Sunday, April 25, 2021

Wage Slavery (1981)

Cartoon from the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

More information on the French cartoonist, Jean-Fran├žois Batellier, here.

Wonders of modern science (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this age of advanced technology, we may often wonder at the marvels modem science can perform. One research organisation, in its guide for applicants tells us:
  Already, using novel and indeed sometimes revolutionary techniques, we have subjected materials to pressures greater than those at the centre of the earth, accelerated them to speeds greater than escape velocity and heated them to temperatures only exceeded at the centre of some stars.

  Observational techniques form an integral part of such experimental studies and provide a challenge in themselves. The extreme states with which we are concerned can only, for the most part, be maintained under laboratory conditions for intervals of a microsecond or less. We have therefore had to evolve diagnostic methods of extreme refinement working to tolerances that even a few years ago would have seemed impossible and are still in many cases almost unique and we have already been able, in only a few years, to extend our know ledge of those extreme states which lie on the frontiers of science.

  However, our activities are not restricted to these areas of physics: a wide variety of work is carried out and some of the other main fields of research are in lasers, effects of nuclear radiation on materials, plasma physics and solid state physics.

  Our programme of research is so wide and our resources so varied that our vacancies cover a wide field ranging from explosive studies to optics and from electrical phenomena to seismology. This booklet describes some of the physics in which we are interested. It serves to give an idea of the range of our work but it is necessarily only a selection.
The organisation is “looking for Science and Engineering Graduates who are willing to give all their skills and talents to this important, interesting and rewarding task”. What exactly is this task, you may ask? Why, building atomic bombs, of course! The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, located at Aldermaston and Foulness (le nom juste), may well entice several scientifically trained wage slaves into working for them with impressive sentiments like these. In a socialist (sane) society, they could have the satisfaction of using their “skills and talents” for the benefit of all humanity. In the madhouse of capitalism they can use them to develop weapons that will wipe out large sections of humanity instead.

The Dockers’ Strike. (1923)

Editorial from the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once more the broadcast lie about the “high wages” of the working class has met a refutation in the strike of dockers in various British ports. The poor pay of these workers, coupled with the casual character of their employment, had driven large numbers so close to actual want that the threatened reduction of a shilling a day formed the last straw that caused them to take strike action, even though they would not receive any support from their Union funds because their action was not in conformity with the rules.

The employers claim that as the Board of Trade “cost of living” figures show a reduction of 11 points under the agreement entered into by the Union officials and the employers, wages should be reduced by a shilling a day. The dockers reply that retail prices where they reside have not fallen, and they challenge an enquiry into these figures.

For good reasons the challenge has not been accepted. A short time ago some employers were questioning the Board of Trade figures, but now, when these figures happen to fit in with the employers’ case, the opposition is dropped. Moreover, these figures may be handled in different ways for the purpose of obtaining desired results.

Students of economics know that there is no rigid connection between wholesale and retail prices. The classical instance is that of agricultural produce, where the difference is often fantastic. Another illustration is given to-day by the food merchants who have raised the prices of various articles held in stock, under the excuse—for, of course, no reason for such action can be given—of the strike. A humorous sidelight is given to this point by the complaint of the wholesalers against the wicked retailers for raising retail prices before the saintly wholesalers have had a chance to raise theirs. (Daily News, 18/7/23.)

As wholesale and retail prices move not only at varying rates, but often in different directions, it is quite easy to take wholesale figures when they are favourable and use them as a base for calculating the “cost of living.”

With a most surprising, not to say suspicious, unanimity, the capitalist Press and the Union officials have joined forces in abusing the dockers for “violating the agreement” by refusing to accept the re-duction.

Bully Bevin, grovelling Gosling, and hysterical Williams have all joined in the chorus :—
  “Mr. Ernest Bevin, secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said the Workers’ Union was to regard their ten shillings a day as a stop figure. Sporadic fights in single ports were wrong. The agreement ought to be honoured, and if there was to be a fight to maintain their conditions and their stop figure, care should be taken that it should be a complete and well organised one.”—(Daily News, 4/7/1923.)
This statement contains two pieces of bluff. The first is the yarn about the “stop figure.” Neither the Workers’ Union nor Bevin have ever made any claim about a stop figure in the negotiations, and the Agreement is wholly silent on the point. The second piece of bluff is where Bevin says, “if there was to be a fight, etc.” As he has done all he could to prevent any fight taking place, has urged the acceptance of reduction after reduction in the men’s wages, his talk about “if there was to be a fight” is just bunkum.

