Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Catholic Church and Authority (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every Sunday evening without fail, there is a religious programme on television. Sunday, May 1st, was no exception. The contributor to the programme was none other than his eminence, Archbishop Heenan of Liverpool, who had some interesting and outrageous statements to make on authority and tyranny, which were later reproduced in the Universe. Some of the characteristic evils of our time, he said, were “Defiance of Authority ” and “ Unofficial Strikes.” He forgot to mention, however, that authority invites defiance when it is oppressive. On the question of unofficial strikes, it should be made clear that workers take action by striking only when they feel that they have a legitimate grievance.

The Archbishop then entered the realm of sport. “You can’t even run a football match without authority. What would happen when a game got dirty if no one obeyed the referee?” Too true, Mr. Archbishop, but surely this is a very poor parallel? Capitalism is a dirty game in its entirety. Football, especially when it is not being played for money, is usually clean, but even so the workers do not make the rules under capitalism, neither do they pick the referee.

He then proceeded to say that “Some people think the Church is like a totalitarian state. Of course, there are bullies amongst the clergy, as there are in other groups, but on the whole, we are not tyrants." Well, well. It seems that some of the Delegates of God have been reading their texts instead of their newspapers. Talking of totalitarians and tyranny our minds go back to Mussolini and Franco. Did not the Church of Rome support the Christianising of those Abyssinian savages with dive bombers, and did they not also give support to Franco against the democratic government of Spain? Surely the Pope is a classic example of complete authority, for remember, the Roman Catholic Church argues that as the word of God on earth, the Pope can do or say no wrong.

But the Archbishop's field ranged far and wide. “It is not the Church but the law of God that forbids divorce and contraceptives." Seeing that both these things are products of modern society, one wonders when and where the directive came to oppose them. The writer well remembers the look of horror on the face of the local parish priest when he suggested that contraceptives would probably assist the health and economic position of a relative after she had produced her ninth child. “The Lord will provide” was his answer. But the Lord was meagre in his provision, for her husband was unemployed and they lived in two rooms in a Bermondsey slum.

Archbishop Heenan also had a prayer for the upholders of authority. "Have you any pity for those who exercise authority? It is so easy to think that the man at the top has done pretty well for himself. The night before an execution I pray for the Home Secretary as well as the criminal.”

Now this is the limit. The Archbishop presumably thinks that the problem of deciding is as acute as the problem of losing one's own life—and after all, the Home Secretary can always change his job. The Archbishop has also a lot to say about guidance, but of course he surely would not advise that the criminal go free, for that would be a blow to authority. In our view, he could have well spent his time considering the barbaric practice of capital punishment.

It seems that as all the other advertisers on ATV have to pay for time on the air, the Archbishop can congratulate himself on a free half-hour of advertisement. In this day and age it is tragic that leaders of the Church can put over this rubbish and unfortunately it will be accepted, by Catholics in particular, for blind acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church is its major rule. It is one of the most backward of all religions, one that breeds on ignorance and poverty. We ask all Catholic workers to seriously examine the contradictions and arguments of Roman Catholicism, and they, too, will see that they are irrational, and will set about achieving a sane and intelligent society. Tyranny will be a thing of the past and the mumbo jumbo of the Church service will be replaced by intelligent discussion of the real world where men will walk with pride and dignity and not in fear of the myth of Popery and repressive authority.
Johnny Edmonds

The Falling Rate of Profit (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the early part of the 19th century the economist Ricardo had his own simple idea about the falling rate of industrial profit. Essentially his idea was that there is a natural tendency of profits to fall because, or so he believed, more and more labour was required to produce foodstuffs and this meant higher prices and higher wages. In the 3rd Edition 1821 of his Principles of Political Economy, where he dealt with this, he went on to say:
  This tendency . . . is happily checked at repeated intervals by the improvements in machinery connected with the production of necessaries, as well as by discoveries in the science of agriculture, which enables us to relinquish a portion of labour before required, and therefore to lower the price of the prime necessaries of the labourer, (Everyman Library, page 71.)
Half a century later Marx went into this much more thoroughly and dealt with it in Chapter XIV of the 3rd Volume of Capital. He held that there is a general tendency for the rate of profit to fall because of the greater quantity of constant capital in production (plant, machinery, raw material, etc.) and the relatively smaller quantity of variable capital.-i.e., that part spent on wages. He explained in the opening paragraph of the chapter that whereas other economists were looking for an explanation of the falling rate of profit the problem for him was the opposite one, namely of finding out why the fall is not greater and more rapid. He wrote:—“ There must be some counteracting influences at work, which thwart and annul the effects of this general law, leaving to it merely the character of a tendency." In Chapter XIV he dealt briefly with these counteracting factors which included raising the intensity of exploitation, and the cheapening of the elements of constant capital. He therefore expected the fall to be slow.

He recognised that the rate of profit could rise as well as fall, and in an example he gives (page 91) he showed that in a cotton spinning factory where the average rate was about 33 per cent. this was abnormally high because at that time cotton was very cheap and the price of yarn was very high.

It would, of course, not be easy to find out what the average rate of profit is over the whole field of production and, in order to get a true average rate, it would be necessary to look at a period of several years, not merely at what is happening at the moment.

While the average rate of profit rises and falls with the variations of good and bad trade it is quite evident that there cannot have been a continuing fall of the rate of profit for 150 years. If there had been the rate of profit now would be very low, which of course it is not. An American writer, Joseph M. Gillman in his book The Falling Rate of Profit (Cameron Associates—New York, 1958) in an analysis of the course of events in America reaches the tentative conclusion that while the rate of profit was falling it is now rising. He writes: “Whereas for the years before about World War 1 the historical statistics seem fully to support these theories of Marx, after that war the series studied appear generally to behave in contradiction to the Marxist, expectations." We can get an approximate idea of the amount and movement of the British rate of profit from the Financial Times index of profits which covers several thousand companies with total capital running into over £5,000 million. Financial Times figures for the profits of 2,600 industrial companies in 1959 show that total profit less depreciation represents 21 per cent. of the total of the issued ordinary capital plus capital and revenue reserves. Figures from the same source show an apparent slow fall in the percentage in the years 1951 to 1959, but there is reason to believe that this apparent fall is a reflection of the fact that, in a time of inflation, with steadily rising prices, balance sheet figures of capital values and depreciation are an underestimate. At the end of the war capital assets and depreciation would usually appear at a figure not much above the pre-war levels. In the years since the war this has been gradually corrected. If it had been corrected at the outset the rate, of profit would probably have been stable or may even have shown a steady increase. It is certainly likely that between 1958 and the present time, when total profit has been rising fast, the rate of profit has also been rising.

