Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nuclear near-miss (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is difficult to decide whether ignorance, complacency or callous cynicism best characterises the nuclear power industry. Since the accident at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine, most countries with a nuclear power programme have proclaimed that there is nothing to worry about, that their power stations are absolutely safe. In America the authorities claim that nothing similar could happen in the United States since western safety standards and reactor design are superior to those used in Russia. In West Germany official government statements have said that such an accident could not occur there because its nuclear reactors as "absolutely safe". Japan, because it has almost no fossil fuel deposits of its own, is committed to increasing nuclear power generation. Energy authorities there have rejected calls even to review their nuclear programme, let alone halt operations at its 32 nuclear plants as is demanded by trade unionists and environmentalists. A Japanese official said there would be no change in plans to increase nuclear power output from 26 per cent of total energy supply to 35 per cent by 1995. Ignorance, complacency or cynicism?

And what about these comments made before the accident by various "experts" in the field?

  • In June 1983, B. A. Semenov. Russian Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy and Safety at the International Atomic Energy Authority said of Chernobyl: "A serious loss-of-coolant accident is practically impossible".
  • In 1975 a study by the American Atomic Energy Commission concluded that an accident serious enough to kill 70 people would only happen once in a million years of a reactor's operation.
  • The US edition of Soviet Life earlier this year published a feature on Chernobyl under the headline "Total Safety" which described the idea of a core melt-down as "incredible".

Such statements cannot be the product of ignorance of the risks involved in nuclear reactors. In Russia, apart from the Chernobyl accident, there has also been a core accident at an experimental fast reactor; in America there has been the accident at Three Mile Island and a fast reactor core melt-down at the Fermi reactor; and in the UK the Windscale plant suffered a serious accident in 1957. One international study has calculated that nuclear power plants in 14 countries have experienced 151 "significant nuclear-safety incidents" since 1971.

So if nuclear accidents can and do happen, why do governments world-wide seem intent on ignoring, or down playing, the risks? The example of Russia is instructive. Russia has considerable oil and gas resources and is, in fact, an oil-exporting nation. But both oil and gas fields are in Siberia in the east of the country, whereas the main industrial centres are in the west and the area of most rapidly expanding population in the south. European Russia consumes 60 per cent of the country's total electricity and yet produces less than 20 per cent. Much of that power must therefore be brought thousands of miles and it has been estimated that the cost of power doubles for every 1.000 miles that it has to be transported. Thus, nuclear power stations which can be built where they are needed represent a solution to the problem of providing cheap energy. So the Ukraine, far from the oil and gas fields of Siberia, gets 40 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power stations, the biggest of these being at Chernobyl.

At present nuclear power provides 10 per cent of electricity used in Russia and there are plans to increase output by 400-600 per cent over the next 15 years. If, as a result of the Chernobyl accident, the nuclear programme is slowed down Russia will have to continue to pay the much higher price for bringing power from Siberia and suffer the consequent loss in exports as oil and gas are diverted for domestic consumption. Nuclear power is, therefore, important to maintaining profits in Russia: cheap energy means lower unit costs and higher profit. And this is the motivation behind nuclear power in other countries too — a motivation that is sufficiently powerful to make it worthwhile to conceal or play down the considerable, often unknown, risks involved.

The ruling class in the western capitalist countries have been swift to try to make political capital out of the Chernobyl accident, alleging the inferior quality of Russian reactors and lamenting the lack of openness on the part of the Russian government. But on both issues their hypocrisy is breath-taking. The British reaction was typical. It was argued that a similar accident could not happen in Britain because the Chernobyl reactor was of a unique Russian design which is not found in this country and had no form of secondary containment (a strong, enclosing structure around the entire reactor and heat exchanger that would contain the radioactivity should there be any leak) and so would not meet British safety standards. It was further claimed that Russian reactors were built dangerously close to densely populated areas and. to reinforce the message. Peter Walker, the Energy Secretary, said that there had never been in the UK any "emergencies involving significant radiological hazards to the public at any civil nuclear installation".

These statements are a mixture of misinformation. half-truths and lies. Although it is true that the Chernobyl reactor was one of a unique Russian design (a graphite moderated boiling water system) it is also true that it is a "hybrid" comprising features commonly found in reactors throughout the world, including Britain. In fact the most serious nuclear accident so far in this country that at Windscale in 1957 — involved a graphite-uranium core which caught fire releasing large amounts of radioactive iodine over a wide area. Graphite moderators were also used in the early British and French Magnox reactors. Many of Britain's older nuclear power stations, including the Magnox reactors and the advanced gas-cooled reactors, do not have secondary containment. In the early years of the nuclear power programme it was boldly argued that reactors would not be built unless they were totally safe and so secondary containment was both unnecessary and would undermine public confidence since they implied the possibility of a leak. (Of course, secondary containment also increased the cost of the power station).

Britain is far more densely populated than Russia. A nuclear accident here is likely therefore to have far worse effects than a similar accident in Russia. At the time of the Windscale accident the Atomic Energy Authority said that the release of radioactivity presented no "hazard to the public". Nevertheless the sale of milk was banned within a radius of 200 square miles of the reactor. In fact the full extent of the Windscale accident was not made known until 1983. In that year the National Radiation Protection Board said that the accident may have caused up to 260 cases of thyroid cancer, 13 of which had proved fatal. So much for British freedom of information.

But why is it that the Russian authorities did not provide information which might help the Russian people avoid the effects of radiation? Like the West, the Russians have constantly told people that nuclear power stations are completely safe. Despite this there has been considerable opposition to the building of new reactors, especially in the Balkan republics — opposition which the Russians. given their commitment to nuclear power for economic reasons, would be unhappy to encourage by giving out information about a serious nuclear accident. The accident is, anyway, likely to have adverse economic effects on trade with East European countries, which the Russians will be anxious to minimise. As the Guardian (30 April 1986) reported:
  The whole thrust of the latest Comecon joint nuclear plans is that there should be more and bigger plants to save fuel and to facilitate the building of bigger and better manufacturing centres If these plans are now delayed, as seems highly likely, a whole series of capital investment projects will also have been thrown into disarray.
Many East European reactors are built along similar lines to the one at Chernobyl using Russian-built components. That market for Russian goods will be under threat unless the Russians can minimise the seriousness of the accident.

Most people don’t understand very much about nuclear power so when they read about the release into the atmosphere of radioactive substances like iodine and caesium (already detected in countries far away from the site of the Chernobyl accident), or about the possible release of strontium. ruthenium and plutonium-241, it really doesn’t mean very much to them. They have to rely on experts, who claim to have information and knowledge, to translate this into things that they do understand. And they do understand when Friends of the Earth in Sweden say that the total number of cancers from the radioactive cloud, if it travels over highly-populated areas, may exceed 10,000 over the next 20 years; that it is estimated that in order to de contaminate the affected area around the site of the Chernobyl reactor it will be necessary to remove at least four inches of top soil. They do under stand that in addition to the two people killed (according to the Russian figures) and the many more who were undoubtedly hurt as a direct result of the accident, numerous others face long-term health risks, and Russian workers — scientists and engineers — had to risk their lives by entering the highly radioactive Chernobyl site in order to make the three other reactors safe. (There are four reactors on the same site because this reduces costs although it compounds the risk). And they also understand that those people who are responsible for making decisions about whether to build nuclear reactors, and about safety standards, are not coming clean about the risks that are posed to ordinary workers throughout the world. People like Lord Marshall, Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, with a vested interest in expanding the nuclear power programme, who said, in the week of the Chernobyl accident, that the radiation inside the exclusion zone was "no worse than smoking a couple of cigarettes a year" (Observer, 4 May 1986). Do you trust a man with such a complacent attitude to human health and safety to be making decisions about nuclear power on your behalf? Do you trust the social system which needs people like that to spread verbal smokescreens over situations of such peril to the human race?
Janie Percy-Smith

The good, the bad, the ugly (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Does the election of Clint Eastwood as Mayor of Carmel, California, mean that the Ronald Reagan syndrome — an irritating rash of ageing movie stars spreading into positions of power — is about to flourish ever more malignantly? Even by the standards of capitalist politics. Eastwood's election seems more puzzling than most. Carmel is a small (pop 5,000) seaside town which began as an artistic hermitage and has developed into a refuge for a few of America's elderly rich. The place is protective of its environment — it mounts a stern resistance to things like obtrusive advertising, flashing neon signs, fast food disgorgers and the like (these monstrosities are considered more suitable for the places where American workers, who contributed so signally to the affluence of Carmel's inhabitants, eke out their lives) Eastwood has lived in the place for some 14 years, he owns a restaurant there and his bid to become Mayor was said to be motivated by a desire to make his business more prominent with just the kind of eyesores which Carmel has always resisted. It might have been expected, then, that the electors would have given Eastwood, as a threat to their cherished environment, the voting equivalent of a sheriff s bum's rush out of town and then gone quietly back to enjoying their wealth. Perhaps his election was the result of those 2,166 people who voted for him being dazzled by his halo of showbiz glamour. All of this was written up in the British press in terms which encouraged the voters here to wallow in a smug assurance that of course they would never fall for such an appeal.

