Friday, April 10, 2020

The Easter Rising – 90 years on (2006)

From the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Easter sees the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion against British rule in Ireland. The Irish Cabinet – specifically, the government of the Republic of Ireland – and members of the Dail will watch as the Irish army marches past the General Post Office in Dublin’s O’Connell Street where Pearse and Connolly established the rebel HQ in 1916.
After being cancelled for years the Rising Commemoration has been restored by the Ahern government, anxious to maintain its republican credentials against the growing threat of Sinn Fein in the impending General Election. The excuse for originally cancelling the Commemoration was that the army was so overstretched on foreign UN peace-keeping duties that it couldn’t stage a march of a couple of hours’ duration in Dublin.

The real reason, of course, was that the genuine inheritors of the political lunacy of 1916, the Provisional IRA, were actively engaged in the killing business, intermixed with bank robberies and crimes of violence not only in Northern Ireland but in the Republic of Ireland as well. Celebrating the killings of those who had laid the foundations of the Irish state was regarded as honourable but the new killings of their latter-day progenitors were not. The fear was that the Provisional IRA might well be the political and military beneficiaries of a dramatic outburst of the patriotic emotion engendered by the establishment’s recognition of a Rising that had even less justification than the resuscitation of the IRA in 1970.

It was Dublin that bore the bloody birth pangs of the IRA when about 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers coalesced with Connolly’s 300-member Irish Citizen Army on Easter Monday 1916 to become the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and challenge the might of the British army as well as units of the British navy in a fight for Irish political independence.

The Commander-in-Chief of the rebel army was a Dublin schoolteacher and poet called Patrick Pearse. At a practical level he appears to have been an inoffensive pedagogue but his writings reveal another side to the man, a side that might well have preoccupied a psychiatrist, for his alter ego was a soldier of destiny with an inclination for blood sacrifice.

In 1916 blood sacrifice was high on the agenda of world capitalism. Competition between opposing national segments of capitalism had spilled over into massive violence as hapless legions of working men contested on the blood-soaked battlefields of Europe in the interests of their masters. Pearse obviously felt the exhilaration of an absent participant; in 1915, when incompetent generals and field marshals were sending millions of men to assured death in northern France he wrote: “The last 15 months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. Such august honour was never offered to God as this.”

In The Story of a Success, he complains: “The exhilaration of fighting has gone out of Ireland when people say that Ireland will be happy when her mills throb and her harbours swarm with shipping they are talking as foolishly as if one were to say of a lost saint, ‘That man will be happy again when he has a comfortable income’. I know that Ireland will not be happy again until she recollects that laughing gesture of a young man that is going into battle or climbing to a gibbet.”

Thus, the idiocies of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed wing of Sinn Fein who, in kindness, we can only see as deeply mentally disturbed. But, along with Pearse, in creating what W B Yeats saw as the birth of “a terrible beauty” was James Connolly, one-time member of the Social Democratic Federation, who broke with that organisation a short time before the founding comrades of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and was one of those who combined in establishing a Scottish section of the Socialist Labour Party.

Connolly claimed to be a Marxist and described Marx as the greatest of modern thinkers. In 1913 during the great Dublin lockout when the Irish Constabulary attacked the strikers, Connolly and James Larkin, the strike leader, had established a workers’ defence organisation with the grandiose title of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) that, in 1916, was to combine with a small section of the Irish volunteers as the IRA, whose political mouthpiece was Sinn Fein.

The Irish dramatist, Sean O’Casey, who was secretary to the ICA, said Connolly forsook the cause of the international proletariat for the insular romanticism of Irish Nationalism. In fact, Connolly’s espousal of Irish nationalism could be more properly defined as a betrayal of the worker’s trade-union cause as what he brought the impoverished members of the ICA out to fight for on Easter Monday was the right of a fledgling Irish bourgeoisie to establish legislative independence that would afford it trade protection, in the words of Sinn Fein, “from English and other foreign capitalists”.

Ironically, then, the people whose economic interests were to be fought for was the nascent Irish capitalist class; the very people who had locked out the Irish workers in 1912 and called out Crown forces to attack those workers; the very people who had led Larkin and Connolly to conclude the need for a defensive Irish Citizen Army.

Sinn Fein, in its policy statement of 1907 had made clear the identity of the class it represented though it euphemistically referred to the Irish capitalist class as “home manufacturers and producers”: “If an Irish manufacturer cannot produce an article as cheaply as an English or other foreign capitalist, only because his foreign competitor has larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection to that manufacturer.” As an epilogue to the Rising we might recall the words of Patrick Pearse in The Coming Revolution: “We might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing.”

In the Rising of 90 years ago which the political agents of Irish capitalism are commemorating this Easter, some 50 rebels were killed while more than four times that number of civilians died. It was the latter, innocent and, as it happened, uniformly poor, who were the real blood sacrifice and their deaths presaged even worse to come.
Richard Montague

50 Years Ago: Stalin the God and Stalin the Gangster (2006)

Stalin by Picasso
The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the Stalin legend is ended, struck down by the hands that built it up. Three years after his death Communist Party leaders of all nationalities who fawned on him and grovelled at his feet in his lifetime, and who slobbered hysterically at his funeral, vie with each other to speak ill of their dead hero. They now make charges that he was cowardly, conceited, ignorant and stupid, cunning and brutal, and his supposedly benevolent guidance of his admiring and loving people nothing but a betrayal of Communist ideals, a bestial reign of terror under which no voice of protest could be heard and no man of integrity was safe against arbitrary execution.

One thing we must, however, not forget. If the faction that wants to belittle Stalin carries the day we may expect the anti-Stalin campaign to be as richly ornamented with new lies as was the old campaign to build up the Stalin myth. History will be re-written again with no more regard for truth.

For the venal and sycophantic second-line leaders it is a cruel dilemma. While the dictator lived the drill was simple,. Since he was all-wise, when he turned they all turned; and fell over each other to praise his every tortuous twist of policy,. But, as has happened throughout history, the dictator’s death launches his immediate circle into a bloody struggle for power, and the minor leaders and their followers suddenly have to make up their own minds which faction to support. So the British Communists are now anxiously disputing about the line they ought to follow,. This is the eventual fate of all organizations built up on leader-worship and Socialists can view their agonies with equanimity. The Communist Party has never been a force for Socialism and its disruption could only be a gain to the working class.

(From editorial, Socialist Standard, April 1956)

Editorial: Elections: what for? (2006)

Editorial from the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in a world of inequality where wealth is the real source of power, profits come first and billions are poor through no fault of their own.

All communities are blighted by inequality and deprivation.

In the local elections in 4 May, as in all elections, you have a choice.

You can vote for candidates who would work within this system and help keep it going. Or you can use your vote to overturn it and end these blights once and for all.

Real power today does not lie in elected bodies but in the hands of those who own the world’s wealth. Labour, Tories, Liberals and the others in this election are just arguing over how to use the scraps thrown from the billionaire’s table. A system based on private property has to be run in the interests of its owners. Their profits have to come first.

So long as inequality of wealth and power exist elections such as these are just about who is to run this system. The only rational choice is to reject the compromisers and reformists and use every resource available to end it.

You don’t need to vote for any particular party to get rubbish collected, schools built or amenities provided. Communities don’t need leaders to get those things for themselves. You know what you need better than any careerist councillor ever could and, if there was real democracy, could easily arrange this. Under the present system, though, you only get them, so long as those who own the world make the resources available. But they always give priority to making more profits, so these things are always under-resourced and never done properly.

