Monday, January 20, 2020

Superstition Still Taints Education (1945)

From the January 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Notable advances have been made in recent years in the technique of teaching. Infant and nursery schools must be credited with a humane approach as between pupil and teacher, and there has been a corresponding seep seniorwards—Messrs. Squeers and McChonkuinchild are on their way to extinction.

These advances are only too liable to conceal the most important aspect of education in its wider social implications; the worker, above all, must firmly grasp the fact that while the educational machine remains an instrument of the governing class, it will of necessity be used in the interests of that class. Incidental advantages to the worker's child in any case will be negligible in comparison with the total gain accruing to the capitalist class as a whole.

Over 2000 years ago, a narrow Spartan oligarchy was bound by unfavourable geographical conditions to go all out for a very thorough "occupational" education. A brutal discipline bred a race of patriotic toughs ready to do the suicide squad act at Thermopylae; it could as efficiently organise a youth who held it a "sacred" duty to assassinate secretly any “dangerous" Helot—a member of Sparta’s racial underdogs.

Modern history affords complete evidence of the powerful instrument which that education machine becomes to the State. Fatuous historians of the J. R. Green type enthuse about the Tudor monarch’s love of learning; they instance the establishment of “grammar schools” (endowed grudgingly from the rich loot of confiscated monasteries). Virtue brought more than its own reward. The “New Monarchy" was materially aided in its stand against possible feudal reaction by an increasingly wealthy body of merchants and their “sea-dog" relatives; the grammar schools constituted a pool from which could be fished the budding Burghleys, the Hattons aud Raleighs, and the whole tribe of despicable lick-spittlers and crooks who foul that page of history which glorifies a not too meticulously “Virgin" Queen as “that bright Occidental Star” (see Preface to Authorised Version of the Bible).

The nineteenth century throws a high-light on the social bearings of education; let anyone who would get a clear picture of the condition of the working class in that period read J. L. and Barbara Hammond’s “The Town Labourer," and companion volume “The Village Labourer." The desolating morass of physical and moral filth which begun and ended the life of the average worker makes the epithet “savage” a gross libel on Choctaw and Cherokee. The stink was rank: it smelt to heaven, and a tiny section of the governing class, not so directly concerned in the nakedly brutal exploitation of the worker, were shocked. At least the sacrificial fires of Moloch must be damped down. Enter Mrs. Trimmer (“Town Labourer,." page 58), declaring that "the lower sort of children might be so far civilised as not to be disgusting.” Hannah More plumps roundly for “Education”: schools were established, and there was no ambiguous phrasing in the prospectus; these lower animals of a Loving Father’s creation were to be trained “in habits of industry and piety.”

“PIETY”: here the cat Piety leaps joyfully out of the bag to caterwaul with its lady friend industry. Wilberforce, fresh from discussing the “scandal” of chattel-slavery with Pitt under the spreading oak in Holwood Park, had “explained” that “Christianity makes the inequalities of the social scale less galling to the lower orders; their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God.” Hannah More was convinced that “Property would be safer if the poor were taught to read the Bible.”

The Education Act of 1870 practically superseded voluntary effort as far as the worker was concerned. The “Board Schools” which it created became factories where “grants,” based on individual performances in the “3 R's,” were ground out. At the outset, training of teachers was substantially in the hands of religious bodies; some day the naked truth about the majority of the “Church” training colleges may be told; inadequate premises, second-rate “tutors,” and low-grade clerical “principals” turned out a body of men and women who patiently bore the bullying of clerical “managers,” of Board or Government “inspectors.” The ruling class achieved gradually a more docile set of workers, and a body of “elementary” teachers clamant in their “loyalty,” never so happy as when running “Empire Days.” Miss Margaret McMillan, many years ago, wrote to the present writer, “They love the grind,” . . . and there the tragedy of it . . . Charity, my colleagues of a younger generation who have had relatively better conditions, for any specimens of the “old guard ” you meet.

The outlook in education to-day has some encouraging features; the new Act should make for happier pupils and give increased opportunity to teachers not bound down by time table and syllabus.

One big blot in the Butler Act seems to have escaped the criticism which it merits. The prescription of a “Corporate Act of Worship” as prologue to the more or less secular feast is probably its most important feature. Wilberforce and Hannah More, being dead, yet live. And their reincarnations administer a more subtle poison than their forbears. Backed by educational journalism, which bleats about the “priceless heritage” of the Bible, and yaps about “Christian Ethics,” the clerical brigade is quietly but firmly playing the old game with an additional weapon—to wit, a “Corporate Act of Worship”; what was vaguely prescribed before, and easily waived, becomes stark compulsion. Relying on a largely apathetic body of parents, the ruling class will get the children ON THEIR KNEES, physically perhaps, let alone figuratively.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is uncompromisingly anti-clerical, with all which that implies; it is keenly alive to the fact that men have always fashioned their gods out of solid material and economic circumstances. The Party utterly repudiates leadership with its degrading correlate of “Worship.” Hitler has well demonstrated what can be accomplished with the young by inducing an attitude of reverence through prescribed ritual. In a way. he has played the game more successfully than the ruling class of this or any other country.

“Secular Education” of itself would by no means assure Socialism; far from it. But we might at least have expected from organised Rationalism a move in that directing; it would at least have afforded evidence that the endeavour to foist superstitious practice on the young was recognised as the evil thing it is, considered (if possible) even apart from politics. We commend for the consideration of our Rationalist friends the weighty words of J. M. Robertson (“Christianity and Mythology,” p. xviii.): “Those who realise the precariousness of modern gains in the battle against the tyranny of the past must continue the campaign, so doing what they can to save the optimists from, it may be, a rude awakening.”
Augustus Snellgrove

Letter: Socialism and Constitutional Action (1945)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reply To A Correspondent.