The Daily News for 5th July says :—
  “It is clear, however, that under the agreement the shilling must come off, and the men can do little good to their cause by dishonouring their leaders’ signature.”
All this looks convincing on the surface, till one takes notice of a couple of facts. One is that the men have no check on, nor even information, as to how the figures are compiled. The second and more glaring fact is the one-sided character of the claim. All over the industrial field employers have been treating agreements with contempt and breaking them whenever it suited their purpose. The officials of large organisations, like the railwayman and the building workers, have meekly accepted, and even defended, the violation of agreements by the employers. The Agricultural Workers’ Union claim that 500 men are being victimised for taking part in the late strike in direct violation of the agreement accepted at the closing of the dispute. (Daily News, 16/7/1923).

The men, of course, must rigidly keep to the agreements, but the employers may break them when they will ! Can anyone be surprised that the men are beginning to see through such a flagrant piece of hypocrisy? Even the Daily News is beginning to hedge a little, for on July 12th it says :—
  “Great injustices can be perpetrated under the demand for respect of agreements . . . and the spontaneous nature of the revolts of the dockers and the miners against their agreements suggests, perhaps almost proves, that they need at least a careful examination.”
It is a healthy sign that the men should at last take action to resist any further worsening of their conditions. The refusal to accept the advice of officials and the turning down of the clown, Ben Tillett, would be encouraging indications that the men are at last awakening to the folly of “following leaders,” if these actions were based upon knowledge of their case. Unfortunately the backing down of the “unofficial committee” seems to show that the movement is a blind resistance against a reduction of wages rather than a reasoned attempt to take control of affairs into their own hands. Even so, such action is better than mere apathy and a continued acceptance of the hero worship that was shown when presentations of large sums of money were made to Bevin for successfully negotiating reductions in wages.

The chief danger at present is that the men may be deceived by the lies of the union officials into dribbling back to work. Let the men decide to act as a whole, whether to stay out or return to work. When appointing representatives to discuss terms with the employers it should be made quite clear that these representatives should have no power of deciding the terms, but that they should be submitted to the vote of the men in every case.

It is the men who pay the Union officials their salaries—often reaching £800 per year—it is the men and their wives and families who have to bear the suffering caused by these struggles, not the Union officials. Clearly, then, it should be for the men to decide what conditions they will accept.

There is no real remedy for these evils while private property in the means of life continues. The dockers and other workers should study the conditions under which they exist; how they are dependent upon the employers’ permission to live at all, and then learn how the master class rule society through their control of the political machinery. Then they will set to work to take such control into their own hands and so have the ordering of their own lives.

£1000 Fund. (1923)

Party News from the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Industrial organisation. The Socialist View. (1923)

From the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Evidence is continually forthcoming that the subject of industrial organisation, while of considerable interest to many workers, is also one upon which a large amount of ignorance and confusion exists. The reasons for the existence of any form of organisation among those engaged in industry, the power of the workers so organised, and the ultimate object of such organisation, are misconceived alike by the avowed reactionary and the alleged reformer, together with many a so-called revolutionist.

Why do Trades Unions exist? The reactionary, if he allows that they should exist at all, considers their sole legitimate function should be the prevention of disputes between the workers and their masters. In his view the workers should maintain expensive officials, with unlimited authority, for the purpose of pursuing a peace-at-any-price policy. The reformer regards the Trades Unions as a convenient basis for the formation of a political party of place-hunters. He considers the sufferings of the workers and their struggles on the industrial field as the driving force behind the careers of the leaders. He forcibly condemns any activity which comes into conflict with this supreme aim.

Outside the Socialist Party there is not a single political party which does not subordinate the immediate interests of the working-class to those of the master-class and their lackeys. But even among those who frankly reject all political parties (the Socialist Party included) confused ideas are current. While some exaggerate the Trades Unions into the sole conceivable agent of working-class emancipation (or, alternatively, some other form of industrial organisation), we have on the other hand those who pretend that any form of organisation is unnecessary. We are told that the workers will so improve their conditions of life by economic action that the capitalist-class will automatically lose control of the means of life and disappear. The workers are thus tempted to neglect their essential task of organising to secure political control of the forces, military and industrial, which at present determine their condition.

