Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sixty Years of May Day Demonstrations (1949)

From the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day, as a day of celebration, has a history that passes well back through the ages. In the days of ancient Greece and Rome it had a significance. In medieval England it was a national holiday celebrated on village green and market square with maypoles, Morris dancing, stage plays and bonfires. The remnants of these celebrations in modern times are the parades of decorated horses and vans that are held on May Day.

The May Day political demonstrations have a separate history. In 1889 a conference of the Second International, held in Paris, decided to proclaim the first of May as a day for demonstrations to agitate for the eight-hour working day. Since then, in many parts of the world, the first of May, or the first Sunday in May, has been a day when workers have marched with banners and bands to some suitable open space to listen to political and trade union speakers.

In London the demonstrators usually congregate in Hyde Park. Workers assemble in outlying districts and march to the park carrying the banners of their trade union branches or lodges, and posters and placards bearing topical slogans. Each contingent is shepherded by detachments of police and is frequently led by a band whilst the tail end is composed of small groups of workers who chant slogans in chorus as they march.

The contingents enter the park by different gates and proceed to the platforms that have been previously erected for the occasion. When all are assembled, speakers of many shades of so-called “left” opinion, often sworn political enemies, will mount the platforms and utter protests for or against the existing government, or declare what they, or their respective organisations would do if given the opportunity. The proceedings invariably end with the passing of some wordy, pious, meaningless resolution and the crowds drift away to other meetings or to the gates of the park where the literature of a variety of organisations is offered for sale.

In former days, men who have figured prominently in Labour Governments were to be found on these platforms, even, at times, in the ranks of the marchers. But today most of these men are too respectable to indulge in that sort of thing. Besides, they have affairs of state to attend to. A "big name” on the platforms is something of a rarity these days.

The slogans on the marchers' placards indicate the text of the speeches. Points of popular discontent are dealt with in a manner calculated to please the main part of the audience. In recent years we have heard harangues about increased production, friendship with the Soviet Union, the high taxation on cigarettes, delay in bringing the troops back from Greece, the Marshall Plan, the repatriation of prisoners-of-war, etc. Looking farther back we can remember fire eating oratory on such subjects as the means test, cuts in unemployment pay, the Government’s attitude to Spain, demands for peace, demands to open a second front in the last world war, the Trade Disputes act, and a host of other aspects of Capitalism.

The procedure and the speeches in other towns and cities are similar.

Where these demonstrations gather, in the larger cities of this country, there will also be found the platform of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Our speakers will not be found on the larger rostrum. They have something to say that cannot be heard from there. We have an object that precludes us from association with the woolly, reformist notions that emanate from the other speakers. We are hostile to them. They offer the workers nothing but a continuation of the problems that they demonstrate against. The Marshall Plan has faded from prominence to make way for a new red herring—the Atlantic Pact. The troops are home from Greece and more are recruited or conscripted to be sent elsewhere. The problem of the means test has passed and the problem of atomic warfare is to be faced. The Trade Disputes Act is slightly amended but the Emergency Powers Act remains. All through the years the workers have been encouraged to deal with effects and not causes. We present an opposite view. We state that all these things are secondary problems springing from Capitalist society; Capitalism will continue to produce fresh crops of them; abolish Capitalism and solve the lot for ever.

We are interested in May Day. We want it to be a real labour day. A day on which workers will demonstrate their determination to end for all time the system that keeps them in subjection. A day on which they will demonstrate to that effect with such purpose that their masters will realise that the days of Capitalist privilege are numbered. We want a May Day that will end with the passing of a resolution that will have some meaning, in that those who pass it will be organised as a class and determined to put it into operation. To that end we erect our platform in the parks on May Day and invite all workers to come around, not merely to listen, but to question and discuss with our speakers on matters that affect the lives of all.

It was a common practise in past years, to move and carry a resolution at the demonstration, voicing solidarity with workers in other lands. Leaders who sponsored such resolutions have, on two occasions, betrayed their followers by urging them to sally forth to destroy Prussianism or Fascism by slaughtering their fellow workers in other parts of the world. Our May Day message on both those occasions, and today, faced with preparations for the next war, was and is, "having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of Capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.” That was our stand in 1914 and in 1939. It will be our stand when the present international conflict comes to a showdown, whatever the consequences to ourselves.

We recommend to all workers, in particular to those who attend May Day demonstrations, to think back over the years as far as they can remember. They will see that with each new hardship that has arisen the majority of working class organisations have devoted their time and energies to its removal until some fresh imposition or hardship has attracted their attention. So it has gone on, year after year. Some remedies have been found, some hardships removed, but a fresh crop has taken their place. The fundamental problem of poverty remains and wars continue. They will continue until the workers bring to an end the system of society that produces them.

When the mines, the land, the factories, the laboratories, the workshops, the oil wells; the ships, lorries and aeroplanes and all the other means of production and distribution—when all these things are in the hands of society as a whole (not the state) the need for expressions of solidarity will not arise; there will be no grounds for antagonism. Then, if the people wish, May Day can again become a holiday with all the spontaneous expression of joyousness that characterised it in medieval times.
W. Waters.

Notes by the Way: The Tell-tale Brass Plate. (1949)

The Notes by the Way Column from the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Tell-tale Brass Plate.

According to the Labour Party State-owned concerns are forms of “public ownership” or “socialisation.” The matter was put to the test at Marlborough Street Court on 5th April. A man who had “made a stand for what he considered to be the rights of the individual citizen” was charged with trespassing on London Transport property. (Evening News, 6/4/49) Although he had not bought his right to be there, in the shape of a railway ticket, he insisted on remaining in Warren Street Station though the railway police told him to go away. Although the Magistrate dismissed the charge under the Probation Act he told the man, “ You are quite wrong. You have no right to be there.”

We advise the man and any others (particularly Labourites) who believe that nationalisation introduces some fundamental change in the capitalist system to go to the same Underground station (Warren Street) and look down on the pavement. They will see a brass plate let into the pathway which bears the words: London Transport—Private Property.”

Bevan’s "Socialism for Business Men.”

Speaking at Newport, Monmouth, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health, told his Labour Party audience that “ given twenty years of Labour government, we shall make Britain so strong that even the Tories could be left in charge.” (Daily Herald, 28/3/49). He went on to say that although bigoted Tories will vote against the Labour Government at the next election “less bigoted Tories will hesitate because even private enterprise works better under the beneficent guidance of a Socialist government. That proves that Socialism is a good thing and it is beginning to dawn on some business men.”

There are some who tell us that Bevan is one of the brighter brains in the Labour Party. We shudder to think what the less bright ones must be like.

The Savage Bishops.

In a review of ”A History of English Criminal Law” (L. Radzinowicz) the Economist (9/4/49) shows how savagely the Church resisted attempts to lessen the cruelties of the criminal law in the early 19th century. Innumerable offences now regarded as minor ones were punishable by death, including the theft of more than 5s. from a shop or more than 40s. in cases of housebreaking.
  “It was naturally the propertied class that supported the system most wholeheartedly. George Selwyn, the Whig M.P., friend of Walpole and the Hollands, never missed an execution, and once travelled to Paris on purpose to see a man put to death . . . Archdeacon Paley, the judicious protagonist of religious truth, not only believed in the criminal law as it stood, but was attracted by n proposal to make the punishment of murderers a hundred times more horrible than it was already.”
Towards the end of the 18th century the system was beginning to break down "but for a reason that reflected no credit on the clergy, the aristocracy or the legislature.” The change was due to “the ordinary men and women” who on juries used deliberately to undervalue the articles stolen so that the death penalty would be avoided. A few of the judges did the same: but the Bishops were of sterner stuff.
  “But if there is something to be said for the lawyers there was nothing to be said for the bishops. When Romilly, in 1810, brought in a Bill to abolish the death penalty for 5s. thefts, the Archbishop of Canterbury led six other bishops into the 'No’ lobby and contributed seven ecclesiastical votes to the successful defence of savagery. The record of the Anglican Church, says Mr. Radzinowicz, is that it never led in any important movement for reform.”

Russian State Capitalism.

The Daily Mail had asked whether the British Labour government is "aiming at some form of State capitalism on the Russian model” and the Daily Worker, reproducing the question in its issue of 15th January, 1949, dismissed the idea that Russia is a state capitalist country. The Russian model, said the Worker, “contains no element of capitalism of any kind.”

Since Russia has the wages system, production of commodities for sale, bond-holding, profits and profit taxes, Rouble millionaires, etc., etc., this means that in the eyes of the Daily Worker writer they are not elements of capitalism.

The question is raised again by the Russian Budget. According to the Anglo-Russian News Bulletin (28/3/49), published for the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee by its Communist Secretary, W. P. Coates, Russian Budget Revenue for 1949 is to come from the following sources:
Turnover Tax, 261869 million Roubles.
Allocations from Profits, 33.933 million Roubles.
Taxes, 36,468 million Roubles.
State Loans, 22,921 million Roubles.
The Turnover Tax is similar to purchase tax. The allocations from profits represent that part of the profits of State concerns retained by the government. According to the "Bulletin,” “only about a third of the profits of the State enterprises are allocated to the budget—the rest goes for capital development and the increase in the current capital of the enterprises.” The State loans represent money invested by the population, on which of course the government pays interest.

How it can be claimed by the Daily Worker that these are not features of capitalism is a mystery. In one respect, however, Russian State Capitalism does at the moment differ from British. Whereas the British state railways are at present running at a loss the Daily Worker (14/3/49) quotes the Russian Minister of Railways, Mr. Boris Beshchev, as having reported that “as a result of the increase of goods traffic and the reduction of costs, the railways would become a highly profitable branch of the national economy in 1949.” If it were not for the British link-up with U.S.A. we might see Mr. Beschev invited over here to show the Railway Executive how to turn their losses into profits.

The Workers' Share in the National Income.

In the official publication, “National Income and Expenditure” (April, 1949, H.M. Stationery Office. Is., page 12) the government publishes its annual return showing distribution of the national income, set out under the heading “Personal Income from Work and Property.” The figures are after deduction of tax and relate to 1948 and the two earlier years and also to 1938. Comparing 1938 with 1948 the percentage going to wages is shown as having increased from 39 per cent. to 48 per cent.; salaries have fallen from 25 per cent. to 21 per cent; and profits, interest and rent (including professional earnings and income from farming) are shown as having fallen from 34 per cent. in 1938 to 28 per cent. in 1948. The balance (2 per cent, in 1938 and 3 par cent, in 1948) is made up of pay of the armed forces.

In using the above figures it is important to observe that the rise of wages from 39 per cent in 1938 to 48 per cent. in 1948 does not constitute any kind of proof that the purchasing power of wages is higher. The total amount received in the form of wages is larger than in 1938 partly because of the big increase of prices and corresponding increase of wages, and partly because the total number of workers in civil employment is over 1,000,000 more than in 1938 because of the fall of unemployment.

No recent estimate is available of the ownership of property but Mr. Francis Williams, former editor of the Daily Herald, stated in “World Digest” (June, 1941) that on the eve of the war “80 per cent of the total capital belonged to less than 6 per cent. of the community.” Even the Labour Ministers do not claim that much alteration has occurred and Mr. Gaitskell, Minister of Fuel, speaking at Oxford on 8th March, said:
  “ . . . . there is still a tremendous inequality of capital. Property is still very unequally divided and that is a problem which has got to be tackled.” (Daily Express, 9/3/49.)

Mr. Attlee on Working and Shirking.

Although the booklet “National Income and Expenditure” is published by Mr. Attlee’s government, it would seem that he has not read it. Under the heading “ Income from Property” it shows that in 1948 the amount of income that went to receivers of rent, dividends and interest (before deduction of tax) was £1,479,000,000; in spite of which Mr. Attlee in a speech at Glasgow on April 10th referred to the receivers of property income in the past tense, as if they have ceased to exist. The following extract is from a report of his speech published by the Manchester Guardian (11/4/49):
  “I stress . . . the duty of the citizen of the State as much as his rights. Everyone who fails to contribute his fair share is as much a parasite as those who used to live on the backs of the people without working. The man who slacks at work is scrounging on his mates. If a section of the workers make use of a key position to do little work and extract disproportionate wages they are just as much exploiters as the property-owners who used to hold the nation to ransom. They are acting anti-socially.”
This is a foretaste of what will be said by the Labour Ministers when eventually their attempt to improve capitalism collapses. They will blame it all on the workers.

The New Defenders of Capitalist Profit

The Rt. Hon. Arthur Woodburn, M.P., is in the Labour Government as Secretary of State for Scotland. For many years he was active in the National Council of Labour Colleges and was author in 1931 of “An Outline of Finance,” published by the N.C.L.C. as one of the “Plebs” Textbooks. Like other members of the Labour Party, Mr. Woodburn used to attack capitalism and the profit motive, and spoke of the day when the profit motive would disappear. Now some chickens are coming home to roost to the great embarrassment of Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr. Woodburn, and others.

For the past 50 years, and especially between the wars, the Conservative Party, the Anti-Socialist Union and similar bodies had a regular line of propaganda which consisted first of pretending that Socialism is a scheme for “dividing up” and then of producing figures to show that if the incomes of the rich were divided up among the workers each worker would receive very little as his share. One such leaflet was issued by the Conservative Party in 1927, called “ If Incomes were Divided Up.” The leaflet claimed that if all incomes above £250 a year were divided up, first deducting taxes, rates and the amount that was normally saved and reinvested in industry, what was left would only add 5s. a week to the wage of each worker’s family. The purpose of this propaganda was to persuade the workers that “soaking the rich” was not worth doing.

Times have changed and the Tories do not need to do this any more, for the job has been taken over by Sir Stafford Cripps and other members of the Government. It was Cripps who, at the T.U.C. last year, told the delegates that the capitalists must be allowed to make profit and that even if the Government took away another quarter of their profit it would mean only a trifling extra amount on wages. Now Mr. Woodburn has been backing up Sir Stafford. In a series of answers to Questions on “The Truth About Profits,” published in the “Plebs” (December, 1948). he explained at length why it is useless to try to raise wages by digging into profits. Here is Mr. Woodburn’s answer to the question. “Would it be practicable to take all the £320,000,000 profits for the State? ”
  “Even if we take over these companies, the owners would presumably receive bonds on which the normal interest would be paid and the portion to be saved would be the £320,000,000 less that amount. Even if the whole £320,000,000 were confiscated (which no one proposes) and handed over to the 20,000,000 workers, it would amount to only £16 or 320s. a year, which, spread over 365 days, is less than 1s. a day, or about 6s. 2d. per week.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Party News Briefs (1949)

Party News from the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kingston Branch has changed its meeting night from Monday to Thursday to suit the convenience of some of its members. The Castle Street propaganda station was opened on Saturday, April 9th with a very successful meeting. Friends and supporters who attended regularly last year are invited to turn up on Saturday evenings at 7.30.

In Hyde Park on Sunday, 3rd of April, our Comrade Bill Kerr was on the platform when a powerful wind blew the platform over and caused serious injuries to his skull. At the time of writing he is still in hospital.

Annual Conference Report will appear in our next issue. We have to go to print too early to be able to include it in this one.

Hackney Branch have asked me to repeat that they have booked the Dalston Secondary School in Shacklewell Lane, E.8, for a Social and Dance on Saturday, 14th May. Tickets from J. Robertson, 218 Seven Sisters Road, N.4, or from Branch members.
W. Waters.

Pathfinders: Denialists and Doomsayers (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strange consequences continue to develop from the virus pandemic. Just when you thought the American right wing couldn’t get any more moronic, they’ve started organising armed protests against the lockdown in defiance of their own state laws, and egged on by tweets from Donald Trump, in what is possibly the first ever instance of a sitting president inciting citizens to break the law, all in the name of ‘personal liberty’.

Tom Lehrer’s famous remark about satire becoming redundant is itself becoming redundant. Their reasoning, if one can be careless with the term, must be that they’re not the ones most at risk so what the hell do they care? Let the old and sick die in droves, and save our tax dollars! Maybe they wouldn’t be so callous and cavalier if they realised that’s exactly the way Donald Trump thinks about them too.

No less astonishing is the number of people who reputedly are still going out and simply not bothering to keep their ‘social distance’, either in shops or on roads. Despite everything, a sense of unreality hangs over events. Perhaps it’s all simply too huge for our feeble monkey brains to comprehend. Perhaps it’s easier to take refuge in denial, or unwarranted optimism.

Assisted of course by a media determined to grab headlines with every new drug trial going, no matter how tiny the prospect of success or how far in the future any result can be expected. What the Daily Express does constantly and the Daily Mail does frequently, i.e. prey vampirically on people’s health fears, they’re all doing now with a relentless snake-oil infomercial they call science journalism.

Things are scarcely preferably at the other end of the fortune-teller’s see-saw, where squats the dead weight of doom in the shape of those predicting a 2-year lockdown for many people with health problems. Unfortunately, as studies of depressives show, the Eeyores are usually closer to the truth than the optimistic Tiggers. Out-morosing everyone in the Hundred-Acre Wood is the prediction that, even after the crisis is over, things could get worse still with a post-viral pandemic of chronic fatigue syndrome (aka ME) disabling the world’s working population, as the condition is commonly associated with virus triggers (New Scientist, 15 April).

Given all this, there’s something rather tasteless about the amount of articles saying how good this is for the planet and climate change. This is like condoling you for the loss of your granddad and then pointing out how good his ashes will be for the roses. It’s obviously true that the roads and skies are emptier, so UK air pollution is down by up to 60 percent (BBC, 1 May), and industrial pollution levels are down as oil prices drop to a 21-year low (BBC, 21 April). But according to a NASA study the supposed benefits to the climate are vastly overstated, with a short business break scarcely making up for years of concentrated activity ( Nevertheless, according to some deep greens, this is a clear sign that it’s perfectly possible to do all the things the climate lobby and the IPCC have been demanding for years, and which governments seem to think can’t be done.

It’s not a clear sign of any such thing. Pushing a man off a cliff and saying he can fly doesn’t mean you’ve broken the law of gravity. Subsequent events will soon demonstrate otherwise. The coronavirus has pushed the market system off a cliff alright, but it’s falling, not floating, and when it lands, workers are going to get splattered by the dead weight of debt, both their own, and that of governments and employers seeking to redress it through savage cuts in wages and services. And when that happens, you can bet environmentalism won’t be high on the agenda either.

Two important things do emerge from the crisis that demonstrate why global common ownership is a good bet compared to capitalism. One is that, when there’s a crisis on this scale and it’s a question of finding solutions, nobody questions that it’s more efficient to pool or ‘socialise’ efforts across all boundaries, whether economic, political or physical. Anyone arguing that the search for a vaccine should be entrusted to the usual secretive and competitive workings of the profit system would be regarded right now as a lunatic. But drill down into any problem in capitalism and you find the same phenomenon, competing private interests getting in the way of the really useful work. What the virus demonstrates is that, when push comes to shove as now, capitalism throws aside its own logic as useless and hijacks the logic of socialism!

The second is the snide right-wing prejudice that a cooperative society would collapse through a lack of volunteers. Many people now trapped in idleness indoors because of health vulnerabilities would very likely give their eye-teeth to be able to volunteer for useful work in this crisis. We all applaud the efforts of medical staff, delivery drivers and the like. How many more of us wish we could help, and instead are forced to sit on our hands in an unheroic attempt to keep ourselves from occupying a precious hospital bed? What a monumental insult it is to call workers lazy and selfish, when you see how they rush to other people’s aid, even at the risk of their own lives.

Nothing about the current volunteer effort is a surprise to any socialist. We know very well that workers run the world from top to bottom, albeit in the interest of the 1 percent, and from this we conclude that workers are quite capable of running it in their own interest, without the parasitical 1 percent and their corrupt, glove-puppet governments. The only trouble is that workers don’t realise this yet.

People always think a major war or disaster is going to change the world, and this crisis is no different. In all the currently hot and mostly hot-air speculations about ‘life after Covid-19’, one or two people are at least asking the right questions. Taking value and centralisation as the two driving factors of future change, one of these, a researcher in something called   ecological economics, presents an interesting choice of four possibilities: state capitalism (which to us is normal capitalism with some state involvement); barbarism (i.e. lawless property society); state socialism (which we would call state capitalism), or ‘mutual aid’ prioritising human need not exchange value (which is not a million miles from what we call socialism). The way the article presents the options, it’s a no-brainer (BBC, 31 March).

Does the will to change exist though? Apparently so. A widely reported YouGov poll suggests that 91 percent of people in the UK don’t want to go back to the way things were before the coronavirus pandemic (Independent, 17 April). 91 percent is a good start. Let’s hope they mean it.
Paddy Shannon

Wood for the Trees: Peer Review (2020)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the May 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Somebody once asked if writing for a political journal involves the work being ‘peer reviewed’. On reflection it’s a legitimate question given that we live in an age of conspiracy theories, fake news and media manipulation. Many seek reassurance that the truth can be found through the authority of a consensus guaranteed by experts. It has a scientific patina that can provide confidence in conclusions assimilated and then disseminated by hierarchical institutions like governments and various other agencies of ‘the establishment’. Such a procedure does indeed seem to be a legitimate element in discerning truth from falsehood or informed opinion from ignorance but it must be remembered that such experts within a capitalist context can sometimes be handpicked by the powerful to guarantee that these individuals will stay ‘on message’. Indeed some of them might never have reached the lofty heights of being recognised as experts if they had not proven their allegiance to the status quo.

Of course not all experts agree with one another and when deciding between them (as pragmatism and a rejection of populist philistinism demands) it is always worth bearing in mind their ‘track record’ in terms of political allegiance, business links and past accuracy. Recognized protocols of reason and logic under the guidance of a community composed of others dedicated to a field of study does represent an undeniable aid to progress and will be utilized by a future socialist society but being outside of the contemporary consensus (for obvious political and ethical reasons) how can socialists claim any authority in what we say? Are the majority correct in assuming that we are just another cult competing for their attention using unproven propaganda?

Of course it wouldn’t be true to say that socialists are entirely outside of cultural consensus since we have a long history that does provide us with continuity and context. Our political fortunes have waxed and waned over the last century and of the multitude of political organizations calling themselves socialist we are one of the very few who have survived courtesy of our adherence to authentic principles. In their lust and impatience for power many have followed either the Bolshevik model of elitist dictatorship or the reformist route in attempting to humanizing capitalism – both of which conform to the consensus model of left wing politics. They are both intellectually ‘respectable’ and understood within an authoritarian and idealist bourgeois ideological context and are also, of course, thoroughly discredited. If we give such ideologies and those who aspire to them the benefit of the doubt concerning their altruistic motivation we can see that their failure was not due to the weakness of some leader or other or to the lack of moral integrity but rather to a profoundly mistaken understanding of how the world works. Part of the reason for this failure to comprehend reality is a belief in linear progress – the idea that existing social structures continue to improve or evolve until the manifest elements of inequality and injustice disappear.

This ‘evolutionary’ version of history is one you’ll find in most English textbooks. This is emphasized in the description of one of the world’s most bloody revolutions (1642) as a ‘civil war’ and the embracing of a bloodless coup as ‘The Glorious Revolution’ (1688). The English are somehow immune from revolution and if we continue to trust our ruling class then everything will work out fine. The concept of class struggle and revolution is unpalatable to most English historians and for those who do embrace such concepts it is a dynamic confined to the past with no contemporary relevance. Behind such revision and complacency lies the dead hand of ruling class ideology. Those who do not legitimize the status quo in this way are marginalised. The success of any organisation be it scientific, political, religious, aesthetic or charitable depends on them embracing this ideological consensus. This is why a study of history is so crucial to political understanding because it always undermines any attempt to impose a ‘steady state’ evolutionary theory of political development. In the light of this the role of experts providing authority for a consensus can be seen as primarily ideological. Those who seek truth in this way will be disappointed as in the end every individual has to find their own political answers because those who represent the status quo will not and cannot provide them. It can be a shocking revelation to many that those who create the consensus can be just as mistaken as any wild-eyed conspiracy theorist – examples of this range from imaginary ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to the belief that turning cattle into cannibals had no health implications for humans or that cannabis is more dangerous than alcohol.

This has ever been so with ruling elites in history and it is sometimes surprising that any progress is achieved in the light of such ideological conditioning. But when the point arrives that the propaganda is so patently absurd in comparison with the real lives of ordinary people a paradigm shift occurs. Suddenly those outside of the ideological consensus find a voice that is listened to. The consensus is shattered and true progress is resumed. The only peers that socialists recognise are the revolutionary working class.

Fixing the System (2020)

Book Review from the May 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Internationalism or Extinction. By Noam Chomsky Routledge. 2020.

At the age of 91 Noam Chomsky is still writing, speaking and campaigning. This latest book, containing material both spoken and written between 2016-19, has as its theme the idea that society as currently constituted faces imminent extinction from the twin threats of nuclear war and climate change. The remedy he argues is ‘internationalism’, seen as people the world over ‘mobilising to force governments to meets this unprecedented challenge to civilization’s survival’.

His case against the profit system of capitalism is a powerful one. Capitalism is seen as ‘penetrating every part of society with the passions of self-interest and profit and breaking down community and the common good’ and as ‘an intertwined sociopathic system of money-making, militarism and environmental destruction now threatening the survival of all life itself’. To overcome this he calls in this book for a universalised movement of activism and resistance from below to force governments to take a different path and even to bring about ‘world government’ as conceived for example by Albert Einstein in 1945.

The focus therefore is upon people getting together to put pressure on their governments through campaigns of many different kinds since ‘systems of organized power… will not take appropriate action… unless they are compelled to do so by constant, dedicated popular mobilization and activism’. However, while being an advocate of single-issue campaigns, he also shows awareness that this has its limits and, sometimes at least, seems to recognise that the threats to humanity posed by the profit system cannot seriously be addressed until consciousness of the need to change society completely is widespread, with its success depending on ‘the steady hard work of developing consciousness and understanding’. He does not see that happening quickly, however, when, in the US for example, a significant proportion of the population are, in his words, ‘ either culturally traditional or pre-modern’ and, for example, either deny global warming or, even if they accept it, do not accept it is happening through human agency.

Two points are worth making here about the way Chomsky approaches his subject. First, despite the ‘internationalism’ in the book’s title, he puts overly strong emphasis on the US and its problems, almost as though this were the single important issue facing the world. Secondly, despite the book’s references to the need to develop understanding as a means of bringing about a radically changed society, the overall emphasis is on single issues with ‘grassroots’ movements such as Extinction Rebellion and Earth Strike mentioned favourably and the hope expressed that such movements can pursue ‘intersectionality and solidarity’ and can be ‘articulated and intertwined with the struggle against extinction’.

In all this, unfortunately, though there is much talk of the need for enhanced democracy, there is no mention anywhere of the democratic world society of free access without governments, without money and wages, without leaders and led, which, even if it may not be imminent, is the only way to effectively transcend capitalist society. While it is impossible not to admire Chomsky for the lifetime of support he has dedicated to ‘progressive’ causes and for his uncompromising opposition to the status quo, the fact is that capitalism provides an unending procession of immediate issues, and with each one a crop of ‘realists’ who argue that their own pressing problem must be tackled first.

It is true that Chomsky, in his lifelong activism, does at times appear to have seen beyond this. In Manufacturing Consent (1988), for example, he says: ‘Presupposing that there have to be states is like saying, what kind of feudal system should we have that would be the best one? What kind of slavery would be the best kind?’ Even more tantalising was his youthful statement that: ‘A democratic revolution would take place when it is supported by the great mass of the people, when they know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it and they know what they want to see come into existence… A revolution is something that great masses of people have to understand and be personally committed to’. Unfortunately there is none of that here and no indication that Chomsky sees that the causes he espouses, even if successful, would amount to any more than a rearrangement of the capitalist system rather than a new and fundamentally different kind of society to replace that system. In the end, attempts to adjust capitalism according to humane criteria are doomed to failure. Without a clear alternative to capitalism, opposition to the way it works and oppresses leads nowhere.
Howard Moss

Cooking the Books: System change not policy change (2020)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Get used to more state intervention, it looks like it’s here to stay’ read the headline of an article in the Times (25 March) by its Deputy Business Editor, Graham Ruddick.

A swing back towards state intervention was beginning to become evident even before the coronavirus crisis led to the massive state intervention in the economy that it has (even more than the Labour Party used to advocate under Corbyn). Before this, failed Tory politician Sir Iain Duncan Smith had told the BBC that ‘you need a dose of Keynesianism to restore monetarism’ (Guardian, 16 February). Ruddick quoted Patrick Minford, who he described as ‘one of the Iron Lady’s favourite economists’ as telling the Financial Times that ‘fiscal policy was now needed to boost the economy because monetary policy has run out of road.’ The final nail in the coffin of Thatcher’s economic policy was hammered in by Boris Johnson when he declared in a video message, no doubt deliberately to distance himself from her opposite view, ‘that there really is such a thing as society’ (Guardian, 29 March).

‘Laissez-faire’ originated as a demand by capitalist entrepreneurs in eighteenth-century France that the state, then controlled by a landed aristocracy, should leave them alone to pursue their profit-seeking economic activity. Adam Smith took this up and it became the demand of factory-owners in Britain too, backed up by a whole school of ‘political economists’. Their theory, that the best economic system was one where the state let capitalist enterprises get on with making profits in response to spontaneous markets forces, came to be known as ‘economic liberalism’.

Economic liberalism was the dominant economic policy, backed by academic theory, pursued in openly capitalist states up until the Crash of 1929 and the slump that followed. After the end of WW2, during which the state played a leading role in organising economic activity, state intervention was continued, justified by Keynes’s new theory that it was needed to manage the capitalist economy so as to arrange for steady economic growth uninterrupted by slumps such as that of the 1930s. This appeared to work but when the real test came, with the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s, it failed; increased state spending did not stimulate an economic recovery but merely resulted in stagflation (stagnation plus inflation).

Capitalist enterprises demanded, rather, that the state reduce taxes on them so that they could keep more of their reduced profits. States cut back their spending and a new theory was thought up to justify this. Called ‘monetarism’, it argued that, as long as the government controlled the (somewhat vaguely defined) ‘money supply’, left to themselves market forces would bring about steady, inflation-free economic growth. Its opponents saw this as a return to pre-Keynesian economic policy, which to a certain extent it was, and dubbed it ‘neo-liberalism’. It, too, appeared to work for a while but then came the crash of 2008 and the slump that followed.

Because its supporters were open and often strident advocates of capitalism, some of its opponents came to see opposition to ‘neo-liberalism’ as opposition to capitalism. They imagined that in calling for a return to more state intervention they were being ‘anti-capitalist’ when in fact they were merely calling for a change of government policy under capitalism.

Will a move away from the policy of ‘neo-liberalism’ improve things? In a word, no. Increased state intervention didn’t work last time and won’t work this time either. What is needed is not policy change, but system change.

Material World: Meanwhile in East Africa . . . (2020)

The Material World Column from the May 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the world’s attention centres upon the COVID-19 pandemic it is easy to forget that there are many other destructive threats happening to people. There has been another plague taking place. Swarms of locusts have ravaged the Horn of Africa, East Africa and parts of Pakistan and India. Since December, billions of desert locusts have swarmed, devouring fields filled with crops such as maize, millet and sorghum, and stripped bare grazing land, devastating pasture and threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions people who depend on farming and livestock for their survival. It is a race against time as each new generation of the insects reach adulthood and take flight to widen their spread. The United Nations has described the situation as ‘a scourge of biblical proportions’. A square kilometre of the swarm contains 40-80 million locusts and can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. An average swarm destroys crops that could feed 2,500 people for a year, the FAO said.

One such swarm sighted in northern Kenya was reportedly 2,400 square km and contained up to 200 billion locusts which descend to feed off plants and vegetation, according to the FAO. A locust consumes their own weight in food every day. The swarms can travel up to 150 km in a day. If left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June. Stephen Byantwale, the commissioner for crop protection at Uganda’s ministry of agriculture, said of the fast-breeding insects, ‘They are spreading like wildfire…’

The infestation poses an unprecedented risk to food supplies in an already vulnerable region with high poverty levels, plunging it deeper into crisis. Locusts are eating their way through Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

In Ethiopia, the locusts have devastated more than 30,000 hectares of crops. Locusts have destroyed over 70,000 hectares of farmland in Somalia. Likewise, Kenya has more than 70,000 hectares of crops under infestation.

The locust plague was the result of recent extreme weather conditions that saw many farmers slowly recovering from three years of drought, which ended in one of the wettest rainy seasons in four decades in parts of East Africa, where floods killed hundreds. Climate scientists suggest that global warming has created the ideal conditions for the insects. The locusts arrived from the Arabian peninsula after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman — creating perfect breeding conditions.

‘The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,’ said the senior scientist of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, ‘This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole [blamed, too, for Australia’s forest fires], and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.’

Warmer seas led to more cyclones in the Indian Ocean. It was Cyclone Mekunu, which struck in 2018, and then a second cyclone which came to the area that allowed the conditions to continue to be favourable and another generation of breeding, so instead of increasing 400-fold, they increased 8,000-fold which allowed several generations of desert locusts the moist sand and vegetation to thrive in the desert between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman known as the Empty Quarter.

Keith Cressman, locust-forecasting expert for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), explained, ‘We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Normally there’s none, or maybe one . . . if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.’

One piece of perhaps good news is that the (dining) table might be turned on the locusts. The EU is expected to endorse locusts as being safe for human consumption. Christophe Derrien, the secretary general of the industry organisation International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed says, ‘We believe that insects for food is one solution for some of the biggest challenges we are facing on the planet. In the context of scarce resources, and insect production is not too demanding, you have the capacity to produce high-quality protein. That is a very promising solution’ (Guardian, 2 April).

The socialist revolution (1988)

From the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is an age of contradictions in which we live. Millions destined to slums or homelessness while builders are forced into unemployed uselessness because the market has no need for them; police given huge cash bonuses for wielding their truncheons during overtime on the picket line while nurses survive on the pittance which capitalism offers to those who are caring; stockpiles of bombs which will convert us into dust while Church and State preach to kids about the virtues of peaceful behaviour; the cries of millions of starving children who will die this year, as they do every year, in a society which is actually paying farm owners not to produce food.

The objective of capitalism is to make a profit. The recipients of profit are the capitalists who are, and always will be, a minority. The workers, who produce the wealth but do not possess it, are the creators of all profits, and that creation arises directly from the act of robbery which is inevitable so long as the wages system exists. Under capitalism the earth and all of its major resources belong to the few and not the many; production is by the many for the enrichment of the few. The position of the working class is that of wage slaves. Although sometimes the wages are called salaries, the slavery remains the same. The wage slave majority does not own or control the world. We are the second-rate citizens in a world which should be ours.

Class struggle
The socialist proposition begins at the point when you recognise that capitalism must go and the earth must belong to its inhabitants. Socialism has nothing to do with regulating capitalism or equalising social relations within it, or injecting illusory feelings of co-operation into it, or moulding or reforming it in any way. Socialism is not a process of playing with the surface image of the profit system. We are uncompromising enemies of the capitalist system. While it exists, in whatever forms, we fight against it. Socialists are not alone in this fight. Capitalism necessitates class struggle between capitalists and workers. The two classes have opposed interests and live in a condition of permanent tension which frequently erupts into class war in various forms. The difference between the socialist struggle and that of our fellow workers who are not yet socialists is that we know what we are fighting against and what we are fighting for. Too often workers struggle in the dark; they hate the boss, they seek justice, they place faith in reform schemes or other illusions. To become a socialist is to see through the dark and convert blind struggle into a movement for social revolution. The socialist proposition commences, then, at the point of seeing the need for fundamental social change; it proceeds to consciously prepare for revolution. That is the socialist task.

Abolish rulers and ruled
Revolution. Few words convey so many confused meanings. 1789 in France when a king was removed and a new gang of robbing rulers installed. 1917 in Russia when state capitalism was inaugurated in the name of socialism. 1968 in Paris when students imagined that barricade romanticism would transform history. When workers hear of revolution they think of bloody street battles conducted by people in period costumes. Alas, quite a few of those on the modern Left indulge in the same misconception. What is misunderstood by such people is that all previous revolutions were minority revolutions: they were political acts which transferred power from one set of rulers to another. We do not seek to put political power into the hands of new rulers. The socialist revolution will be the first revolution in history which will abolish rulers and ruled — which will end class society. In short, the task of class-conscious workers is not to "take power”, but to end class power by ending all classes. The aim of the working class must be to abolish itself as a class.

The socialist revolution will not be an affair of leaders and led. The concept of "the socialist vanguard", so well loved by arrogant would-be Lenins of the Left, is an idea borrowed from the politics of past revolutions. Workers will not be led into socialist liberation. We shall not, as a class, be told by leaders that they have very kindly emancipated us from capitalism and now we may cheer like grateful masses for being freed. Workers will not be freed, but must free ourselves. To quote Marx. "The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class themselves". The revolutionaries who make the revolution will know what we are doing. That is why the first prerequisite for the socialist revolution is consciousness of what needs to be done.

As the working class is the majority, and as there will be no socialism without a socialist-conscious working class, it follows logically that the revolution must be the act of the majority, not the minority. In short, it must be democratic. As socialism itself will be the most democratic form of society ever experienced by humankind, it follows that it can only be established democratically. A minority could not establish socialism in the face of a non-socialist majority of workers, and it would be folly to attempt such an adventure.

Once there is a socialist majority political action must be taken. The socialist revolution cannot be non-political. Why? Because we are up against the capitalist state and if we do not take it, it will take us. The power of coercion cannot be left in the hands of the capitalist class. Government and the armed forces must be taken away from them in the same way as they are handed over to them: by mandate. At present workers vote the power to rule over them to our class enemies every time there is an election. In the ballot box workers throw away their chance to be rulers over their own lives, offering such power to those who seek to govern on behalf of the bosses. The socialist never votes for anyone to rule over him or her, never votes for any capitalist party, even if it poses as "the lesser evil". The socialist vote is a class-conscious vote which is cast in opposition to the capitalist state in any form. This does not mean that we seek to establish a socialist state. On the contrary, the socialist revolution. in establishing workers' power over the state, will at the same time, put an end to the state. The state is an instrument of class coercion: where there are no classes there will be no state. The socialist revolution will bring about a stateless society.

World without frontiers
The working class is not a national class, but exists worldwide. Our interests internationally are not many, but identical. Workers everywhere are robbed of the fruits of our labour and only by revolution everywhere can the world become the property of all — or, more accurately, the property of no one. So, the socialist revolution knows no boundaries; it will not occur nationally, but internationally. That is why The Socialist Party is not concerned only with the workers of one state territory. In Britain we deal with the conditions here, but we are part of a World Socialist Movement, the other parties of which have the same principles as us. If the number of conscious socialists in one country is larger than in another, then it is the job of those where there are more socialists to offer every support possible to those where the struggle is more difficult. Whilst pointing out this identity of global working-class interest, and therefore the need for world socialist revolution, we do not ignore the many important cultural differences in which different workers find themselves. Also, we are not unaware of different obstacles which history has placed in the way of various national groupings of workers. It is up to socialists in each area of world capitalism to struggle for revolution in whatever way is best for them. It is not for workers in Britain to lay down precise revolutionary plans for our brothers and sisters who do not share our specific conditions. What they do share with us, and what is far more important than those factors which differentiate us, is a need to end world capitalism by means of joining the movement for world socialism. No nation can do that alone: national socialism is a concept to be thrown into the dustbin of discarded dogmas wherein lie the remnants of the Stalinist and Nazi abuses of the socialist label.

How is the socialist revolution to come about? The Socialist Party is in possession of no magic formula. Since 1904 this Party has, in a principled, persistent and uncompromising fashion, used all of the energy and resources at its disposal to make clear to our fellow workers that social revolution is the need of the day. Some workers have responded by joining with us. Others have nodded approvingly, telling us that they will be with us "on the day”. Most have dismissed our message. For some this dismissal is because they are convinced by the lies which prop up capitalism. But most of those workers who have yet to become revolutionaries have failed to be motivated because capitalism makes apathy an easier course than action. Sadly, millions of those politically apathetic workers, who over the years have come across the case for socialism and failed to be aroused, have suffered miserably for their apathy. Such suffering has ranged from the grinding frustration and insecurity of day-to-day wage slavery to the more evident horrors, such as murder in war and long-term unemployment and homelessness. The worker who avoids the call of revolution is a vulnerable worker. It is the job of The Socialist Party to point out, as we do at every opportunity, that socialism is not only a great idea about how human decency could be achieved, but is the only practical and immediately achievable alternative to the intense pain which capitalism is inflicting upon the wealth producers now.

The May Day message of The Socialist Party is no different from its April message or its December one. Our style is not that of the annual rabble-rousing exhibition which is all puff and no substance. Our message is that if you are a worker — namely, any person who needs to sell their mental and physical energies in order to live — you have an obligation to give the most serious consideration to the case for a revolutionary change in society from capitalism to socialism. This consideration requires an understanding of what capitalism is and why it can never run in the workers’ interest, and what socialism is and why a revolution to bring it about is the urgent requirement of our time. To ignore that obligation is to leave oneself open to the most awful risks of dangers created by the present, outdated social system. To face up to that obligation and join The Socialist Party is the most historically intelligent and dignified act that you could take. The movement for revolution demands your consideration and support.
Steve Coleman

The Poll Tax and the workers (1988)

From the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The government decision to replace rates with a "community charge" has sparked off furious controversy. The government claimed that the new system will get rid of existing anomalies and inequalities, and the opposition parties argue that it will destroy democratic local government and create new burdens for the poor. The new system is to begin in Scotland in April 1989 and a year later in England and Wales, starting with some London boroughs.

At present local authorities get their revenue from four sources: 40 per cent from central government through the Rate Support Grant; 20 per cent from local householders paying rates; 25 per cent from local industrial and commercial rate payers; and 15 per cent from council tenants paying rent. Domestic rates are payable only by the householder, not by other adults living in the house.

Pressure for the new system has come largely from the industrial and commercial rate payers. They complain that only 34 per cent of local electors pay full rates, and 57 per cent of those entitled to vote in local elections have no rates liability at all, due either to the rebate system or to the fact that they are not householders. The consequence is, they say, that local councils are elected by people who have no interest in keeping expenditure down — high rates are of no concern to them.

Under the new system everybody over the age of 18 will have to pay Poll Tax, except the mentally ill and elderly people living in homes and hospitals. Low paid workers and students will not have to pay the full amount. Business ratepayers will pay a standard Unified Business Rate pegged to inflation.

The Westminster Bank magazine, Money Care (February 1988), says that while many millions of individuals and householders will lose money another large group will gain:
  The people who will generally pay less are homes with only one adult and people living in large homes. Households where the total bill will be higher will be ones with more than two adults, small homes and those excused rates at the moment. Everyone will have to pay at least 20 per cent of the community charge.
The government has already acted to keep rates down. Councils raising rates unduly are penalised by a reduction in the amount of the central government grant. Mrs Thatcher, in a speech reported in the Financial Times (7th March 1988) said this about the new system.
  This will transform inner cities. No longer will they [the councils] be able to spend, spend, spend, putting it on owner-occupiers and businesses. It is being specifically designed so that the same degree of efficiency will result in the same community charge all over the country.
The new system has come under criticism from professional bodies interested in taxation and local government on the ground of its complexity and the difficulty of enforcing it against the large numbers of people likely to evade payment if they can.

There is nothing new in one group of property owners, in this case the business rate-payers, trying to unload some of the burden of the rates on to other groups. Professor Cannan, in his History of Local Rates in England (1912) showed that it was going on throughout the 19th century. Then, as now, one of the issues was how much of local authority expenditure should be paid by central government and there were then, as now, complaints about the "extravagances and mismanagement" of particular local councils. The business rate-payers naturally wish to reduce the burden of rates and most of them can count on doing well out of the change.

But what about the working class and the assertion by the Labour Party and others that the Poll Tax will, on balance, make the workers worse off?

At its formation the Socialist Party rejected the popular theory that rates (and taxes) reduce the workers’ standard of living and that they therefore have an interest in keeping them down. They are. in the long run. a burden not on the workers but on the propertied class. The argument against rates is that they are an addition to the rent workers have to pay for accommodation and that any increase in the rates makes the working class worse off.

Examination of what actually happens in the matter of rates and rents shows that the argument is not valid. High rates do not increase the amount the workers have to pay but reduce the rent the landlord gets. If rates are higher in one district than in others, businesses and tenants of houses avoid these districts if they can, compelling landlords to accept less then they would otherwise be able to get. Professor Cannan gave evidence of this. He wrote:
  The high rates of a highly rated district undoubtedly tend to deter population and businesses from settling in it, and this means that they will not settle in it unless the owners charge less than they would if the rates were lower. If the rates were reduced the owners would be able to charge more for their properties.
Examples of this were quoted in the Socialist Standard (October 1904). One was West Ham, at that time the most heavily rated district in England: "rents are falling, while rates are rising, owing to the decreased demand for houses". At the present time a shift of this kind is taking place between Camden, where the average rate charge is £752 a year, and neighbouring Wandsworth where it is only £327.

Since 1938 there has been a huge increase, in real terms, in the amount of rates collected by local authorities (as in the amount of taxes collected by central government) but it has not had the effect of lowering the majority of workers' standard of living, which is in fact very considerably higher than it was in 1938. The point is that the workers, through organisation on the industrial field, can take advantage of the favourable phases of capitalism when production and profits are rising, to get higher wages. In most of the years since 1945 the average wages of workers who are in work, have risen more than the rise in their cost of living. It is going on now. Since 1982 when production and profits began to rise again, average real wages have been rising continuously and are now well above the level of 1979.

It has happened in defiance of the regular pleas by government ministers that the unions should modify their wage claims and employers should not agree to large claims. Chancellor Nigel Lawson said, for example: "It is very important for businessmen to keep firm control of their pay costs" (Financial Times, 18th March 1988). Trying to keep wages down has been the line taken by every government, Labour as well as Tory.
Edgar Hardcastle

Between the Lines: A dull ache ceases (1988)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

A dull ache ceases

Back in 1964, when Macmillan was telling the workers that we'd never been done so good, there was wage slavery for nearly all (we were supposed to be grateful for this "full employment") and the welfare state was working to plan, meaning that every worker in dire need of help who could not afford to buy decent aid was entitled to a third-rate service provided by the state. There was a feeling amongst certain capitalists that life was becoming too good for the proles. It was in that year that Crossroads was invented: a direct invention, it is argued by some cynics, to create a dull ache in the minds of millions of workers on a daily basis. There then followed fourteen years of cultural agony, with ever worse acting, less credible plots, greater insults to our class as the motel employees were depicted as hapless prats, culminating in the character who was the most ideal human work-horse ever invented: Benny, the unskilled skivvy who they love to love and love even more to exploit like hell. Crossroads existed as a standing monument to the cultural poverty of a social system which treats the wealth-producing masses as creatures in whom minds are an impediment to proper functioning. It was dinner at The Ritz followed by Beckett for them and fish fingers in front of Meg Richardson and Sandy for us.

On Monday 4 April the dull ache ended. Crossroads is no more. Now we are in a new era of world history, no more to be blighted by such evils as Adam Chance's phoney smile (it is rumoured that he is now in the running for the SLDP leadership) or Benny's inane caricature of what a good-hearted mug ought to look like. Central TV, after years of falling audience ratings, has taken this foul little cultural blemish off our screens. But beware of false confidence. Just as you sit there doubting the wise words uttered over the years by the Socialist Standard when we told you that the quality of life under capitalism will not improve, but will get worse. Just as you entertain the hope that the dull ache has gone for ever, be warned: ITV has announced that it certainly does not rule out the possibility of bringing Crossroads back in some new form. And remember, they said in 1918 that there would never be another world war.

A hidden item of news

Over the Easter weekend, as the news broadcasts reported on where the royal funsters were going on their next avalanche-causing expedition and how the government is taking the National Union of Seamen to court for the subversive act of holding a strike ballot, few of you will have noticed the following news report. You will not have noticed it because it was not broadcast. We shall alert you to it all the same:
  "This weekend delegates from various parts of England. Scotland and Wales met in the old Chiswick Town Hall for the 84th annual conference of The Socialist Party of Great Britain. The leader's keynote speech was notable for the fact that it was not given as there is no leader, although there was a ten-minute standing ovation when lunch was announced on the third day. The conference began by debating changes to its rule book: these are determined by all members, so no rules are imposed over the membership, but only by members if needed. It was decided to set up a committee to consider re-structuring the Party's executive committee and plans were also set in motion to establish a more scientific national strategy for the Party's various activities. The Conference affirmed its opposition to The Socialist Party becoming involved in the running of a printing co-operative, and a new document from one branch on 'The Road to Socialism' was discussed critically, with various worthwhile perspectives being stated. The Conference agrees to begin preparations now for contesting the next general election, and also agreed upon the importance of concentrating on local election activity at present. It was agreed that in future the Party shall in nearly all circumstances make itself known by its abbreviated title, The Socialist Party — although this does not mean that its official name has changed. Conference carried a resolution to write to Channel Four calling upon them to allow it time to state its grievance regarding the exclusion of The Socialist Party's voice from it. despite the fact that numerous smaller minority interests are allowed on. The Conference was unlike any other political conference. A Socialist Party spokesperson, asked what her main aim for the party was in the long-term, stated I hope to see the day when we fold up and have no reason to exist. Once a majority of workers understand and want socialism they will establish it and parties will be of no use'. Another speaker at the conference told us that he would only join a political party where there are no leaders or led. as he was after a society where there would be no leaders or led. It is quite clear to us that these people are all quite crazy. About as crazy as those subversive eccentrics of centuries past who persisted in the idiotic belief that the earth was not flat something to do with the law of gravity, our scientific correspondent informs us."
Steve Coleman

Voice From The Back: The Class Divide (2011)

The Voice From The Back column from the may 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Class Divide                                            

In a recent issue of the Guardian newspaper there was an inserted leaflet from the charity WaterAid. It was appealing for £52 million in a campaign to change the lives of 884 million people who still lack clean water and the 2.6 billion who have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. According to the leaflet “It’s a fact that around 4,000 children die every day from diarrhoea because they lack clean water and sanitation.” If  £52 million seems like a lot of money it should be noted in that same newspaper there was an  article that reported the sale of super luxurious flats in London. “The property tycoons behind London’s most lavish residential development are £62 million better off after fresh details emerged of sales at One Hyde Park. The Candy brothers, Nick and Christian, and their backers have pocketed the sum after selling one sixth floor property for £22m, and one on the second floor for £21.6m …. A penthouse flat in the development is understood to have been sold for £135m, but Land Registry documents have yet to be filed.” (Guardian, 16 March) WaterAid’s appeal for £52 million seems modest compared with these sums, but that is how capitalism works. The poor die young and the rich live in luxury based on the misery of the poor. 4,000 kids are dying every day, are you going to do anything about it?

Comic Book Capitalism                                     

Capitalism is an insane society that values things much more than human beings. The following news item should be read with the knowledge that millions of people are trying to exist on the equivalent of $1.25 a day. “A comic collector has been caught in Spider-Man’s web, paying $1.1 million for a near-mint copy of “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 that features the wall-crawler’s debut. The issue, first published in 1962, was sold Monday by a private seller to a private buyer, chief executive Stephen Fishler told The Associated Press on Tuesday. It’s not the highest price ever paid for a comic book, an honor that goes to “Action Comics” No. 1 with Superman on the cover, which went for $1.5 million.” (Yahoo News, 9 March) Millions of dollars spent on nonsense while real human beings die of hunger. It is not funny, it is not comic. It is disgraceful.

Another Day, Another Disaster
Newspapers are quick to cover a story like the miners rescued from the cave-in in Chile, but mining disasters are so common that they hardly register in the media compared to important events like a Royal wedding. So it should come as no surprise to learn of the following event only being covered by a few lines in the national press. “At least six workers were killed and 46 trapped by a methane explosion in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan. An official said that the mine was declared dangerous two weeks ago, but the warning was ignored.” (Times, 21 March) The reality inside a capitalist society is that coal and the profits that can accrue from it is much more important that human lives.

Rich and Poor in the USA                                    

In a recent newspaper debate about the growing inequalities of wealth in the USA  entitled “Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care? Why do Americans seem unperturbed about the growing gap between the rich and the poor?”, Michael I. Norton an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, who is  currently co-writing a book on money and happiness, made some interesting observations. “In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans.” (New York Times, 22 March) It may have escaped the professors’ notice, but all the media is owned by the rich and it is in their interest to spread the false notion that capitalism is a fair and equitable society.  

Those Lazy Workers Again                                 
“Almost every NHS nurse works more than their contracted hours and one in five does so every shift, a new poll shows. Some 95% of nurses say they work longer hours than they are paid for, according to ICM research for the Royal  College of Nursing. . .Many nurses say they have to skip meals and rarely or never get the breaks at work to which they are entitled…” (Observer, 10 April)

Family Values
“British families are facing the biggest peacetime squeeze on their finances since 1921, according to a leading economic consultancy. Soaring inflation and weak earning growth will leave the average family £910 worse off than two years ago, according to analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).” (Sunday Times, 10 April).

Pathfinders: Round in circles (2011)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Round in circles

Ever since a gaggle of mushroom-intoxicated neolithics first got the idea of piling a big flat stone on top of two uprights people have been having creative ideas about the living spaces of the future. Over the length of social history living spaces have evolved, from medieval all-purpose pens containing bed, hearth, toilet, animals, humans, rats and plague, to the Victorian taxonomic mania for cataloguing and categorising, putting every human function from snoring to shitting to snooker in its own walled chamber. Now things are changing again as central heating and double glazing, as well as a pressure of space and cost, drive a return to more open-plan knock-throughs and multipurpose domestic environments (‘The Story of Our Rooms’, BBC Online, 12 April).

With the high priority now being placed on low-carbon living and low-impact building methods and materials, science is increasingly being designed into planning models. As old structures age and have to be replaced anyway, what if – say the scientists – whole cities could be redesigned to factor in all the known elements necessary to make them virtually self-sustainable?

If one were really to rebuild whole cities from scratch, imagine the energy savings. A city like Los Angeles, a chaotic urban mega-sprawl, is a huge energy sink which forces most people to drive miles to their nearest supermarket, and even more miles to work. Rational planning might have optimised all utilities and transport networks into the very crown joules of ergonomic design. And big cities have their own form of economy of scale, with smaller environmental footprints and higher standard of living per capita than small ones. If one were to pull them down and start again, one could build modular urban centres that were carbon-efficient, pedestrian-friendly, accessible and navigable.

Some planners promote designs for just this (New Scientist, 26 March). Zeitgeist’s Venus Project is another, 3D rendered attempt. The trouble is, even on the page these symmetrical designs look soul-destroying, like laboratory mazes for lobotomised rats. It’s no wonder many Zeitgeist supporters are reportedly in two minds about the idea of self-sufficient circular cities. Somewhere in the debate about efficiency the human element gets left out. What is beautiful about old cities is their riotous and labyrinthine irregularity, forced on them by the constraints of city walls and overbuilding, as well as their elaborate and artistic but ‘inefficient’ construction. The more planned a cityscape is, the more dreary it tends to look and the worse it is to live in. Well-meaning but paternalistic experiments in 1950s urban planning gave rise in the UK to the horrors of high-rises and disaffected concrete council estates, with all their attendant social problems, as Lynsey Hanley documents in her entertaining book Estates: An Intimate History (Granta, 2007).

Could planners ever plan efficiency to look like Venice or Rouen or York? Does the future always have to look like a plastic Thunderbirds set? Nowadays there is the potential of wiki-citizenry to offer collective input so as to avoid planners imposing antiseptic structures on our aesthetic sensibilities. But this just might mean a committee-designed camel instead of a geek-planned horse. Sometimes there is something human and endearing about organic inefficiency. In socialism there will no doubt be plenty of people calling for large-scale ‘social engineering’ projects. Let this be the first salvo fired in opposition to such notions.

A Poor Motivator

Interestingly, given all the hoo-ha about ‘obscene’ bankers’ bonuses, not many ever question the apparently self-evident truism that money is a great motivator. Socialists have always gone against the commonly received wisdom by claiming that, conversely, money is actually a poor motivator and in many cases no motivator at all. As evidence we cite the voluntary sector, so large that it is known as the ‘third sector’ of the economy, but then we might be biased given that we propose a social system composed entirely of volunteers. Support however comes from studies which suggest that not only are external motivators like money decoupled from internal ones like interest, commitment or curiosity, they may indeed be inversely related, so that an excess of one can lead to a deficiency in the other (New Scientist, 9 April). It is perhaps surprising and counter-intuitive to learn that financial rewards actually reduce the incentive to work hard, but “the facts are absolutely clear”, says one long-time researcher. “In virtually all circumstances in which people are doing things in order to get rewards, extrinsic tangible rewards undermine intrinsic motivation”. Next time you hear some know-nothing blather on about how money drives progress, you might point out that the science says otherwise. People are not spurred on by money, they are simply whipped on by fear of poverty.

Capitalist Priorities 

‘Owing to unfavourable economic conditions the search for the ultimate explanation of life, the universe and everything has been suspended.’ Perhaps this is pitching it a bit strong, but with the Large Hadron Collider due to close for a year for extensive repairs you would have thought that this was precisely not the time to be shutting down its nearest and dearest rival, the Fermilab Tevatron. The Tevatron, named because it can accelerate protons up to energies approaching a trillion electron volts or 1 TeV, is supposedly obsolete now because the LHC can manage energies up to 7 TeV. Of course that’s in theory. In reality the LHC has only once reached half this energy, has already broken down twice and now is due for another extended pit-stop. Most notably, of course, it hasn’t found anything, unlike the Tevatron which last month announced the discovery, to within 3 orders of certainty, of a new particle that may be evidence of a ‘fifth force’ of nature (‘Tevatron accelerator yields hints of new particle’, BBC Online, 7 April). Meanwhile the famous Higgs, as well as mythical dark matter ‘neutralinos’ could be lurking out there in any eV range, so even with two colliders operating it would be like two explorerers searching for penguins, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the south. Keeping the Tevatron going would cost a measly $35m – peanuts by their standards – and there’s no engineering problem, but the beancounters have given it the thumbs down. Any socialist comment on capitalist priorities at this point would be as redundant as a Chicago physicist.
Paddy Shannon