Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Trio of “Intellectuals.” (1920)

Book Review from the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the many developments that capitalism has brought to a high degree is the group of employees of the capitalists who carry out the various non-manual functions in modern society. This group comprises the managers, supervisors, lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers, journalists, politicians, in fact all those who love to describe themselves as “intellectuals.”

Being, as a rule, better paid than the rest of the wage slaves, there is considerable competition for these jobs, with the result of an over­-crowding of this particular market. For the moment we are only concerned with the position of two sections of this group.

One endeavours to obtain pay and position from the masters by pointing out the “dangers” of Socialism and so hoping to, more or less, scare the masters into engaging them for the purpose of exposing the “fallacies of Marx,” etc. This section is found, largely, among the jour­nalists and university professors.

The other section, failing in this pursuit, try to obtain a footing in the camp of the “common workers” and offer themselves as “guides,” “leaders,” “experts,” etc. to the “lower orders.”

A good example of a combination among individuals from both these sections has lately come our way.

In March 1883 Marx died. The next month an article was published in Italy purporting to be a biography of Marx Apparently about 1916 this article was reprinted with some alterations and additions, as a pamphlet. This pamphlet was translated into English in 1918 as a great work from a wonderful professor who has made marvellous discoveries in economic and social science, some of whose works have been translated into English. Who is this giant and what are his works? Let the following quotation tell us.
  Marx had hardly died, when Mr. Achille Loria hastily published an article about him in the Nuova Antologia (April, 1883). He starts out with a biography of Marx full of misinformation, and follows it up with a critique of Marx’s public, political and literary activity. He misrepresents the materialist conception of history of Marx and twists it with an assurance which indicates a great purpose. And this purpose was later accomplished. In 1886, the same Mr. Loria published a book entitled La teoria economica delta costituzione politica (The Economic Foundations of Society), in which he announced to his admiring contemporaries that the materialist conception of history, so completely and purposely misrepresented by him in 1883, was his own discovery. True, the Marxian theory is reduced to a rather Philistine level in this book. And the historical illustrations and proofs abound in mistakes which would not be pardoned in a high school boy. But what does that matter? He thinks he has established his claim that the discovery that always and everywhere the political conditions and events are explained by corresponding economic conditions was not made by Marx in 1845, but by Mr. Loria in 1886. At least this is what he has tried to make his countrymen believe, and also some Frenchmen, for his book has been translated into French. And now he can pose in Italy as the author of a new and epoch-making theory of history, until the Italian socialists will find time to strip the illustre Loria of his stolen peacock feathers. 
But this is only an insignificant sample of Mr. Loria’s style of doing things. He assures us that all of Marx’s theories rest on conscious sophistry; that Marx was not above using false logic, even though he knew it to be so, etc. And after thus biasing his readers by a whole series of such contemptible insinuations, in order that they may regard Marx as just such an unprincipled upstart as Loria, accomplishing his effects by the same shameless and foul means as this professor from Padua, he has a very important secret for the readers, and incidentally he touches upon the rate of profit.” (Engels’ Preface to 3rd Volume of “Capital,” pp. 25-26.)
We need not now discuss the highly technical point of the rate of profit. When Marx referred in Volume I. of “Capital” to the detailed working out of this problem in a future volume Mr. Loria stated that the problem was insoluble and that the promised volume would never appear. Yet when the second Volume of “Capital” was published, with Engels’ challenge to the Robertians, Mr. Loria attempted to solve the insoluble by taking up the challenge. Even in this position he is a mere copyist. Another “great professor”—Bohm-Bawerk—had said that Marx had no solution, and that he would never publish the promised volume. Some years after saying so he was constrained to write a book entitled “Karl Marx and the Close of his System” against the volume he had said would never appear.

And in another point is the same practice followed. Mr. Loria takes the Malthusian theory of population and modifying it by taking (without acknowledgement) a part of Herbert Spencer’sNew Theory of Population,” presents the jumble as his own original discovery.

Of Loria’s criticisms of Marx we need only refer to two statements made on consecutive pages. On page 67 he says :
  It is undeniable that Marx’s thesis of the progressive concentration of wealth into the hands of an ever-diminishing number of owners, and of the correlatively progressive impoverishment of the common people, has not been confirmed. It has indeed been confuted by the most authoritative statistics collected since the publication of the book.
On page 68 he says:
  Again, no one can deny that the contrast between high grade and low grade incomes has of late exhibited an enormous increase ; that banking concentration, and the sway of the banks over industry (a source of increasing disparity in fortunes) has attained in recent years in intensity which even Marx could not foresee; and that subsequently to the publication of Capital and to the death of its author, the social fauna has been enriched by an economic animal of a species previously unknown, the multimillionaire, whose existence undeniably reveals an unprecedented advance in capitalist concentration. Agrarian and industrial concentration attained preposterous proportions such as he had never ventured to predict In the American Union a single landed estate will embrace territories equal to entire provinces, while industrial capital becomes amassed by milliards in the hands of a few despotic trusts so that two-thirds of the entire working population are employed by one-twentieth of all the separate enterprises in the country. 
We are told that this is a free country, so, having paid his half-crown for a ninety page pamphlet, one third of which consists of an introduction by the translators, the reader has full liberty to choose which of the above statements he will accept.

The introduction is worthy of the body of the pamphlet. The translators—Eden and Cedar Paul—are members of the second section of the “intellectuals” referred to above, who have condescended to come down among the common people and teach them how to achieve their emancipation. Possessing all the ignorance of the “educated,” they lack none of their conceit. As an example we find on page 16 that they agree with Karl Pearson when he says:
  “the acceptance of the law discovered by Malthus is an essential of any Socialistic theory which pretends to be scientific.”
What is this “law discovered by Malthus ? Neither law nor discovery of his. Malthus stole certain ideas from Price, Wallace, and others and put them forward as his own. Reduced to a few words the “law” is that population increases in a geometrical ratio (2-4-8-16-32, etc.) while the means of subsistence increase only in’ arithmetical ratio (1-2-3-4-5, etc.) Hence the poverty of the working class is due entirely to there being more at Nature’s table than Nature can feed. Our “intellectuals” say Lafargue, Henry George, and others who have endeavoured to meet the Malthusian difficulty “by a simple denial of the facts” have displayed more zeal than knowledge. The sentence quoted is a “simple” lie. Not simple denial, but complete exposure of the falsity of the so-called facts has been the work of these opponents. How ignorant “intellectuals” can be is shown by the following facts.

Malthus wrote his book partly as a general explanation of the misery prevalent in his day, and partly against Godwin’s book, “Political Justice,” that was an expression of revolt against that misery. Godwin wrote a crushing reply to Malthus entitled “On Population.” Malthus, although he lived to edit five more editions of his work, made no attempt to meet Godwin’s exposure of his fallacies. Henry George in “Progress and Poverty” has taken Godwin’s case and, adding further facts and evidence, discovered since Godwin wrote, has presented a reply that no Malthusian has been able to touch.

Not satisfied with Loria’s falsifications of Marx, the translators try one themselves, though only by suggestion. On page 15 they quote Marx’s criticism of Lassalle’s “Iron Law of Wages” from the Gotha Programme. Marx had pointed out that the “Iron Law of Wages” rested upon the Malthusian theory of population, and said if this “law” were correct then it would be a waste of time to try and overthrow the system of wage labour as the “law” could not be overthrown and would assert itself under any system. He then pointed out that this was exactly the argument used by the hired apologists of the master class, who claimed that Socialism would merely make poverty universal because of this “law.”

