Tuesday, October 29, 2019

50 Years Ago: Distribution in Socialist Society (1970)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Question and Answer

Dear Sir,

Will you kindly supply me with an answer to the following question?

In a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control and distributing wealth should the remuneration of each member of society be determined by the social labour time (accepting skilled labour as a multiple of unskilled labour) given in the service of the community, or should the total social product be equally divided among all the members of the community?
Hoping you will find room to reply to this (to me) most important question.

I remain
L. Thompson.

Under Socialism, neither of the methods of ‘remuneration’ given by Mr. Thompson would prevail. The immense powers of production existing today would, if socially owned, provide plenty for all. When Socialism is established those powers will have reached a much higher degree of proficiency, and the best method of distribution will be to allow each as much as he or she desires of the social products. Each would contribute to the social production according to his capacity, and it would be a waste of time and energy to measure out what each should have. Today. for illustration, many municipalities supply water to their citizens on a ‘rate’ and find it more economical to let them take what they require for domestic purposes than to charge accordingly to quantity used.
Editorial Committee. 
[Socialist Standard, October 1920].

Socialism versus Liberalism. (1928)

From the May 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our debate with Philip Guedalla

The following report of the above debate is reprinted (by permission) from the Manchester Guardian (April 21st, 1928) :—

Mr. Philip Guedalla, prospective Liberal candidate for the Rusholme Division, and Mr. J. Fitzgerald, of London, a representative of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, last night debated, before a large audience in the Co-operative Society's Hall, Platt Lane, Rusholme, the question : Should the working class support the Liberal or the Socialist Party?

Mr. Guedalla said the Liberal Party, with its history, need not be ashamed of facing its fellow-countrymen and seeing if it had any contribution to make to the solution of the problems of the day. But the real test was : What are the parties going to do with the problems that faced us to-day? The great problem, whatever name it was called by, could be called the problem of industry. Was the Liberal future or the Socialist future the more promising thing for British industry, upon which the welfare of all of us depended? Liberalism believed that two things were essential if we were going to have better conditions in industry. The first was peace throughout the world. The second was the keeping of obstacles out of the way—in other words, Free Trade. Liberals did not believe in nationalisation, because they did not believe nationalisation would pay. They believed that a State-run industry would not produce as much wealth as industry run on other lines, and it was no good devising the fairest way of sharing out the swag if there was not so much swag to divide out. Moreover, they did not believe nationalisation touched the real industrial evil. That evil consisted of a sense of injustice in the minds of the workers concerning their status.

To meet that, Liberals believed it would be just that when the worker went into employment he should know the terms on which he was employed, which he often did not—that he should have a definite contract. Liberals believed that a worker dismissed in certain circumstances should have a right of appeal. Liberals wanted to give facilities for spreading the ownership of British industry over a greater number. Far too few people owned the show to-day in Great Britain. Liberals wanted a great drift in the direction of whatever was the fairest way of sharing out the proceeds of industry that was suited to each industry. Then Liberals wanted to introduce the principle of self-government into industry. They wanted the acceptance of the principle of "cards on the table" in industry, so that the workers should know what the condition of an industry really was, so that the workers could really be partners in the industry.


Mr. Fitzgerald said the fundamental fact of society to-day was that there was a deep cleavage. On one side there was the working class—the class that lived by the sale of their services—and on the other the class that lived on profit derived from the ownership of capital. The economic circumstances of the two resulted in the worker class being a slave class. In that sense the worker class were the slaves of the capitalist class. How were they kept enslaved? By the possession of political power; ultimately upon the control of the fighting forces for the purpose of keeping the other class enslaved. The working class could get control by obtaining control of the political machine. It came down, then, in the first instance, to the control of Parliament, which was the centre of power in all modern States. That was the lesson which the working class had got first to learn—to send their own representatives to Parliament.

Mr. Guedalla said that Liberals did not believe in class. They did not believe in a conception of society which represented different classes at the ends of a rope engaged in a tug-of-war. He would submit that you were not going to pull British industry together by making quotations from Karl Marx. Mr. Fitzgerald had not told them one single, actual measure that we ought to pass. There was no use in arguing with ghosts and shadows and slinging philosophy at one's head. Mr. Fitzgerald had not deigned to say a single word about how a concern like the cotton industry was to be dealt with. He had not attempted to answer questions which had been put specifically to him.

Mr. Fitzgerald, in reply, quoted Mr. Philip Kerr, a Liberal, upon the tremendous modern development of international trustification, and from a Government report which said that five groups controlled half the food supply of the world. They would, he said, be buried under world trusts before the Liberal Industrial Report could be embodied in legislation. The Socialist was the only one who had called attention to the modern economic developments and tendencies, and he would ask the audience to observe that Mr. Guedalla had not ventured to touch his analysis or confute his arguments. Mr. Guedalla said he wanted to spread ownership. Very well. The only way to do that was to extend social ownership. He would agree with Mr. Guedalla that nationalisation would not go far, because nationalisation would leave industry under the control of the capitalist class through Parliament, and leave the workers still slaves. Not nationalisation, but socialisation—ownership by society—was the thing needed. Mr Guedella had asked what were the Socialists going to do about foreign trade. The answer was that foreign trade was going. With the great extension of international trusts how could there be any foreign trade?

