Saturday, March 27, 2021

Notes by the Way: Democracy in Russia. (1935)

The Notes by the Way Column from the March 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy in Russia.

After decrying Parliament and democracy and practising dictatorship and suppression for 17 years, the Russian Government has had to respond to the pressure of discontent and economic forces and begin to relax the system which it claimed was the best of all possible systems and the only method of achieving Socialism. The All-Union Congress of Soviets on February 6th decided unanimously in favour of constitutional reforms proposed by the Government (see Manchester Guardian and News-Chronicle, February 7th, Daily Herald, February 2nd, Daily Worker, February 4). Among the changes are to be the introduction of the secret ballot in place of voting by show of hands; the abolition of the system of indirect elections, under which the elector, instead of voting for the central assembly direct, voted for candidates to a local soviet, which voted for a regional soviet, and so on up to the centre; equal voting rights for town workers and peasants—in the past the town workers had more representatives than were their due according to their numbers. There is no indication however that political parties will be allowed in opposition to the Government Party.

What is really entertaining is the statement made by M. Molotov that Russia is going to take over “all that was best in the Parliamentary system” (Manchester Guardian, February 7th). It is only a few short years since the Communists were 100 per cent. sure that the parliamentary system was rotten to the core, a mere capitalist device, useless to the Socialist movement.

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Canadian Premier Embarrasses the Reformers.

Nobody can complain that capitalist politics are dull these days. While the Bolsheviks are going over to a parliamentary system, Mr. Bennett, Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, is raiding the programmes of his Liberal, Labour, and Communist opponents. All the observers agreed that Mr. Bennett would be hopelessly defeated at the next election and that the Liberals would come into power, with the Labourites (the Canadian Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) a likely second. Then suddenly Mr. Bennett proclaimed a “New Deal,” stole all the most popular points out of his opponents’ programmes, made fierce attacks on the evils of capitalism, and in short upset all calculations.

Here in a nutshell is the answer to the Labour-Communist argument that the way to establish Socialism is to rally the workers on a reformist programme. The capitalists can always, if they wish, adopt the programme or some of it, and round up the voters.

Now the Canadian Labourites are uneasily wondering what their next move shall be.

In the meantime Mr. Bennett is not doing things by halves. Perceiving that among the electors there is a lot of interest and. admiration for certain foreign “left wing" politicians, Mr. Bennett cleverly raids that also by expressing his admiration for the politicians in question. At a dinner at Montreal on January 28th he spoke as follows (Times, January 29th, 1935): —
  he thought the capitalist system should continue, but if the profit motive which had been its mainspring for centuries was left uncontrolled, conditions would arise disheartening to mankind and ruinous to civilisation.
   He agreed that he had held different views in the past, and gave an account of the influences which had helped to convert him. Conversations with M. Litvinoff at Geneva had played their part, he said, and he expressed admiration for Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. John Strachey. describing Mr. Strachey as “one of the profound thinkers of our times.”
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Tory “Socialism."

Mr. MacDonald’s message to University Conservatives, telling them that their party has always been more or less Socialistic, was obviously designed to make easier his personal position as “Socialist" Prime Minister of a Conservative Government. The effect on old-fashioned Conservatives must have been startling. At once The Times gave prominence to a letter from Dr. Hearnshaw protesting that State capitalism, as exemplified in the Post Office and Telegraphs, is not Socialism, but is “for entirely non-Socialistic ends" (Times, January 12th), thus rescuing Disraeli, Shaftesbury, and other Conservative leaders from the doubtful honour MacDonald wished to give them. In order to support his plea for clarity Dr. Hearnshaw quoted from the Socialist Standard, but after seeking accuracy in one direction immediately went on to inaccuracy in another. It suited him on this occasion to oppose a certain misuse of the word Socialism, but he was not concerned with accurately representing the methods advocated by Socialists. So he proceeded to state that Socialists employ the methods of “general strikes or Bolshevist revolutions" to achieve Socialism.

The principal offenders in the misuse of the word Socialism—apart from the Labour Party and I.L.P., who invariably offend—are the newspapers. Almost all of them do it habitually. Even The Times, which is more accurate than some of its cheaper brethren, often writes of the Labourites as Socialists. Curiously enough, side-by-side with Dr. Hearnshaw’s letter was one from the British Empire Union calling the London Labour Party the “London Socialist Party."

