Tuesday, May 11, 2021

BP’s profits and the pipeline (1971)

From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a full page spread of the Financial Times of 6 April, the British Petroleum Company (BP), gave a summary of the chairman’s statement and accounts for 1970. Among the snippets in large print were these: “Total sales continue to rise but margins eroded” and “considering the problems we had to face, I think we did well in 1970.” The report gave details of the erosions and problems faced by BP, and in so doing of those of the world of capitalism in general. Gross income (sales) had risen from £2,124m. in 1968 up to £2,659m. in 1970, while net income (profits) fallen from £101m. in to £91m. in the same period. The chairman summed up the position neatly:
  The whole of the year has been a struggle to recover additional costs in our selling prices. In the earlier part of 1970 we had rising freight costs; now we have rising taxes and royalties in producing countries stemming from an increase in government take which the oil industry had to concede in the autumn of 1970 to producers in the Gulf and Mediterranean.
It is worth noting that the cost increases ate into profits. Price rises cannot automatically be made to compensate. Oil companies have to compete for markets and dare not let their products become uncompetitive. For once rising costs are not blamed on workers’ wages but on the sections of the capitalist class. “Larger quantities of oil had to be lifted from the Middle East in tankers chartered on a short term basis at greatly increased rates.” When it came to royalties and taxes, those paid to the Middle East, Libya and Nigeria, rose from £210m. in 1966 to £465m. in 1970. This was not all, when taxes in the consumer countries are taken into account £l,359m. was taken from BP. How their shareholders including the British government must fume, knowing that so large a part of their profits are ending up in other hands. However in spite of these “eroded margins” the company raised its capital expenditure to £322m. from £244m. last year. After all, even if their cut comes only to £90m. it is not to be sneezed at.

This all adds up to big business, very big business indeed. In the field of discovering and extracting oil BP lead the industry, to the extent that major rivals get some of their crude oil supplies from them. In the early years of this century they gained concessions to the oil fields of Persia, which are to this day a major producing area. Their discoveries of oil in Alaska recently, may prove equally important. In spite of its name BP is an international company,
 Over 90 percent of the groups trade . . . was carried on overseas and the majority of the crude oil and products was neither imported nor exported from the U.K.
Alaskan oil will, or so BP hope, gain them access to, and a large share of the American market. To this end they have been acquiring facilities such as refineries and distributive outlets. In the process they have had to overcome objections raised by government trust-busters. Now they are faced with more problems, those of transporting their product from the frozen wastes to the markets. Not only must heed be taken of technical factors, but also of costs and the aforementioned 'eroded margins’. Their proposal to build an 800 mile-long, heated pipeline, over frozen tundra to the port of Valdez has met with objections from conservationists. According to the statement ". . . the Valdez line can be built whilst fully meeting the legitimate anxieties of the conservationists”. These include the fact that the line would run over an area subject to earthquakes. From Valdez the oil would be carried by tankers. This has given rise to fears that the West coast of North America would face the consequences of polluted waters and shores as a result of having become a very busy tanker route.

The rush to get the pipeline built, and oil to the customers and a profit realised on the investments, militates against a sane and rational decision being made. Time would be needed to make thorough investigations of conditions and alternative proposals. More than this, sane terms of reference would exclude cost accountancy and commercial rivalry. How can the best decision from an environmental standpoint be taken when such objectivity is impossible under capitalist conditions?

All the arguments, whether or not they are expressed in terms of environmental considerations, must under capitalist conditions produce an answer in terms of profit margins. And we cannot help but suspect that some of the environmentalists’ genuine concern must be to the liking of some of BP’s rivals. After all if it helps to keep a rival commercially handicapped, then the preservation of the flora and fauna of Alaska is worthwhile.
Joe Carter

Ecology: the first decade (1971)

From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten years ago, anyone who spoke of the “balance of nature,” or claimed that our food was being poisoned on a mass scale, would have been classed along with nudists, vegetarians and socialists. Such talk identified the crank and the weirdo. As for ecology, few could even spell it.

Today fad has become orthodoxy. The language of the crank has become the language of the Pope, the Prince of Wales and President Nixon. Every school child knows the meaning of ecology.

Now we have Doomwatch, the biologist’s Dixon of Dock Green. We have advertisements based on ecological appeal, like the one for Natural Gas. Establishment magazines like Time and Reader’s Digest incessantly remind us of the threats to our natural environment.

In 1960 a book introducing ecology to sixth-formers stated that
  opportunities for full-time employment of ecologists in Britain are few and far between . . . There are neither many jobs nor many people competent to fill them. (John Hillaby, Nature and Man).
Today we take the population explosion of full-time ecologists for granted — and we are not surprised at the rise of environmental consultants, environmental lawyers — even environmental bankers. Within one decade a revolution in ideas has occurred. And this is only the beginning.

In 1962, just after the Thalidomide affair, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, to become an instant best-seller. This far-sighted work, studiously factual yet excitingly written, was an investigation of the ways in which weed — and pest-killers were poisoning wildlife, human beings and the system of nature in general. Rachel Carson showed that
  Every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.
And she demanded:
  Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?
Apparently the answer to that question was: any capitalist who can make a quick profit out of this murderous system. The chemical firms spent a great deal of money spreading lies about the effects of their products, [1] and trying to discredit Rachel Carson as a mystical dreamer out of touch with reality. One such firm wrote to Silent Spring's publishers asking them to withdraw the book, and implying that those who thought like Rachel Carson were in the pay of the Russian government, who thereby hoped to strike at the West’s food supply.

Time magazine and Reader's Digest carried bitter attacks on Silent Spring. An outburst typical of “responsible people’ ’at that time was the following, from the Director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture:
  In any large-scale pest-control programme we are immediately confronted with the objection of a vociferous, misinformed group of nature-balancing, organic-gardening, bird-loving, unreasonable citizenry that has not been convinced of the important place of agricultural chemicals in our economy.
But these chemicals also had an important, though less benign, place in the ecology as Silent Spring made clear to millions. Most pesticides, in sufficient amounts, kill anything that lives, and not just the pest aimed at. Many of these chemicals are persistent, that is, once added to the natural system they remain there in poisonous form. All the plants, animals, soil and water, in every part of the world, contain steadily increasing amounts of these poisonous substances. Penguins and seals in the Antarctic, thousands of miles from the nearest spraying, contain DDT and numerous other poisons.

Animals which consume these substances do not pass them out of their bodies as quickly as they take them in, but rather accumulate the poisons in increasing quantities. If these animals are eaten by predators, the predators are getting a highly concentrated dosage, which they concentrate further. They may be eaten in their turn, and thus the chemical intensifies as it moves up the food chain. In this way, very tiny concentrations of pesticide may wreak havoc with the neutral system. At Clear Lake, California, DDT was sprayed in concentrations of one part in 70 millions. It was absorbed by plankton, which were eaten by fish, which were eaten by bigger fish, which were eaten by grebes. By this time concentrations were up to 2,500 parts per million. The grebes died.

Those creatures at the tops of food chains are therefore most vulnerable. Man is at the top of many food chains. In more and more parts of the world, men’s flesh would be poisonous to eat, and mother’s milk is poisonous to their children.

Paradoxically, the use of chemical killers against a particular pest often destroys that pest’s natural enemies, whilst the intended victim may develop a resistant strain. This leads to a renewed plague of the pests —and the use of new and deadlier poisons. Two or more chemicals added to the environment at different times and in different places may meet in the soil or the waterways, and combine to produce a new substance more deadly than either of them. Nature is a delicate, intricate system, and apparently slight intervention in this system may have dramatic consequences. [2]

No Socialist, Rachel Carson nevertheless could clearly see that the system of production for profit was the major cause of pesticidal pollution, firstly, because chemicals were used to increase the productivity of agriculture regardless of their wider consequences, and secondly, because the companies producing agricultural chemicals constituted a great vested interest. In many cases, alternative, non-chemical means of pest-control were more effective and cheaper, yet precisely because these methods were so simple, there were no great profits to be had from marketing them, and therefore nobody with an interest in selling them to farmers.* [3]

Scientists working on pest control were directly or indirectly in the pay of the chemical companies. These companies have not hesitated to proclaim that the world's food supply depends upon their products, and that people who object to being poisoned by them are responsible for world hunger. As recently as 1967, an employee of the Velsicol Chemical Corporation wrote:
  the campaign of false fear against the use of modern pesticides has, is, and will cause deaths and sufferings greater than those of World War II. It has been over 12 years since a major new insecticide has been brought to market and this is due to unnecessary controversy . . . daily deaths due to starvation and malnutrition have risen from 6,000-7,000 per day to over 12,000 per day, not to mention the millions who have died from vector-borne diseases . . . Each person who has played a part in the campaign of fear must accept responsibility for his share of the unnecessary toll of human life.
Rachel Carson had scotched that one merely by pointing out that agriculture’s chief headache was the problem of burdensome surpluses, though she didn’t go further and explain how a surplus problem could co-exist with a starvation problem. In fact, the world can grow plenty of food for everyone, with or without pesticides. Where people starve, it is not because the food cannot be grown, but because they are too poor to pay for it.

