Thursday, January 30, 2020

Letter: A world without poverty. Without wars. (2020)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Workers produce and distribute the means to live. They plant and harvest all the food. They mine, and gather all the materials for buildings, and the things we use. They build and assemble and make all the buildings and appliances and things we use.

The workers produce all the wealth in the world. And they distribute all the wealth in the world. They produce and distribute all the world’s wealth not to meet the needs of the human race but instead for a wage. Workers are dependent on a wage directly or indirectly to live.

This dependency, which leads to insecurity, stress, fear, mental illness, a bad back and many other unpleasant things, is because of the current world system – capitalism.

Workers, fighting as individuals, or groups, or even a majority of the population of a given country, for improvements to working/living conditions, may win some of their battles.

Reforms under capitalism that are beneficial to workers are always in danger of being reversed. Or new conditions may arise that turn once ‘good reforms’ into things that cause the workers harm. Also, reforms that are good for workers are only ever a sop to keep them pacified, to give them a false sense of control. To make them think that the politicians love them and are working on their behalf.

Many workers – due to capitalist conditioning – blame migrants for their problems. Men blame women and women blame men for their problems. People of one skin colour blame people of a different skin colour for problems.

Workers blame the government. They blame religion. They blame lack of religion. They blame their problems on people believing in the wrong god. They blame aliens. They blame Masons. They blame drugs. They blame the weak, the stupid, the lazy. Workers blame their problems on all sorts of shit.

I blame capitalism. The workers of the world can solve all their problems, win all their battles, if they identify what’s really to blame; unite, and fight the right war of ideas.

If the workers can find a way to act/work as one – plans can be drawn up and discussed on the internet and the radio and the TV – then we can organise and go ahead and establish a system that works in our best interest – a world social system of common ownership.

Common ownership means the human race will own the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth. It also implies the democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, for if everyone owns, then everyone must have equal right to control the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

Common ownership is not state ownership. State capitalism is merely the ownership by the owning class as a whole, instead of by individuals, and the government then runs the state enterprises to serve the owning class. In the self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ states the state enterprises serve those who control the party/state apparatus. The workers do not own or control. They produce/work for a privileged minority.

Workers under socialism will no longer be working for a wage. People will ‘do their bit’ for the common good. Life will be organised in such a way that people can enjoy as much leisure time as they want.

Computer-machines (or robots) will be programmed to do as much of the mundane work as possible. All the jobs which only have a value under capitalism – till work, guarding money, advertising and many more – will cease to exist.

Common ownership by the human race, and democratic control of the means to live by the human race, will allow the human race to meet the needs of the human race. Indeed the aim of the human race will be to do what is in the best interest of the human race: The best infrastructure the world can offer. The best health care the world can offer. And so on.

A world without poverty. Without wars. With little or no crime. And no pollution – or a sustainable level of pollution, which amounts to the same thing.
Lee Heath

Zerosum: Pies and Lies (2020)

From the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many people point out the astonishing extent of inequality under capitalism. For instance, the twenty-six richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population. Supporters of the present system sometimes defend this by saying that capitalism is not a zero-sum game.

By this is meant that it is not just a matter of a pie of a fixed size, so that if a small number of people get large slices, the majority each have to do with smaller helpings. Rather, they say, capitalism is a non-zero-sum game, where the size of the pie is not fixed and can be expanded. Thus a small minority become richer and richer, but each member of the majority can get a larger share too. So, in theory, everyone benefits, even if some benefit more than others. As another cliched metaphor has it, a rising tide lifts all boats, both big and small.

One pro-capitalist writer put it as follows: ‘wealth creation is not a zero-sum game. Those producing and trading goods and services for profit are not taking anything away from others – the producers and traders are creating material values that would not exist without their productivity’ (, 27 November 2017).

Except that by ‘producers and traders’ here was meant the capitalist class, so this is a completely twisted view of who produces the wealth. Further, the capitalists are indeed ‘taking things away from others’: the workers they employ and exploit.

It is certainly true that, in general terms, the amount of goods and services produced under capitalism does increase. But the profit motive means that capitalism actually restricts output and, if we want to talk in these terms, limits the size of the pie. Unprofitable goods and services are not produced, and much effort is put into useless or actually harmful industries: banking, armed forces and so on.

It would be straightforward to provide enough food to feed the global population, but this does not happen, as so many do not form a useful (from the viewpoint of profit) market.

And it is simply not the case that things continually get better over time: for instance, the number of children and pensioners in absolute poverty in the UK increased in 2017–18, including an extra 200,000 children.

Last year, a report from the New Economics Foundation showed that, in terms of real living standards, people were worse off on average than they were in 2008. Life expectancies of children have been reduced by three years or so. Globally, the number of people with not enough to eat has risen for three years in a row. Meanwhile, the share of income going to the world’s top one percent has nearly tripled in the last four decades: so their boats (superyachts, presumably) have risen much further in a tide which has benefited most people far, far less.

So talk of expanding pies and non-zero-sum games does not in any way justify a system that means unimaginable riches for a few in contrast with varying degrees of poverty, destitution and insecurity for so many, and that prevents a true effective abundance being produced.
Paul Bennett

Business myths (2020)

Book Review from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Mythology of Business. David Whyte. IER in association with CLASS.

This short 40-page pamphlet, aimed at activist trade unionists, sets out to deal with some of the arguments put forward by pro-business lobbies and economists for allowing private enterprises as much freedom as possible to pursue their profit-making as they think fit. Arguments such as the laughable ‘trickle down’ theory, that red tape hinders business activity, and that health and safety legislation has gone mad, are discussed and the facts presented.

The best part deals with the claim that ‘businesses can be trusted to be responsible’ where Whyte makes the point that the directors of a company have a legal obligation to the shareholders who own it. So ‘even if Directors would rather be responsible, they are bound by law to pursue the success of the company and its members’. In any event, whatever the law says, ‘the narrowly competitive and profit-oriented nature of business organisations means they can never prioritise broader social goals.’

Where the pamphlet falls down is in the conclusion that politicians do not have to ‘put the interest of business first’ but that they can choose to pursue policies ‘to create a better, fairer and more sustainable society’. The fact is that, as long as production is in the hands of competing profit-seeking enterprises (state as well as private), politicians have to pursue a general pro-business policy.

This does not preclude governments introducing regulations that are in the longer term overall interest of the capitalist class as a whole and which do restrict the activity of individual businesses. This is still putting ‘the interest of business first’, but the interest of business in general, not necessarily that of particular businesses, in fact even against “such interests”. Politicians in charge if governments are in the same sort of position as Whyte points out that directors in charge of companies are: their ‘obligations always translate[s] as the long-term profitability and/or economic viability of the company [or, in the case of politicians, of the capitalist economy]’.