Mr. Guedalla said he hoped Mr. Fitzgerald would come and say what he had said about nationalisation to some of his Socialist friends in the Rusholme Division. He had advised the workers to collar industry. The end of that story was an idle man sitting on a rusty machine.

Mr. Fitzgerald, winding up the debate, said he had been asked who would do the selling under Socialism. Under Socialism there would be no selling. They would have no need to sell what was their own. Organise production for use instead of for profit, and there would be no need to sell. Mr, Guedalla said you could not divide the swag when there was no swag, or less swag, to divide. But the fact was that the swag was choking us. The problem of production had been solved. The possibilities of production were so immense that they had increased beyond present consumption. It was being pointed out by more than one writer and observer that you could increase efficiency and yet create unemployment. The problem was rather the problem of distribution and consumption.

A Socialist on Religion (1970)

From the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Religion, in all its varieties, whether Christian or pagan, Jewish or Mohammedan, rests on and stems from the belief in a supernatural Being or Power of some sort. It is precisely a belief because no scientific, objective facts or even logic has ever been satisfactorily advanced to support this theory.

No atheist, however, can prove the non-existence of a God, for, as Madalyn Murray, American atheist and social worker, has said, “You don’t have to negate what no one can prove exists”. However, the sceptic can go a long way towards discovering the truth by closely examining the origin and historical development of religious belief.

If someone accepts the Biblical account of Man’s beginning; if he is so unscientific as to be convinced that the earth, sun. moon and all life was created by divine will within seven days some six thousand years ago. then there is hardly any basis for discussion with him and no purpose would be served in trying to pursue a futile argument.

If, however someone can reason logically, he would wisely discard the Bible as a less-than-useful source of historical enlightenment. The fact that the universe. earth and life were in existence millions of years before our ‘‘first parents” should be sufficient to start an investigation. There is little to dispute in the theory of evolution — by now more fact than theory — so our point of departure is that Man evolved, developed a brain, used tools, altered his environment. and formed societies.

As Man became conscious of himself and his surroundings, and ceased to be wholly led by animal instinct, in short, as soon as Man became capable of thinking, he must have wondered from where he came, to where he was going? How baffled must have been early Homo Sapiens at seeing his reflection in a pool of water, or, whilst in slumber, dreaming of a colleague, dead and decomposed years before. A primitive logic could concoct powerful beings or Gods behind the sun, stone, thunder, and other natural happenings.

These early beliefs could have laid the foundations upon which later religious consensus developed. Differing religions developed in societies with differing geographical, economic and social foundations. It is by examination of these material factors that an understanding of how basic belief developed into definite bodies of thought can be acquired.

The earliest records of the Jewish people disclose that they were nomad tribesmen herding flocks from pasture. The social unit was essentially patriarchal, the eldest usually assuming leadership of the clan. Under such conditions, the religion of Yahweh developed, symbolised by a ‘father in heaven guarding his flocks’, and clearly reflecting their economic and social mode of production.

Similarly, the Scandinavian Vikings of a thousand years ago, possessed the Gods of Odin and his son Thor, two allegedly brave and violent warriors who reflected the social system under which the Vikings lived, i.e., mainly that of plundering sea farers.

To achieve Vahalla (a celestial feast) one had to try to emulate the deeds of the great warrior Gods.

In short, the peculiar forms of religion have developed and flourished on differing modes of wealth production and social life in different geographical areas. They initially arose from Mankind’s prehistoric ignorance in his attempts to unravel the forces of Nature surrounding him, e.g., death, storms, shadows and dreams. It is indeed paradoxical that in our epoch of such remarkable scientific advances many people cling so doggedly to ancient fables evolved in an era of intellectual infancy.

Besides being scientific, religion is also blind faith in an unproven and unprovable concept, presupposes that religious dogma excludes understanding and knowledge. We all know of Galileo’s fate before the Inquisition for supporting Copernicus’ theory that the earth was not the centre of the universe. We all know of the brutal methods that the "agents of God” have employed in the past in their efforts to stem the tide of learning. There probably remain many sections of the religious personnel who would unhesitatingly resurrect such methods given the chance. One of the main grievances of some churches today is that the State is monopolising all education, and one can understand these churches’ consternation at being robbed of their young sheep by another competitor.

More realistic members of the clergy, however, are trying to swim with the tide; conceding more and more to the march of knowledge, compromising at every turn, and jettisoning one by one the more ludicrous of their assorted dogmas. It is interesting to speculate on how many moons will pass before they eradicate God himself.

Now is there any usefulness or practicality that religion holds for us under our present system of society?

Before attempting to answer this question, a brief expose of capitalism, our present system, is desirable.

