Sunday, September 20, 2020

You've got plenty of nothing (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The shyster practising the three-card trick at the fairground or other places where a few simpletons are gathered together usually commences his spiel with: “I have nothing in my right hand, I have nothing in my left hand”—and suddenly out of his midriff he produces the ace of spades. Having thus gained the interest of his audience he invites them to “find the lady”. His accomplished hands move three cards around on a table as fast as the eye can see, and then he’ll lay even money against you spotting the queen. As professional shysters generally speaking gain their livelihoods at this kind of thing, there is little chance of anyone getting the better of them at their own game. The lady, alas, is never where she ought to be, and those whose money has gone from their pockets into his are definitely sadder, wiser and poorer men.

Heaven forbid that we should describe our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, as a shyster —he is nothing of the kind. He operates within the law whilst shysters do not. He receives the approbation of wealthy and respectable people, and no shyster surely would receive that. Also, shysters do not have sizeable estates in the country. Their scale of operations is minute, as they only deal with small fry. Our Chancellor is a man of honour, and his dealings with the working class should never be placed on a par with our fairground charlatan.

However, there is one thing our Chancellor and our shyster have in common, and that is the ability to play tricks on people; to deceive them; to present an illusion where things are not what they appear to be. As everything done by Healey is done in the most reasonsable arid refined manner, and in full vision of the public, it would be wrong to say that he practises deception.

TUC — graveyard of unity
In his 15th budget since Labour took office in this parliament, Healey on 26th October increased the personal Tax allowance by 12 per cent. This meant, according to our best newspapers, that some workers would receive £1 extra each week. But hold on! The rate of inflation, or the fall in the purchasing power of money, for which Mr. Healey’s Labour government is directly responsible, has been over 13 per cent. over the last twelve months. All that Healey has done is to return to the workers a tiny fraction of something previously derived from them. That graveyard of unity, the TUC, consider that this was a benefit for the lower-paid worker. This lickspittle institution never tires of telling the workers that a Labour government is God’s gift to the working class and they ought to be grateful for it, even with 1,600,000 unemployed.

This resembles the man and his dog who got lost in the forest. There was no food to be found and the man was very hungry. He looked at the dog and for the first time noticed that it had rather a long tail. After some misgivings (being an Englishman) he cut off the dog’s tail and made a stew of it. After eating, he threw the bones to the dog. Never in the history of canine loyalty was there a more delighted dog—it felt it had the best master in the world.

For the working class to ask for a bigger share of its own product is to ask for charity. Why should the workers allow themselves to be dependent on the goodwill of well-fed, well-breeched politicians, whose future is assured as well as their prosperity by the useless parasites who pay them well for the dirty work they perform?

It is easier to get rid of them both than to live with them. That is what Socialists have been saying for years. We deserve your support, and we shall get it when the workers decide to get up off their knees.
Jim D'Arcy

World Socialism or World Violence? (1976)

From the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

A little over a year ago the television programme A Man Called Ironside, presented an episode entitled “The Armageddon Gang”, which depicted a mad scientist who came within seconds of firing H-bomb rockets and starting World War III. This was presented as entertainment and it was accepted as such. The conditioning that has taken place to make the prospect of total world annihilation acceptable, is surely the ultimate obscenity. There was no outcry from the Longford-Whitehouse camp. This scientist was “mad”. The capitalist system which produces H-bomb stockpiles, is “normal”.

A few days later a TV documentary on mugging was shown. This centred on Brixton in South London. They interviewed a police chief, Commander Marshall, who made the point that the police can never solve the problem alone; society as a whole has to realize it is a part of wider issues, housing, education and employment. This aspect of violence is still very much in the news, being endlessly debated, like other social problems, but with no end in sight.

In Brixton, some 79 per cent. of mugging is said to be carried out by black people; mainly youths. If you are black, live in a slum, failed by the “education” system and unemployed, you may become a mugger. If you are white and in similar circumstances you too may turn to mugging or other forms of crime. To say this is a product of poverty, is to say it is a product of capitalism. Because of its property relationships, capitalism has always failed to integrate human beings with society. The profit motive is a completely dehumanized driving force.

Some young black people who had been involved in mugging were interviewed during the programme. They said their motive was to get money, to buy clothes and to be like other people. They were asked if they felt anything for their victims and replied in the negative. Again, the hostility between the individual and society is socially generated. People are not naturally anti-social, as the police chief said; you have to look at housing, education and employment. You have to look at the system.

Capitalism sets no higher standard. It is a violent society preaching a phoney morality. While its pundits talk of “law and order” out of one side of their mouths, out of the other they urge young people to train as professional killers. Every newspaper carries recruitment advertisements for the army, navy or air-force which invite young people to learn a trade— and become professionals in the sophisticated refinements of modern mass-murder and destruction.

