Sunday, May 2, 2021

SPGB Discord Meeting: Is class consciousness a thing of the past? (2021)

Party News from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party Discord Meeting

'Is class consciousness a thing of the past?' 

Speaker: Anton Pruden

Friday 7 May 19.30 (GMT + 1)

A sideways look at Marx’s distinction in today’s world, focussing on historical events that changed the world and how we can apply them to our revolutionary case. Why have all those calling themselves socialists, including us, failed to implement major societal change in a very unstable world? For Socialism to be implemented, do we all need to embrace a whole new paradigm? Lively discussion welcome.

All Socialist Party meetings/talks/discussions are currently online on Discord. Please contact the Forum Administrator at for details on how to join.

Towards Zero (2021)

Book Review from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: the Political Economy of Saving the Planet. Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, with C.J. Polychroniou. Verso £12.99.

This is not truly a book written by Chomsky and Pollin together; rather both respond individually to questions posed by Polychroniou, who adds a short introduction. Chomsky begins by saying that climate change presents a new ‘threat of destruction of organized human life in any recognizable or tolerable form’ and then discusses how the US Republican Party has served corporate power, with the Koch brothers supporting the use of fossil fuels, where they made their fortune. But it’s not clear if this justifies describing the Republicans as ‘the most dangerous organization in world history’.

Historically, the main blame for causing climate change since 1800 falls on Western Europe and the US (i.e. the economic systems there), while the richest tenth of the earth’s population are responsible for nearly half of all emissions tied to personal consumption. The poorest are the hardest-hit, such as dry land farmers, who rely on rain for irrigation. Extreme weather events, such as cyclones and hurricanes, have had devastating impacts on some places, including Zimbabwe and Puerto Rico.

Pollin notes that it is realistic in principle to reduce global CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050, by means of improving energy efficiency and expanding clean renewable energy sources. Existing nuclear plants, which do not emit CO2, could continue for a while, yet cannot be part of a long-term solution. Despite some alarmist claims, relatively small proportions of land need to be used to generate sufficient solar and wind energy, perhaps three percent of the land in the UK and just one percent in the US, which is less densely populated.

Closing fossil fuel enterprises would mean the loss of masses of jobs and far smaller tax revenues, but use of clean energy can lead to job creation; unfortunately these points show how much the authors are really stuck within the assumptions and framework of capitalism. They do show some scepticism, such as Chomsky saying that we are doomed if profit-making remains the driving force, and that production for profit cannot be sustained. ‘Dismantling’ capitalism is supposedly not possible in the time frame needed, but doing so should proceed in parallel with averting environmental disaster, though no argument is made that the two together can be achieved in time.

Pollin states that eco-socialism and the Green New Deal are fundamentally the same project, but since the latter assumes the retention of money and employment, it is certainly not the same as our vision of World Socialism. There are some references to ‘establishing the basis for a future free and democratic society within the present one’, apparently based on Bakunin’s ideas, but hardly anything about achieving this is in a practical way. After all, it will be much more straightforward to implement carbon reduction in a world without profit and corporations.
Paul Bennett

Would you Adam and Eve it? (2021)

From the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tall tales of Biblical proportions …

Jesus walks on water, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Jesus feeds the five thousand and, my own personal favourite, Jesus turns water into wine. Just a few acts of magic and mystery performed by the son of God and ‘Virgin’ Mary that wouldn’t look out of place on the Penn and Teller stage show in Las Vegas – although not nearly as entertaining!

But where do all these shenanigans stem from? Did God indeed invent man? Or vice versa? Let’s try to find out.

As a child at the tender age of around five, I remember vividly the first time I saw a Church of Scotland minister entering my school classroom. A big tall scary man, dressed in a full-length flowing black gown and white dog collar, resembling a kind of caped crusader from an episode of Batman. With a deep, booming, almost sinister voice, he started to address the assembled children by wishing us all a Happy Easter and proceeding to tell us these amazing tales about a man who could perform all these wondrous acts and miracles, as I sat there both mesmerised and bewildered by his every word. This being my first ever encounter of what I eventually came to understand as organised religion.

This event took place every year throughout my primary education, with each story becoming more and more fanciful. However, the older I became, the more unbelievable I discovered these stories to be. All of these bizarre and absurd events that apparently took place a couple of thousand years ago, mixed in with the minister’s personal experiences and anecdotes within his own life, led him to make the most moral and sanctimonious of judgement calls in order to reach the kind of pure and self-righteous standards that he was trying to bestow on the rest of us, in order to stay on the straight and narrow road to becoming good clean law-abiding children who inevitably grow up to be adults.