Capitalism is a private (sometimes State) property class society, divided into owners of the means of production (under 10% of the population), and non-owners (90%), where the non-owners have to work for wages or salaries in order to live. Through the wages system, the class of non-owners (working class) are exploited by the class of owners, i.e., the capitalist class.

From this basic foundation, the whole paraphernalia of capitalist relations arise with all their complex workings. There is competition in various fields and in various stages, from "keeping up with the Jones” to colossal global warfare; there is poverty, both of a modest and extreme nature, resulting in numerous and tragic conflicts within the working class itself; there is frustration and mental anxieties wide in scope — from nervous and psychiatric ‘hang ups’ to murder and suicide. Capitalism is, in short, as poet N. B. Brock wrote, "a masterpiece of crucifixions”. (The Wayward Mind, 1970).

Where does a religion, e.g., Christianity, fit into all this? Some religious principles like ‘Thou shalt not steal’, stem directly from a system of private property. Stealing is quite unknown in primitive communal societies, as you cannot steal what you have, only what belongs to someone else. Stealing as concept and practice can only die out in a Socialist society as all wealth (abundant wealth to be sure) will be freely available to all. Not being denied access to the means of production and its products, people will simply not be motivated to steal. Anti-stealing ideas, therefore, are nothing but props to exploitative class society.

On the other hand, principles like ‘Thou shalt not kill’, though quite admirable in themselves, are that much idealistic dreaming in an insane society, because the economic, social and political environment compels such regrettable behaviour. Many of US bombing crews hideously destroying Vietnamese women and children with napalm are honest ‘God-fearing’ chaps who would go to church and even pray for peace! And taking Northern Ireland as a further example, no religious principle, (of either flavour) has in any way discouraged some brutal violence between workers there.

In short, capitalism, and the ignorance that goes with it, simply makes wishful thinking out of some quite admirable principles. Religion, at best, has been totally ineffective in compelling Man to live in peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom.

To conclude our analysis, the question arises “Has religion any relevance to Socialism”?

To begin with, its theoretical basis (of superstition and blind faith) is difficult, nay impossible, for a scientific socialist to accept. From the fact that an overwhelming majority in Socialism will be socialists, it follows that any remnants of superstition will be upheld by only a tiny, even insignificant minority of the population.

As to the ‘practical’ principles' as ‘loving thy neighbour’, the futility of pushing such concepts under Socialism should be obvious, as the social conditions obtaining there will freely permit their development. In a sane society, such behaviour will become part and parcel of all human social relations.

Religion, therefore, is one of the more retrograde concepts which many men have yet to jettison. It has constituted a shackle upon the brain of Man for generations of time. It has been utilised in the past to perpetrate and exonerate the most barbaric slaughter and cruelty of Man by Man : to defend the throne of the aristocracy as well as the money bags of the plutocracy.

Reciprocally, it has also been seized by the ignorant masses upon which to lean, and into which to escape. To quote Marx, “it is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right).

But also, like Marx always said, capitalism produces its own gravediggers. The flourishing of science and education under capitalism has led to a steady decline in organized religion in the ‘advanced’ countries. Although it can be argued that other phenomena are replacing religion as the ‘opium’, it is nevertheless a sign that at least one mental shackle is being expunged by the working class. It can only be conducive to the spread of the socialist idea.

The Socialist Party and War (1970)

Party News from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under this title the long-awaited new edition of this basic Socialist pamphlet, bringing the 1950 edition up to date, has now been published.

  • It explains that capitalist competition for markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials and outlets for investment is the basic cause of modern war.
  • It examines the recent wars in the Middle East, Nigeria and Vietnam, as well as the origins of the Second World War, to illustrate this.
  • It explains why mere anti-war movements are futile and that lasting peace and disarmament can only be achieved through world Socialism so that the struggle for Socialism is the only real anti-war struggle.
  • It explains also why the workers in all countries have no interest in fighting wars.
  • It documents the principled and consistent anti-war stand of the Socialist Party and contrasts this with the support for wars and preparation for war given by the Labour Party and the so- called Communist Party.
  • It exposes the futility of disarmament conferences and inter-governmental organisations like the League of Nations and the United Nations.
  • It describes the rise and fall of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and demonstrates the futility of such single-issue protests against one aspect of capitalism.

Copies can be had for 4s (20p) including postage. by writing to Dept. W The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4.

Using the sea (1970)

Book Review from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Harvest of the Sea, by John Bardach. Allen & Unwin. 55s.

The sea, covering seventy per cent of the earth's surface, was until recent times the last and largest unexplored region of the earth. However, the advance of scientific knowledge has brought into being new instruments and methods for learning about and exploring the oceans and has pushed back the boundaries so far that man is now within sight of opening up yet another field to satisfy his desires and needs.

This very good non-specialist book is an admirable introduction to the multi-scientific discipline of oceanology, which is that branch of learning which deals with the study of the seas, embracing a range of information from the physical characteristics of the ocean floor and its waters and marine life to speculation on the sea as a site for cities both on the surface and underneath. But it is the sea as a source of food and natural resources which is of the greatest importance to the human race.

