Monday, November 4, 2019

People or profits? (1969)

From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism the land and industry are owned by a small section of society who thus form a privileged class. Modern industry, however, can only be worked by the co-operative labour of society as a whole. It is this conflict between sectional ownership and social production that causes today's many social problems since it prevents wealth being produced to satisfy human needs.

Only when ownership and production have been brought into harmony —by the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means by which society lives —is there any hope of solving problems like war, world poverty, the colour bar, destitution, bad housing, the transport muddle, poor health and its poor treatment.

These of course are the problems which the other parties promise to solve if only you will elect them to be the government. But they always fail. Why? Because what they are trying to do cannot be done. It is just not possible to solve these problems as long as class ownership is retained. No matter how sincere or efficient a government may be it cannot make capitalism work as if it were a rational system geared to satisfying human needs.

Capitalism runs on profits and can only work as a profit making system for the class that owns the means of production. As this class ownership, in preventing production solely for use, is the cause of these problems any attempt to deal with them within its framework is bound to fail.

So capitalism, as a class system that runs on profits, is constitutionally incapable of serving human needs. Socialism, on the other hand, will provide the framework within which these problems can be solved. With the means of production owned by and under the democratic control of the community, there will be no class privileges to stand in the way of production solely for use. With the abolition of the profit motive society can set about solving these problems with the satisfying of human needs as its guiding principle. For it is not as if enough comfortable houses could not be built or enough food for the whole world could not be grown. It is just that under capitalism it is not profitable to give priority to basic needs like food and shelter.

This is why we say nothing short of Socialism will do.

50 Years Ago: Dictatorship in Russia (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bolsheviki have often defended their dictatorship by quoting Marx’s Criticism of the Gotha Programme (1875) where he refers to the transition from Capitalism to Socialism as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat pending the abolition of classes altogether. Marx, however, refers to a dictatorship asserted by a working class majority over the capitalist few, and not the dictatorship of a minority attacked by Engels in his Criticism of the Blanquist Program.

Lenin has admitted the Blanquist character of the 1917 seizure of power:
  Just as 150,000 lordly landowners under Czarism dominated the 130,000,000 Russian peasants, so 200,000 members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletarian will in the interest of the latter.
(The New International, New York, April 1918)
Lenin's defence of this as due to the lack of knowledge among the masses is in these words:—
  If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years. The Socialist political party, this is the vanguard of the working class, must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative (Lenin at Peasants Congress. Ten Days that Shook the World. P. 303).

(From an article 'Democracy and Dictatorship in Russia' by E. S. Socialist Standard, December 1919).

Aspect: Socialists and Christmas (1969)

The Aspect column from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

To a greater or a lesser degree, we are all conventional—yes! Even socialists. In many instances we find life in capitalism more tolerable and comfortable if we comply with those customs and traditions, of which Christmas is one, that do not conflict with our case. Anyway, to register protests against patterns of behaviour which are virtually caused or perpetuated by the system of society in which we live, is so much wasted effort.

If we accept—as all socialists do— the historical materialism of Marx, for analysis we divide a society into two parts. The first part is the economic foundation which consists of actual means of production (factories, mines, tools, power) and also the relations people form around these productive forces. These relations are the vital part of the base: they determine what sort of system it is and so they are the part that makes the system 'tick'. In capitalism, they are the antagonistic relations of the wage-labourers and the capitalists, which form a class division and consequently a class struggle. The second part arises, as it were, from this base and forms a kind of superstructure. Capitalism's superstructure consists of such things as governments, armed forces, the church, prisons, and in the less tangible field: orthodox ideas and morals, customs, laws, which are compatible with the base because in the main they serve and protect the interests of the ruling class of capitalists.

Now the institution of Christianity is some few thousand years old; the system of capitalism is only as many hundreds. However, because ruling classes in many parts of the world have been able to use Christianity to serve their own ends, to enrich themselves and to pacify and fool the subject classes, it has been carried over from one class society to another.

In spite of the continued existence of the church, its influence declines so that the original meaning of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of (a perhaps mystical) Christ, is becoming lost. In spite of this, the tradition remains because both classes find it serves a purpose. Workers look forward to it as a time for family reunions, feasting, a rest, and social enjoyment and of course as a break from the monotony of their lives. This is where the capitalists 'cash in'; they do this by promoting and encouraging through advertisements and shop window displays, what is to them the focal point of Christmas: the present giving custom.