Now far be it from me to single out this particular man of the cloth or Christian worship in general, as the only demon in the room. Organised religion comes in many different shapes, sizes and guises. From the do-gooding Gods that inhabit heaven to the most destructive of devils and entities that one’s imagination can conjure up, with just a little help from those who are only too willing to preach about these worrisome apparitions who might present themselves to us one day should we misbehave and step out of line. The nice ones willing to save your soul to a wonderfully angelic afterlife spent luxuriating in heaven, others just as keen to have you damned for eternity in a hell-hole of fire and brimstone, all depending upon your behaviour here on earth.

Thankfully nowadays more and more young people are continuing to question the absurdity of these stories that we’ve all been exposed to from such an early age, in much the same way as we all eventually come to realise that Santa doesn’t really exist. So too are we beginning to understand the motivation that lies behind the mask of religion – that a God-fearing society with all of its coercion and control, is a compliant society.

With church attendances dropping year upon year and more people either agnostic or turning to atheism, hopefully it won’t be much longer before all such religious preaching and activities become increasingly frowned upon as insane and dangerous indoctrinations that create more problems than they solve. Including acts of violence, war, and all too often, widespread death and destruction of varying degrees and severity throughout the world.

Middle East
Of course, Christianity is not the only religion with diminishing numbers. Two recently conducted and very comprehensive surveys in the Middle East and Iran, have come to similar conclusions: they both show an increase in secularisation and growing calls for reforms of religious political institutions. With the Arab states having major Muslim populations, varying from around 60 percent in Lebanon to almost 100 percent in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the countries’ religious establishments also serve as governmental bodies, with governments playing a significant role in religious life, as they control prayers, media and school curriculums.

Of the 40,000 people interviewed by the Group for Analysing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN), which researched Iranian attitudes toward religion, it found that no less than 47 percent reported ‘having transitioned from being religious to non-religious’. Tamimi Arab, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University and co-author of the survey, sees this transition as well as the quest for religious change, as a logical consequence of Iran’s secularisation. ‘Iranian society has undergone huge transformations as the literacy rate has gone up spectacularly; the country has experienced massive urbanisation, economic changes have affected traditional family structures, the internet penetration rate grew to be comparable with the European Union, and we see an increase in secularisation and a diversity of faiths and beliefs’. Concluding that, ‘the most decisive factor is the entanglement of state and religion, which has caused [much of] the population to resent institutional religion, even though a majority still believe in God’.

Compared with Iran’s 99.5 percent Shiite census figure, GAMAAN found that 78 percent of the participants believed in God — but only 32 percent identified themselves as Shiite Muslims. Figures show that 9 percent identified as atheist, 8 percent as Zoroastrian, 7 percent as spiritual, 6 percent as agnostic, and 5 percent as Sunni Muslim. Around 22 percent identified with none of these religions.

The sociologist Ronald Inglehart, Lowenstein Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan and author of the book Religion’s Sudden Decline, analysed surveys of more than 100 countries, carried out from 1981-2020. He observed that rapid secularisation is not unique to a single country in the Middle East. ‘The rise of the so-called ‘nones’ who do not identify with a particular faith, has been noted in Muslim majority countries as different as Iraq, Tunisia, and Morocco’ (

So why do we in the Socialist Party take such a critical view of religion in general? Well, the answer is simple, it is our belief that our fellow workers (the real wealth creators) should have more faith in themselves, rather than in some figment of their imagination that has been planted there through years of indoctrination and brainwashing that usually begins during those early school years.

The reality is that religion is probably the most coercive and damaging instrument of control that the state and the church have on one’s ability to think clearly, constructively and open-mindedly about all that is going on in the world around us. And they’re not afraid to use it.

There are many negative effects of religion responsible for destroying people’s lives that can eventually cause many people to become afraid of life itself. For example, in order to avoid being thrown into hell, religion demands that people prove to God that they are worthy of heaven by following the dogma of religion. Naturally, when they are put in such a situation, they find themselves in a continuous state of fear. They are always afraid of whether their actions are right according to their religion or not, and if you believe that you are being constantly watched by the all-seeing eye of God, you have to act in certain ways to please him. The fear of hell is always on your mind, filling you with worry and anxiety. Religiously indoctrinated people can become neurotic, and in some cases, even psychotic. With often harrowing and dire consequences.

