Wednesday, April 8, 2020

What is to be done? (1979)

From the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The work of the Socialist Party of Great Britain requires active participation from workers who agree with the urgent need for a Socialist society. It’s no good sitting back and complaining that too few workers agree with us; the only solution is to carry out propaganda to tell them what is in their political interest. We need to put across our ideas to fellow workers, to sell them the Socialist Standard and other Socialist reading matter and to bring them along to the meetings. All of this is hard work. Here are some of the things that you can do to help:
  1. Sell socialist literature. The written word is a powerful means of communication. The reasonableness of the ideas found in the Socialist Standard, companion party papers and pamphlets can convince people. So don’t just take one Standard per month, take three, six or even a dozen.
  2. Attend Party Propaganda Meetings. In the coming months there are a number of indoor meetings designed for those who want to know more about what we stand for. Conference lecture on Friday, 13th April at Acklam Hall (near Ladbroke Grove tube station) is on ‘Fascism, Violence and the Left’. There will be May Day meetings this year in London, Glasgow and Bolton (advertised elsewhere in this issue). In June, the month of the Party’s seventy-fifth anniversary, every branch will be running a public meeting on ‘Why You Should Join The Socialist Party’. Other planned meetings are advertised at the back of this journal, including outdoor meetings which are well worth attending.
  3. Help in the election. The party will be standing a candidate in Islington South and Finsbury in the forthcoming election. This will give an opportunity to carry out extensive propaganda in the constituency, details of which will be found elsewhere in this issue. Volunteer now to assist in a genuinely Socialist election campaign.
  4. Tell people what Socialism really means. Talk to people at work, call in to the phone-in programmes, write letters to the local paper, attend the meetings of other organisations, display a poster in your window. If others don't know what Socialism means, then you can't blame them for not being Socialists.
  5.  Make contact with the SPGB. Many people agree with the Party for years, but don’t join. Contact your local branch or Head Office. Tell us what you think we should be doing. And then help us to do it.
The SPGB is only as strong as its working class support for it. You can agree with what we say and ignore us if you like. But can you ignore capitalism?

“There’s no more in the Kitty” (James Callaghan) (1979)

From the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

So ran the boring refrain of Prime Minister Callaghan’s speeches about this year’s wave of strikes. Apart from the obvious inconsistency (he said there was ‘‘no more money for wage increases of 5 per cent then 8.8 per cent, now 10 per cent” is it true that ‘‘the country” is going broke; that there is “no money” to pay people a living wage?

First, one point must be made clear. The “public” does not pay anybody’s wages. The “public” is mainly the working class, 95 per cent of the population who do not pay wages. They work for wages themselves, and have nothing to pay anybody else with. Ninety nine per cent of all industrial Company shares are held by wealthy investors, i per cent of the population, who are the real wage-payers.

Is it true that this small handful of the population, the owners of wealth, are going broke or doing badly? On the contrary, they never did better.

The country’s top economic researchers all agree that the greatest single concentration of wealth in the world, including the United States, is right here, in Great Britain,
  The fortunes of the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, the Mellons, and Howard Hughes, are no match for the steady accumulation of the wealth of centuries by the wealthy families of Britain. The Economics of Inequality (A. B. Atkinson).
On Sunday morning. February 11, the Chairman of the Stock Exchange informed the LBC reporter that about £700 million change hands a day there. Seeing that 99 workers out of a hundred have never even seen a Company share, let alone owned one. it is obvious that this is the capitalist class (or the stockbrokers they employ) shuffling the pack for a bit more lolly.

Estimates of the total wealth of the capitalist class are only guesstimates because reliable information is extremely hard to come by.

Most investigators A. B. Atkinson (Sussex) R. Miliband (Leeds) John Westergaard (London) Jack Kencaid (Leeds) are agreed that it is practically impossible to get at the truth. Richard Titmuss (London School of Economics) has produced a book, Income Distribution and Social Change, proving that much of the Government’s “statistics” mainly based on Income Tax returns, are largely rubbish.

The reason for this, as Professor Colin Harbury (The Economics of Inheritance) has reported; it is impossible to catch up with the tricks and fiddles of the slick accountants to under-estimate their clients’ real wealth.

We know that less than ten thousand people own £868 million of Company shares, but the value of land, property, rare wines, Old Masters, furniture, jewellery, yachts, buildings, vintage cars are anybody’s guess, and the economists argue about whether such assets should be assessed at “saleable” or “investment” values.

Wealthy people regularly evade tax by “gifts” and presentations, Trust Funds and Foundations like Nuffield Foundation and Ford Foundation. Also by “Generation Skipping” — bequeathing shares and investments to grandchildren seven years before decease, which is tax exempt.

Various attempts have been made to "guesstimate” the real wealth of the British capitalist class; one is £92 billion—£92,000,000,000—£92 thousand million (A. B. Atkinson) but however near the truth this may be, we can establish what some capitalists own, and how much they spend—on nonsense.
Harry Hyams (Property) £27 millions, John Sainsbury (Retail Trade) £30 millions, Sir John Ellerman (Ships) £150 millions.
Professor Atkinson has pointed out that Ellerman’s pittance would pay British Rail’s total wage bill for four months.

Henry Ford is being sued by his fellow-directors for £25 millions misappropriated.

Eric Miller, before committing suicide, had spent over £3,000 on champagne for Harold Wilson and £2,000,000 on a private plane.

Olga Deterding, the Shell Oil millionairess, left £47 millions.

The reason Callaghan refuses to pay hospital porters and cleaners more than £42 a week is to maintain these blood-suckers in ridiculous luxury.

The P. & O. Line reports their £58,000 world cruises are overbooked. When Claridges hotel kitchen staff were on strike the manageress was asked “whether the lunch service was impeded”. “Oh No! she replied, we are full every day." The “lunch is £33-00, without wine or service

Estate agents in Hampstead report a shortage of “desirable properties of £1 million or over. One changed hands recently for £8½ million.

Each week the News of the World reports the Wills of the Week—the money they left. Here is one week in February:
Mr. A. Wallace ... £1.641.169
Mr. A. Wood       £ 514.263
Mr. M. Greg       £ 514,263
Not very big capitalists these—small fry, compared to the Duke of Westminster’s one and a quarter million a year in rent.

Finally, one has only to watch the displays of vulgar opulence on TV like Callaghan at the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the City Guildhall, where more food is thrown into the pig-bin than would meet the City dustmen’s modest demands.

Callaghan, with his £23,000 a year, has the impudence to tell Trade Unionists that “there is no more money available”.

The Trade Unions should now see the folly of pouring money into Labour Party funds, to support a Labour Government intent on breaking their strikes.

There’s money in the kitty all right;—as Karl Marx pointed out years ago, "it’s not the smallness of the bowl but the workers’ spoons” which prevent them gaining a decent livelihood.