In the October issue of The Socialist Standard under the heading “Last Days of the Barricades,” you state as follows: “With a Parliamentary majority it is the capitalists who will be faced with the prospect of illegal barricades, which the Socialist controlled army and air force will go through like cardboard, if they ever get put up. . . .”

It is true that the armed forces are controlled by Parliament, but it is also true that the armed forces can act in defiance of Parliament.

When you refer to a Socialist majority in Parliament, I suppose you mean anything between 51 and 100 per cent. It is therefore feasible that the armed forces will divide against itself, so that both sides would be fairly matched with the most up-to-date instruments of warfare.

To visualise a few capitalists armed with only small arms and barbed wire as being the only resistance to the establishment of Socialism may be a comforting thought, yet in my opinion it shows a lamentable lack of understanding and suggests that such is likely to be the position at the time of the Socialist revolution.
I am. Sir, Yours faithfully,
F. J. Andrews.
Romford, Essex.

The S.P.G.B. holds that, in order to achieve Socialism, it is necessary for a Socialist majority to obtain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Control of the machinery of government is to be obtained by securing a Parliamentary majority. It should, of course, he emphasised that before such a majority can be achieved in Parliament there must exist a majority of convinced Socialists in the constituencies.

Our correspondent puts this proposition :—
It is true that the armed forces are controlled by Parliament, but it is also true that the armed forces can act in defiance of Parliament.
Strictly, the position is that constitutionally the armed forces only exist and function by consent of Parliament (which votes the money and annually renews the Acts by which discipline is legally enforceable), though the armed forces are directly under the orders of the Government and those whom it appoints to command the armed forces. Our correspondent asks us to accept the view that, though the armed forces are trained and accustomed to take orders only from authorities under the control of the Government., they “can act in defiance of Parliament,” and that in order to prevent the establishment of Socialism after a majority has, democratically voted for Socialism, a large part of the armed forces will refuse to take orders from the Government and will wage civil war in order to preserve capitalism.

This proposition makes a number of very big assumptions: (a) That these soldiers will be so enamoured of capitalism that they will go to extreme lengths to preserve it; (b) that they will suddenly throw overboard the traditional obedience to constitutional authorities to which they have been trained and are accustomed; (c) that though drawn from working-class families, they are so little touched by the Socialist convictions of the majority that they are not merely indifferent to the issue “Capitalism versus Socialism,” but are actually active supporters of capitalism.

We find these assumptions so extraordinarily out of harmony with past experience and with the political outlook that will necessarily exist among the workers generally before a Socialist majority becomes a possibility that we find it impossible to imagine any such attempted revolt taking on serious proportions, even if it happened at all. Our correspondent does not tell us about the motives which he assumes will lead workers in the armed forces to take part in such rebellion, or who will initiate it. how they will organise it, how they will supply themselves with the means of waging war. how they will overcome problems of transport and communications against the efforts of the Government backed by the organised Socialist workers, to prevent them.

If our correspondent will enlighten us as to the situation as he envisages it “at the time of the Socialist revolution,” we shall be pleased to deal further with his forebodings.
Editorial Committee

A Happy New Year? (1981)

Artwork by George Meddemmen.
Editorial from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists do not extend conventional New Year greetings. We do not expect that the next twelve months will be happy or prosperous for the majority of the world’s population. Only relative degrees of poverty and misery await the wealth producers of the world in the year to come.

Don’t look to us for instant solutions to society’s ills. You, fellow worker, must enact the remedy or else all of us who live by selling ourselves for wages or salaries will continue to be affected by the social problems that we have come to know so well. No socialist can do your reasoning for you. Your brain is your own. You may either leave it to the manipulative forces of the status quo (the schools, media, churches and political leaders) or reclaim it for the purpose of doing some serious thinking.

We don’t need to tell you what to think about. Your experience is far greater than our descriptive powers will ever be. You know what it feels like to live in a world where your abilities are a commodity to be bought and sold so that someone else can make a profit from your labour. You may be afraid of the label, ‘Marxism’; you may not like to think that you are a slave for wages — but experience counts more than labels.

You fear war. You fear getting the sack. You fear getting ill and receiving inadequate health treatment because you can’t afford the best. You don’t like to be pushed around. You don’t need to be told that your present lot is not good enough; you are thinking that already.

We do not need to tell you why all this is so. But even then, you have only to read the newspapers and they will give you another explanation. We can tell you that unemployment arises when commodities cannot be sold profitably; they tell you that it is caused by workers not working hard enough. We say that wars are the consequence of the fight between the rich and the powerful over property and markets; they say that they arc caused by the aggressiveness and lack of co-operation of ordinary people. We say that poverty is caused by the wage-labour system and that without it there would be no poverty; they say that poverty exists when people don’t contribute enough to society.

Who do you believe, them or us? Don’t trust either explanation: use your experience to work out the answers. Are the unemployed all lazy? Is war caused by working men and women of different nations falling out with one another? II so, can you explain exactly what it is that the average Russian worker has against the average Afghan or the average Iranian worker has against the average Iraqi worker? Is it really the brainy and industrious people who get the palaces and the fools who get the slums? If so, why are the wealth-producing areas the ones which often face the greatest urban deprivation?

We don’t need to convince you that your troubles are not caused by human nature. You know that most of the men and women around you are not responsible for war, for unemployment, for social service cuts, for mass starvation. They say that politics is not for them, and leave social planning to the ‘experts’.

Human beings make their own social environment and the environment makes them. At the moment we have a world which is unfit for humans. Profit comes before need and class before equality. Such a system once played a useful role in developing the means of wealth production to their present level, but the forces which gave rise to capitalism no longer exist. Today, in a world of abundant resources and technological sophistication, nobody need starve, nobody need be homeless.