If you fail to do what God has ordered, you start hating yourself. You begin to accept the idea that you are indeed a bad person, corrupted, unworthy. And once you do so, your mind becomes filled with hatred, bitterness and resentment – a true hell on earth.

If you accept the idea that you are a sinner, you start seeing those around you as sinners. You may fear that those you meet want to harm you. They are evil, ill-willed, enemies of yours. You may not tolerate religious ideologies that are different from the one you hold. Identifying with a particular religious ideology and believing it to be the only truth and way to live, might lead to many negative effects and actions, including prejudice, bigotry, and varying degrees of violence – just think of how many wars have been fought throughout history in the name of God and religion.

So, when you have grown up conditioned to believe what is right and wrong according to religious dogma, and you’ve been taught that to doubt the religion you were born into means to go to hell, naturally you become afraid of seeking knowledge. You stop searching to find truth, and hence to educate yourself and grow as a human being. Knowledge and wisdom are incompatible with dogmatic religious ideologies. Instead, religion is confining people’s minds to the darkness of ignorance, and those who do question reality and the truth, are ultimately condemned by religion.

This way, religion keeps people blinded by all sorts of beliefs that are not based on any factual or scientific evidence, which only serves to stunt their intelligence. To blindly follow religious ideology, simply means to restrict your perception, suppress your thoughts and emotions and leave you in a state of mental angst, misery and subjugation.

Freedom of choice.
Of course, life is made up of choices, and to make the right choice isn’t always easy. Once an idea is firmly implanted in your mind, it can be difficult to break free from its grasp, believing that the word of God is the ultimate authority. But until we stop allowing any authority to tell us what to do or what not to do, we will never be free to live the way we could and should.

In a world society where we are all equal and able to organise ourselves genuinely democratically and for the benefit of all. One where we are truly in control of our own destiny and not limited or restricted by the irrational ramblings of any religious maniacs who want to control our minds and therefore our ability to think freely and without the fear of some maverick spirit or holy ghost influencing how we think, the decisions that we make, and the way in which we arrive at them. Put simply … A world socialist society, built by each and every one of us according to our own self-defined needs and abilities. It’s there for the taking.
Paul Edwards

Educating our sons (2021)

From the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the last few years the abuse of women and girls has been prominent in the news and on social media. From the ‘Me Too’ movement which started in 2016 but gained momentum with the Harvey Weinstein affair, to the highlighted significant increase in domestic violence in the current lockdown, to the Sarah Everard protests where at least one placard read ‘Educate your sons’. Well, it seems our sons have been getting the wrong kind of education.

Soma Sara is a 22-year-old young woman and founder of the Everyone’s Invited website set up in 2020 and where she shared her personal experience of what she describes as ‘rape culture’. In a few days there were over 10,000 posts, testimonies of abuse, harassment and assaults in schools and universities from pupils and ex-pupils. The majority of reports were from girls and young women but a few from boys and young men.

‘Rape culture’ is the normalising and trivialising of sexual violence, from inappropriate sexual language, misogyny and non-consensual touching through to assault and rape. Many of the posts were initially from posh private schools and mainly in London but reports quickly showed the problem to be country wide and equally prevalent in state schools. Heads have been accused of covering up the problem regarded by some as an ‘open secret’, and even some teachers have been accused of sexual harassment.

Most incidents of a more serious nature occur outside of school, at friends’ houses or at parties, and the stories make disturbing reading. Date rape is not an uncommon experience especially in universities. The vast majority of assaults are not reported for various reasons, embarrassment, not wanting to cause trouble, not being believed or simply accepting that these things happen. Inappropriate sexual behaviour towards others has even been observed and reported in primary schools.

How did we get here? Sex sells. It is a cynical and manipulative exploitation of a basic human need. Pre-teens are targeted and sexualised by cosmetic and clothing companies and dumbed down and mirror imaged on social media. The porn industry is a multi-billion-dollar concern and its most violent and degrading content is readily available to young boys on their smart phones. Gone are the seemingly innocuous images of the 1940s pin-up girls and gone are the porn mags on the top shelf of the local newsagents, embarrassingly purchased and packaged in concealing brown paper. Most likely young boys wouldn’t have been able to afford too many and would probably find it harder, with an eagle-eyed parent about, to keep it secret.

