Friday, April 30, 2021

Produce more—children ! (1923)

Editorial from the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the meeting of the British Association in Liverpool some of the scientists demonstrated once again that the payer of the piper calls the tune. Official science must give evidence, now and again, that it is a bulwark of capitalism, so that learned professors may obtain the wherewithal to live and carry on their studies.

Many years ago it was alleged that an important cause of the workers’ poverty was the largeness of the worker’s family. Since that time war has swept away a huge number of the pick of manhood. In spite of this latter fact, there are, at the present time, nearly two million workers wanting employment. One would imagine, therefore, that any present restrictions in the size of the worker’s family would be welcome, particularly as so much is made of the difficulty of handling the “unemployment problem.”

But the capitalist does not aim at solving unemployment. If he did solve this problem he would be placed in a similar position to that in which he found himself during the war—forced to pay comparatively high wages on account of the shortage of the labour supply. Since the war the labour supply has overflown the demand, and the capitalist has been able to press wages down.

Under capitalism business moves at varying rates of speed. At one time there is a rush of business ; at another time there is a slump. The employers require a supply of labour sufficient to meet the demands, of brisk business and still have a sufficient number of workers over to prevent those in work from demanding wages above the normal. In periods of slump the number of workers over during the busy time is swelled by the number the slump throws out of work, and the unemployment problem becomes acute.

The growing difficulty of sustaining life, even at the best of times, has a tendency in recent years to force the workers to limit the size of their families. The capitalist sees in this a dangerous symptom—a symptom that might reduce the industrial reserve army and limit the extent of his profits.

It is just here that the scientist can lend him some aid—and he does his “duty.”

The Special Correspondent of the Daily News, reporting the speech of Dr. Vaughan Cornish, President of the Geographical Section, writes :
  “In his opinion if you are to do your duty to the Empire you must have at least four children. He made it clear that you should not invite children into the world for their own pleasure or amusement, but should enlist them, as it were, in an army for home defence.

  “In his view it appeared children were merely potential soldiers.

   “In order to have strategic security in this, island,” he insisted, “we must be able to meet the air force of a European combination as well as to carry out our traditional plan of dispatching a powerful expeditionary force for the support of a friendly Power. This active defence requires a large population.”—(“Daily News,” 14/9/23.)
Imagine urging us to increase our families so that our children may provide food for guns ! And the monuments to the “glorious dead” are still being covered with wreaths, though their dependants cannot find the necessary covering to shelter them from the inclement weather.

But the patriotic plea put forward is only a cloak for the masters’ desire for cheap labour.

Not only do the masters require an industrial reserve army, but they also require a plentiful supply of youthful labour. Machines are taking a greater part in industry as time goes on, and the operation of these machines is becoming more and more the work of children. In spite of official regulations, the half-time system is growing. According to the Westminster Gazette (27/8/23), there are 3,437 children between the ages of 12 and 13 at work in Staffordshire alone. In Rochdale the number of half-timers increased from 871 in 1915 to 1,219 in 1920.

Therefore, workers, if you would raise-up multitudes of youthful competitors and provide the employers with cheaper labour, then heed the advice of the scientist—be fruitful and multiply.

Letter: The Socialist Party and Trade Unions. (1923)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Manchester,
July 5th, 1923.

Comrades,

Your contention that the workers do not pay rates and taxes on the basis that what he hasn’t got he cannot part with has always seemed to me quite sound. But in this month’s Socialist Standard Comrade Reynolds declares, “For, bad as the condition of the working class is, only a fool would deny that it could be far worse.” This seems to me to contradict the above, for if his condition can be made worse, to say nothing of far worse, it surely can be made so by the capitalists collectively (taxation) as by the capitalists individually (wages).

The point I would wish to make is that, according to our friend Reynolds, the worker has a surplus or margin above the bare subsistence level, thus rendering him susceptible to taxation in his degree even as the man with £10,000 a year.
Yours fraternally,
Inquirer.


Reply:
Our contention that taxation does not affect the working class is in no way contradicted by the statement quoted from the July Socialist Standard. The statement is made to indicate the fact that the struggle of the workers on the economic field over the question of wages, hours, and the general conditions of employment does to some extent act as a brake upon the tendency of capitalism to worsen the condition of the working class. The writer does not imply that the workers have “a surplus or margin above the bare subsistence level, thus rendering them susceptible to taxation”; on the contrary, he implies that it is necessary for the workers to carry on the struggle in order that they should realise the value of their labour-power.

