Sunday, June 28, 2020

The State and Chernobyl (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now four years since the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor on April 26, 1986. Information about its consequences is now becoming available in spite of attempts by the Russian government to prevent knowledge leaking out into the public domain. Glasnost may be Gorbachev’s policy in most things but not where Chernobyl was concerned. The scale of the disaster is far greater than has been supposed till now.

A significant feature of this disaster is that it was partly caused, and to a large extent made worse, by state secrecy. For instance, it was the state’s obsessional secrecy on all matters nuclear which meant that the reactor’s operators were not allowed to know that withdrawal of all the control rods could cause an explosion. All they were told was that this was “forbidden” (New Scientist, 11 November 1989).

Similarly, it was a military secret that a previous graphite fire had occurred, in 1958, at Kyshtym in the Urals. Not only did the Chernobyl management and engineers know nothing of this (except what had leaked back to them from the West), but again according to the New Scientist “those who had dealt with it were not called to Chernobyl until three weeks after the accident”. During those weeks a lot of harm was done. Fruitless attempts to dowse the fire were unsuccessful, only resulting in contamination of the watertable. Meanwhile radioactive material continued to escape into the atmosphere.

Political considerations led Gorbachev, in his TV statement about Chernobyl 18 days after the accident, to allege that the western media had lied and exaggerated the scale and nature of the disaster with their claims that there would be “thousands of casualties” (quoted in Frederick Polil’s novel, Chernobyl, 1987). This was part of the cover-up agreed to by the politbureau and recently exposed by Gorbachev’s opponent, Boris Yeltsin.

This cover-up involved misleading the people at risk so that many of these within Russia believed themselves to be safe. Chernobyl is in the north of the Ukraine, very close to the southern border of Byelorussia and not far from the border, to the east, with Russia proper. The plume of radioactive particles drifted north and east, and seriously contaminated a large part of Byelorussia and adjacent provinces of Russia.

“They were not told. They had to guess…”

The original disaster was bad enough. What made it worse was misinformation, the attempt to pretend that the only areas at risk were within a neat, circular, 18 mile (30 km) “exclusion zone”. The result of this official policy was that people have still not been evacuated from many seriously contaminated areas. In the week after the disaster, official policy decreed that “communities were left to rot in ignorance…”. Over the border, in Russia proper, people “were very frightened. They were not told. They had to guess …. Nobody knew what was happening. Burly peasants were collapsing in the fields” (Sunday Times, 29 April 1990).

The cover-up meant that the May Day parades were ordered to proceed, in Kiev and Minsk, as though everything was normal. Thousands of schoolchildren were thus exposed to radioactive open air. It also meant a delay even in evacuating Pripyat, the nearest town to Chernobyl. It is now thought that 4 million people are living with radiation, including 34,000 in areas very seriously contaminated. Yury Cherbak, a Ukrainian Green politician, claims that 85 villages in Byelorussia, 19 in the Ukraine and 14 in Russia should be urgently evacuated (The Independent on Sunday, 22 April 1990). In these unevacuated areas, where people are still growing food crops, not only are they eating the contaminated food they grow but, according to the Sunday Times again, “Soviet trade officials collected it and distributed it in Moscow, Kazakhstan and elsewhere”.

Now, four years later, the consequences of Chernobyl are becoming apparent. Children are suffering from leukaemia or cancer of the thyroid. There are a number of babies born with serious congenital abnormalities, a disaster similar to but worse than that caused by thalidomide in Britain or Agent Orange in Vietnam. In Byelorussia, over 2 million people are at risk, one-fifth of the population. Yet in the capital city, Minsk, there are no ultrasonic scanners (essential for diagnosis and treatment of leukaemia) or intensive care units. Medicines, even for pain relief, are in short supply. The authorities have decreed, harshly, that no treatment at all, not even for pain relief, be given to terminal cases. In the West, leukaemia cases have an 85 percent chance of survival. There, they only have a 15 percent chance.

Acute food shortages mean that children are not getting a proper diet. They die of quite common illnesses, with their immune system weakened by radiation. Experts claim that “it is not ‘Chernobyl Aids’ that kills them, it is the lack of proper food” (Sunday Times).

The state showed its “concern” in February 1988 by decreeing the sort of information which should be made available to the media. The increased incidence of anaemia, hypertension and hyperplasia of the thyroid was hushed up as a result of “official policy”, and there was to be no mention of any “loss of physical capacity for work or professional skills” (New Scientist, 28 October 1989). Who was the state trying to protect?

Delay and Disinformation

The role of the state in this disaster has been to make things worse: the delay in issuing warnings, the misinformation as to which areas were at risk, the suppression of information on the deaths and diseases related to or caused by Chernobyl, the refusal to allow scientists to do research, the publication of underestimates of the amount of radiation released, the refusal to arrange for evacuation from areas known to be contaminated, the despatch of contaminated foodstuff from these regions to uncontaminated regions, the lack of provision of decent medical facilities, the secrecy surrounding the lessons learnt earlier at Kyshtym – the state and its officials bear a heavy load of responsibility for this massive catastrophe and its (too-often avoidable) tragic consequences.

Probably this is the worst environmental disaster the world has yet seen. Large areas of land are uninhabitable yet in many of these people are still living – living a nightmare. In one village, in a single year, 30 babies were born with serious deformities.

The danger to humanity, and to the planet, of continuing to allow capitalist priorities – production of cheap, rather than safe, energy – and capitalist political structures – such as rule by a Party hierarchy, determined to control the information released to the population under its rule – this is the lesson of Chernobyl. The land is poisoned with pollution, the forest trees produce abnormal mutated growths, and the watertable is polluted. On the farms cows give birth to deformed calves, in the villages young women dread giving birth to monsters. Children are not allowed out of doors except to go to and from school.

Genetic mutation is a high price to pay for the government’s mistakes, for cheap electricity for export to Poland and Rumania, and for plutonium for the military, a by-product of the Chernobyl reactor. It is a price being paid partly because the world has trusted technical experts too much. There were experts in the Ukraine who claimed that Chernobyl’s four reactors were totally safe. After the accident Britain’s best-known expert on nuclear power, Lord Marshall, asserted that the risk from radiation inside the exclusion zone (less than 20 miles away from Chernobyl itself) was “no worse than smoking a couple of cigarettes a year” (Observer, 4 May 1986).

The likes of Lord Marshall have been making reassuring noises in the Soviet Union and doing their best to prevent doctors and scientists revealing the truth about Chernobyl’s legacy, Gorbachev’s glasnost did not apply in this special case. So long as society’s class divisions mean the necessity for the continued existence of states and national governments, and so long as production is for profit not for use, the danger of continuing to use such extremely risky technology will be too great – the victims are already too many.
Charmian Skelton

Kashmir: socialism or barbarism? (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

By the end of April this year the Indian army had redeployed 70-90,000 troops, including between 300 and 500 tanks, to just 30 miles from Pakistan's Sind and Punjab provinces. These "exercises'’ were officially due to have ended in February. It was along this stretch of border, Pakistan's "weak under-belly", that Indian tanks crashed through in 1965, and today war between the two states again seems a real possibility.

Pakistan and India have fought each other three times since British forces pulled out of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. In that year Imperial India was partitioned into two bitterly opposed states. Moslem Pakistan and mainly-Hindu India. But the cause of the successive Indo-Pakistan conflicts was never religion as such. Religion rather became the cloak behind which the Indian and Pakistani states mobilised their peoples to fight for regional strategic dominance. And the key to this dominance lay in Kashmir.

Strategic importance
Kashmir is a poor, mountainous, scenically beautiful region of 85,000 square miles—larger than England—lying between India and Pakistan. Traditionally it has been the resting place for caravans moving from India to the Highlands of Central Asia, and it remains today the strategic pivot of the sub-continent. The state which dominates Kashmir dominates the area, and this has been clearly recognised by the leaders on both sides.

