Monday, November 25, 2019

The Seamen’s Struggle (1966)

Editorial from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain supports the strike of the members of the National Union of Seamen for higher wages and improved working conditions. As workers ourselves we know that under capitalism we get nothing save through organisation and struggle. The social conditions of capitalism, where a tiny minority own the means of life, inevitably give rise to a struggle over the division of wealth. The class struggle will last as long as capitalism because the interests of workers and owners are irreconcilable. The seamen’s strike is an expression of this class struggle though it is fair to say that very few seamen fully understand this. They do not recognise that there is an irreconcilable conflict between workers and owners everywhere. They do not recognise that workers have no country and that patriotism is a delusion and a snare. They do not recognise that the wages system shows up the dependence of the workers on the owners for a living.

The strike has a wider significance than the wages and working conditions of seamen. The Labour Government, as caretakers for capitalism, have decided at last to stand up to organised workers in Britain. Wilson has said so on TV:
  What is at issue here is our national prices and incomes policy. To accept this demand would breach the dykes of our prices and incomes policy . . . There will be those who say that to insist on the basic principles of prices and incomes policy will be costly for the nation. What is at issue is this. Our determination to insist on these principles when the cost is so great will be taken by everyone, here and abroad, as a proof of our determination to make that policy effective.
The Government hope to make an example of the seamen and so deter others from opposing their policy. This means that if the seamen lose then the wages and working conditions of the rest of us will be adversely affected over the next few years. This has happened before. In May, 1958, a Tory Government stood up to the London busmen and won and for the next year or so their wages policy was “effective”.

Even if the seamen win and the dykes of Labour’s wages policy are breached the Socialist Party points out that this is not enough. All the cards are stacked against workers under capitalism. Being propertyless they depend on the owners for a living. On top of this there is a further disadvantage. The Government represents the interests of the owning class. Any Government in Britain has at its disposal a vast arsenal of political weapons to oppose any economic action by workers, not least the strike-breaking Emergency Powers Act invoked by the Government (and agreed to unanimously by Parliament, left-wingers and all) after a week of the strike.

But it was the working class, not excluding the N.U.S. which is affiliated to the Labour Party, who handed over these weapons to the owners only three months ago in voting by the millions for the parties of capitalism, Labour, Tory and Liberal. Giving political power to the owners one moment and the next trying to beat them by economic action is inconsistent to say the least. Workers must come to realise the importance of political power and that they must control it before they can free themselves from wage-slavery. When workers do realise this then they will see the need for an independent workers’ party opposed to all other parties to carry the class struggle from the economic to the political field; a party whose sole aim is to win political power to end capitalism and set up socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is such a party in this country.

News in Review: A case of courage (1966)

The  News in Review from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A case of courage
If the reports about James Meredith are true, he deserves to go down in history as a very brave man, who did something of which he was deadly afraid because he believed it to be right.

He went into Mississippi University, the first Negro to do so, because he believed that the colour of his skin should not stop him doing so.

He started to march from Memphis to Jackson because he believed that Negroes should overcome the fears which prevented them registering to vote.

The fact that he was shot down on the road shows the extent to which racism still festers in Mississippi, and the violence which it inspires.

Meredith’s courage should not, however, blind us to facts.

If he was demonstrating that the colour of a person’s skin does not affect his abilities, does not make him inferior or superior as a person, all well and good.

But having demonstrated this, there is something else which should be made clear.

Workers of all colours are united by a common economic interest under capitalism, to stand together against the ruling class who are also, of course, of all colours.

Beyond that all workers should cooperate to get rid of capitalism, with its privileges and its denials and with the prejudices which help to divide the working class into so called races, nations and so on.
The nature of the Civil Rights movement prevents it asking for more than that the Negro in America should be the same sort of worker as a white man.

James Meredith, and the other members of the Civil Rights movement who have suffered and been murdered, have made a courageous sacrifice. It is a sacrifice worth a lot more than the result it will almost certainly have.

Seamen's strike
The big question to be asked about the seamen’s strike is—what will the strikers learn from it?

One thing which a strike should teach the strikers is that capitalist society is divided into two classes, who are continually in dispute over the division of wealth.

Another is that there is no permanent way of dealing with the effects of a class divided society other than getting rid of it.

It was obvious from the beginning that the seamen would be up against the government. Mr. Hogarth, the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, said at the union’s conference at Worthing on 2nd May.
  We know . . . that the government will do its damnedest to work the prices and incomes policy of 3½ per cent. We have got a fight on our hands, not just against the owners but against the government as well.
This seems to be a flash of enlightenment that a government stands for the interests of the capitalist class, whether ship owners or anything else, and that they will stand up for those interests in a fight.

But Mr. Hogarth destroys this impression by demanding in the same speech, that “. . . certain sections of the shipping industry should come into public ownership” (Daily Telegraph, 3/5/66).

This is not the first time a union’s leader’s sympathy with the Labour Party has clashed with his obligation to his members. The matter is not to be resolved by making a contradictory speech.

Neither is it the first time that striking workers, after the true nature of capitalism has been exposed to them, have kept faith in discredited remedies for their problems.

