Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The beauties of “progress”. (1925)

From the May 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “I am not saying that everything is perfect, but when we are taking stock, when we are looking ahead, let us not forget at the same time to be conscious of the progress that has been made up to now.!—(Mr. Stanley Baldwin, Yorkshire Post, March 13, 1925.)
If, of course, millions have failed to experience the progress, then they must be consoled with the fact that Mr. Baldwin did not state that “everything is perfect” (sic). Even a body like the Free Church admits in conference that the past 20 years has left untouched the most “serious and perilous evils,” and that “no social arrangement seems able to remove them” (“Daily News,” 13/3/25). Their remedy consisted of a few pious reflections and a resolution to request the Government to sanction instruction in schools on the evils of gambling. They furthermore will continue to support the system which produces the “serious evils.” Another gentleman who has sworn to save humanity, has re-discovered that everything is not perfect. In a white heat he declares :—
  “It is intolerable in a land of considerable wealth there should be millions in slums. It is intolerable in a country of such resources there should be millions on the brink of starvation, millions living beneath the poverty line and millions on the margin.”—(Lloyd George, Daily Chronicle, February 16, 1925.)
Having relieved himself, like the rest of the supporters of capitalism he will proceed to do everything in his power to maintain the system that breeds and fosters the above. Has he not told the wicked Tories that he represents a party “which is just as firmly rooted as you in the existing order” (“Daily News,” 26/10/24)? That is in the “order” that he tells us is “intolerable.” Of course it is fairly tolerable for those with the “considerable wealth,” but who are not in the slums with the abdomens on the margin of emptiness. Fellow-workers, while you remain indifferent to your class interests you, too, unconsciously support that order. Doing so, you will continue to have increasing doses of the above kind of progress.
W. E. MacHaffie

Between the Lines: Freedom and finance (1988)

The Between the Lines column from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Freedom and finance

The Financial Times (4 May) carried an article by its TV critic, all full of fury and libertarian sentiments. The FT's man imagines that he has spotted an anomaly. On the one hand, he observes, the Government is going mad trying to sell off as much of the media as can be flogged, all in the name of increased "economic freedom", while at the same time the same Government is, through its sickening attempts to out-Stalin Stalin, acting as a dangerous threat to whatever remnants of political freedom TV producers still have left. If the Government really believes in freedom, asks the FT innocent, why do they not extend this to political freedom? The FTs TV critic would be well advised to go away and play with his toys. Surely it does not require very much intelligence to see the intimate connection between so-called market freedom and actual political tyranny. After all, if the Government is really serious in its efforts to make TV a suitable area for capitalist investment, then it is only proper that it must ensure that TV will serve the class interest of those who are being invited to invest. The campaign of arrogant persecution has ranged from the appointment of Her Thatcherness's own poodle. Marmaduke Hussey, to run the BBC, to the raid by the police upon BBC Scotland when they planned to show a documentary which the Government considered to contain information unfit for the eyes of the witless proles, to the most recent threat by the Prime Minister to punish the Independent (sic) Broadcasting Authority for having the audacity to show a This Week documentary (ITV. 28 April. 8.30pm) exposing the shoot-to-kill tactics being employed by the louts of the SAS.

Journalists working within both BBC and ITN newsrooms will testify to the extreme political pressure which they are currently experiencing. This should come as no surprise to the FT. the relationship between freedom and finance has never a happy one. In the USA. where "economic freedom" has been dragged further down into the gutter of "free enterprise" than it has yet to be over here, TV studio discussions are shown in which it only becomes clear after you have been watching them for a while that they are paid adverts for particular commodities. You switch on your TV to watch an apparently free studio discussion on skin care, when all of a sudden the presenter pulls out from his pocket a tube of chemical garbage and, with the sort of smile that you thought went out of style with Japanese torture camps, says. "Well, I for one never come into the studio without my packet of Ripoff's Miracle Wart Remover". This opens up a whole range of possibilities for British TV. Perhaps we could have Rupert Murdoch sponsoring a new Sun-style News At Ten, the directors of Guinness sponsoring Crimewatch, and the SDP sponsoring One Man And His Dog. (The latter is assuming that The Two Davids could be reconciled for a suitable fee.)