Well, as Eastwood himself might say. in a rare outburst of loquacity. "Oh. yeah?" British politicians are no exception to the general rule, in that they wrap their intentions up in some attractive tinsel but any worker with a flicker of consciousness, or a glimmer of memory, should have no difficulty in tearing this aside to get at the reality underneath. The Tories, for example, persist in telling us that life in Thatcher Britain is really very enjoyable and secure. There are still a few problems but these are well on the way to being sorted out. Meanwhile, we should rejoice over a fall in something called interest rates which determine how much one section of the ruling class pay another for borrowing their money — or about a fall in the price of oil (but then again at some times we should rejoice when the price of oil goes up) or we should get interested in whether workers at Westland's or British Leyland are to be exploited by the British capitalist class or by a group of capitalists from America or Europe.

Underneath this packaging the poverty of the workers deepens — more and more are forced into the desperate struggle to survive on the dole, they die of the cold or because medical services have been cut back, the pressures of making ends meet become more intense for those who are in work. Yet millions of workers support the Tories at election time, millions are impressed by Thatcher's supposed firmness of purpose.

Are these people dazzled by Thatcher's appearance — her hairdo, her teeth, her schoolmarm's voice? Do they tremble ecstatically at the sight of Lawson's well-nourished frame? It can't be that they are impressed by any overwhelming logic in the case for the Tories, for there has never been a successful Conservative government — in the sense that they have kept their promises, solved the problems of capitalism, been midwife at the birth of a prosperous and secure country.

As we all know, the voters sometimes get restless with Tory government, with the same old faces posing at the door of Number Ten. the gutter press revelations about the intimate lives of the same old leaders, the same old rhetorical tricks before the TV cameras. It becomes time for a change and luckily for capitalism (the system's spokespersons say it is luckily for democracy) there is an alternative party who will make some trifling adjustments in running capitalism and who have a clutch of promises and delusions to use in misleading the working class in allowing them a period of power.

In spite of all the combined efforts of Neil Kinnock, Tony Benn and the Militant Tendency, Labour has not been counted out of workers' reckoning as a future government for British capitalism. Their latest offering, outlined by Roy Hattersley in the House of Commons on February 12. is "Directed reflation with public sector capital spending on housing, schools and roads" which will be financed through £3 billion more taxes on the higher income groups. This type of programme is probably seen by most workers as not entirely out of touch with reality, dealing with matters which concern them like unemployment, bad housing, deficient services. This bland, predictable response to capitalism's malaises may dazzle enough workers to win the seats needed to get Labour back into power. They will then set about "creating jobs", "controlling inflation", hoping that their relations with the trade union movement will enable them to impose wage restraint without the kind of turmoil which this has caused in the past.

This might be more convincing were it not for the fact that these policies have already been tried and have failed. Hattersley is telling us that it is possible to control capitalism's economy as easily as if it were a motor car — a touch on the brake here, a dab on the accelerator there — but there is no evidence, either in theory or in practical experience, to support him. Unemployment is a result of capitalism's anarchic cycle of economic boom and slump and essentially it is quite out of the control of any politician or "expert". The Labour government of 1929-31 could not control it and when unemployment again began to emerge as a serious problem in the 1970s. the Labour government then could only watch in impotence as the dole queues doubled.

Whatever their relationship with the unions Labour cannot deny the class conflict of capitalism. They can't eliminate, through juggling with the tax regulations, the fact that this is a class divided society, in which the interests of the socially useful, productive class — the workers — are opposed to those of the socially useless parasites — the capitalists. On that fact the policies of past Labour governments. with those of much of the trade union leadership, have come to grief. Every Labour government has gone down in miserable defeat; there is no reason to think that things will be different in the future, no cause to believe that there is some mysterious lesson, closed to them in the past, which they can have learned now and which will enable them to succeed where once they failed. Perhaps the millions of workers who vote Labour, in spite of the evidence of that party's impotence and futility, are soothed by Kinnock's endless drone of verbiage, or by Hattersley's avuncular lisp; it can't be because of any glowing record of successful Labour governments.

Voting Tory or Labour — or for any of the others like the Alliance or the Communist Party — is like choosing between the Bad and the Ugly, with either label applying to either party. What of the Good? Capitalism puts the human race into such peril that the issue must be faced: there is nothing to hope for in the workers putting their trust in the parties which do not challenge the basis of modern society. Are the working class to continue to deny their political power to change society, by surrendering it to leaders who can only skim over the system's surface? Or will they assert that power to bring about revolutionary. fundamental social change to a world where poverty, famine, war. needless disease. class conflict are unknown?

Voters — which means workers — all over the world need to face these questions. Running the political cowboys out of town would be a start. Socialists have been around urging this for too long; when the working class begin to act for themselves we shall be able to ride off into the sunset.

Capitalism — terrorism unlimited (1) (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the morning of 15 April, American planes bombed the Libyan capital of Tripoli, ostensibly in reprisal for Libyan support of terrorism, the most recent manifestation of which was the killing of an American at a Berlin disco. The planes were launched from US bases in Britain, indicating the extent of the British government's subservience to American policies and power. In the United States almost all politicians seemed to have jumped on the jingoistic bandwagon in support of the attack but in Britain even a number of establishment figures were critical of the government's acquiescence, and a number of other West European governments openly opposed the American action. The TV pictures of killed and wounded civilians, including children, in Tripoli served to emphasise the inevitable consequences of Reagan s adventure.

The Libyan bombing reveals yet again the bloody nature of capitalism and its attendant wars. It is not enough that there should be the unnecessary deaths of millions annually through starvation (in a world where food is destroyed because it cannot be sold profitably) and the continual violence and humiliation which constitutes daily life for wageworkers. In addition, capitalism's rulers frequently settle their differences — about control of the earth's wealth and inhabitants by warfare, killing and maiming in defence of their property and bank balances. Of course, it is not the rulers who do the killing and dying but the ordinary workers and peasants of the world.

Since he seized power in 1969, other capitalist governments have had as much trouble handling Libya's Colonel Gaddafi as they have had spelling his name. Cushioned by vast oil reserves and the wealth derived from them, the Libyan rulers have financed and supported groups from the IRA to Abu Nidal's Palestinian faction. The American bombing was avowedly aimed at curbing the Libyan state's support for terrorism.

Given that all capitalist states rely on the use of violence to protect their interests, one might wonder how they can dismiss some — but only some — forms of violence as "terrorism" and therefore beyond the pale of civilisation. The apologists' answer would generally be that the use of armed force by governments is legitimate, while its use by anti-government forces is terrorism. This distinction would have to be complicated slightly to allow for those violently opposing an enemy government. Reagan and friends would regard the Contras in Nicaragua as freedom-fighters, not terrorists. But in theory at least, the difference should be clear-cut: state violence is acceptable, indeed necessary, all other violence is terrorism and unacceptable.