As public opinion swung round on pesticides, other forms of pollution began to hit the headlines. Some, like smog and nuclear fallout, were already issues. Gradually, more and more people linked the variety of pollutions together, and began to see a single problem. Ecologists became sought after and listened to. The Environment was a hot political topic. Firms which had been arrogant and sarcastic looked to their public relations and began to talk about their “responsibilities”. An avalanche of anti-pollution legislation descended from government. As the western economy moved into recession, one branch of industry was expanding as never before: anti-pollution equipment.

The tone of this editorial from Fortune (February 1970), the American business magazine, would have been utterly unthinkable two or three years earlier:
  Looked at one by one, many of our present depredations seem relatively easy to correct. But when we put the horrors in a row — the drab and clumsy cities, the billboards, the scum-choked lakes, the noise, the poisoned air and water, the clogged highways, the mountainous and reeking dumps — their cumulative effect drives us toward the conclusion that some single deep-seated flaw in modern society is responsible for all of these.

  . . . Because our strength is derived from the fragmented mode of our knowledge and our action, we are relatively helpless when we try to deal intelligently with such unities as a city, an estuary’s ecology, or “the quality of life.”
The Environmental outcry, which has yet to reach its height, is fully justified by the horrible facts. It is not a volatile craze which will disappear next year — or next century.

In some American cities tap water is undrinkable; drinking water must be bought in bottles. [4] In Tokyo, the world’s largest city, air pollution has got so bad that oxygen-vending machines have been installed in the streets. [5] Annual property damage from air pollution in the United States is estimated at $12 billion (thousand million). Millions of tons of oil are released into the oceans every year, and the Sargasso Sea now contains a permanent oil slick covering several hundred square miles.

While scientists calculate precisely the increased number of monsters and idiots born because of radioactive fallout, nerve gas and nuclear wastes are dumped in the Atlantic. The lands and seas are cluttered with plastic containers which will not be broken down — no, literally not in a million years. And everywhere swarms capitalism’s iron rat, the petrol-combustion motor-car, always bringing with it death, injury, sickness and frustration on a colossal scale.

Latest pollutants to make the news are PCBS and metals. [6] PCBS (polychlorinated biphenyls), used in the making of paints, varnishes, adhesives and lubricants, can now be found throughout the world’s natural system, including human mother’s milk, already rich in such succulents as DDT and its relatives. Implicated in the destruction of wild birds, PCBS are helping the peregrine and golden eagle along the road to extinction. The effects on humans are not yet known, PCBS are persistent.

Among serious metal pollutants are lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, nickel and vanadium. Lead enters the ecology mainly from its use as an anti-knock additive in petrol. It is suspected of inhibiting enzyme action, thus damaging the brain, liver and red blood corpuscles. Beryllium is emitted by processing plants, and like nickel, which is used as a fuel additive and in metallurgy, it damages the lungs. Cadmium, picked up from galvanized water pipes, causes high blood pressure and kidney damage. Mercury, used in the production of paint and drugs, keeps turning up in fish. It is especially toxic to the brain.

Pollution is not just caused by “technology”, and a return to the “simple life” is no answer (though less passionate worship of "progress” might help). The high rate of technical innovation itself provides cures for its own disease, DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor, and other dangerous substances can be totally discarded, and replaced with chemicals which are more specific, or which break down more quickly. Non-chemical methods of pest control can be developed also. Factory chimneys and drains can be fitted with filters. “Biodegradable” plastics can be developed. Sewage can be treated, and could be a useful source of fertilizer. [7] Industrial processes can all be modified if necessary. No technique of production is indispensable. There is a substitute for anything, or there soon can be if research resources are channelled in the appropriate direction. Something can be done about pollution, and of course something is to some extent being done, and the reasons for its slowness and indecisiveness are economic, not technical.

Although European Conservation Year was justly described by some sceptics as “European Conversation Year,” and similar jibes can easily be made at other environmental projects, it would be a gross error to suppose that capitalism is doing nothing about the problem. It is true that the picture has now become more confused with the growth of a general awareness of ecology, so that corporations which formerly flaunted their disdain for nature can now be relied upon to treat the environment as a sensitive public relations zone. Underneath the propaganda, however, progress really is being made, two obvious cases in Britain being the comparative success of the Clean Air Act, and the great improvement in the condition of the Thames. Norway’s biggest industrial combine recently closed, and wrote off as a total loss, a £6 million plant, because the firm could not bear the additional costs of anti-pollution measures (Guardian, 30 April). All over the world, pollution control costs are rising steeply as a proportion of capital investment. It would be equally mistaken to suppose that only the polluters are propelled by profit, those who wish to restrain them being disinterested guardians of the public welfare.

Sometimes the actions of governments are motivated by the crudest short-term financial considerations. The British Government responded to the Torrey Canyon menace by pouring millions of gallons of poisonous detergent into the sea. Ecologically, this was a disaster many times greater than the oil slick, but the holiday trade of seaside resorts was the determining factor. “The tourists were worth £40 million a year and the lobsters were worth £2 million a year,” said the man from Whitehall. “So we killed the lobsters.” (quoted in Richard Pefrow, The Black Tide)

But capitalism’s powers-that-be are capable of a broader approach than this. Cigarette smoking, for example, provides profits for the tobacco firms and tax revenues for the state, yet intelligent administrators of capitalism can readily see that they lose out, because of the illness and death caused by cigarettes, which lower the productivity of the working-class, and thereby cut the rate of return on investments in labour-power (the Health Service, schools and universities, etc).

It is the same with pollution. Short-sighted people often talk as though the choice for capitalism was concern for the environment or economic growth, but the truth is that in the long run a lack of concern for the environment will cut growth by lowering the quality of human labour-power, the source of growth. Poisoned workers are not so profitable to employ. Nations like Japan and Italy, which currently foul their environments more than most, will pay for it.

Furthermore, though government pollution-control laws raise the costs of production, firms do not necessarily mind their costs rising—so long as their competitors are in the same boat. Most leading American managers were found to be in favour of tougher pollution restrictions, and one of them explained:
  If I correct my plant problems but my competitor doesn’t, that company has a competitive advantage. I have committed huge sums; they haven't. In fairness to my stockholders, therefore, I can’t make that first move. (Fortune, February 1970).
This is a familiar pattern. Such laws will be particularly favoured (perhaps after initial howls of protest, as with the pesticide producers) by big firms in industries where competition from smaller firms persists. Anything which raises costs all round help to eliminate the small fry and redound to the benefit of the large concerns. Historically, much factory legislation was supported by large companies for this reason, and such a situation can even result in these firms favouring a general rise in wages.

The established firm may also regard its reputation as an asset, and in conditions of growing agitation over a particular evil, like pollution, such a firm may have to choose between soiling its reputation or handing a competitive advantage to a less reputable rival. Here again, the firm will welcome state direction.

