Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Hard work and piece wages (1978)

From the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Communist China is back on the “capitalist road” and Mao’s successors don’t mind who knows it. Chairman Hua says that a more pragmatic approach is essential if China is to achieve its objective of overtaking Western industrialised countries by the year 2000.
William Davis—Daily Express Sept. 8, 1978
As in Stalin’s Russia, piecework, bonuses and “work points” are increasingly used as incentives in China and wage differentials are encouraged. Mao’s pragmatic successors say “egalitarianism is a petty bourgeois utopian Socialist idea”. A remark which is quoted approvingly by the Daily Express: “Mrs Thatcher could not have put it better.”

There is no evidence that this is a new trend. Rather the reverse. “Learn from Tachai!” has been a slogan all over China for many years, since Tachai has served as a “model village” since 1964. Under the "Tachai system” the work-points for an 8-hour day range from 10 to a low of 4 for the aged or beginners. Women being the “weaker sex” get at most 8 to 8.5 work-points. Men however often get more than 9 work-points. The elderly get 5 or 5.5 work-points. Obviously there is great inequality even within a single commune.

Is the Chinese work-points system a new wage form? No! It is a form of piece-wage.

Under the Tachai system: “meetings are held at regular intervals in which peasants evaluate their own work and suggest a work-point rating for themselves. Then other peasants discuss the ratings and adjust them if necessary. The factors considered in determining work points for each person are first that person’s attitude toward work and then his or her level of skill and degree of strength.” (China! Inside the People's Republic by the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars 1972).

Evidently results are what count. The man or woman who has hoed more rows or laid more courses of bricks or harvested most rice or corn, compared with others working under similar conditions, is bound to end up with the highest work-point rating and therefore a higher income. This is the essence of the piece-work system: wages appear to be determined by the quantity of work completed.

The use of piecework is a time-honoured and loathesome practice of the employer who wants to induce his workers to put their noses to the grindstone. For those who believe, like Mr. Davis, that China is “communist”, it is worth quoting what Marx had to say of “piece-wages”.

In the first place, he is emphatic that a “piece- wage is . . . only a modified form of time-wage”. But there are significant differences. Piece wages, said Marx, become “the most fruitful source of reductions of wages and capitalistic cheating” and “since the quality and intensity of the work are here controlled by the form of the wage itself, superintendence of labour becomes in great part superfluous”. With Government legislation limiting the length of the working day, capital could only become more productive by intensifying labour and consequently piece-wages became the general rule in factories. “Piece-wage is the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production” (Marx, Capital, vol. I chap. xxi).

The Chinese work-points system is used, like other piecework systems, to spur workers on to harder exertions in the erroneous belief that what they produce will all come back to them. That however is not the case, in China or anywhere else. Under the Tachai system, “the total number of work-points is divided into the income left after all other expenses.” This meant on a commune called Hongqiao that only “60 per cent of the total income is distributed to the workers”. The rest was divided out as follows:-
Costs of production                                         25%
To the state for tax                                            5%
Capital improvements of the commune         7%
Public benefit fund                                           3%
(including, medical and social services, nurseries and schools)
(China! Inside the People’s Republic
Such a system produces results. The most obvious result is that where nearly half of what workers produce does not come back to them, the bosses have to provide some very juicy incentives in the form of “bonuses” to make it seem worthwhile to do any work at all.

This is a problem of the capitalist system the world over—the system in which the working class is made to produce surplus value—wealth over and above what they can expect to receive in wages, however computed—is a system which takes the motivation and joy out of labour. It has changed the once enthusiastic pioneers of Liberation in China into those workers whose enthusiasm has to be stimulated by Hua’s Thatcherite policy of “material incentives”.

China’s rulers can be really proud of their progress in catching up with Western capitalism’s ingenious devices for exploiting the wage-slave class and extracting a maximum of surplus value by traditional capitalist methods. They must also be pleased that most people all over the world are still duped by the con-trick they copied from the Kremlin of calling a capitalist wage-slave state “communism”. Whatever the name, the underlying reality for workers is everywhere the same: selling their labour power for wages which are less than the value of what they produce, they remain forever poor and exploited. This condition can never be changed in its essence as long as the wages system lasts.
Charmian Skelton

Sting in the Tail: Do It Yourself (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do It Yourself

The idea of the division of labour runs deep in capitalism. Just as most workers entrust their health to doctors, their children's education to teachers, etc., so they leave their political thinking to politicians.

Even on the issues which most seriously affect their lives, such as war, the environment and employment, the attitude is "we needn't bother our heads over these things, that's the politicians' lob and anyway they know best". This attitude was voiced by the wife of a British hostage in Iraq who wants her husband home:
  All this politics is above me. Why can't they sort it out like adults? Why don't they leave it to the Arabs?
The Guardian 22 October
Obviously the lady hasn't even begun to bother her head over what the conflict in the Gulf is about, but the first condition for solving a problem is to know its cause, and workers who ignore the issues and leave their thinking to others do so at their peril.

Bulgar Bunkum

Besides expecting politicians to do their thinking for them, some Bulgarian workers imagine that politicians feed and clothe them and even oil the wheels of industry!

The strike committee of the Burgas petrochemical works say:
   We want a government which can feed us, clothe us, and supply as much oil as our installations need to work.
The Guardian 7 November
The committee has got it all wrong: it is the workers who do those things for politicians and not the other way round. Bulgarian workers obviously know as little about their role as wealth producers as do workers elsewhere. What have the Bulgarian "communists" been telling them these past 45 years?

What is a T-O-R-Y?

At a conference in Perth recently, delegates exchanged punches and kicks, one told another "his face would be punched in", the chairman invited one group to "shut up or get out" and various participants were described by others as "thugs", "soccer casuals" and "monsters" (Glasgow Herald 12 November)

A get-together of the Mafia's British section perhaps, or maybe a unity conference between the SWP and the RCP? No, it was only the Scottish Young Conservatives in typical action.

