Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The joy of sex? (1981)

From the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do you remember The Joy of Sex? — a best-selling book published a few years ago that aimed to tell people how to get the most out of their sex lives, on the assumption that they didn’t and would pay to find out how to. The assumption seems to have been correct. People did pay so much so that The Joy of Sex was quickly followed by More Joy of Sex.

What’s doubtful, however, is that many people’s sex lives improved after reading these books. In fact most must have come away feeling more joyless than ever, with sexual fulfilment still way out of their reach. Most resigned themselves to regarding sex as a bind, a symbol of failure, a source of fear, frustration or disappointment.

Anyone who doubts that sex is one or more of these things for many people need only look at the amount of problem solving literature about sex on bookshop shelves, the deluge of articles on sex in newspapers and magazines; and most people’s morbid curiosity, profitably exploited by the media, about how others “do it”. Further evidence is the number of people actively seeking help with their sex lives through channels ranging from agony columns and marriage counsellors to group therapy, yoga and ginseng aphrodisiacs.

The emotional turmoil that goes hand in hand with failed sexual relations can often be seen in the divorce rate, wife-battering and the popularity of vicarious sex through pornography. From America the recent Hite Report on Male Sexuality gives a picture of gargantuan sexual frustration and mixed-up emotions among both sexes as well as of immense difficulty experienced by men and women in communicating their feelings and problems to one another.

Why should a natural human function like sex be such a problem for so many people? Why is emotional and sexual harmony among partners so rare? Is it all part of being human? Or is it caused by the way we live at present, by the way society is organised?

Poverty and Pressures
The sex difficulties caused by basic material need are those most clearly attributable to the nature of society. Lack of money to feed a family, poor living conditions or anxiety about employment can only have a negative effect on a relationship. The most important sexual organ is the mind, and minds full of the tension and worry generated by poverty militate strongly against happy sex lives.

Yet even when the bread line or unemployment aren’t an immediate threat, few people seem to get sex right. One reason for this is that most people, even when they’ve no worries about the next meal, live their lives under various kinds of socially-induced pressures. Stress at work, the strain and fatigue of having to rush about or behave in ways that may be desirable for reasons of appearance but don’t really suit you as an individual, the harassment of looking after more children than you really wanted: all these things cause anxieties and tensions that can't be shaken off at will and can only inhibit the relaxation and emotional harmony needed to achieve togetherness.

Compounding this is the system of legal marriage which can make women financially dependent on their husbands and lays strong moral and social obligations on both partners. The feeling of being trapped for life can lead in many cases to resentment, mutual recriminations and worse. Divorce is a way out but a difficult (and for many women a financially impossible) one, in a society which posits monogamy as an ideal.

Artwork by George Meddemmen.
Family Life
But poverty and pressures are only part of the story. If they make a good sex life difficult once we become adults, the basis for sexual frustration is laid at an early age by the oppressive role that today’s society has assigned to the family.

The family under modern capitalism has in common with the family in previous forms of society the function of producing and rearing offspring to continue the species and of equipping them with the skills required for survival. Here however the capitalist family parts company with its predecessors. For, in a society based on wage labour, being equipped for survival means being equipped to sell one’s energies to an employer for a wage or salary. The acquisition of the skills that will enable children to do this is what the family must ensure takes place. If these skills aren’t acquired, a family is considered to have failed. We can see the drive towards this goal through the strong emphasis put on the question of what job children will do when they become adults. One of the most frequent questions children, even very young ones, hear from adults is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This helps to explain why the environment in which most children and adolescents grow up is one that frowns on pleasure. It’s not for nothing that the word children most often hear from their parents when they first become mobile is “No!” The imperative of preparing children for the job market and the non-enjoyment adults associate with work, make parents view with suspicion or hostility a child’s tendency to behave as though life were something to be enjoyed rather than suffered. They often make their children miserable and resentful by imposing upon them seemingly irrational rules that restrict their pleasure. These include rules about sex. Young children are discouraged if they are seen to touch or take an interest in “naughty” parts of the body. When they reach adolescence, the rule of the system transmitted through the family is that they keep their sexual feelings under wraps for the time being and only take the wraps off later when they’re more “mature” and “responsible”—when they’ve found a job and resigned themselves to it.

After being denied the natural sexual outlet with the other sex that their newly-awakened feelings dictate, most young people, when they reach the social socially approved age for sex, lack the knowledge and confidence that earlier experience should have given them. They’ve not been able to experiment freely, openly and without guilt with a number of different partners and gain experience in this aspect of growing up as they may have gained it in others. Having also been denied, for the first fifteen or twenty years of their lives, the right to make decisions about so many aspects of their own lives (parents and teachers have done most of their thinking and taken most of their responsibility for them), they inevitably lack practice in making independent and responsible choices about things.

This makes for anything but the mutual consideration, give-and-take and sense of imagination necessary for happy sexual and emotional relationships. It makes rather for feelings of jealousy, lack of trust and honesty, and a profound incapacity to know your own and your partner’s needs.

Is it surprising then that, when people become adults physically, they often remain children sexually and emotionally? They haven’t been given the chance to sort themselves out in this field and, when they reach adulthood, this leads them into all kinds of tangles and frustrations. How many people —even the most apparently responsible and politically and socially aware among us — don't suffer from being stuck somewhere way back in their emotional and sexual development?

This is not to suggest that if society allowed us to live out our early sexual needs when we felt them we would all, as adults, be suited by a single contented relationship for the rest of our lives. Monogamy is no more or less a “natural” form of human behaviour than many others. It’s a mental mould that present-day property-owning society tries to force people into. The needs of individuals, in the sexual field as in others, vary enormously and while, in conditions of genuinely free choice, monogamy might truly suit some people, there is little doubt that it would not suit others. The point is not that monogamy could or should be the norm, but that the emotional confusion and irresponsibility of so many adults is rooted in the sexually repressed upbringing dictated by the needs of the wages system.

