Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Enough for All (2005)

From the July 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Earth’s population is now just over 6 billion, and rising. However, it is unlikely to just carry on increasing: with many now choosing to have fewer children, the likelihood is that population will level off around 2050, at around 10 billion (according to the best estimates of UN demographers). Socialist society will of course have to feed these billions, something that the present profit-based system is all too plainly unable to do. As argued by Colin Tudge in So Shall We Reap (Penguin 2004), it would not be at all difficult to feed even 10 billion, as long as agriculture were organised along sensible (his word is ‘enlightened’) lines.

The total land area of the planet is about 12 billion hectares, but only 1.3 billion hectares can currently be used as arable land. Even with a population of 10 billion, this would mean 0.13 hectares per person, or something over a third of an acre. If farmed by means of intensive horticulture (e.g. for tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms), a plot this size could feed dozens. But horticulture on a very large scale is hardly practicable, and ordinary arable farming has to be the essential basis for cultivating land. Proper mixtures of crops and livestock on mixed farms are in fact the best approach.

The average yield in England is about eight tonnes of wheat per hectare per year, enough to feed a couple of dozen people; so the 0.13 hectare per person available once global population settles down would be plenty to feed three or four. The conclusion of such calculations is inescapable: even without genetically-modified crops, the Earth can produce more than enough to feed likely future populations. Take account of the fact that the area under cultivation might be doubled, and fears of overpopulation and appalling famines seem to vanish. We need not take on board all of Tudge’s ideas about food cultivation to accept his general point that more than enough food could be produced with current knowledge, resources and techniques, without a need for new technological discoveries.

Wheat, rice and maize are the three most important crops, and they can be produced in sufficient quantity to feed humanity, to ensure that nobody dies of malnutrition and no child goes to bed crying of hunger. A mixed diet of these cereals, together with fresh fruit and vegetables, plus some meat and fish as individuals desire, is just what the doctor (and the planet) ordered. To quote Tudge:
“when agriculture is expressly designed to feed people, all the associated problems seem to solve themselves. In essence, feeding people is easy.”
(We suspect that ‘easy’ here is an exaggeration — ‘straightforward’ seems a better choice of word.)
So why does it not happen now? Tudge’s answer is essentially the one that Socialists would give: food is produced for profit, and those who have no or very little money do not constitute a market. He identifies the current capitalist model as monetarised, industrialised, corporatised and globalised (MICG, for short). The interests of corporations, treating agriculture as just another industry to be milked for profits, take precedence over those of people, whether workers in ‘advanced’ capitalism or peasants or farmers in ‘developing’ countries. Companies like McDonalds have an enormous, and increasing, power over the livestock industry, a power they are now extending to the fruit-growers too. Many producers of fruit and vegetables are at the beck and call of the big supermarkets, forced to deliver the kind of bland homogenous pap that these claim their customers want but that in fact just provide bigger profits. And this mass-produced food is not even good for you: Britain has over four million reported cases of food poisoning a year, for instance.

Yet Tudge does not see the need for an alternative to capitalism. He regards the Russian dictatorship as having been the antithesis of capitalism (actually it was just another brand of capitalism), and naturally concludes that that was no solution. Instead he wants to replace the MICG version with ‘a different model of capitalism’, one which apparently will have all the features of the current model but none of the nasty side-effects. We need to be radical, he claims, but not revolutionary. But alas, his proposals are just wishful thinking within a profit-motivated system — as easily get an apple tree to grow rice as get capitalism to change its nature.

Tudge quotes a small farmer from the US as saying, ‘I just want to farm well. I don’t want to compete with anybody.’ This is a deceptively simple but very profound statement. Why should the work of producing food to keep people alive and satisfy their taste buds be a matter of cut-throat competition? Why, indeed, should life in general be a matter of competing with others and thereby being either a winner or a loser? Competition may be fine on the football field or the badminton court, but it is not the way to organise the production of food or anything else. People can work together — with each other and with the planet on which we all live — to make that work more pleasant and enjoyable and to produce things, including food, that people really want. But to achieve that will need a revolution in the way the world is organised.
Paul Bennett

Sir John Anderson is very unhappy (1944)

From the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

A large part of Sir John Anderson's Budget speech was devoted to the question of subsidies, wages and prices. As he so very clearly explained it, the trouble is that whereas as a result of the subsidisation of most of the essential commodities, prices have only risen by 28 per cent., wage rates had risen by us much as 40 per cent. He said : — 
  We had aimed at maintaining a reasonable stability in the cost of living, partly by means of an intensive and successful rationing system, and partly by subsidising costs. Here again our policy had been fully successful, but he could not claim that in this field the position was so satisfactory that he need do no more than leave well alone, for he was not altogether happy about the present trend of events. (The Times, 26/4/44.)
The whole of his remarks is worth reading, but we selret the following: —
  When the stabilisation policy was first introduced, wage rates had risen 6 per cent. less than the cost of living, but today they showed a rise of 11 per cent. more than the cost of living. It would place the stabilisation policy in an altogether false perspective, and the purpose of it would be to a large extent be stultified if the Government were to continue blindly pouring out subsidies to keep the cost of living down rigidly to a predetermined level without regard to the current level of costs and wages.
In considering Sir John Anderson's statement, it should be borne in mind that he was speaking on behalf of the Government (the executive committee of the British capitalist class), whose main concern is to protect the interests of the British section of world capitalism, to keep the British workers and fighters in a proper frame of mind, and to make sure that the war does not cost them a penny more than they can help.

If there were ever any danger of the British Government continuing "blindly" to pour out subsidies to keep prices stable, Sir John Anderson can at least claim the merit of having opened their eyes. However, he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is his job.

To explain all this pother from a purely capitalist angle, it is this. The capitalists had their eye on the post-war period; they wanted to keep the workers in a happy mood, and in order to avoid the conflicts likely to arise from a continued rise in the cost of living, they decided to stabilise the price of most of the essential commodities. This, they thought, would also enable them to avoid the possible post-war conflicts when a full in prices would have to be met by a corresponding fall in wages. But the economic laws of capitalism have a bad habit of defeating the most ingenious schemes to get around them, and so, due to other factors, wage rates have actually gone up by "as much as" 10 per cent.

Most workers have short memories, but those whose recollections go back to the pre-war period must surely remember that the one eternal conflict with the employer was the question of wages. If you went after a job, you never dared to ask for more than you could live on, because you knew the other fellow would surely ask for no more, and equally you could not ask for less, because thus you could not carry out your job efficiently. And didn't the boss know this too? Similarly the trade unions in their negotiations with the employers always harped on the "cost of living." Now that, as a result of the urgency of war, there has developed a system of state controlled capitalism, the state has taken a hand in this question of wages and prices (cost of living).

To get down to rock-bottom facts, the position is that present-day society is divided into two classes, an owning class—the bunch who own the factories, mines and transport systems, etc., in the British Empire—and the other lot, the workers, some with white skins, others black and yellow, some with snub noses, and others with crooked ones, who do all the dirty work, physical and mental, including quite a spot on the organising side, all for wages, or, as they are sometimes euphemistically termed, "salaries.” The same conditions apply in the other bits of the world which are controlled by rival groups of capitalists, but in these other cases, owing to certain geographical and historical circumstances, there is not the same variety in pigmentation, though noses have a habit of repeating themselves all the world over. Between the two classes there has always been, and, so long as capitalism lasts, always will be, a conflict. The workers want to get their wages up, the capitalists want to keep them down. Combining the fruits of much experience, however, the capitalists have now evolved more than one process of controlling wages. Under war time controls they can reduce subsidies and cause prices to flow upwards a little faster than wages, and if it goes too rapidly for their liking, they can again subsidise the more important articles figuring in the workers' standard of living. There is the third and last and most inconvenient resort, of forcing the workers to accept lowered wages when prices fall. It is clear, therefore, that from the workers' point of view, the only thing that basically concerns them is their standard of living, and low wages or high wages, low prices or subsidised prices, high taxes or no taxes, it is only from this angle that they can logically view the matter.