The former subject is dealt with at considerable length. An essential requirement for maintaining the well being of the human body is protein of which fish is a very rich source. In fact for certain peoples like the Japanese virtually their main source of protein is fish. Of the twenty five thousand main species of fish now known to man only about two hundred are captured for food. Molluscs and crustaceans are used even less.

Fish also enter into peoples' diets in an indirect manner, inasmuch as certain small varieties of fish are rendered down into fish meal which is used in pig and poultry food.

Bardach points out that this not only lengthens the food chain but is also wasteful. A further point he makes is that the resources of the sea are not limitless, the greatest threat to them being pollution and overfishing.

The blue whale has already been hunted to the point of extinction, and other species of whale are in danger. The menace he indicts without actually mentioning it by name is capitalism. Norway. Russia, and Japan, the three principal whaling nations, have large amounts of capital invested in whaling vessels and factories and they are compelled to catch as many whales as possible to maintain profitability. This example alone demonstrates the futility of expecting capitalism to operate against its own economic laws, even its long term interest.

With regard to aquatic plantlife there is nothing at present acceptable as a foodstuff with the exception of a few seaweeds such as laver bread. Algae also enter into peoples' diets via certain products such as ice cream and beer.

If fossil fuels continue to be used up at the present rate, then alternative supplies will have to be found and the seas may come to the rescue in the following ways: Harnessing the tides (an installation has already been set up near to the mouth of the river Rance in France). This method of producing electricity is dependent upon the suitability of the coast line. Temperature differences between surface and deep tropical waters, atomic fusion by heavy water. Methane from fermented organic matter (already available from urban sewage systems but not utilised at present because of capitalism’s economic restrictions).

Bardach sees the oceans as a form of communal property and until recently this view could have been regarded as justifiable. with reservations; for the sea itself was not subject to international disputes and the territorial sovereignty of individual countries bounded by the sea was at one time recognised by common consent to extend no more than three miles from the shore line (although some countries have unilaterally extended their sovereignty beyond this). Fishing vessels of different countries share the same fishing grounds and pirate radio ships were recently broadcasting to Britain well outside this three mile limit without the government being able to take any other action than blocking transmission.

However, the discovery of oil and natural gas beneath the sea bed beyond the three mile limit has given rise to a new issue for international capitalism to quarrel about: how to divide up the oceans of the world for mutual exploitation. No doubt the experts on international and maritime law will have their work cut out for them as they try to devise some arrangement for achieving this to every interested party's satisfaction. One thing beyond dispute is that the working class of the world will not gain anything from any agreements made. In fact they will be subject to more intense exploitation, risks and pressures in the mad scramble to get at the wealth beneath the sea.

Only when we get a sane system of society where the welfare of all is the guiding principle and we are no longer subservient to the blind economic forces of capitalism can the wealth of the oceans be used solely for the benefit of mankind.

Unfortunately John Bardach throughout his book sees no further than capitalism and indulges in pious hopes that the oceans are not going to be abused too much in pursuit of profit, which is wishful thinking indeed.
L. B.

The Industrial Relations Bill: Tories attack workers (1970)

From the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tories proposed Industrial Relations Bill is rightly seen by many trade unionists as an attempt to weaken the bargaining position of workers as compared with that of their employers.

The main feature of the Bill is to be the outlawing of certain practices as “unfair industrial actions”. Anyone financially harmed by such an action will be able to take the matter to an Industrial Tribunal or to a new National Industrial Relations Court and obtain damages from those responsible. Even a person threatened with an “unfair” action will be able to go to the Court and get an order outlawing it. Most of the practices that will be regarded as unfair are ones which over the years workers have found effective in protecting their wages and working conditions and organisations from the pressures of their employers, such as

  • Strikes to get an employer to sack someone who refuses to join a trade union.
  • The blacking of supplies from other firms to a firm whose workers are on strike.
  • The "pre-entry closed shop" where a worker must belong to a trade union before he can get a particular job.
  • For “organisations and individuals” other, than registered trade unions to get workers to threaten to or to go on strike without notice, i.e. sudden unofficial strikes .
  • To organise any industrial action in support of an “unfair” action.

It is true that some of these practices, especially the closed shop, can be and have been abused in the sense that they have been directed against other workers rather than against employers. But this is a matter to be settled by discussion and the growth of understanding within the working class and not by the laws of the capitalist State. The same applies to the other ostensibly democratic safeguards that will be imposed on registered trade unions supposedly to protect their individual members. It is undeniable that unions today are not always under the democratic control of their members but once again this is something for workers to settle themselves without State intervention.

Some of the proposals could benefit some workers but are of a comparatively minor nature. There will be, for instance, an appeal against unfair dismissal (though this should be less effective than the strike commonly employed in some industries as a remedy for this) and an increase in the periods of notice for long service employees; it will be “unfair” for employers to try to dominate registered trade unions.