Unlike previous customs, capitalism is entirely an exchange economy. It has to be in order that the ruling class can realise the surplus value which is produced by the working class. As goods are produced for the purpose of being exchanged on a market for their equivalent in money, we are taught in our schools and colleges that exchange is the moral order of things. Among adults, therefore, gift giving usually takes the form of exchange. On those occasions when we receive an unexpected gift, we tend to react with acute embarrassment and rush out to buy an equivalent: the result is two embarrassed people!

Even where presents to children from parents are concerned, it is still not a very satisfactory affair as far as the workers are concerned. As they always produce more wealth than they receive in the form of wages, the worry when they 'overspend' can be great. This may be the case particularly when they happen to have developed a 'keeping up with the Jones’ complex. Which is understandable in a competitive system of society.

These are all little points, we know, and capitalism is responsible for far worse results, but they do illustrate the 'knack' the system has of spoiling human relationships.

When it comes to the Christmas bonus from the employers, at least things are a little more straightforward and everyone knows where they stand. The wheels of capitalism are being oiled.

In case we should be sounding a bit 'sour' we hasten to add that socialists manage to enjoy the season like any others of their class, despite all the petty snags. Nevertheless, we think that in the society we were aiming for Christmas will quietly fade away, simply because nobody will have any use for it. There will be no-one wishing to celebrate it in a religious way and that doesn't leave very much else except the presents. The gift ritual (a reflection of commodity-exchange) would serve no purpose in a society where commodities do not exist, but only products of labour which are communally owned.

It may occur to you that perhaps in a way it will be a pity to be deprived of the pleasure of giving. But think for a moment: our values will be different in Socialism. We shall be able to give to our children and friends much more of our own time than we can spare now. If this should sound ridiculous to you in capitalism, imagine the absurdity of trying to give presents in a society where everyone contributes to production to the best of his ability and takes from the common pool what he needs!
C & J. MCL.

Capitalism did not collapse (1969)

From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part II of the abridged version of our pamphlet, Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse, originally published in February 1932.
The depression shows itself, every few years, in the accumulation of stocks of goods in the hands of retail stores, wholesalers and manufacturers, farmers and others. While trade is relatively good each concern tries to produce as much as possible in order to make a large profit. It is nobody's business under Capitalism to find out how much of each article is required, so that industries quickly expand to the point at which their total output is far larger than can be sold at a profit. Quite young industries, like artificial silk, soon reach the degree of over-development shown by the older industries. Goods such as farm crops, that are ordinarily not produced to order, but with the expectation of finding a buyer eventually, naturally tend to accumulate to a greater extent than those produced only to order— such as railway engines.

As traders find it more difficult to sell, they reduce their orders to the wholesalers, who in turn stop buying from the manufacturers. Plans for extending production by constructing new buildings, plant, ships, etc., are cancelled and the workers are laid off.

Here is a situation that always arouses grave discontent. It is from this discontent that the believers in the theory of the collapse of Capitalism think that they can draw the force which will overthrow the capitalist system. But it does not work out like that. In spite of riots and agitations, Capitalism still continues. The actual events show why this is and why it must be so.

IV. What happens in practice
In Great Britain two outstanding events may be considered. First, there was the great depression of 1921 and 1922, when, as now, unemployment was between 2,000,000 and 2,500,000. Then, in 1926, there was the spontaneous demonstration of sympathy with the miners in their resistance to wage reductions, that resulted in what is known as the “General Strike." Since the communists have been the most persistent advocates of the doctrine we are attacking, let us see what came of their efforts to take advantage of these two crises.

Round about 1921 and 1922 the communists claimed that they had the leadership of the hundreds of thousands of members of the unemployed organisations. They organised marches and demonstrations, deputations to Cabinet Ministers and local authorities, and attempted to seize public buildings. They did everything they could to force the authorities to grant their demands for better treatment. By winning the confidence of the workers in this way the communists then hoped to be able to lead them on to an attack on Capitalism.