In an Indian government publication entitled Independence and After written in 1949 the then Prime Minister Nehru asserted that:
  India without Kashmir would cease to occupy a pivotal position on the political map of Central Asia. Strategically Kashmir is vital to the security of India: it has been so since the dawn of history.
And. almost twenty years later, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan. Liaquat Ali Khan, justified his state's claim in exactly the same terms:
  Kashmir is vital to Pakistan. Kashmir, as you will see from the map, is like a cap on the head of Pakistan. If I allow India to have this cap on our head, then I am always at the mercy of India. (In M. Gopal, Considerations of Defence, Caravan, 1967).
After “independence" Kashmir was left hanging between its hostile neighbours. Although some four-fifths of its population were Moslems, the ruling elite was Hindu. In 1947 Moslem tribesmen from the North West, enraged at reports of massacres of Moslems elsewhere, invaded Kashmir. The wave of mass killing and arson which followed threatened the rule of the Hindu Maharajah, who turned in desperation to India for support. Seizing its opportunity, the Indian government extracted a promise that Kashmir would be signed over after the army had intervened—a condition the Maharajah had little choice but to accept. But as soon as the instrument of accession had been signed Pakistan sent troops into Kashmir, ostensibly to "save the uprising" of fellow Moslems, but in reality to secure the Pakistani state's strategic position.

The bloody clashes which followed were brought to an end by a ceasefire which left India in de facto control of the most prosperous part of the province. Although Indian politicians had promised free elections for Kashmir, this was soon forgotten The result could only have been independence or union with Pakistan.

Despite a disastrous attempt by the Pakistani army to seize Kashmir in 1965 after infiltrating guerilla forces over the ceasefire line, Southern Kashmir has remained in Indian hands ever since.

Cynical misrule
The present crisis erupted in Kashmir after years of cynical mismanagement by the Indian state, including rigged elections, endemic corruption and now naked repression. Foreign correspondents, now banned from the province, have continued to receive reports of beatings, rapes, torture and even executions.

In response. Kashmiri secessionist groups have stepped up their campaign of violence, engaging Indian troops in savage street to street battles, assassinating politicians and senior police officers and waging a relentless bombing campaign whose recent targets included a private bus and a Bombay commuter train. Indian army curfews were met with mass demonstrations and over 350 people have died in the uprising this year.

Over 8000 refugees and at least 3000 volunteers seeking military training have already streamed over the ceasefire line, and with the end of the avalanche season in June as many as 100,000 more are expected to attempt the crossing. India has responded by banning any movement out of the province and constructing a 12-ft high electrified fence along the perimeter. Pakistani troops are reported to have provided covering fire for refugees making the break for the border and ugly clashes with Indian border patrols are said to have led to a number of deaths.

The Indian government has blamed Pakistan for fomenting the unrest and threatened armed retribution. In the middle of April the Indian Prime Minister VP Singh said the country should be "psychologically prepared" for war against Pakistan, and after attacking Pakistan's “evil designs" in Kashmir warned that the Pakistani army would "not last 1000 hours" in a war. “We will teach them a lesson unless they stop aiding terrorists", he concluded darkly, refusing to rule out the possibility of hot pursuit raids against the alleged rebel training camps on the Pakistani side of the ceasefire line.

Meanwhile correspondents in Pakistani Kashmir report that the rebels are setting up power centres and arming themselves with weapons bought from arms dealers in the country's tribal belt. A jihaad. or holy war, has been proclaimed by Moslems there with the support of a hard core of 1000-2000 Kashmiris already battle-hardened in that other jihaad just across the border in Afghanistan

Fingers on nuclear triggers
What lessons can be drawn from this dismal situation? First, that where there are states competing for strategic advantage—which they are compelled to do for reasons of survival in a competitive world—there will always be conflict, or the threat of conflict.

It also reveals the futility of nationalism. Who would Kashmir "belong to" if it was “liberated" from the grip of the Indian ruling class? Certainly not those who are pouring across the ceasefire line to learn to fight and kill their fellow workers. They would find that their sacrifices would bring just the same poverty and oppression when they are exploited by a bunch of Kashmiri or Pakistani bosses rather than the Indian variety. And of course the multinationals would continue to inflict their Bophals and extract their profits no matter which gang was in power.

The only solution to the Kashmiri crisis is world socialism, in which there will be no more states struggling to divide the world's markets between them and using the cloak of religion to muster support for their murderous banners; when there will be a free and cooperative sharing of the world's resources and living space on the basis of need, and not on the ability to conquer or exploit.

One closing thought for those who think that a socialist world would be all very nice but is not an urgent necessity. India has successfully exploded a nuclear capability Both have large air forces capable of delivering nuclear bombs. If a crisis does erupt when refugees from Kashmir start pouring across the border after the avalanche season, and the Indian state carries out its threat to launch cross-border raids, fingers will be on those nuclear triggers.

Because, unlike the superpowers, who can guarantee to retaliate after receiving a first nuclear strike. India and Pakistan have so few nuclear devices the side which strikes first could expect to "win" an exchange (whatever that might mean). This is clearly a recipe for massive instability, and perhaps disastrous miscalculation. Socialism or barbarism is still the only real choice which confronts us.
Andrew Thomas

50 Years Ago: The Communist Party and the Churchill Government (1990)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party is annoyed about the new Government. They do not like the Government led by Mr. Churchill, which includes Mr Attlee and other Labour leaders, along with Sir Archibald Sinclair and other Liberals. The Daily Worker of March 10th, 1940, says in its editorial: "The Daily Herald thunders against Chamberlain, but it is silent about Churchill. What a man to take under the wing of the Labour Party!"

The next day (May 11th, 1940) the Daily Worker had another fierce article against the National Government, under a headline "Fight against Labour participation in Churchill's new War Government".

It was not always so. Only last year the Daily Worker was campaigning for a Popular Front Government and urging that the men of its choice should get together and form an all-party Government in order to carry out an active policy of "collective action against new aggression and threats of aggression from Nazi Germany".

And who were the men of the Communist Party's choice? None other than Mr. Churchill. Mr. Attlee and Sir A. Sinclair! The front page of the Daily Worker (March 30th, 1939) carried in bold headlines: COMMUNIST APPEAL TO ATTLEE. SINCLAIR AND CHURCHILL—URGED TO DEFEAT CABINET AND FORM NEW GOVERNMENT.

[From Socialist Standard, June 1940]

Between the Lines: The Godfather Part XXVII (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Godfather Part XXVII

There is something perversely compulsive about watching American TV preachers. Perhaps it is that the rest of American TV is so indescribably awful—punctuated by adverts for ointments for piles and candidates for Governor—that the hideous nadir of the merchant-evangelists offers security in the knowledge that things cannot get any worse. Contrast the screaming apostles of instant salvation with those sleepy inhabitants of the god-slot on British TV: Thora Hird playing hymns to ancients hers and their budgies in Dorset: Harry Secombe standing on Welsh hills talking about Jesus as if he were still a member of the Goons: mass choirs of frigid little people with guilty squints and Hitler haircuts who sing about being joyful and look like they've just opened their poll tax demand and discovered that salvation is for the next life. British TV offers a dull dribble of religious platitudes. It is on because the law says it must be, and most of us switch it off because we were taught about the Bible at school and it makes us tired.