For instance, even in the nineteenth-century laws were enacted limiting the hours of work that employers could impose on employees as overworking them risked the physical deterioration of the working class, so making it less efficient and productive of profit. Factory-owning capitalists opposed these laws (and used similar invalid and laughable arguments such as profits being made in the last hour of work) and so had to be forced by the state to act in the general capitalist interest.

Whyte’s pamphlet shows that there are still business leaders and their apologists who put their particular immediate short-term interest before that of the capitalist class as a whole. But what else can be expected when production is in the hands of competing profit-seeking enterprises, each seeking to maximise their profits? Capitalism without the state to hold the ring just wouldn’t work.
Adam Buick

Death in Downing Street (1991)

Artwork by George Meddemmen.
From the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
 "The Tory Party can be a ruthless monster when it sees power slipping away" (Lord Prior, former Conservative Cabinet Minister).
Everyone had expected that she would go kicking and screaming but when they forced her out of Ten Downing Street she went obediently, delighting the hordes of media hacks by shedding a few quiet tears. Not necessarily tears of grief: it is possible to weep from anger or frustration or from the humiliation of being forced to face an unpleasant reality.

For some time she had seemed to believe she was invulnerable and could go on as prime minister for as long as she chose. But the day came—after the by-elections in Bradford North and Eastbourne—when the Conservative leadership decided that she had deceived herself too long for the good of the party. It did not come into their calculations that Thatcher had been deceiving millions of people for over eleven years.

Since 1979 Thatcher has steadily dominated British politics so that elections became almost a judgement on the woman in Number Ten instead of on her government and its individual candidates. Thatcher talked as if there was a direct, personal bond between her and the millions who voted Tory. On the fifth anniversary of coming to power she said "I believe that five years ago the British people made me prime minister because . . ." and then "I believe I was re-elected with an overwhelming majority last year because . . .” At that time—in 1984—there was some dismay in the Conservative leadership at her declaration that she intended to be leader in the next election. There was even more when, after the Tory victory in 1987, she told us she would go on and on winning elections and taking prime minister’s questions and humiliating her ministers until her famous energy flagged and she was too frail to wield a handbag any more.

Pop stars and politics
Like many politicians—and pop stars and comedians—Thatcher aroused reactions which were often at one extreme or the other. You loved her or your hated her. as the Sun reader would say; unless you are a socialist, in which case you most likely regard the whole lot with a numb horror. Those who loved her, who wept when she fell, adored her as a person who held staunch principles rooted in that awful cornershop in Grantham, a person who always knew her mind and fought to the death for her beliefs. She was, in other words, just the person, after those years of cowardly consensus-politics, to stop the unions holding the country to ransom, to weed out those scruffy teachers who wreaked such moral havoc in the permissive sixties and to put those impertinent foreigners in their place. These sentiments were encapsulated in a rebuke by Cilla Black one evening when she instructed an ungrateful audience that Thatcher had "put the Great back into Great Britain”.

As many of her ministers found to their cost, Thatcher did not take easily to being thwarted; she liked to have her own way. But this does not mean that she did not at times make U-turns in her policies, even if she tried to disguise them by saying that it was everyone else who had been out of step. The final example of this was when she took the "advice” of the Men in Grey Suits and abandoned the fight for the Tory leadership. Someone of Thatcher’s reputed strength and resolution should not have been so moved by the prospect of defeat on that second ballot as to run away from the battle, especially after she had so bluntly declared that she was still fighting. This was not the attitude which so pleased her admirers during the Falklands war—although of course in the Falklands it was other people who were in the battle, taking the casualties.

Putting the Great Back Into Great Britain meant Thatcher storming into international conferences to cow the foreign statesmen by her ruthless exposure of their deceits. It was calculated to encourage people as confused as Cilla Black and as bigoted as the massed readership of the Sun in their prejudice that there is something historically desirable in all things British and that whatever it is must be defended against the threats from those jabbering, treacherous foreigners.

In contrast, other prime ministers and other politicians—including Conservatives—have for a long time been facing up to the real situation of the decline of British capitalism in the world. This decline has happened in spite of the occasional attempt to conceal it with turgid patriotic nonsense. Some politicians, like Enoch Powell and Nicholas Ridley, have accepted it sulkily, rambling on about threats to British sovereignty from European bureaucrats. Others, like Heseltine, have argued that the best hope for British capitalism is to become part of a large European conglomerate, impaired sovereignty and all.

Ignoring problems
Patriotic workers have applauded Thatcher’s verbal assaults on foreign leaders and her stand as the champion of a Great Britain although these things are not relevant to their lives. They take no account of the cruel waiting lists for hospital treatment and of vital, life-saving treatment being withheld because of a shortage of cash. They ignore the homeless who, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, have doubled in numbers since 1978. They pay no heed to the deepening misery of those on the lower slopes of poverty; one recent estimate by the Institute for Fiscal Studies was that over 12 million people were living at or below the official poverty line. They say nothing about the social despair which causes increasing crime; Home Office statistics record a rise of 17 percent in the second quarter of 1990 over the same period in 1989. These are the harsh realities of life under capitalism in Britain and what really lies behind Thatcher’s regal claim, as she vacated Number Ten. that "we” leave Britain in better shape than “we” found it 11½ years ago.

The standard Thatcherite technique of dealing with poverty in the 1980s and 1990s has been to reassure themselves that it is all a matter of choice. Since 1979, the Tories tell us, they have overwhelmed us with the opportunity to choose between private and state medical treatment, between council services and those tendered out to private contractors, between joining in the great Thatcherite bonanza of making loadsamoney or being poor. We can choose to be like someone struggling to keep a family on the dole or we can be as rich as Michael Heseltine.

They proudly tell us about privatised industry with its opportunities for everyone to buy shares by just filling out a form and borrowing the money to pay for them. It sounds impressive until we realise that many workers who bought shares in that way sold them as quickly as possible. In the case of British Gas, between December 1986 and April 1987 the number of shareholders fell from 4½ million to a little over 3 million. The "public" stake in British Telecom declined from 20 percent to 12 percent between privatisation in December 1984 and June 1987. Both concerns were, to all purposes, in the hands of big investors—which do not include members of the working class.