Parents who have or have had teenagers know that they are online almost constantly. A 2018 Ofcom report revealed that more than 450,000 children aged 12 to 15 spend between 6 and 8 hours a day online at weekends. A survey commissioned by BBC3 of over 1000 young people aged between 16 and 21 showed that one in four had seen online pornography by the age of 12. Gender differences were clear with one in five of the young women questioned saying they had never seen internet pornography, but only 4 percent of young men saying the same. A common response given in the survey was that young men expect young women to behave like porn stars and that porn also gave young men unrealistic ideas of women’s bodies. Often a young person sees online sexual images by accident or through natural curiosity looks it up for the first time, however, thanks to internet algorithms it’s not long before sexual content will just pop up without initiation and gradually get more explicit and violent as it goes on.

The online world is giving boys some very clear but misleading messages about women, sexual violence, feminism and sexism. Anti-feminist jokes, memes and videos on social media can be extremely unpleasant, and peer pressure from messages from online forums perpetuate dangerous assumptions, such as that women are lying about sexual assaults. The boundary between online and offline becomes increasingly blurred.

How are young men supposed to develop healthy, loving and consensual sexual relationships when women are objectified and abused? Trying to choke a girl while having sex, as described by one young woman on the Everyone’s Invited site, is shockingly not the way to do it. How far removed is a desensitised attitude to abusing women from the explosion in global domestic violence? Pornography on smart phones has been cited as a contributory cause of rape in countries like India, named the rape capital of the world though cultural attitudes towards women and girls are doubtless also responsible. Despite national poverty most young men there have or have access to smart phones where they can share often violent images.

Sex and relationship education is still not compulsory in all schools and plans to introduce it will give faith schools an opt-out. Hopefully it is not – or will not be – restricted to the mechanics of sex and contraception, but will include education on sexual attitudes to the ‘other’ and mutual consent. It would seem something is going horribly wrong. A report into the issue of sexual harassment and violence in schools, and overseen by Conservative MP Maria Miller was published in 2016 by the Women and Equalities Commission, but it appears nothing has been done since. Instead we are continuing to see peer abuse in schools with the authorities either ignoring the problem or trying to cover it up.

These issues reflect a systemic power structure whose hegemony filters down and becomes part of our culture almost as if we invented it ourselves. We live in a violent world and a society where everything is for use or sale including men and women. Instead of co-operation and empathy we have competition and exploitation and women and girls seem to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Gender stereotyping and sexist attitudes can start young, boys being seen as stronger and more technical, girls being the weaker and more caring sex. We’ve all heard the jokes about the mother-in-law and women drivers, and women’s aptitude for housework. It seems harmless but it’s a drip-by-drip reflection of the power men often have over women in capitalist society.

Until all power structures are dismantled both social and economic, until we live in a world as equals, where buying and selling is obsolete and respect for the ‘other’ is universal, these problems will not go away. Men and women have to work together but as long as there is distrust and disrespect between the sexes, as long as there is sexism and fear of the ‘other’, women may not always feel totally included in the struggle for socialism and as women make up over 50 percent of the working class that could mean no socialism for anybody.
Carla D.

Metabolic Materialism (2021)

Book Review from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

A New Introduction to Karl Marx: New Materialism, Critique of Political Economy, and the Concept of Metabolism. By Ryuji Sasaki, translated by Michael Schauerte, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

This book examines the theories of Marx stated in the above subtitle, particularly their significance to the transformation of society. The focus is on one of Marx’s most famous works, Capital, but it is not intended to be an introduction to that work. Marx came to reject the realm of philosophical ideas as an explanation of the world (common at the time) preferring the insight that his basic world-view is ‘the actual, given relations of life’ and this ‘method is the only materialist, and therefore the only scientific one’ (Capital, Volume 1, 1867). This is what was new about Marx’s method and it is a succinct explanation of the relationship between materialism, science and socialism.

The first volume of Marx’s Capital has the subtitle ‘A Critique of Political Economy’ and is not merely a work of political economy (or economics, as it would be called today). For instance, in Marx’s day many economists accepted ‘Say’s Law’ (after the French economist JB Say) which asserted that production creates its own demand. Some economists today still accept this and argue that any imbalances between production and consumption are temporary and ‘self-clearing’. In this view, crises are impossible. Sasaki argues that, for Marx, it is the money economy which makes crises possible. Buying and selling in the aggregate is inherently unpredictable and, Marx wrote, ‘crises cannot occur without the circulation of money’.

Metabolism is a concept that became well known in the nineteenth century through the work of the chemist Justus von Liebig, becoming a more broadly encompassing term that included not only the chemical changes that individual organisms undergo but also the interaction between living organisms and their surrounding environment. The term metabolism began to influence not only the natural but also the social sciences, and was used analogously within political economy to refer to the circular, organic activity of human beings in-volved in production, distribution, and consumption.