This is not an academic question because round it have been built theories of the onset of crises. John Strachey in his pre-war book The Nature of Capitalist Crisis took it for granted that the rate of profit was falling and moreover that it was falling rapidly. He then argued that because of this fall in the rate the capitalist has to keep on enlarging his capital in order to get the same mass of profit out of a falling rate of profit.
  This is the formula of the minimum rate of accumulation necessary to capitalism. If ever, and whenever, the rate of accumulation falls below this level, the system must, and does, jam. For it becomes more profitable for the capitalists to restrict than to expand production, (page 247.)
It is not particularly important that Strachey no longer holds this view for there are certainly others who still hold it. But in practice it by no means follows that boards of directors behave in this way. Some of them and certainty the very large companies take a longer view and do not curtail investment because of a current fall in the rate of profit. As a case in point the Unilever group reported a quite drastic fait in their rate of profit in 1957 but because they take a longer view, their capital investment did not decline but was increased. The evidence would seem to show that the rate of capital investment is less influenced by the current rate of profit than by the long term expectations of over-production likely lo arise in the near or more distant future.

One of the factors that at the present time may he helping to raise the rate of profit is the merger of many large groups of companies and the economics of capital expenditure that can be achieved that way, while another is the growth of shift working which enables them to keep their plant running more or less round the clock.
Edgar Hardcastle

Finance and Industry: Unemployment (1960)

The Finance and Industry Column from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard


Although there have been earlier periods when unemployment has remained at a very low level in this country which have given rise to optimistic beliefs that this was bound to continue, it is certainly true that there has never before been a period in which unemployment in Great Britain has remained low for so long. In the years since the end of the war it has averaged about 2 per cent. and apart from a brief period early in 1947 when it touched 2 million during the fuel shortage crisis the highest level recorded was in January, 1959. when it was 621,000 or 2.8 per cent.

It would, however, put the matter in wrong perspective to forget that in many other countries experience has been different. In Belgium during the years 1948-1954 it averaged 7.6 per cent. and in 1953 was nearly 9 per cent. Over Ihe whole 12 years to 1959 it averaged 6.6 per cent, (these and other figures are taken from United Nations and ILO Publications). Incidentally, Belgian figures over the whole period show an additional considerable percentage of workers partly or temporarily unemployed. In Western Germany, although unemployment has now fallen lo a very low level it was well over a million from 1949-1954 and averaged during the whole of the post-war years over 6 per cent. In Italy unemployment in all the years from 1947-1958 was not far short of 2 million, that is, between 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. In Denmark it has averaged nearly 9½ per cent. for 12 years from 1948-1959. In Canada it has averaged over 5 per cent. and in 1954 was 10.8 per cent. Austria and the U.S.A. are among the countries with relatively high unemployment at different times as also are Ireland and India.

Valuing the Rouble

On May 5th Krushchev announced in Moscow that the Russian rouble is being re-valued on the basis that one new rouble will be equal to and will be exchanged for 10 old roubles. Prices and wages are being cut by the same amount. This operation, which is like the revaluation of the franc, recently carried out by de Gaulles government, is the second of its kind carried out in Russia, as a similar operation was carried out in 1947. One obvious reason for this was given by Khruschev in that it will improve the roubles international standing. The new rouble’s official exchange value will make it approximately equal to the pound sterling. According to the Financial Times (6/5/60) another interesting explanation given in Moscow was that it is being introduced partly to simplify accounting and partly to simplify the techniques of electronic computers.

Another suggestion is that it is being done to help the growing Russian export drive. Among the products that Russia is now actively pushing into world markets are motor cars, heavy engineering goods, oil products and latest of all, the attempt to sell their new turbo-prop airliners abroad.

Back in 1936 a book called Soviet Export was published in Moscow in the English translation and in it the author M. Zhirmunski set out to explain why Russia’s attitude to foreign trade was quite different from the attitude of the other exporting countries. He wrote that: “In the case of every country with a capitalist system of economy, export trade is a direct consequence of the necessity of foreign markets.”

He quoted from Lenin the explanation that there is not and could not be a capitalist nation without foreign trade due. among other causes, to the fact that “capitalist enterprise inevitably grows beyond the confines of the community, the local market, the region, and subsequently even of the state.”

Things have changed a lot since then and it will be recalled that Stalin shortly before his death wrote that the time was approaching when Russia and the countries in the Russian economic sphere would he increasingly looking for foreign markets. It is quite evident now that in an increasing number of industries production, in the words of Lenin, has grown beyond the local market and has to be disposed of elsewhere.
Edgar Hardcastle

Voice From The Back: A Money Saver (2005)

The Voice From The Back Column from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Money Saver

To mark the retirement, at 92 years of age, of Sir Richard Doll, one of the scientists who helped to propagate the connection between lung cancer and smoking, The Observer Magazine (24 April) ran an article on the subject. It recalls that Doll’s report of 1956 met a very unenthusiastic response from the government. “The Department of Health considered the report for a year. They set up an interdepartmental  Committee to advise on what should be done”, Professor Doll recalls. “This said — and I’ve seen the report — that it should be very serious if  smoking was reduced, not  because tax would decrease, but because they like people to die off at 65 to save their pensions.”

Could the cynicism of the ruling class’s lackeys be more obvious? Their idea of the perfect worker is one who left school at 15 years of age, worked for 50 years, two nights and a Sunday overtime and the day he was due to collect his old age pension dropped dead in the Post Office.           