The capitalist class rule the roost; they want to win the war as cheaply as possible; they have to pay for it, anyway, despite all the camouflage of income tax, beer tax and all the other taxes, and hence any possibility that the workers are going to get away with something while they have to foot the bill is an immediate cause for alarm. Hence the unhappiness of our friend Sir John. But he is a smart fellow, and so he told the assembled representatives of capitalism how he proposed to get over the difficulty. It was not proposed for the time being to continue to increase subsidies in line with increasing world prices . . . "he felt that for the ensuing year a range for the cost of living index of 30 to 35 per cent, over pre-war should he substituted for the 25 to 30 per cent, laid down by Sir Kingsley Wood in 1941."

As stated above, the principal immediate concern of the workers should be with their standard of living. Yet the fact is that, however much they try to keep it up or put it up, the workings of Capitalism are such that in the long run they cannot, materially improve it. Where the standard of living is higher, it is accompanied with a higher rate of exploitation. This explains the higher standard of living of the workers in U.S.A. as compared with Britain, while in this country, due to the exceptional circumstance of the war, the workers have been induced to accept a lowered standard of living with a higher rate of exploitation, the mirage of income tax and post-war credits having blinded them to the real situation. For the post-war period the ruling class envisage both a higher standard of living and. a greater intensity of production. Sir John Anderson says: —
  The plans which my colleagues and I are preparing for the days after the war are based on the assumption that we shall be in a position to import the raw material necessary for active employment and sufficient food to maintain a standard at least a little better than what we are enjoying now. It is right that this should be our assumption, for we intend to make it good.
The News Chronicle (27/4/44) comments: —
  Our capacity to sell our goods abroad depends on our industrial efficiency. British industry will have to make a fresh start. It must modernise its methods; bring its equipment up to date—indeed, if possible, keep a little ahead of its competitors—apply in peace time some of the dynamic energy that has been developed for war production, and utilise all that we have learned and all the physical assets we have acquired in the years of war.
It requires but little perspicacity to see from all this that what we are in for after the war is intensified competition for the world’s markets and intensified exploitation of the workers—in short, a repetition of the conditions which brought about the present armed conflict. As the News Chronicle states : —
  We shall be faced, after the war, with strenuous competition. America’s vast resources will be pitted against ours. Russia will be making her way felt. The whole of Asia will in course of time become industrialised. No one is going to buy British products from philanthropic or sentimental motives.
This is the picture of things to come. A world of giant capitalist nations struggling for world markets and control of the sources of raw material. Even when there is no positive desire for additional territory, bases, etc., the necessity of defending existing possessions implies the continuance of “defence” forces, and who knows what spark may light the next conflagration? And meanwhile the workers will be subject to the same ruthless operation of capitalism, despite Beveridge or anything “better than Beveridge,” for no form of unemployment relief will allow workers a decent standard of living—how many would want to work if this were so?—and the “policy of full employment’’ will be found to be but a rainbow, diffusing before the storm of trade depressions, and even in the “good times" of capitalism, unattainable.

One further aspect of Sir John Anderson’s speech may be noted. Up till now the budget has been mainly a matter of looking round for sources of revenue to meet the cost of administration, armed forces, etc., and of adjusting tariffs to keep out certain competitive commodities. The present budget, however, develops to a new point. Now taxation is studied from the point of view of furthering the interests of the ruling class in all spheres. Taxation reliefs are offered for scientific research, for the modernisation of equipment, and on the excess profits duty, while farmers are promised loans at cheaper rates for the modernisation of farm buildings. etc. The interests of the chemical industry are to be studied, so that they shall not be handicapped by tariffs in obtaining cheap oil as raw material. All this is in line with the logical development of capitalism. The intensification of competition for markets means that the state must be integrated more and more with capitalist industry. The worker, the cog in the machine, is promised “full employment."

But while the worker’s immediate interest, under capitalism, can only be with his standard of living, he has a further and more far-reaching interest. That is to devote a little time to the study of past and present societies, and to ascertain whether there is not some alternative to the capitalism which provides him with poverty, insecurity, worry, unemployment, occasional wars, and a premature old age.

No Socialism in Saskatchewan (1944)

Editorial from the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of London newspapers may have noticed the practical unanimity of the reports that the recent elections in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan were a triumph for Socialism. The Daily Worker (June 17, 1944) gave as its headline “First Socialist Government in Canada," and the Daily Herald of the same date published the following :—
Socialist Triumph in Canada.
  The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation—Socialist—had a sweeping victory in the Saskatchewan provincial elections yesterday.
     It won 43seats to the Liberals’ four, with four still doubtful.
  As a result, Canada will have its first Socialist provincial Government.—Daily Herald Correspondent.
The Evening Standard (June 15) used the heading "First Govt. of Socialists?” They queried it, but they were not casting doubt on whether the C.C.F. are Socialists, but only on whether the C.C.F. would actually obtain n majority; the Evening Standard report was published before the result was announced. This latter report, however, interests us for another reason, which will be apparent from the following passage:—
  If the Socialists win in a predominantly rural Saskatchewan it would be a feather in their cap. Liberals and Conservatives have been trying to make the most of C.C.F.’s intention to socialise the land, but such plans are stoutly denied by the battery of C.C.F. orators who have descended on the province.
Note the curious situation. A “Socialist” party is alleged to have won a "Socialist" triumph, but it did so by having a battery of orators to convince the electors that the party did not intend to "socialise"!

Further information on the way in which the C.C.F. runs away from its professed objects is given in an article by the Saskatchewan correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (June 19, 1944). According to this report, the British Columbia Convention of the C.C.F. in 1943 "advocated . . . the collectivisation of agriculture."

The leader of the Party, Mr. J. Coldwell, referring to the Party’s original manifesto, adopted in 1933, which "called for socialisation of monopolistic industries and services,” etc., is reported now as having said, "The manifesto was and remains a statement of basic principles of the C.C.F. It is, however, a statement of long-range views.” In other words, the declared object is deferred and pushed into the background in order not to interfere with the present problem of getting votes from all and sundry, whether they agree with the object or not.

Socialist victories are not to be won in this way, as the many examples of Labour Governments here and in other countries show. Parties which win elections on non-Socialist votes are committed irrevocably to the futile task of trying to administer the capitalist system. No matter what evasions and short cuts are sought, the inescapable truth remains that there will be no triumph for Socialism until the necessary spadework has first been done of winning over the electors to Socialism.

British Rule and Indian Misery (1944)

Editorial from the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

While Socialists do not share the erroneous belief of some Indian workers that India under the rule of a rapacious Indian capitalist class will be different from India under foreign rule, every British worker who observes the conditions existing in that country must share with his Indian fellow-worker the latter's detestation of British rule. It is about 170 years since Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-General, was impeached for cruelty and extortion; Indians may well hold that cruelty and extortion have marked the activities of all foreign conquerors and foreign capitalists, and that their own breed of princes, landlords and factory owners can hardly be worse.

The evils from which the Indian workers and peasants suffer are no secret; they are far too glaring to be hidden or denied. Let us glance at a few recent disclosures.