Homeworkers — reserve army of the half-employed (1979)

From the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
With fingers weary and worn.
  With eyelids heavy and red,
A Woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread —
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
   She sang the 'Song of the Shirt!’ 
'Work — work — work
   Till the brain begins to swim.
Work — work — work
   Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep

   And sew them on in a dream! 
'O, Men with Sisters dear!
   O Men! with Mothers and Wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out.
   But human creatures’ lives!
Stitch — stitch — stitch,
  In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread
  A Shroud as well as a Shirt

Whatever the outcome of this winter’s campaign by many union-organised low-paid workers, it will do little or nothing to improve the situation of homeworkers. These freelance, “self-employed” workers, mainly women, work in or from their own homes, some as envelope addressers, others putting toys, balloons or mottoes in Xmas crackers, while a great many are in the rag-trade. The Daily Mirror (Jan. 30, 1979) exposed some typically atrocious conditions:
  Mary Fabri gets paid 80p a dozen for making fashionable Broderic Anglaise petticoats which sell at £4.75 each. Her earnings are £20-£22 per week, out of which she has to pay about £1.30 for electricity to power her sewing machine. Rachel Tomlinson used to “slave away till two or three in the morning”. She machines trouser suits at 75p each, using a twentypart pattern: these suits are sold by mail order at £26. Pat Frolich and her friends, getting 4p for putting tassels on football supporters’ scarves, tried to get 1p increase, and on being refused they joined the General and Municipal Workers’ Union. “I didn’t get any more work which amounts to the sack, and the Union couldn’t do a thing.”
In the nineteenth century, before the factories superseded the domestic system, the lace-makers, milliners and spinners working at home, were all employed in much the same way. There was also then the notorious “rag trade”:
  One of the most shameful, the most dirty, and the worst paid kinds of labour, and one on which women and young girls are by preference employed, is the sorting of rags. It is well known that Great Britain, apart from its own immense store of rags, is the emporium for the rag trade of the whole world. They flow in from Japan, from the most remote States of South America, and from the Canary Islands. But the chief sources of their supply are Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Belgium and Holland. They are used for manure, for making bed-flocks, for shoddy, and they serve as the raw material of paper. The rag sorters are the medium for the spread of small-pox and other infectious diseases and they themselves are the first victims. (Capital vol. I.)
The homeworkers of today, as of Marx’s time, are part of a fluctuating pool of labour on the fringes of unemployment.

From the capitalist’s point of view the advantages of employing homeworkers are many. The main and most obvious is that their labour-power is cheap. As Marx observed of the “so-called domestic industries", “unlimited exploitation of cheap labour-power is the sole foundation of their power to compete” (Capital vol. I). Since there is not enough work to go round, each homeworker is competing against thousands of others, all equally desperate. Also, as unemployment has increased many housewives are driven to supplement the breadwinner’s inadequate paypacket by turning their homes into factory annexes. According to the Low Pay Unit, the number of full-time workers earning less than they would be able to get on Supplementary Benefit (the government-decreed poverty norm, on which families can survive) increased from 130,000 in 1974 to 290,000 in 1976 (Observer, 17 Sept. 1978). If we add to this figure the one-parent families where a mother struggles to bring up her young children on Supplementary Benefit, we can see how large a number of homeworkers there are on the fringes of the employment market.

Another advantage for the capitalist is that the homeworkers’ working hours and conditions are totally unregulated and unprotected: no Factory Acts, no National Insurance stamps, no income tax. The hours worked, and pay obtained, are entirely a private matter between the individual homeworker and his or her “employer". Homeworkers do not normally have any contract of employment so it is rare for them to get the sack: but if the “employer” just stops sending them any work they have no legal protection. Because they are isolated from one another, they seldom get the chance to organise and protect themselves from the imposition of harsh work norms. (Some Market Research firms go to quite extraordinary lengths to prevent their interviewers meeting up with one another: in such firms the only personal contact the interviewer has is with her supervisor, never with other interviewers.)

Because most of them are on piece-rates (inevitably extremely low) home workers have to work exceptionally long hours to obtain something like a wage. For instance, a hand-knitter made a complicated Fair Isle sweater which required 30 hours work. For that job she was paid £5.20. Employers take the cynical view that “very often women are grateful to us because we are paying them for their hobby” (Daily Mirror, 30 Jan,.1979). The same woman whose hobby is toiling at her knitting machine or typewriter for long hours at a miserable pittance is worth, as a housewife, £87.90 a week (Daily Mirror). At least, that is what she could get if she was paid for doing some one else’s household chores and caring for someone else’s children. Then consider some of the less agreeable jobs, such as delivering sales leaflets door-to-door in all weathers. In one typical area, women and schoolchildren who deliver a free local newspaper and sales material get paid £3 basic, a rate which has not changed in ten years. No one would describe this as a “hobby”.

Another advantage to the firms that exploit homeworkers is that, should their work-load fluctuate, as is the ease with Xmas crackers, market research and the rag-trade, the employees can be left high and dry without work (without pay) during slack periods, yet can be required to work almost round the clock in a busy season. There is absolutely no limit to the number of hours homeworkers may work in a week, other than their own physical limits. (Pit-ponies however are limited to 48 hours a week).

Homeworkers are a mere footnote in the economic history of our times. Yet their low rates of pay serve to depress those offered to factory workers in the same area. How else would Grunwicks be able to offer such low rates to women working part-time.

The reformers of British capitalism have introduced legislation to control the length of a working day, the conditions of work within factories, the protection of workers from “unfair” dismissal or discrimination, to provide paid holidays and sick pay, to insure workers from actual destitution when injured or unemployed, and to provide pensions and maternity leave. All these regulations are easily evaded by those firms which exploit the reserve army of the unemployed in their own homes. In addition this practice reduces the firm’s own overheads (power, light and heating, and in many cases depreciation of machinery).

In one of his novels, the Russian writer Dostoyevsky described a widow who stitched away all night. In his Autobiography, Charles Chaplin described how his mother slaved at shirt-making, starving herself to feed her children when there was not enough money coming in. Her reward was premature senility, caused by malnutrition.

Marx described the domestic industries as “the last resort of the ‘redundant population’ ”—capitalism’s safety-valve. So long as people can be made “redundant”, so long will this cynical exploitation of the very needy continue. Fashion firms will flourish while factory rates of pay will be depressed and women will be degraded to the point where to many prostitution seems preferable.

The wages system with production for profit is the root cause of all these social evils. Reforms of the law can do next to nothing. To end exploitation in the home, as in the factory, we must abolish the wages system. There is no other way.
Charmian Skelton

Cutler's Last Stand (1979)

Horace Cutler
Party News from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
   Greater London Council leader Horace Cutler in debate with an SPGB member on a motion: "That the profit system provides for the greatest happiness for the greatest number."
Horace Cutler is the Conservative leader of the Greater London Council. Horace Cutler claims to be a ‘self-made man’. Horace Cutler is a great believer in the profit system. On Tuesday, March 6th, he was given the chance to tell the world the merits of the profit system. He was proposing the motion in the Bentham Memorial Debate at University College London. “That the profit system provides for the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. He was seconded by a member of the College Conservative Society and opposed by one member and one supporter of the SPGB. Approximately one hundred students attended the debate. This is not a report of what both sides said—the views of the opponents of the motion will be found in the Declaration of Principles at the back of this journal—but is intended as an assessment of Horace Cutler’s defence of capitalism. Being a democratic journal, a copy of this article will be sent to Mr. Cutler and, should he wish to offer a reply, he will be given the same amount of space in which to do so.

Socially Unequal
First, let us make clear why it is that Socialists oppose the profit system. It is based upon the minority ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. It is a class society in which a minority own the means of life and the majority—the working class— own nothing and therefore have to sell their labour power to an employer in return for a wage or salary. So the profit system is socially unequal. The capitalist class needs to employ the working class as the labour of the latter is the source of the profit of the former. The profit consists of the difference between the capital expenditure of the employer and the values created by the employee. Labour creates values over and above the value of labour-power. Because wages represent the price of labour power and not the value of the commodities produced by labour, the workers always receive less than they have produced. In short, they are exploited. The profit system is exploitative and unequal and the consequence is an unending conflict of interests between wage labour and capital. Hie capitalist needs profits. It is in the interest of workers not simply to increase wages, but to abolish the wages system. And the only way to get rid of the wages system is to abolish the profit system. The Right wing of capitalism support the bosses in their struggle for more markets and greater profits; the Left wing encourage the workers to go for higher wages and better conditions under capitalism. Only Socialists oppose the profit system as such. That is our case against Mr. Cutler’s system. It is not usual, however, for the dice to be as evenly loaded as in a debate. Usually, the schools, the Churches, the press, the T.V. and the radio adopt the ideology of the profit system. Open debate forces the supporters of capitalism to put their case in a coherent and logical form. If Cutler’s efforts are anything to go by, the case for the profit system couldn’t survive the equality of communication for very long.

