Thursday, May 28, 2020

What Stalin Forgot To Mention (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Joseph Stalin delivered a report on the Russian Five-Year Plan to a meeting of the Russian Communist Party in January, 1933, and Modern Books, Ltd., have published it in an attractively got-up 2d. pamphlet. Stalin (or more probably some member of his staff) had the ingenious idea of quoting the leading capitalist newspapers and outstanding figures in the world of capitalist finance and industry as testimony to the success of the plans for industrialising Russia. Looked at from the point of view of publicity the idea was a clever one, but what does it mean when the capitalist chorus sings the praises of Russia? Does a socialist and working-class movement ever expect or receive commendation from the mouthpieces of capitalism? In short, Stalin over-reached himself, and showed up in a clear light the position the Russian Bolshevik politicians have come to occupy, in their own minds, in relation to the capitalists outside Russia. One of the passages of praise for Russia reproduced in the pamphlet is a speech by a prominent banker, Mr. J. Gibson Jarvie, chairman of United Dominions Trust, Ltd., delivered at the City Business Club in Glasgow on October 20th, 1932. Stalin quotes extensively from the speech those passages in which Mr. Jarvie said what an amazing success the Five-Year Plan has been.

Now read the passage that Stalin carefully omitted to quote :
  While Russia might be officially described as the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, and might claim to be a Communist State, nevertheless that country to-day was, unquestionably, practising state capitalism, incorporating a modified form of private capitalism. He felt that as Russia advanced from one Five-Year Plan to another, private capitalism in some form or another would become increasingly strong, but – and this was the point capitalist countries must bear in mind – if she advanced according to plan she must, as a nation, become invulnerable.” (The Times, October 21st, 1932.
In other words, Mr. Jarvie gives a fairly good description of Russia’s social system and the direction in which it is tending, and his fears are the ordinary ones of the capitalist in one country threatened by the competition of another capitalist country. In one thing, however, he is wrong. Capitalism in Russia is no more invulnerable than it is anywhere else. It will produce the same evils and call for the same remedy as capitalism elsewhere, i.e., the organisation of a Socialist movement.

Stalin should take more care how he selects his quotations.
Edgar Hardcastle

What would the S.P.G.B. Do If . . . ? (1933)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader sends us the following question: —

In the event of a sudden acceleration of the revolutionary spirit among the masses leading to a strengthening of the Communist Party of Great Britain at a period of capitalist disunion, and the subsequent outbreak of armed revolt, where exactly would the counsels of the S.P.G.B. lead its adherents—to the barricades, in support of the workers' struggle for emancipation; to the “orange box," to prove from dialectical Marxism that it can't be done that way; or to the arm-chairs of the debating room, there to study and collate “contemporary history"?

Our correspondent has got himself beautifully tangled up through not making clear to himself what he means by the terms he uses. What, for example, is the meaning we are expected to give to the term “revolutionary spirit"? If it means a sound understanding of the social problem plus a determination to achieve a social revolution by the only possible means, the capture of political power, then an acceleration of the revolutionary spirit, sudden or otherwise, will not lead to a strengthening of the Communist Party, but to a strengthening of the S.P.G.B. As, however, that will not be followed by idiotic attempts at armed revolt the rest of the hypothesis does not arise and need not be answered.

If by “revolutionary spirit" our correspondent means (as no doubt he does) an outburst of “violent reformism," then it may lead to a strengthening of the Communist Party, or the I.L.P., or the Fascist organisations or any number of other reformist organisations prepared to play the silly game of "direct action," “ armed revolt," and so on.

If such a reformist body were able (like Hitler) to rally sufficient reformists to its support, then the administration of capitalism would pass from one set of capitalist politicians to another —and capitalism would be in for another lease of relatively stable life.

If the violent reformists were a minority and attempted armed revolt against those who control the political machinery and the armed forces, then they would get what such people always get —sharp, brutal and bloody suppression.

As such an attempt would be foredoomed to failure and in any event would not be a “struggle for emancipation," but a struggle for reforms, the S.P.G.B. would oppose it in its entirety. The S.P.G.B. has no leaders and no followers, and would not therefore be offering to lead anyone anywhere. Its members being Socialists and knowing that “it can’t be done that way," would naturally go on saying so. We can conceive of no better service to the workers than to tell them in and out of season to beware of the silly sentimentalist or dangerous lunatic who advocates armed revolt and urges the workers to pit their unarmed defencelessness against the armed might of the capitalist State.
Editorial Committee

War and the Workers (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

An indication of what the workers, their wives and children, may expect to go through in the next thieves' quarrel of their capitalist masters is vividly brought home in a manual recently provided for the St. John Ambulance Brigade, and summarised in the Daily Telegraph of December 15th, 1932. Similar training, it is stated, is being given in numerous other countries.

The following precautions have to be taken in the event of an aerial gas attack: —

  • Windows to be sealed with putty or paper, and doors covered with woollen material soaked in soapy water.
  • All fires to be extinguished and chimneys and ventilators blocked.
  • No lights except electric.
  • Occupants of rooms, who should have 20 square feet floor space each, to keep quiet and still.
  • All suspected of contact with the gas to discard outer clothing and wash well before being admitted to refuge.
  • No occupant to leave a sealed room without authority, the key being left outside.
  • Rooms to contain many pails of water, soap, paper and pencil, and a red light for signalling in an emergency.
  • Victims unavoidably in contact with gas to hold their breath and close their eyes as much as possible.

When the aerial raiders have departed, leaving a trail of death behind them, it may be necessary to purify the streets. “This may necessitate the burning of grass, the sprinkling of roads, earth, and wooden floors perhaps two or three inches deep with a mixture of chloride of lime and earth, sand, sawdust or soot." (Italics ours.)

General Smuts, eleven months earlier, in an address on disarmament at Sheffield University on October 8th, 1931, said even then that the armaments of the world were greater than they were in 1918, and even more so than in 1914. Europe, with the exception of the disarmed powers, was ready for instant war.

He also was under no illusion as to what would happen in the next “war to end war." He said: —
  The armed peace continues in an aggravated form, and, as long at it continues, mankind seems to be marching to some horrible doom.
  Unless a real measure of disarmament puts an end to the armed peace we are making for another cataclysm which will be infinitely worse than the horrors of the Great War.
  It will pay scant attention to armies and navies or to the other paraphernalia of war. It will go straight for the populations and for the immense urban aggregations.
   It will fight with new unheard-of chemical and biological weapons. It will cover the fair land and the great cities with poison and disease germs.
   There will be no escape, not even for the statesmen and the war-makers, and a pall of death will rest over all. Even now the laboratories of three continents are busy with their deadly researches. And in due course some lunatic or criminal will press the button , and the flower of the human race will be trapped and destroyed.—News Chronicle, 9/10/31.
Dealing with armaments, General Smuts said that escape lay along the arduous path of disarmament, which was “the greatest and heaviest task before the League of Nations."

Yet in spite of all the platitudes about disarmament, armaments grow apace. To take the naval side alone, the end of the ten years' battleship holiday is celebrated by the laying down in France of the keel of the battle cruiser Dunquerque (Daily Telegraph, November 16th, 1932). She will be the most powerful battle cruiser yet built with the exception of H.M.S. Hood. She can send hurtling through the air for 23 miles a projectile weighing half a ton. One such cruiser is not deemed to be sufficient, and it is proposed in. due course to build two more Dunquerques. The report further states that it has been semi-officially intimated that Italy will build a “reply" to the Dunquerque. Also, three German pocket battleships are now under construction.

Meantime, the British Government are not lagging behind, and the recent estimates provide an additional £3,093,700 for the navy, and another £1,462,000 for the army.

In the midst of it all, that monument to the hypocrisy of the victors in the last great shambles, the League of Nations, continues its weary way along the path of resolutions, committees, commissions, and reports. Its complete ineffectiveness to stop the settlement of disputes by force of arms was demonstrated long ago in the case of Vilna, and more recently in the case of China and Japan. Evidently the member nations prefer to rely upon their own strength rather than upon the “moral force" of the League.

Seeing that the League of Nations is powerless to prevent wars and equally powerless to bring about any effective disarmament, how can wars be averted?