Money Making Kills

A couple of workers, one from Invergowrie and one from Fife died in a horrific “so called” accident. They died trying to get a couple of bob for their wives and kids. They died on an off-shore “accident”. Here is what the regional officer of Amicus, the trade union had to say:
  “In March 2003 myself and another official put a complaint in about the lack of maintenance on Shell’s Brent Charlie and Delta platforms. The Health and Safety Executive then stated in August 2003 that there was no immediate risk. Three weeks later, two guys were killed.” The Times (28 April).
We should mention that Shell were fined £900,000 for negligence, although as the TU official mentioned, “In just an hour Shell will have made more than what they were fined.” But, what about the guys that died, and what about their families?

Told you, didn’t we?

After all the nonsense about “weapons of mass destruction” and “regime change”, the real reason for the conflict in Iraq has emerged. It is interesting to note that when Gordon Brown eventually came clean. The Guardian was not shocked or indignant, but could make a feeble joke about the deception. “Speaking on BBC1’s Breakfast programme about the war in Iraq, Gordon Brown said the government had done what it thought was best for Britain. ‘We believed we were making the right decisions in the British national economic interests,’ the Chancellor added. So was Michael Moore right that it was all about oil? Or is the city commodities market going heavily into date and palm-nut futures?” The Guardian (4 May).

Our Betters (1)

Here are a couple of examples from the same newspaper of how the owning class live. “In a nation (India) where the average income is still less than £300 a year, Rolls  Royce has opened a dealership to sell its £256,000 Phantom car after an absence of more than half a century.”

… “Princess Michael of Kent, the loose cannon of the Royal Family, has fired another embarrassing salvo, this time claiming she may leave Britain and that life is too boring now foxhunting is banned. The news that she dreams of moving to France where hunting is legal, will doubtless delight critics of the gaffe-prone Princess, who once allegedly told a group of noisy black diners in a New York restaurant to “go back to the colonies” The Times (9 May). Off to France are you sweetheart? Bon voyage, Princess.

Our Betters (2)

The owner of British Home Stores has a reason to celebrate — it is his son’s bar mitzvah, so he doesn’t want to look penny-pinching. “Phillip Green, the wealthiest and quite probably the most flamboyant man in British retailing history, has flown more than 200 guests to the south of France for his son’s bar mitzvah”  The Times (14 May). According to their report Mr Green will spend about £4 million on the bash. We reckon that this is considerably more than the salesgirls in British Home Stores will spend on their nights out in a lifetime of toil in his stores, but then Mr Green has a reputed fortune of £3.3 billion. We imagine that this is a great deal more wealth than his minimum, or slightly above it, wage earners have  managed to accumulate. There are many aspects of capitalism that make us vomit, this is one of them. Another is that he has engaged Beyonce and Destiny’s Child to perform at the shindig. Serves his son right, at least his daddy’s wage slaves would have shown better taste.

Editorial: Sound and fury, but no change (2005)

Editorial from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

War movies traditionally end with a wide-shot of a carnage-strewn battlefield, with the weary, tattered and bloodied victors staring glazedly across it, wondering about the pointlessness of it all. Was it really worth the valour, the bloodshed, the aches and the pains?

So too was the image of the newly re-elected Labour government, as its foot-soldiers clambered leadenly on to the summit of their high command’s chosen objective, Third Term Hill. Never before has the Labour Party succeeded in claiming this prize — all other attempts were wrecked by landmines and pit-falls like wages policies, unemployment, national debt, and the like.

Under Tony Blair’s leadership the Labourites realised that even presenting a minimal challenge to capitalist orthodoxy would fatally undermine their charge. Instead, they have stuck behind him as they marched single file up the straight and narrow path of capitalist politics, and thus their faction of the Capitalist Party has managed to scale the heights once more.

The voters rewarded their adherence to capitalism. The message of the election was — forget war, forget asylum, forget council tax, the British electorate overwhelmingly expressed their support for the wages system’s continuing existence. Certainly, these other issues caused a few Labour extras to die suitably dramatic deaths by the wayside, but the heroic brothers and sisters of New Labour are now definitively over the hill.  

From that vantage point, they can see the eternal struggles before them. Looming economic slow down, which will crush their ‘No return to boom and bust’ armour. Their shield of the NHS will get smashed by the increased need to build up private sector health facilities. Their troops will grow mutinous as Major Blunkett will order them to fire on their pensions — a desperate attack on workers’ pay and conditions to protect capital’s profits.

The Labour Party has been in office for eight years now. The old Tory governing elite are in tatters, yet nothing has changed. Labour accepts and applauds the need for profits. But the demands of the state for money are tempered by the fact that the only way to get it is by digging into the profits of the capitalists. 

In a social system geared towards making profits for the wealth owners any policy that cuts into profits will cause the sort of political turbulence that has wrecked previous Labour governments. To try and appease their base — to build the ‘public services’ they have put at the heart of their campaigns — they have had to increasingly turn to the private sector, to showing private capitalists how they can take a cut of the tax cake if they join the state in providing the services. 

This happy alliance has seen Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Public  Finance Initiatives (PFI) meaning that the state has not had to increase its nominal size along with its real size. The wealth stays firmly in the hands of the private capitalists. That has been New Labour’s secret weapon. So long as the economic weather held, this alliance was good. If that weather changes — the unpredictable uncontrollable economic cycle turns nasty — then Labour will have to choose between eating into diminishing profits or turning their fire on the workers and voters who put them in office. Not that there’s any doubt about which option they will go for.

Their new found focus on unmeasurable things like ‘respect’ — which sounds remarkably like John Major’s ‘Back to Basics’ — means their devotion to sound and fury has increased. The hollow bugle calls of a desperate commander trying to sound in control.

That glorious leader, though, is now fatally wounded — a Nelson tenderly kissed by his hardy Lieutenant Brown. He will quit the field to retire to his millionaire lifestyle as reward for service tendered. While he limps on, though, voices from the Labour back will begin to murmur — what was the point? Why all the bluster, the fighting and battling just to take another forsaken hill in a pointless political war that makes a lot of noise about making very little change?

Until the banner of a consciously socialist movement, though, takes the field what looks like a war movie to some, will remain a horror flick for the rest of us.