Mortgage misery
There has been a similar story with the so- called property-owning democracy. The rise in numbers of workers living in homes which they are buying with money borrowed from banks or building societies has been hailed by the Tories (and by the Labour Party) as a sign of immense social progress. In fact it is of little consequence to the workers how they pay for where they live. At times there can be some slight advantage in having a mortgage—in being in thrall to some money-lending institution. At others there may be some small gain in being beholden to a landlord.

The fiction that a worker who "buys” a house acquires greater security and higher social status has been exposed by recent events, as thousands who have been unable to keep up with their mortgage repayments have had “their” house taken over. This is called repossession when in fact the bank or building society never really lost possession in the first place. In one particularly tragic recent case of what has become known as mortgage misery, a father cracked under the strain and, rather than lose “his" house, he burnt it down, badly injuring his pregnant wife and killing the two-year old daughter he adored. He was sent to prison for six years, to reflect on the ruin of his life in Thatcher’s Great Britain. For the building society, who were guilty of no crime, it is of course business as usual.

But in spite of the misery the Thatcher mystique survived and this was partly due to her reputation of supposedly energising a transformation of British capitalism: with a little help from her Chancellors of the Exchequer, she had worked an economic miracle which would soon have its effects on all our lives. Of course unemployed workers, or the chronically sick or the homeless, might have wondered what all this talk about an economic miracle amounted to. Perhaps Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, the Chancellors who were once held in reverence for their miraculous talents but later despised for their blunders. might have thought on the same lines.

The government were always clear on what was meant by economic success. Thatcher set out her benchmarks in her statement on the fifth anniversary of her elevation to prime minister when she claimed the credit for:
  Inflation at its lowest for 16 years . . . Interest rates are at their lowest for six years . . . Profits are rising—and everyone wants to work for a profitable firm.
She was lucky in her timing then but by her tenth anniversary there was a different state of affairs so that among her extravagant claims of triumphant progress there were doubts:
  Yes there are problems. Inflation at 7½ percent to 8 percent is too high . . . The choice before us is a temporary rise in interest rates or a long term rise in inflation.
At the same time British capitalism’s balance of trade is in serious and chronic deficit and unemployment, having fallen, is rising again. These matters—"inflation", interest rates, balance of trade—are of no real significance to the working class and should have no political influence on them except to show how by their own standards the Thatcher government failed to control the economy. The claim to be the originators of an economic miracle was no more than a taking of credit for a particular phase in the economic cycle. Now, when the cycle is in another phase, they are desperately trying to evade the blame.

From all sides the immediate future of British capitalism is gloomy. Thatcher’s talk of more profitable firms must be set against an annual rate of company failures approaching 25,000 and the warnings from organisations like the CBI that Britain is on the brink of the most serious recession since the Tories came back to power. The reason for this is that no government can control capitalism. The reason for the Tory bombast about economic miracles and “temporary” problems in the economy is that no government can ever own up to being impotent.

Let us hope that the Thatcher years have at least killed off the potent fallacy that female political leaders are preferable to male because they are more perceptive and compassionate. To begin with. Thatcher’s campaign to win the Tory leadership from Heath in 1975 was notable for its ruthless manipulations of the truth. After that she submitted herself to a cynical grooming which changed her hair, her clothes, her voice, even the way she sat before the cameras. To protect her own personal position she was ready to dismiss, or force out, any number of ministers while she was publicly praising them as valued colleagues. And in a last desperate ruse to hang on to power she blatantly tried to cripple the Heseltine campaign by bringing forward the nomination date: in other words, by manipulating the rules for her own advantage.

Thatcher was described as unusual—unique, even—because she held opinions honestly and expressed them with a passion based on her conviction that she was right. But she was actually a commonplace politician, running capitalism as it has to be run, against the interests of the millions who are misled into voting for the system. She lost her job, not because of her "principles" were unsound—that is really no more than a side issue—but because she threatened to be an election loser.

As one Conservative MP said a year before, when Anthony Meyer challenged her for the leadership:
  Is she the best person for the job at present and is she going to be the winning formula for the next general election? We are a party interested in being in government.
So in the end it all came down to the same tawdry cynicism as usual. Thatcher was really no different and nothing important will change now that she has gone. It is just that, in his euphoria, John Major should remember that if the day should come when he is an election loser then the Grey Suits will be waiting on him too.

Had a happy christmas? (1991)

From the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It's that time of the year again. When tired clichés abound. "It was different when we were young. We had none of this. Kids get too much these days. It’s not like it used to be. There’s no Christmas spirit about anymore, is there?”
  At the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign, in 1837, no British children hung their stockings by a fireplace on Christmas eve; nobody had heard of santa clans; Christmas crackers did not exist; very few people ate turkey on Christmas day: it was not common to give presents; and the decorated and lighted Christmas tree was hardly known outside the royal court. In fact. Christmas day was not a very important date in the calendar for any kind of social ritual. (Christmas Past, Weightman and Humphries, 1987).
It’s that time of the year again. An inviting blanket of snow covers the house, the garden and the Mercedes. A million points of light, thrown on to the snow by the moonlight and the imitation brass porchlights, compete with the warm glow of the festive interior. Within is a picture of seasonal, domestic bliss. Whilst Samantha and Simon sip sherry on the sofa, their two children play contentedly beneath the glittering christmas tree. No last minute rushing around for this family. All the presents are wrapped, their goose half-cooked, their Sunday supplement lifestyle—the result of hard toil by their advertising creators—held up as a beacon of aspiration for the less fortunate masses.

It's that time of the year again. When hundreds of volunteers devote their time to providing some of those whose normal abode is a cardboard box with food, heat, shelter and comfort for a few weeks. But, dependent as the organizers of such aid are upon the charitable auspices of others, the help provided can only be of a temporary nature. After that it's back to the shop doorways and the railway arches. Still, it makes for a seasonal filler at the end of the six o’clock news, whilst most of us remain cossetted in our building society-owned homes, content in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, cares enough to provide some small relief for those less fortunate than ourselves.