Briefly, the Socialist case is that all wars by capitalist States are undertaken for the purpose of protecting foreign investments, securing markets for the disposal of the surplus products produced by the workers, and of securing fresh sources of raw material. Judge each war by the result, and it will be seen that this is the result of nearly every war during the last century.

That the workers have nothing to gain as the result of a war, whether the State in which they happen to be born is victor or vanquished, is evident from the state of the labour market in those countries which participated in the last war. In vanquished Germany there are 6,000,000 unemployed workers living on or below the level of bare subsistence, and no one will maintain that in victorious Britain the workers' lot is very much better, or even in that el Dorado, the United States of America.

The Marxian analysis of capitalist production lays bare the cause of all wars,. The worker produces commodities of a far greater value than his wages enable him to buy back. Out of the struggle for this surplus comes the struggle for markets at home and abroad, and with the capitalist development of previously undeveloped countries, tariff walls are erected. The struggle grows keener; finally the tension reaches breaking point, and war is declared.

War is, then, a quarrel between the various sections of the capitalist class over the disposal of the surplus wealth stolen from the workers in the course of their exploitation. It 'is, therefore, a quarrel in which the workers have no concern, and to end it they must remove the cause, i.e., the class ownership of the means of production. This they can do by organising to capture political power from the master class, and to establish a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—in short, Socialism.

Crime: Its Cause and Cure. (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Times” of 24th February, 1933, quotes a statement by Lt.-Col. W. D. Allan, in the Report of H.M. Inspectors of Constabulary for the year ended 29th September, 1932. He says: —
  During the last few years the police have been confronted with new types of crime which might be termed the shock tactic type well known to everyone, and in addition to this, especially in our large industrial areas, offences against property, with and without violence, have been on the increase. I think this is due to a great extent to unemployment and its consequent results, and it is to be hoped that when trade and employment improve, there will be a corresponding decrease in serious crime.
One would have thought that, having been sufficiently discerning as to realise that crimes against poverty are mainly due to the poverty of those who perpetrate them, he would have endeavoured to find some solution to the poverty problem—some means of abolishing poverty, so as to do away with its natural outcome—crimes against property. Unfortunately, such an investigation does not come within the scope of the gallant colonel's duties, and, apart from the pious hope expressed above, he confines himself to recommending changes in the organisation and distribution of the police force, forgetting that so long as the cause remains untouched, all attempts to combat the resultant effects can necessarily result only in changing the form of those effects.

It may be well here to quote two extracts from a speech made by Sir Herbert Samuel, the then Home Secretary, in the House of Commons, on 15th April, 1932: —
  It was characteristic of the movement of crime that fewer offences were committed by elderly people. That was partly due to the enactment of old age pensions and to the improvement of social services generally, which had lifted above the level of actual penury a great number of persons.
  A second cause in recent years was the economic depression. A chart showed exactly how, as employment rose and fell, crime rose and fell.
(Daily Telegraph, 16/4/32.)
Here we have two competent authorities both practically admitting that the major portion of criminal acts (crimes against property) is caused by poverty.

What, then, can be done to abolish poverty? Is it possible to abolish it within the capitalist system? If the capitalist class give the unemployed an allowance sufficiently above starvation level to deter them from taking the risk of infringing capitalist laws, it might also deter them from taking the risk of working! Hence the tendency to limit unemployment payments. Wherever capitalism exists, the aim is to give the unemployed no more than is sufficient to keep them alive.

Hence the poverty of the working class must have its origin in the system of society itself. This system has its basis in the ownership by one class of the means of production—land, mines, and factories—and the production of goods solely for profit, the workers serving merely as instruments in the mode of production, to be cast on one side when they are no longer wanted. Therefore, to abolish poverty, the capitalist system itself must be abolished.

It is to the interest of the workers to achieve this result. This they can only do by organisation within one party pledged to the overthrow of the capitalist system, and its replacement by a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Such is the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and we invite all those who agree with us to join with us in the common cause.

Letters: Right about Kenya (2006)

Letters to the Editors from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Right about Kenya

Dear Editors

The letter “Wrong on Kenya?” (March Socialist Standard) by Okoth Osewe can’t be taken as a passing cloud.

Osewe knows very well, if he has been existing in Kenya, that no attempt at socialism has been made here.  Those few who have talked about it are, like him, opportunist or capitalism’s apologists.  Thus his Kenya Socialist Democratic Alliance (KSDA) party is non-existent or it exists only on paper.

On the issue of the constitution, Osewe knows very well that this process was hijacked by opportunists(like him) and politicians.  During the campaign for either yes or no, it was clear that these were campaigns not to either reject or support the document, but to propel some people to positions of leadership.  Many politicians saw this as an opportunity to prepare themselves for next years general election. 

Why people like Osewe “pambana” (struggle) join the campaigns for the draft leaves a lot to be explained.  Why the need to use so much money to campaign for the rejection of the draft?

The No campaign was lead by politicians (like Osewe) who are always opposing the government.  The campaign was tribalistic, hatred was obvious, propaganda for swing vote. Those who always think that they are the ones who can lead  (and not be led) positioned themselves in the Orange Democratic Movement(ODM).  This wasn’t a campaign for a constitution but for proper elections.  Kenyans know better.

Socialism can only be brought about by a majority of workers organising for it.  Politicians like Osewe and many others will not, will never get anywhere near establishing socialism.

Kenyan workers know that their situation has never improved despite our constitution being amended so many times since independence. The situation isn’t likely to get anywhere even with the introduction of the so-called “Bomas Draft”, “Wako draft” or any other document.  Reforms which have come and gone haven’t made changes in our lives. 

Kenya is surely ripe for socialism but people like Osewe will only manage to have beautiful socialist titles but will never manage to organise Kenyans for socialism.

I invite him to join us in our struggle for common ownership, democratic control and leaderless cause.

Only when we join hands will our desire for socialism materialise.  And then socialism will rule the world, Kenya included, in the not too distant future.
Patrick Ndege,
Nairobi, Kenya

Buyer beware

Dear Editors,

I don’t always manage to remember the many downsides of capitalism and how much better things could be. But there’s nothing like personally falling foul of the functioning of capitalism to bring this point home. Once such occurrence happened to me recently. I thought I’d share it with you.

I’d bought some Mr Muscle Sink and Plughole Unblocker, which I’d recently seen advertised on TV, as the sink in my room had recently become blocked. The advertisement had shown a happy man and woman gently pouring the product down their kitchen sink. The name of the product gives rise to images of a magical little creature that pops out of the contained and does the job required, and as an imaginatively-inclined person I tend to be a bit too taken in by this kind of imagery. I had a smile on my face as I gently and slowly poured the magical product down my bedroom sink, bit by bit. It did occur to me that I could smell it, but I thought nothing of it at the time, and I was delighted to find twenty minutes later that my sink was working once again. Hurrah for Mr Muscle!!!

A couple of days later I found myself with a seriously painful sore throat. I wasn’t sure exactly what it had been caused by although I had a number of ideas as possibilities. Swallowing was agony for a couple of days. After I’d gotten over the worst of it I went to the doctor to see if he had any advice. He told me that sore throats were only really caused by infections or by chemical fumes. I told him about my use of the Mr Muscle product and he said he regarded it as a very likely cause.

I thought I’d tell a few people about what had happened as a warning to them not to be as imprudent as I’d been. A friend told me that when he’d had a blocked sink he’d asked the hardware store shopkeeper what the best thing to use was, and had been told that a couple of kettles of boiling water was as good as anything. He’d tried this and it had worked perfectly. “Oh” I thought to myself, feeling a little humbled…. and my mind wandered to visions of a society in which TV advertisements were replaced by helpful practical advice, and dangerous toxic chemicals were presented for what they were…. Wow! What would that be like?
Adam Waterhouse, 

Wrong about Ireland?

Dear Editors.

I was saddened by Richard Montague’s “The Easter Rising – 90 Years On” (April Socialist Standard). Montague’s contemptuous view is not shared by many socialists in Wales, to whom national liberation continues to be an aspiration. Even a bourgeois republic would be a blessed improvement and relief from eight centuries of thralldom, stagnating under English rule.