Most political discussion on TV is as phoney as hell. It consists of people who know nothing making statements which mean nothing about subjects which amount to nothing. More often than not such emissions of unadulterated wind are presided over by that Know-Nothing-In-Chief, Sir Robin Day. On a recent Question Time programme a member of The Socialist Party who was in the audience managed to mention the party's name and indulge in 30 seconds of TV free speech. Sir Robin looked bemused, an expression which matches perfectly his level of political intelligence. Thirty seconds of permitted questioning from the audience is not enough for revolutionary socialists and if the BBC thinks that is. then we will have to convince them that they have made a mistake. Amidst the flow of incessant hot air and tripe which is presented in the name of TV debate, After Dark (C4. 11.30pm-4am on Saturday/Sundays) is a breath of fresh air. At last here is a studio discussion format which actually allows real talk to occur. There have been some very stimulating programmes in the recent series. The memorable debate on homelessness when "Spider", the homeless punk, told the Tory backbencher that he was talking out of his backside and that whoever is elected. Labour or Tory, they would all carry on running capitalism; the discussion on the Grand National — of all things — in which the obnoxious racing commentator for Channel Four declared that all the unemployed in Liverpool are indolent scroungers and all socialists are the scum of the earth and a local worker from Aintree tore the bigot's prejudices to pieces and exposed the capitalist constraints involved in modern sport; the discussion about fashion in which the designer, Bruce Oldfield, who apparently makes dresses for Di, the Royal Clothes Horse, was confronted most eloquently by an Asian trade unionist from the West Midlands who spoke about the sweatshops where the fancy clothes of the rich are produced; there was that beautiful moment when the General who was discussing terrorism explained that there was no war going on in Ireland, but British troops had a right to shoot Irish workers without asking questions first because there was a war on.

These are good discussions because they are unconstrained by time limits and interfering presenters. They are good — but only as far as they go. What has been desperately lacking from so many of the After Dark debates has been any hint of a solution. How necessary it was. when the subject of homelessness was discussed for over four hours! Just one studio guest could have explained how easy it would be to provide decent homes for all if only the barrier of production for rent, interest and profit was destroyed. When they discussed terrorism it was fundamentally important that at least one person should point out the need to examine the root cause of killing in the modern world, regardless of whether such barbarism is practised by thugs paid by the state or thugs who want to set up a new state. The programme on the war in Ireland on 7/8 May was an excellent example of the crying need for socialist comment on After Dark. Before the programme we had written in to the programme's producers telling them about a socialist from Belfast who is well qualified to offer a unique, non-sectarian, revolutionary analysis of the Irish situation. It seems that the producers at C4 did not want to let such comments infect the minds of the viewers. Our comrade was not invited to appear. Instead, the so-called socialist analysis was presented by Eamonn McCann of the Leninist SWP. Rarely has the socialist label been so miserably betrayed. McCann is an IRA fellow traveller, and a very eloquent one too. But he was asked several times during the discussion. "Okay, Eamonn, you are a socialist, you claim to have a solution to the Irish question, what is it?" McCann did not even offer half a solution. All that he did was repeat the worn out cliches of radical republicanism which will never take the workers of Ireland anywhere. After Dark is, without exaggeration, one of the most important developments in the format of TV discussion in the history of the medium. Thanks for the great format; now let's fill it with a bit of hard socialist talk.


Friday Night Live (C4. Fridays. 10.30pm. series now finished) is a show which I watched with a mixture of irritation and amusement. It was a showcase for so-called alternative comedy, and after a decade or so of The Benny Hill Show and Terry and June, even death by hanging would be a pleasant alternative. But . . . Ben Elton, the show's presenter, seems to think that he can make a career out of simply not being Jimmy Tarbuck or Jim Davidson. Most of us are not as unfunny as Tarby or as filthily racist as Davidson, but we do not expect to get paid for it. Alas, it is not enough to simply not be a bloody awful comedian to be a good comedian. The trouble with Elton is that, despite all of his pious and strained efforts to be different. he is just another comedian who wants us to laugh every fifteen seconds at his preconceived gags. Ben Elton is a Labour Party supporter who in the Labour election rally in Islington last year was seen waving his manifesto about and joining with the other reformists in the undignified effort to publicly crawl up Kinnock in the way that Tarby and Monkhouse and the other creeps crawled up Thatcher. If Elton thinks that he is radically funny because he can squeeze a few giggles out of a trendy left audience at the expense of Norman Tebbit or Edwina Currie, then he is wrong. He is not poking fun at the system — and humour is a great weapon for doing that but, like the prefects at the public school revue, making a few near-the-knuckle gags against the present exploiters. Maggie will not be shaking in her boots.

The character who has come out of the series as a quite brilliant comic talent — comparable, I would argue, with the Hancocks, the Alf Garnetts and the Cleeses who seem somehow to transcend comic conventions and make people laugh about things which we had not laughed at before — is Harry Enfield. His Stavros is a fine illustration of great comic observation. But, much more importantly from the perspective of those of us who seek the establishment of a moneyless world society, his "Loadsamoney'' character summed up so much of what capitalism is deforming many workers into becoming. A man who cares for no one and no principle, who is obsessed by the wad of thick banknotes which he waves in the air to affirm his identity, and whose humanity has been absorbed into a single phrase which expresses his fragile security. Also funny is Enfield's other creation. ''Buggerallmoney". the macho northern worker who is as hard as nails and as thick as a brick. The humourless SWP, which likes the image of hard-as-nails northern, macho workers, has attacked Enfield for depicting a character which is supposed to insult the Newcastle unemployed. In an interview in Melody Maker (30 April) Enfield rightly accuses the SWP of not knowing their Marxism. He goes on to make the important point about the capitalist system's failure to provide for "the human factor": "That doesn't just mean people on the dole; there are also the people in jobs who are being dehumanised by it all". Quite right. We look forward to Harry Enfield's next character. "Letsabolishmoney". Mind you, if we started doing that, what would Ben Elton's agent have to say, and what would the dummies at the FT have to write about?
Steve Coleman

Blogger's Note:
With regards to Harry Enfield, from an obituary for John Crump:
  " . . . John [Crump] retired early and returned to live in York, where he had spent most of his academic life teaching politics and Japanese studies at the university there. Anecdotally, one of his students was the comedian Harry Enfield who, under his direction, wrote a dissertation on the SPGB."