You do not fall asleep watching religious TV in the USA—not physically asleep, anyway. The Praise The Lord channel provides an endless parade of men who would fail the honesty test for the Used Car Dealers' Association. They are here to tell us that Jesus is alive and has a telephone number. You call the number and then discover that he also has a bank account. You pay a thousand dollars and wonderful things will happen to you. Watching one hysterical Jesus-pusher was almost a caricature of the genre. In the studio with him were a husband and wife whose marriage had only one year ago been on the rocks. The husband was ignoring his wife and getting into debt; she was depressed. Then she switched on the god slot and, hallelujah, delusion was mixed with depression to create a fatal concoction of witless optimism. She recounted the story of how she was about to throw her husband out of the house. The miserable looking husband confessed that life for him was awful and that he was broke and needed a van to start up a business. So what did they do? Why. what would any sane person do, buddy? They got right down on their knees and they said. "Lord, send us that van". The Lord—through his American TV interpreter— suggested that it would be a good idea to send their last thousand dollars to the TV preacher. (Why they did not spend the thousand dollars on the van was not explained. Then, neither was the virgin birth). And hallelujah, within a week a cheap van was purchased and since then the saved couple have been as happy as . . drug addicts in a state of mental oblivion.

"So", said the screaming presenter. "I want you people out there to make god your credit manager". God the credit manager— was George Bush watching, we ask ourselves. The presenter then went into a state which seemed to call for men in white coats. He ranted, raved, sang, cried, had visions, felt Jesus talking to him—and above all, remembered to repeatedly mention the telephone number. Important that; forget the men in white coats—bring on the boys with the truncheons. It was a spectacular act; “I see a poor single mother out there—I see the look of sadness on her face—I want her to know that god loves her—god loves you ma'am—yes, he loves you and he wants to tell you—you might only have your welfare cheque there—that might be all you have in the whole wide world—but god wants you to send that money to him—and here's the number to call right now . . ."

The new Broadcasting Act in Britain is to open the floodgates for such unscrupulous rogues to perform here. Watch out Harry, Thora and the Bridlington Middle-Aged Ladies' Choir: the Lord has a few more mysterious than usual ways in which his agents are about to make moves.

And so to Hell

Returning from the USA to Britain, back to the high culture of Neighbours and Opportunity Knocks, was a relief. As yet there are no thousand-dollar trips to Heaven on offer. On Sunday 13 May BBC's Everyman ran a documentary about hell. That is the place for the oppressed to be sent if they fail to show enough obedience to their oppressors during their lifetimes. One Christian, the Bishop of Edinburgh, referred to the ridiculous concept as "the smash-grab crush- your-testicles conception of Christianity". In short, it was based upon a form of psychological terrorism which threatened infinite mutilation to those who refused to adhere to their masters' morals—or in the USA. to wicked sinners who fail to surrender a thousand bucks as a sign of their fear. The images of hell shown in the documentary were the kind of pictures that would have frightened the average peasant into submission—and put the wind up quite a few aristocrats. In the concert in Liverpool to mark the tenth anniversary of John Lennon's death they showed film of him singing Imagine: Kylie Minogue and the gang singing about "no possessions" was just a little strange—but when they sang about a world where there would be "no religion" your reviewer joined in with all the enthusiasm of a boy scout in the back row of Songs of Praise. No religion, no possessions, a world without the need for illusions, eh? You may say I'm a dreamer, but it beats Thora Hird's vision of the Good Life any day.
Steve Coleman

Roosevelt's "New Deal" (1934)

From the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The whole world has been watching with interest the progress and results of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” more correctly described as American capitalism’s strenuous effort to rescue itself from the morass of depression.

After three years of deepening crisis, falling prices and wages, increasing bankruptcies, and unemployment that reached the unheard of total of from 15 to 17 millions, the country was seething with political unrest. The Hoover regime, which had attempted to conjure the depression away by wish-magic and optimism, but had otherwise done practically nothing to alleviate the economic dislocation, was overwhelmed in the democratic landslide of the 1932 elections. Roosevelt and his party swept the country with their attacks on the “criminal inactivity” of the Republicans, and with lavish promises of a New Deal that would bring back “ Prosperity.”

In general, although there is much intertwining of interests in the propertied class the Republican Party stands for big business and the financial interests. The Democrats are the party of the smaller business men and the mass of the farmers. The most voluble, agitated and organised of all those adversely affected by the depression were precisely these latter groups. Millions of small property owners were hopelessly in debt, their savings gone or tied up in closed banks. The farmers’ earnings and standard of life had been declining for years before the crisis which but intensified their problems. Amongst the workers cut after cut in wages, plus mass unemployment and the constant threat of it, had generated a great volume of discontent. This was, however, largely unorganised and inarticulate, notwithstanding sporadic outbursts. All these elements looked to Roosevelt as to a messiah. Emotional tension at the time of the elections was intense and enthusiasm for the victorious “hero” almost universal, even amongst many of the rank and file Republicans.

Immediately after its inauguration in March, 1933, the new Government was granted extraordinary emergency powers by the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress. Then came the passing, almost without criticism, of a series of drastic laws drawn up by Roosevelt and his group of economic advisers which set up a whole battery of new administrative bodies for a concerted attack upon the problems of ”recovery” and “relief.” Of these bodies the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Industrial Recovery Administration (the N.R.A.) are the most important. As we are chiefly concerned with the interests of the industrial workers, it is the N.R.A., and particularly its labour provisions, that we shall mainly consider.

The N.R.A. came into existence in June, 1933. First it established a General or “Blanket” Code of Fair Competition, which all employers were asked to sign and adhere to. A national propaganda campaign, using all means of ballyhoo, mobilised the vast pro-Roosevelt sentiment behind the scheme. By August 1st over 700,000 employers had signed and received the badge of the Blue Eagle. Compulsion was threatened if persuasion failed—a piece of bluff characteristic of many aspects of the New Deal.

The Blanket Code established a maximum working week of from thirty-five to forty hours, minimum wages varying from twelve dollars to fifteen dollars per week, and made certain classes of child labour illegal. Section 7a of the code guaranteed workers the right of collective bargaining through representatives of their own choosing. The N.R.A. further called upon each industry to draw up a code adapted to its own special needs, each code to be in harmony with the Blanket Code and approved in its details by the N.R.A. The following condensed account of the Steel Industries Code is given as a sample:—
  “The Steel Code . . . provided for a trial period of ninety days. At the end of this period the steel companies declared it workable . . . It provided for a forty-hour week of labour averaged over three months, with a maximum for each employee of not more than forty-eight hours in a 6-day week. The right of collective bargaining was conceded. Representatives of the N.R.A. were empowered to inspect the records of the Iron and Steel Institute to obtain full 'information concerning production, shipment, sales and unfilled orders, hours of labour, rates of pay and other conditions of employment,’ in order to stabilise production.” (The World Almanac, 1934.)
To date, over 400 codes have been put into force and it is estimated that about 20 millions of workers or 90 per cent. of those eligible come within their regulations.