The Socialist observes that there are to-day two social classes; the working-class, by far the great majority of the population, has no share in the ownership and control of the means of life, and consequently exists by the sale of the only commodity it possesses (i.e., the power to labour) to the master class; the few who do own the means of life, who, by the use of this power in the process of production, secure possession of all other commodities. From the sale of these commodities the master-class draws the means to support its luxurious existence. The relationship between the masters and the workers centres immediately round the sale of labour-power, and, ultimately, round the ownership of the means of life. The relationship is essentially one of struggle, and it is of this struggle that the organisations of the classes, industrial and political, are born. The industrial organisations arise from the immediate struggle over the price of labour-power. The masters organise to obtain it as cheaply as possible ; the workers organise to sell it as dearly as possible. The struggle results in the workers getting on an average sufficient for the maintenance of their class, as such, that is as a slave-class doomed to minimum rations in return for an ever-increasing maximum output.

The development of industry by means of inventions and improved methods of production results, not only in yielding an increasing share of the product to the masters, but in the concentration of capital and consequently in the greater bargaining power of the masters. Yet in the face of the worsening of their economic position, the workers’ organisation lags far behind that of the masters in efficiency. The cause lies in the ignorance of the workers. To combat this ignorance is an essential function of the Socialist Party.

We point out to the workers that their interests as vendors of the commodity labour-power are opposed to those of the masters. This knowledge is essential to any improvement of the industrial organisation of the working-class; but, further, we show that even with the most perfect form of industrial organisation conceivable under Capitalism the price of labour-power cannot rise for any length of time above the subsistence level of the slave. If the workers wish to enjoy to the full the fruits of their labour they must abolish their commodity status. They must obtain possession of the means of life. This can only be done by means of political organisation.

The economic organisations of the master-class do not secure to that class their property. Without the machinery of government at their back title-deeds, bonds and share-vouchers would be so much paper. That and nothing more. Behind the letter of the law the armed forces of the State are ready to execute swift judgment on the law-breakers of the working-class, it is not in industrial organisation, then, that the hope of the workers lies. Necessary it undoubtedly is as an essential feature of capitalism, and the very existence of the working-class itself, but more than that, under capitalism, it cannot be. It is a weapon of defence covering an unavoidable retirement in the face of economic development.

What the workers need is to turn industrial defeat into political victory, with the sole object of establishing Socialism, i.e., a form of social organisation owning in common, controlling democratically, and administering the means of life in the interests of all.
Eric Boden

Machinery and unemployment. (1923)

From the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most heard of problems to-day is unemployment. On every hand one hears of general trade stagnation and men out of work, and yet on every hand one can see the installation of new ways and means for saving that very thing for which thousands are searching—WORK.

A few illustrations will make my point clear.

Only a few months ago each of the lifts at the tube railway stations had to have a man to manipulate it; now it is possible for two men to control, by means of a new arrangement of switches, four or more lifts —one man above ground controlling the down working, and one man below ground controlling the up working. Here we see a clear saving of 50 per cent. in labour alone is effected.

The latest device that has appeared in road repairing is the pneumatic concrete breaker. Two men are necessary for the operating of this machine, though one man can work it at a pinch. One man holds and directs the machine (chisel), and the other clears away the pieces to enable the first to see where to place the chisel. Judging by appearances the vibration the man behind the machine has to stand is likely to convert him into a nervous wreck in a short time. I am unable to say exactly how many men the pneumatic concrete breaker displaces, but I would estimate the number at about twelve !

One of the daily papers has just installed a remarkable machine for the rapid making of the moulds which are necessary for the production of the semi-circular sections of type used in the up-to-date printing presses; the presses themselves do away with many hours of labour by folding and counting the papers which they print. There is also another new machine lately installed in the printing trade for the casting of decorative border, etc., “virtually by the mile.”

In the shipping trade economy of labour is the order of the day. The great ships are rapidly being converted from coal into oil burning vessels. The economy effected by this is tremendous, as at least half the number of men previously employed as stokers can now be dispensed with, to say nothing of the other economies such as in loading and so forth.

The great strides made in agriculture have enormously decreased the number of labourers required to produce a given quantity. The steam tractor working the plough performs almost unbelievable feats; while the later oil driven tractor, which works with surprising speed, was often seen during the war driven under complete control by a girl.

The wonderful harvesting machine, which reaps and binds the corn, is another of the remarkable labour-saving devices introduced into agriculture.