Some newspapers do it out of simple ignorance and an inveterate inability to be accurate. Others, like Lord Beaverbrook’s papers, offend wilfully. Lord Beaverbrook employs tame “left-wingers" as Labour correspondents. Let him ask them whether they think that State action is Socialism, and the Labour Party a Socialist party.

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Cardinal Bourne and The Labour Party.

From a Times editorial on the death of Cardinal Bourne, head of the Catholic Church in this country: —
   When, more than thirty years ago, Dr. Bourne, the youngest of the English Roman Catholic Bishops, was chosen for the metropolitan see of Westminster, the appointment was received by his own communion with surprise and with grave doubts. He seemed to be a contrast to his great predecessors. He had not Wiseman’s profound learning, nor did he appear to possess Manning’s statesmanship and social enthusiasm or Vaughan’s commanding personality. But the Vatican knew their man, and their choice has long been abundantly justified. . . .
   Everyone will recall the profound effect produced by the broadcast of the Cardinal’s brief and pithy condemnation of the General Strike of seven years ago. But he persistently refused to declare membership of the constitutional, non-revolutionary Labour Party inconsistent with fidelity to the Church.
(Times, January 2nd, 1935.) 
But it must not be imagined that the Cardinal was in any way unsympathetic towards the efforts of the humbler classes to ameliorate their lot through legitimate political action. Some of the stiffer Tories among his flock frequently demanded that he should place the Labour Party out of bounds; but his Eminence always replied that Catholics might work and vote for any of the three great political parties so long as those parties remained within the four corners of Christian ethics and that none of them drifted into Socialism of the Marxian school.
(Times, January 1st, 1935.)

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The Absurdity of Mixing Socialism and Reforms.

The Times asks the Labour Party to explain why it has a long list of reforms, if it really believes that its so-called “Socialist" programme will obviate the need for any of these ameliorative measures. It is a mystery to which no Labourite can ever give a satisfactory answer.
  Why the Labour Party should keep in its programme a long list of proposals for ameliorative legislation, to improve industrial and social circumstances, when it claims to possess one grand remedy for all the economic ills of the community, and to lack only the power to apply it in every department of national life, has been a little puzzling; but it has the practical effect of giving the party a choice of policies to set before the country when a General Election comes.
(Times, January 17th, 1935.) 

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Communists again Support the Labour Party.

The history of the relations between the Communist Party and the Labour Party (summarised in the Socialist Standard, October, 1931) has taken a further twist which lands the Communists back where they were 12 years ago. The position at the 1931 General Election was that the Communists nowhere supported Labour candidates, at least if they did it was apparently not on official instructions. Now the Conference of the Communist Party will again require Communists to work for the return of Labour Party candidates, where there is no Communist in the held. This is merely an extension to parliamentary elections of the policy already applied in the recent municipal elections. At South Kilburn and Willesden in October, 1934, two Communist candidates were put forward for the Council elections, and then officially withdrawn, according to a statement of the Communist election agent, “in the interests of unity with the rank and hie electors against the Municipal Reform candidates. We shall call on all our supporters to vote for the Labour candidates in these two wards." (Willesden Chronicle, October 26th, 1934.)

At St. Pancras, Southwark, Hendon, and apparently all over London and the Provinces there were last-minute withdrawals of some of the Communist candidates in order to help the Labour Party.

There were, however, the usual entertaining developments of Labour candidates publicly repudiating the Communists who were supporting them; for the reason, of course, that Communist support is in many neighbourhoods a sure way of losing votes. At Finsbury the Labour candidate, Mr. F. T. Lynch, issued a repudiation of this kind, and was hard-hearted enough to describe the Communist offer of support as a wrecking manoeuvre designed to let the Tory in.

Of course, the Communists hoped to get Labour support for their own candidates, but their two-faced policy availed them nothing, for, according to the Times (November 3rd, 1934), all of their 62 candidates in London and all of their 45 candidates in the Provinces were defeated.

It need hardly be said that the Communists everywhere followed their usual practice of soliciting votes on a programme of reforms. In North-West London the Communist Party issued a Manifesto, cadging for votes on the following reformist pleas:—“Extra winter relief," “free boots for the unemployed," “new school buildings," “immediate 25 per cent. reduction in rent of all Council houses," “more playing fields," “work at trade union rates to provide houses at rents workers can afford to pay,” etc., etc.

In the Gorbals District of Glasgow the Communist, Mr. McShane, came out strongly for the very revolutionary demand: “Vote and fight for the de-rating of working class houses."