Sex and Profit
The problem is compounded by the fact that, while frowning on the practice of sexuality by young people, capitalism bombards them with sexual spectacle of all kinds. This contradiction arises from its seeking to make profit out of anything, even people’s problems — and indeed even to create problems out of which profit can be made. Cinema, advertising and books emphasise and inflate the importance of sex. They also often give a distorted view of what we should expect from it. The beautiful, sexually potent men and women flaunted by the media create in both young people and adults unjustified feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, a false idea of where sexual fulfilment comes from and unhealthy obsessions about sex in general.

Sex is of course an important part of life. But the whole point about it is that it needs to be integrated into the wider spectrum of human activities, not to stand obsessively above or apart from them.

In this respect many primitive communities not based on the sale of human energies for money have a much healthier attitude towards sex than more “advanced” societies. In communities such as described by Margaret Mead in her classic study, Coming of Age in Samoa, sex is practised much more openly and unashamedly by adults. Children see it as a natural part of life, and begin to learn about it and experience it much earlier, without the taboos and interdictions most of us take for granted. The “facts of life” don’t have to be told to children by their parents. They’re picked up naturally through living. They’re not half-learned at school through dirty stories or through the misleading suggestions of commercialised sex. The consequence is that people in such communities grow up with a less inhibited, less secretive attitude towards sex. Sex fits into their lives like other natural human activities. They don’t need guide books to tell them how to practise sex or what they’re missing in it any more than they need to be instructed on how to get the best out of eating, drinking, sleeping, working or playing. Sex isn’t an over-central preoccupation. It doesn’t — as it shouldn’t — come into a special, mystifying, frustrating category of its own.

Common Ownership
This is not to say that to get sex right we’ve got to go back to primitive society. It’s just to show that the evidence of sexual attitudes in primitive societies indicates that sexual problems, to the degree they’re experienced today, arise not from our nature as human beings but from the social conditions we live in. And there’s clearly something wrong with conditions that turn an essential natural function and a potentially pleasurable experience into a widespread source of misery, anger, guilt and frustration. Removing the conditions will remove the straitjacket on people’s emotions and make it unlikely that we will arrive at adulthood with little knowledge of how to enter into a mutually satisfying relationship with another person. New social arrangements based on common ownership, voluntary co-operation and economic and social equality will remove the conditions and create new ones that will offer free rein, as capitalism never can, to the development — mental, physical and emotional — of each individual’s potential. They will help sex to find a more secure, harmonious place among the whole range of activities that are natural to men and women.
Howard Moss

Medicine’s private parts (1981)

From the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

At this time of queues to the Bankruptcy Court there is very little cheer in the boardrooms of Britain where, as we all know, they can clink a sherry glass or two in salute to a pleasing balance sheet. Yet here is one chairman who can report in terms of glowing optimism:
  It is with pleasure I present the accounts for 1980 . . . most positive encouragement from the government . . . the service given to subscribers continues to be of the very highest standard . . .
The author of these self-satisfied, not to say smug, words is John Phillips, chairman of Private Patients Plan (PPP), one of the larger organisations providing insurance for medical treatment outside the National Health Service. Private treatment is currently a boom industry; PPP’s subscribers have risen from 10,000 in 1950 to 313,000 in 1980 and over the same period its “Excess of Income Over Expenditure” from £12,000 to £4,010,000. And PPP have only about 20 per cent of the market, which is dominated by the 75 per cent held by British United Provident Association (BUPA). Each week during 1980 an average of 15,000 people joined a private health insurance scheme and if this trend continues, by 1985 one in five of the population will be covered.

So if people are rushing in their thousands to be ill the private way, what of the National Health Service, once described by the author Alan Sillitoe as “ . . . probably the greatest single factor in this century in creating a new pride in the English working class”? The aims of the Service, when it was introduced in 1948, were set out in no less glowing terms by Aneurin Bevan, whose job as Minister of Health at the time made him a sort of midwife to its birth:
   Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide. (In Place of Fear).
What was Bevan talking about? Before the National Health Act 1946 hospitals were run in a number of different ways, by local authorities or by charities. They held flag days or sold their wall space to the advertisers of patent medicines in order to raise money. Their standards, relying on local initiatives, varied widely from place to place. It was by no means the kind of efficiency a capitalist state might demand from its medical services. The Act effectively nationalised the hospitals, grouping them under Regional Boards appointed by the Minister. The declared intention was to achieve an overall adequacy at the highest level which could be afforded.

Like all other hospital employees, consultants were to be paid a wage but they were also allowed to keep some private beds in NHS hospitals. In other words, the Act by no means killed off private practice and these seeds have subsequently flourished. At the time there was hostility to this from some sections of the Labour Party but more serious by far was the opposition Bevan encountered from the doctors. At the end of it all, even with the many compromises he had had to make, Bevan was satisfied with what he later called ".  . . the most civilised achievement of modern government”.

The workers too were enthusiastic; believing that they had a genuinely free, all-embracing, super-efficient health service immediately available at need, they registered with it in their millions. By 1952 only a rich (or eccentric) 1.5 per cent of the population were still outside the Service.

Well it did not happen as Bevan promised. To describe the average experience of a National Health Hospital as civilised is sometimes to reshape the English language. In one of the newest hospitals, for example, people who have been referred to a consultant by their GP wait to be seen in an area which, as the morning wears on, comes to resemble a minor battlefield. Then the consultant has little time to treat the patient in a civilised manner; little time to discuss the problem, to give a prognosis, to present the options. Having pronounced on what should be done, the choice presented to the quivering mass of flesh and bones and blood under the probing hands is to take it or leave it.

If the consultant decides (it should be “advises” but let that pass) on some sort of in-patient treatment then there is the fearsome matter of the waiting list. For some operations this can run into months, even years, of discomfort, pain and disability. At the Congress of the British Medical Association last October a Glasgow doctor warned that the waiting list for psycho-geriatric patients is so long that “seventy-five per cent of (them) die before they are admitted.” (Among the wards, macabre jokers insist that that is a common method of cutting the waiting list.)