The truth is that under capitalism all use of force, whether by governments in defence of the status quo or for conquest, or by would-be rulers wishing to gain power for themselves. is ultimately directed against working people. Whether labelled as terrorism or not. capitalist violence attacks the oppressed and exploited for the sake of their exploiters. Whether bombs in Tripoli or police charges in Wapping, violence is just one of the tools used by the capitalist class to defend and maintain their domination.

Socialists are not pacifists. If, at the time of the establishment of a socialist society, the overwhelming socialist majority were confronted by a recalcitrant pro-capitalist minority intent on sabotage and violence, we would have no compunction in using whatever force was necessary to suppress them. But socialism will be a society of peace and harmony which capitalism, with its in-built violence of armies, police forces and production lines, can never be.
Paul Bennett

Capitalism — terrorism unlimited (2) (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The murder of workers in airports in Rome and Vienna, the killing of two men in a Berlin disco and the bullet which killed a British policewoman have nothing to do with freedom-fighting or liberation. Freedom does not arise from the barrel of a gun; liberation will never be the product of the killers who claim to be serving higher causes.

Capitalism is an inherently violent social system. It was founded by violence; it has expanded and prospered due to violence; its much-cherished law and order is institutionalised violence. Killing is not capitalism gone wrong, but the system running as normal. The history of capitalism is a long and bloody story of murdering and maiming and threatening and plundering so that a small minority of the world's population — the capitalist class — may own and control the major resources of the earth to the exclusion of the vast majority who produce all the wealth — the working class. In every country in the world, including the so-called socialist countries (which are state capitalist), the minority on top owe their position to violence.

To those defenders of capitalism who make noises of disgust about the violence of the unauthorised terrorist let us ask, where did the capitalists obtain their property from? They won it in the early days of capitalism by forming armies and terrorising the poor peasants and small landlords and stealing their land from them. The appropriation of capitalist property was a process of successful mugging expeditions: the European aristocracy of today are the inheritors of the muggers' plundered gains. The common lands, hitherto used by the poor, were enclosed and appropriated by capitalists who forced others to keep out. The law of trespass ensured that non-property-owners could be killed — and many were if they tried to enter the land of the capitalists. The early history of capitalism, going on well into the last century in Britain, saw thousands of workers being killed for stealing the necessaries of life. The state, which is the machine of class violence used by the bosses to keep the workers in line, has killed numerous workers who have offended against the sacred rights of property.

How was the British Empire built if not by such terror tactics? The ruling class of Britain, armed with the Bible and the bullet, plundered the earth in the quest for profits. Those who stood in their way were killed. In the sixteenth century, when Britain went to war with Spain — readers will remember the defeat of the Armada — it was nothing different from the battle of power between the gangs of Chicago and New York in the 1930s. Workers were sent to their deaths in these imperial wars in order to determine which national group of capitalist gangsters would own and control new resources, territories and exploitable populations.

In the late nineteenth century two new national gangs of European capitalists came on to the scene: Italy in 1860 and Germany in 1870. They made efforts to enter as rivals in the competition for world domination and so more workers — in their millions — were killed in wars. The workers who were slaughtered in world wars for economic interests which were not theirs were not regarded as the victims of terrorism. But that is precisely what they were.

In this century the British robber class has lost its Empire and must rest content with exploiting the workers at home. The British working class was poor when British capitalists had an Empire and we are poor today: one thing is certain, the Empire never belonged to us.

Today two new major empires — superpowers in modem times — dominate the world: America and Russia. The President of the USA now sermonises about the evil of terrorism. The status quo must not be disturbed. Does this man Reagan not know that without terrorism the American state would never have been established? The revolutionaries of 1776 who threw off British imperial rule were regarded by the British ruling class as terrorists. Had they been defeated the name of George Washington would have been listed in the history books together with Gerry Adams and the PLO leaders. The rulers of Israel echo their American masters in condemning terrorism. In the 1940s these same leaders who now have state power were themselves terrorists, killing British soldiers in order to gain state power. Once the American terrorists obtained power in 1776 they became legal terrorists and many thousands of native Americans (Red Indians) were murdered callously by the state because they were in its way. In 1986. while Reagan makes complaints about Libyan-backed terrorists damaging American capitalist interests. American-backed terrorists are being given huge amounts of money by his administration in order to dislodge the elected government of Nicaragua.

The class struggle is a messy, violent process. The capitalists will stop at nothing in their struggle for more power within the world market. The Libyan government is seen to represent a new form of Islamic, Arab nationalism which could endanger existing interests in Africa and the Middle East. As capitalism develops — if workers let it — more power blocs will emerge, all competing for supremacy, and one would be naive not to predict such rivalry leading to wars, both local and frighteningly global.

Workers have no interest at all in ever supporting the capitalists of the country where they live. In recent years the Arab ruling class has prospered greatly due to massive oil profits, but the Arab workers are still living in some of the most deprived conditions in the world. Arab workers have nothing to gain by the expansion of their masters' powers. In the USA. the alleged land of capitalist prosperity. it was reported in the newspaper of the Longshoremen's Union in March 1986 that government figures state that 22.2 million Americans are now living below the official poverty line and 9.1 million of them are in jobs but cannot afford to make ends meet. So much for the incentive for workers to fight to make their bosses rich.

Who are the real terrorists? Yes, the deluded workers with home-made bombs and the fanatics who fire at innocent crowds are killers, but let them not divert us from the killing which goes on with the blessing of the boss class. According to a report from the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, in 1984 10.4 million workers were injured and 28,500 were killed in accidents at work. (This is based on information from seventy countries). How many of these deaths and injuries were the direct result of capitalists making a profit out of unsafe working conditions for those they exploit? In a recent report from the Health and Safety Executive we are told that over the last three years 400 British building workers have been killed and 30,000 injured, many seriously. According to the report.
It is possible that economic pressures may have resulted in a general lowering in the degree of safety and supervision on site, and in the increase in the practice of undercutting at the expense of safety.
The recession has led capitalists in the construction industry — notoriously, some of the worst employers in Britain — to risk killing their employees for the sake of offering more competitive prices. We have read no report of Thatcher sending the anti-terrorist squad to the building bosses to ensure that justice is done for the 400 men who have died. On the contrary, it has been recent government policy to go in for what is called deregulation in the construction industry — they have cut the number of inspectors employed to check that building sites are conforming to legal safety standards. According to Richard Peto. Reader in Cancer Studies at Oxford University.
 . . . there will be a total of about 50,000 asbestos-induced deaths in Britain over the next thirty years . . . 50,000 deaths is a number so enormous that it is difficult to comprehend. For example, it greatly exceeds the number of murders during the same period . . .
Those who die from asbestos-caused cancer — and we have plenty of evidence to show that many workers already have — will die for profit: 50.000 sacrifices to the god of profit makes anything planned by the PLO or the IRA look like kids playing with a peashooter.

So workers must beware not to be conned into believing that the "baddies" are only those whose violence is not initiated by the capitalist rulers. While we must oppose the senseless killing of WPC Fletcher we remember the workers who have been murdered. injured and abused by the British police; we must oppose the bombers, but never forget the greater violence perpetrated in the name of profit. When 15 million children under five annually die while food is locked away or dumped in the sea the capitalists are in no position to lecture workers about what is evil. Those who have invested millions of pounds, dollars and roubles in the weaponry which could annihilate the entire planet have no right to tell workers that violence is to be deprecated. Those who allowed thousands to die and suffer at Bhopal in India because there was profit to be made for Union Carbide cannot preach about senseless killing. The numerous capitalists who have investments in bloody dictatorships, such as South Africa where over a thousand workers have been killed in the last year for protesting, are hypocrites when they take it on themselves to attack the Libyan regime. The capitalists are the people of violence and tyranny and any words of theirs against certain violence and some tyrannies are worthless and contemptible.

Only socialists can oppose terrorism because only socialists stand in opposition to the system which causes it. There is no other way to destroy the misery caused by organised violence than to abolish its cause.