The above examples illustrate the fact that the tendency in modern times is to reduce the amount of labour required for the production of the things needed by the population of the earth. Is it not, therefore, extraordinary that numbers of people should be suffering from a lack of the necessaries of life at a time when these things can be produced more rapidly and easily than ever before? In our midst we find men and women without the means of life, not because there is a shortage (the shops are literally choked with food, clothing, etc.), but because these people cannot find employment.

In spite of so many being without work, the people with work to give must needs be always obtaining new devices to diminish the amount available. These devices which should lighten the burden of the worker, on the other hand have the effect of speeding him up and reducing his chances of obtaining employment.

The sole reason for this state of affairs is to be found in the fact that to-day all things are socially produced, but privately-owned. No article, however simple, is the work of one man alone ; other men had expended energy in the getting of raw material, transport, and so forth, without which such an article would be unable to appear upon the market.

Society has arrived at the stage of social production, but it has not yet reached the stage, only one step further, of social ownership. To-day, the privileged few take the whole of the product of the workers, returning to the latter on the average little more than the bare necessities of life. The reason this next step has not been taken is that the workers have not desired it.

The workers can only get out of their present slave conditions by their own efforts; no heaven sent genius can accomplish it for them. They must learn that they hold the means of emancipation in their own hands, as the working section of the community actually hold the overwhelming majority of the votes; at present, however, they lack the knowledge which would enable them to use that vote in their own interests.

When the workers have learnt how best to use their vote, then will come the “reckoning.” By “reckoning,” I mean the reckoning or calculating out of the capacity of men and machines to see how they can be best employed in the interests of the Commonweal, and how much the hours of labour can be reduced.

This will mean that the awful competition of men for jobs will be a thing of the past; that all will contribute their quota for the benefit of all and not, as to-day, for the benefit of a privileged few; in short, it means a re-organisation of the affairs of the world for the equal benefit of the whole of its inhabitants.
G. H. C.

Voice From The Back: Homeless and Clueless (2009)

The Voice From The Back Column from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Homeless and Clueless

Politicians of all the major political parties have “solutions” for what they call the “homeless problem”. In fact there is no homeless problem, what we have is a poverty problem. Here is a recent press story that shows that there are plenty of empty houses available if you have the money. “The number of properties in Britain lying empty is set to pass 1 million. New figures will show that Britain is on course for a record number of houses and flats lying empty. Some of the rise has been caused by home owners facing repossession. Other empty homes were bought by property developers who have since struggled to raise the money to renovate and furbish them for occupation.” (Daily Telegraph, 10 February) Inside this crazy social system fish are dumped back in to the sea, fruit is allowed to rot on the trees while millions of people starve, so it comes as no surprise to learn that people in Britain go homeless while 1 million homes lie empty.

The Terminator

In the movies Arnold Schwarzenegger often played the hero, but in real life he has had to bow to the realities of the capitalist system that has slumps and booms undreamed of in the Hollywood fantasy land. “Cash-strapped California is to start notifying 20,000 state workers that they may lose their jobs. A spokesman for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made the announcement after California lawmakers failed to approve a $40bn (£28.2bn) budget. California, the world’s eighth biggest economy, has been hit by the housing crisis, unemployment and falling consumer spending. ..California has already laid off state workers for two days a month, put 2,000 public projects on hold and delayed tax refunds.” (BBC News, 17 February) Inside the real world of capitalism Schwartzenegger has had to play the villain by terminating many workers means of earning a living.

Labour in Action

The World Bank recently estimated that 2.8 million children could die by 2015 if the global financial crisis is not checked. Commenting on this the Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented: “It is as if the entire population of Rome were to die in the next five years.” (Times, 21 February) This from the leader of the Labour Party who vigorously defend the killer society that is the buying and selling of capitalism. Hypocrisy cannot go further surely when Gordon Brown suspends parliament debate because of the death of the child of one of his opponents in a vote catching move. He will not of course suspend the running of capitalism or its parliament about the possible death of 2.8 million kids.

Capitalist priorities

Despite the economic crisis in the US the government recently announced an increase in its military budget. “The collision of modern American life with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression has had some strange and unintended consequences. In Alpine, Utah, for example, a school has cancelled the entire 6th grade, with the teachers at Mountainville Academy dismissed just before Christmas and the 12-year-olds merged with the 7th grade.” (Times, 21 February) That is the priorities of capitalism – keep up military expenditure to protect the owning class’s markets and sources of raw materials, but sack teachers and worsen the education of workers children.