We have made our social environment, and now we must change it. To do that we need ideas. First, we need experience of capitalism. We’ve all got that. Second, we need to know how the system works. It works to produce commodities for sale on the market with a view to profit. The consequences of this can be seen in the waste and shoddiness and destructiveness of modern production. Third, we need to know how to get rid of the present system. That’s simple: it will be removed in the same way as it is presently kept in being — by the political decision of the majority. At the moment most people accept the present system, usually because they think there is no alternative. When the majority of people, in all the countries of the world, decide that this system does not suit their needs, they will politically dissent from it. How? By forming political parties that stand solely for socialism.

That sounds like a good idea. You could do with a new social order, couldn’t you? No property, no classes, no buying and selling, no wages, no profit. Yes, this sounds rather different. It’s certainly never been tried.

But would it work? Could people cooperate in a free society? Could people be persuaded to produce things if there were no wages, but just voluntary co-operation? If there were no laws would we not all kill each other? Without leaders will we know how to stay alive? The answers depend on you, fellow worker; upon you and upon all those who are in the class which lives by wage slavery.

The socialist case is that if you understand what the alternative is, and if you want it, then you will co-operate to make it work. If you cannot conceive of a co-operative society, then we urge you to think again. If you think that the new society that we stand for is a Utopia and in the next breath you wish your friends a ‘happy New Year’, you are forgetting that in a world of social chaos the search for genuine happiness will be a frustrating one. The socially blinkered may be happy in their acquiescence, but only the struggle for socialism offers the chance of something more than a happy New Year: a happy new society.

Letter: SPGB is self-righteous (1981)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I have now been reading the Socialist Standard for a year. If it has not “converted” me to socialism, that is because I had already come, independently, to the views of the SPGB before starting to take the paper. I am wondering, however, whether it would have done so had I been only half way committed, and am reluctantly none too sure that it would. Indeed, I have an unhappy feeling, which has been growing on me during recent months and which I’ve been doing my best to ignore, that it might have done the very opposite.

Please don’t misunderstand me: the logic of all you say is impeccable. Its rightness, to me, remains the ultimate rightness. What I find very hard to live with is the tone of the paper. It comes across (yes, all right, to ME it comes across: the view must be subjective) as both smug in its isolationism and sneering towards those outside.

I say “isolationism” because having worked out one’s own fully socialist philosophy of life I think it becomes all too easy, in effect, to wash one’s hands of all the ongoing problems created by capitalism, which have to be coped with HERE AND NOW, and simply declare, as a blanket statement, that “only socialism is the answer” — which it is! I am not disagreeing. Neither am I advocating that we all start playing campaign politics. But still, the ongoing problems exist, and if you’re out of work, for instance, you want to work NOW, even on “their” terms, you don’t need the Standard sneering at the fact that there you are, wearing out your shoe leather with a million others, begging poor fool for the right to be exploited, while what you OUGHT to be doing is seeing the light and fighting the socialist battle. Likewise, it’s all very well adopting this lofty attitude that anti-nuclear marches aren’t going to stop wars, and almost certainly aren’t going to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, either — they aren’t: agreed. But still I don’t think that’s the way to put the message across to ordinary people who haven’t yet come to socialism and in the meantime are justifiably shit-scared of being blown to smithereens. For one thing, unfortunately, socialism is for tomorrow, whilst unemployment and nuclear weapons are with us today; and while the Right to Work marches and the Anti-Nuclear campaigns may indeed be ultimately futile they nevertheless serve an immediate purpose — yelling at authority, voicing one’s anger - which I suspect, alas, that the unveiling of the true meaning of socialism probably wouldn’t, at least for the majority.

Certainly that ought not to stop the message being put across wherever and however possible. I just don’t feel that the attitude adopted by the Standard is likely to achieve that. There is a note of . . . unctuousness? Self-righteousness? An awful air of “we enlightened few standing on our pinnacle” whilst all the rest of the deluded idiots rush to and fro like demented chickens in the capitalist hen coop. I’m perfectly sure that this is not intended, and maybe you’ll say that your harshest strictures are intended only for those who lead (and ought to be presumed to have thought things out rather better) than for those who follow; but since it’s the masses who follow, and the masses who must be convinced if socialism is to succeed . . . I just don’t think people like to feel they’re being GOT at.
Yours in socialism,
Jean Ure 
Croydon, Surrey

Discussion about the type of journal the Socialist Party of Great Britain should produce is determined by three principal factors. Firstly, we are a political party publication which exists solely to express the established policy of our membership. What we say is governed by our Declaration of Principles and by democratically agreed party decisions. This makes us unique as a journal: we have no editorial right (or decree) to say things that the membership of the SPGB does not stand for; we have a duty to accurately represent our party’s position on numerous theoretical and practical questions; all those involved in the production of the Standard are subject to democratic criticism or removal from office at any time. This may all sound very restricting but, in fact, it represents the only alternative to the anarchic “individualism” of the Fleet Street press — where the rule of the shareholders constitutes “editorial objectivity” — and the undemocratic control of the party press by the “intellectual vanguard” which prevails in leftist circles. Anyone outside the SPGB who accepts our political principles, but objects to our propaganda methods, should be inside the party using the democratic channels available to push the journal in the direction in which they think it should be going. Secondly, the scope of our publication is limited by both finance and manpower. Ideally two, three or four party journals could be published, each catering for different tastes. But we haven’t got the money (the Standard is run at a loss and we are frequently forced to appeal for funds to keep it going) and we just don’t have the manpower (writers, illustrators, lay-out people, sellers, dispatchers) to make more than one journal viable. Bear in mind that the Standard is entirely produced by voluntary effort. This leads to the third factor: that in producing the Standard we have to balance it so that it will be readable for totally new readers, those who have read it a few times but have not yet joined, and members. To leave out any of these categories of readers would be to ignore a section of our readership. At our last Annual Conference it was democratically decided that the primary aim of the Standard must be to explain our priorities to new readers.

