Sunday, February 2, 2020

Now He Tells Us! (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Progress from private enterprise capitalism to State capitalism does not change the fundamental status of workers in society".Will Paynter, former National Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, in an article on the 30th anniversary of the nationalization of the coal industry. (The Miner, Nov-Dec, 1977).

Money Will Go (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why do so many members of the working class find it difficult to understand the Socialist case? Certainly not because of its complications. On the contrary, it must be because of its simplicity. So accustomed are they to having placed before them the complicated plans, programmes and policies of other political organisations that the simplicity of the Socialist proposition makes them suspect that there must be a flaw somewhere.

The detailed plans of reformist labour parties, the hotch-potch of incomprehensible “immediate demands” of the communists, the cunningly conceived schemes of currency reform cranks and the elaborate domestic and foreign policies of all kinds of governments gives them the idea that politics is a most profound business. Then to be told that all their problems have a common origin in the capitalist system of society and that the solutions lie in the abolition of capitalism, leaves them somewhat bewildered and suspicious. Like a woman who, on entering a shop to buy a certain commodity, finds it on sale at a price so much below her anticipations that she suspects that it must be faulty and refuses to buy.

The socialist declares that the workers have it in their power to build a society wherein the wealth produced shall be freely available to everyone without the need to buy, sell or exchange everything that is required. To imagine themselves having access to the goods that they have worked to produce without having to ask “How much?” or "Can I afford it?” makes many workers smile and shake their heads. They recognise everything as the property of some person or persons. They accept without question the fact that goods are only available to them when they can afford to buy. The proposal that there can be a condition of things where the institution of buying and selling does not exist, makes them look for a flaw.

One can well imagine children, having grown accustomed to the practice of producing a ration book, a coupon or a permit before a purchase can be made, looking askance at any proposal that may suggest that such coupons and permits be no longer necessary. All the arguments advanced in support of a rationing system when it was introduced would then be trotted out against those who advocated its abolition, and by the very people who stood to gain by the change.

But one cannot imagine adults of today opposing the abolition of a rationing system. They have recent recollections of the days before rationing and a return to those conditions would not seem at all strange to them. Having experienced a certain condition they would know that it is practicable.

A number of those workers who pooh-pooh the idea of making the wealth produced available to the producers, are men and women who have served in the army, navy or air force. At socialist meetings they will ask in a surprised tone, “Do you mean that we can just walk into a place and eat without paying?”, “Do you mean that we don’t have to pay rent? ”, “Are you suggesting that we can go into a shop and get a suit of clothes and walk out without paying?”, "How will the boot repairer or the bus driver or the canteen waitress live if we do not pay for the goods that we have?”

Yet, quite recently, these ex-service people have lived in conditions wherein they did not have to put their hands in their pockets and produce money in order to eat, dress and sleep.

What happens when the soldier wants his boots repaired? He takes them to the unit cobbler. And when the unit cobbler wants a meal he goes to the cookhouse. Does he pay for his dinner? Of course not. Neither does the cook pay for the battle dress suit that he gets from the quartermaster’s stores. The army lorry driver does not pay for the petrol that he draws from the petrol depot or for the spares and tools that he uses. And when he drives his truck on a recreational journey, do his passengers pay a fare? Not likely. The storeman does not charge for the blankets that he issues, neither does the medical officer charge for his services. If the service man was asked to pay rent for his billet, barrack room or bunk he would regard the idea as preposterous. Despite this "non-payment” arrangement, or because of it, the whole military organisation is effective. Men do not eat greedily when they do not have to pay for their meals. Soldiers do not obtain umpteen pairs of boots just because they do not have to pay for them. In fact they often regard one of the two pairs with which they are issued as an encumbrance. Requirements are satisfied as far as stocks and stores allow.

We are not suggesting that the army form of distribution is an example of socialism in operation. Far from it. The goods that are available to the soldier have been bought. They were produced, as are all goods where the capitalist mode of production prevails, for the purpose of being sold or exchanged with a view to a profit being made. Having been through the buying and selling process they are finally placed at the disposal of the army and made accessible to the troops. All things are not freely available. In fact army life is notorious for its lack of variety and its uniformity. We use the illustration to show to those who are unable to appreciate the possibility, how goods produced for use could be distributed without having to pass through a market as far as the actual consumer is concerned.

Men and women in the armed forces produce a variety of services. They cook and cut hair, repair boots, drive trucks and lorries and sweep out barrack rooms, etc. Each in turn takes advantage of the service provided by others without thought of making payment. It should not be difficult to visualise a society where such procedure prevailed. Goods and services would be produced as they are today. The difference being that many who now are engaged in socially useless tasks and those who are not engaged in production in any shape or form, would then contribute their share of effort, thus making the task lighter for all. All the things produced, food, clothing, houses, transport facilities, entertainment, furniture, etc., all the things necessary to make life comfortable, would then be at the disposal of everyone, according to their requirements.

People could eat by entering the appropriate building, sitting down, and being supplied with food just as the soldier is supplied in his cookhouse. Or they might prefer to collect their foodstuffs and take them to their dwelling place to prepare and eat them. Such details as how people will prefer to eat, in public halls or in private dwellings, we are unable to forecast. We cannot attempt to map out in advance the detailed plans of organisation of a future society. Society is not a piece of architecture, it grows like an organism, and organs develop as the need for them arises. The prevailing conditions will determine such details in a socialist community.

The same applies to the distribution of other goods. Just how clothing will be distributed we cannot say. It may be in like manner to the quartermaster’s issue or it may be by mail order or by distribution from shops as today except that the payment business will no longer exist.

With travel it is easier still to visualise. It should not be difficult of comprehension to realise that one could board a bus, a train, a coach or an aeroplane, travel to one's destination and alight without the necessity of paying a fare. In all these instances the collectors of money will he freed from those jobs and made available for a more useful contribution to the social effort. They can be free to assist in the production of more goods or the rendering of more and better services.

The socialist does not advocate such a system of society just because it would be nice to live that way. He recognises that the present system of producing things in order that they may be sold, and that someone may make a profit out of the process, is the cause of all working class problems. From this root cause arises the poverty of the workers with its attendant problems of housing, malnutrition, overwork and unemployment, economic insecurity, crime, etc. Also from the same source comes the greatest of all catastrophes, War. To eliminate these evils it is necessary to remove the cause. So what must we do? If the cause is private ownership with its production for sale, what stands in the way of abolishing this condition? Private ownership. Only things that are owned by someone can be sold or exchanged. When goods are produced they are not made available to the producers. They remain in the hands of those who own the tools and machinery which are used to make them. By virtue of their ownership these people have the right to say what shall be produced, how much shall be produced and how the goods and services shall be distributed. The whole of the structure of present day society is directed towards maintaining this order of things. The majority of the workers accept this system, governments administer it, police, judges and jailers enforce it, soldiers, sailors and airmen fight for it, and the owners of the land, mines, factories, transport systems, workshops, etc., thrive on it. Only the socialist challenges it

Many workers try to find ways and means of remedying the evil effects of this system without even realising the fundamental cause of these evils. To them it seems a very complicated affair, requiring complicated plans. To them the simple socialist proposition of converting the means of production from private or state ownership to common ownership, and thus making all the wealth produced freely available to everyone according to their needs, is difficult of comprehension. But there is no problem thrown up by society that does not have its solution portrayed in that society. If we seek an example, a lesson or an illustration of a future social development we can always find it in our present circumstances.

To those who boggle at the idea of having the needs, comforts and luxuries of life made available to them; to those who take fright at the idea of a society without goods for sale, we would say this: Our proposals are not the result of a dream. They are the product of a scientific study of social development and a recognition that socialism is the next stage in that development, not merely because we wish it but because it is inevitable if society is to continue. There is nothing difficult or incomprehensible about socialism once you cease to regard it as too simple to be true or as an idea of men who seek to trick you. All that is necessary is for you to give up seeking arguments in favour of maintaining the system that keeps you in subjection. Give a little earnest thought to the socialist case in a sympathetic manner. We know what the result will be. Then bring your actions into line with your ideas and the job of establishing Socialism is as good as done. 
W. Waters

The above article appeared in the February 1948 edition of the Socialist Standard.

Listen ecologist . . . (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

You are right to argue that the choice of technology to generate electricity should be a matter of public discussion and democratic social decision and not left to capitalist enterprises or government bureaucrats. Where you go wrong is in believing (or behaving as if you believed) that this is possible within the framework of existing capitalist society.

The economics of Electricity
Capitalism is based on the ownership and control of the means of production by a minority, either privately or through the state. It exists not just in the West but, in the form of state capitalism, in Russia, China and similar countries. Under capitalism production is carried on to make a profit. Capitalist firms and states compete to sell their goods profitably. If an enterprise can produce its goods cheaper than its competitors it can make an extra profit until they too introduce the cheaper method. There is thus a stimulus under capitalism to continually introduce cheaper methods of production.

Most industry today is electric-powered so an important element in the cost of goods is the electricity used in their production. One State can win a competitive edge over its rivals if it can cut down on the costs of generating electricity. Because of the huge investment costs involved in constructing a network of generating stations, this has fallen in most cases on the state. The power stations are run as state-capitalist enterprises to enable private and state industries to compete profitably on world markets. Decisions on the technology to generate electricity are constrained by this capitalist framework. State-run power stations, just as much as private enterprises, are subject to the law of profit.

Nuclear Power
At the moment (apart from hydro-electricity) there are three main methods, all based on raising steam to turn giant turbines: burning coal, burning oil (or natural gas), and splitting atoms of uranium. All three are open to criticism from an ecological point of view. Instead of being literally burned up into useless gases, the limited coal and oil resources of the planet would be more rationally used as raw materials for the manufacture of plastics. The dangers to the environment of using nuclear fission, in particular the disposal of the radioactive waste, are now generally known as a result of your protests.

But environmental considerations only enter marginally (to the extent that other capitalist interests might be harmed by the pollution) into decisions about which method to use. The prime consideration is cheapness, the competitive position and profits of enterprises which consume the electricity. The cheapest method at the moment is to use oil, but strategic considerations (security of supply) and estimated price trends over the coming years, have led those who run the power stations to turn to nuclear fission.

Despite what is suggested by some of you, atomic power is an obvious future source of energy, preferably in the form of nuclear fusion (the fusing of atoms of light elements such as hydrogen or helium) rather than fission (the splitting of heavy elements like uranium). Nuclear fusion, using atoms of heavy hydrogen which exist in plentiful supply in the oceans of the world, promises virtually limitless energy which would be “clean”, i.e., without the dangers of radiation associated with nuclear fission. But the technical problems connected with its use have not yet been overcome and, given the limited funds now made available for research, are not expected to be for about twenty years.

Nuclear fission is a different matter. On the evidence, the long-term environmental effects of using it would outweigh any short-term advantages in releasing coal and oil for other uses. But nuclear fission reactors are already in use and more will be built as time goes on since they promise a cheaper and strategically more secure method of generating electricity than does oil. As long as capitalism continues this will happen, despite your protests, peaceful or otherwise. It is the logic of capitalism, its law of profit, which dictates this and which all governments must apply or risk hampering the competitiveness of goods produced in their countries.

A single-issue Campaign?
But are the dangers of nuclear fission a sufficient reason for singling it out for particular opposition? We say “no”, for the following reasons. The two alternative methods—burning coal or oil—are also open to objection from an ecological and environmental point of view so that a mere moratorium on building nuclear power stations (or even closing down existing ones) will not stop pollution of the environment nor waste of the world’s non-renewable resources. Single-issue campaigns of this sort divert attention from the need to get rid of capitalism before anything meaningful can be done to tackle the problems of the environment.

Some objections you raise against nuclear energy are to the use to which it is put or might be put in capitalist society. That it can be used to make weapons of mass destruction, or could fall into the hands of some terrorist group, only makes sense in the context of capitalism. If the world were not divided into capitalist states where military strength is a factor in economic competition not only for markets but also for sources of raw material and trade routes, there would be no need for armed forces or weapons of destruction, whether nuclear or “conventional”.

If you object to nuclear energy on the grounds that it is employed to manufacture nuclear weapons then logically you should be struggling, as we are, to end the society which perverts science in this way.

World Socialism
So what is our alternative? It is world Socialism. Already a number of writers on ecology realize that there are no national solutions to the problems of the environment, pollution and waste. The planet forms a single ecological system so it is only on a planetary scale that ecological problems can be solved. Unfortunately, this world consciousness does not go farther than demanding a world government or world bodies to deal with environmental problems, without changing the capitalist basis of society. This is why the solutions they propose can at best only be palliatives; they deal with effects while leaving the cause—the ownership of world resources by a section only of mankind and the production of goods to be sold with a view to profit—intact.

Only when freed from the vested interests of capitalism, can mankind deal rationally with the question of its relationship to the rest of nature. The production of wealth would then be under democratic social control and would be geared not only to satisfying, in accordance with the principle “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, mankind’s material needs but also to protecting the environment and sensibly conserving resources.

What could be done on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources can be sketched (we emphasize that this is not in any way a blueprint). The burning of coal and oil could be phased out and, in addition to the development of clean nuclear power, alternative sources of energy such as water, winds, tides, the earth’s heat and the sun’s rays could be properly investigated. Coal and oil could rather be used as raw materials for manufacture. The sea, as well as much more of the land, could be farmed by methods which fit in with the balance of nature.

Such a world plan presupposes that commercial and nation-State interests have been swept away and that all the world’s resources, man-made as well as natural, have become the common heritage of all mankind. In short, world Socialism. This is why we concentrate all our efforts towards the spread of socialist consciousness without which Socialism cannot be established. Socialism can only be established when working people want and understand it and take the necessary democratic political action to achieve it. We feel that this is a much more worthwhile activity for you who are concerned about the environment than negative and ultimately futile protests at the effects of capitalism. We invite those of you who want to know more about our viewpoint to contact us.
Adam Buick

Forthcoming Pamphlet: An Urgent Appeal (1978)

Party News from the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have prepared for publication a new edition of our pamphlet “Questions of the Day”. The previous editions of this work have been extremely popular because of its many chapters on a range of subjects. The new one contains freshly-written additional chapters on inflation and unemployment, left-wing organizations, the women’s movement, and China. “Questions of the Day” is packed with material vital to every worker.

Most members of the SPGB and readers of the Socialist Standard will regard its reappearance as an important event. It depends on one thing: we need money.. The printer’s bill will be £1,500. Our experience has always been that when we ask for money for something like this, it is quickly provided by socialists. We are sure that will be the case on this occasion.

Please send your contributions to the Treasurer, “Questions of the Day”, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4.

Letters: Are Unions Useless? (1978)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are Unions Useless?

From time to time through the columns of the S.S. you have made the following points:-
  1. You warn workers to beware of reforms and illusions.
  2. You acknowledge the importance of trade union organisation for the defence of wages and working conditions.
  3. You state that taxes is not a working class issue.

Here are my views; would you please comment on them.
  1. I agree that workers must become aware of the uselessness of reformist action, which leads me to
  2. I believe that the trade unions are as much a part of the state as the DHSS or the Housing Department. Like them they are reformist in as much as they can only secure for the worker that which capitalism will allow. The unions are also a hindrance to the workers’ material advancement and political awareness due to their allegiance to the Labour Party and the concessions they give this capitalist party, on behalf of the workers, by agreeing to and helping the workers to swallow pay restraint etc. They also foster among the workers the notion that people can be led to socialism (the leaders being the TUC and the Labour Party). They would have us believe that the only barrier to socialism is the Conservative party and Idi Amin.
  3. You hold the view that wages are a working class issue (hence your support of the unions on this); then how is a tax cut any less a wage rise than say the equivalent amount on your hourly rate?

George McCabe

We agree entirely with much of what you say; for example about trade union support given to the Labour Party and Labour government, and the workers’ belief in leadership, but not withstanding all the erroneous policies of trade unions it is not true that union organization cannot serve a purpose useful to the workers.

While it is true, as you say, that trade union action is limited by the conditions of capitalism, that does not mean that the wages and conditions resulting from the struggle are simply what the capitalists would like them to be. If workers gave up organization and struggle entirely their standard of living would certainly be worsened. In Marx’s colourful words ’’they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation”.

When you equate a wage increase with a tax cut you overlook the fact that the worker’s standard of living (the purchasing power of his take-home pay) is the result of the struggle; again quoting Marx, “the respective powers of the combatants”.

This was dealt with in the Reply Taxes and Labour in the January issue.

Too Young

I am writing to you because I would like your views on these points:

I am sixteen years old, have left school and now go to work. I do not pay tax, but will be doing so next year!

What I would like to know is, if at 16/17, 1 can get married and have children, pay tax, and N.I. I can own a car and pay the insurance, tax etc., have a home, or business, and own a passport, also possibly, smoke, just like may I add an adult.

Then why is it that 1 cannot vote, buy alcohol in a public house, gamble, i.e. horseracing, bingo, etc., see ‘X’ films, and even enter certain clubs, discos?

I think this ’law’ is pathetic. Why should a person between the age of 16-18 have the burdens of an adult and not have the ‘pleasures’? They are still legally children or is the word youths??

I, and many people of my age will never agree to this ridiculous law!!

I have written to various political parties, and 1 cannot wait to read the various reasons for this ‘mockery’ of a law.

I would appreciate a reply.
Stephen Johnson
London, E.2

It looks as if you are unfamiliar with the case put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, so we recommend that you read the Object and Declaration of Principles printed on the inside cover of this journal.

The discrepancies which make you angry are, in general, between laws which governments have passed on different accounts at different times, all in the interests of capitalism. Those which aim to make adolescents “independent” for purposes of government finance come in conflict with others concerned with “public morality”. It is quite likely, particularly if pressure groups arise, that a revision of legislation will eventually be attempted to remove some of the anomalies.

If that happens, don’t imagine that you (or those who are your present age at that time) will be emancipated. Legislation is not carried out for “fairness” or on ethical grounds; the enticing promise is to get you on a more appropriate kind of chain. To give an example, the demand for the voting age to be reduced from 21 to 18 arose largely from military service and the 1950 Korean war in which Britain was involved. The anomaly pointed out was that young men could kill (or be killed) but not vote at 18. Well, then . . .

Why not raise your sights? In the world of capitalism the great majority of people between 18 and the grave would tell you they do indeed have the burdens of adults but haven’t had much chance of the “pleasures”. Socialism offers a world of equal access to everything society can provide, without any section excluded or dependent on permission by authorities.

How Much Has 
Production Increased?

Can you say what the output or production of goods and consumption of same are in England today? Are they ten times what they were in 1925? Money is now ten times that of 1925 and prices are up ten times. After all it is the products we get for money.
W. Popplewell

Prices were falling from 1925 to 1938 and have been rising continuously since then. The current retail price level is about ten times the level of 1925. (About eleven times the level of 1938).

Official estimates of the “gross national product” give a figure for 1976 about twenty-five times what it was in 1925; but most of this is merely a reflection of higher prices, not a real increase. In real terms GNP may be about three times what it was in 1925. Against this has to be set the fact that the population of the United Kingdom has increased from 45 million in 1925 to 56 million.