Saturday, April 24, 2021

“An Old Age Tragedy” (1954)

From the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

At election times both the Labour and Conservative parties proudly proclaim that they have been responsible for the establishment of “The Welfare State.” This term has been in vogue since the end of the last war and we are told that today it is the health, happiness and well-being of young and old alike that are the first concern of the State.

It is the claim of Socialists that family allowances, health services and insurances, increased old age pensions or public assistance, do not alter the basic position of the working class. Both Tory and Labour administrations have been concerned with maintaining the smooth running of the capitalist system.

Recently the most grandiose claims have been made in connection with old age pensions and services for the elderly. Here for example is a statement made by Mr. A. Bevan speaking in the House of Commons on 17th October, 1948:—
  “In very many cases before the war before the nation enjoyed the social services which it has today, large numbers of old people were living in workhouses. Today they are living in the homes in which they have lived throughout their lives. They are insisting on doing so.” 
Over five years have pissed since this statement was made.

Now the conditions under which many of these old people are living under “in their own homes” has been revealed in a number of articles published in the Manchester Guardian under the title “ Neglect of the Aged Sick.” In its issues of 20th and 24th November, the following information appears.

An incident is related of a Queen’s District Nurse who found a woman of 78 in an appalling condition sitting in a chair from which she was unable to move, suffering from delayed shock. She was doubly incontinent and her back from hips to knees was "completely raw with gangrenous sloughing areas.” The whole room was “ alive with bugs ” and “ the stench was horrible.”

A medical officer in the south of England called upon an old couple in a basement room where he found two old people of about 80. The woman was swollen with dropsy and the man collapsed and helpless. The report relates the doctor’s struggle to get them into hospital and the difficulties he encounters in trying to do so, for there are about nine thousand people on the hospital waiting lists, of whom 75% are classified as the "chronic sick.” The Manchester Guardian points out in its report a number of cases of old people dying alone and uncared for as a result of this. Among them is the story of the recluse whose dead body was only found by his neighbours because of the noise set up by the howling of his starved dogs who had already started worrying the corpse. Perhaps the most supreme example of our highly civilised 20th Century welfare state is that of an old woman found with a bad leg which she carefully wrapped in newspaper. Upon the removal of the paper the leg was found to be infested with maggots.

The article continues—"since the creation of the welfare state, the lot of old people has, in some ways, worsened not improved” and on the question of the shortage of hospital beds quotes with approval the following statement made by an officer of the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing—
   “This is in contrast to the system previously prevailing whereby the relieving officer would have no difficulty in getting the patient into the workhouses infirmary immediately she was found.”
We would not of course suggest that the conditions prevailing in the workhouses in the past have been anything but wretched, but we would ask some of those ardent reformists who talk so glibly of the achievements of the "welfare state” today to bear some of the facts given above in their minds.

The problems of the old people can in no way be separated from the problems of the working class in general. The difficulties that we face as we grow older can only be explained from a poverty that arises directly from the fact that we have to work for others for a wage or salary in order to live. This is not enough to enable us to save any appreciable sum in order to “retire” comfortably. Old age means that we are becoming a burden upon the capitalist system; perhaps we are not quite as efficient as we were in the past and no longer such a profit making asset. It may well be that the reports we have given from the Manchester Guardian are concerned with a few of the worst and most outstanding cases, but few workers can face the economic prospects of old age without fear and trepidation.

For the ruling class, however, there is no such problem. They will be able to solve the difficulties of their declining years very easily. For them there is no poverty and therefore no lining up for hospital beds, and they can retire to one of those exclusive nursing homes with exorbitant fees whose advertisements can be seen in all the newspapers or fashionable magazines. Wealthy people in their latter years far from being lonely are often surrounded by very large numbers of helpful friends who expect “to be remembered in the will.”

The elderly worker has always been something of a problem to capitalism. In times of mass unemployment and economic crises they are often regarded by capitalist and worker alike as a hindrance in the struggle for business and for employment. In 1931 Sir Charles Grant Robinson reported by the Daily Herald on 2nd October made the following statement:—
   “I am not at all sure that one of the best things we can do would not be to take every one over 60 years of age and not necessarily put them into a lethal chamber but kindly and firmly tell them they ought to be on the unemployed shelf.”
In modern society the emphasis on dealing with this problem has always been to try and do so in the most cheese-paring and economical way possible. After all the main concern of this industrial, profit making world must be with the younger workers as cannon- fodder for new wars and the wage workers of the future. The Beveridge Report points out that it is dangerous to be lavish with old age until such time as adequate provisions have been made for the young.

The first appearance of old age pensions was itself an economy measure introduced by a Liberal Government in 1909. The maximum sum paid was 5s. pet week. Mr. Lloyd George regarded this as an extremely economical position since it cost double this sum to keep an inmate in the workhouse and he expected to save £1,600.000 per annum on the transaction. Most people would do their utmost to exist on however small a sum to save the indignity of entering a workhouse.

In the years since then we have seen the introduction of higher old age pensions, but today in face of higher prices they still remain totally inadequate. We have tried to show in the foregoing remarks that the reforms of the Welfare State have had behind them the same principle as that of Lloyd George in 1909, namely that Capitalism will be able to deal with those work-weary and war-weary workers who have spent themselves out in its interest in as an efficient and cheap method as possible.

The problem remains for the elderly, as it does for the majority of workers throughout the world, one of poverty and it can only be solved by the establishment of Socialism which will sweep away the class division from which it arises.

Men and women in the Society of the future will no longer look upon old age with the dread with which we regard it today. In a world in which everybody will be able to receive all the products of society as and when they need them, irrespective of the amount of work they are able to do, the miserable poverty of the old will be banished forever.

No longer will there be the loneliness of old age which is a reflection of the anti-social tendencies that Capitalism throws up, for under Socialism the never ceasing struggle which pits worker against worker and capitalist against capitalist will no longer exist. Instead the harmonious relationships which must arise from common ownership of the means of production will permeate our dealings with one another and instead of being without interest in our neighbours we shall be more interested in them as members of the human brotherhood.

