Sunday, October 27, 2019

Letters: Ploughing Back? (1974)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ploughing Back?
I gather from your literature that out of a man’s productive labour his wage is not commensurate with this. In other words his wage is less than the actual value of his labour, the difference going to the capitalist as unearned income. But surely not all of this difference or “profit” goes to the capitalist or shareholder. No doubt some of it does so. Some of it must also go to pay for new capital such as machines, factories etc. and to account for fixed charges such as rent, maintenance costs, electricity bills etc.

To me your argument implies that there is only one factor of production, namely labour. But there are in fact three, namely land, labour and capital. Each of these three must be utilized in the manufacture of the final product. And the cost of the final product must account for each of these three, not just labour. Rent accounts for land, wages account for labour, and profit accounts for capital. No doubt some of this profit goes to the shareholder and thus it can be argued that he is exploiting the worker. True, but not all of it.

Why not create a system whereby the shareholder, or capitalist if you like, is eliminated and all the profit is ploughed back into the industry? The profit margin would be so devised as to form a fixed percentage of the total revenue of the firm and wages would be kept on par with it. So a rise in price of the final product would inevitably mean an equivalent rise in wages. In such a system would the workers still say they were being exploited?
P. C. Green, 
Burnley.

Reply
A capitalist reckons his profit by deducting all his costs of production from the sum which his commodity has realized in the market. The reader suggests that this profit which derives from the unpaid labour of workers, could be divided among those workers minus an agreed amount for re-investment in machinery etc. (and presumbably minus taxation for the maintenance of health services, educational institutions and armed forces etc.).

However, such a system would be no more capable than present-day capitalism of producing goods and services to meet social requirements. Although the capitalist as an individual might be eliminated, the accumulation of capital would continue. In each particular factory or industry production would be dominated by market forces, expanding and contracting in times of greater or lesser economic advantage: in turn bringing periodic unemployment. The ownership and control of the means of production would rest in the hands of innumerable groups of workers, each of which would be a social minority in competition with others, and each making decisions in accordance with its individual economic interests. Propositions regarding the improvement of local working conditions, or of broader social improvements would be considered in the same limited way as they are today — “Is it economic?”

Socialists hold the view that with the natural resources, the labour-power and knowledge available to mankind in the world, human beings are capable of democratically organizing production without anyone being exploited.
Editorial Committee


Labour Vouchers
Surely the answer to S. Gamzu about “Labour Vouchers” (Socialist Standard March 1974) is that they were a measure of TIME and could not have had any meaning as anything else.

Of course they would not distinguish between a miner or Shakespeare and would NOT be “according to need” but TIME worked. In other words a time rationing system.

They would not become money. They would be personal, and probably dated like pension vouchers. Volume I of Capital (Kerr Edn. p.106) points out that Owen’s “labour-money” was no more “money” than a ticket for the theatre.
Horatio.


Work and Socialism
I am amazed by questions put by P. W. Ralphs (letter March 1974) who seems to have completely missed the whole concept of a truly Socialist society as put forward by the Socialist Party.

In a Socialist world there will surely be no “jobs” as such, no employment as exists under capitalism, when one occupation may capture and slowly strangle the individuality and personality of a worker and his family.

In Socialism time now spent “working” will be spent to the benefit of us all, doing things constructive to the maintenance and improvement of society as the Socialist majority sees it.

As a now highly specialized and, in employment terms, narrowly confined medical worker, I recognise the need for many unpleasant tasks in the running of society. I would gladly sweep roads or empty dustbins to maintain a Socialist community, but I would not wish to mine coal or trawl for fish in the Icelandic seas. And if the majority of people thought as I on these last points then society would have to think of alternative power sources (or mining methods) and an alternative food. If the majority disagreed with me, however, then there would logically be enough willing Socialists to maintain these services to the community.

The answer to P. W. Ralphs is simple: in a Socialist world as envisaged by the Socialist Party, the problems he put forward cannot possibly exist. They will be precluded by the social consciousness of the workers of the world, and the problems of capitalism will no longer beset them.
David W. Roberts
Ely.

