Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pathfinders:Thinking Outside the Pox (2010)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thinking Outside the Pox

The debate continues among Londoners about what to put on the famous Trafalgar Square ‘fourth plinth’ which has so far hosted a wide range of wacky installations and whose present incumbent, a statue of a certain KR Park, will elicit from most people the question ‘Who?’ Now the British Medical Journal has weighed in with an editorial backing the campaign of the Edward Jenner Museum to have his statue parked in what is apparently the fourth most visited tourist attraction on Earth. For those with no interest in the history of science, and who don’t do pub quizzes, Edward Jenner is acclaimed worldwide as the man who invented the vaccination against smallpox, a disease which has probably killed and maimed more people than all the wars of history combined.

The BMJ makes a good case too. It is now 30 years since the World Health Organisation formally announced that smallpox was extinct in the wild. Jenner arguably saved more lives than any other single human being, yet most statues are of professional killers with aristocratic titles and the status of war heroes. It would also be cheap to do, as unlike the Battle of Britain chief cited above, the statue would not cost £100,000 to make because it already exists. Indeed this is the whole point. It was in Trafalgar Square, but was booted out of the square by Jenner-haters and dumped in Kensington Gardens. (‘Put Edward Jenner’s statue back in Trafalgar Square’, BMJ, 25 March).

The question why is an interesting one. It turns out that, far from being grateful, a gaggle of vested interests, petty jealousies and wild-eyed ‘anti-vaccinationists’ led a concerted campaign to discredit the greatest discovery in medical science up to that date. To our modern gaze this seems completely bonkers until we remember the MMR affair, and the fact that some people are quicker to believe a Sun editorial than the considered views of the scientific mainstream. There was also intense religious opposition to the Devil’s work of being infected by ‘bestial pus’, and this also seems somewhat hard to credit until we recall how polio, on the verge of being wiped out like smallpox, has instead resurged in a dozen countries because local imams went around telling parents that the vaccine was a CIA drug to make their daughters sterile. And let us not forget the Pope’s own heroic efforts to persuade Africans that condoms can lead to the spread of AIDS.

Another interesting aspect to the story is that were Edward Jenner working today he would undoubtedly be arrested, prosecuted and vilified for recklessly exposing children to health risks and attempting to cover up at least one child death resulting from his experiments. Back in the 1790s they had a spirited, hands-on approach to experimentation (anyone they could get their hands on). Those who continue to oppose all animal experimentation today might like to ask themselves whether they would be prepared, as Jenner did, to try out new unproven treatments on their own son.

A third aspect is that Jenner arguably got the credit for somebody else’s discovery, in this case the Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty, who had successfully used the technique 20 years earlier in 1774. Jenner supposedly didn’t know about this earlier work, but this seems unlikely given that there were at least 5 other people besides Jesty who had already successfully used cowpox vaccine to achieve smallpox immunity, and given that the technique was common knowledge among many farmers who did know about Jesty and who regularly and deliberately exposed their families to cowpox. However, Jenner published and they didn’t, or more probably, Jenner published and they couldn’t. Jenner, after all, was a member of the Royal Society with powerful friends and the Dorset farmers were just Dorset farmers. So we won’t be seeing any statues of them in Trafalgar Square. Even today there are complaints that ‘outsiders’ are prevented from getting published recognition and have to watch their discoveries being ‘discovered’ by somebody else (for instance here: ‘Should volunteer amateurs get credit in the scientific community for the discoveries they make?’, Dead Link, 23 March). Science is a collaborative business, and giving credit where it’s due is not always straightforward, but the real problem is that science in capitalism is overwhelmingly elitist and hierarchical, so that not only do you not get on, or in, if your face doesn’t fit, neither do your ideas. Of all the challenges facing science, its failure to address the limitations of its own capitalist structure forms its biggest blind spot.

South Talpatti

Farewell forever, South Talpatti, a small island off the coast of Bangladesh which has sunk beneath the rising waves. Unlike the Maldives, where the government meets underwater and the walk to the beach is getting steadily shorter, nobody lived there and almost nobody knew it even existed, so perhaps it’s no great loss. It was never more than six feet above sea level anyway but, incredibly, capitalist national governments still argued about who ‘owned’ it, and India even sent warships to ‘protect’ it (‘Disputed Bay of Bengal island ‘vanishes’ say scientists’, BBC Online, 24 March). this illustrates somewhat elegantly the inherent stupidity of capitalist concepts of ownership, summed up in a memorable remark in the film Crocodile Dundee: ‘the aborigines say that people fighting over who owns the land is like fleas fighting over who owns the dog’.

Social capital? (2010)

Book Review from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Theories of Social Capital. By Ben Fine, Pluto Press, 2010

In Marxian economics capital only exists when the appropriate historical and social conditions are present. Specifically, when the means of production are generally used to exploit wage labour for profit. In capitalist economics capital is one of the ‘factors of production’ along with land and labour (and, in some definitions, entrepreneurship or management). Capital is money invested in production with the expectation of profit, though in capitalist economics capital is primarily a timeless asset. This is why those who have been exposed to capitalist economics will sometimes express bafflement at the socialist proposal to abolish capital. ‘But any society must have capital,’ they exclaim, as if we propose to physically destroy means of production. No, any modern society must have means of production (land, factories, railways, etc.), but it is only in the capitalist system of society that the means of production takes the form of capital. Socialists want to abolish capital by establishing common ownership of the means of production, replacing production for profit with production solely for use.

In the last 20 years or so, in an attempt to promote the illusion of the inevitability of capital, the term has been widened to include ‘social capital’. Fine defines social capital as ‘any aspect of the social that cannot be deemed to be economic but which can be deemed to be an asset’. It can be anything from your personal acquaintances, through communal or associational activity, to your identity or culture, and so on. The objective, whether clearly recognised as such or not, is to get the notion of profit into every aspect of our lives. It should come as no surprise that one of the main sponsors of the idea of ‘social capital’ is the World Bank, though its use is now well-established in certain academic disciplines, such as management studies.

Fine has also written, along with Alfredo Saad-Filho, a highly recommended work on Marxian economics called Marx’s ‘Capital’. Now in its fourth edition (2003) it is a remarkably succinct summary (216 pages) of Marx’s multi-volume Capital.
Lew Higgins

Capitalist Money Madness (2010)

From the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism is basically a big scam that benefits a few at the expense of the many.
Read any newspaper, listen to any radio bulletin, watch any TV news broadcast, and there will be some instance of Capitalist Money Madness – detrimental, shocking or unbelievable thinking and behaviour influenced by money. Trains have been derailed because saving money came before rigorous track maintenance; cows have been ground up and fed to other cows in pursuit of greater profits; companies have been allowed to patent thousands of our own genes in a commodification of humankind’s DNA; there has been widespread use of toxic chemicals in fuel, household furnishings, deodorants, plastics used for food storage etc resulting in an increase in previously rare cancers and an asthma epidemic in children; and more recently, global capitalism has descended into economic chaos which will cause additional untold misery for decades to come. Along with such ‘big’ news stories, there is a never-ending news stream of robberies, burglaries, murders, muggings, scams and scandals involving money in some way or other.

