Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Higher Prices Mean Fewer Jobs." (1921)

From the October 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

J. A. R. Marriott, M.P., on Unemployment

Mr. Marriott has been offering a solution for the problem of unemployment, and the headline quoted above from the Evening News (September 13th) is the text he uses.

His article is more moderate in tone, and contains a larger measure of truth and accurate observation than one expects to find nowadays among those newspapers described as "competent to write authoritatively." He starts by making what must necessarily be for his readers a serious and distinctly unusual admission about industrial crises like the present : "Such crises have recurred at more or less regular intervals during the last century and a quarter," but he believes, in spite of this, "that the overthrow of the existing order would involve us in far more acute and general distress than anything we are likely to suffer during the difficult months ahead."

There is more truth in that last remark than Mr. Marriott thought, and I agree that for him it is not an unreasonable statement; but it is necessary to have clearly in mind to whom that "we" refers. "We," the comfortable and leisured class to which Mr. Marriott belongs, are not suffering from the prevailing unemployment, "we" never have so suffered, and, whoever else does, "we" shall see to it that "we" never do. But what of the future ? If capitalism is overthrown, what happens to "us" and our privileged position ? Is it not enough to make the most open-minded of the capitalist economists pause when they find the direction in which their investigations are leading them ; to make them turn back from the path to the future which the workers alone can follow, and announce that the existing system is the sublime height of mankind's upward progress. "After us the deluge" ?

"What, then, is the cause of the phenomenon of recurrent unemployment, and what is the appropriate remedy ?" Mr. Marriott dismisses off-hand the "glib answer of the Communists" that capitalism is the cause, and work or full maintenance, and the immediate abolition of the system, the ultimate remedy.

He admits that crises are "the concomitant of the new order in industry initiated by the industrial revolution," and that unemployment is "an incident—perhaps an inevitable incident—of large-scale production for a world market" ; but this, he says, is not capitalism. I would like then to ask what was the "new order initiated by the industrial revolution" ? What was it if not modern capitalism ? Where can Mr. Marriott find an instance of "large-scale production for the world market" except under capitalism?

Although Mr. Marriott cannot face his own conclusions, he admits our case in its entirety. Unemployment is part, and an essential part of the system under which we live. He even goes so far as to speak of "that reserve of labour upon which the periodic prosperity of an industry is dependent." It is, in fact, just because Mr. Marriott cannot help but recognise, as we do, that capitalism and unemployment are inseparable, that he does not even claim to have found the solution he set out to discover.

The utmost he can do is to suggest the speediest and least difficult way out of the present state of stagnation, without touching what he himself admits to be the real problem, the recurring crises.

Again, he tells us that prior to the present era chronic unemployment was unknown. Why, then, must we acknowledge our impotence to escape an alleged "inexorable economic law" which had no terrors for our ancestors of some hundreds of years ago ? Are we patiently to accept starvation for our class, knowing as we do that our powers of wealth production are a hundred times greater than then, just because of the class-biassed economic theories of Mr. Marriott ?

"So long as countries were self-supporting in agriculture and industry, crises occurred only at rare intervals, being the outcome of pestilence or famine, or some great upheaval in the natural world." Poverty is no longer the result of natural phenomena; it is a product of society itself, of artificially restricted production, and unequal distribution of the product.

Mr. Marriott criticises the "Communists" for wanting to return to pre-capitalist conditions, but does not give evidence that they ever propagated such an absurdity. Anyhow, we know, and Mr. Marriott knows, that it cannot be done.

The case Mr. Marriott has to meet is this. He admits the existence in the recent past of a form of social organisation to which unemployment was unknown; he admits also the enormous increase of productivity since the inception of modern capitalism. What, then, is the factor, or what even is the kind of factor, which prohibits production for use instead of for private profit ?

In further criticism of the "Communists" he cites the experience of Louis Blanc in 1848 with his "national workshops" and the application of the theory of "the right to work." He rightly says the provision of full maintenance for the unemployed is incompatible with the continuance of capitalism. Louis Blanc learned by experience what everyone now knows to be true. But here, again, Mr. Marriott might observe that the "Communist Party" have explicitly conceded the impossibility of their demand being met; it would mean "suicide for the capitalist class." Incidentally, it illustrates the dangerous tendency of "Communist Party" propaganda that the uninstructed sympathy of the unemployed should be gained by promises incapable of fulfilment.

Now we come to Mr. Marriott's remedy. It is that the wages of those still in work must be lowered. Lower wages—lower prices—more foreign trade—work for the unemployed.

It looks sound, but the chain has weak links. Firstly, lower wages mean not lower prices, but higher profits; and, secondly, this solution, if otherwise genuine, can only help one country at the expense of others. Can that be a solution for a problem of world-wide magnitude ? There is no corner of the capitalist earth immune from the effects of industrial, commercial, and financial depression.

The argument that the workers must accept less wages to enable their employers to compete with the sweating "foreign" manufacturer is used in every country in the world, unfortunately with some effect. But has anyone ever heard of an employers' association which proposed to deal with such a situation by assisting the unfortunate foreign worker to organise and improve his status ? No, because the capitalist will always sell his goods at the maximum the market will bear, and he knows that the paying of a wage higher than he can compel his employees to accept is a dead loss to him, a subtraction from his profits.

True, prices must come down, for the simple and sufficient reason that stocks in hands are great and the owners cannot all wait indefinitely for an increased demand. They want ready money, and must sell at a reduction, at a loss even. Every penny, therefore, they can knock off their labour costs is a clear gain to them. Hence Mr. Marriott's anxiety on behalf of the capitalist class to persuade the out-of-work that his enemy is the employed man who stands out against wage cuts. In conclusion, as
against Mr. Marriott's dicta that "the utmost the workless can claim is subsistence," and that "those in work must be content with something not much above that level," our advice is, that while capitalism lasts, the workers, whatever their condition, in work or out, will get, and will be entitled to, just as much as they can compel the capitalist class to give them. It is to be hoped that they will soon become so dissatisfied with their meagre portion that they will join us in getting the whole
lot, the earth.
Edgar Hardcastle

£1000 Fund. (1921)

Party News from the October 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where Russia Stands. (1921)

From the October 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

Earlier in this series of articles we promised to examine more closely the oft-repeated assertion that the Russian Bolsheviks were carrying further, and in the same spirit, the movement begun by the Paris Communards in March, 1871.

On comparing the Commune with the Bolshevik movement we find that there are fundamental differences between them.

The first (and most important) difference that comes to our notice concerns the method of control. The Commune aimed at, and realised during its short life, control of affairs directly by the whole people; whereas the Bolsheviks aimed at control by a few. It is true the Bolsheviks, in some of their proclamations, have made it appear that the Russian masses were in control, but we have already supplied abundant evidence through these columns illustrating how different the actuality is from the appearance. In order to bring the Bolshevik position on this question clearly to mind again, we submit the following further illustration:
  Nevertheless, we do not for a moment deny that our apparatus is rigidly centralised ; that our policy towards the bourgeoisie and towards the parties of the compromising Socialists is repressive in character; that the organisation of our own Party, as a ruling Party which exercises a dictatorship through the Soviets, is of a militarist type. —(“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Russia,” by N. Bucharin in the Workers Dreadnought, 4/12/1920).
Such, is the Bolshevik position—the antithesis of control by the masses.

What was the attitude of the Commune on this question ? Let us permit Engels to give his evidence first.