Danger: diplomats at work (1985)

Editorial from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

This year, which will see the fortieth anniversary of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, began with what we were told was an auspicious event. In Geneva the Russians and the Americans met to open negotiations about opening negotiations about a future treaty on arms reduction. To be accurate, it was not the "Russians" and the "Americans" who met, in the sense that the negotiations concerned the interests of the majority of the people of those countries. It was representatives of the state powers of those countries, principally in the persons of Gromyko and Shultz, who went to Geneva — and in each case the state power exists to look after the interests of the owning, privileged class of the nation. So it was really the ruling capitalist classes of Russia and America who sent their representatives to talk about how they might reduce their respective capacities to destroy each other and much else of the world at the same time.

At such events it is common for the politicians concerned to make carefully calculated, coded gestures from which the commentators can dredge up a few apparent portents for the future. Such a gesture was Gromyko's hesitant use of the English language to announce the Russian government's attitude towards the negotiations. If this hardened man of the Kremlin was prepared to put himself out to master a few words of English, speculated the media, surely his government must be seriously committed to the fruitful outcome of the talks. Did those halting words signal new hope for this harassed world? There was much relief and praise for the assembled politicians; here, we were encouraged to believe. were high-ranking diplomats earnestly searching for a reduction in world tension, to ensure that there will never again be another Hiroshima. Clearly, this was what is called statesmanship and we should all be thankful for it. even if those same diplomats have in their time managed to stomach the needless death or the slaughter of millions of people.

But if this was statesmanship then it was a case in which its practitioners first organised the building up of a vast arsenal of globally destructive weapons, to the point at which a nuclear war in space is in prospect, before they tentatively began to explore how that arsenal might be reduced — or rather how it might be reduced without putting their interests at risk. This exploration allows the "statesmen" to pose as the saviours of humanity, if we can forget that they agreed to the build-up of the arms in the first place. And if we can forget that, whatever they might announce in their self-congratulatory communiques, they have no realistic hope or intention of exploring the elimination of nuclear weapons, nor of "conventional" arms, nor of the cause of war itself.

Even at that, the politicians have approached the matter with extreme caution. Shultz warned that "a long and arduous process lay ahead" and Gromyko said that the talks were "only a step compared to the immense tasks that are to be addressed in the course of the negotiations on space and nuclear arms . . ." The reason for this caution is obvious; there are vastly important interests at stake in these talks, expressed in the scale of the spending on armaments by the social class whose interests are represented by Shultz and Gromyko. There is good reason, if we accept the priorities of capitalism, for this spending for it goes to protect and expand the powers' standing in the world's economic, commercial and political conflicts. It goes to protect the capitalists' markets and to conquer others for them; it goes to secure their hold on cheap sources of raw material; it goes to establish and maintain their grip on areas of domination such as the Russians have in Eastern Europe and the Americans have over much of the Far East. Expending huge amounts of energy and resources in protecting those interests is considered justifiable even though tens of millions die of famine each year, or of avoidable diseases, or rot in slums, or wither away through neglect and lack of medical care.

Capitalism is lavish with the means of destruction because it is a social system which must operate through competition and conflict; co-operation and harmony are foreign to its nature. The basis of this society—the class ownership of the means of production and distribution — ensures that wealth is produced as commodities, as objects and services intended for sale on the market as opposed to the satisfaction of human needs. Cheap production is important to the capitalist class because it can make their goods more competitive in the markets; thus they must always be concerned to find and exploit the most abundant fields of raw materials, as they have in the North Sea. Access to hungry markets is also vital to their interests for it is there that they can most easily sell their products, with a better chance of getting the highest price. These are aspects of that continuing competitive struggle which is responsible for the world's armed forces and the weapons with which they fight, which are now capable of reducing millions of us to nuclear vapour.