Man’s best friend
“LEFT BARES ITS TEETH ON VIETNAM” states a recent Daily Telegraph headline. One was tempted to add the word “again”. The “Left”, thus referred to, was of course the left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the occasion was a censure amendment on Government policy towards Vietnam.

It was headed by such dear old favourites as Michael Foot, J. Mendelson, and Ian Mikardo, and signed by many of the new Labour M.P.’s—who have obviously not yet learned that this kind of thing is not the way to the Prime Minister’s heart. We doubt if anybody was really worried by all this, least of all the Government. If however they were, their fears were soon put to rest as this turned out to be yet another in a long succession of damp squibs.

The Labour left has proved to be one of the most overrated movements of this century. Its docility during the last Parliament, with its slender Labour majority, was a source of amused comment in the political columns; while during the recent election they wholeheartedly supported a policy quite contrary to their expressed beliefs. Nobody during the election campaign had any doubts as to where Wilson and company stood on such subjects as Vietnam.

Now that Labour is safely returned, with a good majority, the left-wingers can caper about at will. But one thing they have never done is to push the Government to defeat, and one does not have to be a prophet to suggest that they never will. Left-wing M P.’s hold their seats in spite of their views, and not because of them. The Labour Party is pledged to run Capitalism, and has no other purpose; nobody can remain a member and not accept this fact. Our left wing M.P.’s have no desire to exist in the political wilderness in some small organisation.

The canine inference of the headline is rather apt; like all well-trained dogs the Labour Left will always jump to heel when called.

Peace in space?
Every time a space ship goes up to perform some hitherto impossible task it leaves behind on Earth a cloud of hypocrisy.

The latest American achievements in Moon flights and space meetings were no exception.

Among the politicians’ nonsense about human progress which these achievements inspired were the usual assurances that the knowledge gained by the programme would never be used in a war.

But at the same time there were uneasy suggestions that perhaps it would be a good idea if space were made international territory and the Moon declared a neutral zone, just in case . . .

The big, inconvenient fact which all the assurances ignore is that this is capitalism, a system which has never been able to act peaceably about something which is vital to its economic interests.

Capitalism may be able to keep a place like the Antarctic a peaceful, internationalised area, but only because it has no discovered mineral wealth and is of no strategic or commercial value.

Space is already a different matter. It is the highway along which will pass the weapons held in constant state of alert by many nations.

Space is an important laboratory, where missile guidance systems and rockets can be tested as they can be tested nowhere else.

It is a pipeline of communication and an observation point from which one state can spy on the industrial and military activities of another.

Space is important to capitalism. That is why the big powers are constantly probing it, and why they have numerous observation and experimental satellites aloft, after significantly unpublicised launchings.

And what will happen if other powers grow interested in space? There is already a European space syndicate, although its future is uncertain. What if there grew up an Afro-Asian project, a Chinese Moon probe ?

Then the space race will be on in earnest, in addition to the arms race. Not an enticing prospect.

Democracy and dictatorship today (1966)

From the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “I'm tired; have you ever tried to run a country?” (General Odria, dictator of Peru, on his resignation in 1956.)
George Bernard, Shaw once wrote that democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. This typical witticism is as inadequate as the, definitiop in the Concise Oxford Dictionary—". . . government by the people, direct or representative.” Democracy should mean more than the counting of hands; it should also mean a complete lack of secrecy, giving everyone access to information and so allowing them to take a full part in the management of society.

This is incompatible with government, which by its very nature must be coercive and secretive. And it is impossible while the many are, to adapt somewhat Shaw’s word, “incompetent”.

But to discuss the matter sensibly we have no choice but to accept the generally accepted meaning of democracy, if only to distinguish it from the other method of running capitalism—dictatorship. We shall have to accept that democracy is confined to the periodical election of a government by popular vote and the things which go with it; the existence of opposition parties, an uncensored press, the legal right to a trial and so on.

Almost 50 years after President Wilson assured Congress that the world was to be made safe for democracy, a brief look at the political set-up shows that this is far from becoming reality. In the Americas, democracy to all intents and purposes stops at the Mexican border. In the Caribbean, Cuba and Haiti are governed by ruthless despotisms. In Europe there are Spain, Portugal, Russia and the Eastern bloc. Almost the entire African continent, and most of the Arab countries in the Middle East, are under some sort of dictatorship. In the Far East China, Vietnam (North and South), Korea (North and South) are only a few of the places where democracy does not exist.

What this gloomy survey reveals is that, despite the professed aims of Woodrow Wilson and many other statesmen, at present the majority of the world’s people live under dictatorships. The United Nations (for what it is worth) is pretty well dominated by totalitarian states; only a third of its members can be described as democracies.

Neither should we forget that many of the democracies are anything but free countries. In the United States, for example, the voting and legal rights which are supposed to be part of democracy are denied to a large part of the Negro population. Indeed, this denial is particularly complete and ruthless in the Southern States, where politicians often boast loudly of their determination to defend “freedom”.