Now say our translators, “Does not it almost seem as if Marx by 1875, had, for a moment at least, glimpsed the real difficulty.”

To suggest that Marx “for a moment at least” accepted the truth of the Malthusian “law” whose falsities he had exposed shows not only the conceit of the people making the suggestion, but also their readiness to attempt to mislead those members of the working class who may read their introduction to Loria.

Further exposure of their ignorance is given in their reference to Loria’s remarks on the neglect by Marxists of the great question of technical development. Loria says: “This physiology of industry which is now the least studied and least appreciated of Marx’s labours nevertheless constitutes his most considerable and most enduring contribution to science.”

The answer of the translators to this charge is to refer to William Paul’s slovenly and inac­curate sketch of the State and to Newbold’s journalistic articles as forming a reply. The splendid work of Lafargue, Kautsky, Sanial, and others in this field is evidently unknown to these intellectuals.

The value of the judgement of the translators on current events is dearly shown when on page 30 they refer to Workers’ Committees—dead as a door nail to-day, except under the guise of the capitalist Whitley Councils—and Industrial Unionism, with its idiocy of proposing that unarmed men can beat the Army, as new forms of organisation for the working class.

Apart from the evidence it supplies of the ignorance and conceit of the “intellectuals” who contribute to its pages, the worth of the pam­phlet to students of sociology is measured by the price of waste paper.
Jack Fitzgerald

Voice From The Back: Good Will Hutton (2001)

The  Voice From The Back column from the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Good Will Hutton 

Surprise, surprise—the journalist Will Hutton, Keynesian economist and supporter of New Labour has actually written something interesting:
“The wealthy are doing well in America. Since 1976, the share of wealth owned by the wealthiest one per cent of Americans has doubled courtesy of the explosion of stock options, near halving of the top rate of income tax and the cuts in inheritance and capital gains tax. As a result the top one per cent of households own more than the bottom 95 percent of Americans combined” (Observer, 25 February).

Construction site carnage
  “Deaths of construction workers are ‘spiralling out of control’ as building companies slash staffing numbers in a bid to meet tight margins. There have been 100 fatal accidents on British sites over the last year in an industry booming thanks to increased orders and consolidations. Unions blame this ‘construction site carnage’ on firms that force workers to go self-employed. George Brumwell, general secretary of the builders’ union UCATT, said: ‘The increase in the number of employees forced to go self-employed leads to corner-cutting, risk-taking, people doing jobs they are not trained to do, and cash-saving at all costs'” (Observer, 25 February).
Supporters of capitalism delight in telling socialists that competition and the market are the most efficient way to run society. According to the above press report, capitalism is the best way to run society—if you happen to be an undertaker.

10,000 kids a day

Profit is the driving force of capitalism. The environment, the health and happiness of humanity is of no importance in relation to the profit motive. This has been again illustrated by the WHO report Water for Health; Taking Charge:
  “More than a billion people lack access to clean water, despite 10 years of intense efforts by aid agencies to avert drought and pollution. An investigation by the World Health Organisation has revealed that tens of thousands of children are dying every day of thirst or from diseases triggered by infected or poisoned water. The WHO report, to be published next month says global warming will exacerbate the situation. ‘The greenhouse effect is already bringing more extreme weather and that means more droughts and more outbreaks of serious flooding,’ said Dr James Bartram (co-ordinator of the WHO’s water, sanitation and health programme). With flooding, drinking supplies get contaminated with sewage and people can no longer consume unpolluted water. Epidemics of disease, such as cholera then break out” (Observer, 25 February).

Mysterious indeed

The Judeo-Christian God is a particularly blood-thirsty deity. According to his followers he is a dab hand at slaughter, famine and pestilence. Not to be outdone the Muslim deity (or is he the same one?) has been busy on the mayhem trail lately. The ways of God are indeed mysterious but those of his superstitious adherents are downright baffling.
  “Thirty-five Muslims were crushed to death in a stampede near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia yesterday, as tragedy once again struck the annual hajj pilgrimage. The victims, 23 women and 12 men, mostly elderly and of various nationalities, were trampled and suffocated when a huge crowd in Mina valley rushed towards one of three giant pillars representing the Devil during a ritual known as ‘Stoning of Satan’. It was the first such tragedy at the hajj since 1998 when at least 118 pilgrims died, and more than 180 were injured in a stampede at the same spot in the third and last day of the stoning ritual. A year earlier, 343 pilgrims were killed and more than 1,500 injured when a fire destroyed 70,000 tents in Mina. The worst hajj disaster came in 1990 when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede when a bottleneck developed at the entrance to a congested tunnel” (Times, 6 March).

It’s not cricket

The socialist view that capitalism distorts every human endeavour and makes it a mere commodity to be sold on the market place was recently illustrated by that arch-conservative the former Test Cricket umpire Harold Davis Bird (Dickie Bird):
  “I think it is very, very sad that the old umpire has gone, but it all boils down to money. Winning means everything—don’t get me wrong—we all like to win but, once we lose the enjoyment of playing the sport you’re gone and it’s all down to money” (c.CrickInfo.Ltd, 6 March).

The futility of reform 
  “The Government’s measures to help the most excluded people in society have had no significant effect, researchers have concluded The study, Low-income Families in Britain: Work, Welfare and Social Security in 1999, found that more than 80 per cent of children in households where neither parent worked were forced to go without basic necessities.” (Times, 15 March)

Why governments can’t just spend and spend (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour is hard at work preparing for election day. On billboards up and down the land, posters with “Tory Cuts” emblazoned upon them with the “Y” replaced by a pair of vicious looking scissors. The message is clear—vote Conservative and Hague the Ripper will come along and ruin your communities. Labour is attempting to use its incumbency advantage to tip the political debate in favour of discussing the benefits of public spending, instead of cutting taxes. As usual with politicians, though, the debate is entirely specious.

If Agatha Christie were writing the story of this election, it would be known as ‘The Case of the Hidden Record’. Everyone would think that Mrs. Thatcher did it, in the government, with the spending cuts but on closer inspection, we’d find we’d been duped by spectacular misdirection. Public spending rose under Thatcher from £256.6 billion in 1979, to £303.5 billion in 1991 (at 1998-99 prices). At no time under her rĂ©gime did overall spending actually fall. Of course, though, that shifty Mr. Blair spent all that period promising to spend even more money, and so has no interest in exposing the myth.

Thatcher, of course, did not want to spend that sort of money, at least not in her ideal world. The legacy, however, of the post-war Keynesian settlement was one of massive state involvement in the economy. In 1974 state spending amounted to 48.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product. This massive level of state involvement was largely down to the policy of using state spending and credit expansion as a means of attempting to sustain economic growth and offset market induced problems in the economy. This meant that the state took control over more and more areas of the economy whenever growth looked like it was about to flag. It also meant that the state was in a position where it could not disinvest without causing massive social disruption. As a result, spending needs were locked in.

