Sunday, February 28, 2021

The politics of poverty in Zambia (2009)

From the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The sudden collapse of copper prices and the consequent depreciation of the Zambian currency, the kwacha, has meant that the election promises made by the newly-elected MMD President of Zambia, Rupiah Banda, won’t be achieved in the space of three years before the 2011 general election.

The recent increase in meali meal prices from K56,000 to K75,000 per breakfast bag (25kg) led to riots in Kitwe.

  President Banda seems to be a man devoid of pragmatic ideas and that can be instanced when he appointed the discredited veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga as parliamentary chief whip. Indeed, Mwaanga and Banda were early groomed by the first President Kenneth Kaunda. Mwaanga had served in every administration ever since 1964. He was only dismissed by the last President Mwanawasa in 2007. Mwaanga is a wealthy and respected Tougha tribesman.

  Most people in Zambia feel that Banda has brought UNIP back into power—Banda was a staunch UNIP politician (foreign minister in 1972) and was living in retirement ever since the exit of the UNIP government in 1991. he only came into active politics in 2006 when the late Mwanawasu appointed him as vice-president.

  Unexpected was the dismissal of the versatile finance minister Nyanda Magande together with the outspoken female minister of local government, Silver Masebo. Indeed, the reconstituted cabinet is a pale-faced assemblage of yes men.

  The MMD government has lost touch with the vast majority of Zambian workers and it seems that Rupiah Banda’s government will be subjected to unexpected economic crises that will jeopardise his chances of winning the 2011 general election.

  But what many workers and students in Lusaka and the copper belt mining towns do not understand is the fact that the current economic and social problems confronting them cannot be resolved by the opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata. There isn’t any political difference between the ruling MMD and PF. Both Banda and Sata are old and tired wealthy politicians seduced by political and economic privileges. The sudden collapse of copper prices has led to widespread job losses (redundancies) in the mining sector. It is just in such unforeseen economic misfortunes that many irate workers think that the PF leader can create economic wonders. Economic liberalisation entails free market economy in which demand and supply comes to determine commodity prices. The government of the day cannot impose itself upon the market to fix a minimum price. That is why the increase in meali meal prices cannot be restrained by the MMD government.

  In 1991, Western-sponsored economic growth programmes impact negatively upon the ordinary Zambian workers and peasants—economic growth in Zambia is enjoyed by the foreign industrial elites (through tax exemptions).

  Gross inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth mark the political, racial, ethnic and religious frustrations taking place in many countries in Africa today. The only way-out is a classless, stateless and moneyless society—socialism.
Kephas Mulenga

Keeping up with the Joneses (2009)

From the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Free money for everyone? (2009)

The Cooking The Books column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

There’s nothing like a slump for currency crank ideas to flourish. The contradiction between unused resources and unmet needs is so glaring that the solution seems to be to give people more money to spend (whereas it’s to produce just for use, not for sale, so making money redundant).

 One such theory, popular in the last Great Depression of the 1930s, was “Social Credit”, as expounded by Major Douglas (1879-1952). This was a proposal for the State to take over the role of the banks in supposedly creating purchasing power and using the profits that would otherwise have gone to the banks to pay all citizens a “social dividend”. As this is based on the idea that banks can “create credit” out of nothing by a mere stroke of the pen, which the current credit crunch has exploded, this is not so popular this time.

 Another such theory was that of Silvio Gesell (1862-1930). Basing himself on the experience of the Great Depression of the 1880s (yes, there’s been more than one), his proposal to get people to spend was that currency notes should gradually devalue if they were not spent within a given time. He was to be the Finance Minister in the short-lived Munich Soviet of 1919. Keynes, who had a soft spot for currency cranks, wrote: “I believe that the future will learn more from the spirit of Gesell than from that of Marx” (General Theory, p. 355)

 Though probably more influenced by the vouchers issued by the chain stores than by Gesell, the economic journalist Simon Jenkins has been plugging a similar idea in his regular column in the Guardian. He wants the government to give consumers “three-month spending coupons, say of £300 a month.” He thinks this giving people vouchers they have to spend within three months is a better way of getting people to spend than cutting taxes or increasing benefits which they could save.

 An extra £300 a month to spend for everybody! A party could win an election by promising that. The proposal is feasible but, if it ever comes in, it won’t be at that level, as can be seen from Taiwan. According to the Taipei Times (19 December):
  “Every citizen and foreign spouse qualifying for the voucher will receive six red-colored vouchers with a face value of NT$500 each and three coffee-colored NT$200 vouchers in a ‘lucky envelope’ with ‘Happy New Year’ in Chinese characters on it to symbolize auspiciousness. The government will distribute the NT$3,600 in consumer vouchers on Jan. 18, one week ahead of the Lunar New Year to boost spending.” (LINK).
At the time of writing 3600 Taiwan dollars is worth £74. As the vouchers have to be spent by the end of September, that’s about £8 a month (rather less than £300) or £2 a week. Wow!

 All these more or less cranky proposals are based on the mistaken assumption that a country can avoid a slump by increasing spending. Let’s have some common sense from Marx:
  “It is sheer tautology to say that crises are caused by the scarcity of effective consumption, or of effective consumers. The capitalist system does not know any other modes of consumption than effective ones, except that of sub forma pauperis or of the swindler. That commodities are unsaleable means only that no effective purchasers have been found for them, i.e., consumers (since commodities are bought in the final analysis for productive or individual consumption). But if one were to attempt to give this tautology the semblance of a profounder justification by saying that the working-class receives too small a portion of its own product and the evil would be remedied as soon as it receives a larger share of it and its wages increase in consequence, one could only remark that crises are always prepared by precisely a period in which wages rise generally and the working-class actually gets a larger share of that part of the annual product which is intended for consumption. From the point of view of these advocates of sound and “simple” (!) common sense, such a period should rather remove the crisis.” (Capital, Vol II, Chapter 20, section 4).

Darwin and the Intelligent Design Brigade (2009)

From the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Evolution is perhaps the strongest theory in modern science, but still the most controversial. Why after all this time does it still generate such ferocious opposition?
“Christian Right Lobbies To Overturn Second Law Of Thermodynamics"

The second law of thermodynamics, a fundamental scientific principle stating that entropy increases over time as organized forms decay into greater states of randomness, has come under fire from conservative Christian groups, who are demanding that the law be repealed.

 Calling the second law of thermodynamics “a deeply disturbing scientific principle that threatens our children’s understanding of God’s universe as a benevolent and loving place,” they are spearheading a nationwide grassroots campaign to have the law removed from high-school physics textbooks. The plan has already met with significant support in the state legislatures of Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.”

 Before you start worrying, this was a satirical item from The Onion, back in 2000, aimed at religious people who reject Darwinian evolution. However it’s not really an exaggeration. Religious fundamentalists who reject evolutionary theory are also rejecting geology, astronomy, Einsteinian and Newtonian physics, in fact the whole body of scientific knowledge going back to first principles, and replacing it with a couple of anonymous books and a God who, as Bill Hicks pointed out in relation to dinosaur fossils, must be a liar and a practical joker.

 Yet these religious people don’t choose to attack Newton, or the theory of gravity, or light, or quantum physics. Why evolution specifically? If you haven’t already seen it, try watching Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007), which is freely available online. This is an award-winning documentary describing the headline-grabbing court case between parents and the School Governors in Dover, Pennsylvania in which the governors were trying to force creationist ideas into biology classes and the parents were trying to stop them.

 In the end the parents won, and the creationists were humiliated. But as you follow the interviews with protagonists on both sides of this celebrated case,  you begin to see what it is that motivates those on the religious side of the debate. It is fear.

 They are afraid that without God as first cause there really is no relevance to life. They fear that science is taking the heart out of the human experience and replacing it with numbers. They fear that a world with no meaning is a world with no mercy.

 It was fear that originally incited the famous campaigning reformer William Jennings Bryan to take the prosecution case in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, fear that naked social darwinism would rampage across any possibility of social justice, would justify the worst excesses of unrestrained capitalism. This was the fear – and the profound misunderstanding of Darwinism – which drove Christians to break themselves against the juggernaut of science, and continues to drive them today.