Such double-think has not always been fashionable. Pre-war Fascists professed an open contempt for democracy, which they said was decadent, corrupt and inefficient. Hence their reliance upon the strong, wise, resolute leader who would beat down all opposition and drag the rest of us into disciplined prosperity.

To some extent, times have changed. Today, even dictatorships like to call themselves democracies. East Germany, with its wall across Berlin, is officially known as the German Democratic Republic. Russia, where no opposition parties are allowed to exist, and where until recently political extermination was common, claims to be a free democracy. It is usual now for all manner of quibbles to be used in the effort to prove that dictatorship is freedom. Last October the Prime Minister of Malawi, Dr. Banda, justified the proposal to alter Malawi’s Constitution to give him dictatorial powers in these words:
  It does not matter whether there is a dictator or not as long as the people choose the dictator.
It is in the new African states that the misuse of the word democracy has been particularly shameless. The nationalist movements there came to power after long struggles to oust the colonial nations and during these struggles they won a lot of sympathy, outside Africa as well as inside, by frequent promises that independence would bring political freedom.

The result has been very different. Algeria and Egypt are now governed by autocrats—both of them, incidentally, claiming to be Socialists. Nigeria is under military government and so, after years of the Nkrumah dictatorship, is Ghana. Kenya and Malawi are one-party states and Uganda, as its Prime Minister Dr. Milton Obote foretold in January, 1964, is travelling in the same direction.

Indeed, in some ways the new states are no better than the old colonial administrations—and in others they are even worse. The Belgian rubber men committed some fearful atrocities in the Congo and even as late as the last war were still hanging criminals in public. The present Congolese government have shown that they are no improvement on this, by executing the four ex-Ministers in the main square in Leopoldville last month—and declaring a public holiday so that everyone could go along to watch.

Public hangings have also been promised in Malawi, where the government last year introduced the Penal Code Amendment Bill, which reversed the decision taken by the British in 1875 that in future all executions must take place behind prison walls.

And to show that this criticism is not confined to African states let us also mention South Africa, which gained independence after a long and bitter struggle against British Imperialism and where the descendants of the Boer fighters are dourly resolved that freedom shall be something reserved for the minority of the population who have a white skin.

It can be argued with some force that at present democracy is not practicable in much of Africa. The powers who parcelled out the continent during the 18th and 19th centuries did little to disturb the agrarian economies of their colonics. As a result the feudal structure of tribalism was intact when the colonists went home—and has since proved a considerable problem to nationalist politicians trying to drag Africa into 20th century capitalism.

Tribalism and democracy do not mix. The tribesman’s concepts are limited to his dependence on his tribe; he can no more understand what is implied by voting for representation in a national government than could the peasant in Mediaeval Europe. When the African nationalists claimed to stand for democracy they were often speaking in terms which the tribesmen, on whom they depended for support, had no reason to understand—and perhaps this shows how potent the word democracy has become.

Modern democracy is a by-product of the development of capitalism. It is part of the development of a free working class—free in the sense that they can sell their labour power to any employer and are not tied by social groupings such as feudal manors and tribes. As capitalism’s production techniques become ever more complex, and as its commerce becomes ever more international, so it requires an ever wider schooling for its workers. This inevitably stimulates a demand for democracy which, apart from its other uses, can be a safety valve to ease the pressures of discontent.

Although democracy has certain drawbacks for capitalism —political parties which aim to run the system must, for example, always form their policies with one eye on public opinion—it also has some solid advantages. To begin with, it is the most efficient method of running capitalism.

There was once a popular theory that dictatorships, because they were under the control of one man who did not have to bother about consulting anybody else before he took any necessary decisions, were models of efficiency. We have all heard the stories about Mussolini personally ensuring that the Italian trains ran on time; but we have also learnt how the war mercilessly exposed the ineptitudes of Italian capitalism under the Fascists. We have all heard the stories about Hitler simply deciding to abolish unemployment in Germany and, because he was a dictator, of unemployment promptly decreasing. This is not so effective a story when we remember that Hitler came to power, like Roosevelt, just at the time when the slump of the Thirties was in any case receding.

In dictatorships as well as in democracies, an opposition of some kind is bound to exist. In a democracy this is useful; an opposition brings the government face to face with the realities of capitalism. In a dictatorship inconvenient facts are often suppressed; the ruler tries to eliminate opposition and to surround himself with sycophants—he frequently lives in a dream-world of his own, governing the country by his hunches.

President Duvalier of Haiti, for example, believes that he has magical powers. By the time he was deposed, Nkrumah had lost his once famous charm and was a fear-haunted megalomaniac with a taste for employing wanted ex-Nazis on his personal staff. Hitler's last days in the bunker in Berlin were spent directing non-existent armies, under the delusion that victory was in his grasp.

A dictatorship is a power pyramid, with each layer being able to enforce its wishes on those below. If an official can be bribed into giving certain orders, the people he gives them to cannot question them—that can come only from above, where bribery is probably also operating. Thus dictatorships are frequently hotbeds of corruption, with the men at the top amassing huge fortunes—Goering’s famous art collection, Batista's £15 million, the Trujillo family's £280 million.