He also demanded, “immediately,” a two-year programme of 20,000 houses for the workers, the “immediate ending of every slum in Glasgow,” and the “75 per cent. rate exemption for all workers’ houses."

(Why not 100 per cent.?)

Other of his demands were “Soviet Power in Glasgow,” more workers and less work on the trams and buses, and no more evictions.

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Mr. Arthur Woodburn and Capitalism.

Among the interesting features of the elections was a letter to the Glasgow Herald (October 26th, 1934), from a candidate, Mr. Arthur Woodburn (who masquerades as a Marxist), claiming that his party’s (i.e., the Labour Party’s) schemes for nationalising the banks—
   are purely of a business character and can be justified on grounds of efficiency and public policy.
He explained that nationalisation of the banks “does not in any way interfere with the normal functions of assisting industry, except in so far its their services might be supplied cheaper by an elimination of overlapping and waste.”

Here speaks the ambitious Labour leader, assuring his future masters that they need fear no attack on capitalism.

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The Robin Hood Bank Clerk.

Recently a case came before the Courts of a bank clerk who had transferred money belonging to wealthy clients or to the bank itself to the accounts of poorer depositors. The sum ran into a few thousand pounds, and an unsympathetic Court sentenced him to 12 months' imprisonment. Seeing that the Douglasites believe the banks can create tens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of pounds at no cost except the actual writing of figures in a book, why did they not point out to the learned judge and the hard-hearted bank that the supposed theft of thousands of pounds was quite illusory, and that at most the bank had only been robbed of the time taken to make the entries, and the cost of pen, paper and ink -say 2s. 6d. in all?

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A Political Curiosity.

A letter from Mr. J. Middleton Murry, a leader of the “Independent Socialist Party,” to the Times Literary Supplement (December 6th, 1934):—
  Sir,  I have no objection to being called a Communist, provided it is in a reasonable context, with proper qualifications. Mr. Wyndham Lewis’s letter affords neither of these safeguards. Therefore, I wish to be allowed to say that within his frame of reference I am not a Communist, but simply a democratic Socialist. When the term Communist is applied to me and used (as Mr. Lewis appears to use it) to suggest that I am an adherent of some Russian Communist orthodoxy, promulgated from Moscow, I must claim my correct “political” label. I was quite accurately described both by your reviewer and Mr. Heppenstall as the adherent of a Marxism which owes “as much to Blake and to Jesus, to Shakespeare and to Keats  . . . as to Marx.” I see no reason why this description should be simplified and I distorted to suit polemical needs.
Yours very faithfully, 
J. Middleton Murry.

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Labour Party's Lack of Socialist Convictions admitted by Mr. Herbert Morrison.

From a speech at the Paris Sorbonne (Daily Herald, December 1st, 1934): —
   The British Labour Party is a Socialist Party. It believes that the existing economic muddle and confusion can only be effectively remedied by the public ownership, direction and planning of the nation’s economic resources, and it desires to see a similar policy applied all over the world.
   Definite Socialist convictions are not growing among the British electors as fast as their attachment to the more general and immediate ideas of the Labour Party.
   Labour is particularly popular for its support of peace policies.
(It will be noticed that Mr. Morrison misuses the word Socialism by applying it to the schemes for rationalised and planned capitalism with which he and his party are so much concerned.) When, last year, the Labour Party won a by-election at Swindon they did so in just the manner suggested in Mr. Morrison’s speech, i.e., by soliciting the votes of non-Socialists who happened to be attracted by reforms and immediate issues. Read Dr. Addison’s explanation of his victory, which he attributed to several things, but not to Socialist convictions among the electors: —
  The new member as a Liberal was Minister of Munitions and Minister for Health, and after joining  the Labour Party in 1923 was Minister of Agriculture in the last Labour Government.
  After the result Dr. Addison said: —
     “I attribute my victory very largely to the line I have taken on the issue of peace and the League of Nations. I believe that has appealed to many people, especially in these troublous times. Another point which has told strongly in my favour is the means test, for in the borough there are many cases of hardship. Generally the result shows that the people are tired of the National Government.” 
—(Manchester Guardian, October 27th, 1934.) 
Edgar Hardcastle

Sting in the Tail: Unity is Strength (1993)

The Sting in the Tail column from the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unity is Strength

We have all seen the ad. on TV in which demure Asian air hostesses pour champagne for businessmen on a Cathay Pacific flight.