Let us consider the other choices which have been proposed. There are those who say that we need new, more responsible leaders: Mondale instead of Reagan. Kinnock instead of Thatcher. Do they really believe that Mondale, faced with a perceived threat to US power, would not respond militarily? Does anyone seriously believe that Kinnock, tied to the terms of the military agreement with the USA which allows British bases to be used for American military attacks, would have acted differently from Thatcher? The fact is that these leaders have no option but to dance to the tune of capitalism, for its logic governs them, not they it. Others rather simple-mindedly argue that more faith should be placed in the United Nations, more appropriately known as the Disunited Thieves. The class struggle cannot be fought out around a conference table and the rivalry between capitalist and capitalist will turn violent quite regardless of resolutions passed by diplomats.

Some argue that Britain should turn from alliance with the American Empire to the Russian. The Russian ruling class could never be so callous as to bomb civilians, we are told. But they have killed over 100,000 workers in Afghanistan since they invaded it and one would be naive to imagine that Russian bombs would not carry out a similar raid to the US one if Russian imperial interests are threatened. It has even been suggested that workers in Britain should support Gadaffy because, in the words of the unfailingly foolish Revolutionary Communist Party, any enemy of the British bosses must be supported by the British workers. According to that logic workers in Britain should have supported Mussolini and Hitler — and. indeed, the RCP urged workers to support Galtieri's struggle for the Malvinas in 1982. This sort of pathetic nonsense is what passes as Marxist-Leninism. From other quarters we are urged to return to religious slumber — like born-again Christian Reagan whose interpretation of "Thou Shalt Not Kill" contains an addendum: "unless under instructions from the White House".

Gadaffy is a Muslim, a believer in the faith of Islam which is the Arabic word for submission. It is time for workers to reject the posture of submission for it has been the position of the wage-slave class for too long. There are no answers to violence within the system of violence and that is why peace and security depend entirely on the establishment of a worldwide socialist society now. Tomorrow might be one bomb blast too late.
Steve Coleman

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ireland — New Central Branch (1986)

Party News from the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The World Socialist Party has now established a Central Branch. Membership is open to socialists living in areas where there is no existing branch of the Party. Members of Central Branch will be kept in touch with Party activity through a Branch Newsletter and encouraged to attend centrally-organised lectures and training courses designed to help them generate socialist activity in their own areas.

The World Socialist Party is anxious to promote the growth of Central Branch, which is seen as the best way of developing socialist organisation throughout the country. A handbook, giving guidance and advice on the most effective means of getting activity going in areas where no formal branch structure exists, is in course of preparation and will be issued, on request, to any member of Central Branch.

The National Executive Committee of the Party has also agreed to provide Central Branch members with special leaflets, where required, specifically designed to meet the needs of a particular area. Should a Central Branch member, or members, wish to organise a public meeting, the N.E.C. will assist with advice, advertising and the provision of speakers.

There are a considerable number of subscribers to the Socialist Standard throughout the country who may be interested in making a positive contribution to socialism. Central Branch provides them with an opportunity to do this. For details, write to:

V. Polland. Secretary, Central Branch. World Socialist Party. 41 Donegall Street, Belfast 1.

Criminal convictions (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Very little mention is made in the recent ample publicity given to rising crime figures, that this is happening when for the last seven years we have had a government committed to "law and order". The Tories, like any other party in power, have no realistic policies for eradicating crime or its causes but are merely intent on dealing with its perpetrators more punitively.

If we are to look for a cause of crime, we first need to ask what crime actually is. In the most stark terms, the word crime simply means an act punishable by law. So how do laws originate? They are Acts of Parliament — rules instituted by the Members of Parliament to facilitate the smooth running of society, ostensibly for the protection of all the nation's citizens. The reality is different.

Most laws relate to the protection of property and wealth. Since the working class possess very little of either, these laws affect them in positive terms only fleetingly — even though they need some form of protection for home and hard-earned cash. Look a little closer at the interminable legislation committed to the Statute Books and it becomes apparent that laws are actually there to protect the interests of governments themselves and of those they represent that is the owners of substantial property and the means of production and distribution. Any effects on the workers are in fact purely coincidental.

Laws can be described more accurately as the rules of capitalism. As we live in a capital accumulating, property owning society, it is essential that there exists a comprehensive framework of protection for the rights to money and possessions. These rules exist primarily to prevent workers from getting their hands on the goods and services they produce, apart from what they are permitted to obtain through the system of rationing known as wages and salaries. This rationing does not apply to the capitalists' access to commodities and services because they have sufficient capital invested and accumulated to fulfil their desires without having to do a stroke of work.

Is it any wonder then that members of the working class, knowing that the fruits of their toil are yielding profits of which they receive none, now and again decide to help themselves to a little extra? After all, there is a myriad of attractive and desirable goods displayed in every High Street, all designed to persuade us to part with our meagre allowance and our attentions are solicited by television and the press in the hope of awakening the idea that we need ever larger quantities of "consumer goods'" to render our oppressed lives marginally more bearable.

The problem is that wages don’t stretch very far and as the law hammers home the doctrine that under no circumstances can goods be claimed without paying for them, many workers feel hard done by when the media displays the wealthy and privileged shamelessly enjoying their affluence. Restraint can easily be weakened by the influence of temptation.

The media love to chew on the real meaty bone of violent crime in preference to the tit-bits of petty larceny and trespass. "Mindless violence isn't confined to soccer matches" declared one local rag gravely. There is indeed an abundance of mindless violence outside football grounds, much of it executed quite legally and acceptably by the police and armed forces; it wasn’t so long ago that a deal of mindless violence broke out in the Falkland Islands. But far from condemning it our rulers positively encouraged it.

What emerges from this is the paradox of a society that condones the mindlessness of war and yet throws its arms up in horror when workers commit acts of violence independently and without the prior consent of their rulers. These workers may be unemployed, or working six days a week to live in conditions of abject poverty, overcrowding and deprivation. We are expected to accept such conditions as inevitable; though it may seem slightly unfair that we have virtually nothing in this world of plenty, we are taught from the blooming of memory to keep our noses clean and to the grindstone, to take our exploitation and domination lying down. If we're good boys and girls we won't be thrown in gaol and may even get to go to heaven.

No account is taken of the possibility that the present economic system breeds dissatisfaction. envy, contempt, unrest and aggression. And it isn't merely coincidence that those on the lowest incomes and from the most deprived communities are most likely to be convicted of crime. In America a labourer is fourteen times more likely to go to prison than a "professional" and a black male is twenty-eight times more likely to be gaoled than a white female (What Is To Be Done About Law And Order?, Lea & Young. 1984)

As aggression and violence are inherent in the competitive, ruthless, uncaring capitalist system and romanticised on television and at the cinema, it is hardly surprising that violence will also manifest itself in the form of crime. But people don't suddenly become home-made Rambos over night. We learn to be violent; right from childhood, as well as being fed a staple diet of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians and war stories, we're taught to be competitive, to stick up for ourselves. along with patriotism and the justification of war. Violence is in fact just another aspect of everyday capitalist life; it's ingrained into us and can't be removed and replaced at society's convenience.

In a socialist society, money and private property would no longer exist and all the means of production and distribution would be democratically controlled by the entire community in the interests of need instead of profit. There would be no such crimes as theft or trespass because everything would belong to everyone. There would be nothing to gain by "stealing", from someone else because all needs would be provided for without consideration of cost, value or ability to pay. So it follows that if there was no such thing as theft, there could be no violent theft; if there was no such thing as trespass, there could be no forced entry or aggravated burglary; and as for assault, it follows that if there was no property, no competition, no oppression, exploitation or deprivation but instead freedom for all to pursue peaceful, uncorrupted and useful existences, then there would be no violence.