There is no solution to this terrifying situation as long as the basis of capitalism is unchanged. But to change this basis would be to abolish the system and when we have done that there is only one society which can replace it. Socialism will be founded on the world-wide, communal ownership of the means of life. Its wealth will not be produced for sale, for the profit of a minority, but for the consumption and the benefit of the entire people of the world. Competition will be replaced by co-operation. There will be a full participation in all society's activities. especially its productive work, and free access by all to its wealth. On that basis there can be no cause for conflict: common ownership and free access will bring a world of human harmony. And all of this will be organised and operated at the democratically formed will of the people.

That, in brief, is socialism. It is the only way to abolish the problems which at present plague the world and which hamper human progress. It is the only political objective worth the workers' attention. Beside the certainty of the security and abundance of socialism, the false promises of capitalism's leaders are as rancid crumbs. However the diplomats bargain and dissemble they cannot negotiate away the realities of capitalism. The world awaits its appropriation by the working class.

What Causes Famines? (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent events in Ethiopia have brought the question of famine back into the news. But what are famines? And what causes them? The obvious answer seems to be a situation where people are dying through lack of food in a particular region.

Were we living in a world where everyone had an automatic right to the amount of food they needed to stay alive this simple explanation might be plausible. The only way, in such circumstances, that a famine could arise would be if the total amount of food available to the people of a particular region fell below that needed to feed them all. The trouble with this simplistic explanation is that it is contradicted by the facts. First, there is the fact that during famines some starve while others have no problem obtaining food, whereas if the above explanation were true all people would suffer equally. Secondly, in a number of famines not only has the amount of food available in the region not fallen, or not fallen substantially, but food has even been exported.

These two examples show that a famine is not just a question of the total amount of food available in relation to the total number of people in a particular region; it is more complicated than this. People's access to food (as to other goods) is not free, but depends on a number of economic, social and legal factors defining their position in society.

In a developed capitalist country like Britain access to food depends almost exclusively on having money. People get this money in a number of ways: from owning property (as a non-work income such as rent, interest and profit), from trading or from selling some service, from selling their mental and physical energies (for a wage or salary), and from the state (as pensions and other allowances). So people get money which then gives them a claim on food, of a quantity and quality related to the amount of money they have. This claim is basically a property claim in that the exchange of money for food is a property-transaction involving an exchange of equivalent values.

In undeveloped countries like Ethiopia or Bangladesh the situation is basically the same, except that a category that has virtually disappeared in the developed countries has a much greater weight, namely, those who directly work the land. Such people can have access to food without money as they can consume part of what they grow, but here again this is an individual entitlement arising out of a property situation. They are entitled to the food because they own (or have rented) the land on which it is grown. There are also more people in the undeveloped countries whose entitlement arises out of money obtained from petty trading or selling some service rather than from the sale of their labour power.

This, then, is the framework in which famines occur. It enables us to see why the amount of food available in a region is not the determining factor in a famine. The determining factor is the pattern of people's legal entitlement to acquire food and it is changes in this rather than in food availability that provoke famines.

This point, which is fairly obvious when you reflect a little on the nature of the private property world in which we live, has been well developed in a study undertaken by Amartya Sen for the ILO, published in 1981 under the title Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Sen's basic point is that "starvation . . . is a function of entitlements and not of food availability as such":
 It is the totality of entitlement relations that governs whether a person will have the ability to acquire enough food to avoid starvation, and food supply is only one influence among many affecting his entitlement relations.
To test the validity of this "entitlement" approach, as opposed to the "food availability decline" approach, Sen examines four famines — the Great Bengal famine of 1943, the Ethiopian famines of 1973 and 1974, the Sahel famines of the 1970s and the 1974 Bangladesh famines. The statistics he produces show that these are better explained in terms of a collapse of entitlements to acquire food legally, through exchange or through direct consumption, among certain sectors of the population rather than in terms of a fall in the amount of food available.

