Sunday, June 27, 2021

Socialism or Nationalisation (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Only when industry and transport etc, are owned and democratically controlled by the whole community can service to the whole community be a reality. Nationalisation or State Capitalism is not the solution to the problem"
Socialism or Nationalisation (1 -)

Passing Show: Concentration Camps (1960)

The Passing Show Column from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Concentration Camps

There may be some people who still believe, in face of the mounting evidence, that the last war was fought to defend democracy and freedom. If so, they might care to ponder these facts. In 1945 the Allies (Britain, the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R., and so on) won the Second World War—at the cost of much sacrifice and suffering on the part of their respective working classes. They had the world at their feet. If they had really fought the war for freedom, then freedom would have been assured for all the worlds people, throughout the foreseeable future.

And what in fact happened? A prominent French medical expert. Professor Charles Richet of' Paris, gave some figures on April 29th in a speech at an Oslo conference organised by the World Veterans Federation. In 1945, he said, there were twelve million people in concentration camps throughout the world. But what about I960—after fifteen years in which the victorious Allies, who fought for “freedom," have in effect ruled the world between them? According to Professor Richet's estimate, there are now more than twice as many people in concentration camps as there were in 1945: twenty-live millions of them. These twenty-live million people might have their own opinion on the question of whether the Allies really fought to make the world safe for freedom.


Greatly put out

To turn to some of those at the other end of society, there were reports of annoyance in Buckingham Palace circles when, a week before Princess Margaret's wedding, a New York paper published what was alleged to be a sketch of the wedding dress. This led to some reminiscence in the papers about previous occasions when this had happened. The Observer (1/5/10) said:
  In 1937 a morning newspaper printed a detailed description of a Hartnell dress that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (then the Queen) was to wear the same evening at a State banquet in honour of King Carol of Rumania. It was made of pearl grey satin and embroidered with silver, pearls and amethysts.
   
  King George VI was greatly put out the dress was thrown away and Mr. Hartnell had to apologise.
Some people are fond of saying that the working class is now prosperous. If the workers are now prosperous, what adjective must be used to describe people who can afford to throw away a dress embroidered with silver, pearls and amethysts simply because a picture of it has appeared in a newspaper?


Mercenaries

Harold Hutchinson, the Daily Herald's political commentator, comes up with some strange ideas from time to time. In the Herald of May 7th he attacks those people in the Labour Party who dare to advocate ideas which Mr. Gaitskell doesn't agree with, and says “The only people who can determine policy are the people who have to carry it out." He goes on: “At present, minorities in the Labour Party can exert power without responsibility, and virtually treat the leaders of the Party in Parliament as mercenaries who take orders."

How terrible, Mr. Hutchinson! How degrading it would be if the leaders of the party had to do what the party wanted, instead of the party doing what the leaders wanted!

Mr. Gaitskell has not repudiated these opinions of his henchman. So if ever you feel tempted to vote Labour, remember Mr. Hutchinson’s view that “the only people who can determine policy " are the leaders—"the people who have to carry it out": and then ask yourself if this is your idea of democracy.


Some more Socialists?

How topsy-turvy can politics get? Here is a quotation from the Daily Mail (28/4/60):
  A spokesman in Seoul for Dr. Rhee's Liberal Party (now leaderless) said today it planned to change its name to the "Democratic Socialist Party “—but it would remain Conservative.
One hopes this paragraph will be read by all those who tell Socialists that we should support other parties (whatever their policies are) merely because they claim to be Socialist.
Alwyn Edgar

Red Snapper: Sound bites and unsound nibbles (2005)

The Red Snapper column from the May 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

” I don’t look like a millionaire, I don’t act like a millionaire, I am not a millionaire.”

George Galloway, RESPECT MP, ahead of addressing the Washington senators who have accused him of receiving vouchers for millions of barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein’s regime. Daily Mail, May 17th.

#    #    #    #

” They chose me. Can’t you find it even within yourself even to congratulate me?”

George Galloway again on his election victory to Jeremy Paxman, from The Guardian, May 7th.