In his introduction to the German edition of the Civil War in France (see The Paris Commune, NewYork Labour News Co.), Engels points out that :
 The members of the Commune were divided into a majority of Blanquists, who had also predominated in the central committee of the National Guard, and a minority, which consisted for the most part of members of the International Working Men’s Association, who were adherents of the Proudhonian School of Socialism.
He then shows that both the Blanquists and Proudhonists did the very reverse of that which the doctrines of their school proscribed . Of the Blanquists he writes as follows:
  The Blanquists fared no better. Brought up in the school of conspiracy, held together by the rigid discipline essential to it, they started from the conception that a comparatively small number of resolute, well-organised men would be able not only to grasp the helm of State at a favourable moment, but also, through the display of great energy and reckless daring, to hold it as long as required, that is, until they had succeeded in carrying the masses of the people into the revolutionary current and ranging them round the small leading band. To accomplish this, what was necessary, above all else, was the most stringent, dictatorial centralisation of all powers in the hands of the new revolutionary government. And what did the Commune do, which in the majority consisted of these very Blanquists? In all its proclamations to the French people in the provinces it called upon them for a free federation of all French communes with Paris for a national organisation, which, for the first time, was to be the real creation of the nation. The army, the political police, the bureaucracy, all those agencies of oppression in a centralised government, which Napoleon had created in 1798, and which since then every new government had gladly used and kept up as ready weapons against its enemies, were to be abolished everywhere, as they had been abolished in Paris. —Page 16.
Lenin repeatedly cries out against the charge of “Blanquism” levelled at his group, and asserts “We are not Blanquists,” yet it is obvious that Engels’ description of the French Blanquists exactly fits the Bolsheviks.

We have previously quoted Zinovief‘s statement that the Russian Communist Party controls the State machine from top to bottom, though the membership of this Party was only a little over 600,000 in April, 1920, some of whom were excluded from voting. Taking Zinovief’s statement with that of Bucharin, quoted above, what is the difference between the Russian party and the Blanquists as defined by Engels? Only this. The Bolshevists are Blanquists in practice, whilst the Blanquists acted directly opposite to the Blanquist idea.

Now let us hear what Lissagaray, the historian of the Commune, has to say.

Of the Central Committee, the committee appointed by the National Guard prior to the promulgation of the Commune, he writes as follows :
  Their farewell address was worthy of their advent : “Do not forget that the men who will serve you best are those whom you will choose from amongst yourselves, living your life, suffering the same ills. Beware of the ambitious as well as the upstarts. Beware also of mere talkers. Shun those whom fortune has favoured, for only too rarely is he who possesses fortune prone to look upon the workingman as a brother. Give your preference to those who do not solicit your suffrages. True merit is modest, and it is for the workingmen to know those who are worthy, not for these to present themselves.
  They could indeed “come down the steps of the Hotel de Ville head erect,” these obscure men who had safely anchored the revolution of the 18th March. Named only to organise the National Guard, thrown at the head of a revolution without precedent and without guides, they had been able to resist the impatient, quell the riot, re-establish the public services, victual Paris, baffle intrigues, take advantage of all blunders of Versailles and of the Mayors, and, harassed on all sides, every moment in danger of civil war, know how to negotiate, to act at the right time and in the right place. They had embodied the tendency of the movement, limited their program to communal revindications, and conducted the entire population to the ballot-box.” —Page 124.
The Central Committee referred to by Lissagaray was composed of delegates appointed by the National Guard. The latter body comprised the able-bodied citizens of Paris after the departure of the Versaillese. The delegates in question were none of them appointed as members of any particular group or party; all were, as, Lissagaray repeatedly emphasises, unknown, obscure men, who voluntarily relinquished the power they held as soon as they had arranged for, and carried through, the elections of the delegates to the Commune itself.

The Bolshevik movement is the attempt at dictatorship on the part of a group within the Russian Communist Party. The Paris Commune, on the contrary, was no dictatorship of a party or group, but an endeavour to realise the participation of the whole of the people democratically in the administration of social affairs.

Much has been written by the Bolsheviks and their supporters around the question of freedom of the Press; volumes of ridicule and abuse have been poured upon the heads of those unfortunates who opposed the suppression of the bourgeois press, or who suggested that there was no point in gagging the press if the Russian masses were sufficiently advanced to understand the position. It must be borne in mind that the Bolsheviks make great capital out of the alleged overwhelming support they received from the workers, soldiers and peasants.

What did the Communards do (with no precedent to assist them) in this connection when faced by a position similar to that facing the Bolsheviks? Let us hear Lissagaray again :
  Sunday the 26th (March, 1871) was a day of joy and sunshine. Paris breathed again, happy, like one just escaped from death or great peril. At Versailles the streets looked gloomy, gendarmes occupied the station, brutally demanded passports, confiscated all the journals of Paris, and at the slightest expression of sympathy for the town arrested you. At Paris everybody could enter freely. The streets swarmed with people, the cafes were noisy ; the same lad cried out the Paris Journal and the Commune ; the attacks against the Hotel de Ville, the protestations of a few malcontents, were posted on the walls by the side of the placards of the Central Committee. The people were without anger because without fear. The voting paper had replaced the Chassepot.— Page 172.
From the above it will be seen that the statements of the Bourgeois were circulated as freely and openly as the statements of the Communards—exactly the opposite of the procedure in Russia. The Bolsheviks suppressed antagonistic journals; put into operation a “Committee of Public Safety” against their adversaries; demolished the Assembly that had been one of their watchwords ; put into operation labour and military conscription; and, in general, ruled with a mailed fist.

The Bolsheviks claim that the working class must break up the capitalist state machine as a preliminary step to the social revolution. On this question they make excessive use of Marx’s phrase, from the Civil War in France, the “working class cannot simply seize the available ready-machinery of the State and set it going for its own ends.” We have already dealt with this point, but a little further examination of it will be useful, particularly as Lenin employs several pages of his The State and Revolution to force an unwarrantable inference from Marx’s words.

In the first place, what constitutes a social revolution? A social revolution goes through three phases : First the educational and agitational phase; then the conquest of power; and finally the reorganisation of society to meet the requirements of the class just arisen to power.

Marx analysed the Commune and showed that once in power (that is to say, having reached the second phase) the Communards provided an illustration of the methods to be adopted by the workers to accomplish the revolution in conditions; that stopping at the mere laying hold “of the ready-made State machinery” would not solve their difficulties; but he nowhere suggests that the workers should abstain from, in the first instance, obtaining control of this machinery. Engels makes the matter quite clear when he says, in the Introduction to the Civil War in France (already quoted) :
  From the very outset the Commune had to recognise that the working-class, having once attained supremacy in the State, could not work with the old machinery of government.  (Italics ours.)— Page 17.
It is necessary to use the evidence of the Commune very carefully in this connection, because at the time a peculiar position had arisen. The French Bourgeoisie had already divested themselves of the greater part of their power by their intrigues and manipulations with Germany. In fact, in order to fight the Commune they had to beg of Bismarck the release of the French soldiers interned in Germany. The general in charge of the operations against the Commune was the same MacMahon who had “sold out” at Sedan.