Thus he concludes with regard to the Ethiopian famine of 1973:
  The Ethiopian famine took place with no abnormal reduction in food output, and consumption of food per head at the height of the famine in 1973 was fairly normal for Ethiopia as a whole. While the food output in Wollo was substantially reduced in 1973. the inability of Wollo to command food from outside was the result of the low purchasing power in that province. A remarkable feature of the Wollo famine is that food prices in general rose very little, and people were dying of starvation even when food was selling at prices not very different from pre-drought levels. The phenomenon can be understood in terms of extensive entitlement failures of various sections of the Wollo population.
About the Bangladesh famine he says:
  The food availability approach offers very little in the way of explanation The total output, as well as availability figures for Bangladesh as a whole, point precisely in the opposite direction. as do the inter-district figures of production as well as availability. Whatever the Bangladesh famine of 1974 might have been, it wasn't a Food Availability Decline famine.
What Sen calls the "entitlement" approach also provides an explanation for the export of food from famine regions:
  Viewed from the entitlement angle, there is nothing extraordinary in the market mechanism taking food away from famine-stricken areas to elsewhere. Market demands are not reflections of biological needs or psychological desires, but choices based on exchange entitlement relations. If one doesn't have much to exchange, one can't demand very much, and may thus lose out in competition with others whose needs may be a good deal less acute, but whose entitlements are stronger. In fact, in a slump famine such a tendency will be quite common, unless other regions have a more severe depression. Thus, food being exported from famine-stricken areas may be a “natural" characteristic of the market which respects entitlement rather than needs.
In other words, people starve because in private property society they have come to have no legal access to the food they need to stay alive. As Sen puts it in the closing paragraph of his book:
  The focus on entitlement has the effect of emphasizing legal rights. Other relevant factors, for example market forces, can be seen as operating through a system of legal relations (ownership rights, contractual obligations, legal exchanges etc). The law stands between food availability and food entitlement. Starvation deaths can reflect legality with a vengeance.
What is the solution? Sen himself seems to think that famines could be avoided if some sort of social security system was introduced in the undeveloped countries which would ensure people a minimum (even if only a bare minimum) state income when their other "entitlements" fail. Something along these lines may well be tried sometime (where are these poor states going to get the money from?) but manifestly this would only be a palliative. To solve the problem a much more fundamental change is required: the abolition of private property.

All that is on and in the Earth must become the common property of all the people of the Earth. Once the world has been organised on such a communist (in the original sense of the term) basis, access to food, and all other goods, would no longer be dependent on establishing a legal right through owning property, selling one's labour power, and so on. but would be something that every human being would have in application of the principle "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs". Given that a more intensive and extensive use of already-applied agricultural techniques could provide enough food adequately to feed every single man, woman and child on the planet, famine and starvation would be impossible. Indeed, people living in socialism will look back at the twentieth century as a Dark Age of continual wars and famines and will wonder why such things were allowed to happen.
Adam Buick

Trouble in store (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

They might have said: "The people who own this supermarket hope you will come in and buy food here. But no matter how much you need it. you must not take anything from the shop unless you pay for it because that's the way we get profits on our investments. If you don't obey these rules you will probably be punished under the law."

What they actually said, in two posters side by side on the door, was: "Welcome to Safeways'. "Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted".

Like many other offences, shoplifting has apparently been on the increase, from 126,844 incidents recorded by the police in 1972 to 242,304 in 1982. The total value of goods lost to the shops in this way is set at about £8 million a year but it is likely that it really amounts to a lot more than that; in particular shop assistants are suspected of a vast amount of undetected theft. Anyone starting a career in crime by testing out their welcome at Safeways may be reassured by the fact that about 50 per cent of contested cases result in an acquittal in court.

There are various methods for the apprentice shoplifter to consider, from the simple one of putting items straight into a shopping bag instead of into the basket so thoughtfully provided by the supermarket and leaving without paying for them; to the more difficult, like grabbing a discarded receipt. finding foods for the same price and getting a refund on them. In between lie methods requiring some manual dexterity, like swapping those sticky price tags or "gleaning"—opening packs of food and eating it while in the store, which can give a supermarket shelf the appearance of a field ravaged by locusts. Some known shoplifters. presumably on their day off, relax by playing games, attracting attention by concealing some item on their person and walking around the shop for a while before replacing it. to the chagrin of the watching store detective.