Indeed the whole idea of retirement arises from a world in which employment is regarded as a necessary evil, but in the future with the production of goods for use, the people of the world will work for the sheer love and pleasure of doing so, part of the instincts of man as a creative animal. The old will no longer be regarded by the young as a burden standing in the way of their future who ought to be “pensioned off.” We are certain that the majority of people will take pleasure in adding, if only in some slight degree, to the joint productive efforts of society as long as they are able. If we look around us today it is easy to find the old age pensioner who has long since become mentally dead owing to the fact that he cannot find any interest in life now that his work, even under Capitalism, is now over. In the society of the future if people became too old or feeble to wish to work they will receive all the attention they require. Only under Socialism can it be said that there is no division between young or old any more than there is for male or female or black or white, because every individual will be the responsibility of the whole of society.
D. A. Moss

Shall Germany Re-Arm? (1954)

From the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The old tragic farce “Shall Germany Re-arm?” that occupied the European stage between the end of World War I and the emergence of Hitlerite Germany, has been revived and is playing to full houses wherever the world's statesmen gather together to discuss peace and war. The revived version is much the same as the old one but some of the actors are playing different roles. In the nineteen-twenties, with Russia out of the running, the near-disarmament of Germany under the Versailles Peace Treaty brought as its consequence the threat of Europe being dominated by French capitalism and its Polish and other allies. So the British and American capitalists had an interest in helping Germany to recover and in this, though for different reasons, they were pursuing the same policy as Russia. The Russian Government took the view that a stronger Germany would curb the power of all the Western capitalist groups. So as late as the end of October, 1939, when Hitlerite Germany was armed to the teeth and was actually at war, Mr. Molotov, who is now furiously denouncing the re-armament of Germany, was still telling the world what a good thing it was that Germany was strong, because “we have always held that a strong Germany is an indispensable condition for durable peace in Europe.” He was to discover not long afterwards that the Germany whose re-armament the Russian government had encouraged was to turn those arms against Russia as she had already turned them against Britain and France.

But after World War II Russia faces the western powers with huge armed forces equalled only by those of the U.S.A. So now it is not French expansionism that the other Powers fear. They fear Russia and, despite the obvious risks, they prefer to see Germany re-armed to offset the Russian threat.

The decision is a difficult one for them all since they can only guess whether German capitalism will in the long run seek to use the West to squeeze the East, or use the East to squeeze the West.

All the West European political parties including the Tories are worried about the problem but above all the British Labour Party. As long ago as 1950 the Labour Government's Foreign Secretary, the late Ernest Bevin, accepted in principle the re-armament of Germany but he did so against the wishes of many Labour M.P.s and their supporters. When the question was voted on in the Parliamentary Labour Party in February, 1954, the Executive secured the passage of its resolution favouring German unity and re-armament and German assistance in the defence of Western Europe, by only 113 votes to 104 (Daily Herald 25/2/54). The justification urged for this policy is “fear of Russia,” just as, 30 years ago, an earlier Labour Party Executive was using “fear of France” as a reason why the Labour Party should support armaments.

Some of the present spokesmen of the Labour Party have evidently been studying the arguments current at the time of the old controversy. In the nineteen-twenties Mr. Lloyd George used to talk about general disarmament and indeed it was the announced intention of pursuing such a policy that was used by him and others as justification for keeping Germany with strictly limited armed forces. Now it is Mr. Aneurin Bevan who says that “we should be seriously discussing the possibility of universal disarmament” as an alternative to uniting and defending Western Europe (Sunday Despatch 14/3/54). It is as unrealistic now as it was then.

In those days disarmament was to come through the League of Nations as now through the United Nations; though already the manifest failure of the latter has led Mr. Attlee to say in a speech to the Oxford University Labour Cub: “I think that in our Commonwealth we have something which is really better than the United Nations and something to set an example on how the United Nations should work” (Daily Telegraph 23/2/52). It is odd to recall now what were the explanations then given for the failure of the League. The most plausible line was that if only U.S.A. and Russia would join the League and if only the League bad power to enforce its decisions all would be well.

Now indeed U.S.A. and Russia are members of United Nations but each pursues a policy of building up huge armaments on the ground that the other is a war maker. And in Korea, where a large scale “United Nations” war was fought, these two Powers were backing the rival armies.

An argument used by Labour Party and other opponents of German re-armament is that the Germans have caused two world wars, are a militarist nation and cannot be trusted. In other words that the Germans are an “inferior race” by comparison with all or some of the others.

In the controversy each national group can state what, in its own estimation, is an unanswerable case. As each group maintains that its own armaments are purely defensive, and as each can provide ample evidence of fiendish barbarities used by other Powers in war, this is easy. All war is bestial and no nation has a record much less horrifying than any other. The whole argumentation is bedevilled by a blank inability to recognise why capitalism needs arms and why wars occur. The capitalist-minded patriots of all countries denounce the methods used by the others but fail to recognise that they are pursuing the same objectives in the same way. They all seek to control sources of raw materials, seek to invade new markets, and seek strategic bases to protect their territories and trade routes. But each and every one regards its own activities as necessary, lawful and legitimate, and for those who accept capitalism and seek to perpetuate it so they all are. Given a capitalist world Russian attempts to dominate the Dardanelles or seize North Persian oil (as in 1946) have just as much necessity and legitimacy as the British hold on Suez or Abadan or the American control of Panama or oil resources in the Middle East. It is the law of the jungle.

Not recognising this, those who argue superficially about war being caused by American, Russian, British or German aims of world domination allow themselves to be deluded into the belief that aggression is an inherent characteristic of one particular nation or is the outcome of some ideology. It is only necessary to glance at the present trouble spots of the world to see how remote this is from the truth. Is it “ideology” that sets Egyptian capitalism against British at Suez. Russian against Turkish in the Dardanelles, French against Indonesian, Argentine against British over control of territories in the Antarctic, America against Russia in Europe, the Pacific and elsewhere, Israel against the Arab States, India against Pakistan over Kashmir, British against African in Kenya? The list could be enormously extended and the explanation in all cases is that capitalism is by its nature a competitive, expansionist system breeding rivalry, hatred and war. There is no way out of this terrifying threat of continuing wars except by abolishing capitalism and establishing world socialism in its place.

About Books (1954)

Book Review from the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1952 Victor Gollancz, Ltd., published that excellent book by JosuĂ© de Castro, “The Geography of Hunger.” In the early chapters Mr. de Castro points out that, although there have been innumerable books on the subject of war, that other great human tragedy, hunger, has seldom called forth a book. He lists for us the few books on the subject; the novels “Hunger” by Hamsun and “The Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck; Istrati describing his experiences in Rumania, George Fink in the suburbs of Berlin, and Felekov and Neverov describing hunger in Russia. That is Mr. de Castro’s complete catalogue.

There is now another, a most excellently written book, that can be added to the list. "The People of the Deer by Farley Mowat, published by Michael Joseph in 1952 at 15s., with drawings by S. Bryant and maps.

Farley Mowat developed what he terms “the disease of the arctic,” which is a longing to spend his time in the wide open spaces of the Canadian North West Territory. He learned of a little-known group of Eskimos who occupied the inland somewhere west of Hudson Bay and he decided to find them. Others had set out on a similar expedition before him and had perished in “The Barrens,” that terrifying territory north of the Canadian timber line and west of the Hudson.

Mr. Mowat made his first trip alone, contacting an old trader who had hung on in the inland country and getting to know the few remaining Eskimos of the Ihalmiut people. After a brief interval of a few months back in Southern Canada, Mr. Mowat returned to the Ihalmiut Eskimos in 1948 with a student of zoology, a Mr. Andrew Lawrie, as his companion. He set to work to learn the language and to study the history and customs of these people.