The provisions of the 1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act which make strikers in gas, electricity and water works liable to prosecution and fines will be repealed, but such strikes along with others the government and the Industrial Relations Court claim “may seriously threaten the national health, safety or economy and/or the livelihood of a substantial portion of the community” will be subject to special provisions. In these cases a cooling-off period of 60 days and a strike ballot can be ordered. This ballot, in another of the ostensibly democratic provisions of the Bill, will be secret.

A secret ballot is not the only way of reaching a democratic decision. It was a radical demand in the last century because in a class-divided society (where one section of the voters are economically dependent on another) those opposed to the government or social system could be penalised for the way they voted. This danger does not apply in ballots within trade unions, though it is true that in some cases solidarity might make some workers afraid to identify themselves as opposed to strike action. This, and not some commitment to democratic principle, is one reason why the Tories want a secret ballot rather than the vote of a delegate conference or a show of hands at a mass meeting. An individual ballot is the most democratic procedure but to organise it properly requires time. Often it is essential to get a quick decision as to whether or not to strike so as not to give the employers some time to prepare against it. A government-imposed strike ballot would be a delaying tactic that will benefit employers; it will also allow the press to whip up a campaign for a vote not to strike. Some unions already provide for secret ballots before strike action and, here again, the most appropriate method of deciding whether or not to strike is a matter for the workers involved not the State.

At present trade unions can be registered and enjoy certain rights as compared with non-registered unions or groups of workers. The Bill proposes to withdraw from what are called “other combinations of workers” certain of the rights they now enjoy along with registered trade unions. For instance, as we saw, unlike registered unions such combinations will no longer be protected against claims for damages for calling or threatening to call sudden strikes. Nor would their funds be protected against damages in the same way as those of registered unions. These “other combinations of workers” will mainly be shop stewards’ and rank-and-file committees such as exist in some industries alongside the official trade unions. Such committees have proved useful supplements to the unions so that the proposed moves against them represent a very real attempt to hinder workers’ industrial organisation and action.

Workers’ industrial organisation, whether in trade unions or other bodies, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts even though it is only defensive since as long as the owning and employing class control political power they are in the end in the stronger position. Workers are right to oppose the Tory Bill just as they were to oppose last year’s Labour Bill. The ways of how to combat it, including even perhaps Heath's suggestion of a general strike, will have to be fully discussed and democratically agreed. It should not be forgotten, however, that the Tories have the political power to push through this Bill because a large number of workers, including a substantial proportion of the 10 million union members, voted for them at the general election earlier this year. Many of these could well be on the government’s side in the event of a showdown.

But one thing is certain. The class struggle cannot be suppressed by laws and, if the Bill does become law, will still go on. Whether the Bill’s provisions will prove workable in the face of mass refusals to pay damages or to vote in a government-imposed strike ballot remains to be seen. Workers will no doubt take advantage of the few favourable provisions and try to find ways around the others. The necessity will remain for such defensive, industrial actions to be supplemented by conscious political action aimed at converting the means of production from the class property of a privileged few into the common property of the whole community so ending the whole wages system.
Adam Buick

Marx's Capital (1970)

Book Review from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

For All Time and All Men, by A. Uroyeva. Progress Publishers, Moscow. 13s.

The somewhat limited scope of this book is explained by the author in the Introduction :
  This book recapitulates the history of publication, translation and spread of Volume I of Capital from the day it was published September 14 1867, to 1895, the year Frederick Engels died . . . This is the first attempt in Marxist historiography to deal with these matters in their inter-relation, and being a general review, it does not claim to be an exhaustive study of the subject.
In four chapters it deals with the publication of translations in Russian (the first of the translations), in Polish, in French and in English, giving notes on all the people who helped to launch the translations. the difficulties they had to contend with and the numerous unauthorised and spurious editions. It has many illustrations of Marx, Engels and others and the title pages of first editions.

Information on the various editions in the four languages (also Danish, Italian, Spanish and Dutch) and of editions of Volumes II and III is given in a supplement and in a table. Another supplement deals with some of the differences between the authorised French edition of Vol 1 and the 4th German edition.

Chapter I deals with the original German edition and its reception in Germany.

The lateness of the English edition is explained on the usual Leninist theory that the English workers had become reformist because, “as the incomes of the capitalists increased they share part of their profits with the workers’ aristocracy". How superficial Lenin’s assessment of the situation was is shown by his claim, “that the victory of Marxism in the working-class movement had in the main been completed by the 1890’s.”

Here he was referring not specifically to England but to countries generally. Admittedly there were, in many countries, organisations acknowledging Marx but their subsequent history showed how few of the workers really understood and accepted Marxism.

The author notes how much more rapidly English editions sold in America than in England: due partly to an enterprising publisher of a pirated American edition who advertised it as a book showing “how to accumulate capital.”

While the author deals with spurious editions of Capital she does not deal with spurious uses made of it by the Communist parties: as for example her own claim in her concluding chapter that “Socialism . . . has become a reality on a considerable part of the globe".