These YC's have been taken over by the "Radical Right" and no opportunity was missed at the conference to bash (sometimes literally) the "Wets", especially "the member for Baghdad and Sidcup"(Ted Heath) and the "enemy within" (Michael Heseltine), while the air was thick with pledges of undying loyalty to Mrs. Thatcher, appeals for a "a radical manifesto", etc., etc.

Most of this "Radical Right" will eventually grow bored with all this posturing and settle down to become the type of Tory personified by Messrs Hurd, Major and Patten, but in the meantime the term 'Tory" when applied to them should be an acronym for 'Thoroughly Obnoxious, Reactionary Yobs".

True Blues and Reds

Graeme Souness, the manager of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, hit the headlines of the Glasgow Herald on 10 November. Nothing unusual in that you may think — newspapers are always displaying an interest in the trivial — but this time it wasn't football that was the issue but politics.

Souness had barred the Glasgow Herald journalist James Traynor from any contact with Rangers officials. He was displeased with an article Traynor had written about Rangers failure in the European Cup.
  According to Traynor, the manager then said: "I've been reading your stuff over the past couple of years and it seems to me that you are just a little socialist."
Again you might think, so what — after all Souness probably knows less about politics than football and anyway Rangers have the reputation of being a True Blue Protestant Tory organisation, but the article on the sports page was an eye-opener. It stated:
  A socialist, according to the dictionary is an adherent to the theory, principle, or scheme of social organisation which places means of production and distribution in the hands of the community.
Now that is unusual. A newspaper that more or less correctly defines a socialist. Perhaps the sports editor should have a word with the news editor who constantly incorrectly describes the Labour Party as "socialist".

God on their side

While armies move along the Iraq/Saudi Arabia border preparing for the hellish conflict which begins to look more and more likely, the divines at home ponder on the morality of the affair.
  In Britain The Times has been running letters on the concept of a just war, mostly from Anglican bishops, since September. The Americans and French bishops debated the Issue at length at separate conferences last weekend, and on November 7th, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the Most Reverend Roger Malory, sent a letter to Mr. James Baker, the American secretary of state.
The Economist 17 November
There is something particularly nauseous in the spectacle of young workers preparing to meet death, disfigurement and pain; while bishops in London and Los Angeles debate the pros and cons of a "just war".

The history of war is full of examples of religion supporting "just wars". In the case of the Gulf Crisis the battle for oil will be disguised as a moral crusade. As the late unlamented oil billionaire Paul Getty said when he heard one of the beatitudes — Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth — "Yes, but not the mineral rights."

Supermarket Politics

Commenting on the similarity of Mr. Heseltine's policy to those of Mr. Kinnock, Peter Kellner in The Independent (16 November) compared the policies of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to the goods on sale at Tesco and Sainsbury.
  Filling party manifestos is fundamentally not that different from filling supermarket shelves: both require a judicious mix of new and old, innovation and imitation. And an efficient political market is likely to generate choice among alternatives that are basically similar.
So there you have it — your choice is between "alternatives that are basically similar". Both Labour and Conservative stand for the continuation of the capitalist system. As far as socialists are concerned both are well past their sell-by dates.

Nightmare Economics

Capitalism is a real nightmare for the politicians who attempt to control it. Consider the current row over EC subsidies for its 10 million farmers. These subsidies allow uneconomic farmers to survive and the EC to undercut competitors on world food markets.

These competitors, especially the USA, all need to export food too, so they demand big cuts in the subsidies. But Germany and France have hordes of small farmers who have votes and can, as they have shown, cause serious civil disturbance, so they have persuaded the EC to cut subsidies by only 30%.

The outraged competitors have threatened to retaliate by excluding EC products from their own markets and set off a world trade war.

This is the nightmare facing the governments of the 105 nations attending the conference in Geneva this month on expanding free-trade. A nightmare indeed, but one which those who seek to run capitalism bring upon themselves.

Debt is a four-letter word (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech which did not dominate the discussion in pubs and work canteens the Governor of the Bank of England recently revealed how anxious and angry he is about the state of the nation.

"Some people", he moaned, "are undoubtedly in difficult situations . . . they feel vulnerable and confused . . . The distress suffered by individuals and their families is obviously a matter of concern for all of us . . ." He was not talking about impoverished bankers with their begging bowls obstructing the free passage in the City of London nor about pathetic landowners developing claustrophobic tendencies when they are shut up in their stately homes with only a few thousand acres around them. What stimulates the anxiety of the Governor is the growth of what he calls consumer credit, but which others might call living on tick, which he says has doubled over the last ten years:
  Thrift has gone out of fashion. Indeed the all-to-prevalent outlook on life has become I want it, and I want it now.
These sentiments would have been well received in Downing Street, by a prime minister who has such fond memories of her father's dour parsimony and whose professed ambition is to run British capitalism like a thrifty housewife who never gets in debt. The only snag is that the credit boom has happened while the thrifty housewife has been in charge, even if the Chancellor who did so much to help her is now increasingly denounced as a reckless wastrel. It is not new for a moral issue to be made of debt: this governments contribution to this particular piece of hypocrisy has been to link it with what it has called the dependency culture—of single mothers passing their responsibilities on to the state, of scroungers battening on to a naively generous Department of Social Security, of hypochondriacs absorbing almost the entire resources of the National Health Service.

Tally men and credit cards
It is not convenient to this theory that people who rely on earning a wage for their living can hardly avoid getting into debt and that it has been like this for a long time. A lot of today's consumer credit would once have been supplied by the less exotically named tallyman with his bicycle and his mini-ledger and through the "cheques"—credit vouchers—often sold by churches who took a commission on the repayment by instalments. Now these same functions are performed through credit cards, mail order, HP agreements, bank overdrafts and the like. This is not to mention one of the most common forms of modern debt—the mortgage which, according to the Governor, has grown even faster than the other types of credit and which has widely replaced rental as the most available method for a worker to get somewhere to live. At the lower end of the poverty scale, this government has recently created a new tribe of debtors in the social security claimants who are now forced to grovel for a loan from the DSS if they need things like clothes or furniture, where before they were likely to get an outright grant.