The Tories, when in Government, struggled to make the necessary state payments without incurring political fallout from contradicting their declared aims about low taxation too much. In the aftermath of the 1990-2 recession, the Tories chose to raise gross public sector debt to the equivalent of 52 percent of money GDP in 1995, as compared with 33.3 percent in 1990, rather than take the politically embarrassing decision to raise taxes to fund their spending needs. Much of those spending needs, such as welfare and the dole, lay outside the immediate control of the Major government, and instead lay in the operation of the capitalist business cycle and in demographic shifts within the economy itself.

Labour, Tory, same old story
Labour came into power in May 1997 explicitly committed to adhering to the Tories’ projected spending plans for its first two years. According to an Institute for Fiscal Studies report, however, published in January, “Public spending in the first three years of the parliament was actually lower in real terms than the Conservatives’ plans.” (Dead Link). Although some of this fall in expenditure is due to factors such as a fall in unemployment caused by higher economic growth during the boom, discretionary expenditure actually fell too. Much of the money saved on borrowing, however, was spent on repaying the debt of previous governments, especially that of the Tories under Major.

The Blair administration also carried on the Tory position of nominally seeking to reduce and constrain public spending. The central tenet of their spending policies is the Golden Rule: “Over the economic cycle the government will borrow only to invest and not to fund current spending”—in other words, that any government borrowing will only be for tangible and saleable assets, rather than the pit of consumables such as stationary, staff wages and welfare benefits.

Whether this is achieved or not (and when it is, it is often done with the help of some “creative accounting”) the relationship between the state and private sectors is necessarily a tense one. Unlike the private sector, the state does not set out to valorise its capital—that is, it does not generally set out to add value to its capital by turning it into saleable commodities through the exploitation of wage labour. As a consequence the state cannot offset the depreciation through wear and tear of its capital by a fund taken from profits. The capital value of its infrastructure, then, can only be maintained via drawing capital away the rest of the economy. And government borrowing is only a form of deferred taxation.

As Ken Livingstone has asserted over the Tube privatisation, no public body in Britain has ever defaulted on its debts, so consequently the state has an excellent credit rating. Financiers can lend to the state with next to zero risk, which means that the state can get first preference on borrowing and thus (as their rivals see it) deprive other capitalists of much needed finance and heavily contribute to upwards pressure on interest rates. Having access to cash when others are going short means that the state also appears to have a competitive edge in acquiring other resources it needs. The size of state spending thus becomes a battle ground within capital as regards the distribution of the spoils of the exploitation of the working class—unpaid labour, or “surplus value”.

Prescott’s baby
Attempts to reduce the proportion of surplus value sucked away from productive capital by the state sector have come in a number of forms in recent years. For instance, spurred on by John Prescott the Labour government has pursued the Public Finance Initiative, or PFI (aka Public Private Partnership, PPP) first introduced by John Major. This has involved state bodies being handed over to the private sector for management, or the state agreeing to use private sector buildings for its hospitals, on fixed term contracts. Essentially, it has meant getting private firms to manage staff and infrastructure to provide state services. The provider firms are then competing over who can best exploit their workforce—a process Marx describes in a fragment from Capital as “sweating”, something which was going on even in the 1860s. Although still only providing a service of a certain value, the PFI firms can make their money through “efficiency savings” and applying greater workplace discipline to the staff to extract surplus value from them. And by the government detaching its involvement with some previous spheres of state activity, there are savings to be made for the state here too, though judging by the financial commitments of the government to PFI initiatives over the next few years, not as much as they might ideally have wanted.

This kind of approach has a predecessor in local government. The Tories—determined to bring local authority spending under control—at first imposed caps, i.e. spending limits upon councils so that effectively their spending was set centrally. On top of that, however, they imposed compulsory competitive tendering, so that council services could be sold off to private firms. At the time Labour loudly disputed such policies, but it has refused to remove spending caps from local authorities in the way it earlier had promised; it has though changed compulsory competitive tendering into a policy of “Best Value”, which subjects all spending proposals to the constraints of finding the cheapest source for providing them.

The other feature of initiatives like PFI is the old Pig in the Trough scenario. The state has a lot of desirable money, and it is in the interest of individual firms to compete to get their hands on it. Of course, the prospect of such filthy lucre leads to corruption and cronyism. Indeed, the whole tendering process for PFI contracts is corrupt in the sense that firms involved demand payment just to make a bid in the first place. The involvement of the private sector, however, does not change the fact that the state is essentially unproductive, and the PFI just represents intensified conflict for a share in already created surplus value.

This, then, explains not just the ongoing desire of capitalists for “cheap government” and the endless promises by the politicians—Labour and Tory—to find ways to cut public spending, but also their apparent prejudices against the state, reflected in common beliefs about state spending being inherently inefficient and inflationary and suchlike. Indeed, if anything goes wrong with the economy, the state, which looms large and threatening in the minds of many capitalists, is the first in line for blame, closely followed by the politicians employed to act as its managers and overseers.
Pik Smeet

Make A Difference (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Does anybody really still believe that either Labour or the Conservatives can make any difference? Is there any point in choosing between them?
Well he would say that—or something like that—wouldn’t he. His audience were not to know that what Blair meant was that his government would be so hostile to outdated dogma and ideology that they would simply carry on where the Tories had left off. For example soon after the election John Major buttonholed Jack Straw to ask why New Labour were sticking to the Tory spending plans which Kenneth Clarke, Major’s Chancellor, had described as “eye-wateringly tight”. Had the Tories been re-elected, said Major, they would never have stuck by them.

In fact Labour won that election on a minority vote—44 percent to the Conservatives 31 percent, the Liberal Democrats 17 percent and the others 7 percent. As the next election draws near, the Labour election experts are resisting any tendency to over-confidence. “This time,” said one of them recently, “we cannot afford a quiet campaign or for Hague to be ignored. The size of our majority will depend on a high turn out”. It is almost traditional among party agents and activists to assume that the lower the total vote the worse it is for Labour. So if the weather on polling day is bad, or if there has been a particularly stressful episode of Coronation Street, or if it’s football on the box—the Tories can be expected to do relatively better; they might even win some seats which they would otherwise have lost. It seems as if the very people who are supposed to benefit the most from Labour selflessly building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land can be put off from voting for it by a shower of rain or Deirdre Rashid’s latest emotional spasm or the spectacle of some millionaires kicking a football at a net.

It does not need a degree in psychology to work out that voters stay away from the poll through apathy but it does seem to need some political awareness to appreciate that a prime cause of apathy is the similarity between contesting parties which suggests that there is no point in choosing between them. This sometimes worries the parties themselves to such an extent that they feel obliged to try to highlight what they hope we will agree are fundamental differences between them. Before the last election Portillo tried to convince us that there is such a thing as a genuine Labour/Tory debate by talking about the “clear blue water” separating them. More recently Blair’s speechwriters thought he should speak out against the “forces of conservatism” (by which he did not mean just the Tory Party).

The Labour Party—or at least the few members who have bothered to find out about their party’s disreputable history—should be haunted by memories of 1931, when their leaders finally conceded that as their policies were so similar to those of Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives they might as well go the whole hog and form a government together. Apart from anything else this deprived Labour of some charismatic and well-known leaders like Macdonald and Thomas and replaced them with the lachrymose George Lansbury and later the reserved, colourless Clement Attlee—who, when he became Prime Minister in 1945, showed that he was anything but mousy and compliant. One effect of the events of 1931 was to sustain the idea that Labour was actually engaged in a fight with the Tories, who were basically different. That illusion kept a lot of party members going, through the worst defeat of their history. What is the situation now?

