Friday, May 29, 2020

The Labour Party Supports Capitalism (1995)

From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Labour Party stands for capitalism:
“A dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper, with a thriving private sector and high quality public services, where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them. ” 
The Socialist Party stands for socialism:
"The establishment of a system of society based upon the common 
ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for
producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole
Clause Four is dead. Long live Clause Four! The Labour leadership has decided that it must at all costs win the next election, and that the best way to do this is to modernise, to fudge, to adopt a new credo, to waffle, to change, to water down, to reform, to flannel. All of these words—and many others—have been used by friends and foes of the Labour Party to describe the intent and effect of its new Clause Four

All the discussion, the evaluation, the commentary, the prolix prose would seem to suggest that something really significant has changed in Labour Party policy. It hasn't. To amend slightly the observation of Michael Mansfield QC, it took the Webbs 60 words to say that the Labour Party offers only the reform of capitalism—it takes Blair 300

The new Clause Four mentions “socialist” once (as a label for the Labour Party) and capitalism not at all. The “socialist” label is transparently a con because the new version makes it clear (insofar as it makes anything clear) that the money and profit system will remain under labour: “the enterprise of the market . . . the rigour of competition . . . a thriving private sector". No matter that such guarantees of free-market capitalism are accompanied by references to co-operation and public service—this kind of mixed economy is offered by the other parties supporting capitalism, too.

It is instructive (or at least amusing) to read the reactions of some Tories to Clausc Four Mark 2. Douglas Hurd is reported as warning Conservatives to be ready to repel piratical labour boarders: "Mr Blair is trying to board the Conservative ship and run up his own flag on our masthead. ”

This picture of a swashbuckling Blair contrasts with his bleak record of selecting questions to the prime Minister. According to Matthew Parris (Times, 14 March) Blair has "never backed any public sector pay demand. . . not supported the teachers . . . never once complained about welfare benefits for the poor: about poverty; or about homelessness . . . never directly contested any past privatisation . . . never touched the subject of labour relations or trades unions ". Instead he has most often made points about fat cats, European unity and Tory sleaze.

The real question for electors is not whether Bambi’s blather is more likely to win votes for Labour than the Webbs’ more concise but antiquated Clause Four. It is whether any party that, openly or by inference, promises only the reform of capitalism is worth supporting Previous Labour governments were elected on programmes that were manifestly much less conservative than Blair's—but they still froze workers’ wages, broke strikes, cut welfare benefits, and deployed weapons of mass destruction against the populations of other countries.

Labour leaders need to have followers, as indeed do the leaders of all the other, anti-socialist, parties. The tragedy is that the followers, against their best interest, want to be followers. Until they decide to think and act for themselves, we can expect the clauses of the policy statements to get longer and the vision of the leaders to get shorter.
Stan Parker

Football Bungs & Sleaze (1995)

From the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is so much money involved in football nowadays — not only from takings at the turnstiles but from sponsorship of everything from trophies to televised matches — that the actual playing of the game seems to be a by-product. Is it any wonder that capitalism's business 'ethics' has permeated every aspect of the sport?
It barely makes the headlines if politicians are involved in bribery or corruption, and certainly no-one reacts by saying how unexpected or out-of-character it all is. But rumours of bribery and back-handers in sport still bring out shocked responses of the “I can’t believe it” type. People just don’t want to admit that sporting stars could stoop so low as to accept under-the-counter payments or even fix results. They are supposed to be on a pedestal, role models for the young and modern-day folk-heroes. Yet the last few months have seen a parade of accusations, arrests and sackings, all centred around sporting sleaze and corruption of one kind or another.

Salim Malik, former Pakistan cricket captain, risks being banned for life after being accused of attempting to bribe two Australian players to lose. The biggest scandals, though, have been in football— and this is in addition to players appearing in court on assault charges or admitting to drug-taking. In February Arsenal manager George Graham was sacked for allegedly receiving £425,000 as part of a transfer deal (paid by a mysterious “agent” out of the difference between what Arsenal paid for a player and what the selling club received), and there are many rumours about other managers expecting such pay-offs as a matter of course. In March three Premiership footballers were arrested and questioned about match fixing, though not charged. The story runs that bookmakers in Malaysia, where gambling is illegal but big business, have attempted to rig matches (including even a couple of World Cup games) so as to engineer results or scores favourable to themselves. It is hardly surprising that two of the arrested players are goalkeepers, who are naturally best-placed to affect results by letting in an easy goal or two. Even if all the rumours and scandals turn out to be baseless—and it has to be stressed that at the time of writing nothing has been proved—football’s image is bound to be tarnished.

The shock felt by football supporters is no doubt based on two considerations. One is that footballers and managers earn what are, by most people's standards, fairly high wages. If you are getting £100,000 or over a year anyway, why should you look to dishonest ways of making even more? But one thing that is always at the back of players’ minds is the relative shortness of their careers, the ever-present risk of serious injury, and the prospect of a drastic fall in earnings, once their playing days are over. And as the world of business and politics will show, however much you may have, you can still want more. A taste for the high life can easily develop among those who weren’t born to riches. The other point is the feeling that how dare anyone who has the privilege of playing professionally, something that millions aspire to but few achieve, betray their sport, their club and their supporters by throwing a game. Those who follow a team through lean years and downpours, spending considerable sums of money in the process, expect the players always to be doing their best, even if they can’t all be great players. But sport of course is a business and its practitioners sell their skills just like other workers, so selling a game is really only part of the same logic, the logic of capitalism, where everything, including sincerity and commitment, is for sale.