#    #    #    #

” We expect the Revolution will create entirely new genres to expand the definition of video games,” he said to loud cheers in the hall.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, on a new console, BBC Technology, May 17

#    #    #    #

“People remembered why they had lost trust in Tony Blair, but they couldn’t see any real difference between the Tories and Labour, so we lost out on that.”

Lynton Crosby, Tory Party campaign director, Independent, May 20

” A student who misbehaves gets two verbal warnings, then detention for one hour and finally a day in the isolation unit. It is very rare that a student gets sent there for three days.”

Sir Dexter Hutt, executive headmaster of three schools in Birmingham, where he has introduced isolation rooms, Sunday Times, May 15

From Workshop to Counting House (2005)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The demise of Rover – the much-lauded competition that is built-in to capitalism means there are losers as well as winners – has revived the debate about the decline of manufacturing industry in Britain. Matthew Parris, the former Tory MP turned journalist, recalled a debate he had last year with fellow Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky: “I asked whether it really was true that  trade balance didn’t matter, and manufacturing things didn’t matter, any more. Anatole argued that where in the world an item is manufactured is unimportant as long as we get the profits. I think Anatole won that debate” (Times, 9 April).

The “we” in question of course is not the wage and salary working class living and working in Britain but the British capitalist class. And, from their point of view, Kaletsky was right: all a particular group of capitalists need be interested is the amount of profits they can rake in. But it is still true that without manufacturing – somewhere in the world – there would be no profits to rake in. The original source of all profits is the surplus value produced in that section of the economy that changes the form of material things, and which includes, besides manufacturing proper, agriculture, mining, building and transportation .

Capital invested in other activities such as banking, insurance, buying and selling, advertising, consultancy and the like, which do not produce anything (despite them calling themselves an “industry”), gets a share of the surplus value produced in the productive sector. Basically, rather than productive capitalists investing a part of their capital in financing these activities essential to capitalism as they would otherwise have to, a situation has evolved whereby these activities have been hived off, as it were, to separate capitalists who specialise in them.

The price the productive capitalists have to pay for not having to be their own bankers, insurers, sellers, advertisers, etc is that they have to share some of their surplus value with the capitalists with money invested in these activities. This comes about, as Marx explained in the first part of Volume III of Capital, more or less automatically through competition amongst capitals to obtain the best rate of profit resulting in all capitals tending to receive the same rate irrespective of whether the activity in question is directly productive of surplus value or not.

This is the sense in which Kaletsky is right when he said that “where in the world an item is manufactured is unimportant as long as we get the profits”. The dominant section of the British capitalist class and its stewards, the government of the day, has decided to go along with the economic trend for the manufacture of certain goods to be transferred, because of lower production costs, to Asia or South America, and to get its share of the surplus value produced there by concentrating on providing services at world level that are essential to capitalism but intrinsically non-productive, mainly in the fields of banking and consultancy. It’s a sign that we are already living in one world from an economic point of view.

The decline of manufacturing in Britain means a change in the composition of the working class here but it does not mean that those working in the non-productive sector of the economy are not exploited. They are, to the extent that they are paid less than the share of world surplus value their work procures for their employers.

Obituary: Benon Mutungi (2005)

Obituary from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow comrades, we in the World Socialism Movement Uganda Group, bring to you the bad news of the death of comrade Mutungi. Comrade Mutungi Benon died on Saturday 7 May, a week after having sustained neck spine injuries in a motor accident.

I knew Benon Mutungi as early as at the age of eleven when we were in primary three(1974). At that young age his character was already formed. He was outrightly courageous, brilliant, honest and a generous pupil. This has been his character all through his life. We later joined the same secondary school and later joined the same university – Makerere University. In 1986 in the year he joined university, he fell sick. He could not continue his studies for a period of seven years. After this break he went back to University to pursue his studies and finished his course (Bachelor of Arts, Geography) excellently. He was called back and did a masters degree.

Comrade Mutungi joined the WSM Uganda in 2000 after having been reading socialist literature for several years. He was an active comrade in most of our activities. He started the “socialist phone-in programme’ on the FM Radio in this town of Kabale, writing to the main two Uganda’s leading  newspapers, advertising in the papers the case for socialism, lending out socialist literature and distributing leaflets, debates and many forms of activities. On return from Ireland for a second masters degree, he was requested to work as Assistant Secretary of the WSM Uganda group, a job he took over enthusiastically.