Whatever the faults of Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the five other signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence at Easter 1916, they were men of principle and courage dedicated to the well-being of the working people of all Ireland. We honour their memory, and the noble cause for which they fought and died. Pob bendith arnynt!
Alun Hughes, National Secretary, 
Plaid Gomwnydd Cymru/Communist Party of Wales.

Members of the Socialist Party in and from Wales, including those who speak Welsh, do not aspire to “national liberation” but to the emancipation of all humanity through the establishment of world socialism. It is not “English rule” that is responsible for the problems faced by workers in Wales, but capitalism. Which is why they would continue even if a “bourgeois republic” were to be established in Wales. Just look at Ireland – Editors.

Vauxhall election

Dear Editors,

In the April Socialist Standard, Ivan took the time and trouble to profile the Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey. He correctly describes how she mal-represents the workers of South London who may have voted for her.

What he omits is the most tragic part of the story. Unlike workers in every other constituency at the last election, those in Vauxhall had the opportunity to hear and vote for the case for socialism, because our candidate, Danny Lambert, stood against her in last year’s general election.

It is worth noting, that alone at the hustings, Comrade Lambert put forward the case for the genuine interest of the workers, unlike Hoey and all her fellow pretenders to office.

Perhaps any south London electors who read Ivan’s article may care to reflect and lament upon their choice; however some for them have the chance to put things right, as three socialist candidates are contesting the local elections in Lambeth this May, where workers will once again have the choice of voting to overthrow a rotten system.
Bill Martin (by email)

There is also a Socialist Party candidate standing in Kingston in the local elections on 4 May.

Pie in the sky (2006)

Book Review from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘What Price the Poor? William Booth, Karl Marx and the London Residuum’. By Ann Woodall, (Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005)

Booth and Marx arrived in London in 1849. Their reactions to the London poor, variously referred to as “the submerged tenth”, “the dangerous class” or “the residuum” were very different. Booth, inspired mainly by evangelical Christianity in his home-town of Nottingham, set up the Salvation Army and offered them pie in the sky when they died. Yet in its early years the “Sally Army” was militant in its defence of the poor. “The Salvation Army”, Engels noted, “revives the propaganda of early Christianity, appeals to the poor as the elect, fights capitalism in a religious way, and thus fosters an element of early Christian class antagonism which one day may become troublesome to the well-to-do who now find the ready money for it”. But it never did become a problem for the well-to-do. As Roy Hattersley wrote in his biography of Booth, his social policy “was intended to ameliorate the worst features of the existing order rather than to change it”. Early the next century, in George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara, the capitalist Undershaft responds to the accusation that he did not understand what the Salvation Army did for the poor: “Oh yes I do. It draws their teeth: that is enough for me as a man of business”.

Marx refereed to the residuum as the “relative surplus population” which was comprised of both the “reserve army of labour”, who could be employed, and the “lumpenproletariat” who could not. Woodall does a good job of explaining Marx’s viewpoint on the necessary role of poverty under capitalism and the revolutionary socialist alternative.
Lew Higgins

Wage-labour versus Capital (2006)

From the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote of the nub of the class struggle:
“[wage labour] creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”
The basic fact is that there is no way within the system of producing goods for sale by employing waged labour – i.e. capitalism – for the system to be run for the benefit of those who must work for a living. Their labour makes more chains of capital for themselves, and capital is always ever hungrier for more and more labour to be sacrificed to it. As Marx and Engels put it:
“Capital is a collective product, and only by . . . the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.”
To feed capital means to extend the number of people under its sway. As capital grows so too does the number of people who must sell their ability to work, i.e. the working class.

In a recently published document, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) projects that by 2020 there will be something like 32.1 million people working in the UK. That is a growth of around 6.7 percent from 2005. That is, a growth of 6.7 percent for the social power of capital over the next fifteen years. A 6.7 percent rise in the absolute size of the working class – if their figures are actually correct. This figure includes the unemployed, since the International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the workforce as anyone either employed or actively seeking and available for work. This last qualification is important.

The latest figures for the UK from the ONS state that there are 28.8 million people in employment. This includes not only the 3.7 million self-employed people but also the 24.9 million employees (among whom will be listed such people as Executive Directors of companies and Premiership footballers). The distinction between employee and self-employed is more fluid these days, since some people work as contractors and are nominally self-employed for tax purposes only. Likewise others whose self-employment means servicing another larger business on a regular basis. That is an employment rate of 74.5 percent of the available work age population. The overall UK population is 60 million. 20.2 percent of that employment is in the public sector, working for the state.

What this means, in detail, is a total of 926 million hours worked per week. This is part of a rising trend which sees the average worker in employment (full-time or part-time) spending 32.2 hours a week at their duties, not including the journey to work, thinking about work and recovering from work. So, not only are more people working – absolutely – but the people in work are working longer. The state of the class war in Britain is an increase in exploitation.

The main tool driving this exploitation onwards is the permanent pool of unemployment that has been a feature of the economy for the past thirty years. Currently there are around 1.5 million unemployed – i.e. people available for and looking for work – in the UK. Beyond that there are, as we have covered in this journal many times, people who want to work and who are not classified as unemployed but who are also a part of this mechanism.

Across the world a similar picture can be seen. As we reported in the March Socialist Standard, the ILO estimates that currently there are around 2.85 billion people in work (either employed, self-employed or an unpaid family member). In 2005 there were more people in work than in the previous year, up 1.5 percent – and up 16.5 percent since 1995.

And there are currently something like 192 million human beings who are unemployed. That is a global unemployment rate of 6.3 percent – a vast reserve army of labour – meaning that the global workforce available to capital encompasses more than half the human race. Between 1995 and 2005 this global workforce grew by 16.8 percent. Taken as a figure, it represents an incredible waste of the potential skills and talents available to our species.

The situation is worse though, since being in work is little guarantee of having a decent income. 1.4 billion of that 2.8 billion workers do not earn more than the equivalent of $2 a day for their family members. 520 million of them are taking in less than $1 a day. Obviously, the value of a dollar varies from country to country; but the real picture is that for over one sixth of the human race work offers no prospect of reward or opportunity for themselves or their family. Grinding, pitiless, toil is their lot – a lot demanded by capital.

These toiling billions helped produce an estimated growth in world wealth of 4.3 percent in 2005. Productivity per worker has increased by an average of 2 percent per year over recent years. The average total increase in wealth (productivity plus employment) has been 3.8 percent. Most of the growth in wealth, therefore, comes from increasing efficiency in productivity – that is more effective procedures and machinery being used, i.e. more capital being invested. However a substantial part of that increase in wealth has come from an increasing size of the working class. Much of this can be seen in the fact that 40 percent of the global workforce works in agriculture, an arduous and labour intensive branch of industry.

A simple whistle stop tour of the statistics shows clearly how little the working class is benefiting from capitalism and from the increasing wealth that we are producing. That so many hours, of so many lives are given over to capital is a testimony to the social power it exerts in the world.

The increasing growth, however, of the numbers brought under the sway of capital should give us hope – we who acknowledge ourselves as part of the working class are proclaiming our membership in the majority of the human race. As our numbers grow, as our knowledge of ourselves grows, then the prospect of building a union of that working class to emancipate itself grows also.

The total size of the workforce already exceeds 3 billion – and given that we can add in children and other dependents, we can safely affirm that over half the world shares a common experience of toil and exploitation under the direct control of capital. A clear majority who could benefit from a revolutionary change to the system and in whom the capacity to make such a change rests.

Mayday belongs to the three billion. It belongs to the workers – we have a world to win, and we can win it.
Pik Smeet

Greasy Pole: Honour rooted in dishonour (2006)

The Greasy Pole column from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been here before. We were here when New Labour were gleefully exploiting the Tories’ embarrassment over episodes of sleaze like Neil Hamilton and his cash for questions, while Tony Blair was encouraging the voters to believe that everything would be better, more open and honest, when he was at the head of the government. The party rosettes and the election manifestos had hardly been pushed down into the waste bins when that particular deception was exposed by the Bernie Ecclestone affair. Since then there has been a steady trickle of similarly discomforting events. And now there is the engulfing flood of revelations of “honours” being awarded in exchange for donations and loans to the party or to finance some of Blair’s desperate sticking plaster reforms of hospitals, schools… It is serious enough to involve the police, with one person arrested.