In one of its please-give-us-some-money leaflets, the Salvation Army, describing itself as one of the biggest voluntary social work agencies in the world, presents an accurate picture of life under capitalism:
  Every day of every year the men and women of the Salvation Army meet people in trouble, angry, unwanted, no future. Scared, alone, broke. Out of jail, but no job in sight. Elderly, lonely, just enough money to get by. Young, no place to play but the streets. First job. not much money, in need of a place to live. Defeated, friendless, drinking a lot. Every day, the Salvation Army meets them. Some are overwhelmed by circumstances. or personal failure. Many are helped to get another start in life.
What’s your own good cause? Saving rain forests? Saving endangered species? Political prisoners? Famine relief? All you do is get the sales catalogue from the organization offering palliatives for that particular problem, and for £0.99 plus post and packing, you can both ease your conscience and impress the neighbours with the traditional-style embroidery, courtesy of widowed Laotian women of the Hmong hill tribe at the Ban Vinai refugee camp:
  Christmas is a time for giving and sharing. It's the season of goodwill to all. When you buy from the Oxfam catalogue, you could he spreading a little goodwill to the other side of the world—to somebody who really needs your help. Can you think of a better way to express the true spirit of Christmas? Most of the products in this catalogue are made by craftsmen and women in the poorest countries of the world. Buying these products provides jobs and incomes in areas where both are scarce, and profits from their sale are returned to improve social conditions in the community or to develop production. (Oxfam catalogue, christmas 1989).
Yes, I can think of a better way to express human co-operation, development and potential. I can think of a better way to “improve social conditions". Ways which owe little to spending eternity trying to alleviate the suffering caused by a social system based upon production for profit, not need But ways based upon an understanding by the majority, those who produce but do not possess, of the alternative to capitalism: socialism.

It’s always that time of the bloody year for the working class. Without an understanding of their class position as those who run society from top to bottom for the benefit of a small minority, who. because they own the means of production and distribution, live life like it's permanently Christmas. It’s the working class who are crackers.

When the Salvation Army brass-band has long stopped playing Christmas carols in the street. When the advertisements are enticing you with thoughts of a two-week break from wage slavery in the sun. When seasonal goodwill has evaporated, and with it your sense of charitableness. When the toy which cost half-a-week’s wages lies broken on the floor. When the expense-induced hangover is throbbing in your temple. When you mutter the perennial refrain, was it worth it? Ask yourself. how long is it going to be before you give yourself the best present of your life? A wageless, moneyless, classless, stateless, leaderless society. Production for use, not profit. Socialism. Had a happy Christmas?
Dave Coggan

They said it in 1990 (1991)

From the January 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard


  • Packaging a politician is not like selling a can of beans, spiritually it's more like selling condoms—Alfredo Marcanantonio, "creative director” of advertising agency WCRS Mathews Marcantonio.
  • There is no slick definition—Neil Kinnock, asked to define socialism on the David Frost show.
  • Maybe we will turn out to be a party, but maybe we will be part of a movement, with others or even a club within the Labour Party—Nina Temple, General Secretary of the Communist Party.
  • Our duty is not to run a service that is desirable, it is to run a service which will be profitable—Sir Robert Reid, chairman of British Rail.
  • It was a question of trade—Frank Haynes, Labour MP about trip to Rumania in 1985 to improve relationships with dictator Ceausescu.
  • We have a Vietnamese family living near us. They’re quite nice people. It’s the MPs who are dickheads—Alan Richards, Northampton resident, on the warning by his Tory MP, Tony Marlow, about the "holocaust” threatened by the settlement of Hong Kong Chinese in Britain.
  • Blacks make good soldiers except they can’t swim—Corporal Gordon Muirhead, instructor in the Parachute regiment denying that colour prejudice exists in the Regiment.
  • It is very difficult to be rich today— Japanese billionaire.
  • It comes as a form of relaxation to me— Billionaire Armand Hammer on his art collection.
  • I admit I have money—Y.K. Pao, Hong Kong billionaire.


  • I sound pompous sometimes—Nigel Lawson.
  • Politics is no longer about ideas, it is about clothes and dandruff and hair patches—Teresa Gorman, Tory MP.
  • The battle for the mind of Ronald Reagan was like trench warfare in World War One. Never have so many fought so hard for such barren terrain—Peggy Noonan, former presidential speech writer.
  • It's like the coming of civilisation to Moscow—Yuri Tereschchenko, eating a Big Mac at the Moscow MacDonalds.
  • I think the issue of inherited wealth is an entirely different issue. It is many things held in trust, isn't it—Canon Grimwade, chaplain to the Queen. 
  • This year will be like Gallipoli—Tory MP.


  • If you give it away you can't sell it— Lord King, chairman of British Airways.
  • A house, a car and a college education must become the natural aspirations of all people—Lord Prior, in the House of Lords.
  • Above average perinatal mortality rates are likely to be associated with above-average levels of social, economic and housing deprivation—National Audit Office report on the Maternity Services.
  • There are women who hate their husbands and do it once a month so their Amex cards don’t get cancelled—Pamella Bordes on sex.
  • This place is not the real world—Geoffrey Finsberg, Tory MP, on the House of Commons.
  • Most Conservative Associations don’t really have views. What my colleagues tell you are their views is only what the chairman told them—Tory MP.
  • I do not feel low or defeated—David Owen.


  • Basically, I am not a materialistic person at all—Adnam Khashoggi, millionaire arms dealer.
  • God is on my side—Ali Jalali-Farhani. ex-millionaire hotelier, now bankrupt.
  • The City is much more crooked than anything I was ever involved in—Charlie Richardson, ex-London gangster.
  • If I am asked to send someone to prison for breaking into a property and using it as a squat, I would say that the Minister connected with housing should serve a similar sentence alongside him—Judge Derek Clarkson, Guildford Crown Court, sentencing a squatter.
  • The expense of having monkeys and maintaining their upkeep is becoming prohibitive. In contrast the human embryo is readily accessible and relatively inexpensive—Tory MP Trevor Skeet on embryo research.
  • If you have the money you can buy a kidney—Transplant “organ broker” Atanur Kunter.
  • I played by the rules of politics as I found them— Ex-president Richard Nixon.
  • What I cherish most is my reputation— Adnam Khashoggi.


  • We’ve lost faith in the government. The only thing we believe in now is god—Moscow woman on the food shortage in Russia.
  • Nobody wants to invest here if they can't employ blacks—Hannes Naude, hotel owner in the South African “white township ” Morgenzon.
  • You get a long way by nagging—Margaret Thatcher.
  • Just because something is in public ownership doesn’t mean it is being managed for the benefit of the public or those in the industry—Frank Dobson MP, Labour Front Bencher.
  • The company wants to encourage balanced employees because they are more productive. It is for completely mercenary reasons—David Seddon, personnel director, on workaholics.
  • I've never felt poor and I’ve never felt rich. I am what I am—Adnam Khashoggi.
  • We do realise we have certain advantages—Eric Anderson, headmaster of Eton.