Mr. Cutler’s opening speech lasted approximately twenty minutes. In it he gave five main arguments in favour of the profit system. So as not to misrepresent him we quote verbatim from a tape recording that was made of the debate.

He began by defining what he thought the debate was about:
It’s whether or not we want the profit system—that is free enterprise or capitalism—or the collective system or Socialism.
But what is meant by capitalism—what does he understand by Socialism? Nothing resembling a definition was offered from the proposers throughout the course of the debate.

Mr. Cutler then began to develop the first of his five arguments. The Case Based Upon Experience:
  I have lived through two wars—not one, two wars. And I’ve seen the depression of the thirties. If I may immediately declare my interest in the capitalist system—and I don’t like the term capitalist system. I do like the word profit motive. I do like the word free enterprise. I do like the word initiative—because these things epitomise the whole of my life. None of you are ever going to work as hard as I have and none of you are going to make as much money as I have and live so affluently as I do . . . because the real capitalist system does comprise in work. Unless you are prepared to take off your coat and roll up your sleeves you will not be able to achieve very much in life. 
So, according to Cutler, despite witnessing the pathetic suffering of the Depression, workers should believe that initiative and hard work are what make the rich rich. And conversely, it is the lack of these attributes that keeps the working class in relative poverty. The facts of success and failure within the profit system stand in conflict with Cutler’s experience. Those who take off their coats and roll up their sleeves every day of their lives don't ‘achieve very much in life’. The idle parasites do.

Mr. Cutler has not learnt very much from his personal experience. Neither has he learnt very much to support his second argument; The Case Based Upon History: 
 After all, if you go back to the origins of the capitalist system it was based on barter. If you go back to the time before some silly idiot invented money, which is the cause of all our problems, you will know what happened in those days. You made something and a neighbour of yours made something and you exchanged them. The goods had to be of good quality or you’d exchange them with someone else. In that system you either improved the quality of your goods or you went to the wall.
It seems that the Leader of the Greater London Council prefers barter to the money system. He is wrong when he states that money ‘is the cause of all our problems’. Money is the result of the problem: it is the means of buying and selling commodities in a society in which wealth is produced for sale and not for use. In the days before there was the potential for an abundance of wealth to fulfil human needs money was necessary. An economy based upon monetary exchange is now an anachronism. Socialists look forward to a society in which men and women have free access to wealth. Horace Cutler looks backwards to the age of barter.

He then turns to this third argument; The Case Based Upon Human Nature:
  I believe in capitalism because I believe it fits in with human instincts and with competitiveness.
Biological evidence for this belief? Anthropological evidence? You might as well ask for medical credentials from a witchdoctor. All we get from Cutler is the anti-social and arrogantly asserted statement that
  Of course people will always exploit each other and it doesn’t matter what society you are in, it will be done. I don't agree with it, but it happens, humans being the swines that they are.
It is true that if you put humans in a jungle society they will act like wild animals. That is why we need a system of society that is designed to accommodate rational human beings and not swine.

Mr. Cutler then proceeds to examine what he spuriously describes as ‘the alternative to the profit system'. And so we have The Case Based Upon The Freedom Of The Individual:
  In Russia there are people living on top and most people at the bottom living very flat and uninteresting lives. We find that some people have to work so that others can make money.
Recognise the situation? It sounds remarkably like the system that Cutler is supposed to be defending. Of course workers in Russia are not free. Why are they not free? Because ‘they have to work so that others can make money’. That is the principle of the profit system. If Mr. Cutler doesn’t like it he should work for a system of society in which people have free access to the wealth that they create.

For his fifth and final effort to justify the existence of the profit system, Mr. Cutler refers us to The Case Based Upon The Evil of The State:
  We live in a society today where the system looks after everybody. Some people take advantage of this and don’t do any work for the whole of their lives. The less the State gets in the way the more morality there will be.
We presume that Mr. Cutler’s reference to people ‘who don’t do any work for the whole of their lives' is to the Royal Family, the aristocracy and the rest of the capitalist class. The parasites of the boardroom contribute nothing to society, but take the greatest proportion of the world’s wealth. State interference in terms of taxation and welfare reform is not the aim of Socialists. We do no advocate State capitalism, although both Labour and Tory Governments have gone in for nationalisation. The State is the coercive organ of the capitalist class. Horace Cutler looks back to the age of laissez faire capitalism when the law of the jungle ruled supreme. Socialists look forward to an age when there will be no class divisions and therefore no State.

Popular Prejudices
We have concentrated on Mr. Cutler’s defence of the profit system, not because it contains an ounce of originality. but because it encapsulates most of the cliches and popular prejudices which we often encounter from capitalism’s apologists. In open debate its emptiness can be adequately demonstrated. At other times such nonsense is allowed to masquerade as political common sense. It is little wonder that most people cynically reject politics as something above their heads, instead of realising that the case for capitalism should be beneath their contempt.

During the course of the debate Horace Cutler read out the following piece of doggerel which, insultingly, constituted his New Year message to the people of London:
No bees, no honey.
No work, no money.
One sharp wit from the floor of the debate read out the following response:
No music, no dance.
No capital, no chance.
The motion was lost. A few more people had seen the logic of the case for Socialism. Mr. Cutler went back to run the Greater London Council. The profit system goes on.
Steve Coleman

Live with it (1979)

A Short Story from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

On October 51st, some time this century, a conference took place of biological, agricultural, economic and theological experts which was under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation for the Disposal of Food Surpluses.

The chairman, Cyrus Blankmind (chief marketing adviser to Pacific Continents Food Producers Association) opened the conference by pointing out that it had been called because of the gigantic build-up of food surpluses and the complete inability to solve the problem of disposing of them. Bearing this in mind, he would without further comment throw the meeting open to general discussion in the hope that a solution would be found.

During what followed many speakers took part. There was talk of government subsidies, lowering prices, increasing prices, devaluation, revaluation, the green pound up and down, the dollar up and down, even changing the colour from green to blue.

And then it was the turn of Viscount Knowless. chairman of the board of directors of the worldwide multinational animal foodstuffs suppliers, Selmore and Growless Ltd. What has to be done, he said, was to export the food surplus, no matter where, perhaps to some derelict waste—it did not matter as long as there was no-one to eat it. The main thing was to get it off the world’s market. There were nods of agreement from the assembled experts and murmurs of ‘Excellent idea’, ‘What a brilliant suggestion’. The snag, however, was who was to be paid for the transportation and the compensation to the owners.

At this point the chairman wished to bring to the notice of the conference that they had been honoured by the presence of a distinguished visitor, none other than the heir apparent of the United Kingdom of Great Botheram, The Prince of Whales, who would address the gathering. (Applause). The Prince then delivered his speech in the manner of his father, the Duke of Idlesburg.

He said that there were some people who thought that exports should be increased, but on the other hand there were some who said that exports should be decreased. There were those who maintained that prices should be increased, but there were also those who said they should be decreased. There were those who said that food surpluses would never be disposed of, but on the other hand there were those who said that they would and should be disposed of. The problem, he announced, was that surpluses had to be sold and the stability of civilisation depended on this. It was not his prerogative to take sides in the debate, but this much seemed apparent to him: that should the problem not be solved it would remain an unsolved problem. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that he had to inform the conference that the Prime Minister of Great Botherham, Mr. James Lucky, very often endearingly referred to as Honest Jim. had appointed the world famous economist. Professor C. Ball, to head a loyal commission to investigate the possibility of finding a solution to the food surplus problem. These profound observations were greeted by the assembled experts with loud applause and cries of ‘Hear Hear’.