What was the result? A writer in their official organ tells us: —
 The unemployed have done all they can and the Government know it. They have tramped through the rain in endless processions. They have gone in mass deputations to the Guardians. They have attended innumerable meetings and have been told to be “solid". They have marched to London, enduring terrible hardships . . . All this has led nowhere. None of the marchers believe that seeing Bonar Law in the flesh will make any difference. Willing for any sacrifice, there seems no outlet, no next step. In weariness and bitter disillusionment the unemployed movement is turning in upon itself. There is sporadic action, local rioting, but not central direction. The Government has signified its exact appreciation of the confusion by arresting Hannington.
  The plain truth is that the unemployed can only be organised for agitation, not for action. Effective action is the job of the working class as a whole. The Government is not afraid of starving men so long as the mass of workers look on and keep the ring (Workers' Weekly, 10th February 1923.)
In 1926 the communists had an excellent opportunity to try out their theory on the millions !o workers who were involved in the strike or were sympathetic towards it. The result was just what we have said it must be. Strikes can serve a useful purpose in resisting wage reductions or securing increases, but they cannot overthrow Capitalism. To begin with, the workers themselves have not that purpose in mind, and even when they become socialists they will still need political organisation in order to capture the real centre of power — the machinery of government and the armed forces controlled by it. This no strike can do.

In a large strike, as in a small one, starvation fights on the side of the propertied class against the wage earners. We know from the General Strike, and from revolts of workers attempted in many countries at different times, that desperate men and women will take desperate action when goaded to it by the hardships of their life under Capitalism. But we have seen in the General Strike of 1926 how such spontaneous outbursts are always crushed by the forces at the disposal of the ruling class through their control of the machinery of Government. How much easier it is, and how much less costly in human suffering, to convert a majority to Socialism than to engage in these blind revolts!

There is, too, another factor of great importance. The ruling class usually and in the long run are not blind to their own interests, and do not drive the working class as a whole into revolt. They are not so foolish as to leave only that alternative. By means of charity, doles, and unemployment insurance, and, if need be, the grant of higher wages and other concessions, the capitalists can always take the edge of the workers' bitterness and misery, and thus tide over the difficult periods of the more acute industrial depressions.

V. The only road to socialism
The lesson to be learned is that there is no simple way out of Capitalism by leaving the system to collapse of its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending Capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another.

So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of Capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining Capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of Capitalism. The workers will continue to suffer from the normal hardships of the capitalist system when trade is relatively good, and from the aggravated hardships which are the workers' lot during trade depressions.

That is the prospect before the workers of all the world unless they actively interest themselves in understanding socialist principles and assisting in socialist organisation.


Letter: Irish civil rights (1969)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard


While none would argue that the Civil Rights Movement as a whole in Northern Ireland is out to abolish capitalism, and while I would agree that only this can finally solve our most basic problems, I would nevertheless suggest that our indirect potential in this direction is much greater than you appear to anticipate.

But first let me make it clear that this movement did not “tend to divide the working class”, as you say in your October issue, since at best only a very spurious unity ever existed. We have not however brought its various sections together—at this stage.

You correctly suggest that sectarianism has been deliberately fostered by the Unionist Party in order to prevent the development of a class consciousness which would be the result of unity between Catholic and Protestant workers. But you fail to point out that the denial of Civil Rights—such things as political patronage and electoral malpractice—has all along been the chief, though admittedly not the only weapon at the government’s disposal. The “privileges” bestowed upon the Protestant workers have been relatively “puny”, but one thing is clear, the World Socialist Party of Ireland has failed to convince them of this. To the Protestant worker, a small but concrete privilege is worth more than an abstract political promise, and to the Catholic worker the difference between spending six weeks or six years in a rat-infested slum, is not “puny”. In an area of high, and chronic unemployment, bad housing, and low wages any privilege is enlarged, any injustice magnified. Protestants fear they will lose what little they have, Catholics that their intolerable situation would be relieved but for Protestant selfishness. In these circumstances it will continue to be impossible for the Socialist Party of Ireland, or any other group to bridge the gap between the vast majority of Northern Ireland workers.

The first step on this bridge therefore will be the removal of just those things which in the past have facilitated a Capitalist government and opposition to encourage the working class to misuse “the overwhelming superiority” of its votes.

Only when a Protestant worker no longer has the irrational feeling that he is a member of a privileged group, and when a Catholic worker realises that his condition has not improved quite as much as he had hoped, can there be the possibility of a class consciousness emerging. This will not inevitably follow a successful conclusion of our campaign but it cannot precede it. Only when full Civil Rights have been wrung from a fearful and unwilling government can the working class ever be united, and only the Civil Rights Movement, I would submit, is equipped to do just that.
Respectfully yours,
J. Quinn, 
Newtonabbey, Co. Antrim.