 It would be, from a scientific or a socialist perspective, so easy to laugh at these people as superstitious children. After all, they cannot win. Despite the recent avalanche of anti-religious books from the likes of Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens and others, there is no real danger of a return to a religious Dark Age. Of course they are wrong. Of course their arguments are ludicrous.

 At the same time it is possible to feel some compassion for the fear and the desperation these, mostly ignorant and uninformed, people have, confronted with a world they don’t understand and in which they feel utterly helpless. Science to them is gas chambers, nuclear bombs, death rays, spy satellites and mind control. Wild stories about Earth-eating black holes and ‘strangelets’ guaranteed front-page coverage worldwide for the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider, an event only normally of interest to particle physicists.

 People fear what they don’t understand, and in general society is scientifically illiterate, a situation many scientists find worrying. In public surveys on the supposedly dangerous substance Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO), which can corrode iron and kill humans if inhaled, up to 90% of respondents voted that it should be banned (DHMO = H20).  (Source: New Scientist, 27 Sept 2008, p.76).

 Socialists should care about the religion versus science debate because the theory of socialism is built on scientific principles, and anything which threatens rationality and evidence-based thinking must be anathema. However we should also be capable of seeing the larger picture. This isn’t really about Darwin, or the laws of physics.

 This is about people who need to have a reason to go on living, which capitalism isn’t giving them. It’s about people’s need to believe in something, which capitalism doesn’t supply or has taken away. And it’s about having some hope for the future, of which capitalism has none. The world really does need some intelligent design, but in its business of living, not in its biology.

 Socialists, as atheists, have to understand what some scientists seem unable to grasp, that the battle of ideas is not just a battle of the mind, it’s a battle for the heart. We can no more win hearts with economic methodology than scientists can with peer-reviewed research. If we scoff at notions of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ because these things are not measurable in laboratory experiments, we utterly miss the point. The desperate argument of creationism is at one level a comedy of human stupidity. But at a deeper level it is a tragedy, the pathos of a human condition adrift and desolate in a world which cares only about money and believes in nothing at all. This is what Moslems and Christians despair about, and this is something with which we can surely empathise. This is the ‘sigh of the oppressed’ in the heartless world of the 21st century. Despite appearances to the contrary, capitalism is slowly and methodically destroying religion. What we need to do, as socialists, is recognise the emotional vacuum this is creating, and strive to fill it, before something infinitely worse does.
Paddy Shannon

What Darwin said (2009)

From the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

 There are two misunderstandings about Darwin. First, that he invented the idea of evolution and, second, that he put forward a theory of the origin of life. He did neither. Evolution – the idea that existing forms of plants and animals had evolved from earlier forms – existed before Darwin. What Darwin did was to provide a convincing theory as to how the different species of plants and animals had come about. He said nothing about the origin of life, only that an original life-form must have existed (however it might have come into existence). Darwin’s theory was that evolution came about through natural selection. In fact the term “Darwinian” is more appropriately applied to the theory of natural selection than to the theory of evolution.

 Before him, some people including his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had realised that existing species must have evolved from previously existing species. A study of the classification of life-forms by Linnaeus in the 18th century into Kingdoms, Orders, Genera and Species, based on the physical similarities between them, suggested this. But earlier evolutionists could not offer a convincing explanation as to how this came about.

  Perhaps the most famous pre-Darwinian theory was that of Lamarck, who argued that new species came about through characteristics acquired during lifetime being transmitted to descendants – the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Thus, for instance, giraffes evolved as a previous animal stretched its neck from generation to generation. The theory is not true, as can be seen from the Jews. They’ve been circumcising their sons for thousands of years but no Jew has ever been born without a foreskin. Actually, it wasn’t really such a laughable theory that could be dismissed in this way.

  Lamarck was a serious scientist and it was a valid hypothesis. In fact it was the main one going till Darwin came up with his theory 150 years ago. Engels in his The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man accepted it when he was talking about the diet of humans (and foxes) leading to them changing. Even Darwin, although a severe critic of Lamarck, was prepared to backtrack a little and conceded that it might have played a minor role in the evolution of species. Opponents of the “you can’t change human nature” argument were also attracted by it.

 Lamarck was on the right track about the evolution of giraffes. It did come about gradually as he supposed, but not directly. Giraffes evolved over generations as animals with longer and longer necks survived better. Similarly, with those who saw that human behaviour did, and could, change: humans can inherit acquired characteristics but not biologically, only culturally, through learning.
 Farmers – and pigeon fanciers (with whom Darwin associated in his research) – had known long before Darwin that they could create new forms of existing plants and animals by selective breeding. Darwin’s argument was that the same process had happened in nature over a long period of time – with nature doing the selecting – and that this had resulted in all the various life-forms that did exist (and had existed) as evolved forms of the original life-form. A separate “species” (as opposed to a “race” or a subspecies which was what farmers and pigeon-fanciers were creating) came into being when its members were not able to breed with the life-form from which they evolved or with other life-forms which had arisen from it. This was Darwin’s theory of the origin of species.

  Another misunderstanding about Darwin arises from the phrase “the survival of the fittest”, which he did use. It is often seen as meaning the survival of the physically fittest, i.e. of the strongest, but the word “fittest” was not being used in this sense in this context. It meant rather the “aptest”, or the “most fitted” to a particular environment, and it meant that relatively more of their offspring survived than did those of the less apt.
 Darwin did not know, any more than the farmers and pigeon-fanciers, how selection worked. He suspected that there must be some cause of the minute changes that nature worked upon but couldn’t explain how they arose. The solution was left to later scientists who, following up research by an Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, who was experimenting at the same time as Darwin with sweet peas, came up with the gene as the unit of inheritance, with the small changes being caused by inexact copies of genes being made in certain individuals. The combination of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the gene theory is known as the “modern synthesis” and is what is defended by present-day defenders of evolution such as Richard Dawkins and other popular science writers, even though some of them have been tempted to turn “Darwinism” into a general theory of the “survival of the aptest” in all fields and not just to the evolution of species of living things.
Adam Buick

Child Benefits (2009)

From the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
In times of economic insecurity, nothing calms the nerves better than a good moral panic.
The last recession coincided with the media interest in the James Bulger murder, and the British media and sanctimonious politicians have recently found plenty of reasons for moralising, with the investigation into the death of “Baby P” in Haringey and the Karen Matthews prosecution for kidnapping her own daughter.

  The Baby P case in particular fuelled many column inches split between sermonising about human nature and trying to find a person to blame: anything but a serious examination of childcare inside capitalism. Within hours of the blame being squarely laid at the convenient door of supposedly incompetent employees of a failing council department, a Home Office survey was published showing how the (thankfully) rare incidence of child fatality is in fact just the tip of the iceberg. While approximately 1.5 million children are considered possibly at risk of deprivation or abuse, councils have the resources to actively monitor less than 2 percent of these. To find causes then we need to look beyond blaming individuals for the situation.

  It may seem simplistic to blame the treatment of Baby P and Karen Matthews’ daughter on this social system rather than on the immediate family in each instance. It is a complicated picture for sure, but we shouldn’t ignore the wider picture: the economic hardship of the majority inside capitalism, the atomised and alienated nature of much of our social interaction, and the anti-human values that flourish where profit comes first. We should perhaps not be surprised at the depths to which some stoop as adults when they have grown up in a society that materially and psychologically deprives and abuses humanity.

  Certainly it’s not just working class children that can suffer emotional abuse from their parents. While the media used these events as an excuse to go to town on the so-called underclass, blaming single mums on benefits for most of the world’s problems, it is worth noting one notable extended family which is full of single parents and are significant recipients of state benefits. The family Windsor might look a tad out of place on the sort of estates typified by TV’s “Shameless”, but despite their economic privilege, they are still far from being a good example of healthy emotional functioning.