The story of these northern people is a tragedy. It tells of a once comparatively numerous people reduced by 1951 to about forty individuals. Mr. Mowat tells how, winter after winter, during the past fifty or sixty years, the ranks of these lovable folk have been decimated by starvation and disease—starvation and disease that was unknown till white men in search of profits probed their way into the northern lands.

These people live entirely by the caribou: they eat it, clothe themselves from its skin and build their lives around it and its habits. For generations they have hunted it for its meat, its fat, its bone, its horn, its hide and its fur. Without it they die, but in the days when the vast herds of these deer roamed their land there was little fear of dying from that cause.

The Ihalmiut have few possessions but no man claims exclusive ownership of even the tools of his own creation. Their tools, weapons and boats are the work of skilled craftsmen and they were once wonderful hunters. They hunted the caribou, killing just enough to supply their requirements.

Then came the white man in search of furs. The Eskimos were contacted and offered rifles, ammunition, kettles, tobacco and a variety of knick-knacks in exchange for furs. They gave up hunting the caribou in favour of the white fox, they laid aside their spears in favour of rifles, they gave up their deer meat in favour of white flour and tinned food. Things went well for years. Then the 1914-1918 war killed the fur market. The traders withdrew from their northerly stations and when the Eskimos trekked south with their furs they found the traders’ huts empty. They couldn’t understand it. They waited thinking the white man must come back, he still must need the furs.

When the worst of the winter weather was on them the Eskimos had plenty of furs but no ammunition for their rifles. They had lost the art of their primitive form of hunting. They had reduced their resistance to the cold by eating food of the white men instead of deer meat and fat. They had contracted white men’s diseases and they died by the hundred.

This story was repeated between the wars. When the fur trade boomed the traders went north with the weapons and gew-jaws to exchange with the simple people who were prepared to obey their every wish. When trade slumped, without warning the traders left and the Eskimos died. This is a sorry story of the effect of capitalism when it comes in contact with primitive people. The rifle and the demand for furs urged the eskimos to kill in excess of their living needs and the hordes of caribou have become as decimated as the people themselves. The caribou is in danger of passing away like the buffalo of the American plains.

If there are any of these people left in 1954, and if they are ever rescued from their plight, the solution of capitalism will be to either provide charity or to use them to work to produce wealth for exploiters. If it is a matter of helping them to re-adapt themselves to their environment, and there is no profit to be made in the process—well, maybe some charitable organisation will lend a hand. Or, more likely, as Mr. Mowat indignantly tells us, excuses will be made for doing nothing about them.

In addition to presenting us with this interesting sociological work Mr. Mowat is a first class author and his writing makes his book enthralling. He has neglected no aspect of study of the Ihalmiut people and he kept our noses glued to the pages of his book till we reached page 316 and the final word.
W. Waters.

Party News Briefs (1954)

Party News from the April 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Conference, 1954. The Annual Conference is being held as usual at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, during the Easter week-end, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 16th, 17th and 18th. Proceedings commence each morning at 11 a.m. Several interesting items are on the Agenda and members are urged to, attend promptly so that work can run smoothly and leave ample time for discussion. The Central Branch Secretary will be present and will welcome Branch members and needless to say will be happy to collect dues.

Social and Dance. This will be held in the Conway Hall on the Saturday, tickets (3s.) will be available from Branch Secretaries. A good band has been engaged and the Central Organiser and Social Committee are doing their best to ensure a good evening—it is up to members and friends to arrive early and enjoy themselves.

Australia. A Central Branch member has returned from a visit to Melbourne and was very grateful for the hospitality he received from the S.PA Secretary, Comrade C. Saunders and his wife. He would particularly like to thank them for the farewell party they gave him. He is certain that if any members should be in that part of the World, they would receive a “hearty welcome, advice and assistance from both Mr. and Mrs. Saunders.” Two sympathisers, one a school teacher and the other a scientist were introduced to the Saunders' and were proposing to join the Party.

Denison House meetings have been successfully run by Paddington Branch during the winter months and it is hoped to give a full report on the series after the final meeting is held on April 4th.
Phyllis Howard

Notice To All Members


Literature arrangements, Sunday, May 2nd.

There will be two distribution points at which literature can be obtained and returned at the times stated below.

Charing Cross Underground Station,
Villiers Street entrance: 12.30 p.m — 2.30 p.m. 

Connaught Place off Edgware Road.
100 yards from Marble Arch: 2 p.m.—5.30 p.m.

Members who collect literature from Charing Cross may return their sales at Connaught Place, should they decide to sell along the Procession route.

The Trades Council procession leaves the Embankment at 2 p.m. and reaches Hyde Park at approximately 3.30 p.m.

Members are urged to co-operate and give all the assistance they can.

Our Hyde Park meeting will commence at approximately 3.45 p.m. and finish at 6 p.m.

The Conway Hall meeting will commence at 7 p.m. sharp and terminate at 9.30 p.m. sharp.

These activities seed your full support.
Central Organiser.

Voice From The Back: After apartheid (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard  

After apartheid

About 20,000 people were murdered in South Africa last year. Nearly 50,000 women were raped. There were close to 250,000 burglaries and 12,000 car hijackings . . . Last year Nelson Mandela derided those who leave South Africa because of crime, and identified crime as a white problem. But Antoinette Louw of ISS [Institute for Security Systems] said: “Mandela’s message was that the government doesn’t recognise the ‘fear of crime’ as a problem. That’s a grave mistake. It’s not just a white problem. Black people do feel very unsafe” Guardian, 18 February.

Agony Aunt advises

Would that the tough world of employment were different, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that personal hard-luck stories are a bad call when asking for a pay increase. As an approach, it turns an applicant into a supplicant and weakens the ground on which they stand. What is recommended is a more positive attitude: base your case on your value to your paymaster. You magazine, 21 February.

South Africa’s crisis

Terry Bell writes for the Business Report of the Johannesburg Star. He has obviously had more than a passing acquaintance with Marx’s writings because his column, “Inside Labour”, on the economic scene in South Africa is invariably perceptive and sceptical. On 30 October, 1998, he wrote: “The police are part of the armed wing of the state, a section of that monopoly of force exercised by the powers-that-be for the maintenance of law and order and the status quo . . . In fact, the claim that the police are the mere tools of ‘the bosses’ was reinforced over the recent strike wave. More work days were lost in the first nine months of this year than at any time since 1992. The strikes saw numerous clashes between strikers and police, and hundreds of complaints from striking workers about police brutality. Tales of sjambokkings, tear-gassings and the firing of rubber bullets and birdshot flooded in.”

