its working class suffering hunger.

Conspicuous Consumption
The press have recently made great play of how a rich woman, former beauty queen Kirsty Bertarelli and her husband Swiss-Italian pharmaceutical tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli have purchased a yacht for £100 million. “Britain’s richest woman may have set a new benchmark in floating status symbols with a new boat that costs £250,000 just to fill up with fuel” (Metro, 5 March). The yacht is 315 foot long – an improvement on their old 154 foot one, but it is dwarfed by Roman Abramovich’s 538 foot yacht. Such reports of conspicuous consumption are circulating at a time when millions of people are starving.

An Expensive Round
The owning class are very concerned about the drinking habits of the working class. The government is attempting to put through legislation that would limit cut-rate drink offers at supermarkets and pubs. It would have little effect on the following boozers. “A businessman blew £125,000 on a single bottle of the world’s most expensive champagne while buying a round of drinks for more than £200,000 in a night club. The financier ordered a 30-litre double Nebuchadnezzar-size bottle of Armand de Brignac Midas bubbly along with £60,408 on other beverages for his 10-man entourage” (Daily Mail, 5 March).

Oceanic Pollution
Changing the pH of seawater – a measurement of how acid or alkaline it is – has profound effects. Ocean acidification threatens the corals and every other species. “According to a new research review by paleoceanographers at Columbia University, published in Science, the oceans may be turning acid far faster than at any time in the past 300 million years. …. The authors tried to determine which past acidification events offer the best comparison to what is happening now. The closest analogies are catastrophic events, often associated with intense volcanic activity resulting in major extinctions. The difference is that those events covered thousands of years. We have acidified the oceans in a matter of decades, with no signs that we have the political will to slow, much less halt, the process” (New York Times, 9 March). With its mad drive for profits the capitalist system is destroying the oceans and all its diverse life forms.

Capitalism Is International
The Daily Mail has a history of nationalism but even by its standards it went over the top with this story. “How Qatar bought Britain: They own the Shard. They own the Olympic Village. And they don’t care if their Lamborghinis get clamped when they shop at Harrods (which is theirs, too)” (Daily Mail, 10 March). So how come this backward Gulf state has become so powerful? The answer is simple. In the last two years Qatar has become Britain’s biggest supplier of imported liquefied natural gas. When profits are to be made the owning class are truly international. Only misinformed workers imagine they are British. Do you know the nationality of the people who own the company you work for or do you want to join in a chorus of Rule Britannia with the Daily Mail?

Profits Before People, Again (2012)

Editorial from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

At least the Coalition government knows how capitalism works –it runs on profits, so priority must be given to profitability and profit-making. It’s written all over their economic policies and was confirmed in last month’s budget.

The only way capitalism gets out of a slump is when profit-making opportunities reappear. When they do, “growth” resumes. This means that, in a slump, any government must not do anything that will adversely affect profitability and profit-making prospects. Just the opposite, it must encourage these. That is, if it is going to do anything. Another option is to simply let spontaneous economic forces operate to restore profitability, as through unprofitable firms going bust and their assets passing cheaply to their rivals and increased unemployment pushing down wages.

A government can help restore profitability in two ways. It can reduce taxes on profits.  In the budget, for the second year running, the Chancellor announced a cut in corporation tax, a direct tax on profits. This reduces government revenue, which means that it has to cut back on some of its other spending, as the present government is doing with a vengeance, forcing local councils to reduce public amenities and slashing payments to those who can’t find or who are unable to work. With more to come.

The second way a government can help restore profitability is to reinforce the downward pressures that mass unemployment exerts on wage levels. Two recently announced measures openly proclaim this as their aim.

The Chancellor confirmed that national pay bargaining for public sector workers is to be replaced by regional bargaining on the grounds that the present system results in wage levels in some regions being too high, so high that to attract workers employers have to pay higher wages than otherwise. The aim of regional pay bargaining is to reduce wages –and so boost profitability –in areas of the country where public service workers are considered to be overpaid.

The minimum wage is to go up in October but by only half the rate of price increases. So, it’s going to be reduced in real terms. For those under 21, the rate is not going to be increased at all. Business Secretary Vince Cable justified this on the grounds that it would make it easier for young people to get a job, i.e. the lower wage is aimed at boosting the profit prospects of firms employing workers on the minimum wage.

But what about taxes on the rich that have also been announced? That’s a side-show. “Tycoon taxes”, “mansion taxes” and the like are not taxes on profits, but taxes on the consumption of the capitalist class. A government can safely increase them in a slump as they don’t affect profitability. This even has the political advantage of allowing them to justify the austerity measures imposed on the rest of the population as “fair” as even the rich are effected.