Nor can it be argued that in the good old days such things never happened, that before the days of the Premiership, live TV, sponsorship, replica shirts and so on, there was a time of innocence untainted by commercial considerations or any whiff of bribery. In the mid-sixties a dozen players, including some internationals, were convicted of match-rigging and banned for life. In 1927, the chairman of Arsenal was suspended for illegal inducements to players to join the club. Back in 1905, Billy Meredith of Manchester City was suspended for attempting to bribe an Aston Villa player; it subsequently emerged that City had been making illegal payments to players: several were suspended for a year, and two directors banned for life. There never has been a golden age when football was just football.

Professional sport is part of capitalism, and cannot be expected to operate on a different basis from that of society as a whole. If it is run by money and considerations of profit. It’s because that is precisely the basis on which capitalism works.
Paul Bennett

A Disturbed Sunday (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sunday morning at nine o'clock and the day begins. For some this is the Lord’s Day. Like calves on a day trip to Calais they make their weary ways in ever-decreasing numbers to the Houses of Ignorance where they close their eyes, fall to their knees and heave the impotent sigh of the oppressed in the face of a heartless world. Having sacrificed Saturday night to the brewers' profits (“And before the Lord’s Day it was the landlord’s day ") my head was in no state for spiritual interference. But what was this? Thump! Thump! Thump! It felt like Cantona had entered my cerebral cortex for a quick round of training: my head had been invaded by the shit hitting the fan. Boing! Clash! Thud! Help—I've become trapped in a Batman movie with sound effects provided by the Ministry of Love . . .  But wait a minute, speaking of love . .

“Jesus Loves You!" The awful, invasive, torturous, untuneful thumping “music" has stopped and now a man is shouting in the street about sin, love and the Big Man beyond the clouds. Not content to wake up an entire street with his boring bawling, he then proceeds to sing (solo) about how Jesus wants us for sunbeams. He has a voice which is not quite heavenly, but certainly like nothing on earth. By now—several of us are staring out of our windows, rubbing our eyes and cursing the bassoon player who is rubbing his mouthpiece in preparation for eternal damnation, otherwise known as the next tune. The head nutter has finished his harangue and deposited a pile of War Cry newspapers into the hands of little children who run up and down the street stuffing them through letterboxes. I contemplate the parole conditions for justifiable homicide: “What are you in for, mate?” “I impulsively slaughtered an entire Salvation Army band by battering them with their own instruments.” At least the Krays only tortured their own.

There is something depressingly ugly about hymns. The men who wrote these dirges to god must have been possessed by a degree of melodic dysfunction unequalled until Bros went on their first world tour. There is nothing intrinsically bad about religious music (Mozart's Mass is the best work he composed and cantorial tenors can put Pavarotti through his paces), but hymns are relentlessly miserable in their transparent propagandist!). In the early part of this century militant American workers (known as Wobblies) were refused the right to advocate socialism from street platforms while the Salvation Army (referred to by them as the Starvation Army) were left alone by the cops. So the Wobblies took on the Army at their own game (Why should the bosses have all the bad tunes?) and Joe Hill, their greatest songsmith, wrote some of the most joyful workers’ songs ever sung. Only the barmiest socialist would favour standing in residential areas on Sunday mornings with loud wind instruments and a megaphone singing Wobbly songs. So what gives these Christian manic street preachers the right to try and drive us all mad.

And come to think of it, who needs the nauseating tintinnabulation of their wretched Sunday bells? Why must our children having morning assemblies were holy hog wash is forced upon their innocent minds? And why can’t you switch on the TV on Sundays and national holidays without choirs recruited from The Addams Family imposing their lousy liturgies upon us?

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
These thoughts were passing through my throbbing head when the rat-tap-tap of an unwelcome visitor propelled me to the cave door with a club in my hand (a rolled- up War Cry was the only weapon available in the frenzy of eagerness to settle scores with the Salvationists.)

“Do you believe in a world where there will be no more wars and everyone will live as one like brothers and sisters?" The question was posed in unison by two young women (possibly sisters, possibly from the planet Belch) who both held tracts in their hands. “Yes, I do." I said. This was not the answer for which they had been pre-programmed. They looked at each other and prayed as they panicked. "So you’re a Christian?” said the first one, divinely guided in her quick wittedness. I responded by giving them a lengthy lecture on why religion is a reflection of humanity’s former ignorance of causation, how the world we live in is unmistakably material and why my head was by now severely aching from the Salvationists’ cacophony.

"But we’re nothing to do with them " they asserted in one voice, as if they had just been invited to associate themselves with the BNP's Satanic Section. “They’re not real Christians,” they reliably informed me, "although we respect them for what they do and hope that one day they will come to see . . .” Go forth and multiply, I proposed, as the door accidcntally slammed on their noses. Let them fight their sectarian disputes in the afterlife while we of mortal flesh provide useful nourishment for worms.