A generation has grown up knowing nothing but wars. Since the end of the second “war to end war” in 1945, there has been an endless succession of wars all over the world. Some of these wars may be in distant places but, with modern means of communication, they invade every living room and are part of the violent environment. The war in Korea slaughtered more than a million people. The war in Vietnam, which raged for nearly thirty years, was started by a Labour government, and a Labour government carried on conscription in so-called peace time.

Throughout its existence the Socialist Party of Great Britain has maintained the position re-stated in the 1950 edition of our pamphlet The Socialist Party and War:
  War can solve no working-class problem. It cuts across the fundamental identity of interest of the workers of the world, setting sections of this class at enmity with each other in the interest of sections of the capitalists. It elevates force into the position of arbiter in place of the common human desire for mutual peace and happiness. Its effect is wholly evil. It depraves all the participants by forcing them to concentrate upon the best methods of producing misery and annihilating each other. It elevates lying, cheating, disabling and murdering opponents into virtues, confers distinctions upon those who practise these means most successfully, and inaugurates training courses on a vast scale to produce efficiency. Young men and women, in their most impressionable years, have the vile methods of warfare impressed upon them so thoroughly that they lose a balanced outlook on life and are impregnated with the idea that force, with all its baseness, and not reason, is the final solution in all problems. Many of those who have been subjected to the atmosphere of war remain addicted to violence when war has come to a temporary end.
Around the world selling armaments is big business. America, Russia, China, France, Czechoslovakia and Britain are selling massive quantities of arms and military equipment. The morality of capitalism never gets in the way of profits or commercial, strategic and vested interests. When the icy fact is understood that these major capitalist powers have the means to wipe out all life on earth, the mugger becomes small beer in comparison. But then muggers are illegal and lack the “dignity and bearing” of statesmen.

Practically all organized violence is aimed at gain. The possession or retention of wealth, money, resources or territory. Violence therefore derives overwhelmingly from the class-property basis of existing society.Violence used in power-struggles for so-called national independence comes in this category. It means the replacement of one gang of thieves by another. Violence is the final sanction of all ruling classes. The modern state-machine is a virtual monopoly of violence. As much as violence maims or murders those on whom it is practised, it brutalizes and degrades those who advocate and practise it, whether society labels them as muggers or soldiers, terrorists or politicians.

It is important to realize that violence is not an exceptional thing practised by an anti-social few. It is accepted and frequently applauded by the vast majority of “ordinary” people. They accept the spurious justifications of the Stalins, Wilsons, Nixons, Heaths, Fords and Brezhnevs. “We” need H-bombs and militarism, because “they” have them.

Those organizations such as IS, WRP, IMG, the anarchists and the CP, which see the class struggle in terms of barricades, street fighting, confrontations and smashing the state, are all anti-Socialist and anti- working-class. Political power gained by desperate minorities through armed insurrection can only lead to state capitalism and dictatorship and reflect working-class unreadiness for Socialism. In condemning all this as Socialists always have, we also condemn the bombings, brutality and blood-letting of the self-styled guerillas, whether they be for Black Power, Palestine Liberation or the IRA. All such movements whether racists, nationalist or religious, are anti-working class. They all help to sustain an atmosphere of hatred and foster the notion that violence is a rational arbiter in settling disputes and influencing attitudes. The SPGB and its Companion Parties reject this. We reject the standards of capitalism. We promote UNDERSTANDING as the mainspring of social change.

All other political parties have a prior commitment to violence as part of the power-structure of the system they ALL seek to run. Every party seeking power to maintain capitalism (in whatever guise) has to build and preserve the coercive state apparatus. The SPGB and our Companion Parties have no prior commitment to violence. Neither do we have any record of support for war. Our commitment is to Socialist understanding and to the democratic process of majority decision.

In order to strip the capitalist class of their ownership of the means of production and distribution, and to usher in common ownership, a world-wide majority of the working class with Socialist ideas will use the vote to gain control of the state machine This will take the armed forces and police out of the hands of the political agents of capitalism, and so remove the coercive threat to the triumph of the politically-conscious working class. There is no way to gain possession of the means of production for the whole of society, without first capturing political power. Just as the armed forces and police function to protect private property institutions whilst the state is in the hands of the capitalists, so the capitalists are powerless to preserve their ownership once the state is taken from them.

Any violent minority seeking to get back to capitalism, will be seen to be acting against the will of the great majority and can only further isolate themselves. They could not reverse the irreversible process of history which has led to the decision to change society.