It is true, though, as the Labour Opposition has been quick to point out, that this propaganda ploy has been rather undermined by the government’s reduction of the rate of tax on incomes over £150,000 from 50 to 45 percent, supposedly to attract overseas businesspeople to come to invest in Britain. But, as the traditional party of the rich, the Tories can’t clobber their clientele too much.

There is no alternative under capitalism. As long as capitalism lasts all governments have to pursue a policy of giving priority to profits. Profits before people is the rule. It’s why we need socialism.

From Handicraft to the Cloud: Part 2 of 2 – The 21st Century (2012)

From the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Internet versus the iPod
The first year of the 21st Century was a remarkable one for mass personal computing in many respects including the launches of Windows XP, the iPod and Wikipedia. In 2001, XP was introduced for both home and office users – for over a decade, these had been separate. For home users it was the first version of Windows that required activation (Microsoft Office soon followed suit). Installation CDs were not included with new XP computers which discouraged experimenting with alternative systems. Various legal and illegal projects took the XP operating system and stripped it down for performance gains, proving it could still be functional with less bloatware. Windows Media Player was ‘bundled’ (included in the installation) but was still unpopular, being bloated with eye-candy, and many users replaced it. XP also removed the command-line interface option, a key route out for power users.

The Scratchware Manifesto (at the Home of the Underdogs website) sums up the state of games development but the comment equally applies to software generally.
  “An industry that was once the most innovative and exciting artistic field on the planet has become a morass of drudgery and imitation. A project that costs millions must have a development team to match; ten people, twenty, thirty, more. It must take years from project start to completion. It must involve so many talents, and so much labour, that no single creative vision can survive. … You need thirty talents to develop a game? Bullshit. Richard Garriott programmed Ultima by himself in a matter of weeks. Chris Crawford developed Balance of Power sitting by himself at his Mac. Chris Sawyer created RollerCoaster Tycoon – last year’s number 1 best-selling game – almost entirely on his own. What do you need to create a game? Two people and a copy of Code Warrior. You need millions in funding to create a great game? Garbage! As recently as 1991, the typical computer game cost less than $200,000 to develop. NetHack, still one of the best computer games ever created, was developed for nothing, by a development team working as a labour of love, in their spare time.”
It wasn’t that Microsoft was incapable of innovation, nor was it a company uniquely bad for users’ needs. Windows XP actually introduced decent multi-user accounts albeit some 10 years after Linux. But Microsoft has held back many features that might have made life easier for users. In Windows Neptune, Microsoft experimented with task-orientated interfaces (allowing users to focus specifically on relevant tasks without unnecessary screen clutter) pre-empting by about a decade those of the Chromebook and Ubuntu Linux Unity. Unlike XP however, Windows Neptune was never released. Driven by short-term commercial and compatibility considerations, the standard desktop metaphor of files and folders remained for the mass of users while no-one got to hear about alternatives. Microsoft even tried to incorporate the desktop metaphor into the Windows phone, which finally proved its uselessness beyond all doubt. Windows 8, predicted for release at the end of this year, finally drops the desktop metaphor to some extent. Eventually perhaps Microsoft will provide features long in existence such as live CD/USBs from which you can run an operating system, bespoke installations rather than bloated generic ones, unattended installations you don’t have to babysit, and installation direct from USB.

The internet had effects on the industry in ways which both benefitted and hindered users. At the turn of the millennium, the hacker ethic of sharing was dramatically revived, Napster popularised peer-to-peer sharing of information, principally music. It was tremendously popular and free access but it was also illegal. After Napster’s demise at the hands of the industry, Apple launched iTunes Store in 2003 which was only accessed through iTunes software and could only update iPods. Such artificial software ‘lock-ins’ were a way to stimulate hardware sales in the post “computer in every home” heyday.

The sharing ethic was also channelled into legal collaborative efforts. Many innovations came from the Free and Open Source Software movements. Linux had become a workable operating system for ordinary home users and Knoppix introduced the first popular live-CD environment. Puppy Linux stripped down bloated operating systems without harming functionality and proved modern software can run on old systems. Debian Linux was software with an ethical sharing philosophy. Wikipedia dwarfed all of these innovations, becoming one of the biggest encyclopedias in human history. Several CD-Rom based encyclopedias that had been considered so innovative only a few years before promptly went bust.