  But no matter how many “good parenting” books you guiltily read, it’s harder to bring up happy children if you lack space, or the road outside is noisy and dangerous, or there’s no park nearby, or the nearest toddler’s group or GP surgery requires a bus ride to access. There is a mountain of evidence that poorer communities generally suffer more from such environmental or “community safety” issues.

  Children may well be “innocent”, “our future” and other such sentimentalised slogans, but more significantly they are also an immense hindrance to the smooth operation of the system of production for profit. The care and attention children need just doesn’t square easily with the time commitment demanded by employment. Despite ever-increasing standards of living (at least if measured by how flat your screen is, or how many different channels you can watch the latest “UK’s Worst-Behaved Kids” TV show on), the working week always seems to come in at around 40 hours. This allows just enough time for sleep, to feed yourself, and otherwise recover before the next shift.

  Inadequate childcare provision has been recognised by the government as a reason why some women (usually) give up work to bring up their child full-time. This undoubtedly helps the child’s emotional health and happiness. Unfortunately it reduces the productivity of UK plc. This has prompted a range of government measures to try and encourage employers to make the workplace more flexible for parents.

  Labour has made much of its 1999 commitment to reduce child poverty. it’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that this promise (to halve child poverty by 2010) has been the carrot dangled in front of the Labour membership that allowed it to go along with the many downsides of the last 10 years in government. Foremost amongst these of course was the Iraq War (which doesn’t appear to have done much for child poverty in that country). But of course it’s only UK kids that the government is concerned about. And not even all of them.

  The Labour government is clearly significantly less interested in the care of the kids of the unemployed. After all, in their own carefully-constructed phrase, it is only “hard-working families” that get their support. The rest can pretty much rot. A few days after the Haringey report findings were published, the government detailed their intention to get single mothers on benefits to sit lie detector tests to get them back to work within 12 months of the birth. This means forcing 12 month-old children into full-time childcare for up to 40 hours per week. The government’s own commissioned research indicates the long-term damage – in terms of emotional attachment, security, anger management and ability to form healthy relationships in later life – that childcare (i.e. away from primary care-giver) of over 16 hours per week can do to infants under three years of age. Remember the boast about “joined-up government”?

  Government promises are all very well, but it’s the economy that usually decides whether a political reform will stick. While Labour has made great play of how much it has prioritised child poverty in its ten years in office, numerous reports in the last few months have shown just how little impact this effort has made, and how structural poverty is inside capitalism.

One of the main criticisms that world socialists have of attempts to reform the insane system called capitalism, is that gains obtained one year may disappear when the economy dips, and you find yourself back at square one again. That looks to be what is happening as we enter a period of recession. A slump is the market’s way of correcting a serious failing – that is, the diminishing levels of profit returning to the owning class. That recalibration must occur inside capitalism, regardless of the damage to be incurred by those dependent on the state, such as children, the unemployed and the poor.

  The government’s 2010 target will probably then be missed, and by a long shot – the best part of a million children. The government’s response? – to boast of another target, a bigger target. This time they promise full eradication of child poverty by 2020. An impressive objective perhaps but so what? – if someone tells you a small lie and you find them out, it’s hard to be impressed if they respond by telling you an even bigger lie.

  The council workers involved in these recent “Broken Britain” news items, those whose job it is to mop up the human victims of the profit machine, were variously described as “failing”, “incompetent”, “not fit for purpose”. These adjectives should instead be directed at this social system, and at a quite fundamental level. Let’s not forget that – as unsympathetic and deluded an individual as she appears to be – Karen Matthews would simply not have kidnapped her daughter if it weren’t for her confidence (very well-placed as it turned out) that her unwitting accomplices in the media would be likely to stump up a £50,000 reward to keep the story on their front pages.
Brian Gardner

No socialism (2009)

Pamphlet Review from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism’s New Crisis: What Do Socialists Say?’ By Chris Harman. Socialist Workers Party, 2008. £1.50.

The author writes of capitalism “The key question is what is going to replace it . . . To finally get rid of capitalist crises, in short, you have to get rid of capitalism.”

With such promising revolutionary sentiments, you would surely expect some discussion of the socialist future, some mention (however brief) of common ownership, democratic control, production for use not profit. Not a bit of it. Harman offers instead ‘A People Before Profit Charter’, a ten-point mish-mash of reformist measures such as wage increases, more tax on big companies, less tax on the poor, no to the BNP.

The pamphlet has section headings which include free market failure, slump, boom and crisis, and the debt economy. These concepts sound familiar because they are scattered liberally in the broadsheet dailies, the weekly journals, radio and TV programmes that comment on the problems that “business” and hard-working men and women have to face. This pamphlet has some value in bringing together the various critiques of capitalism and the reforms that are offered to improve the system despite persistent past failures. It has no value at all in promoting revolutionary thought and action to change the system from capitalism to socialism.
Stan Parker

Obituary: Charlie Lawrence (2009)

Obituary from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 

We report with sadness the death of Charlie Lawrence in Australia on 12th January at the age of 89. Charlie was born in England but as a young boy emigrated to Western Australia with his family in the 1920s where they ran a dairy farm. This was part of the Group Settlements project on virgin land. It was hard work but he loved the life there but the depression of the 1930s saw the family in financial trouble and they returned to England.

During the war Charlie worked for a time in ‘directed labour’ but decided this was not for him after being too close to bombing raids near where he was working. He took this so personally that he decided to go ‘on the run’, rather than face military service or more directed labour.

It was while he was working at Woking Power Station in 1939 that Charlie met the Socialist Party in the person of a member, George Nuttall, who was the works fitter there. George talked about the party’s case for socialism and its analysis of capitalism. Charlie joined the party in 1944 as a member of the old Paddington Branch and attended meetings and lectures. He always recalled the very big meetings held at the old Metropolitan Theatre in the Edgware Road just after the war.

Charlie was the catalyst for no less than six of his siblings becoming socialists – possibly a record in this Party. One of these siblings was Pieter Lawrence (see obituary May 2007 Socialist Standard). Charlie returned to live in Australia in the 1960s and although not very active in the WSP of Australia, remained a staunch socialist to the end. Sympathy is extended to his family both in Australia and in the UK.
Phyllis Hart

50 Years Ago: “Class Collaboration in Communist China” (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 

From The Trade Union Law of the People’s Republic of China it can be seen that the workers of “New China” are unable to organise in genuine Trade Unions; that they are not allowed to call strikes whatever their grievances may be, and that the so-called Trade Union affiliated to the “All-China Federation of Labour” are Unions mainly in name only, similar to Hitler’s “Labour Front” in pre-war Germany.

China’s “Trade Unions” are allowed to negotiate. But that is all. Their main functions, according to Article 9, of The Trade Union Law of the People’s Republic of China, are to organise the workers to support the laws of the government, carry out the policies of the government; to get the workers to adopt a new attitude towards labour—that is, to observe “labour discipline,” to organise “labour emulation campaigns and increase production to ensure the fulfilment of the production plans; to protect public property; to oppose corruption and bureaucracy and to fight “saboteurs” in enterprises operated by the State.

In privately-owned enterprises the Trade Unions must help in developing production, “benefiting both labour and capital”—in other words, increasing the exploitation and subjection of the Chinese working-class. The outlook for the masses of China is indeed bleak.
(From article by Peter E. Newell, Socialist Standard, February 1959)

Greasy Pole: Standing out in the crowd (2009)

The Greasy Pole column from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 
  “Doing things sober is no way to get things done”
Only the most demandingly optimistic – or perhaps the most seriously deluded – could have expected anything original to spring from Tony Blair’s infamously airy assurance that his governments would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. In unashamed voter appeal, the process of ascertaining, and then dealing with, the causes of such a massive social problem was made to sound very simple. Except that it ignored the direct co-relation between crime and the poverty which is inescapable in this society of privilege and alienation. There was no need for an expertly number-crunching statistician, or a professor of history, to cast doubt on Blair’s assumption that crime could be diminished through brushing up some of the more threatening housing estates, or manipulating the benefits entitlement system to make it even more baffling than before. Blair’s dream was that crime could be refashioned from an electoral liability into a vote winner.