Books Received
The Bolsheviks and Workers Control, by Maurice Brinton. Solidarity.
The Future of Communist Power, by Brian Crozier. Eyre and Spottiswoode.
Ancient History: The 20th Century, by Avraham Ben-Yosef. Porter Sargent.
Lenin's Childhood, by Isaac Deutscher. OUP.

Letters: More on Mosley (1970)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

More on Mosley

Dear Sirs,

I have just seen Socialist Standard for July, in which my pamphlet on West Indian immigration was discussed and your reply published. I trust you will allow me to reply to this in return, even if belated.

I would certainly agree with you when you say it is not immigration itself which causes friction over housing and other problems. since these existed in Britain long before the first West Indian set foot here. Action and Union Movement say that mass immigration has aggravated the already existing problems, which have arisen mainly through the failings of the present economic and social system in Britain.

Our answer is to treat the original problem and the aggravation of it in separate ways, because they arc separate questions. We stand for the humane repatriation of immigrants, creating better jobs and conditions in their homelands to which they can return, through buying their sugar and other produce at good guaranteed prices and otherwise helping them develop their resources. Meanwhile the clearing of all bad housing in Britain, and large-scale rebuilding, will go ahead on mass production lines.

We certainly disagree with you when you say there must be “a social system in which human beings would be able to move freely all over the earth, in which there will be none of the false national barriers and patriotisms of capitalism". There is little likelihood of this utopian state of affairs being established for a very long time to come. Since, as you state, the first requirement is the world-wide abolition of capitalism, the first question is : How long will this take? It is now well over a century since Karl Marx published his Capital, yet capitalism is going as strong as ever, if not more so. Most of the world is dominated today either by the finance capitalism of New York or the state capitalism of Moscow. How much longer must we wait for these bastions to crumble?

Action and Union Movement do not believe in waiting for the socialist millennium, but in doing something now for the present generations, who have seen enough political pledges betrayed. Put very shortly, we stand for a "third force" between the American and Russian varieties of capitalism, which will be neither capitalist or "fascist” itself. Instead of trying to change the system all over the world we confine the change to Europe and its associated lands overseas. The rest of the world can then follow our lead if they think we have made a success of it.

You ask why Mosley “did not object" to British workers being exploited by British capitalists? — the answer is, he did! In pre-war issues of his newspapers there were attacks on sweating in the furniture trade, in the clothing trade, in the cinemas and in the cotton industry. Also there were many exposures (which are just as important) of the cut-price undercutting at home and abroad which British firms had to face. Mosley had his policies then; today they arc to give government power, through the vote of the people, to fix high wages throughout industry, not only in Britain but throughout Europe. That will effectively cook the capitalist goose in Europe!

As for trade unions being "ruthlessly suppressed", nothing could be more remote from Mosley’s aims. The very reverse is true: they would be asked to co-operate with the government and assist in planning its high wages policy, industry by industry. That will give them a far greater role than they have today.
Robert Row
Editor Action.

Robert Row refers to "creating better jobs and conditions in (the immigrants’) homelands", “clearing of all bad housing" and so on, as if the solution to capitalism's problems was so simple. These empty words — for that is what they are — are of the kind which are always found in the propaganda of capitalist parties. Reality is much sterner: the economic anarchy of capitalism and its poverty (expressed in mass migration, bad housing, etc.) cannot be touched by promises. Only the abolition of the social system can be effective.

Of course nobody will be misled into thinking that members of Union Movement support Socialism and are in a racist party only because they arc too impatient to join the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Neither will they be impressed with such a phrase as "humane repatriation of immigrants”. But to answer the question; the establishment of Socialism will not be delayed, once the working class understand and want it. And the process of understanding is hindered by the many organisations which advocate capitalism. Union Movement is especially to blame here; they preach the false, divisive doctrines of racism — and may even call their policy Socialism.

The "third force” policy is of course not original. What have the workers to gain from a capitalist state which conducts its international disputes independent of the great power blocs? The blocs are an effect of, not the cause of, the wars of capitalism and the experience of the “neutral” countries in the world line-up is no encouragement to support this policy.

Most of the objections to sweated labour by the pre-war BUF were disguised racist attacks on Jewish employers, with the implied conclusion that British workers would have been better off under a master of their own “nationality". Mosley never attacked the principle of exploitation; much of his policy was aimed at organising a more disciplined labour force for British capitalism. And as for Union Movement wanting trade unions to co-operate with them in government — what was the fate of the unions in those countries where similar organisations got into power?
Editorial Committee

No Demos

I should like to oppose an argument I have come across in your excellent magazine the Socialist Standard. It is the one where you state reasons for refraining from demonstrations against particular injustices in society such as racial prejudice, sale of arms. etc., etc. I would agree with you that this is attacking the symptoms of a disease rather than changing the cause. Anybody who has opportunity and intellectual understanding should by all means attack the cause.

Please however take into account that many people are unable to grasp the meaning of the word “socialism", but are able to see fairly obvious injustices. Demonstrations are valuable in so much that they develop people’s interests in their environment. Further analysis will always reveal capitalism to be the root of the evil, but many are unable as yet to have the time and opportunity to reach this conclusion. Particular issues are a stepping stone! So please do not discourage these activities. Student demonstrations have, I’m sure, aroused interest and this is valuable. Those who are able to make a more dedicated and intellectual commitment should do so, but please do not discourage others.
John Kirby, 
London, W.2.