Analysing the trend
Criticism of the industry is varied and to some extent constrained by the industry press reliance on advertising revenue from the targets of their criticism. Some criticism is little more than vendor tribalism, but some goes deeper, exploring the mode of production itself. In one popular article, commentator Joel Spolsky in December 2003 claimed somewhat idealistically that making software is not a production process, as if design is not part of production.  Some, like Eric S. Raymond, came up with a novel critique. He makes much of the open source aspect, but little of the free access part. In a 2008 essay he says “More precisely, I hate the proprietary software system of production. Not at the artisan level; I’ve defended the right of programmers to issue work under proprietary licenses because I think that if a programmer wants to write a program and sell it, it’s neither my business nor anyone else’s but his customer’s what the terms of sale are.” This is similar to those who complain that software encloses content in “walled gardens” and want to tear down the walls, but are still content to let the produce of these gardens be exploited by private interests.

The most radical voices tend to come from the free software movement who add free access (an aspect of freeware) to their open source critique of walled gardens. Even among these advocates it is becoming clear that the free access and open source software is not enough. Founder of Linux, Linus Torvalds complained of the “users are idiots mentality” on 12 December 2005.
  “This “users are idiots, and are confused by functionality” mentality … is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don’t use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn’t do what I need it to do.”
The present
This leads us to the present where the industry has resorted to practices blatantly not in the interest of users such as the Microsoft policy to “extend, embrace, extinguish open standards”. Software aims for complete simplicity for the mass of home users while at the same time being increasingly difficult for power users to work with. App stores are characterised by software or content as a commodity with ultimate control by the store owner, which is a far cry from the hacker ethic. Even free software supporters talk approvingly of creating app stores. Maybe they would even support remotely bricking (disabling) iPhones if they are jailbroken (hacked) in order to update their applications.

Some primitivists seek solace in retro-computing and has the slogan “because newer is not always better”. Meanwhile Microsoft markets new versions of Windows with gimmicks including a 3D desktop, better voice recognition, touchscreen and Office with a ribbon interface. These gimmicks extend to using bogus version numbers. Windows 7 was actually revealed to be marketing hype and known internally as Windows 6.1, meaning that it was a lot less different than it pretended. Microsoft is working on artificially locking new hardware to only work with Microsoft operating systems, no doubt calling this better ‘security’. Windows 8 invites users to hand over the ability to wipe clean their computer data to remote Microsoft servers, supposedly for greater ease of use. Then there is ‘shovelware’. Sales of new hardware are driven by low prices subsidised by advertisers who ‘shovel’ in pre-installed low-value software as advertising filler.

The personal computer revolution bears comparison to the Industrial Revolution, only the personal computer revolution has happened more quickly. The sum of all human knowledge will soon be available at our fingertips. The tools to create any recordable media such as film, music and books will be too. ‘Infosocialists’ such as Anonymous and HackBloc (whose motto is ‘Exploit code not people’), the Free Software Foundation and Richard Stallman all support the free software movement and co-operative enterprises such as GNU/Linux. There are also Lawrence Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation who approvingly argue that ‘free culture helps free markets’, clearly only seeing part of the solution from a socialist perspective. History and industry trends show that all code should be the common treasury of all and developers should be encouraged to develop passive consumers into empowered knowledgeable end users. Although Marx wrote some notebooks on the history of technology they are now lost, so perhaps the last word should go to Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain’s predictions of the end of personal computing.
  “The PC is dead. Rising numbers of mobile, lightweight, cloud-centric devices don’t merely represent a change in form factor. Rather, we’re seeing an unprecedented shift of power from end users and software developers on the one hand, to operating system vendors on the other—and even those who keep their PCs are being swept along. This is a little for the better, and much for the worse.” (Jonathan Zittrain, 2011)

Further reading
Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics (1983) by Nathan Rosenberg (particularly Chapter 2).
Autonomist Marxism and the Information Society (1994, 2004) by Nick Dyer-Witheford, Treason pamphlet
Cyber-Marx (1999) by Nick Dyer-Witheford.
The Anarchist in the Library (2004) by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Free Culture (2004) Lawrence Lessig.
Free culture, P2P networks, alternative economic models, and why some people do not want freedom (2005) by Jorge Cortell
Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto (2006) by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Why I Hate Proprietary Software (2008) by Eric S. Raymond.
Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation (2009) by Amy E. Wendling.
Free Software, Free Society (2010) by Richard Stallman.