The break-up of the capitalist State machinery may be a preliminary step to the revolution in social conditions, but it certainly is not a preliminary step to the conquest of power. The Bolsheviks, when blinding themselves with “the break up of the State machinery ” infer that this machinery must be “smashed ” before power can be obtained (it is true they frequently contradict themselves, as we have shown elsewhere), hence their contention that strikes and street insurrections are the main methods of action. For example, in the Socialist Review for July, 1920, there appears a translation of an official document entitled “Parliamentarism and the Struggle for the Soviets.” The following paragraph from this document makes clear the Bolshevik attitude :
  What we would particularly emphasise is the following : The real solution of the question is to be found, under all circumstances, outside Parliament, in the street. That strikes and insurrections are the only methods of resolute war between Capital and Labour is now clear. Therefore, the chief efforts of comrades should be directed to the work of the mobilisation of the masses, the establishment of the Party, the development of its own groups in industry and their control over it, the organisation of Soviets during the course of the struggle, the leading of mass action, agitation for the revolution among the masses—all that in the first line ; Parliamentary action and participation in election campaigns only as one expedient in this work—nothing more ” (Italics ours.)—Page 272.
The above document is signed “G. Zinoviev, President of the Executive Committee of the Communist International,” and dated September 1st, 1919. It must be remembered that Lenin is a leading member of the E.C. of the Communist International.

Many further illustrations could be given, but the above is sufficient to indicate what a subordinate position is given to parliamentary action by the Bolsheviks.

To those who refuse to be carried away by mere verbiage, it must be obvious that to attempt to smash the political machinery, without first getting hold of it, is the best way for the workers to get their heads smashed. If they first get hold of the political machinery (which they can do when the majority so wish) they can then, as Engels puts it, lop off its worst features at once. Engels’ statement, anent the State, made in 1891, is as follows :
  But in reality the State is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another class, and that no less so in the democratic republic than under the monarchy. At the very best it is an inheritance of evil bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once, as the Commune did, until a new race, grown up under new, free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself this state rubbish in its entirety. —Page 20. Introd. to German ed. Civil War in France. (Italics ours.)
The above rather brief comparison of the Paris Commune with the Bolshevik movement will convey an idea of the nature of the differences between them.

Before concluding our sketch of the Russian movement there is another point to which we wish to draw attention.

Lenin and other Bolshevik writers frequently contend that they did not base their hopes of success upon an early uprising of the international working class. If we examine their proclamations and the reports of their speeches, however, we find that the contrary is true. The following quotations should set any doubts upon this point at rest :
  If in awaiting the imminent proletarian flood in Europe, Russia should be forced to conclude peace with the present-day Governments of the Central Powers, it would be a provisional, temporary, and transitory peace, with the revision of which the European Revolution will have to concern itself in the first instance. Our whole policy is built upon the expectation of this revolution.” (Italics ours.)—Page 160. From “What is a Peace Programme,” by L. Trotsky. Printed in International Conciliation” (New York, No. 149, April, 1920.)
In the same journal from which the above extract is taken there appears a May 1st Appeal from the Communist International “to the Toilers of the Whole World,” which is signed by the “Executive Committee of the Communist International,”‘ and concludes as follows :
 In 1919 was born the great Communist International.
In 1920 will be born the great International Soviet Republic.—Page 181.
It must be again pointed out that Lenin is a leading member of the Executive that sent out the above appeal, and Zinoviev is the secretary.

In different contributions, Trotzky and others go into ecstacies over the alleged spreading of the Soviet Movement throughout the world. Trotzky, in particular, states (Pravda, April 23rd, 1919) :
  At the present moment one awaits from day to day the victory of the Soviet Republic in Austria and in Germany. 
We are afraid the days are rather long ones, and Trotzky relies too much on wishes and too little on exact information.

However, time will bring the solution to Russian doubts and difficulties, as it has brought the solutions to the problems of the past.

At the present moment nature is playing a tragic part in the business. In ordinary circumstances a drought in Russia is a very serious matter owing to the primitive agricultural methods and the failure of the peasants as a class to make provision for the future. At the present juncture, when a world-wide drought of a particularly severe character has been combined with circumstances due to Bolshevik dictatorship, the results are greatly exasperated and presage disaster to the Bolshevik regime.

This fact, however, is no excuse for jubilation on the part of Bolshevik opponents, nor is the shedding of crocodile tears over the starving peasantry helpful. It should, however, induce the workers—and particularly the self-styled “revolutionists” of the brass band variety—to study the whole of the conditions, so far as information is available, that have given rise to the present state of affairs. By such action they will enlarge their knowledge of principles and tactics, and be capable of taking an understanding part in the struggle for international working class emancipation.

One lesson above all Russia drives home : No backward nation can leap the intermediate stages of development and jump ahead of the vanguard. One nation learns from another, and progress is, on the average, parallel in the advanced countries.

The laws of historical development, which work with an iron-like consistency, are defeating the Bolsheviks more conclusively than any capitalist army.

Muslims at War (1984)

From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The war between the capitalist ruling minorities of Iran and Iraq is now in its fourth year. Both parties are able to buy as much military weaponry as they require — invariably from the same sellers. Neither side is prepared to compromise; both are determined to carry on fighting until the other accepts its terms and conditions of cease fire. The war could continue for years; so far it has cost the lives of more than a million workers -many of them youths — who have no interests at stake whatsoever. Poison gas has been used; civilian targets have been hit by long-range rockets and fighter planes are dropping napalm bombs. The war is now a testing laboratory for new means of destruction.

The origins of this conflict can be traced back to before the First World War, when Britain, France and Russia agreed secretly to divide the Ottoman Empire between themselves so as to expand the market for their commodities into the heart of the Middle East. After World War One Iraq became a part of the British overseas colonies. Then, in accordance with the principle of Divide and Rule, the whole political map of the Middle East was redrawn, with Iraq showing a majority of people of the Shiite faith. Shiite is an Islamic sect and the official religion of the Iranian ruling minority. Geographically, northern Iraq included a part of Kurdistan, as does Iran. The rich lands along the eastern side of Shatt Al-Arab fell within southern Iraq, but the Iranian ruling class objected to this and attempted to occupy all of the eastern side of the waterway. Iraqi territory was then under British protection, so the Iranian ruling class was impeded in its efforts.

When the map was redrawn Iraqi government fell into the hands of Arabs whose faith was, and still is, Sunni — another Islamic sect. Shiism and Sunnism are conflicting Arab faiths; only a minority of Iraqis are Sunnis. Iraq has never enjoyed political stability because it has constantly suffered from the territorial ambitions of the Iranian ruling class, who lost no opportunities to attack their Iraqi counterparts. Since the 1930s there have been groups existing within the mountains of Kurdistan in Iraq who have rejected the authority of the Iraqi government. As well as the Kurds, the Shiite majority in Iraq has resented Sunni government, feeling that they have been humiliated and discriminated against by the Iraqi ruling minority. In fact these divisions are rooted in economic and political interests and only take the form of religious conflicts. The Iraqi ruling minority was selected at the outset by the British government and have been used as a fist of iron to rule on behalf of capital, including the substantial overseas investments in Iraq. The Iraqi government has machine gunned demonstrators on the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi towns. They sent the RAF on bombing raids against the villages of Kurdistan and Arab tribes saw no reason to give up their ways of living and submit to the central authority of Iraq.

As a result of the widespread unpopularity of the government Iraq became a paradise for political opportunists, whose policy was to establish a new government claiming to represent all Iraqi people (not just the Sunnis) and claiming to be committed to individual freedom. In reality, extreme nationalism was the common characteristic of all of them and in the long-term they helped to make the situation-in Iraq even worse. At the head of each of the opportunist parties was an individual or elite drawing support mainly on the basis of tribal loyalty or by bribery and pressure. Each party aimed to capture political power, often using unscrupulous and undemocratic methods such as the infiltration of the Iraqi army. As a result of these tactics, one military coup followed another; the one which brought the present Iraqi ruling elite, the Socialist Arab Baath party, occurred in 1963. Within twenty four hours of the Baath coup the new rulers eliminated their opportunist rivals, so establishing a dictatorship.