  • The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilisation—Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • Look, nobody ever said academic qualifications are necessary to be prime minister—Neil Kinnock.
  • I would have liked to be prime minister, of course—David Owen.
  • You can assume anything you like, except that I am a papist—Ian Paisley.
  • The best-run economies are usually those where the views of economists are ignored—Alan Walters, economic adviser to Thatcher.
  • I get so tired listening to one million dollars here, one million dollars there, it’s so petty—Imelda Marcos.
  • There are few more repulsive sights than a well-fed politician posing for a photograph with a starving child—Sunday Times.
  • It's no expense spared—Worker at the 50th birthday party of ex King Constantine of Greece, which cost £250,000.


  • If it is of any comfort to others. I have never found it easy to believe in God— George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury- elect.
  • If a pupil wishes to chat with a schoolmate of the opposite sex, an application form must be filled out—Rulebook Tokyo school.
  • You are talking about a lot of money— Jim Greenwood, chief executive Everton EC, on the re-admission of English football clubs to Europe.
  • We know the value of a wallet—Barry Morris, director of tourism Blackpool.
  • No one was sufficiently perceptive to forecast the state of the market in 1989, 1990 and possibly 1991—Nick Newmarch, Chief Executive of the Prudential on the closure of a quarter of its estate agencies.
  • Mrs Thatcher is a very tough lady—you could bounce golf balls off her and she wouldn’t notice—Rhodes Boyson, Tory MP.
  • The function of the Savoy is to make people happy—Hugh Wotner. owner of the Savoy.


  • They promise everything but give us absolutely nothing. Nobody here will ever vote Labour again—Kathy Wood, Liverpool council tenant.
  • If people are seeking to get maximum profit, they will not care about service— Professor Bradshaw, former senior manager of British Rail on British Rail.
  • If he had found his way to the House of Lords rather than at the Old Bailey it would not have been surprising—Michael Sherrard. one of the counsel in the Guinness trial, on Ernest Saunders.
  • I'm sure it would be hard to get used to being poor, but I'd have to—Kuwaiti student. son of an oil millionaire, in London after the Iraqi invasion.
  • If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn't give a damn—Lawrence Kolb, former Assistant Defense Secretary. US government.
  • King Hussein of Jordan went to one of our public schools and to Sandhurst. Why then, does he apparently not know right from wrong?—Letter in the Evening Standard.


  • If anybody says money is unimportant, that's a lie—Irvana Trump.
  • If we start throwing grenades at each other, this market is going down 200 points—Edward Shopkorn, Wall Street trader.
  • They don’t like Arthur's attitude, they say he's a Marxist—Member of NUM executive, on the attitude of Russian miners' leaders to Arthur Scargill.
  • If the food industry is faced with a conflict between safety and profit I believe it will go for profit every time—Professor Richard Lacey.
  • The entire cancer war is geared up towards finding profitable, patentable entities for treating cancer that can be sold and marketed in a mass way—Ralph Moss, former assistant director of public affairs at the Memorial Sloan! Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
  • I know of farmers who have been forced to let their animals die because requests for short term credit to feed them have been turned down—T. B. Pain, former sheep farmer.
  • People have started to see through advertising—that it's lying, basically—Alan Young, one of the top advert writers.
  • We know that an extra two inches of space for each passenger would cost between £50 million and £100 million a year in lost revenue—Ian McComas, British Airways sales executive.
  • It’s like a prison—Imelda Pitt Rogers, mother of three, about her bed and breakfast accommodation.
  • Mummy, it is a prison—Her nine-year- old son.
  • I am an old age pensioner—Robert Maxwell.


  • By and large unity has broken out. Though, no doubt, we’ll have the odd debate—Larry Whitty, Labour Party General Secretary, on their annual conference.
  • I don’t think we should go around expelling people just because they’ve got silly views. Otherwise there wouldn't be anyone left in the party—Danny Nicol, delegate to the Labour Party conference.
  • Even the applause is stage-managed— Another Labour delegate.
  • It was not a pretty sight—Labour MP Eric Heffer, about the Labour conference.
  • Like the Jesuits, we say get them young and you’ve got them for life—Geoff Hamilton Jones, advertising executive, on ads for children.
  • A lot of my friends have been alcoholics and drug addicts—The Duchess of York.
  • If I tighten my belt further I shall suffer a severe pelvic injury—Daily Mail reader.
  • At best there are tough times ahead; at worst a slump—Economist Will Hutton.
  • How nice to be in a country where views dismissed in England as Wimpish prejudices put the speaker at the very centre of fashionable opinion—Peregrine Worsthone on his visit to Moscow.
  • British people like to sec their rulers enjoying themselves—Tory MP John Stokes.
  • I simply can’t get domestic staff any more. I spend my entire life in the laundry—Marchioness of Aberdeen and Tamar.
  • Of course there are still class divisions, but it all comes down to good manners and being a lady or a gentleman—Barbara Cortland.
  • Shirley Porter does not talk about her money for good or bad—Senior Adviser to Lady Porter.
  • I am perfectly ready to give up politics— David Owen.


  • Cannot these people keep a stiff upper lip and think of the country as a whole instead of their own personal concerns?— Tory MP John Stokes on the hostages in Iraq.
  • The Treasury’s ability at forecasting inflation is less than awesome. In fact it's awful—John Banham. Director General of the CBI.
  • The Sun has become a great British institution—Margaret Thatcher on The Sun.
  • The Sun believes she is far and away the best champion of our countryThe Sun on Margaret Thatcher.
  • I heard John Major say he wanted to build a classless society. I thought that was a good thing for him to say—Sir Tom Arnold. Tory MP for Hazel Grove.
  • If this were horse-racing there would be a dope test—Bookie on Tory leadership contest.
  • I am not everlasting—Margaret Thatcher.
  • It would have been all right if she'd been a man—Tory woman in Billericay on Thatcher's fall.


  • We have to prepare the British public for a particularly unpleasant war— Brigadier Patrick Cordingley, infantry commander in the Gulf.
  • It’s oil, right, we're here for oil?—Private first class Elizabeth Shoemaker, US Army in the Gulf.
  • We want prisoners to enjoy living and working here. It makes sound financial sense—Gerald Skene, project director at Belmarsh, the new London prison.
  • If you lived in this town, would you be happy if a nigger from Birmingham came and settled down—Bill Galbraith. Cheltenham Tory on the adoption of a black Tory candidate there.
  • I will never vote for a black man. They should give them freedom, but not in government circles—Richard Barden. Cheltenham Tory.
  • Death does not pay well—Steven Jonas, solicitor, on the West Midlands police payment of compensation for the death of Gail Kirchin.
  • You get the impression that all children are in despair—Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, after judging a children’s essay competition.
  • I have done pretty well out of being Mrs Thatcher—Mrs Thatcher.
  • I'd rather they cancelled Christmas this year—Woman doing the shopping.