Benon died at the age of 41. He leaves a widow and four children aged 9, 7 ,4 and nine months  respectively. In his own words at his death bed Mutungi had this to say: “I don’t think the Uganda government I know has ever made it a priority to invest in medical equipment to sustain the lives of Mutungi cases. Unless such equipment has been brought into the country a few days ago. What worries me is leaving the world still insane and worst of all leaving my very young children in such an insane world”.
Mugyenzi Ishmael.
Secretary WSM Uganda Group.

50 Years Ago: Prisoner’s Story (2005)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the summer of 1953 Rupert Croft-Cooke, a novelist by profession, was arrested on a charge of homosexuality. A few months later he appeared before the Quarter Sessions at Lewes, was found guilty on some charges and not guilty on others, and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment. Apart from a few days at Brixton he served out his sentence (actually six months, allowing for remission) in Wormwood Scrubs. His book, “The Verdict of You All,” is the story of his experiences there.

Rupert Croft-Cooke, to judge by the scraps of personal information scattered throughout his book, has not been too hardly dealt with by life. Well-educated, much-travelled, a lover of things good to eat and drink, he was living a well-ordered and comfortable existence in the Sussex countryside until he was rudely awakened one night by the village policeman and two detectives. These, after due observance of the usual legal ceremonial, took him off to the local police station, and from then on he found himself in a world he had hardly known existed. “The Verdict of You All” records his reactions to, and observations of, this world into which he was so suddenly and so rudely thrown, an alien world inhabited by beings he had heard about only through the crime stories of newspapers, a world a million miles removed from the bright and comfortable surroundings he had been accustomed to enjoy.

To those who cherish comforting delusions about the wonderful reforms that are supposed to have been wrought in our prisons, this book will come as a shock. The tale told by the author is of a penal system grim, drear, unimaginative, mean, and degrading – to prisoner and keeper alike. It tells only of Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton the first a prison for first offenders serving sentences of six months and over, the second for men sentenced to less than six months ( . . . )

If it is, in fact, an essentially reliable and authentic account of life as it is actually lived in such prisons today, then it is a downright, uncompromising challenge to all the fine words that have been said about the reforms in our penal system. If it is but half true, it is a grim and sorry reflection on the efforts of those reformers who have laboured over the years to improve conditions in our prisons.

(Article by S. H., Socialist Standard, June 1955)

Greasy Pole: Hard work, decency and politicians (2005)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you decent? Are you hard-working? Do you always play by the rules? If you can tick the “Yes” box in answer to these questions you should be aware that our politicians have it in mind to look after you. Both Blair and Howard are agreed that you are a specially deserving case. In a recent speech Michael Howard told us that the Britain he believes in 
“will give hard-working families the support they deserve. Those people who play by the rules, pay their taxes, respect others …”
and he complained in the Tory election manifesto that 
“instead of rewarding families who do the right thing, work hard and pay their taxes, Mr. Blair’s government takes them for granted.”
This in spite of the fact that Blair has already told the 2004 Labour conference that his government planned to change Britain for better, into a country 
 “where hard working families who play by the rules are not going to see their opportunities blighted by those who don’t.”
And he followed this up in Labour’s manifesto, which he said was 
“a plan to improve the lives of hard-working families…(and) building communities strong and safe for those who play by the rules.” 
But plans to celebrate would be premature. From past experience any promise by a politician to improve your prospects needs to be received warily.

Abbey Bank
When Blair and Howard talk about their ambitions to improve the lot of hard working families they are overlooking the people – there are thousands of them – whose dearest wish is to work hard for an employer but who are denied this on the grounds of profitability. That was the case with MG Rover and with a more recent, less publicised, example of the Abbey Bank. This bank was once the Abbey National Building Society, whose business was locking workers into a lifetime of debt in order to have somewhere to live. They advertised themselves with a catchy jingle about getting the habit for being an Abbey debtor, a slogan about Abbey making life simpler and a comforting logo of a cheery family striding confidently into the future protected by an umbrella in the form of the roof of a house. That was when working for a building society gave someone a job for life, which encouraged them to work that bit harder for their employer.