A primary feature of the whole “recovery” programme has been the efforts to artificially stimulate a general rise in prices by credit and currency schemes, and by limiting price-cutting and controlling production through the codes. Because the crisis was accompanied by falling prices it has been assumed by almost all capitalists that if only prices could be pushed up “prosperity” would be here again. Yet it is evident that unless rising prices result from a growing demand for goods, the effect must be to curtail sales. This fact is recognised by the recovery administration. Roosevelt and his economist advisers have, for perhaps the first time in the history of capitalist politics, insisted on the need for greater purchasing power amongst the masses if "prosperity" is to be regained and maintained. This attitude is partly, no doubt, a political manoeuvre to attract working class support. It is certainly emphatic enough, and none of the New Dealers have more clearly expressed it than H. A. Wallace, the present Secretary of Agriculture. In his pamphlet, "America Must Choose" reprinted in part in the New York Times, February 25th, 1934, he says:—
   "There can be little doubt that the trouble traces, in whole or in part, to a maldistribution of income. That doctrine is implicit in our New Deal, which seems to me to rest on irresistible logic. We are trying to build up consumption per capita at home as a substitute for new consumers abroad. Our new method involves a planned redistribution of the national income, in contrast with the unplanned redistribution that takes place regularly, usually unhappily, in every major economic crisis the civilised world over. ...
  "Our New Deal seeks to promote consumption more soundly. It directs purchasing power to those in need by wage advances and alleviations of debt. It lessens the need to force exports. It looks toward balancing production with consumption at home."
In considering this aspect of the New Deal it is important to note that the schemes of the administration to raise wages have been timid in the extreme. Compare them with the bold experiments in banking control, crop reduction and business control through the codes. The fixing of minimum wage-rates affects only the lower-paid strata of workers, directly at all events. How higher-paid workers may be affected is well shown by A. Epstein, a writer on reform questions, in ah article, "Is it a New Deal?" (Current History, March, 1934): —
   "Under the new dispensation, many less efficient workers were completely cast out of industry. On the other hand, many of those who were formerly considered cheap and inefficient were discovered to be able to do almost as good work as that formerly done by employees who received more than the minimum wage in the codes.
  "Since the codes did not abolish the employer's right to hire and fire, he was able either to dismiss entirely his most expensive help or to rehire them later at wages more nearly approaching the minimum. The endless possibilities in such reductions were quite unexplored. Even now there is no way of estimating whether or not the meagre accruals in purchasing power of the lowest-paid wage-earners exceed the reductions in the wages of higher-paid employees. There is no conclusive evidence whatsoever that the N.R.A. . . . with its unwieldy mechanisms for enforcement, has actually resulted in increasing labour's total purchasing power. The contrary is more likely to be true."?
Unorganised white-collar workers are especially liable to be affected in the above manner. L. W. Zimmer, in charge of the employment bureau of New York University, reported last October that "The $20 to $22 job is now about a $15 job, because employers tend to keep their wages around the N.R.A. minimum." He added that the number found jobs was not appreciably above that of the same period of the preceding year. (N.Y. Telegram, October 11th, 1934.)

Despite the fact that one of the avowed objects of the N.R.A. is the abolition of "sweating," the minimum wage rates are only about one-half of the figure, $26.77, which in 1932 was declared by the Department of Labour to be a bare subsistence wage for a family of five. It is well known, moreover, that great numbers are receiving less than the minimum. Fear of unemployment and victimisation effectively prevents complaints to the local N.R.A. Similar evasions in hours of labour are widespread.

The actual increase in individual earnings where there has been a growing demand for workers owing to increasing business has been very small. The American Federation of Labour in its annual review of industry for 1933 reports average weekly wage rates in 16 industries as being $20.53 in November, 1932, $20.56 in November, 1933, and $20.83 at the end of January, 1934. Retail food prices, according to Bureau of Labour Statistics, had risen 20 per cent. between April, 1933, and February, 1934, whilst clothing and furnishings had risen 27 per cent. It is thus evident that the average worker’s standard of living and purchasing power was actually declining during the first seven months of the N.R.A.

The attempt to absorb any large proportion of the unemployed by the reduction of hours to 35-40 weekly is futile so long as business continues at a low ebb. So great had been the spread of short time prior to the New Deal, that the average hours worked in June, 1933, were: crude petroleum industry, 42.6 hours; iron and steel, 37.9 hours; soft coal, 28.5. (Monthly Labour Review, August, 1933.) The average over all manufacturing industries for the first five months of 1933 is estimated at 34.7 hours.

It is, moreover, almost certain that with industrial recovery, machinery and speeding up will enable output at the code hours to equal or even surpass that reached with the longer hours of the pre-depression period. It is extremely significant that the makers of machinery are experiencing what is perhaps the sharpest pick-up shown in any industry. The New York Times (September 24th, 1933) reported that makers of machine tools did 400 per cent. more business in August than in the preceding March. This report further says: “The largest call for new equipment comes from textile mills, which are seeking high-speed machinery to replace the obsolete looms they find too expensive to operate under present high production costs. Producers of men’s and women’s garments are also investing freely in machinery capable of producing more goods in the limited working time allowed under the recovery codes. . . . Manufacturers of machinery attribute the present demand for labour-saving machinery to the desire of producers to keep up previous production schedules while remaining within the limits of the working hour provisions of the recovery programme.” Could anything show more clearly the tangle of contradictions in which the N.R.A. is involved, how its provisions are nullified even when obeyed to the letter, by the inescapable trends of capitalist “enterprise” ? It may be added that so great have been the advances in machinery and other means of production during the years of depression that students of the question agree in believing that with industry restored to its high 1929 level of output, 4,000,000 workers would remain unemployed. Only a further expansion of total production would reduce that figure.

Especially significant is the recent decision to close all of the 900 silk mills for one week on account of large unsold stocks. The textile code authorities have given this order, and violators are threatened with legal penalties. Hundreds of thousands of workers will be laid off.

During the first four months of the Roosevelt administration there was a swift improvement in business. This is generally attributed, in part at least, to the endeavour of manufacturers to lay up stocks before the rise in the costs of production which were expected to result from the Roosevelt policies. The New York Times index of business activity registered its lowest point, of 47.9, in March, 1933. (100 is the estimated “ normal,” but this, to-day, is arbitrary, and a return to it would still be under slump conditions.) The index rose rapidly, and momentarily touched 99 in mid-July, one month after N.R.A. was born. Then began a slow decline, reaching 72.5 in early November. Since then there has been a slow, wavering advance to 87.5 on May 5th. As there has been an improvement in business over most of the capitalist world in the past few months, it is doubtful, to say the least, to what extent the N.R.A. has been instrumental in assisting recovery in America.

There has been a moderate reduction in unemployment. The A.F. of L. report for May, 1934, states that unemployment was reduced from its peak of 13.6 millions in March, 1933, to 10.1 millions in October, but that between October, 1933, and March, 1934, 780-thousand had lost their jobs again. Statistics on unemployment in the U.S. are, however, notoriously incomplete and unreliable. The A.F. of L. figures do not take into account agricultural and certain other classes of workers. The estimate of the Alexandra Hamilton Institute, which does take these into account, places the high point of unemployment at 17 millions. The A.F. of L. estimates that the total wages paid per week increased by 23.7 per cent, between March, 1933, and March, 1934.

Let us now look at the way in which the trend to recovery is affecting the capitalists. In the aforementioned A.F. of L. report it is stated that "the first fifty-one companies to report for the first quarter of 1934 showed total profits of $18,740,000, compared with $6,332,000 in 1933. Dividends, the Federation said, were $15,000,000 higher in March. 1934, than in March, 1933.” (New York Times, May 6th, 1934.) This tendency is precisely what one would expect. It is inevitable that, with the upward trend of production, the increase in returns on capital will be more rapid than the increase in income to the workers. Just as the slump in production was due to conditions which forced down the rate of profit, so the expansion of production can only result from conditions which cause the rate of profit to rise. Profit is the sole motive to production under capitalism, N.R.A. or no N.R.A.

It is evident, therefore, that the principle upon which the labour policy of the New Deal is in theory based, that a greater proportion of the national purchasing power must go to the workers, is not materialising, and it is not likely to.

Next month we will consider the N.R.A. and Trade Unionism.
R. W. Housley
Workers’ Socialist Party (U.S.A.)

The Disintegration of the I.L.P. (1934)

Editorial from the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another New Party Formed.

Less than two years ago the I.L.P. decided to leave the Labour Party, which it had spent thirty years trying to build up and control. A large minority declined to accept this decision, formed the Socialist League and the Scottish Socialist Party, and remained in the Labour Party. Now, after a painful experience of trying to work with the Communist Party without being swallowed up by it, the I.L.P. has seen another large section of its membership secede in order to form yet another organisation, the Independent Socialist Party.

The secessionists are the I.L.P. branches in Lancashire and neighbouring counties, and their reason for seceding is that they object to the policy adopted by the majority of forming a united front with the Communist Party. They also protest that the policy of the Maxton group is leaning away from democratic and parliamentary methods towards minority action and armed revolt, that is, towards the discredited doctrines of the Communists.