You can instead send a clear signal to other people like yourselves upon whose hard work this system is built that you want to put an end to it, by refusing to vote for any of the capitalist parties and instead writing“World Socialism” across the ballot paper.

When enough of us join together determined to end inequality and deprivation we can transform elections into a means of doing away with a society of minority rule in favour of real democracy and equality.

Our common efforts could feed, clothe and house every man woman and child on Earth without exception but we are held back because the owners of the world demand their cut before they’ll let us use the world’s resources. The iron laws of No Profit, No Production and No Profit, No Employment are a cage for us.

If you agree with the idea of a society of common and democratic ownership where no-one is left behind and where things are produced because they are needed, and not to make profits for some capitalist corporation or to enrich some bloated millionaire, and are prepared to join with us to achieve this, then vote for World Socialism.

The Socialist Party is standing candidates in Lambeth and Kingston in the London borough elections. For details and offers of help phone 0207 622 3811 or email

Cheap at the Price: An Examination of the Education Question. (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

An M.A. Speaks his Mind.
  Someone has just estimated that we are spending no less than £150,000,000 a year on education. . . Education tends to become more and more standardised. The same set of subjects is taught to each class of boys and girls, in town and in country, quite irrespective of what is to be their ultimate occupation. . . . The boy who is going to devote himself to the pursuit of agriculture, equally with one who is going to work at a skilled trade in a town, is crammed at school with a number of subjects which have no bearing whatever on his future career. . . . We simply cannot afford to increase our already crushing load of taxation by laying out money upon schemes that may be very interesting, unless we can feel that they are going to result in getting the world’s work done.
The above is from an article by D. Kennedy-Bell, M.A., B D., which appeared in the “Sunday Pictorial” of July 11th. It is interesting because it openly avows the object of education to be to get “the world’s work done.” The writer strongly objects to expenditure on education that does not make for efficiency. The aim of education must be greater production, and the method advocated is to separate students according to their abilities and educate them for the occupations for which they are physically or mentally adapted.

His Logic Admitted.
No one can fall out with this reasoning. If the sole object of education is to fit the young for the business of wealth production, and that business calls for workers with different forms of skill, then, obviously, a specialised education for each calling will be both economical in itself and produce the most efficient and economical workers.

But is the “getting of work done” the sole object of education ? Viewed in this way, expenditure on education is like the Scriptural bread thrown on the waters to be returned a hundredfold. Returned to who? Most big capitalist concerns have well-equipped laboratories where research is carried on, and where young men are trained to carry on this work, because it results in discoveries that simplify processes and still further increase profits for the shareholders. In this narrow sphere it is not difficult to see that it is the shareholders who reap the full benefits, while the workers get nothing beyond wages based on the cost of living and a growing fear of unemployment as a result of their own increased powers of production.

The Question is Confused.
When it is a question of national expenditure on education, however, it is not so easy to see who are the actual gainers. The whole question is confused by the false, but prevailing, notion that all the members of society share in the State expenditure according to their means and reap the benefits according to their ability or perseverance.

To get behind this curtain of prejudice we must examine the educational system in conjunction with the industrial system, when we shall, perhaps, discover, not only that it is a prejudice, but also that Mr. Kennedy-Bell has failed to appreciate the cunning with which the modern system of education has been devised to satisfy the requirements of modern industrialism. For the bulk of the population education finishes with the board school at fourteen years of age—an age barely sufficient to appreciate its value. Mr. Kennedy-Bell complains that a number of subjects are taught, but he does not say how little is taught of each subject. The board school education is scrappy and disconnected ; its most advanced subjects are those of the counting house. Natural science|is barely touched upon, instead, the (robber) captains of industry are held up as examples of greatness, their success, it is aid, being due to perseverance, ability, and all the other qualities the factory worker must possess in order to get a living as a wage-slave.

What Capitalism Needs.
Poor as the board school education is, however, it is ample for the mass of the workers, whose tasks in the modern factory are, in the main, purely mechanical, and can be learned in a few days, or even hours.

Capitalist industry, however, requires a certain proportion of workers who must be equipped with a specialised knowledge in a number of different spheres. For this purpose there are in existence higher grade schools and technical institutes, some State-owned and others privately owned, that provide for capitalist requirements by the promise of better paid jobs; though in the long run the increasing numbers who struggle for these jobs defeat their object by overstepping the demand. This is by the way, however, and in any case the capitalists get a supply of all the different kinds of labour in excess of their requirements. This, of course, generally speaking, because there are times when, for short periods, and in particular occupations, the supply may be barely adequate.

“Our educational system” is peculiarly adapted to the requirements of the industrial system. It provides for the capitalists huge numbers of workers with just enough education to work intelligently at menial and degrading tasks, yet not so much as will enable them to see the degradation—part of their education being that they are under the stern necessity of working, and they can only escape hard work by working harder, like their masters,

The Capitalists Spoil It.
The system also provides in adequate numbers all the better-equipped workers necessary to them ; if it is not so perfect as it might be it is not because of lack of desire on the part of the capitalists, but is due to mismanagement, or to conflicting interests between capitalists themselves who use their political influence to establish education on a basis more in harmony with their sectional requirements.

Of course this hypothesis assumes that the capitalist class have complete control over the educational authorities, which is perfectly true. Society is saturated with capitalist ideas and opinions by means of the Press. Religion, art, and science are harnessed to the car of industry and serve the interests of the ruling class, either by cheapening the processes of production or assisting them to maintain their dominant position. Soaked with capitalist prejudices and fallacies, even labour leaders, professing, and sometimes believing in, their ability to do something for the workers, and striving to do their best for working-class education on local administrative bodies, are powerless to alter the general trend of the forces that make education for the working class an accessory to capitalist production and nothing more.

Thus the great mass of the workers are shut out from the vast realm of knowledge inherited from the past. Only the sons and daughters of the wealthy have the time and opportunity to acquire knowledge for the sole reason that it makes life richer. The sons and daughters of the miner and the factory hand are crammed for nine or ten years with a so called useful education, and flung on the labour market while still children, to pile up wealth for the master class.

Who Foots the Bill.
To return to Mr. Kennedy-Bell, his complaint is that “we do not get value for the £150,000,000 we spend on education. “ The real significance of this complaint is at once seen now that we know where the money comes from. The wages received by the workers, based on the cost of living, and rising and falling as the cost of living rises and falls, cannot be tapped to pay the cost of education. The capitalist class must, therefore pay for education. They must pay for it out of profits. And as they control the political and administrative machinery of the State, they can adjust educational expenditure according to their industrial needs.

It is obvious to the capitalists, if it is not to the workers, that the State, which enables them to effect the robbery, must be maintained by them jointly, and a little thought will show that the capitalist class pays, not only for education, but for all the other institutions and forces that help to preserve society in its present form.

The industrial system gives the capitalist class all the wealth of society. Education gives them a working class saturated with their beliefs and ideas, and political propaganda gives them control of the political and administrative machinery of the State.

The Fly in the Ointment.
Thus they have the power, through the forces they control, to continue their robbery of the working class, to arrange education according to their industrial needs, and to falsely educate the workers in fallacies and superstitions that have long since been exploded by science. The secret of capitalist power is, therefore, control of the political machine, and the capitalist class spend vast sums on maintaining their control. The only fly in the ointment on their side is that they cannot keep it a secret, and when once it becomes generally realised by the workers, together with a knowledge of their slave position, the capitalist system will be nearing its abolition.