But for those who survive the wait the great day eventually dawns and the patient is, as they say, admitted. Already in some anxiety, they are at once submitted to a process of depersonalisation, rather like going into prison. To begin with, inmates are made immediately distinguishable from everyone else because they are only allowed to wear nightclothes. In fact—although only the paranoid would think this is to prevent them escaping—they are forbidden to keep their day clothes in the hospital. The patients’ day is pummelled into a shape to fit in with the hospital’s needs; the institution is far, far greater than the sum of the individuals it theoretically exists for. As the doctors sweep on their rounds though the wards, treatment is more or less imposed; there is no time for them to inform, still less to argue about it. It takes some courage for an inmate, half naked and supine, surrounded by white coats and silvered, spiky instruments, to insist on knowing what it is proposed to do with their body. And they might lose remission, if they don’t absorb those anonymous drugs regularly pumped into them.

Not all of this springs from any historical arrogance of the medical profession. The NHS does not directly make a profit but it is required to work within limits of cost and it is often under the axe of government economies. Hospitals are what is euphemistically called under-capitalised they often can’t afford the latest and the best equipment and have to rely on charitable efforts to buy civilised things like a body scanner. Staff levels are kept at a minimum, which means that nurses are worked to the limits of safety (and often beyond; it is common for a ward full of sick people to be overseen during the night by a single, unqualified nurse). A Professor of Geriatric Medicine told the BMA in October:
  We have old people in accommodation which would have been useful for dogs, cats or race-horses twenty years ago. It is still fashionable to put the elderly into hospitals which have been discarded.
Such standards of civilised treatment do not apply to the private patient. The same consultant who is offensively off-hand to his wretched queue of NHS patients in the morning is courteous and gentle in the evening when he conducts his private clinic. Everything—the necessary tests, medication, surgery—is described, sometimes with helpful notes and diagrams and the patient is helped to make their own decision about their own body. They leave, feeling not at all wretched, with the great healer’s hand reassuringly on their shoulder.

Private in-patient treatment usually takes place in a separate room with its own bathroom, TV, radio and telephone and it is lubricated by the attention of plentiful, ever-attentive nursing staff. There is rarely any delay in admission: having chosen the specialist, the patient also names the day for admission and almost always the consultant can miraculously fit this in with other commitments. Organisations like BUPA spell this out as if it were miraculous when in fact it represents what should be the very minimum standard of care and treatment.

So why isn’t it the minimum? The NHS was designed for the working class — a sort of Tesco Stores in contrast to the discreet, exclusive shops of Belgravia which admit the superior class of capitalist society. The first object of the NHS is to repair workers to the point at which they can be got back into the exploitation process and for that the crowded out-patients clinic, the large boisterous ward and the casualness of the doctors will suffice. For the rich — for the exploiters — there have always been havens where the very best is available for those who can pay places like the Harley Street Clinic (where it costs between £560 and £1029 a week just to stay in bed); the London Clinic (£770 to £973) or the Wellington Hospital (£1225 to £1750).

Of course anyone paying that sort of money is not going to be handled with any discourtesy; no mere consultant surgeon will make decisions about them without fully discussing the matter. Medical care, like all other services in capitalism, is a commodity. It is produced — that is to say, doctors and nurses are trained, hospitals are built, equipment manufactured — to be sold and in the process to contribute to the overall driving force of capitalism — the realising of profit and the accumulation of capital.

There is a mass of evidence — recently the Brenner study and the Report of the Working Group on Inequalities in Health — to point to the conclusion that illness is a matter of how we get our living, of where we live, what stress we are subjected to in the act of survival in property society. In summary, the evidence says that avoidable illness is a problem for the working class, who are forced to live by selling their abilities to work for a wage. It hardly matters to the class who buy those abilities — to the owning, exploiting capitalists. For the workers, sickness brings additional despair as the bills mount up and perhaps their job is in jeopardy; a recent report from the Office of Health Economics states that the level of unemployment may now act as an incentive for workers not to go sick.

The failure of the NHS to ease that despair has left a gap which the private insurance schemes are trying to fill. They offer sick workers the prospect of a little comfort at a time when it is needed and that is no bad thing. But that is the limit; it is rather like shopping in Sainsburys instead of Tesco. As the NHS goes into further decline and private medicine picks up some of the pieces, there will be pressure on this sector too and there is no reason to think that it will cope any better with it than has the NHS. It will be operating under the same inhuman priorities which leave little room for civilised standards. To see the problem as one of sick people is to start at exactly the wrong end of the stethoscope, for it is the basis of society which needs attention.

Ireland — they died for nothing (1994)

From the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why should I want to go back   
To you, Ireland, my Ireland? 
The blots on the page are so black  
That they cannot be covered with shamrock. 
I hate your grandiose airs, 
Your sob-stuff, your laugh and your swagger. 
Your assumption that everyone cares,  
Who is the king of the your castle.  
Castles are out of date, 
The tide flows round the children's sandy fancy; 
Put up what flag you like, it is too late  
To save your soul with bunting.
So wrote Louis MacNeice in his finely anti-nationalist Autumn Journal. The same sentiments of contempt for the futile excitement of national folly were echoed in great plays such as Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey and The Hostage by Brendan Behan (revived recently in a superbly anarchic production by the Royal Shakespeare Company).

Now that the Ulster dust is settling and, in the words of one Irish politician, inaction is speaking louder than words, it is surely time for some reckoning to be done. Was it worth it? The bloody years of furious castle-building, which have left few castle-dwellers and no shortage of occupants for the slums and the cemeteries, were either necessary or they were in vain. Socialists say that they were pointless: that for workers to die for flags and anthems is to die for nothing.