The Socialist Arab Baath Party took power with a policy of rigid nationalism and Arabism. They tolerated no opposition, although Baathist ideology was out of touch with the mainstream of Iraqi society. Firstly, more than one quarter of Iraqis are not Arabs and therefore opposed Baathist Arabism. Secondly, most Iraqi Arabs opposed Baathist ideology and openly opposed it as an alien idea. The Baathists responded in extreme terms: they started deporting people of Iranian origin to Iran; they attempted to "Arabise” Kurdish villages and towns; they organised an aggressive military campaign against anti-government forces. The Baathist policy gave the Iranian ruling class a chance to revive their old territorial claims east of Shatt AI-Arab, using the political situation in Iraq as a pre- text. The Baathists refused the Iranian demands, claiming that it was an insult to the Arab nation. Iran used military force to take over eastern Shatt AI-Arab and sent military supplies to anti-government forces in Kurdistan. The Iraqi government in- creased its pressure on the anti-government Iraqi Kurds and, after a hard military campaign, it seemed that the Iraqi government were losing. As a result, Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi dictator, went to Algeria in 1975 to meet the Shah of Iran in order to persuade the latter to stop supplying anti-government forces with military aid. In return the Shah, and the class which he represented, was officially granted eastern Shatt AI-Arab. After this the anti-government forces in Iraqi Kurdistan ceased to exist, but it was a deep humiliation for the Baathists. Another Iranian score needs to be mentioned at this point: in the 1960s the Iranian ruling class gained control of three small islands in the Arabian Gulf which had previously belonged to Britain. The Baathists were resentful about this, believing that these three islands should belong to “the Arab nation”.

The acceptance of Iran’s territorial claims left deep scars on the Iraqi Baathist regime, but they were saved by the fact that hard currency started to rain on them as a result of massively increased Iraqi oil revenue in the mid-1970s, caused by the increased demand by the world’s industrial capitalists. The Baathists devoted a substantial portion of this revenue to buying arms, which were only too readily supplied by the capitalist superpowers. Meanwhile, in Iran the old regime of the Shah collapsed as a result of popular discontent and was replaced by a dictatorship consisting of the followers of Ayatollah Khomeni. The new regime demoralised the Iranian army by executing its officers and dismantling many of its units in an attempt to prevent a counter revolution. This gave the Baathists the opportunity they had been waiting for to take military action against Iran and win back what they had lost. The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980, was started by the Baathists in the belief that it would be won within a few months. It is a continuation of an old struggle over control of territory and natural resources.

The war in Iran and Iraq is not in the interest of the working class, who are slaughtering each other so that their rulers can expand their spheres of ownership and control. Very few members of the Iranian or Iraqi ruling classes have been killed in the war over the past four years. It is workers — over half a million (more than Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki added together) — who have had to do the dying.
Rahman A. Ahmad

Against the odds? (1984)

From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism production is carried on for profit but governments nevertheless have a certain leeway to choose, for political or strategic reasons, to subsidise industries that would otherwise go to the wall. The coal industry in Britain is a case in point. But money diverted to subsidising unprofitable industries is money that could otherwise have been used to invest in modernising profitable industries to enable them to compete better on the world market. Thus the logic of capitalism decrees that subsidies should be kept to a minimum.

The present Conservative government, under pressure like governments everywhere from competitive conditions on the world market, has decided to prune subsidies to industry. And they have imported an American businessman, Ian MacGregor, to help them do this. After having wielded his axe in the steel industry more or less successfully, he has now been given the task of doing a similar hatchet job on the coal industry.

It was inevitable that the NUM. under its present leadership, should have responded to this challenge. Its President, Arthur Scargill, has never disguised the fact that he has always wanted a strike both on the wages and on the pit closures issues. But the NUM Rulebook only authorises strikes under two circumstances: a national strike after a ballot in which 55 per cent of those taking part vote for strike action, and an area strike on a simple authorisation from the National Executive Committee. The NEC’s recommendation to strike having been turned down on two occasions since Scargill's election to the presidency in 1982 (without doubt because most members felt that, with 3 million unemployed, the moment wasn’t propitious), the only alternative for the NUM leadership was to authorise area strikes as they did at the March NEC meeting.

In doing so they took the risk of splitting the union since the NUM is still to a large extent what it was officially called until 1945: “The Miners’ Federation of Great Britain"; in other words, it is a federation of area unions (which are registered trade unions in their own right) enjoying a certain amount of autonomy. This led to some Areas (Yorkshire, Scotland, Durham) deciding to strike while others (Nottingham. Midlands, Lancashire) decided not to. When miners from striking areas decided to picket pits in non-striking areas the scene was set for the clashes between miner and miner — and the intervention of the State — which the capitalist media have been gleefully chronicling.

We have always held that the details of how a particular struggle against a capitalist (or state capitalist) employer should be waged must be decided by the group of workers immediately involved. Beyond that all we have offered is general advice based on past experience of the class struggle: any strike action should be decided and organised democratically; the chances of winning should be carefully weighed up; is the employer deliberately provoking a strike for his own ends; don’t trust leaders; don’t let politicians and political groups interfere; recognise that a strike is not a simple disagreement between “social partners’’ but an aspect of a conflict between two classes with antagonistic and irreconcilable interests.

What then can be said of the chances of the present miners’ strike succeeding? The first point to notice is that, in calling for unprofitable pits to be kept open, the NUM leaders are in effect calling on the government to make a political decision to continue to subsidise the coal industry to the same extent as before. We can understand why miners would want to make such a demand but are not sure that it is a legitimate trade union demand. Experience has shown that, in such circumstances, the best that can be obtained is better redundancy terms (higher lump sums, bigger and longer weekly payments, and so on). We would have thought, therefore, that a more intelligent approach would have been to raise this demand, being prepared of course to strike to back it up if necessary.

But, as the NUM leadership has decided to fight on the issue of maintaining the government's subsidy to the coal industry, we are bound to say that victory on this issue seems much less likely, not to say highly improbable (look at what happened to the steelworkers when they went on strike against MacGregor). A long strike can work, as the previous relatively successful miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974 showed, but this requires favourable circumstances such as the full backing of the men and women involved and the sympathy of the general public. But the full backing of the miners is precisely what is lacking in this particular case. Miners have voted twice since 1982 against national strike action, and. though their opinion might have shifted since, this is by no means certain and it obviously hasn't in Nottingham and the Midlands. So to have launched into a strike, with a dubious objective and a divided membership, would seem to have been rather imprudent.

The capitalist press have of course concentrated on vilifying Arthur Scargill but he undoubtedly does have the support of a majority of miners in his home area of Yorkshire and in a number of other areas too. He is clearly more acceptable, from a trade union point of view, than his predecessor Joe (now, naturally. Lord) Gormley, who wheeled and dealed with the Coal Board, the Labour Party and the government behind the miners’ backs in the posh restaurants of London. Even so, Scargill is open to criticism from a trade union point of view, first and foremost because like a number of others who want to lead the working class he is not and never has been a democrat.