This idyllic scene has been interrupted because those very same hostesses are on strike. Cathay, like every other airline in a dog-eat-dog industry, want to cut costs and have demanded that cabin attendants also perform more menial tasks.

Although the union made "significant concessions” this wasn't enough for Cathay's macho management which said it would discipline strike activists.
Now other trade unions in Hong Kong are backing the strike because: 
   "If Cathay Pacific is allowed to go ahead and dismiss people who are taking strike action, it could set a dangerous precedent for any other trade union", said Lee Chukyan, leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions.
The Guardian 26 January 
It's good to see trade unionists looking beyond their own narrow, sectional interest by giving mutual aid, but they must eventually realise that their real interest lies in helping to establish socialism rather than forever fighting their employers.

Perfect Timing

Another example of sound trade union action has been seen on Clydeside where the workers in Yarrow's shipyard have come out on strike over pay and against their union's wishes.

But what is sound about striking during a recession? The fact is that during the boom years orders for the naval ships which Yarrow's builds were scarce, so instead of making gains the workers had little option but to let management walk all over them.

Now, despite the recession, the yard's order book is full until 1997 so the workers are taking the opportunity to get some of their own back. As the yard convener said on Scottish Television on 5 February - "It's our turn now".

All too often workers hit the street when they haven't a hope of winning, but here their timing — and their chance of success — is much, much better.

True Confessions

We haven’t looked at Tribune, "Labour's Independent Weekly”, for some time because it is so boring but the issue for 8 January was very interesting.

For example, Robin Cook confesses that Labour's membership is down to "around 250,000 and declining". This is after a national recruiting drive, so mugs are obviously harder to come by these days.

But the juiciest item was the editorial’s confession about the quality of the debate now raging in Labour's ranks over which way the party should go — 
  It is impossible to dismiss out of hand the possibility that the columnists who are crowing about Labour's intellectual bankruptcy are absolutely right.
Could any Tory rag have been more damning than that? Must make a note to read Tribune more often.

Mods and Trads

That battle between Labour’s "modernisers" and "traditionalists” is really hotting up.

Clare Short MP is a trad and has made a bitter attack on the mods. She thinks their obsession with changing Labour’s image means — 
  People no longer know what Labour stands for. Many feel they cannot trust a party that appears to have dumped everything it used to believe in, and seems not to have a way forward that is different from the mess the Tories have created.
Tribune 15 January 
Of course when Labour dumped nationalisation it lost whatever distinct policy it ever had, but what is Clare Short's "way forward"7 Only the usual left-wing ideas for improving British capitalism's performance.

She wants "an industrial strategy based on . . . Japan's success in fostering long-term investment in the economy", "cuts in defence spending to restore our industrial base", etc.

And what will the workers get out of all this? "the chance to work and train and a right to decent pensions", "real equality of opportunity” for women, and so on. Can you see stuff like this having them storming the polls to vote Labour?

Merchant of Death

With the demise of the Bolshevik dictatorship and the break up of its empire Western politicians talked glowingly about a "new world order”. We were promised such goodies as a "peace dividend".

Unfortunately capitalism doesn't work that way. The hostilities in the Gulf, "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia, conflict in Palestine. It is business as usual.

Mr Major may have talked about a "peace dividend" but he has delivered a much more welcome dividend to the share holders of British Aerospace. A staggering £4-£5 billion order for bombers for Saudi Arabia.

The outcry about arms sales to Iraq seems to have subsided and anyway as a spokesman for British capitalism "nice Mr Major” must ensure that the highest sales possible come into British coffers. Profit today and to hell with the death and destruction that may follow tomorrow. It was ever thus. Whether its "nice Mr Major” or "the iron lady" Thatcher business always comes first.

Another Leak

To the Editor,

The Daily Wail,

Sir, are you aware of the many lunatics at large today? For example, those loonies who insist there is a worldwide conspiracy to install John Major as controller of the planet.

These maniacs are everywhere. There is David Icke, none of whose fearful predictions for 1992 came true, thank God, and those South Koreans who abandoned their homes, jobs and even families because they thought the world would end last November.

And I recall the Americans who some years ago fled up a mountain to escape Armageddon or some such. Still up there I shouldn’t wonder.

All this is bad enough but now I have learned of the Socialist Party. They apparently believe that society as we know it cannot last forever; that at some future date there will be no place for rulers, employers, the military or even money and everyone will actually co-operate with one another!