Who are the shoplifters? An article in Justice of the Peace (28 January 1984) said there has been ". . . an increase in the incidence of organised or group shoplifting (the Australian gang) and the use of violence arid intimidation. . ." but this aggravation of magistrates' paranoia represents too alarmist a picture. A very high "clear-up" rate is claimed by the police for shoplifting — 88 per cent compared to 37 per cent for all offences — which is a measure of the shoplifters' ineptitude. Then there is the fact that nearly half of the incidents recorded in 1982 concerned goods worth £5 or less, which is hardly the type of loot looked for by determined. sophisticated gangs. In fact, juveniles make up the largest group of shoplifters and. according to the Home Office (Designing Out Crime, HMSO). it is the offence most often committed by youngsters truanting from school.

The rising tide of shoplifting has been resisted by the shops in a strengthening of their defences. The Association of Prevention of Theft From Shops, whose Director is a Baroness, acts as an intelligence agency. Many goods are so packaged that it is very difficult to conceal others in with them (it is. of course, also very difficult to unpack the things when you get them home). In clothing shops, tags which can only be removed by a cashier set off a clamorous alarm if anyone tries to take them through the doorway. Shops are surveyed by closed circuit TV and patrolled by store detectives, whose vigilance may be sharpened by the commission they get for every successful arrest.

It is ironic that all this effort is expended to deal with a problem which the shops originally made for themselves. The age of the shoplifter is also the age of the self-service store: “Shoplifting", the Home Office unsurprisingly concluded, "is discouraged by the presence of assistants who are there to serve the customer." But the old style shops, where assistants, who had knowledge and skill as well as patience, served customers across counters, were relatively costly in floor space and wages. (Imagine the acreage of counters, and the swarms of staff, the average Safeways would need if they used that method today.)

All of that was swept away soon after the war in what was called the Great Marketing Revolution, in which a lot of money was invested with the object of cutting staff and making more profitable use of shop floor areas. The revolution left the customers to do the serving themselves, from displays replenished by squads of nocturnal "shelf-fillers" and then to volunteer to pay at check out tills operated at the kind of pressure to ensure the minimum of customer contact and the maximum of alienation. Now nobody stands chatting in a supermarket; the shelves can't talk back and the check out operators haven't got the time.

The big snag with the revolution was that it also allowed the customers to help themselves from the displays and so opened a field of crime to thousands of people who would not otherwise have had such a tempting opportunity. Vagrant alcoholics could help themselves to their booze, penurious mothers could help feed their children, aimless truants could arrange an afternoon s supply of free sweets and fags. About 4,000 of the yearly convictions for shoplifting are of people of 60 and over, many of them never having been in court before and who, but for the existence of the self-service shop, would almost certainly never have fallen foul of the law.

This has given rise to the stereotype of the menopausal shoplifter, a concept whose significance is obscured by the implication that age has to be a disability when in fact the problem lies in the disabling effects of capitalist society. The magistrates' courts see a continuous procession of these wretched, frightened people, often middle-aged women in despair. These women are often described in court, by helpful policemen. as "respectable", which means that they have been nurtured since birth on an insidious diet of capitalist morality. For them, the apex of attractiveness coincides with that of their profitability as an employee — with their youth. The fulfilment of their life began with employment, followed by marriage and a coping with children, housework. the mortgage and the bills while still disseminating a stereotypical sexual allure. At an age when cosmetic artifices can no longer smooth wrinkles, when no profit-conscious employer would give them a seat in the typing pool or at an assembly line, when their children have left home to grapple with the stresses of their own marriage, many women may feel their usefulness died with their fertility and that now they are unwanted, unattended.

An obvious way to draw attention to themselves is to offend against all they have been conditioned to regard as moral and correct. Such people could hardly burgle a house or hold up a bank but shoplifting is an easily available crime, fitting neatly into their daily routine of housework and shopping. Too often, however, their arrest is only another stage in a chronic depression. Hundreds of people every year are driven into a mental breakdown by their arrest and during a recent 18 month period the Portia Trust recorded 32 suicides by people accused of shoplifting. The other side of this bitter story is to be found in the people who own the supermarkets and the companies which supply them, among whom there are some massive fortunes: the Vestey family (£1.5 billion); the Sainsbury family (£900 million); James Goldsmith (£500 million); Garfield Weston (£300 million) (Sunday Times. 7 October 1984). These are some of the class whose interests are protected by the store detectives, the police and the courts, who welcome us to their shops as long as we pay for what we take away, whose interests are in the end responsible for the alienation, misery, depression and suicides.

