Sunday, November 3, 2019

Knife Crime : Violence and Youth (2019)

From the November 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why knife crime flourishes
Hardly a day goes by without hearing about someone being stabbed or shot in the UK. More often than not it will be a young person, usually a teenager. According to government sources, in the year ending March 2019, there were 43,516 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, in comparison with 40,215 in the previous year. 32 percent of this violent crime has taken place in the London area (‘Knife crime in England and Wales rises 8 percent over year’, Guardian, 18 July). Although there has been a drop in gun crime during this period, it is still high in comparison to previous years. What is going on here? Why is there is so much bloodletting on the streets of Britain?

There is no shortage of explanations. Street gangs that peddle drugs and the ensuing turf wars between rival gangs. Online squabbles on social media that blow up into deadly disputes. The prestige of handling a weapon. Police claim that young people think it is ‘trendy’ to carry a weapon (Yahoo News UK, 13 April, 2017). Fewer police officers on the beat and the decline in the use of stop and search. The fact that a disproportionate number of workers from an ethnic minority are affected has led some to focus on so-called ‘black on black’ crime.

Others cite cuts in youth services, the closure of Sure Start centres, reduced funding for youth clubs as a consequence of the government’s ‘austerity’ drive, that is in its attempts over the past few years to restore the profitability of British capitalism and improve the latter’s competitiveness in world markets in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008/2009 by reducing the cost of running the state machine.

What all these explanations miss is the root cause. Capitalism is based on minority ownership of the means of living and production for profit. Wealth is accumulated in the hands of the few and the majority is left in various degrees of relative or absolute poverty. In the poorer areas with high levels of social deprivation, young workers face a bleak future with low paid insecure work and high unemployment. As an escape from this drudgery, the allure of gang life is tempting. For these young people, the lucrative drug trade promises the lifestyles that capitalism encourages workers to aspire to, but at the same time denies them. Gangs are seen to provide protection and a sense of belonging in a tough and alienating environment. Some young people feel that the possession of a weapon provides some sort of protection in a threatening world. Poverty is the fertile ground on which crime flourishes.

There is no doubt that the increase in poverty and deprivation in the aftermath of the 2008/2009 economic downturn, exacerbated by cuts in public services, has fuelled higher levels of violent crime. However, knife and gun crime is a problem that predates the 2008/2009 economic crisis. The years of 2006/2008 witnessed a large spate of shootings and stabbings, which included the high-profile murder of Ben Kinsella in an unprovoked knife attack in Islington in June 2008.

There have been calls for more police patrols and the government has authorised an increase in the use of stop and search. There is little evidence that these measures will reduce crime in any meaningful way, and have, in many instances, only served to sow distrust of the authorities and have heightened tensions between young workers and the police. In addition, longer prison sentences, another demand, do not act as deterrents. On the contrary, they are more likely to turn out hardened and more savvy criminals.

In August, the Home Office launched its anti-knife scheme, in which thousands of takeaway boxes are supplied to chicken shops with stories written on them about young people who have given up knives and have gone on to pursue successful careers in sport and music. This is supposed to dissuade young people from carrying knives. As well as being ridiculous, it is racist in that it assumes that knife crime is a black people’s issue and that young black people spend a lot of time visiting chicken shops. As has been shown, crime is a social issue involving poverty and dispossession, not a racial one.

Restoring public expenditure on youth services may ameliorate the problem, but it cannot eradicate it. Expanding the powers of the state over the working class and initiating silly gimmicks will not solve the problem of knife and gun crime either. Only the working class can do this by organising consciously and politically to get rid of capitalism, a social system that generates human poverty and misery, and establish socialism, where the production for the profit for the few gives way to producing for the needs of the many and crime, in all its forms, can become a thing of the past.
Oliver Bond

Obituary: Norman Deutz (2019)

Obituary from the November 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death of our comrade Norman Deutz at the end of August at the age of 83. Norman joined the old West Ham branch of the Socialist Party in 1954, shortly after his 18th birthday. At the time men of that age were liable to be conscripted into the armed forces for ‘national service’. Norman refused and spent short while in prison. He worked as a small shopkeeper in London’s East End and later a pet shop in Redbridge. After his retirement he moved to Billericay in Essex and was a member of East Anglia regional branch. Latterly he was a familiar figure at Head Office, providing much appreciated catering at conferences and other meetings there. Our condolences go to his wife, our comrade Pat Deutz, and their family.