Though no longer a card-carrying member of the so-called Communist Party, he is still a staunch supporter of Russian state capitalism (to the extent of opposing the emergence of free trade unionism in Poland). As an unrepentant Leninist he believes that he has a right to go against the wishes of a majority of his members, to “give them a lead" as he would put it; set them in motion, people like him think, and by the dynamic of the situation they'll follow. Undoubtedly the traditional solidarity of miners once on strike, even of those opposed to strike action, has played a part in this strike, but Scargill and other we-know-better-than-the-mass-of-the-workers militants are playing with fire here. If he doesn’t want to go down in trade union histroy as the man that split the miners' union he's sooner or later going to have to take into account the fact that perhaps a majority of his members didn't want to strike.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Local Councils versus Central government (1984)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

This paragraph raises the issue of the more “generous and sympathetic" attitude of the Labour Party councillors as contrasted with that of Liberal or Tory councillors. It is almost entirely irrelevant. Labour councillors on the LCC or other similar body are not there to exercise their generosity or sympathy but to carry out capitalist laws under the strict control of the central Government and its officials. What, therefore, happens is not that the workers feel grateful for the sympathy and generosity of the Labour Party councillors, but that they blame the latter for the callousness of the laws and regulations they arc carrying out. If a Labour Council kicks over the traces it is sharply called to order by the central Government. if need be by the threat or reality of imprisonment as happened in Poplar a few years ago to Mr. George Lansbury and others.

Furthermore, the claim that the Labour councillors have a monopoly of knowledge of poverty or the desire to be sympathetic is absurd. Liberals and Tories have just as much right to claim to share in these cheap and useless virtues, and no matter who are the individuals who wish to be sympathetic and generous in spending local government funds, their wish invariably wilts at the prospect of being imprisoned or surcharged for doing so in defiance of the law.

(From our reply to a correspondent, “Should socialists support the Labour Party?”, Socialist Standard, May 1934.)

Not in front of the workers (1984)

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism can never be an open society. Trade rivalries, international competition and battling class interests necessitate secrecy on the part of those who hold power. There is not a single government in the world which does not keep secrets from those it claims to represent. Even the most liberal of so-called constitutional democracies have elaborate mechanisms of secrecy and deception. The minority class which monopolises the means of wealth production and distribution also dominates the means of information. Class-controlled channels of information transform knowledge about society, full and free access to which is vital to democracy, into propaganda which gives a false sense of what is going on around them to those being "informed”.

According to the liberal illusion, which is much cherished by Western political commentators, there exists a fundamental division between totalitarian and "free” states. Under totalitarian governments, it is argued, the state is virtually free from accountability to the working class and the ruling class run the country as they please. "Free states”, on the other hand, are supposed to have rulers who are accountable to “the people". In fact, the supposed division is far less clear. Even the most ruthless dictatorship does not survive long if it fails to spend huge fortunes indoctrinating workers and responding (through violent repression or reform) to workers’ discontent. The “free state” is also a constitutional hallucination: the defence of class privilege and the existence of real democratic freedom are incompatible and, however sincerely governments may adhere to liberal ideology, the state is always a weapon of class rule. Indeed, the very existence of the state which is ultimately the executive committee of the ruling class precludes the possibility of real freedom. This is not to deny that significant differences exist between the position of workers in different parts of capitalism: there are degrees of democracy and we would be foolish not to concede that workers in Britain enjoy more than those in Poland — that a Dutch worker who can join a trade union and vote in an election is in a more politically advantageous position than their counterpart in Chile or China or Turkey. The point is not that workers have no power whatsoever but that as long as the state exists, whatever its form, effective political power, including the right to use violent force, belongs to the capitalist minority in whose interests the state functions.

Consider the activities of the state in Britain in 1984. A “democratic state”, we are told. Police erect road-blocks at county boundaries to stop workers moving from one part of the country to another in order to engage in industrial action. Mine workers are stopped by police and asked how they voted in the last election and how they propose to vote in the next one. The Home Secretary refuses to answer questions in parliament about how many telephones are being tapped. Thousands of workers’ names are filed on police computers. An organisation called The Economic League compiles blacklists of trade union activists which are passed on to employers. The government bans trade unions at its spy centre, telling workers that they must accept a bribe of £1,000 or get out. The next election for the Greater London Council is abolished and unelected councillors are to be appointed to sit on the GLC. A worker in the civil service is sentenced to six months in prison for telling the press about the date of the arrival of weapons which we are told are being installed to defend, among other things, the freedom of the press. A "democratic state”?

The state has always kept secrets from the workers. This is particularly so in relation to its military activities, in which workers are permitted the liberty to slaughter and be slaughtered, but not the right to know what the bosses are negotiating and why. At the Tehran Conference in November 1943 Winston Churchill (addressing his comment to his war-time ally, Stalin) summed up the capitalist attitude to freedom of information when he remarked that “In wartime truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies". Stalin seems to have learnt the lesson, and it does not seem to have been lost on Michael Heseltine and his fellow residents at the Ministry of Truth.

The Official Secrets Act was passed in 1889, largely as a result of the activities of a Foreign Office employee called Charles Marvin who leaked information to the press about the secret negotiations which had surrounded the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Lord Halsbury, who moved it, stated:
  The Bill provides for the punishment of those persons who either give information to the enemies of the country, or who act as spies, or make or communicate plans or sketches of fortresses and like places, or disclose official secrets.
So if, when you are next on a fortnight’s package tour to sunny Bulgaria and the bouncer in the disco asks you casual questions about where your missile bases are or how many scientists are employed by the British government on developing germ warfare, beware. As a worker, however, you need have no fear, because you are likely to be just as excluded from knowledge about “our” secrets as workers in other countries are left ignorant of "theirs”. National secrets are secrets from the majority of people who live within the nation: the state has an interest in keeping secrets from both the national enemy and the class enemy. That is why the arrival of American nuclear missiles at Greenham Common was supposed to be kept secret from the British workers whose “democratic way of life” the Cruise weapons are alleged to be defending. It is because she tried to tell other people about a matter which she thought concerned us that Sarah Tisdall is now sitting in a “democratic" prison cell. Under capitalism it is often a crime to tell the truth.

In Nazi Germany reports of the atrocities being committed inside the concentration camps were illegal. It is against the law for South African police to speak to the press about the mysterious deaths of political prisoners. The greater the ugliness of the state’s actions in defence of class privilege, the greater is the secrecy surrounding such activities and the more severe is the penalty to be paid by those who commit the crime of telling forbidden tales.

What about the incarceration of Sarah Tisdall? Unlike certain deluded liberals, we do not throw up our hands in horror that so vicious a sentence has been handed out in so democratic a country as Britain. What’s new about British capitalism turning democratic behaviour into a crime? The British ruling class is the oldest in the world and, in its time, has committed some of the dirtiest tricks and enacted some of the most repressive measures. The modern state has tended to maintain a liberal facade, but those of us who know what the state exists for can hardly be shocked when it comes out into the open and exhibits the power of undemocratic oppression. Unlike reformists, socialists will not be pleading with the government to do the decent thing and let the poor girl free. When the prison gates are opened it will not be as a result of the oppressors bowing to the moral pleas of the oppressed. but will be a consequence of the class which is robbed and deceived (all quite legally, of course) realising that the real robbers and frauds are not the inhabitants of the prison cells. Workers have nothing to gain by holding processions to place pressure on the exploiting class to behave with goodwill. Our task is to rip off their democratic masks and to expose the disgusting fraudulence which enables power to belong to a minority in the name of democracy. Socialists could not but admire the courage of Ms Tisdall and those like her, throughout the world, who have defied the assertion that telling the truth is an act of criminality. We may sympathise, but that will not change society — indeed, it will not in itself make any difference if there were a thousand or ten thousand workers with access to secret information who were willing to reveal it unless the working class start to make real use of the knowledge which is available.