There followed many more speeches: tax concessions, MCAS intervention, price control, dehumanising processes, sell cheap to the Martians.

The chairman then announced that the world famous anthropologist, Dr. Margaret Mindbender, was in attendance, accompanied by the medicine man of the group of primitive people who were the subject of her recent study into the life style of people still in the food gathering and hunting stage of cultural development, the Esaigoinga tribe of the Central Pacific continent. And he invited her to address the conference on the behaviour and attitudes of these people.

In her speech the famous anthropologist explained that the tribe were few in numbers (about five thousand) and that they lived by food gathering and hunting in the middle of dense jungle. She explained that they only gathered and hunted sufficient for their needs, that there was no private property, there were no leaders, no exchange values and consequently no money. Each member of the tribe gave service to the community to the best of his or her ability and took from the common pool what he or she needed.

Through the whole course of this speech there were involuntary cries of incredulity and amazement from the gathered experts. When she had finished the chairman thanked her for her contribution and asked the experts if there were any questions they would like to ask.

The first question was from Dr. Bunkum van Bletheridge, a well known member of the central committee of the World Council for Religious Survival. He described himself as a theologian (he was a practising pastor of the Doltz Misinformed Church) and scientists (he was a member of the Loyal Society for the Advancement of Idealistic Materialism). He said he had been very interested in Dr. Mindbender’s address, but she had failed to make reference to the question (to him, a moral one) of food surpluses, which was, he reminded the experts, the reason for the conference. What, he asked, did the Esaigoina tribe do about the food surpluses that they accumulated? At this, the famous anthropologist had a conversation in an incomprehensible language with her companion, the medicine man. She then addressed the questioner. It was very difficult, she said, for these primitive people to understand what is meant by accumulated food surpluses as it was very rare for more food to be gathered than was required, but on the rare occasion that this did happen no further hunting or gathering took place until the food had been eaten, each member of the tribe having free access to it. This reply brought forth more cries of incredulity and horror. The very idea that surplus food should be consumed with no money or exchange being involved was inexplicable to the assembled experts.

After some further speeches and questions along similar lines, the chairman announced that the time had come to conclude the proceedings. He thanked everyone concerned for their attendance and remarked that although no solution had been found it had been a useful exercise. In the meantime vast food surpluses still remained and although millions of people had to die with it, all of us have had to live with it.
Harry Walters

50 Years Ago: The Obscenity Laws (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
  A denouncement of young women authors who write obscene books was made by Miss Christabel Pankhurst in a speech at the ├ćolian Hall, Bond Street, yesterday. She said that pagan novels were much in evidence today and she was grateful to the Home Secretary for the step he had taken regarding books that were not decent to read. This is not the sort of freedom for which we women fought and got the vote.
(Daily Chronicle March 7th)
We do not know by what standard Miss Christabel Pankhurst judges what is decent to read, nor do we remember any special protest being made during the war either by Miss Pankhurst or the present Home Secretary when reams of literature with plentiful details of war-time atrocities were circulated among young people in order to fuel the war fever. We gave it as our opinion at the time that under normal conditions such material would probably meet with the attention of the police. Evidently what is necessary to our masters at one time shocks them at another. 

(From an article “An echo of the past” by comrade MacHaffie, Socialist Standard April 1929)

Running Commentary: A Win For The Favourite (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Win For The Favourite

One event last month which did not have the world chewing its finger nails in suspense was the elections to the Supreme Soviet.

Happening every five years, these lack the drama usually associated with elections; there is no Russian equivalent of Robert McKenzie to sit up all night predicting swings, shock results and so on. In this race the favourite always wins because there is only one candidate in every constituency.

About half the candidates are members of the Russian Communist Party; the rest are approved by the Party — selected “professional people” or “outstanding workers”. When he gets to the polling station (if such it can be called) the Russian voter is handed a ballot paper and, if he is brave or reckless enough, he can go into the private booth and scratch out the name of the official candidate. It is not surprising, that the majority prefer to drop the paper, unmarked, into the ballot box.

From this comes the predictable result — although the 99 per cent majority which is usually claimed for all the candidates is probably impossible in statistical terms.

In the midst of this cosy dictatorship of the Communist Party, a dissident group tried this year to put up two independent candidates — who are, presumably, people unlikely to be bothered by a little unpopularity. The group called itself Elections 79. Not so long ago its members might have disappeared into a labour camp, or perished in some NKVD cellar.

But so far they have been subjected to more subtle frustrations. Their nominations disappeared into the bureaucratic machinery, there to be delayed until after the closing date; the group were harassed by irritants like having their ’phone cut off.

Members of the Supreme Soviet get quite a few privileges: perhaps that is their sole function, since they meet only twice a year and then to rubber stamp the legislation put before them.

The day will come, when Russia will have a measure of political freedom which at least allows ideas to be openly discussed, even the emergence of a socialist party. Until that happens we must live with the regular farce of the “elections” there and with the transparent Communist Party lies that the dictatorship in Russia is an example of democratic socialism,

Return To Go

The history of capitalism is rather like a desert littered with the whitened bones of Chancellors of the Exchequer who were foolish enough to set out on the impossible journey of solving, once and for all, the system's economic and financial problems.

From time to time the immediate nature of these problems might change. Unemployment, inflation, the dollar gap, or an adverse balance of trade, have all been a preoccupation of the man said to be in charge at the Treasury.

But the overall pattern endures; each crisis is presented as a tiresome, unpredictable interruption in the Chancellor’s journey towards building prosperity for us all, which will now have to be delayed a little longer . . .

For example, at this time of the 1979 Budget, it is instructive to see what advice was being offered to the Chancellor, ten years ago:
  A tough Budget is in prospect. The Sunday Telegraph Business forecast team gives a warning that the Chancellor cannot afford any sign which may be interpreted as weakness. Following last week’s rise in Bank Rate to 8 per cent, little prospect is seen of an early let-up in the renewed credit squeeze.
At that time, a doomed Labour government had been grappling with the crises of British capitalism, and fighting to hold down workers’ living standards for over five years. In the process, they had been thoroughly discredited: indeed such was the disillusionment among their supporters that at times the party seemed almost happy to break up.

Ten years later a new Chancellor, Denis Healey, threatens a "tough" Budget (not that a "weak” one has anything to offer workers). He too braces himself not to show any signs of weakness, so that the workers do not get any ideas that wages can rise free of all restraint. And Minimum Lending Rate — the new name for Bank Rate — has recently been increased to a record level.

Healey does not repeat the desperations of a former Chancellor because he lacks imagination. Capitalism leaves its politicians with no choice but to offer, again and again, the same stale, discredited “remedies” — nothing else is available to them. And that is so, because the system itself is unchanged.

All About Oil

Any American worker who, volunteering to put on a uniform and take a gun in his hand, wonders what it is all about might have been given pause for thought by the recent statements of Harold Brown, Carter's Defence Secretary.

Brown has just come back from the Middle East and was sufficiently impressed by what he saw there to make some pretty frank remarks about how the American ruling class view that inhospitable part of the world.

Brown’s travels, and his uneasiness, have been caused by the reaction in the oil states to Carter’s recent talks with Menachim Begin about carving up the Middle East. So he had to show himself firm about what he is paid to see as the essentials of the situation.

The protection of the oil flow, said Brown, is part of America’s “vital interests". And, in case anyone should still not grasp his point, the Defence Secretary went on to say that the US would “. . . take action that is appropriate, including the use of military force” to protect those interests.