Blair came to power at a time when Thatcher had gained a reputation for being a kind of mad woman in the tower. Thatcherism was a new swearword for a supposed policy of deliberately creating unemployment through destroying swathes of a once powerful manufacturing industry, with the effect of grinding down the poorest in society while cracking down on anyone who tried to keep their head above water through offending against the system’s property laws. If all this got too much for the voters to stomach, their doubts could be diverted by a jingoist stimulant like the war in the Falklands. Capitalism is always ugly but that was a a time when it was grotesquely so.

So how did Blair signal that all that was at an end? Well as soon as he could spare time from organising a few necessities like Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation to the party he forgot all he had ever said about Thatcher laying waste to British jobs and industry and popped round to get some advice from her on the best way to run British capitalism. In her turn Thatcher made it clear that she preferred Blair to her successor John Major, who had disappointed a lot of Tories as a flaccid nonentity. This opinion was not just a passing aberration by someone driven out of her mind by all those years of being the most powerful person in Britain, hobnobbing with—and bullying when she could get away with it—other heads of state. Before the election Blair had so impressed Viscount Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, with his intention to “reform” the welfare state that the Tory press baron swung his newspaper into support for New Labour on the grounds that they were the “new Conservatives”. And Alistair McAlpine, who was Thatcher’s Party Treasurer and remains one of her keenest admirers, praised Blair as “…a damn sight more Conservative than John Major…a Thatcherite… a man of principle…quite princely.” (McAlpine was accustomed to speak his mind. He once described Major as “hanging about like a pair of curtains”).

Single Parents
Blair’s government did not come to deserve such praise from such exalted quarters by planning to revolutionise society so that social relationships were adjusted through a re-distribution of wealth. In October 1997 Peter Mandelson, then in charge at the Department of Industry, assured a meeting of executives from computer firms that New Labour was “. . . intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. What he did not say was that they were equally relaxed about other people getting stinking poor. One of their earliest ventures was to cut the benefit of single parents—a particularly depressed and pressurised group. As most of these are females some of the more odious Labour MPs felt justified in attacking the essential immorality of unmarried women who got pregnant to jump the council housing queue while they claimed benefit to pay for their cigarettes and Bacardis. One of these MPs—Frank Field, who had risen through the poverty lobby to become Member for Birkenhead and Minister for Welfare Reform—said that “There are no single mums in Birkenhead. They all have a boy friend somewhere”. The legislation for reducing the benefits of single parents was first introduced by the Tories, when it was denounced as a typical example of the cruelties of Thatcherism. Peter Lilley was the minister concerned; he was exultant at New Labour’s open support for the cause of punishing the poor and stood in the Commons directing Labour MPs into the correct lobby to vote for the cuts.

McAlpine does not admire all of Labour’s luminaries and one who escapes his embrace is Jack Straw, an exception to the tradition of Labour Home Secretaries such as Roy Jenkins, who liked to see themselves as “radical” and “liberal”. In the intensity of hatred he has aroused in the lobbies of penal reform and civil liberties Straw has exceded his immediate Tory predecessor, Michael Howard. “I couldn’t stand Michael Howard,” said McAlpine, “so imagine what I feel about Straw”. He was referring to the Home Secretary’s intention to abolish the law of double jeopardy, to allow people to be tried again for an offence for which they have already been tried and acquitted. As we go to press Straw has not revealed how many more times he wants a person to be tried or if it will go on and on until they are convicted but when he does decide it will no doubt be with an eye to the fact that while he has been at the Home Office the prison population has reached over 65,000. This trend will probably be accentuated by another of Straw’s plans, to erode the right to opt for trial by a jury at a Crown Court, where there is a better chance of acquittal than before magistrates.

Straw is a former President of the National Union of Students, who may have learned at university that he should get his hair cut and smooth his image if he was to climb the greasy pole into Parliament and a top government job. On the way up he said a few things which might now embarrass a less sensitive and ambitious man. For example his denunciation of private prisons as immoral. In fact there was always more than an element of the bogus about the opposition to private prisons, which ignored the dreadful conditions existing in state prisons. The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently condemned Brixton and Wandsworth as appalling and inhumane, he said that Winson Green in Birmingham is even worse than Brixton and that Young Offender Institutions like Feltham in Middlesex and Brinsford in Wolverhampton are “corrosive”. Could private institutions, it is fair to ask, be any worse? But in those heady days in opposition Straw’s ambition was urgent enough to override facts.

Another New Labour front bencher stubbornly trying to put his past behind him is Minister of Education David Blunkett, who was once thought to be the teachers’ friend but turned out to be their scourge. There was a time when Blunkett could denounce Tory education plans for callously undermining the future of the children. Now he spends his days thinking up new ways of weeding out and punishing any teacher who fails to come up to standard in defiance of the kind of deprivation and alienation to be found in the slums of the inner city or rural deserts. His demands that teaching conforms to centrally conceived and imposed standards of achievement has damaging effects on teachers and sometimes disastrous results for the pupils. This kind of pressure was supposed to have been wiped out by the advent of the comprehensive school—once a cherished principle of the Labour Party but now due to be abolished, sneered at as “bog standard” by self-appointed education expert Alistair Campbell, who also happens to be Blair’s public relations man. Campbell is extremely adept at handling a few stroppy hacks but he might be a bit bog standard himself if he were faced with teaching a classroom of young toughies from the local estate. Blunkett plans to introduce an openly selective system—the same system that was eventually rejected as responsible for blighting so many young lives.

Another Minister whose performance in opposition persuaded a lot of people that he would make a difference is Robin Cook, who reluctantly accepted the job of Foreign Secretary and quickly began to rave about an “ethical” foreign policy without telling us that the ethics would involve him cheerily shaking hands with the murderous dictator of Indonesia, President Suharto, or Blair hailing as a “fellow moderniser” a butcher like the Chinese premier Zhu Rongji and the ex-KGB operative who is now Russian President Vladimir Putin, carrying on the blood bath in Chechnya. These were examples of how capitalism fashions the “ethics” of foreign policy. The arms industry in Britain sells about £5 billion worth of its products each year to Indonesia. China and Russia are important trading partners. Beside that, of what concern are thousands of people imprisoned or murdered for their opinions or slaughtered in a war? In any case it took Cook only a few months to modify his ambitions over an “ethical” foreign policy. “Compromise, “ he announced on a BBC radio programme in January 1998, “is inevitable to foreign policy. That is real life”. That declaration can be understood properly only by someone who is alive to what “compromise” and “real life” mean in the context of capitalist society and the lowly place it gives to human lives and welfare compared to the profit-demanding priorities of the ruling class.

It is little wonder if the voting working class have difficulty in separating Labour from the Tories. The solution is to understand that the parties are united in their principles to maintain capitalism and all that that entails. In March 1972 Roy Jenkins, who had been Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer so should have known what he was talking about, observed life in this country:
   In spite of half a century of effort, our society—and still more our world—is still disfigured by gross unfairness . . . The poor are still poor. Property speculators—and others—are as relatively rich as were those with an accepted position at the top of the social structure.
Almost thirty years later, Jenkins’s successors in the Labour Party tell us that about a third of the children in this country live in what Blair has called “frightening” deprivation. And New Labour, with their big majority and their clutch of government ministers trying to forget the indiscretions of their left wing youth while they grow daily more and more like the Tories they once professed to despise, promise that in twenty years’ time they will have got around to abolishing child poverty. Does anyone really believe them? Does anyone really believe that it is worth choosing between Labour and the Tories? Does anyone really believe that to cast a vote for either of these parties will make a difference?