Finance and Industry: The Planning Myth (1963)

The Finance and Industry Column from the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Planning Myth

The crowning delusion of present day politics is the belief that capitalism can be planned. Labourites in particular imagine that by a judicious use of financial checks and stimuli the ups and downs of the system can be eliminated.

When the economy is booming, for example, what simpler than to apply the brakes a little to save the boom getting out of hand? And when it looks like dropping into a slump could anything be easier than to inject some extra fuel into the engine to keep it ticking over and eventually get it turning faster again?

The Tories are now faced with the second problem: the economy is in trouble and could go from bad to worse. What better than adopt the economists' solution and get things moving again by encouraging the capitalists to invest and the consumer to buy more? So industry has been tempted to expand by increased investment allowances, consumers to buy by a reduced purchase tax on cars, and the economy generally to get into top gear again by easier and freer loans from the banks.

But unfortunately for the planners, they are not seated at a switchboard pulling levers and turning knobs. They are dealing with human beings, with capitalists having to live with capitalism. It sounds the easiest thing in the world to get capitalists to buy more plant and machinery by giving them better tax allowances; the only thing that has been forgotten is that the actions of company chairmen and boards of directors are not governed by concern over production as such, but over whether the products can make them profit. And this is where all the wonderful efforts of the planners come unstuck.

They come unstuck because all the encouragement in the world, even if it takes the form of government financial incentive, will cut no ice with a capitalist who has to think first and foremost of selling his products in a market that becomes more and more competitive. What is the use to him of improved investment allowances for new plant if his chief worry is whether he will be able to sell the goods produced by his extra machines?

All the recent efforts of the Government to stimulate the economy have in fact been useless. The capitalists have not rushed to invest in new machinery; people have not fallen over themselves to buy more cars; and the banks have not been swamped by demands for loans.

A good example of this new attitude of caution has been the recent decision of the steel firm, Stewarts and Lloyds, not to proceed with plans for their new iron-making plant at Corby. After saying that the change of policy comes only a few weeks after the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement on special tax incentives, the Guardian commented that it
  . . . reinforces the general belief that a real revival of industrial capital expenditure will only set in when companies can see increasing demand for their products ahead.
In other words, planners and governments may propose. But it is capitalism that will dispose.

Wrong again

Our planners have recently been made to look foolish in another sphere.

Bemused by the experts' tales of the glittering prospects of power from atomic energy, successive governments have built seven immense power stations in this country at a cost of about £500 million. It is now reckoned that no less than £350 million of this has been uselessly spent.

The reasons?

First, the experts thought that coal would stay as scarce as it was in the days of chronic shortage after the war. They were wrong, so wrong that large areas of the countryside were being covered with embarrassingly large stocks of the stuff last year.

Second, the experts thought it would remain dear. Instead, mechanisation has made it relatively cheap compared with other fuels. They also overlooked that other countries also produce coal, often more cheaply than in this country. The United States, in particular, is now exporting large quantities of coal to Britain's European competitors at prices that have just forced this country to reduce its coal costs.

Third, they made no allowance for increased oil production which has also come down in price so as to make it sharply competitive with atomic energy.

In short, the atomic power stations built at such colossal expense have proved to be hopelessly uneconomic, and the experts and planners hopelessly wrong on almost every point of importance. Most damning of all, they apparently persisted with their wrong plans and policies when it had become abundantly clear that they were wrong.

Still more waste

A few months ago the British Government shamefacedly reported that something like £150 million had been lost on Blue Streak, this country's nuclear missile. They need not have worried incidentally: the news was received with hardly a murmur.

Now comes the news that the Americans have wasted something like the same amount on their air-launched missile, though they are hardly disposed to go on spending more. President Kennedy let us know that the original sum set aside for this project was a staggering £1,000 million, so that £8,000,000 remained to be spent before second thoughts set in.

This is yet one more horrifying reminder of the vast quantities of society's wealth that are being uselessly squandered on war preparations. All the nations under capitalism, big and small, devote fantastic proportions of their resources on these activities, at the same time as two-thirds of the world's population go hungry, large numbers have no roof over their heads, millions die early of disease which could be prevented given the resources to deal with it.

Instead, there will be a lot of high level diplomatic wrangling between the representatives of British and American capitalism, eventually settled by some sort of mutually acceptable compromise, and the whole affair will be forgotten.

American capitalism will in the meantime proceed to write off the £180 million as the fleabite it is in their total outlay on destruction and the preparations for it.
Stan Hampson

What are wages? (1963)

From the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The value of the commodity human labour power is determined by the cost of reproducing the worker's expended skill and energy and, also, of reproducing future wage workers. On the average, wages equal this value.

However, in different countries, according to circumstances, the value of labour power varies. In the lesser developed countries we find, as a rule, a lower standard of living and therefore a lower value than in more advanced industrialised areas. Important factors in the more developed areas are a greater consciousness in workers, and organised arrangements for the protection and advancement of their interests.

Wages are not, as some people think, the workers' share of the wealth they produce. Capitalism is not a national share-holding concern. Let it be clear —Capital is wealth used in the reproduction of wealth in order to realise profit. Variable capital, the wages fund, together with constant capital, are both in existence before the act of production takes place. The workers’ labour power is bought by the capitalists and is used to create wealth. The worker, having worked, has a legal claim to the agreed wage. A sale and purchase have taken place and no question of shares arises. Shares are exclusively for the owners and shareholders, and they come from the surplus value wrung from workers.

Wages must be considered from three aspects. The first, nominal wages, or the actual amount of money paid: second, relative wages, i.e., the proportion of wages paid to the total wealth produced: third is the actual purchasing power of wages—real wages.

The basic conflict between the two classes, capitalists and workers, shows mainly in the first two aspects (wages and profits). Provided that other factors remain constant, an increase in one must cause a decrease in the other. In this, the productive sphere, the social relations are direct between owners and producers (employers and workers) regarding rates of pay and conditions of labour. The amounts of nominal and relative wages are determined here.

We can now consider briefly the conflict between wages and profits. To begin with, let us assume a weekly wage of £10 for a 40 hours week and a rate of exploitation of 100 per cent. An increase of five per cent. in wages would enable the workers, other factors remaining constant, to get 10s. p.w. more for the same quantity of labour. His standard of living is improved and the necessary labour time increased, while surplus labour time is reduced. The rate of exploitation is reduced from 100 to 93 per cent, and the relative wage now represents 55 per cent. of the total product as against the former 50 per cent. A reduction in the working week may also be beneficial for workers; they may obtain the same pay for less work.