The World Socialist Party in a pamphlet, Civil Rights or Socialism, issued in January of this year said:
  If the campaign for Civil Rights earns every worker in N. Ireland an equal opportunity to live in a slum and face unemployment and if all are afforded equal rights to vote for the continuance of the economic regime from which their miseries flow, the “Civil Rights” will have achieved its purpose. Theirs is not to question the economic circumstances behind slums and unemployment but simply to see that all share equally in the misery.
This sums up the line of argument taken by the various articles on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement in the Socialist Standard, including the October contribution to which Mr. Quinn’s letter refers.

Mr. Quinn agrees that only the abolition of capitalism can solve our basic problems but he infers that between those basic problems and conditions as they are in Northern Ireland today there is an ’indirect potential’ for improvement. If he means that better community relations and an end to open sectarian violence can be brought about, we are prepared to accept this and prepared to accept that all manner of people and organisations can help to bring this about but, while capitalism remains to shape the events of everyday life, discrimination must continue to exist.

Legalistic formulae may remove, wholly or in part, the religious element of selection from the spheres of housing and employment but, we repeat, there is no devisable formula for running capitalism in such a way as to end either its housing or unemployment problems or for removing the social and economic degradation of second-class citizenship from the working class, Catholic and Protestant. This discrimination against the overwhelming majority will continue as long as capitalism remains and any organisation that diverts the attention of the working class away from this discrimination merely canalises their revolutionary potential into the safe stream of reformist politics and, thus, helps perpetuate injustice.

Unquestionably, Unionist ‘ward-healing’ politicians have entrenched their position by throwing crumbs to the more active section of their supporters and since these supporters are Protestant, inevitably Catholics often have their claim to such crumbs set aside. In similar circumstances, Catholics, Jews, or atheists would act likewise. Obviously, therefore, it is not against the distribution of the crumbs that we should militate, but against the ’circumstances’—the circumstances of capitalism which creates not only its political priorities but the conditions of scarcity and poverty that makes selection or discrimination necessary.

Mr. Quinn claims that a small but 'concrete privilege’ to a Protestant worker or the difference to a Catholic worker between spending six weeks or six years in a rat-infested slum is worth more than an abstract political promise. His comparison between the Protestant workers’ 'concrete privilege’ and the Catholic workers’ ’rat- infested slum’ may, in his case, be purely accidental, but it is typical of many who follow the reasoning of the Civil Rights movement to assume that such a comparison exists. It is nonsense.

There are at least as many Protestant denizens of slumdom as Catholic—indeed the most outrageously ’loyal’ of the ‘loyalists’ of Belfast's Shankill Road, who embellish their slum gables with the legend “This we will maintain!”, are victims of the same notion as that suggested by Mr. Quinn’s comparison.

Of course their notion of privilege, like the individual Catholic’s heart-cry for a decent house, may appear more real than ‘an abstract political promise'. The new house is achievable for a few—and with it, incidentally, new problems, often as great as the one the new house solved—but for the working class the housing problem, like the unemployment problem, the problems of poverty, insecurity, violence, etc., is insoluble in a system of production for profit.

It is the tragedy of our class that individual workers work and hope for the solution of their own immediate problem and it is the strength of capitalism that its conditions can create the political climate for workers to organise against some feature of the system rather than unite for its complete overthrow. In fact, organisations like CRA, insofar as they draw the attention of the workers from the real cause of their problems and lend credibility to the capitalist fiction that working class problems are soluble within capitalism, are the enemies of the working class—ably abetting the political administrators of capitalism in concealing from the working class the real nature of capitalist exploitation.

Mr. Quinn takes us to task for claiming that the activities of the CRA have tended to divide the working class and he makes the point that the workers were not, in the first instance, united. The point is a valid one and we would agree that the use of the term ‘further’ before ‘divide’ may have better expressed the position from our point of view—since the workers were never united in pursuit of Socialism. On the other hand, from Mr. Quinn’s reformist point of view, considerable unity on a number of broad issues did exist prior to the recent troubles and this unity is certainly a casualty of the sectarian strife. Anyone who has moved about in the different areas affected by the shootings, burnings and lootings could not be other than appalled at the very real fear and hatred which the recent outbreaks, and the frictions attending thereto, has engendered between Catholic and Protestant members of the working class. As we indicated in our article, the CRA, not because it wanted to, but because it failed to understand the real nature of the problem, has become an instrument of sectarianism and that sectarianism is a further obstacle on the road to a final solution of our problems.