I went back to my bed, but sleep eluded me. It’s hard to sleep after the brain has wakened. The thought was sobering and unintendedly inspirational. “And it came to pass that the brains of the religious did awaken and they did deliver their minds from the delusions of god. . ." Meanwhile, back in Iran, the mullahs’ torturers attach electrodes to the genitals of those who deny the faith and the evangelical fascists of the US Bible Bell plan which book to ban or burn next.
Steve Coleman

These Foolish Things: Taking off (1995)

The Scavenger column from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The basic contradictions in capitalism cause widespread death, destruction, pollution, poverty and waste. But this is to take the world view. Most of us experience day-to-day capitalism as a series of small stupidities, irritations and frustrations. Here are a few. If you encounter any worth a wry smile, please send them to The Scavenger who will publish the best.
Taking off

"Selling the nation’s family silver” goes on with all haste to keep the present government’s budgets within tolerable balance. To add to nearly £800 million raised through the sale of Ministry of Defence properties in the last ten years, a further £300 million is expected from the twenty airbases due to be put on the market before the end of the century. However, flying of a sort may still continue at Bentwaters in Suffolk. The Maharishi Foundation is said to have bought the 1,000-acre site for a university of Natural Law.

Nearer the bone

There must have been a few smirks of satisfaction among British capitalists at the tail end of March. Dewhursts the butchers went bust. Surely a cause for sadness? Vesteys, the family which became super-rich through providing meat from the ranch to the customer, clocked up debts of over £400 million. Their family fortune shrank from about £1.5 billion to a mere £600 million. But Sam and Edmund Vestey were not only keen businessmen—they were also keen tax-dodgers. They did not pay their share for being (fairly new) members of the ruling class of Britain. Back in the 80s they managed to pay just £10 tax on a year’s income of £2.5 million. Now Union International, the family firm, will have to let the Receivers sell the 300 shops trading under the names of Dewhurst, Matthews, Baxter and Cobb in order to pay the debts.

Grinding the poor

At this time next year Unemployment benefit will be replaced by the Jobseeker’s Allowance. This will require a person applying for state benefit to state the lowest wage they would accept in taking a job.

Blanket solution

Meanwhile, staff in Job centres are facing the threat of increasing violence from clients—a 400 percent rise in the last five years. This has followed the instructions to staff to conduct far more rigorous checks. After a particular attack on staff by a man with a knife in Handsworth, Birmingham, the staff have been issued with blankets They are not sure what they are meant to do with them.

A suggestion

At Lucas, John Pocock was an enthusiastic contributor to the firm’s suggestion box. One of his ideas saved Lucas £36,000 a year. Another will probably save over a quarter of a million in five years. He has been paid £3,750 for this—and given the sack because he is fifty. It is all part of the new Lucas boss’s regime. Who says, "For the company to achieve its goals in 1995 and beyond, it will require an enhanced contribution from you all.”

On the other hand

At Christmas, six men got together for a meal at a hotel. There is no record of the amount they spent on food—perhaps because the amount they spent on drink dwarfed it. They bought 12 bottles of Chateau Petrus claret at the Dorchester at £960 a bottle. Apparently they were unable to finish the last half-bottle and graciously left it for the waiter. What is the connection between this and the previous items?
The Scavenger

Letters: Let them eat meat (1995)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Let them eat meat 

While substantially agreeing with Adam Buick’s analysis of the question of animal rights in the April Socialist Standard and in particular with the view that in a non-profit socialist society of production for use cruelty to animals can be expected to stop, I cannot agree that in such a society most human beings are necessarily going to continue to eat meat, as the article states. They may of course, but then they may not. And it is not a good argument to say, as the article does, that they will because they always have done. History shows perpetual change in human ideas and practices and one of the main points about socialism is that it will allow people to transform many aspects of the societies they have lived in.

Furthermore, it is not part of the Socialist Party’s agreed case that in socialism people will eat meat. This is a detail one can only speculate and express a personal opinion on. It should not therefore appear as other than a personal opinion in a journal whose articles express the agreed view of the organisation.

And how different in the end is what Adam Buick says from a recent anti-vegetarian letter in the Western Mail which stated: "In truth, it [an end to the farming of animals] will never happen because you want your chicken and chips, your lamb cawl and your Sunday roast."? 
Howard Moss,

The article wasn't "anti-vegetarian". It didn’t criticise people for being vegetarians. Quite the contrary. It said that vegetarianism was a perfectly legitimate personal choice (which had been made by some Socialists) and that the debate would continue into socialism where individuals would make their own choice as to whether or not to abstain from eating meat.

As you correctly point out, the Socialist Party as an organisation has no policy on vegetarianism; we are neither for it nor against it. We don’t presume to tell people what they should eat and what they should not eat; that’s a purely personal decision, it's entirely up to individuals as individuals. This implies, however, that some will choose to abstain from meat while others won’t. We equally respect both decisions.

Will this diversity of decision continue into socialism? You say that to answer "yes" is merely to give a personal opinion, but it can also be seen as—and was meant to be so taken—a reasonable assumption that can be made equally by a vegetarian as by a non-vegetarian.

But if some people are going to eat meat in socialism then animals are going to have to continue to be raised to be eaten in socialism. Not to have faced this, in an article on animals rights, and to have replied "the problem probably won't arise because by then we could all be vegetarians" would have been a cop-out. Besides, it would have infringed the neutrality we as an organisation maintain between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

Hunting and killing at Tescos

Dear Editors,

As a Socialist Party member and a vegan, I'm afraid that I am forced to take issue with some of the points raised by Adam Buick in his article "Do Animals Have Rights?" (April Socialist Standard).