The Political Football (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the market economy money talks, and US tycoon Malcolm Glazer has shouted the loudest.
The recent success of Malcolm Glazer, the US tycoon, in gaining a 75 per cent controlling interest in Manchester United has once again propelled the club into the media spotlight, and for reasons most of its fans find abhorrent. Long used to the idea that United was ‘their’ club, they have found out that what seemed to be ‘their’ club was not really theirs at all. It is, of course a common and understandable illusion: ‘our street’ is an expression of affinity more than a statement regarding ownership, ‘our town’, ‘our city’ and ‘our club’ likewise. It is clear that the vast majority of Manchester United fans oppose the Glazer takeover, and many thousands have worked tirelessly to try and stop it, but to little effect. In the market economy money talks, and Glazer has shouted the loudest.

In a sense, the fears of United fans are understandable. Although Glazer claims to be a United fan there is little evidence of this (his interest previously has been in US baseball) and a lot of evidence that he is really in it just to make money. Most of the capital he has used to buy his stake in the club is loan capital, most likely amounting to around £540 million if reports are to be believed, and he is keen to recoup these monies and pay off his creditors as quickly as possible. One of his key aims appears to be to ensure that what is already the most recognisable brand name in football has an even wider audience and depth of penetration in terms of its marketing and merchandising across the world. The other is to negotiate separate, lucrative TV deals for the club outside of the existing arrangements for the Premiership and other competitions. Overturning the existing financial set-up at United by stealth and angering the long-existing and highly successful management team are byproducts of a wider game plan — to make more profit out of an already highly profitable venture.

Whatever problems face Manchester United at present, they pale into insignificance compared to those of many of the clubs lower down the food chain. The collapse of  ITV Digital financially devastated a number of Football League clubs, to whom they were the principal sponsor, and in total more than 30 league clubs have now gone into administration in recent years — over a third. The creation of the Premier League had previously exacerbated an already existing tendency for the rich clubs to get richer while the poorer ones got poorer, and the collapse of ITV Digital was almost the last nail in the coffin for many.

As football clubs across the UK ailed, so the vultures circled. And most of those vultures took the form of property speculators, attracted by the land that was the principal asset of the clubs. Clydebank, Wimbledon, Chester and York are just three of the clubs who became notable victims of these predators, with Clydebank being killed off by them completely. The stories of two other clubs though are more  illustrative than most, combining many of the defining characteristics of  institutions that fall prey to the worst aspects of market forces at work in sport. Both are also smaller clubs that have nevertheless punched above their weight in footballing terms and have a higher profile than their size might otherwise suggest, both have occupied land in prime positions with a high redevelopment potential, and both have been subjected to highly underhand takeovers that have driven them – possibly deliberately – to the brink of financial ruin.

Brighton and Hove Albion is a club that has now been in crisis for ten years, following the sale of their former home, the Goldstone Ground, a sale which was pushed through without the club having another ground to play at. The two men responsible for this were the Chief Executive David Bellotti and club director Bill Archer. Bellotti, a former Liberal Democrat MP for neighbouring Eastbourne, showed that the Lib Dems are not all about respect for the environment and high ideals associated with fighting for the worst off in society — the Goldstone Ground became a retail park dominated by a Burger King and Bellotti was literally chased out of the ground in Brighton’s last season there by irate fans. After a hugely  unsuccessful groundshare at Gillingham, Brighton returned home to their present site at the Withdean Stadium, little more than an athletics track with a pitch in the middle and some temporary stands. For a variety of logistical reasons, the only really viable venue for Brighton’s proposed new ground is on land at Falmer just outside the city, and for several years now a running battle has ensued to try and secure permission for the club to move there, culminating in a lengthy and messy public enquiry and then the involvement of the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

While the move to Falmer may still be some way off, what is most interesting about the Brighton story is not just the way in which the club was fleeced to line the pockets of property developers and kicked out of its ground, but the way in which their fans organised themselves to ensure the club’s survival. They became the backbone of the Fans United organisation which fights for the interests of football fans in the UK and attempts (increasingly successfully) to encourage fans to leave their tribal loyalties aside and to support club’s battling against hostile takeovers and property speculators.

Wrexham FC’s fight against property speculators is more recent and the club still occupies its Racecourse Ground home, albeit under notice of eviction. In 2002 a majority stakeholding in the club was secretly bought by a company owned by Alex Hamilton, a former struck-off solicitor from Manchester, who — without making his ownership public — installed his then business partner Mark Guterman as chairman and front man. Guterman already had a dubious record as the man who took local rivals Chester City into administration after wages and Inland Revenue demands had gone unpaid and the water board had arrived to cut off the supply.

Within a couple of years exactly the same sequence of events unfolded at Wrexham until the club’s fans organised a ‘red card protest’ directed at Guterman at their last home match of the 2003-4 season, interestingly enough against Brighton, whose fans supported it enthusiastically having been in a similar situation themselves. At this point Hamilton sacked Guterman and installed himself as Chairman, having already been outed as the real owner of the club, and after secret plans to redevelop part of the Racecourse land and rotate the pitch 90 degrees had been uncovered.

Since then developments have been peculiar enough to have graced the plot lines of the likes of Dallas or Dynasty. Hamilton, whose bizarre antics in life had years before been unmasked by Private Eye, was revealed to have transferred ownership of the Racecourse Ground and surrounding land from the club itself to one of his own companies for the princely sum of one pound. This happened without consulting the Wrexham FC shareholders, thereby stripping the club of its major asset in an act described by BBC’s Week In Week Out as ‘completely illegal’. In an increasingly bizarre series of events he was banned from the ground by the police on matchdays, described Wrexham fans as ‘luddites’, ‘lowlife’ and ‘detritus’ and stated that his battle with them to remove the club from the Racecourse was ‘the most fun I’ve had with  my clothes on since I was 21 years of age’.

The club’s remaining directors eventually forced his resignation from the chairmanship which then allowed them to put the club into the relative safety of administration, from which position the administrators have so far managed to resist Hamilton’s attempts to move the bulldozers in and raze the site for a retail development :- a development that could net him as much as £15 million for a paltry initial outlay. A legal battle over owed money with former chum Mark Guterman is ongoing, as are police investigations reportedly into missing gate receipts, under-declared attendances and other irregularities, recently culminating in a High Court injunction battle by Guterman and Hamilton over access to audio tapes made by a Wrexham fan.