A company with a near-monopoly position in regard to particular products will have a somewhat different outlook. With the competitive pressures off, the natural distaste for state interference will reassert itself. The firm will tend to anticipate possible government intervention, and act preemptively, in order to preserve as much room for manoeuvre as possible. Thus, Monsanto Chemicals, the sole North American and British manufacturers of PCBS, recently stopped selling these, voluntarily, except for uses which are unlikely to leak into the environment. By doing this, they hope to avoid a total ban, and incidentally a pollution scandal which might embarrass them now they are moving into the field of anti-pollution technology. Their spokesman said of pollution:
   I don’t think it’s a scare which will go away . . . We want to be masters of our own fate, rather than to be swept overboard on a wave of political emotion.
To say that most big capitalists welcome anti-pollution restrictions, does not prevent their still having an incentive to bend or break these laws. ‘‘Nader’s Raiders” in the United States uncovered case after case of government agencies becoming corrupted by the interests thety were supposed to regulate. And outright wilful contravention of the law is not uncommon—though, as in the case of offshore oil-drillers who omit to instal expensive safety valves, this may not come to light until disaster strikes

The pollution problem is just as bad in Russia, and this is often used to argue that the profit-incentive has nothing to do with it. But this misses the point. The manager of a western company is subject to pressures which ignore the general welfare of the population: he is therefore likely to be faced with a situation where to keep costs down he must pollute. His employers judge his performance by profits, not by charitable acts. The manager of a Russian state enterprise is in an identical position, only in addition to making a profit he must also fulfil a production target decided in an office in Moscow. This is just an extra pressure, and with its production-at-all-costs emphasis, is hardly likely to deter him from polluting. Commenting on the Russian pollution crisis, Izvestia complained that the manager’s attitude was: “We deliver the goods, and the rest is of no importance.” (Economist, September, 1970)

There are two general tendencies in capitalism’s response to pollution: increase in the power of central government, and further (administrative) unification of the world. Pollution is not bounded by frontiers. Biologically, there is only one world. The Germans ruined the Rhine for the Dutch as well as themselves. The Swedish government is cracking down hard on pollution—but a great deal of poison descends on Sweden after floating across from Britain or America. The insecticide BHC is widely used in Russia, but little in America or Britain: its presence in British rainfall is presumed to be due to its having floated round the world, across America and the Atlantic. Pollution is one more world problem, which, it is evident to everyone, can only be solved on a world scale.

Why does pollution occur? A small amount is due to ignorance or miscalculation. A small amount is unavoidable given present technology and population. But the immense majority is due to the economic network. People pollute because it is in their economic interests to do so.

It is sometimes claimed, though, that the problem arises from a wrong attitude to nature. This has some truth, though it will not do as a complete explanation. The attitude to nature, and the economic system, are interlinked. The present growth of ecological awareness is full of hope, for it encourages a mentality which considers total processes rather than isolated fragments. The vast majority of specialised scientists did nothing to warn us of the menace to our environment, and when people like Rachel Carson raised the alarm, many of the “experts” were more horrified at this usurping of their oracular role than at the gravity of the crisis. In the pesticide controversy, as in the earlier fallout controversy, the authorities were wrong and the “faddists” right. You cannot trust the powers that be.
Steele.

[1] Documented in Since Silent Spring by Frank Graham jr, from which is also taken some of the other information cited here.
[2] Robert L. Rudd’s Pesticides and the Living Landscape is now a standard work on the subject. It was actually written before Silent Spring, but turned down by publishers as a “polemic.” As a result of having written this book. Rudd lost a promotion, and almost his job, at an American University, and was sacked from a state agricultural experimental station.
[3] Biological methods of control, such as introducing specific organisms which attack the pest and keep its numbers down.
[4] Barry Commoner, Science & Survival, p. 16.
[5] Economist, 5 September, 1970.
[6] The Ecologist, January 1971; Fortune, January 1971; “Trace Elements” in The Ecologist, May 1971.
[7] “Excretions of consumption are of the greatest importance for agriculture. So far as their utilisation is concerned, there is an enormous waste of them in the capitalist economy. In London, for instance, they find no better use for the excretion of four and a half million human beings than to contaminate the Thames with it at heavy expense.” K. Marx, Capital, Vol. Ill, Ch 5.

Foulness: A pretence that all is well (1971)

From the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The government named Foulness as the place for the airport, and everybody lived happily ever after. The people of Stansted, Nuthampstead and Cublington were relieved; the airlines dreamed of expansion; the Secretary for the Environment was photographed in front of a traffic jam and spoke about “a country fit to live in”.

The saga of the Third London Airport is indeed a mass of make-believe. It began in 1965 when the government — Labour then — announced the airport and Stansted, Essex, as its site. Protests and objections made a national issue over the implied annihilation of beautiful rural surroundings. A crowd of Labour MPs were to be rebels against the proposal, until the Party Whip was applied and they almost all trotted through the lobby to vote in favour after all; a note of imitative deference to grazing flocks, at any rate. Then an Enquiry, a Commission, and other thoughts as to the site. The Isle of Sheppey, Nuthampstead, Cublington were named in turn. For each, the Stansted protests were repeated in kind and intensity. Eventually opinion settled on Foulness, helped by a commercial proposition for reclaiming its marshlands, and the final decision was the one believed-in. The whole affair is seen as some kind of triumph: for the protesters, for democracy, for concern over the quality of life.

The fact is that an accessible site for a modern airport cannot be found without destruction and making life intolerable over a large area. The town or village named is almost insignificant in the bone-shaped contour twenty-five miles long which is the pattern of activity round an airport such as the one proposed. Stansted is in itself no beauty-spot or haven: an uninteresting place on a trunk road, suburbanized by a mass of spec-built estates. Its surroundings, however, are miles of arable farm land sprinkled with villages and hamlets. (At an early stage in the Stansted row the government amiably agreed to re-align the intended runways in case jet-roar cracked the spire of Thaxted church, ten miles away.)

In the past, because the problem was smaller, there was no trouble over this kind of thing. Industry made noise, smoke, smells which rendered life dismal and disgusting. The automatic answer, however, was to place industry on the sides of cities where the proles could endure it without disturbing the well-to-do; or create areas where the same principle applied. An airport is too large to make such distinctions, though there are echoes of them in the satisfaction over Foulness — it is, after all, in the estuary below muckiest London, the nearby conurbations an East Enders’ seaside resort and a new town of Council blocks. True, there were airports before the war. But those were the days of small, less noisy planes which represented romance and trips for the rich, and there was even a certain social prestige in living near an aerodrome.

The voice of the objectors at Stansted and the other country places was predominantly the voice of the well-to-do and the socially satisfied: landowners, professional people, commuting executives, and those who had gone out of cities for a bit of peace and quiet. There is nothing discreditable in that — cities are nerve-wearing places, and a home away from them is many people’s dream. Nevertheless, there was another view of which little was heard. Had a plebiscite been taken in the area to be affected by Stansted, or any of the other rural sites, it would almost certainly have produced a strong majority in favour of the airport. For the world of leafy lanes, thatched cottages and golden cornfields is also the world of bread-and-scrape wages — farm and road labourers taking home eleven pounds a week, and their wives doing charring for their betters to try to make ends meet. For such people, the transformation of rural life appeared no tragedy. The tragedy is, indeed, that their hopes would have been disappointed: the well-paid jobs would not have materialized for them, the hoeing and ditching exchangeable only for shovelling cement on runways.

All the same, there was a certain instructiveness in the militancy of the anti-airport protesters. Respectable Citizens who condemn strikes and disparage political demonstrations talked of non-co-operation. At Cublington there was something about home-made weapons for a siege. One may see this as what people will do to protect their property or their stakes, but it is also a lesson on a political theme: the capacity to agitate, obstruct and paint slogans on walls isn’t after all exclusive to industrial workers.

What was taken for granted from the outset was that a Third London Airport was necessary. The aim of the objectors in each place was simply to direct it elsewhere — self-interest fostered by the government’s condition that opponents of Stansted at the Public Enquiry must put up an alternative site: a version of Divide and Rule. This exemplifies one of the great inescapable dilemmas of capitalism. Commerce is pre-eminent, making the life of society dependent on the flow of commodities. Their production and consumption are compulsive; yet the by-products and consequences are endless social problems which are treated as if they can somehow be separated from their cause. Thus, society wants a proliferation of cars without a traffic problem; industrial benefits without pollution; chicken on Sundays but not factory-farming; air travel without the effects which gigantic airports have on life.

The problem is exacerbated by the shape of cities, where interests and rights and expedients cross one another in a tangle from which there is no extrication. As soon as the Foulness decision was announced, plans and speculations and hopes for the airport and its influence on the near environment were laid down. The first plan, official, is for what would anyway be an obvious consequence — a new conurbation of a million people in south-east Essex, virtually completing the extension of London to the coast. The hopes were expressed in an article in the Sunday Times (2 May) by Professor Colin Buchanan: for this extension, the whole corridor from Foulness “to the gates of the City of London” to become an area of magnificent buildings and high-quality living.