With the establishment of a sane system of society education will no longer be a mere adjunct of the industrial process, carried on for the benefit of a small class. Its character and scope will be determined by the people themselves. And whether it is chiefly concerned with the production of wealth, or not, it must always be of vital interest to everyone, because it will constitute the mental equipment of all the members of society, freely associating on terms of equality in the ownership and administration of the means of wealth production. Every new discovery, under such a system, will mean new enjoyments or more leisure, which can be used up in recreation or the pursuit of further knowledge.
F. Foan

Don’t Be Futile. (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the latter days of last July, a body of people calling themselves The No-Conscription Fellowship, appointed a committee to organise the “Widest Possible Resistance” by people who objected to rendering war service against Russia.

That committee drafted a manifesto calling upon those who objected to performing military service against Russia, or making and transporting munitions, or who would resist all military preparations and the imposition of conscription, to forward their names with the object of strengthening their resistance by being formed into an organised body.

The committee were, according to themselves, “overwhelmed with replies, a very large proportion of them from ex-service men who are most vigorous in their expression of determination not to fight in the new war should it come.”

We must class both leaders and supporters of such a movement as being illogical, shortsighted, and utterly void of understanding of the conditions which govern them, which, of course, connotes the fact that they do not know the cause of their condition.

We claim to know the cause of this condition.

We know that, as the effect of that cause, wars are inevitable. We know that, as a result of their condition, the workers generally are not in a position to resist conscription.

We know the cause of the general poverty, want, and degradation, the insecurity of life, that is the lot of the workers.

When we speak of workers we do not differentiate between nigger drivers, quill drivers, bus drivers, and cattle drivers. Whether you are a manager, clerk, navvy, or soldier matters not. If you sell your services in order that you may live, you are a worker; your services are sold to an employer in precisely the same way as a pound of cheese is sold over the counter, and that very fact abolishes the consideration of “classes” among the workers. There is another “class,” we grant—the non-workers or capitalists ; the employing class ; the people who own the means of life.

We do not differentiate between capitalists, either. It is immaterial to us whether a capitalist drops his aitches, came over with William the Conk, gets his money from a pickle factory, or has blue blood in his veins. We are only concerned with the fact that the capitalists have appropriated to themselves the means of life over the whole of the earth.

And it is the workers, who are in the vast majority, who have GIVEN THEM THE OPPORTUNITY of appropriating the earth.

It is the workers who, in their abysmal ignorance, continually keep on giving away their chances of recovering that ownership of the earth, who continually place in the hands of the capitalists and their agents fresh accretions of power.

Capitalism is the name of the system under which we are living now.

It is a system in which the only place for the workers (who, after all, are the only USEFUL human beings on earth) is at the bottom. That is their right place in such a system, AND THE WORKERS MUST LIKE IT, or they would never put up with it.

We know differently, though. We know that the things which prevent the workers from regaining the power of enjoying to the full all that the earth and their own capabilities could give them are pitifully profound ignorance and deadly apathy.

The capitalists and their agents who compose our governments know only too well that where numbers are concerned they are nowhere against the workers and so by subtlety, cunning, and absolute unscrupulousness they lead the workers by the nose and get them to give them power, and with that power make the workers do all that the capitalists require of them.

Everything that is done in the world to-day, from managing a mine to sweeping a road, is done by the worker. The capitalist does nothing useful, yet he enjoys the best of everything.

To protect the property of the capitalists and to gain fresh property for them, their agents (whom the workers elect to Parliament) have the power to send fighting forces to any part of the world, and also have the power, incredible as it may seem, to gull the worker into believing that it is being done for his benefit.

If the standing army is insufficient, the agents of the capitalists bring in “conscription.”

Some few of the workers decided to stand out of the last great war our masters had. As a consequence of the SYSTEM that the majority of them had never dreamed of abolishing, they had a hell of a time—and some died.

Now we have the No-Conscription Fellowship advocating that the workers should ask for more trouble. What they are actually doing is leading the workers from the only path that will finally lead to the abolition of wars.

The doings of the armed forces of government are, in the final analysis, ordered by the majority of the members of Parliament, who, we have pointed out are capitalist agents.

While the workers keep voting “So-and-So candidate” into Parliament without having studied the matter at all, M.P.s will continue to be agents of the master class. That being the case, how can the workers expect that government will be in the interest of the workers ?

The government of the workers in the interest of the capitalist class will go on just the same, and when the next great war comes the conscientious objectors will again fill vacancies in H.M. goals or special settlements.

Your condition when the next great war comes will be precisely the same as it was when the last war came, whether you join the No-Conscription Fellowship or not.

The cure for the evils suffered by the workers under the present system is—SOCIALISM.

Don’t be afraid of the word, as your grandmother taught you to be.

Don’t put your thinking out for a man on a platform to do for you—do it yourself.

CAPITALISM, a system of private ownership and control of the things necessary for you to live by, leaves you, the actual producer of all that is useful in the world, at the bottom of things—never sure of to-morrow’s food, without any security of right to live.

SOCIALISM, a system of common ownership and control of the means of life, would put you on your proper plane in life, without a “superior,” still an actual worker, sure of food, clothing, shelter, and the very minimum of hours of labour.

When the means of life are commonly owned, do you think for a moment that you will fight each other for oil wells, or for wheat fields, or for anything else ?

In the words of Bernard Shaw’s puppet, NOT SO BLOODY LIKELY!

Get acquainted with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the only party in this country expounding Socialism.

The Witches’ Cauldron. (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The International Financial Conference, which has been called by the League of Nations, is now fixed to take place in Brussels on Sept. 24th: All members of the League have been invited to send delegations, and all but a few have accepted. Invitations have also been sent to ex-enemy countries. —, “Star,” Aug. 31.
I wonder what is in the wind?

Has the League of Nations (which the ordinary worker was led to believe was formed to prevent wars) got so far on the road to the preservation of peace as to have discovered that financial interests are the cause of all modern wars?

Is it going to preach “brotherly love” to those attending ?

Is it going to plead with them to improve the conditions of the poor all over the world ?

Is it going to show those financiers a royal road to reduced armaments ?

Will it concern itself about alleviating the distress of the poor dupes who suffered in and because of the last great war for markets ?

According to what we have been told by Mr. Horatio Bottomley and a few more of the kidney who make a fat living out of doing the workers’ thinking for them, the League of Nations was half dead when born and sure of being quite dead very shortly.

Yet it appears that the League of Nations is such a vigorous and healthy thing that it can call together our capitalist masters for a Conference !
  It is clear from the personnel of the delegations that the Conference is to be of an authoritative kind. In many cases Ministers of Finance will represent their countries. — Same capitalist rag continued.
One can hardly imagine “Ministers of Finance” “representing their countries” for the benefit of the workers of those countries, although those workers have been taught that it is their country.
  In other countries, as, for instance, in the case of Great Britain, a delegation has been appointed composed of ‘experts calculated to represent the different aspects of British finance,’ one being a late head of the Treasury, another a Governor of the Bank of England, and a third the head of one of the great joint stock banks. —As before.
Whatever has a conference of financiers to do with ensuring peace throughout the world ?

AS SOCIALISTS, understanding the system we live under, we say—EVERYTHING! The peace you will get through the League of Nations is only the peace of death.