Happy Birthday, Mr Maxwell (1985)

Editorial from the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was just a year ago that Robert Maxwell took over the Mirror Group of newspapers, with the declared intention ". . . to restore the Daily Mirror to its rightful place as Britain’s biggest-selling paper" and in the process consigned executives like Clive Thornton to what he considered their rightful place, in exile from the Mirror.

Since then, there have been changes. The price of the Mirror has come down and gone back up, bingo has waxed and waned, uncertain policy has meant that readers who get their buzz from photographed female breasts have not been sure, from one day to the next, whether they were to be gratified or not. Some long-running strip cartoons have gone and Jane is back — a 1980s, jet-travelling, spaceage, more explicit version of her innocent predecessor of the 1930s and 1940s.

So far Maxwell has not achieved his declared aim. The Mirror circulation in May was 3,230,000. over a quarter of a million down on last May. Profits, which were £5.7 million for the Group last year, were at one time expected to amount to £1 million but are now likely to be £800,000. The other papers in the Group are faring no better; the Sunday Mirror's sales were 500,000 down compared to May 1984 and the Sunday People's down 333,000.

The Mirror Group is struggling, it need hardly be said, partly because of the savagely competitive nature of the media world, particularly that of the newspapers. Maxwell's great rival is News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch especially the Sun on weekdays and the News of the World on Sundays. Murdoch's papers are not having too easy a time of it either; the Sun's circulation fell by 134,000 from last May but the News of the World's appeal through salacious revelations wrapped up in mock moral outrage continues as strongly as ever; its sales in May were 4,826,000 — an increase of 400,000 over May 1984.

Socialists weep no tears for the difficulties of the great newspaper combines; the end of one organ of capitalist opinion merely opens a gap which will be filled by another. We operate on other assumptions; what matters to us is the material these papers disseminate, how it is received, how popular it is — and why. This approach is not confined to the so-called popular press, for the ideas pushed out by people like Maxwell and Murdoch are often no more than a brilliantly economical version of those to be found, in more sonorous terms, in the "quality" press.

All these organs of opinion are produced, from the first outlines in the reporters' notebooks to the finished product streaming off the presses, on the basic assumption that the capitalist social system is fundamentally in line with human interests. Of course, there are a few problems like wars, slums, famine, social alienation, diseases, but these are matters for regret. With the correct intentions on the part of our rulers they can all be put to rights. Meanwhile, a little hard-nosed exposure, and reporting, of the problems can be useful in boosting circulation.

So the press are at one in joining the debate over which way to reform capitalism and who is best to do it. None of them dissent from the proposition that the outcome of the debate is significant to human beings. At election times, for example, they plug away in support of one capitalist party or another, promoting the leaders of their chosen side as the wisest, most learned, most sincere (as well as having the happiest family life, the bonniest children, the shaggiest dogs . . .) None of them ever states the opposite case — that all of these parties have obviously failed to cure modern society of its ailments, none of their leaders has had the slightest effect on capitalism's inhuman course and that, therefore, it is logical and constructive to look elsewhere if we are concerned about human welfare.

There is, to be sure, one discernible difference between the "popular" and the "quality" press and that is the unflagging optimism of the former. However desperate the problem, however calamitous the disaster a newspaper like the Mirror reports, it will do so with an implied confidence that the essential goodness of Mr and Mrs Average Briton will overcome it all. In fact, so false is this attitude that it is the darkest pessimism; it offers no hope for the human future.

For real hope, for valid optimism, we have to turn to the socialist movement. Socialists have, at present, no great media resources and our publications consist of the Socialist Standard, the organs which our companion parties abroad are able to publish. our pamphlets and a succession of supporting leaflets on day-to-day issues. Besides the Mirror, the Sun and the rest these are puny but the case they state is the most powerful thing, for its consistency and its validity.

Working class ideas may be temporarily fashioned by, but will often act against all the hysterical denunciations of the press, the TV and the rest. At the moment there is overwhelming support for capitalism, with dissent occasionally being directed towards policies for some tinkering reforms of the system. It is not enough to hope that the system does not have to be abolished but can be reformed out of character. The remorseless. everyday experience of capitalism works to change these ideas, to enlighten the working class as to their true interests and to the need for a social revolution to bring capitalism to an end.