The simple answers to Professor Buchanan’s hopes are in two other articles on the same day. In the first — in the same issue of the Sunday Times, in fact — three aviation writers summarize practical prospects for the airport. Almost their last word is:
  But in the end it is the airlines and their demands for the future that should dictate the shape of Foulness. They will, after all, be the most important financial ingredient in the scheme.
Of course that is so. And in that connection it is worth noting that though the big scheme has gone elsewhere, commercial airlines have developed the existing Stansted airport since 1965 and are quite likely to want to continue doing so.

Still more to the ultimate point are remarks made in an interview in The Observer by Peter Walker, Secretary for the Environment. Amid much piety over preservation, pollution and the need to be “much more positive and professional” about traffic problems, he says:
  If suddenly we find in a National Park the world’s greatest platinum mine, which will transform our balance of payments and enable me to get a massive amount more money from the Treasury for all sorts of new projects, I couldn’t say now I would refuse permission . . . If I decide against mineral development, to some extent I’m making a judgement against the national prosperity of the country.
Professor Buchanan’s observations are put in perspective by qualifications like these; but they also show remarkable insensitivity to what life is like for most people. He speaks, for instance, of great benefits Heathrow has brought to the west side of London — “new industries attracted, a vigorous, indeed over- vigorous housing market created, the higher paid executives of firms and airlines settling and spending their money in towns and villages in a 20-mile arc thrown west of Heathrow, and new hotels cramming themselves in near the West London Air Terminal”; and urges that Foulness should bring eastern London “a chance to get some of these goodies”.

“Goodies” — really? Does Professor Buchanan seriously argue that life in the crowded, traffic-harassed region of Heathrow airport is highly desirable? Extraordinarily, he makes no mention whatever of noise. The Observer editorial on Foulness utters similar hopes to his, but with a less enchanted view of Heathrow: “It may seem illogical that an airport should bring such benefits to the east of London when its presence to the west is rightly held to do such harm. But London puts its best face to the west, where the noise hazard is becoming intolerable.” It has been said, and illustrated, often enough that ordinary conversation is barely possible in houses in some areas round Heathrow because of aircraft noise.

The piece about “higher paid executives” settling twenty miles from Heathrow is a remarkable piece of misdirection, so ingenuous as to border insolence. The higher-paid do this, indeed: twenty miles is probably the minimum, the distance being in direct proportion to their means to get as far as possible from delectable Heathrow. Some of the bitterness at Stansted and Cublington came from employers and executives who had chosen — because they could afford — to live in pleasant surroundings a long way from what their workers had to put up with. One can be sure that the higher-paid will live as far from Foulness, too, as they can. Modern enterprises do, of course, lead to better working-class housing, but the point here touched-upon is vital. Working people are disabled over housing not only by its common inadequacy, but also in regard to mobility. Only the better-off can choose where they live.

Air travel is, on the whole, a luxury today. Some of its necessity as passenger transport may be questionable. There is a prestige element in it; and, as with other mechanized forms, an accelerated central process tends to disguise long preliminary and after-processes which often reduce what is actually gained in time. Nevertheless, it remains essential for humane and informative purpose at least. The principal problem today is not airports as such, but the size of aircraft — and this is a subject of international competition, bigger meaning better in commercial advantage.

There is no sense in saying society can do without the aeroplane. It is perfectly possible, however, to envisage and plan cities or regions incorporating airports which do not make life insufferable for everyone round them. Perhaps every airport should be a coastal one, and every plane a smaller one; perhaps a forgotten version like the flying boat offers an answer; certainly technology already knows answers to many of the problems. The possibilities are numerous enough, but their condition is a different motivation of society. The criteria for airports and air travel now, and all the things one thinks are amenities, are cost and commercial efficiency. Given the continuation of those as social measures, the airports will blight life round them. Foulness will be Heathrow again.

The alternative is to change society so as to make human choice and need the measures for innovation. Our environment is not a government department: it is the world in which we live, and technology offers us means for it to be a good world. It is not because it is still capitalism’s world. The first step to changing it is to reject the make-believe with which monster airports and squalid lives are supposed to be made acceptable, and see that the choices offered by capitalism are no choices at all.
Robert Barltrop

Economic nonsense (1971)

Book Review from the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Economics is About, by Michael Barratt Brown. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Paperback. £1.

Michael Barratt Brown has written a textbook on economics mainly for the trade unionists he teaches in the Extramural Department of Sheffield University. Brown is a frequent contributor to Tribune and claims that his book “can be distinguished from most economic textbooks by its inclusion of Marx’s economics in the main stream of economic thought”. If it is to be judged on this basis, the book fails since Brown has no understanding even of so elementary a concept in Marxian economics as the distinction between use-value and exchange-value. But to be fair he only follows the Russian and East European economists (and especially the exiled Czech Ota Sik) who have twisted Marx’s Labour Theory of Value into a theory of pricing for “socialist" (read “state capitalist”) society.

Brown believes that production for the market is compatible with Socialism, an idea Marx rejected as absurd. Socialist production would be solely for use. In other words, products of labour would not be commodities with an exchange-value or price. They would simply be use-values, useful things produced by human beings to satisfy their wants.

Apart from this false claim to be partly Marxist, Brown’s book is not a bad introduction to the sort of economics that is taught today. It has a good criticism of the usual assumption that under capitalism the consumer is king:
   What then is left of the economist’s model of the market economy under conditions of large-scale modern industry? Wants are not apparently given but created by those who supply them; incomes are distributed as much according to inheritance as according to performance, and wealth and poverty tend steadily to polarize; free competition is replaced by monopolistic positions at home and cartels abroad; prices are fixed rather than emerging from the free play of market forces; profit results from monopoly as much as efficiency; capital is concentrated in giant international companies which themselves determine the allocation of the world’s resources; labour follows the concentrations of capital as best it can. In this crude and summary picture precious little is left of the market as the reconciler of consumers’ needs and producers’ power.
It also has some useful facts and figures. In 1966 the value of property vested in the State was £34,000m, but the National Debt was £31,000m. which means that most State property is mortgaged to private capitalists. Again, “not much more than 5 per cent of the adult population own capital from which they can derive a current income” (“the richest 5 per cent of the population owned in 1960 about 75 per cent of the total personal wealth and drew 92 per cent of all property income”), and about 10 per cent of adults in Britain own all property
Another 45 per cent own some capital which consists usually of a house and some small savings for the future in an insurance policy or a savings bank. The standard of living for most people therefore is based on their weekly or monthly wage or salary.
Adam Buick

London Borough Elections (1971)

Party News from the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Enfield (Palmers Green ward): Groves (C) 1,617; Collingridge (C) 1,599; Ellis (Lab) 512; Herbert (Lab) 499; Falkus (L) 313; Shaw (L) 293; Porter (Soc) 50; Hamme (Soc) 45.
Haringey (Turnpike ward): O’Sullivan (Lab) 1,282; Flower (Lab) 1,279; Easton (C) 753; Shrank (C) 720; Carter (Soc) 25; Buick (Soc) 17.

At Home and Abroad . . . (1971)

The Home and Abroad Column from the June 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home

One of the enduring fallacies of capitalism is that the troubles of the world can be attributed to overpopulation. There are plenty of statistics which give some superficial support to this notion, figures which show an increase in people and which the “experts” (and sometimes the not-so-expert) can use to prove that if something is not done soon we shall all be suffocated under one vast pile of squirming humanity.

The suggestion that a Ministry of Population be set up was tailored to play up to this fallacy. The leader writers had their fun, with predictable forecasts that we are drawing nearer 1984. They all missed the point, which is that the modern world is capable of supporting many times its present population but is prevented from doing so by the insane organisation of capitalism.

It is not overpopulation which destroys wealth while millions are starving; which stops the production of building materials while there is a desperate housing problem; which puts people out of employment while there is a crying need for more, not less, wealth. These contradictions arise directly from the basic nature of capitalist society; they conform to its essential needs.

A new, separate ministry will not affect those problems but it will probably persuade enough voters that solutions are in the offing to make it, from the point of view of the politicians, worth while.