Nothing new, of course. Money has been causing misery and deaths ever since its introduction thousands of years ago. Some time around 30 A.D. a Mr J. Iscariot betrayed a subversive called Jeshua of Nazareth for thirty pieces of silver, whereas more recently, a Mr T. Blair betrayed those who elected him so a huge fortune could be made by American and British companies from oil in Iraq. Times and economies may change, but money systems of assorted ruling classes have been ceaselessly causing despair and taking lives ever since a medium of exchange was first established.

Today, money is an indispensable part of the capitalist system, but capitalism is merely the most recent economic system where a tiny minority own and control the vital resources that provide food, fuel, transportation, clothing etc which humankind needs. These “means of production and distribution” have increased over the millennia from ‘simply’ farmland, livestock, woodland, gold mines etc to include mass-producing industrial factories, oil fields, power stations, rail networks etc. Because all of these resources are owned by a tiny proportion of the human race who want to exploit them for profit, they therefore make everyone pay for all of the commodities that these productive and distributive resources provide. If you want a pair of shoes, electricity, clean water, a train journey, a tin of beans or whatever, you have to hand over money. Many people (but by no means all) are able to buy goods and services that they need, because the capitalist system also compels those who are fit and able to work for capitalist employers in return for a wage or salary. Of course, the monetary amount paid to these employees is usually far smaller than the monetary value of the work they carry out, which is how the capitalist minority make their fat profits and get to enjoy far superior living standards. In this respect, capitalism is basically a big scam that benefits a few at the expense of the many.

As money is essential under today’s system, and due to it being rationed and restricted according to how much the ruling class and the economy are prepared or able to give to employees, the unemployed, the retired and others, the capitalist society has a great number of people who cannot readily obtain what they need. And because of this, all manner of needless misery, suffering and loss of life is caused. Elderly folk die from the cold every winter because they can’t afford or are afraid to heat their homes; those unable to obtain work or with inadequate incomes have to subject themselves to degrading bureaucratic procedures and rules; relationships are put under severe strain or ended by debts or work pressures; our doormats, email inboxes, phones, TV screens and websites we visit are inundated with junk that capitalists want to sell us. It really doesn’t have to be this way.

Although we now have a reasonably productive society after a few thousand years of minority ownership of vital resources and money, it was never the minority or money that brought us to where we are. It was those doing the work – not those giving the orders and taking most of the profit. A civilised society in which people’s needs are routinely met absolutely does not need money to function: only trade needs money to function. Human beings do not need money and trade to operate combine harvesters, to run power stations, to build houses, to drive delivery trucks, to carry out surgical operations, and do all the other necessary work. We only need to be willing to carry out these jobs with the objective of contributing directly to society as a whole, thereby obtaining a better way of living and working than exists under capitalism, instead of believing the lie that we can only carry out these jobs if we are paid to do so.

We are perfectly capable of working for ourselves, and producing goods and services for direct use by whoever requires them. A new system where, when you need, say, various food items, a couple of cartons of orange juice and a new radio to replace one you dropped and broke, you go to the nearest ’shop’ or ‘superstore’, take them off the shelves, and leave. No queuing at a checkout. No handing over money or a bank or credit card. You just take what you need and leave with it.

Furthermore, even though today’s capitalism is quite productive, it is by no means as productive and efficient as the new moneyless real socialist economy which now needs to replace it. More than half of all work carried out under capitalism is fundamentally useless as far as satisfying human needs goes. Millions of people in Britain are kept occupied in money-related drudgery (banking, retailing, manufacturing of money and credit cards, insurance, taxation, welfare payments, debt recovery etc), kept busy dealing with societal problems and crimes caused by capitalism (social workers, lawyers, police, prison officers etc) and kept engaged in so-called ‘defence’ activities to protect and advance the ruling class’s interests (armed forces, weapons research and manufacturing, intelligence agencies etc). Not forgetting the millions of unemployed people capable of working, but unwanted because capitalists can’t make a profit from them, and because they also serve an obscenely useful purpose in the capitalist economy by keeping wages down (bosses find it hard to resist demands for higher wages if there is no mass of job seekers to replace troublesome employees wanting more).

All of this represents a vast waste of human labour and resources. When all of these people and materials are freed up by capitalism’s replacement with moneyless real socialism, there will be no obstacle to producing sufficient goods and services to meet real needs on the basis of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. That is, each person works according to how much they choose to contribute, and freely takes whatever they themselves decide they need. And with all of these extra people available to contribute something useful to this new society, the average working week will be far shorter than it is under capitalism.

When people first hear of this new radically different society, with all work being voluntary, and free access to whatever we need, most immediately view this as bizarre and impossible. Unsurprising, given that we have spent our entire lives being brainwashed and conditioned by schools, politicians, employers, the media etc into swallowing capitalism’s propaganda that this is the natural way of things. Sadly, we are also mainly influenced into accepting the capitalist employment-wages-money-buying status quo by our own parents. Which is why capitalism is so utterly vile; perpetuating itself by getting the preceding generation of indoctrinated victims to raise the following generation to become victims themselves.

Fortunately, for those who can get beyond the initial shock of first hearing about moneyless real socialism, by simply comparing what both the present and new system offer the majority of us, it should be downright obvious that increasingly-damaging outdated capitalism must be scrapped and replaced with the real socialist alternative. In most parts of the world, the majority have won the right to vote for who they want to lead them. We can use that opportunity to vote to be led by no one person or minority ruling class, and choose instead to vote for a genuine democracy where the people themselves rule and decide what happens. New socialist moneyless co-operation, or more endless capitalist money madness?
Max Hess

Profit Freedom Day (2010)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

“You could have to work for 134 days each year just to pay your tax bill” (their emphasis) read the headline of a full page HSBC ad in the Times (16 March).

“Income Tax, National Insurance, VAT, car tax . . . it all adds up. In fact, in 2009 the average Briton had to work 134 days before they had earned enough to pay their taxes”.

The source was given in the small print at the bottom of the page as the Mad Marketeers of the Adam Smith Institute who each year calculate a “Tax Freedom Day” as the day when people supposedly begin to keep the income they “earn” instead of it going to the taxman ( According to the small print, “This is calculated with the total tax paid each year by a taxpayer on average income, including indirect taxes, local taxes and National Insurance contributions.”

Actually it is not calculated in this way at all. What is calculated is total government tax revenue as compared to “net national income”, but instead of presenting this as a percentage – 36.7 percent – it is presented as a number of days out of a year (134/355 is the same as 36.7/100). At no point does a figure for the “average income” of the “average Briton” enter into the calculation. This is merely the tendentious and populist way of expressing the result of calculating government tax revenue to national income.

Even if we leave aside the Marxian contention that taxes on wages and salaries are passed on to employers and so ultimately fall on profits, not all taxes are paid by individuals. There are some two million capitalist firms in Britain and these pay taxes (corporation tax, business rates, etc). The Adam Smith Institute gets round this problem by saying that such taxes “ultimately are paid by the owners of each business”. This is to admit that it is not just the income from work that is involved, so that it is illegitimate to talk, as does the HSBC advertisement, of people having to “work” so many days a year to pay taxes.