The Wasteful Society

In the most developed capitalist society on Earth we learn of this horror story. “The US jobless rate jumped in February to 8.1%, according to official figures from the Labor Department. The number of people out of work rose by 651,000 during the month. Both figures were bigger than expected. …President Obama said that the number of jobs lost so far in the recession was “astounding”. Speaking in Ohio, he added: “I don’t need to tell the people of this state what statistics like this mean,” saying that he had signed his economic stimulus package in order to save jobs. The extra 161,000 jobs added to December and January’s figures mean that almost two million jobs have been lost in the past three months.” (BBC News, 6 March) Think what this means, two million workers are being debarred from producing things that are necessary for human existence. Why? Because it isn’t profitable enough. Two million workers and their kids are being impoverished not because of some failing on their part but because of this awful society we all live in. Don’t you think it is time that those 2 million workers in the US thought of an alternative society? Shouldn’t you?  

Pathfinders: How scientific are scientists? (2009)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is Andrew Marr, a well-known political commentator, doing presenting a BBC2 science programme about Darwin’s ‘dangerous idea’? Evidently, having  used up their stock of one biologist the previous month when they trundled  David Attenborough out of retirement, the BBC are now reduced to pilfering  from the politics office. The first thing our ex-Presbyterian Andy does in  his new role of science correspondent is issue a dire warning that we  shouldn’t treat Darwin as a deity or Darwinism as a religion (The Danger of  Worshipping Darwin, BBC Online, 5 March).

Socialists have heard this sort of criticism before, from people who equate any system of organised thought with religion, in wilful disregard of the difference between organised thought and organised fantasy. Scientists do have their heroes, but they don’t worship them as infallible gurus because it is recognised that argument from authority is inferior to argument from evidence. Socialists take the same view of Marx and other revolutionary  thinkers.

It’s a pity Marr couldn’t direct his uncalled-for advice where it might do some good – at real rather than imaginary religious folly. Someone who does  think he’s an infallible guru has just lately been going round Africa telling the locals that wearing condoms will make their AIDS problem worse, not better (BBC Online, 18 March). Yes folks, the Pope pulls another blinder, advocating ‘fidelity and abstinence’, straight after criticising  his own US division for last year’s record-busting 800 sex-abuse cases, which cost the Catholic Church $436m in 2008 (BBC Online, 14 March). Mind  you, this is the guru who told us recently that Darwinian evolution is consistent with the book of Genesis.

Socialists are opposed to all religious superstitions but don’t often  trouble to condemn them because their advocates seem to do that better themselves. In Tanzania, the latest get-rich-quick scheme is to round up albino humans, murder them, cut them up, and sell their body parts as magic potions promising to make the owner wealthy. Meanwhile in South Africa there is an epidemic of what is called ‘corrective rape’, where lesbian women are gang-raped in order to make them ‘girls’ again. The fact that the women are often murdered afterwards suggests the rapists are not too interested in the ‘corrective’ aspect of it all. Unless they’re thinking of the afterlife.

Someone else keen to send women to an early afterlife is Samira Jassim, aka ‘the Mother of Believers’, who tells us how she recruited 80 female Iraqi suicide-bombers. Her clever trick was to have the women raped by her pious and devout male assistants and then tell the victims they would never get into heaven unless they committed a ‘purifying act’ to expunge their  ‘shame’. What this shows is not only the folly of ignorant belief and the despicable manipulation that ‘gurus’ can exercise, but also that these ‘gurus’ don’t believe this hokum themselves. It has often been observed that the higher one goes in any religious organisation, the less belief there is.

Perhaps, at bottom, religious people don’t really believe, but they force themselves to pretend to. There are signs that this is the case. One piece of evidence was the huge outpouring of obviously genuine grief among Catholics when the last pope shuffled off his mortal coil. Since, according to doctrine, he had gone off to sit on the right hand of God and enjoy perfect bliss, one might have expected them to celebrate. But they don’t, and in fact new research suggests they fight against death harder than  non-believers, demanding every treatment and medication in the book, even when prolonging the agony actually increases their misery (Pious ‘fight  death the hardest’, BBC Online, 17 March). Again, this is the opposite of  what you’d expect if religion was giving these people any real comfort. It seems that the Pope and his ilk aren’t very keen to check out themselves, although they’re often happy enough to speed other people on their way, through murder or murderously bad advice.

So how does Andrew Marr have the effrontery to equate science with religion? It seems utterly daft. But does that mean science is a noble endeavour and a  paragon of value-free rationality?