Firstly, it is highly debatable whether humans "have always eaten meat". There is a good body of evidence to suggest that early humans lived primarily, if not solely, on nuts, fruits and berries—a reasonable assumption, given that we are descended from herbivorous primates. The length of the human intestine, as compared with the much shorter bowels of obligate carnivores in, say the cat family, suggest that it is designed to deal with slowly digested vegetable matter rather than fibre-free meat.

Secondly, it is disingenuous to compare a human being eating meat to a fox eating a rabbit—as I have already stated, certain animals are obligate carnivores who cannot derive sufficient protein from plant sources. Human beings are not—and we are capable of making moral choices regarding our diet. In any case, visiting the meat counter at Tesco scarcely equates to hunting and killing one’s own food!

Adam Buick is, of course, quite correct to state that animals are cruelly treated largely because of the need for farmers to produce profitably. However, does he seriously believe that sufficient meat can be produced to satisfy the world's population even under socialism without the need for some kind of factory farming? Readers are doubtless familiar with the arguments that land can be used far more efficiently to produce plant proteins than to raise animals—that's even allowing for the intensive farming of animals which we all know takes place under capitalism. How much more inefficient in terms of land use would it be to attempt to farm only free-range animals?

Further, I would suggest that, just as farmers are compelled under capitalism to try and make a profit, so most of those who work in the meat industry do so in order to survive rather than because they enjoy it. With the need to work for a wage being removed by socialism, how many people will be prepared to continue killing animals when other essential and more rewarding work needs to be done? Those who wish to eat meat will of course be free to do so—however. they may well find that's this necessitates killing it themselves as few other people will be willing to do it for them.

Finally, Adam Buick is doubtless aware that vegetarianism is already growing at a rapid rate— particularly among young women. This means that’s more and more children are being brought up as vegetarians, which will almost certainly accelerate the trend. I feel that’s Adam Buick's comment that's "most humans are obviously going to continue to eat some meat" will be proved wrong quite soon— possibly even within his lifetime. 
Shane Roberts,
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Have humans "always eaten meat"? That depends on what you mean by "humans". Members of the existing—and only surviving—human species. Homo sapiens, have always eaten meat. We evolved not more than 100,000 years ago. but preceding species of Homo had been eating meat for many hundreds of thousands of years before that.

Going back even further, it is indeed true the now extinct species of upright-walking apes from which we are descended would have been mainly, but not exclusively (since even today chimpanzees eat meat, when they can get it), eaters of nuts, fruits, roots, etc. But at some point our ancestors began to add more and more meat to their diet. Most anthropologists see this changed diet as a key factor in the evolution of pre-humans into humans. Richard Leakey, for instance, writes in his book with Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered
  “Although some anthropologists argue that regular meat eating was a late development in human history. I believe they are wrong. I see evidence for the expansion of the basic omnivorous hominid diet in the fossil record, in the archaeological record, and. incidentally, in theoretical biology . . .
   "The initial expansion of brain size in hominids. which established the genus Homo, was more mundane. It concerned an adaptation that required more complex behaviour: the hunting-and- gathering way of life in embryo. But it also fueled itself, in a kind of positive feedback. Part of Bob Martin’s thesis about a species' ability to afford a large brain is that it must have a stable environment. stable in terms of food supply. Stable and nutritionally rich. The robust australopithecines managed to stabilise their food supply in the new prevailing environment 2.5 million years ago but their tough plant foods were not rich nutritionally. By broadening the diet to include meat, early Homo achieved both stability and rich nutrition. Meat represents high concentrations of calories, fat and protein. This dietary shift in Homo drove the change in pattern of tooth development and facial shape. The links in the chain join up yet more closely.
  “Our ancestors achieved this dietary shift through technology, and thus opened the road to the potential—but. remember, not inevitable—development of yet bigger brains."
In other words, modern anthropological research and theory confirms the 19th century view, as summarised by Engels in The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, that “with all due respect to the vegetarians, man did not come into existence without a meat diet”.

This is not a reason, we hasten to add. why people should not be vegetarians. One of the features of human behaviour is flexibility and we could all become vegetarians if we chose to. even though our distant ancestors had to eat meat for this flexibility to evolve. If this happens. as you seem confident it will, then Engels would no doubt see this as a neat example of the negation of the negation. 

Socialist cops & prisons?

Dear Editors,

Having read Adam Buick’s "Do Animals Have Rights?", I now know why so many animal rights activists so deeply distrust socialists. Of course neither human workers nor animals are born with natural rights. Such rights as they enjoy are the results of centuries of bitter struggle; by virtue of its power the capitalist class has the right to do anything it can get away with including exploiting animals and workers on a massive scale. Just as socialists want an end to the exploitation of workers so the animal rights movement wants an end to the exploitation of animals. Many want both as is evidenced by the slogan “Animal Liberation. Human Rights—One Struggle. One Fight!"

Adam Buick appears to oppose suffering and cruelty, but what can be more cruel and involve more suffering than raising an animal with the utmost care and kindness and then killing and eating it? If a socialist world is to be one without suffering and cruelty then the imposition of suffering and cruelty on animals by humans must end! And the debate isn’t just about the higher land mammals—it’s about sea mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians all of which appear on somebody’s dinner table. And “eccentrics" is a term of abuse not a scientific Marxist category, many people regard socialists as eccentrics but that does not invalidate socialism anymore then the alleged eccentricity of the animal rights movement rules out its argument.