As it is. while condemning violence on the part of the criminal, capitalist society virtually ignores the sometimes more subtle violence of poverty and oppression which plagues this mindless system. In the words of the playwright George Farquhar: "Tis still my maxim that there is no scandal like rags, nor any crime so shameful as poverty".
Nick Brunskill

Working weak or pleasure? (1986)

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

If I wanted to write a book that was longer and less interesting than a practitioners' text on Property Law. it would be a directory of all the most boring, unfulfilling and depressing jobs that people have to do today. Whether you work underground as a train ticket inspector or in a high-rise office block as a clerk, you only have to look around to see the "enthusiasm" that abounds on the faces of others. Think of how you feel when your alarm clock blasts you out of bed in the morning, regardless of whether you want to get up or not, that Monday morning feeling or the constant longing for the weekend. How much of our time is spent doing things that we really want to do? The drudgery of employment is made worse by its monotony, five to six days a week. 48 weeks a year, year after year. Yet those in work are described as the lucky ones.

With the rapid development of technology over the last century which has led to such advancements as the micro-computer and modern electronics, how much can we say the average person's lifestyle has changed, considering the full potential for change? Our lives are still dominated by the need for employment to pay the bills, buy housing and food and bring up children. "They live to toil so that we may toil to live" (William Morris). Most of our time is concerned with economic worries either at home or work. So, why does work nowadays take the form that it does?

In today's society, production is geared not for human need but for profit. Every thing that is produced can only be obtained if you can pay for it. Society, the world over, is split into two classes: those who own the means of living (the land, factories, mines, transport, offices) and those who do not own anything but their ability to work — the great majority of people. It is this social system that dictates the way we work. Employment takes the form of workers selling their mental and physical energies for a wage or a salary to an employer. In this transaction, the buyer (employer) has complete control over the direction the work takes. People are forced to work through economic necessity; the less money you have, the less access you have to what you need.

Because the employers own all the tools and instruments of production they have the power to dictate the quality of work, how fast it is to be done and. when it becomes no longer profitable to continue production, to make workers redundant. So workers have no control over their work. When new technology arises, as at Wapping, workers have no power to control its consequences. Thousands are cast into unemployment and for those who are kept on there is dull conformity and the constant threat of insecurity. People are slaves to the commercial interests of a small minority who, because they own everything, are legally entitled to the profits of the work done in their premises using their equipment.

The present conditions cannot be removed until the present social system is abolished. Socialism means a society without the employer-employee relationship — no job centres or cringing job interviews, no wages and no wasted people. A society of free access to wealth. Work will be voluntary, given according to ability and its main aim will be to satisfy human need, giving satisfaction in accomplishing this task.

Why would people work if they were not paid?

Firstly because the conditions of work will greatly change. People will enjoy full control over the work they do — a vital precondition of people enjoying their work. Secondly, people will be brought up to have complete freedom of experience and to choose a particular type, or types, of work they wish to do (one of the reasons work is so tedious today is the economic necessity of continuously staying in the same job, or line of work, while having next to no control over how it is done — conditions which usually lead to mental stagnation). No one will any longer have to do a job they do not like and we will not be restricted in working in a particular area or part of the world.

The only criteria for dictating what work we do will be what is socially useful and what gives pleasure. Many of the mass produced, characterless commodities of today will disappear. Only the best of whatever is possible will be produced and not, as now, a range of qualities based on what you can afford which William Morris described as the "harmful luxuries of the rich or disgraceful makeshifts of the poor".

There will be many more people to do the useful work as all workers of the present social system who are engaged in socially redundant or anti social tasks — the armed forces, police. lawyers, accountants, bankers. bookies, insurance workers; and all the victims of it — the starving, the unemployed, the war casualties and suicides, will be able to contribute usefully to society. All the people who are today employed in drudgery in factories, mines and offices will be freed from such enslavement. Technology could easily facilitate many of the most irksome aspects of necessary work and eliminate some of them altogether. General attitudes to work will change when there is a common understanding that all contributions to society will be for the benefit of all members of society. That benefit will be the reward of labour unlike today, when the normal day for many is either: work, pub, sleep or work, television, sleep.

Finally, working conditions will no longer be governed by profitability. In a society based on human need the workplaces will not need to resemble the factories, offices, hospitals and so forth of today where a minimum of safety, comfort and artistic creativity exist. With the restrictions of profitability removed, people will be able, where they work and where they live, to create the best possible environments to complement and inspire those who live and work there. The dark, gloomy factories and the high-rise and terraced slums will give way to civilised surroundings. The possibilities will be limitless. Let William Morris conclude:
  If pleasure in labour be generally possible, what a strange folly it must be for men to consent to labour without pleasure, and what a hideous injustice it must be for society to compel men to labour without pleasure.
Nick Davis

Sting in the Tail: Born in the USA (1990)

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

Born in the USA

American politicians are fond of boasting that the USA is a classless society. But the truth of the matter is revealed In a Michigan newspaper The Grand Rapids Press (26 April 1990) under the headline "One Child In Five Now Lives In Poverty".

Reporting the National Commission on Children, a group established by Congress and its members appointed by the President and House and Senate leaders, It showed the real position of the working class in the USA.
Malnutrition affects nearly a half-million children, and every night an estimated 100,000 go to sleep homeless —
The poverty rate in 1987, the year the report cited, was 15% for white children but 45% for black children and 39% for Hispanic children.
In the same issue the newspaper reports:
The heirs of Edward Steichen, a pillar of New York's Museum of Modern Art, are battling the museum over an $800,000 painting by Matisse that was bequeathed to the photographer's 6 year old great- grand-daughter.
One kid stands to inherit $800,000 while 20% of US kids suffer official poverty. No class differences In the USA?

Nothing Sacred

The Anglican Church has lost 600,000 members and demolished 289 churches in the last 20 years.

But the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free market 'Think Tank", has come up with a solution. They propose according to The Guardian (16 April 1990) that the clergy be:
. . . paid on a performance basis and regarded as a 10,000 strong sales force established on prime sites throughout Britain.
What the priests would earn would depend on how successfully they could:
. . . go into the highways and byways and compel them (customers) to come in.
In other words, get bums on seats or else. 

Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the bourgeoisie had converted, among others, the priests into paid wage-labourers, but even they could hardly have dreamt that one day the priestly wages might be based on piece-work!

Dancing in the Street?

"If Labour Wins" was the title of John Molyneux's article in Socialist Worker for April 17,1990.

He predicts that a Tory defeat at the next general election will see "mass dancing in the streets". So much for the night before but what about the morning after when the new Labour government is faced with "economic crisis"?

Molyneux's prediction is that Labour will "turn on" and "squeeze the working class" because that is "what every Labour government has done when faced with economic crisis" and he provides chapter and verse to prove this.

We can agree with Molyneux's predictions about a future Labour government, but we can do a little predicting of our own: it is that, despite all their denunciations of Labour, Molyneux and the rest of the Socialist Workers Party will be urging workers to put their heads in the noose by voting Labour at the next general election. Any bets?

US Speak

George Orwell in his book, "1984" invented "Newspeak" a language that allowed the ruling elite to describe the Ministry of War as the Ministry of Peace.

According to the report of Time (30 April 1990) Orwell's Newspeak is in full bloom In 1990.
 The Strategic Air Command has decided to change its longtime motto 'Peace Is our Profession", to "War is our Profession - Peace Is our Product".

Boom and Bust

John Ashcroft, ex-chairman of Coloroll, was a stock market darling of the 80's.

And no wonder. Coloroll started the decade as a small wallpaper manufacturer but under Ashcroft's guidance it borrowed heavily to buy companies making glassware, ceramics, textiles, furniture and carpets.

This mad dash for expansion was fine when the economy was booming and interest rates were low, but when they shot skyward then High Street spending plunged and so did Coloroll's profits. Its shares have fallen from a peak of 383p to only 15p.

Now Coloroll's very future is in doubt and Ashcroft joins the long list of financial whlzz-kids who, despite all the evidence, believed that capitalism's booms will last forever.

The Sick Society

The Socialist view that Health, like everything else in a capitalist society, is largely decided by economic factors, has recently been vindicated by the World Health Organisation.
 If current global trends continue, an estimated 200 million persons world-wide could die prematurely from preventable Illnesses in the 1990s, according to a report on the state of world health released yesterday by the World Health Organisation.
"Disease is the most destructive force In the world", Dr. Hiroshi Najakajina, director general of WHO said in a statement . . .
"many of the world's illnesses are preventable or treatable with inexpensive vaccines, anti-blotics or oral rehydration therapy", Nakajina said. "What Is needed Is to mobilise the political will to make this a healthier world."
The Boston Globe (30 April 1990)
Dr. Nakajina's "political will" cannot solve the problem while capitalism, with its production for profit motive, remains. People are dying today simply because they cannot afford to buy the treatments that would cure them.