One man who doesn’t think so is the physicist Lee Smolin. He is scathing about the ‘sociology’ of the science community, which he invokes to explain why physics has languished for the last thirty years in the doldrums of unverifiable string theory rather than investigating any more promising avenues of thought: ‘Good ideas are not taken seriously enough when they come from people of low status in the academic world; conversely, the ideas of high-status people are often taken too seriously’ (The Trouble With Physics, Allen Lane, 2006). For Smolin, the old-boy culture of risk-averse conservatism is so strong that it has brought physics to a crisis where one must ask fundamental questions about what science is.

It is a shame that Smolin, following Popper, carelessly brackets ‘Marxism’ with witchcraft and Intelligent Design. He would be surprised to know that  socialist theory (rather than the state-capitalist parodies of North Korea etc that he has in mind) actually accords very well with the principles of scientific enquiry he himself sets out, and that socialists could help to contextualise the problems besetting physics.

Smolin points out that there are more scientists working today than in the whole history of science, however he doesn’t consider that many of them are doing things which are utterly useless or downright destructive because science, like any industry, has to operate within the priorities and limitations dictated by the capitalist system. He recognises that the scientific method suffers because science is organised hierarchically, but doesn’t see that the same criticism can be applied to all branches of human  activity. He demands democratisation and diversity in physics as if physics alone is the problem and these things are already established in other fields.

What sets science apart from religion is not that it works perfectly, but that it has the capability to be self-correcting. This is also the crucial distinction between capitalism, which is unable to correct its own suicidal blunders because it is in thrall to uncontrollable economic laws serving a powerful elite, and non-market, non-hierarchical socialism, which has no such agenda and which can therefore collectively determine the best course of action based on the available evidence.
Paddy Shannon

Letters: The money system (2009)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The money system

Dear Editors

The letter by Ken Scragg and the articles by Janet Surman in your issues of December 2008 and January 2009 herald a further evolution for homo sapiens.

We are a primitive lot. Every few decades the money system collapses and we write tomes trying to explain why, but we still cling to it as if it were sacrosanct, an integral part of us. Yet it is no more than a reflection of the primitive assumption that resources are scarce, a set of symbols that are supposed to represent those resources; but symbols are not the resources themselves nor do they produce anything, only lead to the infinite complexities of marketing and exchange in which everything that we do is controlled by cost. In a moneyless system there would be only production and distribution according to demand, a simple matter in these days of instant communication.

Economists hope that the recession will end and once again be followed by boom, but there is a limit to the creation of ever-more trivia to employ us and to stimulate our greed, so that unemployment is likely to increase without limit.

The basic tenet of the capitalist system and the one over-riding impediment to social advance is the limit we impose on the quantity of money in circulation to preserve its value, so that to rid ourselves of the money system would require no more than to allow the quantity of it to increase until it lost all value, a process that, despite all our efforts to control inflation, is happening gradually all the time.

Without that impediment there would be an advance in human understanding as significant as were the development of speech or writing. Money is just a parasite.

We are very clever but by failing to distinguish between cleverness and intelligence, cause and effect, we have allowed our primitive emotions of greed, selfishness and aggression to control our intellectual and social development, leaving us struggling against each other in wars and political/economic cut-and-thrust that defeat all attempts at social advance.

Directly or indirectly all social problems, all human sufferings have their origin in the money system. There would be no arms trade, so none would be produced or promoted; and with drugs available only on prescription we would be healthier.

Janet Surman mentioned a few of the inefficiencies and wastes of the money system, its inequalities and use of power. Its endless complexities frustrate all human endeavour. No doubt she could have gone on and on for the simple reason that nothing can be done with money that could not be done more efficiently without it. Efficiency depends upon simplicity.
Melvin Chapman, 

Actually, what we want is not just to abolish money but to see established a society based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production, where money would be redundant. We don’t think this will happen through money gradually losing its value, as you seem to be suggesting. It will require a determined political struggle against those who currently own and control the means of production and benefit from the money-wages-profits system that is capitalism – Editors.

Dear Editors

For what it is worth (really nothing) I have supported Greenpeace over a number of years. In response to a recent questionnaire as to what I thought of Greenpeace I said that the world’s problems in my opinion could only be resolved by the dismantling of capitalism. I received a reply recommending me to have a look at the New Economics Foundation.  I did this and replied as follows.