On his arrival in India, the new Viceroy Lord Wavell declared that India's slums are "a disgrace to a civilised country" (Manchester Guardian, October 28, 1943); he might well have added that every capitalist country in the world has a similar disgrace, and might have pointed the obvious moral—that capitalism will never solve the problem.

Mr. Amery, Secretary for India, stated in the House of Commons on January 20 of this year that in Bengal in the last five months of 1943 there were about 1,000,000 abnormal deaths due to famine and disease. A month after Mr. Amery’s statement on the famine, the Government was pressed in vain to reverse a recent decision permitting women to be employed in the Indian coal mines. Mr. Sorenson, M.P., who raised the question, stated that, according to official figures, the average wage of Indian miners at a recent date was 21s. per month, about. 1d. an hour (Hansard, February 17, 1944). The President of the Board of Education, Mr. Butler, who defended the Government in the absence of the Secretary for India, admitted that it was not until 1937, nearly 100 years after the employment of women in mines was forbidden in England that a similar prohibition was introduced in India. The prohibition was suspended in 1943 because of a shortage of miners, and there are now 40,000 women miners. The Minister explained that the reversal is only a temporary one. and he made the most of the point that the men who work in the mines like to have their wives with them. He even threw out a sop to the group in this country who are concerned about equal pay for men and women, and said that the Indian women who work in mines "must be paid the same rates as men.” He did not dwell on the fact that the miserable wages of miners, even if increased by 50 per cent. during the war, obviously have much to do with the shortage of mine workers. He did, however, admit, that, the miners had been leaving to get war-time work under the military authorities. "which was well paid and was open to the attraction that husbands and wives could work together."

The Minister gave no answer to Mr. Sorenson’s statement that the All-Indian Trades Union Congress had emphatically condemned the Government’s notion as being retrograde in principle, uncalled for by the circumstances, not calculated to achieve the object aimed at (an increase of production), and involving a breach of international agreement. An ex-miner M.P., Mr. A. Sloan, declared that ”no work of any kind in the mine is suitable for any woman. . ..  I think the thing is so utterly contemptible and horrible that the strongest possible protest should be made. . . .”

After all these years of British rule and the boasting of the benefits it has brought, the Economist (March 25, 1944) declares that “the great majority of Indians have not enough to eat: they are ill clad, badly housed, ridden by disease and poorly educated. Poverty is the fundamental fact of Indian life. . . "

What of the future prospect now that rival groups are planning to develop capitalist industry and trade? The late Lord Brentford declared that "we conquered India as the outlet for the goods of Britain. We conquered India by the sword, and by the sword we should hold it.” Now, however, American interests are looking over the Indian market. The Sunday Express (April 9, 1944) publishes a report, that "a scheme to spread more than £7,000 million to capture a large share of the Indian market after the war is being widely discussed in American big business circles.” The scheme's Indian backers (including the Indian millionaire. Mr. G. D Birla, Gandhi’s friend and supporter) promise to industrialise India in 15 years; and raise the standard of living. The American interest in the scheme is that it will provide customers for American goods. Their concern is not that of helping a backward and poverty-stricken country out of human sympathy, but the search for trade, investment and profit. Indian workers should look with suspicion on all such plans and promises, whether they originate abroad or at home, and wake up to the fact that their one hope of emancipation lies in working for Socialism along with the working class of other lands.

The Irish General Election (1944)

From the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Letter From A Dublin Correspondent

On May 10th, 1944, the Eire Government was defeated in the Irish Parliament (An Dail) by one vote, on an amendment to postpone the Transport Bill, then passing through the House, until the Public Tribunal which was instituted to enquire into the leakages of information that occurred while the Bill was being drafted had reported its findings.

The Prime Minister (Taoiseach) De Valera then requested the President Douglas Hyde to call a general election for May 30th.

In March, 1943, Mr. A. P. Reynolds (efficiency expert, appointed chairman of the G.S. Railway by Government Minister Lemass), in his speech at the annual meeting of the Great Southern Railways, told the shareholders that the company was bankrupt, the rolling-stock obsolete, and station buildings in semi-ruin. He said a reorganisation of capital was necessary to save the concern, and clearly hinted at a writing-down of capital. Immediately after his speech G.S.R. shares crashed on the market, the ordinary falling to £9 per £100 share, the preference to £11.
  “Meanwhile certain speculators (most of whom afterwards admitted they were friends of people in high offices, and hence in a position to obtain information on the scheme which the minister and Mr. Reynolds were then working out), proceeded quietly and secretly to buy up through the banks all shares offering at knockdown prices. The result was that before the reorganisation scheme became known to the ordinary shareholders and the general public, the great bulk of the stock had been taught up by well-known gamblers on the Stock Exchange.” (Irish People, April 27, 1944).
One speculator admitted buying 30,000 shares with a nominal value of £3 million on July 1st, 1943. Another admitted that as a result of a talk with a railway director at a dance he ordered £10,000 worth of shares, and there were numerous others buying at the same magnitude.

As it happened a dividend of 4 per cent, was paid on the preference shares for the first time in 13 years. The racketeers reaped a rich harvest almost immediately, to the tune of £612,000 paid out for the year 1943.

Shares bought at anything from £9 to £20 can now, because of state guarantee of interest, be sold from £45 lo £52, and when the Bill becomes law for £90 each. Thus have fortunes been made practically overnight in this poor little island of saints.

The election campaign started with the Government Party, Fianna Fail, well in the lead, because of their having placed their active supporters in Government and State subsidised jobs. They had the best election machine, and holding the largest purse they secured the most effective means of propaganda. After an initial statement they dropped the Transport Bill and concentrated on the issues of neutrality in the war, post-war plans, and a sob-stuff appeal for the supposed national saviour De Valera.

Neutrality has proved the greatest red herring yet drawn across the Irish political stage. The leading capitalist newspaper, The Irish Times, in its issue of May 19th, referred to their promises as “utterly fantastic. That they represented the kind of plan which during every election is produced like a rabbit out of the conjurer’s lint to impress the more gullible members of the public and then disappears down some ministerial burrow to remain in hiding until the next election comes along."

The main opposition party, Fine Gael, based their election appeal on the Transport Bill postponement amendment which they had proposed but whose only disagreement with the Bill being which group of shareholders would enjoy the profits created by the transport workers.

Their supporting programme consisted of an appeal for a National Government formed from all parties. The usual promises, end of unemployment, solution of housing problem, higher wages and lower prices, etc., etc. They were handicapped, however, by their failure to implement these promises during the ten years in which they had control of the government of the country.

Shortly before the vote defeating the Government, the Irish Labour Party was split by the disaffiliation of the largest trade union in the country, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by Mr. William O’Brien, the Mephistopholes of the Irish Labour Movement. The ostensible reason being communist control of the party, but in reality because of his personal feud with Jim Larkin, who had figured prominently since he had joined the party lately, and who with his son had become deputies for Dublin in the Dail. The seceders formed themselves into a new National Labour Party.

The official Labour Party issued a manifesto and waged a not very enthusiastic fight on the basis of nationalisation of transport with full compensation for the pre-March 1943 shareholders, called by them "the unfortunate people who were induced by dubious means to part with their shares to speculators.” Their second point was a national cure-all through a policy of full employment which would provide farmers, manufacturers and traders with a vast body of new customers who would pay for the things they need with money earned by themselves through the effective control of the nation's monetary system, providing state credits free of interest for useful development work of national importance.