Will there be secrets in a socialist society? Without doubt socialism, because of its feature of democratic control, will allow no possibility for secret information to exist in relation to matters of collective social significance. Whatever information society has will be available to everyone, without any administrators or bureaucrats being allowed to keep certain knowledge for their own privileged use. On the assumption that knowledge is power, socialism will not allow social groups to exist whose access to information is greater than that available to all other members of society. Modern communication technology, which is currently used for the perverse purpose of storing secrets, can be used in socialism to make realistic the democratic aim of having the widest dissemination of information which is technologically feasible. Free access to information, which can only happen when there is free access to all goods and services. is a far more realisable and democratic change than the modest demand for limited access to state information which is advocated by the reformist proponents of a Freedom of Information Act.

One of the greatest examples of capitalist hypocrisy is its claim that capitalism provides freedom for the individual, whereas social equality would eradicate such liberty. Those who now dwell in prison cells because they took the pretence of capitalist liberty at its face value would not agree. Those who claim that socialism, with its feature of social equality, will destroy liberty, would do well to read what Marx had to say on the matter:
  We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic work-house. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced . . . that in no social order will personal freedom be so assured as in a society based upon communal ownership. (Marx, Communist Journal, September 1847)
For a society without secrets, states, elites and prisoners of truth, workers must unite consciously, democratically and without compromise.
Steve Coleman

Letter: Bevan and the Bomb (1984)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In the November issue (of the Socialist Standard) I discovered a comment uncharacteristically shallow and pithy. The aforementioned comment was superimposed on a picture of Labour's new leader Neil Kinnock. I quote:
  Now how did Nye ditch the nut-cutlet brigade? Oh yes. “We cannot send a British foreign secretary- naked into the conference chamber . . ."
No one can deny that Bevan actually uttered those words but if you are to condemn him, you must first understand his reasoning. I hope the quotation below from a letter he sent to a close friend after the Brighton speech enlightens you:
  . . . I am afraid that my Brighton speech has been misunderstood but I suppose I must accept most of the responsibility.
   I do not regard the possession of the hydrogen bomb by Great Britain as making the slightest contribution to peace or to our security, so the argument is not for, or against, Britain possessing the hydrogen bomb. My case is a little different. It rests upon the argument that if we unilaterally reject the bomb, then we are at the same time rejecting all the alliances and obligations in which this country has become involved, either rightly or wrongly. We could not keep an alliance with countries possessing the bomb and yet repudiate it ourselves. When I spoke of Britain going naked into the conference chamber, I was not thinking of the bomb at all. I had in mind the fact that without substituting anything for them in the meantime we should have made a shambles of all our treaties, commitments, obligations and rejected our friends, and this without consulting them. . .
He later goes on to say:
  I am convinced that we must so conduct our affairs as to bring about the abolition, not only of the British bomb, but the American and the Russian as well. . .
Clearly Bevan's opinion is a reasoned analysis not simply an attempt to "ditch the nut-cutlet brigade".
Interestingly in your picture Kinnock was holding a copy of In Place of Fear, which is a book which clearly expresses Bevan's socialism—a socialism of Marxist and Syndicalist origins. As a socialist I hope Mr Kinnock remains a Bevanite for if he does there is hope for all socialists in Britain. Perhaps it would be wiser if the SPGB was not so far removed from the organised labour movement, and was to recognise the common interests that it has with that movement? To claim to represent the working class and to then reject organised labour is untenable.
A. J. Walker 
Warwick University 

Aneurin Bevan was probably the subject of more myths than most politicians in recent times. One of these concerned his attitude to nuclear weapons and he himself exploded the myth in his speech at the 1957 Labour Party conference in Brighton, when he opposed a resolution calling on the party to renounce the testing or manufacture of nuclear weapons in any form whatsoever. This shocked some of his supporters (the "nut-cutlet brigade”), because they saw it as a great betrayal. In fact it was nothing of the kind.

At the time Bevan, with his history of "left- wing" dissent, was linked with the growing alarm at the results of nuclear tests and at the prospects of a nuclear war:
  More and more it did appear—due chiefly no doubt to the Christmas Island explosions earlier in the year—that the strange numbness which seemed to afflict the national consciousness on the subject was being removed, and Bevan himself had played a principal part in the achievement (Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot, p.566).
It is true that some of Bevan's actions and speeches could have been interpreted in that way; they certainly had an appeal to the disarmers’ lobby. In March 1955 he had demanded of Attlee that the British forces would not be the first to drop an H-bomb (Hugh Gaitskell, Philip Williams, p.494). During the 1955 election he had declared himself “profoundly opposed" to the bomb's manufacture (The British General Election 1955, D.E. Butler). In April 1957 he still pursued the same line: “I can see no good purpose at all in Britain also arming herself with that useless weapon” (Foot, op. cit. p.552). At the miners' gala in Cardiff in June 1957 he urged that street demonstrations might be necessary if the government failed to act. Inevitably, in that year before the formation of CND, there developed an assumption in some circles that Bevan would be in the leadership of any movement aimed at the abolition of nuclear weapons.

But anyone who thought like that was overlooking some other, very important, facts in Bevan's record. To begin with, he was in the Labour Cabinet which had given the go-ahead for the manufacture of a British atomic bomb and he gave the project his active support (Williams. op. cit. p.454). According to the inveterate disarmer, Peggy Duff (Left, Left, Left, p.70) a few days before his demand to Attlee about first use of the H-bomb he had actually encouraged Richard Crossman to support the making of the bomb. Crossman agrees with this interpretation. recording that for Bevan ". . . not the H-bomb, but our strategy and foreign policy were the real issues ... I was extremely impressed by his argument that public opinion was not ripe for (opposition to manufacture of the bomb)" (Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, 4 March 1955).

The best that could be said for Bevan's record on nuclear weapons, then, was that it was inconsistent and opportunistic. When it came to his speech at Brighton, he was in the position of a future Labour Foreign Secretary (with high hopes of soon becoming the real thing, for the Conservatives were still in disarray after Suez and before Macmillan's careful reconstruction of their electoral support). Bevan’s inconsistency, in a more critical gathering, might have been embarrassing for him. He dealt with the problem by arguing the case he had put to Crossman—and to many others for some time— that nuclear weapons were inseparable from capitalism at large with its world-wide conflicts and its diplomacy. To abolish British weapons, immediately and unilaterally, was not reconcilable with the role of the British ruling class in those conflicts. Disarmament, although desirable. would therefore have to be postponed—which was. of course, the sort of argument any Conservative would have accepted.