The leaders of capitalism find it difficult enough to run the system without burdening themselves by ignoring facts, regardless to their own conceits and immersing themselves in corruption. These things undoubtedly exist in democracies, but not so widely nor with the effect which they have in dictatorships. A democracy can reveal scandals like the affairs of Sydney Stanley and Profumo; a dictatorship tends to cover them up. It is not without significance for capitalism that the most efficient and competitive of its countries are democracies.

For the working class, democracy has its uses—and its dangers. There is first of all the great delusion that democracy inevitably means social equality. A rich man has the same vote as a poor one, but it does not follow that both have equal standing in capitalist society. In fact, as long as the majority of people use their votes to support capitalism there will always be rich and poor, which means that there will be privilege and repression.

The danger of this situation is that a working class who support capitalism have little understanding of the cause of their problems. They will vote for all manner of reforms and remedies, none of which have any effect, and they are easy prey to the demagogue who blames their problems on to democracy. Then millions of people are liable to fall for the strong man theory and use their votes to abolish the right to vote, as they did in Germany in the Thirties and as they may do anywhere, at any time.

Another danger is in the fact that democracy can be used to persuade the working class to act against their own interests. In the last war, for example, the fact that this country was a democracy and Germany a dictatorship gave the British ruling class the chance to sell the war as a struggle for freedom against oppression. This propaganda was very effective, especially as the organisations which were putting it out were careful to gloss over the fact that also in the fight against Germany was one of the world's biggest and worst dictatorships. The results of the war showed up plainly what was apparent at the time to only a few— that those who went to fight in the belief that they were defending freedom were cruelly misled.

For all this, democracy is essential to the working class. They can achieve their emancipation only through political action—and to take this they need democracy. This action can be taken only when the workers have consciously accepted the need for it—and to come to this they need the free discussion and the spread of ideas which democracy allows. The tool the workers will use in their action will be a political party—which can exist in freedom only in a democratic system.

Democracy today is a frail thing, surviving only narrowly. Its future depends on the very people who need it and who can use it to build the new society. The choice is theirs; to surrender democracy is a step backwards, almost to surrender all hope.

Finance and Industry: The affluent die rich (1966)

The Finance and Industry column from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The affluent die rich
At the end of 1964 there were 8,266,000 people in Great Britain whose total net wealth was under £1,000 individually and £3,704 millions in the aggregate. There was another group of people numbering 12,000 who had over £200,000 each and £4,930 millions in total. If this was one gigantic Christmas club and now was the time for the share-out, then the first group would receive £448 each and the second £410,833.

The above figures—with the exception of the share-out calculation which is our own—have been taken from the report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for the year ended 31st March, 1965, published in February, 1966, at page 170 in the section on death duties. And we now reproduce the table in full:—

Estate duty is levied on amounts of £5,000 or more, so you can see from the table that 85 per cent of the wealth owners do not own sufficient to be brought into charge for the duty. This, in fact, was confirmed in the Estate Duty Statistics for the year 1964-65 where of the 295,798 cases reported 79 per cent were exempt from duty. The analysis of the estates shows, as was to be expected, that the smaller ones comprised of traditional working class savings such as Post Office Savings, National Saving Certificates and Life Assurance, plus houses with mortgages. Whereas the larger estates predominate with stocks and shares as well as property.

Capitalist sources continue to supply us with evidence that capitalism is the unequal society. And Mr. Callaghan can have as many budgets as he likes introducing capital gains tax, corporation tax and selective employment tax, but it will not make any difference to a society that organises itself on the basis of production by the many for a profit for the few.

It is possible you may solve your own individual problem by transferring from the working class to the capitalist class, and then you would have to engage accountants, solicitors and barristers to sort out your estate duty problem. But we cannot all make that move, as capitalism is dependent upon a working class continually producing profits. What we can do together is to say that we have had enough of capitalism and pull the political chain that will flush it away. Then we shall not have to insure for the future. It will be ours.

Wilson’s man
In so far that most trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party it is usual to expect that their leaders will support the Government in general, whilst at the same time producing good reasons why their own union cannot do so.

Even though the National Union of Hosiery Workers is not affiliated to the Labour Party, its President, G. E. Dearing, must have brought much joy to Harold Wilson when in his address to the Union’s Annual Conference this Whitsun he was “pragmatic” to the point of absurdity.

The hosiery industry has been the subject of take-overs, both real and abortive, in the past few weeks and after expressing regret at the loss of some names well-known to the industry, Dearing said of the newcomers who he described as “outside companies and finance groups”—
  More and more, we as a union find ourselves dealing with industrial situations influenced by decisions of faceless management; dealing with people who, by the nature of things, are compelled to measure progress in terms of money and not men and women.
  While recognising and accepting that profits are the lifeblood of any industry, there are limits to the acceptability of the pressures that can be applied to attain them.
  While we will willingly work with the large, strong, powerful elements, we must take care that there is a place for the smaller units' and ensure that their interests are safeguarded.
The idea that a union should take an interest in a special group of employers is preposterous. In any event the wish of today's small firms is that they become tomorrow’s large firms. And we have not yet seen it reported where any party to a take-over consulted the workers employed. The interests agreed about by the parties and their advisers are those of the shareholders.