But this nation apparently seething with debtors is not a happy place where everyone is getting everything they want now because they can't be bothered to save for it, through the benevolence of the money-lending institutions. A survey of the situation in 1989 carried out by the Policy Studies Institute, Credit and Debt in Britain, found that more than ten per cent of families in the UK were is arrears, some of them with multiple problem debts. The average arrears amounted to £600. which may not be much to the Governor of the Bank of England but is a mountainous sum to a single parent family or someone who is unemployed. In these days of the mortgaged home, rent arrears remain a serious problem; the survey said that over a million families were in trouble over rent last year.

There is no happier news about mortgages, which have long been fondly advertised as the way to a secure home. "Mortgage misery" is a phrase which has been overworking in the headlines of the popular press lately. It encapsulates the kind of evidence published in August by the Council of Mortgage Lenders—that the number of mortgages in arrears of six to twelve months was 95,030 in the first six months of 1990. compared to 58,040 in the same period last year. Mortgages more than 12 months behind rose from 12,030 to 18,750. Those friendly banks and building societies, who have put so much effort into assuring us that their main concern is to help us get a roof over our heads, have responded to this situation by taking the roof back, with the rest of the house. Repossession cases numbered 7,390 in the last half of 1989; in the first half of this year they reached 14,390—almost double. A spokesman for Barclays Bank said (he was trying to be helpful). "Anyone who is having difficulties shouldn't just ignore them . . ." as if it were possible to ignore the trauma of repossession, of being homeless. "We've advised him to go the the council's homeless person's unit", said a local Citizen's Advice Bureau of one man with a pregnant wife and two children who owes £3,500 to a building society. "He’ll have to prove real financial and personal difficulty before they rehouse him”.

Capitalist debts
At the same time we have been hearing of many other cases of people who, whatever the Governor of the Bank of England may think, wanted something now and were willing to get into debt for it. There is a crucial difference between these people and those who fall behind with the mortgage, or can't pay for the fridge they got on HP, or have to apply for a loan from the DSS and that is the scale of what might be called their operations. The Parkfield group, which had investments in engineering, property and entertainments, recently crashed owing £288 million of which £27 million is unlikely ever to be repaid. News Corporation, the huge media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch whose British papers have worked so hard to keep Thatcher in power and in so many other ways to titillate working-class delusions. has a "long-term” debt of A$7.58 billion (£3.22 billion). The vast and complex empire of Robert Maxwell, who was once a Labour MP and who is still extravagant enough to call himself a socialist, has debts of over £1.5 billion. It is the same story with other groups whose reputations rest on the charisma—or should it be the media hype associated with one person such as Brent Walker and Saatchi and Saatchi. When capitalism was in boom these people were revered as super intellects who had done the impossible—they had produced infinite profitability even if the proceeds were not available to all those readers of the Sun and the Mirror who so admired them. Sales went on soaring and the groups snapped up one expansionary deal after another. It seemed it would never end.

That was all very well as long as profits kept rising and interest rates were low but as the situation changed the extravagant debts of these groups put them under a lot of pressure. Many famous company names—Coloroll. British and Commonwealth—were extinguished while others—Laura Ashley—struggled on. Among the most spectacular of recent struggles has been Polly Peck whose chairman and chief executive, Asil Nadir, has been under scrutiny by the Serious Frauds Office. Polly Peck controlled over a third of the press in Turkey, it owned the Sansui hi-fi company and Russell Hobbs Kettles. Most famously it also owned Del Monte, the canned fruit firm which ran those TV ads in which Mediterranean peasants waited anxiously in the early morning sun for the Man from Del Monte to sample the fruit and give the go-ahead for it to be picked for canning . . . Polly Peck borrowed about £570 million to buy Del Monte: its total debts were estimated at around £1.3 billion and Asil Nadir anxiously grovelled to the Turkish government to help rescue him before disaster, not to mention the boys from the SFO, overtook him.

These debts put into proportion the problems of mortgage, HP and rent arrears. The working class, who depend on employment for their living, need to borrow money—sometimes to survive, sometimes to buy something which the Governor of the Bank of England and Margaret Thatcher's father would no doubt regard as a luxury like a TV set or a washing machine. At one time they did this through "cheques" or tallymen or the pawnbrokers who lent small amounts on the flimsiest of security such as a man's best (and only) suit. There was always a certain stigma attached to these methods—tallymen did not advertise themselves and there was nothing brazen in the manner of those who slipped into the pawnbrokers on a Monday. But this does not apply to credit cards or bank overdrafts or mortgages: in most cases these are seen as evidence that a worker has arrived at some sort of economic maturity: they have solved the problem of poverty and can read the financial press with the same interest as a Maxwell or a Nadir. Not many people regard themselves as members of the working class when in the company of their Flexible Friend.

But capitalism can wipe out delusions as fast as it promotes them. Facing reality can be a painful business, for the worker whose dream of a secure home turns into a nightmare of council bed-and-breakfast accommodation and possibly for the tycoon whose financial juggling act falls into disarray and ends up in bankruptcy. Except that when this happens it usually leaves them down to their last few million, their last few thousand acres, their last private jet and yacht. It is the class who end up in homeless families accommodation who make all these things, who produce the profits which finance the machinations of people like Murdoch and Nadir but who suffer the anguish and the humiliations of poverty. And that will not Do Very Nicely.

Letters: William Morris (1990)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris

Dear Editors,

The two articles on William Morris in your October 1990 issue are most welcome. Although it is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of News From Nowhere, the left has been almost silent about Morris. This, despite the fact that Radio Four made it a “Book At Bedtime". Sadly others, particularly Greens and modern-day Utopians have not been so slow to pick up on claiming Morris for their own philosophies.

Against this your two articles do a good job in situating Morris firmly within a socialist and Marxist tradition. C. Skelton gives a fair summary of Morris's political ideas, although I think I prefer Morris's original views to Skelton’s gloss on why they didn't work. Central to this, of course, is Morris's connection with extra-parliamentary anarchism. Now that Stalinism has collapsed perhaps it will be possible to examine this afresh. Certainly while I would agree that parliamentary activity cannot be ignored, one can understand how Morris, faced with Hyndman's SDF, came to take the stand that he did.