The Adam Smith Institute’s expert is more cautious, claiming only that their so-called Tax Freedom Day is “the day when the average Briton earned enough to pay his annual tax bill” This is to play on the ambiguity of the word “earned” as, if challenged, they would no doubt reply that this is not just income earned from work (which is what most people including HSBC’s advertising firm would think is meant) but also income so-called “earned” from owning savings.

Adam Smith himself pointed out, in the opening sentence of The Wealth of Nations (he wasn’t as bad as the Institute that’s hi-jacked his name), that labour is the source of the whole of a country’s national income:
  “The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.”
 This being so, the share of profits in national income is a product of labour, in fact of the unpaid labour of workers. In 2008 the share of profits in National Income was 24 percent (see This is the same as 88/365, so it could be said that the “average worker” works 88 days out of 365 to produce profits for their employer. In which case 29 March would be what might be called Profit Freedom Day. It will be much later than this, except that the concept is misleading in that, as Marx pointed out, workers produce surplus value every minute they work. So there’s no day when they’re not exploited for profit.

Letters: Taxes and the self-employed (2010)

Letters to the Editors from the May 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Taxes and the self-employed

Dear Editors,

There’s usually something interesting in your magazine and February was no exception, with the article ‘Who Bailed Out the Bankers?’.  If I understood it, it was suggesting that taxes fall on the employers and not the workers. We never see the money which is deducted from our gross pay and it was never really ours. I was wondering how self-employed people would fit into this. The woman who cuts my hair is self employed and she certainly has to find the money to pay her taxes. Is she exploited? But who by, when she employs herself and no one else employs her. But is she then an exploiter? How could she be when she doesn’t employ anyone? There are quite a lot of self employed people around and I’m not sure how they fit into your ‘them and us’ picture. What do you think?
Tony Trafford (via e-mail)

We take the view that ultimately taxes come out of profits rather than wages and salaries. This is because wages and salaries are the price received by workers for selling our mental and physical capacities and like other commodities the price of our ability to work is determined by the amount needed to produce and reproduce it (for instance, the training received by an engineer helps to explain why an engineer’s salary is invariably higher after qualifying than that of an unskilled worker).

This is not to imply that wage rates are set in stone, but to say as we did in the article that at any point in history they gravitate around a point influenced by such factors and, of course, by trade union action too to ensure they don’t sink below even these levels. In effect, this means that while some taxes are paid by workers (such as VAT) the burden of taxation must ultimately fall on profits,  which is one of the reasons the owning class – and the various factions within it – find it of such interest and importance. This is what we explained in the article, and if you are interested in exploring this particular issue, how the burden of taxation falls on the owning class in practice is also discussed in the relevant chapter of our pamphlet The Market System Must Go – Why Reformism Doesn’t Work.

The ‘self-employed’ are a slightly different case, as you imply, because they do not receive a wage or a salary resulting from a contract of employment. The self-employed (such as the small shopkeepers, etc) were technically part of the capital-owning class but who, as Marx pointed out, were forever being reduced towards the living standards of the working class through competition from the more successful capitalists and conglomerates. As such, their position has historically been one of the most vulnerable in capitalist society. Indeed, over time, the ranks of the self-employed shrank significantly due to this process of the concentration of capital into ever fewer hands, with smaller firms and the self-employed getting taken over or pushed out in the competitive struggle for profits.

In recent years though, there has been something of a turnaround in the numbers of those who call themselves self-employed. Not in the sense that the types of economic activities traditionally carried out by the self-employed have expanded much (in the main they’ve continued to shrink) but because a new layer of workers have had their pay and conditions de-regularised or ‘contracted out’ either by the state sector or by the corporations. This has been done as a way of stimulating efficiency (getting the self-employed to work from home for fees is usually cheaper for businesses than when they were formally employing the same people on salaries, with national insurance and pensions, etc to do the same work ‘in-house’).

So we have a situation whereby in reality, unless the self-employed are also employing others then they cannot be exploiters, and they are usually living on little more (sometimes less) than the average wage themselves, due to the pressures of commercial competition. They typically pay taxes nominally like workers do, and are, despite their ‘self-employed’ status, in an economic situation that is little different in most respects to wage and salary earners with contracts of employment.

Cultural diversity

Dear Editors

In my opinion, the obituary written for Vic Brain was well written (Socialist Standard, April). I have always thought that people who are enthusiasts of things like the Welsh language, Scottish Gaelic, the Scots language, Irish Gaelic, Cornish language etc, are doing something which even under the uniforming pressures of capitalism is contributing to “cultural diversity” (as described in Vic’s obituary). Some might argue, I suppose, that our class position as wage slaves should mean that all other enthusiasms and identities should be subordinated or rubbished. I was glad to see your obituary writer was a bit more generous and thoughtful. I see no contradiction, for example, in having a Scottish identity related to your geographic roots, being interested in the Scots language and history etc , and also seeing a logical case for a world based on voluntary cooperation.

What are you thoughts on the subject of “cultural diversity”?
J. Russell, 
Glasgow, Scotland

We have no objection to “cultural diversity”. Differences of language, food, music and the like will continue to exist in a united socialist world; indeed would no longer be subjected to “Mcdonaldisation” as today under capitalism. We would add that different cultures can exist in the same geographical area and that individuals can partake of elements of different cultures (you don‘t have to come from Scotland to enjoy the bagpipes or from China to enjoy Chinese food). Our objection is to the exploitation of cultural differences for political ends, as for instance to set up or maintain a state or as the basis for a political party.

Political Notebook: Jack Cohen is dead — Long live Jack Cohen (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The apologists for capitalism are not known for their high principles. Profits come first under their system. This month’s Notebook takes a look at what a few of the twisting hypocrites have been up to lately and comes to the not surprising conclusion that the sooner the working class stops supporting the lot of them the better it will be for us all.

Jack Cohen is dead — Long live Jack Cohen

Sir John Cohen—described in one obituary as ‘the golden barrowboy who became the supermarket king'—died last month at the age of 80. According to the press reports, Cohen's was a 'rags to riches’ story of a man who pushed his way up the capitalist ladder until, at the time of his death, his Tesco stores' annual turnover is breaking the £1,000,000,000 barrier. The reason for this success was, according to The Jewish Chronicle, that
 Sir John was a redoubtable entrepreneur renowned for his aggressive salesmanship . . .
In fact, Sir John, just like any capitalist businessman made his profits by exploiting the working class. His own level of education or intelligence was, fortunately for him. another matter. But there is one thing that might puzzle the readers of Cohen’s sycophantic obituaries. If you go into any Tesco store you will observe that, despite the death of the owner, things are carrying on just as usual. It’s almost as if the dull, witless workers are able to organise things without the capitalists to tell them how to do it.