First of all the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not opposed to demonstrations. Demonstrations in favour of Socialism (or even to express the attitude of socialists to a particular issue) are useful in certain circumstances. Besides drawing people’s attention to our ideas (and for that matter our existence) they can boost the morale and confidence of our members and supporters.

But we do say that a socialist party should not participate in demonstrations alongside organisations to which we are opposed, although we have always taken the opportunity to make contact with people on such multi-organisation demonstrations by distributing leaflets and selling the Socialist Standard.

Since we maintain that capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the majority we do not take part in demonstrations that demand reforms of the capitalist system. We point out to such demonstrators that the proposed reforms would not in fact solve the problems they were aimed at.

Further, the Socialist Party does not advocate reforms since we wish to attract revolutionaries rather than radical reformists. This has not stopped us from analysing the developments in ideas which often express themselves at certain stages in demands for reforms, and showing how these point towards Socialism.

In our propaganda we often point to demonstrations (including strikes) to show that the working class is not prepared to sit back and take all that is handed out to it. We are therefore to a certain extent encouraged by the activity of others in demonstrations against such matters as war and racism. At least this is better than nothing.
Editorial Committee

No change (1984)

From the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was hardly noticed at the time, but last May the British penal system, which does not have a reputation for moving swiftly with the times, underwent an historic change. As a result, the prospects are that a lot more youngsters will be going to prison than before, which probably gave some excited relief to those who nurture a punitive lust towards young criminality. Like much superficial and irrelevant adjustments, this was called a revolution. In fact it was nothing more than the abolition of the Borstal system and its replacement by something called Youth Custody.

The first Borstal was set up in 1902, in the village of that name in Kent, as an experimental training camp for young offenders. This was greeted as a great humanitarian advance, for the young had traditionally been harshly treated when they broke the law. In the 18th century 90 per cent of offenders who were hanged were under the age of 21; in 1838 Parkhurst was converted from a military hospital to a young offenders' prison, where the shackles and the whip were in regular use. The experiment at Borstal was regarded as a success and the Prevention of Crime Act 1908 (which did not, of course, prevent crime nor even offer any perceptive notion of what it was) gave birth to an entire system of the places.

The draftsmen of the 1908 Act set out the new institutions' objects in ringing terms, dear to the hearts of the legislators of the day:
  . . . places in which young offenders may be given such industrial training and other instruction and be subjected to such disciplinary and moral influences as will conduce to their reformation and the prevention of crime. (Quoted in Justice of the Peace, 19 November 1983).
Nearly sixty years after the Act, the Home Office were sure that these objects were being achieved for the Borstals, they said, were providing ". . . all-round development of character and capacities — moral, mental, physical and vocational . . ." (The Sentence of the Court, 1969: HMSO).

Well, that was not quite how many of the Borstal boys remembered them. One will never forget the immediate assault he was subjected to on his arrival, before he had had time to break any of the rules, to show him what would happen if he did. Another has bitter memories of his first, character-forming, day when he saw a friend beaten because he couldn't wash the floor to an officer’s satisfaction. He was, in fact, in the last throes of leukaemia: when he died, a couple of days later, the governor had the boys assembled to suggest that they might like to contribute to a wreath.

The intention was to model the Borstals on public schools, which were supposed to breed into youths the insular prejudices which had helped subdue so much of the world into the British Empire. They were divided into houses, supervised by people who anywhere else would have been known as prison officers but who in Borstals were called housemasters. There was an emphasis, at least in theory, on house spirit, physical exercise and career training. A lot of money was spent on some of them; one had a library, a sports field and a shed full of racing boats such as might have been the envy of a public school. Others were huge purpose-built complexes with classrooms, workshops and a farm. It was of course useful to display such Borstals to visiting parties of judges and magistrates who were looking for reassurance that they were doing the boys a favour by sending them there. Other Borstals were rather less favoured; they might be converted military camps, some from the Napoleonic Wars; one of these could expect, on a typical day, to have over half its inmates — boys aged between 15 and 21 — to be homeless when they were released to face the rigours of life at what was called liberty. The prospects of such boys were poor; a Home Office Research Bulletin in 1978 found a 60 per cent reconviction rate among homeless ex-prisoners. (Making Good, Martin Wright. Burnet Books, 1982). The main problem facing these boys would have been eradicated if they could somehow have moved upwards into the other class in society, where a housing problem is not known, but no Act of Parliament was ever drafted with that in mind.