On what evidence does Adam Buick base his claim that humans have always eaten meat and will continue to do so? The shape of our teeth, our lack of claws, the length of our get. the tiny genetic difference between ourselves and the vegetarian great apes, indicates the diet of the first humans was vegetable and that meat eating was a fairly late development caused possibly by food shortages resulting from climatic changes. Furthermore. many people do not associate the burger on their plate with the animal from which it comes. Many become vegetarian when they discover the shocking truth. And when was Adam Buick last on a farm? Farm animals aren't fed on vegetation and scraps unacceptable to humans—they’re fed on grains and beans which could be used far more efficiently by being eaten by humans. And it makes better economic sense to rear goats and sheep on marginal land for their milk rather than their meat.

It’s nice to know vegetarians will be free to put their case in a socialist society. But what if we employ civil disobedience? Will socialist cops kick and baton us and throw us into socialist prisons? And what of blood sports, vivisection and the trade in fur, skins and shells? Will such horrors continue in a socialist society?

Adam Buick is right when he says the problem is capitalism and socialism is the answer. But if he is to convince animal rights activists of this his critique needs to be far more informed and sympathetic.
Terry Liddle
London SE9

What are you talking about? There won't be any cops or prisons in a socialist society. Nor will there be any trade in furs or anything else.

Calling an old comrade

Dear Editors,

I admired Paddy Small (Letters. March Socialist Standard) for his craftsmanship, his steadfastness to his principles, his support of his union and of the Socialist Party. I owe him a personal debt for guiding me to the Socialist Party and for helping me to acquire a Socialist library and helping me to understand it.

I would like to contact him again, so would it be possible to insert the following appeal in the Standard:
"Dear Paddy. 
Your recent letter to the Standard has really opened the floodgates of my memory. I would dearly like to write to you and share our experiences since last we met. Please write to me at: 26 Fig Street. Dromana. Victoria 3936. Australia.
Yours Aye. Joe Richmond." 

Do Animals Have Rights? (1995)

From the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The case for not being cruel to animals rests on the fact that this is not in the general human interest, not on the theory that animals have some inalienable natural rights. But the profit system prevents what is in the general human interest being applied.
The short answer is no. But, then, neither do humans.

The idea that humans have inalienable rights inherited from the “state of nature” which supposedly existed before they made a “social contract” to set up organised society is nonsensical. Humans have always been social animals. We wouldn’t have become human if we hadn’t been, since the main features which distinguish us from other animals—tool-making, abstract thought, speech— evolved, and could only have evolved, in and through society.

The suggestion that humans were once isolated individuals who later came together to set up society is logically absurd. How could humans have been in a position to negotiate a “social contract” if they hadn’t first evolved the ability to think abstractly and speak, which presupposes that they already lived in society? But then this theory originated at a time—the 17th and 18th centuries—when the notion of evolution was unknown and nearly everybody believed that humans had been made in their fully developed form by an all-powerful god.

Revolution and the Rights of Man

All the same, the theory played an important role in history. It was the ideology of the rising class of capitalist entrepreneurs and traders and was used by them to pursue their struggle against the arbitrary rule of kings and aristocrats. If humans had innate rights which pre-existed society and the state, and which in fact it was the purpose of society and the state to protect and further, then if the state did not respect these rights humans were entitled to resist and overthrow it and establish one that did. This revolutionary implication of the doctrine of natural human rights was put to good propaganda use by those who led the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789.

It is this aspect of the theory of natural rights that has attracted those opposed to the cruel treatment of animals. The theory that animals too have inalienable rights which ought to be respected provides a justification for their campaigns, including civil disobedience and in some cases violence and terrorism. But the theory that animals have natural rights is even more absurd than the theory that humans do.

Animals of course do exist in a “state of nature” and, while nature is not as “red in tooth and claw” as the popular myth has it, it is still true that some animals exist by killing and eating other animals. That is the way nature has evolved and is an integral part of all ecosystems. So how, in nature, can an animal be said to have a “right” not to be killed and eaten?

In fact, if “rights” were derived from behaviour in nature some animals could be said to have the “right” to kill other animals. And, since humans are animals that have always eaten meat why shouldn’t they have the same “right” to kill and eat other animals? Or, if they are to be banned from this, are other animals too to be banned from killing other animals? Is the fox to be banned from eating the rabbit?

To be fair, many animal rights activists aren’t interested in the philosophical position their name implies. Their message is much more simple and basic and derives more from the words of Elvis Presley than from Thomas Paine or Rousseau: Don’t be cruel. But this is a message directed exclusively to humans and concerned only with the behaviour of humans towards other animals. In which case it would be sensible for them not to talk as if they thought that animals really do have inalienable natural rights, but to try to convince humans that it is not in the interests of humans to mistreat and be cruel to other animals.

Some animal rights theorists reject such an approach on the grounds that it is “anthropocentric” (human-centred) and leaves open the theoretical possibility of justifying the mistreatment of other animals if this could be shown to be in the general human interest. It is indeed a human-centred approach—this is why we are socialists: we want the best possible world for humans—but there is no reason why this should be at the expense of the suffering of other animals or why in practice it should lead to cruelty to animals being regarded as justified. It will, however, not rule out the conclusion that animals can be raised and killed for humans to eat, as long as this doesn’t involve cruelty.

Cruel conditions

The case that maltreating animals is not in the general human interest could be made by underlining the following two points.