On 6 November, 1998, he wrote: “Yet within the broader trade union movement, at all levels, there is a clear explanation for the cause of the present crisis. It is summed up by June Dube, president of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. ‘Overproduction,’ he said. ‘The world is suffering a crisis of overproduction.’ Calls for greater productivity (more products produced by the same or fewer workers) and greater competitiveness (more products produced by the same or fewer workers) and greater competitiveness (more products being produced more cheaply) therefore amounted to ‘pouring oil onto a raging fire’.”

Cuba’s crime wave

This week the national assembly passed draconian laws against a rising crime wave on the island, which impose the death penalty and life imprisonment for violent crimes and drug smuggling. They also lay down stiffer sentences for prostitution, pimping, robbery and theft . . . Dr Castro said that crime had increased because the government was forced to open the country to tourism and foreign investment, creating inequalities on the island. Guardian, 18 February.

It is political economics

“The real wages of low-wage male workers have shown increases in the past few years.” Trumpeted a recent report from President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, “in contrast to the period from 1979 to 1993, when they declined by 14.7 percent.” The real story is that low-wage earners are still significantly worse off than they were 20 years ago, at least if you only count their paychecks. But government programs like the earned-income tax credit mean that wages don’t tell the whole story. For economists the prolonged stall in wages remains the great contemporary conundrum. For politicians it is an opportunity to argue for new legislation. In his State of the Union message President Clinton proposed to increase the minimum wage by $1 to $6.15. [In 1979 it was $6.75] Forbes, 22 February.

Pleasure wicked

Children are suffering mental health problems in increasing numbers and at a younger age because of the pressures of the national curriculum, according to a three-year £1 million report [called Bright Futures] . . . The inquiry, by the Mental Health Foundation, claims that schools need to teach “emotional literacy” in addition to academic knowledge to combat the rise in the number of children who are withdrawn, isolated and depressive or disruptive. Sunday Telegraph, 31 January.

Into the future?

If you have a job to do, find someone to share the work and you get the job done in half the time. That’s the idea behind, a group that co-ordinates spare computer processor power from across the Internet to solve huge mathematical tasks which otherwise would take days, weeks, and in some cases years. The tasks range from research projects to find large prime numbers, to cracking code messages, to analysing radio waves emanating from space in the hope of finding signals from alien civilisations. Guardian, 28 January.

A Mad Marketeer Regrets (1999)

Book Review from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
“As it is presently constituted global capitalism is inherently unstable. Unless it is reformed radically, the world economy risks falling apart in a replay, at once tragic and farcical, of the trade wars, competitive devaluations, economic collapses and the political upheavals of the 1930s” writes John Gray, a disillusioned 1980s’ Thatcherite, in a recent book.
Reading anything by John Gray these days is a novel experience. Here we have a former free marketeer who now no longer believes in the neo-liberal utopian project he once advocated. Indeed, Gray appears to be in much of a hurry to atone for his previous intellectual sins by informing us that global capitalism is in deep crisis and headed for a fall of catastrophic proportions.

Undoubtedly, it is this paradox which provides a highly stimulating read when you pick up Gray’s latest book False Dawn—The Delusions of Global Capitalism. However, as in the case of George Soros, Gray does not mean the same as us when he talks about global capitalism. He is referring to the current global financial arrangements—free movement of capital around the world or neo-liberalism.

From the outset we should be clear that Gray is not critiquing capitalism per se, only the US-led neo-liberal project which started a couple of decades ago. For Gray, capitalism is assumed to be an eternal system to which there is no alternative; capitalism therefore, needs to be saved from itself. In this respect, Gray can be seen to be in the long line of reformist defenders of capitalism from Keynes right up to George Soros (who, incidentally, has endorsed Gray’s book).

The basis to Gray’s entire thesis is that the neo-liberal project has its roots in the mid-Victorian laissez-faire experiment which in turn has its roots in eighteenth century Enlightenment rationalism. Gray admirably demonstrates that far from being a natural state of affairs (as marketeers like to think) it was organised by the state centrally. The corollary of this is that regulated markets are natural—though this assumption made by Gray is demonstrably false.  

Gray goes further by arguing that Soviet “Communism” was another “false utopia” stemming from the Enlightenment period. Both projects were “universalisms”, which means they aimed at world domination (from a Western perspective) showing complete disregard for diverse cultural needs and values. Subsequently, this century has been littered with “false utopias” from the Enlightenment—the last of which is the US’s ideological drive to create a global free market. Gray says that, in the case of the Soviet Union, this attempt will end with disastrous consequences for humanity:
 “Even though a global free market cannot be reconciled with any kind of planned economy, what these utopias have in common is more fundamental than their differences. In their cult of reason and efficiency, their ignorance of history and their contempt for the ways of life they consign to poverty or extinction, they embody the same rationalist hubris and cultural imperialism that have marked the central traditions of Enlightenment thinking throughout its history” (p.3).
We shall return to this theme later.

Product of the crisis
Compared to many pro-capitalist commentators, Gray makes a refreshing change. Whereas the majority, even today, try to explain the financial storms in south-east Asia, Latin America and Russia as purely local phenomena (which may or may not add up to a global problem), Gray at least realises that the problem is inherently global.

However, Gray’s position is ultimately superficial and idealist unlike the Marxist method of historical materialism. This said, he expertly surveys the results of neo-liberalism in countries such as Britain, New Zealand and the US and recounts the all too familiar story of rising inequality, welfare cuts, social exclusion, etc. He adds to this the effects on countries such as Mexico, South Korea and Indonesia of the IMF-imposed austerity/free market measures which are presented as a political/economic panacea despite the fact that such measures are “alien” to these particular “capitalisms” and that the effects on ordinary people’s living standards are terrible.

Although he locates the origins of the neo-liberal project with the death of the post-war Keynesian era, Gray singularly fails to set it in its real theoretical context: the crisis of capitalism.

From a Marxian viewpoint, the OPEC crisis of the early 1970s was the beginning of the current crisis. In other words, world capitalism has been in crisis for nearly thirty years and the re-emergence of the New Right can only really be evaluated as a response to the crisis. This period (especially amongst the advanced economies) was characterised not only by stagflation (simultaneous rising unemployment and inflation) but also by often stagnant or falling growth and profit rates, which in the case of Britain culminated in a financial/fiscal crisis requiring an IMF bailout.

This is what really lies behind the “casino” economy or the “globalisation” process today. Since it’s increasingly hard to make sufficient profit making things, i.e. manufacturing, “speculation” has increasingly come to dominate. The crisis we see around us is in fact a crisis of the “real” economy. Gray is blind to this because he explains the crisis as a crisis of an “idea” (neo-liberalism) which could be rectified by a change of policy.