I am not so sure about DAP's review of the book William Morris and News From Nowhere: A Vision of Our Time. There is no doubt that, as DAP notes, it is an "interesting and important" book. It explores some of the themes in News From Nowhere and tries to show their relevance for the 1990s. So far so good. But the ultimate aim of the book is, of course, not to reinforce our understanding of Morris's position as perhaps the outstanding early British Marxist. Rather it is to suggest that Morris's heritage is confused and that he could be claimed equally by Greens or by radical liberals. Indeed, the Communist Party of Great Britain, which is just about to rename itself as the "radical party" is using Morris in just this way. DAP's review of the book is fine as far as it goes.

But if Morris is not to be taken from the Marxist tradition we will need to be much more critical of those who would isolate certain elements of this thought while denying his socialism and Marxism.
Keith Martin
London N17

We agree that an attempt is being made to claim Morris as some sort of harmless Green reformist, whereas in actual fact to his death he called himself a "revolutionary, international socialist".

Poll Tax

Dear Editors,

Instead of campaigning to abolish the poll tax. the working class should organise politically to end the capitalist system itself. Without the capitalist system there would be no poll tax, no rent, gas bills, house repossessions, wage slavery, no money or private ownership of the means of producing wealth.
Why object to paying poll tax when one has to pay to eat. to drink, to keep warm, in fact to exist!
Seaham, Co. Durham

Labour Party and Entryism

Dear Editors,

Please can you say what is the SPGB's attitude re Labour Party members? Recently I have met some London Labour members in Bradford—they were here to help the local Labour Party MP's. councillors etc.

I had a chat with them on the precinct as they were "signing up" passers-by at a bench. I asked these people what they thought about the SPGB. One or two did know of the existence of the SPGB, but did not know much about what it stands for—they had not been conversant with the Socialist Standard. After a discussion about all manner of aspects of current affairs but noticeably nothing re Socialism itself (I thought that very strange) they seemed to disregard the possibility of the SPGB growing into a mass party of the proletariat and they said that the Labour Party was the only one today to challenge modern Toryism, Thatcherism and present-day State Capitalism in the UK.

Please could you assess these postures of the Labour Party? I would appreciate if you are able to forward the SPGB's view of the Labour Party's claim. Basically it is this: The Labour Party sees the contemporary state capitalism as the full development of previous capitalism reaching an advanced (albeit decadent) level even with all the terrible exploitation which is caused by it.

My impression of Labour Party members is one of a strange lack of clarity and lucidity re Socialism. Your evaluation of the eastern states, USSR and others in the past has been proved perfectly correct, as recent changes have shown. Having assiduously studied the proofs and tenets of the SPGB, my findings are that the SPGB is totally validated re Socialism.

You have obviously come across a group of Trotskyist infiltrators into the Labour Party. Which would not be surprising since the MP for Bradford whose death provoked the recent by-election was associated with the so-called “Militant Tendency". Talk of capitalism involving exploitation and being decadent would make Neil Kinnock livid if he heard it, as what he and his fellow leaders of the Labour Party want is a chance to try and show that they can manage capitalism better than the Tories.

It is true that the Labour Party can win elections whereas we in the Socialist Party are without much influence. Since, however, Labour support is built up as support for managing capitalism, when in office they can do absolutely nothing to further the cause of socialism. Socialism will only become a real issue when more and more people want it and organise into a separate political party opposed to Labour. It is to this end that all our efforts are directed.


Dear Editors,

Although I think the October issue of the Socialist Standard is the most forthright condemnation of capitalism you have published during the last ten years that I have been reading it, there is one topic which I would like to question. "Does Religion Matter"?

Would it not have been better if socialists had ignored religion until real socialism had been established? We know that religion has always been used as a weapon of oppression against the working class. However, if we had not publicly denied the existence of our mythical Jesus Christ, who, according to the equally mythical bible, preached a socialist way of life, we might have had a few million Christians fighting for socialism!

After a few decades of world socialism, the Christians who had helped to bring it about would have departed this life, taking their religion with them. Hypocritical views maybe, but better than the evils of capitalism.
Peter H. Reynolds 
Sevenoaks, Kent

We don't think that our relative lack of progress is due to our opposition to religion. After all, if there were millions of Christians who would otherwise want socialism, why haven't they formed their own movement which would advocate the same as us except on religion? Nor can we see how it can be said that the mythical JC “preached a socialist way of life". The early Christians were a sect very similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today who cared little about changing society as they expected their Messiah to return in the near future and inaugurate a theocracy in which God would rule over humans with an iron hand. Hardly socialism!

Profits before trees

Dear Editors,

What happened in our village today is a mini-example of how the Green Party and all other reformist poitical parties will be unable to save the world from environmental destruction. Four very healthy mature trees stood immediately outside our back fence. They were a home for the birds, played their part in cleaning up the polluted air we breathe and were a pleasure to look at. Unfortunately they stood in the way of our local land baron and his plans for the future development of his land for either houses, car parks, access or factory units. He was not concerned that the North Herts District Council had asked for all existing trees to be retained, his object is the acquisition of money and all must bow down before this aim. So the trees were cut down and he is no doubt thinking hard for a good excuse when the NHDC asks questions. Those trees were no threat to our house but were immediately behind it. The lesson for the Green Party and all other reformist political parties is that, in our capitalistic society where money is supreme most acts are performed if profitable, and exploiting the earth is profitable. Vote out capitalism for a better society.
John E. Windebank 
Little Wymondley, Herts

Caught In The Act: Brylcreem Boys (1990)

The Caught In The Act Column from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Brylcreem Boys
To reconstruct a famous saying — Kenneth Baker has the looks of a politician designed by a committee. If we are to choose one short word to describe his appearance it would be smug, which is odd for a politician at a time when British capitalism is promising to slide into recession, when working class poverty, homelessness and sickness are as rampant as ever and — what is even worse — when the Conservative Party is in disarray. It is not so much his seriously fleshed body and face topped by a confection of hair battered into shape with generous applications of grease, nor the mouth which looks like the result of a surgical operation, an afterthought when the committee had adjourned, as his bravely persistent smile.