This is no mechanical process, which socialists can sit back and watch. The human race makes its own history and socialists strive to encourage, to stimulate and to accelerate the trend towards the understanding which will bring about the revolution. In this, a kind of battle of ideas, communication is vital. In numbers alone, the capitalist class at present have the advantage. But the ideas of socialism are too powerful to be denied.

Maxwell should enjoy his birthday. While he can.

A Strikebreakers Charter (1985)

From the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent controversy in the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) which led to the resignation of its general secretary. Larry Gostin, over whether or not the right to work during a strike is a fundamental "civil liberty", showed up the unreal legalistic world in which civil libertarians imagine we are living. “Civil and religious liberty" was one of the slogans under which the bourgeois revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which resulted in political power passing into the hands of the direct ancestors of the present capitalist ruling class, were carried out. This was based on what has been called, appropriately, the theory of possessive individualism in which human beings were seen as originally free and independent individuals who had set up social and political institutions as a way of preserving and furthering their individual interests and rights. This was a revolutionary doctrine at the time as it provided a justification for opposing political regimes left over from feudalism as illegitimate, which denied individuals their supposed nature-given (or god-given, as some put it) right freely to pursue their own self-interest in the economic field. Today this ideology is somewhat anachronistic (the Orange Order parades under it each year in Northern Ireland) and leads to bizarre conclusions when applied to modern-day capitalism.

If we are to take this ideology literally, the fundamental activity of any society — the production of wealth — is achieved today by certain members of society freely contracting to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary to certain other members of society. As this is a contract freely entered into by individuals it can also, according to the ideology of civil liberty, be just as freely ended at any time by one or other party. For instance, if the seller of labour power recognises that the buyer (the employer) has not fully respected their side of the bargain, or if he or she simply wants a better deal, then they are free to refuse to work; they can go on strike. Thus civil libertarians are prepared to recognise a right to strike as a fundamental civil liberty possessed by all individuals in a "free" society. But equally, those like Larry Gostin argue, an individual has the liberty not to strike if he or she so chooses, even if the rest of their work colleagues have decided to exercise their individual right to strike. Hence, for them the right to strike-break is also a civil liberty, just as fundamental as the right to strike.

This whole theory is based on a number of myths, above all that the wages contract is a bargain between free and equal individuals. This is not at all the case since one side (the employer) has the whip-hand by virtue of being a member of the class which monopolises the means of production; that is to say, the means of life. This results in the rest of society being able to live only by selling their ability to work to an employer. They have no choice about this — they are forced to sell it as a condition for obtaining some access to the things they need to live. But this is not all; the employers only agree to buy the ability to work of individual members of the excluded class if they think they can make a profit out of selling what they produce. In other words, the class which monopolises the means of production in effect uses its position to hold the rest of society to ransom by extracting a tribute from them as a condition for allowing them to use the means of production.

So the fundamental social activity of wealth production, far from being achieved through free contracts made between individuals as civil libertarian theory assumes, is in fact achieved through the economic and political coercion of one class in society by another. Social relations at the point of production are relations of coercion, domination and exploitation, in which individual rights are overridden and where might is right. This places strikes in a completely different light. They are a means resorted to by members of the excluded, exploited class to resist and mitigate their oppression and exploitation by the monopolising, employing class. They are part of the class struggle built into the capitalist society which the revolutionary civil libertarians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped to usher in.

To be effective, a strike needs to involve as many members of the workforce as possible, ideally all of them, since in their struggle to resist the downward pressure from their employers the only weapons the workers have are their members, their determination and, above all, their unity. That "unity is strength" is something workers have learned by bitter experience. Strikes can — and have in the past — been the work of a determined minority imposing their will on a majority of their colleagues. This can work, but experience has also shown that a strike has much more chance of success if it has the approval of at least a majority of those concerned. This is why it has become a working class tradition to take strike decisions democratically, whether by a show of hands, a delegate conference, individual ballot, or some other way. A unanimous decision would be ideal, and sometimes this is achieved, but more normally the decision to strike is a majority decision. From the point of view of class interest of the workers involved, it is reasonable that this majority decision should be binding on those who voted against strike action as, if the minority were allowed to go to work, the effectiveness of the strike would be undermined. A strike is a trial of strength, a battle in the class war in which unity is an important, in fact the key weapon on the strikers' side. So for naive civil libertarians to intervene in such trials of strength by proclaiming, in accordance with some abstract principle, the right of individual members of the minority to go to work, is to weaken the strikers' side and so, objectively, to strengthen that of the employers. No wonder the trade union members of the NCCL voted against the right to work during a strike as a fundamental liberty. And no wonder Gostin and the others won the support of the media, Tory and SDP Members of Parliament and other opponents of the working class and their trade unions.