Politics

Part of the massive swing of the electoral pendulum which gave the Labour Party so many seats in the local elections can be put down to the fact that they were reversing many of the freak results which came out of the lowest days of the Wilson government and which cost them councils they should never lose. This time, for good measure they had their freak wins—in London, for example, they won Merton and Bexley. These results indicate a heavy dissatisfaction with the Heath government and it is fair to wonder why this should have happened at this time.

Heath won power (and there is nothing new in this) on the discrediting of the Labour Party and some empty promises to tackle the problems which capitalism is currently visiting upon the British worker. Of course they are failing in this aim—did any government ever succeed? Yet so far the government have followed their stated intentions fairly closely and, politicians though they are, they might be feeling aggrieved at the speed with which the voters have turned upon them. Or did they too fall for their own propaganda and believe that they would end up governing for ever ?

Meanwhile, across the benches, there were more stories of plots to unseat Wilson as Labour’s leader. These intrigues are never ending in their fatuity but are the stuff of politics, especially left wing politics. The plotters are angry at Wilson’s handling of the party’s affairs, particularly of his timing of the election. That, of course, is the nub of the matter; they judge their leader in terms of how successful they are at the polls, how successful he is at deceiving the working class and gathering in the votes.

If they win and the leader is thrown out, what happens? another takes his place and the whole wearisome business must start again—the deception, the promises, the tactics, all with the object of perpetuating the capitalist system on the uninformed votes of the workers.

Perhaps the plotters, who must get a lot of excitement from their dramatic comings and goings, think that all of this is worthwhile. If so, they might spare time to look around at the world, at the poverty, the fear, the destruction, and congratulate themselves at playing a part in keeping the whole sordid mess going.


Abroad

The negotiations for Britain’s entry into the Common Market were said to be going well. After “our” representatives had nobly exhausted themselves in a bargaining battle which had gone on into the small hours they emerged proclaiming success. By that they meant that the many conflicting interests of the powers involved had been managed into a compromise. The underlying conflicts are still there and will not be removed by joining the Common Market, which is itself full of disputes between the member capitalist nations. That is the extent of the “success” of Rippon and his team.

Any worker who takes sides in the great Common Market controversy should ask himself what it matters to him and to other members of his class. Such trading arrangements are only an attempt to mollify — in other words an expression of — the basic anarchic conflicts of capitalism. Workers’ problems will only end when the cause of these conflicts ends; to solve the anarchy of capitalism we must abolish the system itself and entire.

Any doubts on the conflicts, or on their craziness, must have been dented by the news of Europe’s latest currency crisis, this time involving the German Mark. This time, the financial experts told us, the trouble was that the Mark was too strong; it used to be that the pound was too weak. We were all invited to take an interest in the price movements of the currency, as if such events had ever had the slightest effect upon working class fortunes. The German workers were told that they must suffer for this "strong” currency and tighten their belts. As the song says, it’s the poor what gets the pain.

Robert Owen – Utopian Socialist (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the savage world that was the Britain of the Industrial Revolution, when Blake’s dark satanic mills were a reality, and not just a sentimental romantic conclusion to the last night of the Proms, one figure stands out — Robert Owen. Born 200 years ago on 17 May, Owen had a career that would have been phenomenal in any age, but that he should have had this in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries makes his story even more remarkable.

Owen was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, the fourth surviving child of a saddlemaker and ironmonger. Very little is known of his early family life, and this is not surprising for he left home at the age of ten. We do, however, know that he attended a school run by a Mr. Thickness where he excelled at “games, dancing and lessons”, so much so that at the age of seven Mr. Thickness “applied to my father for permission that I should become his assistant and usher, as from that time I was called while I remained in school”.

Owen left school at the age of nine and engaged himself to a Newtown neighbour who kept a “superior shop” for the sale of haberdashery and drapery, and after a year’s apprenticeship he felt ready to seek his fortune elsewhere. In 1781, with his parent’s goodwill and a present of forty shillings from the people of Newtown in his pocket, Owen set out for London. Later he began to read extensively, searching, he said, for the “true religion”, with the result that he was forced to reject all religions:
  My reason taught me that I could not have made one of my own qualities, — that they were forced upon me by nature; — that my language, religion and habits were forced upon me by society; and that I was entirely the child of Nature and Society; — that Nature gave the qualities, and Society directed them. Thus was I forced, through seeing the error of their foundation, to abandon all belief in every religion which had been taught to Man. But my religious feelings were immediately replaced by the spirit of universal charity.
After returning to London, where he stayed for another year, Owen moved to Manchester which was to be his home, more or less continuously for the next fourteen years, and was to see the start of his industrial career.

He went to work as a manager of a cotton factory employing 500 men, women and children: “When I arrived at the mill”, Owen tells us, “I found myself at once in the midst of 500 men, women and children, who were busily occupied with machinery, much of which I had never seen before.” Besides being expected to superintend those 500 at work, he found that he was responsible for buying their raw material, for increasing production, and for keeping the accounts, in fact everything except the marketing of the finished product. So over-awed was he at first that “I did not give one direct order about anything”, he said. However, after six weeks of watching, listening and carefully studying the working of the machines his old confidence returned and “I felt myself so much the master of my position as to be ready to give direction in any department.”

At this time Owen married Caroline, the eldest daughter of David Dale, the owner of the New Lanark Mills. Owen eventually became the manager of these mills and devoted the next twenty years to reorganising the community of two thousand workers on strikingly original lines. To fully appreciate his efforts at this time one must understand the sufferings of the workers in the early nineteenth century; hours were long, pay at starvation level, and housing grim beyond belief. But the evil that stands out above all was the treatment of small children, treatment which called forth the jibe from American slave owners that their slaves were better off than the children in the cotton mills of Lancashire.

Owen not only favoured a limitation of the working day in theory, but actually introduced the ten hour day in his factory. As Marx points out, this was laughed at as a communistic Utopia, so were his “Combination of children’s education with productive labour”. The first Utopia was soon to become a Factory Act, and the second figures as an official phrase in all Factory Acts. Combined with this reduction of working hours, Owen improved housing, opened a shop in which good quality goods were sold at relatively low prices, and started schools and day-nurseries. He was not concerned to use education to inculcate beliefs or theories, nor with happenings conceived in an abstract way, but sought to educate children as human beings capable of applying their reason to nature and society and of enjoying all aspects of life. In New Lanark these ideas were translated into practice. Though at first restricted by his partners, who intended to build up a profitable enterprise, Owen had put an end to the practice of employing pauper children and had withdrawn all children under ten from work. Later he was able to limit the hours of adults to twelve and then to proceed with his plans for education and improvement of home life and surroundings of the younger generation.

Such was the fame of the New Lanark Mills that hundreds of visitors went to the factory, and as Engels said:
 As long as he was simply a philanthropist he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honour and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he stepped forth with his communistic theories, then that was quite another matter.
Throughout the 1820’s Owen turned to the formation of co-operative villages, some of which were already being run on Owenite lines in Scotland, Ireland and Hampshire. He himself set up such a community in America, but the project failed, with four-fifths of his entire fortune being lost in the venture. Following the failure of the co-operative villages he entered into the trade union field, and his road to the New Moral World he now saw through the organisation of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, which within a few weeks of its formation in 1834 had enrolled more than one million members. This too collapsed in 1834, following the deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and Owen continuously fought for their return to England.

His other work was within the field of Co-operative Societies, something which he came to support — he was not a founder, as many today would suggest. Co-operatives flourished at this time, but by then Owen was old and concerned more with lecturing than administration. Indeed Marx rather bitingly observed that even as early as the 1870’s the Co-op’s were being used as a cloak for reactionary humbug. Furthermore, as G. D. H. Cole points out in his biography of Owen
   . . . although Co-operators pay tribute to him as the founder of their system, it is more than doubtful whether Owen, if he could revisit the earth, would recognise his progeny, or take more than a passing interest in its growth.
How then should we regard Owen in this bicentennial years of his birth? First and foremost he must be judged within the context of his time. He was an early advocate in this country of town planning and of a green belt; in education he was quick to demand, and to set up, nursery schools; and to recognise the function of play in education and to suggest that teachers should be trained, if necessary by the state. He told his fellow employers, in an age of a scramble for profits and pared costs which we call the Industrial Revolution, that the human machines they used in their factories would repay careful treatment and upkeep as much as did the inanimate machines, and he appreciated the need for economic planning. Long before Henry Ford was born, Owen preached “the economy of high wages” to a master class which had yet to realise the possibilities of a home-market among the lowly paid. He declared, ninety years before Beatrice Webb produced her Minority Report on the Poor Laws, that relief of destitution ought to be a charge on the resources of a state, and in an age when people were still being hanged or deported for petty theft he denounced the retributive theory of punishment. Such acclaim may seem surprising when one considers that so many of his projects failed, but it should be remembered that Owen did not intend his ideas to be a universal panacea for all social ills, but only a first step towards a far more radical transformation of society.
Ronald.