You, Sir, may agree with me that, compared to this Socialist Party, all the others I have mentioned are as sane as you or I.
Tunbridge Wells

What about the miners? (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent furore over the pit closures has been notable for the number of public figures, politicians, ex-politicians, lords and landed gentry who were desolated by the prospects of unemployment with its consequent hardships and miseries involved for the miners. From the minister himself, Michael Heseltine, interviewed emoting at peak levels in front of his Adam fireplace in his stately home, to Winston Churchill clarifying the issue in typical upper-class fashion by calling for “a level playing field”, the depth of emotion shown on behalf of the miners has been truly touching, or would be if you were daft enough to believe it.

Huge amounts of energy, enthusiasm and work have been expended to gain a reversal of the decision to close the best part of what remained of British Coal. The eventual outcome is not yet clear but it looks as though some stay of execution might have been gained, and possibly some jobs saved. Are these gains of real significance? Has a “victory" been achieved? If the fight is content with that, if it stays at the level of reversing, or attempting to reverse a political decision, the answer must be a decisive “no”.

This is not to disparage the miners or their struggle. In fact one of the most heartening aspects of the whole sordid business has been to see the regeneration of enthusiasm in the miners' movement, but to the extent that some jobs at the pits have been saved at the expense of others in the nuclear or gas power stations we cannot speak of a working class gain. This can only be applied to a fight which benefits the entire working class.

Limited aims
For those miners who blacklegged in 1984-5 the depths of ruling-class perfidy must now be clear, had they thought that crossing the picket-line would give them any guarantees for the future. The message is evident. There is no such thing as an honourable bargain with the ruling class. They can never be trusted.

The other incontrovertibly clear message is: the power of the working class when we wish to use it. Those workers who are doubtful of the possibility of socialism prevailing against the power of the state must surely take heart. The truth is the capitalists have no power other than what is voluntarily given to them by the workers. We don't have to fight them, we only have to stop supporting them. The capitalists can only have power when they are resisting a minority opposition and even then are totally dependent on the support given them by the remaining majority of workers.

In other words, it is only by getting worker to fight worker that the ruling class maintains control and any close study of ruling-class tactics in their unceasing endeavours to maintain their dominant position will show this stratagem to be a consistent favourite. It therefore follows that the only impediment to bringing socialism into being is the lack of development of socialist understanding.

Unfortunately there is no evidence in the coalmine dispute to show that either the miners or their supporters are looking for anything other than very limited objectives within the capitalist system. They are not even looking for changes to the system nor demanding the restitution of past coal rundowns. They merely asked for a “review".

Because the workers are committed to capitalism they cannot press their demands to the point of threatening the stability of the system. If they push too far and go over the edge they have nothing to replace it with. The capitalists know this too and are ready to use this weapon when it suits them: “If you go on strike we'll lose that valuable overseas order which gives you jobs, and then we shall have to shut the factory down".

This situation is happening on a major or minor scale, continually. It is the reason why the heroic struggles of the oppressed must end in comparative failure and it is why trade union struggles of any kind can at best only ever achieve a limited success.

Tyranny of economics
What is possible or not possible in the context of capitalism is dictated by capitalist economics, and not only capitalist economics but the immediate pressing economic demands of the moment. When Heseltine, being interviewed by Dimbleby was asked about the prospects of North Sea gas in fifty years’ time he positively laughed at the prospect of making any decision for fifty years’ hence. The strength and the weakness of the capitalist system is that it is dynamically balanced to respond to immediate pressures and survive, but it cannot do more than that.

Capitalism is a system geared to the demands of the market. It has devised endless techniques to cope with the varying demands of the market, but it can never break away from them to plan a long-term strategy. It can react but can never act. Therefore the only argument which really has any validity for the capitalist politician is the economic argument. Not all capitalists or even all politicians realize this. After all, they do like to have some human illusions and for them to admit that they support a system which is utterly sterile of all human values, and which in the long run is a living nightmare, is a bit bleak for them to face.

But the Heseltines and Majors and Thatchers and Kinnocks and Smiths probably do realize it and usually make a fairly good job of concealing it from their own followers, knowing that if they allow the truth to present itself without the fancy wrapping there may be some opposition. This time Heseltine got so carried away with the beauty of his own arguments that he forgot to bring out the wrapping paper. Major must have been absolutely furious with him.