Of course, the workers have no surplus above the subsistence level, out of which to pay taxes. But it does not follow that because of that fact their condition could not be worse than it is at present. The social condition of the workers not only could be worse, but is actually becoming so as capitalism develops. For instance, as more efficient methods of wealth production are introduced, unemployment increases, and, with the consequent increase of competition for jobs, the workers are subject to a more intensive exploitation, their position is more insecure, and their poverty becomes greater than ever.

Now “Inquirer” seems to be of the opinion that the level of subsistence is a fixed point. But that is not the case. The workers sell their energy to the capitalist at the cost of their subsistence, but the cost of subsistence depends upon, among other things, the standard of living which varies, in different trades and in different countries. The standard of living is a product of historical and social forces, and may be raised or lowered. As Marx puts it :
  “The value of labour is in every country determined by a traditional standard of life. It is not a mere physical life, but it is the satisfaction of certain wants springing from the social conditions in which people are placed and reared up. The English standard of life may be reduced to the Irish standard ; the standard of life of a German peasant to that of a Livonian peasant.”— (“Value, Price and Profit.”)
And, as the whole history of capitalism shows, the tendency is in the direction of lowering the standard of living of the workers, to the extent, to use the words of Marx, of reducing the whole working class to the “utmost state of degradation.” Around this question of the standard of living a constant struggle goes on between the workers and the capitalists. The former endeavouring to maintain it at a certain level, and the latter endeavouring to reduce it to its lowest point. It is precisely here where the organisation of the workers on the economic field functions. By means of withholding their labour-power, or threatening to do so, the workers do, to a certain extent, put a brake upon the encroachments of capital. In other words, whilst the workers by trade union action cannot altogether prevent the worsening of the social condition, they can slow down the worsening process.

To state such an obvious truth, namely, that the condition of the workers could be far worse, is something totally different from saying that the workers have a surplus above the subsistence level out of which to pay taxes. For the workers to be susceptible to taxation would necessitate their getting a surplus above the amount necessary for their subsistence as wealth producers for the capitalists, and this they do not get. Consequently, the capitalists cannot make the condition of the workers worse by means of taxation. They can and do, however, by means of reducing wages and intensifying exploitation, a fact with which we as workers are painfully acquainted.
Robert Reynolds

A professor on the equality of opportunity. (1923)

From the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 
  “What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so? Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne—we may stop there. Of these all but Keats, Browning and Rossetti were university men; and of these three Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly well-to-do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to say; but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact nine out of those twelve were university men, which means that somehow or other they procured the means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard fact of the remaining three you know that Browning was well-to-do, and I challenge you that, if he had not been well-to-do, he would no more have attained to writing “Saul” or the “Ring and the Book,” than Ruskin would have attained to writing “Modern Painters,” if his father had not dealt prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income ; and, moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats, whom Atropos slew young, as he slew John Clare in a madhouse, and James Thompson by the laudanum he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us face them. It is—however dishonouring to us as a nation—certain that by some fault in our commonwealth the poor poet has not in these days, nor has bad for two hundred years, a dog’s chance. Believe me—and I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320 Elementary Schools —we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.”

(Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, “On the Art of Writing,” page 33, 1923 Edition.)

£1000 Fund. (1923)

Party News from the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 



Market failure (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Businesses never spontaneously take into account the interest of the capitalist class as a whole, let alone that of society in general. They have always acted on the basis that, as Thatcher put it, there is no such thing as society. One result has been the current global overwarming, which Nicholas Stern, in his report to the Labour government on the economics of climate change, described as the biggest market failure ever.