In all probability the venue of the next great war will be decided at that conference.

We Socialists, who know that peace is only a concern of those “pawns on the chessboard,” the workers of the world, would rather believe that the conference will decide on how to restore Russia—to the grip of the capitalists completely.

No doubt the methods employed to do so will include a “kindly” desire to see a “settled and constitutional form of democratic Government in Russia.”

Russia has oil.

Russia has enormous wheat-growing areas.

Russia contains enormous natural reserves of wealth.


Personality. (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist has great difficulty in propagating the principles of Socialism, inasmuch as the mass of the people look at political and economic affairs from a personal point of view.

Evidence of that is obvious enough when the people take part in a general election. The general election of December 14th 1918 was acclaimed as a victory for Mr. Lloyd George— and so it was.

The workers, or at least the majority of them, wanted Mr. Lloyd George to be Prime Minister, and their will prevailed. Mr. Lloyd George and his Coalition party went into Government with flying colours —and the workers’ choice of persons was settled.

Strange to say, the workers’ action on the industrial field has been a complete contradiction of their hopes and expectations. Their “good men” have missed fire. The workers thought that so and so would try to improve working-class conditions. There are thousands of men and women unemployed, and the increased cost of living makes the unemployed workers more dangerous and worrying, more anxious and poverty-stricken. Mr. Lloyd George and his party are in power, but are powerless to improve the position of the working class.

Strikes took place soon after the General Election and have continued up to the present. Mr. Lloyd George was not asked if he approved of the workers striking. Why not ? Mr. Lloyd George was sent to Parliament to govern the country. Why were the workers so fickle-minded? One would have expected such a “great man” to be consulted. Strikes make it rather awkward for the right honourable gentleman. The workers keep him busy organising schemes to beat the strike, when he might be playing golf or composing a speech about downing the Lords and giving heroes a chance to have a lick at a decent life.

In spite of it all—the winning of the war, the winning of the railway strike, the winning of votes from the working class—Mr. Lloyd George has nothing to give you but promises. Why ? Because the right honourable gent upholds the capitalist principles of private ownership and the consequent exploitation of the workers to enrich the owners of the means and instruments of wealth production. He has promised to make this country fit for heroes to live in !

The Socialists expect no more than that, because we know that personality has never yet improved the workers’ life. There is something greater than personality, and that is principle.

Principle is defined in a dictionary as “fundamental truth, original cause, motive, rule.” The system under which we live is dominated by the capitalist class, and consequently is and must be run on capitalist principles.

Wealth, which includes margarine, dud food, dud drink, dud clothing, dud houses, and perhaps in the near future monkeys’ glands, is produced fundamentally for profit, and not as a rule for use. The motive of the capitalist class is to get as much wealth as possible with as little expense as can be in the producing of the same. Therefore it is not strange that the workers are poor in the midst of plenty.

Capitalist production and distribution make the worker strike and in other ways show his discontent. Personality is best suited for the capitalist class, for their system is established and in working order. For them a choice of persons is quite correct. Whether Mr. Lloyd George or some other person shall be at the head of their administration is logical from a capitalist point of view. The working class are not organised for the establishment of a system suitable for them. So, when they are voting for a Person they are not minding their own business. The persons whom the working class vote for must work for capitalist interests, for the simple reason that the workers are not against the capitalist system. Their votes are for or against a Person or Persons, with the idea that some are for working-class improvement and others against.

A remarkable example of a minority of persons who have usurped political power is to be seen to-day in Russia. There you have a body of men and women who determined to establish society on communistic principles. It has turned out to be a failure, because the majority of the people were not mentally fit for a system of common ownership, and because the economic conditions were not ripe. The Bolsheviks were compelled to compromise with the capitalist class, who own and control the world’s means of production and distribution.

Therefore as long as the majority of the world’s workers are not prepared and organised to institute the Socialist Commonwealth, they will have to suffer poverty in the midst of plenty, wholesale slaughter, and a future black with the hovering clouds of war and unemployment, strikes and so forth.

In spite of sending ” jolly good fellows” to Parliament this chaos must ensue, and the workers only exhibit their ignorance of political and economic affairs in so doing.

Thorold Rogers in his book “Six Centuries of Work and Wages,” tells us (p. 398)
  What a husbandman earned with 15 weeks work in 1495, a whole year’s labour would not supply artizan or labourer with in the year 1725 throughout Lancashire. I have protested before against the complacent optimism which concludes, because the health of the upper classes has been bettered, and appliances, unknown before, have become familiar and cheap, that therefore the country in which these improvements have been effected must be considered to have made, for all its people, regular and continuous progress, I contend that from 1653 to 1824, a conspiracy, concocted by the law and carried out by parties interested in its success, was entered into, to cheat the English workman of his wages, to tie him to the soil, to deprive him of hope, and to degrade him into irremediable poverty.
Many “great men” since 1824 have been elected to Parliament—with great enthusiasm. Yet to day the workers are worse off than in 1495, and for a very good reason. The masters have reaped all the benefit of the vast strides made in the improvement of the instruments of labour, and have even succeeded in turning the very fertility of his labour against the wage labourer.

And to-morrow, if a so called Labour Government were elected, capitalist interests would prevail, because the workers are not organised for common ownership.

Salvation from poverty in the midst of plenty cannot be obtained by voting for Persons. The only way is to organise and vote for the principle of the common ownership of the meang and instruments of wealth production.

Until the time of working-class enlightenment and consequent control of our lives and destiny, we must suffer the evils of private ownership and “great men” with tongues of promise.
S. W.

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.) (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Link to Part 4.

In the last article we pointed out that the modern class struggle has been fought out for years in a vague sort of way. The bulk of those who took part in it aimed merely at higher wages and improved conditions of labour, but, in spite of their activities in the struggle, there has been a steady downward tendency in the life conditions of the workers. In other words the workers have steadily lost ground in the fight.

Poverty is more wide-spread now than formerly: the dividing line between capitalist and wage-worker is more clearly defined; the former class is narrowing while the latter is broadening; and finally there is almost as much chance now-a-days for a worker to push his way into the ranks of the capitalists as there is for the biblical camel to get through the eye of the biblical needle. Even the status of the self-styled Intellectuals (technical experts, managers, writers, and so on) is declining and they are becoming as plentiful as potatoes—and commanding a corresponding price.

In spite of continual defeats, however, the economic struggle over working conditions has been fruitful. It is steadily driving the mass of the workers nearer and nearer to recognising that the way out of their troubles lies in abolishing the cause of wage slavery instead of tinkering with effects ; and that way lies on the political field in the struggle for the possession of political power.

From the point of view of fighting economically the workers possess no power except that of causing temporary dislocation of production. Any dislocation in production that lasted long enough to be serious would compel the workers to succumb first as they would feel the pinch first and most acutely. They only way they could win would be to carry the matter to its uttermost extremity by starving to death— committing suicide.

The long history of trade union activity is accompanied by the history of the steady worsening of the lot of the worker. This does not mean that the worker should abandon the fight to sell his labour-power to the best advantage. As Marx has so clearly demonstrated in “Value, Price and Profit,” such inaction would be suicidal. The tendency of capitalism is to reduce the worker to the state of a coolie, and though, in the economic struggle, this downward tendency cannot be prevented, the speed of the process is retarded—the standard of living is lowered less rapidly. Above all, the worker who is not prepared to fight for the best bread and margarine he can obtain makes poor material to fight for Socialism.

As the workers get nearer to a knowledge of their position they recognise more clearly the extent and the limitations of economic action, and consequently wage this part of the struggle more effectively.

To understand the class struggle it is necessary to distinguish clearly between the two forms in which it is manifested: the narrow, limited (though necessary) fight about the conditions under which labour-power is sold, and the revolutionary political fight for the abolition of the wages system.

All historical classes that have attained social supremacy (including the Bolsheviks) have done so by virtue of the fact that they have obtained control of the political power at the disposal of society.

In the past, before the State power had undergone the development that made it such an admirable repressive weapon, it was essential for the would-be dominant class to obtain possession of the political power before such class could become the ruling class. Now that the State has reached such perfection it is even more essential than ever to obtain control of the powers of government.

In his study of the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War entitled “The Civil War in France,” Marx gives a picture of the development of the State since the revolutions that raised the capitalists to power. The following from this description is illuminating :
  At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class-antagonism between capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism. After every revolution marking a progressive phase in the class struggle, the purely repressive character of of the State power stands out in bolder and bolder relief. (P. 40, Kerr edition.)
This State power (represented by the army, police, judicial machinery, etc.), now in the hands of the employing class, is used to crush any attempts on the part of the workers to secure better conditions by means of violence, and also to bring the easy-going natives in non-developed countries abroad within the pale of wage-slavery. It is the power that renders futile any attempt of the workers to disrupt present society or obtain any radical alteration in their conditions unless, as a preliminary step, they obtain control of it. So long as this power is monopolised by the master class they hold the key to the position, and can keep the chains of wage slavery firmly riveted on the workers,

Hence the revolutionary side of the workers’ activities must take the line of removing this repressive power from the hands of the masters. The means to accomplish this end lie to hand.

Unfortunately for our rulers, as they become further and further removed from active participation in productive operations, abdicating from one after another of their useful functions and cultivating an inveterate idleness, so they become less and less able to keep their society in working order without conceding a greater and greater measure of participation in political action to the workers. As capitalist society became more complicated and unwieldy, the capitalist class had to ascertain the social needs by conceding to the mass of society a greater opportunity to express itself. But this was, at the same time, digging the grave of capitalism. The franchise was not extended to the workers merely because they struggled for it; in reality the capitalists needed the aid of the workers to save their system from chaos.

To-day the State power is controlled directly by and through Parliament. Parliamentary candidates are elected and the workers form the great majority of the electors. Consequently when they wish to do so they can obtain control of the state power by sending delegates to Parliament for that specific purpose.

Apropos of Lenin and his would-be imitators it is well to note that the workers could not “smash up” the State without first obtaining control of it. Guns can’t be smashed with bladders of wind !

The line of action to be taken by the workers in the struggle for emancipation is to organise for the purpose of conquering political power. In this struggle it must be borne in mind that, as the aim of the working class party is directly antagonistic to capitalism, no help (except what is given unintentionally) will be forthcoming from the enemy—the capitalists. Consequently the working-class party must avoid compromise and political bargains as it would the plague. It must be a revolutionary, and not a reform, party.

To take part in compromise is to admit that there is a common standing ground between the opposing hosts, in other words, that capitalists can. go some of the way with us. Capitalism, however, has reached its highest point of progress in the development of the productive powers to their present extraordinary pitch. It has now become a fetter upon production and is in the crumbling stage as the growing misery of the mass of the population testify. It has ceased to be revolutionary and is now reactionary. This point will be developed further in another part of this investigation.

A party that advocates reforms leads the workers, in the first place, to waste time and energy chasing shadows, and, in the second place, to place reliance upon, and power in the hands of one or other leading personality interested either in some particular type of reform or in feathering his nest.

The only method of fighting the class struggle politically with any hope of success is to aim straight at the control of political power for the purpose of ushering in Socialism, organising solely for that purpose, avoiding all blind alleys and compromises, no matter in what fine raiment of glowing phraseology they may be clothed. ”Compromise is virtual death.” “Expediency,” happy word ! has been used from early days to cover the blackest acts of treachery and trickery recorded in history, and is the corner stone of the parties of so-called “practical politicians” who are fishing for working-class support at the present time.

In the political arena at the present day there moves an individual who owes his position to a political bargain around which much discussion rage a number of years ago. We refer to M. Millerand, the French Premier and very useful tool of the French capitalists. His entrance into a capitalist government (where he sat as an “honourable friend” beside Gallifet, the butcher of the Communards) was greeted as a great victory by the Labour Movement of the time. His subsequent activities have illustrated how hollow are the “victories” obtained by compromise.

To sum up, the class struggle between the working class and the capitalist class intensifies year by year. Its only solution lies in the political victory of the working class, the overthrow of the foundations of existing society and the introduction of Socialism. This victory can only be secured by the workers understanding their class position and organising into an uncompromising, class-conscious political organisation for the purpose of taking out of the hands of the capitalists the power with which they hold the mass of society in subjection.

What the Strike Fever Points To. (1920)

Editorial from the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The anxieties and troubles of “peace” seem to be only less wearing than those of war. But a couple of decades ago the biggest of strikes was chiefly the concern of those directly connected with the struggle, and had little effect outside their small circle. The greatest of them – the Great London Dock strike – bitter and prolonged as it was, hardly affected the everyday life of the mass of the people even of London – much less of the country – at all.

In this respect, however, things are changing very rapidly. A year or so ago the Railway strike threatened to plunge the country into the agony of acute industrial warfare; to-day the threatened coal strike menaces our very lives – for there can be no doubt that many workers’ lives must pay the penalty of a stoppage of mining operations of even a few days’ duration.

As the field and extent of these ghastly, even if necessary, operations, develops, and their disastrous consequences take a wider and more deadly embrace, it surely should be borne in upon all workers how futile it all really is, and force them to consider the solution proffered by the Socialists. The private ownership of the means of production threatens society, in “peace” and in war, with disruption so violent as to overwhelm it in chaos.

Surely it must be apparent that the task which inexorably faces the working class is the overthrow of private ownership and the establishment of common ownership of the means of living.

The Position in Japan. (1920)

From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “Daily News” of July 10th included an article by A.G.G., the gist of which was a plaintive appeal against the renewal of the Treaty of 1902 between Japan and England, and in the course of his screed the writer accuses Japan of using the peculiar conditions brought about by the outbreak of the great war to her own advantage, implying in addition the use of her natural proximity to China to the disadvantage of that country, keeping in mind the fact that the remainder of the Allies had their hands too full in Europe to exercise any sort of control over her actions.

It is not intended here to go into the question as to whether possible acquisitions in China were a part of the bribe held out to Japan in order to secure her adhesion to the Allied cause, although the Versailles Peace Treaty has made it reasonably clear that all the smaller nations who were induced to participate in the conflict had certain concrete inducements offered to them as a quid pro quo,

In passing, a scrutiny of this Peace Treaty will also show that the bribes that were offered were all at the expense of the smaller nations for whom “we” affected to be so much concerned. Further in this connection, it might be suggested that offering the property of others is a very cheap form of bribery, as it leaves in the balance the question of being able to fulfill the obligation, and when it is fulfilled of course it has the additional beauty of being expensive only to the bespoiled party.

It may not be generally known that the Treaty of Alliance of 1902 between England and Japan had as its specific objective the maintenance of the integrity of the Chinese Empire in the following terms (as quoted by “A.G.G.”):
What are its objects ? They are three:
(l) The maintenance of the general peace in the regions of Eastern Asia and of India ;
(2) The preservation of the common interests of all Powers in China by insuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire, and the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China ;
(3) The maintenance of the territorial rights of the High Contracting Parties, and the defence of their special interests in Eastern Asia and India.
These terms can be called safe, seeing that they provide for the “preservation” of the common interests of all powers, and the “principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China.” This form of phrase is typical of all treaties between great Powers wherein the superficial assumption would be concern for the lesser Power in that the interests are always open to be enforced, so that the blatant hypocrisy of the whole business is always likely to be shown.

In the camp of the “High Contracting Parties” all is peace until such time as one begins to think that the other or others are getting too large a share of the loot, or so long as each is satisfied that it cannot do better by itself. But when this state of things becomes disrupted the trouble begins, and we find our gallant champions of the smaller nations are simply brigands out on the grab.

“A.G.G.” accuses Japan of having grabbed more than she should, and wishes US, you and me, fellow worker, to give the year’s notice required for the termination of the Alliance.

There is not much that can be said about the Japanese politician and diplomat that cannot be said about those of any other nation. They are doing the bidding of the Japanese section of the capitalist class in the same way that the politicians and diplomats of other nations are accomplishing the purposes of their capitalist masters, and the impulse behind it all is not regard for the rights of small nations, or respect for treaties.

What they prate of as “justice” is merely their idea of what will best further their efforts in the struggle for the world’s markets. This struggle, it is now clear to all intelligent people, precipitated the ghastly war through which we have just passed.

The writer of this article had occasion to take up a temporary residence in Japan recently, and during his stay had reason to travel up and down the country very extensively. He found all those social phenomena which are to be found here just as obvious there applying both to the workers and the masters. The struggle for existence is pretty well as keen there as here, the qualifying term being used advisedly owing to the fact that the Japanese master class have not quite rid themselves of the old patriarchal idea—there is still a glimmering of the principle behind Japanese industry that the worker is a responsibility of the master and as such the attitude does not appear to be quite so ruthless as it does in countries in which capitalism is not of recent development.

For instance, one will often find very old men working in some of the largest and most up-to-date plants in the country ; these men are looked upon largely in the light of pensioners, and when they are unable to muster the requisite energy to crawl to their daily toil some small pension is generally allotted to them so that they do not have to fall back upon the charity of their relatives. As a matter of fact, as there is no such thing in Japan as a workhouse or parochial Union, it will be understood that the Japanese worker, without some support from the master for whom he has spent his life’s blood, would be compelled to fall back upon the charity of his friends and relatives because no other resource would be open to him.

As a further illustration of this point it may be said that the beggars which abound in the land of the rising sun are all diseased or blind and are brought up from infancy to begging as a profession. No attempt is made by the Japanese Government to control the beggars as such. They have merely to conform to the ordinary law which applies to all workers, and they have their own union. The difference which strikes one between the beggars of this and other Western capitalist countries and those of Japan is that the former are nearly always industrial “throw-outs” while the latter seldom are.

It is very difficult indeed to get a true perspective of Japanese working-class life beyond the knowledge that the basis is the same as in all other capitalist countries, owing to the impossibility of reading the Japanese printed matter. It is comparatively easy to gain a smattering of the colloquial tongue, but this only enables one to find one’s way about, as it were, and does not open up the possibility of entering into detailed exchange of opinions. The fact that the literature is inaccessible is due to the fact that a lifetime of study would be necessary to gain a reading knowledge of the language. Therefore the only resource of the European who wishes to examine Japanese conditions through literature is the European Press of the country, which from day to day publishes extracts from the native Press. It can be readily understood what point of view is presented in these extracts, and what value, consequently, is to be credited to the information to be culled from such source.

There are, of course, many Japanese who speak English, but these, amongst the workers, are more or less what would be termed “middle class,” and one gets from them very much the same views as from their prototype here.

Among the workers the iron of capitalism is biting deeper and ever deeper. Rice, the staple food of the whole nation, has risen in price by more than 400 per cent, during the last two years, and although wages have risen in practically the same degree, helped by the favourable position that Japan has occupied during the war, now that, other countries are entering into competition with her this favourable condition of things will necessarily be modified, and is already making the struggle for existence show itself in a more marked degree.

The signs of unrest are becoming increasingly evident, and a constant succession of strikes, with a growing membership of the labour unions is in progress. Such a thing as a strike was hardly ever heard of before the war, but the writer scarcely remembers one large engineering firm in the whole of the Japanese Empire that was not held up by strikes for longer or shorter periods during his stay. One of the characteristics, however, of strikes in Japan is their unanimity. Such a thing as a blackleg is scarcely known, and on this account once the call for a withdrawal of the workers is issued the whole plants involved are closed down. A particular instance of this occurred in Kyushiu last December, and the Imperial Steel Works—a Government works employing over 24,000 workers—was shut down for more than three weeks, much to the delight of the American importers of steel. There was the usual batoning and imprisonment of those prominent in the strike, in spite of which the Imperial authorities had to climb down, and by large promises and small concessions persuade the workers to resume.

“A.G.G.’s” allusion to Japan “leaving the war severely” alone is very pathetic but does not touch those workers who understand their position in society. It is obvious that the impulse either of action or of inaction in that regard was the same with every nation, whether belligerent or neutral, and when he expatiates on this point and continues as follows: “no thought of the interests of the Allies, no thought of the interests of China, only the fear that if China became one of the allied States her interests would be better safeguarded in future,” one still remains unmoved, knowing what treaties are drawn up for.

The fact that China finally declared war against the Central powers is not mentioned in the article under discussion, otherwise our scribe would have to explain why it was that even after that occurred China’s interests were not better guarded than before.

It is quite common knowledge that Japan has been and is still doing her level best to disrupt the internal economy of the Celestial Empire, and maybe the fact that Japan is for the time being foremost in that field is what is causing so much concern to our servant of the cocoa kings !

The whole diatribe against the Japanese absolutely misses the vital points. This is not a matter for surprise, as the literary hacks of the master class are not concerned with fundamentals. The struggle for trade expansion necessitates control of new markets, and the acquisition of new territories in which to settle “surplus” populations. Consequently the Japanese Government have to follow any line which will give them control of new spheres, and more openly than in the past proclaim the imperialist policy adopted by the other big capitalist countries. These fundamental points are carefully evaded by our author.

In the case of Japan, of course, the necessity for an outlet for the teeming population is urgent, and this will be readily understood when it is mentioned that the population of the country is close on 60 millions, while the habitable portion is probably less than that of Great Britain. Although the area of the country is considerably larger than that of the British Isles, the country is largely covered with mountains, in fact, it has been computed that seven-eighths of its area is thus covered,

The fact of density of population strikes one wherever one goes. The workers’ houses have no yard or garden, simply being separated back and front by the streets. When a two-storey house is mentioned it implies two separate dwellings as far as the workers are concerned. It is easy to understand how detrimental to the workers such a condition of living is, and when Government statistics acknowledge tubercular cases to equal 25 per cent. of the population no doubt can remain of the serious effects of this massing together of large numbers of people in limited areas.

To summarise, therefore, it can be said that sooner or later, treaties or no treaties, Japan will be compelled to find fresh territories, and there will be war. There is no need to make any bones about this point of view. The only hope of the workers lies in the establishment of Socialism, and it is only by Socialism, and not by treaties, that the British and the Japanese workers alike can save themselves from disastrous conflicts in the near future.