What Socialists Want (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our aim is to see established a democratic world community without frontiers—in which the natural and industrial resources of the world have become the common heritage of all humanity, and are used in co-operation to produce wealth directly for needs, with free access for all to the available goods and services, according to their own self-defined needs.

A moneyless, stateless world commonwealth is the only framework within which current social problems can be permanently solved, since it is only on this basis that production can be oriented towards satisfying human needs. This social revolution can only be carried out when once a majority of wage and salary workers throughout the world want it, fully understand its implications, and organise democratically and politically to achieve it.

Little John has a major idea (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The good news is that John Major (a British Prime Minister) has at long last come up with a big idea. The bad news is that it is an extremely stupid idea.

In the course of capitalist history the attempt to explain why some people behave anti-socially has given rise to more than a few barmy theories. For the early Christians, undisturbed by any scientific thoughts, the explanation was simple: God made all men (for which include women) sinners. We were born to be anti-social. Only those who repented by conforming to the Church and the property morality it propounded would be saved. Hundreds of years ago the churches ran the prisons; the Inquisition was not characterised by the New Testament injunction to “turn the other cheek”.

As theology became increasingly discredited in the light of science, the rise of pseudo-biological explanations of anti-social behaviour emerged. To the Social Darwinists it was all clear: human violence was part and parcel of the beast-like struggle for survival to which humans were biologically destined.

At the end of the last century the biological blind alley of Social Darwinism laid the path for an equally diversionary side-road: the new pseudo-science of criminology. Cesare Lombroso, the father of this bogus science, attempted to explain how it was that some people were criminals and others not. It was all very simple: criminality was a consequence of physiological make-up. As Lombroso put it:
  The criminal by nature has a feeble cranial capacity, a heavy and developed jaw. projecting eye ridges, an abnormal and asymmetrical cranium . . . projecting ears, frequently a crooked or flat nose . . . Their moral degeneration corresponds with their physical, . . . The criminal by nature is lazy, debauched, cowardly, not susceptible to remorse, without foresight . . . his hand-writing is peculiar . . . his slang is widely diffused . . . The general persistence of an inferior race type.
In the USA pseudo-scientists are still at it. For example, at the time of the LA riots a number of commentators turned to the nonsensical book, Violence and the Brain, written by two “professors" called Mark and Erwin and arguing that rioters are people with dysfunctional brains. (Funny that Reagan and Quayle never made it to the riot, isn’t it?) Another book, by Wilson and Herrnstein called Crime and Human Nature, argues that criminal tendencies are in people’s genes. In short, certain babies are born to be criminals. This leads one to wonder why the police do not use their resources more efficiently by targeting maternity wards and arresting the genetic criminals at birth, thus achieving a maximum crime clear-up rate before the crimes are even committed!

If you think that these ideas are crazy there is a simple reason for it: they are crazy. They are the ridiculous inventions of desperate ideologists who have to explain why it is that property society, with all its alleged advantages for human growth, gives rise to so much violence, disorder and frustrated spite. The fact that over 90 percent of crimes are property-related is embarrassing to a society which pretends that anyone can live well if they try. The truth is that millions of people try very hard and get nowhere; some of them turn to illegal robbery to make money (as opposed to legalised robbery, to obtain profits) or violent acts to give vent to their misery and frustration.

Stupid idea
On the subject of frustration, it is now time to return to the little matter of John Major’s idea. Since his accidental elevation in 1990 Little John has lived in the shadow of the mad priestess of Big Ideas: Margaret Thatcher. Nobody could accuse her of having any lack of big, big ideas. Like Hitler, Stalin and the authors of the Bible, she was full of them—the barmier the better. Thatcher was always opening her mouth and making news. Not so Little John. To most people he is just a wimp and an idiot. And not liking to be seen for what he is. he decided to make a speech which would say something Big.

On 3 February this year Major addressed the Tory Carlton Club. He was on home turf so could be sure of at least polite applause. He decided to speak about the problem of inner-city crime. (A few of the Club members nearly had heart attacks when they thought they heard that he was going to talk about crime in the City—now. there's a subject for a big speech!).

Now, Little John was not taken in by all this talk about born sinners, feeble cranial capacities or criminal genes. These are outdated stupid ideas. So John Major came up with a brand new stupid idea. And the next day it made it on to the top headline of the Independent:


Now that is what you call a really stupid big idea. Here is the key paragraph from the speech:
  Socialism must face up to its failures. It must recognise the harsh truth that it is where, over many years, the state has intervened most heavily, that local communities have been most effectively destroyed.
To begin with, socialism has never been tried, let alone failed. We challenge John Major or his supporters to tell us where common ownership, democratic control or production solely for use has ever existed.