I have looked at the NEF Website and have to say that NEF is simply another reformist outfit that thinks with a little tinkering capitalism will work. On this evening’s BBC 5 o’clock news mention was made that 40,000 homes having been repossessed in the current crisis – 40,000 homes lying empty. I heard Dyson (vacuum cleaners) the inventor saying that by encouraging children in schools to learn engineering Britain could reclaim some of the lost ground in manufacturing, etc. We live in a society in which goods and services are carried out solely with the aim of making a profit. People are ejected from good homes because they haven’t the means to repay debt. Goods are manufactured abroad because labour is cheaper and owners can achieve more profit. These are the laws of the ‘free’ market economy. Oceans are poisoned because of ‘cheap’ disposal of waste. Rainforests are cleared to make way for moneymaking industries. Farming, cattle raising etc. Despite the efforts of the likes of Oxfam and Greenpeace, etc the world situation is worse now than ever. People in the Third World starve not because there isn’t enough food but because they are too poor to buy it. Think of that.

The alternative is a cooperative form of production whereby goods are produced not for profit but to meet needs. This means that ownership of the means of creating wealth, i.e. factories, land, resources have to be taken away from the few who currently own them so that they become the property of all the people under democratic control.

Just think – governments are currently subsidising car manufacturers to keep people producing cars that are not needed in order to keep people in jobs. I have sympathy for the poor devils thrown out of jobs leading to all sorts of problems (loss of homes etc) but what a crazy state of affairs.

I received a reply saying that by their calculations we’ve only got about seven years to get on top of the problem of climate change and that the writer didn’t think the change of economic system I was suggesting could be made in that sort of timetable. Maybe not, but what if the problem just cannot be solved within the present economic system? That would be seven wasted years.
Peter Finch, 

Greasy Pole: The Rise and rise of “Harperson” (2009)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the next election, spare a thought for those whose job is to analyse and interpret the result – especially those who must point out, among the national assumption that the votes have led to an effective, much needed change in society, that all that has happened is the substitution of one set of reactionary prejudices for another. Consider, for example, the matter of Harriet Harman and all that is thereby implied. She emerged into the political universe in the guise of a feminist so revolutionary and steadfast that one wit could suggest it would be more consistent with her proclaimed principles if she changed her surname to Harperson. This piece of pedestrian humour harked back to the times when anyone observing the House of Commons benches (and even more so those in The Other Place) could be understood for remarking that the only possible government must be over-weighted with mature, wealthy, overbearing males.

From that observation it was only a short, if misdirected, step in logic to the conclusion that the problems  – poverty, lack of proper housing, social alienation, war – of current society must spring from that prescribed composition of the occupants of the seats of power. And from that position it was tolerable – if not sustainable – to argue that the only certain remedy for those ills was to elect  governments weighted with younger, less monied, more dynamic females.  Which returns us, abruptly, to the matter of Harriet Harman – Chair and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Women and Equality, QC – and hovering contender for the Party leadership in the event that anything should “happen” to  Gordon Brown – like being ditched by Labour after too emphatic an electoral defeat.

Harman is very much a product of the traditionally well-heeled Labour political families with connections significant enough to encourage party members to feel comfortingly patronised by them. (Although what this does for the patronisers is, of course, a matter for speculation). In her background are to be found the Earl of Longford, Lady Antonia Fraser and, earlier, some of the Chamberlain family who once dominated Conservative politics. True to this tradition, Harman was for five years the legal officer of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty); in that capacity, on the Grunwick picket line, she met her husband. In 1981 (this seems hardly believable now, were it not that for a politician everything is to be believed) she rebelled against the “royalist orgy” of Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana Spencer by joining with Peter Mandelson and others on a cross-Channel ferry for a republican protest away day in France. “We were a happy band, we had a great deal of fun” the then editor of the New Statesman assured us. But this kind of behaviour had to be curbed soon afterwards – in October 1982 Harman joined the other Honourable Members who had fawned so loyally over the doomed royal couple when she won a by-election in Peckham. Her wilder indiscretions looked to be further tamed when, in 1984, she was raised to the opposition front bench, speaking on social services, health and then Treasury matters. After Labour’s 1997 victory Blair put her in charge of the misnamed Department for Social Security but she was sacked after a little more than one year; fulfilling her brief to “reform” the system she had cut the benefit of lone parents but – perhaps more crucially – she had crossed swords too often with junior minister Frank Field.