Money talks
While someone like Hamilton may be a highly idiosyncratic individual, he represents something much more routine about the world of business. In a society where common endeavour and shared identity count for little where there is a quick buck to be made, it can be no surprise that football has become infested by the sort of parasites whose idea of fun is making money, especially at other people’s expense.

The market economy creates the conditions in which they can prosper and seize control of assets that communities often mistakenly think are theirs already. The people of Brighton, Wrexham and many others towns and cities across Britain have recently been finding this out the hard way. One encouraging aspect of this though is the vigorous resistance people have had to offer and of the radicalisation of their ideas in the process. ‘Kick Property Speculators Out of Football’ and ‘Football Not Profit’ are the kind of banners that are currently seen at soccer grounds up and down the country, indicative of another groping attempt by the victims of the market economy to make sense of what is happening and to identify problems to be overcome.

Unfortunately, those problems can never be overcome within the confines of a system that rewards vultures like Glazer at United, Archer and Bellotti at Brighton and Hamilton at Wrexham as a matter of course, and which summons up new rich pickings for parasites to squabble over on a seemingly daily basis.

UK General Election 2005: That was democracy, was it? (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is great to live in a democracy. Fantastic that we are so free that 22 percent of us can elect a government that will rule for up to five years — and if we disagree with its policies we can be told, “You had a choice, we were democratically elected, after all.” It isn’t as if these democratic rulers aren’t aware of the gaps in their theories. The famously defeated Foot led Labour Party of 1983 went into the election hoping for just such an outcome, to squeak into government on the back of a splintered national vote.

The gremlins of parliamentary party politics, though, simply refuse to go away. Politicians threaten and blackmail us — let us be bastards to you or find out just how much worse the other lot will be. The out parties can make great play of the high crimes and misdemeanours of the ins, and the great merry-go-round continues. They talk about resurgence, recovery, growth, and carve their faces into sombre masks to show just how seriously we should take them.

Of course, now we’ll hear witterings about introducing proportional representation — Labour’s trump card to keep the Tories out forever. Their manifesto hinted obliquely at the possibility — they promised a referendum on further constitutional change, without mentioning what that might be. That would not, though, make any real difference.

The whole system is set up to remove political power from the hands of the voters as much and for as long as they will put up with it. The Iraq war is an excellent case in point. We are always being told that elections are a time to hold governments to account. Yet, when the election came, Labour made it clear that voters would be cutting off their nose to spite their face if they voted Labour out and (the only likely alternative) the Tories in. Imagine if banks worked this way: you give us all your money, we spend it for you and you can sack us afterwards if you don’t like the way we spent it. No one would buy that deal, surely, yet they do, at every election.

The vote was too blunt an instrument to express any opinion on the war, all it could ask was which of the parties seen to be in contention did voters want to see in charge.

In the old Soviet Union people could vote. They faced a fixed choice, though, either for or against the sole Communist Party candidate. Cold warriors, correctly, condemned this is a sham of democracy. Yet in Britain, where three parties receive blanket media coverage year round, and even during the election campaign, we are told we have a genuine free choice.

The impression that everyone else is going to vote for one of  these parties means that people become unwilling to vote for a fringe party. Effectively, the mass media is a free co-ordinating mechanism, sending signals between voters letting them know how their neighbours will vote so they can think of how best – pragmatically – to use their vote. Those not voting for the top two candidates in any given constituency may as well spoil their ballot, for all it effects the outcome of the election.

Mistaken identity
There are, though, other short cuts to this sort of co-ordination. Instead of building a community of ideas, a party may find existing groups and try and use them as a basis for building their vote. Thus wise the ill-named RESPECT coalition, of the erstwhile Trotskyists of the SWP and litigious ex-Labour bully-boy and friend of dictators George Galloway has tried to harness the anti-war movement and Muslim workers to their ends. Instead of appealing to them as workers, they appeal to them according to their prejudices, assuaging their mis-identification of themselves with their ideas rather than with their way of life. Other parties have tried a similar tactic — the BNP claim to defend ‘White British Culture’ from the depredations of multi-culturalism. This in turn is a response to both Labour and Tories trying the same trick with a multi-cultural identity of Britishness. All of them, leaders looking for followers.

Behind the swirl, smoke and bluster of identity politics and electoral nose counting lies the issue that dare not speak its name: class.

Class requires people to examine how they live, not how they feel. It automatically implies conflict and division, something that someone who wants to harvest all votes they can, come what may, would not care to invoke. You don’t win friends by disagreeing with people. You don’t change their minds by agreeing with them. What this masks is that we live in a society where a tiny minority must protect its own interests from those of a vast majority. Democracy is anathema to the owners of property, because they want to retain the benefits of that property for themselves. No matter how little our say in government is, we have still less say over the use and allocation of wealth in our world – the real decisions that matter. Were the capitalist class to lose their tight rein on the state, it could become a threat to their position. Small elites and hierarchies are easier to manage than free flowing and open democracies.

Democracy is not about a constrained choice once every four years, in winner takes all elections. Democracy means having the opportunity to intervene in making proposals, amending them and finally deciding upon them – as well as in implementing them. The more people can exercise a say in those actions, the more democratic the process becomes.

Information must flow freely, so all can have an opportunity of reaching a decision, of judging the performance of delegates and appointees, of deciding to challenge the actions of one body in a higher authority; and in real democracy, the higher authorities are those bodies which contain more members of the community concerned. Everyday life must be the signalling system that lets people know what their fellows want, the way of co-ordinating votes and decisions.

A society of common ownership would have no need of constricting decision-making. We would share a common interest, and most people’s actions and decisions would be immediately related to their day-to-day outcomes. Democracy would be an everyday process, just as the management of workplaces is now for the appointees of the owners. Just as appointees now are accountable to and removable by the owners, when we own all the wealth in common we will have structures to ensure that we retain control of all decision-making levels where we feel we have need to intervene, not ritualistically handing that control over to rulers periodically.