Party News (1988)

Party News from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Camden and North West London Branches have recently concluded another series of 10 lectures, which have been a regular feature of their joint activity for the past few years. In addition, an extra meeting was arranged dealing with Russia — 70 years on from the Revolution.

The main series covered a wide range of subjects fundamental to the socialist case, plus two or three that dealt with the more "popular" features of capitalism. The Branches feel that it is still essential for the theoretical basis of our case to be aired and related to 20th century capitalism, this knowledge is essential for the socialist propagandist to deal with the spurious claims of the reformist parties.

The attendance for the series ranged from 25 to 40 and the lectures were marked by the high degree of research and investigation on the part of the speakers. A "Fact Sheet" was produced for each lecture, giving interesting quotes and statistics about the subject matter, copies are available on application to the Branch secretaries.

We should like to thank all those who attended and made the series such a success and to state that the branches are now organising a further series to commence in the Autumn.
Camden and N.W. London Branches 

Observations: Housewife's choice (1988)

The Observations Column from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The current advertisement, designed to convince the young, white male that he should become an Army Officer, is merely the latest in a series of misrepresentation, and deceit. Headlined, “Detergent or Deterrent” the ad goes on to make a comparison between the boring job of Junior Account Executive engaged in “persuading the nation’s housewives to switch from one make of soap powder to another, “and the exciting life of an Army Officer,” “safeguarding the way of life that offers them”, (the housewives I think they mean), "a freedom of choice in the first place”.

Agog to discover what other incentives beside the spurious one of defending the right of capitalists to continue to produce for profit, and not for need, I read on. What macho male could resist the opportunity to engage in battle manoeuvres with NATO in Germany? Learn jungle warfare techniques in Belize? Indulge in a camel trek across Australia? Go deep sea diving of Ascension Island? Obvious innit? Beats selling washing powder any day of the week. Where do I sign? But doesn’t the Advertising Standards Authority tell us to complain about any advertisement that isn’t decent, honest and truthful? What would an honest advertisement — a contradiction in terms under capitalism — say? Members of the working class are needed, as soldiers, by the British ruling class to act as a public power of coercion, and to fight to protect their markets, raw materials and trade routes against other capitalist states.

When socialism is established, it will be up to society as a whole to decide whether it wants to produce myriad brands of washing powder. However, one thing is certain, with the abolition of class antagonism, soldiering will become unnecessary, no longer needed to do capitalism’s dirty work.
Dave Coggan

Blogger's Note:
This is the 14,000 post on the blog. Fingers crossed I can hit 15,000 by the end of the year.

Observations: Class struggle and social revolution (1988)

The Observations Column from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a leading article in the Guardian (4 May), the writer arrogantly admonished both the NUS and the P&O employers for getting involved in what the writer termed "19th Century Class Warfare”. However, the class struggle exists because a minority have social and economic power over the majority. The class struggle is the conflict of material interests existing between two antagonistic classes — capital and labour — and is not the figment of a Marxist’s imagination. Nor is it an apparition of the past at odds with the so-called "New Realism” of the 1980s. Under Capitalism the class struggle is unavoidable.

Indeed in the very next column the Guardian editorial highlighted the strikes and civil disturbances currently taking place in Poland. The writer even drew attention to the factors involved: a government forced by economic necessity to remove food subsidies and on the other hand workers struggling for higher wages against state enterprises trying to hold down wages in a bid to increase productivity and become more competitive. So the class struggle also exists in state capitalist countries. State capitalism and private capitalism are after all two sides of the same coin.

Unfortunately for politicians and journalists alike the class struggle is not going to disappear by wishful thinking; nor will it go away by the introduction of economic or social reforms nor by draconian anti-trade union legislation. The state coercion at the disposal of the Polish state, where strikes are in the process of being made illegal, did not stop workers striking there. Nor did it stop building workers in Nicaragua striking against the ruling class there for higher wages and better working conditions.