Mr. Quinn rightly points out that, to date, the WSP has failed to convince the workers of the need for Socialism. It must be said that our failure is not attributable to the prowess of the avowed upholders of capitalism; it is the temporary victory of the unconscious upholders of that system, those who, like Mr. Quinn, fed the working class should devote their energies to the administrative problems of capitalism rather than to the task of abolishing that system.

We accept that Mr. Quinn makes the point about our failure to influence the working class not as a snide political broadside but as an honest contribution to political debate. In the same spirit we would point out that, in the matter of failure, the record of those who support the idea of the reform of capitalism is an all-time high—despite the fact that on numerous occasions they have won the overwhelming support of the working class. Generally, their argument, like that offered by Mr. Quinn, is that, while Socialism is the only real answer to the basic problem of the working class, there are certain ’immediate' problems to which we should turn our attention. They have been struggling with the problem of slums, the problem of unemployment, the problem of violence, of bombs, of war, of crime, of discrimination and all the other ugly features of capitalism for hundreds of years. They have formed mass organisations, elected people to parliaments, signed petitions, sat down and stood up, they have sent workers to early graves and filled capitalism's gaols . . . but the problems remain to drive the workers into disillusion and apathy.

We would not boast our records; we are pitifully few and our energies and resources are dissipated mainly in endeavouring to counteract the activities of those bodies that waylay our class into the abortive struggle for reforms. But we are the only organisation in Ireland upholding the Socialist claim for a wageless, classless, moneyless society of production for use. During our various electoral activities we have brought that message into the most bigoted Unionist strongholds in Belfast. To date that message has been rejected but, such has been its nature that it has not, and could not, provide the basis for sectarian strife.

Finally, we would say that the CRA has achieved its purpose and will now limp its way into political oblivion. Time will demonstrate the futility of the reforms it has achieved. We would hope that as this becomes clearer we will be able to welcome people like Mr. Quinn into our ranks to put their undoubted enthusiasm, courage and ability in the service of Socialism.
Richard Montague
The World Socialist Party

Religion no cure for naked ape-ism (1969)

Book Review from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens? by John Lewis and Bernard Towers (Garnstone Press, 21s.)

This book was written by a supporter of the “Communist” Party, and a Christian. It is published under the auspices of the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Association.

There is an increasing amount of collaboration between the admirers of Russian capitalism and the Roman church. In this reviewer’s neighbourhood the “Communist” Party recently held a closed meeting with local Christian leaders, to plan common political activity, e.g. against racism. For denouncing this I was called a “sectarian.” These CP members seem unable to see that you cannot fight Capitalism’s consequences by combining with those forces which support Capitalism. (Quite apart from the fact that the CP itself advocates State Capitalism and, like most pro-Capitalist organizations which have been going for any length of time, has found it necessary in the past to publish racist propaganda).

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a priest and scientist who wrote some books trying to reconcile religion with science — a hopeless cause. At the moment his ideas are disowned by the dictators in the Vatican, but these wily politicians have often changed God’s mind for him in the past, and will probably embrace Teilhard’s philosophy eventually, in a bid to keep up-to-date.

Surely the weakness of a Catholic-CP alliance could not hamper the simple task of demolishing Morris’s Naked Ape? Yes, the author’s religious approach cannot be concealed. For instance, to criticise the popular press for arousing “baser human appetites” such as “sexual stimulation” and “aggressive behaviour patterns” is the sort of silly platitude which helps to convince people like Morris that opposition to their view of human nature is based on sheer sentimentality.

The many references to Teilhard (as though they were plugging his latest disc) are unnecessary and distracting.

Having said all that, there are some useful facts and perfectly correct arguments here, to refute the human nature myths —though no more than you would get from reading the Socialist Standard for a few months. So let’s have your nine-pences for Socialism, instead of your guinea for the purveyors of superstition.

Money for Socialism (1969)

Party News from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again we ask you, our readers and supporters, to help us expand our Socialist activities by contributing what you can to our funds. The money you give us will be spent on bringing out this journal (which is heavily subsidized from Party funds), on hiring halls and advertising meetings, on press publicity, publishing pamphlets (we have two or three such as reprints of ‘Questions of the Day’ and 'The Socialist Party and War' in the pipeline) and leaflets on important events as they happen, on contesting elections, and on the general expenses of running our party. This is a way in which if you can do nothing else, you can play your part in the struggle for Socialism,

Please send your donation to Anne Waite. Treasurer, SPGB, 52 Clapham High St., London SW4. All money will of course be gratefully acknowledged.