The resolution passed at the inaugurating conference was as follows (Manchester Guardian, May 14th):—
  That this conference, believing: that poverty, unemployment, war, and restriction of liberty are the inevitable accompaniment of capitalism, declares for the establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth in which the land, and instruments of production, and exchange are publicly owned and democratically controlled and in which economic equality, will obtain. Understanding that the change from capitalism to Socialism involves a revolution, the conference affirms that this can only be accomplished by the enlightened democratic assent of the majority of the people and by the full use of the political, industrial, and cooperative strength possessed by the British democracy. To this end it pledges itself to establish an independent Socialist Party which will present not merely “collectivism” as an economic necessity, but Socialism as an ethically superior social system.
This resolution can be taken as giving a good idea of the outlook of the new movement. It is perhaps an advance on the series of programmes adopted in the past by the I.L.P., but it contains many confused and ambiguous phrases, dangerous not only for what they say, but also for the certainty that they will be differently interpreted by different people. What, for example, is meant by public ownership and democratic control of the “instruments of exchange"? Exchange is the process of buying and selling, of giving one privately-owned commodity in exchange for another. It can have no place in a Socialist system of society where articles will be produced for use, not for sale. It may be, of course, that the framers of the resolution did not mean “exchange" but "distribution," but that only indicates their unfitness yet to propagate Socialism. And why the term “publicly owned" ? This is the conveniently obscure name used by Mr. Herbert Morrison to describe the form of capitalism which goes by the name public utility corporations. What is meant by “ political, industrial, and co-operative strength"? There can be no Socialism until a Socialist majority have organised politically for and have achieved the conquest of the machinery of government. To link up industrial action with this as if the two were of equal importance shows confusion. The reference to "co-operative strength" is worse, for it implies that the new party has inherited the I.L.P. belief, that the joint stock capitalist trading, known as the Co-operative Movement, is an organisation which exists to help achieve Socialism.

One test that can be applied to this new party concerns the S.P.G.B. On the surface they have come a considerable way towards recognising the soundness of the S.P.G.B.’s position, and prominent members, such as Mr. Middleton Murry, have on occasions admitted this. If, then, they are clear and determined in their belief that Socialism is the only solution, and that independent democratic political action is the method, why did they hasten to form yet another party, instead of joining the S.P.G.B. ?

If, on the other hand, they hold that the S.P.G.B.'s position is unsound, why do they not state their case against it? They have not done so, but—and this includes Mr. Middleton Murry in particular—they have carefully avoided dealing with the S.P.G.B. at all.

That the founders of the new party are completely muddled in their conception of what constitutes political independence is, however, shown by their statement (Manchester Guardian, May 17th) that members of the I.S.P. are to be allowed to be members of the Labour Party as well. If the basis of the new party is really different from that of the Labour Party, as is claimed, how can individuals be permitted to belong to both parties?

The fact that this is to be permitted will be interpreted, and rightly so, as an indication that the I.S.P. stands in the same kind of relationship to the Labour Party as did the old I.L.P., that of a reformist group calling for a more “militant," but not essentially different, policy and objective. It will also open up the way to that bugbear of working class organisations, the political careerist, who will be able in the I.S.P., as in the former I.L.P., to run with the “left wing” hare while hunting with the Labour Party hounds.

So far there has been no talk in the new party of putting forward a programme of reforms or immediate demands, but since they acknowledge their faith in the old traditions of the I.L.P., and are willing to allow membership of the Labour Party, it is to be expected that they will go the same way as all the other parties which have wanted Socialism a little, but have wanted a large membership, and parliamentary and local government electoral victories, more than they wanted Socialism.

In passing, it is worth recording the result of the Upton by-election, at which Mr. Fenner Brockway was the I.L.P. candidate. The I.L.P. (that is, the Maxton-Brockway fragment of the once popular and wealthy party) is now near-Communist, and it put forward Mr. Brockway in order to queer the pitch of the Labour Party candidate. The result was that the Labour candidate obtained 11,988 votes, the Conservative 8,534, and Mr. Brockway only 748, thus forfeiting his £150 deposit. The I.L.P. (and the Communists, who supported them in the election) sought comfort in the view that, at any rate, they had got real revolutionary votes. A glance at Mr. Brockway's election address shows, however, that he solicited votes on the usual reform measures. In his programme were the following: Old-age pensions of 20s. at sixty years of age, thirty hours' work a week, all-round increases of wages “to a decent human standard," restoration of the wage cuts on the pay of postmen, teachers, soldiers, sailors and the police, etc., etc. One little thing shows the shoddiness of this reformist vote-catching. Mr. Brockway now asks for old-age pensions at sixty; forty years ago the I.L.P. was asking for old-age pensions at fifty. Is this what is meant by a more “advanced" programme?

This kind of reformism once gave the I.L.P. a 60,000 membership, and 200 of its members seats in the House of Commons as Labour M.P.'s. Now its membership is probably less than a tenth of that number, and its M.P.’s are reduced to two or three. When the Maxtons and Brockways are finally forced to recognise that the tide of reformist votes is flowing strongly towards the Labour Party, it may be expected that they and their shattered remnant of followers will slink back into that safe harbourage. 

Their experiment in reformism, independent of the Labour Party, has been every whit as harmful to the Socialist movement as their years of working hand-in-hand with the Liberal and Labour Parties.

It remains to be seen whether the Independent Socialist Party has really learned by that experience or whether it, too, will gravitate back to the magnet of trade union votes and trade union money inside the Labour Party. There is no place for a really independent working class party except on the basis of clear-cut Socialist principles from which every vestige of reformism and vote-catching have been excluded.

Answers to Correspondents (1934)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pay of Party Officials.

Several correspondents in recent months have asked what is the pay of the editors of the Socialist Standard and other Party Officials. The position is that, so far, the whole of the Party’s work (apart from Head Office cleaning and caretaking), secretarial, editorial, organising, speaking, etc., has been done by volunteers, without any pay at all. As the Party’s activities grow, it will cease to be possible to have certain kinds of work done by volunteers in their spare time, although the bulk of the work will always be done in this way. The fact that the S.P.G.B’s financial resources are at present meagre has the effect of preventing us from undertaking those extensions of our activities which would necessitate having full-time organisers and other officials.
Editorial Committee

The Qualification of "S.S." Writers.

Other correspondents have asked for information about the identity of the writers of articles published in the Socialist Standard, their qualifications to deal with certain subjects, and other similar information. The principal answer to all such inquiries is that the articles published in the Socialist Standard carry their justification with them. They put forward certain arguments which the reader is expected to examine for himself, and to accept only if he finds them logical and in accordance with the facts. No attempt is made to secure the reader’s agreement with a point of view merely on the ground that the writer is an “authority,” although it is the claim of the S.P.G.B. that its declarations concerning Socialism, whether on the platform or in print, are the result of serious study, and are in that sense authoritative. For what it is worth we may point out that among the regular contributors to the Socialist Standard are half a dozen writers who have university training and degrees. They are not, for that reason, any better exponents of the Socialist case than other writers who have not that kind of distinction. Having qualified in some special branch of study, they may be expected to be particularly fitted to deal with aspects of Socialism touching thereon, but in that they are no different from other writers and speakers of the Party who have specialised in various directions. In the S.P.G.B. every effort is made to secure accuracy as regards statements of fact, and to secure that all written and spoken statements of the Socialist case shall be in accordance with the teachings of science.
Editorial Committee

Canada's White Hope — the C.C.F. (1934)

From the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight championship many moons ago, the world has with eagerness watched the coming and going of white hopes. In the more important realm of politics new movements are born and quickly die, the remains creating fertilizers for new hopes to befog the minds of the majority, who so far have shown no desire for a real change in the system.

It is two years since the birth of the C.C.F. in Calgary, and British workers may be interested to know what the mystic letters “ C.C.F.” mean, and what the organisation stands for.

The Canadian Co-operative Federation is the fine-sounding title represented by the letters in question, and to those of us who have had the Co-operative Commonwealth, i.e., Socialism, as our objective for years it is difficult to understand the minds which claim that their ultimate aim, but spend all their time advocating something else now.