Then the Abbey National became a bank, which plunged them into a savagely competitive industry where they found it hard to survive, let alone prosper. The hoped-for remedy was to be taken over by the Spanish bank Santander, who took a more robust view of the processes of employment and the reasons for people working for them – and presumably of the complacent delusions fostered by that advertising jingle and the company logo.

A principal concern for Santander was their new acquisition’s cost/income ratio, which persuaded them that there had to be some economies. These involved getting rid of a few thousand employees, which must have dissolved a lot of ideas about the bank being a kind of charity. Originally Santander intended to cut about 3,000 jobs but recently their boss, Francisco Gomez-Roldan, announced that another 1,000 would have to go, which may not be the end of the redundancies.

The finance services union Amicus angrily described the sacking as “an example of worst practice” but of course right – the right of an employer in the class relationships of capitalism – was on Santander’s side. Gomez-Roldan was unmoved. “We want to be a strong competitor” he argued, “We have to manage the cost/income ratio”. So a few thousand hard working people, who would like to be allowed to continue in that way, are joining the dole queues.

Meanwhile, Santanders’ profits rose by 38 percent, to £820 million, in the first quarter of this year. And that logo? It too has been made redundant and is being replaced with another – of red flames -which will soon be on all the country’s High Streets.

Deception
Decency is another human characteristic which Blair and Howard promise to see appropriately rewarded. How do they match up in this? Howard was one of the more prominent figures in the Tory governments of the 1980s and 1990s and during that time he did not amass a reputation for fastidious devotion to the truth. After the defeat of the Major government in 1997 he languished in comparative obscurity until the final months of Iain Duncan Smith’s disastrous leadership. As desperate Tory MPs began to manoeuvre to get rid of Duncan Smith, Howard was asked whether he would be willing to stand for the leadership. His reply was an emphatic “no,” saying that he could not imagine any circumstances, even if Duncan Smith resigned, in which he would be a candidate. Soon after that Howard was engaged in a conspiracy with other Tory leaders to nominate him and, circumventing the rule which laid down that the leader must be elected by the party membership, ensure that he got the job because he was the only candidate. This gave the Tories in Parliament the leader they wanted and avoided another Duncan Smith experience but it was an example of dishonest political manipulation.

Lies and inconsistency were an important issue in the last election, largely centred on Tony Blair and his deceptions over Iraq, tuition fees and the like. At a post-election meeting of Labour MPs Glenda Jackson recounted a common experience: “I was told on the doorstep time and again that they cannot vote for me while Tony Blair remains leader”. But this kind of attack on the leadership concealed the fact that among the doubters in the Labour Party there was considerable inconsistency, not to say deceit. Let us take the example of Tony Benn, who for a long time has claimed to be the passionate, undying defender of true Labour Party values. Last December he was, as expected of him, complaining that the Iraq war was based on “a blatant lie about Saddam’s possession of WMD” and he described the war as “deeply immoral and unwinnable”. Again as expected of him, he has consistently attacked Labour’s “shift, by stealth, towards privatisation in health, housing and education”. These doubts should be enough to persuade anyone to leave the party and go into opposition against it.

But when the election came Benn proved how adaptable his principles are, by telephoning wavering Labour voters to forgive and forget and get down to the polling station and vote for another period of Blair government, with its wars, its privatisation, its lies. “I am supporting Labour candidates up and down the country” was how he airily put it.

Coercion
In February 2002 Transport Secretary Stephen Byers had to apologise for telling a lie on TV about his responsibility for sacking his press chief Martin Sixsmith. Byers’ indefensible deception was justified by the then Education Secretary Estelle Morris by a peculiar, but convenient to Blair’s Labour Party, definition of a lie:
“It (Byers’ lie) wasn’t an attempt to deceive – he couldn’t possibly have thought that people wouldn’t have known…What I call a lie is when you say something to somebody and hope to get away with it because they won’t find you out.”
That feeble and transparent attempt at propping up the unsupportable was all the more remarkable because of Morris’ reputation as an unusually honest politician, the woman who later resigned from her Cabinet job admitting that “I just don’t think I am as good at it as I was at my last job” and who did not stand at the last election because she could not endure the high profile media scrutiny. In that sense she was an exceptional presence in the political jungle but in another – her readiness to excuse and encourage blatant deception – she was completely typical.

The “hard work” and “decency” we are supposed to conform to and the “rules” we are riven to keep are fashioned by the needs of this class society in which privilege exists by virtue of minority ownership of the means of life. That system of property rights is supported by its “rules” – a huge complex of coercive laws and punishment – which defines concepts such as “hard work” and “decency”. Political leaders like Blair and Howard work to justify that coercion and to encourage the working class – the voters – to acquiesce in its continuation. But they could not do that through any clear and consistent statement of reality; to justify the capitalist system relies on a repetition of false arguments. So the politicians who manage capitalism impose on the workers their own flexible interpretation of the rules. They need to lie, to evade, to conceal, to manipulate, because they could not do their job, at which they are notably hard-working, in any other way.
Ivan

The failure of limited protest (1984)

From the June 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many thousands of workers the merest sight of Margaret Thatcher is enough to induce emotions of disgust and anger. The sound of her fur-lined, cultivated voice, mouthing those greed-based sentiments of the profit mentality, is enough to inspire curses in the working class imagination as ferocious in their intent as they are impotent in realisation. The clones who comprise the government, dancing like maladjusted puppets to the dogma of salvation through suffering, have led many workers to regard 1979 as the beginning of an epoch of despair: the age of Thatcherism.

Of course, they are wrong. Not about the undisguised defence of privilege exhibited by the grotesque face of Toryism; about that workers are right to feel sickened. But short memories will only lead to remedies which ignore what really needs to be remedied and. despite the distortion of history perpetrated by those who pretend that capitalism caused no problems before 1979. the fact is that workers had plenty to complain about when Thatcher was still an aspirant to Number Ten and James Callaghan was its inhabitant. Before 1979 there was unemployment: it doubled under the last Labour government; before 1979 there were cuts in public expenditure: all through the mid-seventies hospitals were being closed, social service provisions contracted and "Fight the Cuts" demos taking place; before 1979 there were strikes which were treated with all the foul contempt of capitalist government: the firemen, the non-unionised workers at Grunwick. the workers in the nationalised car and steel industry; the health and social service workers in the so-called Winter of Discontent — industrial problems did not start for them with “Thatcherism". Before 1979 there were nuclear weapons being produced on a frightening scale; indeed, it was the last Labour Cabinet, including Tony Benn, which secretly introduced Polaris behind the backs of their own MPs; before 1979 there were thousands of old people dying of cold each winter; before 1979 there were soldiers sent to fire rubber bullets on the streets of Belfast; before 1979 there were parents who could not afford to feed their children properly — indeed, Frank Field, then the head of the Child Poverty Action Group, wrote a pamphlet stating that children were worse off under the Labour government than they had been under the previous Tory one — he is now a Labour MP. Hard times did not begin for the workers in 1979 simply because one set of administrators of capitalism was replaced by another. Neither is it true to say that before the recession started life for workers was easy or happy. Capitalism never started turning rough for the working class — it always has been and it always will be.

Thatcherism, the phoney catchphrase of those who protest against the symptoms instead of the disease, is a meaningless, diversionary term. The assumption behind the assault on Thatcherism is that if only a less obnoxious gang of opportunists were running capitalism — and pretty well any would be less obnoxious — the system would inflict less hardship on the wage and salary earning class. That contention resembles the old leftist belief that if only Labour governments were led by decent chaps, as opposed to the opportunist rogues who always seem to be at the top, then Labour in office would perform miracles with capitalism. Socialists, in exposing the myth that social problems are caused by incompetent or insincere leaders, cannot over-emphasise the crucial point that governments do not control capitalism: it is the system which controls the governments. In short, those running the system are faced with a very limited set of choices about how to organise it, because the economic laws of capitalist exploitation are not susceptible to significant modification.