But that first part of Blair’s promise – to ensure that appropriately punitive measures would be taken to repress crime – has been rather more fertile than the second. So we have had ten years of new laws flooding onto the Statute Book; as the lawyers have thrived thousands of new offences have been created, harsher penalties have been applied by the courts and the prisons have been full to bursting. In the background are the plans for a new generation of titanic prisons – in the building of which the contractors will thrive – to accommodate the predicted rise in demand for cell spaces. The fact that none of these panic-stricken measures has been effective has only served to stimulate more, equally false and doomed, supposed remedies.


The latest of these lays it down that offenders who have been sentenced to a spell of what used to be called Community Service must, while working under that Order, wear brightly visible jackets on the back of which, to distinguish them from men emptying refuse bins or mending telephone lines, the words “Community Payback” – of a minimum size laid down in some official circular – must appear. The idea is that when the offenders are working – scrubbing off graffiti, clearing undergrowth in the park, sorting goods in a charity shop – they will be openly identified as people who have broken the law.  This example of what Blair meant by getting tough on crime did not meet with universal approval; there were those, including organisations benefiting from the work, who objected to what they saw as the offenders’ public humiliation – as outdated as the stocks and the pillory and excessive, when the work ordered by the Court was punishment enough. Some members of the Labour Party might have wondered about their place in an organisation they had joined on the assumption that it would deal with something as sensitive as crime in a manner which would be, before all else, humane. They could not have expected that their party would be more concerned with gaining the approval of the leader writers of the Daily Mail.

Predictably, the government denied any intention other than to re-assure the voters that offenders are being suitably punished. Justice Minister David Hanson put it:  “The public expects to see justice being done and this is what the jackets achieve”. He did not dwell on the fact that those who are allocated under Community Payback to work in public places are, except in very rare cases, not guilty of the kind of offences serious enough to make “the public” particularly anxious to witness their punishment. A recent example was the case of 22 young people who were sentenced by an Essex District Judge to periods of between 50 and 90 hours Community Payback. Many of them had impressive academic records and are already voluntarily engaged in community work. Members of the Plane Stupid group, their offence was to disrupt flights out of Stansted Airport by blocking the runway; “I accept,” said the Judge “There is an honourable tradition of peaceful protest in this country, and long may it continue. But…”

Tsar Of All She Surveys

More to the taste of David Hanson and other Labour ministers is Louise Casey, currently known as the Criminal Justice System Tsar, whose CV includes spells as the Homelessness Tsar, ASBO Tsar and Respect Tsar. Casey responded incandescently, and predictably,  to those who expressed reservations about the jackets by alleging that they are “on the side of the criminal rather than the victims ”. She is something of a controversial figure, remembering herself as a “restless teenager” who longed to leave home .During her time as ASBO Tsar she raised a few ministerial eyebrows by telling an audience of senior civil servants, chief constables and the like “I suppose you can’t binge drink any more because lots of people have said you can’t do it. I don’t know who bloody made that up; it’s nonsense…doing things sober is no way to get things done”. Warming to her theme about the professional advantages of inebriation, the Respect Tsar suggested that some ministers might perform better if they “turn up in the morning pissed.” It says a lot about New Labour’s views on the effects of capitalism on its people, that its government employs someone like Casey to pressgang us into official ideas of acceptable behaviour.

Typical of capitalism’s many and varied assaults on human well-being, crime is a massive, extremely nasty problem which causes loss, distress and fear to workers who are already under the pressures of survival. But that can also be said about the events and policies which are massively more damaging to human community but are unpunished because they are perfectly legal. Today’s examples of this are the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza and the devastating poverty in the recession. Those who, as capitalism’s leaders, organise and defend these outrages are tricksters. It would be consistent, if not crucially constructive, for them to have to parade their impotence, dishonesty and malice by publicly wearing something instantly recognisable. Like a jacket? But it would be difficult to think of wording for it to carry, adequately to express their wretched futility. 

A University Professor on Marx. (1922)

Book Review from the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Review of “The Revival of Marxism,” by J. Shield Nicholson, Sc.D., L.L.D., Professor of Political Economy in the University of Edinburgh. London : John Murray, Albemarle Street, W. 1920.

In his 140 pages of ambiguous University jargon, Professor Nicholson pretends to deal with most of the socialist principles. His so-called arguments are not by any means new, and in some respects are quite inferior to those of the poorly-paid orators of the anti-socialist union and the property defence leagues. It is necessary, however, to examine the more important—if it is possible to choose anything that is important from a mass of quibbles and trivialities.

“The Materialist Conception of History” is one of the first principles which this professor attacks. Twice he attempts to destroy it. The first time, on page 8, he merely strengthens it by his admissions. He says :—
  “Any manifestation of idealism at present seems to be associated with internationalism. Not that the internationalism that is now fashionable is free from the materialistic taint. On the contrary, it is mainly concerned with the restoration of trade and of sound monetary conditions.”
On page 119 a second attempt is made on the materialist conception of history in the following words :—
  “Material fatalism of this kind is the suicide of reason—the deletion from humanity of its vital character.
 “The history of progress—economic, as well as of other forms of progress—is the history of the conflict of great ideas. Moral progress is the history of the conflict of great ideals. Material fatalism of this kind is a reversion to intellectual .and moral barbarism.”
If Professor Nicholson were to enumerate some of his great ideas it would be possible to show him their obvious connection with economic conditions. If he told us of some of the great ideals that were in conflict in the moral sphere, we might easily point to their connection with material factors. He does neither of these things, nor does he attempt to show how ideas or ideals can exist apart from a materialistic basis. To put forward an opinion which is not substantiated in any way is one of the methods Professor Nicholson employs to shuffle out of the conflict he himself raises, but is neither criticism nor analysis.

On the “Marxian Theory of Value” Professor Nicholson is particularly illuminating. On page 26 he says :—
   “The Marxian theory of value was soon shattered by destructive criticism. It is absurd to suppose that Marx discovered certain ideas of value which were neglected by subsequent economists.
  “It is still more absurd to suppose that economists wilfully suppressed the teaching of Marx because they were supporters of Capital against Labour. From J. S. Mill onwards, the bias, if there has been any bias, has been the other way.”
Then in a footnote the Professor says :—
   “Marshall shows that Ricardo and the eminent Ricardian economists were not opposed to the Factory Acts. Even Senior repented his first hasty disapproval.”
The average man will confess a difficulty in seeing the connection between Senior’s repentance and the Marxian theory of value ; yet Nicholson never gets much closer than this to the theory he promises to explode. Statements like the above and abusive remarks about the conceit of Marx take up quite a large portion of his work. 

Another charge that Nicholson makes against Marx is, that his reasoning is involved, contradictory, and difficult to understand. Let the reader examine the following from the Professor’s work and then try and find something in the works of Marx to equal it :—
  “To measure the values of things in terms of labour would obviously be impossible unless we can reduce all the kinds of labour to one common kind. This leads up to the idea of ‘socially necessary labour,’ which is quite unintelligible unless expressed in unreal hypothesis.” (Page 75.)
How that which is “unintelligible” can become intelligible when expressed in “unreal hypothesis” the professor does not say. He missed a golden opportunity by failing to expose either the unreality or the fallacy of “socially necessary labour.” He does not do this, no doubt because directly anyone examines the idea of either “socially necessary labour” or the “reduction of all kinds of labour to one common kind” they are so clear and their applicability so apparent, that once stated it would puzzle even a University professor to controvert them.