The latter talks between the Americans and the Saudis took place under the shadow of that threat — which would, in the last analysis, have been carried out by those American workers in their uniforms and with their guns.

Those workers — and there are far too many of them — who concern themselves with the standing of their ruling class, and who are prepared to join a killing organisation to protect that standing, should reflect on the reasons for it all. Nowhere are working class interests — which means the interests of the majority — at stake. All of it — the armies, the weapons, the diplomats, the royal buffoons in the sun — are there standing for the interests of the small class of parasites who rule this repressive, strife-ridden society of capitalism.

Party news: Zimbabwe (2002)

Party News from the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the election is over one is left with the unmistakable impression that Zanu PF bullied its way to power, catapulting its candidate Robert Mugabe to victory, allegedly with 56.2 percent of the vote. This has prompted Zimbabwe's chief opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to reconsider tactics
Just after the announcement of the winner, Tsvangirai refused to concede defeat. He blasted his rival's victory as illegitimate, as an electoral fraud of unprecedented proportions. This former Trade Unionist indicated that he would now seek a proper political solution.

However, such talk has raised fears among many Zimbabweans — fears that this poor country could descend into total chaos should Tsvangirai decide to summon his furious supporters to stage mass protests across the country. In short, there is much uncertainty about the future; there is no way of knowing how it will all pan out.

To compound the problem, even the invited observers are appearing to express differences on whether the 9-11 March presidential elections were substantially free and fair. The local monitors, the opposition and western governments and media in general are fiercely condemning the way in which the elections were handled while, on the other hand, the process is being praised by most African States. The Nigerian leader of the Commonwealth observer group — Abdulsalami Abubakar - is, however, appearing to be somewhat two-faced about this whole matter, thus exacerbating divisions within his delegation.

There is much evidence to suggest that the law enforcement agents were responsible for effectively crippling Tsvangirai's MDC party. They displayed partiality towards the ruling party's thugs and undue firmness against the opposition. There was also the lack of transparency on the part of the authorities, the rampant political violence they fostered, the intimidation and harassment of MDC supporters, the cynical reduction in the number of polling stations in the urban strongholds of the MDC.

However, it is not only the MDC who have been the victims of this systematic political abuse; Mugabe's government is also making it difficult for other opposition parties and pressure groups to organise effectively as well. This is certainly the case with the the local WSM in Zimbabwe which has recently been subject of intimidation and harassment by the authorities — notably, after a series of adverts were placed by us in the local press. Evidently, in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, socialists are not welcome

Notwithstanding that, we are urging our members and supporters to stand firm in the face of such bullying and undemocratic tactics. We resolve to have the courage of our convictions to openly challenge our opponents in political debate. We have nothing to hide; on the contrary, we are proud to declare what we stand for, without equivocation or deceit.

We shall not be deterred by political thugs from democratically and peacefully spreading the case for real socialism. For now has never been a better time for Zimbabwean workers to come together and organise to eradicate the obscenity of global capitalism.
Bigboy Musemwa

(The offending advert which led to one of our members being detained and accused of plotting to overthrow Mugabe read: "Workers! Get free socialist details from WSM-Zimbabwe, PO Box 5120, Harare; E-mail:")

Reality (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are at least two statements about reality that cannot be seriously disputed: that reality is an idea, and that it claims to be something more and something other than just an idea.

Reality is a concept that claims to transcend the world of ideas; it has an existence independent of consciousness. Given that most ideas make some claim to a relationship with the world we experience, why does this one exert such a seductive power on us despite its obvious paradoxical nature?

Politically speaking some use it as an excuse for not trying to change things while others, like socialists, need to understand it specifically to change it. In all political debates the perceived division between idealists and pragmatists is continually expressed. For many of us reality is a depressing life of exploitation which stands in stark contrast to the proposed vision of society offered by socialism. But is that kind of social structure mere idealism or is it the prison of our working lives which is sustained by the ideological illusion of a single reality?

One attempt to define reality centred on the search for an unchanging essence within the objects that make up our world. Metaphysics attempted to comprehend the real, to grasp the truth and to witness the good. In its later synthesis with Christianity it became the search for God. Dualistic philosophical tradition liked to define it by what it was not: it did not change, it was not an illusion and, most importantly, reality could not in itself be evil because it was the creation of God.

There is an echo here of a much more ancient duality concerning structure and chaos which lies beneath the classical conception of truth and falsehood and Christianity’s good and evil. Evil, in some traditions, is defined as the ignorance of the truth – an illusion (false God) that prevents access to really. We hate what we fear and we fear what we don’t understand. But what was “understood” in this Christian context was the metaphysical belief in an unchanging “human nature” which in great part was confirmed by the fear of the historical developments that engulfed the Christians during the reformation and beyond. The Christian ideological schisms of the 16th and 17th centuries created an ever more desperate need for a realm of unchanging moral values and, revealingly, a source of absolute power (God).

Karl Marx was very interested in the nature of power and how it manifested itself historically; usually quite differently from the way it was explained within the ideologies of the power groups concerned. His theory attempted to trace the origins of political power and the social classes that have wielded it through history. It is more than an attempt, as Engels and others seem to imply, to use the methodology of the natural sciences to understand human history because history itself can be used to explain science in its ideological and social context. Science, in many ways, did not destroy religion as a way to legitimise political power, it merely replaced it (although some extreme reactionary regimes like the USA and Iran still use religion in this way). One of the reasons for this ideological dethronement is because science has become the contemporary language of “reality”.

So what does the scientific enterprise tell us about reality; and what do the politics of today’s power structures tell us about science? Physics and biology both have surprisingly little to say on the subject. There seems to be a great variety of speculation based on the experimental data. For instance, quantum theory can offer us a choice between the “uncertainty principle” which implies that the universe is essentially an unknowable paradox created by the nature of relationship between mind and perception; or it provides us with infinite parallel universes where every quantum possibility exists simultaneously. In biology the holy grail of genetic determinism is pursued with crusading zeal. It looks as though this search will end in a similar place where the physicists now repose, exhausted beside their over-heated particle accelerators after yet another unsuccessful attempt to find the definitive sub-atomic particle.

All of this tells us much about the motivations of the ideology that lies behind the scientific project itself. For all its failures in defining a coherent concept of reality it is still the dominant arena for our culture’s attempts to understand and so control nature. This reflects the hierarchical authoritarianism of the social structure of capitalism. A scientist is a potential member of a social elite; he or she has undergone the training that allows their “baptism” by the agents of the power-brokers of our society – in this case the scientific establishment. This group has in turn received its authority from the ruling class via government grants or company sponsorships. Without this patronage science could not and would not exist in its present form. All of which leads us to a more certain source of reality – money.

Along with fear, plain, death, hunger and love no one would deny that the need for money constitutes a reality; and yet most of us are aware that the notes and coins we use are in themselves worthless. Money is, in fact, merely a contract between buyer and seller which promises the seller that he can redeem the value of what he has sold to the buyer. No other human promise carries as much confidence within it as this one does in our culture. We might swear on a stack of bibles or give up our loved ones as hostages and still fail to create the confidence inspired by hard cash. Why is this? Simply because all of the world’s power structures are focused primarily on enforcing this financial contract. If any doubt arises concerning this law of exchange it causes chaos that leads to economic depression and, for the parasite class, the ultimate horror of a loss of profit.

So once again the quest for reality resolves itself into an idea; but an idea that derives immense power from a universal cultural consensus. This consensus is continually reinforced by social power structures such as the World Bank, IMF and the WTO but it was not created by them. Marx has said that men make history but they make it only with historical constraints. The bourgeois revolutions became possible because of the changing mode of production which made the feudal power structures inappropriate. The English Revolution of 1642 was in most part generated by the capitalist class’s need for a free market system to replace the royal court government’s monopoly production rights. Money replaced land as the economic basis for access to the new ruling class – the bourgeois parliament. Thus production for profit became the basis of English law where the means of life could only be secured through money.