People's Democratic Prisons

It is a well known fact that China is a People's Democracy. And just like the other People’s Democracies, if workers have the audacity to complain that rich leaders are living it up at the expense of the poor toilers, they're locked away in a democratic people’s prison to punish them for their cheek. Increasingly in recent times, wall posters in Peking have criticised the undemocratic character of the Chinese State. The first reaction of the Communist Party was to lock up these bolshie proletarians for having the nerve to try and dictate to them, but more recently, according to The Guardian (14 March)
  China’s wall-poster protestors have won a major victory with the release from prison of a group of students who were the first to call for the establishment of ‘socialist democracy’ and a proper legal system. The leader of the group, Li Zhengtia, spent nearly four years doing forced labour in the mines or in prison or in the southern province of Guangdong. Posters on 'Democracy Wall’ in Peking have claimed that as many as seven hundred people were punished for their connection with the group.
Chinese workers are correct to doubt the value of their ‘People’s Democracy’. But under Chinese capitalism the liberty of the commodity comes before that of the people.

Exploitation without discrimination 

When apartheid is overturned it will not be because of the whining of trendy liberals like Peter Hain, but because the capitalist class who have interests in South Africa will see the profitability of the equal exploitation of all colours. An item in Boxing News (9 February) shows that South African fight promoters have discovered that mixed fights pull in larger audiences and so make them more money. So, these principled gentlemen who sincerely believe in the good sense of racial separation drop their high principles before the temple of Profitability. The situation now is that
   Blacks can manage and train whites. Whites are permitted to manage and train blacks. Blacks can promote major tournaments and whites have gone out of their way to assist blacks with better training facilities and financial support. Several major South African companies have come to the aid of boxing and Alan Proctor, a director of Sanyo, is looked upon by many as a godfather. Sanyo have poured thousands upon thousand of Rand into boxing and have just completed a Sanyo Boxing Academy in Soweto.
Other companies to invest in South African boxing since mixed fights started have been Old Buck Gin, Nashua. King Korn and Datsun. The spread of anti-racist liberalism? No bloody fear! All that’s happened is that the capitalists have seen the value of exploiting without discriminating against colour. Which must make liberals like Peter Hain terribly, terribly happy.

The Moronic Martyr

Robert Relf is a racist clown who has been on a hunger strike in gaol after being convicted under the Race Relations Act for posting up stickers saying that black people spread diseases and should live in the trees. Relf’s opinions can only be treated seriously in a psychiatric sense, but it is worthy of note that when he appeared at the Court of Appeal on 12 March to threaten the Court with his imminent martyrdom Lord Justice Lawton declared that
  if Relf wants to commit suicide that’s up to him. We are not going to be blackmailed . . . the sooner that is appreciated by him and others like him the better it will be for law and order in this country.
Readers may like to consider the fact that this great believer in law and order was himself a member of, and candidate for, Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. The main difference between Relf and Lawton is that the former is a moronic lout who is willing to act as a stooge for the sinister ambitions of his National Front leaders, while the latter is a professional hypocrite who is willing to act as a stooge to a rather wider section of the ruling class.
Steve Coleman

The stonewaller's end (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
Several MPS have retired from Parliament, with the General Election. We look briefly at the high spots of the career of one of them.
Listening to the proceedings of the House of Commons can be interesting but also very puzzling at times. Does anyone, one wonders, ever mean what they say there? Does the merest tinge of sincerity ever enter any of the speeches? Is the whole place just an excuse for a few hundred ambitious people to scratch each others’ backs, to treat each other to a drink?

Such doubts were especially insistent, as the last Parliament broke up and the Members went off to their constituencies. Not a few of them were aware that they were sufficiently out of favour with the voters to make their return to Westminster about as likely as Halifax winning the FA Cup. And quite a few others knew that they would not be coming back because they were retiring from the House.

As might have been foretold, this event provoked some gushing sentiments, as the Speaker assured the retiring Members that he hardly knew how Parliament would run without them and they, in their turn, deluged him with some startling descriptions of how vital he had been to their parliamentary life. Had they been hiding all these feelings from each other, for so long?

Even by the standards of Parliament, it was pretty sickening stuff; the Members were lucky the Speaker did not call them to order for contempt of the House. (Traditionally. Parliament is very sensitive about such things. They have men with funny names like Serjeant-at-Arms and Black Rod who, although they look on the verge of senility, can do terrible things to anyone who treats them with contempt.)

One prominent, and retiring. Labour MP who did not join in this fulsomeness was Michael Stewart, whose craggy, generously eye-browed features are constructed for silence. They rear above his body like some granite cliff-face and they resist the elements of Parliamentary weather just as stubbornly.

He was an MP for a long time, sitting for constituencies in Hammersmith and Fulham from 1945. When he started his life in the House he was fresh out of the Army, and was known as Captain Michael Stewart, which allowed him to be addressed as the Honourable and Gallant Member instead of just an Honourable one. This is another important thing about which Parliament is very sensitive.

Stewart came up through the teaching profession and he never lost his precise, schoolmasterly manner. At times, when he was under especially fierce criticism, he seemed to long to control his tormentors by giving them all a hundred lines—“I must not say nasty things to Her Majesty’s Minister of Education/Foreign Secretary/First Secretary of State . . .”

For during his time he held all those big jobs, and a few others as well. Harold Wilson thought highly of him, as well he might; his comment, when he moved Stewart from the Foreign Office to George Brown’s old job in charge of the Department of Economic Affairs:
  Michael Stewart . . . readily accepted the move and brought his great administrative talents to his new task. He was listed at No. 3 in the Cabinet order of preference, which aroused great press interest.
It is not difficult to understand how Wilson came to this admiring opinion. During his periods as Foreign Secretary (1965-66 and then 1968-70) Stewart stonewalled as single-mindedly on the issues of Vietnam and Biafra as Geoff Boycott in the Roses match. Any man who can lisp out precisely the cold-blooded interests of British capitalism to an audience aware that as he spoke thousands of people were being killed, is clearly worth bringing on.

Stewart loyally carried this task out, when the Wilson government was under fire from its slap-happy left wingers over its support for the Americans in Vietnam. When he was Foreign Secretary for the second time, Vietnam was draining America in terms of both lives and economy. Deaths averaged a hundred a week, with peaks of over five hundred during 1968 and the war was costing 300 billion dollars a year. Both sides had settled into a policy of attrition, the Vietcong chipping away with their guerilla tactics and the Americans blasting and burning with their napalm. Such horrors were a lesser concern for Stewart; he deserved a medal for his stubborn justification for it all—for medals are what capitalism awards for such outstanding devotion to duty.

A lesser known, but equally horrible, feat was Stewart’s policy on the Nigerian/Biafran war, which was notable for the Nigerian government’s genocide against the Ibos and for the savage famine which Biafra suffered. The Nigerians were supported by the supply of arms from Britain, which again provoked much opposition— sometimes not just from Labour’s left wing but also from the Tories.

A million Biafrans were killed in the crushing of their rising. There were some three million refugees, whose plight was such that they were dying in their thousands—the relief agencies estimated between five and ten thousand—each day. Yet Stewart thought it appropriate to justify the arms on the grounds that it would be wrong to cut them off just when the Nigerian government needed them to kill the Biafrans, to suppress the rising. (House of Commons, 12.6.68.)