The above situation is a most unpleasant one for the capitalist. In the first instance it means an increase of 5 per cent. in his variable capital. It reduces his surplus labour time and his surplus value. The rates of exploitation and profit have also fallen. But although temporarily defeated, the capitalist is undaunted and adamant. He is well aware of his excellent facilities for recovery.

It is quite possible, and it frequently happens, that increased wages or reduced working hours can be offset by a fall in relative wages. This can be brought about, for example, by increased production as a result of better organisation and supervision, etc. The introduction of more efficient machinery and the displacement of labour is another way. An increase in output of 6 per cent. would in some ways offset the five per cent, increase in pay or the reduction of hours. In such conditions, although the nominal wage is higher, the relative wage is lower. More wealth is being produced for slightly less pay.

Other means by which earnings may be increased as distinct from increased rates of pay are, overtime, piece work, or bonus on output systems. These methods entail longer hours of labour, or more intensive labour, or both. Increased earnings in such cases are at the expense of extra sweat and toil and in these conditions workers cannot increase their earnings without increasing the profit of their masters. The working classes' only gain, if such it can be called, is in having the rates of pay increased or the hours of labour reduced. The struggle between wages and profits is unending and the employers are as a rule better placed.

Social evolution has produced three distinct forms of exploiting societies. In chattel slavery men were owned bodily. In feudalism, the serf, semi-free, was compelled to provide a certain proportion of his labour for the overlord. In both cases the surplus was easy to see. But modern wage labour, unlike the other two, appears to be fully-paid. In all three systems men were, and are, deprived of the fruits of their toil by an owning class. Private ownership of the means of production and control of the ability of men to work has enabled the ruling classes, in all cases, to own the wealth produced.

Slaves, serfs and proletarians all had to obtain food, clothing and shelter. This subsistence differed in amount, quality and kind in the different periods. Today the wage worker is legally “free." Socially he is compelled to sell his ability to work in order to live. But he may select where and to whom he will sell it—in theory only!

Capitalism is the highest and most efficient form of exploiting society and its wages system conceals to a great extent the legalised robbery of its wealth producers. The separation of labour power from labour is responsible for the appearance that workers' wages are the full value of their labour. The fact that the value of the embodied labour may be £20 or more, and wages £10 or less, is not so evident.

High wages and low prices, security, and a happy, prosperous and carefree working class, are illusory. A fair day's wage for a fair day's work is a fallacy. The abolition of capitalism with its wages system is an indispensable task for the workers. Working men and women can only attain their freedom, independence. and control of the wealth they produce. in a Socialist system of society. Production to satisfy human needs as distinct from privileged greed, is the Socialist object.
John Higgins

Honour & Truth: Honesty in Politics (1963)

From the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently a small storm was raised by Mr. R. H. S. Crossman, Labour M.P. for Coventry, by an article in The Guardian in which he wrote that it is hypocrisy to condemn politicians for their lies and deceptions; the condemnation should rest on their policy itself, not on the practices which surround the policy:
  The truth is that in politics there come occasions when honourable men are bound to practice deception and tell lies, and any hypocrites will impugn their personal integrity when things go wrong and they are caught red-handed. (The Guardian, 2/11/62.)
He took to task Lord Home, who had smugly claimed that the Russian deception over the Cuba missiles “showed that the Free World could not afford to take anything from the Soviet Union on trust.” Crossman recalled that just six years earlier Eden “was trying to conceal the concerted Anglo-French-lsraeli attack on Nasser from the Americans, under a fantastic mixture of evasions, half-truths, and breaches of solemn commitments,” and among those who shared responsibility for this attempt “to deceive our American allies ” was the present Prime Minister.

Of course, government and politics are riddled with lies and deceptions, but many people hate to accept it, like the reader of The Guardian, who could hardly believe that Crossman really meant what he said: “. . . have I misunderstood? 1 have always assumed it axiomatic that honour and truth are indivisible even in politics.”

A couple of other examples of lies in politics made the news within a few weeks of Crossman's article. Mr. Sylvester, United States Assistant Secretary of Defence, admitted that news was "generated” by the American government during the Cuban crisis and “was used successfully” and that his government would continue to use “news” to further its foreign policy. “I think the inherent right of the government to lie to save itself when faced with nuclear disaster is basic.” (Times, 8/12/62.)

The other example concerned United Nations and its late Secretary-General's statements and actions during the Congo-Katanga dispute. It cannot be doubted, said the Sunday Telegraph
  “that the statement issued from Leopoldsville at the time, while Hammarskjoeld himself was there, was a complete fabrication. In trying to give the impression that the fighting was merely part of an attempt to complete the expulsion of ‘mercenaries,' an imaginary story was concocted that was quite at variance with the only facts then known. . .”
(Sunday Telegraph, 18/11/62.)
The practice of public lying is so widespread that the readers of The Guardian can hardly believe that it does not exist, but he possibly does believe that it could and should be got rid of. What chance is there of this!

Speak the truth
Probably every child born into the world is told by parents, teachers and others that he or she ought to speak the truth. Certainly it is difficult to imagine any of them being told that it is their duty always to refrain from speaking the truth.

But they are also taught to be selective about it, and if not so taught, they soon discover it for themselves. They learn to dissemble, to keep their mouths shut on occasion, to put a gloss on things and generally to avoid the trouble that would ensue for them and those around them if they went about all day long blaring what they believe to be the truth. By the time they are grown up they will have found that it is a very tricky business to steer a safe course through the permitted truths and the compulsory lies. Though they will still be told by governments, employers, newspaper proprietors and church leaders that truth is sacred, they will be in trouble if, for example, as salesmen, they tell the customers what sort of rubbish it is they are selling, and that the owner of the goods simply wants their money and as much profit as possible. They will also have to realise that a passion for disclosing the truth will not save them from action for libel or slander, or from the Official Secrets Act. They will have it forcibly impressed on them that though some lies are punished as perjury, other lies are officially required of them.

In war-time the somewhat haphazard private-enterprise peace-time lying gets properly organised and conics into its own, as was entertainingly described by the late Lord Ponsonby in his Falsehood in War-time, a book published in 1928, dealing with the massive official lie- machines of the first world war. When a government decides to go to war lying to its own population about themselves and about the enemy is an important weapon of war. It helps to inflame patriotic passions and make them readier to kill and be killed. Ponsonby put on record a fascinating selection of the wartime “propaganda truths” subsequently proved to have been bareface lies and in some instances deliberate and coldblooded inventions—like the official story spread all over the world that the Germans were boiling down corpses to make lubricating oil and other products to serve the war effort. Most of the examples in the book were taken from the British and allied propaganda efforts, but Ponsonby had no illusions, he knew that war-time official lying is universal. He also knew that he could disclose these things only when the war was over. He would certainly not have been able to publish the book and get it widely circulated while the war was on.