In its early days shoplifting was perhaps not regarded quite so seriously. In fact one study found that some shops took the level of their loss as an index of their attractiveness. According to the Home Office. "Retailers . . . may be disinclined to change marketing techniques so long as these gain more in sales than they lose in theft". The balancing point, of course, is concerned with profits, which is as it should be in a society whose wealth is produced to be sold rather than to satisfy human needs. The shops warn us that in the end we all pay because they simply raise their prices to cover their losses to the shoplifters. But if it were possible for a company always to recoup losses in that way they would not need to defend themselves so tenaciously against theft, or wage demands, or a slump in their sales.

The shoplifters go to their work untroubled by the spurious, justifying economics of capitalism's defenders. Except that they might ponder on the greater act of legalised theft which establishes the property rights of the owners and whether a more comprehensive appropriation than their furtive acts might do better for the human race.
Ivan

Nationalism is poison (1985)

From the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
  This article was originally published in the Socialist Standard of March 1973. The case it states is as apt today as it was then.
In the struggle to win the minds of the working class Socialists have to contend not, on the whole, with rational critiques of the Socialist position but with deeply held and unquestioned values. A few of these, for example, might be religion, "human nature", "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work" or the association of Socialism with Russia. One of the strongest of these sacred beliefs, and one of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of Socialism, is nationalism ― the loyalty felt by many members of the working class to "their country", the political unit in which they happen to reside.

Socialists hold that the only real divisions which exist in the world are horizontal ones, between different social and economic groups. In advanced capitalist countries this consists in a division between the capitalist class, which owns and controls the means of production, and the working class, which owns none of them and which has to sell its mental and physical labour-power to the capitalist class in order to live. Feelings of loyalty to a nation-State are purely subjective, having no basis in reality; the working class in Britain has more in common with the workers in other countries than it has with the British capitalist class.

There, is however, an alternative view of the world. This is the belief that the important divisions are not horizontal, between different classes, but vertical, between various nations. A "nation" consists, according to this view, of a hierarchy of men and women who, although having differing incomes, social status and power, all have a common interest in working in harmony for the benefit of the whole unit and, if necessary, in fighting against other nations to defend this interest. This completely mistaken outlook is the one held by most members of the working class and nearly all political parties (including the Labour Party). Most historians reject Marx's declaration that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle", preferring instead to see history as a succession of struggles of nations against foreign domination, of subjects against tyrannical kings and of nations and races against each other.

Broadly speaking, nationalist ideologies and movements represent the interests of the capitalist class. Nationalism as such did not exist in pre-capitalist society and its growth and development represents the parallel development of the capitalist class. Nationalism as we know it today first made its appearance during the French Revolution. In the early stages of the revolution cosmopolitan ideas were prevalent ― it was believed that the rest of Europe would be inspired by France's example and would likewise overthrow the old order. When this failed to happen strong feelings of nationalism developed; France was seen as a chosen nation, picked out to be the standard-bearer of revolution throughout Europe.

Politically, nationalism is ambiguous, in that it can take on a "rightwing" or a "leftwing" form. This depends upon the position of the capitalist class in the particular time and place. If political power is held by the aristocracy or nobility, and the middle-class is struggling to assert itself, then nationalism will have "leftwing" connotations. This was the case in Europe until 1848, when nationalism was a romantic, revolutionary force against the traditional ruling class. However, once the bourgeoisie has captured and consolidated its power, then nationalism becomes a conservative and rightwing force.

Although every nationalist movement believes it is unique, there exist basically these two forms of nationalism side by side. In the advanced parts of the world ― the United States, Britain, Western Europe ― nationalism is conservative, whilst in pre-industrial countries engaged in struggles against a foreign ruling class, nationalism is a "leftwing" force.