First, the accounts — the inventory of the dead and destroyed. Before the British Left sloganise about the IRA’s heroic struggle and Bostonian bar-room rebels play remote-control murder with their pocket books, let us do a few necessary historical sums. Who has died and for what? Since the commencement of the current “troubles” in 1969 over 3,200 Northern Irish people have been killed. This is in a population of less than a million. The proportional equivalent in American terms would have been half a million political murders: ten times the number of American soldiers killed in Vietnam. 37 percent of those killed were shot directly: another 30 percent were killed in gun battles, cross-fire and ambushes; 24 percent died in bombings; just over 5 percent of the catholic dead were victims of the British army. Nearly 35,000 Northern Irish people have been victims of serious injuries, ranging from lost limbs, blindness, bullet wounds and brain damage. This amounts to almost one in fifty of the population. Since 1973 1,500 kneecappings and so-called crucifixions (being shot in the elbows as well as knees) have been carried out by the IRA and their mirror reflections in the loyalist terror gangs. Those who were so punished had no court of appeal at which to defend themselves. Many of those escaping such attacks are now in exile in Britain and elsewhere.

Barbaric inhumanity has not been the preserve of the terrorists. The British army, assisted by the RUC, and backed up by the laws designed to facilitate freedom of the state against the people, have carried out vicious beatings, strip-searches, shoot-to-kill exercises and sustained torture in their political prison camp at Long Kesh. These crimes are not inventions, but have been exposed and condemned by bodies ranging from Amnesty International to International Court of Human Rights. How many workers have been pushed into the arms of futile terror gangsterism by anger engendered by the military arrogance of the British state? It should not be forgotten that the soldiers killed while serving in Ireland, whose deaths have been counted as victories in IRA pubs from Belfast to Boston, were exclusively working-class men, usually drawn from the dole queues, often Liverpool or Glasgow catholics.

Statistics can blind their magnitude and, anyway, the prejudiced will refuse to be confused by mere facts. So let us ask some searching questions which involve times, dates and human faces, not just numbers. What liberation was served by the murder of two boys in Warrington last year when an IRA bomb ended their short lives? What defence of Irish culture was served by such reckless vandalism as the bombing of the Linen Hall Library in Belfast (a famous repository of Irish social history) or the murder some years ago of an old man whose reputation as a maker of instruments for traditional Irish musicians was destroyed when two IRA men shot him dead because he was a protestant? What freedom was being canvassed when socialists in Belfast attended a Sinn Fein meeting on the Falls Road and, after asking a question which confronted the rhetoric of nationalism with the reality of class, were threatened and forced to leave?

We socialists opposed unreservedly the broadcasting ban upon Sinn Fein and Co, but what of their ban on the right to speak out against them which has led to threats, beatings and kneecappings in the name of liberation? These are questions calling for answers; We do not expect to hear them from the Irish-American know-nothings or the slogan-chanting SWPers whose logic-defying position throughout all of this has been to give “unconditional critical support” to the IRA. But let those who have any genuine belief that blowing up workers is a means to freedom tell us how they answer these questions, or how they seek to evade the historical commitment to do so.

Message from America
During the last presidential election Clinton, in a bid to win Irish-American votes, promised to send a peace envoy to sort out the little mess in Ireland. Perhaps Ireland should have responded by offering to send Gloria Honeyford to clear up the riots in LA. The entire US involvement in Ireland has been motivated by cynical vote-seeking. When Gerry Adams was first invited to visit New York in early 1994 politicians seeking their share of the 40-million odd Irish-American votes were falling over one another to shake hands with this fascist. When Adams and Kennedy shook hands perhaps they swapped notes on their respective victims. Then Bruce Morrison, a man defeated for political office, was sent over to Belfast with Clinton’s blessing, to carve out a deal with Sinn Fein. The deal involved a promise of hundreds of millions of dollars of US capital investment in the north-east of Ireland. But what will these American capitalists be investing in? Not folk music sessions and the leprechaun-making industry, that’s for sure; they will only invest their money where there is a low-waged, disciplined workforce to be exploited.

On this recent visit to America Adams was treated as if he should be compared with Mandela. The truth is that Adams and his party, Sinn Fein, do not represent very much at all. Over 98 percent of voters in the Republic of Ireland do not vote for Sinn Fein even though they are quite free to do so, while in the north 90 percent of voters in general and 70 percent of catholics do not vote for Sinn Fein. So, the principal significance of Gerry Adams lies not in his mandate, but in his capacity to murder and mutilate.

While in the USA Adams spoke in Cleveland where one member of the audience, John O’Neil, asked him whether he regarded consent as being fundamental to any democratic political settlement and whether Sinn Fein was prepared to oppose the Irish constitutional link between church and state. Adams declined to respond to the points raised, instead offering some empty rhetoric about how the Americans were to be praised for throwing off British imperialism. (He failed to utter a word about American imperialism.) One catholic-nationalist in the audience turned to another and was heard to declare, “That fellow O’Neil must be Protestant.” “Worse than that”, was the response, “he is a Marxist!” So much for the radicalism of Sinn Fein’s US supporters.

The American government pretends to reject terrorism. Of course, they carry out legalised campaigns when they see it as being in their national interest, but they claim to oppose unofficial and unelected political killers. But with what credibility can Clinton's government rebuke armed terrorists, be they Bosnian Serbs or Libyan hijackers, when they have made it clear that the best way to obtain a hero’s welcome in the USA is to bomb your way to credibility? Who will take seriously American bleating about the nasty bombers of the World Trade Centre when Bill Clintstone's Barney Rubble, Al Gore, was televised shaking the hand of a man whose sole claim to power rests upon his association with precisely such tactics?

As ever, the myth of the New World Order rests upon the miserly economic and sordid political interests of a rich and privileged minority. The catholic and the protestant slums of Ireland north and south will never be served by such political game-playing.