Historically for some 300 years (compared to feudalism’s 600 and slavery’s 1000 years) capitalism has evolved into the global market system we see today. Once again a similar political situation to 1642 has arisen where the social power structures are inhibiting economic progress. The profit-motivated system prevents millions of people in the world from securing the means of life. A new idea has come into existence that challenges the old capitalist cultural structures – socialism. When the majority of humanity believes in this idea then it can transform itself into a social and economic reality. It is the historical relevance of an idea that can make it real because only then can it transform the power structure to reflect the needs of those who sustain the system of their own exploitation. In the end it is, and always has been, political power that defines reality for us all.

It is an entertaining diversion to speculate whether a tree still falls if no-one is there to observe it or whether the Earth was spherical before its inhabitants believed it to be so; but this type of philosophical debate is unavailable to those of us who are dying of hunger, war or disease. Political power is derived from humanity’s historical and social consciousness – or the lack of it. From this central process everything that constitutes reality is derived. In the words of a Rastafarian song:
“They wonder why the sun shines, they do not know that it shines for I and I (conscious people).”

“Pro-life” hypocrites (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 6 March in the Republic of Ireland there was a referendum in which voters could say “Yes” or “No” to not having abortion. Confused? Simple, if you voted “No” abortion would not be made legal and, if you voted “Yes” abortion would remain illegal.

Still confused? Don’t worry, so were most people in the Republic. Shortly before the referendum, RTE’s Late, Late Show tried to unravel the confusion with a public debate. Firstly, the large audience was asked how many people understood the issues involved in the referendum. Only one person raised her hand. After that they invited three speakers from the “No” camp and three speakers from the “Yes” camp to explain the question. Every single speaker heartily disagreed with the other five and, though three supported each side of the argument, it was obvious that all represented different agendas. After this “clarification” the show’s host again asked members of the audience if they were any clearer. They were not.

Abortion was illegal under British rule in Ireland and, when the British vacated what is now the Republic of Ireland it was not an issue except when some poor woman went to a back-street abortionist and bled to death.

As elsewhere in Europe, abortion became an issue when it was restrictively legalized in some countries during the 60s and 70s. Cheaper air travel and television had brought Ireland out of the clutch of the infamous Index under which the state censors decided, at the behest of the Catholic bishops, which books, films and plays might be read or viewed within the New Ireland which had recently been “freed” by armed force from the British.

Cable television and the development of Information Technology brought the global village into Irish sitting rooms. More than half the population was under twenty-five years of age. Holy Ireland, however, stood resolutely against abortion and those allegedly “pro-life” elements, who now campaign with great viciousness, were then campaigning against the legalizing of all artificial means of contraception.

Two previous referendums within the last twenty years showed the burgeoning pressure on Church and state to move ahead with those states with which they now shared an economic and political identity in Europe. On both occasions, abortion was rejected.

Then came the famous ‘X’ case. A fourteen year-old girl had been raped and was pregnant and suicidal. Earlier a pregnant teenager had haemorrhaged to death as she lay in a country churchyard in Co Longford seeking the intercession of a stone statue of the Virgin Mary. In the “X” case medical and legal help took the place of sculptured stone and the Supreme Court accepted that the danger of suicide was real enough and grounds for allowing an abortion. This was later performed—in England.

It should be said that abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, too. The local religious Taliban – ironically, consisting of the most avid Catholic opinion together with fundamentalist fanatics like Paisley – represented a bulwark against the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act. It is just one area of ignorance where the two sides make comfortable bedfellows.

That there is a demand for abortion, north and south, is evidenced by the fact that some 7,000 women go from Ireland each year for abortions in England. These are the overt statistics. Given the climate of shame and embarrassment conjured up by those whose conception of democracy means they have, by virtue of their numbers, the right to suppress minorities, there must obviously be many others who make the sad journey covertly.

But why yet another referendum? The Supreme Court decision to allow an abortion to take place where clinical evidence suggested the possibility of suicide was seen as a possible loophole for women seeking abortions. The last referendum had written the ban on abortion into the Constitution, lest vote-hungry politicians in the future should use compassion as a bribe to a more enlightened electorate. Now it was necessary to amend the Constitution again in order to block the possibility of the Courts showing mercy to a suicidal, pregnant woman.

But the government and its political draughtsmen made a fatal mistake; they tacked onto the proposed Amendment an addendum legalizing the use of the morning-after pill.

“Mother o’Jasus!” intoned the biddies of both sexes, “Sure that morning-after thing is only abortion by another name”. The argument moved onto dark ground where the question became at what point life occurred in the womb and when the divine quartermaster imparted a soul to a foetus. Heavy stuff that had been disputed by earlier Christian theologians like Jerome, Augustine and Anselm long before Pope Pius IX imposed a positive embargo on abortion.

So confusion reigned among the various factions that stood firmly against abortion. If they voted “Yes”, in support of the government’s amendment, they could, it was argued, let in abortion via the threat of suicide. If they opposed the amendment, they would be allowing the legalizing of the morning-after pill. It represented a terrible dilemma for those who believed in an all-merciful and compassionate God.

Neither side of the argument raised by the referendum offered much to the exponents of a woman’s right of choice. In the main, however, the choice lobby felt that the “X” case offered some hope for women in extreme cases and that the proposed amendment should, therefore be opposed. So an opposition of some of those “pro-life” elements who opposed the legalizing of the morning-after pill and those supporting women’s choice emerged and, on polling day, the Government Amendment was defeated in a low turnout poll by 1.1 percent.

Abortion is a very serious issue and should not be viewed as an extension of the means of contraception. Today, these latter means are generally readily available. This writer feels that, where a sexually-active couple wants to avoid what is a traumatic experience, especially for the female partner, then there is a responsibility to avail of suitable means of contraception. Ultimately, this is simply respect for the female participant in the sex act and this respect should be a fundamental aspect of sex education.

Unfortunately, many of those who support the so-called “pro-life” stance are bitterly opposed to sex education beyond the most vague biological facts. As we have already observed, they are the same people who have fought a bitter rearguard action against the easy availability of contraceptive devices. As far as their opposition to abortion is concerned, most of the religious “pro-lifers” are less concerned about human life and more concerned with religious strictures.

The abuse of people who sincerely hold a contrary view to that of the “pro-lifers” frequently shows a contempt for the dignity of other human beings. The claim they make to women contemplating abortion, that they will give practical help following the birth of a baby is certainly designed to thwart the act of abortion rather than help children. In Ireland – as in Britain – for example, a third of all children exist below the official poverty line and the problems of poverty make the lives of hundreds of thousands of children a misery. Those who show such reverend regard for the unstructured foetus within the womb are woefully silent about the brutal and ongoing miseries heaped on so many children outside the womb.

Worldwide, an average of some 40,000 children under the age of five die every single day of hunger or hunger-related illnesses because those responsible for their upbringing have not got money to buy available food. They are murdered by the market system, so beloved of the Popes of the various religions. Those vociferous in their vicious condemnation of women who avail of abortion never condemn the savagery of capitalism’s wars. The person who has an abortion, or who makes abortion available to often distraught women may be pilloried as “murderers” but their defamers never condemn the child killers who fly aircraft over cities and drop bombs on hapless children.