Marx first used the term metabolism in 1851 as an analogy to explain the cyclical activity of society as an organism. All the way through to his writing of Capital, Marx continued to use the term in the sense of organic economic activity. However, Sasaki argues that Marx’s use of metabolism was not limited to that meaning. Eventually he began to use the term to express the material circulation between human beings and nature. Capitalism is a disturbance of the metabolism; socialism will restore the metabolism. For Marx, socialism will be a society in which the ‘associated producers’ will ‘govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, … accomplishing this metabolism with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.’

At the end of this book there are a couple of lengthy appendices, one on Marx’s method and another on his theory of reification. It is encouraging to see a work of this quality being produced in Japan, and congratulations are due to Ryuji Sasaki and his translator, WSPUS member Michael Schauerte.
Lew Higgins

Vocational exploitation (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nurses often cherish an illusion of "professionalism" despite the fact that they are subordinate to medical staff, are poorly paid, work shifts, weekends and public holidays (for which they receive lower rates of enhanced pay than most other workers), have poor working conditions in the majority of cases, and engage in stressful, demanding work within the rigid discipline of a status-conscious, hierarchical organisation.

Nursing qualifications are protected by law and it is a punishable offence to make a false claim to be a trained nurse. But there are two levels of qualified nurses. Registered nurses have qualifications which enable them to aspire to higher positions while enrolled nurses are unable to gain promotion beyond senior enrolled nurse grade. Doyal has pointed out that overseas nurses coming to Britain to train are encouraged to qualify as enrolled nurses only to find that their qualifications are not recognised in their own countries. She states:
  Nurses born overseas are over-represented in hospitals dealing with mental illness, mental handicap and geriatrics, and very few indeed are to be found in the "prestige" teaching hospitals. Overseas nurses are, therefore, clearly used to compensate for the shortage of British recruits into notoriously underpaid and often unpleasant work. Their role as a “reserve army" has recently been demonstrated with particular clarity by the fact that because of high levels of unemployment among British nurses, overseas nurses are increasingly being refused a renewal of their work permits.
Nursing auxiliaries, although forming a substantial part of the work force, are untrained and unable to call themselves nurses.

The nurses' professional organisation, the Royal College of Nursing, tends to be dominated by senior nurses and excludes nursing auxiliaries from membership. Indeed, prior to 1960 male nurses and enrolled nurses were also excluded. The RCN, in an attempt to maintain professional exclusiveness, has asked for nursing auxiliaries to be omitted from pay negotiations. The conservatism, elitism, avowal not to strike under any circumstances and tendency to concentrate on pay campaigns in favour of nursing administrators, have helped successive governments to divide the workforce and made their task of keeping wages low that much easier. Although in recent years the RCN has adopted a slightly more radical stance (possibly to avoid losing members to the trade unions representing nurses — NUPE. COHSE and NALGO) it remains a reactionary, divisive force.

A profession can be defined as an occupation requiring advanced education and nursing can reasonably be considered as such. However, the subordinate role of nursing has been demonstrated by the case of Derek Owen, a former staff nurse at Walsgrave Hospital. Coventry, who refused to participate in administering electroconvulsive treatment to a 76 year-old woman and was sacked. At the employment tribunal hearing Justice Popple well stated: “. . . it's not the nurse who decides what treatment a patient would benefit from, but the doctor" (Nursing Times, 1984). Iliffe deals bluntly with the much vaunted professionalism in nursing:
  When nursing is restricted to mopping-up vomit, emptying bedpans and washing the bed-bound, it is only a special example of the caring role allotted to women, and nurses are therefore allotted the same autonomy as women generally. Nursing "professionalism", therefore, aims at acquiring trade secrets (more politely called professional skills and knowledge) to give some nurses more autonomy, status and money. The evolution of special skills and knowledge necessitates a special education, with access to it restricted to ensure that the market is not overloaded with tradesmen.
The appeal to professionalism is also used as an unsubtle form of blackmail to coerce nurses into docile conformism. The fact that trained nurses risk losing their qualifications through taking effective industrial action assists considerably in maintaining a compliant labour force.