Businesses leave it to governments to represent the overall capitalist interest but, even here, they are reluctant to let governments interfere with their freedom to make profits in the way they want. Not that, these days, governments want to impose coercive restrictions on capitalist businesses. Environment minister David Miliband has openly declared:
“Climate change is, according to Sir Nicholas Stern, the greatest ever market failure, but the answer is not to replace markets. Instead, we need to price pollution into markets and extend market mechanisms so that they work more effectively” (Times, 12 February).
In other words, calling on Beelzebub to cast out Beelzebub. But some supporters of Beelzebub are not content even with this light touch. In an article entitled “A free market solution to global warming” the US business correspondent of the Times, Gerard Baker, put it ironically:
“Man-made global warming is, if the critics are correct, the biggest example of market failure in the history of the planet. It makes Marx’s critique of capitalism look like nitpicking. Inequality and labour alienation we can live with. Global warming is a bit harder” (20 February).
He then went on to point out that the sort of measures envisaged by Stern and Miliband wouldn’t be enough:
  “Despite reassuringly low-cost estimates from the likes of Sir Nicholas Stern, attempting to arrest and then roll back carbon emissions by relatively mild taxation and regulatory measures over decades looks a tall order. If you are really serious about it, you need to be thinking in terms of an internationally mandated programme of regulation and control over economic activity that will surpass anything ever seen in human history”.
Capitalism, he implies, just couldn’t afford this: “The real present-day cost of reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere substantially below where they are now is almost certainly prohibitive and ruinous to economic growth”.

As an alternative to what he calls “the leap into the socialist abyss” he advocates “measures to limit the effects of global warming – improving sea defences for example”. One better than King Canute but likely to be just as ineffective in the long run.

Not that socialists advocate “an internationally mandated programme of regulation and control” over capitalist businesses. What we want is for the production of the useful things that people need to live and enjoy life to be taken out of the hands of profit-seeking enterprises altogether. We want the means of production to be owned in common by the whole community as the only basis on which production can be organised to take account of the overall interest of all the members of society.

In socialism there won’t be any profit-seeking capitalist enterprises to regulate; just democratically-run productive units producing, in an ecologically and socially acceptable way, what people need.

Letters: Class War (2007)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class War

Dear Editors

I read the review of Ian Bone’s Bash the Rich (March Socialist Standard) with interest as a few years back I had a couple of pints with the author in a pub in Bristol. And until recently he could be found selling the excellent community news-and-scandal sheet The Bristolian in that same fair city.

Indeed, one of the most interesting sections in his “confessions” deals with his involvement in a similar publication in Swansea during the late 1970s called Alarm. Populist, pro-working class publications are evidently what he does best, and the mother of them all of course turned out to be Class War.

Here’s my “confession” . . . I always had a bit of a soft spot for CW. Their political positions (such as they were) were always closer to the Socialist Party’s than most anarchists and any lefties. And the paper in its heyday was something to behold. But – and it’s a big but – their avowed methods were, and are, different from ours in the extreme. Bone quotes a comrade of his criticising elitist violence (as opposed to political mob violence) by stating ‘petrol bombs are far more democratic than dynamite’. OK then, but isn’t democratic political action even more democratic still? And, of course, CW famously developed a veritable obsession with the “middle class” that they saw as standing between us and the ruling class.

As his memoirs end abruptly around 1985 we can presumably await further fond rememberings, no doubt featuring tales of the anti-Poll Tax conflict of the early 1990s. Until then, Ian, if you’re reading this, where on Earth did the bloody Bristolian vanish to?
Ben Malcolm, 
Bath.


Capitalism

Dear Editors

Thanks for the review of my book Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction (March Socialist Standard), which I appreciate. I introduce the notion of a stage of managed capitalism largely in order to contrast the tendencies of the period (roughly speaking) 1850-1970s with what has happened since the 1970s. I agree that there are continuities across this watershed – the concentration of capital has, for example, steadily increased – but I think we need some notion of a different stage since the 1980s in order to make sense of Thatcherism and New Labour, their similarities and their difference from old Conservatism and old Labour.

While it appeared to many in the 1970s that capitalism was collapsing, and there was plenty of evidence they could draw upon – notably the global decline in rates of profit – capitalism did seem to get a new lease of life in the 1980s.

On the issue of whether the Soviet Union was a form of state capitalism, I would argue that the institutional differences between the Soviet system and the capitalist countries are sufficiently great to warrant the treatment of the Soviet system as fundamentally different, though I would agree that the Soviet Union was a part of the capitalist world economy rather than distinct from it and that it was another means by which labour was systematically exploited. If one treats the Soviet system as a form of state capitalism it is also more difficult to make sense of the 1990s transformation of Russia and its consequences, which flowed from the introduction of capitalist mechanisms.