Philosophical error 
This very basic philosophical error sets the tone for the rest of Gray’s flawed economic analysis. It is precisely because capitalism is a competitive system based upon production for profit that neo-liberalism has appeal. Capitalism is in crisis and here we have a philosophy which strives to reduce wages, costs and social/welfare spending. Gray adds to his own confusion by correctly arguing that alternative capitalist models such as the European social market model will take a battering at the hands of US neo-liberalism as “bad” capitalism tends to drive out “good”:
  “In any competition that is waged with the rules of global laissez-faire, that have been designed to reflect the American free market, the social economies of Europe and Asia are at a systematic disadvantage. They have no future unless they can modernise themselves by deep and rapid reforms” (p.78).
 “A mechanism of downwards harmonization of market economies is already in operation. Every type of currently existing capitalism is thrown into the melting pot. In this contest the socially dislocated American free market possesses powerful advantages” (p. 78).
Nominally Gray is right. He contradicts himself, however, by suggesting that the US should give up these “powerful advantages” and prioritise global stability instead. About the chance of this happening Gray is rightly pessimistic:
  “Yet the replacement of global laissez-faire by a managed regime for the world economy is, at present, nearly as Utopian a project as a universal free market. Such a regime could be established only by the world’s great economic powers acting in concert . . .”
He adds:
 “Without active and continuing American endorsement there can be no workable institutions of global governance” (p.200).
This demonstrates both Gray’s strengths and weaknesses, not to mention his apparent confusion. He seems to understand enough about capitalism to realise that neo-liberalism is not going to be stopped by an appeal to “reason” since it reflects the US’s attempts to dominate the world economy. One would be forgiven for thinking that such an implicit admission would be enough to transport him from subjective idealism to a more profound and coherent view of capitalism. Evidently not.

Intellectual swamp 
John Gray’s critique of neo-liberalism is rooted in what is effectively an indictment of the rationalist Enlightenment thought in which modern Socialism has its origins. This kind of “anti-rationalist” thinking is very popular today as capitalism’s intellectuals stumble around for new ideas with which to prop up this obsolete system. The most popular expression of this is probably Post-Modernism which denies the possibility of objective knowledge and saves most of its wrath for “ideologies” such as Marxism that dare to explain the real world as it really is.

Gray is not a Post-Modernist but he falls into the current swamp of confused pro-capitalist defenders who in intellectual terms appear to want to take us back several centuries. He fails to understand the true nature of capitalism which is a class-based exploitative society which produces for profit not need and is prone to war and crisis. His initial mistake is to associate the Soviet Union with the thought of Karl Marx and to therefore conclude by thinking that with all its problems capitalism has proved itself to be the only viable system for humankind: “there is no alternative to capitalism only its constantly mutating varieties” (p.195).

One should suppose that he is unaware of the case for real Socialism which is production-for-use via common ownership with democratic control. The Socialist Party stands for world-wide revolution, which according to Gray makes us guilty of the crime of “universalism”. To that charge we plead guilty—we are part of a suffering universal/global working class.

Gray’s analysis of the current crisis via False Dawn and his occasional articles in the Guardian do have some nominal resonance. His argument that a global depression could ensue complete with 1930s-style protectionism and trade wars is a possibility which we could countenance.. So although by default we may agree with some of Gray’s conclusions, his method for understanding not only the current crisis but capitalism itself is woefully inadequate.

Ultimately, Gray is a confused pessimist who argues against the pernicious effects of neo-liberalism without realising that he is really talking about the crisis of capitalism. But we should not allow his pessimism let him off the hook. When it comes to Utopianism he takes the biscuit:
  “The growth of the world economy could be a great advance for humankind. It could be the beginning of a many-centred world, in which different cultures and regimes could interact and cooperate without domination or war” (p.196).
Dave Flynn

Letters: That ‘S’ word again (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

That ‘S’ word again

Dear Editors,

Re Aki Orr’s letter which you entitled “Should we drop the word ‘Socialism’?” in the February edition of the Socialist Standard.

Orr’s letter was an excellent analysis of what many Socialists believe is a primary impediment to universal acceptance of our philosophy, and your reply was off-target to a point of irrelevance.

Orr’s hypothesis is that the word “socialism” intrinsically alienates understanding of our object. I can confirm from my experience in Bermuda.

A couple of years ago I was able to get published in the Bermuda Times’s open editorial pages two very lengthy articles on Socialism. These articles were over 1,500 words in length and took up two half-pages over two editions each.

In these articles I defined capitalism, Socialism and state capitalism and other crucial areas. Using the leaflet Some Questions and Answers about Socialism I covered all the salient points that I could in the space I had available. I especially emphasised the meaning of Socialism and how it will solve the problems of society.

However, in spite of my efforts, the only letters to the editor regarding the articles kept harping on about how Socialism has failed etc, etc. I replied to these criticisms pointing out their misinterpretations, briefly reiterated our position and finished by urging them to carefully re-read the articles. However it was totally futile as back came another letter once more chastising me about my definition of Socialism, for example “What was the Allende government in Chile if it wasn’t Socialist”, etc, etc. a complete communications breakdown . . .

Even when discussing the subject face-to-face with so-called intelligent people I find that it is almost impossible to break through the barrier of preconception that the word “Socialism” evokes. It is almost a Pavlovian reaction: ring the bell and the dog salivates.

What I am suggesting is, I know, nothing new yet in my heart of hearts I know that if Socialism is to survive, we must change our name.

At the moment we are banging our heads against the wall. Some people seem to believe that if we are only able to get our message out to the masses that they will come flocking to the cause. My controlled experiment here in Bermuda suggests that nothing like that will happen. The name confuses people and they switch off before you are able to explain who we are and what we stand for. A change of name (perhaps patented/copyrighted?) will focus our identity and possibly act as a catalyst to a faster revolution.
Paul Azzario, 

The people you couldn’t convince of the real meaning of Socialism would seem to have been opponents of the whole idea. Would those who are sympathetic to the idea be put off from investigating further by a mere word? – Editors.  


Dear Editors,

Thank you for printing my reply to your review of my pamphlet Beyond Capitalism/Socialism/Anarchism—AUTONARCHY, the ultimate democracy (February, Socialist Standard).

I expected you would reject my ideas—as you did—in a fraternal manner. I did not expect your misunderstanding of my main points. Allow me one short comment to your reply.

Auto-narchy (nothing to do with “Anarchy”) is based on two principles:

   1. One citizen—one vote, on every political decision.
   2. One employee—one vote, on every decision at work.

I argued that Autobank technology, used daily in every bank in the world for more than a decade, could easily be adapted to political decision-making by millions people. It handles millions of decisions daily, summing them up into a single decision in seconds. Whether decisions are on financial issues or political issues is irrelevant to the technology. When people grasp this the struggle to implement the two principles will begin. This will challenge capitalism—irrespective of economic issues—far more than Socialism.

Your reply made two points:

“Direct democracy . . . would also have to involve ‘indirect’ democracy via elected Delegates” (last paragraph on p.15). NO, it would not! Autobank technology enables millions of decisions to be summed up into a single decision in seconds thereby making political delegates obsolete. If you do not understand this you do not understand my argument.