As it is, though, we continue with Tony Blair blathering about building a society of, er, respect – because that’s all he can do, he has no control of the passing show in the hands of the property owners. This will last, though, only as long as the workers tolerate it. It’s up to us to keep disagreeing with them.
Pik Smeet

UK General Election 2005: Democracy as it is and as it could be (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many people would argue that Britain is a democracy and that we all benefit from living in a democratic society. By this they would probably mean the regular holding of elections to parliament and local councils, the freedom to organise political parties, a press which is not beholden to the government, and the rule of law. If people object to the policies of the government or a particular MP, they can vote them out of office. If they oppose a specific action by a local council, they can set up a protest group and hold demonstrations, without the fear of being carted off to prison just for voicing their views.

In this, comparisons would be drawn with dictatorships, where elections may be non-existent or a sham, where independent parties and trade unions are outlawed, where the press just follow the government line, and arbitrary arrest and even torture are commonplace. Such comparisons are by no means valueless, and capitalist democracy is definitely useful to workers, yet the idea that elections and the other points listed above in themselves constitute democracy needs a great deal of reflection.

For do the trappings of democracy, as we might call them, really guarantee a truly democratic way of life? Do they ensure ‘rule by the people’, which is the etymology of ‘democracy’? Socialists argue that the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no!’, that real democracy — a social democracy, as it might be called — involves far more. The problem is that under a capitalist system there is a built-in lack of democracy, which cannot be overturned or compensated for by holding elections or permitting protest groups. Our objections are far more basic than suggestions that proportional representation is the best electoral system.

In the first place, capitalism involves an inevitable inequality, between on the one hand those who have to work for a living or who depend on a family member who does so, and on the other those who own enough land, shares or bonds that they have no need to work. This is a division between two classes, the working class and the capitalist class, between those who do the useful work but are paid a pittance and those who live a life of luxury in country houses, posh flats and expensive clubs and restaurants.

Those who have more money have more power and more control than those who have far, far less. This is partly a matter of mere wealth: if I have one hundred times as much money as you, then I have far more say over how I spend my time, where I live, what my children can experience, and so on. Workers have to struggle with a mortgage, fear of redundancy or a monotonous job, and have far less control over their lives. So poverty and inequality of wealth undermines any claims that capitalism can be democratic. But there is more to be said. The capitalist class have power not just over their own lives but over those of workers as well. They can order the closure of factories, as at Rover or Marconi, the building of a new motorway, the invasion of another country, all of which can affect the workers who will lose their jobs, suffer noise and disruption, or have to fight and die on behalf of their masters. The press may be  formally ‘free’, but in practice newspapers are owned by capitalists and so will naturally reflect  procapitalist views in their pages. The government, too, is there to administer the system on behalf of the capitalists, something they do irrespective of which party is occupying 10 Downing Street.

In fact, though, there is a sense in which the government does not run the system at all – rather, the capitalist system runs the government, by limiting the actions that can be taken. The capitalists and their governments can propose what they like, but it is the capitalist economy that disposes. Raising of interest rates, increased unemployment, devaluation – these may not be what governments want to do, but may well be what they are forced to do because capitalism leaves them no choice.

There are at least three reasons, then, why capitalist democracy does not mean that workers are in charge of their  own lives. They are too poor to be able to do what they want to do, being limited by the size of their wage packets. They are at the beck and call of their employers in particular and of the capitalist class in general. And they are at the mercy of an economic system that goes its own sweet way without being subject to the control of those who suffer under it.

In contrast, Socialists advocate a way or organising society that will result in real democracy, where people genuinely run their own lives and are not pushed around by bosses. Firstly, Socialism will do away with the inequality of capitalism. With free access to what has been produced, everybody (that’s absolutely everybody) will be able to decide on their own consumption, living conditions, and so on. There will no longer be a forced ‘choice’ between a new car and a summer holiday. Poverty will no longer limit people’s lives and experiences.

Secondly, there will be no employment, no employers and no capitalist class. Nobody will therefore be able to make decisions about the livelihoods (and, indeed, the very lives) of others. Nobody will have privileged access to the media and means of communication and so be in a special position to influence the views of other people.

And thirdly, the uncontrollability of the capitalist economy will be a thing of the past. Production will be for use, not for profit, and there will be no more gluts or ‘overproduction’. With all the paraphernalia of money, accounting, interest rates and the bottom line done away with, there will be no obstacles to people producing what is wanted.

More positively, Socialism will involve people making decisions about their own lives and those of families, friends and neighbours — decisions unencumbered by so many of the factors that have to be taken into account under capitalism. The means of production (land, factories, offices) will be owned in common, and everybody will help to determine how they will be used. This need not mean endless meetings, nor can we now give a blueprint of how democratic decision-making in Socialism will work. Quite likely there will be administrative structures at different levels, local, regional and so on. This will not just be the trappings of democracy but the real thing – people deciding about and running their own lives, within a system of equality and fellowship.
Paul Bennett

Will Iran ‘be next’? (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the ongoing debacle of the Iraqi invasion, many people will be aghast at US threats against Iran. Are they serious?

On 10 May, the Iranian government began what may turn out to be a full-blown global crisis when it announced that it is to continue with its nuclear programme. Although Tehran claims it is intent on forging ahead and enriching uranium for civil purposes, the Bush administration is rehashing one of the lies that it used to invade Iraq: namely, that Iran will be manufacturing nuclear weapons that it may well give to terrorists.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which carries out regular inspections in Iran, recently issued a report declaring that it has found no proof of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran. Moreover, according to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory and to which the US cocks a snoot, non-nuclear countries do in fact have the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, on  condition they inform the IAEA of their progress.