Also unrealistic, and even dangerous, is the notion that names you know are safer than “faceless” men. Is it in any way preferable that you should be exploited by some one you know, as your dad was by his dad, and so on? Surely what should concern us is that we live in a faceless society. Where all employers exploit us to the best of their ability and are exhorted by the Government to improve the process.

Not only hosiery workers, but all workers, must eventually realise that in the society where “profits are the lifeblood of industry” they are the donors.

The build up boys
If you have a television set and look at the commercial channel, where they show programmes between the advertisements, you must have wondered at the rapid progress being made by the manufacturers of some products.

Within the past few years some items have been advertised for the first time, followed after a short interval by a second appearance when they are described: as new and the third time round they are described as improved. Meanwhile the soap powders just go on all the time becoming whiter and brighter.

Can it be that the items advertised are being improved, whilst those that do not remain cheap and shoddy? The answer is no. Apart from certain restrictions on outrageous claims for patent medicines, there isn’t anybody that has to vet the validity of the claims. Take, for example, the well-known advertisement of “fabulous pink Camay”. This was for a tablet of soap being sold for a shilling. The announcer claimed it contained perfume worth nine guineas per ounce.

We may not have realised 1984 and Big Brother may not be at the other end of the cathode tube—but the build-up boys are! Today advertising is a big, powerful and growing industry. It has become highly organised and sophisticated. The large agencies employ people skilled in multifarious arts and sciences, and they would claim to know you better than you know yourself.

Their researches enable them to categorise people so that, apart from certain geographical variations, they know the make-up of families, the likely income and the spending habits. From this point their task is to get you to take their client’s product—say, beer instead of milk—and their client’s brand. instead of a competitor’s.

At the same time the advertising industry claim to be giving a service not only to their clients, but to all people, although we are still awaiting the first announcement that a product has been withdrawn because it has been found to be inferior to that of a competitor. Further the industry claims that it helps to create demand and thus plays a part in continuing full employment and the affluent society, although a number of newspapers now carry regular columns on advertising giving the news of manufacturers changing their advertising agency in the endeavour to boost sales, or even bring a halt to falling sales. And although the full report on the collapse of the John Bloom empire has not yet been finalised it was well-known that he tried desperately to save his business by even more advertising, but this could not stave off the crash.

Advertising personifies capitalist society, telling you on the one hand you can have everything and on the other justifying why you should accept something inferior. If you are a lowly paid worker and can’t afford to buy butter, then join the “in set’’ and buy margarine containing ten per cent butter. And so the nauseating persuasion goes on night after night.

Socialism will be a democratic society in which information will be collected and disseminated on a scale never seen before. So that men and women will have the free choice to discuss and decide what shall be produced. When that day comes, the adman goeth.
Ray Guy

Finance and Industry: Russian banking abroad (1966)

The Finance and Industry column from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capital is international. You only need to walk around the City to see this. Banks from nearly every country in the world can be found, including three which some would have us to believe are “socialist” banks (whatever they might be!): the Moscow Narodny Bank in King William Street, the Bank of China round the corner in Cannon Street, and the Zivnostenska Banka in Bishopsgate. The Moscow Narodny is a British company financed by Russian capital. The other two are branches of banks in China and Czechoslovakia. The Bank of China, incidentally, has existed since 1912 and the Zivnostenska Banka since 1868. They fell into the hands of the so-called Communists when they got political power in these countries.

The Moscow Narodny Bank had a somewhat similar origin. In 1912 a central co-operative bank was set up in Moscow called the Moscow Narodny (i.e. People’s) Bank. The original MNB had branches all over Russia and one in London. After the Bolshevik coup the MNB in Russia ceased to exist as such and the assets and liabilities of its London branch were taken over in October, 1919, by a British private limited company formed for the purpose— the present Moscow Narodny Bank.

When by 1921 social conditions had forced the Bolsheviks to recognise that the development of capitalism was the only possible course for Russia, other companies were set up with Russian capital in Britain and elsewhere: in merchant banking, insurance, shipping and trading (Arcos was the trade name of many). The Bolsheviks at this time made no attempt to deny what these were: state capitalist concerns. Today the only one of these companies left in Britain is the Moscow Narodny Bank. In January, 1932, it absorbed another Russian-owned bank, the Bank for Russian Trade. At first the MNB had been concerned with financing the trade of co-operatives and only later became a merchant bank for Anglo-Russian trade generally.