Socialists can respect the views of people motivated by the idea of protecting all forms of human life out of regard for the supremacy of humanity. That after all is what Socialism is about. Unfortunately, most of those within the so-called pro-life organisation are concerned more with the strictures of religious leaders and less with genuine concern for human beings.
Richard Montague

Yes, inaction is not an option (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

“What the Pentagon has done with this is sound military conceptual planning.” This was the US Secretary Colin Powell commenting on the leaked 50 page Pentagon report entitled: “Nuclear Posture Review” – proof, if ever it was needed, that the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum.

What was so special about this “Review”? It contained contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons on seven countries that the US claim are the biggest threat to world peace: China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Libya. It orders the US military to plan for the use of smaller nuclear weapons, suggests the arming of Cruise missiles with nuclear warheads and identifies four instances when the US must launch a nuclear attack: an Arab-Israeli conflict, war between China and Taiwan, an attack by North Korea on South Korea and an attack by Iraq on any of its neighbours.

Coming within a year of the US trashing of numerous international treaties regarding weapons proliferation and, bearing in mind the US response to the 11 September attack on mainland USA and the belligerent tone of President Bush’s recent State of the Union Address, this is news to be taken seriously. It hints at US unilateralism and a new era of unchecked US aggression in defence of the interests of its corporate elite.

Such US aspirations, however, are not recent, for they can be traced right back to the 1820s and the “Monroe Doctrine”, which announced that the Americas belonged to the USA. Now, all US excesses can be rationalised by a quick thumb over the shoulder in the direction of Ground Zero. The US, having suffered considerable loss of life in the 11 September attack last year, have found in that atrocity the pretext to pursue their goal of “full spectrum dominance” – military domination of the world.

No sooner was this news out, when US vice president Dick Cheney flew off for a ten-day tour of the Middle East. Though ostensibly the trip was an attempt to iron out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few commentators did not suggest that the real reason for the visit was to drum up support for a full-scale attack upon Iraq . Prior to his visit to the Middle East he stopped over in Britain to ask a complacent Tony Blair whether he could afford any US attack on Iraq 25,000 British troops.

The signs of a coming US attack upon Iraq have been visible for some time now. For months, US military instructors have been in northern Iraq training Kurdish fighters. Five thousand mothballed military vehicles in Kuwait have been overhauled and 24 Apache attack helicopters have arrived in Kuwait. Moreover, In the wake of the recent anthrax scare, investigators worked round the clock in a desperate and futile bid to find the Saddam link, before concluding it was probably the work of a home-grown crank. And in recent weeks, Washington has continually reminded us that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and must be prevented from using them, whilst negligent of reports from the UN Special Commission that Iraq’s arsenal is now down to 5 percent of its 1990 level and seemingly oblivious to questions relating to how he has amassed such deadly weapons, considering the stringent sanctions which even outlaw the export of ping-pong balls to Iraq.

Twelve years after the war with Iraq, the US now looks serious about “regime change”. Back then though the overthrow of Saddam was not part of the US agenda. Having initially led the Kurds of northern Iraq and the Marsh Arabs of the South into believing that they would get US support if they rose up against Saddam, they then sat back and watched as Saddam almost annihilated them. It had occurred to them that Saddam might be holding the country together, stopping the spread of militant Islam, and that an Iraq minus Saddam might divide into warring factions and further threaten US interests in the region.

US allies in the Middle East – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – have shown little enthusiasm for US plans for Iraq, all voicing reservations and fearful of the consequences. Turkey, another US ally, who has many times loaned its airfields to the US for its operations against Iraq, believes its economy could be damaged by any such conflict, and King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of the “catastrophic effect” that any aggression towards Iraq would have on the Middle East. Seemingly, only Tony Blair, George Bush’s cheerleader, has agreed that Saddam must be stopped, citing, in Republican fashion, Saddam’s elusive weapons of mass destruction and, like the true political amnesiac, never querying the weapons of mass destruction the US and Britain have stockpiled or the nuclear weapons in the hands of another Middle Eastern aggressor – Israel.

While the defenders of “freedom” attempt to whip up support for another Gulf War, on the pretext that Saddam Hussein is a terrorist, the rest of us can recall that both the US and Britain backed Iraq in its war with Iran, even providing it with arms, and that they were silent when Iraq used chemical weapons on Iranians in 1984 (four months later the US even reopened its embassy in Baghdad) and again when Saddam used chemical weapons on the Kurdish village of Halabjah in 1988, killing 5,000 civilians.

And remember the ferocity of the first US war with Iraq, when Saddam invaded Kuwait and threatened US oil interests in the region? It lasted 42 days, during which time 110,000 “Coalition” aerial sorties were flown and 88,500 tons of bombs were dropped. It left an estimated 100,000 dead, including tens of thousands burnt to death retreating from Kuwait along the Basra Road. Sanctions imposed since then have devastated Iraqi civil society and have killed over 1.5 million including 500,000 children under the age of five – results the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide classifies as “genocidal conduct” and a convention the US refuses to comply with.

When asked what he estimated the number of Iraqi dead were after the first Gulf War, Colin Powell remarked: “Frankly, that’s a number that doesn’t interest me much”. His predecessor, Madeline Albright, when asked to comment on the half a million Iraqi children that had died of starvation disease and replied: “the price is worth it.” These are the type of people calling the shots in Washington, working closely with the Pentagon and the White House and in the interests of world peace!

When we recall the horror of the first Gulf War and juxtapose it with the statements of successive US Secretaries of State and indeed the recent revelation that the US will hit with a nuclear weapon whoever it wishes, regardless of international opinion, we realise that the job of securing world peace can never be left to politicians. Defending the belligerent stance of the US, George Bush recently said that “inaction is not an option.” It’s a sentiment shared by socialists. For it is the inaction and complacency of the working class that enables such horrendous injustices to go on. For almost a century we have warned of the dangers of political apathy, of trusting in leaders, of accepting all that governments say without question. Our silence, more than anything, is what Bush and Blair and Co. will depend on in coming months, that same silence the master class toasts each day. Our inaction is an important element in our continuing exploitation, for the master class see in it our consent for their excesses.

As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Capitalism may well breed war, but our apathy is very much a part of the process. Bear the above in mind in coming months when the US fleet heads off to the Gulf.
John Bissett

The waste of maintaining capitalism (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

The defenders of capitalism argue that the chief feature of the market system is its efficiency in allocating scarce goods and resources to the areas where they are most needed. Socialism, they argue, would inevitably be destroyed by its own inefficiency and inability to meet even the most basic economic needs of society. This argument is flawed on two counts.

Firstly, the last thing capitalism does is allocate goods to the place of greatest need. Instead, it responds solely to signals transmitted in terms of money, and thus allocates good to those activities able to gather together the most money to attract effort and resources. The vaunted “efficiency” of doing this is thus measured solely in terms of managing to match the means and resources put into a branch of social activity to the amount of money involved in it. In other words, the efficiency of capitalism is that it manages to behave like capitalism on a sustained basis.

Secondly, even given its capacity to allocate its means to its own ends, capitalism throws up problems inherent to its own nature, that it must actively counter. A clear example of this is unemployment.

Not only is unemployment a cruel waste of human talent and potential, it is also is a drain on financial resources, in terms of the welfare budget and its administration. This is a waste on a gargantuan scale, tolerated solely because capitalism requires an industrial reserve army to potentially supply labour, and regulate the price of commodified labour-power on the open market. Capitalism must waste resources on unemployment or else see the wages system, at its very heart, would not work properly.

The waste unemployment represents is a problem that has not gone unnoticed. Political and economic pundits continually struggle with ways of combating the “evil of idleness”; politicians of every stripe try to woo workers’ votes with promises of ending unemployment; and trade unionists call for a government policy for “full employment”. There are, however, other wastes of resources inherent to capitalism, that its harlot voices cry much more softly about.