There is nothing to substantiate Washington’s claims that Iran is intent on producing a nuclear arsenal, yet before the Iraqi war is finished, the hawkish neo-conservative misinformation machine is at work creating fear that the US is in danger from Iranian nukes unless, we are supposed to infer, America preemptively attacks Iran. Washington has argued that with all its  oil Iran does not need nuclear energy – a statement that smacks of hypocrisy for many reasons, not least because it was Washington that enthusiastically encouraged the Shah’s nuclear programme in the 1970s – and that its desire to continue its nuclear research is clear evidence of its malicious intentions. Again, whilst the US sounds off about other countries having advanced defence systems, we find that the biggest stockpiler of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is the US itself, and which has a proven track record of having used them.

The world’s number one rogue state – the US – furthermore feels free to rubbish the nuclear testban treaty so its weapon scientists can enhance the US’s new theatre nuclear weapons and to develop space-based weapons systems capable of annihilating whole armies in an instant.

Iran – not so long ago named by President George W. Bush as one-third of the “axis of evil” – is surrounded by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (countries that have been flattened by American bombs in the past four years), not to mention the Fifth Fleet and numerous US bases in the southern Gulf States. Naturally Iran feels a little threatened so it could be that Tehran is working on the assumption that those countries that possess nuclear weapons – Israel, Russia, India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea – generally get treated a lot better by the US than smaller countries that do not.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Undersecretary of State John Bolton was credited with the words: “real men want to go to Iran”. Iraq, it was suggested, was just the first stage of a five-year plan. Iran, with a larger population and better defence systems would certainly not be as placid a foe as the Iraqi forces were and US casualties would be many times those suffered during the invasion of Iraq were the US to launch an invasion of Iran. So, leaving aside the fallacious argument that Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons it can sell to enemies of the US, what other reasons could there be for these ‘real men’ to want to attack Iran?

Economic competition
A year ago this month Iran announced plans to set up an international oil exchange (or bourse) denominated in the euro currency and that this would be in operation by 2006. For several years oil-producing and consuming countries have expressed their interest in trading through such an exchange so, logically, such an oil bourse would vie with London’s International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) as well as competing with the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), both of which are owned by US corporations.

Since the US Dollar has been so far the global standard monetary fund for oil exchange, oil consuming countries have had little alternative but use the $US to pay for their oil, forcing them to keep the dollar as their reserve fund in their central banks, thus underpinning the American economy.

But were Iran and other oil producing countries presented with the euro as an alternative choice for oil exchange the American economy would go through a real crisis. It is possible the crisis could come at the end of 2005 and the commencement of 2006 when oil investors would be faced with the option of paying $50+ a barrel of oil at the American (NYMEX) and at London’s (IPE), or €37 a barrel at the Iranian oil bourse. Such a choice would reduce trade volumes at the US Dollar dependent (NYMEX) and at the (IPE). A triumphant Iranian bourse would solidify the petro-euro as one more global oil transaction currency, thus ending the petrodollar’s supremacy as the foremost nternational oil currency.

The international trade of oil in petrodollars has kept the US dollar artificially strong for 30 years, enabling the US to amass vast foreign-funded government debt and trade deficits. Whatever Tehran’s motives, we cannot ignore the fate of neighbouring Iraq, which had already begun to trade in eurodollars before the allied invasion. One of Washington’s objectives in Iraq was to install a pro-US stooge government and set up military bases before the onset of peak of world oil production, while at the same time converting Iraq back to the petrodollar, thus frustrating OPEC’s desire to begin using the euro as an alternative currency of oil transaction. Indeed, one of the first steps taken by Iraq’s provisional government was in returning the country to the $US oil standard.

We must also look to US geopolitical strategy if we seek the reason why Iran is seen as a threat. The country, for one thing, is strategically placed, straddling the Middle East and Central Asia and must be at least neutralised if the US is to control the region’s oil supplies (it’s not so much that the US wants all the oil, rather the US wishes to be in control of its distribution, to whom, and on its own terms).

The US is seriously concerned about the onset of peak oil production (which experts say will come within ten years), that extant reserves will probably be gone within thirty years, and that long before that time China will have the same oil demands as the U.S. China is already securing long-term oil contracts with Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela, seeking out oil contacts via Canada and has previously, somewhat audaciously, made a bid for the US oil company Unocal. It is thus imperative for US capitalists that a rising competitor – China, itself the world’s chief consumer of grain, meat, steel and coal – is prevented from gaining a tighter stranglehold on world resources. The two countries may appear to be on friendly terms, but both are jockeying for position in expectation of a showdown.

For US capitalism, there is much at stake. Should China grow in economic strength, sell off its dollar holdings, US world domination will be threatened. Therefore, to protect future US global resource flows, Iran has to be warned by US gangster imperialists – don’t mess with our interests; don’t run a racket on our turf without our permission; don’t deal with another mob. Preparations to threaten, and if necessary, attack Iran are well under way. In June of last year, Israel took delivery of almost 5,000 “smart bombs” from the United States, bombs capable of penetrating six-foot concrete walls such as those that could well encase Iranian nuclear installations. There have also been numerous reports of clandestine US reconnaissance missions inside of Iran, and of US spy drones violating Iranian air space.

As we approach the final year of Bush’s ‘Five-year plan’, expect war threats in the Middle East to feature prominently in the headlines of the world’s press. We hope we are wrong – for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of workers that would die as a result of a US attack upon Iran – about war actually breaking out but history shows that where the interests of mega-business are threatened, spilling blood is of no consideration. 
John Bissett 

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Let them Eat School Dinners (2005)

From the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot of people were happy, or at least hopeful, about the TV series Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners. To begin with there was the famous chef himself, whose on-screen success persuaded the supermarket giant Sainsburys to go back on their intention of ditching Oliver as the star of their TV ad campaign and instead give him a contract for another series, boosting his pay to £1.2 million. This was because Sainsburys were also happy; while Jamie was lambasting school dinners their sales of organic produce went up by 12 percent a week. Cherie Blair was happy; her opinion of the dinners her son Leo eats at school was: “They’re not terrific, to be honest. I am seriously thinking about sending him with a packed lunch”.

The teachers had to be happy in view of the evidence — which was available a long time before Oliver got interested in the subject — that nutrition affects a child’s behaviour and response to learning. A study Food For Thought (2003) by Derek Gillard reported that in 1999 two schools in South London and the Young Offenders Institution in Aylesbury, both behaviour and achievement were better when diets were improved. Finally, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was happy because, far from being embarrassed by the exposure of dietary deficiencies in the schools, she was able to claim that she had thought of it first, that when she took over at Education one of the first problems she wanted to tackle was that kids were being fed fattening, poisonous rubbish in school.