The outstanding figure of the C.C.F. is James S. Woodsworth, one of the Winnipeg Labour M.P.'s in the Parliament at Ottawa. He is an ex-preacher noted for his radical ideas, and has turned out an able politician, judged by the standards of the capitalist parties.

In the 1921 election to the Federal House, sixty-four Progressives were elected, all with more or less Radical ideas. By 1925 most of them were absorbed by the Liberal Party, and in 1930 (including the Labourites), they only mustered fifteen members, who have since that time cooperated in a loose group.

August 1st, 1932, saw the first meeting and the first attempt at organisation, when a Farmer-Labour Federation was formed. This meeting was attended by delegates of Labour Parties of the four Western Provinces and the organised farmers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The movement spread rapidly and culminated in a great Convention, held in Regina, July 19th to 21st, 1933. It was attended by 135 delegates, from Toronto and Montreal in the East to Vancouver on the Pacific Coast, at which the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation was founded.

The affiliations of the Federation consist of the Farmer-Labour Party of New Brunswick, the Labour Party of Quebec, the Labour Conference of Ontario, the I.L.P. of Manitoba, the Labour Party of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Labour Party of Alberta, and the so-called Socialist Party of British Columbia. Next, and perhaps most important, the organised Farmers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta joined up, with Manitoba farmers giving half-hearted support, but likely to continue to vote for the Farmer-Liberal Government which has power in this Province at present.

Another group giving support to the C.C.F. consists of a sprinkling of “intellectuals” of the Radical type, mostly college professors, doctors, lawyers and preachers. In addition, the organised Protestant churches have practically blessed the C.C.F. by passing resolutions calling for the "transformation of the present competitive system into a co-operative one.” C.C.F. leaders frequently quote from a recent encyclical of Pope Pius in an effort to link up the powerful Roman Catholic vote to their side.

The semi-feudal background of the peasants and workers of Roman Catholic Quebec will be hard to overcome, and radicalism of the pinkest type has not yet penetrated to that home of what has been termed bush-culture. To illustrate the outlook of some of the farming element of Canada to which the C.C.F. appeals, it has been related that a C.C.F. speaker, after declaiming against the Wages system, had one farmer agree with him in the following words: “Yes, I agree we should abolish wages. Hired men want far too big wages nowadays.”

The economic background of the new movement, therefore, is made up of, first, a very reactionary farm population whose main desire is a big price for farm produce. On the other hand, they demand a low wage scale for labour, not only amongst their hired hands, but also amongst the men who make their farm machinery, and those who on the railroads, etc., transport their produce to the markets of the world.

Secondly, a Labour movement with the regular Trade Union outlook largely imported from Great Britain but contaminated by the ideas of that most pitiful Trade Union movement, the American Federation of Labour, to which most of our unions are affiliated.

There are also groups organised as Social Reconstruction Clubs which are affiliated to the C.C.F., and from the leaders of those clubs flow a constant stream of half-boiled schemes and plans, and a constant fight against anything pertaining to a recognition of the class struggle.

The usual Left and Right Wings are already developing. The reformist S.P. of British Columbia is led largely by some ex-members of the old S.P. of Canada, who could see no possible career in the new Party organised in Winnipeg a few years ago with a programme similar to that of the S.P.G.B. They, along with some young members of the I.L.P. in Winnipeg and a small group of ex-semi- Communists in Toronto, comprise the Left.

The Farmers of Ontario are led by an avowed anti-Socialist, Miss Agnes McPhail, M.P. She has the help of two other fierce opponents of Sodalism, in the persons of Mr. Elmore Philpott, much boosted soldier-orator-journalist in Toronto, and Mr. John McLean, M.A., B.A., L.L.D. (Oxon.), Rhodes scholar and lawyer here in Winnipeg.

We see then that the new Federation represents (a) the wage workers of Canada, whose ideas are as nebulous as the ideas of the same class in other lands, and of course it can well be understood their immediate demands are equally confusing; (b) the farmers of Canada, whose hopes and demands have already been outlined as high prices for farm produce and low wages for the industrial workers as well as the farm labourers.

The C.C.F. have fourteen planks in their platform, subject, of course, to additions and reductions to suit the vote-catching needs of the moment. Some of the planks appeal specially to the wage workers. Plank 7, for instance, calls for “A National Labour Code to secure for the workers maximum income and leisure, insurance covering illness, accident, old age and unemployment, freedom of association and an effective participation in the management of his industry or profession.”

Mr. Elmer E. Roper, one of the Alberta Labour leaders, tells us, in the February issue of the Saskatchewan C.C.F. Research, that this plank is one that might easily appear in the Election platform of either of the old parties.”

The same could well be said of the other thirteen planks, but we will deal with them as we go on.

Plank 4 deals with “Agriculture” and features as its chief aim “Security of Tenure” for the farmers of Canada. To get what is meant by that elusive term we can refer to the "C.C.F. Agricultural Policy” as outlined by their principal farmer leader, G. H. Williams, President of the Saskatchewan Farmer-Labour group, in his speech at the Regina Convention, July 22nd, 1933. The present real owners of Canadian Farm lands—the Mortgage and Insurance Companies—are to be treated real rough by Mr. Williams and the C.C.F. when they get power. He says: ”We will give you bonds for your equity, bonds that will not carry interest. . . . These bonds will be payable over a period of years in the currency of the province as it may be at the date of payment." Then to the farmer, Mr. Williams says: “All improvements will, of course, increase the value of the land, and the State will guarantee to compensate you for the increase in the value of the land, brought about by your efforts." Not only that, but Mr. Williams says they are going to supply “through Socialism to the agriculturist, a marketing board, State credit and pegged prices. . . . In industry we guarantee to the worker a job at an adequate wage and we use the production for the benefit of the Canadian people. We will do the same for agriculture."

So that brings us to a new problem for the C.C.F. What will people use for money? Planks 2, 11 and 14 deal with this absorbing question. 1 Mr. C. G. Coote, M.P., one of their money experts, tells us, in the House of Commons on February 1st, 1933: “ The first step is a planned economy," and the next: "A central bank owned by the State, whose duty it would be to see that sufficient money is at all times available to allow us to distribute among our people the consumable goods which we can produce."

That, in part, is what the C.C.F. have copied from that enemy of Socialism, Major Douglas. Let us again quote from the organ of the "Saskatchewan C.C.F. Research Bureau," December, 1933, issue, where we read: "The only shortage is in money, and this artificial shortage is due to the policy of the financiers and is maintained by the powers of the State. The State will then make every man, woman and child an equal partner in the wealth of the country as a going concern. Backed by the inexhaustible resources of the nation the State can issue as much credit as is needed." Later we read: "There is no shortage of anything, except money, wherewith to purchase the things we produce, and a sane system of finance is all that is required to make things available. Sufficient purchasing power for everybody is merely a matter of accounting."

Here we have revealed the C.C.F. answer to Socialism. Socialism involves that goods shall be produced for use and not for sale. The C.C.F. say goods will be produced for sale, but that they will provide the people with money to purchase them, an impossible attempt to keep capitalism but escape the consequences of so doing.

The depression of the Seventies produced on this Continent the American Grange or the Patrons of Industry, the Nineties had their Populist Movement, and later we had Townley and his Non- Partisans, and in Canada the depression of the early Twenties produced the Progressives.

The Farmer Movement of Canada has its roots in those old discredited movements, with the same kind of currency cranks leading them, and the British Columbia “Socialists" and Winnipeg I.L.P.'ers trailing behind. Reactionary farmers representing the dog, and confused workers the tail. Why should the gods not laugh?

Plank 1 calls for “ Planning," as if capitalism was not planned beautifully for the capitalists!

Plank 3, on Social Ownership, reassures the most reactionary that confiscation is unthought of. It says: "We do not propose to adopt any policy of outright confiscation," and again: “We recognise the need for compensation."