When carrying out dirty work some form of protective clothing needs to be worn, but nurses insist on calling their overalls "uniforms" and wear useless frilly hats, perpetuating their domestic servant/hand maiden image. When their uniforms were compared with ". . . a plumber who insists on wearing a puce boiler suit, a purple beret, and his City and Guilds Certificate pinned to his chest!" (Pinel) there were horrified letters of protest in the nursing press. It is easy to dismiss the different coloured "uniforms" as a harmless, outdated tradition, but its perpetuation is designed to reinforce the rigid hierarchical structure and promote status consciousness. Servile, unquestioning workers accustomed to knowing their place within the organisation, dressed in a "uniform" designed for Victorian domestic servants, are easier to control.

Unlike other shift workers, nurses talk of their "duties"—a euphemism which disguises public holiday, weekend and night work often far in excess of shift workers in factories. It is only in the last twenty years that nurses have been able to receive extra pay for working unsocial hours and even now, in spite of being gradually increased over the years, nurses receive only time and one-third for Saturday, "unsocial hours' and night work and time and two-thirds for Sunday and public holiday work. These rates lag well behind those paid in industry or. indeed, the rates paid to hospital ancillary staff.

With 10.000 nurses and midwives without jobs, a large pool of unemployed labour to fill nursing auxiliary vacancies, reduced demand for labour as hospitals are closed as a result of cutting resources to the health service and the weakness of trade unions during a recession have emboldened the government to try to abolish enhanced rates of pay for unsocial hours. Such a move, if successful, would cut the nurses' standard of living and reverse twenty years of struggle to achieve pay conditions comparable with industrial workers.

Many hospitals were built in the Victorian era and are still in use today. Poor Law infirmaries, former workhouses and prison-like asylums still serve as district general hospitals, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. With the cut-back in health service expenditure those hospitals that have survived closure have been patched up in a haphazard and piecemeal manner. The old buildings were never intended for modern nursing and condemn nurses and patients alike to substandard conditions. Very few buildings have been constructed to replace old hospitals. In the first seventeen years of the National Health Service only one new hospital was built. But as Widgery points out;
  . . . the size and location of the finished new hospitals often worsens rather than improves the national distribution of medical resources. The Royal Free in Hampstead is situated in the most affluent and healthy part of North London, while hospital facilities in the Northwest London industrial belt and in East London are being closed.
Such closures oblige nurses to move or travel long distances to work.

Residential accommodation for nurses has been the subject of several campaigns to secure improvements. However, the government intends to sell off two thirds of the nurses' homes (presumably that which is most profitable to speculators) and retain only a minimum stock of housing. Nurses, at the mercy of private landlords, would find their living standards declining further:
  Resident nurses are frequently subjected to a number of petty restrictions which would not be tolerated by private tenants elsewhere, and must represent one of the most pernicious forms of "tied cottage" arrangements in existence today (Pinel).
The lodging charges for resident nurses were due to increase by 5 per cent from 1 April 1985 although the government has announced that nurses' wages must not rise by more than 3 per cent.

Nurse managers have opted out of nursing practice to "police" other nurses. They accept extra remuneration (or bribes) to enforce discipline, increase exploitation and punish their fellow workers, although as workers themselves they are dependent on the posts they hold for their livelihood. Male nurses, although making up less than 10 per cent of the nursing labour force, occupy one-third of the senior administrative posts, reflecting the sexist divisions of the broader society while the dearth of immigrants in senior posts is part of a deliberate policy for, as a Lanarkshire Health Board Memorandum stated: "No alien (Mauritian. Filipino. Chinese) person is to be promoted without the sanction of the Home Office" (Nursing Mirror, 1980).

During an industrial recession there is a surplus of labour and it is not so profitable to spend money conserving the workers' health. Cuts in the health services and hospital closures have, therefore, weakened the bargaining power of nurses. But the divisive "professional" stance of nurses, their failure to recognise their class interests and to understand the exploitative role of capitalism have depressed the conditions of Britain's 350.000 nurses and assisted successive governments in under-funding the health service.
Carl Pinel


Doyal, L. with Pennell. I. The Political Economy of Health. Pluto Press. 1979. p.206.
Iliffe. S. The NHS: a Picture of Health? Lawrence and Wishart, 1983. p. 147. 
Nursing Mirror. News item. 151 (20) 4. 
Nursing Times. News item. 80 (43) 5.
Pinel. C. "Are uniforms necessary?" Nursing Mirror. 14 November 1974, p.41.
Pinel. C. "'Us' and 'them' at work". Nursing Mirror. 158 (10) 9.
Widgery. D. Health in Danger. Macmillan Press. 1979. pp. 52-53.