So whilst capitalism remains, the class struggle remains. The solution to this struggle between capital and labour, a solution propounded by socialists throughout this century, is that workers must organise politically to abolish capitalism. Trade unions, strikes, and other manifestations of the class struggle can only go so far. They are always limited by the class position of the workers and the vagaries of the trade cycle which capitalism periodically passes through. In the end, workers must realise that it is in their immediate interests to push the class struggle to its limit and abolish capitalism.
Richard Lloyd

Observations: Counting on your support? (1988)

The Observations Column from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a pleasant spring evening. I am sitting in the garden. It’s quite a nice garden. I’m grateful to the building society for allowing me to live here. And for a very reasonable rate of extortion too. I am contemplating an election leaflet that had been posted earlier. The leaflet appears to be canvassing support on the issue of local crime. Bring back George Dixon, it implies, and all will be well. So bland is the leaflet that the word “Labour” could have been replaced with that of any mainstream party. Do they end Labour conferences now with a rendering of “the slightly pink flag”, I wonder idly?

My musings are interrupted by a man at the door. The smile on his face is a fraction of a second late. He’s come to sell me double glazing, I think. "Good evening, Mr Voter, I’m your Labour candidate in the local election. May I count on your support?” We engage in conversation. The word ‘socialism’ is one that he uses liberally. (What would Walworth Road have to say about that?) However, he may just as well be talking of double glazing because he obviously has no clear idea of what socialism is.

During the course of the exchange the Labourite sees red. “Examine the record of both the Wilson and Callaghan governments,” I say, “and you will see that both failed to do anything for the working class.” But, he is now clearly impatient to know exactly who will be getting my vote. “I shan’t be supporting any of the candidates,” I say, “but I shall certainly be voting. I am a member of the Socialist Party.” Recognition dawns. "You’re the SPGBer,” he says accusingly. “You’re the one who always writes ‘World Socialism’ across the ballot paper.”

Whilst regretting that I appeared to have failed to convince him of my argument, I am not wholly despondent. After all I have still to be canvassed by the Conservative, the Liberal, the Independent, the Green.
Dave Coggan

Charity versus equity (2007)

From the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just before Christmas last year a letter arrived from Action Aid citing a number of manifestations of the iniquities of global capitalism. The letter was an appeal for funds, specifically for the ‘Global Campaign for Education’ to ‘make sure the governments of the world keep their promise to provide free primary education for all by 2015.’

Action Aid stressed that a donation isn’t a hand-out or an imposed solution but a project that puts power, decision-making and responsibility back into the hands of a whole community. In fact the appeal had a letter within the letter. Two teenage Guineans appealed by letter for the world’s poorest people to the people of Europe, wanting to give their message of a life of poverty in Africa, believing that the people of Europe could bring a solution. All they wanted was education, the key, they believed, to a better life in their home country. They said that because their families were poor the choice was between food and education. In attempting to carry their letter to Europe (believing their oral message may not reach its destination) they both perished in the undercarriage of the plane in which they’d stowed away, but their message did arrive in Brussels International Airport with their dead 14- and 15-year-old bodies.

The main points of their letter were wishing to seek help with the development of Africa; help to fight poverty; and to bring war to an end in Africa. (Guinea, with a population of about 9 million, shares borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and has had to contend with tens of thousands of refugees and numerous cross-border incursions in the last decade.) Finally, ‘however, our greatest need is education.’

Action Aid and other charities may be able to make a dent in alleviating some of the pressing problems affecting impoverished societies in Africa and other areas of the world, but these can only be dents because they don’t aim to change the system to one that can continue to support all societies in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Appropriate development such as desired by local communities, poverty elimination, an end to war everywhere and universal lifelong education are some of the fundamental principles of socialism as are power, decision-making and responsibility to be firmly in the hands of the people.

Certainly, support and compassion are needed meantime, but just imagine teams of people like these already established with logistics skills, people on the ground experienced in organising, a worldwide workforce empathetic to the importance of working for and with the community for common goals, at the time when the majority of the world’s people – in Africa, in Europe, in Asia and the Americas – are intent on working together with the sole aim of establishing a socialist world for the benefit of all, with no hindrance of class, colour, religion or wealth.

What better tribute could we give to these two courageous youths and to the thousands of others dying daily from malnutrition and preventable and curable diseases than to double our efforts at bringing about an end to the horrific, inhumane system called capitalism and replacing it with one based upon common ownership and democratic control by and in the interest of the whole community?
Janet Surman

Letters: Labour leaders (2007)

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

Labour leaders

Dear Editors

I am a subscriber to the Socialist Standard and am always absorbed by every article. As a former member of the Labour Party (not very active) and reader of Socialist Worker I realise that your organisation and beliefs represent a clear unambiguous alternative to capitalism unlike the latter.

The fanfare of eulogies and general sycophancy devoted to Tony Blair after his long awaited departure announcement not only obscured that his principal legacy is that most of New Labour legislation since 1997 required the support of the Tories, but to create the illusion that the direction of governments and related events are somehow influenced by an individual’s personal characteristics. Behind all the talk about “end of eras” and legacies the reality is that Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to be more “New” Labour than anyone else within the government and the red carpet to No 10 which is clearly being unrolled for him is solely to ensure that the political landscape in the UK is even more bi-partisan than it is now.