Plank 5 calls for “ Import and Export Boards" to deal with foreign trade.

Planks 8, 9 and 10 deal respectively with “Health Service", “The British North America Act,’’ which governs the Canadian Constitution, and “External Relations." Then 12 and 13, dealing with “Freedom" and “Social Justice" bring to a close a programme which is a mixture of decadent Liberalism, Fabian Bureaucracy and Currency Confusion.

Practically every plank and clause is a denial of the purpose of the Federation, which is supposed to be: “The establishment of a Co-operative Commonwealth, in which the basic principle regulating production, etc., will be the supplying of human needs and not the making of profits."

The attitude of the Socialist Party of Canada towards this Federation is one of unbending opposition. We are opposed to the spurious “Socialism" advocated by their spokesmen and leaders, the Socialism that “recognises the need for compensation," or a Socialism which is going to issue money “to purchase the things we produce," or one that guarantees to the worker “a job at an adequate wage." We do not want a “Co-operative Commonwealth" like the one envisaged by Professor Frank H. Underhill, the head of the Brain Trust, when he says in his essay on Dictatorship: “The direct ownership and operation by government of the great strategic services, such as transportation and distribution of electric power." We don’t even want our planning done by “public officials."

No! we are opposed to bureaucracy, to a wage system, to compensation, and not only to Government ownership but to the coercive State itself. When all the people own all the earth and the means whereby wealth is produced, classes will automatically disappear, and if society has no owning and governing class, how can we have a Government, the function of which is to protect class ownership? The kind of administrative organisation then required will be essentially different.

To the young and earnest workers in the Federation we constantly repeat the old truth, that non-Socialists organised on a programme of reforms cannot further the work for Socialism. The changing economic conditions are working for us, disillusion will follow the futile efforts of Woodsworth, Pritchard and Queen to make a coherent movement out of such widely divergent elements as constitute the C.C.F. Some of their leaders will openly join the avowedly capitalist parties, but there will be no place for any of them in the Socialist movement, which has no use for Leaders, any more than it has for the other evil features of a system so detrimental to human welfare as modern capitalism.
Alex Paterson
(Socialist Party of Canada)

Correspondence: Socialism, the King 
and the House of Lords (1934)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent asks the following questions:— ,
  Will you please define the S.P.G.B.'s attitude towards the question of Royalty and Republicanism under a Socialist State? Also how would the S.P.G.B. deal with the House of Lords?
Whatever part the institution of kingship has played in the past history of the human race and whatever part it now plays under the social system known as capitalism, neither monarchism nor republicanism will be issues under Socialism. The original functions of kingship have already long been lost and are only saved from oblivion because the memory of them is preserved in certain ancient names, ceremonials and pale imitations. Nowadays, although King George V of England and Emperor William II of Germany, and Emperor Nicholas of Russia and the President of the French Republic, went forth. to the seat of war in 1914, nobody seriously believed that they were there to lead or to direct the huge fighting forces of the capitalist State. It was just a piece of make-believe, but a highly important piece. Capitalism, both in war and in peace, under a monarchy and under a republic, inevitably produces a never-ending conflict between the classes—the owning class and the property-less class—and between sections of the same class. It is therefore essential that the capitalist class shall be able to cover up the yawning gulf between these antagonistic classes by throwing over it the cloak of national unity. This is one of the principal functions of the Church, and, above all, of the monarchy, or the Republican President. Surrounding the King or the President, the capitalists carefully build up a structure of ceremonies, hallowed by tradition, glorified by a lavish display of riches, and sanctified by the Church and the capitalist political parties.

Take away the class antagonisms by taking away the private ownership of the means of life and then the monarchist or republican edifice will be unnecessary. The members of society will be bound together by the tie of mutual interest. They will no longer have to be forced into a mockery of unity by the gloved hand covering the mailed fist.

It will be seen that the attitude of the Socialist is not at all that of the republican. The S.P.G.B. would not support capitalist republicans in an attempt to overthrow monarchy any more than it would help to defend the monarchy against republicanism. When, three years ago, the Spanish monarchy was overthrown, the reformist parties in Spain, as in England (the I.L.P., for example), were overjoyed at what they supposed was the inauguration of a new and better system of society. The S.P.G.B. declined to participate in the celebrations, for we know that it is immaterial to the working class whether they live under a capitalist monarchy or a capitalist republic.

The House of Lords presents no serious problem. When there is a majority of Socialists, politically organised for the purpose of achieving Socialism, the House of Lords will not be permitted to stand in the way. It, like the trappings of monarchy or republic, will have no function to perform under Socialism. It will end when capitalism ends.

The idea that the House of Lords will prove a final bulwark of capitalism is based on illusion. When the capitalists can no longer obtain a majority for their candidates at Parliamentary elections they will know that an unrepresentative body like the House of Lords will not be able to help them. It will prove a broken reed, if ever there was one.
Ed. Comm.

Too Old at Twenty-Nine (1934)

From the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the season of annual conferences, it is the custom for the president or chairman to include in his remarks some apparently startling phrase, which is duly headlined in the next morning’s papers.

Recently Sir Thomas Oliver delivered his presidential address at the Institute of Hygiene, and his particular little tit-bit was: “I do not believe in the too-old-at-forty theory," and he added that there were more men now between 60 and 70 in good health and fit for work, if social, industrial, and trade union conditions allowed it, than there were 200 years ago.

It is a tribute to Sir Thomas's perspicacity that he added the rider: "if social, industrial, and trade union conditions allowed it."

Sir Thomas, however, did not stop to examine why it was that the economic conditions did not permit such a state of affairs. Whilst his views on medical matters may be worthy of attention, it would not do for him to enter into the realm of economics. A too close study of this subject, particularly if he gave expression to the views which would undoubtedly follow such a study on the right lines, might result in his losing some of his best customers.

However, to get back to. the “ too-old-at- forty" business; Sir Thomas says that he does not believe in this theory. The implication is that there is such a theory, but if so, it would be interesting to know who it was who first enunciated it, and whether anybody would actually advance such a theory, even at the present time. Sir Thomas appears to have been indulging in the familiar practice of knocking down his own Aunt Sallies. Nobody would dispute that there are men over forty capable of doing both hard and useful work.

It is, however, the fact that in industry to-day, the employing class do not merely draw the line at forty, but even at thirty or less. Witness this:— 
  “Shorthand-typists, typists, clerks, telephone operators, and juniors (girls and boys), and all office staff of good appearance, secondary education, and not over 28, invited to register at Birch's Agency, 1, Gt. Winchester Street, E.C.2."
The advertisers, and the capitalist class generally, are not actuated by any mere theory that a man is too old at either twenty-nine or forty. They know that there is a large surplus of labour available, and they merely take advantage of the fact to get as young, strong, and cheap workers as possible. They frequently prefer women and girls as being cheaper than men. No blame attaches to them for this, and we would not waste our breath telling them to employ older people. The conditions of the existing form of society are such that in order to produce most profitably, the capitalists get the most efficient labour at the cheapest price.

However, there is not merely the fact that men over a certain age find it practically impossible to get jobs; there is the fact that these men are forced to live upon a semi-starvation diet whilst they can walk down the street and see Rolls-Royces careering past; they can look in at shop windows displaying all manner of luxurious edibles; they can go in the free library and read in The Sketch how their betters are enjoying themselves; and, casting their eyes heavenwards, they, can see the boss class rushing about in space. They know, further, that in the midst of a superabundance of cotton, wheat, coffee, milk, butter and cheese, strenuous efforts are being made to cut down the production of these things.

These features are commonplaces of present-day society, and will remain so long as the basis of that system, namely, the private ownership of the means of production, continues. If the Workers do not like the effects of this system upon themselves, it is up to them to change it to one which is based upon the common ownership of the means of production, i.e., Socialism.