Baker's smiles do not spread over his face in order to prove that the surgeons have done a good job, connecting up all the muscles and nerves in the right order. They are his contribution to British politics, in his job as chairman of the Conservative Party. Confronted with some inconvenient news such as a crisis in the cabinet or a by-election defeat or a big lead for the Labour Party in the opinion polls, his conditioned response must be an expression of delight. It was in this way that he slickly misrepresented the Tories' heavy losses in the local election in May as a country-wide victory for them, making enough pleasureable noise about their results in Wandsworth, Westminster and Ealing to drown the wails of their defeated candidates in other areas and the panic-stricken twittering of Tory MPs who sit on thin majorities which they could see melting away in the warmth of the Baker smile.

Of course Baker is only human which means that sometimes the genial mask slips to show the despondency beneath. This happened when he had to face the newsnounds in the street after Nigel Lawson had resigned. But he soon perked up — he was. after all on TV — to urge us to take comfort from the fact that we had a very good Chancellor and a very good Foreign Secretary so all was well. The Tories' humiliation in Bradford North was partly blamed on their candidate's inept practice of the deceits and posturing which are called electioneering — which meant that Baker had to be sent out to tell everyone how much he admired her and to brush off the defeat with the understatement that "out there we're not very popular at the moment". Baker's job got really difficult when Geoffrey Howe resigned because in face of this massive piece of evidence of a split in the cabinet he had to insist that they were united — which made him took a fool or a fraud.

The job of Conservative Party chairman (so far no woman has held this job and if one does, knowing the Tories they will probably still call her a chairman) calls for a measure of flexibility — which might better be called a readiness to tell lies. Baker has already proved how flexible he can be because from being one of Thatcher's inner opponents he has joined the sorry ranks of her ardent admirers. In 1986 he voiced his anxieties about one of Thatcher’s favourite policies — support for the American bombing of Libya. Shortly afterwards he gave out one of those coded warnings, which the Tories are so fond of and which it is really pointless to obscure in code because everyone knows what the speaker means, when he spoke about the government losing its "sense of direction". Privately he spoke of the coming day when the traditional Tory style of government would return with ministers like Hurd and Gilmour and, of course, Baker.

By the time of the 1987 election Baker had seen — or had pointed out to him — the error of his ways and was praising "acquisitive individualism". This typically Thatcherite phrase was intended to strike a chord with those workers who were about to vote Tory because they had one of those massive debts called a mortgage or were very briefly shareholders in some privatised state concern. These people — the working class — acquire very little in their lives apart from debts and delusions about capitalism and what individualism they may display has a hard time under the pressures of having to work for their living. But it sounded good. And by the time of Heseltine's challenge for the Tory leadership Baker's recantation was as complete as Winston Smith’s in 1984. "Mrs. Thatcher's leadership qualities," he grovelled, "Are the greatest political assets which the Conservative Party and our nation have".

Being Tory Party chairman can be enjoyable when things are going well for the Tories, like when the Treasury are able to roll out some reassuring statistics about things like inflation and the balance of trade which the voters believe are so vital to our wellbeing. In other circumstances — like nowadays — it can be what might be called a harrowing experience, not to be recommended to anyone who has not first consulted their doctor. Baker's time in the chair has done little or nothing to advance his ambitions to be Tory leader himself. The same can be said for his time as Minister for Education, when he managed to antagonise the teachers into militancy by his rearrangements of their jobs and his bullying tactics over their pay. Under the stress of all this, he was said to be making his policies on the hoof and it is something of a monument to him that the Labour Party are now making a big electoral issue of education. They are sure that such is the dissatisfaction among workers about how children are taught that there are votes to be won and lost. So Baker's career seems to have come to a dead-end and he will become yet another discarded hopeful. But he can be relied on, however messy his end may be, to keep smiling to it.

Another Brylcreem boy, who was slapping on the brilliantine when Baker was a baby being kissed by politicians instead of the other way around, was the late Richard Crossman who is the subject of a recently published biography by Anthony Howard. While he was still at school Crossman decided that he was exceptionally brilliant and therefore conducted his life on that assumption. When he was elected to the Commons he was marked down as an incorruptible left winger by hopeful Labour dupes who mistake boorish behaviour for principled radicalism. In fact it was Crossman's behaviour and not his principles — such as could be identified — which deterred Attlee from promoting him from the back benches. For that he had to wait for Harold Wilson and his crafty balancing act.

To the dismay of many of those we must call his colleagues Crossman kept a diary of his time as a minister and it does not make soothing reading for them. Anyone who has any lingering delusions about the comradeship in a Labour government or its crusade to the new society should purge themselves by reading Crossman’s barbed accounts of what actually happened. They might also consider what these diaries say about Crossman himself — about his open contempt not just for his Labour colleagues but also for the working class who endure the poverty and repression of capitalism yet vote for braggarts like Crossman in the hope that they will change things. And they could ask themselves how anyone like Crossman could be called — could call themselves — a socialist. They could think about the meaning of the word socialist and how it can validly be applied only to those who struggle to end capitalism and its fetish for leaders, whether oily like Baker or abrasive like Crossman. If enough do that, enough ask those questions, then those diaries, to reconstruct another famous phrase, will not have been written in vain.

A working week (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Monday: Another five days of blood, sweat and tears starts here. Why, if today is the first day of the rest of my life, do I feel as if it’s passing me by? Everyone is walking around with that miserable expression they always wear at the beginning of the week. Tell them that they’re hungover from capitalism and they look at you oddly. I asked Jason how he fared in court last Friday. He says he was fined four hundred pounds. Seems to think it was a reasonable price to pay for getting canned and hitting a policeman. I suggest he should join the Army and indulge his taste for booze and violence at the expense of the state. He is not amused. Check my diary to see what exciting opportunities the week has in store for me. I am not jetting to New York on Concorde for a business meeting, but I am seeing some fellow wage slaves tomorrow to find out why their company isn’t paying its bills. What a stimulating life l lead. I note that it’s Tom’s sixtieth birthday next week. I don't know how he manages to haul that 32-ton artic around every day, what with night's out, and three a.m. starts. He’s certainly looking his age.