What could be a more powerful argument for a new society, based on production solely for use, than the next piece of Information in the WHO report?
 . . . more than 8,000 children die every day from diseases that could have been prevented by immunization, and almost 11.000 die daily of dehydration caused by diarrhoea, the report said. Further, an additional 8,000 die every day of pneumonia, WHO said. Much of the suffering can be alleviated, the report said.

Holiday Competition

The news that Thomson and Intasun, the two biggest package holiday operators, have increased their 1990 prices by around 12% and scrapped over a million holidays from their 1990 plans should surprise no one.

For years they have conducted a fierce price-war which was hailed by the free marketeers as a glorious example of the benefits which competition brings to consumers.

True, prices dropped ever lower in real terms until a holiday in Spain could be bought for a ridiculous £29. But this meant that profits in the industry almost vanished. The average profit on a holiday is now around only £1.20 and many operators have gone bust or been swallowed up.

These tiny profits have meant tiny re-investment, and the resulting decline in standards of holiday hotels and apartments has produced massive customer dissatisfaction and fewer bookings.

So besides providing rising prices and less choice for consumers, the package holiday industry has fallen into fewer and fewer hands until Thomson and Intasun have more than 60% of the market between them. Ah, the benefits of cut-throat competition!

Question Time (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
If politicians know the truth
Why do they tell lies? 
If British Rail belongs to the public
Why do I have to pay my fare? 
If this is my country
Which bit is mine? 
If there are mountains of food
Why do people starve? 
If capitalism works
Why do people put up with it? 
If I am free
Why am I a wage slave? 
If this is democracy
Why can't I have my say ? 
If I am a polar bear
Why am I so cold?
                                                    M. J. Tavener

Letters: Non-manual labour (1990)

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

Non-manual labour

Dear Editors,

I am writing in the hope that you can enlighten me on a point concerning non-manual labour. Unless I have completely misunderstood the dynamics of capitalism, the exploitation of the workers rests on the extraction of surplus value, and the wages system is the mechanism by which this robbery takes place. This is easily observable in, say, mining or steel production. Physical wealth is produced, expropriated and sold. However with unproductive work such as, for example, a typist or a bank clerk, what wealth is being produced? How can someone who is producing no wealth be exploited through the extraction of surplus value? What wealth is being expropriated?

I understand that much non-manual labour is an essential part of production (nursing, planning etc) and that this labour, indirectly, produces wealth. However, doesn't this suggest perhaps the existence of two different types of exploitation? (1) the ‘real’ economy—physical wealth production on which we all depend, and (2) non-manual labour, some of which (like the occupations mentioned above) is essential and some of which (bank clerks, etc) is completely wasted labour. The exploitation of someone in the 'real' economy is easily analysed—the owner's outlay (wages, rent, repairs, etc) can be said to cost x, commodities are sold for y. the difference between x and y being profits.

Can the exploitation of a typist be quantified in this way? A miner pays his own wages, he has produced wealth over and above the value of his wages, does a typist do the same? Who pays for a bank clerk's wages if they don't actually produce any wealth? Is it enough to say that employers are happy to pay unproductive workers because within the context of the money system they do serve a purpose? Are unproductive workers a sort of subsidised workforce, paid for with wealth accumulated through physical wealth production? If so, doesn't that imply a rather more sophisticated understanding of the system amongst employers than blind obedience to the God of profit—if they are prepared to forsake immediate gain by employing workers whom they can’t actually physically exploit for profit, or is it a situation that developed naturally?

Production is the transformation of materials that originally came from nature into something that serves some human purpose. This necessarily involves both physical (manual) and mental (non-manual) work. Mining is not just a question of digging. It also involves surveying, planning how to extract the mineral and how bring it to the surface, and the like. This work is just as necessary to production as the physical side. Originally the same person would have done both but, as the division of labour has grown, the manual and mental aspects have come to be performed by different groups of workers. All of them are equally engaged in productive labour, including, we might add. the typists who type out the plans.

Under capitalism it is not just use-values that are produced but commodities, or items produced for sale. This means that a whole series of other operations become necessary which wouldn't exist if production were carried on simply for use: buying, selling, accounting, banking, insurance. Necessary though these activities are under capitalism, they are not productive as they do not enhance the usefulness of the product. This does not mean that the workers involved in them are not exploited. As Marx explained in Chapter 6 of Volume 2 of Capital on "The Costs of Circulation", such workers, just as much as productive workers, are paid less in terms of labour-time than the time they actually work and so perform unpaid labour for their employer. It is this unpaid labour which transfers a part of the surplus value produced in the productive sector to their employer. So an employer of unproductive labour has not abandoned the pursuit of profit. Quite the contrary.

South Africa

Dear Editor,

P. Lawrence, in his article on South Africa, asserts that “tribal differences also divided the African peoples who in the seventeenth century had migrated south from East Africa (Socialist Standard, April 1990). This claim is also to be found in the more dated official literature such as the South African Department of Information publication Progress through Separate Development (1973) and anyone familiar with Apartheid historiography will readily appreciate its purpose as one of a battery of “myths of origin" that Apartheid ideologists have deployed over the years to legitimate the contemporary distribution of land between "White South Africa" (87 percent) and the "Black Homelands" (13 percent). According to the above publication, "the story of modern South Africa dates back more than 300 years when the forefathers of the various Bantu or black nations of South Africa and the white South African nation, all foreigners to southern Africa, converged in relatively small numbers and from different directions on what was, at the time, a practically empty country except for small roving bands of primitive nomadic Bushmen and Hottentots" (p.12). The present distribution of land between whites and blacks, it is argued, reflects the original pattern of settlement of these two groups and involved "neither colonialism nor conquest".

This bears no relation to the historical reality. For some time now it has been known that the interior of South Africa was populated by iron age Bantu-speaking farmers long before the 17th century (when the Dutch arrived at the Cape) and was continuously occupied since, notwithstanding the Mfecane, or inter-tribal wars in the early 19th century, which supposedly depopulated the interior prior to the Great Trek. According to Shula Marks, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the first wave of Bantu migration arrived south of the Limpopo River “early in the first millenium AD, and not, as had been previously assumed, relatively late in the second" (History Today January 1980). There are, for example, numerous traces of ancient African settlements and mine workings throughout much of so-called White South Africa. Indeed, the archaeological evidence against the thesis of "simultaneous occupation” is now so overwhelming that not even the official propaganda of the South Africa Government bothers any longer to peddle this nonsense (cf. Official Yearbook of South Africa 1983). It is therefore all the more surprising that one should find it being perpetuated in, of all places, the Socialist Standard
Robin Cox, 
Haslemere, Surrey

Although we never expressed the view our correspondent has read into the article (we merely stated that there was a migration of Bantu-speaking tribes, in the 17th century, into what is now South Africa, which is true), we naturally defer to the archeological evidence, not that it has any contemporary political relevance. The fact the Bantu-speakers were there first does not justify the claim that the ruling class in South Africa should be drawn from their ranks any more than the Afrikaner nationalist distortion of history justifies their claim that the ruling class should be white. Socialist are not interested in such arguments. We say there should be no ruling class, no states with their frontiers and nationalist mythologies, and no monopoly ownership of land

The Case for Equality (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a socialist society all human beings will be equals. Without equality there could be no society which could accurately call itself socialist. So, the class-divided, extremely hierarchical nations such as Russia and China, which have a class of privileged party bureaucrats ruling over the majority of the population who are wage slaves, are clearly not socialist—they are part of the social inequality which characterises capitalism.