In the News (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Economic crisis

Tumbles across the world’s financial markets have sent shockwaves through the media and the owning class. The “dotcom” revolution is under threat as new technology corporations report stalled sales, faltering profits and now share prices in freefall. One of the greatest success stories of the 1990s was computer company Cisco which was the best-performing stock of the decade with its share price soaring 100,000 per cent at one point to make it the world’s most valuable company; Now it has announced that it is axing thousands of workers, just like its competitor Compaq and many other high-tech companies.

This has confirmed that even the largest firms are now being hit by the US slowdown, undermining confidence in the entire cconomy. The impact on the world stock-market bubble has already been considerable. Here in the UK the FTSE 100 is down 20 per per cent already on last year and it is likely there may be some way to go. In the US the Nasdaq index of technology stocks has plunged as depressing business results pour in. In Japan. the situation is worse still: the economy refuses to kick in to life despite the best efforts of successive governments and its financial system has lust been described by a government minister there as “on the verge of collapse”.

So much then for the perpetual boom capitalism had allegedly entered and the associated “paradigm shift” in the world economy that was supposed to have taken place. Day by day capitalism is again showing itself red in tooth and claw — and lust as prone as ever to the economic crises and slumps that have beset it throughout its history. Socialists have never been fooled into thinking the system can act in any other way, of course—which is rather more than can be said for Gordon Brown, Eddie George or Alan Greenspan who now seem to be on a learning curve as steep as the Nasdaqs plunge.


Patriotism is the last refuge ot a scoundrel”, wrote Dr. Johnson. “In a half-hour speech in which he used the words Britain or Britishness 25 times, Mr. Hague insisted that he, his party and Conservative voters were not racist, bigoted or little Englanders.” (The Times, 5 March)

We can expect a beleaguered politician like the Tory leader who is facing political extinction, to appeal to the worst elements of Xenophobia in a deperate attempt at survival. His depiction of the possibility of an other Labour government as a “journey to a foreign land” and his promise to toughen up restrictions on refugees is to be expected.

But what of the Labour Party? A chance to champion the plight of the refugees? No chance, because the same newspaper reports, “Labour refused last night to criticize Mr. Hague’s remarks on asylum and Europe—areas which party officials believe they are vulnerable— and attacked the Tory economic record.” The awful fate of some refugees being sent home to be imprisoned, tortured or killed can only be wondered at, but it is worth noting what one unknown visitor to the Hololocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum has recently recorded in the visitor’s book.
  “It is 2.15pm. I came into this exhibition at 10.15 this morning I feel very overwhelmed. I am Jewish— on my mother’s side and some of her family perished in the Holocaust. Some survived because they escaped. It would have been interesting to reflect on the debates which must have gone on in thousands of families as the 30s unfolded. To escape? To what? To lose all and face a life of uncertainty and exile. Or to stay because “it’ll all blow over” or “we’ll manage” or some other reason. I have never seen this written about and I think it is especially relevant today when asylum-seekers are so reviled and suspected.”

Environmental disasters ahead

At election times it often suits politicians to make sympathetic noises about environmental issues, but after the elections are over the same politicians can usually find “practical considerations” that make them have “re-appraisals” of previous “policy statements”. This cynical manipulation is rife throughout the capitalist world, but it is doubtful if any of the political con-men could beat President Bush for the rapidity of his volte-face on the environment.
In a letter to Republican Senators, Bush reversed his election campaign promise to limit CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants, saying a new study shows it would be too expensive. He also reiterated his opposition to the Kyoto protocol, a 1997 agreement which aims to reduce greenhouse gases in the industalised countries by 5.2 per cent by 2012 (New Scientist, 15 March).
This is of course, the crux of the matter—cost. We live in a capitalist world based on commodity production with the aim of obtaining a profit. In competing with other capitalists, both nationally and globally, it is necessary to drive down costs in order to grab a bigger share of the market.In such a cut-throat society environment considerations count for little, except perhaps a little electioneering rhetoric. With the USA putting the interests of their capitalist class before the needs of the planet the future looks grim indeed.
The reversal was a blow to Kyoto supporters, since limits on power plants are probably necessary for the US to reach the goals. Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute says: ‘It is essential since those plants are one of the main reasons for the recent sharp increase in US CO2 emissions. In the last two years, the US has passed China to be the world’s number one coal burner'” (New Scientist, 15 March)

The Coming Balkan Conflict? (2001)

From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two years after NATO and the UN moved into the former Yugoslavia to police a region beset by conflict since the Balkan break-up of the early 90s, a new conflagration threatens. Macedonian troops have clashed with Albanian rebels on the Kosovo border and, on the Serbian border, Albanian nationalists have launched attacks against Serb police positions.

Along the Kosovo/Macedonia and Kosovo/Serbia border, former members of the KLA have formed into guerrilla units intent on creating a “Greater Kosovo”. In the south of Kosovo the small and nascent Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) aims to annex north and eastern Macedonia, whilst on Kosovo’s eastern border, a sister organisation, the UCBMP (Liberation Army of Prosevo Medvedja and Bujanovo)—all towns in the southern part of Serbia with an Albanian ethnic majority—is demanding border changes so that 70,000 ethnic Albanians living in Serbia are included in Kosovo.

Whilst the nationalist insurgents would have it that a “Greater Kosovo” is at stake, that includes the ethnic Albanian populations of Serbia and Macedonia, others envisage a “greater” Albania, an Albania merged with Kosovo which would become the largest state in the Balkans, if not the most impoverished. Control of the borders is also allegedly a reason for the recent wave of unrest, for whoever controls these also controls the lucrative and illicit trade in drugs and arms and “illegal migration”.

The UCBMP have caused such much mayhem in the Presevo Valley that NATO has handed back part of the border buffer zone to Yugoslav military control, to special units of the 7th battalion of the Yugoslav army created by former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. In other words, the West has sided with forces that battled for a Greater Serbia and only two years after NATO supposedly went to war with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo Albanians.

Once thing is certain—the West has clearly underestimated the threat of Albanian nationalism and indeed dissipated the once popular belief in Kosovo and Albania that NATO was an ally of Kosovo Albanians. There is also a lack of any consensus between NATO and the UN about the shape of any final Kosovo settlement, and US policy is still out of step with the other NATO allies.

Whilst UN officials see in KLA violence a game plan intended to provoke a swift retaliation from Macedonia (home to 600,000 ethnic Albanians) which will in turn incite Kosovos, Stratfor (the US Security consultants) sees the “primary motive for the [UCPMB] campaign in the Presevo valley [to be the desire] to provoke a harsh response and thus damage relations between the new Yugoslav government and K-For”. The UCPMB plan—if indeed it was a plan—has turned sour. The demilitarised Zone is now being policed by Serbian troops under the watchful eye of NATO and the US wishes to settle the Kosovo problem peacefully and to integrate Yugoslavia into a plan for long-term regional stability.