A long way to the town hall (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

A candidate elected to a local council in 1971 will, in many cases, be entering his last term of office. Sweeping changes in the structure of local government in England were confirmed in February by the Secretary for the Environment. It is planned to legislate the new pattern in 1971-72, and bring it in operation by 1974.

The proposals, in outline, were made two years ago by Lord Redcliffe-Maud’s Royal Commission. Their concern above all else was to reduce dramatically the number of elected councils from its present 1,200 to a small number of centralised administrative bodies. The Maud Report projected 58 of these “unitary authorities”. The new version intends to have only 30 and retain for them the familiar name “counties”. As well, there will be certain designated city areas which will follow the pattern of the Greater London Council. Against Maud’s recommendation, it is now proposed to have below the counties a “second tier” of 400 elected and — relatively — local councils.

What has to be noted is that there is little or no disagreement between the major parties over this. The Maud Report was accepted by a Labour government, the modified version comes from a Tory one which intends to make the changes as quickly as Labour intended. In an article in the Sunday Times (21 February), Lord Redcliffe-Maud welcomed the new proposals; while the same day in The Observer Terence Bendixson wondered if they might eventually do more electoral good to Labour than the Conservatives. Over the last few years spokesmen and commentators generally have agreed on the urgent necessity to “streamline” and “modernise” local government in this way.

The present local government system represents a cumulation of nineteenth-century legislation. Holding to a traditional framework in which the units were the county, the parish and the borough — each rooted in mediaeval practice — it piled piecemeal measures on or against one another. Roads; the Poor Law; public health; education; police: a series of reforms and rationalisations made to cope with a stream of problems as capitalism developed. The statute which gave coherence and definition to all this was the Local Government Act of 1888. While laying down a system of interdependence between the units, its crucial function was to make clear the financial relations between central and local government.

As legislation had developed, it had become plain that local authorities could implement national laws only with national monetary aid. Through the nineteenth century, Exchequer grants were given for highways, schools, criminal prosecutions, sanitation and other principal purposes. The 1888 Act made specific proposals which, in fact, did not endure — the assignation of a certain proportion of national taxation for local government expenditure. However, finance remains the point from which local government is controlled by central government. It is true that, in any case, councils have no powers other than those conferred on them by Parliament; but the manner in which the powers are carried out can be — and is — directed by the availability of national finance, or conditions attached to it.

This does not mean that every housing estate or new town centre or monster school is paid-for direct from Exchequer funds. For such capital projects, loans are raised in the market by councils. But Ministry consent has to be obtained for any loan, so that expenditure on vital schemes depends on central-government approval. As P. G. Richards says in The New Local Government System (1968):
  Thus, local authorities have to fit into a national economic plan, and the amount of capital resources they are permitted to consume in any period will depend upon Government policy.
Obviously this financial relationship must remain dominant, however the pattern of councils is altered. Local government is branches of central government. Nor can there be any break-out from the dependence. Successive Acts give Ministers power to take over councils’ functions themselves if the councils are non-compliant; the power was brought into play in the Civil Defence rebellions at Coventry and St. Pancras.

The strong objections to the Maud reforms were made by councils in rural areas, which were to be made redundant by Maud. Urging a system involving second-tier authorities, the Rural District Councils Association began a campaign with the slogan “Don’t Vote for R. E. Mote”. It can be assumed that the revised proposals now made by the present government are a sop to these predominantly Tory country areas. However, the objections were disunited, despite the campaign. Practically every councillor agreed that changes in local government were necessary — so long as his place was safeguarded.

The fact remains that elected councils are to be reduced to a third of their number. The populations under the county and city councils will be a million each. In the Midlands, for example, Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton will become the area for a single county authority. The second-tier councils will represent large areas, some amalgamating several of the present Rural and Urban administrative districts. There is the likelihood too that elected representation will be further diminished in the constitution of the new bodies. One of the Maud proposals was that the new unitary authorities should comprise only half elected members, the other half to be co-opted from — as suggested fields — industry and the universities.

It has been remarked that there was general agreement on the need for some such reorganisation of local government. But this is too easily accepted. Whose need? and from what sources was the idea of the necessity of large-scale reform most keenly promoted? First and most obviously, one sees the continuing need for centralisation in capitalism, against which what is contemptuously called “the parish pump” militates. Just as in the eighteenth century the turnpike trusts were established to take roads from parish upkeep and facilitate marketing and social movement, the demands of modern transport and regional planning are hindered by the number of local authorities. Forty miles of motorway may run through four or five councils’ territory, and each council has its own considerations to voice. Another instance is detailed by Lord Redcliffe-Maude in his article:
  Further, the Government clearly recognise the obvious facts that many towns cannot hope to clear their slums and obsolescent housing without building outside their own area and that neighbouring rural authorities are unlikely to welcome such new estates.
The answer to that problem, then, is to liquidate the neighbouring authorities so that consultation will not obstruct a central project, and the populations can lump it. Possibly this answers the problem of siting airports too.

Beyond that general need, there was a pressure from all government departments to reduce local government to a relatively small number of large-scale units. In giving evidence to the Maud Royal Commission, every department expressed a desire for between 30 and 40 local authorities: Peter Walker, the Secretary for the Environment, appears to have obliged them handsomely. His report promises a drastic reduction in the number of controls exercised by Ministries over local authorities, under the new system. Attractive as that may sound to people irritated by bureaucracy, its implication is not true. The government departments are keen on fewer local authorities because control over them would be simpler and stronger than over the present profusion.

The final factor is computerisation. The amount of data-work done by computers in local government has grown and continues to grow. It has become the practice for, say, smaller authorities within a county to send work to the county council headquarters for processing by the computer there. This by itself has gone some of the way to making the elimination of the smaller councils inevitable. The differing figures for the number of major authorities now to be established are largely assessments of the scale on which regional computers would function best. Much has been made of the improvements in welfare administration that the new system would bring, and this is what is meant. In that connection it is worth noting that a new structure for the Health Service is promised, to go hand in hand with the reorganisation of local government, in 1974.

What does all this mean, politically and socially? Parliament remains the seat of power in capitalism, and it is there that the working class must go to change society: local government is its adjunct. Councils themselves do not usually compel admiration; in common experience, all too often, they comprise bumptious officials supported by inflated shopkeepers in robes of office, or simply local party machines. It can be said, rightly, that changes in the system of administration are only attempts by those concerned with capitalism to solve the problems of running it. What is needed to end the housing problem and the traffic problem and to answer all the questions about how we are to live is a new social system, not a new council.

All the same, there is a lesson here in what capitalism thinks of democracy. The intended reorganisation of local government — as proposed by Labour and Conservatives, both — means a wholesale reduction in representation and opportunities for making one’s views heard. P. G. Richards in his book, quoting the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, speaks of “the perennial conflict between efficiency and democracy”. It is hardly a contest: efficiency, or the capitalist idea of it, wins easily.

When democracy is used as a national rallying-call, we are told it means the man in the street’s right to raise grievances at the Town Hall or campaign for bizarre objectives in the council election. This change will dispose of much of that kind of nonsense for the administrators. The man or woman with a grievance or a problem is likely to find the Town Hall a long way away, and the local councillor a remote figure whose identity is barely known. For any person or group wishing to stand against the big-party representatives, the difficulties will be increased immensely.

Capitalism makes use of democracy, contemptuously. Don’t be misled by the talk of efficiency. The fact that we live in a society where democracy can be extended or diminished by legislation means it is, despite the speeches, an unfree society. It is also, curiously enough, an inefficient society in which the problems are never solved.
Robert Barltrop

Monday, May 10, 2021

Stormont follies (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The political death of Chichester-Clark, descendant of the infamous feudal gangster Sir Arthur Chichester (not, according to some historians the greatest scoundrel in his family tree) came suddenly. His political demise came in the fashion of his similarly useless kinsman, now Lord O’Neill of the Maine.