Here is another example of Nicholson’s method. He says :—
  “But labour with Marx is not only the real measure, but the real determinant of value.
  “If, however, labour as the real measure of value is absurd, labour as the sole real determinant of value is still more absurd.”
It will be noticed that there is no attempt here, either at analysis or argument. Neither here, nor anywhere else in the book, does Nicholson show that the amount of socially necessary labour contained in a commodity does not determine its value. When he attempts to do so there is no “if'” about his absurdity. He says :—
  “The exchange values of things, whether we take long periods or short periods, depend on a variety of real causes, and any change in one or more of them will bring about a change in the resultant value of the thing.
  “Among these causes is the amount of labour required to produce the thing.
   “In general, in any product, there are very different qualities of labour concerned.
    “And not only is labour required, but all sorts of auxiliary capital.”
As can be seen at a glance, labour of different qualities can be reduced to labour of the simplest kind merely by comparison. If, for instance, a commodity were produced solely by two men, the labour-power of the one being paid for at the rate of two shillings per hour and the other at one shilling per hour, and if the two men each worked on the commodity two hours, the amount of labour-power contained could either be reckoned as two hours of skilled plus two hours simple labour or as six hours of simple labour. The wages paid, six shillings, would be the same either way. Marx contends that this is done whenever the prices of commodities are compared, no matter how diverse the qualities of the labour-power embodied in them. As Nicholson shirks this question, although referring toil in passing, it must be taken for granted that he could find no fault with it.

Next among the variety of real causes is “all sorts of auxiliary capital.” But whether capital is auxiliary or principal, it is capital just the same—that is, wealth used for exploitation. Thus of all the ”variety of real causes on which exchange value depends,” according to Nicholson, only two can be shown, i.e., different kinds of capital and different kinds of labour, or at bottom simply capital and labour. As capital, in whatever form it appears, is wealth, it follows that it must have been produced by the application of human energy to the nature-given material. Professor Nicholson’s enumeration of his variety of real causes, when advanced this one logical step further, lands him in the same boat with Marx. He knows that every intelligent reader will see this, so he promises to show the absurdity of it in his next chapter on the accumulation of capital and in the chapter on profits. In the first of these chapters he argues that capitalism is not all a black record of evil. “On the contrary,” he says, “the growth of capitalism through the ages has also been one of the agents in the general advance of civilisation.” Obviously, this does not disprove the statement that “capital in all its forms is congealed or crystallised labour.” Neither does it prove anything to the credit of capitalism. War is one of the agents in the general advance of civilisation, yet the sooner it is abolished the better for the human race.

The only thing in the chapter on accumulation of capital that can be construed into having any connection with capital as “concealed or crystallised labour” is the following quotation and certain deductions made by the professor : —
    “The conditions of production are also those of reproduction. No society can go on producing; in other words, no society can reproduce, unless it constantly reconverts a part of its products into means of production. . . . Hence a definite portion of each year’s product belongs to the domain of production. Destined for productive consumption from the very first, this portion exists, for the most part, in the shape of articles totally unfitted for individual consumption.” Capital, vol. I., page 578.
Professor Nicholson comments on this as follows :—-
  “Labour power must be devoted to the continuous upkeep of the means of production, if the flow of consumable goods is to be continually forthcoming.”
He then goes on to argue that there must be changes in the forms and amounts of “productive capital” just as in the forms of “productive labour” if we are to have improvement in the quality of things and continuous substitution of new forms of wealth for old, and then he says :—
  “Many passages might be quoted from Marx in which he assents to these general propositions regarding the connection of labour and capital.”
With real cunning, however, Nicholson neglects to quote the short passage immediately following the previous quotation, which reads as follows : —
  “If production be capitalistic in form, so, too, will be reproduction. Just as in the former the labour-process figures, but as a means towards the self-expansion of capital ; so in the latter, it figures, but as a means of reproducing as capital—i.e., as self-expanding value—the value advanced. It is only because his money constantly functions as capital that the economical guise of a capitalist attaches to a man.”
Thus, an attempt to use short passages from Marx to justify capitalist methods, or institutions, is frustrated at once by anyone who refers to “Das Capital,” and reads the passage together with its context.

In his chapter on profits, Nicholson, instead of exploding Marxian fallacies, as he promised, engages in a somewhat dreary discourse on the false economy of low wages, saying : —
  “Everyone can see that a certain minimum must go to labour if its mass and its efficiency is to be kept up. If not. the labour will emigrate or die out.”
And, of course, capital must have its maximum, or that too will emigrate, from which Nicholson argues that:
  “Insurance against risk is the second element in the usual analysis of gross profits.”
A principle which is developed to such an extent that the bulk of capitalist concerns run little or no risk of failure, and can no longer be described as enterprises.

Throughout the book Professor Nicholson drearily complains that Marx, in his analysis, takes no account of demand. Following in the path of Jevons and Hobson, he holds that supply and demand, marginal utility, etc., are the main factors in prices. Although he pretends to have read the works of Marx, and frequently quotes from them, he purposely shuns those portions where Marx explains, in scientific fashion, the real part played by supply and demand in causing temporary fluctuations in price.

The general attitude of Professor Nicholson throughout the book might be summed up in the following paragraph, written by himself and appearing on page 131 :—
   “In the complications of modern industry the right of each to the product of his own labour takes the form of the right to the share he can bargain for with the other contributors. He may make his bargain collectively or individually, but the general rule is that the greater the gain the greater the exertion.”
In other words, those who work the hardest get the most. No wonder that Marx wrote :—
  “Once for all I may here state, that by classical political economy, I understand that economy which, since the time of W. Petty, has investigated the real relations of production in bourgeois society, in contradistinction to vulgar economy, which deals with appearances only, ruminates without ceasing on the materials long since provided by scientific economy, and there seeks plausible explanations of the most obtrusive phenomena, for bourgeois daily use ; but for the rest, confines itself to systematising in a pedantic way, and proclaiming for everlasting truths, the trite ideas held by the self-complacent bourgeoisie with regard to their own world, to them the best of all possible worlds.”
Which sums up, in a single sentence, not only Professor Nicholson but Jevons, Hobson, Marshall, and all the crowd of professional sycophants who prostitute themselves for wealth and position because truth and science does not pay in the sphere of politics.
F. Foan

“A World Commonwealth.” (1922)

From the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the organised workers of the world remains the ultimate task of establishing; the greatest of all systems of society. It is the supreme purpose, and can be stated thus : taking the two essential factors—the world and its inhabitants—to realise to the fullest the means of the well-being and happiness of the whole of humanity.

The history of the ages can be depicted as a series of connected social systems evolving one from another, in each of which the mode of wealth-production is the chief consideration determining the character and structure of that system.

Man needs food, clothing, and shelter. All are derived from the planet on which he lives by the application of labour-power usefully exercised. Without these things he perishes; if insufficiently obtained, he suffers. Without labour they are unobtainable. They minister to his physical and mental needs. Man has a many-sided, complex nature. The more highly developed society becomes, the greater the need for the co-operative efforts of the units composing it.

Man can only develop his finest social instincts, his best physical and mental qualities, in a society whose members are free. Otherwise those potentialities, both in society and its units, are thwarted or stunted. Man’s chief usefulness is in contributing to the social wealth.

In the broadest sense, all that ministers to humanity’s physical and mental needs, advantages, and enjoyments, can be considered as social wealth.

But to-day we find that society is, roughly, divided into two classes with conflicting interests. This has been brought about through the historic development since primitive times. It arises from the fact that the ownership and control of the means of living are in the hands of one class. Wealth is socially produced, but the wealth itself is privately owned and controlled by the capitalist class.

The much larger class in society—the working class—does not own nor control the means of living. The function it fulfils is to act as wealth-producer for the class that owns. The workers own nothing but their potential energy of brain and hand : and through their efforts, alone, all wealth is produced.

The master class do nothing useful whatsoever in the process of wealth production. 

The working class thus exist under the present system in a state of slavery. Theirs to produce commodities for sale in the market. They are “wage-slaves,” who receive in “wages” but a small portion of the values they produce—on the average but a bare subsistence wage. The surplus-value they produce in factory or workshop is only realised for the capitalist by sale in the market. It is represented by Rent, Interest, and Profit.

Being used to produce surplus-value, the working class are thus exploited and robbed of the product of their toil. The result to the workers is seen in their chronic poverty and misery, unemployment, disease, overwork, and a host of evils inevitably springing from the system itself—the result of production for “profit” for the benefit of a class. But to that class who exploit them it means an ever-increasing affluence, luxury, and idleness.

Now the main reason why the capitalist class are thus able to own and control the very lives of the workers is because they are in possession of political power, and use it for their class-interests alone.