We will give Gostin the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is sincere but naive (rather than a conscious agent of the employing class), but this episode well illustrates the unreal view civil libertarians have of the world in which we are living. Present-day society is not a community of free and equal members but a society divided into classes with irreconcilable interests, an antagonism which manifests itself from time to time in strikes. Rather than proclaiming the right of strikebreakers to work during a strike, civil libertarians would be advised to examine whether the fact of a minority monopolising the means of production to the exclusion of the rest of society is not a much more fundamental infringement of the principle they proclaim of an individual's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". For the class monopoly of the means of production means wage-slavery and the denial of free access to what they need to live and to enjoy life to the majority of the members of society. This is a major denial of liberty today, one whose removal would usher in a really free society of equals in which legal guarantees to protect the rights of the individual would be unnecessary since all individuals would be free. As a matter of fact, with the abolition of class society strikes would no longer happen because the antagonism of interests of which they are a manifestation would have disappeared.

The right to strike is not a characteristic of a free society; on the contrary, it is the hallmark of an unfree society since strikes are only necessary when society is divided into antagonistic classes, one of which exploits the other. Having said this, what is called the right to strike (but which is in reality the might to strike) is important to the wage and salary earning class as long as class society lasts.
Adam Buick

Facing the future (1985)

From the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour government which entered office in 1945 was not the first in this country but it differed importantly from its two predecessors in that it was the first to have a clear majority of MPs in Parliament. The first Labour government in 1924, which lasted for less than a year, was very much a minority government. Its MPs numbered 191. against 258 Tories and 159 Liberals. It could exist only with Liberal support. The second Labour government of 1929-1931 was the largest of the three parties in Parliament but was still dependent on Liberal support, because the 288 Labour MPs were outnumbered by the combined strength of 260 Tories and 59 Liberals.

In the 1945 Parliament the Labour Party had an overwhelming majority of MPs — 393 out of a total of 640, against the Tories’ 189 (it was comparable with the preponderance of Tory MPs in the present Thatcher government; 397 against Labour's 209, in a total of 650). At the next general election in 1950, the Labour Party lost ground but just managed to hold a bare majority. 315 Labour MPs in a total of 625. The Tory strength increased from 189 to 281. Then at the 1951 election, the Labour Party went out of office. Their MPs numbered 295 against 302 Tories in a total of 625. The new Churchill government was a minority government.

At the 1945 General Election, the Labour Party committed itself to a big programme of legislation, including widespread nationalisation, the National Insurance Act. and the National Health Service and pledged itself to maintain "full employment" and "good wages" and a more or less stable price level. In foreign policy the Labour Party promised support for the United Nations and disarmament and undertook to work to remove the threat of war. The election programme had particular reference to America and Russia:
  We must consolidate in peace the great wartime association of the British Commonwealth with the USA and the USSR. Let it not be forgotten that in the years leading up to the war the Tories were so scared of Russia that they missed the chance to establish a partnership which might well have prevented the war. 
The programme also had something to say about what it called socialism.
  The Labour Party is a Socialist Party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain — free, democratic, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organised in the service of the British people
How did its performance stand up to its promises? First the promise of socialism. If this had been true it would have put the Labour Party in total and permanent opposition to the Tory and Liberal parties. So little was it ever true that the Labour Party had served, along with the Tories and Liberals, in the coalition governments of two World Wars. The real intention of all Labour governments has not been to abolish capitalism, but to demonstrate that it can administer the system more successfully than the other capitalist parties. In 1929 the Minister in charge of employment. J.H. Thomas, had admitted that he was seeking to reduce unemployment "while accepting the present order of society" (unemployment jumped by a million). Some forty years later it was the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, speaking of the Labour government 1964-70. who said: "Never has any previous government done so much in so short a time to make modern capitalism work". (The Times, 5 April 1967.)

Specifically, what the Labour Party means by socialism is nationalisation — that is, state capitalism. They like to claim that this aim separates them from the Tories and Liberals but the facts belie the claim. Long before a Labour government came into being there had been a long history of nationalisation by Tories and Liberals, including the postal, telegraph and telephone services and the 1844 Act giving the then Tory government power to nationalise the railways. After World War 1 Churchill and Lloyd George had campaigned for railway nationalisation, and in 1943 in a broadcast. Churchill had said: "there is a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise especially in relation to Monopolies '.