Jean Ure criticises the Standard for what she regards as smugness, self-righteousness and isolationism. Clearly these are seen to be failings. But if for “smug” we substitute “politically confident”, for “self-righteousness” we substitute “a record of being consistently correct” and for “isolationism” we substitute “principled opposition to all anti-working class ideas”, perhaps we would seem less at fault. We are politically confident, though not because we are smugly self-satisfied but because, unlike the defenders of capitalism, we have a political theory capable of showing the working class their potential strength. We do have a record of consistent correctness which is proof of the usefulness of our theory. When we say that we alone have been able to interpret and predict the confused affairs of the capitalist system, we are not intending to be self-righteous, but to invite others to adopt our way of analysing social development. We are hostile to all diversion in the class struggle, including CND and the Right to Work Campaign, and feel that it is our duty to criticise the “campaign politics” of the Left. For, as Jean Ure accepts, these campaigns will not change the nature of the system and participation in them will not alter workers’ political awareness. So, any tones of political pride that occasionally appear in our columns are only the side-effects of having a political position worth bragging about.

The assertion that “socialism is for tomorrow, whilst unemployment and nuclear weapons are with us today sounds like the beginning of a defeatist justification of the “do something now rather than wait for socialism” argument. We in the SPGB do not accept it. We contend that the problems that are with us now are only the consequences of majority consent for capitalism. The idea that the here-and-now problem can be eradicated without removing the here-and-now system is basically false. Only socialism can put an end to unemployment and war and any suggestion that socialism is for the distant future is entirely repudiated by socialists. It is because we want to get rid of them now that we are in the SPGB. But — and this is the big qualification which reformists find unpalatable — we can’t achieve our aims without a social revolution which requires the conscious support of a majority of the working class. Those who can’t wait for the majority to be convinced — or, to be quite accurate, those who won’t help to convince the majority — may well sneer at the principled consistency of the SPGB but they can offer no short-cuts to the working class.

We do not blame workers for not being socialists. If we did, then we would deserve the criticism of Jean Ure. Clearly, the working class is prevented from “seeing the light” (as Ms Ure puts it) partly by all of the manipulative ideological forces of capital — the press, the schools the churches, the political parties. It is our job to counter these powerful forces with the convincing voice of rationality and point out that socialism is the only answer. Jean Ure says that it is “all too easy” to say that; so “easy” that millions of workers have not said it because they do not know it, and unless we continue to say it, loud and clear, they never will know it.

So what is your advice to the SPGB, Jean Ure? Do we stop saying that only socialism is the answer, which you freely admit that it is? Do you advise us to support those who campaign for nuclear disarmament within the profit system when you willingly agree that it will not “stop wars and certainly (isn’t) going to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons”? Do you think that we should encourage people to “yell at authority” in movements which you tell us are “ultimately futile” Do we, in other words, go in for the politics of deceiving our fellow workers that what we know to be a waste of time is energy well spent, for the sake of gaining popularity? Or do we tell them what we must now tell you: that the only place for socialists is a party which stands for socialism and nothing but.

Blogger's Note:
Jean Ure ended up joining the SPGB, and was a member of the Croydon Branch of the SPGB for a couple of years. In her working life she is an incredibly successful children's author.

TV Review: Worker co-operatives (1981)

TV Review from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Worker co-operatives

“They have abolished the distinction between capital and labour” was the outlandish claim made recently by a BBC Horizon documentary, The Mondragon Experiment. The people in question were the workers in a conglomeration of about 80 “industrial co-operatives” in the Basque country. Commodities such as refrigerators and washing-machines are manufactured for sale at a profit as elsewhere, but the internal organisation is somewhat different.

Each worker joining a co-operative provides £2,000 for the company’s funds. This is increased by 6 per cent each year from the wealth the workers produce. They then receive a standard monthly salary. The higher paid workers may receive up to three times as much as lower paid workers. Then 10 per cent of the profits is spent on schools and so on, 20 per cent is paid pack, into company funds and the other 70 per cent is divided among the workers. There are two significant features of this “distribution of profits”. Firstly, these profits are allocated in the same proportions as the salaries The workers who were paid three times the wages of their colleagues each week are also allocated three times as much profit. Secondly, none of these “profit bonuses” can be withdrawn from the company capital (including the £2,000 original contribution) unless the worker leaves the co-operative.

Capital is wealth used to make more wealth; it is an accumulation of labour used to employ more labour, in order to realise a profit. In capitalism, wealth takes the form of commodities, articles produced for sale in the market at a profit. Capital is by definition divided from the labour it consumes. Workers receive wages or salaries which are generally just enough for them to replenish their energies and live in a way which is determined by place and time. They are then able to produce wealth greater in value than that represented by their wages or salaries. In a week a worker can make more than he himself requires. This surplus wealth created belongs to the employer, to capital.

This process can clearly be seen in Mondragon. The salaries paid were said by the reporter to be the “going rate for the job in the Basque country”, in other words, co-operative workers “pay themselves” just enough to live like other workers. The surplus they create is accumulated as capital. They can only get hold of their individual small share of that capital by leaving their job, and even then, the workers on higher salaries have much larger shares of it. Managers are elected by all workers, but so is a Social Council whose job it is to negotiate with the managers over wages, conditions and so on, just as trade unions do elsewhere.

There are some similarities between this form of capitalism and state-capitalist nations like the USSR. In both cases, the old set-up of private shareholders has been replaced by a complex bureaucratic structure, where specially inflated salaries for certain managers are used as a means of channelling the wealth to a privileged minority. In both cases the world market system of capitalism remains, so in periodic recessions production is restricted. But in Mondragon they are not made redundant. “Instead they send them back to school” said the reporter. In Russia they can put them in the army. The restrictions of the profit system remain. Both Russia and Mondragon are examples of capitalism where no specific shareholding capitalists are clearly in evidence.

These industrial co-operatives are said to be more successful as capitalist enterprises than other companies, firstly because almost all the resources are ploughed back without any dividends being paid, but also because the workers supervise themselves, without having to employ any foremen. So most of the workers are directly productive.