The solution, then, is obvious ! When once the workers of the world become conscious of their slavery, they will organise as a class to capture the powers of Government in order to emancipate themselves. Once in possession of that, and its adjuncts —the armed forces—they will use it as a means of establishing an entirely new system of society—Socialism. Under their administration all the means of wealth production and distribution will be owned and controlled by the whole community—wealth being produced then for the use and enjoyment of all!

The class-division will thus be automatically abolished, as the essential interests of all its members are one and the same. Thus, and thus only, will be assured the means for the well-being and happiness of the members of society as a whole; and the evils of wage-slavery will be ended with their root cause—Capitalism. So we see that the realisation of the greatest social system depends on the organised efforts of a class-conscious, determined working class. Theirs to free themselves and secure the means of comfort, equality, and freedom for all.

Hence the clarion call of Karl Marx: “Wage-workers of all countries, unite ! You have nought to lose but your chains ; you have a world to win !“

"The Future of Industry". (1922)

From the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the “Glasgow Herald” (January 25th, 1922) appeared an article with the above title, reporting a speech by the Lord Advocate of Scotland addressed to the Reading Circle of Palmerston Place United Free Church, Edinburgh. The title is one which can be found heading many of the speeches and writings of members of the master class and their satellites.
In his speech the Lord Advocate states :— 
   “To-day, millions of unemployed had the right to ask by what road had they reached the present pass.”
To whom does the Lord Advocate refer the unemployed millions for answer to this question? He does not say. The best individual the worker can put that question to is himself, but somewhat in the following manner: Why are there two opposing classes in present-day society, working class and master class, whose interests clash very bitterly?

Suppose a worker asks the question that the Lord Advocate states he has a right to do, and the questioner goes to a capitalist or his agent, he will be given quite a number of alleged reasons. The main reason that is put forward by the masters at the moment is that the War is the cause of the trouble, and that to put matters right capital and labour must come together to work with a spirit of goodwill, and that all the suspicion and distrust that exists between them must be dropped. This point of view was put forward by Mr. Vernon Hartshorn in the House of Commons on April 5th, 1921.
  “I want to say that in my opinion the first essential to that end is for the Government to act in relation to this problem in such a manner as to eradicate from the minds of the miners what has become a deep-rooted conviction, namely, that the Government are in league with the owners to thwart the ambitions and the aspirations of the miners, and to side with the employers; rightly or wrongly, that conviction is deep-rooted in the minds of the miners.” (Par., Debates No. 32, Vol. 140.)
In these few words it is not difficult for one to read what is evidently intended— that the existing conflict which is being perpetually waged must be smothered by some means. This particular working- class misleader was not prepared to openly attack the masters, who were supported by the Government, as witness the following : —
  “We think the time has now come when a proper relationship should be re-established between the owners and the workmen.”
A quotation from another misleader will be informing in this connection. The following is a statement by Mr. Brace in the House of Commons on October 19th, 1920:—
   “It would not be helpful to the welfare of the State to have a fight to the finish; neither would it be so for the Federation, or for the Government. I say quite frankly that if the State has made up its mind, its resources are sufficient to defeat the Miners' Federation. Suppose you drive the Miners' Federation back to a defeated people, a disgruntled, soured and bitter people, what then becomes of the. output? It is output you want. Unless we get a greater output the supremacy of this nation, as a first-class commercial and industrial power, must disappear. Therefore, let us get into an atmosphere of not desiring either to defeat the Government or to humble a great organisation like the Miners' Federation. . . . Therefore we make affirmation, that it is our belief that a larger output is essential to the well-being of the country; we also declare that the output can be maintained by mutual goodwill between owners and workmen. . . . We would agree to the setting up of National and Districts Committees in order to obtain increased output. What does that mean? It means that the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, as an organisation, would agree td make it their hourly, daily, and weekly business by way of co-operation to produce coal.” (Par., Debates No. 120, Vol. 133.)
It is evident that, should a member of the working class approach one of these agents of capitalism, he would not receive a clear explanation of the cause of, and remedy for, the industrial troubles. These people are clearly concerned with enjoining the worker to produce more, and, according to' Mr. Brace, the miners must work with the mineowners with this particular object in view.

It is only from the Socialist that a correct explanation of the cause of the evils of Capitalism can be obtained. If the reader will turn to the Declaration of Principles printed on the back page of this paper the cause of, and remedy for, working-class poverty, and misery will be found briefly set forth.

If workers will give the matter a little examination, they will realise that they, as a class, are quite propertyless; that those who own the mines, mills, and so forth do not work in them; that all the wealth produced is the result of the application, by the working class, of their energies to the nature-given material.

Now, Fellow-Worker, it is your class who performs the task of wealth production in modern society. When that is done, do you and your mates own the wealth which you collectively have produced? Ot course not; but why not ? Because the capitalists, owning the means of production, are enabled to take from you the wealth you produce. You have no other way of gaining access to the means of life except by working for the capitalist.

It must be borne in mind that the masters do not give the workers permission to work out of love or fellow-feeling. Workers are engaged in the production of food, clothing, and shelter, not because the community require these things, but in order that the owners of these things shall obtain a profit. Profit is what the masters want, and it does not matter to them how sorely people may be in need, there will be no production unless there is profit to be obtained.

Consequently the future of industry under Capitalism will mean increased profit to the capitalist and increased toil and misery to the workers.
W. E. B.

£1000 Fund. (1922)

Party News from the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: Socialism, “Matter” and Ghosts. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Editors, Socialist Standard.

Dear Sirs,

I regret that Mr. Sala should be under the impression that I think he is an uninformed person. I am quite sure that, where Socialism is concerned, he is not so.

I did think the articles to which I referred in my letter in the “S.S.” of February unnecessary, because the ordinary working man is not distracted from pondering on his economic condition by philosophy or psychical research, nor do these subjects “bluff” him. To him, they are but faint and far off voices. It would be more to the purpose to attack football, racing, cinemas and beer.

However, if you are going to give us, occasionally, articles on the subjects in question, for heaven’s sake give us something better than piffle. I agree with Mr. Sala that these matters should not be outside our interests.

In the December “S.S.” Mr. Sala seemed very cocksure about “matter.” My simple questions have dissipated his dogmatism. He now recognises that “matter” per se is unthinkable. (“S.S.,” February.) I agree. It is merely “a point of view.” As Bergson says, “A frozen snapshot of mobility.”

I am disappointed that Mr. Sala fights shy of my second question. The fact is, we can think of force alone as the cause of our sensations. Dead, inactive “matter” or “substance,” if there were such, we could never, by any possibility, know; since, by the definition, it could never act upon us, and produce sensation. That which acts, of course, is force. We are compelled to think that sensation is evoked by efficient power, which is not still and inert, but is forceful, active and alive. Apart from sensation, thus produced, we have no knowledge of the universe whatsoever.

Berkeley calls this power which effects sensation in us, Spirit; Schopenhauer calls it Will; Spencer calls it Force. But it is manifest to a student of philosophy that these thinkers are referring to one and the same reality—a reality totally different from the naive, self-contradictory, common-sense illusion of “material substance.”

The author of “Ghosts ” is, clearly, uninformed on the subject upon which he has the temerity to write. To refer to the findings of men trained in the scientific method as “senility” does not reveal the honest scrutiniser of facts.
Yours fraternally,
Geo. T. Foster



I will deal with Mr. Foster’s last point first.

Although, personally, I fully endorse all that the author of “Ghosts” says in his article, yet, as its authorship does not concern me, I can only refer to Mr. Foster’s criticism of what appears over my own name.

There are quite a lot of people who think our articles are unnecessary ; in fact would like to see them suppressed altogether, for the simple reason that we tell the truth in too straight a fashion. We prostitute neither our pens nor our intellects. What we have to say is based on a scientific foundation, and is solely in the interests of the working class. It may be true—I hope it is—that “the ordinary (!) working man is not distracted from his economic condition by philosophy or psychical research.” He would be distracted indeed were he to meddle with this stuff. Mr. Foster’s observation that these subjects do not bluff the workers is superfluous. I never said they did. The notion is absurd. But that individuals in the name of Science do bluff the workers needs no proving : it is apparent to any intelligent observer. An instance was the one quoted in the December issue, where the existence of a “Creator” and a “Soul” were implied in a publication claiming to embody the latest scientific discoveries and which was intended for the consumption of the general public.