Governments running a system concerned above all else to ensure that rent, interest and profit are secured for the capitalist minority are bound to anger and frustrate workers. After all, workers have no real material interest in capitalist prosperity; indeed, the capitalists' privilege is obtained at the expense of our relative poverty. In Britain the richest ten percent own more than half of all the accumulated wealth and just one per cent own more between them than the poorest eighty per cent. There is a class division arising out of diametrically opposed material interests. Faced with a multitude of problems arising out of the system where production is for profit rather than need, workers become frustrated, angry and determined to do something to change things. Socialists depend on this active desire to change society: every worker who decides to do something to protest against the way things are — however misguided that action might be — is, at least, proof of the fact that workers are discontented and not brainwashed. After all, if workers were wholly contented and totally indoctrinated, there would not be any socialists.

Socialists stand in uncompromising opposition to reformism. We reject all attempts to make capitalism run efficiently from the working class point of view. That does not mean that we have nothing in common with reformist workers — in fact, we have much to agree about. They want change and so do we; they envisage the possibility of eradicating unpleasant features of society which conservatives say are inevitable, and so do we; they are anxious to alert their fellow workers to particular problems and so are we. Where is the big difference, then? Socialists are aware that the changes which reformists want are futile for three reasons: firstly, they are usually directed to just one problem of capitalism, leaving all the others intact and, even in relation to these "single issues”, the reformists are often willing to compromise (abolish nuclear bombs, but keep conventional ones, for example); secondly, the reformist is unaware of the fact that capitalism produces social problems as a matter of course, and that therefore it is as idealistic to seek to eradicate mass starvation without ending production for profit as it would be to abolish the spots without curing measles; thirdly, socialists want more than to make capitalism tolerable for the working class — we want to end capitalism and, in so doing, to abolish wage slavery as a permanent social condition for the vast majority of people.

The reformist answer to the case for revolution — it will have been going through some of our readers' minds as they looked at the three reasons we have stated for opposing reformism — is that, whatever its limitations, at least the reformists are doing something. Indeed, they are; they are voicing their frustration and that is no bad thing. But a man with a toothache who expresses his frustration by sending a petition to the optician is doing no more than diverting his energies from the practical solution which is to be found in the dentist's surgery. Of course, workers who are mugged and demand that the government publicly flogs criminals are doing something, as are women workers, who, feeling oppressed, conceive of liberation for them as the oppression of men by women. Wrong solutions to real frustration arising out of real problems will not change society.

Consider the hundreds — indeed, thousands — of social problems which could be listed; have the reformists been successful in removing them? Under both Labour and Tory governments unemployment has shot up. How many marches have there been demanding that the government ends unemployment? In the mid-1970s the Right To Work Campaign was formed in order to organise workers, especially the unemployed, for the purpose of demanding employment. The failure of that campaign — which has fallen to pieces — shows why the three socialist reasons for opposing reformism are valid: firstly, it was a single issue campaign, directed at solving one problem which was supposed to be the big problem —no attention was given to the nature of the work which workers would be employed to do, such as making bombs or doing monotonous tasks: all that was asked for was the "right to work”; secondly, the campaign confined itself to seeking change within capitalism, without recognising that there is no right to be employed in a society where production is monopolised by a class which will only pay wages or salaries if it is profitable for workers to be exploited; thirdly, the campaign limited itself to pleading to be employed, or exploited — a miserable and degrading achievement, even if it had been won. But the fact is that all the marches, petitions, slogans, speeches and demands have not created any change in the lengthening dole queues. A decade of reformist short-cuts to end unemployment — and a century of reformist politicians promising to create full employment — and there are now more unemployed workers than in 1974, or in 1884 for that matter. Reformists have organised hundreds of futile campaigns which have used up the tremendous energy of angry and demanding workers.

Since 1979 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has come back to life. Its membership has increased with a rapidity which leads many of its activists to believe that something is bound to happen. What they have not realised is that the "something" which is happening has happened before workers join CND: having been won to the cause of opposing nuclear weapons, and having signed the CND membership form, that is the end of the road for CNDers, not the beginning. As an organisation which seeks to humanise warfare within the capitalist system, CND is like a monk who enters a brothel in order to convert it into an art gallery. Either one destroys the system which creates war or one has to accept that the wars created by the system are bound to utilise the most devastating machinery of destruction available. Some reformists in CND will argue that, while agreeing with the socialist critique of CND, the very value of the campaign is that it teaches workers that its aims cannot be achieved within capitalism. According to this dishonest tactic, much advocated by leftists within many reformist organisations, the function of the “socialist reformist” is to hang around the reform campaigns, urging workers to demand the unrealisable and then, when the suckers have discovered that capitalism cannot deliver the goods, you recruit them into a leftist party. If that is why many leftist groups are active in CND, their tactic has been remarkably unsuccessful: since 1979 CND's membership has increased seventeen-fold, while the membership figures of the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party and the Workers' Revolutionary Party have fallen rapidly.

It is true that many reformist actions alert workers to aspects of capitalism which need to be exposed. For example, the women of Greenham Common have won sympathy from some workers attracted to the simple, emotional appeal of women who do not want to be destroyed in a holocaust. But the Greenham reformists insisted that they would do more than that. They said that Cruise missiles would not be allowed in or out of the American base at Greenham; on both of these counts they have failed utterly. Furthermore, there are many workers who are unable to relate to the ritualistic displays exhibited by the Greenham reformists, preferring to be convinced by logical argument rather than old Welsh folk songs and wild, animalistic noises. It is unpopular to go against the tide of “radical” support for reform campaigns, such as that at Greenham Common; in doing so, socialists are always open to the accusation that we are no different from the Tories. But we must expose futile waste of energy on illusory attempts to change society, because the need to end a system which threatens to blow us all up is more important than humouring the naive sentiments of self-righteous reformists.

Even more unpopular is the socialist opposition to the charity business — another branch of the reformist strategy. In one way the charity brigade is quite open about what they are doing: they do not seek to eradicate problems, but to alleviate them and help those suffering from them. Like the other well-intentioned campaigns which socialists oppose, we are not going to attack the genuine motivations of the thousands of workers who are trying to make capitalism a little better to live in. Once again, we can have nothing but respect for the energy and concern of those who engage in charitable work, but we are bound to point them to the evidence which demonstrates that charities are not even succeeding in their minimal task of making the victims of capitalism suffer a little less. The hard facts are that there are now more homeless people than when Shelter was established, more old people dying of the cold than when Help The Aged was formed, more starving people than when Oxfam came on the scene. And what frustrates socialists is that if just one tenth of the human and financial resources which have gone into the sticking plaster campaigns had gone into the party which exists to end the social system which creates the bloody wounds, we would be much nearer to achieving socialism than we are today.

They used to say that there will never be riots on the streets of Britain. Then along came Brixton, Toxteth, Bristol and the other riots which erupted as an echo of working class fear and desperation. The riots were seen by some idealists as the beginning of the end for capitalism. Were they? In fact, the government's response was quite simple: stick a bit of cheap, reformist plaster over the worst slums and build a few community centres with posters on the wall reminding the wage slaves that they are human beings. The riots have led to no real improvement for the vast majority of workers, and rioting never will. How can a system which regards legalised robbery as Order ever function in a way which offers dignity to the exploited class?

What about local government? If only we can elect sincere reformists on to the councils, we are told, we can always rely on the councillors to attend to local improvements. In London a local council was elected which pledged itself to reducing fares: the response of the High Court and the House of Lords was to inform them that the object of capitalism is to make profits, not to serve needs, so the promise of cheap fares gave way to the economic law which regards efficiency as measurable solely in terms of profit and loss. Similarly, the reformist council in Liverpool made radical noises about placing social needs before monetary considerations. They were soon informed by Neil Kinnock, and others more experienced in the task of running the profit system that government responsibility means being accountable to the needs of capital, not those of wage labour. And, not leaving anything to chance, the state has laws which say that councillors who commit local authorities to spending more than is economically acceptable within capitalism can be removed from office, surcharged for hundreds of thousands of pounds, and even sent to prison. There are, without doubt, a number of very decent councillors who took on the hard work involved because they saw local government as a way of helping workers to get a better deal. When are they going to learn that under capitalism the only deal ever given to the working class leaves the cards of any worth firmly in the hands of a parasite class?