Before the war the MNB had branches in Paris and Berlin. Since 1963 it has had one at Beirut, the banking capital of the Middle East. Merchant banks finance trade by discounting bills of exchange and granting advances to traders. This is what the MNB does. It concentrates on short-term financing transactions in the exchange of goods, preferably by bills on London of 90 or 180 days. Banks use money for which they have no immediate use to invest in securities or to lend for short periods. The MNB acts like other banks: it has money in British Government Securities, it lends to the discount houses, it intervenes in the foreign exchange market, it lends to local authorities. It is this last that attracts the publicity. After all a Tory council borrowing from a Russian bank is news (it must also create problems for local CPers who blame high council rents and rates on high interest rates). In fact, this is just a side line. The MNB is, as its adverts in the Economist and Financial Times claim,
  the City’s specialist in the finance of East-West trade, and is in daily contact with banks in the USSR, in the Socialist Countries of Eastern Europe, Asia and Cuba. As well as our specialist East-West trade services, we undertake all normal types of international banking transactions. These include both international trade finance and money and exchange operations.
In recent years East-West trade has been growing and so has the MNB as the following table shows:

This year no dividend was declared, but last year it was 12 per cent. This went to the shareholders, various trading and banking concerns in Russia.

The MNB is fully a part of the City and proud of it. As Chairman A. I. Doubonossov said in his Report for 1964:
  I am happy to say that we are now very much a part of the London money and exchange markets and that we are generally accepted as a prime bank both here and abroad.
This year he pointed out that the MNB was large enough to receive, along with the other banks, the circular from the Bank of England telling banks to limit their sterling lending to the private sector.

Russia has one other bank in the West, the Banque Commerciale pour l'Europe du Nord in Paris, which was set up in 1925 as a French limited company. Russia is also planning to join the gnomes in Zurich. It has applied to the Swiss authorities to set up a bank to finance Swiss-Russian trade. This is thought to be connected with a desire to sell more gold, a task till now handled mainly by the MNB.

These banks are, of course, only a symbol of capitalism in Russia. Russia would be capitalist even if they didn't exist. But as Russia breaks more and more into the world market its banking activities are bound to spread. Which should provide some problems for its admirers abroad who are always denouncing “finance capital”.
Adam Buick

Branch News (1966)

Party News from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lewisham Branch are busy canvassing in their own "back door" again and have pushed their Socialist Standard sales up with considerable ease. In an effort to get things going the Branch has adopted the procedure of having discussion after business, on a pre-arranged subject with a comrade opening for 10-15 mins. This is hoped to "spring" some absent comrades into action and tune us all up for the autumn indoor lectures just around the comer.

Hoping to be able to report on a successful canvassing season which we hope may "bear fruit" for the Lewisham branch.

The newly-formed Hampstead Group meets at the Central Library, Swiss Cottage, N.W.3. For further details write to D. Gluck, 201 Adelaide Road, NW3.

What is Class? (1966)

From the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whilst class consciousness often shows up in some form or other in the class struggle, the class struggle, in the main, is singularly lacking in class consciousness. This being so, one sees its aims limited to demands for increased wages or even a voluntary relinquishing of the struggle by an acceptance of “speed up“ methods at the expense of health and safety. A recent example of this was stated by T. Hopkins, Mines Safety Inspector, in an address to the South Wales Miners Union. In his speech Hopkins was emphatic that miners faced with the threat of pit closures were ignoring safety and health regulations in order to reach the norm set by the National Coal Board.

It can be seen from a survey of industrial agitation that the motivation, in many cases, is as much a question of job preservation as demands for increased wages.

The question of class consciousness, then, so distinct from class struggle is one that requires to be looked at from time to time—this is, if we are to remind ourselves that the only form of class struggle which will ultimately bring about the downfall of capitalism is the struggle arising out of the workers’ place in society.

It is no longer "fashionable” to use terms like "class struggle” and "class consciousness” in modern political writing. On the few occasions when they are mentioned they are given a totally false meaning. We can only assume that such falseness is rather the result of design than ignorance on the part of those who pride themselves with a sound knowledge of social and economic affairs. There is a conspiracy shared by Tories and Labour alike to delude the working class that they are different from what they were in the past, and will be different again in the future from what they are now. Behind this lies the implication that capitalism (another unmentionable word) can go on functioning, indefinitely, to the advantage of society as a whole. There can be no reason, other than this for Labour’s Prices and Incomes Board, the Tories' proposed legislation for bringing Trade Union Law "In line with the 20th century” or the idea of nationalisation which the Tory Party does not condemn out of hand.

These false political and economic pundits are, of course, using an old trick; having established their false promise — one that is accepted due to prevailing ignorance and apathy — the rest is easy. So it is that the workers are carried along the highways of duplicity, nodding their heads in assent like automated marionettes.

Sooner or later in any discussion on "class” the business of class snobbery crops up. Our advocatees of the "diminishing class struggle” find it necessary to bring it forward in order to hide the real nature of the class struggle together with the fact that it exists. They say, that with the continual "levelling off” going on, the workers themselves are now responsible for delaying the march towards the "egalitarian society” by throwing up attitudes of personal and group snobbery. This, they point out, is shown in the frantic race for a bigger car than the neighbours; the intense struggle to pay for a house in a desirable area (the exodus from the council ghetto as one writer puts it).

It does appear strange that though we are told class society is practically extinct there still remains a "middle class”. One presumes from this that it is a "class” though “In the middle” has no defined class either side of it—or perhaps it has, though both the two "end classes" are in a semi-dissolved state. What nonsense all this is!