What if the co-operative workers democratically vote one week to pay themselves twice or three times as much, of the wealth they create? The frantic process of capital accumulation would be held up and the co-operative would lose ground in the vicious rat-race of capitalism. This is unavoidable in a worldwide system of buying and selling, or production for profit.

The way in which these workers are searching for co-operative work, though, and the degree to which they have succeeded in organising themselves without external investors or directors, is certainly a hopeful sign. It shows how the working class of the world can organise itself to produce wealth. But why retain this system of wages and profits, labour and capital? What is needed is a global political movement to replace the whole market system with planned production, co-operative production, without the fetters of wages, prices and profit.

Miss World contest

In this age of mass commodity consumerism, beauty is definitely NOT in the eye of the beholder. It is in the hands of the mass media. In commercial society, where commodities and money are mystified and personified, and where people are turned into objects, physical beauty is defined by conformity to a norm. Fashions, from lipstick to stilettoes, complete the conveyor-belt conversion in which workers are forced to go and sell themselves, as objects, to employers.

A few weeks ago, the ITV cameras were present in the Albert-Hall, where sixty-seven “beautiful girls”, representing sixty-seven nation-states (Warsaw Pact countries were excluded) were assembled to compete for the absurd title of "Miss World”. As with other sports, the spirt of fierce nationalist competition was in evidence, with the first stage of the contest consisting of a parade by the participants in their “national” costumes. Regional culture transformed into national rivalry. The trade figureheads parade past like plastic marionettes. “Miss Bolivia, Miss Turkey, Miss Zimbabwe, Miss Chile, Miss Jamaica . . .” While in each of these countries hundreds of people are dying in the political wranglings of the demagogues who own the resources, these painted puppets, moulded by a depraved society, stroll up and down smiling in their desperate efforts to conform to the norm. Red lips, blue eyelids, high heels and a frozen smile. This is a beauty contest, don’t forget. Place your bets. You can’t guess wrong, because whoever gets the prize, capitalist normality will have won.

The most touching moment was when all the participants sang together:
I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony,
I’d like to hold it in my arms, and keep it company.
I’d like to see the world for once, standing hand in hand
And hear the echo through the hills of peace throughout the land.
Sexual preoccupations are created and encouraged with promises of a “swimsuit” parade to come later. “Miss India” dances in a talent contest and Anthony Newley comments: “Makes you sorry we lost India doesn’t it”. The only thing he’s ever lost, as we were to find out subsequently, is his singing voice. Workers owned India no more than they own Ireland or ICI. Then the judges are wheeled on. Alan Minter, boxer, Denis Waterman, actor, Bruce Forsyth and the wife of the Swaziland High Commissioner. We don’t know where she came from, perhaps a friend of the organiser, Eric Morley. Presumably these people are trained experts on the oppressively narrow conception of “beauty” inculcated through constant exposure to media and advertising. We live more than ever in a social system which is insidiously restrictive. Individuality is stamped out. Social conformity is stamped in, at an early age, through what they call “education”. Beauty becomes a convention, a composite moulded from the mix of a million faces. And this is the very ideal to be attained in schools and in discotheques as much as in “Beauty” contests.

Out of the blue, Dame Vera Lynn appeared on the screen singing, “When you’re smiling . . . the whole world smiles with you”. Then, when called upon to actually speak, the beauty queens mouthed typically constricted ambitions such as “travelling” or “speaking a language”. In a co-operative system of society, individual and cultural development will be fostered, free from the prejudiced moral constraints imposed when social power is concentrated in the hands of a minority. Until real social democracy is established, with no class division or national frontiers, it will be true to say “When you’re different . . . the whole world sneers at you”.
Clifford Slapper

Party News (1981)

Party News from the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the first week of December two London members went on a propaganda tour of over a thousand miles. Steve Coleman addressed about twenty people in the King George Hotel at Doncaster on “Unemployment - the socialist solution”. He described the terrible effects of unemployment on the working class and went on to show how the problem is an integral part of the system of profits and wages. It is likely that a discussion group will soon be formed in Doncaster. The following day the reformist campaigners who wish to mop up capitalism’s problems without establishing socialism were dealt with in a lunch-time meeting in Edinburgh University entitled “The left wing officers looking for infantry”. A meeting at Strathclyde University was poorly attended: evidently the students there are too busy studying the world (to give them the benefit of the doubt) to change it. Finally on December 5 Steve Coleman and Clifford Slapper spoke at Swansea AEUW Room on “Is a Third World War Inevitable?” Twenty-five people turned up and most agreed with our proposition that although world capitalism has produced, is producing and will produce war, neither capitalism nor war are inevitable. A world war can be averted only by the working class organising politically to remove the system of commercial and military conflict and replacing it with a classless world society.

Who is the odd person out? (1981)

From the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Normality is the most widespread social disease of our age. By definition, it affects the lives of most ordinary people. All of the forces of modern capitalist propaganda try to persuade you that normality is to be strived for and that the abnormal are to be scorned, derided, even locked away. But who lays down the norms that constitute normality? Whose interests do these norms serve? Is there a case for the abnormal?

To be normal is to be socially acceptable. The process of normalisation begins at birth, with family life inculcating into the newly-arrived human the standards of private property society. From the start, the child is part of a social unit based upon independent possessions and competitive survival. Aiding the conditioning process from the age of five to sixteen will be the school, where the lessons of “normal social behaviour” are really driven home. The propaganda of the education-indoctrination system is reinforced by the media, which gives the developing adult a distorted picture of the world it lives in, and the Church, which lays down the norms of Right And Wrong. By late teens the new creature has probably been normalised, is “right-thinking” and “realistic”; has no time for “crackpots” or “utopians”; has both feet on the ground, has “human nature” in perspective, has that most precious of all requirements — common sense, which Albert Einstein defined as “those prejudices acquired before the age of eighteen”. In short, our fully conditioned human is a social bigot: challenge those prejudices about what ought to be and you are labelled “abnormal”.