All the signs are that NATO’s Frankenstein is up and walking, fed on the same raw nationalism that has brought so much bloodshed to the Balkans this past decade, bent on carving out a greater Albania from Albania, Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian regions of Macedonia and Serbia. But they face repeated obstacles: not least is the desire by Western powers to cement relations with new President of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica.

K-FOR (the Western peace-keeping force set up to police the region) failed to disarm the KLA, which went on the initiate a criminal network safe in the knowledge they had the backing of US Intelligence. And as the Observer reported on 11th March, that the CIA encouraged KLA fighters to mount a rebellion in southern Serbia to undermine support from President Milosevic. As one K-FOR battalion commander pointed out:
  The CIA have been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. Now he’s gone, the US State Dept. seems incapable of reigning in its bastard army.
One Foreign Office analyst observes:
  We are not looking at a repeat of the circumstances when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate at the beginning of the 1990s. The people we are now dealing with are the fanatics who became wealthy out of national politics, crime and war. They feel that their power is being eroded and they will fight to survive (Guardian, 3 March).
Elsewhere, to the west of Kosovo, nationalists in Montenegro, lulled by the US into believing it would be permitted to split from Serbia once Milosevic was ousted, have been told to put aside these aspirations and re-forge ties with Serbia—news that is already inciting the nationalists of Montenegro. Meanwhile, Croat nationalists allied to Bosnian Croat leader Ante Jelavic are denouncing the government of the Muslim-Croat Federation, threatening to unravel the 1995 Dayton agreement which partitioned Bosnia along ethnic lines. Suddenly, Spring-time in the Balkans looks set to see war once again blossom.

For almost a century, this journal has been consistent in its opposition to nationalism, in the belief that nationalism is a killer epidemic, creating conflict from which those with the least to gain have the most to lose. Whatever cause and victory the misinformed defenders of nationhood believe they are fighting for, it pales into insignificance when compared to the real war that needs to be waged on the battlefield of ideas and against an elite who perpetuate the myth of nationhood for their own ends and always to our detriment.

We maintain that, regardless of the supposed “century-old hatreds” the real problem is that the Balkans is a cockpit for the Great Powers and their local client states and their states-in-waiting. Despite their cultural, historical and religious differences, there is more that unites Muslims and Christians, Albanians and Serbs, than can ever divide them. Their real needs—needs people the world over identify with—can only ever be fulfilled in a world devoid of borders or frontiers. We can only hope it is not too long before the long-suffering people of the Balkans come to realise this.
John Bissett

The economics of coal (1985)

From the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the coal mines were nationalised in 1947 a notice was stuck up outside the 1000 or so pits proclaiming "This colliery is now managed by the National Coal Board on behalf of the people". This was widely interpreted, especially by many miners and their union leaders (some of whom took up top management posts in the NCB), to mean that from then on the mines would be run as a public service producing coal for industry and people on a non-profit-making basis.

Those who believed this had not read the small print in the Coal Nationalisation Act of 1946. For a start, this Act authorised the government to buy the coal mines from their owners; so the old owners were not expropriated for the benefit of the people but were bought out by the government, being paid the full value of their assets in the form of interest-bearing government bonds. Secondly, the Act established the NCB as a commercial enterprise with a statutory obligation, like all other nationalised industries, to arrange its finances in such a way that, taking one year with another, its income should be sufficient to at least meet what a 1961 government White Paper on The Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries described as "all items properly chargeable to revenue", defined as '"interest, depreciation, the redemption of capital and the provision of reserves" as well as operating costs.

There was no question, then, of the NCB producing cost-price coal to meet needs, as some naive Labour Party supporters imagined. On the contrary, it was charged with making sufficient profits to pay interest not only on capital advanced by the government for investment in coal production but also on the compensation bonds that the former owners had received. The NCB was in fact also required to make sufficient profits to pay the full value of these bonds ("redemption of capital"), which amounted to some £388 million at 1956 values. So, whatever else can be said about the nationalisation of the coal industry, it can’t be said that it was against the interests of the former mine- owners. They received a generous "compensation", which of course they immediately re-invested with a view to profit in some other line of productive activity.

By law, then, the NCB was obliged to try to make sufficient profits not only to cover costs but also to pay its debts to the government and the former owners. This is still the case today, though for various reasons the NCB has not always been able to meet its statutory obligation here.

The main reason for this was the production of cheap oil that began in the late 1950s and flourished during the 1960s. Oil and coal are in direct competition for heating and, above all, for burning in power stations to turn the turbines that generate electricity. Thus as the price of oil fell in real terms so did that of coal, to such an extent that a large number of pits became "uneconomic" in the sense that the cost of producing coal from them became higher than the receipts from selling that coal; in other words, they ceased to be profitable (what the term "economic" really means in the context of capitalism.).

Under such circumstances the logic of capitalism decrees a single result: the unprofitable productive units must be closed. The then government — Labour under Harold Wilson — did not hesitate to carry out this decree. A Fuel Policy White Paper, published in November 1967. planned for a massive reduction in coal production as power stations continued to switch to relatively cheaper oil. As a result a record number of pits were closed in record time, devastating mining villages in South Wales and the North East especially, but affecting all areas to a greater or lesser degree. What the present government is planning is nothing compared to the butchery of the coal industry that took place in application of the 1967 White Paper. This was when Lord Robens, a former Minister in the post-war Labour government and Chairman of the NCB since 1960, was prompted to declare, somewhat belatedly:
  I do not believe that in 1945 those of us who were nationalising these industries would have done it with so much enthusiasm if someone had told us then that they were going to turn into state capitalism (The Times, 1 April 1968).
Of course the NCB did not "turn into" state capitalism for it had been so since its creation in 1947 — and someone did tell them at the time, as our pamphlet Nationalisation or Socialism? which exposed nationalisation as state capitalism, had come out in 1945.

But changing market conditions make nonsense of all attempts to "plan" production under capitalism. After the Arab-Israel War of 1973 and the closing of the Suez Canal oil prices began to soar as the OPEC countries exploited their quasi-monopoly position to the full. This meant that coal began to become competitive again; indeed that a number of the pits closed in the late 60s and early 70s as uneconomic would have been profitable again. But once a pit has been closed it can't be re-opened. Responding again to the logic of capitalism as relayed by the forces of the market, the government — also a Labour government under Wilson — decided to change its energy policy and halt the decline of coal. This was the time — 1974 that the much-talked-of Plan for Coal was drawn up which promised a rosy future for the coal industry with job security for miners.

However, in another illustration of the planless nature of capitalism, 1974 also marked the beginning of the current depression. As the crisis deepened production fell: less industrial activity meant less demand for power and less demand for power meant less demand for oil. In addition, the measures taken to find substitutes for oil (such as nuclear power) began to bite over the years, helping to break the OPEC price ring. As a result of all these factors, towards the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s the price of oil began to fall, thus making it more competitive with coal.

The Plan for Coal was now seen to be too optimistic and an increasing number of pits became uneconomic. A first attempt was made to impose a new pit closure programme in 1981 but, in face of unofficial strike action in a number of coalfields, the government (by now Conservative under Thatcher) retreated. Subsequent events have shown this to be merely a tactical retreat to better prepare the next attempt. This came in the autumn of 1983 with the appointment of Ian McGregor, fresh from butchering the steel industry in the interests of profit, as Chairman of the NCB. One of his first acts was to provoke the miners' strike at a time (the end of winter) and under circumstances (over three million on the dole, a re-elected government in its first year of office) favourable to the government, with a view to imposing a new pit closure programme.