Armies and arms
One particularly relevant to current world events is the need of the capitalist class for military force to pursue its ends. In 2001 the British state spent £23.5 billion on the “teeth elements” of its military budget, which is, believe it or not, comparatively low in world terms (fifth overall, and the third highest in Europe). This level of expenditure persists despite the so-called “Peace Dividend” that came about after the collapse of Russian State-Capitalism. In 1991 the expenditure figure was around £25 billion (2001 prices); and the Labour government has even reversed that marginal decline in expenditure.

This marginal reduction in military spending is itself a response to the immense drain on resources such military commitment represents. The aim of the reductions has clearly been to retain fighting efficiency, at lower cost. At present, personnel costs represent some 37 percent of military expenditure (with 41 percent going on equipment). This breaks down as a total of 188,000 fulltime trained military personnel, backed up by some 288,000 reservists and 93,000 civilian staff. This compares to 1991 with a total of 282,000 full-timers, 341,000 reservists and 169,000 civilian personnel.

This indicates that the military budgets have been reduced largely at the expense of an increased workloads of the workers in uniform. Regardless of this, however, it also shows the amount of human resources being diverted to the cause of destruction and slaughter, rather than producing useful items such as houses, hospitals or schools. Of course, military spending is not entirely unproductive, nor unprofitable even if wasteful, and thousands more workers are engaged in the process of producing the equipment and weapons with which the soldiers are expected to kill and maim.

As ever with capitalist production, wherever it finds profits are to be made, it gradually reduces the cost and effort that goes into chasing those profits. So too, thus, do weapons, and particularly small arms, become cheaper to produce and obtain, and thus so too do the small-time capitalists of the criminal world find it easier to find suitable military force to the scale of their operations. In so doing, capitalism drives forward yet another harmful and wasteful aspect of its own system.

Police and prisons
Accounting for the difficulties of recording crime, according to the statistics on crimes reported to the police, in 1990 there were 18,000 violent crimes against the person in 1990, as compared with 23,300 in 2000. Rising violence has become a concern for many people, fuelled by squalid social conditions, the absence of hope, the alienation of people from each other and by the increasing availability of weapons with which to do harm. As these figures rise, the state finds itself obliged to plough money and resources into combating both the ill effects of the market system upon its subjects and also to thwart the ambitions of the entrepreneurs seeking a violent short-cut to profit.

In mainland UK there are some 113,000 people employed as full time police, accompanied by some 9,000 special constables, applied to tackling this task for the capitalist class. As the recent demonstration by police officers in the heart of London suggests, the cost of paying for this manpower is beginning to become burdensome on the capitalist state. In England and Wales the numbers of police officers have fallen from 110,790 in 1990, to 101,683 in 2001: falling over a time when their actual workload was increasing.

Part of the response to rising crime rates, has been to resort to more imprisonment. The prison population in England and Wales has risen from 45,000 in 1990, to over 64,000 in 2001. The running costs of the prison service in England and Wales in the latter year were £2.2 billion. Attempts to “privatise” prisons under deals similar to the public private partnerships seen elsewhere in government policy, represent an attempt to claw back some of the unprofitable expenditure the system must waste on keeping so many people incarcerated; likewise, the government’s continuing attempt to find cheaper alternatives, such as tagging and curfews.

This barrage of figures simply indicates the amount of resources that the capitalist system is compelled to spend maintaining itself and overcoming its anti-social logic; both in terms of the might of police forces directed at, and the overall military force directed by those who have decided that the opportunity costs of violence are reasonable. The more capitalism severs social bonds at home, and is compelled into war abroad, the more it must set aside from productive activity into the sheer waste of maintaining the means of violence.

Socialism, based upon co-operation and the strong social bonds derived from common ownership, will be freed from the imperative to spend on such branches of activity, and will instead be able to direct them towards satisfying our social needs as a priority, realising the potential that our free and common labour can deliver for ourselves.

Obviously, there are functions currently undertaken by the police and military that will continue to be needed. Currently the police deal with most aspects of sudden death, from investigating it to breaking the sad news to relatives; and obviously, such a function will still be required under socialism. Likewise, the armed forces carry out about twelve hundred search and rescue missions each year, saving thousands of lives. However, we can look to the world around us now, for examples of how such socially necessary functions can be organised. A clear case being the life-boat service, staffed by part-time volunteers who put their own lives at risk to help their fellows in distress.
Pik Smeet

Capitalism and socialism (2002)

From the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism has been defined as a market economy based upon the production and exchange of commodities. Because the economic motives that determine commodity production originate from the desire to earn surplus value, we can infer that economic interests under capitalism will always remain antagonistic. The anomalies inherent in the distribution and accumulation of income and wealth arise from within these antagonistic economic interests. The obvious character of working class enslavement to private capital needs no further analysis other than as the need to earn money-wages.

The working class are the mere custodians of private wealth owned by the capitalist class. Commodity production under the division of labour alienates the worker from all other economic and social activities and becomes the only essential link between the capitalist and working classes.

Socialism aims to realise a classless, moneyless and egalitarian society. Like every scientific discipline socialism has its own scientific terms in which to describe, analyse and interpret the world. The dialectical premises of scientific socialism are derived from the historical development of capitalism and postulate the intensification of the class struggle between the capitalist class and the working class. Thus socialism is historical and is embryonic within the political and economic evolution of capitalism.

Capitalism is the product of humanity’s economic development, and not the culmination of blind historical chances. Thus the criticism of capitalism begins with the criticism of humanity. The illusory projection of human social and political freedoms into abstract and superstitious laws has led to the blind acceptance of the political state as the custodian of freedom and liberty. Human social consciousness becomes reified into abstract and arbitrary civic laws divorced from the social contradictions taking place in the real world.

Political freedom comes to depend upon the whims and fancies of political charlatans. Herein consists the fallacy and mystery of democracy conceived under a classic capitalist state. The achievement of universalised political and social freedoms is a political chimera under capitalism. Political and social freedoms under antagonistic class conditions cannot exist. They do not exist under capitalism.

The division of labour under commodity production, and specialisation, confirms the workers’ physical and intellectual potentialities within the limiting conditions of the commodity market. Future human development becomes stifled by the very economic and social relations grounded upon economic impoverishment and class domination.

Capitalism is a money economy. It is only in socialism where money and trade will not exist that humans will at last recognise the objective world as the outcome of his mental and physical exertions and . . . claim back the political and economic freedoms from the state. The abstract idealisation of intrinsic and subjective human moral virtues are detached from the fetters of superstition and resolved into working class political consciousness. Socialism must succeed in finishing the process towards democracy stifled under capitalism.

The demystification of democracy can only begin through the complete eradication of the political apparatus – the state. The only class or people who can execute this task remains the working class. The eradication of capitalism will lead to the liberation of the working class from its restricted social and political conditions. Social relations will become deprived of contractual obligations. Employment as conceived under the division of labour will be done away with. A classless, moneyless and stateless society can only have one culture – and that can have only one over-riding moral duty: cooperation.

In the context of the class struggle the working class is the last class that lives in need of redemption. It does not possess any class interests to defend other than to free itself from class domination, economic impoverishment and political marginalisation.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels developed and formulated their dialectical methodology during the 19th century. Their critical analysis of bourgeois social and political history was derived from within the actual political and economic contradictions taking place in that century. But we are not to restrict our analysis and refutation of capitalism within the realms of the 19th century. It is our duty to subject these dialectical methodology to the actual political and economic contradictions taking place in the 21st century.

We advocate world socialism, a socialism not restricted to a particular country. We encourage the class struggle in order to enhance our uncompromising and revolutionary political objectives. Because we can assume that political consciousness is immanent within the working class struggles we disseminate Marxist political ideas to the working class wherever they happen to live.
Kephas Mulenga