We are all the victims of “normalisation” to some extent, even though some may have escaped the worst excesses of such propaganda. But we are not all victims of the same type of normalisation. This is because we live in a society where what is expected of us is determined by our relationship to the means of wealth production and distribution, for under capitalism the norms of social behaviour depend upon which of the two main classes one is a member of.

If you happen to be born into a family whose forefathers had plundered the land of the peasantry or whose bank account is healthy thanks to investment in the labour of others, then the process of conditioning which prepares you for a life of social parasitism is rather different from that of the working class child. The former will be given the undivided attention of a nanny during the early years; the latter will be lucky to get into an overcrowded, understaffed nursery school; the young capitalist will be sent to a school set in spacious grounds with Latin mottos on the walls to be prepared for a future of social uselessness; the young worker will go to the local comprehensive school to pick up something other than Latin mottos and be taught to be a wage slave.

The different social ambitions of members of the two classes indicate their acceptance of their opposing roles in society. The young capitalist can hope to enjoy the widest possible experiences during the course of life through possession of the money that enables access to the best. The worker is persuaded that it is morally and economically proper to accept the second best. At first, young workers have naive ambitions to fully contribute their talents to society: they want to be famous singers, dancers, footballers or boxers. By the time they reach the fifth form the “unrealistic” notions of actually being “someone” are repressed: they have come to accept wage slavery as their inevitable lot and all they can hope is that their job will not be too far down the social ladder. In times of crisis, it is the desire to be employed at all which constitutes working class ambition.

The belief that capitalism is normal involves an acceptance of occurrences which are objectively horrific. War is “normal” and soldiers are given medals for committing acts of terror and killing; anyone who indulges illegally in that which soldiers are trained for must be locked away as a “danger to society”. The legalised robbery which is the capitalists’ accumulation of surplus value by paying their employees less than the value of what they produce is “normal”; but let a hungry man steal some food from a supermarket and he will be having his next meal in a police cell for his “abnormality”. It is “normal” for “respectable” people to claim to believe in the mythology of the Bible, but should a worker claim to have heard voices coming from the sky, or seen seas parting down the middle, and they will be sent to a psychiatrist. Normality is about feeling an identity with areas of land that you do not own, conforming to roles that you do not want to play, repressing your feelings of goodwill towards others because it is not competitive to express them, being respectful to people you can’t stand the sight of because they are bosses or teachers or officials.

Under capitalism even dissent has been normalised. Because it is impossible for any member of a society to opt out, the only way to avoid the pressures of living is to try somehow to become oblivious to them. Suicide is the ultimate escape, but for millions a less drastic measure is the bottle, the needle or the tranquilliser. Capitalists make huge profits by providing illusory escape routes for dissatisfied workers.

And then there are the tricksters who run ‘confidence courses’ for shy people, “shyness courses” for confident people and guru-worshipping courses for people who would rather be sheep. These deviations from normality are accommodated within capitalism on the grounds that depressed, discontented, alienated people comprise a profitable market for the latest escapist rip-off.

Beyond the false assumption that you can escape from the pressures of normality is an awareness that the nature of the pressures is political. Once it is realised that the madhouse called capitalism is only sustained by the consent of the majority — albeit a passive consent in which conscious approval plays very little part-then it follows that saying “no” to certain traditions, beliefs, habits, taboos, rituals and character roles actually becomes liberating. When we consider the exciting possibility of creating a new reality out of the material conditions of modem society, then we are on the path which logically can lead to an understanding of socialism. To the “normal”, social revolution is a matter for suspicion and fear; for those who see that normality is simply the embodiment of those social prejudices which are the ruling ideas of capitalism, social revolution is seen to be the next step forward.

But such political dissent, however radical its pose and revolutionary its phraseology, is frequently accommodated within the system, rather than presenting a challenge to it. To most workers, the parties and groups of the Left wing present a challenge to the status quo. Most workers oppose the Left because of two illusory beliefs: firstly, that the status quo (capitalism) is in their interests, and secondly, that the Left is really opposed to capitalism. In fact, the Left is simply the radical wing of capitalism and those workers who join organisations like the Socialist Workers’ Party or the International Marxist Group, far from challenging the system, are channelling their discontent into what are essentially reform movements that the system can well accommodate.

In what ways do the parties of the Left serve as a means of diverting workers from real opposition to social norms? Firstly, they hold the view that class society will always exist (even though some may pay occasional lip service to the idea of a classless society). Accepting class division as an inevitability, the Left can only see the political task of the working class in terms of begging to, and wrestling with, the master class. The Left conform to the working class in its most pathetic political pose: as willing subordinates in the class struggle who can see no further than “demanding” (pleading for) a few more pence in the wage packet and a few more welfare reforms (government charity) to help the poor whom the Left believe will always be with us. Secondly, the Left aid the propaganda of capitalism by insisting that “normal” people need leaders to do their thinking for them.

Thirdly, the Left dismiss as “utopianism” any propaganda designed to show what socialism really means. Tell a Tory and an SWPer that socialists want a world without money and they will both laugh for the same reasons. The radicalism of the Left is as narrow as its acceptance of the norms of capitalism allows it to be. Similarly, there are feminists who have never begun to give thought to a society in which workers are truly liberated, squatters whose imaginations have never contemplated the possibility of a society where everyone will automatically have in the best houses that can be produced, “Right to Work” merchants who would laugh if they were told of a social set-up without employment. Because they accept capitalism, their dissent is sterile.

Given a society where the means of living are commonly owned and democratically controlled, why should humans act in the socially insane manner which passes for normality today? Why should they wish to form armies in order to slaughter one another when there is no more private property to fight over? Why would people refuse to contribute to society according to their abilities when they could freely take from the common store according to their needs? Why should children starve while food rots, tramps be in the gutter while palaces stand empty, people die of socially caused diseases which are too unprofitable to defeat? In capitalism these and countless other social crimes happen every day because the majority of people consent to the continuation of a social system that puts profits before needs.