Both men were politically assassinated by their “brothers” of the Orange Order and the permanently governing Unionist Party.

O’Neill’s undignified exit was prefaced by a series of disorders, and public-utility explosions that enabled enemies within his own party to stampede his erstwhile “friends” in the Cabinet on the “Law and Order” issue.

The police and other government agencies "knew for certain” that the explosions were the work of the IRA but after O’Neill had gone a conscious-stricken Protestant fanatic leaked information to an Opposition MP that revealed the gelignite gang to be none other than the supporters of the Unionist “Law and Order” brigade. It is worthy of note that when one of this gang was brought to Court and convicted, his sworn statement implicated some of the “respectable” people who, again following events that shook even this trouble-armoured area, helped to rout Chichester-Clark on the self-same “Law and Order” stampede.

Chichester-Clark could not be missed. He was an utterly useless, colourless individual who had displayed sense only in being born of forbears whose cruelty and greed preserved him from the rigours of having to make a living. His final panic-stricken act was typical of the man; he scurried off to Maudling in London for more ink for his rubber-stamp parliament. His request was refused and even his friends could not bear the indignity.

With old Chichester back on the lands of our fathers his few “friends” and many enemies met in secret conclave and decided that differences could be buried with principles.

A former Minister of the O’Neill government, Harry West, who became a Unionist “hard-liner” and a bitter opponent of the government after O’Neill sacked him for being financially involved in land transactions inconsistent with his role as a Minister, became a “soft-liner” overnight. He had been invited by the new Prime Minister to take a place in the New Cabinet (or, as some might call it, Westminster’s Old Cupboard!) despite the fact that the British Home Secretary had made it clear to the new boys that they would simply carry out the same policy instructions he had foisted on the outgoing Cabinet. The plums of office similarly induced another “hard-liner”, “Mr. Burns”, into a more pliable condition and a position in the government.

The new Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, is regarded as a Wonder Boy in some local circles. The fiction arises from his sojourn in the Commerce Ministry of the O’Neill government where he is alleged to have performed remarkable deeds in attracting foreign capitalists to Northern Ireland to set up business and create employment. An excellent personal publicist, he publicised the capitalist and his fifty-jobs, attracted by the promise of cheap labour, cheap government factories, tax and rate concessions and massive capital grants, but the outgoing capitalist and the one hundred redundancies was inside stuff.

Faulkner was at the helm when his Ministry pumped nearly ten million pounds into the Cyril Lord Carpet empire. Lord went burst and was forced to go to live in a luxury villa in the Bahamas. He was at the helm also when a couple of wide-boys from London pumped hundreds of thousands of “government” lolly into their pockets in the infamous Zenozip affair. This was the one occasion when some of the crooks got caught and landed in prison, an MP resigned, and hundreds of workers went back to the dole. Then there was Dr. McDonald and his BSR factory playing financial ping-pong with Faulkner and his opposite number in Eire and again catching Faulkner with his purse strings open.

What a skipper! But he is no worse than his crew, “Hard-liners” gone conveniently soft and once nauseating “moderates” like Robin Bailie gone “hard” — why the new Cabinet even includes a failed Labour politician, David Bleakley, a Bible-thumping apologist for the worst excesses of capitalism in Northern Ireland, including the Special Powers Act, who, twice rejected at the ballot box, comes in by appointment as Minister of Community Relations!

Will Faulkner and his unholy crew succeed where O’Neill and Chichester-Clark failed in bringing back the previously-enjoyed condition of uneasy peace which prevailed in Northern Ireland in the pre-O’Neill era? To guess at the answer to that question — and it is very much a matter of guessing! — we must take a brief look at Unionism in the past and examine some of the events which brought about its present predicament.

The Unionist Party has maintained the governmental stewardship of capitalism for 45 years by promoting bigotry and hatred between Protestant and Catholic members of the working class.

For reasons often outlined in the Socialist Standard, capitalism in Ulster at the turn of the century, threatened by the probable actions of a government representing southern capitalism and the possible loss of direct access to the British market, used the Unionist Party and took the advice of the British politician Lord Randolph Churchill to “play the Orange Card” by “respectabilising” the Orange Order and promoting the most blatant religious bigotry.

Protestant workers were not the beneficiaries of a vociferous anti-Catholic government. On the contrary, the Unionist Government and the Orange politicians fought elections on anti-Popery. The Protestant workers were, by and large, as downtrodden as their Catholic brethren but if they made jobs or homes an issue at elections the Unionist politicians construed it as treason. Only “The Border” and the maintenance of a “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people” was acceptable as a legitimate bone of electoral contention.

By the mid-sixties, however, the needs of Ulster capitalism had changed and the issues which separated it from its Southern Irish counterpart had considerably diminished.

It became politically and economically expedient for the Unionist Party to soft pedal on some of the issues that previously pre-occupied it and even to eject some of the more fundamental bigotries that had brought it to power and maintained it there.

The Unionists of the “New” Ulster showed as much contempt for the working class, and particularly the Protestant workers, as their predecessors had shown — and particularly for the Catholic workers.

No attempt was made to bring the battalions of the Protestant workers into line with new governmental thinking. Such an attempt, of necessity, would have required the Unionist leadership to have had the courage to repudiate the bigotry and hatred on which they had built their “principles” and politicians, and especially Unionist politicians, are not made that way!

Simultaneous with the so-called “liberalising” of the Unionist Government — and, indeed, in no small way because of it — the forces of opposition to Unionism (which were largely Catholic) began to organise and campaign for civil rights. In our view most of these “rights” were not worth demanding — as the continued exasperation of the minority, now that they have received them, demonstrates — but as Unionism yielded before the pressure of Westminster and the pressure of the streets so the Protestant workers, conditioned by traditional Unionism and the Orange Order to the belief that “Yielding to Papists” was a betrayal, began to turn upon the Unionist government.

The new Faulkner government is now engaged in a political tight rope exercise. On the one hand they cannot retreat on the so-called reform programme; on the other hand they hope by administrative wangling of these “reforms” — especially those dealing with internal security — and the inclusion of some Orange bully boys in the Cabinet to placate the recalcitrant Protestants who retain the hard, bitter poison of traditional Unionism.

At the moment of writing they have had some success. The purblind stupidity of some Republican elements and the fact that the infamous Royal Ulster Constabulary’s political CID are the guiding intelligence behind the British Army in Northern Ireland has meant that well-armed military thugs are almost continually involved in violent oppression, searches and ceaseless provocation of the Catholic working people in the slum areas of Belfast. Inevitably there has been reaction and, tragically, these Catholic workers are being pushed in the direction of the various militant Republican movements.

But Paisley, Craig, Boal, Smith and the other plain exponents of “Kick the Pope” Unionism are not impressed by the Government’s anti-Catholic posturings and their support among the Protestant workers is widespread.

They have brought down two Prime Ministers and already Paisley has let it be known that he loves Faulkner even less than he loved Chichester-Clark!

We must acknowledge that Faulkner and his government have been set a heavy task and are beset by enemies on all sides. Where the Catholics don’t despise him they detest him and, among thousands of working class Protestants, if he is not distrusted he is held in contempt.

And we can not wish him luck for he is chief among those Unionists who have championed the division and vicious exploitation of the working class in Northern Ireland.
Richard Montague

The origins of socialist theory (1971)

Book Review from the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Origins of Socialism, by G. Lichtheim. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. £2.50. A Short History of Socialism, by G. Lichtheim. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. £1.50 (paperback).

Socialist theory has customarily been said to derive from French political thought, English economic science and German philosophy. As Marx was the first to bring these three trends together Socialist theory is sometimes called Marxism. Lichtheim follows this tradition and sees Socialism as one reaction to the coming of industrial capitalism, as a theory which accepted industrialisation but not private enterprise and the profit motive.

French utopian Socialism introduced the idea that society should be organised on a more rational basis to take account of industrialisation. Its most prominent representatives were the followers of Saint Simon and Fourier. The former were responsible for such phrases as “the exploitation of man by man", “the administration of things’’ and, in France, “socialism”. They, and the Fourierists, were pioneers of what is now called women’s liberation and Fourier was among the first to argue that the distinction between town and country could disappear and that work could be made pleasant.