But we expect half-witted Tories not to know what socialism means. More interesting is Major’s assertion that inner-city crime is caused by there being too much state interference. This comes from the head of a government which has expanded the police, put more people into prisons than any other western European country and is currently planning to interfere with the unemployed by making conscript labourers of them. Own goal. John.

Going from bad to worse, Major then proceeded to deny that there is a causal relationship between poverty and crime. It is mere coincidence, we must assume, that so few street muggings are committed by gangs of millionaires. (They are free to do their mugging legitimately.) Alas, Little John has not read the Home Office research document published in 1991 by the civil servants of his own government. It stated that property-related crimes increased in relation to economic hard times. The number of burglaries in Britain went up during the recession of the early 1980s, down during the 1987-8 boom and up again with the slump of the 1990s.

Furthermore, the Independent reported last 13 October that the government was giving careful consideration to its public expenditure cuts for fear that too many cuts will result in an increase in violent crime. So, it seems that Little John is acting on the basis of an explanation of the cause of crime which he now claims not to believe in.

We look forward to the emergence of the next Major Big Idea. What will it be: “PM SAYS THAT O-LEVELS ARE BAD FOR THE INTELLECT?" or “MAJOR PROPOSES NEW DISNEYWORLD ON BEAUTIFUL SHETLAND COASTLINE?"
Steve Coleman

1994 Euro-elections: appeal for funds (1993)

Party News from the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are planning to contest at least 2 and maybe 3 seats in the elections to the European Parliament which will take place in June next year. To do this we shall of course need money.

At the moment the amount in our Election Fund—left over from contributions made for our general election campaign last year—is £1419. We shall need at least four times this amount to pay the deposits and run a credible campaign.

We are therefore appealing again to all those who wish to get the Socialist message across—contesting three seats would allow us to put the case for socialism to three-quarters of a million voters—to contribute to building up our election fund. In fact the final decision as to how many seats to contest, if any, will partly depend on how much we have in our Election Fund by the end of the year.

Any contributions should be sent to: Election Fund, the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to ’’the Socialist Party of Great Britain”.

The Politics of Fire (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Friday 20 November in Windsor Castle a curtain caught fire in the Queen’s Private Chapel, probably ignited by a spotlight recently installed to illuminate the altar and art work. The fire quickly spread throughout the north-east wing devastating “The Grand Reception Room” and “The State Dining Room”. Fire-fighters rushed to the scene to carry out a prearranged fire-fighting and salvage plan. They were drawn from the surrounding counties to save this “loveliest of palaces"—an ancient fortress overlooking the Thames. The estimated cost of restoration is put at about £60 million.

Fire is a violent chemical reaction involving heat, oxygen and fuel in which heat and light are produced. If you remove either the heat, the oxygen or the fuel, combustion will stop. This is the basis for controlling fire which early hunter-gatherers must have learned for themselves. They discovered it could be used to keep wild animals away. They learned to cook with it and in time how to “fire" clay pots to make them hard and leak-proof. They smelted metals to make tools and weapons. The evolution of the tool has enabled different sources of fuel to be used. First wood and animal fats, then peat and coal, later, mineral oils and natural gas.

To successfully use fire combustible materials had to be collected and brought to the dwelling. In a communal environment this arduous task would have been shared and the energy expended would be offset by the use to which the fuel was put. With the advent of trading, fuel could be bartered for other essential goods, especially in areas where the fuel was scarce.

Capitalism has turned fire and its fuels into a commodity, possessing like all other commodities the value imparted to it by all the workers who have worked on it. Today, fuels like coal, oil and gas are all big sources of profit for those who own their production. However, under capitalism access to the fuels of fire required for heating our dwellings and cooking our food is only available to those who can afford them. Fuel will be provided only at a profit and this is why every winter the elderly and the poor cannot afford to heat their homes.