This raises the question of why there have been no prosecutions for something which has been illegal since 1925. It was Lloyd George who, as might be expected, was most infamously involved in what he described to a Tory MP as “… the cleanest way of raising money for a political party. The worst is that you cannot defend it in public”. In line with this he defended and promoted it in private, by appointing an agent, Maundy Gregory, to arrange the sale of honours – for, of course, a suitable commission. Gregory operated from a dauntingly expensive office in the heart of Whitehall, complete with uniformed flunkey. His price list varied from £80,000 to £120,000 for a viscountcy to £10,000 to £15,000 for a knighthood. Less affluent clients were also looked after; for them Lloyd George invented the OBE, which cost about £100. The Labour MP Victor Grayson, perhaps in an effort to revive a flagging political career, denounced the sale of honours through the work of “a monocled dandy with offices in Whitehall”. Soon afterwards he was mysteriously beaten up and then disappeared in suspicious circumstances, leading to the assumption that he had been murdered. Apart from such regrettable lapses Lloyd George and Gregory ran a civilised and profitable business, quite unthreatened by the fact that Lloyd George had sneered at the Lords as “… five hundred men, ordinary men chosen accidentally from among the unemployed”.

So blatant was the racket, from which Lloyd George made about £1.5million (about £150 million today) and Gregory about a fifth of that amount, that in 1925 it was deemed necessary to pass the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, which should have landed a whole clutch of politicians, Tory as well as Labour, in trouble. In fact the only person to have been prosecuted was Gregory himself, who in 1933 was sent to prison for two months. After this “punishment” he retired comfortably to France on a generous pension as the price of his silence. The Tory MP who brokered that deal was awarded with a knighthood by the Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who whinged that the Tory Leader Baldwin had involved him “… in a scandal by forcing me to give an honour because a man has paid £30,000 to get Tory headquarters and some Tories out of a mess”. Was this, we may wonder, the same Ramsay MacDonald who had once described himself as a socialist?

And that was not the end of the affair, because since Gregory went about his odious business the sale of honours, under many guises, has continued to thrive. The Wilson government created Lords Sainsbury and Hamlyn, both of them contributors to party finances. Notoriously, the owner of the company which manufactured the Gannex raincoat so beloved by Wilson was ennobled as Lord Kagan; he was later jailed for corruption. Then there was Sir Eric Miller, who avoided further attentions from the Fraud Squad by committing suicide. That many of the peerages arranged by the Wilson government were rewards for donations to Labour Party funds was confirmed by Joe Haines, who was a kind of predecessor to Alastair Campbell in Wilson’s Downing Street. Although there is evidence that Wilson was not entirely happy about his awards, feeling that he was under pressure from party fund raisers, his retirement nominations (the infamous “lavender list”) was full of party donors and cronies. Haines refused to be included in it because he “…did not wish to appear in the kind of list which had Joe Kagan and Eric Miller and others whom I regarded as undeserving”.

Among all these double dealings Ted Heath was something of an aberration. Although he reversed Wilson’s decision to stop giving out political honours he was so sparing in his awards that he thought he had “… caused some grumbling among party members”. During his three and three quarters years in office he nominated 34 new life peers, in contrast to the following five years of Labour government under Wilson and Callaghan when 144 “suitable” candidates were put up. The payback for what Heath called “grumbling” came when he was confronted with Thatcher in the 1975 leadership contest. A number of backbenchers seemed likely to have taken revenge for their disappointment at being overlooked for a comfortable, unchallenged seat in the Lords which they saw as the just reward for their long abasement to the needs of the party.

With the advent of Thatcher things in the Tory party got back to what might be called normal. The Iron Lady established a reputation second only to Lloyd George’s for systematically using the honours system to raise money for the party or to reward or cajole restless backbenchers. Between 1979 and 1985 eleven industrialists were made peers after donating a total of £1.9 million to party finances; among them were Victor Matthews who gave £210,000, shipping magnate William Cayzer who gave £410,531 and Frank Taylor of the building firm Taylor Woodrow who donated £367,510. Then there were the knighthoods for the likes of Keith Showering (£424,000) and Nigel Broakes (£210,000). It was all summed up by the former MP, Chief Whip and Foreign Secretary Francis Pym who, undeterred by the fact that he himself had been ennobled as Lord Pym, told the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life that “… a person had to put money where their mouth is to be considered for an honour”.

But all of that was supposed to have ended when New Labour arrived in Downing Street with their pledge to replace sleaze with transparency (politician’s jargon for motivated obscurity) and reward on merit (to be assessed on the size of a donation). In some cases big money has been given to support the new city academies, which are supposed to be an improvement on schools which were “failing” because their pupils were performing as might be expected from the area they live in, the depth of their family poverty and the bleakness of their life horizons. The latter-day Maundy Gregory with the job of organising these donations was Des Smith, a head teacher who was also a schools adviser to the government. Smith was persuaded to tell an under cover reporter from the Sunday Times that someone could expect to get one of a range of honours depending on how much money they put into the academies, from an OBE for one academy to a knighthood for two and a peerage – a “certainty” – for five. As a result of his venture into that particular branch of New Labour transparency Mr. Smith has been the subject of close interest from the police.

But in a sense donations to the academies are actually to the Labour Party, since they are designed to boost the party’s chances at the next election by financing one of Blair’s pet projects. Rather more straightforward were the loans from individuals, which the party has defended on the grounds that the money was lent at “commercial” rates – which raises the question of why they did not simply approach their bank instead of people who had rather a lot to gain through lending the money. For example there is Rod Aldridge, chairman of the company Capita which paid him £501,000 in 2004. He also has shares in the company worth some £60 million. Capita has contracts to supply “support services” to the Criminal Records Bureau (which was not among their finest achievements); it runs call centres for the BBC and the NHS and it collects the London Congestion Charge. Aldridge has lent the party £1 million; he got an OBE in 1994. Another lender is Barry Townsley, chairman of a stockbroking firm who was barred from the Stock Exchange trading floor in the 1980s after a scandal involving some share deals. He has lent the party £1 million. Townsley was recommended for a peerage by Tony Blair but he refused the offer, saying it was not worth the negative publicity.

It is clearly misleading to refer to the baubles and titles dished out to venal business people and party hangers-on as honours. There is nothing honourable about them, except that they conform to the morality of capitalism. This is a society based on, and ruled by, the principle that sale and profit is a celebration while redundancy and loss is a tragedy. Yet the mouthpieces of capitalism, when it suits them, tell us that there are rewards for a finer morality where human service counts above the crudities of the balance sheet. It is ironically appropriate that even capitalism’s “honours” are for sale. Yes we have been here before and will be here again.

Class struggles in France (2006)

From the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Doubtless many readers of the Socialist Standard will already know that the strikes and demonstrations in France last month had to do with the new work contracts which the de Villepin government introduced into the legislative process over three months ago. Some of this legislation is already on the statute books: the so-called Contrat Nouvelle Embauche (New Hiring Contract), for example, already covers more than 300,000 hirings in small enterprises. It was only over the infamous Contrat Première Embauche (First Hiring Contract) that President Chirac has back-pedalled  in the face of massive demonstrations. This ultra-liberal legislation was aimed at establishing more flexibility into what is often considered to be a highly protective and rigid system of employment relations in France. This legislation was justified in terms of the high levels of unemployment experienced by young people, the recent riots in France being presented as a wake-up call heard only by right-wing politicians but ignored by the more consensual politicians on the left. French workers were being asked to believe that the scrapping of legal protection against arbitrary hiring and firing was in their own interest.

Both the CNE and the CPE established the principle of abrupt firings with little or no legal protection for workers during a two-year trial period. The CNE affects workers in small enterprises and can be applied to workers of any age whilst the CPE was aimed at young workers up to 26 years of age. Once the two-year period is up (if it ever is), the happy workers will be offered permanent contracts, so everything will turn out well, in theory. Other legal dispositions packaged under the misleading term ‘law of equal opportunities’ include the possibility of hiring apprentices at 14 years of age and the possibility of inducing 15-year-olds to work at night. This partial return to nineteenth-century practices, we are told, would loosen up hiring practices and significantly reduce the high levels of unemployment recorded in the statistics produced by governmental agencies. The cost, of course, will be a significant increase in the insecurity experienced by workers who risk being laid off at any moment. This means that they will soon be unable to find decent accommodation, accumulate pension rights or simply plan for the future in such a way as to constitute normal family life. The contrast with the existing legislation centred on the permanent contract with built-in pension provision and a range of social benefits could not be sharper.