There was in fact one way in which the Borstal did provide the best schooling in the country. They were the Oxbridge of criminal education, where boys who had previously bungled their offences could learn how best to steal a car or break into a house. One graduate, now middle-aged, put it something like this:
  When I left Borstal I was 18 and I had to make a choice. I’d learned how to make crime pay; should I go straight or go back at it, only properly this time? When I looked at the profits I could see there was really no choice so I went back at it. Got my own little business together then I packed it in. Till I got tempted with this little lot.
But it was not their futility, nor any violence or corruption about them, which brought about the end of the Borstals; it was simply that, in the eyes of the legislators and of the people who vote for them, they were not doing their job. For the past twenty years or so, a flood of statistics has borne into public awareness the impression that crime is predominantly the act of poor young men from an urban environment. Throughout the period 1972-82 the highest rate of known crime per 100,000 of the population has been in the male age group 14-17 and the next highest in the male age group 17-21. In 1982. the most recent year for which figures are available, the rates were 76 and 73 respectively while for all age groups it was about 22. Even allowing for statistical quirks — for example many of the offences committed by teenagers are by their nature more likely to come to the notice of the police than are some of the more premeditated and sophisticated crimes by adults — the figures give a clear enough picture and it is one of widespread disaffection among the youth of Britain.

Certainly, that was the message reaching the courts, with their daily stream into the dock of youngsters who had taken cars, broken into houses, or picked a pocket. But when the courts came to exact their revenge. they often found their powers restricted by the Criminal Justice Act of 1961. This Act forbade the courts to send anyone to prison, if by their age they were qualified for a sentence of Borstal, for any period between six months and three years, with the intention that a sentence of any intermediate length must entail Borstal training. This was Parliament’s response to the developing problem of juvenile crime, which it hoped to deal with by something officially defined as training rather than with something condemned as punishment. (Those were high days for the theories of social work as a palliative to capitalism's ailments; the inevitable failure of social work has opened the way for a return to a harder policy of restraint and punishment.)

More than one judge, impatient to imprison some miserable, quaking youth, fretted at the restrictions of the 1961 Act; for one thing, Borstal training meant that the Home Office decided when the offender was released, instead of the judge fixing it by the length of sentence. Flower-hatted Tory ladies and puce-faced gentlemen gave vent to their outrage at the apparent indulgence of teenage louts and ne’er-do-wells. Stimulated by a typical media panic, there was a White Paper and a “debate" and then another Act of Parliament. The original noble aims of the Borstal were forgotten and they were quietly put to death; the signs at the gates were replaced with others which proclaimed that what had been a Borstal is now a Youth Custody Centre; new forms were printed; the housemasters went back into uniform and to being called prison officers. In one way or another, judges and magistrates can send youngsters to some sort of prison for whatever time, short or long, they decide — and the signs are that they are happily taking their chance. According to the Guardian of 14 September 1983, in the first two months of the Act's operation the number of inmates aged 15-20 in the Youth Custody Centres increased by about 1,000; a crisis of overcrowding is now looming, to rival that in the adult prisons.

The treatment (for that is what it is called) of offenders is officially judged in terms of its effect on re-offending. No “treatment" method has such a “success" rate that it outdistances the rest and presents a clear economic choice for a government to invest in. No method offers any comfort to the law-makers and this is especially the case with juveniles who are given custodial sentences, for up to 80 per cent of them re-offend within two years of their release (Martin Wright). This says a great deal, not so much about the offenders but about the penal system and the society in which it all happens and which the penal system is supposed to defend.

The legislators and the sentencers — and reformers — turn their attention to the character of the offender, which at least allows them to ignore the character of this society. Crime happens mainly in urban areas because they are the concentrations of population which capitalism set down so that workers could live near the places where they were exploited. The history of this, of the expulsions from the land and the pitiful trek for survival to the towns, is one of extreme cruelty. Urban pressures are different now but in their way they are as fierce and destructive as ever. The towns and cities are places where economic and social alienation is made explicit, where people can lie dead in their homes without anyone knowing, where the homeless skulk through the parks and the streets, dirty and ignored.

Capitalism's social engineers encourage us to escape this fate through an attachment to the family and they have an ideal of this — an inturned. private, passionless unit where appetites and emotions are kept in check to promote our docility in exploitation. Capitalism’s family breeds neurosis as it socialises its children into a passive acceptance of their place as wage slaves. But at the same time this family has little resilience; it breaks under only a slight pressure and when that happens its members are left bewildered and damaged, sometimes to the point of seeing themselves as freakish. Children of one-parent families, for example, can often go through agonies of embarrassment in their relationship with other children who have both a mother and a father at home. An impressive number of such children take the role of social deviants and end up in the dock and with the cell door clanging into place at their backs.

For this is not a social system based on majority human interests. It cannot encourage. nor even manage, any challenge to its basic character; it must respond with discipline and repression. It cannot condone human freedom because to do so would undermine its structure of privilege feeding off poverty.

Almost unnoticed — and so far unmourned — the Borstals have gone now, and there are other places which operate on the same blind and brutal deceptions. Meanwhile capitalism goes on, with its poverty, its repression and its human alienation. “Is there not,” observed Marx, “a necessity for deeply reflecting upon an alteration of the system that breeds these crimes, instead of glorifying the hangman who executes a lot of criminals to make room for the supply of new ones?”