It is interesting to note that many, particularly in the Tory Party, who call for an election now because of a mid-term change of personality in No 10 have not been equally insistent that Mr Blair faced a leadership contest in the first place rather than being allowed to just walk away like some revered abdicating monarch. Moreover if their concern about accountability is genuine and not about political point scoring over personalities they would surely be at the forefront to insist Mr Brown faces an open leadership contest with a candidate from the traditional left, a contest that many mainstream political pundits are trying to eschew in fear of what it might reveal.

With so many political issues at stake, particularly Iraq, such a contest would be a reminder of what politics should be about in a democracy albeit confined to one party.
Nick Vinehill, 
Snettisham, Norfolk

Thieves and robbers

We have received the following comment from journalist Dominic Lawson on the article on crime that is on our website:

Thank you for sending me the article from the Socialist Standard. In common with most Marxist analysis it regards those who rob, burgle and steal in capitalist countries not as robbers, burglars and thieves, but as co-workers in the fight for a more equitable distribution of wealth. Of course, once the socialist society is born then these same people are indeed robbers, burglars and thieves and deserve the harshest of punishments. In China, for example, crooks are executed on a grand scale. In short: this argument is politically self-serving and morally derelict.
Dominic Lawson

China and other similar and past regimes are not and never were socialist, but state capitalist (see the article on Maoism in this issue). And we don’t regard workers who steal from their fellow workers as engaging in the class struggle against the capitalist class (themselves a class of robbers). – Editors.

Cooking the Books: Back to the seventies? (2007)

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

Last year the Oxford economist Andrew Glyn brought out a new book called Capitalism Unleashed. Thirty-five years ago he was the co-author of a Penguin Special that came out in 1972 called British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze. In it he and his fellow author (Bob Sutcliffe) argued that capitalism, at least in Britain, had been brought to a life-or-death crisis because working class militancy, on the one hand, and international competition, on the other, had squeezed profits, the life-blood of the system without which it couldn’t survive. One more push from the workers, they suggested, and capitalism could be overthrown.

We ourselves were sceptical about the whole analysis, suggesting that they were greatly exaggerating trade union “power” and that the crisis was not a life-or-death one but just a phase of the ordinary business cycle which capitalism goes through and from which it would recover sooner or later (see our review in February 1973 Socialist Standard). Actually, it turned out to be a bigger turning point than we thought, as capitalism has never since returned to the “full employment” days of the 50s and 60s.

In any event, capitalism did survive. So what does Glyn think now? Modern-day, “unleashed” capitalism, he says, has its problems (financial turbulence, corporate corruption, etc) but cannot be said to be in a state of crisis in the sense of the Oxford Dictionary definition of “the point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death” that he believed it to have been in in the 70s. In fact, his view is that there is now no alternative to capitalism on the horizon, so all we’ve got is a choice of different kinds of capitalism.
“The longer-term objective of socialism was always to facilitate the development of people’s lives in a more fulfilling direction”, he writes, and asks: “Is it possible to make serious moves in this direction even within what is still a predominantly capitalist economy?”.

His answer is, perhaps surprisingly from someone who was associated with Militant for a while, “yes”, in the form of the scheme proposed by the Belgian social thinker, Philippe Van Parijs, for paying everyone a Basic Income as of right and irrespective of whether or not they work, referring to an article by him in a book with the revealing title of Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Designs for a More Egalitarian Capitalism. Or, as Van Parijs himself has put it:
  “In classical Marxism, socialism is just an instrument for achieving the society in which people can work freely according to their abilities but still get enough according to their needs. If socialism doesn’t work, because of threats to freedom and problems of dynamic efficiency, then why not harness capitalism to achieve the same objectives?” (The Bulletin, Brussels, 19 July 2001).
It’s a pipedream of course and a bit currency cranky (though to give Van Parijs his due, he did come up with a brilliant title for one of his books in What’s Wrong with a Free Lunch?). A Basic Income paid as of right would have to be funded (even squeezed) out of profits and would either undermine the wages system (why work for a capitalist employer if the State is paying you whether you work or not?) or make no difference (since wages would fall by the amount of the State wage subsidy that a Basic Income would represent). Or it would be fixed at so low a level as to be just another name for “Income Support”.

The simple fact is that capitalism can’t be reformed, humanised or made more egalitarian. It must be ended not mended.

50 Years Ago: Communist commotion (2007)

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

FREE HARICH, SACK HARRY,” painted with true Communist zeal in large white letters on the roadway greeted the faithful as they entered Hammersmith Town Hall over the Easter week-end to receive their annual dose of dogma from the cardinals of King Street, and to indulge in some public confessions of political sins. This slogan was not a rabble-rousing challenge to strike fear into the hearts of Yankee capitalists or warmongering Tories; it was directed not outwards, but inwards, to the heart of the Workers’ Mass Party itself. Harich is the young intellectual imprisoned by the East German government, and guess who Harry is? Yes, none other than Cardinal Harry Pollitt. Alas! we confidently predict that this slogan will have as little effect in altering the status quo as others which have appeared on walls from time to time to enliven the working-class scene have had (e.g., “Hands off Guatemala,” “End Eden’s War,” “Chuck The Tories Out,” etc.). Harry is still there, and so, presumably, is Harich—but in a different place.