Big Lie
The difficulty of getting workers to swallow the big lie that job insecurity is a good thing being obvious, the government resorted to an ideological broadside aimed at setting one category of worker against another. The students who sparked off the movement against the CPE have been presented as privileged middle-class youth relatively unconcerned with the dire situation faced by immigrants in the run-down sink estates of the suburbs. The de Villepin government asked us to believe that these contracts were designed specifically to help a population of workers which has been consigned to suburban dumping grounds for more than three decades. (The fact that de Villepin waited for more than three weeks of demonstrations before he discovered this ideological fig-leaf shows how clumsy the public relations job has been.) Another strategy was to present French workers as dyed-in-the-wool conservatives defending a status quo made irrelevant by globalisation, the highly indebted nature of the French state and the need to remain in the vanguard of the technological revolution.

Inevitably, the ‘phenomenal success’ of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ in reducing the level of unemployment to a mere 5 percent was wheeled out as a counter-example to French timidity, notwithstanding the fact that the definition of unemployment in Britain has been changed over 20 times since the 1970s in order to disguise the real situation. Workers in Britain are well aware that the unemployment and insecurity which they see all around them does not find its way into the official statistics. The deregulation of the labour market in Great Britain over the last two decades has resulted in a doubling in recorded levels of official poverty and a new category of working poor has emerged to replace the indemnified unemployed. The recent mass strike of over 1.5 million public sector workers clearly shows that workers in Britain are by no means living in a neo-liberal cornucopia.

This said, it’s true that many French workers have enjoyed a level of protection denied to many new entrants into the labour market, young workers and immigrants. The permanent work contract provides access to a range of social benefits and protections which are envied by those workers who hop from one short-term contract to another. The government obviously hoped that this would constitute a source of resentment and jealousy which could be exploited. It’s true that workers on permanent contracts are difficult to fire, given that breaking a contract in these cases is very expensive, compensation being proportional to the number of years worked. But this tactic has backfired: even short-term contracts are better than the almost total absence of legal guarantees contained in the CPE and CNE. Besides, over half a million ‘baby boom’ workers are now leaving the labour force every year heading for retirement, so the level of youth unemployment is bound to fall. The question is whether or not these relatively secure jobs will remain on offer to the new entrants.

The hard fact is that it’s quite clear that in the long run greater job insecurity is on the cards for everyone. Long term permanent jobs – jobs for life – are getting scarcer and even the public sector has been placed on a slimfast diet. The bosses want workers who can be hired and fired in reaction to sudden and unexpected changes in demand in markets where every sale counts. Industrial jobs have been disappearing fast to be replaced by service sector jobs which are notoriously badly-paid and insecure. These trends do not respect political frontiers. The left-wing government under Lionel Jospin imposed a shorter working week in exchange for greater flexibility in working patterns, production workers being placed on call for work during the weekends or in the evenings to meet sudden fluctuations in demand with disastrous consequences for family life. Real wage levels are stagnant or falling. Pension rights have been reduced. A capitalism which attempted to adjust fluctuations in world demand by modifying monetary exchange rates in accordance with the rules laid down by the International Monetary Fund has been replaced by a highly volatile monetary system in which adjustments are made by hiring and firing production workers. The new generation of workers is facing a future where they will be considered simply as commodities, labour power, to be bought and sold in line with demand, all human safeguards having been removed.

The movement
The movement against the new employment legislation was initiated by students at the universities of Poitiers and Rennes. Despite superficial resemblances, these students do not have the same profile as the relatively privileged students who took to the barricades in May 1968. Nowadays university students in France tend to come from the more threatened sections of that section of the working class known as “the middle-class”. Elite students usually go to the so-called ‘Grandes ėcoles’ where they are guaranteed access to a world-class education, contacts into the upper-reaches of the civil service and entry into well-paid jobs in multinational corporations. They are even paid a salary whilst they study. By way of contrast, students in the universities tend to finance their studies by doing Mac-jobs, grants being rare and piss-poor. About 40 percent of students drop out in the first couple of years, disgusted by the ramshackle organisation of the faculties and courses given by a small army of hourly-paid teachers who are already living in the state of insecurity that the young are fighting against. Those who do succeed in this often unimaginative system are usually rewarded by a succession of badly-paid or even unpaid training courses, quite rightly presented as an apprenticeship into the real world of work (exploitation).

It is this threatened section of the so-called “middle-class” which has finally come out in open revolt against the absence of perspectives which capitalism has been trying to get them to accept. What has surprised many commentators has been the brilliant organisation and determination of students formerly presented as apathetic and passive by their elders. Rather than seeking the help of professional politicians and full-time student unionists, the students set up their own system of co-ordination with elected delegates and they undertook mammoth debates on the issues involved in the new legislation. (Some of the debates lasted 72 hours.) Taking advantage of the new forms of communication offered by internet and high-speed trains they improvised a nationwide movement which quickly led to the closure of 60 of the 90-odd universities in France and the partial closure of dozens of high schools. The various attempts made to establish links with production workers have resulted in a spectacular leap forward in political awareness, workers suffering from poverty wages and unemployment having been invited to speak at student assemblies. Safety inspectors, experts on employment problems and workers in jobcentres have been given a chance to talk of their experience. Outreach into the high schools in the run-down suburbs resulted in the presence of thousands of black and Arab youths in the demonstrations, offering an apprenticeship in peaceful political agitation to youngsters subject to social stigma and popular prejudice.

Anyway, it was fun seeing the conservative government caught with its pants down. De Villepin’s authoritarian imposition of the new legislation via the undemocratic procedure of decrees failed to impress the masses. His popularity, never very great, is now in free fall and his political career is seriously compromised. Nobody ever elected him anyway. Chirac, a burnt-out old wheeler-dealer elected faute de mieux in a second round play-off with Le Pen, promulgated the CPE law while at the same time promising to amend it in such a way as to remove some of the more contentious aspects. In the end he had to withdraw it. The short-term winner has been Chirac’s sworn enemy and would-be successor, the insanely ambitious Sarkozy.  As you can imagine, the cartoonists had a field day and the only people not laughing are the leaders of the French ‘socialist’ party who are increasingly filling the vacuum in their political programme with precisely those Blairite nostrums that the young are refusing.

The moment the trade union movement was reluctant to get engaged in a full-blown conflict with the government. Doubtless this has something to do with the fiasco of its mobilisation to counter the government’s pension ‘reforms’ three years ago but it could also reflect the fact that the students have done a good job in discrediting the prime minister and dividing the government. However, the unions could have shown a little bit more muscle. Although the CPE has been withdrawn, the employers seem very attached to the CNE which constitutes a real threat to workers and, it may be added, to the ability of unions to organise workers. Indeed, the MEDEF, the bosses’ union, wants to generalise the CNE to all sectors and age-groups. 

The students, future workers, tried to expand their movement to incorporate all the various categories of workers but they clearly failed to generalize their demands adequately. Vague slogans against the precarious society more often than not failed to reach those workers who have been living from hand to mouth for some time. The reason for this is fairly simple: the general outlook of many of the poorer workers is constrained by the absence of qualifications and the urgent need to find cash. By staying largely at the level of a simple defence of their own immediate interests (in a movement which had all the strengths and weaknesses of spontaneity) the students were confronted by the rapid demobilisation of the movement as the examination season looms into sight. The movement was, after all, a student one albeit with a considerable amount of grass-roots support from the trade unions. The suspicion that the aim of the movement was simply that of defending the value of academic qualifications – what distinguishes the students from the unskilled workers – is, in this sense, inescapable. The unions, for their part, were only too glad to keep the movement within the narrow bounds of the defence of wages and conditions, notwithstanding the considerable level of economic insecurity which already exists. On the other hand there were many hopeful signs that the students were getting to grips with a more general malaise and that the movement was groping towards a wider perspective. It is at this point that the absence of a deeper understanding of what capitalism implies and of the need for a socialist movement embracing all categories of wage-earner was at its most glaring.