Protecting property
Once a fire is started it can spread very quickly, fanned by currents of air and fed by combustible materials. Obviously some sort of organized method was required to deal with it. Up until the Great Fire of London in 1666 fire-fighting was undertaken

by groups of volunteers carrying buckets of water, usually led by the occupier of the burning property. However, the Great Fire destroyed 13,000 homes and caused massive losses for the commercial insurance companies. In 1667 a businessman named Dr Barbon set up an insurance company to cover houses. This lucrative idea soon spread and rival insurance companies were soon competing with each other. A house insured with a particular company had to display a company plaque called a “firemark” on its outside wall. When a fire started and the firemen were summoned, invariably by shouting, they would arrive and check the plaque. If the house was covered by their company they would fight the fire. If not it was left for their competitors or it burned to the ground. Intense rivalry existed between these companies and they would often impede each other on the way to a fire.

In 1833 an Act of Parliament empowered local councils to purchase fire appliances and equipment out of the rates. Unable to compete, the private insurance brigades joined the town brigades or disbanded. In 1938 the Fire Brigade Act required local councils to maintain efficient fire brigades and set up a national fire service. In 1947 only county councils could become fire authorities and the 1974 local government reorganization led to the system that exists today. A decentralized service of 63 virtually autonomous brigades, 54 in England and Wales, 8 in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.

Fire brigades are funded by the county councils as are the local ambulance services. Councils raise the money from local taxes in addition to what is allocated them by central government. In an attempt to reduce the cost the right-wing theorists at the Adam Smith Institute have recommended the merger of the two services:
  The report claims extra efficiency would be achieved by closer co-operation and cross-training in the emergency services. It says amalgamation would also generate substantial income by selling redundant buildings. (Daily Telegraph 7 December).
These reforms are supported by some personnel in the services who believe that the merger will bring in much needed money and equipment.

Within capitalism two mutually dependent social classes have evolved. The capitalist or ruling class is made up of the owners of the means of production, landowners and financiers who derive their income from the surplus value created in production. This source of profit is produced by the working class who own no productive resources apart from their labour-power. On a personal level workers may partly own their homes or small pieces of land but this does not alter their social position. They must still exchange their labour-power for a wage or salary in order to purchase the goods they need to survive and bring up their families. It is in the capitalists' interest to keep wages as low as possible.

For capitalism to perpetuate itself it must provide a relatively safe environment for the exploitation of the working class to take place in. The National Health Service was set up to ensure that the population of workers are fit enough to work. Similarly, the emergency services are provided to ensure that workers are safe at their places of work and in their hours of recuperation. As safe as is profitable.

Profits before safety
Although fire safety is in the capitalists’ own interest it is not a very high priority for individual businesses, especially in a recession. This is because unless they have a fire they will not get any financial return on the money they have spent on precautions. In fact many individual capitalists see fire precautions as a burden and a drain on their profits.

Art by George Meddemmen
The Daily Telegraph (5 December) reported that Nuswift, makers of fire protection equipment, had seen their profits drop from £11.3m to £2.52m in the first half of that year. Clearly their equipment is not in demand. The Fire Services Act of 1947 empowers the local fire authorities to carry out inspections of commercial premises to ensure that they meet the standards required by all the relevant fire safely requirements passed by law. Despite this external pressure the capitalists' requirement to increase profits invariably comes first.

A report published by the National Audit Office, last December criticizes industry on a number of points. Only £2m was spent on fire prevention publicity in 1991 despite the fact that deaths have risen from 430 to 740 a year since 1960. Insurance losses from fire now run at about £1 billion a year. The bill to the National Health Service for treating 11,000 burns cases a year (3.000 in 1960) is at least £40m. The report goes further. Sixty percent of deaths a year occur in the home despite the increase in the number of smoke alarms fitted. However those most at risk like the elderly are the least likely to buy alarms. Those over 80 years of age are eight times more likely to die in a fire than people aged 55 to 64. The NAO report recommends the free distribution of smoke alarms.

For a safer world
The technological means to ensure that every home and workplace is as safe as possible already exist. But the workers do not have access to this technology unless they can afford it. Today under capitalism how many homes have even got an extinguisher or fire blanket—the workers just cannot afford them. It does not have to be like this. Once we recognise our role as wage-slaves under capitalism and that our labour is the source of all wealth, we can use the democratic process to establish socialism by making technology and resources the common property of all.

Fire precautions could then be an integral part of every home. All building construction and household furniture could be constructed with fire-resisting materials. Every place of work should have the best warning and fire-fighting equipment installed as a matter of course. Everyone could acquire a working knowledge of First Aid and basic fire-fighting. One more avoidable tragic death due to fire is one too many.