The futility of Nationalism
From its inception, Irish nationalism was motivated by a kind of stupidity (“the delirium of the brave” as Yeats called it) which workers should not have touched with a barge pole, let alone a flag pole. Consider the words of nationalist nutcase and IRA hero Padraic Pearse, a leader of the Easter 1916 rebellion, who rejoiced at the sacrifice of Irish lives in the great imperialist war of 1914-18:
  Ireland has not known the exhilaration of war for over a hundred years . . . The last sixteen months have been the most glorious of Europe . . . The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for the love of country.
What benefit has any wage slave ever gained from a war grave? Even if there is to be a united Ireland, what possible gain does any worker expect to be offered by membership of a semi-clerical state in which citizenship amounts to no more than freedom to be exploited for a wage or a salary or unemployed and paid even less welfare money than is offered by the British state? This prospect might lead some fat New York catholic lawyers to dance a jig, but where will it leave the working class?

Both the IRA and the loyalist ceasefires are to be welcomed by all workers. Socialists want a situation under capitalism where we can operate to abolish the system in circumstances where bullets and bombs do not threaten us daily. But now comes the hard part. 600,000 Northern Irish protestants still think they are British and 300,000 Northern Irish catholics (give a few here or there) still think they are Irish. As long as these identifications are considered to be worth a candle there is a prospect of renewed conflict.

So, the merely negative achievement of ending the killing, much as it is to be seen as a step forward, is not where matters must rest. It is now time for workers to reach the realisation that their class identity, as used and robbed providers of profit to a supranational capitalist elite, is what really matters. To defeat this elite globally and not just in Ireland, calls for workers to exhibit the courage to transcend the identities inherited from capitalist history (Irish/British—catholic/protestant) and recognise that as workers who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population we have a world to win. It is on that basis that Irish history can proceed from the futility of national rebellion to the exciting opportunity of the social revolution by the many.
Steve Coleman

From Capitalism to Socialism (1994)

From the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the real possibility of a complete change from the world-wide social system we live under today, to one that is its complete opposite? From a market economy to free availability of wealth for all; from a class-bound system to one where there are no classes; from minority ownership of the means of production to common ownership. From wages and profits to a moneyless system; guns and bullets to the non-existence of armies, navies and police forces. From profound change in the habits, customs, ideas that have ruled people for a lifetime and which they have come to think of as normal, to habits and customs which will bind community interests together in a socially-cohesive and not divisive way.

Confronted with the socialist picture many reply by saying something like “well yes; 1 agree it would be marvellous, but it can never come about.” Well, socialists and sympathisers of the Socialist Party think it can be done, and not only that it can be done but is the only practical, sensible and workable solution to the otherwise insoluble problems of today. And it is not us who will do it, it is you. Our job is to point the way.

Waste of capitalism
Why do we think the way we do? The practical means of running socialism, that is production and distribution are not really problems. The working class already run the world. They produce everything, distribute everything and organise everything. The capitalist is quite superfluous to the creation of wealth, their only function is to make decisions, usually disastrous ones from the point of view of humanity, and usually acting as a brake upon the production of wealth. The capitalist system in addition requires around two-thirds of the potential workforce to be engaged in unnecessary labour. Unnecessary to a rationally-organised society that is. Activities such as the printing, counting and handling of money and all its accretions which make life complicated such as the acres of plastic in the form of cheque cards, credit cards, not to mention the coin machines and all the other garbage.

Then there is the capitalist destruction juggernaut, the army, navy, airforce and all the workers making bombs, guns, tanks, planes, worships, rockets, nuclear warheads, flame throwers, poison gas. The equipment required to feed, clothe and house an army, the barracks, airfields and harbours just for war. Let's not forget the workers required to make the bits of tin for generals to hang on their chests and we are still only halfway through the colossal waste of manpower and resources that capitalism imposes on us. There is the energy involved in making good the actual destruction that these weapons inflict, Three weeks of war in Iraq and the equivalent number of years to plug the oil wells that went up in flames. The ending of capitalism will release enormous amounts of energy and potential labour that can be put to useful purposes.

Ending class rule
What about running things? Government, organisation, accounting. None of these is a problem. Socialism will not have government, nor will there be any Socialist Party, which will go out of existence as soon as capitalism has been abolished. Government is concerned with people, with compelling the ruled to follow the dictates of the rulers. Where control cannot be achieved by persuasion, using the propaganda machinery of the media, the coercive powers of the state are there to enforce ruling-class needs by violence. Anyone who doubts that need think no further back than the last major miners’ strike. None of this will be necessary in Socialism since there will be no minority ownership class and therefore no need for class control.

It will of course be necessary' to have an administration. We arc not so daft as to think that things will run themselves: but this will be an administration of things, not government over people. Ownership of the means of production will be held in common, it follows that necessary tasks will be commonly run.

What about those countries which still lag behind the the development of the so-called “advanced” nations. Again this is no real problem. Socialism as a worldwide system will quite naturally help any areas of the world that need help in whatever way they require. Even capitalism does this in times of obvious need such as floods, earthquakes and famine. There is never any lack of volunteers to render aid, only hindrance by the restrictions imposed by governments.

Need for change
So what’s left? Where is the difficulty? Very few say “I could not live in socialism”. What they do say is “How are you going to persuade the others?” Once socialism has been explained to a non- Socialist the overwhelming majority are all for it, but hold back because they think the task of convincing the necessary majority is too difficult, or will take too long, or because they think that something or other must be done in the meantime.

We must remember that socialism is not an exclusive idea of the Socialist Party, it has formed part of the consciousness of suffering humanity for hundreds of years. Now that the practical difficulties to achieving it are no longer in existence it is only inertia of the majority that is holding socialism back. And it is only because so many see the task as being too difficult that socialist ideas are not spreading swiftly. However, when society is ready for change things can happen very quickly, as the recent events in Russia and eastern Europe have shown so dramatically. Socialism is not something that has to be imposed, foreign to people’s nature or their thinking. It is capitalism, which runs counter to the way most people would like to live, which has to be imposed. That is the real reason for schools, religion and all the other methods of propaganda which the ruling class employ to gain support for the continuance of their dominance.