The French Revolution also produced another political trend, the revolutionary communists, who declared that the bourgeoisie had to be overthrown in the same way as the aristocracy had been: by violent insurrection and a temporary emergency dictatorship. Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto of 1848 for the German section of this trend, the Communist League. But by 1865, says Lichtheim, Marx had outgrown this “communist" phase and come to be the theorist of “democratic socialism” relying on the development of the working class movement rather than on conspiratorial insurrections for the establishment of Socialism.

In 1848, Lichtheim points out, Marx who had not yet worked out the distinction between labour and labour-power was still really a “Ricardian socialist”. David Ricardo, one of the leading English economic thinkers of his day (he died in 1823), was by no means a Socialist but he had said that labour was the source of value. Some of his followers who were also committed to Robert Owen’s Utopian Socialism gave this labour theory of value an anti-capitalist and pro-worker content and can be said to have done some of the preliminary work which Marx was to develop in Capital.

Marx was brought up and educated in what is now Germany and at university, like many others, became immersed in German philosophy and particularly that of Hegel. His critical study of Hegel and his followers led him to develop the materialist conception of history as an alternative historical theory.

Lichtheim’s books, especially the Origins, cover this ground very well, though it is odd to read of people such as the Fabians in Britain and the Stalinists in Russia as “socialists” when they stood rather for state capitalism. But when it comes to discussing Socialism as a system of society Lichtheim’s means more or less what we do.

In the concluding chapter of his Short History he defines Socialism as a democratic classless society based on common (as opposed to State) ownership in which “the wage relation has been abolished” and “all citizens have an equal claim upon the provision of goods and services” and "welfare services would be equally available to all at zero prices”:
  Anything that falls short of abolishing the wage relation has no claim to be described as socialism, though it may be a station on the way thereto.
The last part betrays Lichtheim’s basically gradualist approach to the establishment of Socialism. Indeed he suggests that Socialism is not an immediate prospect and probably will not be until the world is fully industrialised. Obviously we do not agree with this assessment but at least we can recognise that Lichtheim is on the same wavelength as us.

Both books are worth study as much for their discussion of the problems of Socialist and Marxist theory as for their account of its origins and history.
Adam Buick

Conference Discusses Reforms (1971)

Party News from the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 67th Annual Conference was held in London over Easter. Among the items discussed was the Party’s attitude to reforms. Comrade D’Arcy (Camden) said that all reforms had to be paid for out of profits. Those who argued that the workers should struggle for reforms as well as for higher wages implied that what the workers had failed to get through the front door (wage bargaining on the industrial front) they could get through the back door (reforms on the political front). But capitalists did not bring in reforms under political pressure from the working class; they introduced them only when the reforms the workers wanted coincided with capitalist interests. In other cases, they stated that the economic situation did not allow them to introduce the reform and were able to persuade workers to accept this since the workers were themselves capitalist-minded.

Comrade Zucconi (Lewisham) stated that the mark of a genuine Socialist movement was that it did not advocate reforms. The Labour Party and the ILP had at one time professed Socialism as an aim, but were swamped by non-socialists because they concentrated on advocating reforms. There was a real difference between the struggle for reforms and the struggle for higher wages. The wages struggle, as Marx had pointed out, was one the workers had to take part in if they were ever to be fit to conduct the political struggle for Socialism. It was an industrial, not a political, struggle. Reformist action, on the other hand, was necessarily political and involved trying to gain political power in order to introduce reforms. As such it conflicted with the struggle to win political power for Socialism.

Comrade Hardy (Camden) said the Party had never been opposed to reforms as such; we were neither for nor against them. Measures which reduced the workers cost of living, as most reforms aimed to do, did not benefit the working class because their effect was to reduce wages, as Engels had pointed out when he described them as “so-called social reforms”. Such measures also tended to divide the working class, as happened over Rent Control when politicians were able to exploit the feelings of jealousy against controlled tenants amongst workers in uncontrolled houses.

Comrade Steele (Birmingham) said that the Party’s view was not that a Socialist party should not say it supported reforms, but that it should not seek support on the basis of reforms. The German Social Democratic Party had Socialism as an aim, but it went reformist because it admitted reformists to membership rather than because it supported reforms. The traditional industrial/political distinction was breaking down with the emergence of new kinds of working class pressure groups like tenants’ associations and with trade union actions more and more harming other sections of the working class. An increase in the rent was just as much a cut in living standards as a wage cut, and it was inconsistent to say that the only kind of non-socialist working class action Socialists should support was wage-bargaining. In any event, the most we can now do about reforms is to analyse them and show what their overall effect, favourable or unfavourable, might be on the working class.

Comrade Rab (Fraternal Delegate from the World Socialist Party of the United States) said that with the growing role of the State in the economy the unions had increasingly to negotiate with the State. But such negotiations over industrial matters were political only in form; in essence they were still part of the class struggle.

The Conference carried Resolutions re-affirming previous policy statements on reforms (that the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not advocate reforms, but is not opposed to reforms as such and supports the industrial struggle).

Corrections (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our attention has been drawn to a passage in the editorial "What Causes War" which appeared in the January 1971 Socialist Standard. This passage read:
  The ruling classes of every country and their governments are themselves the people who make peace, human dignity, real democracy, and real socialism and so on, impossible.
This might be taken to mean that the ruling class and their governments are the only obstacle to Socialism.

Although the editorial was dealing mainly with the stated attitudes of governments, it should have also made it clear that Socialism will be established when the majority of the world working class understood and desire it. What delays Socialism at present is not the existence of ruling classes in themselves but a lack of political consciousness on the part of the working class which allows ruling classes to exist and make war.

We apologise for the confusion.

The Class Struggle
The third paragraph of the article “False Friends and Industrial Relations” in last months Socialist Standard could be misunderstood to mean that the struggle between the working class and capitalist class is essentially the same as haggling between buyers and sellers of any commodity. In fact it is much more than this, it is a class struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production.
Editorial Committee.

The same old story (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard
Baltic shipyard workers, who have been demanding more money, were told by Poland’s new leadership that wages cannot be put up because economic plans it inherited provided no funds for this purpose. (Morning Star, 29 January).

John Davies tells all (1971)

From the May 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

In February we noted that Enoch Powell’s views on the cause of inflation came very near to the Marxian analysis. We can now record that another leading Tory may have been studying Marx — John Davies, the former employers’ leader turned lame-duck politician who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

During the Budget Debate on 31 March Davies emphasised that capitalism runs on profits and, quite in the Marxian tradition, explained the current crisis by the rate of profit falling below the rate of interest. He even very nearly spoke of “surplus value”.
  Industry does not expand and invest without the prospect of profit. I have no sense of apology whatever for maintaining that the pursuit of profit is the primary stimulus of industry and the absence of an expectation of it is the primary cause of stagnation and decline.
After attacking Harold Wilson for not being sufficiently profit-minded, he went on:
  Traditionally it is the added value related to profit that constitutes the seed corn of industrial prosperity. The generation of added value within the concern is the very basis upon which its continuing expansion and development depend. Recent years have seen an unparalleled squeeze upon this added value and thereby upon the very resources upon which industry primarily depends to build its future. The trend in the proportion of company profits to total domestic incomes tells its own tale. The proportion was 15.6 in 1964 and was in successive years thereafter 15.1 per cent, 13.4 per cent, 13.5 per cent, 12.6 per cent, and 11.6 per cent last year.
Davies elaborated this point after an interruption:
  I return to the question of the inadequacy of profits which has characterised the pattern of the last few years. The absolute level of gross trading profits shorn of stock appreciation within this self-same period shows that there was a virtual immobility in the money figures whilst money values were depreciating by about a quarter. Still more significant are the rates of return on capital employed. The Monopolies Commission makes estimates of such rates of return related to the value of assets at estimated replacement values. Those estimates show a deterioration from the 1964 level to today and competent opinion assesses the rate of return now at much nearer to 9 per cent than to 10 per cent — that is, a rate of return which by no means is equivalent to the rate at which funds can be borrowed for investment at present. This squeeze on profit, coinciding with the dangerous rate of cost inflation that we have experienced over the last 18 months, lies at the very root of industry’s disinclination to expand . . . (Hansard, 31 March, Coll 1549-50).
Whether the Tory government’s measures to restore “business confidence” (that is, the confidence of businessmen that they will make enough profit if they expand production again) will work remains to be seen.