What do we mean by social equality? We mean that we seek to create a condition of social organisation in which no person is entitled to be regarded and rewarded as superior to others and no person is to be condemned to the disadvantaged position of being socially inferior. In a society of equality there will be no socially superior or inferior people.

We are not advocating a social situation in which no person is superior to another person in any respect. In a society of human equality one person might be a better violinist than another. The inferior violinist might be a better poet or bricklayer than the superior violinist. The significant point is that such differences of achievement (which are almost certainly conditioned rather than innate) will not lead to social inequality. In a society of equals the better violinist will have no opportunity to live a more confortable life than the violinist whose music sounds awful. The person who is an expert at cutting up human bodies (a surgeon) will have no greater access to pleasant accommodation or decent cigars than the person who is skilled at fixing motor cars (a mechanic). Society needs surgeons and mechanics, violinists and poets.

Just as a society of equality will include people with different levels of talent and skill in various areas of life and work, so it will be a society of humans who are different from each other. The distinction must be understood between equality and sameness. If the present writer is asked whether he prefers the plays of Chekhov or Pinter he will reply that he enjoys them equally; this does not mean that he regards them as being the same—in fact, the two writers are very different from one another. The two playwrights (in the view of the present writer) are worthy of equal respect. To say that the dedication of a nurse and a firefighter is equal is not to suggest that both types of work are the same. Equality does not imply conformity or uniformity. On the contrary, it implies that our appreciation of our fellow human beings is not governed by a monolithic value structure, but that we have the capacity to respect different abilities without subordinating one to the other. Rather infantile critics of the case for social equality suggest that we are advocating some kind of absolute natural equality. Jerome K. Jerome wrote a rather foolish satire about utopia in which he depicted a society in which everyone had to be the same height and weight. Clearly, social equality will not require the elimination of natural human differences. If one person has natural advantages over another (such as the physical strength of the young over the old and feeble) that will not allow such a person to have social domination over those who are so-called natural inferiors. Natural differences such as gender or skin colour are no basis for social differences; it is only in a society of human inequality that these natural distinctions become parts of a battle for power

The facts of social inequality
Only a fool or a liar would contend that we are now living in a society of human equality. World capitalism has as its first characteristic the unnatural, artificial inequality between class and class. In Britain today the richest 1 per cent of the population own more of the marketable wealth than all of the poorest 80 per cent added together. The richest 10 per cent own between them more than half of all the wealth in Britain. In short, even if the 90 per cent joined together we would still be poorer than the richest 10 per cent. Approximately one in four humans alive today are malnourished because they cannot afford to buy food. In Britain and the USA one in four children live on or below the official poverty line. The most recent World Land Census, carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, showed that 2.5 per cent of the people who own land of over 250 acres own between them 75 per cent of all the world's privately owned land.

These are the dry statistics of inequality. The more visible and emotionally comprehensible features of inequality are before us every day. The sight of kids sleeping on the streets on cold nights while estate agents advertise six-bedroom houses for over a million pounds—often as suitable second homes for the useless rich. The queues in the casualty departments of NHS hospitals where the poor must wait for serious injuries to be treated, while round the corner in the private wing there are comfortable lounges for the rich to wait in while they demand the very best in health care, regardless of whether they are ill or not. The mothers who cannot afford to feed their children and keep them warm on £40 a week, while a couple of miles away five-star hotels are serving dinner to parasites at £250 a head. Only the socially blind will deny the existence of social inequality: only the socially brutalised will regard it as a desirable condition of affairs.

Is social equality possible? Some have argued that it is not. and if we are to argue scientifically we must examine and dispose of their claims. We can commence with the most stupid argument against equality; the religious objection. In 1784 George Pitt argued against the doctrine of equality";
  A doctrine, the fallacy of which is proved by the experience of every day. by the concurrence of all history from the earliest times, and above all by the contemplation of all the works of the Creator, the very essence of which appears to be gradation or inequality. (Letter To A Young Nobleman.)
In short, humans are created to be unequal. The Church has pursued this propaganda with vigour: The rich man in his castle, the poor man in his hut. God made them high and lowly . . . Apart from the fact that this nonsense ignores the first 40,000 years of human society (the great majority of our history) in which classes did not exist, its entire reasoning depends upon the completely unproven and utterly unprovable belief that the world was designed by an over-seeing being who decided how it would be organised. The religious defence of inequality is an ideology designed by the defenders of the rich who offer a creationist account of human inequality as a way of keeping the ignorantly—believing inferiors in their place. Lest there be any doubt about this we can turn to the writings of the prominent 18th century Christian and conservative, Edmund Burke, who spelt out the religious purpose in clear terms:
   The great body of people must not find the principle of natural insubordination . . . rooted out of their minds. They must respect that property of which they cannot partake. They must labour to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they commonly do, the success disproportionate to the endeavour, they must be taught to console themselves with the prospect of divine justice.
The claim that inequality was designed by a god requires a belief in an unprovable. immaterial deity, and then a respect for such a supernatural being who designs poverty and social misery for the majority class in society.

Biology not determinant
Different from the religious case against equality—but not all that different—is the biological theory. The infamous Professor Eysenck states that "biology sets an absolute barrier to egalitarianism"; we are all born with unequal capacities to become intelligent; this intellectual inequality is genetically inherited and determines our status in life: "Clearly, the whole course of development of a child's intellectual abilities is largely laid down genetically" (The Inequality of Man).

This biological determinism replaces genes for gods and contends that we are all born to fit into an intellectual hierarchy and must make the best of what our genes allow us to become. Eysenck and others have attempted to link superior genetic abilities with white skin colour. Others, such as Steven Goldberg in The Inevitability of Patriarchy, have tried to make a case for the biological inferiority of women. The case for biological inequality rests upon some very weak reasoning. Firstly, its conception of "intelligence' is a very narrow one, rooted in the limited history of European and American capitalism. If Professor Eysenck was left to survive in an African desert region we wonder how "intelligent" he would be in relation to the people who were brought up in such an area. The best evidence regarding human behaviour points to the fact that humans learn to be what we are: the extent to which we inherit genetically any mental aspects of our being is negligible. Even if there was some truth in the Eysenck theory, there would be no more reason for a society of human equality to discriminate against less intelligent people than it would be to discriminate against those who are physically disabled.

Davis and Moore have constructed a sociological theory which is simply an updated version of last century's Social Darwinist defence of social inequality:
  Social inequality is . . . an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most important persons. (Some Principles of Stratification).
According to this theory, society offers rewards to the people it needs most. Superiority is a reward for usefulness. If you are socially useless you will become inferior. The fittest will survive and thrive. The only problem with this theory—a pretty major problem for a would-be scientific analysis—is that it bears no relationship to the experience of how capitalist society actually does run. We know very well that under capitalism the useless stockbroker is rewarded (by income) much more than the nurse; the parasitical Royals are rewarded with billions of pounds for waving at people, while workers who grow food are often so poor that they cannot afford to eat properly. The belief that life is one great competition in which the capitalists win because they are the most able is a nice idea if you are a millionaire, but a lot of rot if you consider that most millionaires inherit their fortunes, and that these were obtained in the first place by exploiting the labour skills of others.

Free society of equals
It will not take long for the thoughtful reader to detect that all of the arguments against social equality are unhistorical. The god-myth has no basis in material history and entirely ignores the thousands of years during which humans lived in a condition of what social anthropologists call primitive communism. Were these humans (the majority of those who have lived on the planet) built by god with a design fault? The biological theory relies upon unproven notions of inherited intelligence and defines intelligence in an unhistorical manner. The modern Social Darwinists can see no further than the social order of the capitalist jungle.

There is one further argument against social equality which is sometimes put by capitalism's defenders and which does make sense. It is said that equality can only occur by limiting certain liberties which currently exist. This is quite true. The liberty of the least needy to push in front of the most needy in the queue for food, clothing and shelter will be taken away in a socially equal society. The liberty to destroy food and take land out of cultivation in order to keep prices and profits up will no longer exist. The liberty of humans to compel others to work for them (or starve) will be ended. In short, a socialist system of human equality can only occur once the expropriators have been expropriated—once the capitalist class has been dispossessed of its monopoly of the earth's resources. This threat to the capitalists' liberty to own and control the world is seen by them as something to be resisted at all costs—including the reputations and lives of those who dare to advocate social equality. The capitalist minority use every means of propaganda at their command to distort the case for equality, to defame its advocates and to defend their own privilege in the name of popular liberty and democracy.