St. Monday: Ye Old holiday (2019)

From the November 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back to St. Monday?
The Labour Party announced at its annual conference in September that if it were to form a government, it would introduce a 32-hour week for workers within the next decade, a reform that many businesses are prepared to accept, a quarter of business owners having said they would consider introducing a 4-day week.

A recent study by Henley Business School saw 250 firms participate in a four-day week, and nearly two thirds of these businesses saw productivity increase. The firms’ ability to attract and retain staff had improved, too. Collectively, these firms now save £92bn each year.

Before the arrival of capitalism and its factory system rural workers were accustomed to sunrise and sunset hours, to the seasons and the vagaries of weather, along with the needs of the crop and animals. Men and women worked in direct relationship to nature. It was an irregular and informal working week. In medieval feudalism there were over a hundred holy days a year on which no work could be done, in addition, to numerous trading fairs. Those who worked enjoyed much more free time than they do today. As the dark satanic mills spread, holy days disappeared. It was the factory which brought in clocking in and clocking out. But peasants driven from their small plots of land by the Enclosures had to be broken of their independent spirit and disciplined into wage-slavery.

The new labour regime did not go uncontested.

‘Keeping St. Monday’ meant observing Monday as a holiday. Many a Tuesday was also observed as a ‘Saints’ day. A rhyme printed in 1639 gives a satirical version of the working week:
‘You know that Munday is Sundayes brother;
Tuesday is such another;
Wednesday you must go to Church and pray;
Thursday is half-holiday;
On Friday it is too late to begin to spin;
The Saturday is half-holiday agen.’
Payday was typically Saturday, and therefore workers often had spare money on Monday. They declared Monday a public holiday of sorts (often to recover from the binge drinking that was commonplace on Sunday, the day of rest). Piece work was often the norm, with workers adapting their skills to operate on flexible working periods. If they missed Monday they could make it up by working extra hard at the end of the week in order to have more free time. In London ‘St. Monday’ was commonly observed and the working week in London during the 1750s was clearly shorter than five days, but as capitalism grew in ascendency it led to an increase in annual working hours from 2,288 to 3,666.

The worship of St Monday had troubled a factory inspector called Edward White who reported in 1864:
   ‘In Birmingham an enormous amount of time is lost, not only by want of punctuality in coming to work in the morning and beginning again after meals, but still more by the general observance of ‘Saint Monday’, which is shown in the late attendance or entire absence of large numbers on that day. One employer has on Monday only about 40 or 50 out of 300 or 400, and the day is recognised by many masters as an hour shorter than others at each end…’
Of course, all this made efficient scheduling of work almost impossible.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA, said: ‘I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty . . . Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase…’

There was a financial incentive to maximise the return on expensive machinery by having long hours. Machinery does not stand `idle’ nor would the workers attending them be permitted to stand idle either. Working life was becoming increasingly regulated, and the working week was reorganised. Longer hours and unnatural shift working were implemented.

One of capitalism’s myths is that it has reduced human toil yet Kalahari Bushmen work two-and-a-half days per week and on average the working day was less than five hours. The use of the term St Monday may have faded but the custom has not entirely died off. Pulling a sickie is still common practice. With the Labour Party promise, workers are simply recovering what they had four or five centuries ago and subsequently lost.

In line with Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, socialists support the right to be lazy. So let’s drink to the health of St. Monday and in the words of Billy Bragg
I’m a hard worker,But I ain’t working on a Monday.I’m a hard worker,But I ain’t working on a Monday.A hard working fellowI ain’t working on a Monday,St. Monday’s still the weekend to me.

13th century – Adult male peasant, U.K.: 1620 hours
Calculated from Gregory Clark’s estimate of 150 days per family, assumes 12 hours per day, 135 days per year for adult male (“Impatience, Poverty, and Open Field Agriculture”, mimeo, 1986).

14th century – Casual laborer, U.K.: 1440 hours
Calculated from Nora Ritchie’s estimate of 120 days per year. Assumes 12-hour day. (“Labour conditions in Essex in the reign of Richard II”, in E.M. Carus-Wilson, ed., Essays in Economic History, vol. II, London: Edward Arnold, 1962).

Middle ages – English worker: 2309 hours
Juliet Schor’s estimate of average medieval laborer working two-thirds of the year at 9.5 hours per day.

1400-1600 – Farmer-miner, adult male, U.K.: 1980 hours
Calculated from Ian Blanchard’s estimate of 180 days per year. Assumes 11-hour day (“Labour productivity and work psychology in the English mining industry, 1400-1600”, Economic History Review 31, 23 (1978).