The NUM really had no alternative but to respond by taking some kind of action. To passively accept McGregor's diktat would have been a sign of weakness that would have been interpreted by the government and the NCB as an invitation to walk all over the miners, on other issues too. But the NUM's National Executive should have realised that the pit closure issue was one on which neither the government nor the NCB could give in, even if they wanted to, since to keep open the unprofitable pits would be to defy the economic logic of the very capitalist system it is their job to uphold and apply. The most that could have been obtained on this issue was a temporary stay of execution or the keeping open of a token number of uneconomic pits.

A more realistic approach by the NUM Executive might have been to broaden the issues of the strike to other matters such as redundancy pay, pensions, working hours, holidays or wages as this would have allowed them to win something on these fronts in exchange for the retreat they were going to have to make on the pit closure issue. As it was the NUM, and in particular its President Arthur Scargill, chose to fight on the single issue of pit closures, which was a loser for them from the start. After a heroic 12-month strike by over 100,000 of its members, the NUM lost on all counts: the miners have come out of it with less job security than before (and with a weakened, divided national organisation) while the NCB now has a freer hand to sack workers than it previously had.

As a matter of fact this is a more usual end for a long strike than the relative "victories" achieved by the NUM in 1972 and 1974, when they essentially restored their wage levels of a few years previously. But then even if a group of workers “win" a strike they still remain exploited wage- labourers forced to produce profits for their employers.

In any conflict between employers and workers it is always the employer who is in the stronger position, for two reasons. First, because the employing class own and control the means of production and second because they control political power. In short, the bosses are richer and stronger than the workers. This does not mean that a group of workers can never win a strike but it does mean that they enter every such battle at a disadvantage. It also means that an employer determined and ruthless enough can always win — as the miners' strike illustrates.

The miners involved in the strike will have learned that the police, the courts and the media represent the bosses, not working people. They should also have learnt the limitations of industrial action and that their real enemy is not so much their immediate employer, or the government of the day, as the whole capitalist system of which employers and governments are but cogs and which can only be overthrown by political action. As long as the employing class own the means of production and control political power the working class will always be on the receiving end.
Adam Buick

Heartless priorities (1985)

From the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have all heard about "uneconomic" pits. These are the coal mines which could be operated for social use, but must be closed because economists have decided that there is insufficient profit to be milked from them. Now, let us meet another concept in the lunatic asylum of capitalist economics: uneconomic hospitals. You don't believe that a hospital which is running efficiently to provide vitally needed cures for ill people should be closed down? Well, perhaps you need to be educated in the stupidity of the profit system.

In London there is a hospital called Guy's. Within the hospital there is a heart unit—one of the most technologically advanced in the whole of Europe, according to heart specialists. Last year the unit treated 712 adult patients and 73 babies. Many of them would have died without treatment. Waiting lists mean that most patients requiring treatment must wait for about eight months before receiving it—even urgent cases (defined as those who will die if not operated on within a year) have to wait for about four months. In short, the unit is under pressure from the demand of patients with real needs. The doctors in the unit, not wanting people to die for lack of treatment, have been working as quickly as is safe to ensure that they can operate on the maximum number of patients. One would expect no other response from sane and caring people. But the doctors find themselves in conflict with capitalism, which is not a sane and caring system, and so we encounter the problem of the uneconomic hospital.

In February of this year the heart specialists at Guy's were informed by the Lewisham and North Southwark Health Authority (the important people who control the money) that they were treating too many patients. Too many, by what criterion? Are we to assume that the surgeons at Guy's are dragging in people off the streets and giving them coronary surgery when they don’t need it? No; the "Health" Authority—which should really be called a Money Authority—has said that the doctors have exceeded their annual quota of operations and that if more are carried out in the current financial year it would cost the Authority £80-£130,000 more than they can afford to pay. Between February, when the order to stop operating was given, and April, when the new financial year begins, the Guy's heart unit would have carried out 51 operations, some of which were to have been on people who would otherwise die. But they have been ordered to "cease production" (to use an economist's phrase) and let people die while the heart unit stands idle. Patients will not be able to receive treatment in the other London cardiac units because they are working to capacity and cannot afford to treat extra patients. If some of the patients who would have received treatment are now dead, it would be reasonable to state that they have died as the victims of capitalism, for it was the economic system and not the technology of society which failed them. Even before the closure was decided on, the director of the heart unit, Mr. Alan Yates, stated that five adult patients had died waiting for treatment in the previous six months.

What sort of a social order do we have which orders a surgical unit to be closed down for six weeks because there is plenty of human demand for it, but not enough money? Doctors do not need money to save lives, but skill, technology and a desire to put them to social use. But under capitalism skill, technology, the will to help other people and the needs of ill people are nothing in the face of the profit and loss balance sheet. If you gave £130,000 to an unskilled person he would not be able to cure patients dying of heart illness; money is simply a social interference in the really important process of human activity. And time and time again it stands between life and death.

Last year the government received a report on heart transplants which it had commissioned from economists at Brunei University three years ago. Not from doctors, who know a thing or two about heart transplants, but from economists, who know a thing or two about investing money. No person who examines the fact that human lives have been saved by heart transplant surgery can deny that research and practical work in this area is of immense medical use. But economists are the slaves of profit, not the observers of use, and their concern is not "How useful?" but "How much?" The report states that "at a minimum of £12.500 a go, and with 900 patients a year waiting for a new organ and new life, hard choices will have to be made". (As paraphrased by the Guardian, 20 February 1985.) The report states that heart surgeons at Harefield and Papworth (the two British hospitals where heart transplant surgery takes place) have had to watch 68 of their patients die because they did not have the money to treat them. The two hospitals have had to turn away 65 donated hearts "because they did not have the resources to give them to patients". The problem which has been imposed by capitalism's economic priorities was well stated by Professor Christopher Dickinson of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. London:
  Present needs for medical services simply cannot now be met by present resources. The gap between reasonable demand and actual supply is rapidly widening. (Editorial, British Medical Journal, February 1985.)
The British government spends £1.5 million every hour on paying for the costs of its armed forces. There is "economic demand" for the skills and technology for killing people. A fraction of one hour's military expenditure would keep the Guy's heart unit open for six weeks and save lives. But the priorities of the market are not based on sentimentality and the reformist cry that money on weapons "should" be spent on health care is as futile as that of the sincere, but hopelessly naive, vicars who request generals commanding armed thugs to act in line with humanitarian ethics. The hard fact is that capitalism is not in existence to satisfy the needs of the working class, and those who hold out the hope of reforming it so that it will are deceiving themselves and others. Members of the Labour Party say that the present state of the NHS is the fault of Thatcherism. If that is so, why was it that there were countless demonstrations to Fight the Cuts under the last Labour government? Indeed, every time the reformist windbag, Neil Kinnock, rises in the House of Commons to bemoan what the wicked Tories are doing to the NHS, the wicked Tories stand up and read out the record of the last Labour government, which was as energetic as was economically necessary in closing down hospitals and cutting health services. To believe that the election of a Labour government will change the perverse economic priorities of the profit system is as foolish as to believe Margaret Thatcher when she says that "the NHS is safe in my hands".