Socialists propose a material change in social relationships to the means of wealth production from that of private or state ownership to common ownership. Unlike most advocates of a future social order. The Socialist Party does not have a blueprint for a model society which conforms to our prejudices. All that we can presently say for sure about the nature of socialism is that it will not have the historic characteristics of capitalism—classes, property, exchange, buying, selling, the state. Socialism will be democratic: once an informed majority has made a decision it will be carried out as a matter of principle. Nothing in socialism will be forbidden because it hasn’t been done before or is “abnormal”.

It follows from this that conservatism, whether of the Right or the Left, is the great enemy of all socialists. Beliefs that hold back necessary change must be criticised and exposed. The Marxist motto is “doubt everything”, even that which appears to be sacred. For it is only by being the most vigorous critics of all that serves capitalism that we can work to establish a society in which men and women will one day look back and conclude that the fools were those who were “normal” and it was the revolutionaries with their heads in the clouds who were sane.
Steve Coleman

Private Property and Class Possession (1981)

From the January 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are the managers really in control? Part One

The basis of any society is the way its members are organised for the production of wealth. Where a section only of society controls the use of the main means of production then we can speak of a class society.

Control of the means of production by a minority class implies the exclusion from such control of the rest of society, an exclusion which can only rest ultimately on physical force. A social organ of coercion, the state, is thus a feature of all class societies and historically first made its appearance with the division of society into classes.

The class that controls the means of production can be said to constitute a stable ruling and privileged class when it:

   1. controls the use of the means of production (possession);

   2. controls the state (rule);

   3. has preferential treatment in the allocation of goods for consumption (privilege).

It is important to keep these three feature—possession,  rule and privilege—separate since they don’t always automatically go together. It is possible for a possessing class to be neither the ruling class nor a privileged class. For instance, it might not actually control the state but just have its protection against the excluded majority. Another minority class might control the state and use it to allocate itself, at the expense of the possessing class, a privileged consumption. In this case there is a socially and politically unstable situation in which the possessing class, starting from the finally decisive fact of controlling the means whereby society lives, will strive to capture state power for itself—strive to become the ruling class as well as the possessing class. This done, it can easily end the privileged consumption of the previous ruling class.

Just such a struggle for power occurred in Western Europe in the five hundred years up to the 19th century. In feudalism the power of the nobility was based on their control of the then main means of production, the land. In time a new possessing class arose in the towns whose economic power was based on trade, money and industry. At first the bourgeoisie (originally, those of the bourg or market town) were often plundered, legally and illegally, by the feudal barons, but in time the nobles learned not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. The bourgeoisie grew in economic and political influence until eventually they were able to overthrow the feudal aristocracy and shape the state in their own interest. This was done in England in the 17th century, culminating in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, in America with the victory in the War of Independence and in France with the Revolution of 1789.

All three revolutions had a similar aim and result: to establish, in their own words, the “rule of law”; “no taxation without representation”; “the rights of property”. The bourgeoisie wanted their possession of the means of production legally recognized and protected and taxes (which, in the end, are a charge on property and property income) levied on them only in accordance with the law, in whose making they would have a say through representation in Parliament.

The bourgeoisie succeeded in shaping the state and society in their own interest and the popular concept of “property” is still very much that of the bourgeois tradition. “Property” is generally taken to mean not only the fact that a person actually possesses a thing, but that he has the legal right to possess it. “Property” has come to mean legally recognised possession and to be almost inextricably associated with the idea of a legal title.

Before we proceed any further we need to be clear on what we mean by “property”. We have a choice: either stick to the meaning which it has historically come to have—legally recognised possession, or substitute for this legalistic definition a broader sociological one which would allow us to say that any class society was a property society on the basis of the fact that a section only of the population controlled the use of the means of production, whether or not this was recognised by legal titles.

In view of the danger of confusion in introducing new meanings to words, we will stick to the established usage, but won’t object to others adopting the sociological definition as long as they make it clear that they are doing this. So we will use “property” to mean the legal recognition of possession. When we wish to refer to the social fact which the law merely acknowledges we shall use the word “possession”. Thus all class societies are based on the “possession” of the means of production by a section only of society. Some, in particular capitalism as it evolved in Western Europe, supplement this possession with legal property titles which the state recognisesand will if necessary enforce through the courts and ultimately the armed forces.

De facto class possession means that the absence or abolition of individual property titles to the means of production in any society does not necessarily confirm that society is a classless one. We must look beyond mere legal forms and determine whether or not there is a section of society which has, as a matter of social fact, control of the use of the means of production.

The Bolshevik leader, Trotsky, is in large part responsible for spreading the opposite view. He and his orthodox Trotskyist followers confuse “property” and “possession” and imagine that the abolition by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries of legal property titles to the means of production—and hence of a class of legal property holder—is tantamount to establishing a classless society. This is why they describe Russia as a “workers state” (a meaningless term in any case, as we shall see later). The Russian revolution, they claim, abolished bourgeois property rights and vested ownership of the means of production in the state. As long as this state ownership of the means of production is maintained, they go on, then Russia can not be called a class society. Certainly, they admit, there is a privileged group in Russia but its members are privileged only with regard to the allocation of the products, not with regard to production. They thus constitute not a class but only a “caste”. As far as the production of wealth is concerned, we are asked believe that both this “caste” and the working class stand in the same relationship.

This analysis, which places the Russian worker in the same basic social position as the privileged top state and party officials, was so absurd that it did no take long for it to be rejected within the Trotskyist movement itself. In fact it is thanks to the resulting controversy that we owe much of the clarification of the difference between what we called above “property” and “possession “, and in particular to two ex-Trotskyists: Bruno Rizzi and James Burnham.