Nine months later, he was just as adamant, saying that to have stopped the arms going to Nigeria would have caused
  . . . a profound estrangement of ourselves from Nigeria and from Africa as a whole. It would have involved a great increase of Russian influence in Nigeria, and it would have involved a great risk to British people and British interests in Nigeria. (House of Commons. 13.3.69).
And there Stewart knew what he was talking about. Nigeria is a source of rubber and tin and was at that time among the top ten oil producers in the world. Of course the British capitalist class were anxious to keep Russian influence at bay there. The Americans backed British policy, partly in return for British support for the atrocity of Vietnam. So, in terms which politicians like Stewart and Lyndon Johnson understood, it all made sense. Only the starving refugees in Biafra, hounded and massacred, or the terrified people under the napalm in Vietnam, might have been forgiven for failing to grasp the nice rounded logic of it all.

That was a long time ago now and Stewart has passed through the back benches into retirement. He served capitalism. and in particular the British ruling class, well. Only one thing can be said in his favour—he did not try to hide what he was doing. Like any teacher spelling out an equation to a backward class, he explained it all in grisly detail.

Any confusion about him was hardly his fault. In his manner and his appearance he served admirably as a bogy man for the left wing, which allowed those senseless romantics to enjoy their customary illusion that capitalist politics, and the horrors of this society, are a matter of personality. Get rid of Stewart, they once shrieked, and there will be no more Biafra. no more Vietnam.

Well Stewart was got rid of but the world is no more peaceable a place. And he has been replaced by new bogy men to be subjected to the left's hysteria. It would be tedious, except that the blood still flows and it is the blood of the people who will be needed to live, to change society.

Socialism and scientific advance (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

What has been called “the problem of production”— how to produce enough to satisfy the needs of every man, woman and child—was solved by about the turn of the century. From then on scientific knowledge and technological ability could have banished for ever all human misery resulting from a lack of material resources: starvation and malnutrition, unhealthy living conditions, disease and ill-health, ignorance and superstition.

This knowledge and this ability has not however been applied to benefit Mankind in this way. Instead, production has remained geared to profit-making and the accumulation of profits as capital. The result has been not only continuing material poverty and misery but two world wars— and many lesser ones—during which millions of human beings have been massacred and mutilated. As the problem of production had already been solved all this human suffering was unnecessary and could have been avoided. It is the price Mankind has paid for the maintenance of capitalism into the Twentieth Century.

Scientific advance did not, of course, stop in 1900 but has continued ever since, making the production of enough wealth to adequately feed, clothe and shelter the whole of the world’s people ever less of a problem. In 1900 electricity was only beginning to be applied to production and the internal combustion engine and aeroplanes were just about to be developed. Since then we have seen the coming of (and we make no apologies for this list, as we hope it will help to ram home the extent to which the problem of production has been solved): radio, plastics, TV, jets, radar, rockets, electronics computers. nuclear power, transistors, artificial satellites, men on the Moon.

Every scientific advance makes capitalism even more obsolete and socialism even more practicable. But there are more advances to come in the near future. The popular science and science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, in his book Profiles of the Future (reprinted by Pan books last year), mentions as the next two major technological advances: the application of nuclear fusion to produce electricity and the invention of an efficient system of electrical storage.

At the moment there are a number of ways of generating electricity but not of storing it efficiently. Today's batteries are clumsy and so prevent the development of clean, electrically-powered vehicles. Existing petrol- and diesel-burning internal combustion engines continually pollute the atmosphere and would be phased out as rapidly as possible in a rationally-organised society. This lack of an efficient way of storing electricity is also holding back the development of solar and other clean sources of energy like wind-power, although the latter have the disadvantage of dependence on natural conditions. But this would not matter so much if an efficient system of storing electricity existed since the electricity generated on sunny, or windy, days could be stored for later use; the electricity generated in summer could be stored for use in winter.

Clarke gives the 1980s as the date for the invention of an efficient system of electrical storage. Fusion power he puts in the 1990s. Existing nuclear power stations are based on nuclear fission. On splitting atoms of heavy elements like uranium. In this process a radioactive “waste” is produced. Society may well eventually find a way of using the energy this radio-activity represents; it will then cease to be waste and become a “by-product”. At the moment, however, it is dangerous waste which no one knows what to do with. People are right to be concerned about this; the priority capitalism gives to making profits leads to the adoption of inadequate safety measures.

Nuclear power is an obvious future source of energy, helping replace the relatively wasteful burning of non-renewable fossil fuels. Arthur C. Clarke puts this well:
  Today, there can be little doubt that the long-term (and perhaps the short-term) answer to the fuel problem is nuclear energy. The weapons already now stockpiled by the major powers could run all the machines on earth for several years, if their energies could be used constructively. The warheads in the American arsenals alone are equivalent to thousands of millions of tons of oil or coal.
   It is not likely that fission reactions (those involving such heavy elements as thorium, uranium and plutonium) will play more than a temporary role in terrestrial affairs: one hopes not, for fission is the dirtiest and most unpleasant method of releasing energy that man has ever discovered. Some of the radio-isotopes from today's reactors will still be causing trouble and perhaps injuring unwary archaelogists, a thousand years from now.
   But beyond fission lies fusion—the welding together of light atoms such as hydrogen and lithium. This is the reaction that drives the stars themselves; we have reproduced it on earth, but have not yet tamed it. When we have done so, our power problems will have been solved for ever—and there will be no poisonous by-products, but only the clean ash of helium. Controlled fusion is the supreme challenge of applied nuclear physics: some scientists believe it will be achieved in ten years, some in fifty. But almost all of them are sure that we will have some fusion power long before our oil and coal run out, and will be able to draw fuel in virtually unlimited quantities from the sea.
Deuterium, the isotope of hydrogen which is a raw material for the fusion reaction, exists in the sea in the proportion of 1gm per 30 litres. So much, then, for the dire predictions of the scaremongers about running out of resources and the sick justification of poverty as the result of inevitable scarcity.

Society has not yet mastered the technology of nuclear fusion but is on the way to doing so. Its coming won’t lead to the breakdown of capitalism as the wages-prices-profits system becomes clogged up by an abundance of very cheap goods, as is sometimes suggested. But it might lead to people realising that capitalism is an utterly irrational way of organising the production and distribution of the world’s wealth. For, once nuclear fusion has been shown to be a practical and efficient way of generating electricity—once society has acquired the practical ability to apply it to the production of wealth—it will be more than ever obvious that poverty, misery and deprivation are quite unnecessary. We must move on to socialism.

With the means of production the common heritage of all the people of the world, the scientific knowledge and technological skill which society now possesses can be used for the one purpose of satisfying human needs in accordance with the long-standing socialist principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.
Adam Buick

Violent genes (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sociobiology is a new science, a hybrid of sociology and biology. Harvard zoologist Edward Wilson in his latest work On Human Nature claims that man is endowed with behavioural genes and that these genes “hold culture on a leash”. He attacks Marxism for arguing that human behaviour is conditioned by social environment and asserts that “the mind will always create morality, religion and mythology . . . the predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature”.

Any argument based on a view of “human nature" as something defined and unchanging is seized on with enthusiasm by those who assert that humans are, by nature, greedy, selfish and violent. Without fear of prison or Hell- fire, social or divine retribution, society would inevitably disintegrate. What evidence, if any, is there to support such claims?

In the slow cold dawn of pre-history, humans — like other hunter-gatherer primates struggling for biological survival — evolved the capacity to react aggressively both against intruders if they posed a threat, and against individuals in the group whose behaviour violated its social code, thereby endangering the group’s survival. However, humans could never have survived as a species without learning to co-operate. The ability to cooperate was a prerequisite for making stone tools and hunting animals for food, which bipeds were doing three million years ago. Co-operation is at the root of all human culture. While close social bonding is a feature of all primate species, co-operation is carried furthest in humans.

Language and Religion
Wilson’s argument that language is “pre-programmed” does not hold water. For instance, a wolf child found in the forest in India “could not talk or utter any very articulate sound” (Sunday Times, 30 July 1978). A child’s innate potential for learning language is useless if he is not in contact with people who use language as a social skill. Like aggression, language-learning results from the interaction between inherited potential and actual life-experience.

The assertion that humans are born with some sort of genetically transmitted religious instinct does not explain how it is that religion is normally learned, like language or science. As part of human culture, religion has developed in different forms under changing social conditions. Now, all beliefs in the supernatural are decaying in the light of science. yet our “religious genes" are not causing this change in our outlook. "It is not religion which makes man, but man who makes religion”, wrote Marx. In rejecting religion, we do not cease to be human..

Since the human species has adapted successfully to almost every conceivable environment — from popular regions to the tropics, from hunter-gatherer bands of 30-50 people to conurbations of more than 10 million, from nomadic herding to city commuting — it seems clear that an outstanding characteristic of human beings is their adaptability. As Marx pointed out. "by acting on nature outside himself and changing it, man simultaneously changes his own nature”.

Above all, man is a learning animal whose progress is not restrained by the slow pace of biological evolution but moves at the rapid pace of “cultural evolution”. Culture combined with mankind’s inherent adaptability mean that Wilson’s thesis of genes controlling our behaviour-patterns is unsound.

The effect of environment on the genetic endowment of the individual is incalculable. Already in the womb, the embryo is exposed to environmental influences. Also, the penetrance of genes varies greatly. “Behaviorally the human being is highly flexible, and the penetrance of any ‘behavioral’ gene would be subject to strong environmental and cultural modification" (Alexander Allend. Evolution and Human Behaviour).

Thus a clearer understanding of what is meant by "environment” diminishes the heredity factor, so that all traits are products of a complex interaction process. We all have the potential for aggression and like other primates, we tend to become violent when under stress.

The capitalist system forces us to live in overcrowded slums, competing against one another for the necessities of life, fearful of shortage. In the worst city slums, all forms of violence are endemic — mugging, wife-beating, baby-bashing, murder and mindless vandalism. Social, not biological, factors are responsible for the problem of violence.

Mercenaries and other paid armed forces can only exist in a property society where nation states compete for resources, with expensively-armed forces manned by wage-workers. These are easier to recruit in times of bad unemployment. In such a context, genetic factors are hardly perceptible. If army recruiting relied on humanity’s "innate aggressiveness”, there would be few wars. Since men are apparently not sufficiently aggressive, conscription was used in both World Wars, and the USSR like South Africa has permanent conscription, forcing men to do what Wilson claims they have a natural tendency to do anyway.

Human behaviour can only be understood in terms of social relationships. Our ability to learn and to conceptualize make us uniquely able to transmit what is learned in one generation to the next, and it is this factor which has made man’s social, cultural and technical development over the last 10.000 years increasingly rapid. It is our unique flexibility which enables us to adapt to the changes in the physical and social environment which we ourselves create.

The causes of violence in human society, are overcrowding, inequality and scarcity. These can only be eliminated by ending capitalism, since the profit system creates and aggravates these conditions. Socialism, with its common ownership and free access, in a world of abundance, is in harmony with “human nature”.
Charmian Skelton

Letters: Not So Obvious (1979)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Not So Obvious

I am writing to ask if you have ever thought of participating in an alliance of left-wing parties to the left of the Labour Party. I am thinking of the Communist Party, the International Marxist Group, the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party. Such an alliance, based on areas of common agreement which I am sure can be found, could become a very strong force in British politics. Opposition to capitalism— both national and international—is obviously the most important common denominator between your various parties. It seems to me that the time has come to accentuate what you all have in common, and to put aside the differences until the struggle against capitalism is won.
Tom Rubens,

The object of the SPGB is the abolition of the wage labour and capital relationship and its replacement with socialism, a society of common ownership and free access. Such a revolution can only be brought about by the democratic political action of a majority of class conscious workers.

The end of private and state ownership of the means of production, and hence of production for the purpose of exchange and profit, is not part of the left’s programme. Far from envisaging a society in which classes, buying and selling, employment and politics itself are absent, the parties mentioned campaign for the capitalist Labour Party at election time. They also confuse nationalisation (state capitalism) with socialism, support the ‘Right to Work' movement (there is no such right), dismiss our insistence upon the capture of the powers of government and the state machine and generally follow the anti-Marxist views of Lenin on questions such as leadership, nationalism and democracy. Needless to say, they have a wide variety of reforms on offer too.

For a socialist party, only one course is open: unceasing hostility to all parties that administer or lend their support to the capitalist system. This includes the left, whose militancy and spurious theory they cloak in the name of socialism, making our task that much more difficult. As to an alliance, the Pope will take up ballroom dancing first.

Shallow Reporting

Following a recent article in the Socialist Standard entitled “Media Harlots" another example of shallow reporting showing effect rather than cause could be seen on one of the Tonight programmes during the week.

A reporter from CBS showed us all the effect of drunkenness on the Indians of NW Canada. We had the typical view of drunken apathetic Indians reeling about the streets while their young children plundered the local schoolmistress’s house for food and bedding. Another man was interviewed in his meagre house where he tried to feed up to fourteen children before he too went "under the influence”.

After showing all these effects we were then given the cause of this wanton drunkenness amongst the Red population. Apparently research has shown that due to their diet, the red man’s blood does not withstand as much alcohol as the white man’s.

This report concluded the case by suggesting even by some of the Indians themselves that the only cure was to ban alcohol. Only one man came near to a more realistic conclusion when he suggested that perhaps the Indians were being unfairly treated as he stated that the Government subsidies only extended to alcoholic drinks and not to such "luxuries” as housing, food and transport.

Surely a community forced to abandon their own beliefs and live in an alien society i.e. the capitalist society, will be left to subsist on handouts the profiteers choose to pass on to them thus ensuing their second class way of life.

I would be interested to know how far the Socialist Party has become established in Canada and ‘free’ America and how it stands in regard to such minority groups as the Indians and Eskimos.
Dorothy Williams, 
Mablethorpe, Lincs.

In a sense. Dorothy Williams has answered her own question. She points out that the alcoholism of the Indians in NW Canada is largely due to deficiencies in their diet, which in turn is an effect of the pressure of property society.

There are many such examples of the alienating and destructive effects of capitalism, beginning in the process of industrialising large areas and forcing people to abandon a rural way of life, only to be herded into the slums of the cities.

Socialists are not indifferent to such suffering; indeed as members of the working class we ourselves experience, day by day, the indignities and demoralising effects of capitalism. What distinguishes us from other political organisations is that we insist that it is futile to concentrate on just a part of capitalism’s problems— slums, poverty, war, the plight of the Eskimos and so on.

Since capitalism is responsible for all these problems—and many others—it follows that the only effective policy is to campaign exclusively for its abolition and replacement with socialism.

There is a Socialist Party of Canada, companion to the SPGB and other socialist parties in the world. But the difficulties of the struggle for socialism are even more formidable in Canada than in this country, and the SPC remains small. Its offices are in Victoria. British Columbia.

Do We Oppose NF?

Regarding On Banning the the National Front — Socialist Standard January issue.

Because the opportunity to discuss their racist policies with them, either at their meetings or otherwise, is not often possible can I ask whether you agree that your members and supporters should also assist to make the elector aware of those policies by the issue of anti-NF explanatory leaflets as issued constantly by the Anti-Nazi League?
Yours hopefully.
FD (Essex)

It is not only the National Front who are shy about discussing their policies. The Socialist Standard has recently written twice to the Anti-Nazi League, asking Peter Hain if he would agree to being interviewed by a socialist as part of an article we plan to publish on the ANL. Both letters were ignored.

As far as our resources in terms of membership and money permit we publish a great deal of literature analysing all aspects of capitalist society. Articles on racism appear regularly in the Socialist Standard and we have published two editions of our pamphlet on the Racial Problem.

What we don’t get involved in is a preoccupation with any one aspect of capitalism’s problems, be it racism, sexism, unemployment or whatever. We argue that anyone concerned with any of these problems should be concerned with the abolition of them all — by the abolition of capitalism.

We analyse and attack the ideas of racism just as we oppose all anti-working class theories, including the reformism of organisation like the Anti-Nazi League.

Berk of the Month

January’s “Berk of the Month Award" must go to the Sunday Mirror columnist Mr. Wardrobe Wyatt. From "Britain’s most influential columnist" comes this little gent "We have strikes because some people enjoy the excitement of them’’. Our friend Woodrow has obviously not experienced the “excitement” of standing in sub-zero temperatures, for hours on end with only the pittance of strike pay in their pockets, with about as much action as the Queen’s garden party.
Rob Bishop
Pudsey, Leeds, 
W. Yorks.

Why you should join the Socialist Party (1979)

Party News from the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unemployment. Tragedy or Farce? (1921)

From the October 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard

Notwithstanding the claim, advanced by the daily press, that trade shows signs of revival, the unemployed figures are still in the neighbourhood of 1½  millions. A writer in The Observer, described as an expert and a member of Lord Saint David's Committee, says : "The crisis is a real one, and doubts if any responsible leader in industry would maintain that the volume of available employment in this country can be increased to any appreciable extent before next June." Another paper—The Sunday Pictorial, September 4th—says that the official figures on unemployment are misleading, because they take no account of those who have exhausted their unemployed pay, a body that grows in numbers every week. The Daily Chronicle, September 6th, gives the number of unemployed in the United States as six millions. In Russia and Austria, we are told, millions are actually starving. In fact, the workers of every country are unemployed to an extent never yet experienced, with one exception. We are told that Germany is the exception, and that unemployment there is scarcely known. If this is true, it is not the first time that the workers of a losing country in a great war have been better off than the victors. The same thing was noticed after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. Some people might argue from this that the way to fuller employment for any country was to have a good war with a neighbouring country and lose it !

Such an argument, however, is on a par with the general capitalist principle that working-class prosperity in one country can only be built up on the unemployment and impoverishment of the workers of other countries. That is necessarily the outcome of the capitalist contention that unemployment can only be reduced by the capture of foreign trade. During the war the capitalist press insisted on the capture of the enemy's trade in various directions, and, boasting continuously that it was a business war, prophesied greater prosperity for British capitalists and workers as the result of victory. But their prophesy was falsified, and the only fact that has been demonstrated is that the abnormal prosperity of any one country can only occur when other countries fall behind in the race for markets.

In normal times unemployment is fairly evenly spread over all capitalist countries, partly because depressions, when they come, affect them all, and partly because workers are attracted to those countries where trade is on the increase. The passage of workers from one country to another is facilitated by capitalist governments because a large army of unemployed insures cheap labour-power to the capitalist, who can sell his commodities cheaper than his foreign competitors with no reduction in his profits. But cheap labour-power to the capitalist means a lower standard of living to the workers. We thus see that the capitalist remedy for unemployment—capture foreign trade—is a delusion for the workers, because its application means worse conditions for themselves and increased unemployment for their fellow-workers abroad.

No single country can find a solution to the unemployed problem. It is a question that affects the workers of every capitalist country equally. The solution must, therefore, be one that can be applied all round ; it must be universal. Now, Socialism is international. As a remedy for unemployment it must be applied universally, and because it fulfils that condition should take precedence in the workers' consideration. Before examining the full claims of Socialism on the workers' attention, it might be interesting to glance at some of the suggested remedies, the hypocritical platitudes and solemn warnings of our masters and their agents. When facing a question of such magnitude, every suggested remedy should be carefully examined before being discarded or adopted.

At first sight unemployment insurance appears to many to be a remedy. Many who think so only find out their mistake when they have exhausted their unemployed pay and have failed to find a situation. Others find out their mistake in trying to live on it. But insurance cannot even be accepted as a suggested remedy, because it does not pretend to reduce unemployment. All that it does is to keep some workers from actually starving until the capitalist wants them back in the factory again. The Daily Chronicle (September 14th, 1921) contends that it is the best and the cheapest method of dealing with the problem. Referring to the immense volume of unemployment, they say that "it has been accompanied by singularly little acute distress or violent discontent." "Acute distress" for the Chronicle might mean any stage in the starvation process down to actual skin and bones, but there is no mistake about the satisfaction it feels that there has been little "violent discontent." Another item that gives satisfaction to the Chronicle is the fact that "by far the greater part of the 'doles' financial cost will be eventually recouped by the State from the contributions of employers and employed."

The chief advantage of insurance for the capitalists is that it is elastic in its application. It can be extended or reduced, in time or amount, to suit the severity of the trade crisis through which they happen to be passing. The Chronicle says that "it is the most scientific policy that any State has adopted. As compared with relief works, it covers much more fully the actual field of distress, while it also entails far less outlay." But the controversy over the relative values of the "doles" or relief works need worry the worker but little. Both will be applied while the crisis lasts and discontinued as soon as it is over. The return of normal trade conditions, while it solves the problem for the capitalists at the moment, still leaves immense numbers unemployed, which increase with every such crisis.

In his presidential address to the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Poulton fell foul of several capitalist papers. Among many other things he said of little or no importance, was the outstanding declaration "that the facilities for producing goods were never more abundant or more efficient than to-day, enabling enormous quantities to be produced at very short notice. This, in its turn, whatever economists might say, had the effect of throwing out of employment multitudes of workers. It was no wonder that we heard at times of workers restricting output." (Chronicle, September 6th, 1921).

Mr. Poulton's remedy is to shorten the working week. But this, like the dole, is no remedy. With an 8-hour working day, the United States is no better than other countries, either in normal times or during the present crisis. If one country alone adopts this measure it inevitably falls behind in the race for markets, unless greater efficiency is exacted from its workers or more up-to-date methods and machinery introduced, or both. It is a well-known fact that American workers gain nothing by their shorter working day. The pace at which they work makes them cheap when compared with European workers.

On the other hand, a universally applied shorter week must remain the dream of impossiblists. Capitalist groups are too deeply engrossed in the struggle for markets to come to a common agreement among themselves on a question that might give the workers more time to think about and discuss their slavery and the way to escape from it. While if the workers were sufficiently united internationally and powerful enough to enforce a universally shorter week, they would be powerful enough to completely overthrow capitalism and establish Socialism.

So much for Mr. Poulton's suggestion. Now for the other capitalist agents of whom he fell foul. The Daily Chronicle, September 6th, 1921, refers to it as "the old blind idea that there is only a fixed amount of work to be done in the world, and that therefore the less one man does in return for his wages, the more there will be for others to do . . . He ought to know that the amount of work available in the world tends to be diminished by every increase in the costs of production; and therefore that reduction of hours, however desirable it may from time to time be on other grounds, must in relation to unemployment normally exert a bad and not a good influence."

The latter part of this statement is entirely false. An increase in the costs of production which affected the world would make no difference whatever in the amount produced, other things remaining as they were. All that would happen would be that higher prices would rule all round. Goods would have their money name changed, including labour-power. Even this need not happen as a result of a shorter working week or higher wages. Under such circumstances competition might not permit capitalists to raise prices, in which case the workers would obviously be encroaching on profits, if the increased cost of production were due to higher wages.

Apart from this, however, it is only when one set of capitalists are faced with a rise in the cost of production, and are unable to compete in the open market, that they are forced to curtail or stop production. The proof of this is seen when we compare two countries like Spain and the United States. The former is a century behind the latter industrially, because it has never adopted to the same extent cheap and efficient methods of production. Yet America, with all its efficiency and cheapness—the qualities that exert a good influence on employment, according to the Chronicle—surpasses every other nation in the numbers of its unemployed.

This brings us to the "old blind idea" of the Chronicle. If low costs of production give more, instead of less employment, why do American factories periodically close down, stopping production while they unload their goods on the market? Why does every country do the same? Not because "there is only a fixed amount of work to be done in the world"—a phrase which only an ignoramus in economics would use —but because within a given period the demand for goods will be limited, if not by the needs of the people, by their ability to pay for them. In the next period the demand may be higher, or lower, but the outstanding fact is that the world's workers with modern means can always meet that demand with millions of idle days to spare. Days of unemployment without wages spread over the working-class. Under a sane system of society, where production was carried on for use, instead of for capitalist profits, they would be days of rest or recreation.

The Chronicle was not the only paper that chastised Mr. Poulton for his suggestion. The Sunday Pictorial (September 11th, 1921) took a different line. One of its writers jeered at him because he "advised the workers to press for a shorter week," and then went on to say "that the needs of the world were under-supplied." This deep thinking agent of capitalism then asked, "How is the supply of things needed by the world to be increased by diminution of the hours spent in making them?" Let him ask any one of the millions of unemployed. They have hands and brains. Why are they idle if the world is under-supplied ? Because it is not the needs of the world that determines the quantity of goods to be produced. The capitalist calls a halt when he can no longer sell at a profit. Or, to be strictly accurate, he only allows production to proceed when he receives orders that will enable him to realise profits. The Sunday Pictorial writer must be a first-class nincompoop if he thinks that it takes all the world's workers all their time either to meet the effective demand or satisfy the world's needs—two very different things. The fact that the world's markets are periodically glutted in normal times, and millions unemployed, with further millions working short time and many millions of days lost through industrial disputes, together with an enormous section of the population engaged in unproductive work, proves the contrary.

With modern machinery and methods, only a small proportion of the workers would be needed for actual production if kept continuously at work.

The biggest mistake made by the workers lies in their willingness to be led, instead of studying and discussing the question among themselves, whether in or out of work. All workers are subject to unemployment. No job under capitalism is sure ; consequently unemployment is the concern of every worker.

There are always plenty of unscrupulous or mad-brained adventurers ready to pose as leaders where a number of people have a grievance. But even if they belong to the ranks of the aggrieved, it does not follow that they are to be trusted as leaders. At Liverpool the Rev. J. Vint Laughland advised the workless to capture the Art Gallery and led the attack personally. They captured the Art Gallery all right, but it proved to be a trap. The doors were closed, and in the words of an eye-witness, reported in the Daily Chronicle, September 13th, 1921 : "A vestibule was crammed with men, who one after another went down under the blows of the constables' batons," and "a stream of injured men were led out or carried away on stretchers ; while many more were led from the building in batches, and taken to the police station in vans under escort."

In Poplar, as in other districts of London where Labour councillors find themselves unable to fulfil their election pledges, they are confusing the issue by dragging in the question of rates equalisation, which is not the concern of the workers at all, but purely a question for the capitalists who own property in the different districts.

The Observer (September 24th, 1921) says that : "The real and permanent cure for the ills of Poplar, and other poor and populous districts now in like case, was, is and will remain the discovery of the essentials for co-operation among those engaged in production." In other words, those who have the luck to be employed must agree to terms that are acceptable to employers, and the unemployed—not being engaged in production—may be safely ignored.

Read where we may, in Capitalist or Labour journals, there has never yet been brought forward any scheme that can cure unemployment. Some boasted remedies, like co-partnership and guild-production, only aggravate the evil. Others, like insurance and relief works, do not affect it at all. In regard to the latter, The Observer (September 18th, 1921) says: "They must not compete with the legitimate opportunities of employment that trade will present as it recovers." When the capitalist wants workers to exploit, there must be plenty of unemployed in order that he may get them cheap. Equalisation of rates is a confusionist cry. A shorter week may or may not reduce unemployment. Electrification schemes, forestry, reclamation of foreshores, and widening of roads are things that capitalist governments may want but dare not undertake because of the outcry against the necessary taxation or the interference with private enterprise. Capitalist governments are bankrupt in ideas to cope with the question. Their agents, political and industrial, religious or patriotic, and sympathetic or unsympathetic with the workers, are only concerned with their private ambitions. Sooner or later the workers will be forced to recognise these facts, and in increasing numbers will focus their minds on the question for themselves. Others will come into contact with genuine Socialist works and workers, and will be convinced that unemployment is the inevitable product of a system in which a small class owns the means of wealth production, and imposes upon the rest of society the necessity of selling their energy as a commodity, in order to obtain the necessaries of life.

Without this knowledge the workers are the slaves of the employing class. With the knowledge lies their hope of emancipation. Determined to organise and act on their knowledge, they can, by first dispossessing the employing class of the means of wealth production, and secondly by making them the common property of society, to be used by all for the common needs, and controlled by all through the democratic administrations they deem it necessary to set up, realise their freedom and satisfy all their needs as freely associating men and women.
F. Foan