To return to Sir Thomas, however, there is one real gem of thought which deserves to be rescued from the obscurity of a daily newspaper.

He says:— ’
  “To age gracefully, there must be a happy and contented mind, and, while the possession of wealth alone will not bring these, it is a consolation if there is a sufficient financial competency to meet the physical needs of the body with a little surplus left to help others not so well off. For if we would ourselves be happy, we must give happiness to others."
In other words, in order that one lot of people may be happy, it is necessary that another lot shall lack a “sufficient financial competency." The first lot can then get a mental and psychical uplift by assisting the other lot. This other lot, apparently, will not be able to achieve "happiness," but that is not of much moment, so long as the first lot are all right!

Voice From The Back: More Profit Means More Hunger (2008)

The Voice From The Back column from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

More Profit Means More Hunger

“This year global production of biofuels will consume almost 100 million tons of grain – grain that could have been used to feed the starving. According to the UN, it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol – enough to feed a child for a year. The UN last week predicted ‘massacres’ unless the biofuel policy is halted. Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, said biofuels were ‘a crime against humanity’, and called for a five-year moratorium.” (Independent, 16 April) The UN can issue all sorts of pious resolutions, but if is more profitable to produce bio-fuels than food, then that is what capitalism will do.

The Name is Bond – Capitalist Bond 

Capitalism pervades everything in modern society. If you buy a football shirt it will advertise a beer or a soft drink. Formula 1 car racing would be impossible if advertising logos didn’t cover every space on the cars and the drivers. It is in the entertainment business though that this pervasive influence is growing at an astonishing speed. “The name is Bond, James Bond. And he likes his Martinis shaken, not stirred. That is, as long as they are Smirnoff. Product placement is playing an increasingly important role in Hollywood blockbusters. The last Bond film bore a string of high-end sponsors, such as Omega, Sony, Ford and Sony Ericsson. Television shows have also lured advertisers, often preferring product placement or sponsorship over traditional advertising. . . The expectation is that television advertising will become more about the 30-minute sponsored advertisement than the 30-second shot.” (Times, 21 April)

Dignity? No Way

“Eight out of 10 nurses say they have left work distressed because they have been unable to treat patients with the dignity they deserve, a poll suggests. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) poll of more than 2,000 UK nurses cited washing and privacy as key issues.” (BBC News, 27 April) The NHS is provided for members of the working class. They are the class that produce all the wealth of the world but being poor can ill afford the best of housing, food or even medical care. Dignity for the only worthwhile class in capitalist society is an impossibility.

The Killer System

Supporters of capitalism claim that it is the most efficient way to run society, but that is a claim that rings hollow to millions of hungry people today, as even one of capitalism’s stoutest supporters is forced to admit. “Giant agribusinesses are enjoying soaring earnings and profits out of the world food crisis which is driving millions of people towards starvation, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. And speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry.” (4 May)

Primitive Accumulation

“In the semi-arid forests of the Chaco region of Paraguay, where summer temperatures top 40C (104F), the continent’s last uncontacted Indians outside of the Amazon basin are on the run, their traditional forest home increasingly encroached upon by ranchers. … These formerly nomadic tribes people struggle to maintain a semblance of their traditional way of life in camps on the edge of the agricultural colonies that invaded their territory.” (Times, 6 May) This process called by Karl Marx the so-called primitive accumulation of capital was dealt with him in his Das Kapital (1867) mirrors what had happened in Europe at the beginning of capitalism. “In actual history it is notorious that conquest, murder, briefly force, play the great part . . . As a matter of fact, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.” A view echoed by one of the Indians in the Times: – “The whites are violent. They just want land. We are afraid of them, they are very aggressive.”

Business as Usual

“Burma is still exporting rice even as it tries to curb the influx of international donations of food bound for the starving survivors of the cyclone that killed up to 116,000 people. Sacks of rice destined for Bangladesh were being loaded on to a ship at the Thilawa container port at the mouth of the Yangon River at the end of last week, even though Burma’s ‘rice bowl’ region was devastated by the deadly storm a week ago. The Burmese regime, which has a monopoly on the country’s rice exports, said it planned to meet all its contractual commitments” (Observer, 11 May). Inside capitalism business is business, and the fact that millions of Burmese risk death by starvation is of no concern. That is how capitalism operates. During the Irish potato famines foodstuffs were still being exported from Ireland.

Pathfinders: Love is the Drug (2008)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a lighter moment the other day, the present writer penned a short tale about a society at war which agreed for humane reasons to exempt all couples in love from military service, an infallible test for love being available in the form of an MRI scan of the hypothalamus.What followed was the black-market proliferation of Cupidol, a drug to make people fall in love with anyone. This story, as may be surmised, was intended as futuristic comedy.

As if to prove that fiction can always be trumped by fact, what came through the door a week later, in the May 17 issue of New Scientist, was the story of how MRI scans of the hypothalamus, part of the limbic system of the brain which governs emotions, are being used to track the neurotransmitter oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’. This hormone is now the subject of intense research as a possible new wonder therapy for so-called people-problem mental disorders, as well as its offshoot commercial potential as a recreational love drug that would beat Ecstasy – pants down, presumably.

Oxytocin seems to be released in varying degrees and pulses during social interactions, and in strong doses during romantic and sexual encounters, it reduces stress, aids relaxation and assists in bonding. Studies suggest that blocking receptors of this neurotransmitter results in the turning-off of bonding patterns in prairie voles, and rats and mice stop nurturing their young or even recognising their own familiars. Its function appears to be to associate social interaction with pleasure, and it works in tandem with the ‘reward’ transmitters dopamine and opioids to create a feel-good effect.

The implications, according to the article, could be enormous for human psychological disorders that arise from relationships with other humans, among them depression, personality disorders, psychosis, social phobias and autism. But before one gets too excited, one must bear in mind the cogent point Ed Blewitt makes in this issue (page 9), that biology is no quick fix for endemic social problems which are rooted in the way society is organised, a point doubtless conceded yet scarcely emphasised by science-based writers. If there was a drug for socialism, for example, it wouldn’t work anyway.

Still, the general trend in that perennially polarised debate between the environmental and the biological determinists seems to be settling on a middle ground where cause and effect are bound up together in a still little understood feedback mechanism. Somehow, our relationships with other people affect our body chemistry, and in turn our body chemistry affects our relationships with other people. What is significant about such a recursive cause and effect loop is that you can intervene at any point, and even at all points, to disturb or transform it.

Imagine, for example, that somebody wrote a self-help book that actually worked, as proposed in Will Ferguson’s 2002 novel Happiness. Would the social institutions of capitalist coercion and wage-slavery begin to crumble and break under the weight of joyful anti-capitalist non-cooperation, as Ferguson gleefully suggests? Presumably not, or not right away. If self-help books could cause revolutions, Marx’s Capital would have been the last self-help book in history.

But it is tempting to speculate just how close the artificial bond of identification between system and psyche, referred to by Peter Rigg (page 11), would continue to be if people, either through drugs or DIY therapy, weren’t quite so devastatingly messed up by the social order they help maintain.

In reality, the biggest problems with any pharmaceutical road to earthly paradise are first, that the effects would wear off and you’d have to keep re-dosing and second, and more to the point, that even if citizen worker got herself loved up and liberated, the bosses still have the loot and the law. That, and a cold and distinctly unloving gleam in their eye. Like it or not, conscious political action will not come out of a 30 milligram dose of delight to the limbic system. For that you have to rely on the more prosaic technologies of reason, democracy and organisation.

 Research into such frontier territory as neurobiology, while not offering any magic bullet for social or psychological disorders under capitalism, certainly should be explored and would be pursued in socialism too, because of its potential for insight into how our minds work, what happens chemically when we relate to other people, and when we don’t. And this in turn may offer us further insights into how best to organise our social and democratic structures, given that in socialism we will be at liberty, for the first time, to debate such things as a matter of conscious collective design.
Paddy Shannon