1840 – Average worker, U.K.: 3105-3588 hours
Based on 69-hour week; hours from W.S. Woytinsky, “Hours of labor,” in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. III (New York: Macmillan, 1935). Low estimate assumes 45 week year, high one assumes 52 week year.

1850 – Average worker, U.S.: 3150-3650 hours
Based on 70-hour week; hours from Joseph Zeisel, “The workweek in American industry, 1850-1956”, Monthly Labor Review 81, 23-29 (1958). Low estimate assumes 45 week year, high one assumes 52 week year.

1987 – Average worker, U.S.: 1949 hours
From The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, by Juliet B. Schor, Table 2.4.

1988 – Manufacturing workers, U.K.: 1856 hours
Calculated from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Office of Productivity and Technology.

Brexit and Democracy: The Value of Your Vote (2019)

From the November 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thoughts on Democracy and Brexit

From the Chartists, through the Suffragettes, there has been an ongoing struggle for democracy. The suffrage, the vote, has been a focus of that struggle, the measure of just how democratic society has become. The ballot box is the echo chamber for the voice of the people. Except, it isn’t.

Should I choose not to cast my vote I am upbraided for betraying those who fought for, perhaps even died for, universal suffrage by not recognising its value. However, the contrary is the case.

I value my vote so highly I will not simply fritter it away. It is not to be given to anyone or any party or cause who do not deserve it. It is all too easy to claim to grudgingly favour the best of a bad lot from a misplaced sense of duty. In the end a valuable asset is all too easily squandered.

So it was for the 2016 EU referendum. Plebiscites have, at best, a poor history. They are the favoured means by which despots seek a thin veneer of popular support for their tyranny. The fundamental weakness is the attempt to present a binary solution to complex issues. And, more often than not, there is insufficient or no factual data whereby a rational decision can be made.

So it was in 2016. Both Brexiteers and Remainers made assertions and shouted loudly, but detail was in very short supply. As economists frequently demonstrate, predicting the economic future is beyond our ken.

In capitalist terms, it is quite possible that the UK may well suffer short term difficulties if ‘we’ ‘crash out’ of the EU, but then go on to prosper, until the next inevitable recession that is. Staying in might well be an economically safer bet in the short term, but if Germany’s manufacturing industry continues to decline it could drag the rest of the EU with it. Both sides might as well slaughter a chicken, metaphorically of course, and examine the entrails.

Therefore, not voting in the referendum was the most rational position to take: hold on to the vote, value it, and don’t give it away to the mountebanks on both sides. Approximately 27 percent of the electorate did precisely that, they didn’t vote. However, that vote uncast, my vote, still counts.

This means that while the outcome has subsequently been presented in binary form, the result was actually a three-way split. In rounded figures: 37 percent voted to leave, 34 percent voted to remain and nearly 29 percent abstained. What is often presented by Brexiteers as an overwhelming vote in their favour, is in fact a minority position, with 63 percent not voting for it.

Governments often gain office on the votes of a minority of the electorate. But at least individual constituencies are represented by individuals from various parties. The party accruing the largest minority of votes aren’t then awarded all the seats in the Commons. And that government can, of course, be subsequently voted out. There isn’t the assertion that ‘the people have spoken’ and so there’ll be no need for future general elections.

Staying in or leaving the EU will ultimately solve none of the problems fundamental to capitalism. Trade wars and actual wars will continue to rage around the world, economic crises will periodically haunt us all, the environment will be further degraded in the ceaseless quest for profit. It must be that way whatever the EU or any other trading arrangements decide. ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ – either way capitalism remains intact and dominant.

The solution is achievable through democracy, the vast majority of people consciously choosing socialism. That will involve casting votes, making them even more valuable. But in themselves they will not be enough. True democracy demands a greater commitment than simply turning up at the polling station occasionally.

Voting in a majority of socialist MPs will not lead to socialism unless they are the expression of the majority working actively to bring socialism about throughout society, and around the world. The ballot box is an indicator, not the solution. Democracy has become a passive process playing upon false hopes, alienation and, unfortunately, prejudice. It has become an instrument to divide the working class against itself. Brexit being a clear example of this.

The referendum implies that singular issues can be isolated. However, all that actually happens is the political focus becomes so narrow and myopic that people fail to see what really needs to be confronted, to be dealt with in their own collective best interest.

