Friday, February 14, 2020

The Middle East and Historic Rights (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no question that individuals do influence society and that without an emphasis on the background and nature of outstanding individuals a complete picture of their times is not possible. The problem is, simply, that too much is made of their importance in the fashioning of history. As Karl Kautsky puts it in Foundations of Christianity:
. . . in terms of historical epochs, their influence is only transitory, merely the outer ornament which strikes the eye first in a building but says nothing about its foundations. But it is the foundations that determine the character of the structure and its permanence . . .
To put the proposition in another way: to understand the basic structure of a society is to grasp the underlying significance behind the actions of outstanding individuals. Take, for example, the apparent earth-shattering decision of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to parley with the Israelis for “peace” and the return of Arab lands to their former owners. Consider, too, the stiff-backed arguments of Israel’s Menachem Begin on the “historical right” of the Jewish people to return to Samaria and Judea (commonly referred to – but not by Begin – as the West Bank).

Were one to base one’s understanding on popular belief, the new development in Middle East politics is the brainchild of Anwar Sadat. Millions of words are churned out by the media on his and his lovely wife’s personal backgrounds, their devotion to Allah and to the pressing economic problems of the Egyptian masses. Sadat is widely termed “courageous” excepting, to be sure, in some parts of the Arab world where he is labelled “traitor.” Whatever the appellation, however, he is thought of as the instigator of Egypt’s current political moves.

Now, it is not necessary to construct a theory based upon conspiracy to understand that the business class of Egypt and of Israel have orchestrated the present politics of “peace” in their immediate orbits. The symphony does not have to sound, upon original completion, as a finished work and is subject to refinement. Even the master composers of the classics were known to change their scores from the originals. And so it is with the bourgeoisies of Israel and Egypt. There is a constant urge, a need, in capitalist society for trade and capital investment that transcends historical prejudices. That such activity leads, inevitably, to further ruptures and war is but a contradiction of capitalism and beside the point. Business must go on, somehow, but it is not easy-to whatever extent it is possible — for nations to carry on profitable relations with one another when in a legal state of war.

As a matter of fact, the bourgeoisie, as a whole, is never really pleased with a perpetual need to build armaments and wage war with one another. It is costly and the experiences of the West German and Japanese capitalist class since their defeat in World War II prove how much more profitable it is when huge military establishments do not have to be maintained.

The point is that, whatever the outcome of current negotiations, one should learn more by examining Israeli and Egyptian business needs than by studying the personal characteristics of their heads of state.

Now, what of that “historical right” of the Jewish people to settle in Samaria and Judea (the West Bank)? There are, of course, two main opposing points of view: the area, in biblical times, was Jewish and is thus part of the traditional Jewish homeland; Arab occupancy for a couple of thousand years – more or less – makes it Arab territory. Upon analysis, both views are unsound and unfounded. In the first place, there is no real essence behind the premise that those who espouse Judaism (willingly or not) in our times are descendants of those early Jewish inhabitants of Samaria and Judea. Aside from the intermarriage and general miscegenation between Jews and non-Jews in mediaeval and modem times Judaism, in very early times, was a proselytising religion, particularly so in the early years of Rome’s imperial greatness. As Kautsky puts it:
  Among the many religions that came together in the Roman world empire the Jewish was the one best suited to the thoughts and needs of the time. It was not superior to the philosophy of the ‘heathen’ but to their religions — no wonder that the Jews felt far superior to the Gentiles and that the number of their supporters grew rapidly. ‘Judaism wins over all men,’ says the Alexandrian Jew Philo, ‘and exhorts them to virtue; barbarians, Hellenes, men of the mainland and men of the islands, the nations of the East like those of the West, Europeans, Asiatics, the peoples of the world.’ We expected Judaism to become the religion of the world. This was the time of Christ. (Foundations of Christianity).
And Kautsky goes on to say in his next paragraph:
. . . as early as 139 B.C. in Rome itself Jews were expelled for making Italian proselytes. It was reported from Antioch that the larger part of the Jewish community there consisted of converted Jews (rather than born Jews). It must have been so in many other cities as well . . .
Is it not preposterous, then, to relate present world Jewry to the historical inhabitants of Samaria and Judea or of Palestine, generally?

On the other hand, neither Jews nor Arabs, for the most part, could lay claim to meaningful ownership of the land on which they lived in biblical times any more than they can today. Throughout the period of recorded history the land in any part of civilization has been, mainly, the property of a small minority of any national population. The lesson is still to be learned: “Our land” so far as the vast majority is concerned is ours only in philosophy, poetry, and song — not in actuality. And the only historic right enjoyed by working people anywhere in the civilized world is the right to be exploited (when they can be “used”) by, and subject to, a ruling class and its state.
Harry Morrison
WSP (US), Boston.

Seeing Through Jim (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jim Callaghan on the steps of Number Ten, greeting some foreign dignitary seemingly come to tea. Jim Callaghan garlanded, walking among the dumb-struck people of India. Jim Callaghan allowing a quotable aside to be picked up by the journalists’ microphones. Jim Callaghan on the television screen, his face beaming out like some benevolent moon.

As one day succeeds another, the question becomes whether there is anything this man, who was once thought to have been beaten out of sight by Harold Wilson, cannot persuade the working class of this country to accept. To begin with there is the extraordinary political sleight of hand which keeps this Labour government, although in a substantial minority in the Commons, in being. At one time this would have been intolerable—for example the Attlee government after the 1950 election never intended to keep going for long with a small majority, as did Wilson in 1964 and again in February 1974. Callaghan’s government survives by ignoring the arithmetic and by putting survival at the top of their priorities, whatever this may do to their policies and actions. Labour Party members who applaud such powers of endurance may reflect that at one time they claimed to be a party with some political principles.

Pay Policy
Then there is the matter of their pay policy. Like all their predecessors, the present Labour government made no secret of their intention to force down working class living standards. What is noteworthy is the magnitude of their success and the uncomplaining, even grateful, way in which the policy has been accepted. Former pay policies (which, in case there are any people sufficiently naive to think otherwise, are not policies for increasing pay) have succeeded for only a limited time, to be followed by a rush of pay claims which has done something to catch up on the lost ground. But Callaghan’s government intend that no such thing will happen; as the unions accept, even if with a few groans of complaint, each turn of the screw, Healey takes this as an invitation to give it another twist.

Treasury Minister Joel Barnett, whose jovial moustachioed face conceals a temperament with a steeliness useful to British capitalism, has recently talked about next year’s pay claims being kept within a new low of six per cent. And all of this without the need yet to resort to the formalities of a statutory pay policy, said by some to be the favourite doctrine of the permanent civil servants at the Treasury but which has been avoided so far by Labour ministers for political (that is, vote winning) reasons.

Among the government’s triumphs in this field has been their defeat of the firemen, whose job has an obvious social and human usefulness and whose strike enlisted a lot of support among the rest of the working class. And now, avoiding a confrontation, the miners have accepted a pay deal in line with the pay policy, leaving the likes of Arthur Scargill and Mick McGahey to gnash toothless gums in frustration. Each challenge to the pay policy is either beaten or circumvented and Healey and Callaghan continue, apparently unruffled.