Balochistan – Redrawing the Map of Southwest Asia (2012)

The Material World Column from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “There will be no peace… For the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe… The role of the U.S. armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing” (Lieut. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret’d) in summer 1997 issue of Parameters (published by the U.S. Army War College).
In January, the U.S. State Department expressed “concern” at the human rights situation in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, where the government is fighting a secessionist insurgency. There have been atrocious violations of human rights in Balochistan for many years, but the U.S. had never complained about it before (at least in public). Then in early February there were congressional hearings on Balochistan.

Why this sudden burst of interest in a previously ignored region?

The Baloch are an ancient people, thought to be mainly of Persian origin. They live in southwest Pakistan and southeast Iran, scattered over a vast expanse of mostly desert and mountain terrain. Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan’s provinces, covering 44 percent of the country’s area.

The economy and society of Balochistan are very underdeveloped. It is, however, rich in gas, coal and metals. Most of these resources have yet to be exploited. Four foreign companies are mining copper and gold – the Metallurgical Corporation of China, Antofagasta Minerals (Chile), Barrick Gold (Canada) and BHP Billiton (Britain and Australia). American companies do not appear to have a foothold. A new deep sea port at Gwadar began operations in 2008, its management entrusted to the Port of Singapore Authority.

When the British Raj was partitioned in 1947 the Baloch rulers wanted to join India, but geographical location forced them to accept incorporation into Pakistan. Initial promises of autonomy were later broken. Insurgencies against both the Pakistani and the Iranian government have continued intermittently ever since but grew in intensity in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Baloch lobby
So long as Pakistan remained a reliable client state of the U.S., the Americans turned a blind eye to Balochistan. Now, however, Pakistan is moving out of the U.S. sphere of influence, which in turn makes continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan untenable (see Material World, March 2012). In this context, the ‘Baloch card’ is a way to exert pressure on Pakistan.

The official U.S. position stops short of support for an ‘independent’ Balochistan, but a lobby in favour of such a policy has appeared in Washington (see Eddie Walsh in Al-Jazeera, Feb. 2012). It is possible that the options openly advocated by this ‘Baloch lobby’ are being secretly considered inside the U.S. government bureaucracy.

The Baloch lobby includes a group of members of congress that is said to be bipartisan, although its main spokesmen – Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (California), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Steve King (Iowa) – are Republicans. Other active participants are Ralph Peters, the retired army officer and novelist quoted above, and M. Hossein Bor.

The key role in liaising between the lobby and its regional clients is probably played by M. Hossein Bor, an Iranian-American corporate lawyer at the New York law firm of Entwistle & Capucci and a former adviser to the governments of the United States, Afghanistan and Qatar. It would be relevant to know whether among his corporate clients there are any companies interested in investing in Balochistan.

Redrawing the map
The Baloch lobby accepts that the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan can no longer be considered allies of the United States. Accordingly, they seek to re-establish American influence in Southwest Asia by undermining and breaking up the three neighbouring“enemy” states – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – and creating a new state (or possibly more than one) that would be totally dependent on the U.S.

Political, financial and military support for the Baloch secessionist cause is an important part of such a strategy. As the Baloch homeland straddles the border between Pakistan and Iran, this policy would be directed against Iran as well as Pakistan.

Iran might also be targeted by support for other secessionist movements inside that country – in the Arab southwest, the Azeri northwest and the Kurdish west.

With regard to Afghanistan, the Baloch lobby advocates shifting support (including the provision of arms) from the Karzai government back to the Northern Alliance – the Uzbek and Tajik warlords in northern Afghanistan whose ground forces helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban regime at the beginning of the intervention. This policy, which would be feasible only with the full cooperation of Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, points in the direction of a north-south partition of Afghanistan.

It is very doubtful whether Pakistan as a state could survive the loss of Balochistan. A unified Pashtunistan, controlled by the Taliban and its allies, may emerge in northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The provinces of Punjab and Sindh may then draw closer to India. This would more or less complete the redrawing of the map of southwest Asia along ethnic lines.

What about Pakistan’s nukes?
Whatever advantages the U.S. might conceivably obtain from the strategy pushed by the Baloch lobby, it would entail enormous dangers. Dismantling Pakistan raises the question: what happens to the country’s nuclear weapons? Will U.S. Special Forces seize and disable them? Hopefully, caution will deter the U.S. from embarking on such adventures.

Hopefully too, all those well-intentioned people who think that ‘we’ should act to ‘free oppressed peoples threatened by genocide’ will ponder the real considerations that guide the foreign policy of capitalist states.