Thursday, May 13, 2021

Coal Inquiry admissions. (1924)

Editorial from the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the Coal Inquiry Mr. Evan Williams, chairman of the Mining Association, has made certain admissions that disposes of the miners’ “Big Wages” myth. He stated that 60,000 earn from 45s. to 50s. a week, 56,000 from 60s. to 65s., and about 12,000 from £5 to £5 5s. The Chairman of the Court of Inquiry drew attention to figures showing that in North Wales 72 per cent. of the men working full time earn less than 55s. a week. (Daily News, 30/4/24.)

While we are by no means prepared to accept figures as high as these yet, as they stand, they knock the bottom out of the claim, so often put forward, that miners earn fabulous wages.

Is it a matter for wonder that men who risk their lives daily in a miserable and toilsome occupation for such a beggarly return should now and again become restive and revolt against the conditions of their existence? It would be a matter of wonder if they did not. It would be worse. It would be a matter for despair, for they would have sunk to such a level as to be beyond the hope of salvation.

Mr. Williams made a further admission. We have often heard of the overpowering kindness, thoughtfulness and humanity, that occasionally moves our masters to keep industries going at a loss in order to provide their ungrateful slaves with employment. How often chairmen of companies, in their reports, have weaved romances around this special kind of benevolence. But Mr. Williams presents the matter in a different light which converts the benevolence into a necessary consideration of £ s. d.
  “He declared that it took a great deal of money to close a colliery, and that up to a certain point it was less costly to work at a loss than to shut down. It might even be cheaper to continue working at a loss of as much as 2s. 6d. or 3s. a ton in the hope that there might be revival of prosperity later.

  “He referred in this connection to the owners’ commitments in relation to coal leases, and to other obligations which placed serious financial obstacles in the way of suspending operations. He mentioned specifically the whole district of North Wales, where, he said, the collieries were kept going because the owners could not afford to shut down.”—Daily News, April 30, 1924.
You see the motive changes with the case to be proved. Mr. Williams was endeavouring to prove that the mines do not pay well enough to meet the mine workers’ demands and hence he had to admit that benevolence was not the motive preventing the closing down of concerns that he alleged did not pay.

The coal companies made huge profits during the War and placed huge amounts to reserve. Their capitals were enormously increased by the issue of bonus shares without the payment of a penny piece on the part of the shareholders, and the price of shares went up tremendously. Bearing this in mind, examine the dividend results over a reasonable period, the enhanced prices of shares, the amounts put to reserve; note the constant formation of new companies (Mr. Williams would have us believe that they were floated to work at a loss !) and the gloom will disappear from Mr. Williams’ statements, leaving a much more rosy interpretation than he would have us make.

The State. (1924)

From the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

The popular view of Socialism is a bundle of misconceptions. One of the most common is that Socialism means nothing more than the control of everything and everybody by the State, swollen to huge dimensions and constituting in effect a distinct official class in opposition to the bulk of the people. Yet nothing is more certain than that the State, throughout its history, has been the weapon of the property-owning class (the means by which it has protected and upheld its property) and with the accomplishment of the social revolution and the disappearance of such a class, the State also will disappear.

What is the State? Those who talk most glibly about it seldom offer evidence of possessing a clear idea of its nature. They usually express themselves in vague idealistic language which serves to hide either their ignorance or their real meaning.

In brief, the State is that central body which by coercion induces the rest of society either to do things which they have no desire to do or to refrain from acts which are dictated by their desires. It is thus the element of organised force operating on a comprehensive scale which forms the essential feature of the State.

The actual organisation of the State has varied with the changes in the social order, but that feature has remained unchanged. The first form of private (as distinct from common) property was the chattel form. Domestic animals, women and children, and finally enslaved debtors and captives became chattels in turn and the State developed in the first place in order to preserve the chattel relationship. The ancient empires, centred in the city-states (such as Rome, Athens and Babylon) were gigantic chattel procuring and tribute levying machines. In these States the freemen (i.e., the non-chattels) were alone citizens, privileged to bear arms and control political affairs. They used their control to hold their chattels in subjection and to protect them from others who might covet and struggle for these principal sources of wealth.

The break up of these ancient empires was followed by the rise of feudalism, a system based on serfdom. The serfs were legally bound to the soil. The landholder was also the lord of the serfs and exploited their labour power accordingly. The land-holders as a class formed a hierarchy with the King at its head. Here we find another form of State, which, in turn, gave way to yet another form, as a new property-owning ruling-class rose to power.

The modern parasites, the Capitalist class (developed from the merchants, etc., of the cities), have brought the State to its present form. They acquired concessions from the monarch by means of their peculiar weapon, money, and finally curbed his authority along with the downfall of the feudal aristocrats by forcible revolution. In the place of the feudal State we now find representative bodies controlling affairs such as municipal councils and Parliament. The ruling classes of the ancient and medieval worlds ruled by their own right arms; the modern tyrants introduced the standing army as the mainstay of their sway. The military organisations of their predecessors gave way to the political parties of the Parliamentary arena, while the actual administration of the law was handed over to an ever-increasing professional bureaucracy.

The development of modern industry has brought to the front a new political element, i.e., the proletariat, the propertyless working class. For the first time in history the slaves are enfranchised and are openly recognised by their rulers to be the most important factor in the State. Only gradually, however, are they coming to realise the fact themselves.

The modern State, therefore, is a contradiction. It consists of a repressive machine supported by the very class which is repressed. It exists to protect private property in the means of life against the actual producers of those means. It is the political expression of the antagonism of economic interests in society.

Whence then arises the illusion that Socialism, a system of society involving a community of interests, will develop the State to a still greater extent? Partly, no doubt, from the confusing and ignorant propaganda of the so-called Socialist elements in the Labour Party ; but partly also from the fact that Socialism can only be established by means of the State in the hands of the working class. Where those who are afraid of bureaucracy make their mistake is in forgetting the phrase in italics.

Socialism cannot be established by the Capitalists. It cannot be established by the State as it exists at present. Only when the workers, organised consciously and politically, capture the State and convert it into the agent of emancipation will it be possible to convert the means of life (i.e., the land, factories, railways, etc.) into the common property of the whole people.

This revolution within the State, necessary as it is for the social revolution, so far from extending the bureaucracy will abolish it. The first act of the revolutionary administration will be to take direct control and responsibility from the hands of the officials in every department. The working class must itself become the State. As the revolution proceeds and the Capitalist class are stripped of their economic privileges, so the workers’ organisation will cease to be political and will become economic. It will be concerned, not with government of persons, but with the administration of the social means of production and distribution. Class distinctions having been abolished, class antagonism will disappear and with it the need for a repressive force.

The reader may object, “But what of the law which depends on the State, is that to go, too? How will you preserve order among individuals?” Supporters of Capitalism among the workers seldom realise how much institutions such as “the law” are part of the social system existing at a particular time and are not eternal necessities of nature. “The law” has changed along with the State that made it. The laws of the ancient patricians, the laws of the medieval barons, have followed the customs of prehistoric barbarians; the laws of the last of the exploiting classes will do likewise and there will thus be an end of laws and the beginning of social freedom.

The civil law regulates contracts and implies private property and the production of commodities. When society consciously regulates production and distribution, contracts will become meaningless. The individual will depend for the satisfaction of his economic wants, not upon some other individual or group, but upon society as a whole ; consequently, he will have no motive for entering into bargains or seeking the aid of the law to enforce their terms.

Turning to the criminal law, that also will become meaningless in a society of equals. Time was when, in the interests of Capitalism, the idea was spread that there existed a distinct criminal type with marked physical and psychological characteristics. To-day that idea is discredited even among Capitalist authorities themselves. Crime is the effect of social conditions. Crimes against property such as theft, arson, etc., are directly traceable to economic causes which will disappear along with poverty and the fear of poverty. Crimes against persons are also in the majority of cases bound up with these same economic causes; while even the so-called “crimes of passion” arise largely from the unwholesome conditions, moral as well as physical, which are inevitably engendered by Capitalism.

Socialists do not pretend that violent anti-social acts will entirely cease to occur, but that they will, undoubtedly, dwindle to such proportions as to render the existing legal methods of dealing with offenders obsolete. The concern of society under Socialism will not be repression but the development of a physical environment and mental atmosphere which will allow for the full evolution of the individual and thus secure his voluntary co-operation with his fellows. Comradeship will take the place of coercion and for the first time since the dawn of history the legal State will give way to a moral society.
Eric Boden

Letter: Fascism and other things. (1924)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Editor,
Socialist Standard.”

Dear Comrade,

Whilst I cannot claim to be a new reader of your periodical, The Socialist Standard, I generally peruse it from the front page to the back page in the hope of gleaning some information or enlightenment on current economic problems. Therefore, I read with some trepidation the article by one styled “Gilmac” in your April issue entitled “To a New Reader.” After giving a short discourse on the present-day position of the worker, and informing him, indisputably, that “wealth is produced by means of privately-owned means of production ” etc., etc., etc., he proceeds, “to emulate the prophets (?) and to indulge in a little idle surmise,” as he so aptly puts it. Having assumed that we have elected the requisite number of delegates to Parliament, we then proceed on three main lines of investigation.
  1. Ascertain the needs of the population. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
  2. The means available to satisfy these needs. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
  3. The labour required to do the necessary work. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
In fact, all that we have to do is to “sit tight” and compile statistics, a relatively simple matter, as he states (although he does not say what it is relevant to).

It appears to me that our comrade has, to use an aphorism, started to build the roof of his house before he has laid its foundations.

Firstly, by what means does he propose to get the necessary delegates (Socialist) into Parliament?

Tentatively, I will answer this question by stating, presumably by education on lines laid down by the S.P.G.B.

Then what will happen when this educational policy becomes a serious menace to the Capitalist class : which means its ultimate extinction? Naturally that section of the community will immediately protect itself to its utmost resources, employing the whole forces of the Capitalist State to this end. The Facisti will come out of its lair with an abundance of cans of castor oil and other relics of the Inquisition, and the S.P.G.B. will be driven underground. Far be it from me to cast cold water upon the rosy prospect of endless statistics which our comrade pictures in his endeavour to emulate the prophets, but if I were a new reader I could not derive much inspiration or information from his article.

May I prevail upon you, Comrade Editor, to enlarge upon this fundamental and vital matter of policy, without being referred to the issue of the “Standard” for the year 1849? 
Yours fraternally,
W. R. Saunders.

The Editorial Committee has passed your letter on to me for reply.

Really, friend, I must protest. You certainly did not peruse the article in question from the first line to the last with thoroughness. Had you done so you would not have aimed such criticism at it. You will, I am sure, forgive me for pointing out that before the foundations of a house are laid the architect must consider the nature of the roof. I was showing that the roof would be quite alright. I did not pretend to deal with the method of overthrowing capitalism. My object was simply to show that the evils existing were evils of Capitalism, and that once the workers were in a position to establish Socialism the method of procedure would be comparatively simple.

I will not refer you to the “Standard” for the year 1849 (you have doubtless read numerous articles in previous issues dealing fully and completely with “this fundamental and vital matter of policy”) but I will refer you to the article criticised. In it you will notice that I point out how simple it will be to so arrange production and distribution as to satisfy the needs of the population. Now you say this conveys nothing to you. If you are an old reader of the “Standard” then the points mentioned are well known to you and, therefore, perhaps of no immediate interest. But you must not forget that the article was addressed to a new reader, and he, presumably, knows nothing of Socialism. He cannot conceive of production and distribution being carried on without capital, trading, taxation, wages boards and the like. The new viewpoint put before such a reader may lead him to see that there are other ways of producing and distributing wealth than the present way, and may, therefore, convey much to him. After all, the constant argument of the average worker is “You cannot do without the Capitalist.” “Who is to pay our wages”? You see, the average worker is concerned a good deal with the “roof.” I set out to show him that the roof would be quite sound.

And now you will pardon me again for reminding you that whatever methods you consider will have to be adopted to overthrow Capitalism, you will still have to carry out the aforesaid investigations on the morrow of the Revolution, i.e.,
  1. Ascertain the needs of the population.
  2. The means available to satisfy those needs.
  3. The labour required to do the necessary work,
It is no good, you cannot escape the statistics friend. The Russian Bolsheviks learnt to their cost the tremendous importance of statistics in their reorganisation.

It is so simple friend, isn’t it? Yet it is “information” to many people, if not to you.

Now for the questions you ask, neither of which were dealt with in the article as they were outside the particular subject.

You wish to know how we propose getting the necessary Socialist delegates into Parliament ? Briefly, stated, we propose doing so by convincing a majority of the working class electorate of the slave position they occupy to-day ; that their interests and the interests of their masters are opposed and can not be reconciled ; that their only hope of obtaining permanent improvement in their condition is by establishing Socialism ; that in order to establish Socialism they must take the State power out of the hands of the Capitalists, and the only way they can do that is by sending a majority of delegates to the seat of power (Parliament) with instructions to take from the Capitalists this power that they wield ; once having obtained control of the State power it will then be necessary to set about establishing Socialism.

Now for your second point—and, by the way, it is a prophecy! You assert that “the Facisti will come out of its lair.” Would it not have been better to have examined the conditions out of which the Facisti arose, and see if similar conditions were likely to exist in England?

Before dealing with the Facisti, I wilt make a few preliminary remarks.

When the Socialist Party has grown sufficiently to become a serious menace to the Capitalists and inspires the latter with alarm, they will undoubtedly use all available methods to extinguish Socialist propaganda and hinder the development of the Party. But there are certain limitations to the methods that can be employed. Methods that would bring chaos into the system will be avoided, as the Capitalists themselves would go down in the ruin. They dare not make any serious permanent alteration in the method of carrying on the system, with the object of hindering the worker from giving expression to his wishes. The main social functions are not carried out by Capitalists, but by officials elected to various bodies; among which are the Parliamentary, County and Local Bodies. An important interference with the method of appointing officials to such bodies, operating for any considerable length of time, would put the system out of gear and the Capitalists out of their present position. Anarchy will not suit the Capitalists. This fact is forcing Mussolini to modify his methods now he is in power.

Italy is a comparatively young nation and the nationalist spirit is still strong there. After the War, work in the industries that had catered for war fell off and, as in other countries, unemployment suddenly grew to tremendous proportions. The organisation of the large corporations had improved ; waste was cut down to an extent never attained before; machinery and mass production methods had undergone a hot-house development; and these corporations had obtained such a firm control over industry that many of the smaller fry had been ruined and thrown into the ranks of the working class though still retaining a vivid recollection of and hankering after their former privileged position.

Immediately after the War, the workers flocked into the trade unions under the influence of the war-time promises of the Capitalists and the peace-time promises of the “men-of-action.” But they were very soon disillusioned of their hopes. The industrial movement that culminated in the occupation of the factories had a disastrous ending, and the “land for the peasants movement” collapsed.

The Fascisti, at first a small and insignificant group, promised the Italian workers a classless state, a state above parties, which would consolidate Italy’s war gains. It further promised a new electoral law, equal suffrage for women, the eight-hour day, progressive income-tax, and demanded an enquiry into war profits. It also organised a trade union with the object of harmonising the interests of employers and employed.

This policy attracted to its support employers, disbanded soldiers still suffering from patriotic fever and lack of employment, ex-officers, disappointed town workers of all kinds, peasants, and ruined small masters who thought they saw in the new movement a chance of re-establishment. The growth of the Fascisti was assisted by the compromising and barren policy of the Italian parties that laid claim to the intellectual leadership of the workers, and by the clandestine assistance of the Government. In the main, the movement represented, as far as the workers were concerned, a clutching at straws. Intimidation of workers, of course, was resorted to, but the support obtained by this means was small compared with that freely given.

There were other important factors in the situation, but space will not permit me going further into the matter.

The Fascisti movement then, was composed of a mixture of opposing elements, and it flourished by Governmental favour. Since success has come to it the internal opposition is becoming more and more insistent in spite of the recent victory at the polls. It is made up mainly of workers and it has been unable to fulfil the promises made to its poorer adherents.

In due course Fascism will break down of its own weight and the class antagonism between master and worker, employer and employed, will become more clearly demonstrated than ever. Even the military force it has organised contains the seeds of collapse, and will soon prove a broken reed in the day of trial. Fascism, therefore, far from stopping the growth of Socialism, is only a momentary halt—like the Communist movement—before a leap forward. Mussolini has been compelled by conditions to modify more and more his dictatorship, and though he may for a time interfere with electoral methods, conditions will force him to allow more opportunity for the carrying out of the wishes of the mass of the population or pay the penalty—involve himself, and the class he represents, in ruin.

Now for your question as to what the Socialist Party would do if the Facisti comes “out of its lair,” etc., etc. The Socialist Party would do the same as it did during the War, assuming its support were comparatively small—put the Socialist position at every reasonable opportunity, and wait for the inevitable receding of the wave. No working-class party could do more.

But be very careful to note the “if.” Conditions in England are not so favourable to the growth of Fascism as they are abroad. And further by the time the Socialist Party had become sufficiently strong to menace the Capitalists’ position and move them to the action you suggest there would be a very strong body of class-conscious workers in this country who would have no reason for disillusionment, and a still larger mass of workers who would be nearing the Socialist position—conditions which were not present in Italy. At such a time then the development of Fascism in England would be very unlikely.

Engels quote. (1924)

From the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “With the seizing of the means of production by Society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in Social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of Nature, because he has now become master of his own Social organisation. . . .  It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
Frederick Engels

Marx on Free Trade. (1924)

From the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from May “S.S.”)

Do not believe, gentlemen, that it is a matter of indifference to the working man whether he receives only four francs on account of corn being cheaper, when he had been receiving five francs before.

Have not his wages always fallen in comparison with profit ? And is it not clear that his social position has grown worse as compared with that of the capitalist ? Beside which he loses actually. So long as the price of corn was higher and wages were also higher, a small saving in the consumption of bread sufficed to procure him other enjoyments. But as soon as bread is cheap, and wages are therefore low, he can save almost nothing on bread for the purchase of other articles.

The English working men have shown the English Free Traders that they are not the dupes of their illusions or of their lies; and if, in spite of this, the workers have made common cause with the manufacturers against the landlords, it is for the purpose of destroying the last remnant of feudalism, that henceforth they may have only one enemy to deal with. The workers have not miscalculated, for the landlords, in order to revenge themselves upon the manufacturers, have made common cause with the workers to carry the Ten Hours Bill, which the latter had been vainly demanding for thirty years, and which was passed immediately after the repeal of the Corn Laws.

When Dr. Bowring, at the Congress of Economists, drew from his pocket a long list to show how many head of cattle, how much ham, bacon, poultry, etc., is imported into England, to be consumed — as he asserted — by the workers, he forgot to state that at the same time the workers of Manchester and other factory towns were thrown out of work by the beginning of the crisis.

As a matter of principal in political economy, the figures of a single year must never be taken as the basis for formulating general laws. We must always take the average of from six to seven years, a period during which modern industry passes through the successive phases of prosperity, overproduction, crisis, thus completing the inevitable cycle.

Doubtless, if the price of all commodities falls — and this is the necessary consequence of Free Trade — I can buy far more for a franc than before. And the working man’s franc is as good as any other man’s. Therefore Free Trade must be advantageous to the working man. There is only one little difficulty in this, namely that the workman, before he exchanges his franc for other commodities, has first exchanged his labour for the money of the capitalist. If in this exchange he always received the said franc while the price of all other commodities fell, he would always be the gainer by such a bargain. The difficulty does not lie in proving that the price of all commodities falling more commodities can be bought for the same sum of money.

Economists always take the price of labour at the moment of its exchange with other commodities, and altogether ignore the moment at which labour accomplishes its own exchange with capital. When it costs less to set in motion the machinery which produces commodities, then the things necessary for the maintenance of this machine, called workman, will also cost less. If all commodities are cheaper, labour, which is a commodity too, will also fall in price, and we shall see later that this commodity, labour, will fall far lower in proportion than all other commodities. If the working man still pins his faith to the arguments of the economists, he will find, one fine morning, that the franc has dwindled in his pocket, and that he has only five sous left.

Thereupon the economists will tell you :–
  “We admit that competition among the workers will certainly not be lessened under Free Trade, and will very soon bring wages into harmony with the low price of commodities. But, on the other hand, the low price of commodities will increase consumption, the larger consumption will increase production, which will in turn necessitate a larger demand for labour, and this larger demand will be followed by a rise in wages.
   “The whole line of argument amounts to this : Free Trade increases productive forces. When manufactures keep advancing, when wealth, when the productive forces, when, in a word, productive capital increases, the demand for labour, the price of labour, and consequently the rate of wages, rises also.”
The most favourable condition for the working man is the growth of capital. This must be admitted : when capital remains stationary, commerce and manufacture are not merely stationary but decline, and in this case the workman is the first victim. He goes to the wall before the capitalist. And in the case of the growth of capital, under the circumstances, which, as we have said, are the best for the working man, what will be his lot? He will go to the wall just the same. The growth of capital implies the accumulation and the concentration of capital. This centralization involves a greater division of labour and a greater use of machinery. The greater division of labour destroys the especial skill of the labourer; and by putting in the place of this skilled work labour which any one can perform, it increases competition among the workers.

This competition becomes more fierce as the division of labour enables a single man to do the work of three. Machinery accomplishes the same result on a much larger scale. The accumulation of productive capital forces the industrial capitalist to work with constantly increasing means of production, ruins the small manufacturer, and drives him into the proletariat. Then, the rate of interest falling in proportion as capital accumulates, the people of small means and retired tradespeople, who can no longer live upon their small incomes, are forced to look out for some business again and ultimately to swell the number of proletarians. Finally, the more productive capital grows, the more it is compelled to produce for a market whose requirements it does not know—the more supply tries to force demand, and consequently crises increase in frequency and in intensity. But every crisis in turn hastens the concentration of capital, adds to the proletariat. Thus, as productive capital grows, competition among the workers grows too, and grows in a far greater proportion. The reward of labour is less for all, and the burden of labour is increased for at least some of them.

Knowledge. (1924)

From the June 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘She’s Part Of Those Statistics Now’ (2021)

The Proper Gander TV column from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘All the doctors came in. And I knew. … I felt her leave. And then they told us. What do you do?’, says Naomi Ventour, as she recalls the day her sister Natalie died shortly after giving birth to her second child. ‘She’s part of those statistics now’, Naomi adds, referring to how as a black woman, Natalie was at least four times more likely to die during or soon after pregnancy than a white woman. This disparity is examined by Channel 4’s recent documentary in the Dispatches strand, The Black Maternity Scandal. Presenter and mother-of-three Rochelle Humes is of dual heritage, and so is three times more likely to suffer a maternal death than a white woman. She speaks with women like Naomi who have been affected, and also with researchers and campaigners aiming to address the problem.

Of the 2.2 million women who gave birth in the UK between 2016 and 2018, 34 black women in every 100,000 died up to a year after, compared with 15 Asian women and eight white women (, p.1). For every one who dies during pregnancy, a hundred more will suffer a life-threatening complication, and again this affects a disproportionate number of non-white women. One such additional risk is coronavirus: in the UK, ‘black pregnant women are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 [than white pregnant women], while Asian women are four times as likely’ (, p.17).

What causes these depressing disparities? A possibility not raised by the programme is whether they are due to genetic differences between groups of people which put some inherently at higher risk. The prevalence of a few health issues is related to genes found more commonly in particular ethnic groups, such as sickle cell disease. But maternal death isn’t a single condition, and therefore doesn’t have a single cause which can be reduced to a set of genes. Maternal deaths are often associated with conditions like heart disease, blood clots and mental health problems, all of which can have multiple causes, including social factors such as lifestyle and environment. So, if women in particular ethnic groups are more likely to have health conditions which contribute to maternal deaths, then this is because they are more likely to lead lives which exacerbate those conditions. Living in poverty comes with increased chances of having a poor diet, depression and inadequate housing, all of which would impact negatively on a pregnancy. Consequently, women in the most deprived areas of England are three times more at risk of suffering a maternal death than those in the most affluent areas (, table 2.10). There are higher proportions of non-white people living in poorer areas, especially first and second-generation settlers who came into the country with little money and few opportunities.

But the disparity isn’t only accounted for by the additional health risks which come with poverty. Another factor is an inconsistency in how people of different ethnic groups are treated by the health service. One study from the USA highlighted a mistaken belief that black people can bear more pain than white people, which led to lower amounts of painkillers being prescribed ( In the documentary, Humes talks with women who felt that medical staff didn’t take their concerns seriously enough because they aren’t white. When this isn’t down to ignorant individuals being racist, an explanation is given by Dr Christine Ekechi of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She says that historically, the institutions of medical care were set up around the needs of white men who had most power in society, and particular needs of women and non-white people were added on, and still don’t always have equal recognition.

So, what is being done to address the issue? November 2020’s report by the government’s Joint Human Rights Committee – Black People, Racism and Human Rights – made the blunt admission that ‘the NHS acknowledge and regret this disparity but have no target to end it’ (, p.3). The widely criticised report by The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities which concluded that the system is no longer rigged against non-white people referred to the disparity, but was vague about any proposed solutions because first ‘the increased rates seen in ethnic minority groups need to be better understood and explained’ (, p.218).

Hopefully, further research will expand on the social and economic reasons behind the disparity and maternal deaths in general, but where will this lead? Nadine Dorries, Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety has said that she is ‘absolutely committed to tackling disparities and making sure all women get the right support and best possible maternity care’. If this is more than just a soundbite, there may be reforms or changes to procedures which will help prevent some future tragedies. But whatever measures are put in place will depend on how much funding is politically and financially viable, and how much of a priority the issue has among society’s countless other problems. The deeper causes of the issue – poverty and division – can’t be legislated away because they’re built into how society is structured.
Mike Foster

Not a chance (2021)

Book Review from the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Snakes and Ladders. The Great British Social Mobility Myth. By Selina Todd. Penguin hardback. 2021. 448 pages.
‘Work, boys, work and be contented
So long as you’ve enough to buy a meal
For if you will but try, you’ll be wealthy – bye and bye –
If you’ll only put yer shoulder to the wheel.’
[Harry Clifton, quoted in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists]
That social mobility in Britain is largely a myth is shown in Selena Todd’s book. It’s a myth, of course, that’s been around a long time, as sung in the mid-nineteenth century music hall song quoted above, or printed in Conservative Party manifestos of recent years, telling us that all you need to become rich is to work hard. Todd notes, though, that this message can run parallel with suggestions that people should know their place, as when the Tory education minister Lord Percy complained in the Daily Telegraph in 1925 that scholarship boys from the middle- and working class were encouraged to ‘use the school as an escape from their normal job’ [our emphasis].

A society where success is born out of hard work, talent and ambition, the argument goes, is surely a fair one. People rise up the social ladder to the level of their abilities, and even those without these qualities can benefit from the ingenuity of those that have them. This is the myth: the main influence on success has always been birth and wealth.

That the class structure is seen as a ladder, to climb up or step down, is significant, deriving from early census data. An early incarnation came from the Registrar General in 1911, a time of increasing union power, greater influence of the Labour Party, the struggle for women’s suffrage, and the aristocratic House of Lords concerned with the power of the middle-class House of Commons. The Liberal government posited a ‘scientific’ census, where the so-called culture of occupations would determine their class position. Professionals and industrialists were on a level with the (often much wealthier) landed aristocracy. Manual labourers and domestic staff, though invaluable, were nevertheless at the bottom. Vital unpaid work such as mothering was just ignored.

But by letting a few rise up, the elite can claim that Britain is a meritocracy, to the benefit of those who gain from the preservation of this class-based society. And social mobility is not only subjective: how particular work is placed in the hierarchy depends, unsurprisingly, upon its value to capitalism. Before WWI, work done by clerks was more valued as industry required more form-filling, regulations to be dealt with and other written analyses. After the war, more of this work involved routine tasks and so their social standing dropped. After WWII and the emergence of the welfare state, teachers and nurses were valued, but, approaching the 21st century, when wealth acquisition is considered to be more important, these occupations fell down the scale.

The book is a fascinating history, documenting the voices of those who lived through these periods. It’s a useful resource, showing how societal changes allowed some limited improvements to the social standing of working people and the forces arraigned to prevent this advancement, and the fears of falling down the ladder. It is also refreshing to see class distinction defined as “the tiny minority who live off other people’s labour, and the vast majority who do not”.

Todd has solutions. People who worked to ascend the social ladder did so, by and large, not for wealth, but to increase security and control over their lives, and in some cases to contribute to society. But these aspirations rarely came to fruition. Todd suggests a change in focus to ‘replace social mobility with a commitment to equality and innovation, and on the benefits that this would bring’. An egalitarian shift in education to be state-funded and run by local education authorities, available to people of all ages. For private education, remove its £200 million annual state subsidy, add VAT and subtract its charitable status. Change the emphasis of education to be more self-selective and not primarily skilling up for work, which will create innovation. Progressive taxation, reward essential workers – notably the front-line workers, usually poorly paid, who have worked through the Covid-19 pandemic. Redistribute economic power from male-dominated London towards regional, without gender discrimination.

Other reviews have considered Todd’s conclusions as either fanciful, a result of her prejudices or an ideal to which one can strive. It’s perhaps unfortunate that, shortly after the book’s publication date, Boris Johnson is reported as saying that the success of the Covid-19 vaccination in Britain is due to capitalism and greed. So much for rewarding those front-line workers who kept society going; it’s business as usual. Nor is the offer of a 1 percent pay rise to nurses encouraging.

Todd’s sincerity is unquestionable, but, from a socialist point of view, unrealistic. Unfortunately, capitalism cannot cope with equality. Equality cannot exist in a society where wealth is distributed through competition. Attempts in capitalist regimes to ensure that no-one has too much or too little have never been successful. Only a society based upon common ownership can ensure that.

The Green New Deal (2021)

From the May 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Green New Deal is a general name for a set of supposedly radical reforms of capitalism, based on environmental considerations, aimed at generating jobs, combatting inequality and addressing ecological problems. It covers a number of different proposals, though they all have quite a lot in common. Here we examine various ideas falling under this heading.
Let’s start with the Green New Deal UK (, which includes simple slogans such as creating secure jobs, transforming the economy and restoring habitats. It is intended to rely on the support of both the public and politicians, with local hubs working to develop awareness and support. There will be a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. It will cost billions of pounds, but then climate breakdown and inequality cost far more, they say. Government funding would come from things such as ending tax breaks for fossil fuel extraction and stamping out tax dodging. This organisation has general ‘defining principles’, rather than policy stances on single issues.

There’s also the Green New Deal Group ( The Green New Deal as they see it ‘will deliver an environmental transformation of our economy and society’. Climate and inequality problems will be addressed, with the economy decarbonised. Taxes will be reformed, but government investment will be the catalyst for the plan. Pensions and savings will be more secure, and the UK will show ‘real world leadership’. There will be investment in energy conservation and renewables. The Green New Deal Bill (tabled by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas) would introduce legally-binding targets, appoint a New Green Deal Commission, end the supposed fixation on growth, and transform energy supplies and the transport system.

The Labour Party’s 2019 election manifesto did refer to a Green New Deal, but spoke more of a Green Industrial Revolution (a term also used more recently by Boris Johnson) to rebuild towns, provide well-paid jobs, cut energy bills and so on, with the costs being borne by the wealthy. A Sustainable Investment Board would oversee investment; there would be 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, with fracking permanently banned but new nuclear power.

One even simpler ‘solution’ is a carbon tax (Henry Jacobi in the Guardian, 5 January), designed to raise the price of coal, oil and natural gas. This would be imposed at the wellhead or mine mouth, so increasing the cost of all carbon-intensive goods and making more environmentally friendly ones more competitive.

Beyond the UK, we can look at the Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition, produced in 2019 by the Green New Deal for Europe, an organisation comprising politicians, journalists and academics ( Working at the level of the EU, it proposes eighty-five specific policies, including funding public taxis, phasing out plane journeys and democratising finance, and is thus rather more detailed than the UK equivalents. These and other policies are intended to address the ‘three overlapping crises’: economic (rising poverty and insecurity), climate and environmental, and democratic (with people being disconnected from decision-making).

Three new institutions would be established. Green Public Works (GPW) would be an investment programme, financed through green bonds backed by the European Central Bank. Its investments would be aimed at environmental sustainability, for instance by improved insulation in houses, and it would also invest in worker-owned co-operatives. The Environmental Union (EnU) would introduce regulations to ensure that Europe would be ‘a global leader on the green transition’. Fossil-fuel investments would be penalised and agriculture made more sustainable. Finally, the Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) would aim to ensure fairness at international, intersectional and intergenerational levels; the last would look to justice for future generations that will inherit the planet.

In the US in 2019 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set out her version of the Green New Deal in the form of a House Resolution. The aim is to make the US carbon-neutral by 2030, with a view to this applying to the whole world by 2050. Almost all power would come from wind and solar energy, buildings would be made more energy-efficient, and steps would be taken to reduce emissions from agriculture. It offers a broad approach, rather than specific legislation on each goal. Among this is the intention ‘to create millions of good high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.’ The methods include ‘building resiliency against climate change-related disasters’, ‘removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere’, ‘ensuring that the Federal Government takes into account the complete environmental and social costs of emissions’ and ‘guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security’ for all Americans, who will moreover supposedly enjoy high-quality health care, adequate housing, economic security and so on.

In an interview in the Guardian (13 February), Bill Gates noted that 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted each year, and that reducing this to net zero even by 2050 is quite a challenging task. Transport accounts for one-sixth of this, and the slowdown resulting from the Covid pandemic has meant a reduction of just five percent in greenhouse gas emissions. Making a ton of cement (which is more or less essential for much building work) results in a ton of carbon dioxide; one possible solution is to take recycled carbon dioxide and inject it back into the cement. Gates dismisses the Green New Deal (in its US instantiation) as a ‘fairytale’, as carbon neutrality in a decade is just unachievable: short-term measures will simply be insufficient.

The Green New Deal UK’s FAQ notes that ‘Currently, the market focuses on short-term profits for shareholders, protecting the interests of large corporations and super-rich individuals.’ Which as a criticism is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to see that the problem is capitalism, not just ‘the market’ and how it works ‘currently’. In fact, this is what’s wrong with all these various Green New Deal proposals: they remain wedded to a system which, by its very nature, has to prioritise profits and short-term considerations, rather than ecological and human-based issues. It is all very well to speak of ‘building resiliency against climate change-related disasters’, for instance, but saying that contributes nothing to achieving such a desirable aim. And jobs for all is just impossible under a system based on profit, where the market’s need for workers can change according to alterations in consumer demand, price rises, technological changes and the consequences of competition. Most of the aims and policies of the various Green New Dealers are truly utopian, aiming at a goal which cannot be realised under a system of production that simply cannot put the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants in first place.

Of course, it is possible to fund public taxis and invest in renewable energy. But going against the grain of capitalism is simply not possible. The various versions of the Green New Deal are just different attempts to make a system based on profit into one built around ecological considerations, and that is just not doable.
Paul Bennett

Race relations (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Quoting figures from the 1971 Census (Country of Birth Tables), the Sunday Times colour supplement recently reported that there are three million people living in Britain who were born citizens of another country. The Immigration Act passed in 1971 has severely limited male immigration, although it allows the wives and children of those already here to join them if they can satisfy British Consular representatives of their relationship and obtain an entry certificate. Accompanying the report was a large double page picture displaying one representative from each of the main countries of origin; a handsome and varied collection of the human race from all parts of the globe.

There are 29 main countries of origin with the breakdown as follows:-

(Countries from whom the number of immigrants is less than 14,000 are not listed).

A study of these figures makes nonsense of wild and inflammatory statements about the United Kingdom being swamped and taken over by coloured people and alien cultures. The largest single group comes from just across the Irish Sea, and the greatest overall proportion of immigrants have a European ancestry and share a common language. These easily mingle with the indigenous population, and it is the more noticeable who suffer the hostility and resentment of the racially biased.

Not un-naturally these people generally congregate in areas with others of similar background and language which leads to the accusation of certain cities being taken over and changed. Looking at the parts of Bradford, Leeds, Birmingham and London where there are large coloured immigrant populations, one puzzles at what there is about them that could induce anyone to uproot themselves from sunnier climes and settle in such dismal depressing environs. The answer is that people who have to sell their labour-power in order to live are forced to move about in order to find a buyer. Since Capitalism started there have been migrations of workers from their birthplaces to where the means of production are situated. From the countryside to the towns, from the under-developed parts of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to England, from the North of England to the South; and in their tens of millions workers from the whole of the British Isles have emigrated to all parts of the world to seek the means of life.

It is because these immigrants come here to seek work that they are regarded with suspicion and hostility by many members of the working class. Every new worker entering the country appears to threaten somebody’s job. There is competition for jobs — and the buyer of labour-power prefers it that way. It helps to keep the price of labour-power low, he can pick and choose his worker more freely, and the worker is more likely to toe the line when he knows he can be easily replaced by another. Employers may have private views on nationality and race, but as capitalists they are interested only in labour-power; they recruit it as and when—and from wherever — they need. Workers were recruited in this way in the 1950s from Italy, the West Indies, and Asia.

With tensions already established the indigenous worker looks around at his problems and sees in the immigrant a scapegoat. Ignoring the fact that housing problems, unemployment, and poverty were rife before any immigrant set foot on these Islands, these faults are laid at the door of the immigrant, and those who are conspicuous, i.e. the coloured population, are the focus of hostility. The immigrant, afraid and bewildered by the hostility around him, often reacts in kind. Bitter and resentful young coloureds try to outdo their white counterparts in bigotry and malice. The frustration of both sides hardens, and we have in Britain the elements of a white-black and black-white antagonism that is being inflamed by those who wish to make political capital from ideas of “racial purity” and separation.

There is a great deal of argument and disagreement amongst anthropologists about racial, ethnic and national differences; but it requires no special knowledge or study to acknowledge the paradox of the human race. Nevertheless, the likenesses far outweigh the differences. To paraphrase Will Shakespeare . . . “Have we not eyes? Have we not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions! Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter. If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?” . . . And yet, however similar, no two human beings are the same. Every person is unique! So there seems no rational reason to dislike someone who is different, because everyone is different.

The Socialist is free from racial prejudice. We take pleasure in the infinite variety of physical and cultural differences in our fellow humans and see no reason for those differences to continue to cause antagonism. Lines drawn on maps do not affect the way we regard our fellow men. We are deaf to calls from sectarian groups whether white, black, nationalist or feminist. There is a division in society but it is economic not social. On one side are those who own the means of production and distribution and thereby control the means by which we live — the capitalist class. On the other side are the vast majority, the working class, who have to sell their ability to work to those owners. This system is international, and like workers capitalists exist all over the world and come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Whether the owner is black or white, man or woman, speaks your language or not, the effect is the same. He is the master and you are the servant, he is the exploiter and you are the exploited.

It is in the interest of all workers whatever their colour, nationality, or sex to recognize the root of their problems lies in capitalism itself. The problems cannot be cured without its abolition. All workers must unite to bring to an end a system that sentences them to a lifetime of poverty, insecurity, conflict and hardship. Then, world-wide, all will work together, co-operating in producing everything that the human race requires to satisfy its needs. All mankind will live in harmony.
Alice Kerr

Alternative energy . . . fuel for thought (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the rapid rise in the price of oil, the idea of using “alternative energy sources” has become increasingly fashionable. However, only a small fraction of current energy research is put into alternative energy sources. For example in the EEC’s 1977 energy research budget, only 5.3 per cent, was allocated to solar power and nuclear fusion research. The question this article attempts to answer is why governments are investing so little money in alternative energy sources compared to nuclear fission. In doing this, it will be seen that the so-called “energy crisis” arises out of the problems of capitalism, not out of any shortage of natural resources.

There are two aspects to the question: First, production of energy and second, its efficient use. Until recently the latter question was completely ignored, but it is very important because capitalist production is enormously wasteful of natural resources in general and energy in particular. A good example of this is that in the generation of electricity a large quantity of reject heat is produced in the form of hot water. Somebody unfamiliar with the workings of capitalism might assume that this hot water would be used for domestic supplies, to heat buildings, etc. In fact, with the exception of one power station in the UK, the only thing this hot water is used for is the pollution of rivers. The reason for this is given in the Government discussion document “Energy Research and Development in the UK”, as follows:
  The capital costs associated with upgrading, distributing and utilising the reject heat (from power stations) would necessarily be large, and might be difficult to justify while there are available less capital intensive alternatives of meeting energy needs such as the supply of natural gas through existing mains direct to consumers. Furthermore, the development of significantly large markets for the heat would take place only within a long time scale and in many cases the associated costs could more than offset the fuel saving attractions, (HMSO 1976)
In short, hot water is used to create thermal pollution instead of heating homes while OAP’s die of hypothermia, for one simple reason—profit. This is a classic example of capitalist production; it creates the technological potential to satisfy human needs but does not do so because production is determined by the needs of the market, not by human needs. 

One of the most important uses of energy is in agriculture. It is interesting to note that modern agriculture could provide all its own energy by using the energy of the inedible parts of crops. This is not based on the claim of an alternative energy freak, but on an article by Professor Revelle of Harvard
University. He writes:-
  Most, perhaps all of the energy needed in modern high-yielding agriculture could be provided by the farmers themselves. For every ton of cereal grain there are two tons of humanly inedible crop residues with an energy content considerably greater than the food in the grain. If only half of this energy could be recovered by the fermentative production of methane or alcohol, the energy requirements for modern agriculture including energy for the production of chemical fertilizers, could be fully satisfied.
(Scientific American, September 1976)
It is possible to give many other examples of how wasteful capitalist production is. As one instance of how ridiculous it is to talk about conservation in terms of capitalist production, consider the recent “save it” campaign. This of course was stopped because the CEGB wanted to sell more electricity, not less!

One of the most talked-about forms of alternative energy is solar power. The reason for this is simple; there is so much solar energy around. While the sun is shining, the energy equivalent of a gallon of petrol falls on the area the size of a tennis court about every ten minutes. It is not just solar fanatics who realize the potential for solar power. For example Bruce Chalmers, Professor of metallurgy at Harvard writes:
  It is paradoxical that Americans should be concerned about their supply of energy even as the US is receiving energy from the sun at 500 times the rate at which they use it for all purposes.
(Scientific American, October 1976)
Photovoltaic cells can convert this energy into electricity with an efficiency of up to 25 per cent. The explanation of the paradox is money, of course. As Chalmers explains, solar power must be achieved “at prices that are competitive with those of other sources of energy.”

At present, solar power cells cost $20,000 per kilowatt compared to about $500 per kilowatt for a fuel-burning power station. The reason for the high cost is very small-scale production and the expense of silicon. Yet silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. (So much for the “shortage of resources” theory!)

The reason for the high cost of semiconductor grade silicon, according to Chalmers, is that the precise manufacturing process calls for “much time and labour on the part of skilled workers who grow the crystals slice the wafers and fabricate the finished cell.” When it is remembered that there are millions of unemployed workers throughout the world, it can be seen that there is no shortage of skilled workers; it is just that under capitalism, skilled labour-power is an expensive commodity. Chalmers says that the speed of development of solar cells depends on how fast “the necessary engineering development can be achieved. No new scientific breakthrough is needed, only a great deal of meticulous engineering to put proved ideas into practice.” Even if solar cells could be built at the cost of $500 per kilowatt they would not be economically feasible in capitalist terms because ‘‘a conventional power station (also costing $500 per peak kilowatt) can generate a return on its capital investment day and night rain or shine,” whereas solar power stations can only generate one-third to one-half as much return per peak-kilowatt compared to a conventional power station. Other ways of using solar energy are putting solar cells into orbit above the earth and then beaming the energy down to earth or using mirrors to focus light on a solar boiler to generate electricity, as in the recently opened power station in the Pyrenees, or to produce hot water.

Another potentially large source of energy is geothermal energy. For example, J. C. Rowley writes:
  The interior of the earth represents an enormous reservoir of energy. Most of it with the exception of the relatively thin surface-crust material, is either close to or above the melting point range for the rock and metallic alloys that make up the mantle and the core. Yet this great energy reservoir is not at present a generally useful resource, being currently tapped only in a few small sites where surface conditions permit an economic yield. 
(Physics Today, January 1977)
There are four main types of geothermal reservoirs. The first type, high-pressure steam and hot water, is already used fairly widely because it is relatively cheap.
  Western Siberia like Cornwall “floats” on geothermal waters, and Soviet energy experts like the British periodically expound on the significance and profitability of this fact. The Soviets already use some of these waters for practical purposes. In and around Omsk is the main area of exploitation. The Omsk textile mill apparently saves from 33,000 to 44,000 roubles a year by using geothermal waters for heating.
(New Scientist, 5th February 1976)
This particular example illustrates the world-wide nature of capitalism. In Russia, as in any other capitalist country, production of energy takes place, just like the production of any other commodity, if and only if there is a prospect of making a profit.

The second type of geothermal reservoir consists of hot fluids. This source will probably be more expensive to utilize, but developments in materials technology could change that, so this type of source is now being explored. The 1975 US geological survey estimated that in the US this source contains an energy equivalent of about 5 billion tons of coal. This is about 1,500 times the total energy used by the us in 1973. The US geological survey also estimated that there are similar quantities of energy available from the other two types of geothermal reservoirs, dry hot rocks and magnia.

Another type of energy source that has been discussed recently is wavepower. There is a large amount of energy in waves and according to Wolley and Platts: -
  Compared with other permanent sources of energy— the wind for example—wavepower has a high availability; there are always waves arriving around Britain from somewhere in the Atlantic. 
(New Scientist, 1st May 1975)
Floats moving up and down with the waves could convert wave energy into electricity very efficiently. “Laboratory tests show great promise of a device with a basic efficiency of more than 50 per cent.” Wolley and Platts say. They are in fact engineers employed by a firm called Wavepower Ltd. They are not therefore working to produce a socially useful product for the benefit of mankind, but a commodity which their employers can sell at a profit, as they themselves freely admit:
  Public debate has concentrated on the high specific powers and high mechanical efficiencies of particular locations and devices. The true criterion for wave development should be THE POWER PRODUCED FOR A GIVEN CAPITAL OUTLAY. While there is immense power available in the Atlantic, it is not necessarily economic to tap it. Power in the North Sea for example, is contained in a comparatively narrow band of wavelengths; and the machine designed to suit them may well be more efficient in terms of capital cost per KW output, than a bigger device to cover the wider spread and larger waves in the Atlantic approaches. (Emphasis added)
Finally, it is worth noting fusion, because its development would provide an almost unlimited supply of energy. The development of fusion power is not just a technological problem, it requires new scientific development. However, there is little doubt that if the work is done it will be developed; it is merely a question of how long it will take. That is a big “if’ under capitalism because fusion research is expensive and governments are reluctant to pay for it. Bruno Coppi, in Scientific American (July 1972) writes that “the recent progress of fusion research has been limited by the lack of adequate financial support.” 

This article has been limited by space considerations, but seeks to illustrate two things. First, energy is a commodity and its production is therefore determined by the same laws of economics as those for any other commodities. Second, there is no shortage of energy resources on this planet. There is more energy available than man could possibly use. When the working class takes the means of production into its own hands, it can utilize all energy resources of the earth to solve all the physical problems that man can encounter.
Tony Weidberg

The Socialism of the Communist Manifesto (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Society can no longer live under the bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society”.
The Communist Manifesto
Obviously Marx and Engels were optimistic about the immediate future and were stressing the urgency of a working-class revolution. Both men, fired with the vigour and enthusiasm of youth, thought the working class were ready for Socialism.

The warning given in the Manifesto about the false forms of Socialism has not been heeded. The result is that there is more confusion now about what Socialism is than there was in Marx's day. Marx’s descriptions of “socialism” in the Manifesto (Section 3) relate to the activities of sections of the ruling class, old and new, who were endeavouring to get the support of the workers by claiming that their interests and those of the worker were identical. The word “socialism” had a magic appeal to the worker and the capitalists then, as now, were trying to frustrate any real Socialist movement. All the familiar weapons of misrepresentation, lying and slander were brought into play. Today, misrepresentation and distortion have produced a new industry, one which manufactures myths about Socialism and the Socialist Party. Metaphysics, alchemy and phantomology are the raw materials this thriving industry relies upon.

In the chapter on “reactionary socialism” Marx showed how not only the capitalists but the old feudal ruling class will try to get working-class support in restoring the conditions of feudal exploitation. This he called Feudal Socialism. Their quarrel with the rising capitalists was that their system of exploitation would generate a class which would destroy the old social order. Capitalism was not only creating a working class but a revolutionary working class at that. In a different way the small capitalists or petty bourgeois, formerly the Guildmasters, sought the support of workers in trying to bring back the old methods of production. Machinery and modern manufacture had made the mediaeval Guild system obsolete, with the inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeoisie. The system of production was outmoded together with its property relations, and a call for its return was reactionary. The Guildmaster either graduated to full status of capitalist or fell back into the ranks of the workers.

German “true socialism”, borrowed from French socialist literature, was the gospel of would-be philosophers who treated Socialism as purely intellectual. They removed it from the issue of the class struggle; they talked about the “alienation of the essence of mankind” in dealing with the criticism of the monetary system and its evils. When criticizing the state they wrote about the creation of “the supremacy of the abstract universal” (p. 59, The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, D. Ryazanoff). They were not concerned about defending true needs but spoke about defending the need for truth. Everything could be reasoned out without the necessity of class conflict.

This philosophical point of view favoured the existing social relations and political arrangements which were based on small production and land tenure, but did not suit the developing capitalist. His system could not be reasoned into existence—on the contrary, it had to be opposed on the grounds of reason. Class struggle was an irrational expression which fell outside logical reasoning and outlawed it. The class struggle based on property at all stages of society has always been the agent of social change. This meant the overthrow of the existing order with political power passing to the challenging class. With political power that class dominated society and legislated in its own economic interests. It removed the previous owners of wealth from their position of privilege and endowed itself with those privileges. It is easy to see why those in control of the political machinery then or now must always try and prove that the class struggle is an anachronism and something which has no place in modern industrial relations, and is only kept alive by agitation and class hatred.

Dealing with bourgeois socialism, Marx stated that it was no more than a reform movement which aimed at retaining the basic conditions of society, but without the struggles and disintegrating elements which are the inevitable outcome of those conditions. For Marx, humanitarians, welfare workers, economists, philanthropists, charity organizers, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind, existed solely to safeguard bourgeois society. Modern bourgeois socialism expresses itself in the policies and activities of Social Democratic, Labour and Community parties throughout the world. All the spurious brands of socialism referred to in the Manifesto find their rightful place in these organizations. The right of all capital to a profit, fair wages for the workers, the right of landlords to charge rent and bankers to collect interest, the right of small shopkeepers, manufacturers and the self-employed, the rights of trade unions, freedom of worship, and the rights of commodities to freely circulate, are all embodied in the literature of these parties The revolutionary concept of Socialism as envisaged by the Manifesto, and kept alive by genuine Socialist movements, is absent.

The abolition of the wages system is the main plank of the Manifesto, and is the test of a revolutionary organization. Labour and Communist parties do not advocate and work for this simple demand; their function is to run capitalism. To say that the Social Democratic movement, including the German Social Democratic Party and the British Labour Party, have moved away from the original revolutionary position would be untrue. As early as 1891 the German party at its conference at Erfurt laid down the pattern which has been faithfully followed by all Communist, Social Democratic and Labour parties all over the globe. First, it proclaimed itself to be a Socialist party seeking the abolition of class society, at the same time stressing the need for international class-consciousness, and the need to convert the means of production into social property. However, after laying down the general principles of Socialism, the conference produced a list of “immediate demands”, which were nothing less than a statement of the conditions under which the working class would continue to accept capitalism. This was in complete contradiction to its Socialist objective, because you cannot advocate revolution and reform at the same time.

As a matter of historical fact, all the immediate demands of the Erfurt programme were introduced many years ago: universal suffrage, the right to form trade unions, abolition of capital punishment, free medical treatment, 8-hour day, restrictions on child labour, direct taxation instead of indirect taxation, etc. The idea behind the list of immediate demands was that Socialism could only be reached in stages. It was argued that the workers would not support such a drastic social change and had to be led to accept it gradually, and partly because of the resistance of the capitalists. History has exposed this fallacy. In practice, the theory of getting Socialism gradually has been shown to be wrong. Inevitably, the socialism of the Social Democratic Party got lost in the fight for reforms. Later it backed the 1914-18 War, as did the Labour Party, and paved the way for Hitler afterwards. Not being a Socialist party it could only concern itself with the administration of capitalism and legislate for capitalism’s problems.

Today the Social Democratic Party forms the government of West Germany, but the position of the German workers remains basically the same. They are still propertyless wage-slaves supporting the rights of propertied people, and without any revolutionary aspirations whatsoever. Like most workers elsewhere they have a narrow-minded conservatism which is born out of the poverty of life in a capitalist environment. Our home-grown Labour Party has followed the same path. It never had much revolutionary zeal to begin with; it was a conglomeration of trade unions, methodists, liberals and small capitalists. Now its policies are so wide that they have no difficulty at all in attracting rich industrialists, bankers and landlords. Its leaders, particularly Wedgwood Benn and Michael Foot, still mouth phrases about Socialism, but they are capitalist politicians for all that. The capitalists know a good thing when they see it—even if the wolf is in sheep’s clothing. If the Labour Party is the party of the working class, as its supporters claim, how can it serve the capitalists at the same time? The truth is that it has consistently formed the breakdown gang of the capitalist class—a role which it is fulfilling at the present time. Again, we are not dealing with a theoretical situation but with the practical results of bourgeois socialism (reformism) and its failure as an instrument for furthering Socialism.

The communist parties referred to in the Manifesto had no connection with the present-day Communists. We have seen not only the development of state capitalism in Russia under the dictatorship of the Communist Party, but its present policy of imperialism in Africa and Asia. The spread of so-called communism, or bourgeois communism, has come to be equated with the establishment of military and neo-fascist dictatorships. Every backward country moving into capitalism adopts a state-capitalist form which is based on rabid nationalism. Outside of the United States practically every country in the world has either a “Communist” government or a Social Democratic one. The position of the working class has not altered at all. nor can it alter by changes of government.

It is rather ironic to notice that most Communist dictatorships claim to be based on the teachings of Marx and Engels. In the Manifesto, Marx laid great stress on the need for the workers to win the battle of democracy; the Russian workers have a long way to go, not against the Czar but against the new Czars —the Communist Party. Both Chinese and Russian governments subsidize the publication of Marx’s works as evidence that Marxism, or socialism, is an integral part of their political system. Any careful reading of Marx’s Manifesto will soon dispel that illusion. This is the scale of the misrepresentation about Socialism, and the lengths capitalist governments will go to.

One of the excuses advanced by Communists was that Marx envisaged a transition period in which “the proletariat will use its political supremacy in order, by degrees, to wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise the means of production into the hands of the state, and to increase the total mass of the productive forces” (p. 79, Communist Manifesto, SPGB edn.). The last point is important because at that time the productive forces had not been developed, and Marx and Engels held that this could be accomplished by the state under the control of the working class. We have no such problem today. The productive forces are fully developed and need only be modified to suit the demands of a Socialist society. Owing to the nature of modern industry one section is dependent on another; production and distribution cannot be separated, neither can individual industries be taken over piecemeal. Engels in the 1888 Preface to the Manifesto acknowledged that the ten measures proposed under the heading “Wresting capital by degrees” through the state were to some extent antiquated, and the passage in the Manifesto would be worded very differently in the light of the development of modern industry.

Present-day Communists and their supporters are asking us to believe against all the evidence that these ten measures formed the basis of a revolutionary political programme for the establishment of Socialism. Marx was laying down guide-lines for the dispossession of the ruling class after the workers had gained political power. We do not require to do this because all the social wealth, starting from the means of production and distribution, will become common property simultaneously with the advent of a Socialist society.

In the course of the last 130 years the working-class movement has gone in many wrong directions. The curse of reformism has perverted its purpose, which is ultimately the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Countless Labour leaders, careerists, and others hoping to establish a reputation, have grown fat on the movement and sucked it of much of its vitality. Other aspiring parasites are waiting to tread the boards. Shall we continue with the ‘‘socialism” of the reformer, or does reformist activity form part of the necessary experience of a politically immature working class groping for a revolutionary policy and a political framework providing the elbow-room in which to operate? That apprenticeship has been served. The working class are mature, they have the ability to organize, they have universal suffrage. The productive forces are fully developed. Reformism is therefore reactionary. It belongs to a past era. It is a transition stage of political development and is now a hundred years out of date.

The publication of the Manifesto was the first major public statement about the new science of Socialism. This science developed from the social laws immanent in capitalist society, and emerges as the modern form of revolutionary thought and activity. It sees the antagonism between capital and labour as an irreconcilable feature of class society. It sees the divorce of man from his means of production. It exposes the mysteries surrounding the accumulation of surplus-value and the evils of the pernicious wages system. It raises the whole question of man’s relationship to his productive forces, and poses the question whether they exist for the benefit of society or for the benefit of a few privileged people. It challenges the whole body of capitalist economic and political arrangements. This is the revolutionary attitude we want workers to adopt. It’s simple, it’s all-embracing, and it’s effective—and we should have done it a long time ago.
Jim D'Arcy