The World Socialist Movement opposes all nationalist movements recognising that the working class has no country. There are certain other groups ― the Communist Parties of the world, and the so-called revolutionary left ― which, though claiming to have a class outlook, have a wholly opportunist and ambiguous attitude to nationalism, which reflects not so much the interest of the working class as it does Russian or Chinese foreign policy. These groups fully accept the mythology of the existence of "the nation". For example, from an Anti-Internment League pamphlet:
 The people of each nation have the right to determine how they shall be governed. Foreign interference is a fundamental attack on that right. When one nation takes offensive action against another, by introducing troops or in any other way, we cannot sit on the fence . . . And so to Ireland: Ireland is a nation; Ireland is not Britain; and the Irish have a right to decide whether or not they wish to have any association with the rest of these isles.
This attitude is a complete denial of Marxism; it is almost incomprehensible that people who describe themselves as Socialists should write of the "right to re-establish Irish nationhood" (from the same pamphlet). The Irish republican movement is in essence no different from any other nationalist movement; it was brought into being because of the need of a fledgling capitalist class to break away from Britain and erect protective tariff barriers in order to build an industrial economy. Socialists give the IRA and Sinn Fein no support whatsoever.

It will be argued that Marx and Engels supported nationalist movements and that therefore Socialists should do so today. Such an assertion is based on a faulty understanding of the Materialist Conception of History. Marx and Engels were living in an era when the bourgeoisie was engaged in a struggle to assert itself against the old feudal regimes. The victory of this class was a historically progressive step at that time in that it brought about the re-organization of society on a capitalist basis, the essential pre-condition for the establishment of socialism; and it created an urban proletariat, the only class which can bring about socialism. This was why Marx supported the rising capitalist class in their bid to capture political power. However, once capitalism reaches the point where socialism is a practical proposition, there is no need for socialists to advocate the capitalist industrialization of every corner of the globe; they can concentrate fully on the task of establishing socialism. Hence we give no support to any nationalist group, and in place of the opportunism and hypocrisy of the myriad Bolshevik groupings in advocating "national self-determination", socialists echo the rallying cry of Marx and Engels, "Workers of All Countries, Unite!"
Brendan Mee

Running Commentary: Feel the quality (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Feel the quality
Were the doctors who decided to refuse further kidney dialysis treatment to Derek Sage serious, when they said this was because his "quality of life was not good enough" to justify it?

Perhaps Derek Sage was a difficult, demanding, aggressive patient at the Churchill Hospital. Perhaps his behaviour did tend to disrupt the routine there; such places are at times rather like a huge factory with an overworked labour force where the routine is important, for without it everything might grind to a halt.

But does this case set a precedent? If so, there will be some trembling hands among the port glasses of the stately homes. If medical treatment is to be allocated on the basis of quality of life and on the demands the patient makes on social resources, how will the privileged class in society fare when they need it?

For example what contribution, other than helping to fill the columns of the gutter press, does Prince Andrew make to the quality of life? Is he not, with his unproductive. parasitic existence, an unjustifiable drain on human resources?

Then what about Mark Thatcher? Apart from losing himself in the desert in an exercise based on the assumption that he could find his way through it, and failing to become an accountant, what contribution has he made to the communal good?

These questions can be asked of the ruling class as a whole. In what way is the quality of life improved by the activities of this assortment of leeches and play-people? How do the majority of people, those who do the useful, productive work, benefit from those long, expensive nights in the casinos of the world, from those orgies of killing on the grouse moors, from those massively indulgent feasts which are called eating and drinking?

How do we benefit from any aspect of the existence of the owning, ruling, coercing. capitalist class? The answer to all these questions is that there is no advantage to humanity in any of this; in fact the opposite is true, for society will be a much happier, healthier, more peaceful place when their standing is removed and class society abolished.

But of course until that happens the capitalist class do not need to worry about their chances of getting medical treatment. What really settled the matter for Derek Sage was that he couldn't afford, at the time, to pay for dialysis. When the money was found for it he was whipped off to another hospital where patients can be as difficult as they like provided the bills are settled easily.