50 Years Ago: Old Fake Cure for Unemployment (1985)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every time unemployment rises to high levels some feather-brained political genius is sure to rush into print and speech with a brand-new proposal for solving the problem by setting the unemployed at work constructing public works, roads and bridges, and so on. The funny thing is that they all believe they are the first ever to have thought of such schemes. Mr. Lloyd George's “New Deal” plan is at bottom nothing more than this, and his predecessors are legion. The ILP and Labour Party have been trotting it out for forty years. Sir Oswald Mosley, when he propounds it for the British Union of Fascists, has doubtless forgotten that Mr. John Strachey borrowed it for him from Bishop Berkeley, who recommended it 200 years ago, coupled with what was, in effect, slave-labour for the unemployed.

Earlier still, when Henry VIII was first contemplating the seizure of the lands and property of the monasteries, a plan was put forward for using some of the plunder “for aiding the poor and unfortunate, building up new towns, restoring decayed manors, reclaiming unprofitable parks, and constructing new roads throughout the kingdom”. (Economic Causes of the Reformation in England, Oscar Marti. Macmillan & Co. 1929. Page 195.)

(From the Socialist Standard, May 1935.)

Commodity production (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wealth, as the etymology of the word suggests, is what contributes to human welfare; it consists of material objects, or goods, which serve to satisfy some human need. The basic source of all wealth is nature since goods are either found in nature or fashioned from materials that originally came from nature. Nearly all goods come into the latter category of being products of labour, in the sense that human beings have to exercise their mental and physical energies in order to create or produce them.

Producing a good does not involve creating new matter, but changing the form of existing materials. In the process of production human beings employ their own energies. and other natural forces and processes, to change nature-given materials into articles that can be used to satisfy some human need. Materials found in nature are given a new form, new physical characteristics. It is these newly-created characteristics capable of satisfying some human need that constitute goods and wealth. Wealth production is thus essentially a process of transformation of nature to make it useful to human life and happiness. Those goods which are products of labour are parts of nature that have been so transformed.

A good, then, is a part of nature which has, or has been given, particular physical characteristics which can be used to satisfy some human want. These useful characteristics of a good are its use-value. As in the end the good is its useful characteristics — it is these that make it a good for humans — the word use-value can be used as a substitute for good.

An item of wealth is always, by definition. a use-value but under certain circumstances can also acquire another characteristic which has also been called value. But how can an item of wealth have a value for humans other than its use-value? Surely the value of a good can only be its ability to satisfy some particular human need? These common-sense, and basically correct, observations caused the early political economists no end of trouble when they came to study the prices which goods acquired in an exchange economy. For they noticed that the proportions in which goods exchanged for each other bore no relation whatsoever to their relative utilities, or use-values; goods which were very useful, even vital, to human beings had a relatively low price while goods which had a limited use-value, such as gold and precious stones, had a relatively high one. The answer found to this paradox was that prices did not in fact measure use-value but some other kind of value: exchange-value.

A good produced for the purpose of being exchanged has traditionally been called a commodity in English. From an etymological point of view this is unfortunate since "commodity'' ought to be an alternative way of saying "good" or "use-value". but the usage is too long-established to be changed. It still remains true that the German and French equivalents — Ware and Marchandise — are much more expressive since they immediately indicate that what is being talked about are not goods as physical objects but goods as articles of commerce, as "wares and merchandise". But just as we can call goods use-values so we can call commodities exchange-values.

Strictly speaking, exchange-value and value are not the same. The exchange-value of a commodity is the expression in exchange of its underlying "value”, of the economic value which it has in an exchange economy even when it is not being exchanged. The disagreement between Marx and orthodox economics was not so much over what determined value (for Marx, and some others, it was the amount of socially necessary labour incorporated in a commodity in the course of its production from start to finish) as over its nature. For Marx value was not a feature which goods possessed by virtue of being goods but a social relation, a feature goods only acquired in commodity-producing societies; in other societies the only value goods had (or would have) was their use-value.

The other expression of value in an exchange economy is money as a unit of account. Money originated from barter, the simplest form of exchange, as the one commodity in which the exchange-value of all other commodities could be expressed and measured. Money still performs this role today so that exchange-value normally appears as a price expressed in monetary units.

This distinction between use-value and exchange-value, between wealth and value is a key concept for understanding capitalism, which is essentially a system in which wealth is produced as value rather than exclusively as use-value. This is because capitalism is an exchange economy in which most wealth, from ordinary consumer goods to vast industrial plants and other producer goods, takes the form of commodities, items of wealth that have been produced with a view to sale on a market.