Tuesday: I'll never understand why these occasions always end up getting so heated. The way they were going on you'd think it was their own money they were spending. It's like marriage; money caused more arguments than anything else. When I get back to the office, Martin's put his bloody posters all over the place again. How come that if I display union information I'm accused of fomenting a communist revolution, but he can plaster evangelical messages all over reception with impunity? They're all the same, these born again hypocrites. Give 'em a company car and their name on the office door, and they're in the bosses' pocket. Allowing for inflation it’s a lot cheaper than thirty pieces of silver. Check my diary and discover that I’m not engineering the take-over of another company to add to my growing international industrial empire. Instead, I have an appointment with my bank manager because I’m a hundred pounds overdrawn without permission. Bit of grovelling obviously called for. Money, it s a bugger.

Wednesday: Our cats got more sense than me. The bank manager didn't appreciate my jokingly threatening to take my overdraft elsewhere; but when I told him that if I were a Third World country he would be falling over backwards to lend me millions at extortionate rates of interest, I don't think he was best pleased. Make a note to find a new bank. Better still, get rid of money, and everything that goes with it. Back at work Martin's been applying "Christian principles" to my members' work practices again He's trying to render unto Caesar every last Denarius. I told him once. "Look", I said, “you're just as much a member of the working class as those lads on the shop floor . "I don t believe in class", he said, "we're all god's children". Obviously there isn't anything about Marx's Labour Theory of Value in the bible. Martin hates unions. I know that. Personally, I think he resents not having been born into the ruling class. Capitalism's not got a lot to worry about with people like him at its beck and call. Still, everyone's not as stupid as he is. After all, it's the working class that runs capitalism from top to bottom. The asylum of ignorance, Spinoza called religion.

Thursday: Today's the day we have the weekly ritual whereby the workers pick up their ration of poverty. It's always the same. They open their pay-packet, examine the contents carefully. Then sign for it with a long, sorrowful sigh. The routine never varies. After further careful perusal of the pay-slip, the queries start to come thick and fast. Is this tax right? I thought I earned more bonus than this last week? Can I have a twenty-pound sub to see me through to next week? When are you going to talk to the boss about re-instating overtime? It's bad for my blood pressure, Thursdays. All that aggravation over money. All over the country, no, the world, there are wage clerks, bank clerks, accountants. petrol pump attendants, security guards, all involved in helping to run a society where you can’t even get a box of matches if you don't possess that unit of exchange, money. Stupid, isn't it? And what does it achieve? After the collection of the wages comes the payouts. Union dues, pay back subs, and a quid to the lad who runs the football pools syndicate. Winning the pools seems the best chance most of us have got of escaping from a nine-to-five existence. Stupid, isn’t it. Especially when the alternative is staring us in the face, socialism.

Friday: Talk about wishing your life away. Monday's blues are now forgotten. Until next week. Everyone's walking around saying, roll on five o'clock, and discussing what they're going to do over the weekend. The options are somewhat limited by the amount of cash available. A dinner for two at Maxim's, Paris? No, three pints down the pub. A spot of grouse shooting on the moors? No, a walk round the park. A night at the Royal Opera House? No, a night in front of the television. At four forty-five in the afternoon, Martin calls me into his office. He's wearing his worried but concerned look. I get treated to a fifteen-minute exposition on the state of the world economy, its effect on national profitability, and then comes the crunch. The company's suffering from overproduction and falling sales. We must reduce costs. He hopes that I appreciate the necessity of ensuring that the company does its best to survive these difficult times for us all. We're talking redundancies. Or we will be on Monday.

Everyday: Stupid isn't it? Life isn't some pre-ordained. unchangeable circumstances there simply to test our worthiness or otherwise to pass the examination for entry to some eternal luxury hotel when we die. Life isn't a rehearsal. This is the only one we get. Are we all really satisfied that it couldn't be better? Some of us are happier than most. They're the ones who own the institutions that most of us work for. They're the ones who sit back and let the rest of us continue to create wealth for them. Day after day after day. Some of us are employed to persuade the rest of the working class what a wonderful system capitalism is. Or to persuade us that after a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears, we'll get our reward in heaven. It won't do. We, the working class, run society already, but for the benefit of a few rather than for the many. Let's make the capitalist class redundant. and with it capitalism. Let's put a smile back into every day of the week.
Dave Coggan

Architects on the dole (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

When people think of architects images of a be-wigged Christopher Wren come to mind. Or there is the image of a corrupt businessman like John Poulson. For tens of thousands of workers and their families it is an image of a faceless designer who throughout the fifties and sixties packed them into wind-swept concrete slums many of which are currently being blown up.

However, images aside, there is one characteristic about architects which is generally forgotten, namely, that most are members of the working class. Of course Sunday Telegraph editorials like to portray them as members of a fictional "middle class”, as do the academic textbooks written by sociologists, a sect who are to capitalism what the Schoolmen were to feudalism.

But architects are workers whether they like it or not. because they are employed by those who own and control the architectural practices. These employers buy the architect’s mental and physical abilities to design and supervise the construction of a building exactly in the same way as a contractor buys the labour power of a bricklayer, a carpenter or a ground-worker. So in terms of the production and distribution of commodities architects are just a small constituent in what Marx called the "Collective Labourer". When put to work this collective workforce creates value and, through its exploitation by the capitalist, surplus-value in the form of commodities which are then sold on the market for a profit.

As workers, architects' ability to sell their labour-power to an employer is dependent upon trade conditions. In a boom there is no problem, and workers can obtain higher wages and better working conditions since their employers do not want production disrupted thereby jeopardising profits. But in a trade depression workers are expendable because the employers, in finding that their commodities are not selling, find that it is unprofitable to exploit the workers’ labour. Some workers are lucky in these conditions and retain their job. others are laid-off or made redundant. Such is the precarious existence for workers under capitalism.