Perhaps you are too pessimistic on the possibility of changing capitalism, since there have been many important institutional changes in many different countries at many different times. By change you mean change from rather than change of! Are there any signs that a change from is going to happen?
James Fulcher 


War

Dear Editors

I agree with Bob Dixon (book of poems reviewed in the March Socialist Standard) that the working class do not give much thought to wars. Some regard them as part of life. You can see this from the way they buy poppies and the way they attend ceremonies which glorify wars. Although many join the forces for adventure and to escape poverty. But we must try to change this culture of war by any means we can including by poems like Bob Dixon’s. If you join the forces you will be expected to kill and be killed. All wars are illegal and you will be expected to fight for the ruling class. Who will put poppies on your grave? You will become part of the poppy day parade. No sympathy. No comment. Just silence. Like the dead.
Joe Boughey, 
Newton-le-willows.


Death penalty

Dear Editors

In his article (Socialist Standard, March) John Bissett explains some of the cruelties of the death penalty, and talks movingly of his own experience of trying to support someone on death row. As a constitutionally secular society that, ostensibly at least, champions the right of the individual, executions in America seem particularly perverse.

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone reading this letter is likely to have any overly idealistic ideas about the American government (to say the least!) but couldn’t we at least hope for them to not engage in such a seemingly obvious contradiction of the values for which they claim to stand?

A real turning point for me, in my understanding of both the death penalty and my attitude towards it, came from reading the book ,Who Owns Death? Capital Punishment the American Conscience and the end of executions, by Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell. I really found this to be one of the cleverest and most illuminating books I’ve ever read. I was honestly bowled over by the skill with which the authors tackled this subject. Rather than dwelling exclusively on the point that executions aren’t terribly nice for the person getting killed in this manner, and then vilifying anyone who possessed the inhumanity to express even the slightest sympathy for it under any circumstances ever (as I might have been tempted to do) the authors adopt a diametrically different approach – seeking to understand, rather than pass judgment, on everyone in any way involved in the death penalty process or expressing an opinion on it.

The authors draw a distinction between personal emotions concerning violent crime, and government policy. As they put it: “we can well understand how a husband or sister of a murder victim might want to tear the killer limb from limb; we’d probably feel the same way, at least initially. Yet this does not provide a clear indication about what society should do with convicted killers.”

I’ve had a few conversations with people who regarded themselves as supporters of the death-penalty who I’ve managed to bring around to agreeing it wasn’t a good idea, by first expressing sympathy for their sense of indignation and wish for vengeance, and then gently asking them if they thought the death penalty would really help stop such things (i.e. violent murders) from happening.

The authors explain how the condemned man comes to serve a symbolic purpose – representing evil that needs to be purged, and, a “hard” attitude towards crime generally. This is of course relevant to other groups that can come to represent evil, and towards whom a similarly “hard” attitude is seen as appropriate, i.e. “Islamic terrorists”.

The death penalty is significant not just from the point of view of the suffering it causes to its victims (and everyone else involved in the death penalty process – a point explained by Lifton and Mitchell), but also because it is related to fundamental moral and psychological issues that are a part of everyone’s lives, to do with justice, vengeance, forgiveness, and the value we place on human life. By improving our understanding of these, and learning to ditch the attitude of considering people as “evil” in favour of recognizing them as flesh and blood humans like ourselves, erring and misguided though they may be, we can start to gain a recognition of our shared humanity that, when shared by enough of us, will help bring an end to all instances of inhumanity and neglect.
Adam Waterhouse, 
Bristol

A stroke of the pen (2007)

The Cooking the Books column from the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is to revise the way Britain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is calculated. According to the Times (26 February) “from 2008 the ONS will also add into GDP an estimate of the output generated by banks related to the higher rates of interest they charge on loans compared with deposits”. Output generated by banks? What are they talking about? Banks don’t produce anything.

It is just that, given the way a country’s output is calculated, banks have to be assumed to produce something. The value of the new national output produced in a year has theoretically to equal the total annual income of the country’s inhabitants as wages, profits, rent, interest, fees, etc in that year (national income). One way new national output is calculated is to add up the monetary value of the goods and services on which the national income is spent (final consumption). To do this it is assumed that whatever a sum of moneyfor this purpose is spent on is an “output”.