As sensation is only produced by material objects, and as the terms “God” and “Soul” appear, when tested by the light of science, to be outside the domain of human knowledge, my intellect cannot apprehend them. In my humble way I believed that before we could even think there must be some material to be thought of, that thought itself was a mode of material activity. Mr. Foster calls it being “cocksure” and wants something better than this “piffle.” He states that his “simple” questions have dissipated my dogmatism. If so, he has succeeded in dissipating something which wasn’t there. My criticism was essentially scientific. Science and dogma are incompatible; there is no dogmatic science.

I certainly said that matter per se was unthinkable. So it is. One cannot conceive of matter apart from energy. But Mr. Foster’s statement that I “now” recognise this implies that I didn’t know it before. He assumes too much.

It is reported that, according to experiments made by Sir Wm. Ramsay, energy has been transformed into matter, but it is quite positive that without the assistance of material agencies the experiment could not have been made under artificial conditions. Present-day Physics require us to dismiss “matter” in its ultimate sense as an obsolete hypothesis, and to replace it by “energy” with its capacity for entering into various combinations.

But what does it mean? Simply this: that what we call “matter” is built up of electrical charges containing vast stores of energy, so that it might appear that matter and energy are really one and the same thing. Reduced to terms of electricity, the question remains—What is electricity? So far science does not profess to know. But Mr. Foster does—it is “merely a point of view” !

Having disposed of matter in this way, he goes on to say that force alone is the cause of our sensations. If by “force” Mr. Foster meant “energy,” then I would be with him in his conception of how sensation is evoked. But he appears to rule both matter and energy out altogether. That is why I “fought shy” of his question. As it stood it was simply unintelligible to me. As I pointed out in my last letter, “force” has no physical existence. Apart from that, I may be permitted to point out that we of the Socialist Party fight shy of no proposition or criticism, whether coming from Mr. Foster or anyone else ; the only condition being that it is in an understandable form.

For ordinary convenience scientists are obliged to use the term “matter” whatever its “ultimate” nature may be. But Mr. Foster believes there is a “reality” somewhere beyond this : something totally different to the “common-sense illusion of material substance.” If there is something else which is neither matter nor energy and yet is reality, it wants proving. I am afraid that if I, in my present capacity as Extension Lecturer in Geology, were to tell my audiences that the “matter” I was attempting to describe had no real existence, but that what did exist was some indefinable something totally unrelated to the material substance they only imagined they were conscious of, I should be chased off the premises.

To sum the matter up, what do Mr. Foster’s statements amount to?

Matter has no existence—to say it exists is to be dogmatic. The paper upon which I am writing does not exist—it is purely imagination. What does exist is “reality” —but a different reality to the reality which we call matter and which is made apparent to our senses by energy. Berkeley called it Spirit; Schopenhauer called it Will; Spencer called it Force; Mr. Foster calls it Reality; some call it God. But it really doesn’t matter: they all mean the same thing !

To me it appears to be a difference in the methods employed in the interpretation of phenomena—on the one hand the scientific, on the other the one employed by students of bourgeois philosophy.

Under capitalism, the majority of men do not derive their opinions from scientific truth ; scientific truth itself is often distorted to accommodate men’s opinions. This truckling to ignorance, to which scientists almost without exception lend themselves, reveals their dependence on the vagaries of the ruling class, who are their paymasters, and who, in the last resort, determine what views shall, or shall not, be propagated. At the present time a Bill is before the legislature of Kentucky forbidding the use in schools of text books in which the doctrine of evolution is taught. Under a scientific system of society this would not happen. It is precisely that for which we are working. The present system is completely reactionary so far as the welfare of the majority of mankind is concerned.

They are steeped in ignorance, we know, and it is intended by those in power to keep them there. So far only the Socialists have undertaken the task of enlightening them on their true position in the universe. Those “faint and far off voices” shall be brought nearer, so that the much maligned proletariat can examine their meaning. What there is in science they will, before very long, appropriate, providing it coincides with their interests. There is sufficient already to guide the Socialist on his course of redeeming mankind from the misery and slavery in which it has toiled and existed to this day. It is to a system of freedom based upon the scientific principles enunciated by Karl Marx that we look forward, rather than the “never-ending, eternal weight of glory” of Sir Oliver Lodge. This will be accomplished, not on the lines suggested by Mr. Foster of attacking the evils of a system, but the more scientific method of removing the causes.

I have treated this at some length in order to show Mr. Foster, and others like him, that, as scientific Socialists, we have no use for their metaphysical nonsense, and that, although members of the “ordinary” working class, we are not the “duds” they think we are.
Yours fraternally,
Tom Sala

Capitalism and Crime. (1922)

From the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

If we as workers make a critical analysis of capitalist society, we find that it does not appear to contain many redeeming features. The class in whose interests the present system of society is maintained, care little who is crushed and become its victims, so long as the development assures to them profits and the security of their position as a ruling class.

The fundamental feature of modern society is the private property basis, production and distribution of wealth for profit, and the maintenance of that position by the resort to force.

We have stated that society is based upon private property, i.e., the private ownership of land, raw materials, machinery of production and distribution, by and in the interests of a relatively few people.

The overwhelming majority of the people of each capitalist country are divorced from their means of livelihood, or, in other words, cannot claim a right to the food, clothing, and shelter necessary to sustain life. Although food and clothing exist in abundance, capitalist papers record almost daily either people dying of starvation or millions just obtaining a bare subsistence.

When wealth has been produced in such huge quantities that it chokes the markets of the world, we have the vast majority of the workers suffering most acutely at the very time they should be enjoying life to the full. Even if workers are successful in obtaining employment, the wages they receive in exchange for the expenditure of their labour power is only just sufficient on an average to sustain life and generate enough energy to go on working if profitable to their masters.

The housing accommodation is of the worst, millions existing in wretched hovels or in one or two-roomed tenements. The food they obtain for themselves and dependants is of the poorest, often adulterated to such an extent that it is almost unfit for human consumption. The clothes and boots are usually of the shabbiest and shoddiest kind.

In fact, many thousands of workers go through life, even when in employment, and are never “lucky” enough to put a new suit upon their backs or new boots upon their feet.

But if that can be said with truth of those employed, what must be the experience of those more frequently unemployed than employed?

Obviously, their conditions must on the whole consist of a far more bitter struggle for existence. If those able-bodied men and women are ready, willing, and prepared to expend their quota of energy in producing the world’s wealth for the sustenance and comfort of the human race, and the capitalist class refuse them the opportunity of so doing, then can it be wondered at that many of them are driven to crime?

These victims of capitalist society resort to countless ways to obtain the wherewithal to live.

The vast majority seemingly resign themselves to their wretched existence, easily fall a victim of apathy and despair, usually awaiting death as the only way out of their troubles and anxieties.

But an ever-increasing number, many of whom are exceptionally intelligent men and women, prefer to commit offences against the laws of private property and so to obtain a modicum of comfort or even to live in luxury on a lavish scale. Almost daily we see reported in the Press accounts of daring coups and great robberies running into thousands of pounds of wealth ; likewise countless numbers of petty thefts from working-class houses, shops, docks, and railway sidings, etc. It requires but little intelligence for any discerning and enquiring person to see that crimes are the outcome of the ever-worsening struggle for existence.