The building industry is in a depression at the moment. Irrespective of whether people need houses—being forced to live with parents or friends, or in bed-sits and hostels, or to squat or sleep rough—if developers. whose only concern is profit and capital accumulation, find that they cannot sell the commodities that their houses and flats are they curtail production. They will either invest their capital elsewhere or, if they have over-produced, they will go bankrupt through not being able to meet their creditors' demands on time.

As a result of the present depression in the building industry many architectural practices have found work hard to come by, particularly those which were working for large house-builders and speculators in the City or Docklands. Bankrupt developers and capital moving out into sectors with higher rates of profit show that the owners of these businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to exploit their workforce. According to a recent report in the Architect's Journal (September 1990):
  The swiftness and severity of downturn in workload has alarmed many. In post-boom London and the South-East some practices are facing oblivion.
The report also cites a Department of Environment figure which claims:
  an 18 per cent fall in construction orders during the second quarter compared to 1989—the most dramatic decline for a quarter of a century.
The Architect's Journal in a telephone poll of 78 architectural practices found that employers had laid-off 133 architects in the last six months. During the next six months it believed that "another 55 redundancies are expected" in these offices. Over at the Royal Institute of British Architects, a business club which represents the class interests of those who own and control architectural practices. Tim Pritchard of the RIBA Appointment Bureau exclaimed:
  Some practices simply have no one left to sack. We're hearing now of practices on the ropes: they are down to the partners and the next stop will be to wind-up. Virtually every large firm is sacking: the effects are beginning to ripple North.
Bearing in mind that many architects see themselves divorced from the working class and the "operatives’’ on the building sites, it is tempting to have little sympathy for their current misfortune. Unemployment is a ruthless leveller. Now architects are having to join the ranks of the unemployed. They are in good company because Wren was sacked by his employers too. And, as they go through the humiliating and degrading experience of the Unemployment Office, they might like to reflect upon exactly what class they really belong to. Propertyless and dependent upon a wage or salary they fall fairly and squarely into the working class: the majority within a class-divided society.

With a good deal of humility, rather than aligning their interests with those of a hostile class they might also like to consider, along with the rest of our class, the urgent need for workers to take conscious political action in pursuit of their class interests to abolish capitalism and replace it with socialism.

Socialism will be a society which values design, construction and production for the pleasure these give and the use to which society can put them in meeting men's and women's needs. Architects will find this infinitely more rewarding than the way capitalism currently exploits them for its own profitable ends as disposable commodities on an unpredictable and anarchic world market.
Richard Lloyd

Between the Lines: Racism in Poland (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Racism in Poland

Jew-hating is the echo of fear. Frightened little men with distorted images of the world and ignorant louts with leather-boot-brains are to be found seeking someone — anyone — to blame for the predicament of their misery. Failing to recognise the real foe, which is the profit system in which they exist as the providers of their masters' privilege, they seek out a cultural group and chant their poisonous slogans of hatred. In Poland jew-hating (better to call it that — anti-semitism makes it sound like a philosophical outlook) is on the rise. Frozen prejudices are thawing out in the new, freer political atmosphere of post-state capitalism.

Assignment (BBC2, 7.45pm, 13 November) showed how the current Presidential election in Poland has brought out some of these sickening old prejudices. Workers interviewed on the street complained that the Jews ran the country. The reason for the awful poverty of most Poles was the Jews. The Walesa campaign has pandered to the kind of crass nationalism within which portrayal of the Jew as a non-Pole — a disruptive alien — has a place. This is the dirty work of running Polish capitalism which Walesa and those other brave workers of ten years ago have taken on.

In 1980 they knew who their enemies were: the Communist Party bosses; today the Jews are the scapegoats. The irony is that there are hardly any Jews left in Poland. The Nazis saw to that — about four million Polish Jews were systematically slaughtered. In Russia the same hatreds are being concocted by those in need of new enemies to blame.

Decades of so-called communist education and media have left nothing but a working class which is prey to this most ignorant of bigoted beliefs.

Gullibility in Britain

Equinox (Channel 4, 7pm, 18 November) reminded us just how many mugs there were in Britain and how many swines there are who will happily take money for exploiting such gullibility.

The programme examined the attempts to expose the frauds and — more often — self-deceptions of those who claim that they can read fortunes by looking at tarot cards, communicate with the dead and hold conversations with men from flying saucers. It is fear of rational thought which attracts the believers to such nonsensical beliefs.

Doris Collins was shown prancing up and down a stage delivering phoney messages from dead people to ignorant workers who do not want to believe that death means the end of life. "I have a message here from someone from a Jim — or a Jimmy — or a Timmy . . ." And someone somewhere whose father was called that or something like it or something close enough to let them imagine that they are getting their money’s worth raises their hand and allows Doris to tell them what they want to believe.

Then there was the expose of the detestably stupid Christian Dion: a caricature of a fair-ground fake — but perhaps he believes in what he says. Dion appears on London radio telling callers what their future will be like. By employing an array of cliches and likely possibilities Dion is able to create an image of a man who is doing something other than looking at a pack of silly cards and telling people what they want to hear.

The likes of Doris and Dion prey on the uncertainties and anxieties of working class life. They persisently fail to be put to the test of rigorous scientific scrutiny. They are the fools of a foolish culture and the providers of untruth to those who cannot face the truth. It has been a bad month for prejudice and fraud — bring on the Queen's Speech and the nativity play and let the sickly trend continue.
Steve Coleman

Which Exploiting Regime—U.S.A. or U.S.S.R.? (1945)

From the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trade Union Leaders at Loggerheads