Whether or not Brexit happens and how, climate change, war, low pay and insecure employment, recessions, poor housing and homelessness, desperate refugees, and so on and so on, will all continue as features of capitalism. Not because capitalists are heartless, they may or may not be, but because capitalism exists for one purpose only, capital accumulation – the pursuit of profit.

In or out of the EU, this will remain the case. It’s not a matter of leaving or staying, but transcending the EU and all capitalist economic and political arrangements by the mass conscious choice of democratically establishing socialism. The true proof of democracy is the vast majority actively deciding on and pursuing a better way of living.

So we say it is worth holding on to your vote, don’t squander it on short term solutions that actually solve nothing. It will prove to be far more valuable when used not as a palliative, but a democratic cure of society’s present ills.
Dave Alton

Proper Gander: Cash And The Castaways (2019)

The Proper Gander column from the November 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

One familiar trope of reality TV is to plonk its participants somewhere remote and see how long they can live off the land. Gluttons for punishment not well-exposed enough for I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here could sign up for the likes of Survivor or The Island With Bear Grylls. The latter has for its sixth series morphed into Treasure Island With Bear Grylls (Channel 4), with an added twist which interestingly highlights how money shapes our relationships and outlook.

Twelve volunteers are left on a smallish Pacific island with some fishing equipment, enough to eat and drink for just a few days and, of course, cameras. They have to make their own shelter, find food and a fresh water supply and learn to survive without things they usually take for granted, like supermarkets, electricity and bathrooms. One important feature of everyday life, though, has been (literally) thrown into the mix, as also dropped off on the island are parcels containing bundles of cash. £100,000 in total is chucked out of a helicopter, with the parcels and their parachutes usually ending up hanging from trees out of reach. The contestants have to find the parcels, and when they do, decide whether to share the money with the rest of the group or keep it for themselves.

Those taking part are largely a likeable bunch, with the enviable enthusiasm to take themselves out of their comfort zones and put themselves to the test. There’s a property manager who unfortunately learns the hard way why you shouldn’t drink seawater, a plumber who gets into the kill-your-own-dinner mindset with gusto, and the star of the show is 75-year-old Irene, who helps knit the group together. The contestants have nothing else to rely on apart from themselves and what the island can provide. So, co-operation and practicalities should be at the front of their minds. How much does the push to get dosh get in the way of what should be more important?

The group set up a ramshackle camp, using branches for benches and making use of the rubbish washed up on the beach. When survival guru Bear Grylls sees their efforts at the end of their stay, he isn’t too impressed, and the group realise that they would have built a better home for themselves if they hadn’t been preoccupied with finding the prize money. For food, they get used to a diet of winkles, the occasional iguana and rare treats such as goat, stingray and pineapple. Expeditions for fresh water and anything edible turn into hunts for the money parcels, with the group usually returning empty-handed and with empty stomachs.

As well as the money distracting the group from its practical priorities, it sours how they get on with each other. Some of the group want to pool any money finds, while the two contestants with closest links to the Establishment turn out to be the most selfish. Lord Ivar Mountbatten and an ex-Royal Marine Commando called Marco establish their supposed ‘alpha male’ status early on, encouraged by the rest of the group, disappointingly. The others’ loyalty isn’t rewarded, though, when the duo finds a couple of parcels and keeps the dough inside to themselves. However, the ex-Marine soon loses his crown after getting the group lost in the jungle and, following his hoarded money finds being revealed, barely seems to interact with the others. Mountbatten is of the view that those who are less able deserve less, which is easy to say when you’re born into one of the wealthiest families on the planet.

Wondering who has found money and kept quiet about it makes the contestants become secretive and suspicious. Those who find and prepare the food resent sharing it with those who are hoarding money. Those who are hoarding money resent those who expect an equal share of it for providing the food. Some feel that they need the money more than others, and so should get more, while some feel that it should all be shared out equally. Being stuck on a desert island is a situation where co-operation and collaboration are even more important than in our everyday lives. So it’s a shame that the money ends up creating divisions and ill-feeling, but that’s what it inevitably does. Co-operation wins out, though, and as days turn into weeks, the group learns that it’s best to work together and share future finds. However, when the time comes to leave the island, Mountbatten and the ex-Marine have still pocketed the largest amounts.

So, how money affects the group on Treasure Island With Bear Grylls isn’t much different from how it affects us all in real life. We spend our time chasing after cash while it gets in the way of life’s practicalities. And we become distanced from those we have to compete with to get enough in the bank, with the most wealth usually ending up with those who are the most ruthless.
Mike Foster