It is not so unruffled on the Stock Exchange, whose members’ labours can be distinguished from those of the firemen by a marked lack of social usefulness. There, excitement reigns at the optimism of profits, for which Labour government policies can take some of the credit. Some typical comments from a typical City Page:
    Record first half results from . . . British Electric Traction . . .
   A big profit turnround . . by Associated Paper Industries . . .
   Dixons Photographic . . . pre-tax profits rose by 6.7 per cent . . .
   Westinghouse . . . pre-tax profits showed a £1.1 million gain, to a record £5.62 million . . .
Through all of this—pay restraint, chronic unemployment around 1½ million, a happy Stock Exchange, all of them features which the Labour Party would once have condemned as symptoms of capitalism’s decadence—Callaghan’s composure remains. His air of relaxation is well established; according to one close observer (Joe HainesThe Politics of Power) Callaghan from the start was ". . . not trying to break into the Guinness Book of Records for the amount of work done in twenty-four hours.”

There is, of course, sound precedent for this. Twenty years ago Harold MacMillan had just taken over the Premiership, as Eden cracked under the combined strain of his own ill health, a turbulent Tory Party and his efforts to keep up the power of British capitalism in the Middle East. MacMillan preceded Callaghan in the technique of doing the opposite of what the party faithful expected of him, carrying it off not by appearing to be a human dynamo but by assuming an air of indolence which the workers found strangely reassuring.

MacMillan’s political end was not as sticky as it might have been and as he went down he was able to justify himself as a man whose high principles, not to say naivety, failed to equip him to deal with the worldly intrigues of the Profumo scandal. And he is still there, in the background, occasionally pontificating upon some issue, or reminiscing, or turning up at the funeral of some contemporary of his. In our wilder moments it seems that he will go on forever— but of course that is an illusion; it is only the deception and the cynicism and the acceptance of it by the working class which endures in face of all reason to do so.

Political parties come into power on promises to do something to alleviate the nasty bits of capitalism. In their election programmes they assure us that it is all very possible for this social system to be organized in such a way that our lives become a succession of sunlit, happy days. Naturally, there are one or two problems to deal with first—the balance of payments, or the threat from Russia, or inflation, or the dollar gap, or unemployment, or something else. But the solution, they tell us, is pretty simple. We need only to vote for them and such is their strength, honesty, knowledge, skill, that very soon everything will be put right. They emphasize their own, personal abilities; for example in the last general election there was an especially effective Labour Party broadcast in which one Minister after another told us how cleverly he or she had been grappling with the problems of British capitalism, with Wilson at the end proudly telling us that we had just been watching Labour’s team. Enough workers fell for it almost to put Labour back into majority power and millions more fell for the same line from the Tories. The whole thing was a massive vote of confidence in capitalism and for the theory that the system can be made to work in the interests of the majority of its people.

Confidence Trick
What this theory amounts to is that capitalism can be persuaded to act out of character, in an unnatural way. Put like that the confidence trick seems transparently obvious. So how do the politicians get away with it? The answer is partly in persuading the working class that they can securely support capitalism because the leaders are specially able people. This explains the mighty public relations campaign which surrounds and escorts the leaders wherever they go. A few years age this process was exposed as The Selling of the President and while the voters may agree that their leaders are sold to them in attractive, but opaque, packaging with some deceptive sales literature, they have yet to realize that they are in any case buying rotten goods.

They might also count the cost to themselves of the transaction. Capitalism costs its people their freedom, their health, their security, their hope of realizing themselves to the full extent of their human abilities. In return it gives them a shoddy, repressive world in which they consistently under-achieve to the point where ambitions are distorted or utterly withered. No used car was ever so bad a deal as this.

And then the workers might consider whether it need happen at all. This entire rotten system rests on the assumption that we can’t do any better. So the majority prefer to trust a few leaders to do it for them. The case for a new society insists that we can do better—so much better that we can barely conceive of it. But first of all we must trust ourselves.

Or will the working class go on, falling for the confidence tricks of the likes of Big Jim, who is represented by his publicity men as everyone’s favourite uncle but who in reality stands for anything but a happy, worldwide family.

Coming in to the cold (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the environmentalist there are a number of environmental aspects within society today which give cause for concern, and the number is growing daily.

Everywhere he looks, some segment of the environment is under threat. For every one of these that the environmentalist attempts to influence, a number more erupt.

The environment has always been under attack during the development of the capitalist system of production and distribution. Today’s concerns are seemingly fraught with far more potential disasters than those of the past, but even then, threats (such as war and its associated weaponry) had seemed, at that time, potentially just as disastrous.

At the present time, two typical concerns are the danger of sub-clinical lead poisoning caused by inorganic lead being emitted from car exhausts and the possible Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor programme.

The Lead in Petrol Concern
Organic lead such as tetraethyl, itself a very dangerous substance, is added to all British petrol to increase the octane rating. In itself it is dangerous because it can easily be absorbed through the skin and can attack the nervous system with serious consequences, including possible brain damage. This fact was originally discovered the hard way, when workers working with the substance displayed behavioural changes and some even went mad.

The increase in octane rating of the petrol is achieved by adding tetraethyl or similar lead compound to the petrol to inhibit the violent explosion that would result in the cylinder chamber using lower octane fuel. This violent explosion, noticed as ‘pinking’ is thus reduced to the gradual burn necessary for smooth engine performance.

This means, as far as the petrol manufacturers are concerned, that a standard octane fuel (89.5) can be produced, the higher the octane rating needed, the greater the quantity of lead added.

Having done its job, the lead, now inorganic, would cause engine trouble if left in, so it has to be got rid of—emitted through the car’s exhaust. To increase the efficiency of lead emission, so called ‘lead Scavengers’ are also added to the fuel. ‘Scavengers’ such as Chlorine and Bromine keep the lead more volatile, easing emission. But chlorine, as most schoolchildren know, becomes hydrochloric acid during combustion which, obviously, does wonders for the car’s exhaust system!

The emitted lead enters humans via the lungs through the air they breath and via the gut through the food and drink they consume. Food, particularly large leafed plants like cabbages, have air-borne lead land on them as well as absorbing the lead that lands on the ground around them via their root system. Lead lying in roadside gutters etc. is washed into rivers where drinking water is taken from. Washing and purifying does not remove all the lead.

This form of petrol production is profitable. Selling car exhausts is profitable. Lead in petrol will remain a concern within capitalist society until it becomes unprofitable perhaps through human workloss due to sickness. This is unlikely—the British government at present does not accept sub-clinical lead poisoning. They believe that below a certain level (Threshold Limit Value, TLV) lead is inert and harmless. Also, the illness caused by this lead is subtle and not easily attributed to lead. Or there may be pressure from foreign competitors: already abroad, including within the EEC, TLVs are set far lower than in this country and this type of lead poisoning is causing serious concern. Meanwhile lead to the tune of some 11,000 tonnes is emitted from car exhausts in the United Kingdom each year and every individual continues to breath polluted air and eat polluted food.

The Fast Breeder Reactor Concern
Regarding the Fast Breeder (FB) Reactor programme, at the time of writing the result is awaited of a recent public enquiry held at Whitehaven into whether to build the first experimental FB reactor and whether to extend the reprocessing facilities at Windscale in Cumbria. The enquiry itself was called supposedly due to public concern and outcry over the possible consequences of such a venture (or could it possibly be a safety valve for the capitalist government, the programme going ahead anyway when the economy permits?).

The Fast Breeder Reactor as its name implies, ‘breeds’ more fuel as it reacts. The ‘Fast’ however does not mean that it quickly produces more fuel, it means it makes use of the fast neutrons emitted during reaction. This does however increase the efficiency of the reactor over its present day counterparts, the Thermal Reactors like the Magnox. However, there are disadvantages, the main one being the increased production of a bi-product known as Plutonium. Plutonium is a man-made element not found in nature that is highly poisonous and highly radioactive. It is this latter property as well as the fact that a small quantity plus some easily accessible knowledge and determination could be used to make a bomb, that is causing such concern, not only environmentally but militarily also.

Because the nuclear waste containing Plutonium has to be stored in cooled tanks in isolation for something like 25,000 years, this represents to our unstable society today a huge security risk and a future society, forced to maintain such tanks and security, does not represent a pleasant prospect. As well as this consideration, there is the prospect of more and more transport of waste from all quarters of the country and possibly of the world converging on the reprocessing plant at Windscale. The risks of accident, theft, hijacking or sabotage of such vehicles represents yet another security risk. Already armed guards are being used at Windscale and other establishments associated with the Nuclear Industries.

Other Concerns
There are just two of the numerous environmental concerns of today. In the seas, for instance, plankton, the basic start of the food chain through fish to our tables, is also giving cause for concern. This concern stems from the fact that the plankton can absorb low level nuclear waste (and for that matter other pollutants) which are then concentrated up the food chain to us humans. The whale, tiger and other creatures are being slaughtered out of existence mainly for the commercial produce that they represent. Valuable agricultural land is being swallowed up by the 1,000s of acres to build multi-lane motorways for larger and larger juggernaut lorries to use, these lorries travelling to and from such motorways having to use totally unsuitable roads, thundering perilously through villages and towns. Chemical waste is poured by the thousands of gallons into rivers daily, stretching to the limit the biosphere’s ability to cope with such problems. Raw and partially treated sewage is pumped into the seas while oil-based chemical fertilisers, with their own production pollution, are used in ever increasing quantities on the land which will result, some say, in the eventual breakdown of the delicate natural structure of arable land. More and more information is coming to light on such substances as asbestos and fibre-glass with workers in such industries being informed that their health, in some cases, is already beyond repair.

The more he looks into such problems the more the environmentalist is convinced of the inevitable long-term result of such seemingly careless attitudes throughout the modern world—disaster. So why, he asks himself, are such policies and production methods continued?

The Answer — come into the Cold
The answer to this environmentalist’s question and the root cause of all the above problems is the system which gives rise to such policies and production methods — capitalism. The unfortunate truth in the world today is that it is profitable to pollute.

The basic philosophy of the environmentalists is to slow down growth which, they claim, will lead to a stable society. But capitalism is fuelled by growth and must strive for larger and larger growth rates. Listen to the media’s concern, if growth is only being forecast as a small increase. We must have bigger growth rates say the Government, Trade Unions and the CBI — higher productivity. And as to a stable society — capitalism is far from stable, it fosters competition, waste, alienation, frustration and war.

So-called environmentalists (and for that matter all other workers) should study the Socialist’s case. Production for need not profit—and we certainly do not need pollution! A society not owned by a small minority who, supported by the working class, run a society geared to the buying and selling of commodities including our labour power. Until workers, including the environmentalists, use the vote to oust the capitalist system and install Socialism, the environmental movement is a lost cause, another blind alley for genuinely concerned individuals to travel up only to find at its end a blank wall to bash their heads against. At best the environmental movement can act as a brake, a brake easily released when economic constraints permit. At worst it engages enthusiastic, vigorous individuals in a futile struggle for reforms which even if ‘won’ only lead to further problems.

Environmentalists take note — come into the cold, the cold light of realization. Join Socialists the world over who are also trying to prevent the disastrous future that capitalism represents.
Mel St Pier

Capitalist "Solutions" to Hypothermia (1976)

From the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The popular lie, often put forward by champions of Britain’s welfare state, that “no one starves to death here any more” has currently been exposed as such by the recent high-lighting in the media of the condition known as hypothermia.

But hypothermia (or “low heat”) is nothing new. Old people have died by the thousand from lack of food, fuel and clothing for years under the welfare state. But only lately has there been significant publicity about it. From the Sunday Express 1st February 1976 we learn, “Soaring fuel costs which lead to thousands of old people economising on home heating were blamed yesterday for a massive rise in the number of elderly patients being taken to hospital suffering from effects of cold . . . One theory being put forward for the higher than ever toll is that pensioners, many living alone on small incomes, are frightened of using heating and lighting appliances because of the cost. So they sit at home without heating . . . Pensions, with the present price of electricity and food, don’t go very far”

From the Daily Mirror 2nd February 1976: “The tragedy spotlights the problem of hypothermia which claims an average of 45,000 lives in Britain each year . . . Ninety thousand old people have been given a twin death sentence—by the coldest weather for four years and rocketing fuel prices . . . The Department of Health and Social Security recommends a minimum temperature of 70 for homes. Yet a survey shows that 89 per cent of pensioners’ living-room temperatures were below the Government standard. And that was before the increased fuel prices.”

To the Socialist the answer to the problem would seem obvious. Food, fuel and clothing, like all other needs should be freely available (not only to the elderly) to all human beings.

But what are the capitalist solutions to the problem? Call in on elderly neighbours to find out if anyone is actually dying. (Milkmen are regarded as being useful here.)

Doctors can obtain special wide range thermometers so that if they find a cold, collapsed old patient in a cold house, lacking food, fuel and clothing they’ll be able to pinpoint the diagnosis.

And, so public-spirited is the Daily Mirror that on 7th February 1976 they devoted a front page to the problem. Indeed, the way they launched their “campaign” one almost got the impression they were offering to finance food, fuel and clothing themselves. But, in fact, what they came up with was a free “cut-out” sos sign for those dying of hypothermia to put in their windows for the milkman etc. to see. And listen to the further contributions of these philanthropic crusaders:- “If you know old people who live on their own, make sure they have a copy of the warning poster” (and the Daily Mirror supplied it free remember.) "If you see the Daily Mirror's SOS sign in a window, see what help you can give. Knock on the door and give all the help you can”.

But the altruistic Mirror also gives a good capitalistic reason for donating SOS signs to the dying. It quotes Mr. Hugh Faulkner, director of Help the Aged who “welcomes the Mirror's campaign.” “The plight of the old is frightening this winter. The winter weather has really hit us now. Food and fuel bills are higher than ever before and pensions have just not kept pace with inflation. Someone, sometime will eventually realise it is cheaper for the nation to keep old people warm and well fed in their own home than have them go to hospital.” (our italics). So please help “the nation” to do it cheaper, chaps!

Still the Mirror:- “Everyone can help to alleviate the suffering and misery which is piled on old people year by year”, (they don’t say by whom). Then, in thick type:- “Today, the Daily Mirror appeals to everyone to help the old to survive winter. Be a busybody and you could save a life.” Then a broad hint that the neighbours should come up with the necessary funds: - “Check that the old man or woman living down the road is all right. Make sure they are warm and have enough food. If not, get in touch with the local welfare services and run a few errands to stock up their food larder.” Other advice the beneficent Mirror gives free is:- “make sure there is an efficient heater. . . . and they need at least one hot meal a day and frequent snacks and hot drinks.”

Actually, another newspaper takes the prize. The Stoke-on-Trent Evening Sentinel comes up with this:- “A cheap thermometer to alert old people to the dangers of cold and hypothermia went on sale at Stafford today. The thermometer at 20p, is being marketed by an Essex firm as a non-profit making venture.”

Four chemists in the Stafford area have agreed to sell the thermometers which are blue and white. When the temperature falls to the blue zone—below 60 Fahrenheit—it indicates danger to the old people from cold. “This may not save lives but could alert people who may not realise they are in danger”, said Mrs. Jane York, the firm’s social representative. “The see-at-glance thermometer could also warn social workers and visitors of old people at risk,” explains Mrs. York.

What useful gifts—stick one of these on their wall and the pensioner dying of cold will be able to see exactly why.

It makes one marvel at the bitter irony and cynicism which can unconsciously be spewed out by people not wanting to face the obvious. Were it not so tragic it would be hilarious.
R. B. Gill

Are you a reformist? (1987)

From the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Society needs to be changed. Few people doubt that. We have a world which is bursting with discontent. Bombs scare people. The dole queue is the fate of millions and the threat facing millions more. There is the grotesque spectacle of mass starvation while food rots, of overcrowded hospitals and poor welfare services. The streets are unsafe as the poor who are stronger steal from the poor who are weaker while the rich whose robbery is legal have well-protected mansions. This is the age of the shoddy goods. Fast food. Old people wait for the cold of winter when thousands freeze to death. This is called civilisation, but it does not feel very civilised. There is plenty of discontent around.

There are three things which can be done with that discontent. It can be bottled up. Millions of workers have learned to complain and accept. What can they do? It is easy to feel powerless when the problems are so huge, growing all the time — and politicians, despite their claims to sincerity, have done nothing to solve them. So vast numbers of people ignore politics and turn to the bottle or the soap opera or the mind-numbing drug or the pursuit of the many other phoney escape routes presented to the working class by those who benefit from apathy. Then, one can try to reform the problems of society out of existence — elect MPs to pass laws. Sign petitions and go on marches. Put sticking plaster on the ever-increasing wounds of a society which is problem-producing. That is what the reformist does.

Or thirdly, one goes for revolution. Seeing that these many problems of society are not the result of separate causes which can be removed by piecemeal reform, the revolutionary understands that one single cause creates the social ills which face us and that is the capitalist system. It is a system which does not throw up problems by accident, but does so of necessity. War is needed by a system of competition; unemployment is needed by a system where wage slavery is a "privilege" only on offer to those who can be exploited for profit; mass hunger is needed by a system where food is a commodity to be sold on the market for profit and starving millions do not constitute a market; shoddy production is needed by a system which cares not for the quality of what is made but its cheapness. A system called world capitalism is the root cause of the social problems which afflict us and therefore it is world capitalism which must be abolished and replaced by a totally new social system where production is solely for use: socialism. That is the analysis and the objective of the revolutionary socialist.

Only socialist revolution will eradicate the problems caused by the capitalist system. As long as the system remains, however much it is reformed, it will throw up more problems. more discontent. The socialist is not in the business of reforming capitalism, for to do so is to make repairs to a structure which is only fit for immediate demolition. That is not to say that socialists oppose reforms: we do not. If, for example, the bosses offer the workers free health treatment or the right to reply to media lies or other reforms, socialists will not refuse to take what is given. Our opposition is not to reforms, some of which have benefited many workers (all too often at the expense of others), but to reformism — the belief that it is worth bothering to reform capitalism.

One reformist argument is to point to what has been achieved. Indeed, capitalism has been reformed and some of these reforms were campaigned for. But two points need to be considered in opposition to this claim for reformist success. Firstly, it is hard to think of any whole problem which reformists have tried to remove which has been successfully eradicated. They have tried to abolish homelessness but in 1987, despite all the legislation inspired by reformists. there are more homeless workers than when the main housing campaign, Shelter, was set up. Despite all kinds of treaties and government policies to eliminate bombs, there are now far, far more bombs in existence than when the reformist disarmers first started. Sincere reformists for many decades before the name Geldof was heard of spoke of making mass starvation a thing of the past but there are more children starving today than there were when the reformists began their campaigns. As the system goes on new problems arise which previous generations of reformists had not even heard of.

Secondly, even if we grant that it is a good thing that reforms have achieved the slightest measures of success, who is to say that the capitalists would not have granted these reforms anyway, without the reformists pleading and petitioning? For example, it could be argued that the National Health Service was a result of reformist pressure being successful but it is much more historically valid to recognise that the NHS was essentially a capitalist measure carried through as a get-you-back-to-work-service in the interests of the smooth running of the system. Again, if the capitalists should ever decide to disarm, however slightly, that will be much more because of the needs of the bosses to reduce the cost of militarism than the moral demands of reformists.

But should we accept that the achievement of “something now", however slight, is success for reformism? No: very often the "something" which reformists are offered is a means of buying off workers, of reducing discontent and so giving capitalism a longer lease of life. Minor reforms serve as a cosmetic exercise, appearing to give the profit system a humane face. And when it is necessary for the system to withdraw such humane offerings it will do so, as is being seen in Britain in the present recession during which both Labour and Tory governments have destroyed whole areas of the "welfare state". If the power to give reforms is left in the hands of the bosses, then so is the power to take them away: yesterday's "something now" is all too often today's "something vanished".

Tied to the "something now" defence of reformism is the belief in what is called "the meantime". It is often stated by supporters of reformist campaigns and parties in the following way: "Yes, a socialist revolution would solve the problems of capitalism but we cannot wait for millions of workers to understand and want socialism, so in the meantime we must. . . . save the whale, ban the bomb, build nuclear defence shelters, oppose cuts in welfare spending". There are two major flaws in such reasoning. The first is a matter of logic: if it is accepted that capitalism does cause such problems and will go on doing so until "the meantime" is over, why try to solve problems which are the inevitable product of a system which is to remain in being during the very period that the reformist activity is taking place? Logically, the person who accepts "the meantime" thesis should become totally inactive and put up with whatever problems the system throws up. Secondly, if the reformist who recognises the possibility of abolishing capitalism and thus making reformism unnecessary can do so why does s/he imagine that it will be a task involving a lengthy "meantime" for others to think the same way? In fact, if a reformist argues that reformism is only necessary while we are waiting for the workers to wake up and see the logic of revolutionary change, the intelligent move would be to join a party committed solely to the revolutionary socialist objective. so making it less likely that "the meantime" will be extended by workers being sucked in to reformist activity.

The Socialist Party does not advocate reforms. If we did we would be conceding that socialism is not an immediately practical proposition. We say that the socialist way of running society could now solve the problems facing humankind and that no amount of reforms, however long we would have to wait for them, could improve society in the way that socialism could as an immediate change. If we adopted a reform programme as a "meantime" or "minimum" policy there would be two consequences: firstly, all kinds of workers who accepted our reform demands but who regarded socialism as being of little or no practical importance, could join us and become a majority, so converting The Socialist Party into yet another "radical" capitalist party; secondly, as soon as we went into the game of competing with other parties to offer reforms it would be a sure thing that the revolutionary aim of socialism would be transformed into a utopian demand for the future, to be brought out on ceremonial occasions to satisfy the minority of revolutionary members. Indeed, the price of reformism would be higher than that: it would not be long before the reformist majority would be silencing the socialists, warning them that they are endangering electoral prospects by failing to concentrate on reform advocacy and that they should leave The Socialist Party in order to give it a better image. Other parties which started out with socialist intentions have gone that way. but the Socialist Party, based in all ways and at all times upon firm revolutionary principles. will not be diverted.

Capitalism without problems and discontent is a dream of Utopia which is not worthy of serious political effort. No worker looking for a way out of the mess of the present social disorder can be allowed to waste their hopes and energies on the treadmill of futile reformist politics. That is why The Socialist Party is hostile to reformism — not to reformists as fellow workers, but to reformism which wastes their sincerity and that is why if you are a reformist now is the time to make the great political step forward from struggling to mend capitalism to uniting consciously to end it.
Steve Coleman

Running Commentary: Equality before the law (1987)

The Running Commentary column from the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Equality before the law

The "rule of law" is one of those phrases that is tossed around freely by those who seek to maintain the status quo. It sums up the idea of everyone being equal before the law while no-one should be above the law. So one might have assumed that someone, apparently guilty of the crime of giving away £70 billion of "public" money illegally, would find the wrath of the judiciary descending pretty quickly. Not so, or at least not if you are the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Towards the end of last year, Nicholas Ridley, the environment minister, was forced to admit to Parliament that he and his predecessors had, strictly speaking, been acting unlawfully since 1981 in distributing £70 billion in rate support grant to local authorities. Of course when a member of the government breaks the law there's no real problem you simply change the law. which is what the government now intends to do by rushing a bill through Parliament which will retrospectively legalise what they’ve been doing for the last five years. Or, as Ridley put it: "It is merely validating the past and putting right for the future the position which the whole House thought always obtained". So much for the "rule of law". Clearly some people are more equal than others if they can change the law to "validate" in retrospect what was previously illegal.

Constabulary duties

It is hugely reassuring to have it, from so reliable a source, that there is this direct vocal link between God and Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable. Apart from the advantages this will give him in the afterlife, it enables James Anderton to speak authoritatively on worrisome issues like sex, drug addiction and AIDS.

The fact that their Chief is divinely inspired and informed may go some way to explain the activities of the police in Manchester. Unless we knew that it was with God’s approval, we might have written them off, too hastily, as a uniformed rabble of incontinently violent and repressive thugs. But now we know better, don’t we?

The real drawback with men like Anderton is that they offer themselves as caricatures, larger than life, to absorb the indignation against police excesses which should rightly be directed at the root of the problem.

Hating — and fearing — the Andertons (and who could possibly be fond of, or at ease with, them?) can lead to the conclusion that we need a police force purged of such ogres. While it is advisable to be especially wary of anyone at his level of authority who is insulated from reality by dangerous delusions, the cool fact is that we do not eradicate the problem by substituting Chief Constables with rather different priorities and opinions about their terms of reference.

The police are not there to be kind, understanding or protective towards us. Their job is to sustain class society and its privileges. A police force can no more be democratic than can a gang of criminals; both must operate in subterfuge, neither can be meticulous about respecting the rules if they can get to their objective more quickly by breaking them.

Privilege, power and secrecy are components of corruption so it is little wonder that, as we are occasionally allowed to see by courtesy of something like Operation Countryman, the police should so often be corrupt and lawless.

It is bad enough to live in a social system which needs a police force; even worse when the police themselves operate outside the law they are supposed to uphold; worst of all when the motivation of the police management is open to question. Beyond these facts, and of greater importance, it remains true that the only solution is in a society which will not have police, because the property rights they guard will not exist.

You have that on the authority of The Socialist Party and of all socialists everywhere.

Swing to, swing fro

It must be hell, being Margaret Thatcher or Neil Kinnock, watching the opinion polls bob up and down, swing backwards and forwards. one day putting your party percentages ahead then a few days later changing it all around.

If the people of this country are really as fickle as the polls indicate, changing their minds almost from day to day on the question of which party should form the government, or which political leader is more reliable, what hope is there of them ever getting a useful insight into the workings of capitalism? Wouldn't life be a lot easier for Kinnock and Thatcher — and cheaper for their parties — if the decision about who takes power were left to a small, stable elite who are not easily influenced to change their minds? Several names spring at once to mind: Lord Hailsham. David Steel. Jim Callaghan . . .

Perhaps the polls have got it wrong? Maybe the voters are consistent but this is stifled by loaded questions, or gets lost in mistakes in sampling or processing?

There might even be another, more audacious. explanation. The polls may, within their limits, have got it right for the voters are giving deliberately inconsistent answers because they don't give a damn about the result, knowing that choosing between Tory, Labour and Alliance is really no choice at all.

This would be perfectly understandable and reasonable — encouraging, even — as it would indicate that some of the voters have at least begun to grasp the vital fact that all of these parties are equally impotent in face of capitalism's problems. They offer programmes which are basically the same and their appeals — for example that their leaders are cleverer, more sincere, more moral than the other lot — is also the same.

Faced with the offer of more of these failed, exhausted measures for persistent social ailments, the voters might resort to flippancy as an automatic emotional defence mechanism. If so, when they study the poll results, Thatcher and Kinnock might have bigger problems than they think.

There is, however, one uncomfortable fact that spoils that attractive prospect. Socialists are distinguished by our political awareness; we understand capitalism, how it works and why it must operate against the interests of the majority. We understand that the only way the capitalist parties can affect this situation is by fading away before a growing movement for socialism. We are clear about these issues, and consistent; we do not change from day to day, nor year to year.

Yet pollsters, because we don't fit into any of their categories of opinion, enter us as Don't Knows. Which is very, very frustrating. Never mind about Thatcher and Kinnock; it can be hell being a socialist.

A village in Yorkshire

"Work for no wages - you must be joking!" How often has this been put to us when talking about socialism? "Without money, what's the incentive? You'll never get people to do it". Our argument that in a sane world work satisfaction and the knowledge that we will be performing useful work will be the incentive brands us as impossibilists and Utopians.

The opening sentence was, in fact, spoken by one Bob Furness on his first visit to Botton — a village in Yorkshire founded in 1955 by Dr Karl Konig, an Austrian refugee who, since his arrival in Scotland in 1939, had opened and worked in schools for mentally handicapped children. His stated aim was to found a community where work
  should be voluntary, without wages or salaries, so that whatever a person could manage to contribute to the life in the way of work, whether emptying dustbins or doing accounts, would not be valued by money but would be accepted as their full contribution to the community life, and all their needs should be met from the community, irrespective of their work output.
This is what Bob Furness had to say after a year in the village:
  When I used to make roads with Wimpeys 1 did it for the money, the job was the way to the money. Now I make a road because it's needed. 1 know who I'm making the road for, it's my road and I care a lot about it. I want the people who use it to feel it was built with love and care.
Of course there isn't socialism in Botton. The place has religious overtones and, although "unwaged" in the best sense of the word inside the village, they have to trade with the outside world, selling dairy and farm products, bread, toys, engraved glassware and production from their Camphill Press. Socialism cannot exist in isolated pockets but Botton and similar villages which have been founded since does answer some of the points made to us. One of these is "You must have leaders". We quote from one of their leaflets:
  It's often a problem when a visitor asks to speak to the manager — a request that always leads to a look of total puzzlement . . . The village is run by groups rather than the conventional director and underlings. There are many groups dealing with, for example, finances, the cultural life, the land, the reception of people into the village, production, and so on. Almost everyone is involved in a group. . .
The villages are witness to another important fact. People who, through their handicap. are unable to cope and are considered a burden on society in a competitive environment are finding that, with these pressures removed, they are able to lead useful and fulfilling lives.

The accusation that a socialist society will stifle individuality and that everything will have a dull sameness is also refuted in Botton:
  The essential core of Botton is the family life in the houses . . . There are no separate staff quarters . . . Each house is individual, there is no centralisation so the character of a house often depends on the houseparents (who) are of many nationalities, so you can imagine the differences. With so many diverse houses of different character it always seems possible to find a lifestyle to suit a particular person's needs.
Botton and the other Camphill villages were founded as a worthwhile environment for mentally handicapped people in a hostile capitalist world. The establishment of socialism, by doing away with that environment which is hostile to all workers will bring about a world fit for all of us to live in.
(Quotations from Botton Village Life and Botton Village, a Special Story).

CP death throes

A post-script to the article in last month's Socialist Standard about the death throes of the Communist Party. It seems that yet another split is likely to take place, with the old guard of the CP threatening to break away to form a new party in protest at the present leadership which, they argue, are deserting traditional Leninist principles in favour of jumping on the trendy band-wagon of "rainbow coalition" politics — courting environmentalists, the peace movement and feminists instead of the industrial working class. The dissident Communist Campaign Group centred around the Morning Star newspaper, disowned by the present leadership. is planning a New Year campaign to try to win support from among workers involved in strike action, such as print workers at Wapping and teachers. This kind of political opportunism is matched only by that of the CP leadership, which rejects the arguments of the dissidents claiming that their approach fails to attract support, hence their own focus on more popular issues.

Alright, John? (1987)

From the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Alright?'’ Every day, millions of people are greeting each other with this friendly enquiry. "Ça va?" "Wie geht's?". And every day, millions of people are giving a dishonest answer. Think how unpopular you would become if every time someone asked "how are you?'' you pointed out that your position as a wage or salary worker is insecure and degrading. "I'm alright, but what's going on around me isn't. Even if we survive the decade without a nuclear war (which is by no means certain) we're still living in a ridiculously outdated system of poverty for the productive and prosperity for the parasites . . ." Think what trouble you could cause, and what thoughts you could provoke, by interrupting the flow of small talk in this way.

In actual fact, if an individual person suffered from the same in-built contradictions and insanity as our present social system, they would be far from "alright". The present social system is based not on satisfying people's needs, but on producing a profit and capital accumulation. This increases the power of those who possess capital. As part of this process, the whole of human society has become enslaved by the world market. Every item, every service, even every human emotion and activity becomes turned into a commodity, an object of commerce to be bought and sold. In the September 1986 issue of International Management Alan Sugar, who owns the Amstrad computer company, stated: "If there was a market in mass-produced portable nuclear weapons, we'd market them too". A man who understands capitalism.

Within this world wide capitalist system of society nothing is ever produced or distributed unless it can be sold at a profit. And this means that if people s needs are not backed up by sufficient buying power  — "cash demand" — then the system dictates that those needs must go unmet. As a result, many thousands of human beings are starving to death daily, according to sources such as Oxfam. the United Nations and even the World Bank. When food is produced which is surplus to market requirements, it is stored or destroyed rather than being freely distributed, as free distribution would lower price levels and reduce profit margins. So we get the revolting spectacle of people starving to death on the one hand and on the other, so-called food surpluses being referred to as a “problem" to be disposed of and avoided in future:
  There are more than 20 million tonnes of unwanted food in the community's bulging stores, including 15 million tonnes of grain, around 1.5 million tonnes of butter and about 600,000 tonnes of frozen beef. . . The parliamentary inquiry was first mooted in September . . . The brief would be not only how to get rid of the food mountains, but also how to ensure, through price policy and production controls, that they never reappeared.
(Guardian, 1 November 1986).
This conflict between human needs and the needs of the buying and selling system can be seen throughout society today, together with the universal insanity which it breeds. There was a period of human history when time was just time: the fourth dimension. Now, it has become not only the means of measuring the "exchange value" of goods by the amount of labour-time embodied in them, it has even become a commodity itself. If you dial the talking clock ("Tim", as it used to be so affectionately named) you will hear the startling statement that: "The time, according to Accurist. is . . ."

Over the past few years, one of the few boom industries in Britain has been the service offered by personal telegrams. Again, there was a time when the communication of feelings between human beings was regarded as a personal and sensitive matter, to be approached delicately by the people involved. But the capitalist social system, in its fanatical drive for profit, continues to wipe away all discrimination or subtlety of feeling. Sentiment is made uniform, just like fashion clothes or indistinguishable pop records, in order to exploit a mass market more cheaply. So in the 19 May 1986 issue of Ms London magazine there is one page which contains adverts for as many as seventeen different "Kissagram" companies. For a cash fee ranging from £16 to £45. a message or greeting can be sent to a friend by one of these professional intermediaries, dressed up (or undressed) in the most bizarre range of supposedly shocking outfits. Those on offer include Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan or Prince Charles lookalikes (nice birthday surprise), as well as various sexual stereotypes. "Quasimodo", nuns and frogs. This kind of gimmick might be regarded as a piece of harmless fun but it is in fact another instance of the corruption of basic human relationships by the money god.

We are encouraged from an early age to have priorities which will enable us to put up with the insane social system we live under. At Northwood, in Middlesex, there is one of the biggest NATO bases in the country which, in the event of a nuclear war. would be a prime target. The local residents' association. whose members are kept awake at night by their deep but secret fears that Thatcher might really be a "wet", started campaigning a year or so ago on this issue. Had they finally decided to question the symbolic siting on their doorstep of one of the world's two biggest machines of mass murder? Had they felt compelled to discuss how we might rid the world of all war and all of its weapons? Not quite. The campaign was to oppose the building of a helicopter landing pad on top of the local NATO base, as the noise from the helicopters might cause some disturbance. And nowhere in any of the literature generated by this campaign was there any acknowledgement of the terrible danger and threat, the ultimate disturbance, represented by any large military base of that kind.

Workers in every country are being employed to build the weapons of their own destruction. Instead, technology could be adapted for useful purposes, to satisfy human needs in health, housing and food. The real choice in the world today is not between one power bloc and another, or one type of government and another, or one kind of weapon and another. International conflict is not like a football match in which the crowds of spectators must choose which side to support. People who want peace should not concern themselves with the question of whether nuclear destruction is worse than conventional destruction, or chemical warfare more palatable than biological warfare. The real question which faces us is how we can abolish all warfare.

The only way this can be done is by abolishing its cause. You cannot remove an effect permanently without getting rid of its cause. Religion spreads the fatal myth that the problem lies in the in-built wickedness of human beings. Because Adam, presumably bored to tears by the perfect paradise of the garden of Eden, took a bite out of the apple of knowledge, they say, we are on the verge of the most horrific destruction imaginable. Most people who talk about the innate aggression and violence of humanity are themselves servile wimps. The real cause of war, regardless of which weapons are used to fight it, is social. War is generated by the conflicts which exist in property based systems of society. But the property which is at stake does not belong to the millions whose lives are sacrificed on its altar. Wars are fought over the material interests of the powerful and parasitical elite which dominates in every country, including those like Russia where instead of shareholders, they are called Party officials.

Within the next eighteen months, there will be a general election in Britain. The Labour, Conservative and Alliance campaigns will each be at great pains to show how different they are from the others, and that only they possess the magic formula to solve the problems which continue to plague us. In reality, though, none of them even begins to confront the major issues of class and poverty, hunger and health, housing, energy, war and so on. They never will be able to, because they are all founded on a false assumption: that the profit system, in one form or another, must drag on forever. This belief is based on ignorance: the present social system has only lasted for a few hundred, out of the many thousands, of years of human existence. It will end. just like all previous social systems have ended, when they became outdated.

The other political parties all stand for the perpetuation of capitalism. The bankruptcy of their ideas is obvious from the basing of their campaigns on negative attacks on each other. They say they will, if elected, be not quite as terrible as their evil opponents. Not quite. They even seem to have realised that there is some limit, nowadays, to the number of lies that workers will let politicians get away with. For example, in the past, every Labour government came to power promising to solve the unemployment problem and every Labour government since 1924 left office with unemployment higher than when they went in. So now Neil Kinnock is making the half-hearted offer that if he is elected and if their plans all work, they might be able to make some reduction in unemployment, after some years. And even this tentative promise rests on Keynesian policies of increased state spending, which were tried and failed miserably during the seventies, when government spending increased from about £20 billion to £80 billion but unemployment virtually quadrupled as a result of the inevitable periodic recession in the trade cycle of the world capitalist system.

At election time, we are presented with the spectacle of stale and sterile ideas being sold to us by slick, hi-tech advertising agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi on the one hand and trendy bandwagons like Red Wedge on the other, with Neil Kinnock having made his pop debut some time ago with his appearance (only a cameo role) in a Tracey Ullman video of a song originally done by Madness (pure coincidence). Now. it appears, never far behind when there is a chance of some opportunist vote-catching, the SDP have decided to ditch their stuffy image and get hip. They have recently formed a youth campaign called "Sound and Vision" and the organiser has been quoted as saying that the reason for the name is that the SDP is "sound" in not making false promises, and has "vision" because "we reject the bitterness of confrontation between management and unions" (National Student, November 1986).

It may be true that SDP politicians make fewer false promises. Their way of achieving this is very clever: by making fewer promises, true or false. They must know the secret of how you tell when a politician is lying: because you can see his lips move. As for rejecting the bitterness of class struggle, that is simply a very old trick of persuading the exploited to link arms with their exploiters — very good for business. More entertaining, however, is the "Sound and Vision" promo video, which apparently features David Owen as "Max Headroom" (wonder if you could pay him to do it as a kissagram), complete with vocal distortion and trendy computer graphics in the background. Making some of those false promises which the SDP never make, he claims they will "improve" jobs, "help" the Health Service and oppose nuclear energy "unless it's safe" (better just drop a line to the CEGB then, and ask them). It seems that the script, as well as the pop image, was taken from the "zany" Max Headroom show.

These politicians are the jesters of modern society, the jokers and clowns. The last laugh will be on them, though, when a majority decide to reject their rotten social system, which has planted a policeman and a cash-register in every head and which sours all human relationships and productive activities. So next time your mate asks you, "Alright?", why not give a straight answer? We need to change the world; produce wealth to satisfy human needs, not for the market. We need socialism —now.
Clifford Slapper

Not what he seemed (1987)

From the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Harold Macmillan, who was also known as Supermac, or the Great Unflappable, or Lord Stockton, was said to be a complex character. Nothing is more beloved of political biographers; the simple characters, like the workers who allow themselves to be dazzled by a politician's reputation, never become famous, in life or death. Macmillan's role — ascribed to him partly by himself and partly by those who observed him — was one which he acted out almost to the end. Near death, he made his frail way to the House of Lords to depict Thatcherite capitalism in a style startling for its audacious affectations. He grabbed the headlines by telling us that the striking miners were the men who had beaten the Kaiser (Macmillan seemed to suffer a recurring difficulty in separating workers on the picket lines from those in the First World War trenches. He once negotiated his way out of a rail strike with tearful reminiscences of Passchendaele. Were the union leaders really simple enough to be impressed by such outrageous waffle?) At the time of that speech, the miners were engaged in a bitter struggle, not against some foreign power but in an effort to fend off the policies of the British ruling class. They were not able to do to Ian MacGregor what Macmillan thought they had done to the Kaiser. Another of his famous recent statements was his protest that the Tory plans to privatise nationalised industries amounted to selling off the family silver (of course, as a Conservative himself Macmillan should have been opposed to nationalisation in the first place) Workers who don't have any silver in the family, who perhaps rely for their houseware on collecting enough tokens at petrol stations, might have wondered what it matters if the industries where they work — where they are exploited — change hands.

Of course Macmillan's cosy and reassuring style did not match with reality. The England he casually depicted did not exist and never has existed. There was never a time when the two classes of capitalism amicably co-operated to guard a joint interest. There never was — never could be a joint interest, although it suits the purpose of people like Macmillan to pretend that there is. The two classes have always been, and must always be. in opposition to each other. Politicians try to hide the fact — Tebbit does it by prompting us to buy shares in state industries. Wilson did it through enthusiastic visions of capitalist prosperity through automated industry. Macmillan did it by treating us like the cared-for tenants of some benign country squire. However they try it, it amounts to the same thing — an attempt to deceive us into supporting a social system which by any humane or reasonable standards is unsupportable.

Macmillan replaced Anthony Eden as Prime Minister in February 1957, after the debacle of the Suez invasion, which is not one of the Tories' proudest memories. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal, by the Egyptian government under Nasser, was one of a series of steps in the decline of British power and influence in the Middle East. For Eden it was a sticking point; according to recently released Cabinet papers he was determined to use force (by which he meant ordering British workers to fight and die there) to overthrow Nasser and as the crisis developed, and with it Eden's painful and exhausting illness, the matter became a feverish obsession with him. The more hysterical newspapers wallowed in it; for them it was another case of Good (Eden) standing up to Evil (Nasser). The Egyptian government. led by a greedy maniac, were devious, grasping and untrustworthy while the British, led by an elegant Old Etonian, were frank, generous and utterly honourable.

It is no unusual thing for hysterical patriotism to swamp the truth, which in this case was that whole episode was based on a secret conspiracy between the British, French and Israeli governments. Eden sent his Foreign Secretary uncomplaining, pliable Selwyn Lloyd to France to work out a deal under which the Israelis would attack Egypt and so give the British and French a pretext for intervention on the grounds that they were defending the Canal as an international waterway. At the time, these honourable gentlemen of England denied that there was any conspiracy, or even collusion; they lied to the House of Commons and, according to the Guardian of 30 October 1986, Eden personally saw to it that the English version of the agreement which Selwyn Lloyd brought back was destroyed. But the facts were never in doubt. Some prominent Tories, like Minister of Defence Walter Monckton, made their opposition plain while others, like R. A. Butler, did so more discreetly. Macmillan was one of the hawks; perhaps he saw his chance for the future. He favoured, not just occupying the Canal but ". . . to seek out and destroy Nasser's armies and overthrow his government'' (The Times 1 January 1987) which, he argued, would deal with ". . . the whole problem of pacification (sic) of the
Middle East" (Macmillan, Riding The Storm).

It was that stand, more than anything, which ensured Macmillan's succession of Eden, for it offered the beleaguered Tories the hope that the distress and embarrassment of Suez would be wiped away and, perhaps, a new age of glorious British imperialism ushered in. Of Butler, the only other serious contender:
  There is no doubt that his attitude over Suez depreciated Butler's standing both in the Cabinet and in the Parliamentary Party. This was particularly true of the so-called Suez group, who criticised his assumed opposition to the military intervention in Egypt and his reputedly lukewarm support of action after it had been taken. (Nigel Fisher, The Tory Leaders).
In fact. Macmillan's support for the war was anything but consistent. At first he vowed that as Chancellor of the Exchequer he was prepared to pawn every picture in the National Gallery to pay for it but when the financial stress of the invasion became plain he abruptly changed his attitude and threatened to resign if there was not an immediate cease-fire. Macmillan himself described the affair in less than candid terms:
  It has been stated that as Chancellor of the Exchequer I made an urgent plea that we should submit to circumstances and acknowledge our virtual defeat. I have often been reproached for having been at the same time one of the most keen supporters of strong action in the Middle East and one of the most rapid to withdraw when that policy met a serious check. "First in. first out" was to be the elegant expression of one of my chief Labour critics on many subsequent occasions. (Riding The Storm).
But of this shrewd, cynical manipulation the Tories remembered only as much as they found comforting. Macmillan had done enough to convince them that he was the leader to unite them and to revive the imperialist traditions of British capitalism. He was, after all, another Old Etonian, he had been to one of the smarter Oxford colleges and an officer in the Guards. "An overwhelming majority of Cabinet Ministers was in favour of Macmillan as Eden's successor, and back-bench opinion . . . strongly endorsed this view" (Lord Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor, Political Adventure).

These hopes were soon disappointed, as Macmillan presided over the dismantling of much of what remained of the old British Empire. In Africa and the Middle East, in one state after another, the British ruling class had waged a long campaign against nationalist guerillas. They might have carried on in this way for a very long time — indeed one Colonial Secretary was stupid enough to declare that Cyprus, where one of the bitterest campaigns was being fought, would "never” throw off British rule. Macmillan had to face the reality that in the post-1945 world British capitalism could not undertake another Boer War. In addition the American capitalist class had long been working to end the system of Commonwealth Preference, which obstructed their access to valuable markets and sources of raw materials. When the British government signalled their defeat in Cyprus by allowing the exiled leader Makarios to return from exile, the Tories' arch imperialist, Lord Salisbury, had come to his sticking point and he resigned in protest. Macmillan seemed unperturbed: ". . . he had chosen an issue on which no strong public opinion would be aroused . . ." The Tories were bewildered that this man of such impeccable background should behave like any other politician, with actions which contradicted what he allowed them to think of as his principles.

It was his nonchalance in such situations which gave Macmillan the reputation for being unflappable; "father of the nation" he was called by David Steel when he died. Perhaps his most audacious claim, in 1957, was that ". . . most of our people have never had it so good," — were living in ". . . a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime nor indeed ever in the history of this country". At the time many workers had not adjusted to the wider ownership of cars, to watching television and using appliances like washing machines. Viewed through a car windscreen, capitalism to them had changed its nature to a sort of hire purchase debt which stretched into infinity. A simpler and more useful analysis of that time was that capitalism was in boom, not just in Britain but throughout the world. At such times workers are liable to look back on the slumps of the past and draw the wrong conclusion — that they are living at a time when many of capitalisms basic problems have been solved.

In fact, Macmillan's speech was a warning of possible recession to come and when it did come, in the early 1960s, and his government ran into a trough of unpopularity, his nonchalance deserted him. The hysteria which demanded a fight to the finish with Nasser was turned onto his own Cabinet and in July 1962 he sacked a third of them including his Chancellor of the Exchequer Selwyn Lloyd ("so good and so loyal" Macmillan had written of Lloyd in 1958) who. as might be expected of one who would obviously do anything for British capitalism, went quietly and loyally. Macmillan's last mistake as Premier was to support Alec Douglas-Home as his successor, which helped the Labour Party's propaganda that, at a time when British capitalism needed to join the white-hot technological age, the Tories remained steeped in aristocratic complacency. One way and another, Macmillan must have driven numbers of people into support of the Labour Party and so helped Wilson's victories in 1964 and 1966. One of the last of his many insults to the working class was the choice of Stockton as his title when he went to the House of Lords for this town, noted for its chronic, grinding poverty, could not happily be linked with a capitalist in affluent retirement in a huge stately home in Sussex.

Macmillan's exterior was that of the charming, sincere amateur but behind it he was a ruthlessly ambitious politician. His advance to the Premiership was no accident and neither was his languid vision of an England where, as he put it after his 1959 election victory, "the class war is obsolete" — where the grimy, impoverished factory worker cares for the landed aristocrat, and vice versa, because each knows their place. He was said to have been savaged in mind as well as in body by his terrible experiences in the trenches but this did not prevent him supporting other, equally horrifying, wars. His protests against the ghastly suffering in Stockton-on-Tees would have been more impressive had he not been a member of a party standing so blatantly for the social system which produces such problems. One of his claims to fame was that, as Minister of Housing after the 1951 election, he was responsible for over 300,000 working class homes being built in a year. But in many cases the standards of design and construction were as gimmicky as a Premium Bond. Now, even the planners concede that the estates built at that time were a terrible mistake — for the people who have had to survive in those arrogantly conceived, badly designed, jerry-built deserts, not for the man in his stately home in Sussex who won popularity through them.

How do we assess Macmillan? When he became MP for Stockton unemployment there stood at 29 per cent. In the 1980s, as he approached the end of his life, it stood at 28 per cent. Capitalism has been through its cycles, of boom and slump, war and "peace" and has not changed in any significant way. It is an apt comment on the futility of his life, and on the lives of all the other apologists for capitalism and most of all on the political ignorance of the patient, vulnerable people who keep them in power.