The 1945 Trade Union Congress witnessed an indictment of Russian trade unionism by Mr. G. Meany, delegate from the reactionary American Federation of Labour. The incident occurred during a discussion on the proposed formation of an International Federation of Trade Unions. Mr. Meany protested against the inclusion of Russia, on the grounds that Russian trade unionism was a sham. He said: 
  "We do not recognise that the Russian worker groups are trade unions. The Soviet worker groups are formally and actually instruments of the State.
  "They are official branches of the Government and of its ruling dictatorial party.
 "These trade unions actively support the Soviet system of worker black lists and deportation to labour camps that have resulted in virtual enslavement for millions of peasants, workers and professional people, who are confined to labour camps with no protection from exploitation end compulsory labour.
  "We have been in complete accord with our Government's military co-operation with Russia. We hope our Government may find ways and means to achieve similar cooperation in post-war years in the interests of permanent world peace. But in simple honesty we insist on recognising the so-called Russian trade union movement for what it is—a Government controlled, Government fostered and Government dominated labour front that denies to the workers of Soviet Russia the basic human freedoms that American workers hold are pre-requisite to a free trade union.
  "For us membership in a world organisation that would attempt to dictate to our Government on the conduct of its foreign relations is unthinkable. We do not want our Government to take over trade unions and we do not want our trade unions to take over our Government.
  "We believe in Labour co-operation along trade union lines in the international field." —(Daily Sketch, 13th September, 1946.)
The next day Mr. Tarasov, representing the Soviet trade unions, referred to Mr. Meany's statements as insults and lies. He made no attempt to prove they were lies, but said Mr. Meany's accusations "aimed at disrupting their common efforts to achieve unity of one international trade union movement. This feeling of resentment was demonstrated in the Congress itself by the indignant protests of many delegates."

Mr. Meany's accusations were aimed more at the form of government in England and Russia than against trade unionism as such in those countries. American bosses would be in complete accord with him. The resentment of Mr. Tarasov and the disapproval of the delegates sprang more from this aspersion on their respective governments than from any charge against Russian trade unionism. The delegates of all three countries were merely showing their loyalty to their national bosses.

Confirmation of Meany's statements came from a number of sources during the following weeks. On September 20th, the Daily Telegraph published an article by J. L. Garvin which comprehensively outlined the attitude of Russian leaders towards the working-class of that country, together with a survey of their spectacular rise to power. Among other things he said:—
  "Turn to the no less dynamic system of Russia, operated by other means. It derives from an original compulsion of unique circumstances. Not from the ancient doctrines and dogmas of Karl Marx, framed a hundred years ago, but from the personal and path-breaking genius of Lenin and Stalin.
  "On no subject are our Socialist Ministers and their rank and file more deceived. Russia to-day is neither dominated nor influenced by any idea concerning labour that appeals to the Trades Union Congress. The Soviet Union is a system of State Capitalism fundamentally based on compulsory and stimulated labour.
   "How did it arise? After the overthrow of Tsarism the economic problem was nothing less than to lift Russia from conditions like those of the thirteenth century to the level of the twentieth; and so to do the work of five centuries in one generation.
  "Lenin had definite conceptions of how to do it on the largest lines of modern technique. Stalin became the daring and mighty executant of that design—the demiurge of the incredible transformation effected by the series of Five Years' Plans. It has been a work made possible by the extent of Russia's undeveloped resources. Nowhere else on earth could its like have been achieved by the same means.
   "British labour would not stand for a single day that rigour and urge of compulsion or the lower standard of life.
   "The old Communist maxim was, 'From everyone according to their ability; to everyone according to their need.' Soviet State Capitalism is rightly so called because It has succeeded in the former purpose of compelling total and extreme exertion, but has not begun to attain the second ideal of plentiful distribution.
   "Owing to the successive necessities of political and economic revolution and of war, the low Russian standard of living is largely a sacrifice for a higher future of human welfare, as well as national strength. Stalin avowed years ago that his continuous aim was to create ultimately 'the happiest as well as mightiest society in the world.'
    "But let us make no mistake about the method. Its power at bottom depends on no Marxist nor any other theory, but—let us repeat it—on a practical economic policy of intensive work and maximum production emulating the similar aims in America."—Telegraph, September 20th, 1945.
To understand fully the attitude, or acquiescence, of the Russian workers, we have to remember that their leaders claim to be Socialists planning to achieve Socialism. Their names are often coupled with that of Marx, who is regarded as a mere theorist; while Lenin and Stalin are supposed to have been translating his theories into practice in accordance with the changed circumstances of to-day. In addition, of course, there are the concentration camps for those who disagree, or fail to work energetically for the five-year plans.

The nationalised planning in Russia and England and the boasted private enterprise of America have all the same objective: trade supremacy based on exploitation. of the working-class. In all three countries the workers are being urged to tighten their belts and work harder and faster. In Russia the workers are hypnotised by Stalin and Co. In England and America trade union leaders have no ideas beyond bargaining with the masters for concessions here and there. Their protracted and ineffective efforts inevitably lead to impatience on the part of the workers and numerous unofficial strikes; leaders and masters then invariably demand a return to work as a condition of further consideration of the men's demands.

Futile as this procedure is, trade union leaders have no desire for a change. They have established themselves as responsible links between capital and labour, and the importance and permanence of each side must be maintained in order to preserve their status, and of course, their jobs..

It must be obvious to thinking people that trade unionism can do nothing for the workers beyond putting up organised resistance against the masters on the questions of wage reductions and greater speed and intensity of work.

Among those who had a ding at trade unions, following Mr. Meany’s charges at the T.U.C., was “Candidus,” of the Daily Sketch. Among other things he said:—
  “For Socialism is the antithesis of capitalism, whereas capitalism is the fly-wheel of trade unionism. Capitalism and trade unionism stand or fall with each other."—Daily Sketch, September 17th, 1945.
Because of his habitual confusion over nationalisation and Socialism, "Candidus” inadvertently proclaims a profound Socialist truth. To be the antithesis of capitalism. Socialism must be opposed to it on fundamentals. Which it is. Capitalism, the thesis, is based on class ownership of the means of wealth production. Socialism, the antithesis, proclaims ownership of these essential things by the people as a whole. But the antithesis can only be realised by the working-class in opposition to the master-class. The workers’ are wasting much time and energy struggling against them on the industrial field. A little thought would show them the limits of this struggle, and a little more thought would convince them of the necessity to understand and work for Socialism.
F. Foan

Donations To Party Funds (1945)

Party News from the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard