Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Who wants a referendum on Europe? (2008)

From the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The argument about a referendum over the EU Treaty is not about democracy, but about politicians trying to control decision-making.
Some things seem to never change.  Alexander Hamilton, some two hundred plus years ago, was a luminary of the American revolution.  He espoused a creed of natural aristocracy – rule by the best among us (including, naturally, himself) for life.  In the presidential elections of 1800 his faction faced defeat at the hands of the democratic forces led by Thomas Jefferson.  Back then, the votes for the presidency in New York State were exercised by the state legislature.  When the legislature fell into the hands of the democratic party, Hamilton proposed that the rump aristocracy party enact legislation in the dying hours of their term, to put the votes for the presidency into the hands of the electorate at large.  That is, one of the true believers in authority and elite rule, one of the very most opponents of democracy, saw his very last chance in an appeal to the people against the leaders of the opposing faction.

Today, we see a similar story.  The Conservative Party in Britain, opposed to the Lisbon Treaty, are demanding a referendum on the former “constitution.”  Obviously, they choose to call for this because they are sure that Europe is unpopular, so any referendum would be certainly lost.  That is that they are being fundamentally dishonest.  In order to avoid exposing splits in their own party, they campaign for a referendum, rather than simply stating out loud that they oppose the treaty itself.

One extraordinary part of this call is the insistence, loudly declaimed by Tory nerd William Hague, that they are simply trying to live up to their manifesto commitment – and why won’t Labour do likewise?  This, from the party of Burke, the propounder of the theory that parliamentarians are not delegates, that they are not bound by any election promise, and can (and indeed should) vote as they see fit for the duration of their term.  “Your representative owes you,” he famously said “not only his industry but also his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.  This is the ideology of the party of natural rulers.  Perhaps this overthrowing of their own bedrock ideology is what they meant by the Conservative revolution.  Now, after having failed to get their democratic referendum in the House of Commons they’ll doubtless use their, er, unelected members of the House of Lords to try and get their way.

No principle is inviolate, none that cannot be overthrown to the first among them all: being in power is an end in itself.  Of course, the very same applies to Labour.  They only do not want a referendum because they know that they would lose it.  Jack Straw bleats how we are a “parliamentary democracy” we don’t do things via referendums (as if it doesn’t lie in his hands to change that fact), and besides, the issues are too complex.  This from a member of the party that took Britain into the EU after a referendum, and that has had referendums on local mayors, Scottish devolution, Welsh devolution, London devolution, North Eastern devolution, council housing and schools since it took office 11 years ago.  The self-same party that is now planning a potential referendum in Wales on further devolved power.

Wasn’t it, Jack, the self-same party that promised a referendum on the constitution in the first place?  That shamelessly forgot that “we live in a parliamentary democracy” and that the “issues are too complex” simply to get itself out of a temporary political hole?  Of course it was.  Obviously, Jack, you’d say that this isn’t the constitution now – and certainly the fripperies and fopperies of a constitution have been taken away, and Britain has secured its opt-outs.

Ah, yes, those opt-outs.  Enough opt-outs that it barely looks like Britain has opted in to anything.  The party of so-called Labour opting out of increasing workers’ rights.  They’ve opted out of the Charter of Fundamental rights (it won’t be enforceable in British law) despite being the proud trumpeters of enshrining the Human Rights Act into British law.  They’ve also opted out of majority voting on police and justice measures.  So many opt-outs, indeed,  that failure to secure the treaty itself will leave other European government heads wondering whether Britain should really be in the club at all.

The treaty is a deal hammered out in the old fashioned semi-feudal way of ministers meeting in darkened rooms and fudging a solution between each other in the European Council – very like the way in which Hamilton and his mates (the so called Founding Fathers) stitched up the US constitution to keep the filthy paws of the electorate as far from power as they could.

Albeit that the Lisbon treaty does actually make the European Council a fully fledged body of the EU, rather than just an informal meeting of heads of government.  Another EU body, the Council of  Ministers, which actually decides EU laws, already makes its minutes public and the directly elected Parliament has at least once sacked the commission.  The EU is democratising, at a snail’s pace.  Part of the drive for this is precisely that wheeler dealing in darkened rooms is perceived to be a hindrance to its development.  The veto is a road block to decision making and the interests of the most powerful blocs within the EU (principally France and Germany). In fact, the treaty extends majority voting, i.e. removes the vote, to a wide variety of matters.

There are three fundamental questions that can be asked of any decision making process.  (1) Who initiates proposals and policies?  (2) Who deliberates on and amends them and gets to decide the detail?  (3) Who gets to approve them and has the final say?  We can say that the more people are involved, or potentially involved, at any given stage, the more democratic the process is.  In the case of international treaties like Lisbon, or referendums on any subject a government may choose, the answers to 1 and 2 will be ministers and parliamentarians (and, so long as they have a majority, that means in practice the parliamentarians of the ruling party).

The point of difference between Labour and the Tories, then, is solely on the fruits of the third stage, a yes/no decision on a completed and formulated proposition with no chance of changing it.  This, clearly, isn’t a debate on principle between two differently democratic parties with one giving more power to the people than the other.  It is a pallid dance between pretenders to the crown who will be buggered if they surrender their capacity to dictate events willingly.

What differentiates them from someone like Hugo Chavez – the current darling of the Romantic lefty who likes to fall in love with far-flung revolutionary utopias?  At the end of last year, his referendum on constitutional reform was defeated.  It contained a raft of proposals, a mishmash of changes to property and electoral law.  Cunningly, it also included a provision to remove the two-term limit for the president that, er, he introduced when he originally wrote that constitution.  Such bundling is a trick beloved of those who have to submit their policy to someone else at stage 3.

Of course, despite those lefties, who will harp on that Chavez has won 7 elections in 9 years and is the paragon of democratic revolution, Chavez is perfectly upfront about his political goals.  He takes as his hero Simon Bolivar, who was, some two hundred years ago, a luminary of the South American revolution. He espoused a creed of natural aristocracy – rule by the best among us (including, naturally, himself) for life.  He was fond of creating constitutions too.

It would probably come as a surprise to the followers of Hugo Chavez and David Cameron just how much their idols have in common – and they would probably deny it to the bitter death in blood flecked phlegm.  The fact is, though, that the rules of the game for the rulers are the same by very dint of coming to power and trying to shape things to their individual will – like, as Chavez has it, an artist painting a picture, seeing the parts into a whole.  To rule you must initiate policy, and control the detail.  If someone else’s consent is required the skills of the card sharp are needed to force the right choice on your mark.

That is the nub of this dispute over Europe.  It is not an argument about democracy, but a turf battle between competing rulers protecting their own turfs, their zones of influence, versus the wider goals of creating a functional Europe wide market area.  Just as domestic politics is about one faction imposing  their will on the other, so, increasingly, is European politics – but at the cost of eroding domestic political power.  Both Labour and Tory are walking a fine line between trying to be part of the winning faction in Europe and staying in charge at home.  Their motto throughout continues to be: “All power to myself.”
Pik Smeet

Are prices real? (2008)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Retail prices fall 50% in real terms since 1970s” headlined the Times (31 March) reporting on a recent survey:

“According to Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PwC), the accountants, the prices of everything from a kettle to a camera have tumbled by nearly 50 per cent since the early 1970s. At Argos, prices have fallen 47 per cent in real terms since Richard Tompkins, the founder of the Green Shield Stamps empire, launched the chain in 1973 with a 250-page catalogue. A fan heater in the original catalogue priced at £7.60 would cost £51 in today’s money, given the impact of inflation over the past 35 years. A similar product retails today at £12.99.”

To say that a fan heater, priced at £7.60 in 1973 and selling at £12.99 today, has gone down in price seems counter-intuitive. The explanation lies in the introduction of the notion of a price “in real terms”, or a “real price”, as a way of comparing prices at two different dates ignoring any depreciation (or appreciation) of the currency in the meantime.

To say that a fan heater priced at £7.60 in 1973 would sell at £51 in “today’s money” is to say that the currency has depreciated by 85 percent. That the heater is in fact priced today at £12.99 shows that “in real terms” its price has fallen by about 75 percent. In 1973 money its selling price would have been £1.90. It is in this sense that, in real terms, the price of the heater has fallen. Marx would say that this reflects a fall in its labour-time value.

If there was a stable currency then you would in fact expect prices to fall as productivity – the time taken to produce an article from start to finish – rises, meaning that articles have less value, less socially necessary labour-time incorporated in them. Productivity does tend to increase slowly from year to year due to technical advances. But there is not a stable currency, and that complicates comparisons.

Although the currency inflation and consequent depreciation is no longer in the double-digits it was in the 1970s, it is still government policy that the currency should depreciate by 2 percent a year. They don’t express it this way, but put it the other way round by setting the Bank of England a target that the general price level should not rise by more than 2 percent a year. Which amounts to the same thing as this is in effect to allow the Bank to inflate the currency by that amount. If the price level rises by 2 percent this means that the purchasing power of the “pound in your pocket” decreases by that amount.

Since wages and salaries are also a price – of people’s working skills, or what Marx called “labour power” – with depreciation of the currency they too go up continuously if slowly, with a little help from trade unions. Marx employed the concept of “real wages” but in a slightly different sense, though still as a means of discounting changes in money prices. He defined them as “the sum of commodities which is actually given in exchange for the wages” (Wage Labour and Capital) and as “wages as measured by the quantity of commodities they can buy” (Value, Price and Profit).

He gave the example of the prices of the articles workers buy falling while money wages remained the same; in which case, despite money wages remaining unchanged, real wages would have increased. In these days of permanent, if gradual, inflation if the prices of the articles workers buy increase more than money-wages (as has happened in some years), even though money wages have increased real wages have fallen. On the other hand, if money wages rise more than prices (as seems to be the slow, long run trend in this part of the world) then real wages increase.

Pieces Together: Good News For Some (2008)

The Pieces Together column from the May 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Good News For Some

“The housing crisis and credit crunch may end the American dream of property ownership for millions of people, but for landlords seeking bargain investment properties the market is looking up. . . . Building contractor Chad Blankenbaker seeks foreclosed homes to ‘flip’ — buying at well below market value, refitting then selling them at a hefty profit. ‘I’m shocked at how low the prices are here,’ he said. ‘There’s so much inventory that no one has to fight to buy anything’. Around the country the housing crisis represents both a business opportunity for landlords and a huge shift in the rental market.” (Yahoo News, 17 March)


Heartless Capitalism

“Genzyme, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, has long charged more than $300,000 a year for typical patients on Cerezyme, a drug used to treat Gaucher disease, a rare, sometimes fatal, inherited disorder that can cause enlarged livers and spleens, anemia and bone deterioration.

Cerezyme, which is administered intravenously, eases their symptoms. …The experience with Cerezyme and other biological drugs defies conventional wisdom on drug marketing, which holds that blockbuster drugs — generating revenues of a billion dollars a year or more — are generally those that can be sold to vast numbers of people.

But Genzyme has made Cerezyme a blockbuster, with sales of $1.1 billion last year, by charging very high prices for a few thousand patients. That could bode ill for efforts to curb health care costs if, as expected, the future of medicine lies in targeting treatments to limited numbers of patients most likely to benefit from them. The company is essentially exploiting a monopoly position to charge what the market will bear to treat desperate patients with no other option.” (New York Times, 23 March)


A Free Society?

“The Stasi secret police may have died with communism but its surveillance methods are still alive at Lidl, the German supermarket chain. George Orwell’s Big Brother, it seems, stalks the aisles between the cornflakes and the canned dog food. Detectives hired by Lidl – which has more than 7,000 stores worldwide, including 450 in Britain – have been monitoring romance at the cash till, visits to the lavatory and the money problems of shelf-stackers. Several hundred pages of surveillance have been passed on to Stern magazine, causing outrage among unions and data protection officials.” (Times, 27 March)


Food For Thought

“Five years after the United States invaded Iraq, plenty of people believe that the war was waged chiefly to secure U.S. petroleum supplies and to make Iraq safe — and lucrative — for the U.S. oil industry. We may not know the real motivations behind the Iraq war for years, but it remains difficult to distill oil from all the possibilities.” (Washington Post, 16 March)

Running Commentary: Being prepared (1983)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Being prepared

Ignoring the persistent evidence from the by-elections, the Labour Party is doggedly drawing up its plans to be the next government of British capitalism.

They are well aware that every government faces the difficulty of holding back pay rises. Past Labour administrations have tried to do this through exhortation, threats, legal controls and financial sanctions. Their policies have often brought them into spectacular conflict with the workers and sometimes with the unions as well.

Each time they are in opposition they claim to have learned from these experiences. Never again, they swear, will they attempt a frontal assault on workers' living standards; in future they will organise prosperity for everyone through wage restraint with the unions’ agreement, a peaceable surrender without a shot being fired or an angry word spoken at the Despatch Box.

Harold Wilson called one example of this tactic the Social Contract and the implied promise to bring order into wage negotiations where once there had been fractious chaos helped him back to power. Of course things didn’t work out as Wilson had promised and his successor Callaghan had to muddle through the winter of discontent.

But despite these grim memories, Labour is undaunted. They have a liaison committee with the TUC which has recently negotiated an agreement on wage control with the principal unions. It is all there in a working paper and the policy is called, not the Social Contract any more, but the National Economic Assessment.

This latest piece of trickery promises to give the unions new “rights" while emphasising their “responsibilities” to take account in their claims of economic priorities as identified by the National Economic Assessment.

In simpler terms, this means the unions would agree to hold back their claims if they conflicted with the priorities of a future Labour government. And no one can now be in any doubt about what those priorities are — a more profitable British industry, more competitive British exports, a more intense exploitation of British workers.

Out of office, and looking very unlikely to be in power again for a very long time, the Labour Party is still laying its plans to run British capitalism. Their problem, as ever, is that although this can be done in only one way — in the interests of the British capitalist class — it must be made to look as if it will benefit everyone


Jolly Swagman

If Barry Humphries got it right, Australia is a place populated by excessively bone-headed, obsessively macho sports. And if that is true the well-publicised reputation of their new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, as a one-time bibulous, roistering womaniser may have helped him win the recent general election. Votes have been cast, and elections won, on flimsier grounds.

But more to the point was probably Hawke's promise to attend to the problems of the Australian economy with policies which would unify the people there. Australia is no longer a golden land of opportunity, beckoning to British workers exhausted by the exploitation and the weather and mistakenly believing that all their troubles would vaporise under the Australian sun. Unemployment there now stands at ten per cent and prices are rising sharply. For the Australian worker, life gets harder and harder.

Hawke’s predecessor, Malcolm Fraser, was a Prime Minister in the Thatcher mould. He did himself no good by imposing a wages pause without consulting the trade unions or trying to win their co-operation.

As we all know from experience, Labour governments aim to do it differently. While it is their object also to keep wages in check they at first negotiate on this with the unions. If they get an agreement, it is usually given some deceptive name like Harold Wilson’s Social Contract, which is supposed to convince us that frozen wages under a Labour government are less icy than the same thing under the Tories.

Bob Hawke, who came up through the trade union movement in Australia, will quickly use his experience and standing to get the unions' compliance in wage restraint. The Australian workers will be told that this is in their interests because, of course, a Labour government would not have it any other way.

Another example of the style in which Hawke will "unify” the country was his statement that the Prince and Princess of Wales will be given a dignified welcome when their imminent visit to Australia takes place. These two parasites personify the dominant class in a grievously divided society; they stand for privilege above the majority’s poverty. To welcome them is to condone a disunited society.

Like all Labour leaders. Hawke came in on a wave of optimism and on the prayer that things will be better hereafter. He has made an unusually rapid start in exposing these hopes for the futilities that they are.


Best forgotten

In the city of dreaming spires, a raging controversy disturbs statuesque scholars at their books. Was Michael Heseltine, when he was a student at Oxford in 1954, a supporter of the campaign to ban the hydrogen bomb? If he was it could be highly embarrassing to the man who now has the job of putting the government case against CND.

According to the Guardian, everybody who was anybody at Oxford at the time was in the campaign. Historian Raphael Samuel, who was then secretary of the university Communist club, says that Heseltine was more than just a member of the committee against the H bomb — he drafted the petition opposing the bomb and was scorned as a stooge of Moscow as a result.

Jeremy Isaacs, who so benefited from his time at Oxford that he now masterminds the production of drivel on Channel 4, says Heseltine attended a meeting but refused any further involvement. Tory MP Julian Critchley does not remember the future Defence Secretary being involved.

And Heseltine himself? "I really don't recall . . .” he said. “If the petition called for multilateral disarmament, well we are all in favour of that."

This problem with the Defence Secretary's memory is unsettling. He is, after all, the politician responsible for the nuclear warheads and delivery systems which have gone on growing worse and worse in spite of all those protests from angry undergraduates. We don't want him ordering them to be fired off in a spasm of absent-mindedness.

But Heseltine's forgetfulness is also understandable. It is common for people who are interested in reforming capitalism rather than abolishing it to become zealous about all manner of causes and campaigns. There is no lack to choose from: nuclear weapons, war, famine, poverty, dictatorships. massacres, demands to free some people and to lock others up . . . 

No self-respecting reformist refuses an invitation to sign up in support of such causes, unheedful of the fact that this is a waste of time which could be contributed to the struggle to abolish the root cause of all the problems.

And of course much of this zeal is expended at universities, where there is youthful energy associated with adolescent delusions about possessing élite intellectual qualities. It is quite understandable, that among all that excitement they should fail to remember every campaign they put their name to, and how and when and why.

If Heseltine was against the bomb in 1954, it need not disturb him now when he wants to keep it. Both attitudes are indefensible and both are best forgotten in favour of the idea of a basic change in society.


Double Act

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act is a misnomer because it does not prevent terrorism and. since it has lasted for nearly ten years, begins to look anything but temporary. So unsuccessful is the Act in stopping terrorism (which means guerilla acts committed by the other side) that, according to Home Secretary Whitelaw, 1982 was a very bad year for bomb incidents in England. So untemporary are its provisions that Whitelaw intends to introduce another Bill to replace the present Act — and presumably to give it permanence.

In the recent debate on renewing the Act for another year the Labour Party were quite clear that it is an assault on civil liberty. Whitelaw’s shadow Roy Hattersley protested about the harassment of Irish people which the Act encourages — “. . . part of a movement towards a more authoritarian society. That move is wrong in principle, and as far as combatting terrorism is concerned, wrong in practice".

Labour MP Reg Freeson weighed in with his description of the Act: “. . . the very kind that political terrorists in this country or any other wish to see a democratic state give way to”.

There is of course some validity to these arguments; for example the Act allows the police to arrest and to hold suspects for long periods without charging them or bringing them into a public court. According to Hattersley, some 85 per cent of those arrested and held under the Act are released without being charged.

But the points were just as valid in 1974, when the Act was rushed through parliament in the hysterical aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings. It was no less a threat to personal liberty, no less a political weapon for the IRA, then than it is now.

The only thing to have changed is the party which is in power. It was a Labour government, with a “liberal", "civilised” Home Secretary in Roy Jenkins, which passed the Act and which had it renewed each year until they lost power in 1979. In those days Hattersley felt able to vote for the Act.

In the case of Freeson there may well be another motivation. His constituency has a large number of Irish voters and he is under some pressure in reselection. And of course when they are out of power the Labour Party has always felt free to criticise many of the measures which they took when they were the government.

This latest squalid manoeuvre may win Labour a few votes from workers who are ignorant about where their interests lie. For the likes of Hattersley and Freeson, that is justification enough.

Disarming critics (1983)

From the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Michael Heseltine, who did not get where he is today through any diffidence about upsetting people, is robustly enjoying his job as the government’s scourge of the nuclear disarmers. He could hardly be expected to jeopardise this happy state by publicly debating with CND although the reason he gave for refusing — that CND have closed minds — has the deterring implication that Heseltine has an open mind on the issue and that it is not therefore beyond possibility that he could be converted to CND. That would mean more than the end of his pullulating ambition to be Prime Minister; he would have to exchange all those elegant pin-stripe suits for a demo-battered anorak and trim his hair so that it is no longer a ready handhold for a policeman dragging him away from a protest lie-down.

But until that happens — or at least until the next general election — we must endure Heseltine's audacious claim to be both a leader of the peace movement and a last line of defence against the menace of a Russian dictatorship. For it is unlikely that the government feels it has anything to fear from CND; more to the point is the decision of the last Labour Party conference to support unilateral nuclear disarmament, which may have given the Tories an electoral weapon to extinguish the last twitches of life from Labour’s ravaged body. This situation has its irony, for every Labour government since the bomb first went off have been firm supporters of British nuclear weapons and only the silliest of Labour Party supporters are likely to believe that this gruesome tradition is not safe with Michael Foot who, since that embarrassing conference, has industriously applied his oratorical gifts to fudging the issue.

The Thatcher government, like its Labour predecessors, base their case on the deterrent theory, which appeals to anyone who is able to set aside difficult things like historical facts. The theory begins with the crude nationalist assumption that it is always the other side which needs to be deterred — in this case Russia, no longer a staunch ally in the war to save the world for democracy but a ruthless aggressor:
  . . . as early as 1949 Russia was plainly showing her belief that Soviet ideology must dominate the world, and her readiness to use military force to achieve that. (Government film, The Peace Game.)
No nuclear power has yet admitted to having weapons which are aggressive; they all claim that their bombs are defensive and a contribution to world peace. It has been like that from the very beginning; Truman did not describe Hiroshima as an avoidable disaster but as an "overwhelming success”. The first Russian bomb in September 1949 was greeted by Moscow’s British mouthpiece, the Daily Worker, as "tremendous news” which would encourage "peace loving people everywhere”. When the first British bomb exploded Churchill "warmly congratulated” all those concerned, not forgetting Attlee and his Labour government who had initiated it. In 1964 the Chinese government was exultant about its bomb:
  . . . a major achievement of the Chinese people . . . The development of nuclear weapons by China is for defence and for protecting the Chinese people from the danger of the United States launching a nuclear war.
Then there are the statistics about how many tanks, guns, aircraft, bullets, the Russians and the rest of the Warsaw Pact states have. According to The Peace Game, they outnumber the NATO forces 2½ to one in tanks, nearly 3 to one in guns, well over 2 to one in aircraft. To adjust this imbalance, and so to prevent a "conventional” war, the NATO powers say they need a strong nuclear force:
  . . . the last war was the worst we have ever experienced. It is wars like that which we are trying to prevent with the nuclear deterrent . . . (Margaret Thatcher, Sunday Telegraph, 20 February 1983.)
But it is not just "conventional” wars which nuclear weapons are supposed to guard against; Heseltine sees them as also stopping the "unconventional”, nuclear type: "If we want to be safe from nuclear attack we must possess a nuclear deterrent that is effective”. (Party Political Broadcast, TV. 23 February 1983.)

The confidence in that statement imbued Heseltine's entire performance that evening; he put the deterrent case in a few pointed words: "History shows one nation will only attack another when it is too weak to defend itself". But he then rather spoiled the effect by instancing the Argentinian attack on the Falklands, perhaps forgetting that this was an example of a non-nuclear, and therefore weaker, power attacking a nuclear, and therefore stronger, one. This gap in Heseltine’s argument was soon smothered with a blood-stirring shot of a Union Jack being run up a flagpole. Patriotism is often a handy substitute for logical argument.

But there can be no substituting for reality. The deterrent theory has masked an arms race unprecedented in human history. Since those quaint days of Hiroshima. when there was a bomb which could kill only in tens of thousands, the weapons and their delivery systems have been refined and strengthened to the point when they have the power to kill in millions. Thirty-six countries now have the bomb or the capability to produce it. The world nuclear stockpile represents the equivalent of four tons of TNT for everybody on earth. This, in a rare flash of candour, the nuclear powers call overkill and it exists not to protect human freedom or to make us happier or more secure but to protect the interests of some of the minority class in society who. although their numbers are relatively small, own the world in the sense that they monopolise the means of life.

If the deterrent theory works then major war will have been eliminated, the nations will go on developing more and more horrific weapons and stockpiling enough of them to kill us all several times over but all of this will be a sort of game because there will be no intention, or opportunity, to fire them. Capitalism will have undergone a character change which would have no precedent in human history. Wealth will still be produced as commodities, with the minority class continuing to own the means of production but what has hitherto been an inevitable result of this — international conflicts — will no longer be inevitable. The capitalist class will still have interests to defend but will suddenly lose the will to do so.

The less credulous — or perhaps the more aware — will find it easier to believe that the deterrent must eventually fail; capitalism cannot exist without conflict and sooner or later there will be such a clash as will make the use of nuclear weapons unavoidable if one power or group of them is to hold its own against its rival. If that happens. say the supporters of deterrence, there will be a massive riposte ending in mutual destruction — as if that would be some consolation, among the atomised ruins of our lives. There will in any case be very little time for those who believed in deterrence to realise how wrong they were; the refinements of all those deterring weapons will ensure that they are delivered on target with the very minimum of delay. So what is the theory worth?

Well in spite of what Heseltine said the fact is that Argentina should have been, but was not, deterred from attacking the Falklands by the knowledge that they might provoke a nuclear response from Britain — and there is of course some evidence that the Task Force did carry nuclear weapons. When the 1939/45 war — the sort which Thatcher says she wants to guard against with the bomb — started, there was an expectation, based on the experience of air raids in the first world war, the Spanish Civil War and the Sino/Japanese war, that there would be a swift, crushing air strike which would lay waste to many British cities and kill about 600,000 people. Such was the fear of this that trenches were dug in the parks and commons, 38 million gas masks were issued and plans were laid to evacuate 2 million people from the officially doomed cities. But this did not act as a deterrent to the British government declaring war, when they felt that the interests of their capitalist class left them no choice. When the German air attacks came they did so in spite of the fact that by then the deterrent was operating in the other direction; the British were building the bombers and the organisation which was to wreck far, far worse destruction on German cities and their people.

For the deterrent theory to hold good, it must be assumed that war is an ordered, rational affair which is governed all the time through a series of sage, balanced assessments of reality. Why then did the Germans attack Russia in 1941, landing themselves with massive problems of supply and communication, to say nothing of the hardships of the winter? The motivation for that attack took little account of such obstacles; in 1941 Hitler enthused: “Where is there a region capable of supplying iron of the quality of Ukrainian iron? Where can one find more nickel, more coal, more manganese, more molybdenum?” And a little later he told his generals: "II I do not get the oil of Maikop and Groznyi, then I must end the war".

The war was embarked on over the German expansion into the mineral fields and the markets of the world; from that point it was escalated to a climax in the ruins of Stalingrad, Berlin and Hiroshima. It was a procession of chaos, with its own grisly momentum and with episodes — for example the German policy of antagonising the people of the countries they conquered when a more successful attitude would have been one of reconciliation; for example the profitless destruction of Dresden by the Allied air forces — which fall outside even the requirements of war. If that war had been plannable, on some historical blueprint, it would hardly have moved beyond a stalemate. Today there are still the same basic conflicts of capitalism; only the sides have been shuffled. the uniforms changed, the regions of conflict may have shifted, the armouries are ever more frightful. In a recent advertisement designed (presumably) to encourage young people to join the Royal Navy, we are reminded of the development of the oil and gas fields in the North Sea, which did not exist twenty years ago:
   As a Royal Navy Officer your job would be to keep watch on them; ready to deploy surface and airborne units as well as the Royal Marines company specially trained for anything which might threaten their safety.
Perhaps it is a measure of the confidence which the nuclear powers place in the deterrent theory, that they do not spread the knowledge for the production of the bomb more widely. The effectiveness of a deterrent must be in direct proportion to the number of countries which have it. If every state had the most destructive weapons available then they could all deter each other into a perpetual stalemate. In fact no nuclear power has welcomed the development of the bomb by its rivals. The Russian bomb, said Harry Truman, emphasised “. . . the necessity for that truly effective, enforceable international control of atomic energy which this government . . . support”. When it became apparent that the British were about to explode a test bomb, the Daily Worker damned it as “. . . an unmitigated curse . . . a coward's weapon, designed for the unrestrained massacre of the civilian population". As the Chinese tested their first bomb the Foreign Office, with typical pin-stripe restraint. expressed “deep disappointment".

Capitalism has not changed its character; war cannot and will not be spirited away through the so-called deterrent any more than by an equally miraculous bout of CND-inspired pacifism among the nuclear powers. This social system provides no confidence that the interests of its people are of any consequence beside those of its master class. In fundamental terms, nuclear weapons are significant only as a development in the methods by which modern private property society carries through its conflicts. Here, for example, is how US Vice President Bush — whose finger is a mere coronary away from the Button — describes the attrition theory of the 1980s, in words to warm the cockles of the heart of the late Earl Haig:
  You have a survivability of command and control, a survivability of industrial potential protection of a percentage of your citizens, and you have a capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition than it can inflict on you. That's the way you have a winner. (Observer, 6 February 1983.)
Before it gets to that, those citizens, might act; the fact that they have the power to do so, and to stop it all, is obscured by the false securities of both the deterrent theory and the exhalation of their fear and anger in futile demonstrations. The world's citizens could set up and operate a social system in which war could not happen; beside that overpowering fact, the debate between deterrence and disarmament is reduced to an irrelevance.
Ivan

Letter: Lenin and Marx (1983)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I am writing to criticise Stephen Coleman's article. “Lenin’s Distortion of Marxism" (Socialist Standard, January 1983). I have two main criticisms to make. The first concerns the selective use of quotation. The author contrasts the best of Marxism with the worst of Leninism. For example, the author chooses to ignore passages in Lenin's works where Lenin repeats almost word-for-word Marx’s idea of communist revolution as working-class self-emancipation:
. . . the emancipation of the workers can only be accomplished by the workers themselves (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 9, page 29.)
And while (quite rightly) criticising Leninism's advocacy of "state possession of the productive and distributive machinery, as opposed to common ownership and democratic control", the author ignores passages in Marx’s writings where Marx too advocates state ownership:
  The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State. . .
. . . in the most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable:. . .
. . . 5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State;. . . (Marx/Engels, The Communist Manifesto.)
Lenin certainly did not “distort" this “Marxism"!

My second criticism concerns the author's statement that "The failure of the Bolsheviks to establish socialism 'from above' was inevitable because the material conditions did not exist in Russia to allow anything but capitalism to develop". The SPGB believes that one of the essential preconditions of the establishment of communism is the existence of the technological means for the production of abundance (means which capitalism brings into existence). Since “socialism in one country" is an impossibility, communism must be a world-wide system, established more or less simultaneously in all parts of the globe. Therefore an essential precondition for the establishment of communism is the existence, at a world-wide level, of the potential for abundance. And since the SPGB has campaigned for socialist revolution as an immediate possibility since the day of its formation, one can conclude that this world-wide potential for abundance has existed since (at least) 1904. In and since 1904, and indeed even today, there have been/are geographical localities where, considered in isolation from the rest of the world, the potential for abundance has not existed — but this does not affect the fact that in the world as a whole a potential for abundance has existed since 1904. Therefore it is totally contradictory to argue that in 1917 (i.e. at a time when a world-wide potential for abundance did exist) material conditions were such that nothing but capitalism could have developed in Russia (i.e. in one geographical locality considered in isolation from the world as a whole). Initially the Bolsheviks did not seek to establish communism "in one country":
The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 26. page 470.)
Initially the Bolsheviks sought a world revolution to establish world communism, and in 1917 such an aim was quite feasible — it was what the SPGB was seeking.

It is only after the failure of a world revolution to occur that arguments about material conditions in specific geographical localities (e.g. Russia) come into play. Stephen Coleman fails to situate the events of 1917 in a world context and thus arrives at misleading conclusions about the reasons for "the failure of the Bolsheviks”.
Mark Shipway
Manchester

Reply
We agree that Lenin's works contain many references to Marx's ideas about capitalism, socialism and revolution. The intention of the article, Lenin's Distortion Of Marxism, was neither to affirm nor deny that Lenin understood the basic ideas of Marx. Lenin’s article entitled The Three Sources And Three Component Parts of Marxism (Collected Works, Vol. 19. pp. 23-28) demonstrates quite clearly that Lenin was acquainted with the main tenets of Marxism. His writings prior to the Bolshevik coup d’etat contain a number of sound Marxist ideas as well as a number of views which were clearly derived from the Russian peasant Narodnik tradition, indeed. Lenin was not the only Bolshevik to "repeat almost word for word” certain of Marx’s statements. The collected works of Stalin, for instance, abound with lengthy textual quotations from Marx. However, repetition of a valid idea is only commendable if the political actions are in line with the ideas expressed. Lenin, Stalin and the other Bolsheviks adopted a terminology which conflicted with their practical application of anti-socialist policies.

It is suggested by Mark Shipway that Lenin's advocacy of state capitalism was based on Marx's proposed communist programme at the end of the second section of The Communist Manifesto. Marx advocated these measures in 1848, at a time when capitalism, in its modem industrial form, was sweeping through Europe, because he took the view that there had to be a transition period between the conquest of political control by the working class and the organisation of society on complete socialist lines. The notion of the transition period was the product of an age in which the potentiality for developing the productive forces to a level required for socialism had not arrived. All of Marx's predictions about "the first stage of Socialism" (such as his reference to “labour vouchers" in The Critique Of The Gotha Programme) are now, in the light of the technological developments in the last hundred years, completely obsolete and irrelevant to modern revolutionary thought. In their Preface to the 1872 German edition of The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels recognised that the measures quoted by Mark Shipway were even then somewhat outdated:
  However much the state of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in this Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there some detail might be improved. The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would in many respects be very differently worded today.
So, what Marx and Engels advocated in 1848 (which Shipway quotes) was qualified by them in 1872. We agree with our critic that “the selective use of quotation” is to be avoided, especially when Marx's persistently repeated statement that the state, in any form, will always exist as a machinery for class coercion, is ignored for the sake of a unique quotation — later repudiated by Marx — in which state control is proposed as a transitional programme. The fact which cannot be denied is that ‘Marx opposed state capitalism (see his comments on Bismarck’s nationalisation measures) and Lenin advocated state capitalism (see his comments on the German state-directed war economy).

It was not the worldwide potential to produce enough for everyone which was lacking in 1917 and it has never been stated by the Socialist Party that Bolshevism failed because such technological pre-conditions for socialism did not exist. The Leninist attempt to establish socialism — even if they did believe that Russia would be a catalyst for the rest of the world — was bound to fail because Lenin thought that socialism could be imposed upon a non-socialist working class. The Bolshevik conception of "a world revolution to establish world communism” envisaged a series of insurrectionary seizures of power by vanguards which would impose socialism on a population knowing little or nothing about what was at stake. In short, the condition lacking was mass class consciousness.

It should be emphasised, in conclusion, that the Socialist Party's critique of Leninism is not based on a purely academic or historical concern. The relevance of Lenin's distortion of Marxism, as was made clear in the article referred to, is that many modern "Marxists” reject most of the revolutionary ideas of Marx and accept the authoritarian conception of revolution as expressed by Lenin. At the end of the day Mark Shipway should ask himself whether socialism is an object worth working for and, if so, whether the Socialist Party, with its critical adherence to Marxism and its opposition to Leninism, has the correct ideas about revolution.
Editors

What May-Day Means to Us. (1938)

From the May 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Position

For many years past thousands of working-class men and women throughout the world have claimed May-day as their own. They march in procession with flying banners, announcing Labour's rights and aspirations. In some ways this is as it should be; movement means life. Here in London, the chief site in world capitalism, the famous Hyde Park is the stage always set for their declaration of political faith. It is not without social and political significance that the richest city in the world should give rise to these May-day meetings. It provides abundant evidence of the underlying material realities which vitalise such mass demonstrations of our class.

The great contrast in riches and poverty, the immense class division, is here exhibited with almost naked brutality. It may go without saying that, just as there can be no mistake about the fabulously wealthy parts of London through which we march, so there can be no mistake about the class to which those who participate in these demonstrations belong. Any onlooker could hardly fail to understand that those who see fit to thus parade their political convictions reveal that the colossal wealth of modern times neither lines their pockets nor fills their stomachs.

But these May-days come as a happy counter-blast to all this. They mean something of immense and vital importance to men and women who are forced to work for what is little more than bread and butter. They signify a spirit of revolt against things as they are, the sentiments of a class aiming to emerge from the conditions of an age-long subjection.

This is the emotional, instinctive and intellectual yearning behind these working-class assemblies; we say this despite all their confusion of political tongues.

But why do these demonstrations have to take place? Is there no way out for the class which labours to confer riches, rights and privileges upon others, only to leave themselves in the subordinate position of publicly announcing the “wrongs" of the class to which they belong? If there is a way out where or what is it?

We of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are men and women who belong to the working class; we share the same experiences of exploitation and fear of economic insecurity; we know what all this means because we live the part. But we claim to have studied the problems of the workers' lives at their foundation. As a result we are able to declare unhesitatingly that the solution has been found. We know, and can prove our case, that the wealth of the world is produced by the workers. We know, and can prove it, that what the workers can do so efficiently for the capitalist class they can do even more effectively for themselves.

To extract from nature the food, clothing, shelter, and all other things which serve to make life worth while only two elements are essential. These we have at our disposal, namely, Mother Earth and our mental and physical capabilities. How often have we Socialists illustrated this point of view by asking whether any sane man or woman would expect coal to work itself up from the depths of the earth by merely placing money, or what is called “capital," at the top of a coal-mine. Would any of the things, apart from natural conditions that minister to human wants, exist but for the hand of labour? Can there be more than one serious answer to these questions? Yet there are many millions of our class who still cling to the belief that we cannot do without capital or the capitalist; that we cannot dispense with the power of money. Because workers living to-day have not experienced the production of goods without capital or money the really vital elements indispensable to all human existence are forgotten. That the workers are blind as to the actual truth of the position is, of course, not to be wondered at. The modern workers, the wage- slaves of civilisation, are much like the feudal serfs of the Middle Ages and the bond-slaves of old. They are largely dependent upon those who benefit from the proceeds of their exploitation for their knowledge of things. They have been taught and trained to look up to their masters as though these people owed their social position to some divine right or to some special endowment of nature. What has passed under the name of education has been in effect little more than propaganda aiming to secure the continuance of capitalist-class control of the means of life. But we Socialists have revealed the fallacy of the ideas which helped to keep capitalism going. Class domination has its roots in the possession of the ownership and control of such things as the land, mines, mills, factories, ships, railways, in fact, in all those means of producing and distributing the essentials of life. That is the basis of the class division and not any superior mental or physical power on the part of the ruling class. This class possesses money or capital to-day through the operation of historical, economic and social causes. The vast possessions of the modern capitalist class have behind them a record that is largely associated with past murder, piracy, spoliation and robbery, rather than with any mark of superior intellectual ability. In fact, the history of class divisions from very early times is directly connected with conquest, plunder and enslavement. Read its history and it will reveal the facts only too tragically.

But, to come back to our point about file meaning of capital! Those who insist that it is indispensable belie air past human history, besides actually distorting the real significance to the workers. The land and all other things, including money, which are used to-day as agents of wealth production are in themselves no more capital than the moon is green cheese. Capital is wealth, the result of past labour, used to obtain profit. This in turn is but the unpaid labour of the workers. The profit motive is behind all capitalist production. The bread we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses in which we live are not produced for their use, but for profit. Unless there is a profit, or the prospect of it, capitalist production ceases, in fact it would not be started. This will explain, apart from other considerations; why millions of our class are unemployed, are forced to a demoralising idleness: the capitalists can find no profitable use for even the goose that lays the golden eggs. Yet for thousands of years, for by far the greater part of human history, capital was unknown to the human race. Even the extensive use of the precious metals marks but a late stage in human development. The predominance of money as a factor in economic relationships is, in fact, not more than a few centuries old. The point we wish to emphasise is that there is nothing intrinsically indispensable about the great “god" money. The "yellow, glittering gold" of capitalism, apart from its various uses to the present system, is in reality of much less real use to human needs than many of the baser metals. In a really healthy and sanely-organised system of society, wherein profit was absent—could not exist, in fact—there would be no need of such things to facilitate the distribution of the products of labour. Therefore, we of the Socialist Party of Great Britain stand for the abolition of capital because we stand for the abolition of capitalism. The immense productive powers of to-day must be converted into the common property of the community; they must be democratically owned and controlled, through which they would be operated for use instead of for profit. There is no other way out for the working class. The capitalist class must be dispossessed of their control of the means of living, and this can only be done by divesting them of their political power. Those who represent the varied interests of the capitalist class in Parliament are elected there by the workers themselves. Under the guise of specious promises to effect this or that social reform the Conservative, Liberal and Labour Parties obtain the political support of the workers to administer capitalism. Not even the Labour Party proposes to abolish capitalism, despite its frequent use of the word “Socialism" ; it seeks to carry it on in the form of State ownership, with the capitalist receiving interest and compensation under the direction of the State. This is not Socialism, but State capitalism. Although backed by many workers, the Labour Party has proved itself in practice a supporter of the capitalist system. And this will help to explain the Labour Party’s wholehearted support of the War, 1914-1918, as well as its being pledged to support the next war. The workers must learn the fatal errors of their ways. They must get political power to smash capitalism. Until they do this there seems to be little alternative but for them to go on acclaiming resolutions, such as they usually do at these and other demonstrations, calling upon capitalist governments to do this, that, or the other thing for them; they will continue to seek the reform of their slavery and exploitation, where only its abolition will suffice.

The message of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is, therefore, that they must organise with us for Socialism. We stand for the working-class capture of political power by the only method available to-day, namely, through democratic election to Parliament to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism. This is the first and foremost plank in our programme; anything short of this will not do. We neither advocate nor ask capitalist governments for social reforms. Like millions of other workers, we would like to see the end of the means test, unemployment pay increased, schoolchildren well fed, and many other of the demands of the workers met, but the fact remains that, with things as they exist now, capitalism would still be with us, demanding removal. Working-class action must be revolutionary, not reformist. Political catch cries such as “Chamberlain must go," "Down with Hitler," and "Defend the British Empire against Fascism," are useless and dangerous to the real interests of the workers. If Chamberlain goes, who comes? Only somebody else representing the class interest to which Chamberlain belongs. The British Empire: the workers own none of it. Its existence marks the fact of their exploitation. The existence of the Hitlers and Mussolinis is largely the result of working-class inactivity and concentration on social reformist instead of Socialist revolutionary action. When the working class heeds our message it will not fail to take the necessary step to put an end, once and for all, to capitalism and all its Dictators. We picture a world free from exploitation and want, free from wars and the power of Dictators—in short, a world of our own making in which the guiding principle would be the common interest of “ associated humanity."

This is no wild Utopian dream. The material conditions of its realisation are here now, awaiting the understanding and action of the international working class.

Fellow-workers, the Socialist Party of Great Britain appeals to you to look to your own interests through Socialism.
Robert Reynolds

This Month's Quotation: Benito Mussolini (1938)

The Front Page quote from the May 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard
"The Proletariat is anti-Patriotic by definition and by necessity . . . "
- Mussolini in 1909

Notes by the Way: The Last Stage in the Old Austria (1938)

The Notes by the Way Column from the May 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Last Stage in the Old Austria

The last-minute resistance before the sudden collapse of Schuschnigg in face of the advance of Hitler into Austria gave a dramatic touch to that event, but also requires explanation. An article in the Nation (New York, April 2nd, 1938) provides the necessary details. It will be recalled that Schuschnigg met Hitler at Berchtesgaden and it was at once taken for granted that Austrian independence was already lost. Then, after a few days, Schuschnigg made a bold move to retrieve the situation. A plebiscite was to be taken on the maintenance of independence, and all anti-Nazi elements were called upon to rally round the Austrian Government on a policy of friendship towards Germany but no absorption. Why did the change take place? The answer is that, although Schuschnigg could get no foreign support against Hitler, an influential body of Austrian industrialists and landowners tried to organise resistance because they feared for their own position if Austria became a German province. Not sentiment but profit was their motive. The body in question included the Austrian Association of Industry and Trade, They submitted a memorandum to the Government and two of their members were promptly called into the Ministry which was to stake its existence on the fight for independence. The Nation gives lengthy extracts from the memorandum, some of which are reproduced below: —
  . . . we must defend the independence of Austria. The loss of our independence under present conditions in Germany would be disastrous for us. It would mean the extinction of large sections of Austrian industry, commerce, and the tourist trade. We have been able to reduce the restrictions dealing with foreign currency on account of the increase of exports and of income from abroad, especially from tourists. Our industries are largely dependent on exports. The German currency restrictions would endanger our exports. At the same time we could not expect to be privileged in the matter of distribution of raw materials, which are scarce in Germany. Most of our industries do not belong to those armament industries which are privileged.
The memorandum goes on to point out the interesting situation of the Austrian iron and steel industry and their opposition to absorption. The Austrian iron mines have a relatively low cost of production, iron and steel mills are near the mines, and many industrial plants have been built up on account of the cheap supply of iron and steel. All of this advantage would be lost if Austria came under the control of German iron and steel interests.
  We were opposed to attempts of the Stahlverein to close iron and steel mills which the Stahlverein controls in our country. We were and still are opposed to being subjected to the control of the German cartels and syndicates in the matter of iron and steel prices. Our machine industries will not be able to compete with German industries if we have to buy iron .and steel from the Ruhr mills. . . . Anyway we shall experience an immediate rise of iron and steel prices in the event of the Anschluss. We shall have to pay the German internal price, which always is considerably higher than the world market price or the price we have been paying. 
Austrian agriculture, like industry, would be sacrificed. Instead of buying cheap fodder abroad the Austrian farmers would have to buy dear fodder from Prussia and Pomerania.

The memorandum develops many other points, all directed to the one argument, that most Austrian industrialists and landowners were better off in an independent Austria: —
  We shall not be able to exert as strong pressure in the Prussian State Bureaucracy as can the large trusts of western and central Germany.
The Nation adds that several other industrial and handicraft organisations also sent resolutions and letters which urged Schuschnigg to refuse Hitler's pressure—"They furnish the key to Schuschnigg's surprisingly stubborn resistance—and to the necessity of Hitler's using military power to effect the Anschluss."

#    #    #    #

The First Stage in the New Austria

In the long period after the Great War during which the Social Democrats were active and influential, Austrian industrial capitalists more or less adjusted themselves to the position of offering social reforms (largely at the expense of Austrian landowners and agricultural interests) in return for comparative industrial peace and order achieved with the help of the Social Democratic Party and trade unions.

With the world depression and consequent decline of markets the old situation no longer appealed to the weakened capitalists or to the strengthened landowners and farmers. The Social Democrats and the unions were crushed. Violent repression took the place of social reform. Dollfuss, and after him Schuschnigg, repudiated democracy and stood for the form of dictatorship known as the Corporate State.

Now a further stage begins with the entry of Hitler into Austria. German capitalist and landed interests required the crushing of their Austrian rivals and the Government they controlled. So Hitler and his lieutenants deliberately set out to placate the Austrian Social Democrats and Communists and former trade unions. Schuschnigg penalised the workers who fought for democracy in 1934, Hitler promises them reinstatement in their former jobs. Dollfuss used artillery against the blocks of low-rented flats put up by the Social- Democratic City Council of Vienna. Now the Nazis promise to go back to the programme of the Social Democrats.

General Goering, according to The Times correspondent in Vienna (The Times, April 2nd, 1938), has promised work to the Austrian unemployed, and Dr. Neubacher, the Nazi Burgomaster of Vienna, has lifted whole chunks from the former Social-Democratic programme. The Times Vienna correspondent reports him as follows:—
  Dr. Neubacher delivered a speech at the Vienna gasworks recently in which he promised big housing schemes on the lines of those which made Vienna famous under the Social-Democrats, extensive slum demolition, an extension of the municipal services, and the beginning of work on the promised Port of Vienna as soon as possible. He reinstated 80 workmen who had been dismissed because they fought with the Socialist Schutzbund against the Dollfuss Government in 1934, and declared that he did this not as an act of grace, but as a restitution of rights. 
The moral is obvious. Those who administer capitalism, whether by democratic or dictatorial methods, cannot ignore the views of the mass of the workers, but must seek their support or, at least, their tolerance of what is done. But will the workers be deceived for ever? Has Hitler discovered some new and infallible method of blinding the workers to their own class interests ? Plainly no, for, as is shown above, all that Hitler can do in Austria is to go back to the method employed during the period of influence of the Social Democratic party. The fact that he can think of no other and better method than promising the stock social reforms is proof positive that, sooner or later, the workers who have for the time being been deceived by Hitler, will see through him when they find that the promised social reforms leave capitalism unchanged.

#    #    #    #

The Troubles of the Labour London County Council

The Labour Party majority, who control the London County Council, are in a sea of troubles. Trade Unions with members employed by the L.C.C. and the London Borough Councils complain that the joint meeting of the above bodies—dominated by Labour Councillors—curtly rejected their demand for increases of pay to compensate for the increase of prices. The Councillors, of course, are thinking of the rates. More expenditure means higher rates, and higher rates mean fewer votes for Labour candidates at the next elections.

We see masked nurses addressing meetings of nurses employed at L.C.C. hospitals, called to protest against their conditions of service. Mr. G. Vincent Evans, General Secretary of the National Union of County Officers, spoke at one such meeting, and is reported in the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post (April 6th, 1938):—
  . . . when the Nurses Charter was introduced . . . it was felt that the L.C.C. would set an example to the rest of the country.
  Instead, when the testing time came, the L.C.C. showed that such a spirit of leadership was sadly lacking. The result was the use of this inaction as a vicious and indefensible argument for defeating the Limitation of Hours Bill in the House of Commons.
  “It was left to the Middlesex County Council/' he went on, “to become the pioneers of this progressive movement of reform when it introduced the 48-hour working week. The lead was followed by many of the voluntary hospitals and other provincial county boroughs.
  "Surely the great trade unionist movement in London, and throughout the country, must feel that progress has been stultified."
Again the Rates!

Then we find tenants who are to be given the blessings of an L.C.C. housing scheme signing petitions of protest. The Daily Telegraph (March 28th) reports as follows:— . .
  Residents of Bethnal Green are protesting against a proposal by the L.C.C. to demolish their homes and to rehouse them in five-storey flats instead of in two-storey cottages, which they prefer.
  In a petition delivered recently to the King in Council, through the Home Secretary, on behalf of 4,000 persons, it was stated that the cost of the suggested five-storey blocks.would be greater than for two-storey cottages.
  “The argument that more people can be housed on a site by building blocks instead of houses has been blown sky high,” said Mr. William Catmur, on behalf of the petitioners. “The people are in revolt against flat-blocks and want houses with small gardens. Such houses can certainly be provided at no greater cost."
  The petition claims that the local authorities refuse to repair houses which could be repaired, and insist on ejecting the tenants, that they are destroying the businesses as well as the homes of many small shopkeepers, and that they are “behaving with the most outrageous disregard of the law."
In this case again, in spite of the argument used by the petitioners, it is probable that the five-storey flats are cheaper. Otherwise we must assume that the Labour Party, who are responsible for the scheme, have some abstract preference for flats, whether the workers like them or not. In any event, we can be quite certain that if the flats were like those privately-built ones available to people who can afford to pay, and if they were available at rents no higher than those paid now by the Bethnal Green tenants, the latter would raise no objection.

But the L.C.C., in spite of its Labour majority, cannot tackle the real problem—poverty caused by capitalism. All it can do is to nibble at the effects of poverty, hoping to convince the electors that this is better than leaving the L.C.C. to the Municipal Reformers. Labour leaders never learn the lesson that capitalism administered by Labour Councils is so little different that, after a few years, the electors turn again in desperation to the openly capitalist parties. So it will continue to be until the workers decide to have Socialism.

#    #    #    #

Major Fey—A Liberal and a Communist Viewpoint

Major Fey, who committed suicide (or was perhaps murdered) when the Nazis entered Vienna, was one of those guilty of the brutal onslaught on the Viennese workers in February, 1934.

The News Chronicle correspondent in Vienna, Mr. John Segrue, was responsible for the following account, published in the News Chronicle on February 17th, 1934:—
  Vice-Chancellor Fey . . . organised the plan that goaded the workers into resistance. Last Sunday, in a speech at Stebersdors, near Vienna, he told the Heimwehr that Dr. Dollfuss was “one of them" and added that he intended to begin work in earnest against his enemies on the following day.
His “earnest work” was to mean artillery fire against workers' homes; and when the fighting was over Fey promised “scores of hangings all over Austria." It was indeed the British Government which actually intervened to stay the slaughter.

Now Fey is dead, victim of his own ambitions and perfidy (he was believed to have played false both to Dollfuss and to the Nazis).

A correspondent draws our attention to the way this event was reported in the Liberal Manchester Guardian and in the Communist Daily Worker (both dated March 17th, 1938).

In the Guardian Fey was given the headline, “Minister who Destroyed the Socialists.”

In the Daily Worker the headline ran: “Austrian Patriot Leader’s Suicide.”

#    #    #    #

A Noble Lord on Tax-dodging

The Times recently published an article on tax-dodging, and showed how wealthy people employ the best legal brains to evade income tax and surtax. Other newspapers estimated the loss to the Treasury through this at £50 millions a year.

The Times then published a number of letters on the rights and wrongs of tax-dodging, one of the most enlightening being a letter from that representative of a very noble house, Lord Hugh Cecil. He argued that the tax-dodger is entitled to get away with anything, provided he keeps within the law. If the tax-dodger “acts openly and above board, and clearly conforms to the law, I can see no reason why he should not do anything the law allows in order to lighten the load of taxes.”

This is an ingenuous way of phrasing the claim that wealthy men are entitled to get round the plain intention of Parliament, provided that their lawyers can find the usual loophole. Such is patriotism.

The Times (April 1st, 1938) disclosed that “cases are on record in which members of the House of Commons, who have voted to impose taxes on others, have themselves resorted to evasive operations in order to avoid the very taxes to which they have consented. "

#    #    #    #

Bernard Shaw Trips up

Bernard Shaw entertained the readers of the Daily Express (March 26th, 1938) by giving answers to eight questions on world affairs. He ridiculed national frontiers, attacked Hitler for Jew-baiting, denounced Nazi Nordic nonsense as being only an imitation of the “enormous arrogance” of the Jews in claiming to belong to God’s chosen race, expressed appreciation of Hitler’s book, "My Struggle” (“though it is a great pity that he did not read my works instead of Houston Chamberlain’s”), denied that there is any natural reason for the existence of a German Empire—or a British Empire—and thought that war between Britain and France and Germany will only break out "if Hitler loses his head, and is confronted by enemies who have not any heads to lose.”

Altogether a typical contribution. But on one point Shaw fell into a trap, as a reader of the Daily Express promptly pointed out. The question was about returning Germany’s colonies. In the course of his reply, he said: “My slogan is, ‘Africa for the Africans’.”

But it is only two years ago that Shaw was campaigning under the banner "Abyssinia for the Italians.”

#    #    #    #

Winston Churchill has Second Thoughts on Spain

At the beginning of the Spanish War Churchill was all for Franco. He has gradually veered round until now, in the Evening Standard (April 5th, 1938), he writes gloomily of the dangers of a Franco victory for British Imperial interests, and regrets that opinion in England and France is so divided as to prevent any action being taken.
  A thoroughly Nazified Spain, retaining its German nucleus, may well be a cause of profound anxiety both to France and Britain. At any rate, it appears to be a matter upon which they should exert themselves, if indeed the faculty of action still resides among them.
It need hardly be said that Churchill’s motives never include any consideration for the exploited. He backed Franco from motives of ruling class sympathy with a dictator and now turns against him when British ruling class interests appear to be at stake.

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What British Seamen Owe to the Empire

If there were anything in the argument of the Imperialists about the advantages of belonging to a seafaring Empire, possessed of enormous naval power, surely the conditions of British seamen would demonstrate the truth or otherwise of their belief. The Times recently published some articles which showed a decidedly unattractive picture of those conditions, and on March 29th a letter was published from Lieutenant-Commander H. G. Boys-Smith, which contained the following: —
  May one who boards over a thousand ships every year (chiefly British and North European) express gratitude for the outspoken articles by your Labour Correspondent of “Ships and Men ” ?
  My opportunities for observation enable me to say, without fear of contradiction, that the accommodation provided for British crews is so much inferior to what is usually found in Scandinavian, Danish, Dutch, and German ships that it constitutes not only a grave wrong to our seamen but an equally grave reflection on British ship-owning interests.
He went on to confirm a statement made by another correspondent that shipowners’ representatives give "hints” that forecastle conditions must not be spoken of.