In the 19th century Tory and Liberal policy on over-powerful monopolies was to nationalise them. Now that policy has been abandoned in favour of the present Tory policy of using laws against monopolies, on the lines of policy in America. In the field of disarmament and war the 1945 Labour government's hopes and intentions came to nothing. Along with America the Labour government got involved in the “cold war" and the Korean war. In 1950, fearful of a supposed threat from Russia to over-run Western Europe, the Labour government launched its great re-armament programme, and "defence" expenditure jumped from £770 million in 1948 to £1,110 million.

The Labour Party claims to deserve the "credit" for the National Insurance scheme and the National Health Service, but these were both commitments of the war-time coalition government. It was that government which, in 1941, appointed Lord Beveridge to examine and report on the introduction of these schemes and it was the same government which, in 1944, published the first proposals for a comprehensive National Health Service. The Labour government had intended the scheme to provide "free" treatment, but in 1951 it introduced charges for dentures and spectacles, a policy carried further by later governments.

A boast made at the time, and still being made is that it was due to Labour government policy that unemployment in the years 1945-1951 was very low. It was indeed — it averaged under 2 per cent for the whole six years, compared with 13 per cent in 1985. But in the following six years 1951-1956 under Tory Government it was even lower, an average of just over 1½  per cent. But in neither case was it due to government policy. One factor in the low level of unemployment was the backlog of work left after the war, in such fields as housing and factory building. Provided that British industry could get raw materials and fuel supplies, there was a big market for British exports. Getting the raw materials and fuel was greatly helped by the hundreds of millions of pounds received from the American government under Marshall Aid. A minister in the Labour government, Aneurin Bevan, stated in 1948 that "without Marshall Aid unemployment in this country would at once rise by 1,500,000". That is to say it would have been at depression level, as indeed it was at that time in several countries including Italy, Germany and Belgium. Another factor in the low unemployment was that British exports of manufactured goods had a particular and temporary advantage because some other countries — notably Japan and Germany — had effectively been knocked out of the world market by the war-time destruction of their industry.

The British share of total world export of manufactures, which in 1900 had been 33 per cent and had steadily fallen, to 21 per cent in 1938, received this special boost and jumped in 1948 to 29 per cent, which helped in keeping unemployment low. As Japan and Germany came back into the world market with their fierce competitive manufactures the British percentage of the total export of manufactures has steadily declined again and British unemployment has been on a continuous upward trend.

The policy of "full employment” was one to which all three coalition parties, Tories, Labour and Liberals, had been committed by the 1944 White Paper Employment Policy. This pledged all post-war governments, whatever their political complexion, to maintain "full employment" by the use of Keynesian techniques of so-called demand management. This theory is based on economic fallacies and has never worked. Faced with rising unemployment, the Labour government under James Callaghan (with Denis Healey as Chancellor) declared its abandonment of Keynesian policy in 1977 and the adoption of its idiot-twin called monetarism, which has been continued by the Thatcher government.

The 1945 Labour government was committed to maintain a more or less stable price level. In practice prices went up by 33 percent between 1945 and 1951. Under the Tories, equally committed to stable prices, they went up by another 25 per cent in the next six years 1951-1956 and have continued to rise under every subsequent government, including the present one. In practice the pledge of the 1945 Labour government to aim at "good wages" took the form of trying to hold wages down in the first of many "income policies", introduced by the Attlee government in 1947. Another action of the 1945 Labour government not provided for in their Election Programme was the devaluation of the pound in 1949, from four dollars to 2.80 dollars, although for a long time the government declared that it had no such intention.

Looking back on the 1945 Labour government, what in fact did it achieve? It carried through a lot of nationalisation measures. But what about the accompanying promise that nationalisation would improve the workers' conditions and reduce the number of strikes? Most strikes nowadays are in the nationalised industries and nationalisation has done nothing for the working class. The so-called Welfare State, which was supposed to abolish poverty, has totally failed to do so.

The 1945 Labour government, like its two predecessors and the Labour governments which have followed, have done nothing to change the basic structure of capitalism or remedy the evils flowing from it. The task of the working class remains as it was before Labour governments were formed —abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle