Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Mayday Mayday . . . (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago the world stood on the brink of a war that was to kill millions — a war of countless wasted resources and unspeakable miseries. In Nazi Germany, where jackbooted lunatics had been driven to the most excessive barbarities by the crisis of the capitalist economy, many workers must have known that something was badly wrong, but they put up with life as it was. "It’s inevitable that things must be this way" they said. In Stalinist Russia, no less of a monstrous dictatorship (and an ally of Hitler at the beginning of the war), vast numbers of workers were being butchered in the purges which have since been recognised as a reign of terror. In Britain there was mass unemployment and poverty for millions. They accepted their lot: “That's the way things are".

In 1987 much has changed superficially but little has changed in real terms. Today we stand on the brink of the next world war which is spoken about by politicians and pundits alike with all the complacency of David Coleman predicting the winner of the next FA Cup. The next war will not be like the last one: it will make Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden and Coventry look like sparklers at a Guy Fawkes party. The next war will explode bombs which can destroy cities and enough of them to destroy every city. "It's inevitable" say many workers: there is no alternative; all that is left is to sit and wait and watch Dynasty. The Nazis have gone, but there is no shortage of ruthless dictators: half the world is governed by them. Stalin may be dead, but Stalinism lives on within the oppressive bureaucracies of the state- capitalist nations. The prisons of the world are still holding plenty of political prisoners. Thousands of children are locked up and tortured in South Africa. Trade unionists are imprisoned in Poland and Zimbabwe. And that is just a little of what we know about; how many atrocities go on in this age of class monopoly of the means of mass communications which we never hear about?

None of this is inevitable. Workers are conditioned to think that it is. but it is not. Capitalism has not always existed. And when we decide in our millions, as a conscious majority, that we have had enough, it will no longer continue.

But what do we put in its place? The term "socialism" has been abused and distorted by countless opportunists who have sought to run capitalism. From Lenin to Jaruzelski, from Ramsay MacDonald to Kinnock. the name of socialism has been dragged through the mud of capitalist politics. Socialism has come to be associated with a way of running capitalism and an unappealing way at that. If the bosses had to think of a method of putting the workers off socialism they could not have done much better than the pseudo-socialist leaders have done.

Yet still socialism stands as the only practical alternative to this system of minority ownership and control and production for sale and profit. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth and everything in it and on it. Instead of producing goods and services for sale and profit and denying people access to what can be produced if they have no money with which to buy it, socialism will produce solely for use. There will be free access to the common store of social wealth. No longer will men and women be employed (exploited, to be more precise) by bosses for wages or salaries: instead people in socialist society will work according to their abilities and take according to their needs. Indeed, we are talking here about a fundamentally different way of running our society and consequently a revolution in the way we live. It is a revolution long overdue, for who but a boss, or a worker who has been conditioned to poverty and fear, can be contented as we are living now?

In 1987 millions are unemployed, thrown on to the scrapheap of capitalism's wasted labour. Millions exist on the indignity of a pension. Millions live in hunger, with literally tens of thousands of human beings dying daily through malnutrition. (UNESCO puts the figure at 40,000 a day). Even the employed worker, bringing home a "fair" wage, is not only being robbed of the fruits of their labour but faces life alienated from real power over social life. And with the bombs piling higher and higher only fools have the courage not to worry about when the button might be pushed.

The capitalists can only continue with this insane system as long as the workers let them. Without us they are nothing. That is why it is so important to them that the workers believe in capitalism — believe in it like children believe that the bad witch will haunt them if they don't eat all their dinner. We are asked to believe that we are naturally fitted for inferiority — that the bosses are our natural betters. Or that human nature destines us to unco-operative social existences. Or that god requires us to be obedient to the status quo. Above all, we must not think that we are capable of determining the course of society for ourselves: both the right and left wings of the capitalist political vulture urge us to accept leaders, as if we are imbeciles who would be lost without them.

So it is time to get excited, the media tells us, for 1987 will be election year — a chance to elect our new rulers to carry on where the old ones leave off. The only proper response to this electoral nonsense is to vote for none of them, but to vote for SOCIALISM which none of them stands for. Even if there is no candidate in your constituency put up by The Socialist Party (and there is a good chance of that because we are only able to put up one this time) you should write SOCIALISM across your ballot paper. The election itself is not a farce, for it at least allows us to register our position in relation to capitalism but the electoral tactics of the parties seeking our votes are nothing other than farcical.

When enough workers — men and women who do not own the world, the vast majority of us — decide consciously that the way we live now is neither inevitable nor desirable, then socialism will be established. But workers will not wake up to the urgency of the socialist alternative by accident. Persuasion is required. More than anything else the role of The Socialist Party is to "make socialists" by discussing and acting on ideas. Our May Day resolution is to pursue that struggle — a struggle which the Right imagine we are destined to lose and the Left regard sneeringly as a waste of time, for the workers must be led to socialism — without compromise. Fifty years ago the socialist message was not heeded. The last fifty years have been the price paid for that political deafness. Now the task is more exciting and urgent than ever.
Steve Coleman

Running Commentary: Excitement (1987)

The Running Commentary column from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard 


Oscar Wilde once wrote that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Marxists might think this description perfectly fits economists, the apologists for capitalism. Despite their education, these political science "experts" appear to have missed the lectures dealing with Marx's Labour Theory of Value. As a result of this gap in their knowledge, they have a lot in common with the contestants in The Price is Right.

For those with the good fortune not to have seen it this programme is a prime example of the rubbish that masquerades as TV entertainment. As a reward for guessing the price of particular commodities, the hyped-up, frenzied workers taking part win themselves shoddy prizes. The euphoria that generates results in a further exhibition of hysterical behaviour by all in the studio.

How many viewers of The Price is Right also tune in to Antiques Roadshow? First impressions suggest that the two programmes have little in common. Antiques Roadshow aims to project a genteel atmosphere. A quietly spoken expert gives a potted history of the antique in question. Delight in the craftsmanship of the exhibited article is not, however, the programme's appeal. What concentrates the attention of all involved is the solemn pronouncement of the price the item now commands in the market-place. As in a film cartoon, the pound signs flash in the antique owner's eyes.

Second impressions confirm that the factor common to both programmes is the underlying assumption that the accumulation of wealth is the main object of human life. This object must be pursued ruthlessly by the capitalist class, leaving the worker to the dubious pleasure of participating in idiotic gameshows. or selling off the family EPNS.

Under the guise of entertainment, the ruling class continues to propagate their message that there is no alternative to capitalism. The alternative does exist — it is Socialism. Now that really is worth getting excited about.

Expanding police powers

On 1 April the new Public Order Act came into effect. The requirement that organisers of marches must notify police in advance has been in force since the beginning of the year. Implementation of the other provisions contained in the Act means that the police now have wider powers to control marches and demonstrations. They can re-route marches if they consider there is a risk of serious damage to property, or if there is a risk of intimidation or disruption to the community.

Although "static" demonstrations will not need permission in advance from the police, the police will have the right to move people on and to restrict the numbers of people participating. This will inevitably affect pickets and outdoor political meetings and rallies.

In addition, the Act has created new statutory public order offences of riot, violent disorder, threatening behaviour and disorderly conduct (although the Act is very vague about what behaviour would actually constitute an offence of this kind), and corresponding tougher penalties for offenders.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the new Act is that not only does it represent one more nail in the coffin of civil liberties, but it has also given the police enormous new discretionary powers to decide when a Public Order offence has been committed.

Blood on the coal

Despite recent conflicts within the NUM over new working arrangements agreed by the South Wales miners, it now seems likely that the new Margam super-pit will go ahead in South Wales. It will be one of British Coal's new, high technology, capital-intensive mines like that at Selby.

British Coal argue that the industry can only be profitable if productivity per miner is increased. The opening of the new Margam pit will be part of the latest phase in the process that began with the pit closure programme that sparked off the year-long strike of 1984-85. Since the end of that dispute countless small and "uneconomic" pits (those which did not produce high enough profits) have been closed. Instead, capital has been concentrated in the new generation mines — large coal fields which use the very latest technology and have been able to intensify the rate of coal extraction. But the new capital-intensive pits cannot become really profitable if the expensive new machinery is left idle at weekends. As a result, the decision to go ahead with Margam was made conditional on the South Wales miners agreeing to work a six-day week and eight-hour shifts to enable the machinery to be in almost continuous use.

Faced with the devastation that has been caused by the closure of the old South Wales pits, it is not surprising that the union has been forced to agree to the new shift system. However there are now fears, especially in Nacods — the pit deputies' and supervisors' union — that the new working practices will lead to a drop in safety standards in an industry which already has a horrifying record for injuries and fatalities.

In addition to the new machinery, which itself poses new problems for health and safety, and the longer shifts, incentive schemes will encourage miners to cut corners in order to speed up production. But Nacods claims that if British Coal is to go ahead with all of its proposed changes, then it will first have to get the government to pass amendments to the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act which presently regulates health and safety standards in mines. British Coal argue that the 1954 Act is anyway out of date and instead advocate new regulations which would have no statutory force but would only constitute a "code of practice". This would mean, for example, that existing regulations which set a minimum height for underground roadways would be scrapped; it would permit the use of roof bolts which, Nacods argues, are highly dangerous as the sole means of support; it would allow the use of free-steered vehicles in mines which American authorities have banned as too dangerous for use in pits because of their carcinogenic emissions.

So, in other words, "de-regulation" of the mining industry will not only mean fewer miners being forced to work harder to produce more coal more cheaply and so enhance the profits of British Coal, but they will be putting their health and their lives at risk in the process.

Vote for yourself for a change . . . a real change (1987)

Party News from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
Election Address of The Socialist Party candidate in the local election in Uplands Ward, Swansea.
Promises, promises
On May 7 you have a choice to make. You can vote Labour. Tory, Alliance. Plaid Cymru ... or Socialist. The first four parties will all be making promises. They’ll be promising to fight for Singleton Hospital. They'll be promising to keep rates down. They'll be promising to provide better local services, like pavements. schools and rubbish collection. And they'll all be blaming the other parties for the things that aren't right. Labour will blame the Tories because the Tories are in power nationally; the Tories will blame Labour because Labour are in power locally; the Alliance will blame Labour and the Tories because they aren't in power anywhere; and Plaid Cymru will blame all the "English-based" parties for not having the interests of Wales at heart.

What about The Socialist Party? The Socialist Party won't be making promises and won't be blaming anyone. No promises, because we think that if you want something done you've got to do it yourself, and not leave it to others. No blame, because if you put others in charge of your lives, you can't blame them for not doing things the way you want them to be done.

But wouldn't voting for The Socialist Party candidate be the same as voting for the others? We say it wouldn't, because in voting for Gareth Thomas you'll be taking a step towards a society in which we will be our own leaders. Rather than the vast majority of people being led by a small minority, we'll all be constantly taking our own democratic decisions about the things that concern us.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
At present, although we're supposed to live in a democratic society, the machinery for decision making is not in our hands. Singleton Hospital is a case in point. Decisions of the kind that have been made over Singleton are taken over our heads, against our will and without our being able to do anything about them. The only power we have is to decide every so often by a cross on a ballot paper who is going to have power and take the decisions for us. And every time we vote in a local or national election, we give our consent to this state of affairs — if we vote, that is, for the parties who wish to perpetuate it and who compete with one another on how best to run it.

In fact their choices about how to run it are very limited. That's why whichever party is in power, it's like Tweedledum and Tweedledee — what they do is strikingly similar and changes very little in our daily lives. This probably accounts for the uncertainty a lot of people feel about which party to vote for — they know it isn't going to make much difference.

The plain fact is that all these parties are committed to running a system where the single most important factor in decision making at all levels is, and must be, "how much does it cost?" — profit takes priority and human needs come a poor second. And they're committed to running this system — because it can't be run in any other way — for the benefit of the small minority of people (about 10 per cent) who own most of the wealth of society and to whom the profit from the labour of the majority goes.

The Socialist Party has nothing against the individuals who make up the owning minority. After all, they are only there by the consent of the majority — the wage and salary earners. What the Socialist Party asks for instead is a new outlook from the majority.

No money, no wages
In the world today we have the resources, the technology, the skills and the knowledge to satisfy everyone's needs — in food, clothing. shelter and everything else several times over; no informed person would deny it. But we cannot fully use those assets in a society where the fundamental aim of production is profit. We can only use them in a society where the fundamental aim of production is human needs.

This means establishing a society without money — where we don't use bits of metal and pieces of paper to needlessly ration ourselves, and don't all walk around with a cash register in our heads.

This means a society without wages — where we aren't forced to work for an employer just to get by, but where we can choose the work we want to do for our own satisfaction and for the benefit of the community as a whole.

This means a society without frontiers and nations — where the world's resources and knowledge are used rationally and not in the crazy, haphazard way determined by "market forces" or governments, causing millions to die of starvation or go short while food and other essentials are stockpiled in huge quantities.

This means a society without wars or the threat of wars — because wars in the modern world are caused by economic and trade rivalries between nations, and in a world that is united there won't be such rivalries to fight over.

“You can’t change human nature"
A lot of people will say that this sounds nice but it's impossible because human beings are naturally lazy, greedy and aggressive, and "you can't change human nature".

We'd reply to this that human beings can certainly be lazy, greedy and aggressive. But that they can also be (and they usually are in their day-to-day relations) co-operative, generous and caring. They are what their situation makes them. We are not, for example, usually greedy or aggressive about the thing that is most essential above all else to our survival — water. We don't fight for it, refuse a glass of it to a thirsty stranger, or hoard it in our baths or in buckets under our beds. Nor do we needlessly waste it. Why not? Because we know that every time we turn on the tap. it's there. And if we organise society — and we can do it easily — so that everything we need to live comfortably is there when we turn on the tap (in other words we have free access to all goods and services), then we are more likely, in these circumstances, to behave in a generous and co-operative way. We will also be providing for ourselves the secure material framework within which we can attend to all the inner, non-material needs we may have.

The real alternative
So we're not asking people to be "good" or "idealistic". We're simply asking them to see that a fundamental change in the way society is organised — which we call socialism — is in their individual interests, in their children's interests, and in the interest of society as a whole.

But the Socialist Party doesn't exist to bring about this state of affairs for you. We exist to spread the ideas we've outlined and to be used, if people want to use us, to vote out the present system of buying and selling and production for profit and vote in a new system of common ownership, production for use and free access to all goods and services. And just as it must be voted in democratically, this new system can only be run democratically — by everyone — with all having equal access to everything it produces.

Voting for Gareth Thomas in this election won't in itself bring this about. But it will help to make the idea more widely known and, if Gareth Thomas wins the most votes, it will give the idea a chance to make itself heard on an important public platform.

We would ask you therefore, if you agree with our case for socialism (but only if you agree with it), to put your cross next to the name Gareth Thomas on your ballot paper on Thursday May 7 and vote for yourself for a change — a real change.

The health divide (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March the Health Education Council brought out its latest — and final — report. The Health Divide: Inequalities in Health in the 1980s. It was released amid a storm of controversy and accusations of an attempted government cover-up. The Council's chairman. Brian Bailey, cancelled a press conference to announce the report, at short notice, saying that the full council had not had time to consider it. He said that its findings could be political dynamite in an election year.

The report illustrates how the poor, especially the unemployed, are more likely to suffer from bad health. The death rate for unemployed men is 36 per cent higher and their wives also die earlier. They are more likely to suffer from deteriorating mental health and lung cancer and suicides are more frequent. There is a substantially higher death rate for children among the poorest 25 per cent of the population. The rate of stillbirths among the top 25 per cent is four per thousand while it is nearly twice that for children in the bottom quarter.

Although people's lifestyles — for instance smoking and drinking — do influence the figures, by far the biggest impact is caused by material deprivation. Bad housing, "low and inadequate income", overcrowded conditions. pollution and high-rise living are among the main factors which affect people's health. Areas of high unemployment coincide with areas with the worst health records. There are more areas in the north with severe poverty. But there are pockets of prosperity in the north, as well as areas of severe poverty in the south where the health statistics are just as bad. Clearly it is class, not geographical location, which determines people's health.

These figures certainly should be political dynamite in an election year or indeed in any other year. But predictably the response from concerned reformers was as pathetic as the government's claims to be tackling the problem. Douglas Black, the former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, was involved in compiling the report. He advocated more help for mothers-to-be, better child benefit, good school meals, better housing and improved employment. These suggestions fail to confront the cause of the problem and the last one in particular fails to recognise the findings of other reports which show the detrimental effects that employment can have on workers. To suggest that people should kill themselves at work rather than on the dole is not a sensible solution, although it's one the capitalist class and their apologists would welcome.

The most hypocritical response to the report came from Labour's spokesperson on health, Frank Dobson. He said, "The report shows bluntly that poverty kills. Thousands of people would still be alive today if the Tories pursued policies to tackle poverty rather than worsen it”. He concluded. "Our ultimate slogan for the next election will be 'Vote Labour, Live Longer'". But Labour's cries of anguish and horror should be seen in the light of the fact that the gap between the health of the rich and that of the poor also widened during the period of the last Labour government. Poverty was not invented by Thatcher although since the Tories have been in power, and with the increase in unemployment, the gap between rich and poor has widened still further.

The report, and those who commented on it, all stressed that being poor, or as they put it, being part of a "lower social class", was the main factor in bad health. Yet the solutions they offered were various reforms which ignore the cause of this problem and which have failed in the past. The obvious answer would be to put an end to class-divided society in which a small minority live in ease and luxury while many of the rest of us have to endanger our health to make them rich. Capitalism is the real cause of poverty and the poor health that goes with it. It is a diseased, cancerous system that needs revolutionary surgery, not useless elasto-plast reforms.
Ian Ratcliffe

Hardly child's play (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of all the traditional victims of electioneering, children are among the most heavily abused. Helplessly reined into their prams, they can do little to avoid the leering smiles, the pats and the kisses of vote-hungry candidates. Children as a symbol of purity and innocence are also understood by people in the advertising industry, who don’t go in for elections but for persuading us to kill off our own standards of judgement. What lies behind this propaganda is the warning that while children are attractive they are also hugely vulnerable. They need the Alliance or the Tories, or the Labour Party to protect them or to ensure that their natural protector — the family — is strong enough to do it. The cynicism is obvious but the wretched irony of it is all too often missed: the appeal of children should guarantee them immunity against being used in these ways.

The facts show that the family as it is at present is far from being a reliable protector of children. There is an enormous mountain of child abuse, most of which goes on in the family. The NSPCC estimate that between 150 and 200 children a year are killed through abuse or neglect by their parents or carers. Another estimate is that child battering is the fourth commonest cause of death in the under-fives. There are no official national figures but the NSPCC believe that in England and Wales in 1985 over 9000 children under 15 were physically abused — not counting the other types of maltreatment such as sexual abuse. Stimulated by the publicity given to recent, particularly nasty, cases such as Jasmine Beckford and Tyra Henry, the number of cases reported to the NSPCC has risen sharply— by 42 per cent between 1984 and 1985. When the people responsible for these assaults are prosecuted the media is convulsed by a grisly hysteria of demands for the harshest possible sentence.

Apart from abuse, there is the matter of extreme poverty, from which, of course, the entire family suffers. Last November the Child Poverty Action Group, which was formed on the assumption that campaigning could get rid of the worst excesses of poverty, celebrated its 21st birthday with the news that one third of Britain’s children live in what is officially deemed to be poverty, or at its margins. Apart from those trying to exist on state benefit, the National Children’s Homes state that in 1984 there were 429,000 children in families where the wages were so low that they qualified for the topping up of Family Income Supplement. Overall, it is not a pretty picture, made up as it is of political deceit, social pressures, market morality and ignorance. To understand the problem a bit better, we might consider a few facts about children themselves.

There is a popular concept about childhood which, like most of capitalism's prejudices. is assumed to be too obviously correct to question. Childhood is supposed to be a separate period in our lives when we are too undeveloped to be able to cope with some of the messier aspects of human life — such as sexual activity — and therefore need to be protected and nurtured by grown-ups. In fact, this ’protection" too often amounts to distortion or deceit or concealment, on the assumption that if the child is to develop smoothly into adulthood he or she must be fed on myths and euphemisms. Much of this revolves around prejudices about the fixed roles reserved for each sex and with discouraging children from seeing their parents for what they are — exploited, degraded and repressed objects of class exploitation. But there is nothing fixed or unchanging about this. Childhood is a social concept which varies according to conditions: the present concepts are typical of modern capitalism and are therefore comparatively recent. A new society, with a different basis, will have different — freer, more humane — ideas on the matter.

When children had to work alongside their parents in order that the family survive there was simply no real chance for them to experience this time which is now called childhood. They were regarded as miniature — usually defective — adults who should be punished if they failed to come up to adult standards. With the Industrial Revolution these attitudes were transferred from rural to urban life. Hordes of agricultural workers were sucked from the countryside into the developing towns with their children who were well accustomed to helping out with very demanding work.

Children answered the industrial employers' need for cheap labour and the demands made on them were as fierce as any adult could expect. In pre-industrial England parental attitudes to children had been, by present standards, severe but they did not extend to systematic deliberate sadism and neglect. Child labour took place in the family where the cruelty which was to be commonplace in the mines and factories was unknown. The pace and rhythm of agricultural work had been dictated naturally but in the factories it was the insistent demands of the machinery — which operated whether the sun was up or down and in all seasons — which dragged children from their beds before dawn and kept them at work for twelve hours or more in the most appalling conditions until at the end of the day they collapsed. too exhausted to wash or undress or even to eat. The savagery wreaked on those poor kids, in order to protect the employers' profits, was a horror story of beatings and torture by brutal overseers. Many of those who survived such assaults were brought down by injury or disease caused by the atmosphere in which they laboured.

The parents might have tried to protect their children and very often they did but this called for considerable courage in a family where it was vital that all available children were bringing in a wage. In any case many of the children were orphans or paupers, transported to the new industrial hell-holes. Who cared, or even noticed, whether they suffered and died?

Naturally, if children were treated like adults it followed that they could be punished like them. In 1800 there were no less than 220 offences which could incur the death penalty. Until 1847 the law made no distinction based on age and so children could be — and were — executed for minor thefts or for taking part in public disturbances. For the most trivial matters — throwing stones, knocking on doors, stealing a few turnips from a field — children were imprisoned for years. They might be confined in the rotten, vermin infested hulks and then transported. Reformists tended to prefer a sound flogging for them, on the grounds that this was a humane salvation from the life of unbroken criminality which a prison sentence would assure them.

This situation began to change with legislation making full-time education compulsory. The motives for this were not entirely charitable for as industrial development refined capitalism's class structure it also needed the lower, exploited class to be schooled in new skills through formal, organised education. There was a clash between the demands of the classroom and those of the fields and the factories but in the end the classroom, as it had to, won. One effect of universal education was to raise obedience to the status of a supreme virtue — obedience to god, to the sovereign, to their parents, their betters, all of which amounted to obedience to the class which would eventually accept them into exploitation. The family was important in the business of instilling obedience which became a sort of cement of family relationships. Children were taught to be quiet, meek, well behaved and to grow up into docile wage slaves.

What has happened to children, then, cannot be described as idyllic, under the benevolence of caring adults. Rather, it has been a story of outrageous repression and cruelty, at times in answer to the most extreme demands of an inhumane social system, to be modified only slowly against entrenched opposition based on the narrowest of class interests. Children are still suffering, in this supposedly advanced and civilised age, still easy prey to their elders' frustrations. Child abuse is widely ascribed to the malevolence of a minority of adults, which may be easy and comfortable as an explanation but which misses the essential background to the problem.

There are certain features to be found often enough in child abuse cases for them to be seen as a syndrome so that, in the reverse direction, if some elements of the syndrome are present it is reasonable to fear that a child is being, or will soon be, maltreated. These elements are nothing to do with supposedly evil human beings; they are rooted in social conditions, in the basic inability of capitalism to work to the benefit of the majority of people. Among the symptoms are: where the mother is very young, especially if she is a single parent whose poverty makes her vulnerable to men who come into her life as predators; where two children are born in quick succession to each other, placing an extra physical, emotional and financial strain on the parents; where the child is suffering from a disability or handicap, which again puts more stress on the parents; where one or other of the parents themselves has a history of being abused; where the family income is especially low, so that life is an unremitting battle for access to the barest essentials. The importance of the last element is illuminated by the fact that rich parents can simply buy their way out of at least some of the others. Smug observers of this problem may sometimes assert that it is not a class matter, referring to the infamous brutality practised in public schools and the emotional cruelty suffered by some children in ruling class families. There is some truth in this but it does not refer to the generalised problem, which was pinpointed in the comment of a National Children's Home support worker in Rochdale:
  Families live in damp, sub-standard housing that they can't afford to heat properly. They survive on the basics and there is no comfort. Sometimes the pressures overwhelm them. (Children Today - 1986).
The family which operates today — and the modern concept of childhood — is rooted in the unique historical and social character of capitalism in response to its needs as a private property, commodity production system. There is much bleating, especially from the clergy and from Tory politicians, about the family's role in socialising children and whether it does this successfully. In any social system adults have a vital part to play in a child's life, but under capitalism socialisation is not a matter of guidance into the ability to have caring, happy and fruitful relationships with others and into being themselves good parents. It means fashioning — or rather distorting — children's innocent impulses into conformity with the crushing fact that they will one day have to earn their living. They will one day have to sell their working abilities and through their exploitation help further to enrich their employers. Seeing employment as essential to the emotional integrity of a child is not something peculiar to Victorian England; this is how it is described by another NCH worker:
  Chronic unemployment arrests the young person's debut into adulthood . . . The growing up process remains uncompleted. They are "limbo" people. (George Keenan — Children Today 1986).
So a child's prospects of maturity are still assessed in terms of his or her ability to pull in a wage. Where does the family fit in? The expectation is that the family will teach the difference between ''right'' and "wrong", which substantially means to respect property rights and to accept the class division of society into the privileged owners and the non-privileged workers. In the 1980s trendy parents may laugh with each other at the haltered Victorian obsession with the obedient child; nowadays, they assure themselves, children are stimulated into thinking and acting for themselves. It is true that modern industrial capitalism has changed the emphases in the way it schools its children. But it has not changed the workers' support — through boom and slump, through war and famine — for capitalism. And how can that be described, if not as mindless, inculcated obedience?

If anything marks out childhood it is because many childish impulses, before adults working on behalf of capitalist society get to work on them, are in conflict with capitalism's morality. Children simply have no grasp of property, or class division; these have to be instilled into them. This shrewdness is what is mis-called childish innocence and it is fair game for politicians and advertising people. When the irony and the cynicism becomes widely enough apparent, we shall have taken a step towards a society which will be the family to us all. The next time you see a child grab hold of something which doesn't belong to it, don't smack it. Think instead.

Does unemployment matter? (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month, thousands of unemployed people will ignore the call to link Hands Across Britain. The last thing they want to do is to draw attention to the fact that they have no jobs. Instead, they will be quietly returning to the Mediterranean for the spring. The winter sports are now well behind them. The hunting and shooting seasons are over. And they are coming back to their yachts and villas and hotels in the better class resorts all around the shores from Portugal to Greece.

It does not worry them that they are without jobs. They do not suffer depression through feelings of uselessness or lack of purpose in life. They do not fret that their skills are being superseded by new technology. Their self-respect is not damaged in the slightest because they do not work. In fact, they would be insulted if you seriously suggested that they might need to.

The reason for this, of course, is that they are not members of the working class. They do not queue to sign on at the Unemployment Benefit Office. They are not concerned about being credited with their National Insurance contributions, or obtaining Supplementary Benefit, or Rate Rebate, or Rent Allowance, or any of the other scraps of relief for destitute poverty which are becoming essential for a growing percentage of working class people. They have ample wealth. The dividends, rent or interest on their investments flow into their bank accounts in what must seem like a natural stream needing only occasional tending by their stockbroker or accountant. The necessities and even the ordinary comforts of life arrive as a matter of course, so that they are free to get on with the business of living an interesting life.

Nearly all of them are born to this life style, and see nothing remarkable in it. Their family lives and public schooling, followed by the hectic club and social life of Oxford and Cambridge, have given them the confidence and social polish to live like "ladies and gentlemen", receiving courteous service and luxurious surroundings as their due.

In very different surroundings, thousands of youngsters born into the working class in the last twenty years have begun to accept a dole from the state as their due. Finding no employer to buy their working abilities when they have left comprehensive school or university. they have reconciled themselves to a low effort existence on a low standard of living. If they have left their parents' home, as many have, they live on scratch meals in cold, damp rooms and enjoy wearing second hand clothes. They get up late in the morning because the occupation of doing nothing is warmer and less boring when done in bed.

The forthcoming Conservative election manifesto promises to put an end to this. What concerns Conservatives, however, is not the boredom and frustration of a life of poverty, but the possibility that these youngsters, like their social betters, will grow up with no wish to work. According to Lord Young, the Employment Secretary, the manifesto contains plans to prevent workshy adolescents going straight from school to dole. Those who fail to get a job must accept a place on a Youth Training Scheme. If they refuse, their payments will be stopped. He was asked in a BBC radio interview in March if this scheme really amounted to conscription of the young unemployed. He said. “I would call it the conscription of common sense. I don't think many young people would say, 'I am just entitled to get money and lie in bed.' " But, of course, that depends on whether the young people belong to Lord Young's class or ours.

The Youth Training Scheme, like the succession of schemes launched during two Conservative governments, have almost no organised training in them, because the facilities simply do not exist. The merits of the schemes from the government's point of view are mainly twofold. In the short term, forcing people into workplaces has the effect of exerting a downward pressure on the wage levels of those who are in work. The long-term purpose, however, is to provide work experience. If working class youngsters are to be worth employing the next time industry is ready to make a profit out of them. they must be accustomed to the world of work. They must knuckle down to the discipline of obeying orders and accepting the hierarchical structure of management and bureaucracy. They must come to accept as a fact of life the discomfort and grime and squalor that exist in so many thousands of workplaces. They must get used to the boredom of endlessly repetitive or meaningless operations. They must fight the daily fight to get to work on time, to punch their clock card before they incur a pay stoppage. They must develop a tolerance for the length of the working day. They must get into the rhythm of the working week. And they must learn to look forward gratefully to a lifetime of this stultifying drudgery as being far preferable to being unemployed.

This month, Lord Young and the wealthy unemployed class he represents must all be gratified to see that they have continued support in their schemes to keep the British working class keen to be exploited by them. Support from whom? From the British Labour movement and the political parties of the Left.

Hands Across Britain is a campaign that pleads for jobs. Like the Right To Work marches of a few years ago, it is a thoroughly pro-capitalist demonstration.
  Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!" (Karl Marx: Value, Price & Profit, 1865, sometimes entitled Wages, Price & Profit).
Marx demonstrates repeatedly in his writings that it is not any malfunctioning of the capitalist economy that causes working class people hardship and distress. It is the very system of employment itself: the core of capitalism. Members of the capitalist class are able to spend the spring yachting or gambling on the Riviera only because, somewhere. there are workers producing the wealth that flows into their bank accounts. And their bank accounts accumulate into vaster and vaster fortunes with the onward strides of technology because they own all of society's means of production and distribution and administration. All the new advances and inventions and constructions created by the workers belong, according to the rules, to the owners.

Because the great majority of us do not own this sort of wealth we have no choice but to try to sell them our ability to work for the greater part of our waking lives. Whether they buy and what price they pay depends on the market and our power to bargain. But on average it will be the cost of our keep. When we can not produce an acceptable level of profit for them, they do not buy — we are unemployed.

Margaret Thatcher and other members of the present government have repeatedly outlined what they see as the solution to this problem of unemployment, of not being able to sell our working abilities: we should drop our prices (wages). To encourage this, they have started a scheme which subsidises, at £15 a week, employers who pay less than £55. But it is happening, in any case, in those parts of the country where unemployment levels are high. In Sandwell in the West Midlands, for example, an 18-year-old hairdresser earns £31.75 gross for a 50-hour week. Low pay in this area has become just as much a scourge as unemployment. And it has a long way to go yet if market competitiveness operates fully in determining wages.

Factory workers in South Korea were featured in a television programme earlier this year. In the clean, modern Samsung factory making television receivers the women assembly workers worked a 12½ hour day for 26 days a month for $250, which works out at about 48p an hour. South Korea has a booming economy. The South Korean government, which viciously controls its workers, has also imposed very strict controls on the foreign capital from all over the world which is clamouring to invest there. The Korean capitalist class, and the American companies like Ford, General Motors, IBM, which have ties with Korean companies, do not want to let outsiders share in their exploitation of these new and defenceless recruits to the world's working class. Accordingly, foreigners may invest only through special Korea Funds and Eurobond issues. In this way, Korea gets fairly cheap capital by promising freer investment opportunities in the future.

It is not unemployment but employment that sucks the life blood of Korean workers. And it is the lack of any other means of making a livelihood which forces them to submit to it. They would be worse off if they were unemployed but not much. For them — as for us — unemployment is one of the features of the employment system. What really matters to workers, in or out of work, is how big a fraction of the wealth which they have produced they can get for themselves. Trade union organisation and years of political activity in the older capitalist nations have achieved some modest and precarious safety margins. But the rise of new industrial nations like those of Eastern Asia, while old industrial nations like those of Europe decline, demonstrates the weakness of this way of trying to combat the power of capital. It also demonstrates very forcibly that the working class has got to organise worldwide (as capital does) if we are to avoid being repeatedly outmanoeuvred and used to defeat each other.

While the working class accepts employment we shall inevitably get periodic high unemployment with it. as one of its phases. But what we really want to achieve is freedom from employment. What prevents us is not a shortage of wealth, but the fact that the capitalists own and control all the means of making wealth. And they won't — can't — let them be operated unless they yield a profit. And the logic of profit is a 325-hour month in Korean sweat shops while there is 12 per cent unemployment in Europe.

In human, social terms, this is idiotic. The waste is colossal. The quality of life for most members of our class is poor if not abysmal. We are quite capable of producing ample wealth for everyone — but not until we have got rid of employment and begin to work for ourselves.
Ron Cook

50 Years Ago: May Day and War (1987)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

It Is good that workers are prepared to demonstrate their international solidarity, but it should be a demonstration of real and understanding solidarity. Not mere words and emotion that, like a weathercock, can be changed with every wind. Lack of real understanding of the workers' unchanging wage-slavery while capitalism lasts, in spite of huge May Day demonstrations, enabled the opposing capitalist rulers to line up the workers against each other in the devastating ’war of twenty years ago. Lately the signs of another world war have made their ominous appearance with the beginning of an armaments race, It is an urgent matter that workers should reflect calmly and not allow plausible argument to manoeuvre them into the shambles again.

[From the Socialist Standard, May 1937.]

Political Notes: The Poor and the Rich (1987)

The Political Notes Column from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Poor and the Rich

Dismal news for the purveyors of the grand Tory concept of the share-owning democracy. Since the Trustee Savings Bank was privatised in October 1986. over 700,000 shareholders have sold their stake. The number of shareholders has fallen from 3.15 million to 2.45 million and there has been a sharp rise in the numbers of companies and institutions owning more than 10,000 shares; of these, 95 hold more than 500,000.

Two things are suggested by these figures. One is that a great many people who bought the shares did so in order to sell them again quickly, to bring in an immediate profit. They did this because they are members of the working class who went through with the deal on borrowed money to get a small, immediate gain. The other follows: TSB is substantially in the hands of the capitalist, investing class. Workers who were misled into thinking that sinking a few pounds into privatised concerns changed their class status should think again.

The capitalist class as a class do not invest capital in order to quickly relinquish their ownership. They accumulate capital, they exploit the workers and they live — very comfortably — off the proceeds of that. They do not depend on a wage for their living, jacked up with an occasional windfall like a pools win or cashing in a few shares.

Another piece of news illuminated how this class live, how they disburse some of the proceeds of worker exploitation and what standards of judgement they apply when they do this.

In Geneva a couple of weeks ago there was an auction of the jewellery which had been owned by the late Duchess of Windsor. Some readers will recall that she was married to the man who once declared that something must be done about the plight of unemployed miners in South Wales, although he never made it clear what he had in mind to be done. While he was expressing these newsworthy sentiments he was also filling up his future bride's jewel caskets with some impressive baubles — like a flamingo brooch of rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires and a 31 carat diamond.

The sale was, said the Daily Telegraph, a High Society assault. Prominent among the moneyed storm troopers was Sam Moussaieff, who spent about £6 million. Asked how much he had spent, the amiable but forgetful Moussaieff replied that he thought it was £2 million ". . . but if it's much more that's a problem for my bank manager".

This rich and vulgar member of the ruling class might have some interesting things to say about workers who presume to count themselves among his class when the most they can afford is a brief but apparently heady fling into the TSB. And his bank manager would probably agree.

Making it Simple

There are plenty of people who believe it is a simple matter to pick off social problems, one after another, by projecting resources in their direction.

It certainly sounds simple. Hypothermia in the elderly? Increase pensions with a special Keeping Warm Grant. Penniless single parents? Introduce a new generous state benefit for unmarried mothers and fathers bringing up the kids on their own. Slums? Give massive government hand-outs to pay for the places to be renovated.

This would be more convincing were it not for the fact that these sorts of remedies have been tried before. Pressure groups who do a great job analysing particular aspects of poverty always come to the conclusion that the solution is for the government to spend the problem into oblivion. And of course in many cases the pressure groups made their point, so that the system of state benefits is a tangle of allowances and adjustments each one of which, when it was introduced, was supposed to mean the end of the difficulty.

However, the success or failure of these measures can be judged by the fact there is still seen to be a need for them. Hardly a week goes by without some organisation somewhere publishing a report which couples an analysis of some problem with a demand that extra resources should be allocated to solving it.

Among the most recent of these was the august British Medical Association, whose Board of Science concluded, according to the Guardian of 28 March, that unemployment, poverty and deprivation are all linked to ill- health. Just before that the Health Education Council had reached a similar conclusion.

Those who have been concerned about the effect of capitalism on human well-being will wonder why it needs an investigation, in 1987, to tell us about this. However, it is clear that in these reports there is at least the germ of enlightenment — the beginning of recognition that sickness is not an accident or a matter of individual failing but is influenced by which class a person belongs to. This can be developed and expanded; if sickness is class-related it follows that a lot of illness is preventable — but only by doing something about class society.

And what is involved in that? The only effective action is to abolish classes, to abolish the social system which gives rise to them. This is a radical, revolutionary measure which means fundamental social change to a completely different set of relationships, a completely different way of running the world. Its radical nature is probably the very thing which makes people wary of it; the majority prefer reform to revolution, opting for tinkering with social problems rather than abolishing them.

So we shall still, for a while, have to keep reading these reports. Until people decide to do it the simple, obvious way.

Excessive force

At the beginning of June last year a convoy of self-styled "travellers" attempted to get to Stonehenge with the intention of holding a pop festival. They were prevented from reaching their destination by a massive police operation involving police from a number of different forces and a series of road blocks. It resulted in vehicles belonging to the travellers being damaged and impounded, and 537 of them being arrested. There were many complaints about the violence of the police operation by the travellers themselves and from people who were appalled to see television pictures of police behaving violently to women and children, dragging people out of vehicles and smashing windows with their truncheons.

Nine months later the supposedly independent Police Complaints Authority has published its report in which they concede that some police officers did use excessive force against members of the travellers' convoy. But they conclude:
  In the act of making the arrests some officers clearly used excessive force, but it has not been possible to identify them amongst the 1.363 officers involved and therefore disciplinary proceedings which demand a clear identification of officers are impossible.
The difficulty of identifying police officers responsible for violent incidents is becoming a familiar story. It's strange how the police seem to have very little difficulty in identifying suspects from among crowds of rioters or football spectators or on a picket line? Of course, part of the problem might be that unlike their opponents, the police in the Stonehenge incident entered the fray wearing full riot gear including helmets with face visors which, it would seem, not only protect them from the sticks and stones which, it is always alleged, are thrown at them, but also from later identification when things get nasty.

But to focus on individuals responsible for using "excessive force" is to miss the point. For disciplinary action against a few "over-zealous" policemen would not stop the police from using violence. Because ultimately, despite all the rhetoric about "the rule of law" and "policing by consent", the police operate through the threat or actual use of force. The police are part of the coercive machinery of the capitalist state and as such have a right, given to them by the capitalist class, to use violence. The arguments can, therefore, only really be at the margins — about how much violence is reasonable in a given set of circumstances and what constitutes "excessive force". So long as the Police Complaints Authority are left to decide those questions nothing much is likely to change.

Be Unreasonable

Through the jungles of morality, the search goes on for the Reasonable Person. It is led by Tory MPs who want to bring back capital punishment for killings which a Reasonable Person would consider evil and to wipe out from broadcasting any matter which a Reasonable Person would find distasteful.

Many people might consider every person killed in a war, or who dies from hunger or avoidable disease, to have been subjected to an evil murder. Then again such people might think politicians and media operators who look for advantage in stirring up public hysteria to be extremely offensive and distasteful. But of course that sort of person is clearly unreasonable — not at all what the searchers are looking for.

As every Reasonable Person knows, a Reasonable Person believes that private property society has always existed and must therefore go on for ever. They think human beings are essentially greedy, deceitful and belligerent and can be kept under control only through savage punishment — which means that class society, in which a minority lives like parasites off the labours of the majority — is perfectly natural. They give obeisance to leaders, on the assumption that we are all so stupid that we need royalty, aristocrats and politicians to tell us how to run our lives — who must also tell us, because otherwise we wouldn't know, what is evil and what is virtuous. They are patriotic, with firm suspicions about the eccentric failings of all foreigners, who are fit only to be slaughtered in war. They believe that their bosses employ them as a favour and that they should in return do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.

Unreasonable persons question all of this. They are acutely aware that this social system which relies on the support of Reasonable Persons degrades, exploits, represses and murders millions of people. They know that almost every instance of human suffering in the modern world is not only unnecessary but could be substituted by freedom, security and happiness.

That is why they stand, unreasonably, for the free expression and exchange of ideas they know that in that way the case for a new society is most available for discussion. That is why they are in a movement which has no use for leaders to tell them what to do and what is good or bad for them — which applies especially to a bunch of pompous, dictatorial. self-righteous Tories.

A Look at China

The April issue of New Internationalist concentrated on China and the reforms there over the last ten years. For anyone wishing to learn some basic facts about China, it is well worth reading.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of a number of interviews with Chinese workers. An unemployed teenager rails at the posh hotels in his home town being barred to Chinese. He lives on his wits, selling jeans made in other parts of China at over twice their retail value by passing them off as foreign-made.

One article discusses the position of women. Though no longer confined to the home, they are still mostly subordinate to men, with household chores lumped on top of full-time jobs. Women's financial demands on would-be husbands show that the values of Chinese society are material rather than spiritual (as naive Maoists once claimed): a bicycle, TV, watch, sewing machine, and his own house. Prostitution and polygamy are also in evidence.

Another piece reveals graphically how the idealism of the "barefoot doctor" service has foundered on the realities of the Chinese economy. Not that the original idea, with barely-trained part-time doctors, was anywhere near a decent health service. Now state-run hospitals have increased their fees, and private doctors are becoming more numerous. Those who cannot afford to pay are left to suffer and preventive medicine loses all priority. The major cause of ill-health — poverty — remains, and explains why a majority of children in the countryside still suffer from rickets and worms.

As so often in New Internationalist, the weakest part is the editor's contribution, which contains the following remark:
  in a world where anything from Tito's Yugoslavia to Hawke's Australia. Hoxha's Albania to Wilson's Britain is routinely called "socialist", it is probably not very useful to argue over whether or not China merits the term.
But it is not so much useful as essential to realise that China bears no resemblance to a socialist society, and that the appropriate term for a class society based on wage labour and production for profit can only be capitalism.

Letters: Frustrated reader (1987)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Frustrated reader

Dear Letters Editor.

I find what I interpret to be the SPGB line at times stimulating and at times immensely frustrating!

The point made in Questions of the Day, that as the frontiers of the state have become wider many posts have been taken by the working class, is a good one. And I acknowledge that the position as regards democracy and socialism favoured by the SPGB has been "logical and consistent".

However, having said this I would like to draw your attention to the fact that for all your theoretical consistency nothing has been achieved by the SPGB in its 80-odd years' history in terms of changing British, or for that matter world capitalism. Is that not enough to convince you of a change of emphasis? For, as you ceaselessly point out, man's labour and life is alienated under capitalism, and in socialist terms this is a very serious state of affairs. Too serious, I suggest, for theoretical purity to take first place in a list of priorities. Surely the time is now right for a wide alliance of progressive forces led by socialists to oppose the capitalist system and stem the tide of damage and wasted human potential?!

To call Socialist Workers. Communists, social reformists, revolutionary communists, social democrats, anarchists and Liberals as equally all "agents of capitalism” is neither meaningful nor helpful for the working class. You in the SPGB may religiously believe in a sort of early Marxian class consciousness just over the horizon that will sweep the SPGB into power, but when you walk away from your copies of the Paris Manuscripts 1 think you'd find for a considerable time to come that nothing had changed.

The reality of all previous working-class movements is that consciousness has not occurred in the "pure" universal and objective way Marx predicted. Consciousness and hence action invariably results from a number of factors combining together and then workers drifting back into an "unconscious" state once the victory has been won or defeat made obvious.

It is not sufficient for your magazine to assert that the past proves that the time is not ripe for change yet! How far does capitalism have to exploit man and his environment before the SPGB squeezes out of its ivory tower?

The struggle of the working class for its emancipation is far too serious for theoretical abstractions to get in the way of its progress, I trust you'd agree.

Why then do you persist in this rather naive belief that capitalism has provided us (the working class if you need reminding) with the institutions for the expression of our movement's values and aims? Somewhere in Questions of the Day, I think there is an oblique reference to Marx's vague statements on the working class "winning the battle of democracy" in the Communist Manifesto, to back up this clearly ridiculous position

Why should the bourgeoisie be so accommodating? I appreciate and accept that Marx believed the fate of capitalism to be lodged in its own system, i.e. it is inevitable that the antagonism inherent in capitalism will lead to its destruction. But isn't it just taking this analysis a little too far to suggest that the capitalist class will actually go out of its way to assist in this area? If you do believe this then I fear that you are labouring under the misapprehension that the bourgeoisie can achieve "objective" class consciousness too.

The battle for socialism and against capitalism must be waged on a number of fronts, parliamentary, industrial, in the media and in the educational system, and because of the nature of this struggle it is inevitable that socialists will form alliances both temporary and permanent with other "progressive'' forces. It is clearly ridiculous to claim that a small insignificant (and some would say anachronistic) party like the SPGB holds the monopoly on truth; it raises politics to the level of religious belief and is an insidious trend in many of the parties of the broad "left".

I also think that the SPGB's insistence on "peaceful means", are either shallowly naive or downright counter revolutionary. Engels warned us that capitalism would not give up an inch without a struggle. Eduard Bernstein (the father of genteel peaceful "socialism"). successfully destroyed Marx's revolutionary party. Let us not fall into the trap of splendid isolationism, for as Marx put it. we have a world to win and I think the SPGB is in danger of missing the contest.

Call me Leninist, elitist, proto-fascist or whatever fine phrase you choose to implement for minority consumption in your next publication, but I at least know that socialism is worth fighting for. I am working-class. I have a sufficient knowledge of Marx to understand my world. I cannot therefore stand the torpor that you in the Sodalist Party have descended into!! Wake up! There's a war going on under your noses!
A Walker 
Colchester, Essex

(We have deleted a paragraph of this letter which summarised the criticisms made by our correspondent. Editors)

The writer makes a number of points about The Socialist Party which we think need a reply. But first we would like to make it clear that we take very seriously the human condition in capitalism — so seriously, in fact, that we are engaging in the political action we think is necessary not just to patch up capitalism but to abolish it and replace it with socialism. That, and not "theoretical purity", is our sole objective.

We also think that those involved in meaningful political activity do need theory — in the sense of an understanding of why society is the way it is, what could be achieved given what we know about the world and an idea of how that objective is going to be attained. Without such a conceptual map to guide political action then many sincere political activists become hopelessly lost or find themselves somewhere very different from where they intended. This is not a question of "religious belief" in theoretical purity, but a matter of practical political necessity.

To turn to the specific points that the correspondent raises. Firstly, the question of class consciousness. We do not understand what is meant when the writer refers to class consciousness not occurring "in the pure' universal and objective way Marx predicted". However, what we understand by the term class consciousness is a recognition among workers that they are indeed members of the working class and. as such, share common interests with other workers world-wide — interests that are in direct opposition to those of the owning class. Class consciousness also means a recognition that those collective class interests cannot be met within the present system of society and therefore political action is necessary to abolish capitalism and bring about socialism. Our conception of socialism is of a society in which all wealth is held in common and is democratically controlled. In other words socialist society will be based on voluntary cooperation. For that to be possible, people would have to want socialism and be prepared to actively participate in making it work. Class consciousness within capitalism is therefore a necessary pre-requisite for socialism.

How does that class consciousness come about? Unlike the correspondent, we do not think that it can suddenly arise and then subside again so that workers "drift back into an unconscious' state". We think that class consciousness arises for all sorts of different reasons. Some workers may well gain a greater insight into their position in society from reading the works of Marx and Engels or other socialist propaganda. Many are likely to be driven into becoming socialists as a result of their daily experience of life in capitalism — its contradictions, deprivations, insecurity and so on.

We agree with the writer completely that "the struggle of the working class for its emancipation is far too serious for theoretical abstractions to get in the way of its progress". But it is certainly not the view of The Socialist Party that the time is not yet ripe for change. On the contrary socialism is an urgent and immediate task and the technology, knowledge and skills exist to make socialism a practical possibility now. However the sad fact remains that what is lacking is the political will to make socialism happen, among a majority of the working class.

This brings us to the criticism of The Socialist Party's argument for the need for the working class to win "the battle of democracy". But first we would like to clear up some important misconceptions. We do not think that capitalism has provided democratic institutions for the benefit of socialists; neither do we think that the capitalist class will "go out of its way" to assist us to get socialism; we insist that socialism must be established democratically and we agree that propaganda for socialism can be made in all areas of life. (Incidentally. Eduard Bernstein and his revisionist followers destroyed the German Social Democratic Party as a revolutionary socialist organisation not because he believed in parliamentary methods, but because he was willing to sacrifice the party's revolutionary socialist principles in order for the party to achieve political power on the basis of a reformist programme.)

Because The Socialist Party thinks that it is essential for there to be a majority of socialists before we can have socialism, then it is necessary to have some kind of measure of support. Elections (for all their limitations) are one way of finding out whether sufficient support for socialism exists. There is the added advantage that contesting elections provides a useful platform from which to make socialist propaganda. But let us make it quite clear. We do not propose to form a socialist "government" (which is a contradiction in terms); neither do we believe that parliamentary elections are the only kind of political activity socialists should engage in. Indeed most of The Socialist Party's energy goes at present into talking to people at meetings, on the street, in trade unions, at work, in schools and in colleges with the intention of trying to persuade them about the need for socialism.

We do not believe that it is either inevitable or desirable to form alliances with other "progressive” forces. We certainly do not think that we hold "the monopoly on truth", but what we do think is that we have a coherent set of ideas which both explains capitalism and makes the case for a socialist society. It makes sense to us. Why then should we compromise those ideas by forming alliances with other groups whose views we don't share? While we are always willing to discuss our ideas and debate with other political organisations, we have not as yet found any which shares our view of what socialism is, let alone how to achieve it. Surely for a political alliance to be forged there must at the very least be broad agreement about ends and means.

Finally, even though there is a majority of socialists, we do not believe that the capitalist class will necessarily give up without a struggle. For that reason we take the view that in order to establish socialism it will first be necessary to take control of the state machine to prevent its forces being used against the socialist majority. And we do not rule out the possibility of force being used to defend socialism from attack by a minority of capitalists and their supporters. What we do not accept is that socialism can be established by means of insurrectionary violence undertaken by a small minority who claim to be acting in the interests of the majority. Action of this kind — no matter what the declared intention of the insurrectionists might be — could not lead to socialism since, if there was not majority support for the new society being established, the minority would be forced to use coercion and repression. Such a society would not be the cooperative, harmonious and democratic society that The Socialist Party is working for.

Letter from LEW

Dear Comrades.

Since the Editors did not reply to Alan Jones' letter in the February Socialist Standard (p. 271). I would like to reply to the comments he made.

I wrote the review of the SWP's book The Revolutionary Road to Socialism (December Socialist Standard, pp. 321-32). to which Alan Jones refers. He criticises the use I made of a quote from the book on the grounds that it is an acceptable description of socialism. But he omits the sentence which immediately follows the quote: "This is about as sound a definition of socialism as you will get from the SWP . . .  " Of course Alan Jones is right to say that the SWP quote does not show that they support state capitalism, but I did not say it did. The sentence above then continues: " . . . but, as with other statements coming from them, extreme caution should be used." Here I was suggesting that the SWP are confused and/or dishonest in their thinking about socialism. By "socialism" they do mean state capitalism but, contrary to Alan Jones' supposition, statements to this effect do not abound in their literature. It is in fact very difficult to get them to say anything specific about socialism. Nevertheless, that they do support state capitalism can be inferred from their Leninist principles, an axiom of which is that wage labour must be subordinated to state capital.
Lew Higgins

Clement Freud (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Each time the nation goes to the polls the Palace of Westminster stationery department will have a substantial run on crested paper. Teaspoons disappear from the cafeteria even more rapidly than they do normally, and the Sergeant at Arms' stock of hand towels available in all Members' washrooms takes a terrible hiding.

We call it "just something with which to remember our happy years at the helm". (You must know it has been authoritatively ruled by Mr Speaker himself that MPs cannot be drunk; any day now there will be other advantageous decisions taken in respect of our guiltlessness.)
(Clement Freud, Choice magazine, February 1987)