So-called uneconomic pits mean that thousands of workers are prevented from doing useful work because there is no market demand for their product, even though there is social demand. Uneconomic hospitals mean that tomorrow morning a reader of this article may receive a letter from a doctor saying that he or she or one of their children is in need of vital heart surgery. But they'll have to wait. They might die waiting. If they do not die waiting they will probably be in pain. Imagine having to wait outside a heart unit which is standing empty, suffering from acute pain, but the doctors and nurses who want to help you have been issued a command from the economic experts: No help to be given to your patients until the new budget comes into effect. What a stupid way of organising a society which has developed medical technology to unprecedented levels.

The socialist solution is too simple to require elaboration. Produce for use. Utilise the skills and technology of society to satisfy the needs of the people of the world. Abolish money and all of the useless features of this crazy system. It is simple to understand. Something to think about while you're waiting to see the doctor, perhaps.
Steve Coleman

Since this article was written, the unit has been reprieved for a time by a donation of £272,000 from a Florida millionaire. Our argument is not affected by this example of a capitalist giving a fraction of the fortune he has amassed from the exploitation of the workers to help keep some of them in better working order The regional manager of the Southeast Thames Health Authority pointed out that the money " . . .  only provides a breathing space" After that? Well, the head of Guy's cardiology unit realises that "Ultimately we have to look at what sort of health service we are willing to afford'

'Capitalism out, Socialism in' (1985)

Party News from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
A random picture of two SPGBers that appeared in the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard. It actually accompanied the editorial for that issue.

I thought I'd post it on the blog because it's not that often that pictures of SPGBers appeared in the pages of the Socialist Standard. I guess it's a throwback to the old  'It's the case, not the face' SPGB mindset.

I remember asking a few years ago if anyone could identify the two unnamed SPGBers in the pic. One name that came up was Bob Moran - apparently, that's the bloke on the left in the pic - who was a Scottish SPGBer who lived in south east London in the 1980s.

Running Commentary: Tap, tap (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tap, tap

When will the people who support capitalism stop expecting it to do the impossible? When, having voted for a social system based on the minority ownership of the means of production, will they cease to be surprised when the system works in the interests of that minority? When will those who give sustenance to capitalism on the grounds that it is the most rational, progressive and efficient way of ordering human affairs accept that in reality it is an insane, reactionary and chaotic society?

It is pertinent to ask these questions at all times but they are given special point in the aftermath of the Ponting trial and the TV programme which exposed — as if it needed to — the fact that the Special Branch keep a close, intrusive eye on people who are in organisations which they consider likely to be a disturbing influence in this most rational, progressive and efficient society.

These events were followed by the customary bouts of outraged questioning about an apparent readiness by ministers to deceive parliament, and the people who vote them into their seats there, and about the secret operations which are carried out by part of the state machine.

The assumption behind all the questioning was that such things do not have to be. It is, the argument runs, unnecessary for ministers in charge of important departments like "Defence" to conceal the truth about their "work". It is, the argument further runs, an infringement of something called civil liberties for anyone to have the right to listen in to the telephone calls of others, to open their mail, to follow them about.

Life under capitalism would be a strange business indeed if the people who rule over the system's operations always told the truth. What would happen if, each time there is an economic crisis, the Chancellor got up and. instead of mouthing some weary assurances about bringing the problem under control, confessed to a complete absence of knowledge about how to do anything about it? What if a Minister of "Defence", when arguing for the money to keep the armed forces going, owned up to the fact that they are kept in existence to protect the interests of the capitalist minority?

This cannot be an open society. States must have their secrets, commercial as well as military. So there must be organisations which protect those secrets through being themselves clandestine; secrets, after all, cannot be safeguarded in the open. Of course, the thing can sometimes get out of hand, so that a pointless paranoia takes over and makes the whole operation look something of a joke.

But joke it emphatically is not. Capitalism cannot be a society which has any regard for human interests or values. People come a long way down the scale, when its priorities are operating. There has never been anything to gain from protesting about this, except if the protest is part of a conscious resolve to abolish the system altogether.

Royal foot in mouth

It will not do, to condemn too hastily the recent musings of the Duke of Edinburgh on the problem of unemployment. Rather, a measure of patience and understanding is called for. There have never been any reasons to place the Prince among the world's great thinkers so any efforts on his part to be original, or even reflective, should be seen as the best that can be expected from very poor material.

Speaking to a bunch of replete business people, the Prince urged us not to get so depressed about over three million people being out of work because there are a lot more than that still going through the daily routine of exploitation to keep parasites like him in their privileged position. One obvious drawback to this argument is that it has a much wider application.

Official figures tell us that there are about 15 million people in this country who are living at or below the government's poverty line. This represents a frightful burden of human misery; but of course there are about four times as many people in Britain, which means that the sufferers are in a minority. Then there are the figures for those who each winter die of hypothermia or of related diseases, which some authorities put at tens of thousands. What lies behind these statistics are incredible agonies and degrading deaths — all quite unnecessary. But of course even if the deaths do run into tens of thousands these, too. are also a minority so we don't have to worry.

Then what about the little matter of world starvation, in which the Duke is inclined to take a passing interest? He recently took his well-nurtured self to drought-ravaged Mali, where food aid is efficiently diverted to government officials, where people try to survive on the husks of grain and off eating leaves. "It is", he observed in yet another blinding misconception, "a great natural disaster, but one that has been aggravated by the population explosion . . ." He did not explain why he was anxious that the government deal with the problem; the tens of millions who endure famine each year are still only a relatively small part of the world's population so their suffering should be kept in that perspective.

In fact the Prince must know something about minorities since he belongs to one himself — the very small group of people who own the means of life and who live off the labours of the majority. There is another minority, of socialists, who are alive to this and although the Prince might not think us very noticeable at present he and his class will find the power of socialist ideas irresistible. By which time it will be too late for them to be able to do anything about it.

Back to work

What now for the miners? Scargill's scalp now hangs, along with many others, on Thatcher's thickly festooned belt. Some observers fear that the unions have been castrated and talk of the Labour Party facing a generation out of power. Workers who fear redundancy have nothing to hope for in a Labour government who also slashed the coal and steel industries when they were in power.

It was, in fact, Neil Kinnock who defended the Callaghan government in this, at a by-election meeting in 1978, when he called for a "grown-up" acceptance of the need to close down large sections of industry — by which he meant an acceptance of the need to run capitalism in the interests of the capitalists, as the Labour government were trying to do.

During the strike the NUM warned that the government's long term plan was to trim the mines down to a few profitable pits and then sell these off to private owners. This prospect was raised as a kind of bogey but it was misconceived, for state ownership does nothing to change the class division of capitalism, nor does it eliminate the profit motive, nor has it exempted the miners from exploitation.

It was, after all, the NCB, and not private owners, the NUM were striking against and who starved the miners back to work. If the workers conclude from the strike that the Labour Party would run capitalism more acceptably, or that there is some gain for the workers in nationalisation, then the whole thing was indeed an exercise in delusion.

The defeat of the miners, as the established pace-makers in union militancy, may render them unable to take on the employers again for a very long time and may drastically affect the union movement as a whole. With capitalism in slump this is a buyers' market in labour power and no workers should forget it. The real lesson of the strike is about the natural, everyday laws of capitalism, of their inability to order an efficient, progressive, humane society and therefore of the urgency that workers think beyond the picket lines.