Proving that she has the resilience essential to anyone with ambitions to claw their way up the greasy pole, Harman quickly bounced back; in June 2001 she became Solicitor General – the first woman to hold the job. Since then she has risen steadily, leaving behind her female rivals such as Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint. This is unlikely to have happened without her demonstrating a uncritical readiness to support the government policy on matters such as the “anti-terrorist” laws, the imposition of identity cards, the renewal of Trident. She also voted for the invasion of Iraq – which caused her considerable discomfort later when she appeared to have changed her mind. Responding to a question from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight she confessed: “If I’d have known if there weren’t weapons of mass destruction I wouldn’t have voted for the war. Clearly it was a mistake”.  However this was no unconditional conversion because she did not keep to her implied promise when agreeing with Paxman that the Labour Party should apologise for the attack. In any case this was all much too late to save the buildings wiped out by the missiles and the bombs and the tens of thousands of people who had been killed. But it was well timed for Harman’s campaign for the Labour Deputy Leadership, after her own poll had persuaded her that the public favoured her above the other candidates.

Labour MPs in the Commons are often driven to a restless embarrassment at Harman’s performance when Gordon Brown is away and she takes over at Prime Ministers Questions. This is not a time for the considered, meticulously argued response; the MPs want something to make them jeer and wave their order papers. It does not help to have Harman fumbling and stuttering, for example when she said that Fred Goodwin, the sacked ex-boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, was awarded a knighthood for his work for charity when, as any City wide-boy knows, it was for “services” to banking. The same can be said when she, a solicitor and a QC, announced that the government would stop Goodwin collecting the pension awarded him by the bank he wrecked, in spite of the fact that to do so would be illegal. But these are only incidents in Harman’s drive for the top, in which she is ready to attempt to conceal all unhelpful facts and bend  any others. 

The Ire Of The Irate Itinerant (2009)

 From the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: More Trouble in Africa (2009)

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

When the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was set up in 1953, it was known to be against the wishes of most of the African population in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. They did not want to be taken out of the control of the British Colonial Office to be handed over to domination by the white settlers, whose attitude, as shown particularly in Southern Rhodesia, is much like that of the South African Government. Opponents of Federation, including the British Labour Party, foresaw that tension would increase and were not surprised by the recent disturbances in which a number of Africans were killed by Government forces. Among the Africans the idea of early independence for Nyasaland has been given a powerful stimulus, associated by some of them with more ambitious ideas of a wider nationalism, taking in all Africa.

Are they right? Will “independence” make them better off and happier? Their African leaders tell them there is no doubt about the matter. And it is quite obvious that most Africans would prefer to put up with a lot of inconvenience, even hardship, to escape living under a government which operates or tolerates a colour bar against them. Africans are only behaving like other people, for history is full of examples of resentment of, and revolt against, the imposition on subject groups, or racial, national, religious and language barriers. And because it has happened so often we have plenty of information about its consequences: nobody need please ignorance.

What then has national independence done for the mass of the population, whether we take the European nationalist movements of last century, such as the Italian struggle against Austria or the Balkan countries’ struggles against Turkey, or the quite recent new States set up in former Colonies? Without going into details we can say that national independence is good for local politicians, lawyers, army officers, manufacturers and business men; it opens up careers and money-making opportunities for them, as also for local holders of government civilian posts who may have found their advancement hindered while a foreign administration had control. Sometimes the achievement of national independence helps to speed up industrial development where this has been deliberately limited by the governing Power and may make it rather easier for workers to form trade unions.

(From front page article by ‘H’, Socialist Standard, April 1959)

Surviving (2009)

Book Review from the April 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Selling Your Father’s Bones by Brian Schofield, Harper Press, 2008

This is a fascinating account of the fate of Nez Perce (rhymes with Fez Purse) people of the north west of the USA and their land. It uses the narrative of the desperate 1877 flight from their old homeland in the Wallowa valley towards exile in Canada, as a means to describe the exploitation and near destruction of the West through a particularly rapacious form of capitalism. The industrial pollution (the mile wide purple pit of Butte, Montana, is very memorable) and destructive agriculture are vividly depicted. As a history of a “Native American” group, it is especially useful as it brings the subject right up to date – an annoying feature of books of this nature is the close of the narrative at the loss of political independence, usually deep in the nineteenth century. The contrast between the desolation left after the death of the settler’s dream (the scary empty landscapes of No Country for Old Men) and the relative success of the communitarian Nez Perce rewards the reader with vicarious pleasures and hints towards the very real benefits, both economic and social, which socialism will bring.