The irreverent slogan was, however, a sign of a definite air of revolt which hung over the proceedings, a revolt which, if not quite amounting to “ruthless self-criticism,” was at least an indication of a fairly advanced state of political masochism. Cardinal J. Gollan, the Party secretary, had to announce that 7,000 of the faithful had left the flock during the preceding year: others were all too ready to voice their doubts, especially about the Russian intervention in Hungary.

(from article by M. L. in Socialist Standard, June 1957)

Greasy Pole: Baldwin versus Blair (2007)

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

Intolerably squeezed by a hostile audience, Tony Blair was liable to try to escape by declaring that while he accepted their right to disagree with him he was unshaken in his confidence that he was doing the right thing and was happy to be judged on that by history. Which is what would be expected from such a kinda straight sorta guy; yeah. Except that some months before he had gone off into the sunset, or wherever it is that unmasked, exhausted prime ministers go, he had in a sense been put through a type of historical assessment, compared to a number of other occupants of Number Ten.

In the August 2006 issue of the BBC History Magazine an article by the historian Francis Beckett rated the prime ministers of the 20th century according to their effectiveness as “change managers”. Their place on the list was based on how clear they were about the change they aimed to bring about, how successful they were in this and how efficiently they “managed” the change. In joint first place were Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher; Attlee because his governments nationalised so much of industry while it introduced the National Health Service and the so-called Welfare State and Thatcher because her governments demolished so much of what the Attlee governments had built: “She broke the Attlee settlement, which had lasted more than 30 years, largely by force of will” was how Beckett put it. Blair may have been disappointed to learn that he only made it to third place, along with Harold Wilson, because although he “made a lot of progress in his chosen direction…The private sector has now been brought even into the running of schools and hospitals, and since the Conservatives agree with it, this will probably be a relatively permanent change” and there is the little matter of the war in Iraq, which “…undermined his ability to implement his vision”.

One place above Blair in the Beckett table of change management efficiency is Stanley Baldwin who, if he ever wanted to change things, did so by appearing to prefer this to be backwards, to a time when the fields were ploughed by pairs of heavy shire horses guided by a sweating farm hand and harvested by teams of locals wielding scythes – all presided over by wealthy, benevolent landowners like Baldwin. He had inherited his wealth, as well as his parliamentary seat in Worcestershire, from his father and he set himself to play the part, among the ravenously ambitious Tories in parliament, of the simple, honest countryman. But this was only part of the story, for Baldwin was fond of being photographed in tweeds and a soft hat, sucking tranquilly on a pipe. His rivals, angrily outbid by this appeal to a group of voters identified in the newly-sprung suburbs known as “villadom”, hit back with sneers about his posing for his appearances in the picture-hungry newspapers. They were blind to the fact that Baldwin was, dangerously, much more than a transparent, disengaged colleague – Churchill called him “a great turnip” – for he was a leading influence in the undermining of the apparently impregnable Lloyd George coalition in 1922 and then, when Bonar Law had to resign through ill health shortly after replacing Lloyd George, emerged as a strong candidate to succeed as prime minister.

Baldwin’s previous efforts to present himself as a plain and simple man did not match with his elevation to the premiership; in the past he had said that he would rather keep pigs and he had told a friend that a one-way ticket to Siberia would be more acceptable to him. He almost achieved his stated ambition to be a porcine carer in the snowy wastes when, in the 1923 general election, the country’s first ever Labour government emerged. That was not a happy introduction to power for the Labour Party and the following year Baldwin’s modesty was searchingly tested when he was propelled into Number Ten by his party winning a landslide victory. That government was quickly immersed in a financial crisis which, following from the coal mine owners’ efforts to protect their profits by imposing wage cuts, led eventually to the General Strike.

This was a time when Baldwin’s professed yearning for a unity of purpose between employers and workers was put to the test. In January 1925 he had unburdened himself: “There is only one thing which I feel is worth giving one’s whole strength to, and that is the binding together of all classes of our people in an effort to make life in this country better in every sense of the word”. This was in the course of discussions with the miners over the employers’ plans to cut wages and increase working hours. In May 1926 he was to declare “All the workers of this country have got to take reductions in wages to help put industry on its feet”. But in 1925 the government were not ready to carry this policy of Baldwin’s to the point of confrontation; instead they subsidised the mines. At the time this was seen as a capitulation but, as became obvious when the General Strike was called, it had been a manipulated pause to allow the government to prepare for a more serious conflict – an episode the implications of which may not have been lost on the Thatcher government in their dispute with the miners in 1981 and 1984.

It is all history now; the General Strike collapsed, leaving the miners to struggle on alone until starvation drove them back to work – at which time it became clear that being on strike, with all its pressures, was a healthier option than working down those pits. The Cabinet, exultant that what they saw as a serious threat to the constitutional basis of the relationship between employers and wage slaves had been defeated, passed a motion of thanks to Baldwin for his handling of the crisis and the Daily Mail trumpeted that he was “one of our greatest prime ministers”. It was not long before inexorable reality took hold and he was reviled for his association with that time of deep poverty and, eventually, the war. Over eighty years after, Blair has also wrestled with the pressures and the contradictions of trying to control – or rather to “manage” – the capitalist system, with problems perhaps superficially different from those which confronted Baldwin but which are completely alike in their urgency and their implacable power. Capitalism cannot be managed and so, in any real sense of the word, does not change.

Economics and Ideas. Their Influence on Political Institutions. (1925)

From the April 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one of the most valuable passages in his writings, Marx says: “The sum total of (the) relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society—the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness” (Intro., “Critique of Political Economy”).

By thus conceiving society as made up of a foundation structure and a superstructure, he achieved an advance of great value for the future progress of sociology. Yet no one was more fully aware than Marx that a society is an organic whole, that, though its several aspects for purposes of understanding can be separated in thought, in concrete reality they are interwoven and interdependent.

The relation of the economic basis to the superstructure is readily made clear by considering man’s social institutions as means adopted for the solution of the manifold problems that have faced him in the course of his history. His economic institutions are a solution to the problems of physical self-maintenance under given geographical, technical and historical conditions; his moral, disciplinary, political and military institutions are a response to the problems his economic system has created, and meet secondary needs made imperative, because he has become as dependent upon his economic methods as a lion upon its teeth and claws.

The chief of these secondary social problems are those arising from the division of social labour and function, and from the distribution of wealth. Where working and leisured classes have become inseparable from the economic arrangements in society the problem of repressing and overpowering the resistance of the subjected calls for permanent social machinery of coercion under the control of the exploiting class. When private ownership of wealth has become established the problem of protecting and enforcing this “right” necessitates special disciplinary institutions. Class-antagonism and private property thus underlie the structure of the state and the exact form of its structure varies with the nature of the class division and the forms of property prevailing.

Ideas in History.
Many of his ill-informed or dishonest critics have declared that Marx belittled the role of ideas in history, whereas, in actual fact, he explained their source and showed their very real social function, thus allowing them a significance and value which they could never have in a philosophy of history that regarded ideas as spontaneous generations of the “world of the spirit,” having no roots in the physical conditions of life.

To every institution and social habit there corresponds a definite group of ideas. The very base of the economic system—its productive technique—has its mental as well as its material aspect. Inseparable from the actual instruments of production is the technical knowledge necessary to make and use them. How vital this knowledge is may be vividly realised by imagining a modern machine in the hands of savages. They might break it up for spear-heads or nose-ornaments or perhaps worship it—but they would certainly not use it as it was made to be used. On the other hand, should the machines of a modern community be suddenly destroyed, if the technical knowledge remained it would be possible to reproduce them, though the process might be prolonged and difficult.

Economic relations and the institutions of the superstructure have their mental aspects also, which Marx terms the “social consciousness.” It consists of the general system of beliefs, assumptions, moral judgments and sentiments current in a community. In the literature of an age this consciousness finds expression in its best defined and most systematic form.

Just as little as the savage can comprehend and make use of the machine, can he understand and play a part in the social arrangements of civilised life. His ideology belongs to a different system of institutions, and he finds in the strange environment of civilisation his most sacred sentiments scorned and his cherished beliefs as to what is possible and impossible, right and wrong, contradicted before his eyes.

The beliefs current in a society may be said to be the outcome of its intellectual problems arising from the material conditions. They answer the inescapable questions as to “why” and “how” to the full satisfaction of the people who hold them. They “justify” and provide “reasons” for accepted customs and institutions.

The opinions and superstitions of an age naturally appear to that age the essence of truth and reason and, if, as usually the case, social institutions fully accord therewith, then they are held to be the only ways of living that are natural, practicable, reasonable and just. Thus the “vicious circle” of ideas and institutions completes itself.

A social system consists of a body of interdependent institutions and ideas. The productive institutions form the basis but, just as the foundation of a piece of architecture would be incomplete and useless without the edifice that it upholds, so the basic economic relations do not and cannot satisfy all human needs and are never found, because they cannot exist, without a supplementary superstructure.

Evolution and Revolution.
Like all things, however, a social system is a growth. Gradually, from relatively formless and indefinable beginnings it acquires an increasingly complex and coherent structure as a result of constant modifications and adaptations to the problems of its existence.

It is in observing the growth of a system that the primary nature of the economic sub-structure is most vividly apparent. Invariably it is found that the technical and other material conditions of production change first ; that corresponding with this goes a change in the economic relations of the members of society, followed, sooner or later, by the adaptation thereto of the intellectual, moral, political and legal edifice.

This “sooner or later” is important, for it is the delay in adaptation that is responsible for the historic eras of rapid revolutionary transformation which mark history off into the fairly sharply defined social epochs that enable us to speak of the “succession of systems” without contradicting the truth of “the continuity of social change.”

One cause of the intermittent nature of social evolution lies in the conservatism of the human mind. Man withstands change and clings to old habits of thought and behaviour long after their original necessity has gone, and until new necessities cause a stimulus to movement too powerful for his further resistance. In class-divided communities, however, another highly effective factor is the control exercised by the dominant class over the institutions wielding moral and mental influence and over the political forces of coercion. By the use of these instruments the ruling class endeavours to stem the tide of social change that will dislodge it from its pre-eminence. Up to a certain point its powers prevail, but the governing class can only postpone, it cannot escape the day of its nemesis.

When through industrial evolution the needs of the productive system are no longer met by the legal and political forms prevailing, the problems pressing for solution enforce themselves upon the consciousness of masses of men, and particularly upon the class who control and live by the newer economic methods. After a more or less prolonged period of conflict with the dominant class, during which revolutionary theories are elaborated, the class of progress acquires political strength to break the resistance of the class of stagnation, to achieve the social adaptations in which its interests lie and to usher in a new social order.

Of the several great systems in social history one of the best defined and widespread is that known as “patriarchalism,” which the reader will find well yet concisely described in Jenks’ “Short History of Politics.” Wherever patriarchal conditions of life are found, whether amongst the early Jews or Greeks or, amongst the Arabs and Hindus of to-day, we discover productive and property institutions, family relationships, customs, traditions and religious forms of great similarity. A further system that arose out of patriarchalism and developed on a basis of chattel-slavery is that best seen in the Graeco-Roman civilisation. Another very definite type exhibiting considerable uniformity all over Mediaeval Europe and existing in recent Japan was the feudal system. Lastly, we have the form of society which dominates at the present time perhaps the greater part of mankind—the capitalist system.

“Our Civilisation.”
Modern capitalist society is sometimes described simply as a form of production, but this is a mistake, for in it are involved all those institutions, usages and conceptions peculiar to present-day civilisation.

Wherever modern industrialism takes root there we invariably find springing up its corresponding superstructure, because the problems that it propounds are everywhere very similar and everywhere have been met in substantially the same way.

On its political side, undoubtedly the outstanding feature of bourgeois society is—representative government. One by one, as modern industry has seized them in its grip, we have seen age-old “despotic” states—Japan, Turkey, Persia—adopting the political machinery of the more advanced capitalist groups. There is in fact no case on record of capitalist production achieving any considerable development without representative institutions being set up.

In its social consciousness—its general fabric of ideas—modern society is very characteristic and differs markedly from hitherto existing systems. One of its striking features is the universal adoration for such abstract ideas as “liberty” and “equality,” for the principle of “individualism” and for the idea of “progress.”

It is well to remember how completely foreign to earlier historic systems such institutions and ideas are. Even where some degree of similarity seems to exist—as in the democratic councils of tribal communities—this disappears on examination, The democracy of the clan and the tribe was based upon blood-kinship and common and equal rights in the sources of subsistence. The community was a small exclusive brotherhood, hostile to outsiders and maintaining its coherence and identity by a rigid regard for custom and tradition, rendering the idea of individual independence unthinkable. The tribesman conceived himself as an inseparable part of his group. The tribe thought and acted almost as a unit and, in its assemblies, only unanimous votes were effective.

Bourgeois democracy, on the contrary, involves the idea of the “rights and liberties” of the individual. Before this idea could arise, the concept of the individual as an entity separate from society, had first to be evolved, and this was only possible or could only become a general conception after the individual had in reality become the unit of society by the dissolution of tribal, village and family bonds and corporate life.

The detailed regulations and formalities enforced by custom and religious tradition that governed the productive and every other sphere of activity in patriarchal and, to a lesser degree in feudal society, would seem ridiculous and intolerable to one who’s life had been spent in the competitive, “free” world of capitalism, with its individualism and its doctrine of “mind your own business.” Conventions and traditions still exist—they are a necessity to social life—but capitalism gets along with what would seem the absolute minimum were it not for the fact that their hold appears to grow day by day.

Moreover, it is down at the very basis that emancipation from convention is most complete, for, in present-day production, the age-old domination of custom has been utterly swept away. Untrammelled industry, free commerce, unrestricted exploitation of man and material, are the economic ideals of capitalism, and they have been as nearly achieved as concrete realities will allow.

The slogan of to-day is not “walk in the ways of thy fathers,” but, “go-ahead,” “evolution,” “progress.” The very conception of “progress” and its elevation to a moral principle is a product of capitalism and something new to history. As Clodd says in his “Primitive Man” : “Progress is a modern idea—a Western idea. The Orientals, from whom we may now except the Japanese, hate it. As Sir Henry Maine says in his ‘Popular Government,’ ‘the entire Mohammedan world detests it. The multitude of coloured men who swarm in the continent of Africa detest it. The millions on millions of men who fill the Chinese Empire loathe it, and, what is more, despise it.’ ” (P. 195.)
R.W. Housley

(To be continued.)