What the spokesmen of capitalism are doing, of course, is playing up to that section of the working class who by reason of their relatively higher "status” in the capitalist scheme of things, aided and abetted by a certain amount of pettiness and snobbery, are mistakenly led to the belief that they no longer belong to the working class.

One can see where all this leads. One is asked to believe a that capitalist society is really composed of one class sub-divided into well off, middling well off and not so well off. The latter section, they are forced to admit with the proviso that they can, if they work hard enough, climb into the "middle” or even "upper” class.

Socialists, of course, realise that classes (and there are only two) are divided in a horizontal manner. Membership either side of the line is determined by one’s economic status. No arguments—and there are many strange ones such as educational background, mannerisms of dress and accent and even residential qualifications—can overcome this bald economic fact

The term "class struggle” indeed is one that needs to be placed before the working class continually. This will never be done by the agents of capitalism. It is a job that can— and is being done by socialists. It is because the Socialist Party is adamant in reminding the working class of their historic struggle with their annoying phraseology of capitalism "class war", "wage slaves”, etc., we are dispensed with as archaic.

The term "class struggle” was coined by socialists to denote a social and economic fact that has been with us since the advent of class society. This struggle has, at different times, taken on a varying degree of consciousness. Sometimes workers have been more conscious than at other times (the act of joining the socialist movement is a case of class consciousness). At no time up to the present have the working class as a whole fully realised the true nature of class society. Nevertheless, such are the economic consequences of class divided society that, whatever governments may do workers will continue to demonstrate the existence of the class struggle (as they have under the recent Labour Government). This struggle in its highest conscious aspect is carried on in the political field by the Socialist Party in Great Britain and elsewhere.

Socialists cannot but draw attention and participate the class struggle until such time as capitalism is defeated Then, and only then, will the term become "archaic” as classes themselves will cease to exist.
W. Brain

50 Years Ago: What is Capital? (1966)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have now to consider money a little further in the form of capital in the process of accumulation, or in other words the phenomenon of “money making money". For money in itself is not necessarily capital. Only when it is used for the purpose of adding to itself does it become so. When the independent producer (peasant or handicraftsman) brought his goods to market he received for them a certain sum of money which sooner or later he expended on articles of a different sort, largely for his own personal use and partly, of course, to buy fresh raw materials, etc. To him the money entering transiently into his possession was not capital, nor were the goods he sold, for he received in exchange goods of equal value. No interest, no profit accrued to him in the transaction.

Otherwise is it with the modern capitalist with a sum of money which is constantly expanding in volume. He buys commodities not for consumption for himself, but in order that in some form or other he may resell these commodities and realise a profit on the transaction. Apart from this profit his activities as a capitalist would be meaningless.

The independent producer bought commodities mainly in order to realise their use value in his own person. The capitalist buys them only to throw them bad into circulation and receive in return an increase in exchange-value. The simplest definition of capital, then, is money thrown into circulation only to be received back with an increase to itself, which increase becomes part of the capital which is again advanced to return with a fresh increase.

This increase or profit, Marx calls surplus value . . . In order to obtain surplus value the capitalist must find in the market not merely ordinary commodities (which are incapable of producing for him more value than they themselves possess) but some commodity which actually produces value, i.e., labour. This commodity he finds in the energies of the modern wage-labourer.

(From the Socialist Standard, July 1916).

The Passing Show: Not So Different Now (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not So Different Now
There is a romantic concept of Ancient Rome, which no doubt the Hollywood spectaculars have helped to keep going. It is a concept of universal grace, space, cleanliness and light. And like so many popular notions, it is wrong.

Oh yes, there were those sumptuous mansions of which we've heard so much, but they were for the rich. In Trajan’s time these Domus, as they were called, numbered about 1,800 only, compared with more than 46,000 Insulae — the tenements and apartment blocks of the period. Needless to say the insulae were the homes of the poor, who clung to a crowded precarious existence in their miserable rooms heaped floor upon floor.

Precarious indeed! For these slums were simply flung up by speculative jerry builders (yes, they had them even then) and had a tiresome habit of falling down; or because of their construction, overcrowding and lack of a proper water supply they would often burst into flames and burn to the ground in next to no time.

If you want to read more about this there are plenty of books about, of course, and one particularly fascinating little work, Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino (Penguin Books 12/6d.). But for the time being let’s come up to date and consider a report in The Times of June 2. From their Rome correspondent comes the news that “about half the porters in Rome apartment buildings are unhappy about their own living accommodation on the grounds that their rooms are dark, damp, cold, too small, or lacking a properly equipped bathroom.”

The report goes on to tell of the porters and their families living “uncomfortably” (a masterpiece of snobbish understatement) in rooms which in many cases are literally holes in the ground. Apparently about a third of them live in this way, even in many of the newer blocks, and more than 80 per cent have no bathroom. Half the places checked were damp; about 40 per cent had no heating and little light.