At the pre-conference Labour Party NEC on 30 September 1957 Bevan attacked the unilateralists' resolution:
  . . . the full implication of accepting this resolution would mean the dismantling of international alliances and commitments, dismaying the Commonwealth and reducing Britain to complete negation in the councils of the world (Foot. op. cit. p.570).
It would, he said, be a mistake “. . .to take all the cards out of the hand of Labour's next Foreign Secretary" (Williams, op. cit. p.456), a metaphor which was transformed, a few days later into the plea not to send him:
. . . naked into the conference chamber. Able to preach sermons, of course; he could make good sermons. But action of that sort is not necessarily the way in which you take the menace of this bomb from the world (Conference Report, p. 181).
So it is clear that the argument quoted by Mr. Walker represents Bevan’s attitude at the time of that conference. One effect of it. of course, was to publicly cement the alliance between Bevan and Gaitskell. his sworn enemy of recent times; it also assured him his place as the next Labour Foreign Secretary and even, had he lived, perhaps Prime Minister. It was the unilateralists, angry and bewildered, who had got it wrong; they had fallen for the myth and ignored the reality. Peggy Duff (p.71) saw it more clearly: ". . . he was not reneging on the left. He merely stayed where he was, and maintained what had always been his position". A couple of years before, Crossman also had got it right: ". . . he had no moral scruples about the H- bomb . . .” (Diaries, 7 March 1955).

That leaves us with the more important question: does it matter? The Bevan myth is that he was a special, unusual sort of politician, a man of principle who could have made our lives immeasurably better. The reality, as his record on nuclear weapons shows, is that there was nothing exceptional about him as a political leader, trying to run British capitalism in the interests of the ruling class and at the same time keeping his support among the working class. Of course this caused Bevan, with his background as an impoverished miner and his following of starry-eyed labour fanatics, a few problems, which he could usually obscure by application of his agile brain and swift tongue. So he made countless fluent speeches to persuade workers that it is possible to run capitalism without its essential problems like poverty and class conflict, war and weapons of war. In this he was no more consistent (or honest?) than the rest.

These characteristics are also evident in Bevan’s book In Place of Fear, where he describes his ideas on "socialism” in typical confusion and irrelevance:
  The philosophy of democratic Socialism is essentially cool in temper . . . Because it knows that all political action must be a choice between a number of possible alternatives it eschews all absolute prescriptions and final, decisions . . . It struggles against the evils that flow from private property, yet realises that all forms of private property are not necessarily evil (p.169).
For Bevan. the way to "socialism" was through pettyfogging reforms and readjustments in taxes and wages policy. He favoured the "mixed economy" — some concerns being owned by the state and others remaining in private hands (Foot. op. cit. p.37l), so even his support for the capitalist reform of nationalisation was not consistent. What he did not stand for was the socialist, Marxist, alternative to capitalism — a democratic revolution in which the world’s workers will overthrow the capitalist system, dispossess the minority owning class and transform the basis of society from private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution to communal ownership.

Socialism will be a classless, moneyless society and to that Bevan was opposed. He was no more than a typical politician, seeking power from non-socialists on a programme of reforms, then trying to wriggle out of the backtracking and intellectual confusion which this inevitably causes. He wriggled, with a combination of an overbearing personality and telling oratory, rather more effectively than most, which does a lot to explain the myths that still surround him and which entrance Mr. Walker for one.

When Bevan died capitalism was as strife-torn and insecure as ever; two years after his death we were almost plunged into a nuclear war by the Cuban missile crisis. There was no more to hope for in that particular Welsh wizard than in any other political trickster.

Finally: the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not claim to "represent" the working class, who at present overwhelmingly support capitalism. We stand for working class interests — the establishment of socialism — which is a very different matter. As the socialist movement grows so it will come to represent the working class. Mr. Walker does not say what he means by “organised labour" but if the term means the Labour Party and, where they are in combination with the Labour party, the trade union movement, then socialists are opposed to them. Their policies and actions are opposed to working class interests and are aimed at the maintenance of capitalism. Socialists — and indeed anyone who is concerned for workers’ interests — must be hostile to them.

Stable story (1984)

From the May 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

As we all know (or should know by now) there are certain things which are good for us, like Clean Living and Saying Our Prayers and Looking Up To The Royal Family. Another one is Stable Government, which is supposed to ensure all sorts of benefits which we would miss under unstable government.

In England, where there is usually Stable Government, we are encouraged to regard with pity anyone who has to live under an unstable government, as happens in Central and South America and parts of Africa. Unstable government is clearly a nasty foreign habit, to be avoided in any sane country with ambitions to being great.

So what about one of the most stable governments in the world? How do the people there get on? Over the past 60-odd years, since the revolution in 1917, there have been only six leaders in charge in Russia (five if we do not count Georgi Malenkov, who lasted only one week in March 1953, following the death of Stalin, before he lost out to Nikita Kruschcv) starting with Lenin and ending with Andropov.

The most durable of these leaders was of course Josef Stalin, who ruled for 29 years and who asserted his stability — and protected it — with ruthless purges of any opposition. Under his iron grip millions of Russians were murdered and when his cynical carve up of Eastern Europe with Nazi Germany fell apart he led the country into a war which was won at a staggering cost to the Russian people.

Stalin's term of power was marked by its brutal dictatorship and by the extremes of privation suffered by the Russian people, while the ruling class there lived privileged lives. While the ordinary people of Russia suffered and died, they provided the human foundation on which Stalin could rest the stability of his power. He was that thing beloved of the apologists of capitalism — a strong leader — and the people under him suffered for it.

Workers’ interests do not lie in stable government, or indeed in a weak version of it. Any self-deception on this score obscures the fact that no style of government has anything of benefit to offer the workers; they must struggle for a new society in which government will give way to the management of things.

Ancestors (2010)

Book Review from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tracing Your Labour Movement Ancestors. By Mark Crail. Pen & Sword Books. £12.99.

This book is rather badly titled and is actually a guide to archive holdings relating to trade union, ‘socialist’ and other similar organisations rather than a mere accessory to the family historian and as such is potentially extremely useful to those interested in what is termed ‘labour history’.

It could also be used as a pocket guide to the historic Left (of which, it should be pointed out, the Socialist Party does not claim to be part) as the entry for each organisation includes a potted history. Unfortunately many of these are less than accurate, including that for us. For instance, a couple of minor historical errors: the group which went on to form the SPGB did not simply break “with the Social Democratic Federation over its ‘reformist’ line and the increasingly erratic leadership of Henry Hyndman” but because of the dallyings of the SDF with non-socialist organisations and the anti-democratic (leadership) role of its Executive Committee. Also, the Socialist Standard has not been published since the “launch” of the Party in June 1904 but from September of that year.

These are however chickenfeed compared to the ideological bloopers. Following “a tradition known as ‘impossibilism'” (mainly by historians), the Socialist Party allegedly holds that “reformism is of limited value in overthrowing capitalism”. Not limited value but no value whatsoever. Individual reforms – that is legislation aimed at altering particular aspects of life under capitalism – may be to the advantage or disadvantage of the working class but as a policy such legal alterations are not “stepping stones to socialism” but the road to nowhere. Capitalism reformed is still capitalism. However beneficial (or otherwise as is now usually the case) individual reforms might be, the interest of the working class lies in overthrowing capitalism, not altering its workings.
Keith Scholey

Tiny Tips (2010)

The Tiny Tips column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

The age of austerity is over, as the well-heeled splash out on Porsches and Dom Pérignon champagne, according to retailers of luxury goods....Porsche, the luxury carmaker, said this week that orders for its new Cayenne sports utility vehicle, due to arrive in European showrooms next month with a €55,400 ($75,000) price tag, were stronger than expected . . . LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods group by sales, said sales of its Dom Pérignon champagne and premium Hennessy XO cognac in the first three months of the year had been “much better” than last year:
(Dead Link)

“This man has been sacrificed to propitiate the gods,” said local official Kalyan Mukherjee. “This is a shame for Bengal where the ruling Left coalition claim they have eradicated social evils and combated superstition,” an opposition leader Samir Kumar Ray said.