What it comes down to, is that what matters is not the quality of your life but the size of your bank balance — which is roughly how capitalism judges almost everything.



Cause or effect?
The latest issue of Social Trends, the government's statistical picture of what life is like in Britain today, gives no hope for anyone who waits for such surveys to come to any surprising or original conclusion.

For example, Social Trends finds that those who lost their jobs between 1979 and 1983 recorded higher rates of divorce, alcoholism and notified illness. Anyone with any ability to relate facts to each other will not be surprised at this; indeed, it would be astonishing if it were the other way round.

To the people who rely on selling their working abilities to an employer in order to live, holding a job often has an importance beyond mere physical survival. It is also something to do with status, with self-respect as a person who is usefully contributing towards a home and a family. The sack can bring on a depressive sense of unworthiness, at times leading to suicide.

So it is not unreasonable to expect the unemployed to react to the problems of being on the dole by taking to drink, or falling ill, or having difficulty in their personal relationships. The happy, secure, sunshine-bathed family so beloved of the advertising industry is a cruel myth. The reality of working class life, with its unrelenting struggle for survival, is much less attractive.

But of course, if the statisticians saw it as simply as that they might reason themselves out of a job. So Social Trends also contains some discussion about the sequence in which unemployment and illness are related. Which comes first? Is it more a matter of, say, heavy drinkers being more liable to be sacked when redundancies are in the offing, than teetotallers hitting the bottle as a consolation for being on the dole? Such trivial debating points are the stuff of life for the statisticians, the economists, the sociologists, but how important are they?

The majority of people in capitalist society have to find employment. Naturally, employers prefer to take on workers who are fit and well to those who are persistently on the sick-list or liable to lapse into alcoholism or drug abuse. Workers who suffer from these disabilities are among the most distressed members of their class. Their fate under the pressures of capitalism in the 1980s is a bitter illustration of the relentless degradation of working class poverty.

So whether unemployment and sickness are seen as cause or effect, we are brought back to the basic fact of capitalism's class relationships and of working class deprivation. These are not social trends, but inevitable social features which can be eradicated only by the abolition of capitalism.


Not guilty
Band Aid's record about famine-stricken Ethiopia was a shrewd contrast to the usual Christmas mush about presents and children and jolly sleigh rides. It went some way to resurrect, as well as rename, a not-now-so-popular pop group by appealing to the sickened reaction to the sight of wasting, pot-bellied, fly-smothered children.

In turn, this stimulates impatience at the apparent complacency and indolence of officialdom, fuelled by the notion that governments exist to organise away problems like famine with shipments of food, medical supplies and so on. So why don't they get on with their job. instead of leaving it up to a charitably inclined pop group and their customers?

Then there is the measure of induced guilt, as workers in places like Britain are encouraged to be embarrassed at the level of poverty they are accustomed to while millions of people elsewhere are even worse off, expiring through lack of basic necessities like food. British workers are told that, luckily for them, they live in the "affluence'' of the west and that if some of this were transferred to the Third World it would go a long way to eliminating famine, tropical diseases, shanty housing and the like.

There are many faults with these arguments. which get in the way of promoting the idea of a radical social revolution which will really solve these problems. If governments existed to protect human welfare, their priorities would be very different; they would devote a lot less resources to coercion and destruction and a lot more to humane constructiveness.

A society of class ownership is one of privilege, of poverty opposed to riches and of course there must be degrees of both these conditions. There are very rich people in the world and very poor. However poor a worker may be it may be possible, until we reach the very lowest and most degraded, to find someone who is even worse off. But this does not help the argument; the important point is that rich people don't get caught in a famine; hunger is another symptom of poverty and immunity from it another benefit of riches.

So it is actually a class issue. Throughout the world the majority of people are denied by their class standing full and free access to wealth. The guilt of workers who may be somewhat above the most wretched and doomed of people is a false reaction to the problem; it would be better applied as indignation about the social system which divides humanity into classes, with such catastrophic consequences for most of us.