You say I am wrong in stating that the struggle today is over decision-making authority “rather than over the ownership and control of the productive resources by which society lives” (top of second column on page 16).

Have you ever asked yourself what “Ownership” and “Control” mean? “Ownership” is simply “authority to make all decisions concerning what is owned”.

Authority to make all decisions concerning X—is “ownership” of X. “Control” is decision-making on that which is controlled”. Both “ownership” and “control” boil down to “authority for decision-making”.

If you have other definitions of these two terms I shall be delighted to hear them.
Aki Orr, 
Kfar-Shanaryah, Israel

We still say that direct democracy, whether by mass meeting or autobank technology, need not be the only form of democratic control in socialism. For many, perhaps most decisions, decision-making by a committee or council of elected delegates (subject of course to public scrutiny and recall) will be more appropriate.

We can go along with your definitions. That’s why we said that in the end “common ownership” and “democratic control” of productive resources are the same. However our views are not identical as you write in your pamphlet that “equality of authority at work means that all employees have the right to vote on every decision related to their work. This includes all decisions on profits, investment, hiring and firing.” We say that “equality of authority at work” will mean the end of the employee/employer relationship. How can there still be profits and hiring and firing when there’s common ownership?—Editors.  

Sackcloth and Ashes. 

In the letter from Bryan J. Fair, last month, in the second paragraph it said “At present these are taught by the majority of teachers in a politically biased way.” This of course should have read unbiased.

Whither Iraq? (1999)

From the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a letter last November to Sir John Weston at the Permanent Mission of the UK at the UN, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark lambasted the sanctions decimating Iraqi society as a “violation of the Genocide Convention”. Iraq, he argued posed no real threat to the region and the idea that it did was a “false fantasy created by the US to justify its vast military presence in the region, to dominate the oil resources and to contain Islam”.

Weston’s comments were not unique. He was quite simply echoing what others have been saying for some time, most notably Richard Halliday, whose high-profile resignation as head of the UN’s humanitarian relief programme in Iraq alarmed the warmongers in Washington and London.

Speaking through the Guardian in late February, Halliday voiced his belief that the military threat from Iraq was greatly exaggerated, a “cop-out”, before criticising the West for 8 years of sanctions that have crippled Iraq far greater than any aerial bombardment endured by the country.

Halliday has pointed out that the sanctions violate the Geneva Convention as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of the Child, that they have seriously disrupted the quality of life in Iraq and debased a general high standard of behaviour practised by the common Iraqi people.

If the bombing of Iraq no longer makes front-page news—the 8 March US attack, for instance, only made page 12 of the Guardian under “News in brief”—then it can well be imagined that the common people elsewhere, particularly in Britain and the US, know little or nothing of the 1.2 million children who died as a result of the UN sanctions against Iraq between August 1990 and August 1997, or of the 6,000 who continue to die each week as a result of malnutrition and disease.

While the bombing of Iraqi sites has become an almost daily occurrence for the warplanes of Globocop and its lobotomised sidekick, the UK, the sanctions are the real weapons that continue to blight the lives of the Iraqi people.

Infant mortality rates have increased six-fold since 1996. Fifty percent of the Iraqi population has no access to clean water and the majority exist on a starvation diet, while sanitation has become a luxury.

Iraq’s per capita income has dropped from $2,900 a year to $60 a year and inflation has increased to unparalleled levels. According to the FAO, the price of wheat flour, once part of the staple Iraqi diet, has gone up 1.16 million percent since 1990. The health service is in ruins with surgery often conducted in unsterile conditions and with no anaesthetic because of the embargo on supplies.

Medical necessities are not all that is prohibited by Security Council export restrictions. The list also includes children’s clothing, adhesive tape, books, dolls, spectacles, bags and footballs—the kind of everyday items the more ingenious Iraqis could use to knock US F16s out of the skies!

Meanwhile the aerial bombardment of Iraqi targets continues apace. Missile attacks are now almost daily occurrences and have been since Operation Desert Fox back in December of last year—incidentally the biggest USA/UK joint attack in the region since the Gulf War eight years ago and one that even the less cynical could not fail to notice came as we were expected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As he accepted his presidential nomination in 1988, George Bush had this to say:
“This has been called the American Century because in it we were the dominant force for good in the world. Now we are on the verge of a new century and what country’s name will be bear? I say it will be another American Century.”
These words, better than all the cant that has been used to justify US aggression has against Iraq, best sum up the real US mission in the Gulf. The US, and Britain for that matter—which never got used to losing its world power status after World War II—are defending no moral high ground. They police the no-fly zones on behalf of no neighbour of Saddam and certainly do not defend us from someone who threatens global peace.

The US attacks are being carried out to remind us of their military prowess and at the bequest of their corporate elite. They are bombing Iraq to remind anyone watching that the 21st century—like the one we are witnessing coming to a close—will be ruled by force and that it will be they, the US, who will be calling the shots.

You don’t have to read many books by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and ES Herman to realise the US has been, and still is, the number one rogue state this century, bullying its way across the international stage, imposing their will on anyone not tough enough to stand their corner. A cursory look at the black eyes dished out in the past 50 years by the US and its sidekick is enough to tell us which foot the boot will be on in the coming century.

Why Iraq? Well in place of the “Communist threat” what other propaganda framework best serves US interests and kills two birds with one stone? Saddam, as the unpredictable madman the US has conditioned us to believe he is, has to be punished. He thus provides the US with a perfect pretext for keeping the military machine alert on “our” behalf and to further condition us to accept similar US-led responses in the future. Moreover, the US presence gives Washington tighter control over the region’s oil supplies—something the US state department refers to as the “greatest material prize in world history”.

With a world shortage of not only oil but also water predicted for the 21st century, and with both resources high up on the agenda of all Middle East countries, it’s a certainty the coming century will see, if anything, an increased US presence in the region and a more aggressive stance on the international stage.
John Bissett

Post-Structuralism and Post-Postmodernism (1999)

Book Review from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Post-Postmodernism by Madan Sarup. Manchester, Wheatsheaf.

The postmodernist view is that grand “narratives” like Marxism have failed and are no longer an adequate way of looking at or making sense of the world. That what is more relevant is to break down the big picture (the grand narrative) into a series of smaller, discrete pictures (little narratives); to deconstruct and de-layer the “whole structure” and thereby find out how meaning is put together. One can liken this to a puzzle which is purposely made up of a number of individual pieces that assembled together make a whole picture. It is from the whole picture that we usually make sense of the individual isolated parts. When put together (connected) a meaningful picture is formed.