Now this report does not deal with the general housing picture in Rome, but it is well known that there are plenty of slums there, just like big towns in other parts of the world. And to read it one is tempted to make a brief comparison with the days of Claudius, Nero and Trajan, and ask whether we’ve really any cause for satisfaction. Indeed we have not! Unlike those, days, the modem means of wealth production make it possible to build homes of quality and beauty with an ease that the ancient Romans could not have contemplated in their wildest dreams—though they did some pretty amazing things themselves at times. Yet still we have to put up with third-rate shoddy dwellings and worse, in Rome and elsewhere. Slums fell down in Trajan’s time and they do so today; the estimated average rate of collapse is one every day in Manchester, for example.

Private property society has always meant a housing problem for the majority, but the contradiction of it has never been so blatant as in 20th century capitalism. It stares you in the face—open your eyes and see it.

Titbits on the seamen’s strike 
Labour M.P. Woodrow Wyatt is nothing if not rich, and inconsistent. A few months ago in the Daily Mirror he attacked the railmen who were about to strike and told them that their average, earnings of about £17 a week (including quite a bit of overtime) were “not bad, not bad at all.” But something has happened since .then, because here we have Mr. Wyatt supporting the striking seamen as a “special case” and using such language as “monstrously underpaid” too (Guardian, 23.5.66).

Now there may be a number of reasons for Mr. Wyatt’s apparent change of attitude. Perhaps, like most politicians, he keeps his ear to the ground and is aware of the fair amount of public sympathy which the seamen have for their stand (not so the railmen, though). Then again, despite severe competition, shipping is still vital to the capitalist class in its daily trading, and perhaps here is a glimpse of the reason for Mr. Wyatt’s seeming about-face. He thinks that to grant the seamen’s claim would force the ship-owners to be more efficient. No particular love for the seamen. Just good solid concern for British capitalism’s interests at home and abroad.

Shortly after that the Government declared a State of Emergency and put the necessary measures before Parliament. Did you read how wholeheartedly they were supported by the Conservative Opposition? “Chivalrously, generously, and not in any carping spirit,” as Mr. Quintin Hogg said? Astounding, isn’t it, how readily both sides drop their masks of enmity, close ranks and present a solid front when the crises of capitalism demand.

And, of course, the smug, priggish, condescending Guardian of May 19 wagged its snobbish editorial finger at the strikers and called their claim “simply inadmissable”. The usual nonsense was talked about “harm to the country” and a sly attempt made to isolate the seamen from the rest of the T.U. movement by suggesting that they would not “want to see the country suffer so that the seamen can get a rise of 17 per cent.”

In its attitude to this strike The Guardian has run true to form. Even if it concedes that the strikers have a grievance it always opposes their militancy, just like the rest of the Press. What a good job workers don’t always take the newspapers loo seriously.

Education—Words and Deeds
Just how pathetically naive can a rank-and-file Labourite get? On May 22 the annual conference of Labour Women at Blackpool heard Mrs. Anne Gibson attack Labour M.P’s for sending their children to private schools when comprehensive schools were advocated by their party. She accused them of “extending class distinction” in this way and added that:—
  . . . they were not only helping to maintain class distinction but also buying better jobs for their children. How could those in the Labour Party expect others to support the State education scheme if Labour supporters sent their children to private schools? (Guardian, 23.5.66).
Now there has been a bit of a rumpus in the past year or two about comprehensive schooling, and in her outburst Mrs. Gibson has hit a very interesting nail on the head. Her Party has extolled the system as “equal opportunity for every child,” but most of those M.P's who can afford it make sure their children don’t get within a mile of a comprehensive school. They are under no illusions about the comparative standards and advantages, and they know that if they want the best for their children they have got to pay for it.

It’s all part of the general hypocrisy of capitalism in which the Labour Party wallows, and on a par with an incomes policy side by side with nice fat increases in M.P’s salaries and a £15,000 a year Prices and Incomes Board chairman. But dare we think that perhaps Mrs. Gibson is not so sure herself of the “advantages” of comprehensive education? Otherwise why so much fuss just because a few of her Party’s M.P’s decide to try something else for their own kids?


  • "The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 . . . is . . . a thoroughly useful Act providing for the maintenance of order and discipline in merchant ships” (Guardian, 12.8.60. On the unofficial seamen's strike).
  • “Who, anyway, could object if the enquiry (into seamen's conditions) ended with the replacement, by something better and more realistic, of the Merchant Shipping ’ Act of 1894?” (Guardian, 16.5.66. On the official seamen's strike).
  • “Unfair and unwelcome though death duties may be, it could be hundreds of years at the present rate before the average peer actually has to work for a living" (RenĂ© Lecler on The Peers, Weekend Telegraph, 13.5.66).
  • "Peers just want to make money like everyone else . . (Lord Bath, interviewed in Weekend Telegraph, 13.5.66).
  • "One man in 14 and one woman in nine can expect admission to a mental hospital at least once in a lifetime" (London Borough of Hounslow recent health survey).
  • "There is real poverty, real deprivation at present among low wage earners; Ministry figures show there are 300,000 men in full-time work bringing home less than the National Assistance Board scale at the end of the week" (Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, Margaret Herbison, to the annual conference of Labour Women, 22.5.66).
  • "Economic reforms do not immediately make life easier for the workers. Sometimes they may do the opposite" (Times editorial on Eastern Europe, 31.5.66).

Eddie Critchfield