Socialism, of course, can only be brought about by Socialists, and it is satisfactory, therefore, to remember that Socialism is becoming more and more discussed in Japan, although, owing to police restrictions it is very difficult indeed for an outsider to get into touch with the organisations to ascertain immediately their point of view in order to allow of comparison with the position of the S.P.G.B.
D. W. F.

Don't be a nationalist (1994)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
From the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The human drama, whether played out in history books or headlines, is often not just a confusing spectacle but a spectacle about confusion. The big question these days is, which political force will prevail, those stitching nations together or those tearing them apart?

All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, they are all artificial and temporary. Through the ages there has been a trend toward larger units claiming sovereignty and, paradoxically, a gradual diminution of how much true sovereignty any one country actually has. Today fewer than 10 percent of the 186 countries on Earth are culturally or linguistically homogeneous. The rest are multinational states. The main goal driving the process of political expansion and consolidation was conquest. The big absorbed the small, the strong the weak. National might made international right. Such a world is in a more-or-less constant state of preparation for war.

From time to time many thinkers have questioned whether this was a sensible way to run a planet; perhaps national sovereignty was not such a great idea after all. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment gave rise to the idea that all human beings are born equal and should as citizens enjoy certain basic liberties and rights, including that of choosing their leaders. Once this had been achieved, the argument went, it was more reasonable to imagine a treaty regulating nations’ behaviour toward one another. In 1795 Kant was advocating a "peaceful league of democracies".

With the advent of modern technology the world has become smaller than ever, its nations more interdependent and conflicts bloodier. The price of settling international disputes by force was rapidly becoming too high for the victors, not to mention the vanquished.

Once again, people like Gandhi, Toynbee and Camus all favoured giving primacy to interests higher than those of the nation. Each world war inspired the creation of an international organization, the League of Nations in the 1920s and the United Nations in the 1940s.

Despite this, during most of our century, large areas of the world have been in a continual state of warfare. Many of these conflicts had taken place since the end of the Second World War. Most of the nations directly or indirectly involved in all of these wars were members of the "United Nations" which was set up as an instrument to prevent wars, especially between its members.

The very designation "united", when applied to nations, is a contradiction in terms, because a union among rival states is not practical and only possible in the instance of the temporary alliance of one group to wage war on another, whether military or trade warfare.

Despite the globalization of capitalism there are still plenty of emergent nationalist forces which are busily inventing histories in order to justify their own petty territorial claims. The romance of an idealized national story of the past is the stuff which gets people to enter the killing fields. The bullets follow the flag-waving rituals and they in return follow the legendary histories which inspired a false consciousness of pride in their state.

In the powerful nations history becomes a means of winning popular emotions to the cause of stability. An influential and well-funded nostalgia industry has long been used in these nations to persuade workers that there is something great about being the Nation’s subjects.

Many of the 'national liberation" movements have been mere pawns in the hands of rival imperialisms even before they have won. Where they have won, independence has benefitted neither the colonial peoples nor the workers of the former colony-holding countries. For it is not the workers who are liberated but only a minority who impose their rule and take over from the foreign governments the role of exploiters. Once in power this minority finds sooner or later that its independence too is illusory; it is forced to compromise with one or other of the imperialist powers, even the one they fought against.

What is a nation anyway? Is it an area in which resides a population with a common so-called racial or ethnical background? Is it an area in which resides a population with a common language?
Common religion? Common economic interest? It is none of these.

The only valid definition of a modern nation is a geographical and political area in which goods and services are produced for the sale on the market with a view to profit and with a general class division of ruling and ruled. And the fact that the majority of the population owns little but its ability to work is evidence that the working class has no common interest with the minority capitalist or ruling class. Furthermore, the fact that nations are, in effect, businesses and engaged in the normal business transactions of buying and selling in competition with one another in the markets of the world, certainly prevents such a thing as a genuine "league of nations’. It has always been apparent with the member-states of the "United Nations" that sovereign national interests come first.

Modern warfare is inextricably bound up with the capitalist mode of production — the production of goods and services for sale on market with a view to profit. Regardless of artificially-created hostility among the varied ethnic and religious groupings, war breaks out only when governments representing rival ruling classes wish it to break out.

The causes of war are found not in animosities between different groups, or in so-called aggressive instincts of humans, but in the quest by ruling classes for markets, sources of raw materials and strategic military bases to protect trade.

Remove capitalism from the world and you remove the cause of the conflicts between nation states that lead to wars.

In a socialist society there will be no attempt to impose uniformity, but so-called nationalist movements under capitalism are both a menace and an illusion. They are a menace because they enable an interested ruling class to use them to provoke antagonism towards other groups and thus provide fertile ground for capitalist interests to work up support for war.

Separatist nationalism is an illusion because, while capitalism lasts, the powers, great and small, dare not allow themselves to be weakened by giving real freedom of action to any group of citizens. Governments, in defending capitalist interests, are all opposed to the development of internationalism among the working class of the world, and equally opposed to so-called national minorities which resist conforming to centralized rule and conscription for the armed forces.

There are in fact no purely nationalist movements. Invariably the nationalist sentiment is mixed with economic factors and made use of by the class that has an interest to serve by achieving independence; and independence means not the emancipation of the exploited section of the population but a mere change of masters.
Michael Ghebre

Recovery — Fact or Fiction? (1994)

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
From the April 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article in the Socialist Standard last May we described how politicians and media commentators had developed a whole new terminology when describing what in fact was a developing recession.

From Norman Lamont's announcement that "recovery had begun" in June 1991 terms such as "growth recession”, "slowdown in growth", "soft landing" have all been used in the press to describe what we know was the commencement of a major economic slowdown. As conditions worsened we were told that it was going to be "a shallow depression of short duration" in an economy that needed "kick starting".

Recovery under way?
This year, almost in chorus, the press are telling us that recovery is under way here and abroad with one or two qualifications. According to a CBI survey published in the Daily Telegraph (11 January) it is "fragile and patchy". The survey also concludes that "no U.K. region has totally eliminated recession".

The consensus view expressed in the popular press is that the United States is leading the world out of recession, and that a strong recovery is underway in Britain and the emerging economies of south-east Asia.

It is not that long ago that Germany was to be the source of a booming recovery following unification. Prior to this Japan was the "wonder economy" of the Far East. Both these countries are now in deepening recession.

In Germany unemployment is now 9.6 percent of the working population. Volkswagen announced it would bring in a four-day week following losses of £612 million and an 11.4 percent slump in sales in the first nine months of 1993 (Daily Telegraph, 26 November). The level of unemployment of just over four million has prompted comparisons with the Weimar Republic when unemployment touched five million in 1933 and Hitler took power. The prospect of an export-led recovery has not materialized. "According to the Economic Ministry, orders received by Germany Industry fell by 0.8 percent after declining by 0.6 percent in October" (Daily Telegraph, 6 January).

Rising unemployment
With rising unemployment the pressures on the public sector debt has increased. Describing this in an article entitled "Up. up and away", the Financial Times says that
  total overall public sector debt will sail through another Maastricht convergence criteria, topping DM 2000 billion or more than 60 percent of GDP. The last straw has been the addition of East German debts of DM 275 bn to the total.
Private household debt has reached record levels with industrial bankruptcies close behind. "The recession has driven one in two households into debt with 1.5 million families out of a total of 35 million estimated to owe an average of £16,000" (Daily Telegraph, 7 October).