Rizzi, in a book published in France in 1939 with the title La bureaucratisation du Monde (The Bureaucratisation of the World), argued that capitalism was being replaced throughout the world, not by socialism but by a new exploiting class society not foreseen by Marx. Rizzi called this new class society “bureaucratic collectivism”. In it individual ownership of the means of production was replaced by collective ownership, as foreseen by Marx, but the collective ownership not of all society but of only a section of it. Bureaucratic Collectivism was a class society based not on individual property titles, but on the possession of the means of production by a class, collectively as a class:
  “In our opinion another ruling class, the bureaucracy, has emerged from the October revolution, and its receding, while the bourgeoisie has been dispensed with and consequently has no possibility of returning. The possession of the state gives the bureaucracy possession of all movable and immovable goods which, although socialised, do not the less belong in toto to this new ruling class. It goes without saying that the new ruling class takes good care not to officially declare that it enjoys this possession but it in fact controls all the economic levers and has its property guarded by the GPU and the bayonets of the ‘purged’ army. 
  The class property which in Russia is a fact is certainly not registered with any lawyer or in any register of property. The new soviet exploiting class has no need of such nonsense. It has the force of the state in its hands and that is worth much more than the old registrations of the bourgeoisie. It defends its property with machine-guns, with which its all-powerful oppressive apparatus is provided, and not with lawyers’ deeds. In soviet society exploiters do not appropriate the surplus value directly, as the capitalist class does in cashing the dividends of his enterprise, but they do so indirectly, through the state which appropriates the whole national surplus value and then shares it out amongst the officials themselves . . . We see then that exploitation passes from its individual form to a collective form, in accordance with the transformation of property. There is a class which en bloc exploits another in accordance with class property and which then goes on to distribute internally, through its state, the proceeds amongst its members” (our translation from the French).
Burnham, in his more widely known Managerial Revolution published in 1941, put forward the same general theme as Rizzi about a new class taking over from the capitalists, but for him these were the industrial managers rather than the political bureaucrats.

Burnham wrote very clearly and concisely about how class society could exist without property titles vested in individuals, so clearly that he is worth quoting at some length:
  “In most societies that we know about, and all complex societies so far, there is a particular, and relatively small, group of men that controls the instruments of production (a control which is summed up legally in concept of ‘property right’, though it is not the legal control but the fact of control which concerns us). This control (property right)is never absolute; it is always subject to certain limitations or restrictions (as, for instance, against using the objects controlled to murder others at will) which vary in kind and degree. The crucial phases of this control seem to be two: first, the ability, either through personal strength, or as in complex societies with the backing—threatened or actual—of the state power acting through the police, courts and armed forces to prevent access by others to the objects controlled (owned). Where there is such a controlling group in society, a group which, as against the rest of society, has a greater measure of control over the access to the instruments of production and a preferential treatment in the distribution of the products of those instruments, we may speak of this group as the socially dominant or ruling class in that society. It is hard, indeed, to see what else could be meant by ‘dominant’ or ‘ruling’ class. Such a group has the power and privilege and wealth in society, as against the remainder of society. It will be noted that this definition of ruling class does not presuppose any particular kind of government or any particular legal form of property right; it rests upon the facts of control of access and preferential treatment, and can be investigated empirically. 
  Effective class domination and privilege does, it is true, require control over the instruments of production; but this need not be exercised through individual private property rights. It can be done through what might be called corporate rights, possessed not by individuals as such but by an institution: as was the case conspicuously with many societies in which a priestly class was dominant—in numerous primitive cultures, in Egypt, to some degree in the Middle Ages. In such societies there can be and have been a few rich and many poor, a few powerful and many oppressed, just as in societies (like the capitalist) where property rights are vested in private individuals as such.
  We have defined “ruling class” as consisting of the group of persons which has (as a matter of fact, not necessarily of law or words or theory), as against the rest of the population, a special degree of control over access to the instruments of production and preferential treatment in the distribution of the products of those instruments”.
(We would prefer to define “possessing class” in this way, reserving the term “ruling class” for a possessing class which also controls the state).

Burnham refers above to the priest-ruled societies of ancient times as examples of class societies without individual property rights. A study of such societies by Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism was published in 1957. Wittfogel was concerned to show the inadequacy of the view (which he attributed to Marx) that the ruling class in any society is always a class of private possessors of the means of production. In oriental despotism, or “hydraulic society” as Wittfogel also called it, a state bureaucracy, headed by an absolute ruler (the despot), ruled on the basis of the control of large-scale waterworks providing irrigation for agriculture.

These waterworks, however, were not the private property of the despot or his bureaucracy. They were state property. But the state being despotic and bureaucratic, they were, in the terminology we have chosen to use, the collective “possession” of the bureaucracy. Individual private possessors of means of production—merchants, moneylenders, even landowners—did exist in oriental despotism, but they did not constitute a ruling class. Indeed the real ruling class—the state bureaucracy—was in so powerful a position that it was easily able to control the class of private owners and prevent them from becoming the ruling class.

Wittfogel concluded that the existence of oriental despotism with its bureaucratic ruling class was proof of the inadequacy of the view that all states exist to protect individual private property. He was right, but then this is not aview which Marxists are called upon to defend. Our view, expressed earlier, is that the class which controls the use of the main means of production will, in periods of social stability, also be the ruling class (= the class which controls the state). We made no claim that such a class had to control the means of production as individual possessors or private title-holders, but merely that they had to effectively “possess” them. The state bureaucracy of Wittfogel’s hydraulic society clearly satisfies this condition. For, in controlling waterworks in a society where large-scale irrigation was essential to agriculture, they controlled the key means of production, thus making the actual producers, whether slaves, serfs or “free” village communities, dependent upon them.

Wittfogel’s merit, despite his unfair criticisms of Marx, is to have shown from history that private property vested in individuals as individuals is not the only form of class possession, but that a class can collectively possess the means of production.
Adam Buick

(to be continued next month)