The National Labour Party’s policy was much the same except that, while the official Labour Party claimed that theirs was a Christian programme based on the Papal Encyclicals, the National Labour Party, while claiming the same, appealed to the most reactionary prejudices of the Irish workers, saying that it was the duty of every Catholic worker in N. East Dublin to come out and vote against Jim Larkin (who, by the way, was one of the defeated candidates).

The die was cast, and on election day the Government was returned with an increase of 11 deputies and an overall majority of 44, on a 70 per cent. poll. The position of the Parties being: Fianna Fail 76, Fine Gael 30, Irish Labour Party 8, National Labour Party 1, Farmers and Independent Farmers 13, Independent 7.

The fruits of our "Glorious National Revolution” have proved a poor crop indeed, considering the facts that in Dublin alone, according to the figures of the Dublin Board of Assistance, one third of the population of the city are on the borderline of sheer starvation: that, since 1939 a quarter of a million people were forced to emigrate to gain a livelihood; that while in 1912 Sir Charles Cameron, Dublin Corporation Medical Officer of Health, reported 70 thousand persons living in single room tenements, we learn from the Local Government Tribunal Report, 1938, that 25,787 are still living in one room tenements, and 2,000 insanitary basement dwellings are occupied, as well as large numbers of condemned buildings. A Dublin doctor says that the slums are manufacturing disease quicker than the hospitals can deal with, despite the monies collected by the Irish Hospitals Sweep.

In the face of these conditions, the election result providing increased support for the capitalist parties can only be explained through the political ignorance of the majority of the Irish workers. That is the immediate value of this election. It points out in the most forcible manner the necessity for a Socialist Party.

On election day the worker has the power in his hands as to what programme he will adopt. The vote, when backed by a majority of class-conscious workers, will enable them to capture the machinery of government and turn it from an instrument of oppression into an instrument of liberation. But first we must convince that majority.

In this election not a voice was raised for Socialism, not a voice was raised for the only solution to the problem of poverty in the midst of increasing plenty. That form of society where all the natural resources, the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution, are owned and operated by and in the interest of society as a whole, where all forms, of exploitation of man by man disappears, where everybody able to work will give of his abilities, and where each and every person able to work or not will receive the highest standard of life society can produce. For the Socialist Commonwealth, speed the day.
Steve Daly, 
Dublin, Eire.

Letter: The Cause of Crime (1944)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard
 We have received the following letter from Mr. George Whitehead, Newcastle-on-Tyne, author of “What is Morality," criticising the article "Socialism and Crime”:
June 7, 1944

The Editor,
Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,

The article on "Socialism and Crime" in the May issue of The Socialist Standard tries to show that nearly all serious crime is caused by poverty and economic insecurity, heedless of the fact that most murders are due to drink, sexual jealousy and desire for revenge, when not due to direct mental instability.

With regard to juvenile delinquency, the figures Mr. Nehan himself quotes show that mental causes (which he denies except in 2 per cent, of cases) are a main factor, or why should the crime rate for children be nearly two and a half times as high per 1,000 among Catholics as among those who attend Provided Schools? Is not religion a mental cause? And is not the "education'’ which Mr. Nehan admits fosters blind rebellion against authority, a mental cause? Why should Glasgow and Liverpool have not only the highest proportion of Catholics in Britain, but also the highest ratio of crime for adults? Why also in pre-war times should Catholic Italy have the highest homicide rate in Europe (nearly 30 times that of Britain) and the Catholic Departments of France and the Catholic areas in the United States and Germany be far more criminal than the others? Why should Jews, in spite of economic insecurity, have everywhere a lower ratio of crime than non-Jews, especially crimes of violence, if the mental factor doesn't count? And why should Italians both in America and the Dominions be notorious for crimes of violence?

Why, also, if poverty and insecurity are the chief causes of crimes, should India, one of the poorest countries on earth, have the lowest crime rate recorded, and America, the most prosperous nation, the highest? The "crime waves" and the "booze racket feuds" in 1920, "which sprang from prohibition," first occurred in a period of exceptional prosperity, which encouraged the drug and narcotic trade. "Dope" is not a poor man's vice. It is too expensive. Girls flocking to Hollywood has more to do with silly vanity than poverty, and the mania affects girls comfortably situated as well as others. And if economic pressure forced girls into prostitution and drugs, how is it that at least 95 per cent. of working class girls never resort to either?

Why should Australia, where the standard of living is high and there is more economic security than in Europe or India, have a higher pre-war ratio of crime?

And why should crime have increased so alarmingly during the war in both Britain and America, especially among women and juveniles, whose real wages were never higher in history, and everyone who desires it can obtain a better paid job than in times of peace?

While Mr. Whitehead rejects the view put forward in the article in question, we are not sure precisely what, in his view, is the cause of crime. He appears to attribute crime to “mental causes.” including religion, but does not make it clear what he understands by "mental causes,'’ from what circumstances the mental causes arise or how they operate. Mr. Whitehead asks a series of questions, but does not elaborate his own explanation or give answers to his own questions. The Socialist view is that crime is to be explained by the capitalist environment in which we live, including not only poverty and insecurity but the frustration that arises from unemployment and from monotonous work, and the whole “devil take the hindmost” teaching and example of the capitalist system based as it is on the class struggle between the possessing class and the dispossessed class. The fact that wealthy people, who are not driven by the goad of starvation, can behave in a violent or otherwise anti-social manner, does not at all conflict with this explanation. Nor do the examples of varying crime rates in different countries. Without going into the detailed explanation of the causes of these variations, it will suffice to point to the fact that different countries are at different stages of capitalist development. If, in the early days of capitalist industrialism, workers resort to violent methods (rioting, machine breaking, etc.), and later on learn the futility of such attempts to resist the overwhelming power of the capitalists, through their control of the machinery of government, that, is in harmony with the Socialist explanation.

What is Mr. Whitehead’s alternative explanation? By "mental causes” are we to understand a kind of freethought version of the religionists’ "original sin”? Are we to understand that “mental causes'’ themselves have no cause, but arise spontaneously in the minds of individuals irrespective of the material conditions in which they live?

On one point raised by Mr. Whitehead, the higher crime rate of children in Catholic districts, a very pointed answer is given by a Catholic spokesman, Mr. Michael de la Bedoyere. editor of the Catholic Herald. In a letter to the New Statesman on this very point, the editor of the Catholic Herald wrote as follows: —
  The real cause of the proportionately high figures of juvenile delinquents from Catholic schools is far less intriguing than Dr. Stopes suggests. Catholics are a comparatively poor community, and their schools are mainly to be found in congested and slum-ridden industrial districts. That even the Word of God cannot make rapid headway against deplorable social conditions is a truth which the New Statesman at least will appreciate. (New Statesman, October. 2, 1943.)
Perhaps Mr. Whitehead will let us have further enlightenment on his own theory and on his criticism of the Socialist explanation.
Editorial Committee

By The Way: "Columbus” Vansittart. (1944)

The By The Way column from the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Columbus” Vansittart.

The Editor of the Glasgow Forward has persuaded Lord Vansittart to contribute a criticism of the letter calling for a negotiated peace signed by a number of British and Continental Labour politicians (miscalled Socialists).

He says he could "write volumes” on the duplicity and treachery of the German Social-Democratic and Communist Parties, and, of course, he has something there. The innocent British and American publics, says he, “are beguiled by German refugees into the notion that an effective German democracy is waiting just around the corner. It is not. It was quite ineffective after the last war, and is likely to be even less, rather than more, effective after this war. Democracy is a slow growth, not the automatic growth of military defeat.” (Forward, June 10.) (Our italics.) Whether Mr. Morrison will do anything about this, we are naturally unable to say. We certainly understood Mr. Churchill to say, on more than one occasion, that the aim of this war was the establishment of democracy in Germany, by military defeat of Germany.

Now Lord Vansittart says it’s impossible—and claims to be a German expert. Curiously enough. Socialists have always said much the same thing—i.e., war cannot produce democracy—but they do not conclude, like Vansittart, that the solution is the destruction of Germany, as well as democracy. They stand for international Socialism—real democracy based on social equality.

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Pollitt on Marxist Parties.

General Pollitt has burst into print again with his latest weekly pamphlet, “Pollitt answers questions on Communist Policy." Some poor sap called Duxbury has written to him complaining how completely mystified and bewildered he and his friends are by the sudden changes of the “Party line.” "It is very difficult, he says, when you have to tell people the very opposite of that which you have been drumming at them for months. They think, 'This fellow is a lunatic.' ” (p. 3).

Pollitt’s method of dealing with this is to admit it (the bewildering changes in policy), and then says its "Marxism.”
“The thing that distinguishes a political party based on Marxism is that it always formulates its policy from the concrete situation at a particular period, so that when the situation changes, policy also changes." (p. 5).
  “By the way, it is not only the Communist Party which changes its policy to meet new situations. All other political parties in Britain have done so." (p. 6).
So we see, the thing which distinguishes a "Marxist” party (C. P. ?!!) is change; then "all other parties” have also changed—then they must all be "Marxist.” Actually, Mr. Pollitt knows quite well that ALL parties in Great Britain have not changed—because the situation of the workers has NOT changed—the S.P.G.B. still stands for Socialism and nothing else.

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“A New High Since September, 1937.”
  "The first news of the invasion caused feelings of jubilation in the inner circle of the market, while the sole reaction of jobbers was a slight widening of the margins between buying and selling prices. Since then prices of industrial equities have been Well maintained. The index of the Financial News stands at 111.1, a rise of 3.2 points on five weeks and a new high since September, 1937. There has been some switch from speculative buying of shipping and motor shares into European securities, particularly French guaranteed railway bonds and Imperial Continental Gas. . . . It seems very doubtful whether the new high levels can be held without a setback, unless the supreme effort of the United Nations meets with earlier and more continuous success than it seems prudent to expect.” (The Economist, June 10th, 1944.)
Meanwhile, Romanos iu the Strand, London, which was bankrupt in 1939, has made £30,000 profit and paid a dividend of 20s. in the pound, probably frequented by overpaid miners or munition workers.

The issue of the Economist already quoted shows, in its company report columns, what tremendous sacrifices are being made by the poor capitalists in the interests of the workers' war. Thus, Ever Ready Batteries made 40 per cent. Daily Mail, £623,105 profit; increase of £56,281. George Wimpey, Ltd., £228,000; dividend 20 per cent. for tenth year. Imperial Chemical industries, £4,000,000 profit. Dunlop Rubber Company, net profit £2,765,797, over £300,000 more than 1942. Now perhaps some of you scalliwags will understand that wars are not won with sacrifices. 

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“Give Your Blood for Your Country".

(But only by permission of the manager of your department.)

Lord Kemsley’s Daily Sketch (June 12th) waxes virtuously indignant because a West of England munitions factory has displayed a notice stating that—
  Employees of this firm render themselves liable to dismissal if they volunteer as blood donors without permission of the manager of their department.
  An official of the firm said to me: "The directors decided, on the advice of the works doctor, to stop employees from volunteering as blood donors because of the effect it would have on their health. They consider that a girl cannot do a full eight-hour shift on wartime rations and give a pint of blood as well.”
So workers may want to give blood for wounded soldiers—but "the directors" have decided that they shall not do so, because "they cannot do a full eight-hour shift ” if they do. In other words, it will interfere with their profits. Workers may only give their blood for their masters’ wars on the masters’ conditions.

Shylock, as everybody knows, only wanted his bond—"a pound of flesh”—without any blood. The modern capitalist takes, not merely the flesh—but, with the aid of his "medical advisers," the last pint of blood as well.

"Good homes to live in" — If you can afford them (1944)

From the July 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are being told about all the marvellous inventions and improved equipment that will be used in new houses after the war.
  "Homes cleaned in a few seconds by the turn of a switch could be theirs after the war for the asking.”— Mr. it. Coppock Chairman of the L.C.C., News Chronicle, November 5th, 1943.)
   "Press the button and electrons will do housework.”— (Reynolds News, April 16th, 1944.)
    The Cabinet are planning "work for all and good homes to live in.”—(People, April 16th, 1944.)
Doubtless all these promised better houses are economically and technically possible, but, like most of the other marvels of our age, they will he available for the rich who can afford to pay. A foretaste of what the workers will get is contained in the following reports from the Daily Telegraph: —
  After two years the Government scheme for 3,000 farm workers’ cottages has produced one-third of the promised dwellings. . . . Many of the first 1,000 are not yet occupied. The reason for this is partly high rents.  . . . (Daily Telegraph, April ,18th).
And this: —
  Difficulty is being experienced in letting some of the Government’s new farm cottages in Lincolnshire now that they are ready for occupation.
    The Rev. P. A. Sharp, rector of the village of Thoresway, said at a meeting of Caistor Rural Council on Saturday that one of the features which were proving most unpopular with tenants was what he called the ridiculous size of the pantries which had been provided.
   "They are so small,” he said, "that you cannot stand up in them and stretch your arms out, and the wives of farm workers, accustomed to providing a good meal for their husbands, are calling them Woolton pantries. It may be all right to have a war-time pantry for war-time rations, but what. about after the war? ” —Daily Telegraph, April 17th, 1944).

Voice From The Back: All Right For Some (2011)

The Voice From The Back column from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

All Right For Some

That we live in a society that has world hunger, unemployment and homelessness is hardly a matter of dispute, but that is only a series of problems that confront the useful members of society. For others there are no social problems. “Paris Hilton has been spotted house hunting in Malibu. The heiress and reality TV star seemed to have taken a particular shine to a luxury pink stucco mansion with a hefty price tag. The rental property is reportedly costing $80,000 to rent per month. With four bedrooms and four bathrooms, the beachside mansion would make the perfect summer hangout for the LA socialite and her many friends. Paris also checked out other luxury villas, all close to the beach with gorgeous sea views. ‘Just got home. Saw some beautiful properties, so it’s going to be a hard choice to make,’ she tweeted later that day” (Yahoo News, 12 May). Could someone please tweet her that she is a useless parasitic exploiter?

The Middle Class Myth

In reviewing Owen Jones’s book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, the journalist Carol Midgely makes some valid points. “The Thatcher experiment, Jones says, repositioned working class not as something to be proud of but something to escape from. Being middle class was the holy grail. The dockers, miners, skilled factory workers and car workers of Britain have watched powerless as their jobs disappeared or were sent abroad” (Times, 28 May). Here we have Jones and Midgely making the usual mistake about class. All men and women who, because of their lack of property, are forced to seek work for a wage or a salary are members of the working class. Whether you work in a factory or an office whether you push a barrow or a pen if you have to seek a wage or a salary in order to live you are a member of the working class. 

A Dog’s Life

From time to time newspapers run obituaries of famous men and women but we had one recently for a dog! It was a rather special mutt though. You see it was a millionaire. The Maltese dog called Trouble had been left $12 million by the New York hotel mogul Leona Helmsley. “Legal battles ensued and a judge cut Trouble’s inheritance to $2 million. She was placed with Carl Lekic, the general manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, in Florida, who had played with her many times. He was paid $5,000 a month for the privilege. He told the trustees that Trouble required $100,000 a year for a security guard (the dog had received many death and kidnapping threats). $18,000 for vet costs, $1,200 for food and $8,000 for grooming” (Times, 10 June). All this insanity is happening in a world where millions are trying to survive on $1.25 a day.

The Class Divide

When socialists speak of class division we are often accused of being outdated, but here are recent figures that prove our point. “Last year was another good year for millionaires – though their pace of growth is slowing. According to a new report by Boston Consulting Group out today, the number of millionaire households in the world grew by 12.2% in 2010, to 12.5 million. (BCG defines millionaires as those with $1 million or more in investible assets, excluding homes, luxury goods and ownership in one’s own company.) The U.S. continues to lead the world in millionaires, with 5.2 million millionaire households, followed by Japan with 1.5 million millionaire households, China with 1.1 million and the U.K. with 570,000. …The most important trend, however, is the global wealth distribution. According to the report, the world’s millionaires represent 0.9% of the world’s population but control 39% of the world’s wealth, up from 37% in 2009” (Wall Street Journal, 31 May). Yes, startling though it may seem – less than 1 percent of the world’s population own 39 percent of the wealth.

Law And Disorder

We are used to reading of gallant and dedicated police officers rounding up criminals and packing them off to prison, but what are we to make of this news item? “Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park. Jessica Cross, 24, Benjamin Markeson, 49, and Jonathan ‘Keith’ McHenry, 54, were arrested at 6:10 p.m. on a charge of violating the ordinance restricting group feedings in public parks. McHenry is a co-founder of the international Food Not Bombs movement, which began in the early 1980s” (Orlando Sentinel, 2 June). Feeding the homeless? What a despicable crime. Truly capitalism is a crazy society.

Britain’s care home crisis (2011)

Editorial from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been said that a society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members. How, then, are we to judge what are called the advanced Western democracies?

Consider the case of the elderly. Until recent times, the older members of human communities commanded respect as the bearers of accumulated wisdom. By contrast, how might we expect capitalism to treat the elderly? In short, we would expect it to treat our older citizens with a great deal less respect than it treats profits. We would expect there to be a tendency, strengthened during times of economic crisis, to raise the retirement age, to keep working-class people on the labour market for as long as possible, reduce the costs of pensions and social services so on, and increase the numbers of the unemployed, which acts as a downward pressure on wages and working conditions. We would expect our ageing populations to increasingly be conceived as a threat to prosperity, rather than a sign of human achievement and progress. We would also expect capitalism to rationalise the costs of elderly healthcare to the limits of social and moral acceptability, by centralising and cheapening operations, and turning them into private profit-making businesses where possible.

That’s why socialists are sickened but not in the least surprised by the current crisis in Britain’s care homes. At the end of May this year, Southern Cross, Britain’s biggest care home company, edged towards financial collapse. Southern Cross bought homes across the country before the economic crisis hit, when the sector looked attractive to private equity and property investors – in other words, capitalists looking for profitable homes for their money, who speculated that elderly care homes might make a profit if they bought them, flogged them on (partly to fund expansion, partly to line their own pockets), then rented the properties back. The crisis hit when the care homes could no longer afford the rent, which had been guaranteed to rise by a minimum of 2.5 percent a year.

The increased financial pressure on the industry coincides with weakened regulatory oversight. An investigation by the Financial Times (30 May) shows that this has led to dangerously low standards of care. One in seven privately run homes scored the lowest care ratings by the government regulator, which means they face problems as serious as “a failure adequately to feed or clean residents”. The low rating applied to one in 11 homes run by non-profit organisations or local authorities. An anonymous inspector for the government regulator told the FT: “Fundamentally, it’s now got to a point of being dangerous [for residents] – and it’s going to get worse. If I had a relative who needed to go to a care service, I’d be -concerned.”

A few days after its report, the Financial Times  (4 June) followed up the story by revealing that this disaster was not quite so bad for absolutely everyone. The top executives at Southern Cross pocketed £35m by selling their entire stakes in the company before the crisis hit and the shares began to plunge.

As we said, sickening. But if you’re shocked or surprised, it means you haven’t been paying attention. This is how capitalism works. And that’s how it will continue to work unless we get our act together to stop it.

Is the crisis over? (2011)

From the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Once a crisis is in full swing, then the argument starts about who is to blame for it. The businessmen blame the abrupt credit refusals by the banks, the speculative mania of the stockbrokers; the stockbrokers blame the industrialists; the industrialists blame the shortage of money, etc. And when business finally picks up again, then the stock exchange and the newspapers note the first signs of improvement with relief, until, at last, hope, peace, and security stop over for a short stay once more. Modern society notes the approach of crisis with horror; it bows its head trembling under the blows coming down as thick as hail; it waits for the end of the ordeal, then lifts its head once more—at first timidly and skeptically; only much later is society almost reassured again.”
These words could have been written yesterday, but are in fact the (slightly edited and paraphrased) words of Rosa Luxemburg, written a century ago, shortly after the crisis of 1907 (What Is Economics by Rosa Luxemburg. See ‘Is The Economic Crisis Over?’ here). The question is, what stage are we at in the crisis that arrived 100 years later? Is society beginning to ‘lift its head once more’ and look toward a future of hope, peace and security? Or should we bow our heads and expect more blows?

Regular readers will have noticed that, in the pages of this journal, we are still talking about crisis as if we’re in the midst of one (and we will be discussing the issue again at our annual summer school in July). Followers of the official story might be confused by this. According to the mainstream account, the crisis, which began with a financial blow-up in America in 2007 and threatened a cataclysm as serious as the Great Depression of the 1930s, was over by the middle of 2010 thanks to the government policy of providing ‘stimulus’ (printed money). As if to consign the experience to the historical memory once and for all before moving on to business as usual, the crisis has even been given a name. It was the ‘Great Recession’. And now, it’s over.

The good news

But is it? The official story says yes. But then, the authors of that story, mainstream economists and representatives of the capitalist class, hardly ever expect crises and are shocked by them when they appear out of the blue. This is despite the fact that there have been major downturns in every decade since the 1820s, and regular financial panics since the 17th century. Given this failure to notice still less predict what is obvious to anyone with the briefest acquaintance with history, we can be forgiven for treating their pronouncements with extreme caution.

Still, the question is a tricky one. Commentators still can’t decide when the Great Depression of the 1930s ended, for example. Was the upturn of 1933 the conclusion of the crisis, and the recession in 1937-8 a separate event, as some argue? Or was the 1933-7 recovery merely an artifact of government spending (‘stimulus’), with the depression ending proper with the start of war production in 1939? Or should even the war production period be seen as a kind of government stimulus, with true, capitalist-based recovery delayed till 1946? To consider this problem is to see that, to some extent, history may be repeating itself.

At the present time, followers of the mainstream press will find confident pronouncements of recovery and positive (or, at least, not too badly negative) news from various economic indicators sitting side by side with accounts of deepening state debt crises, stockmarket slides, soaring inflation, falling wages and standards of living, and battles to impose austerity on the working class (including vast swathes of those who tend to think of themselves as ‘middle class’).

America, for example, the world’s biggest and most important economy, is officially out of recession. Yet manufacturing surveys show that global growth is stuttering and stagnating once again. US growth slowed to an annualised 1.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, down from 3.1 percent in the previous quarter. The housing market is already in ‘double dip’ territory, inflation is on the rise (it could already be as high as 7.4 percent, according to a new index from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and wages remain stagnant – average hourly earnings of production and non-supervisory employees, who make up 80 percent of non-government workers, are lower than they were in the depths of the recession, adjusted for inflation, according to Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley ( Relative wages have, anyway, been stagnant or falling since the 1970s.

Initial confidence in the rising number of new jobs was squashed by the start of June when it was reported that the rise in the number of jobs was far lower than predicted: just 54,000 jobs were added to the total in May against an expected 165,000, according to the Financial Times, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 per cent. State debt continues to rise to historically unprecedented levels, which has prompted the credit-ratings agencies Standard & Poors and Moody’s to threaten to downgrade it. At the same time as we hear the crisis blamed on banks’ reluctance to loan businesses money, businesses themselves are hoarding cash – almost $1 trillion of it, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal published at the end of last year. This cash pile is the highest for half a century and “shows the deep caution many companies feel about investing in expansion while the economic recovery remains painfully slow and high unemployment and battered household finances continue to limit consumers’ ability to spend”.

The story is much the same around the world. Certain economies in Asia, particularly China, provide the most obvious apparent exceptions, but the health of these are still, for now at least, partly reliant on the health of the US and other Western economies. Commentators are currently watching China’s booming real-estate sector with particular concern – it is another debt-fuelled ‘success’ story, and a key driver of demand for commodities from other economies. But it is inevitably heading for a big crash, according to Nouriel Roubini, a bourgeois economics professor at New York University whose star rose when he correctly predicted the current crisis.   

Of more immediate concern the eurozone – most particularly Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy – also remains in deep trouble. For now, all eyes are on Greece. Despite already having agreed a €10bn bail-out package last year, it is now obvious that that was not enough, and the EU, European Central Bank and IMF are having to bail out the bail-out, as The Economist put it. By 2012, Greece was supposed to be well on the road to recovery, but in reality, as austerity reforms stalled and the economy shrank (by 4 percent last year), state debt continued to soar. It’s now near 160 percent of GDP. The consequences of default are currently deemed too dangerous, so other options are being considered, such as lending Greece yet more money, and extending the repayment dates on the debt. But some commentators, including Lex in the Financial Times, think that default is, sooner or later, ‘inevitable’. The European debt crisis, says economics analysts Capital Economics, “may be entering a new and more dangerous phase”. Meanwhile, as in the US, the biggest companies in Europe, not including the major banks, are sitting on £445bn in cash, according to a Bloomberg report at the end of last year.

Britain has been spared some of the worst of the troubles afflicting Europe because it is still in control of its own currency and can therefore engineer some fiscal wriggle-room with low interest rates and money-printing and so on. It has also recently elected a government committed to radical reforms that will impoverish sections of the working class but also, capitalists are hoping, reduce the deficit and restore profitability. But the picture is far from rosy for the capitalists. The British economy grew by only 0.5 percent in the first quarter of this year following a contraction of the same amount in the last quarter of 2010. Household disposable incomes are predicted to fall by 2 percent in real terms this year, and the TUC trade union body has warned that wages – already stagnant over the past 30 years while the economy doubled in size – are likely to trail behind inflation for years to come, putting low and middle-income earners into a “livelihood crisis”. Growth has fallen off in the services sector, house prices continue to slide, retail sales are down, and the Bank of England has been forced to cut its growth forecasts and up its inflation outlook. And with interest rate rises mooted and surely inevitable sooner or later, things can only get worse in the near term. At the same time, as in Europe and America, British companies sit on vast cash hoards as the prospects of profitable investment remain small and risky.

The bad news

There are really two questions here. The first is, is the crisis over in the narrow, technical sense, i.e, is the economy officially out of recession according to conventional definitions and measures? Here the answer is yes, though the shakiness of the recovery is signalled even in the mainstream press by the constant reference to the fear of a ‘double dip’, the return of recession, especially if or when stimulus measures end and austerity measures kick in (dampening effective demand), or both. Luxemburg’s ‘first signs of improvement’ are certainly there, but it’s still way too early to say that society is ‘reassured again’.

The second is whether the crisis is over in a broader sense, and here the answer is, almost certainly not. Take a historical and Marxist view, and it seems clear that we are merely at the start of a major global restructuring.

Apart from a socialist transformation of society, the only solution to the problems of a depression is the depression itself. If capitalism is to return to profitability, unprofitable concerns must be closed, workers laid off, wages suppressed, and capital devalued. This restores profitability and lays the basis for a new round of capitalist prosperity. The trouble is, despite a number of serious recessions and wobbles, capitalism has not had a proper and necessary clearing of the decks since the 1930s.

As the Marxist economist Paul Mattick points out, that depression, and the war that followed it, laid the basis for the ‘Golden Age’ of 1950 to 1973, an ‘economic miracle’ built on the destruction of the war and the corpses of 50 to 60 million people. This period of capitalist prosperity ran into serious trouble in the 1970s, and the result was the stagnation and inflation (‘stagflation’) of that period, a reliance on unprecedented levels of state involvement in the economy, an excess of printed money and soaring debt. The idea was that this debt would be paid back in the good times as depression was averted and capitalist prosperity returned. The reality was that the debt and spending had to continue to rise to subsidise capitalist industry and buy social peace.

Despite the rhetoric and ideological determination, and some major attacks on working class living standards through the 1980s, it has proved impossible to roll back the state and cut spending and debt while keeping capitalism buoyant. The working class seemed to be boosted for a while with the credit card explosion and rising house prices. That prosperity, too, was obviously unsustainable for capitalism, and it ended in 2007.

But could the full force of a depression be delayed with a combination of yet more debt and spending? Governments around the world are betting that it can. But they are also hedging their bets by preparing and implementing austerity measures as it must be obvious, even to them, that the historically unprecedented expansion of state spending and debt cannot go on for ever if capitalism is to survive. Keynes himself famously ignored this problem. “In the long run, we’re all dead,” he said. Over the next decade, we’ll discover what happens in the ‘long run’.

The probability is that previously taken-for-granted entitlements (to education, jobs, retirement, health care, an income during periods of illness, joblessness or disability, and so on) and standards of living will end. There will be continuing struggles both within the capitalist class and between the capitalist and working classes over who is to bear the brunt of the losses. The hegemony of the United States may be challenged in the not too distant future, with potentially catastrophic consequences: bear in mind that it took a world war to completely end the last truly major depression. And the depression, if not rescued by a major war, could be deeply exacerbated by the falling off of cheap and easy oil and energy supplies and the possibility of ecological catastrophe.

Yes, in the long run we’re all dead. But in the short run things are not looking too great either. At an underlying level, this economic crisis is not over. And neither is the increasingly desperate urgency and need for the socialist alternative.
Stuart Watkins

Pedalling in Ever-decreasing Circles (2011)

From the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Cycling is popular again but what happened to the old Clarion Cycling Club?
The metamorphosis of the precarious Ordinary – “Penny Farthing” – into its essentially present-day “Safety” format in the 1880s and a steady reduction in manufacturing costs, saw the bicycle by the following decade fast-becoming the main means of personal working class transport. Villagers and townies, hitherto isolated, could now venture healthily afield, widening geographical and social horizons, seeking erudition and enlightenment, diversifying and enriching the gene pool.

Devastating as it undoubtedly was for “High Wheeling” aristocrats and toffs to find their pastime suddenly infested with hoi polloi, salvation, at least for the seriously affluent, was nigh: the internal combustion engine was already spluttering into life.

The latter decades of the century had seen also a renewed interest in the radical ideas that had faded somewhat in the wake of the Chartist Movement of the 1850s. In particular, Hyndman’s Democratic Federation, established in 1881, swiftly proclaimed its socialist tendency, renaming itself Social Democratic Federation by 1883. Ever an uneasy coalition, it suffered breakaway the following year when a revolutionary group that included Eleanor Marx, Belford Bax and William Morris left a fundamentally reformist organisation to found the Socialist League.

Around this same time, Sunday Chronicle journalist, Robert Blatchford – “Nunquam” – was winning acclaim with an impassioned weekly exposé of conditions in the slums of Manchester. Openly declaring for socialism however, proved just too much for a nervous proprietor and following an enforced resignation in 1891, he set up his own penny weekly, The Clarion. On relocating south to Fleet Street some four years later, circulation rose steadily eventually, by 1908, doubling to 80,000.

The Clarion’s ideals were indeed lofty: to “make socialists” by writing fearlessly and honestly about injustice and inequality, to do so unpretentiously and humorously avoiding dogma and theory and to provide a forum for divergent viewpoints. This was its mission statement and – as time would ultimately prove – its suicide note.

Perhaps inevitably, cycling men and women, enthused by these ideas, would see the obvious advantages of the bicycle in spreading the message and at an 1894 meeting convened by young Brummie Tom Groom, a “socialist Cycling Club” was created; its name promptly amended to “Clarion” in honour of the journal. Reports of the club’s early activities – joyful, propagandising excursions requiring “boozometers rather than speedometers” – led swiftly to the formation of Clarion clubs elsewhere and an Easter Meet was arranged at Ashbourne in Derbyshire the following year to organise a national body.

The inaugural conference held there was an unpromising, damp, outdoor affair and the accompanying public rally fared little better; speakers harangued throughout by a “beery person”: “Aw don’t know nowt and Aw don’t want to know nowt.” Conference duly obliged by delivering…er, nowt. Notwithstanding agreement on a set of rules and adoption of a national badge and slogan – “Fellowship is Life; Lack of Fellowship is Death” from Morris’s A Dream of John Ball – no attempt was made to actually define socialism other than in the vaguest of “caring-sharing”, “happy-clappy”, “ethical” terms. Contentiously too, membership was opened to professed non-socialists, Groom strongly maintaining that “Clarion reasoning and comradeship” coupled with “physical exercise and glorious countryside” would effect speedy conversion.

The rest, as they say, is history. Whilst number-wise at least, the Club blossomed – membership nudging 7,000 in 1913 – and did despite Blatchford’s hankerings for informality, bring some order to its administrative procedures, this collective failure to achieve understanding and consensus over the actual meaning of the term “socialism” and how it might be implemented, rendered it politically impotent; tyres well and truly punctured at the bikeshed door. Ironic indeed since by 1914, the Club badge now also incorporated a proud “Socialism the Hope of the World”.

And as for the redoubtable Blatchford, it was terminal decline; his initial demand for “common ownership” and boast of “converting England to Socialism in seven years”, soon becoming a plea for “brotherly love and respect”, before plummeting to an outrageous exhortation for young Clarionettes to both shed and spill their working class blood in the Imperialist Cause, firstly in Transvaal and subsequently Flanders. In later life, embittered and disillusioned – “The Working Class is not yet ready for Socialism” – he embraced Conservatism, supporting Stanley Baldwin, “the finest British politician”, in the 1924 General Election.

The Clarion remained popular until 1914 but its jingoistic stance, abhorrent to so many, saw circulation collapse from sixty to ten thousand. Hostilities ended, it emerged as a smaller threepenny weekly but readership continued to haemorrhage in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the seductive pull of the new-born Communist Party of Great Britain. Repackaged in 1927 as a sixpenny monthly, life became increasingly difficult for a self-styled “independent Socialist review” supporting a Labour movement “as opposed to Bolshevism as it is to Fascism” and after a last brief tango as The New Clarion, it disappeared in 1934.

Oddly, the journal’s demise coincided with an upturn in Club numbers. Despite serious economic recession, bicycle ownership was increasing and on the back of the 1930s “outdoors/fitness” craze, membership soared to an all-time high of 8,300. To what extent the Club’s politics contributed is, of course, debatable: other pastimes, rambling and hiking for example also flourished and besides, activism within the ranks, by no means universal from inception, had continued to diminish. For that minority who remained otherwise, there was little evidence of improvement in the calibre of that activism.

Discord reigned between the pro- and anti-war camps, whilst both the Workers’ Sports Movement and Esperanto language were lauded as the keys to “developing solidarity”, “dismantling international prejudices” and “eradicating misunderstanding”. Never, throughout decades of fresh air, camaraderie and carousing, did there ever appear to have entered into the broad Clarion psyche, a recognition of the single global root cause of Humanity’s multiple socio-economic problems and therefore of the single global remedy required. It really was, and is, that straightforward.

Post-war, a brief membership boom was followed by serious decline as growing affluence brought with it mass car-ownership and in the prevailing Cold War environment, there began an inexorable process of airbrushing out its political roots. The Constitutional “propagation of the principles of Socialism” clause became “support for…” and office bearers, once required to actually belong to “an approved Socialist organisation”, could now be simply avowed socialists. And so it continued.

These days, the Clarion Cycling Club survives as a 600-strong rump and – lest it deter potential sponsors – presents itself as “The Club for Wise Cyclists”. May it prosper: pro-Human sentiments are, after all, preferable to none. It is tragic, nevertheless, that so much benevolence, enthusiasm and integrity should, for want of a bit of clarity and direction, have gone to waste; doubly so because in terms of its sloganeering at least, the Club had it pretty-well nailed all along.

And since the Socialist Party remains – on several levels – untroubled by commercial considerations, we are pleased on behalf of countless long-departed and intrepid wayfarers to brandish the muddied Clarion banner one final time: “Fellowship is Life” and “Socialism” – properly defined and understood, is indeed – “the Hope of the World”.
Andrew Armitage

Choosing To Die (2011)

The Proper Gander Column from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

These days, the word ‘controversial’ is used more as a selling-point for television programmes than to describe their content or any reactions provoked. So, the BBC’s documentary on assisted suicide Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die was promoted by slots on their website, Breakfast and Newsnight telling us how contentious and important the show would be. There was even a lurid Radio Times cover announcing it would contain “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”. This referred to its scenes of businessman Peter Smedley’s final moments in Switzerland’s Dignitas centre.

Although some of the publicity gave the impression that we would be watching a video nasty, the programme itself would best be described as genteel. Presenter Terry Pratchett has advocated assisted suicide for those able to decide since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, making the documentary more personal than most. He met up with three people with incurable conditions, two of whom decided to travel to Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal. Those thinking about using Dignitas to end their lives were shown calmly and rationally discussing the issue with their families. Their bravery in choosing how to die was, paradoxically, life-affirming.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the vast majority of complaints were made before the programme was aired. Many of Choosing To Die’s opponents accused it of being “pro-assisted suicide propaganda”, as if every programme should blandly present both sides of an argument. The Newsnight discussion attempted to be more balanced, with Jeremy Paxman uncomfortably chairing an unfocused discussion with campaigners on each side. Some interesting criticisms were made by disability rights campaigner Liz Carr. Her arguments apply to the issue as it exists within capitalism rather than assisted dying per se. She was concerned that assisted suicide is dangerous in a society which sees disability as negative, and that it could be a tempting option for those who can’t afford specialist support for life-limiting conditions. However, as Dignitas charges over £3,000, their service is only open to those wealthy enough to afford their own palliative care anyway. In capitalism, it’s not only your quality of life which is dictated by how rich you are, but also your quality of death.
Mike Foster