The only obstacle to socialism lies in the mind. Socialism can only come about by the conscious decision of the majority who accept and want it. The need is now urgent. We cannot afford to wait while capitalism ruins the environment and plunges more and more workers into a state of misery and deprivation. Only the institution of a democratic, classless, moneyless system can solve the problems capitalism inevitably creates. Every individual who joins the struggle makes the effort easier and the outcome more certain.
Cyril Evans

LETS Abolish Money? (1994)

From the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you listen to the enthusiasts they can recreate communities, cure unemployment, undermine the multinationals and even provide an alternative to the global capitalist economy. What can? LETS or Local Exchange and Trading Schemes.

This is what the enthusiasts say. First, Harry Wears from Haverfordwest:
  “I’m really enthusiastic about LETS. I think it’s the most exciting mechanism for social change I have ever come across. In LETS, debts don’t accrue interest and there is no pressure to pay. A LETS cheque can’t bounce, nor a LETS business go bust. LETS sees money as a symbol but, unlike sterling, it can’t be manoeuvred to the detriment of people using it” (Woman & Home, October 1993).
Then Donnachadh McCarthy from Southwark:
  “It is a system to recreate a community economy which we were losing because of multinational companies and big supermarkets. Money which comes into Southwark is used once and then leaves via the banks which use it to finance projects elsewhere” (Independent, 13 December 1993).
And Ed Mayo of the New Economics Foundation:
  “With mass unemployment in Britain many people have the time but not the cash. LETS gives them access to things they would not otherwise have” (Guardian, 12 March 1994).
Finally, from the same Guardian article by John Vidal:
  “The implications, say the theorists, are enormous. In a cash-starved economy (one in five British households is severely in debt), despite the existence of wealth in the form of skills and resources, traditional exchange is hijacked by a lack of cash. With local currencies, as long as people make their goods and skills available, their exchange can go round and round. ‘The community therefore becomes richer,’ says Paul Ekins, a green economist”.
It is, of course, absurd that people who need things should go without even though the skills and resources to provide for them exist. We can go along with the LETS enthusiasts in denouncing this scandal of unmet needs alongside unused resources. The difference between Socialists and LETS enthusiasts is that, while both of us criticise money, they answer “yes” to the question “So, you want to go back to barter?” while we answer “no”. They want to retain exchange and trading with some new kind of money; we want a society based on common ownership geared to producing things directly for people to take and use in which exchange and trading, and money as the means of exchange, would be redundant.

Back to Barter
LETS schemes are essentially local barter clubs. A group of people with varying skills get together and agree to exchange the services they can provide with any other member without using money.

Records, however, have to be kept. Each member has an account and when one member’s services are used their account is credited with the exchange value of that service while that of the user is debited by the same amount. What normally happens is that each member is given a sort of cheque book which they can use to pay for other members’ services either at a published price or as agreed between the two. Clearly for all this a unit of account is needed.

Some schemes define this unit in terms of labour time. Others tie is to the pound. The accounts could in fact be done in pounds but generally the unit is given a special name. In Bath it is an “oliver”; in Brixton it is a “brick”; in Reading a “ready”, and so on.

Do LETS schemes really allow people, as is claimed, to by-pass money and so have “access to things they would not otherwise have”? Two unemployed people with different skills can always barter their services. Thus an unemployed plumber can repair an unemployed electrician’s central heating in exchange for some rewiring by the electrician. Neither needs money for this. A LETS scheme is merely an extension of this: the plumber or electrician joins a barter club and so gains access to a wider range of potential clients as well as access to a wider range of reciprocal services (too often, though, things not normally needed by the unemployed like aromatherapy, holistic massage, acupuncture, tarot reading and other such New Age fads). So, it’s an alternative to placing cards in newsagent’s windows or relying on the grapevipe to learn about work opportunities. As such, like the black economy, it’s one way of surviving in the capitalist jungle but that’s all. But don’t LETS schemes help create a “local community spirit”? Maybe, but no more than any other local club.

Small is Small
The trouble is that the idea has been hijacked by all sorts of currency cranks and funny money theorists who see it as the basis for an “alternative money” and an “alternative economy”. But they overlook two important facts.

First, the nature of the activities covered by LETS schemes. They are all activities that can be carried out by a single individual such as repairs and personal services, and which in the normal money economy could be done by self-employed people working on their own. In fact, from an economic point of view, LETS club members are acting as self-employed; a LETS scheme is a club in which self-employed individuals barter their services. It could never extend beyond this to productive activities that require expensive equipment and plant and a large workforce—such as, precisely, the manufacture of the things that LETS members and the self-employed repair.

Secondly, there are definite limits to the size a LETS scheme can attain. The biggest in Britain only has 300 members. If they got much bigger than this the administrative work of recording all the transactions would grow and could no longer be done by voluntary or part-time labour; people would have to be employed to do it, which would add to the running costs of the scheme and have to be shouldered by the members. The membership fees and transaction charges already levied by the scheme would rise. At a certain point this would cancel the advantages of being in the scheme and members would find it more convenient to re-enter the money economy and resort to newsagent’s windows and contacts.

Funny Money
What most of the currency cranks who have latched on to the LETS idea envisage is converting the units of account the schemes use — olivers, bricks, readies, etc—into a real money that would circulate.

In fact most commentators, like John Vidal in the Guardian article, refer to the LETS units of account as “currencies”, but this is misleading. They are not money; they do not circulate. They only exist on paper or computer disk as a record of transactions. LETS schemes are in fact more cumbersome than money. After all, with a real money that circulates an individual account of a person’s exchange transactions doesn’t have to be kept.

Some of the advantages claimed for LETS units also apply to cash. So when Harry Wears says “a LETS cheque can’t bounce”, this is true but neither can cash. Similarly, when it is argued that people have an incentive to use LETS credits—and that when they do accumulate them this doesn’t give them any power to manipulate other people—as they don’t pay interest, the same applies to cash as such. A hoard of cash is no more useful than a large LETS credit balance.

What is being advocated as the ideal is a money that can’t be accumulated and can’t be lent at interest, with LETS units being seen as the formula to achieve this. But such an “alternative money” is never going to come into being, because it would be worse than existing money. If you have an exchange economy (which the LETS enthusiasts accept, as is seen by the full name Local Exchange and Trading System) then conventional money is the best means of exchange. Not only does it allow many more exchanges to take place than barter or a modified form of barter like LETS schemes, but the payment and receipt of interest also facilitates more exchanges.