First, that animals, or at least those other animals that the debate is about (only a few eccentrics claim that insects have “rights”), are recognisably similar to us—they’ve got the same basic structure of a head, four limbs, two eyes, a nose, two ears, etc—and, like us, are more importantly sentient beings that can feel pain and show it. To tolerate the deliberate infliction of pain on them is to devalue opposition to human suffering too and so make it easier for some humans to get away with deliberately inflicting pain on other humans. In short, it is to help make for a less humane world.

Second, that animals raised under cruel conditions will not be healthy animals and so will not be good to eat, so defeating the whole purpose of humans raising them in the first place; which is to provide humans with nutritious food that contributes to them having a healthy life.

These are powerful arguments (which have led some socialists to be vegetarians and the rest of us trying to be careful about the food we eat). But if they are so powerful, why don’t they prevail? Why do humans not act in their best interests but still mistreat animals?

Basically, it is because we live in a society where the overall human interest counts for little. We live in a class-divided society where it is the interest of the minority who own and control the means of production that prevails—and their interest, reflecting the economic logic of the system, is to increase their wealth by making profits.

Animals are abused because it is in the financial interest of those with money invested in meat production to produce as cheaply as possible, in order to remain competitive, even if this involves factory farming, battery-hens and caged veal calves. The rest of the owning class gain too, in terms of not having to pay higher wages and state benefits since the lower the cost of the meat the workers buy the less employers need to pay for their labour power, or the state for their subsistence.

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the farmers who say they dislike what happens to their calves after they’ve sold them, but that they have no alternative since they need to gain a living and that this provides a market for their products which enables them to keep their heads above water. It’s not a question them being evil or immoral, but of what the economic system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit forces them to do.

Profit System

It’s the profit system that is the problem. It brings pressure to bear on economic decision-makers to opt for the cheapest methods of production on pain of being driven out of business altogether. If consideration of what is in the general human interest is to prevail, in this field of meat production as in all others, then the profit system must go. It must be replaced by a production-for-use system—which can only exist on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources by the whole community.

In a genuinely socialist system of this kind cruelty to animals can be expected to stop as it would have no basis for occurring. The ending of the oppression and exploitation of humans by other humans—and the cruel treatment meted out as a matter of state policy by soldiers, police and prison guards (ask Amnesty for the full details)—will make humans generally less tolerant towards cruelty to other animals.

The vegetarians will of course be free to propagate their case, win recruits and pursue the diet of their choice, but most humans are obviously going to continue to eat some meat in the same way that humans as a species always have done. Humans evolved with the capacity to eat meat as well as vegetables and fruit, and it makes ecological sense to acquire some of our food (which is ultimately stored-up solar energy) in the form of meat, especially in winter times when locally-produced and so fresh vegetables are not available or of animals (like chickens, sheep and pigs) which can eat vegetation and scraps that we can’t.

So, animals will be raised as food, but there will be no pressures to use methods of raising and slaughtering that impose suffering on them. The tyranny of the market and competitiveness will have gone and we’ll be free to employ the most appropriate methods to produce the best quality meat—which implies treating the animals humanely.
Adam Buick

Who loves you, baby! (1995)

TV Review from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

This last month has been enlivened by the government's recent attempts to shoot the messenger, alias the media. For not content with alienating a normally docile and compliant press, the Conservative Party hierarchy has now turned its attentions to television and, in particular, the BBC— the newly christened Blair Broadcasting Corporation. The most immediate result was unexpected. A temporary thaw in relations ensured between the Tories and the BBC as they joined forces to protest at the Prime Minister being banned from BBC television in Scotland by the ruling class’s own judges, who accused the BBC of misconduct during a local election campaign.

Jonathan Aitken, a man who knows a thing or two about how to manipulate the media, and Jeremy Hanley—a man who despite his theatrical connections evidently doesn't—have been in the forefront of attacks on alleged BBC bias against the government. Their onslaught has been assisted by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who is responsible for such matters. With Hanley acting like a demented cheerleader at a Cup Final Aitken and Howard have alleged that BBC journalists Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys adopt an overly-aggressive manner when interviewing government ministers, so much so that the BBC's own supremo John Birt has seen fit to give them a public warning. In particular, Humphrys occasioned Conservative wrath for chairing an allegedly “anti-government” education rally debate in Westminster (although the Tories neglect to mention that a government spokesman was invited to participate and that Humphrys was paid for taking part) and this was compounded by an incident which led to Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark to be officially censored for using a "hectoring tone" in an interview with the absurdly coiffured Michael Portillo.

This all tells us something. Not that the BBC really is biased against the government, for all governments think that, especially ones that are going through a rough time. What it does tell us is that somewhere in the twisted minds of the Tory party leadership plans are being made for a General Election.

There are many historical precedents for this sort of behaviour. In the late 1960s Harold Wilson, who had previously enjoyed a rather convivial relationship with the television media, launched a series of attacks on the BBC and ITV for biased news reporting as he made plans to renew Labour's mandate. Throughout her long reign Thatcher did the same for the Conservatives, most famously and successfully under the direction of Norman Tebbit. He set up a monitoring unit before the 1987 election to keep an eye on precisely the amount of coverage each of the main parties were getting and to ascertain the percentage of that coverage which was positive, neutral or damaging.

It would appear that the Tory leadership is now again in General Election mode, and they don't want unduly favourable coverage of Blair and his cohorts at the expense of their own boys and girls.