Amongst some postmodernists the view is that in the deconstructed puzzle each individual piece, or each random construction of smaller pieces of the puzzle occupy a philosophical terrain of their own, have meanings that can be construed without recourse to the bigger picture. If this is so we arrive at a place where the grand narrative is at an end and all that is left is “playing with the pieces” (Jean Baudrillard). This appears unduly pessimistic and without hope of a way forward. Fortunately there are people like Madan Sarup on the scene to counter this view.

Madan Sarup makes some interesting comments in his introduction. He says that “the controversy over postmodernism is one example of class struggle at the cultural and political level. On the political level postmodernism is an attack on Marxism . . . about the validity of Marxism and its belief in progress” as many postmodernists declare that progress is a myth. He goes on to state that the “project of modernity (which postmodernists attack) is one with that of the Enlightenment and that Marxism is a child of the Enlightenment”.

In a passage that comments on the Marxist position, he states that, “a characteristic of human beings is that they make a distinction between the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal'”. By the real he means an awareness of the present situation, and by the ideal, some notion of what life, the world, could be like. Human beings, he continues, “have a sense of what is possible in the future and they have the hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Marxists not only have this hope, this orientation towards the future, but they try to understand the world, to develop a critical consciousness of it, and try to develop strategies for changing it. Of course, they realise that progress is uneven, not unilinear; because of the nature of contradiction there are inevitably negative aspects, sad reversals and painful losses. Marxists struggle for a better future for all, but they know that this does not mean that progress is guaranteed or that the process of the dialectic will lead to the Perfect”. He believes that it is important for people to support the Enlightenment project because education is closely connected with the notion of a change of consciousness and that gaining a wider, deeper understanding of the world represents a change for the better. And this, in turn, implies some belief in a worthwhile future—something the postmodernists seem sceptical about.
Kevin Parkin

Greasy Pole: Howard’s End? (1999)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

A collective shiver must have run down a few thousand spines at the news that Michael Howard, all ambition apparently spent, intends to retire from the Conservative Front Bench (or perhaps had been pushed off it by William Hague). For a lot of people his time as Home Secretary is remembered now like a nasty operation or a serious accident on the motorway—for Howard was among the grisliest of that gruesome lot who, until May 1997, were the government of British capitalism.

Behind a condescending manner and voice and an immovable smile, reminiscent of an oil slick, there lurked, in Howard’s misunderstood breast, a steely ambition. When the Tories, reeling from their drubbing in 1997, were electing a leader to replace John Major, Howard proposed to Hague that they stood as a twosome—with Howard for leader and Hague for deputy. Of course Hague, not being of a suicidal turn of mind, turned the offer down. At the time Howard’s chances were rated highly; he seemed to love being Home Secretary with all the opportunities it gave to boost his popularity by playing up to the prejudices of the party conference. “Prison works,” he told them and they clapped until their wrists ached. “I have 27 points in a plan to fight crime,” he announced and they proved they were not entirely comatose with roars of approval. “If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime,” he shrieked and they rose as one person in an ecstatic standing ovation.

Criminal statistics
One problem with all this is that it did not seem to impress the criminal to any significant extent. The crime statistics—for what they are worth—went up and down (when they went down Howard was hysterically quick to claim this as proof of how effective he was) with little or no regard for what went on in the Home Office. That, to the despair of the reformers, is the way with crime. Meanwhile Howard was busily upsetting almost everyone who, unlike his mindless fans at Tory conferences, are actually in contact with the problem and so have some knowledge of the background to crime. Howard, it seemed, was just about the most unpopular Home Secretary there could be.

Until, that is, the arrival of Jack Straw, who seems bent on outdoing Howard in his zeal to go down in history as the Home Secretary who locked up so many people that there simply weren’t enough left outside the prison gates to commit crimes. Consider, for example, the manner in which asylum seekers are treated when they arrive in this country. When Howard was Home Secretary the Tory government introduced regulations which stipulated that unless an asylum seeker declared their status immediately on arrival they would not be eligible for any state benefits until their application for asylum had been approved by the Home Office. This was the kind of crackdown which Tory activists at their conferences love so much, colluding as it does with one of their grosser prejudices—that most of the people who arrive in Britain saying they have escaped from a brutal dictatorship are not genuinely in need of asylum but come here in search of an easy living on the dole.

One problem with the new regulations was in the time it took—and still takes—for the Home Office to deal with the applications. One recent report said that there are over 76,000 cases gathering dust somewhere there. This can go on for months on end, with no acknowledged reason for the delay. While this is happening the asylum seekers are marooned here with nothing to live on. As a concession local authorities are empowered to provide the very minimum of maintenance, which could mean vouchers exchangeable for basic food and clothing or an arrangement which allowed the applicant to eat at local hospitals or hostels. Another problem was the expectation that an asylum seeker would be in a fit state to pick their way through the bureaucracy of making a claim for benefit immediately they arrived in Britain. When we consider what they had been through in their country of origin, this had to be unlikely but the basis of the new arrangements was that they had not experienced anything unusual and were here to try to sponge on the state.

Cases we could cite are not of people who have come here for an easy life on the dole. Given the choice, they would prefer to be in their country of origin; they have fled to Britain in fear of their lives. This was, it seemed, well understood by the Labour Party when they opposed the Tory government’s restrictions on the refugees. One Labour MP remembers those restrictions as “…an act of spite and vengeance against refugees”.

Labour’s recently published Asylum and Immigration Bill provides wider powers, such as in finger-printing, for the immigration officials, who are already not famous for a commitedly anti-racist stance in dealing with people coming into this country. Registrars will be able to demand evidence of personal details from couples applying to get married and to stop marriages on suspicion. The “cashless” system of subsistence through vouchers will continue, except that even this level of support will be used to discipline the asylum seekers who do not toe the line. Under a new arrangement, they will be directed to live in certain parts of the country and if they leave that area for more than the occasional night their subsistence will cease. So far we have not heard about how it is proposed to find out whether the asylum seekers have stayed where they have been placed nor what powers will be given, for example to the police, to enforce the arrangement. And just to make sure that the message gets across, the government will stop all state support for any asylum seeker who tries to challenge their treatment by the immigration authorities in the courts.

These proposals will be justified by the government on the spurious grounds that this country is being submerged by a flood of illegal immigrants who are undermining all civilised life here with excessive claims for state benefit. We are hearing hints about the menace of “economic immigrants” as if people who come here in the hope of getting a better life are some kind of criminal and as if this has not been an established incentive for millions of people all over the world to set up home abroad. Britain teems with “economic immigrants” from the past, as does the USA, France, Germany . . . and all these countries have had people leave for “economic” reasons. In any case when we look at the figures for people applying for refugee status in 1997 we see that the UK, with 41,000, comes below Germany (135,700) and the USA (103,700) and just a little above the Netherlands (34,400).