Banks are not, as some LETS theorists (along with the traditional currency cranks) suggest, the villains of the peace who interrupt the normal circulation of money and goods by not making money available to match needs and resources unless they are paid a tribute in the form of interest. Banks are financial intermediaries which borrow money from people who have some but don’t want to spend it immediately, and then lend it those who have something to spend money on but no money of their own. Naturally the banks take precautions to ensure that they are going to get back any money they lend, but the overall result that they help keep money circulating and exchange going.

To want to keep exchange but do away with banks and the taking of interest is unrealistic in the extreme. It is typical currency crankism.

The way to end the scandal of unmet needs alongside unused skills and resources is not to retain the exchange economy while trying to get rid of some of its effects by reforming the money system. It is to get rid of the exchange economy altogether by establishing a society based on the common ownership of productive resources where goods and services would be produced directly for people to take and use and not to be exchanged, or bought and sold, at all.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: The Future of China (1994)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers throughout the world are becoming increasingly interested in China, but their sympathies are not always identical. Some regard the Kuo Min Tang Government as "progressive", inasmuch that it professes its intention to establish democracy and raise the standard of life of the people. Others support the "communist-soviet" regime and hope that it will succeed in sovietising all China. Neither of these attitudes is in the interests of the common people of China or the rest of the world. Whichever regime emerges, the masses will be enslaved to some form of capitalism.

Therefore Socialists are hostile to all the rival contenders for power in China. Our sympathies are whole-heartedly with the common people, who for decades have endured horror upon horror. Is there a way to put an end to their suffering? There surely is. The workers of all lands—especially in Britain, U.S.A., Canada, Germany, and other advanced industrialised countries — must resolve to do away with capitalism and establish in its place international Socialism.

(From an article by H.G. Holt,
 Socialist Standard, December 1944)

Special Offer (1994)

From the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
Free food ... free housing ... free healthcare ... free travel...
free clothing ... free holidays ... free entertainment
That’s right, you didn’t misread the headline. Not a bad offer is it but we’re not going to do anything for you, you’ve got to do it for yourselves"? In fact, you already do.

You are the people who run the factories and the farms, build the houses, look after the sick, teach the kids, operate the transport and communication networks, staff the offices, cook the meals and wash up afterwards. You already provide everything that is consumed in society. No, unlike the other parties we don’t offer to do anything for you or give you anything, we do however say that free access to everything mentioned above, and much more is available — as soon as society is organised in a sensible way. How could we possibly give it to you? You already run the system from top to bottom, you’ve got it all already haven’t you? Well, no, not quite, because although you spend your working life organising and producing everything, you give it all away.

"Give it away, surely not. My employer works jolly hard you know, he told me himself, he deserves every penny of profit I make for him. Anyway, he owns the whole outfit — started out from nothing getting people like me to work for him, and it’s stressful at the top constantly flying about calling up the accountant on the phone.”

Yes, it's sad, we sympathise with the bosses; there’s the constant worry of what their competitors are up to, and whether the Chancellor will bankrupt them by getting his sums wrong again, in which case we’re out of a job too, aren’t we? What they need is socialism, just think, when we have it, they can join the rest of us in doing something useful.

“But what about that chap in the smart suit I voted for in the last election? He said his party could arrange things so that the employers would make more profit, and we might even be a little better off too, and he’s going to do something about the hospital waiting lists and the environment. Oh, and single mothers and the latest crime figures too."

No, we won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that these are your views. You know as well as we do that politicians are completely helpless when it comes to making the market work in our interests. If they could they would, but over the years they've tried every trick in the book and they know they can’t. Don't be too hard on them though. Look at it from their point of view — it’s a cushy job and the money’s not bad, if people are daft enough to give them power, why not? Better than working for an employer.

It's ironic though isn’t it? If there was an election tomorrow on whether global socialism should be introduced many of these people would probably vote against it. Can you imagine after socialism has been introduced, the owning class of today and their politicians saying — ‘‘No, we want no part in your system, instead of contributing to the useful work, and taking freely what we need, we want to be employed, we want to be paid a wage which just about lasts from one pay day to the next. Instead of designing, building and living in decent housing, we want you to preserve a block of slum council flats for us to live in. Leave us out of your new healthcare schemes, we prefer the capitalist style of doing things, keep an old rundown hospital going for us, arrange for it to be kept short of beds and nursing staff and we’ll queue up for months for treatment. You can keep your socialism. We’re proud of our capitalist system."

Perhaps not, they can’t be that stupid can they?
Nick White

The Shop (1994)

A Short Story from the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

John Kingstead made vague promises to unpack and set off down the street as though Venice and Rome had been illusions. He walked with brisk determination, giving the impression that he was an inspector not a shopper.

He marched into the corner shop and stood in a familiar doorway, blinking. The shop he had known all his life had been transformed. The hum of refrigerators echoed all around. Hundreds of slabs of butter were piled against one wall blurring into a sea of margarine tubs. Opposite were bottles of milk, some of them unlikely colours, and various different types of cream. The largest wall and refrigerators around the room were taken up with cheeses.

“What the . . .?” John said in astonishment. A shopkeeper sprang up from his chair. He wiped his hand on his apron ceremonially and offered it out.

“Hello, can I help you?” he asked. Kingstead spun round several times in amazement.

“What have you done?” he wailed. Kingstead’s meaning obviously wasn't apparent to the shopkeeper

“This morning? Mainly just taking orders and assisting customers.” Kingstead was nervous.

“What have you done to the shop?” he shouted. “You’ve got no bread, no fruit, no meat. You don’t even have a till.” 'Hie shopkeeper looked thoughtful for a while and then sudden recognition broke out.