Socialism will end the long and terrible history of violence. Having been established democratically it will continue to be run democratically. When there are no longer any classes of owners and non-owners, there will be a common interest in the happiness and welfare of everybody. Humanity will have come of age.
Harry Baldwin

Who Likes Facing Labour's Future? (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never shared the euphoria of the Left for so-called welfare legislation. All the starry-eyed illusions that were let loose in those post-war years, about what a wonderful thing the Welfare State and the National Health Service would be, served the capitalist class well.

The reformists could not come up empty-handed after six years of war. The delusion was carefully fostered of making a start to build a bright and happy future. High hopes were encouraged that nationalization of basic industries would mean that things like coal-mines and transport ran as a public service, with profit considerations pushed aside.

The welfare state, with the National Health Service at the heart of it, was to be the show-piece and crowning glory of it all.

In the war days of the Beveridge Report, had not Quintin Hogg remarked:
  Some of my hon. Friends seem to overlook one or two ultimate facts about social reform. The first is that if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution.
Parliamentary Debates 
17th February 1943 Col. 1818
Had not all the war propaganda dangled the prospect of a better life when it was all over? The free provisions of free specs and dentures did not last long. Workers soon had to start paying half, on top of ever rising compulsory contributions. The economics of capitalism soon reminded the reform-mongers that things (under capitalism) have to be paid for. All along the line, in every nationalized industry, (and not least in the NHS) the chickens have come home to roost.

A generation of workers have placed their trust and wasted their lives on the pie-crust promises of ambitious politicians. More than thirty years have passed since the Labour Party issued its post-war election manifesto: Let us Face the Future. People like Barbara Castle, who were rising “stars” of the left, when Aneurin Bevan was chief demagogue, have lived to stand in the crumbling ruins of all the misguided hopes which they themselves helped to build. Once again the ludicrous spectacle is one where the reformers proposed and capitalism disposed. We are now living in their future.

Every group of workers in the NHS has been (and will continue to be) ruthlessly exploited by their Labour government overlords. (Yes, we know and by the Tories.)

The nurses, whose devotion to their patients has been mercilessly used by successive governments, were forced to organize, demonstrate and threaten strike action. Then the ambulance crews were pushed into the same position. The ward orderlies and laundry workers caved in under the weight of increasing drudgery and near starvation wages. The extreme reluctance of any of these workers to add to the suffering of the sick and aged, has been cynically played on by the Tory and Labour governments.

The latest miserable episode is that of the junior doctors. Driven by being on duty or on stand-by for as much as one hundred hours per week and working for as many as eighty hours with virtually unpaid overtime, they banned overtime. This brought about the closing down of wards, casualty departments and even entire hospitals. If this reads like a nightmare, that is what capitalism does to the dreams of reformers.

It should be understood, that dental decay, bad eyesight and tuberculosis etc., among the working class are very costly to the capitalist class, particularly in war time. Absenteeism from work with avoidable sickness has an adverse affect upon profits. A patch-up and back-to-work service is a wise investment for capitalism. Capitalists and their political hirelings certainly look at welfare in this way. Speaking at the Manchester Rotary Club on February 18th 1943, the millionaire Samuel Courtauld said, in reference to the Beveridge Report:
  . . . social security of this nature will be about the most profitable long-term investment the country could make. It will not undermine the morale of the nation’s workers: it will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs.
The economics and priorities of capitalism remain supreme. The system has not been slowly eroded by the “gradualists” who thought they would whittle it away by reforms. They have been whittled away. They have nowhere to turn. Their political bankruptcy is exposed for all to see.

The rampant chaos and discontent in the hospital centres entirely upon money. Costing and inflation problems slowly strangle the postal “services”. The same considerations decree how much of the railways shall survive and whether steel mills and coal mines shall close down. They also dictate how much gas and electricity members of the working class may use. Nowhere have their plans worked. Nowhere has nationalization served working class interests. Perhaps the following has a familiar ring:
   No Tory Government could make this appeal, for the workers would suspect that the summons to hard work, discipline and abstinence would result only in fortunes for the few and the later wastage of unemployment. The new Government is in a different situation. It also must appeal for hard work, discipline and, for a short period, continued abstinence. All these are needed to increase the total wealth for distribution. But a Labour Government at the same time can give concrete proof of its resolve to use this wealth for the benefit of the whole community. By its social insurance and health and housing plans it can show its determination to secure a greater equality in the distribution of wealth. By its nationalization proposals it can show its resolve that the re-equipment of industry shall not merely bring greater profits to the few. By its financial measures it can prove that, when this period of shortage is over, no return will be allowed to wasteful unemployment.
Michael Foot, Daily Herald 7th August 1945
Aneurin Bevan, once said the Tories were “lower than vermin”. What does that make the Wilson, Castle and Foot mob? Regretfully, calling names however well deserved, does little to raise the level of class-consciousness. When the working class wake up, they will contemptuously brush aside these petty upstarts and, in fact, dismiss all leaders. Ultimately the responsibility rests with the workers. Their political maturity (or lack of it) is reflected in how they vote. The power to continue the agony of capitalism, derives from the votes of the workers. The power to end it, will come from the same source.
Harry Baldwin

The three quotations are to be found in the SPGB pamphlets: Beveridge Re-Organizes Poverty and Is Labour Government the Way to Socialism?

The Nature of Democracy (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is essentially democratic. It means a society of true equality. All people will jointly own the means of production and distribution, and will control them and administer all the affairs of society from that classless basis. Because means must harmonize with ends, the organization for Socialism is also democratic. Socialists reject leadership and censorship; the realization of the interests of the working class lies in full, free and informed discussion.

The capitalist class does not willingly give such facilities for the development of socialist consciousness and organization. It has to provide them as legal “rights" for the maintenance of its own political system, and their extent varies from country to country. Socialists are aware of the need for scope, and — unlike many foolish people who call themselves “revolutionaries” — avoid jeopardizing the opportunities we have. At the same time, we do not bow down in gratitude to the ruling class and promise to fight on their side in return for what they have grudgingly given. We compare their “rights” with the freedom Socialism offers; when increasing numbers of socialists give us bigger muscles, we shall want more room to flex them.

The other half of the lie, that Russia and China are communist, is that the West is free and democratic. This falsehood provides a vital propaganda weapon which the ruling class use to goad workers into the acceptance of war preparations. It can never be officially admitted that the reason is economic and concerns markets, resources and profits, not ideological concern for freedom and democracy.

Strategic Alliances
Alliances between allegedly free countries and dictatorships have no ideological explanation, they can only be understood in terms of commercial and military strategy. For example, Portugal while a dictatorship was “Britain’s oldest ally” and Uganda under Amin, remains part of the so-called Commonwealth, America sponsors dictatorships like that in S. Korea and fought a ten years war to bolster the power of its puppet tyrants in Vietnam. Russia and China infiltrate much of the world with massive investments, trade and military power, even in places where their “communist” comrades are in prison. The British and American ruling classes embraced Russia as an ally from 1941 to 1945 and tailored their propaganda accordingly. Churchill found no difficulty working with Stalin, whose regime he had spent twenty-five years denouncing as a “cancerous growth”, to organize the mass slaughter of Germans and Italians, whose leaders Hitler and Mussolini he formerly admired.

Today the world is one huge nuclear arsenal for the major powers. The smaller states are drawn into one armed camp or the other or come under the strategy of the big bandit. Nuclear weapons have no respect for non-alignment. Just as the major powers are motivated by the economics of capitalism, so also are the smaller countries. The conditions leading to conflict are always present in competition for markets.

After two world wars and scores of “minor” wars supposedly to ensure freedom, outside the phrasemongering of politicians and the media how much freedom and democracy is there in the world today? What do these words really mean? To arrive at a clear understanding, it is necessary first to grasp the nature of class society, otherwise freedom and democracy, like ideas about rights and justice, remain vague concepts. In our Declaration of Principles, we refer to the enslavement of the working class being a consequence of the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class. This is the number one fact of life of capitalist society. The only sense in which the working class are free is, as Marx explains in The Communist Manifesto, that they are not tied to land or any individual employers, but being divorced from the means of production are free to sell their working abilities on the labour market to any capitalist willing to hire them. Wage-labour is socially enslaved to the capitalist class as a whole.

Marx also makes the point that the working class is dragged into the political arena by the capitalist class. The Capitalists are not a single group with the same interest, but numerous groups with often conflicting interests. Although they all live on the backs of the workers, they dispute among themselves as to which should have the main burden of taxation for the costs of running their system. In the early days of capitalism when the sharpest division was between landed and industrial interests, the Tory party represented the former and the Whigs (Liberals) the latter. Both posed as champion of the workers to enlist the aid of the workers for their own advantage. This was the background to the passing of the early factory legislation and franchise reform. Instead of seeing their own interests as distinct from those of the capitalists, workers sought to play one against the other for the amelioration of immediate grievances. This led to dissatisfaction with existing parties and as the trade-union movement grew, to the formation of the Labour party. The workers then as now blamed their hardships on leaders and parties rather than the system. The fraud of reformism has become the status quo. The institutional forms taken by the national affairs of the capitalist class, which includes the health, education and welfare of the working class, are put over to the workers as freedom and democracy.

For the dubious privilege of having his children’s heads stuffed with nationalism and religion, while being trained for a life of wage-slavery, and the benefits bestowed by the Welfare/Warfare state to relieve the worst extremes of poverty, the worker is expected to rejoice that he is remembered at election times and invited to vote for the continuation of things as they are.

Just as capitalist politicians debated the dangers of teaching workers to read and had no choice but to do so, they also debated the wisdom of universal suffrage. The provision of facilities for lobbying opinion to decide how property interests and profitability can best be served is not the same thing as freedom. There is no provision made for expressing socialist views; these fall outside the province of profit promotion, and have to make their own way. The capitalist conception of freedom can never amount to more than the freedom of the capitalist class to trade, legislate and arm against their rivals. For them, the first freedom must always be the freedom to exploit wage labour. Even the contesting of elections is tightly circumscribed by money, resources and access to the media.

Those who take the propaganda of the system at its face value tell us at our meetings, that in Britain at least we have “free speech and freedom of the press”. But where a minority owns the means of living and also owns and controls the press, obviously the press is not free. Useful though Hyde Park is, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the world day- and-night output of television, radio and press. Free access to the channels of radio and television does not exist. If “free” speech consists of standing on a platform by the roadside, shouting above the traffic, while the system’s propaganda invades every worker’s living-room, clearly the word “freedom” has a double standard.

Unfettered Discussion
The press, radio and television are not even free for the capitalists as individuals. There are programme controllers, D Notices, censorship, “editing”, regulations laid down in broadcasting charters, the Official Secrets Acts and other “democratic” devices. The national interests of the capitalists as a class need secrecy, and the slanting of information. This is the antithesis of democracy Democracy involves the free availability of all information and unfettered discussion— but this implies no class with privileged interests to maintain.

In the Preface to The Critique of Political Economy, Marx enunciated the principle of the materialist conception of history: that the legal and political superstructure can only be explained by the social relations that men enter into in production and the level of development of the productive forces at a given time. The legal machinery and political power of capitalism are built upon the ownership of the means of production and distribution by the capitalist class. The prevailing ideology and morality reflect the interests of private property. The non-owning class are fed false information and miseducated to produce attitudes in conformity with the dominance of private property and profits. Attitudes towards money, wages, leadership, housing, inflation, trade and war, are manipulated by the schools, press, radio and t.v. on the basis of the prior assumptions of the capitalist interest. The skilful use of spurious information and a pretence of a debate excludes views which reject those prior assumptions.

There is no freedom to put the case for Socialism on level pegging with the parties of capitalism. They have the mass media at their constant disposal, the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not. If Marx’s view of society is correct Socialist ideas do not spread among the workers because they are given permission to do so, by rights or concepts of freedom. It is the contradictions inherent in capitalist society which promote the growth of class-consciousness. Ideas can neither be legislated into nor out of existence. There is a conflict between the material forces of production and the existing social relations of production and the existing social relations of production. This is the essential prerequisite, the soil from which consciousness grows. It is a paradox for workers to accept the prerogative of capitalist politicians to grant them “rights”. The other side of the coin is acceptance of their prerogative to curtail them.

Just as with other reforms in welfare or education, there is the assumption that what is good for capitalism, is good for the workers; in times of crises when reforms are cut back this too is sold as good for everyone. In time of war or emergency, the “rights” and “freedoms” for which workers are told to sacrifice themselves, become all but non-existent. Since the end of the second World War, the frequent recurrence of wars and emergencies have provided the grounds for repeated tightening of the reins. There has been a vast expansion of surveillance and “security” operations throughout the world and a tremendous extension of the screening of individuals, publications and organizations, despite the “inalienable” rights guaranteed by the American Constitution, and such documents as the United Nations Charter.

What sustains their continued acceptance of capitalism, is the fact that workers everywhere, are side tracked into struggling for a host of other issues. In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels makes a brilliant summary of the situation: “The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class, in this case the proletariat, is not ripe for its economic emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible, and form the tail, the extreme left wing of the capitalist class. But the more the proletariat matures towards its self emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class”. (Pages 210, 211, Kerr Edition.)

No minority could hold back the tidal wave of a majority wanting Socialism. It is the task of socialists to expand Socialism and nothing else. Socialism will be democratic because, the interest of everybody in a classless world will be harmonious. At the end of our Declaration of Principles, we urge workers to join us to end “the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom". For socialists, the attainment of freedom means the abolition of classes and democracy is inseparable from Socialism.
Harry Baldwin