Moreover, while war-fever was at its height most people would not have been in a fit state of mind to accept his disclosures. It was only in the somewhat more sober atmosphere after the war that they would listen. He quoted John Bright:
  You will find wars are supported by a class of argument which, after the war is over, the people find were arguments they should never have listened to.
Ponsonby also knew that “lying . . . does not take place only in war-time,” and he commented on the fact that while the habit of lying is common, man's habit of lying “is not nearly so extraordinary as his amazing readiness to believe. It is indeed, because of human credulity that lies flourish ”

This credulity is the crux of the matter. How can the suckers escape being taken in by the confidence men? How can workers break out of the confusion of the social system based on their exploitation? Knowledge and understanding are the only sure answer, together with the cultivation of a critical attitude of mind to the unceasing streams of interested sales-talk and propaganda. Cut away the trimmings, the charms and oratorical skill of the speaker, and get down to a critical examination of the argument and evidence. Don’t accept assertions and promises on some supposed infallibility attaching to the source from which they come. Above all, examine the case against the propaganda of the governments, ruling class groups, and the propertied class. They are interested parties and the interests they are concerned with are not those of the working class.

Notice that, almost unique among propaganda bodies, the SPGB has open meetings, anyone can attend our Executive Committee meetings, conferences, etc., and anyone can ask questions and claim the right to put opposition at our propaganda meetings. This is our own safeguard, and yours—that what we say is true.

Lies, suppression, distortion and secrets do not serve the interests of the workers of the world but the interests only of their exploiters.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: Traffic Problems (1963)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Truly the motor is everywhere, but on the crowded roads of the metropolis its presence and speed have raised a problem for which the multitudinous highway authorities seek in vain a solution.

To such a pass have things come that the attitude of the average motorist is practically that the roads are his property, and that all others are trespassers, to be hooted off.

. . . the sinister result of modern traffic conditions has a deeper meaning than is realised or expressed by commentators in the Press. It signifies the growing pace and intensity of industrial fife, the universal acceleration of production, and the decreasing value of the life of the worker when put in the balance against the pleasure or profit of the class that owns the country. The huge and increasing size of industrial centres, and the greater distances between the workers' homes and the factory, the need for more quickly transferring labour, the greed of the rack renter of the central districts, the knowledge that the workers' time is money to the capitalists, the rush for profits of a transport trust, and the all-pervading atmosphere of hustle, recklessness. and speed is engendered by capitalist greed and the ever-increasing world-wide competition—all these are symptoms of the deep-lying social malady.

But so long as class ownership remains, for just so long will the long list of killed and maimed continue fail grow, and all remedial measures fail to keep pace with the break-neck speeding up of our daily tasks.
From the Socialist Standard,
 January 1913.

The Flight to Varennes (1963)

Book Review from the January 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Flight to Varennes. by Alexandre Dumas (first English Edition). Alston Books, 15s.

Alexandre Dumas, one of the most famous and prolific of nineteenth century dramatic writers, was beloved of the Victorian reader. His many novels, plays and travel books were in constant demand to while away the hours spent in travel on the new railways or during the long winter evenings, before such things as the gramophone, the radio, and more recently television appeared on the scene.

Dumas himself was a product of the railway age. An age of constant and disturbing change, of an optimistic faith in. progress, mixed with a nostalgic yearning for an idealized past. The book opens with the sentence: —
  Thanks to the railways, we unfailingly arrive at our destinations; indeed we get there quicker than ever, but we no longer travel.
Similar complaints are heard today about air travel, while we also look with nostalgia on the steam and clatter of the fast disappearing Iron Horse, just as Dumas pined for the clatter of horses' hooves on dusty roads.

Nineteenth century France, like Britain, was finally emerging as a world power and also like Britain it needed to dream up a great and heroic past. So Capitalism, with its poverty and squalor, its ruthless exploitation and bitter discontent, was clothed in the trappings of Empire, and such works as the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo were eagerly read. Like Scott and Ainsworth in Britain, Dumas wrote well; but his style is no longer popular and his readership has declined in the last few decades. Nevertheless his books are ideal material for plays and films, and adaptations from his novels have appeared on television. Often these have little connection with the originals, apart from the title. Cops and robbers in Renaissance costume.

What is not generally known is that Dumas wrote sometimes as an historian. The Flight to Varennes, published for the first time in English by Alston Books, is one of his historical works. Published first in a weekly paper, as was much nineteenth century writing, it describes what is perhaps the most well known incident of the French Revolution; the attempt of the French Royal Family to reach the Netherlands.

Paris in the summer of 1791 was a place of confusion, unrest and brooding violence. Two years had passed since the fall of the Bastille, but the problems mounted. France had become a Constitutional Monarchy; legislation had flowed from the Constituent Assembly in a never ending stream; and the Assembly had voted the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But harvests had been bad and food prices had rocketed. Political factions struggled for power and broadsheets poured from the presses, while behind them all stood the armed bands of Paris. Meanwhile the governments of Europe, fearful lest revolutionary ideas should spread, were massing troops on the borders of France, ready for armed intervention. It was to join these forces in the Austrian Netherlands that was the aim of the attempted flight.

The venture was doomed from the start. Generations of isolation in absolute power, had produced a mentality incapable of grasping change.
  But neither the King nor the Queen realised fully how much times had changed. Marie Antoinette had had many new dresses specially made, her favourite hairdresser (the fantastic Leonard) was sent ahead to the frontier and so was her magnificent inlaid Nécessaire: and two lady's maids travelled with the Queen.
. . . and the flight was made not in light carriages, quick and inconspicuous, but in a great specially-made and luxuriously-appointed berlin, drawn by six horses and accompanied by three liveried bodyguards.
The amazing thing is that they got as far as they did.

Dumas traces the journey from its bungling start on the night of June 21st to its farcical end in Varennes, when in a melodramatic scene that could have been invented for a film, a waggon of furniture was overturned on a bridge, to prevent the fugitives from reaching the Royalist troops waiting on the other side. He also traces their return to a hostile Paris that was prevented from an explosion of mob violence with only the greatest difficulty.

A year later the insurrection of Paris, with its savage butchery, was to sweep away the monarchy and usher in the bloody dictatorship of the Jacobins.
Les Dale