To the majority of us, who are not capitalists but live by selling our mental and physical energies for wages and salaries, the awful danger of the capitalists losing their liberty to be the top dogs ought not to appear as such an awful threat. On the contrary, the removal of the liberty of the capitalist to be superior is the necessary precondition for the liberty of the wealth producers not to be inferior. The right of the worker not to be a wage slave requires the abolition of the right of anyone to be a capitalist. Freedom and equality have the abolition of class society as their social basis.

The only free society will be one where all human beings, without any distinctions of race or sex or age, have free and equal access to the common wealth of the world. Once goods and services are freely available to all, on the basis of self-defined desires, without the interference of money or markets, humans will be able to say in honesty that we are members of a human family—a family of equals.
Steve Coleman

What's so good about the market? (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everyone seems to be falling in love with the market these days. From all over the political spectrum people are saying that it's the best way of deciding what's produced and how it's distributed. The Communist Party, the Labour Party. Mr Gorbachev. Mrs Thatcher—wherever you look more and more people are saying that the market system is efficient and allows us freedom to decide what to buy, where we live, and where we work. Everyone seems to be a convert to the new religion of competition; even the countries of Eastern Europe are now shifting away from the equally abhorrent state capitalism. Yet the human cost of all this supposed freedom and equality is barely ever mentioned. In reality the "free" market hides the most blatant inequality, oppression and wastefulness behind its mask of equality, freedom and efficiency.

Unequal Shares for All
In theory we all have the freedom to buy a flat in Mayfair or a forest in Scotland—even if we don't speak with a plum in our mouth. But you don't get far without money. And some people tend to have a lot more money than others. For example, it was recently announced on the TV news that the people of Ethiopia stood on the verge of a famine of worse proportions than 1984 when around a million people died. We see pictures of beautiful children dying—robbed of their right to even a life of poverty. Now take the Earl of Cadogan. According to the Sunday Times, he is worth £450 million due to land owned as a result of marriages in the 18th Century. Or what about Alan Sugar? He is judged to have £432 million—rather more than the Korean women and men who produce the computers that bear his company name—Amstrad. What explains the gap between those who struggle and those who become multi-millionaires?

The Great Divide: Class
Class is not about your accent or your school tie: it's about what you own and whether you have to work for your living. Just because Robert Maxwell was once poor, it does not mean that he is somehow still a member of the working class now he may be worth up to £675 million. You needn't be an economist to see that millionaires (and. indeed, billionaires) will have a bit more choice than the poor of Eritrea.

All of this belies the claim that the market is in any way "democratic" and that we have somehow got equal "votes" under it. Some people have many times the influence of others in choosing what they do in the world. How else can we explain the production of luxury yachts alongside the failure of the system to provide adequate food to millions? It doesn't matter how much people are crying out for food and shelter; without purchasing power (money) the needs of the poor will stay unrecognised. Producing food for the penniless will never be a big money earner—it won't sell. And the pressure towards holding wages down to allow firms to be "competitive" will ensure that even many of those in work will be unable to influence significantly what is supplied on the market in order to meet their needs. Some democracy!

As we go to the market place to make money to live, most of us sell only our ability to work by getting a job. Yet others have got a bit more to fall back on. income from their capital. Even if they somehow "deserve" wealth, why should such talented people enjoy continued advantage? If they're so good they could succeed all over again from nothing! And why do some people have millions of pounds? Is it that they are a thousand times better than you or me? Can someone really work a hundred times harder than a nurse or an ambulance driver? Supporters of the market think so. "The market rewards hard work and enterprise," they say. How is this measured? Is a company director s greater wealth worked out with the aid of an "Enterprisometer”? In reality their rewards are legally stolen from the efforts of ordinary women and men. The capitalist's reward— profit—is no more than the unpaid labour of working men and women.

Now, the capitalist press say that everyone is free to set up their own companies and to become capitalists. But we can't all get rich by owning companies—to begin with, who will we all employ (read "exploit") in the companies? And we can't all compete with Murdoch's empire. To become cost-effective in the era of trans-global corporations a company must meet the huge costs of entry which exist in most areas of business. You need the ability to sustain a loss for the initial period—how else could Sky Television have survived?

You also need the power of money to influence customers through marketing and advertising. In Murdoch's case, it has been a bit of a help owning five national papers in Britain to persuade the unconverted to buy satellite TV. In short, you need money (capital) to make money. Despite the Enterprise Culture in Britain, real economic power is not in the hands of a few window cleaners undercutting each other's prices on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Record numbers of small firms went bust last year in Britain and it's no surprise when you realise what they're up against.

Wealth, Waste and Want
Yet it's so much more than a question of unequal shares. The whole rationale of production is skewed by profit. People's real needs are not taken directly into account when firms decide what is to be produced. Even if we had a "share-owning democracy", and everyone had an equal stake in society as Mrs Thatcher tells us we've got. even if we divided all the money out with "fair shares for all", the whole system would still be a roller coaster that is not amenable to rational and democratic control. This is because the market system is geared towards production for profit, stimulated by advertising, marketing and credit. The whole aim of the system would still be production for profit and all that this entails—even if there were not the sickening levels of inequality that we now experience; we would still have wasteful hyping of competing products, banking and built-in obsolescence.

The market system has provided the impetus for technological developments but doesn't allow us to take full advantage of them. In a sane society everyone would benefit from advances in technology. Under capitalism research is duplicated and advances in technology are restricted by the patent system. All in the name of the great god—Competition. The market system is characterised by superficial rationality and efficiency within individual firms, but global insanity when all these unco-ordinated and anti-social decisions are added together and seen in the light of the needs of the whole world population. And under this supposedly efficient system there is also the huge waste of unemployment where people living on a pittance are robbed of a chance even of wage slavery. There can be no democracy when decisions about work organisation and how to provide goods and services are made on the basis of profit. Trying to meet the needs of five billion people through the clumsy workings of the market is like performing microsurgery with boxing gloves on.

Working to Stand Still
In a world where buying and selling dominate. there is a complete disregard for the experience of people in the workplace since the whole emphasis is upon what is produced and whether it can be sold. Wages, health and safety and work satisfaction will always come a poor second best to the need to make a profit. Much welcome discussion about "Green" issues and "quality of life" has managed to avoid one of the main limits upon our real quality of life—the lack of control and creativity that most people experience in their work. Environmentalism has been seen to be largely about buying the right sort of consumer goods. Important though this may be, it leaves aside the fact that the whole reason for capitalist production is not production for need, nor for the satisfaction of the people in the workplace, but production to make a profit on the market.

This is at the very centre of capitalism; and the consequence is that decisions about how goods and services are made are still in the hands of the large corporations. The system cannot gear itself to producing fewer useless goods, producing them in a more satisfactory way for the workers, or democratically deciding how to solve a problem globally.

For example, the market will never get round to planning and producing a truly safe and comfortable public transport system. The vested interests of oil and automobile corporations ensure that it is biased towards producing and promoting private cars. As an afterthought we're asked to use lead-free petrol to limit the havoc caused by everyone pursuing their "individuality" as we sit in ever-increasing traffic queues of mass-produced cars. And Cecil Parkinson still sees more roads as the solution!
Under the market, the answer is always "more” rather than a sane alternative. “Make a fast buck" and "Leave the competition standing," we're told. All this obscures the fact that we need more than ever to collectively decide how to deal with the increasingly global problems that we all face. It's no game: life and death decisions are being decided behind our backs by the harsh workings of the market. We have been played a huge confidence trick. Beneath the talk of efficiency and equality the market is out of control. We need to abandon this crazy system which dominates our lives and organise to bring about a wholly new society; on which has never  even been tried—socialism. But that's another story . . .
Ken Aldred