The latter statement is amply borne out by the following quotations from the “Evening News” (14/2/22).
   “Falling prices, the prolonged stagnation of trade, and the money tightness are responsible for the ever-increasing number of fake burglaries and fake fires in London : and the insurance companies are having a by no means happy time.”
Writing of the assessors engaged by insurance companies, they say :—
  “Theirs is a different profession now-a-days, for assessors are finding that each year thieves are becoming more ingenious and more scientific. The old type of cracksman is fast disappearing, and the new type is a subtle-minded Raffles rather than primitive Bill Sikes. Among them are ex-officers and educated men who have given up the search for work in favour of an exciting and remunerative life, whereby three or four jobs a year provide them with an excellent income. They dress well, frequent the best hotels and restaurants, often mix in good society, and remain unsuspected by the police unless their crimes are exceptional enough to attract investigations by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.” (Italics mine.)
The capitalist system produces the “criminals” as it produces other social features. If men cannot obtain employment and therefore obtain a means of subsistence, what alternative is there for them but to beg, borrow, or steal, or in the last resort commit suicide? Even in the latter instance if the individual fails to accomplish the desired end—extinction of life—he is hauled before a defender of private property and punished.

The system produces its own “criminals” and then proceeds to punish them. There are generally more workers in the market than actually required by the employers. This fact alone is sufficient evidence that unemployment will continue. With the wonderful improvements in machinery, and scientific applications to industry, the tendency will be in the direction of rendering more and more workers superfluous; this will probably bring a further increase in “crime” against the laws of property. Every year competition in the world of finance and industry becomes more keen, crises occur more rapidly, and bankruptcies stare in the face large numbers of one-time well-established businesses. Just recently in the financial world two very large firms closed their doors, and practically the whole of the staff are cut off for the time from the means of obtaining their livelihood.

A newspaper reporter appeared at the offices of the firms to obtain information of the crash, and he reports as follows : —
  ”The staff at the City Equitable numbers about 80, and they are still at work at the office. But it was said to-day that all but 6 or 7 would have to be dismissed in a week or two.”
At the offices of the other firm only one of the staff was left, and he was alleged to have made the following statement : —
  “Many of us had entrusted our savings to the firm, and all of them have gone in the crash. It will be a hard time for us, especially the middle-aged men who have been here for so many years. There seems to be little prospect of our finding other employment.” Evening News, 17/2/22.
Here is an instance of modern society being responsible for the production of its potential “criminals.” If there is little prospect of them obtaining other employment, what can they do to obtain food, clothing, and shelter in the future for themselves and families?

But capitalism allows but little room for excuses from its victims. If they do not obtain their sustenance by legal means, then they must pay the penalty. Even the most trivial offence against the law is sufficient for the watchdogs of law and order to lay their hands on the offender, as the following will serve to show : —
  "Found snaring chaffinches, an ex-service man was charged to-day at Tottenham with cruelty and was fined £5. “I was out of work,” he said, “and was chancing my arm.” (Italics mine.) Evening News, 16/2/22.
On numerous occasions cases have been reported in the Press of proceedings in the police courts against individuals charged with manslaughter, robbery with violence, and murder. It is seldom urged on behalf of the police by counsel conducting the case that the prisoner has destroyed human life or inflicted grievous injury merely as a lust for blood or wanton destruction. As a rule, lurking in the background are the ugly facts of poverty or starvation.

The writer commenced this article by saying that capitalism could hardly claim one solitary redeeming feature. And so he will conclude it. Rack your brain as you will, almost every social evil and disease you can name arises out of and through the maintenance of a system of society wherein the wealth producers, i.e., the working class, are robbed of the wealth they alone produce.

With Socialism established, it will be in the interests of ALL to see that every able-bodied man and woman contributed their quota of energy necessary for production of wealth, and so lighten the task and make possible a happy, contented race of people.
 'The Settler'

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Neither coal or dole (1993)

From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The underground mining of coal is an arduous and potentially dangerous occupation, even using modern mechanised methods . . . the mining of thermal-grade coal could, in theory, be eliminated"—scientific report quoted in Independent, 30 November.
Imagine today’s headlines in a future, sane society. “Savage Government Axe Kills 30,000 Mining Jobs” screams the headline. How would someone from a future society, one based on common ownership of all the worlds resources, view such a message?

The first difficulty would surely concern trying to decipher the language. Such words as "Government" and "Jobs” would be as anachronistic as Middle English is to us today. Once the problem of defining the meaning of these words had been overcome the more difficult task of interpreting the meaning of the message and the various reactions to it would have to be tackled.

In a sane world the news that 30,000 people would be liberated from a tiresome and dangerous task would surely occasion great rejoicing. Imagine, then, people from a sane society trying to make sense of the storm the government announcement of the loss of 30,000 mining jobs has caused. They would have great difficulty in doing so if they were not well versed in the peculiar absurdities of the present system we live under.

Firstly, it would come as a great surprise to them that it was the miners themselves who objected most to the news that they were no longer needed to go down the mines. If our friend from the future assumed from this that miners were some kind of masochistic martyrs to an obscure cause she could be forgiven.

"The miners are upset because they will not have to go down the mines any more” does not really tell the truth though, even though our friend from the future might be led to believe this by reading and listening to some of the media coverage of this issue. The miners are upset because they are being denied use of their one marketable attribute in a world that is one big marketplace. They are being denied the chance to sell their labour power because their employer has decided that it is no longer required.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
Our friend from another place will need some help in understanding the forces at work here. In the sane society where she comes from work is only undertaken if society as a whole decides it is necessary or if it gives pleasure. There are no economic factors to distort the issues against humanity. If energy is required to sustain a desirable way of life then ways are sought to obtain that energy in a way that is most convenient to most people. If people decided that coal-mining was an option they would like to use then the work could be done on a rota basis by as few people as possible for as little time as is needed.

However, coal-mining would be unlikely to be an option humans would need to undertake since either machines could be developed to do the work or other forms of energy, such as wind and sun power could be developed. In a sane, moneyless world the development of such energy sources would not be hindered by the financial interests of a small powerful minority or by the workers who depend on obsolete industries. In such a world we would not see people who had hitherto had to do unpleasant tasks for the benefit of all complaining that their burden had been lifted.

Having been completely baffled why the liberation of people from a dangerous and needless toil should be such a contentious issue our friend from a sane world would then have to try to cope with the even more baffling arguments each side put forward in defence of either keeping the mines open or closing them down. Here our friend would once again have to master terms completely alien to her own environment.

Arthur Scargill argues that mining is more economical (for “economical" read profitable to the ruling class) than other forms of obtaining fuel and that therefore the miners should be allowed to continue their thankless task. Our friend, on discovering the meaning of this strange word "profit”, would be surprised to learn that Scargill was putting the case for the miners.

Divorced by time and experience from the propaganda of the profit era, she would see profit for what it plainly is— the robbery of the working class by their employers. Scargill's assertion that it is more profitable to exploit miners than other types of workers in similar industries would seem like another reason why the miners should wish to discontinue their occupation.

The employer's stance would be equally baffling. To blame lack of productivity for the closure of the mines in a time of recession would take a jump in logic that our friend would find well nigh impossible. Outside of the warped logic prevalent under capitalism historians would have a clear understanding of what caused periods of recession.

Our friend would know that a recession, purely a historical phenomenon not affecting her own era of a sane social system where goods are produced only to satisfy human needs, was caused when workers had produced too much for their masters to sell. Recessions, and all the hardships these entailed for the working class, only occurred when the warehouses of the world were overflowing with the goods that the people who had produced them were in need of. Our friend would probably become dizzy if she tried to follow the verbal gymnastics of those who apologized or endorsed the system that made these recessions inevitable.

I doubt if she would be able to come to grips at all with the contradictions of capitalism. Anyone brought up in a sane world, where all the technological advances that had been made under the adverse conditions of enforced scarcity had been utilized for the benefit of the whole of mankind, would never be able to understand why it took so long for the majority of people to do away with a system that denied them so much when an abundance of all that was necessary for a pleasant and fulfilled life was there for the taking.

The mining fiasco, along with such things as the war in the former Yugoslavia and the starving millions in various countries around the world, are but the latest details in the rich tapestry of bitter lessons the dispossessed majority have had to endure in their acceptance of the capitalist system. Only when the majority of people come to fully appreciate the wonderful future that it is within their power to create will "our friend” cease to be a figment of our imagination and become the people around us. Until then the tragedies brought to us every day on the news will remain.