Europe too
France like Germany, has all the features of a deepening depression. Unemployment is 12 percent. Car sales are falling. It too has increasing problems with its welfare budget, resulting in the unemployed having cuts in their dole payments whilst a group of nurses staged a 500 days’ protest outside the Ministry of Social Affairs as a protest at understaffing and poor pay (Financial Times, 24 November).

In Britain, in spite of the optimistic announcement of recovery by politicians and others, the economy is still in a contained depression. This means it has been contained to some extent by public, personal and corporate borrowing as well as relatively low-interest rales. But these factors can only have a transient effect.

Of course it wouldn’t be Spring without the usual optimistic cuckoo noises from the building societies.

The Halifax Building Society has published its Monthly Index of house prices and announced an increase of 2.2 percent in February. If the implication is that this is likely to continue then house prices would rise by 27 percent for the whole year. This is difficult to reconcile with the fact that between one and one and-a-half million owners are living in houses that are worth less than they owe to the banks and building societies. With this amount of debt outstanding and the tax increases in the budget plus the lowering of interest rate relief on mortgages, recovery in this market is unlikely.

Retail sales are often quoted as evidence of recovery. The optimistic forecasts for retail sales have failed to match expectations. The Xmas sales improvements forecast last year have turned out to be a damp squib.

Price war
Overall sales fell by 0.2 percent over the sector. Supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury. ASDA and Safeway are now engaged in a price-cutting war. This sector has often been described as counter cyclical in periods of recession. Sainsbury have even been considered recession-proof and cited as evidence of recovery based on their results. When, however, it announced reductions in the price of 300 basic food items, the fear that this would escalate price-cutting by their rivals led to a fall in the share prices of food retailers including their own (Daily Telegraph, 4 November). The company has subsequently announced forthcoming staff cutbacks.

The United States is now said to be in a recovery of sufficient strength to lead the world out of recession. Whilst it is undeniable that there has been an increase in housing starts as well as an increase in manufacturing and purchase of machinery and equipment, much of this equipment has been cost-cutting which will be lead to idle capacity elsewhere.

The increase in housing starts have been to a large extent due to very low interest and mortgage rates. Non-residential construction has remained flat. Whilst there has been a rise in published GDP statistics there has not been a corresponding rise in living standards commensurate with a sustained recovery. Much of the optimistic projections failed to consider the huge personal debt that still exists in America.

In an article in the Financial Times (4 January) entitled "Locomotive runs out of Puff", Robert Giordano forecasts a slowdown in US economic growth:
  Households will be unable to sustain their consumption binge because it cannot be financed. Outlays have been rising at a 4 percent annual clip since early 1993 while real disposable income growth averaged only 2.5 percent.
Commenting on America’s problems he writes
  foreign trade prospects look bleak despite completion of the Uruguay Round. A deteriorating trade balance has restrained growth and should do so in coming months. 
He also points out that US GDP adjusted for inflation has yet to equal the level achieved in 1988. As in Britain, the deficit has been cushioned by a huge Federal Deficit and by deposit insurance to prevent a financial crisis as in the 1930s. But this cannot continue indefinitely. The outstanding debts have still to be eliminated. The recession in Europe and the trade disputes with Japan does not bode well for US exports.

Economic opinion formers in the rest of the world have been waiting three years for the US to act as the world’s locomotive for growth. It seems that they will have to wait longer yet.

Italy is still plagued with massive public spending problems and political scandals. Unemployment is 11.5 percent. Public spending is equal to 114 percent of GDP at a time of low growth and rising interest rates (Financial Times, 28 February).

Spain, like Italy has political scandals. The banking system was recently shaken by the collapse of the Banesto Bank which had to be bailed out by the Central Bank of Spain after depositors rushed to withdraw their savings. Spain has the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union at 23.1 percent.

Japan, formerly the miracle economy of the 70s and 80s and until recently the largest economy in the world, is moving into deeper recession. The Normura Research Institute has forecast that the economy will shrink by 0.4 percent this year and blamed the expected shrinkage on a continuing fall in corporate earnings and capital spending in coming months (Financial Times 10 December). Three attempts by the government to stimulate the economy along Keynesian lines have not produced a recovery.

Nippon Steel has built a $240 million new steel plant in Nagoya which has yet to open. Steel output in Japan has fallen by 40 percent. As the Wall Street Journal reported in January one of the largest property companies in Japan AZBUV has total debts amounting to twice the value of its assets. According to the Economist (19 February') it will take Japanese banks ten years to clear their debts provided conditions do not worsen further.

Japan is expected to have the highest percentage of people over 65 among the industrial nations by the end of the century. As elsewhere many consumer prices are falling. Unemployment is 2.9 percent but the security of job tenure is becoming impossible to maintain. With production and exports declining Japan is an accident waiting to happen. There can be little doubt that with deflationary recession sweeping Japan there will be repercussions on the rest of the world economy.

Here in Britain the Chancellor of the Exchequer is advised by the Seven Wise Men. They are economists who suggest ways of "managing" the economy. This usually consists of recommendations on interest rates, taxation and the monetary aggregates such as the money supply. However, the Seven do not always agree on the remedial measures to be adopted. One of the most optimistic is Professor Patrick Minford of Liverpool University. He considers that recovery is underway and is being held back by failure to reduce interest rates and lower taxation. Opposing this view is Professor Congdon of Lombard Research who vigorously advocates higher taxes and interest rates to control public spending. The Seven rarely reach a unanimous conclusion. They think that by tinkering around with the monetary aggregates depressions can be smoothed out. Of course they cannot achieve this. If they could it would be possible to prevent these economic upheavals from arising.

Inherent dislocations
They fail to realize that the major dislocations in the capitalist economy are inherent to the capitalist system. The bulk of what passes for economic opinion tends to look at the world economy as if the conditions that have applied since 1945 are the only ones applicable. With the ascendancy of Keynesian economics in the post-war period with massive public spending and money supply growth and with the inevitable consequent inflation, it has been assumed that the Great Depression of the 1930s is something from an economic dark age and which won’t be allowed to happen again.

In interpreting economic events orthodox capitalist economists tend to take short-term trends and project them in linear fashion into the future in the way in which the Halifax Housing Index was used earlier. An increase in production over a three-month period is projected forward as a positive trend. They fail to realize that capitalism is fundamentally chaotic in its movements. The fact of the matter is that we seen to be in an era of falling prices, rising unemployment and financial instability on a global scale. In short, the current economic environment has much more in common with the conditions of the 1930s.

Looking at the economic indicators in the Economist (26 February) of the 15 industrial countries listed 13 have shown year-on-year increases in unemployment. Industrial production has exceeded four percent in only four.

Taken on a global view there is no convincing evidence of an upturn anywhere of sufficient strength to lead to world recovery. The probability that we are entering into another 1930s scenario cannot be dismissed out of hand. The fact that millions of people may consider it too terrible an event to contemplate does not mean it cannot happen. Five years ago many people believed that the housing crash with people thrown out of their houses was something the government would not let happen. Sadly they know otherwise now to the extent of 250,000 repossessions in five years.

The propaganda of strengthening recovery this year is being put out by the same official sources that promised this last year as well as every year back to 1991. They were wrong then so why should their promises of recovery be taken seriously now?
Terry Lawlor