Thus, interest paid to banks is assumed to be a payment for the bank’s “output” (the service of lending the money). Similarly, taxes are assumed to be a payment for the government’s output (the “service” of providing “defence” and “law and order” as well as health and education).

This is all right for statistical purposes, but wrong if this statistical device is taken for reality. In reality neither banks nor governments produce anything. They – or rather, the workers employed by them – do of course do something, but the activity of banks and governments is in the end paid for out of the surplus value produced in productive industry which transforms materials that originally came from nature. In the case of the government this is obtained through taxes. For banks, it’s through interest.

An ONS paper explains how banks work, better in fact that most economics textbooks: “In essence, financial institutions provide services in two ways; by direct charging (overdraft fees, mortgage arrangement fee), and by an interest differential; that is paying depositors less than they charge borrowers . . . For example, current accounts are usually maintained free by financial institutions,
and the associated costs are met by the difference between the low interest payments awarded on credit balances maintained in such accounts whilst the bank lends funds from such accounts at a higher rate to borrowers”.

In other words, no nonsense about banks “creating” credit or deposits, but a recognition that they make their money by lending out money deposited with them at a higher rate of interest than that paid (if at all) to those who deposit money with them. Even so, this description is still tied to the concept that banks provide a service, i.e., that they are selling something. But what?

Because of the theoretical and practical problems involved in the idea of banks selling something, the national income statisticians have till now not included in GDP any value for the “output” of banks for the services they are regarded as providing – banking facilities for depositors – and for which they don’t charge. The solution they have come up with, and which will be applied in Britain as from 2008, is to regard the income of banks from “paying depositors less than interest than they charge borrowers” as a notional payment for these notional services.

It’s a bit of an artificial solution and it will increase GDP by a one-off 1.9 percent or so – which is more than normal growth in some years – by a mere stroke of the pen. But one held by statisticians rather than the bankers of currency crank myth.

Greasy Pole: The fall of the House of Lords (2007)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

The House of Commons has expressed a preference for turning the House of Lords into a wholly elected chamber. This is being touted as a great democratic advance: the final abolition of the hereditary principle in political decision-making, something that has been talked about and promised by Liberals and Labourites for well over a hundred years, and the end of the sale of peerages to jumped-up businessmen and their distribution to cronies and superannuated politicians.

A second chamber (such as the House of Lords evolved into) is an anti-democratic concept. Nearly all capitalist states have one and in all cases it was intended to be a check on the power of the more popularly elected first chamber. The US Constitution is a prime example. It was drawn up towards the end of the 18th century when the propertied class were still afraid – as they were to be for the whole of the following century – of what might happen if they gave the vote to all (male) adults, such as the taxing away or the dividing up of their property. They therefore provided for a Senate that was explicitly modelled on the British House of Lords except that it excluded the hereditary principle.

Feudal relic
Britain doesn’t have a formal constitution; only a set of constitutional practices that have evolved over the years. The House of Lords dates from feudal times when the Norman barons who had conquered England forced their leader, the King, to take their views into account. Originally it was the House of Lords that was the “first chamber”. The House of Commons was a body convoked to represent the non-noble elite in the towns whenever the king wanted to raise money by taxing them.

The House of Commons became the instrument which, from the 16th century onwards, the rising capitalist class of the towns used to win control of political power, first at the expense of the king and, later, at the expense of the House of Lords. Under Cromwell, not only was the king executed but the House of Lords was abolished. That proved to be an interlude only. Even so, Charles II, when his family was restored to the throne in 1660, did not undo the anti-feudal reforms carried through under Cromwell. But he did restore the House of Lords and made many more lords (some his illegitimate sons). When his successor, James II, tried to revive the “divine right of kings” to rule, both the Lords and the Commons united to boot him out in what they called the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and replace him with a new king – William of Orange – and a new royal family chosen by them.

From that time on, the king’s chief – “prime” – minister and the “cabinet” of other ministers had to be able to command the support of a majority of members of the House of Commons. That body was elected, but not on any sort of democratic basis. Only a tiny minority of those living in a parliamentary constituency had the vote. In many cases, these depended on the local landowner who was thus in a position to choose the MP. All the same, parliament was able to reflect changes of opinion amongst the privileged class of landowners and merchant capitalists and there were changes of government even in the corrupt 18th century.