In fact the proposals have nothing to do with any alleged problem of resources and bogus claims but a lot to do with the Labour Party’s need to pander to every popular prejudice if they are to have a hope of staying in power for any length of time. This is what informs their every policy and action. This is the explanation for the string of broken promises and the hoards of disappointed supporters who are questioning whether this was what they voted Labour for. The behaviour of Labour in government is not a matter of accident or incompetence. Labour asked for power to govern British capitalism and that was what those voters opted for. The system has to be run like this—the assurances given in opposition have to be exposed as cruel fantasies. In his time Jack Straw was a prominent left-winger; in his mouth it was all a simple matter of changing one set of leaders, one manifesto of deception, for another. Now he shows the reality of it all: Howard may be at an end but his policies live on.

The Socialist Party and Trade Unions. (1923)

From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

A considerable amount of confusion exists in the minds of certain of our critics regarding our attitude towards Trade Unions. It is said by some that we are opposed to the Trade Unions, and in fact to any action by the workers on the economic field. Others assert that our position on the question is inconsistent with the general position of a Socialist Party. With regard to those who assert that we are opposed to the workers taking action against the master class on the economic field, we need only refer to our manifesto, in which we outline our position on the question, to show that the critics referred to are unacquainted with the facts. On pages 17 and 18 of the manifesto we state :—
  “The workers’ organisation, political and economic, must be upon the basis of their class with the object of ending the capitalist system and establishing the Socialist Commonwealth. Any efforts on their part to resist the encroachments of the master class deserve our sympathy and support. But whilst encouraging this resistence, we should fail in our duty did we not point out to the resisters the limits of their power.”
Again on page 33, after giving a brief sketch of the rise of Trade Unions, we state :—
   “The basis of the action of the trade unions must be a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism, and the class struggle necessarily arising therefrom; in other words they must adopt the Socialist position, if they are going to justify their existence at all. Does this mean that the existing unions are to be smashed? That will depend upon the unions themselves. All action of the unions in support of capitalism, or tending to side-track the workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation should be strongly opposed, but on the other hand, trade unions being a necessity under capitalism, any action on their part upon sound lines should be heartily supported.”
The position embodied in these quotations has been consistently maintained by us since the formation of our organisation. Whenever the workers have taken action on the economic field, either by way of attempting to increase wages, or resist their reduction, we have not hesitated to support their action. True, we have denounced the Trade Union leaders when they, contrary to the wishes and interests of the workers, have entered into compromises with the master class. True, we have exposed the absurd ideas of many of these leaders concerning the so-called identity of interests between capital and labour. It is also true that we have criticised the great bulk of the Trade Unionists, who, whilst they are prepared to strike against their masters, at every election vote their masters or their representatives into political power. But all this in no way alters the fact that whenever the workers have attempted to resist the encroachments of capital, the position of the Socialist Party has been one of supporting them. Now comes the other kind of critic and declares that all this is inconsistent with the true Socialist position. As to how it is inconsistent is a question which brings forth many answers, which are so varied that it is impossible, within the scope of an article, to deal with all the points raised.

It will be sufficient if we deal with the position in general to show that the alleged inconsistency exists only in the imagination of the critics.

Under capitalism the worker enters what is called the labour market to sell his labour power as an article of merchandise. The capitalist and the worker face each other in the market as buyer and seller. To the capitalist the reason why the worker is in the labour market is of no importance; he only regards the labour market as a branch of the general market in which commodities are bought and sold. In such conditions the worker loses the identity of Smith, Jones, or Robinson; he is to the capitalist so much energy which can be set in motion for a profitable purpose. But the reason why the capitalist is there is likewise of no importance to the worker; his concern is to obtain the wherewithal to live, and since he can only obtain this by the sale of his labour power, he must enter into relations with the capitalist concerning the price he is to receive. It goes without saying that the worker will endeavour to obtain the highest price he can get, whilst the capitalist will endeavour to beat down the price as low as possible.

We have said that the price of labour power is subject to the operation of economic laws, but this does not mean that the price of labour power is determined apart from the struggle between the buyers and sellers. On the contrary it is through the struggle that the price corresponding to the value of labour power is ultimately realised. To realise the value of the commodity labour power necessitates the highest resistance between the buyers and sellers. Of course, the dice are loaded in favour of the capitalist, as he is in possession of the means of living, whilst the worker has nothing but his power to labour. Hence the resistance of the worker can only take the form of withholding the supply of his energy, and as in this form of resistance the individual worker is helpless, some form of combination is necessary. The form of combination which meets this requirement to-day is the Trade Union. A Trade Union is as a rule an organisation composed of a number of workers engaged in the same trade or occupation. For instance, there is the National Union of Clerks, the National Union of Railwaymen, the National Furnishing Trades Association, the names of which indicate the fact that the basis of membership in the Trade Union is one of trade or occupation. Therefore the Trade Union is an economic organisation. It is true that many of the unions dabble in politics, but this is merely a side line, as an examination of their political and their economic activities will show. The amount, of money expended by the unions on activities of a purely economic character is far in excess of the amount expended upon political activities, and there is the further point that when the individual worker is called upon to become a member of the union, the question of his political views does not arise at all. Liberal, Tory, Labour, Socialist, or no political view at all, the worker is enrolled as a member of the Trade Union for reasons which are purely economic. The Trade Union, then, is the form of combination by which the workers carry on their resistance against the capitalist, and however one may regret that the activities of the workers are not directed to the establishment of Socialism, the struggle on the economic field must be carried on. For, bad as the condition of the working class is, only a fool would deny that it could be far worse. Of course it will be said that the tendency of capitalist development is to drive down the position of the working class. But as Marx puts the position—
  “Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.”—(“Value, Price, and Profit.”)
Let there be no mistake about it, from the standpoint of the Socialist the struggle on the economic field to obtain and maintain the best terms the workers can get for the sale of their labour power is necessary. Far from there being any inconsistency on our part on this point, it is quite in line with the position of a Socialist Party. Right up to the time when the workers are ready to take over the control of the means of wealth production and distribution, the struggle of the workers over wages, hours, and the general conditions of employment, will have to be made, even as the workers become Socialists in larger and larger numbers. The duty of the Socialist is to make the non-Socialist worker, inside and outside the Trade Union, acquainted with the actual position of the working class in capitalist society. For the workers to continue their struggle on the economic field, whilst in ignorance of the fact that they are slaves to the capitalist class, is to prolong the system by which they are sufferers. The adverse conditions in which the workers find themselves are inseparable from the capitalist system, and can only be removed when the workers awaken to a recognition of the necessity for the removal of the system, and the establishment of the Socialist form of society. Whether wages be called high or low the general position of the workers is one of a struggle against starvation throughout the whole of their lifetime. Trade Unionism will not alter this, nor, in fact, will any form of economic organisation. The abolition of the wages system and the conditions that are engendered in that system, will only become an accomplished fact when a majority of the workers become acquainted with a knowledge of their slave position, and then organising politically and economically for the overthrow of capitalist society and the establishment of Socialism.
Robert Reynolds