It was thought for many years—and not just in the Tory Party—that the BBC had a rather pro-left wing bias in its news reporting and current affairs coverage and that ITN, under the guidance of that cringeworthy Tory Alistair Burnett, veered in the other direction. In the 1992 election, there were signs that the roles were reversed, perhaps as a result of political pressure and memories of the 1987 campaign with Tebbit’s attack on the BBC and Labour’s counter-attack on ITN.

In reality, the major capitalist political parties have little to fear. Coverage of them is remarkably neutral between them most of the time in Britain— unlike say Spain or Italy, where news channels are dominated and even sometimes owned by the major political parties, or the US. where the size of your campaign chest speaks loudest. The real losers, especially in Britain, are those organisations that currently represent "minority opinion", unable even to receive a five-minute Party Political Broadcast unless they have the funds and desire to stump up enough money for fifty parliamentary candidates. Between elections coverage is little better. Just how many smaller parties get represented on Question Time or other current affairs programmes? Are we really to believe that they have nothing interesting to say or is it that the news corporations simply dance to the collective tune of the mainstream political parties and the values they represent? They are, after all, values which largely coincide with their own.

And finally . . .
Let us know how you feel, for one thing is certain. If socialists are not to be marginalised on the fringes of the political process television news coverage is vital and so is access to current affairs programmes where the upholders of the capitalist system can be directly challenged. If political intervention on the subject of television coverage is left to the Peter Mandelsons and Jonathan Aitkens of this world, we will only have ourselves to blame—although admittedly our task is much harder than theirs. We, after all, cannot bank any assistance from the sharp-suited executives at Broadcasting House or the doughty old buffers in dusty wigs. Through the strength our ideas if not presently force of numbers we can but try. and try until we succeed.
Dave Perrin

It's a question of property (1995)

Book Review from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience by Paresh Chattopadhyay (Praeger, 1994.)

Some writers are unlucky. They start to write a book on some subject and are then overtaken by events before it is published. This has been the fate of Paresh Chattopadhyay whose book on Russia—and how, despite the various claims, it was neither socialist nor non-capitalist nor post-capitalist or whatever but capitalist in a strict Marxian sense—was overtaken by the collapse of the state capitalist system there, the changes of “is” into “was” at the proofreading stage notwithstanding. It is to be hoped that this won’t put people off reading the book on the grounds that this is all now ancient history, since Chattopadhyay’s analysis of Russia under Bolshevik rule is excellent. His basic argument is that Russia during this period was capitalist because the economic system there was based on wage-labour and that, as Marx pointed out, wherever wage-labour exists so does capital and so capitalism.

Capital is not a thing but a social relation, one that comes into being whenever the producers are separated both from the means of production and from the products of their labour; this means that they can only get a living by selling their mental and physical energies, their productive skills, for a wage or salary. This is why the fact that one class in society has to work for wages is in itself evidence that capitalism exists; it is a sign that the producers are separated from the conditions of production, irrespective of who controls these conditions and how.

Chattopadhyay points out that Marx distinguished between two kinds of property—what Chattopadhyay calls “economic property” and “juridical property”—only the first of which is essential to capitalism. “Economic property” describes the actual social relation whereby one class holds and another class is excluded from the means of production; it is a factual situation. “Juridical property” is where this social fact is recognised by the law in the form of legal individual private property rights. These existed before capitalism—in Roman law for instance—and capitalism can exist without them. In this sense they are the icing on the capitalist cake not its essential ingredients.

The mistake, says Chattopadhyay, made by those who saw Russia as socialist (the Stalinists) or non-capitalist (the Trotskyists) was to identify the abolition of capitalism with the abolition of “juridical property” instead of with the abolition of “economic property”. At no time after 1917 was this latter abolished, as was demonstrated by the continued existence and indeed general expansion of wage-labour there.

Some dissident Trotskyists and Stalinists have been prepared to go some distance down this road, but Chattopadhyay goes all the way. He argues that the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 was not even an attempt to establish socialism in the Marxian sense. Lenin in fact had a quite different conception of socialism from Marx’s:
  “Socialism, even as a concept, appearing in Lenin’s State and Revolution, contains elements such as ‘state’ and ‘hired employees’ earning ‘wages’, that are alien to Marx’s socialism, conceived as free association … Socialism, according to Marx, is a free association of producers without state, without commodity production and without wage labour.”
What Lenin and the Bolsheviks aimed to establish—and did in fact establish—was a state-run capitalism in which the role of Marx’s “functionaries of capital” was played not by individual private capitalists nor by paid directors of joint-stock companies but by Party/State officials. It follows from this that the Bolshevik seizure of power was not a socialist or proletarian revolution. It also follows that, as capitalism (the exclusion of the producers from the conditions of production and their having to work for wages) was never at any time abolished in Russia, all theories of “the restoration of capitalism” there—and there are people who would date this from the coming to power of Stalin or Khruschev or Yeltsin—were wrong; in fact nonsensical.

As can be seen, the approach of this book is very close to that of the Socialist Party. Certainly, it is now a book about history rather than the contemporary scene but it is yet another nail in the coffin of Leninism.
Adam Buick

Our Annual Conference (1933)

Party News from the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Friday and Saturday, April 14th and 15th, was held the 29th Annual Conference of the S.P.G.B. to discuss, in the light of past experience, our propaganda plans for the future.