“Is that some kind of Hungarian cheese?” he asked. “We don’t have any but if you like I’ll write it down and order some for you. Were you thinking of trying the job? I just wondered because you were asking a lot of questions about it earlier on and I. . .” Kingstead cut him short.

“I want to know what you’ve done to my shop and where you keep the money." There was silence as the shopkeeper thought things through. He grinned.

“I get it. It’s a joke. Bread, money!” “It’s no joke. I go on holiday for a month to try to enjoy my retirement and I return to find an imbecile giving away rare cheeses.”

The shopkeeper became suddenly thoughtful and looked Kingstead up and down. “What year is it?” he asked. Kingstead looked at him in amazement.

“Nineteen ninety-four” he answered. The shopkeeper’s eyebrows rose with the surprise of someone who expects something unlikely and is slightly fazed that it has happened at last. More than anything he looked knowing.

“I did suspect that something like this would happen eventually.”


“Why don’t you sit down and have a cup of tea,” he suggested.

Kingstead sat keeping his eyes on the grocer all the time. He still did not trust him.

He had learned to trust no-one during his own shopkeeping years. Even the smallest children with their melting smiles and their equally melting ice-lollies were only waiting for him to disappear into the backroom so they could fill their pockets with sweets. Not even his friends, relatives and even the elderly could count on his trust.

It was the economic recession that had made people desperate. He had seen so many stand across the counter from him with the fear of redundancy in their eyes and who could now only gaze at the luxuries they would have bought in the boom years.

And it was the damned Conservative Party with its open market and competition that had brought it all about. He had no doubt about that. In the post-war years when corner shops were common and the Labour Party was in power there was decency, honesty and prosperity.

The Conservatives had killed corner shops and replaced them with faceless supermarkets. And when he had retired with no son or assistant to pass it to he had sold it to one of the hated Thatcherite conglomerates. They had stolen the spirit he had cultivated. How it had changed! It was full of middle-class titbits that the working class could never afford. It made him feel like crying.

The one bitter comfort that his confused mind could throw up was that at least the conglomerate had not sold the shop to any of the Pakistanis that were infesting the trade. The Black Plague had been successfully averted. The job-stealing, dole-claiming hordes had been kept back in their own backward division of the Earth and the honest working men of the village would not have to face that extra threat to their jobs.

The shopkeeper tinkled with some crockery below the small counter then brought out two steaming cups of tea.

“Now then,” he said softly, and began to explain. “Some people think that places can have auras and that. Like if something bad happens, really bad, it stays with the place and you can sometimes feel it. They do say that’s what causes hauntings, it's the vibrations of things in the past. But it works the other way too. If two people from different times care about a place a lot, that place can sometimes bring them together.” The shopkeeper paused.

“I know I care about this store very much, and you obviously do otherwise you wouldn’t have come in here shouting like you did. It’s been arranged for us to meet.”

Kingstead stared at him. He was definitely serious.

“Yes. Whatever you say.” The shopkeeper looked around for the newspaper he had been reading and threw it at Kingstead. He read the date.

14 May 2146.

“Am I really in the future?” he asked.

“Yeah, and if I were you I’d make every possible effort to stay here."

Kingstead wrinkled his brow.

“Why?” he asked.

"Oh come on. I've done history. I know what life was like in the capitalist era.”

“What the . . . how . . . you mean?” Kingstead suddenly remembered all the doubts he had about the grocer’s behaviour. Being in the future certainly didn’t excuse that.

“Global socialism. We got rid of money.” The way he said it made it sound like such an ordinary statement. Kingstead was very nearly speechless.

“Oh,” he said, and was silent. “Do you swap things?” he asked hesitatingly. The whole idea was so primitive that it made him cringe, but what other explanation was there?

“No. That’s really the same thing. Just as bad. We give them away.”

“What?” Kingstead shouted. All those beautiful things were being given away to people with no guarantee that the recipients had ever done anything to deserve them.

Without money people would have no reason to work, would they? He thought of how glad he himself had been to retire. But that led him on to how bored he had been after a few months, all the useless hobbies he had taken up to fill his time and that trip they had taken to escape the boredom. His retirement had taught him that human beings are not naturally lazy.

He had chosen to go into business with his father because shopkeeping was a job he loved. In a world without wage-packets, more so in a world without wage-packets, people would still find careers they wanted to dedicate themselves to. In a moneyless world they would be serving the community and themselves, not some fat capitalist whip-crackers. Job satisfaction would increase overnight.

He thought of all his retired friends who wanted to work and could not. He had blamed the ageist attitudes of employers. Now he knew it was money. His heart leapt at the thought of all that could be achieved and produced if the restrictions of money died away.

He remembered products he used to enjoy that were no longer made because they weren’t profitable. In a world without profits he could have them even if he had to make them himself. He looked again at the racks of cheese and butter. There was so much variety. How many people actually wanted Tibetan yak’s butter, apart from Tibetans? But somebody wanted it, so it was there.

He turned to look at the shopkeeper, beaming.

“Impressive, isn't it?” the shopkeeper asked. Kingstead nodded. “Of course at first we were all mainly just concerned about feeding everyone in the world but once things got going people started to realise just how much the world could produce. There was a huge increase in inventions being realised when patents were no longer needed and thousands of so-called ‘unprofitable’ schemes were tried out. And these are the profits, human happiness.”

He already knew how wrong capitalism was. He had just been following Racism and the Labour Party down a blind alley of excuses for years. Now that he was forced to accept that things could, would and will change he was free to accept socialism. Political beatitude descended over him. At last he knew the answer.

The shopkeeper coughed.

“I could always explain it to you,” he said. In silence Kingstead turned and shook his head.

“Thanks,” he said, in the most genuine way he ever had. “But I think I understand.” They stood in silence again.

“I think that as soon as you leave the shop you return to your own time,” the shopkeeper told him. Kingstead sighed.

“Oh well, I have things to do there,” he said. “For instance, explaining all this to the British Legion!”

And he left the shop, whistling and carrying a pat of Tibetan yak’s butter and a head full of ideas.
Matthew Vaughan-Wilson