With the industrial revolution, the newly emerging propertied group of factory-owning capitalists agitated to share in the political decision-making process. The result was the Reform Act of 1832 which admitted the “middle class” – in the proper sense of the term as the propertied class between the upper class of landed aristocrats and the lower class of propertyless wage workers – to the franchise and so to a say in who got elected to parliament and who formed the government.

For the rest of the 19th century the British constitution was a compromise between the capitalist class and the landed aristocracy. The capitalists accepted that the top posts in the government should be in the hands of landed aristocrats as long as these governed in the capitalist interest. Thus, apart from the Gladstone/Disraeli double act, most of the other 19th century prime ministers were lords – the Duke of Wellington, Earl Grey, Lord Melbourne, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Palmerston, Earl Russell, the Marquess of Salisbury, the Earl of Roseberry. But, by the 20th century this was no longer acceptable and when in 1963 the Tories, rather inexplicably, chose the 14th Earl of Home as their Leader he had to renounce his peerage and get elected to the House of Commons.

Lloyd George knew my father
In 1909 the Lords made the fatal mistake of putting their own sectional interest as landowners first by rejecting the budget drawn up by the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, because it imposed death duties on landed estates. Nemesis was swift. The Liberal government called two general elections and won both. The Lords submitted and voted for the budget. In 1911 the powers of the House of Lords were restricted to only delaying for two years, not rejecting, any laws voted by the House of Commons and from then on they only second-guessed the Commons on minor matters of drafting detail. The British State had been made subject to complete capitalist control.

If the Lords hadn’t submitted in 1910 the Liberal government had been prepared to create enough new peers who supported them to obtain a majority for its budget in the House of Lords. The idea must have appealed to Lloyd George since, when he was the prime minister in a Liberal-Tory government after the first world war he earned a reputation for selling seats in the House of Lords. This led to the Act of Parliament banning this, under which the Blair government is now being investigated. But the practice of a peerage for jumped-up businessmen in return for donations to the Tory or Liberal or Labour parties continued, though more discreetly.

In 1948 the period by which the Lords could delay laws voted by the Commons was reduced to one year. The Labour Prime Minister of the time, Clement Attlee, had once declared that if offered a peerage he would call himself Lord Love-a-Duck of Limehouse. When he retired from politics in 1955 and was made an Earl he chose the rather more conventional title of Earl Attlee. Life peerages were introduced by the Tories in 1958 and in 1999 the Blair government limited to 90 the number of hereditary peers entitled to a seat in the House of Lords pending a final settlement of the question.

It is by no means clear that the proposal for a wholly-elected House of Lords will go through, despite the vote for this in the House of Commons. The present members of the House of Lords – life peers just as much, if not more, than the dukes, earls and marquesses – don’t want to vote themselves out of existence. So, more negotiations and amendments can be expected as the saga continues.

Much time and energy will be wasted on this irrelevant side-issue which won’t affect the position of workers either way. Irrelevant because the point at issue is a detail of the structure of the capitalist state. Diverting because it sustains the impression that politics is about what goes on in parliament: the sham confrontations of Prime Minister’s Question Time, the ambitions of leaders and would be leaders, the squabbles of the professional politicians. Whereas politics is really about collective action to deal with the everyday problems that affect everyday people.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: £400 for a Slave (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fairly recently King Saud of Saudi Arabia visited “the land of the free”—the United States of America, where he was feted by President Eisenhower, and other American politicians. Little is known of his country except that there is sand—and more important—oil, in Saudi Arabia. But a recent United Nations report (News Chronicle, 22/ 2/57) gives us some idea just how “free” and democratic King Saud’s oil-soaked land is.

According to the report Saudi Arabia has 450,000 slaves— just 20% of the population. Prices on the Jeddah slave market were said to be between £200 and £400 for a girl under 5; £150 for a man under 40 and £40 for an old woman. Like Christian Archbishops who also live quite well, Moslem Kings, such as King Saud, do not condemn slavery—chattel slavery in Arabia, and wage-slavery in Britain!

(from “Odds and Ends” by Peter E. Newell, Socialist Standard, April 1957)