Workers have nothing to gain by engaging in protests which stop short of confronting the social system as a whole; half-loaves will not satisfy the appetite which most of us have for the best society can produce. That is not to say that socialists oppose reforms or that we deny the usefulness of reforms to certain workers — often at the expense of other workers. Our argument is not that workers would be better off without reforms, although we would certainly be better off without many of them.

Socialist understanding starts off with all the recognition of the problems and all the anger about them which reformists show. Our opposition to capitalism is not academic, but is based on material experience — the same experience which leads one worker to join CND and another to pass the begging bowl around for charity and another to work for the election of reformists on the local council. But, we ask, what is the cause of these problems? The answer staring us in the face is that we are living in a world which organises itself on the basis of producing goods and services with a view to profit. World capitalism forces workers’ needs to be secondary to the purpose of making profits so that capitalists can stay rich. It is because there is no likelihood of profit that over three million workers in Britain are currently unemployed; it is lack of profit in selling food which leads to thirty million deaths from starvation each year; it is the race for markets and profits which is the essential cause of war and the weapons which threaten us; it is because it is not profitable to provide heat for old people that thousands of them die of hypothermia; it is because it is not profitable to invest in the health service that workers must wait for years at the end of the queue for hospital beds; and it is because it is unprofitable to build decent houses for workers who can only afford cheap accommodation that slums exist. In short, production for profit is at the root of virtually every modern social problem. (Of course, there are natural problems, such as earthquakes, which neither reform nor revolution could eradicate.) The socialist response is to make the one revolutionary demand to abolish capitalism and, in so doing, to carry out the job which all the separate reformist protesters are trying to do — but to complete them all in one fell swoop.

Socialist revolution involves much, much more than simply getting rid of Maggie and putting Neil in her place. After all, they are both mere reflections of the system which teaches workers to place their faith in leaders. Socialist revolution does not mean student revolutionaries knocking off policemen's helmets or me and my mates storming the House of Commons and coming on Radio Four after The Archers to announce a proletarian dictatorship and that from now on everyone is required to be happy and spectacle charges have been abolished. Revolution, as far as socialists are concerned, is not an act of mere destruction or re-arrangement but one of constructing a fundamentally new social system, built up out of the material conditions which capitalism has created.

Socialism and nothing less is the object of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. But as we have been advocating this for a very long time, are not reformists entitled to tell us that the failure of the revolutionary movement to win over a majority of workers is as much a demonstration that we are wrong as is the failure of reformists to achieve their limited aims? The answer is that socialists are not criticising reformists because they have failed to win support — on the contrary, millions of workers have been attracted to the slogans of reform; our disagreement with the reformists is based on the fact that, even with mass working class support for their aims, they have failed to change society in such a way which leaves them with no more reforms to enact. Indeed, the essential problem about the reformist strategy for change is that it envisages no prospect that the problems will be solved and reforms will not be necessary. In this sense, reformism presents the working class with a never-ending operation of gradual improvement to a fundamentally rotten structure. Socialism, on the other hand, has never been tried and has never had support from millions of workers. We are not able to force workers to be socialists, and we would not wish to do so if we could, because only conscious men and women of the working class who want socialism will be able to establish the new social system.

The failure of limited protest is, in one sense, a tragic reflection of working class political ignorance. One could, if one were interested in drawing negative conclusions, envisage the possibility that workers will go on for years and even decades, wasting their discontent and their strength on futile efforts to make capitalism run in the interest of the majority. There is no certainty that workers will turn their attention from attacking the effects to abolishing the cause. But workers do inevitably learn from history and it is to the lesson of revolutionary success which the experience of reformist failure must lead. It is. therefore, to workers who have swallowed the illusions of partial change, and have become disillusioned, that socialists present the case for fundamental social change. Instead of banning nuclear bombs, let us ban every weapon from the face of the earth, by removing the cause of their existence. Instead of pleading for better let us demand the best. And to those who, with a sneer, tell us that they have no time for such grand aims because they are engaged in bread and butter politics. we respond that they are free to demonstrate for their bread and butter but we social revolutionaries will not be content until we have the strawberries and cream.
Steve Coleman