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Who is Father Christmas?

The Daily Herald (April 9th, 1938) reports that a certain wool merchant who recently died leaving £1,176,813, was known locally as' the Father Christmas of the textile industry, because he made generous gifts to his employees at Christmas time. It will never have occurred to this gentleman that he was only able to become a millionaire because his employees were making "generous gifts” of unpaid labour to him, not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.

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Capitalism's Welfare Work

A Mr. A. Hudson-Davies, who was formerly engaged in industrial welfare work, spoke at the Conference of Management Associations at Oxford on April 1st, 1938, about the employer’s view of welfare work. He confirmed what Socialists have always argued. The following report is taken from the Manchester Guardian (April 2nd, 1938): —
  Mr. A. Hudson-Davies said that under the present dispensation their main job as managers was undoubtedly to find profits for the shareholders, adding: “All this business about welfare activities and improving working conditions is really a matter of making profits in an enlightened way, and there is no point in making a song and dance about it because it costs only a fraction of the outgoings of the company.”
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Facts and Fiction About the Empire

The Sunday Chronicle (April 3rd, 1938) had articles by two well-known people, both of whom touched on the question of the standard of living of British workers. They flatly contradicted each other.

Sir Philip Gibbs, in “The Story of the British Empire,” said: —
  Youth in Britain to-day . . . well clothed, well fed, well housed . . . owes everything to the Pioneers of Empire.
Mr, Duncan Sandys, M.P., in “Politics from the Inside,” wrote about the Children’s Minimum Council, the aim of which is to ensure “that no child shall, by reason of the poverty of its parents, be deprived of at least the minimum of food and other requirements necessary for full health.” They gave a luncheon, the menu being based on the British Medical Association’s minimum diet necessary for health, costing, at present prices, 6s. 6d. a week per person. Mr. Sandys says: —
  . . . it is unhappily the fact that even this frugal fare is beyond the reach of every unemployed man without separate means who has a wife and children to support. What is more, very many of the lower paid wage earners are just as badly off . . . there are actually over four million people in this country who cannot afford to spend more than 4s. a week on food.
It would seem that Sir Philip Gibbs' pioneers of Empire might have been better employed putting things right at home than in extending capitalism’s evils to the unfortunate inhabitants of other countries.

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Who Makes Politics Disorderly ?

After Mr. Shinwell had slapped the face of Commander Bower in the House of Commons the latter (who, unfortunately, suffered some injury through the blow) issued a message to a Conservative Parliamentary candidate, saying that Mr. Shinwell’s action is an indication of the kind of disorder we may expect when Socialists get power. As Mr. Shinwell’s Party is the Labour Party, not the Socialist Party, and as it is committed to reforming capitalism, not abolishing it, the reference to Socialism by Commander Bower should be taken as an indication of the profound ignorance of Conservative M.P.s. But regarding the conduct of M.P.s, there are a few other things to be said.

In the first place, the Conservatives themselves have a black record. The Conservative Evening Standard (April 6th, 1938) says this: —
  Commander Bower’s taunt and Mr. Shinwell’s reply, with physical violence, were equally unjustifiable.
   It is . . . an unpleasant feature of the present huge Government majority that there are a number of Conservative members who are utterly unmannerly in their treatment of the Opposition, and who are ready to hurl any taunt, however offensive, across the floor of the House.
The News Chronicle (April 5th, 1938) recalls that. “for systematic brawling” it is necessary to go back to the early ’eighties (the Liberals, Tories and the Irish then had the House to themselves), when hardly a night in the whole session was free from "scenes,” and that the late Lord Cushenden “once threw a book at Winston Churchill and hit him in the eye.” In April, 1924, Mr. Amery hit Mr. Buchanan, and more recently Mr. Beckett (now a Fascist) ran off with the Mace.

When we turn from the Members of Parliament, who, presumably, ought to be able to set a good example to their constituents, and examine the conduct of the constituents themselves, we of the S.P.G.B. can say that behaviour of audiences at meetings is good.

But, then, the S.P.G.B. makes a point of allowing questions and opposition at propaganda meetings and the audiences appreciate the fact that no attempt is being made to fetter the expression of opinion.
It is interesting to notice the tribute paid by the Commissioner of Police for London to the workers who march in demonstrations. (See Report for 1936, Stationery Office, Is., p. 25.) He comments on the increased number of meetings in 1936 arising out of events in Abyssinia and Spain and out of the March of Unemployed, and says :
  But these meetings were in every case orderly, and the conduct of the unemployed marchers beyond reproach.
Shinwell and Bower should not be above learning from their constituents how to behave.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letters: The Labour Theory of Value (1938)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Theory of Value

P. P, M.'s P.P.S.

In the January issue we replied to a letter criticising the labour theory of value, and this has evoked a further letter from the same correspondent, the relevant paragraphs of which are given below.

To the Managing Editor,
The Socialist Standard,
42, Great Dover Street, S.E.l.
January 14th, 1938.

Dear Sir,

We now come to the third (January) issue, and again there will be much laughter, for The Socialist Standard’s reply to my contention is nothing but an exhibition of either nonsense or stupidity or evasion.

The reply says: “Why is fur, ebony, badger hair, etc., etc., scarce? Because it costs a good deal of human effort, human labour, to get it.”

What profound wisdom! !! And I, poor simpleton, always imagined that badger hair, for instance, was scarce because badgers are scarce. But now I know better. And I take it that North Poles and South Poles are scarce because it takes a good deal of human effort, human labour, to find them?

However, let me come to my real rejoinder, expressed illustratively.

When a badger is caught it is caught whole, not piecemeal. Therefore the labour (or labour-time) applying to its capture applies to the whole badger. But the hair-covering of this same badger is divided into sections. There is a comparatively small section of hair of fine quality; there is a larger section of hair of medium quality; and there is a still larger section of hair of comparatively coarse quality. All three sections are mounted in handles of exactly the same size, quality and workmanship. But the brushes made with the first-mentioned section of hair will be high priced: those with the second-mentioned section of hair will be at a less price; and those with the third-mentioned section of hair will be at a comparatively low price.

I could add to this illustration of my argument to the extent of many columns, but the given illustration alone will suffice (using The Socialist Standard language) to knock the bottom out of The Socialist Standard’s reply to my argument, and demonstrates what I stated in my previous letter, viz., that labour (or labour-time) is not the sole and exclusive determinor of value and price, as Marx and The Socialist Standard tell us.
Sincerely yours,
P.  P. M.

Reply:
We said, and we repeat, that badger hair is scarce because it costs a good deal of human labour to get it. It costs much labour because badgers are scarce. We did not, as P. P. M. implies, say anything so silly as that badgers are scarce because it costs much labour to catch them. He falls over himself by confusing badger hair and badgers. Badger hair is a commodity: the North and South Poles are not, nor are badgers—until they are caught with a view to sale. The labour theory of value does not explain the niggardliness or the bounty of Nature, it explains the value of commodities. It is the amount of labour involved in catching badgers (together with the labour in subsequent processes) which determines the value of badger hair.

The example given, intended to refute the labour theory of value, is, in fact, an illustration of it. The badger provides a larger quantity of coarse hair than fine hair. But the badger (we learn) is caught whole, not piecemeal. So it takes as long to catch the smaller quantity of finer hair as to catch the larger quantity of coarser hair, and, accordingly, the same amounts of coarse and fine hair have different values, which arc reflected in the prices of the brushes.

We must add that neither Marx nor The Socialist Standard has ever said that labour time determines value and price. Prices can be, and are, affected by other factors.
Frank Evans

Answers To Correspondents 

Mr. W. Owen (Islington). Regret delay in answering your letter. Reply will appear in our next issue. Ed. Comm.
                                                                                                                                      
"Criticism of the Object of the S.P.G.B.” (See April issue).

Mr. C. Clarke (Aberdeen) writes to say that quotations which he described as coming from Vol. I, Chapter 3 of "Capital,” actually appear in Vol. I, Part III. Ed. Comm.