A Personal Note
I am not alone in having been taken completely by surprise by the students’ movement. The rapidity of its expansion and its extension to other categories in the population was nothing short of incredible. After the heavy and depressing riots of November with their mindless violence and undercurrent of racial tension, it has been comforting to see an outburst of political activity clearly directed against the poverty and loneliness of capitalist society. Despite the images shown on television, the massive demonstrations were on the whole good-natured and peaceful. The mixing together of young and old, and absence of sectarian politics, and the generally high level of debate was particularly encouraging. Although the movement has not taken a socialist direction, there is clearly a lot of discontent out there seeking a political expression and there does seem to be something of a resumption of the class struggle in Europe as a whole.
Malcolm Mansfield

Our May Day message (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day is a pagan festival that has survived from the mists of pre-history, changing as society has changed. It was one of the few pagan festivals the Christian Church did not annexe for its own ceremonies, and the welcome to summer and fruitfulness continued through the centuries. The meaning of the old Druid celebration was forgotten, and the event became ritualized, with the early morning gathering of greenery, the crowning of the Queen of the May, and dancing around the maypole.

In 1644 the Puritans banned it, their consciences no doubt shocked by the dissipation of so much energy in dancing and merriment, that could have been more profitably expended in the developing means of production. With the Restoration the maypoles returned, and on the first of May the common people once more danced on their village greens and the streets of the towns. But social forces stronger than the laws of King and Parliament were stirring. Capitalist production was changing, and destroying, the customs of centuries. Men, women, and children, were forced into Blake’s dark satanic mills, mines, and sweat shops. May Day became as every other day, back breaking, mind numbing and miserable. Only in isolated rural areas did the celebration linger, a dim folk memory of unity and happiness.

In 1889 at the Paris Congress the Second International was formed. A resolution was passed affirming that the limitation of the working day was the first step in the emancipation of the working class, and May Day was set aside for international labour demonstrations. Behind the scenes in the labour movement in England there was conflict. The Social Democratic Federation* which had boycotted the Paris Congress and allied itself with the French Possibilists tried to prevent the demonstration. The London Trades Council, the representative of the older craft unions, supported a shorter working day on the basis of free collective bargaining. The newer trade unions wanted the eight hour day to come about by legislative regulation. However both the SDF and the London Trades Council eventually joined in the demonstration though with separate platforms. The story of this struggle was told by Engels in his article The Fourth of May in London, first published in Vienna’s Arbeiter-Zeitung May 23, 1890.

The first international May Day celebrations held in London on May 4th 1890 saw a procession to Hyde Park of over 100,000 workers in support of an eight hour day. Since then May Day has been haunted by the spirit of reform.

Year after year workers have marched behind banners seeking not the overthrow of the capitalist system, but only to protest against its effects. They have called for a “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, for better housing, for cuts in unemployment, for pension schemes, for better health and education services, for disarmament, for “rights", for racial and sexual “equality”. Every political careerist and opportunist has scrambled for a place on the May Day platform. Sworn enemies in the labour movement join together on this one day and address each other in terms of brotherly love. Lofty sentiments and pious resolutions fill the air. Labour leaders who in May 1914 and May 1939 paid lip service to international working class solidarity, only months later were urging the working class to take up arms and slaughter their fellow workers in other countries.

Hitler staged an official “Labour Day” in May 1934, with the hammer and sickle, alongside the swastika. If these seem strange marching companions after the Communist Party whitewash of the last 40 years, it should be remembered that at the time of the last free elections in Germany in 1933 both the Nazis and the German Communist Party were united in their hatred of what they both called “bourgeois democracy”. Since the early years of so-called communism in Russia, the Russian ruling class have cynically used the May Day parade to display their armed might. Whatever flowery greetings are sent from Moscow, the silent message of the tanks, missiles, and marching forces, is intended for the ruling classes of rival powers.

If we now have shorter working hours, unemployment benefits, old age pensions, and comprehensive education, some of the problems we face are even more terrible. What worker who demonstrated on May Day 1890 for an eight hour day, could have imagined that a weapon would be developed, capable of incinerating every man, woman, and child, in a 40 kilometre radius? The lesson is clear. Marching for short term aims has not brought emancipation to the working class.

Good intentions on the part of the working class are of no value without an understanding of how capitalism produces their problems and why only Socialism can solve them. That is why the Socialist Party of Great Britain must stand apart. We cannot demonstrate in solidarity with the Labour Party, Communist Party, SWP, IMG, WRP, and all the other protest groups who mouth their hollow promises of social reform on May Day platforms. We seek the end of the system that brings war, poverty, crises, unemployment, and misery to the majority of the world's population.

Our May Day message to the working class is therefore our message for every other day. Those who do not own the means of production are nothing but the slaves of those who do.

The forces of production long ago reached the point where they could produce the abundance necessary for the change from private ownership into social ownership. The interdependence of society has outgrown local and national bounds and is world wide.

The working class of the world must organise politically to dispossess the capitalist class of the means of production and distribution and establish common ownership.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain sends greetings to our fellow working men and women of all nations and races and urges them to join with the world Socialist movement in order to free society from the tyranny of class rule. Our common task is the establishment of Socialism.
Alice Kerr

* Some members of the SDF who wanted to work only for Socialism instead of immediate aims, and who were against the SDF associating with the second international or the French Possibilists, left in 1904 and formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain — They were dubbed by their opponents the "impossibilists”.

Trade unions and the law (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trade unions arise out of the class struggle between those who own the means of living and the working class, "between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess".

On the industrial field the struggle takes the form of agitation and the use of strikes to influence bargaining over wages and working conditions. Eventually political action will be taken to establish a system of society based upon common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by, and in the interest of, the whole community—the purpose for which the Socialist Party of Great Britain exists.

United front

Workers early realised that they could strengthen their position by forming organisations to present a united front to the employers, to conduct strikes or resist lock-outs, and to give protection to individual members against victimisation. This did not mean that the struggle became one between equal forces, for in the background was the government, always there to use its control of the legislature, the police and armed forces, to protect capitalist ownership. Power is in the hands of the government but how, and with what degree of ruthlessness they use it depends on a variety of political and other considerations. In the general capitalist interest they will, on occasion, put pressure on particular employers to make concessions to strikers (as President Carter is reported to have done in the American Miners’ Strike) but never so as to jeopardise capitalism. It was possible in India for Mrs. Gandhi’s government to break a strike by ordering the arrest of tens of thousands of railwaymen, but it was not practicable for President Carter’s administration to contemplate arresting 160,000 miners, even though they defied a court order to return to work. In Britain we have seen a Labour Government use troops to break a firemen’s strike.

Alongside the general purpose for which Governments use their power in industrial disputes is the question of the extent to which, and the way in which, practice is governed by trade union laws. A simple, but erroneous, view held by some politicians and some trade unionists, is that the law is the last word on any trade union activity, so that if the law prohibits something it will not take place and that if the law permits something all will be well.

It is erroneous because there are occasions when masses of angry workers will strike in defiance of even savage penalties. During the two world wars there were large numbers of illegal strikes many of them successful. Governments sometimes chose to turn a blind eye and refrain from enforcing laws, as with the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 and 1919, which prescribed a fine or imprisonment on electricity and gas workers for certain strikes. It was hardly ever used, and when the Labour Government in 1950 prosecuted some gas workers under that Act and under Emergency Power Regulations and a conviction was obtained, the Government had second thoughts in face of protests from their supporters, and the proceedings were dropped. (These provisions were repealed by the Heath Government.) Also, it is hardly necessary to say that the fact that strikes are legal does not mean that the workers are bound to win.

Limitations of law

The early history of British trade unions shows the limitations of the law. Before 1824 trade unions were illegal under the Combination Laws, but they went on being formed and operating.
  "That was the difficulty which both the employers and the government faced. Pass laws against Combinations as they might, spy on the workers as they in fact did, nothing could stop the workpeople from organising to resist the degradation of heir standard of life”. (Two centuries of Trade Unionism, TUC 1952, p. 15)
The question of trade union law has been raised again by a court decision, confirmed in appeal to the House of Lords, that under the Post Office Act, postal workers commit an offence if they ‘‘wilfully delay or detain the mails”, and therefore cannot legally strike. A Bill to remove this disability is before Parliament with Government backing.

Periodic setbacks

This repeats a familiar pattern in trade union history; a pattern of relaxation of trade union law, interrupted however by periodic setbacks, often brought about by court decisions upsetting accepted interpretations; as for example the court decision in 1867, depriving Unions of legal protection against theft of their funds and the decision in 1906 in favour of the Taff Vale Railway Company in its action for damages against the railway unions. The way in which these setbacks have been dealt with through amending legislation also follows a pattern; that of the unions doing a deal with a political party; with the Liberals in 1906 and 1913; with the Labour Party in 1946 (repeal of the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act, passed by the Tories after the General Strike) and with the Labour Party in 1974 (repeal of the Tory Industrial Relations Act).

The concessions in the form of relaxations of the law made during the past two centuries have not been made without expectation of compensatory gain; some members of the government which legalised strikes in 1824 had even been persuaded that unions would not take advantage of it. When a political party has made a deal with the unions about amending the law, it has counted on electoral support in return, but the employers have also had an interest. As the unions established themselves under the protection of the law and increased their membership, the big employers of labour not only came to terms with the unions, but saw that they too have need of trade union organisation because they must have some body with which to negotiate, and because unions can be drawn into schemes for raising productivity.

Frederick Engels, surveying the changes in the second half of the nineteenth century, had already noticed the new attitudes of employers. While commenting on the way the conditions of the workers organised in trade unions had “remarkably improved since 1848” Engels had this to say about the employers:-
  Thus a gradual change came over the relations between the classes. The Factory Acts, once the bugbear of all manufacturers, were not only willingly submitted to, but their expansion into Acts regulating almost all trades was tolerated. Trades Unions, hitherto considered inventions of the devil himself, were now petted and patronised as perfectly legitimate institutions, and as useful means of spreading sound economical doctrines amongst the workers. Even strikes, than which nothing had been more nefarious up to 1848, were now gradually found out to be occasionally very useful, especially when provoked by the masters themselves at their own time. (1892 Preface to Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844).
The process has gone further since Engels wrote.

Running capitalism

The unions are more occupied with promoting productivity schemes and export drives and more closely involved with the Labour Party in the running of capitalism than ever they were with the Liberal Party in its heyday. Spreading (capitalistically) “sound economical doctrines” among the workers through the unions flourishes still, as witness the way the “wage restraint” has been put over by successive Labour and Tory Governments.
Edgar Hardcastle

An Appeal For Funds (1978)

Party News from the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been appealing in the Socialist Standard for funds to help us meet the printer’s bill for the new edition of ‘Questions of the Day’.

We find that in addition we need at least £500 per month just to “keep the Wolf from the door” and we are calling on all concerned to send the very largest donations possible direct to the Treasurer at 52, Clapham High Street London SW4.

Readers are also urged to favourably consider arranging through their own banks to pay a regular monthly amount into the SPGB Special account No. 02823446 at the National Westminster Bank, Clapham North Branch (50 21 00) and advise the Party Funds Organisers. This can easily be arranged by your local Bank, or we will send you a Banker’s Order form upon request.

They are not so ignorant (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
“A socialist society requires an economy developed to the point where production for need supersedes production for profit. Socialist humanity will no longer produce goods to be exchanged for money on the market. It will produce use values distributed to all members of society in order to satisfy their needs”.  
Trotskyist leader Ernest Mandel in From Class Society to Communism, just published by Ink Links (p. 143).

The French Non-Revolution (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

France ten years ago this month. Barricades in the streets of Paris. Ten million workers on strike. Factory occupations. No wonder some people were misled into thinking that a revolutionary situation existed which might have ended in the take-over of power by the working class. But in fact this was never even the remotest possibility. No revolutionary situation existed.

Students and workers were certainly, for different reasons, discontented but mere discontent, however deep, is not the same thing as a positive desire for revolutionary change. A real revolutionary situation will only exist when the great majority of wage and salary earners have come to consciously want and understand the revolutionary change which the establishment of Socialism in place of capitalism will represent, and will express itself as democratic political action via the ballot box and not as barricades and factory occupations. This was not the case in France in May 1968.

The students’ leaders — “Dany le Rouge” (Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now settled down as a lawyer in Germany), Alain Krivine (still a leading French Trotskyist), Alain Geismar (later a Maoist, for a while), etc.—together with a minority of students proclaimed themselves “revolutionaries” and issued appeals to the workers to take power and overthrow capitalism. They were encouraged in this by the fact that it was undoubtedly their occupation of the Sorbonne and subsequent clashes with the police that had sparked off the general strike. But a majority even of students were only discontented with the archaic French university system and would have been satisfied with reforms in this field—and were in fact to be when the Gaullist government later changed the system.

As for the workers, even though the first factory occupation, that of Sud-Aviation at Nantes, occurred in an area with a strong anarcho-syndicalist tradition, their demands were strictly of a trade-union nature: higher wages and shorter working hours. The trade union leaders, including those of the Communist Party dominated CGT, realised this and used the general strike as a means of extracting improvements in wages and conditions from employers and the government.

Industrial action

From this point of view, that of an industrial action to get the employers to disgorge a little more of the wealth they had taken from the workers, the strike can be rated a success. But even though it was part of the class struggle, and as such had the support of the SPGB (expressed in a leaflet issued by our Executive Committee in French), the general strike had nothing to do with Socialism. The factories had been occupied, not with a view to taking them over and producing for use instead of profit, but simply as a means of bringing pressure to bear on employers to concede some improvements on the industrial field.

The non-revolutionary situation in France was to be confirmed in the elections De Gaulle called in June after the strike was over. His Gaullist party and other openly conservative groupings swept back to power in a landslide victory which gave them 359 of the 487 seats in the National Assembly.

Student leaders

The student leaders accused the Communist Party of “betraying the revolution”. Cohn-Bendit referred to them as “stalinist scum” and they replied by calling him a “foreign anarchist”. But this was an illogical accusation. For you can only betray something if you actually stand for it. But the French Communist Party had long ceased to be the Bolshevik vanguard party the student leaders wanted it to behave like and had become thoroughly reformist, though remaining a dangerously disciplined party dictatorially controlled by its leaders. And if they had seized power the student leaders would not have liked the result: the establishment of a bureaucratic state capitalist regime as in Russia. Or would they? Cohn-Bendit’s position as an anarchist was clear on this point but the others were Trotskyists or Maoists wedded to the idea of a vanguard party seizing power and ruling in the name of the workers—in other words, a Leninist dictatorship over the proletariat. From this point of view the workers were sensible to have ignored the students’ appeals and to have used the strike to pursue industrial ends only.

The May events did however have a profound effect on the thinking of the “extreme left”, and not only in France. For the wildest dreams of students who make up the bulk of the membership of all Trotskyist and Maoist sects — as someone once put it, left to themselves students are capable of acquiring only a Leninist consciousness!—seemed to have been confirmed : they, a student vanguard, had been the catalyst that had set the working class in motion. If this had been done once, they argued, it could be done again, and they changed their tactics to trying to influence the working class directly instead of through “the mass party of the working class”, which in France meant for them the Communist Party and the CGT. Far from appreciating being used as an access to workers for Trotskyists the French CP did not hesitate even to employ physical violence against Trotskyist literature sellers at meetings and outside factories. Not that this shook the Trotskyists’ pigheaded resolve to be where they thought the workers were.


The May events thus led to Trotskyists in all countries, including Britain, abandoning the tactic of “entryism” into Communist and Labour parties (though not that of electoral support for them) and to come out into the open as independent groups in their own right. 1968 marked the start of a process which has led in Britain to the appearance on the political scene of a “Socialist Workers Party” and of a “Workers Revolutionary Party”, direct descendants of groups which throughout the fifties and sixties had been accusing us of being “sectarian” and “cut off from the working class” for maintaining a party independent of and opposed to the Labour Party.

We drew a different, indeed opposite, lesson from the May events. The continuation of capitalism in France confirmed that as long as the working class are not conscious socialists capitalism is safe. Socialism can only be established by democratic political action through the ballot box when once the vast majority of wage and salary earners have come to want and understand it. The emancipation of the working class, as Marx had pointed out years ago, must be the work of the working class itself and not of some self- appointed minority.
Adam Buick

Little Children Suffer (1978)

From the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Closely rivalling, if not outdoing, sex as the advertising industry’s most popular theme is the home and the family. There is, of course a difference; sexually orientated ads work on promise — the near-nude rolling in the surf, the tightly jeaned female bottoms — while those based on the home are about fulfillment. The image of a smart, comfortable home with affectionate parents and secure children is used to sell toothpaste, breakfast cereals, soup, scouring compounds . . . Because the family, as a place of care, of security, where children grow into happy, well adjusted adults, is one of capitalism’s essential ideals.

Well a recent survey by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (The Child’s Guardian—Winter 1977) estimated that 110 children —mostly babies—are battered to death every year and that beyond these at least 7,700 children receive non-accidental injuries of varying degrees of severity. The NSPCC’s annual report for 1976 said that during twelve months they actually found 30,878 children potentially at risk of neglect or injury.

Concern about child abuse is a comparatively modern fashion; for much of the span of property society children have been regarded as wilfully deficient adults and therefore deserving of whatever punishment their elders liked to inflict on them. As a child king, Edward VI was regularly flogged; Charles I managed to interpose a whipping boy to take his treatment. In the 17th century Massachusetts and Connecticut had a law which prescribed the death penalty for unruly children (nowadays, in England, they are likely only to be put into prison). The case of Mary Ellen, in the 1860s, which saved her from parental brutality, succeeded only on the grounds that she was an animal; while it was illegal to maltreat animals the rights of parents to chastise their children was inviolable.

It was entirely natural, then, that the Industrial Revolution should extend the field of child abuse. In Halifax, Defoe admired four year olds earning their living like grown ups, which meant that in the mines and factories they worked 14, 16, or even 18 hours a day, whipped at their machines to keep them awake and often subjected to imaginative torture by sadistic overseers. The tradition was carried on in the schools, where children were persistently beaten and humiliated to make them learn or behave themselves. It was not only poor kids who suffered; Lord Shaftesbury recalled the school he was sent to, at the age of seven, at the start of the 19th century:
  The memory of that place makes me shudder . . . I think I never saw such a wicked school before or since. The place was bad, wicked, filthy, and the treatment was starvation and cruelty.
(The Prevention of Cruelty to Children — Leslie George Housden)
The agitation over child abuse, which gathered strength in the late 19th century, was largely an upper class affair, typified by a letter in The Times in 1884 which bemoaned “. . . the cruel neglect towards children among our degraded and criminal classes.” From this movement the NSPCC was born, to grow up with the (undeserved) image of the black-uniformed inspector calling in response to anonymous and groundless complaints from malicious neighbours.

Since then there has been a progressive refinement of the techniques of dealing with cruelty towards children, beginning with the deficiencies existing in the methods of detecting the condition some of which were hair raising. One girl, who had herself battered her child, gave an example:
  My elder sister, I think she could have been classed as a battered child, though you didn’t have them then, did you?
(Children in Danger — Jean Renvoize)
Doctors and social workers were pretty slow to detect the signs of baby battering, even misinterpreting something as apparently obvious as healed fractures showing up on an X-ray plate. Now the paediatrician works as a specialist in his own right, but under the restraints common to anyone whose job is to minister to capitalism’s casualties. And, as the NSPCC indicate, a substantial amount of child cruelty still goes undetected.

In 1961 an American doctor, Henry Kempe, published his theory that baby battering might be regarded in the same way as a disease, in that its presence was indicated by certain symptoms which collectively made up what he called the battered baby syndrome. The first symptom may be the act of the parents bringing their child to hospital with, say, a large bruise on its face and a story about it falling off the settee a couple of days before.

Questioning the parents may then reveal other symptoms—one or both of them may have had a bad experience at the hands of their parents; they may make excessive demands on their children for obedience or achievement or uncritical affection. And in among this mixture of physical and emotional problems there are also often social ones, part and parcel of the working class status of the battering parents.

An NSPCC research project in 1976 (At Risk) found that an unwanted pregnancy, marital difficulties and bad housing were predisposing factors in baby battering :
   Many of the parents were living in poor, cramped accommodation, unsuitable for the arrival of a new baby. Hence they spent much of the pregnancy desperately seeking an alternative, which must have added to their general insecurity and anxiety.
If the battered baby syndrome tells us anything it is that human behaviour is largely a response to the conditions the human being finds himself in.

The growth of knowledge about child abuse should cause some questioning of the assumption — on which many of the decisions in domestic and juvenile courts are based — that the best and safest place for a child is at home with its natural parents and that the greatest institution ever developed by man is the monogamous marriage which is, was and shall be.

In fact the family has been a changing organism in society reflecting development in the mode of production. Frederick Engels (The Origin of the Family) describes the monogamous family as: ". . . the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions — on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property”, and points out that it was the intensification of production in agriculture, metalwork and later slavery — all of them the preserve of the male — which finished of the primitive social order dominated by kinship groups, with group marriage and matriarchal families.

The observations of primitive society by Margaret Mead (Coming of Age in Samoa) revealed households consisting not just of biological families but also of all those related in any way to the headman or his wife. One effect of this was that children could wander freely and always find food, shelter and protection because they were never out of surveillance of some older relative. If a child was under pressure in one household it could always move to another — a safety valve against over-punitive discipline:
  A girl whose father has beaten her over-severely, in the morning will be found living in haughty sanctuary, two hundred feet away, in a different household. So cherished is this system of consanguineous refuge, that an untitled man or a man of lesser rank will beard the nobler relative who comes to demand a runaway child.
As the Samoan child was passed from one relative to another it learned that no one person, or small group of people, represented care, security or authority, it grew up without the need to invest a great deal in any one relationship; at the same time as passions like jealousy were practically eliminated so was my strong emotional attachment. It couldn’t have been more different from Woman's Own; in Samoan society the successful people were those whose affections were spread thinly over many others, in contrast to modern capitalism’s ideal of an intense focussing of affection onto a small group.

One conclusion from this is that conformity and deviance are very much subjective concepts, fashioned by the demands of the social system within which they exert their pressures on people. The tragedy in what capitalism does to us is that we have the worst of all possible worlds. The monogamous family is restrictive and repressive; it encourages intense involvement over a small scale but it does not bring the commensurate rewards which the moralists claim for it. To begin with it is a perilously fragile arrangement; for example children who conform and form a dependence upon their parents are grievously damaged if anything goes wrong with that relationship. The family of capitalism copes only with difficulty with the natural pressures of the system, which amount to the everyday burdens of working class poverty. If the bough breaks, and the cradle falls, there is rarely a safety net below.

At the same time the family of capitalism is under pressure to become ever more private and introverted. In face of the popular notion that it is breaking up, an increasing amount of money is being diverted into cementing the family together. Mortgages, washing machines and television sets are not just ways of spending money; they are also inducements to use, or enjoy, the results of that spending behind your own front door. And if you must go out you can always keep yourself intact as a unit within the mobile privacy of the motor car.

When we intensify this situation of stress with the normal pressures of survival under capitalism — the need to keep, and progress in, a job for example — we have something which can realise its explosive potential in violence among the electrical gadgets or in a battered baby lying in the G Plan bedroom. Jean Renvoize puts it starkly, as an everyday problem in a working class home when a baby arrives:
  Time and again battering parents report sleeping problems. and no one consistently deprived of their proper quota of sleep can be said to be fully themselves.
Capitalism works by deception and among the cruellest is its family, which it presents as a haven but which is often a torture chamber. Organisations like the NSPCC, typical of their kind, sit Canute-like, puzzled and dismayed at the ever-encroaching tide of reality. Panicked, they splash among superficialities — bad housing or emotional tangles or misconceptions about a child’s abilities. Capitalism is a society in which some violence earns a gaol sentence and some wins medals. It cannot provide for its children or its adults and it will go down in history as having much blood on its hands.