Commodity production existed before capitalism but in previous societies was marginal to the predominant form of the production of wealth. In previous societies such as feudalism wealth was principally produced for direct use and not for sale on a market. Wealth was used by those who produced it or else by the privileged classes who lived off the producers and acquired wealth from them by the actual or threatened use of force. In capitalism the roles of production for sale and production for use are reversed; it is now production for use that is marginal, while the great bulk of wealth is produced for sale. In particular, the elements needed for producing wealth (raw materials, machines, and human mental and physical energy) become commodities.
Adam Buick

Socialism explained (1985)

From the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The following brief statement was presented to a recent meeting held at the University of London, entitled What Would a Socialist Economy Be Like? The Leftist speakers offered no clear idea of what they meant by "socialist economy"; indeed, the first (an economist) concluded his speech by saying that nobody on earth could define socialism! Members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were left to answer the question which the appointed speakers lamentably failed to deal with. Incidentally, the term "socialist economy" is itself a contradiction in terms, as there will be no economics in a socialist society.
For too many years there has been widespread confusion about what socialism really means. Workers cannot be blamed for rejecting the so-called case for a socialist economy when it is identified with nationalisation (nearly forty years ago the coal miners of Britain were told that the industry now belonged to the public), state tyranny (as in the so-called Communist countries where wage slaves are beaten up and imprisoned for organising in unions to defend wages and conditions) and wage freezes, union-bashing and austerity measures (as carried out by all previous Labour governments and by the bogus socialist governments in France, Spain and Greece now). To millions of workers socialism is regarded as having been tried and failed. Such ideas are reinforced by the popular Leftist conception of socialism, which amounts to a sterile vision of state capitalism — a centralised, bureaucratically-controlled market economy is the best that the Left is able to offer as an "alternative" to the so-called free market.

The objective of socialists is to abolish the market, not to regulate or humanise it. In a socialist society the production of goods and services for sale on the market with a view to profit will not exist. Commodity production. which is a feature of capitalism, will give way to production solely for use. There will be no buying and selling, but free access by all people to the goods and services which can be made available. Wealth in a socialist society will be produced according to people's abilities — with each person contributing voluntarily to the social effort without the need to work for a wage or salary — and will be available to all on the basis of their self-defined needs.

Socialism will be a wageless, moneyless world society. It will be a social system in which the means of wealth production and distribution will belong to the people of society as a whole (there will be no property) and be controlled democratically, utilising to the full the modern means of mass communication. Freed from the inefficient and wasteful structure of the property-money-wages system of production for sale and profit, socialist society will be able to set about the task of satisfying human needs. The countless problems caused by capitalism, such as mass starvation alongside food mountains and cuts in health services while thousands of doctors and nurses are on the dole, will be solved in a short time once society has eradicated the market and its priorities and is organised to produce for use.

Those seeking a real alternative to both private and state capitalism should not be afraid to state boldly the case for a completely new way of organising social affairs. Yes, we will be labelled as Utopians by conservatives of the Right and Left wings of capitalism for daring to propose a solution to the problems of present-day society which goes beyond the outdated barriers of the buying and selling system. But socialism, as defined by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, is the only alternative which offers a revolutionary challenge to the status quo. Not only is it the sole alternative to the futile attempt to reform capitalism, but it is an attractive and exciting option. Instead of the old Leftist demands for lower bus fares or cheap spectacles on the NHS or more slums to be built by councils, we argue for a social transformation which is really worth getting enthusiastic about: a society where there will be no fares, no rents, no prices; decent homes, food, clothing and amenities for everyone; free access to the wealth which money has always prevented us from having; the abolition of the wages system and its replacement by unalienated, cooperative and useful production.

If you think that such an alternative is practical, desirable and urgent you should investigate further by contacting your nearest branch of the Socialist Party or writing to our Head Office for introductory literature.

Campaign for Real Socialism (1985)

Advert from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard  

SPGB Meetings (1985)

 Party News from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Audio recordings of some of the meetings listed:

SPGB Islington Branch

Panel: Alf Atkinson, Brian Rubin & Clifford Slapper
Venue: Duke of York, Kings Cross, Islington
Date: 6th May 1985

SPGB Guildford Branch

Debate between Colin Tipton, (Socialist Workers Party), and Steve Coleman (SPGB)
Venue: The Star, Quarry Street, Guildford
Date: 10th May 1985