It was reported that the growth in membership had not been so rapid in 1932 as in the previous year; but the financial statement showed a position of solvency, with a definitely larger turnover. There was an increase in the number of outdoor and indoor propaganda meetings, in spite of the difficulty of keeping the very important study classes going; and proposals went forward for improving the general layout of the Socialist Standard, which was recently enlarged. Contact has been maintained with foreign sympathisers and comrade parties in Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A., and Canada. The urgent need for full-time party officers meets with the difficulty of providing the funds in a party whose income can come only from working-class pockets. Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism in the consistent steady increase in numbers and activities which each succeeding conference reveals.
The Annual Conference is something more, however, than a review of past activities; something more than a source of encouragement to old members and of instruction to new ones. It is a perennial demonstration of the meaning of organisation for Socialism, of the principle that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself."

Just as the S.P.G.B., unlike other parties, is not a battle-ground of divergent views and rival personalities, but an organisation whose consistency of action flows spontaneously from its singleness of aim, and which is held together, not by a superimposed machinery of discipline, but by community of purpose, so our conference lacks characteristic features of non-Socialistic party conferences —the pious thumb-twiddling, the back-scratching and back-biting. Here is no eulogising of some leaders, and denunciation of others: for the Socialist Party has no leaders at all. Leaders cannot arise in a party whose members subscribe to the one straight issue of Socialism, based on a clear declaration of principles. For as each knows what is aimed at and what must be done to get it, there is no one to be led.

The democratic organisation of the S.P.G.B. is not an accident, but is the natural offspring of its unique singleness of object and clarity of principles. Only a militant organisation of revolutionary Socialists, an organisation democratically controlled at all times and on all matters by the membership, can accomplish the revolutionary act which shall abolish the class ownership of the means of living and establish the common ownership and democratic control of those means, in the interest of the whole community.
Frank Evans

The Meaning of Exploitation (1933)

From the May 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reports often appear in newspapers of companies formed to “exploit” lands, mines, oilfields and so forth. What does this signify ? When the word “exploit” or "exploitation” is used in this or similar ways, what is really meant ?

To exploit is to make use of, but the directors of a company formed to “ exploit ” certain oilbearing territories do not propose merely to use the land in question, nor do the shareholders of the company intend to take any part in the actual work of oil getting. In fact the mass of the shareholders will probably never even see the land from which the oil comes.

Further, the company is not formed for the pleasure of providing oil to a needy world, nor for the vindictiveness of polluting the sea and the air. It has only one purpose—to provide dividends for the holders of shares in the company. It is only because the particular oil wells appear to hold out the promise of being fruitful in this direction that they figure at all in the prospectus of the company. From the same point of view it is immaterial whether the oil be good or bad, Russian, Dutch, or American. The claims of patriotism, religion and humanity take second place before the claims of the purse.

The question that presents itself, then, is why should oil wells be instrumental in producing dividends as well as oil? This brings us to the question of the source of dividends. A glance at the published returns of companies carries the matter a little further. They show us that dividends come out of profits, past or present. But whence come profits ?

As soon as the company is formed work goes rapidly ahead to get the production of oil under way, because until oil is sold no funds flow to the company, apart from loans and what the shareholders provide. When oil is sold over a definite period the difference between all the expenses of getting it and the money produced by its sale represents profit; but we still need to know from whence this profit comes—how it is possible for the production and sale of oil to be the means of also producing profit. The answer is a simple one.

In order to get oil produced, workers as well as oil wells are required. If the workers were to receive in return for their labour the equivalent in value of the oil produced, there would be nothing left for the shareholders of the company—there would be no profit from which to draw dividends. It follows, therefore, that the employees of the company cannot receive a value equivalent to the oil produced.

How are the wages of the company’s workpeople arrived at? Experience tells us. They are paid on the average what it costs them to live and bring up families, regardless of the result in the form of oil due to the application of their energies in the company’s service. This wage may differ according to place and type of worker, but it still remains what it costs the worker to live. For instance, at a meeting of Courtauld's recently it was complained that Japanese competition was seriously affecting the firm on account of Japanese labourers being able to live on smaller wages than their employees.

Whatever the wage of the worker, however, it is far below the value of what he produces, and it is owing to this fact that the investors and directors of the company expect it to prosper and anticipate dividends. It is out of the surplus labour of the oil worker, the labour above the value of his means of existence, that the profit and the dividends of the shareholders will come. An illustration will make the matter plain. If one man can lie in the sun while two others work to provide him and themselves with the food and so forth they need, then the first man is living on the surplus labour of the other two. This, on, a larger scale, is the position of the oil company. It is neither the land nor the oil that is exploited, but the worker. It is he in reality who is made use of by the company.

Exploitation, then, is squeezing from the worker surplus labour. Other things remaining the same, the more surplus labour squeezed from the worker the greater is the exploitation, regardless of the level of wages paid, and the more successful is the company in providing dividends for its shareholders.

It is, therefore, plain that exploitation is the root of all accumulations of wealth by private individuals. At one time it was the exploitation of chattel slaves, at another the exploitation of serfs. In modern times it is the exploitation of wage workers, or, more truly, wage slaves.

With this end in view the earth has been covered with manufacturing centres, and the bulk of its population reduced to beasts of burden, but without the security of livelihood of the latter.

Exploitation has brought into existence the glittering civilisations that have expressed the agony as much as the achievement of man across the centuries. The process will continue until the workers awake to the fact that it is they who produce and distribute the wealth of the world, and that they have no need to carry parasites on their backs to do so. The day the workers arrive at this knowledge exploitation will cease.