Have you ever wanted to put yourself in the place of someone detained by KGB officers during Soviet times? Well now you can. While Soviet museums and parks across Central and Eastern Europe have proved popular over the past decade, tourists are now seeking first-hand experiences of life behind the Iron Curtain at Lithuania’s newest Soviet attraction. Welcome to Deportation Day, a “live history lesson” based on the accounts given by victims of Stalin’s gulags. Complete with KGB guards, doctors barking orders in Russian and muscled interrogations, the four-hour dramatization takes tourists to a replica of one of the camps where millions of residents of the Soviet Union were detained:

Mike Huckabee, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, says the effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry is comparable to legalizing incest, polygamy and drug use:
(Dead Link)

The Vatican’s second-in-command has linked child sex abuse by priests to homosexuality. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone denied celibacy was to blame for the sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, homosexuality and paedophilia were inextricably linked, the Vatican’s Secretary of State declared:

The UK too is now more unequal—in incomes, wealth, health, education, and life chances—than at any time since the 1920s. There are more poor children in the UK than in any other country of the European Union. Since 1973, inequality in take-home pay increased more in the UK than anywhere except the US. Most of the new jobs created in Britain in the years 1977–2007 were at either the very high or the very low end of the pay scale:
(Dead Link)

Obituary: Robert (Bob) Malone (2010)

Obituary from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following sad news from our comrades in New Zealand.
 "It is with sadness that we have to report the death of Bob Malone. Bob was a worker and a socialist who understood the anti-social nature of the society in which we live and strived to change it with a worldwide civilised system, in which production will be for use and not for sale. Bob had a useful and productive life which is more than can be said of the residents of Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin or the White House. Bob was for many years a valued member of the WSP (NZ), and even when he ceased his membership of the WSP (NZ) in the 1990s, he still supported the World Socialist Movement to the very end. His enthusiasm and innovative ideas were welcome at the many Annual Conferences of the WSP (NZ), and he would always respect the right of others to have alternative views. Our condolences go out to his family."
(WSP, New Zealand)

  Bob originally came from Glasgow and indeed during a short spell while back in the UK was a member of Glasgow Branch. Bob was born in 1943 and served his apprenticeship as a glazier before immigrating to New Zealand in 1965. He was a well-read conscientious member and many subscribers to the WSM Forum on the website will be aware of his learned contributions there which were always straightforward and very friendly. Bob worked all his life in both Glasgow and Wellington and in the latter part of his life taught Glass Technology at a Wellington college. He was a amusing companion and right good company as many of his comrades can attest to. He will be sadly missed by comrades in two continents. Glasgow branch extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Moira and his children Sarah Jane and Robert. Thanks for everything Bob.
(Glasgow Branch)

50 Years Ago: Sharpeville (2010)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent events in South Africa, which began with the shootings at Sharpeville, have brought condemnation of Dr. Verwoerd and the Nationalist Government’s policy of apartheid from the press all over the world. The absenteeism of Africans from their work for many days afterwards caused great inconvenience to the Europeans, but, more important, it has cost South African capitalists millions of pounds in lost output. Even the Chairman of the Wool Board, representing an industry dominated by Afrikaans-speaking pro-Nationalist farmers, said the Government must change its policies “. . . or else.”

The opposition (United Party) want to see a complete review of the Government’s policy towards the Africans as soon as the situation simmers down, and 12 “Elders” of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa have spoken out against apartheid, saying there is no justification for it in the Scriptures, as Dr. Verwoerd claims. It seems that even sections of this Church are awakening to the fact that changes are taking place, and that apartheid is an anachronism in a developing capitalist country. But the Nationalists’ desire to keep their cheap supply of labour mainly in the country districts is, at the moment, still dominant.

(from ‘News in Review’, Socialist Standard, May 1960).

Let’s produce for use, not profit (2010)

From the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism will aim to meet human needs, not market-induced wants, producing quality goods, not opulent extravagances.
Capitalism produces commodities for sale and profit, denies human needs to the poor, wastes people and resources. Today most goods and services are produced and distributed as a result of capital buying labour in pursuit of profit. The ‘needs’ to be met are primarily those of the market, not of people. The owners or controllers of capital are said to ‘create’ jobs or ‘give’ employment to workers. There is a link between the production of goods and services and consuming them, but that link is conditional not direct.

Apologists for capitalist enterprises like to say they make cars, foodstuffs, health products, or whatever. But if they are honest they will admit that their aim is to make money. The proof of this is that they stop or curtail the ‘business’ if they can’t sell enough of what is produced. It doesn’t matter to them if workers lose their jobs and hence their livelihood. What matters to capital is that it loses its only reason for being invested – to make a profit.

Another way in which capitalism gives priority to market-induced wants over human needs is seen in the dual nature of the market. With some overlap, there is one market for the rich and another for the rest of us. Not many workers can afford £100,000 cars or £1000-a-night hotels. A big profit can be made by supplying such wants. So another market has been created to sell things, often cheap and nasty things, to workers. The profit per item in sometimes razor-thin, but there are many millions of consumers and it all adds up.

In capitalism workers are expected to produce and distribute goods and services as cheaply and efficiently as possible. In practice the system is extremely inefficient and wasteful. Unsold items are rarely given away to people who need but can’t afford to buy them – instead they are left to rot or remain unused. There are many occupations and organisations needed only by the profit system and many products useful only for handling or recording money transactions – from accountants to valuers and from armaments to wills.

One of the most tragic consequences of capitalism is unemployment. In the industrialised or ‘First World’ many people need homes or better homes, yet millions of building workers remain unemployed. In the ‘Third World’ there is a great need for schools, hospitals, sanitation services, and so on. Again, there is little or no money for the relevant work to be done, but no shortage of men and women able and willing to do it.

Unemployment has dire consequences for those condemned to it, and the longer it goes on the worse it gets. Research shows that the young unemployed are significantly less happy with their health, friendships and family life than those in employment. They are also more likely to feel ashamed, rejected and unloved. Older workers face retirement with the prospect not only of material poverty but also with the loss of a feeling of making a useful contribution to society.

One of the key features of the change from capitalism to socialism will be the removal of money and markets, which stand in the way of directly producing for consuming. In the words of the Socialist Party’s object, society will be ‘based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community’.

The first step on the road to achieving this object is when people abandon the whole set of ideas promoted by capitalist media and marketed as ‘living in the real world’. These anti-socialist ideas take a variety of forms such as ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, ‘you only get what you pay for’, ‘there must be people who provide jobs for others’, and similar expressions.

The aim is to convince us that there is no alternative, so that the prophecy that tomorrow will be more or less like today becomes self-fulfilling. The capitalist system is supported politically by electors who vote for minor variations of the status quo offered by all parties except the Socialist Party.

Neither the Socialist Party, nor the World Socialist Movement of which it is part, offers to redistribute money and wealth. Although we certainly aim to eliminate poverty, we don’t imagine that all of today’s world poor could live anything like the lives of today’s privileged rich tiny minority – that would be materially and environmentally unsustainable.

In the early period of socialism production will no doubt need to be focused on clearing up the mess left by a dying capitalism. After this – who knows? In terms of technology and consumption, some of us may prefer the simple life, others the more complex life.

We have nothing to lose in the short term by working now for revolutionary change. In the medium to long term we have everything to gain.
Stan Parker