On the other hand there were those who were not happy at what Jamie did. Ex-Education Secretary David Blunkett did not appear to be delighted; in a rare and overdue spasm of less-than-fervent penitence he had to confess that while he was in charge of the schools he “probably” had not done enough to improve the pupils’ food. The £280 million promised by Ruth Kelly, perhaps in a flush of pre-election fever, to improve ingredients and staff training, seemed likely to provoke stresses among local and national government about who would have to make that kind of investment. Then what about the companies who make some of the food, like the infamous Turkey Twizzlers and Fish Portholes? Firms like Bernard Matthews, whose persistent catch phrase is “They’re Bootifool”, would not have welcomed the vengeful threat to their access to that bountiful market of under-nourished children.

Just how bountiful can be gauged by the money poured into advertising by the food industry. In 2001 nearly £200 million was spent on promoting chocolate, sweets and crisps — some of which presumably went to ex-football star Gary Lineker for his role advertising Walkers Crisps. In 2002 McDonald’s advertising bill came to £42 million, including payments to Alan Shearer — another football hero — for his appearance in their TV campaign. And then there were the firms who prepare and dish out those awful school dinners; they were unhappy about the threat to their contracts with local education authorities and some of them made it clear that they were not about to surrender their rights without a fight. One of these is a company called New Schools but they do not actually get to heating the burgers or cooking the Turkey Twizzlers because they have sub-contracted it to another company called Atkins Asset Management, who in their turn have subcontracted it to an outfit called Scolarest.

The Guardian of 25 April reported on a protest about the food supplied by Scolarest in the London Borough of Merton. Scolarest claimed they had not had any complaints about the food and warned that any schools trying to opt out of their contracts may have to pay the equivalent of a year’s profit as compensation. Meanwhile angry and anxious parents were in no doubt about the quality of what Scolarest supplies. One mother wrote to the newspaper that her children “have rarely eaten school dinners at their Merton school because of the poor quality of the contracted-out, underfunded provisions” and a teacher at Merton, who has three sons at schools there, said “the unbalanced diet in our schools is affecting the health of our children now and will change their health for years. They deserve better”. Unhappily, the protests were energised by the assumption that food is produced and processed – by Scolarest, McDonalds or whoever – in order to nourish people. That is a nice idea but it does not fit in with the logic of capitalism’s priorities. “For contractors,” said the MP whose constituency includes Merton, “what matters is the bottom line”.

An official concern over standards of childhood nutrition is not new. A particular incentive to tackle the problem was the fact that over a third of the volunteers to join the Army in the Boer War were too small, undernourished or sick to be allowed to take part in that imperialist enterprise. This was serious, as it cast doubt on how British capitalism would fight its future wars of which, it was assumed, there would be many. Better, ran the reasoning, to start feeding the children now. The advent of compulsory education was another spur to action; in 1889 the London School Board set up the Schools Dinner Association which supplied cheap, or in some cases free, school meals. In haste a Committee on Physical Deterioration was established and from that there emerged the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act, which encouraged local authorities to provide meals at schools, on the well-founded assumption that the children were unlikely to get them at home.

The policy was developed between the wars until the 1944 Education Act set out that every child in a maintained school should be provided with a meal, the full cost of which was met by the state.

The 1964 Labour government began the retreat from this high spot in education services in 1967, when they withdrew the 100 percent grant for school meals. In 1978 a White Paper on public expenditure opted for halving the £380 million cost of providing school meals, which led to the lowering of standards and the introduction of junk food. The big assault came with the Thatcher governments, which abolished the statutory duty on Local Education Authorities to lay on meals for all school children and then introduced compulsory competitive tendering. This opened the way for the private companies which, to screw the largest possible profit from the arrangement, introduced the cafeteria system and the provision of junk fast food like burgers and chips. The day of Scolarest had dawned.

The link between nutrition and health and behaviour seems so obvious and the evidence for it seems so overwhelming, that it hardly needs to be established through investigation. Booth and Rowntree surveyed the extent of the deeper levels of poverty in London and York respectively in the late 19th and early 20 centuries but the limits to the usefulness of their work can be gauged by the fact that when Booth began to collect his data he thought the extent of  deprivation to be over-estimated and that in any case the condition of many of those in poverty was self-inflicted. The problem today is critical but in many respects different.

As Jamie Oliver and many others have found, malnutrition is not always a matter of lack of food but of having access only to food which may be filling but is nutritionally deficient. That is itself related to working class poverty. At a Diet and Health Forum in October 2003 Julia Unwin, Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said “Children a century ago were not getting enough of the right things to eat. British children today are eating too much of the wrong things. Within the last month the Health Development Agency has spelled out in chilling detail the scale of the problem we face …  And hardest hit are those worst placed to react — children living in socially deprived circumstances. We are talking here about a disease of poverty.”

So Jamie Oliver may not have been aware of what he was cooking up, when he set out to expose school dinners on TV. Malnutrition is an aspect of poverty, which is an inescapable reality of capitalism’s class society. Food is a commodity – produced for sale and profit – like all of capitalism’s wealth. That is why the companies could fight to assert the legal right to safeguard their profits, even at the cost of malnourishing school kids. It is a typically tragic mess of this social system, that children can be starved as they are fed.

25th Century Capitalism (2005)

Book Review from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism. By Victor D. Lippit. (Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy. £65.)

Lippit’s main theme is that capitalism — as a system in which “a portion of the profits reaped through the sale of goods and services is reinvested, swelling the capital stock, incorporating new techniques in the process, and permitting larger sales and profits in the future” — could well continue for another three and four hundred years but that it will ultimately prove incompatible with human life on Earth. This is because its dynamic of continuous expansion and accumulation will come up against the fact that the Earth’s resources and capacity to reabsorb waste are finite. This, according to him, is the basic contradiction of capitalism, not anything within its own economic mechanism or social relationships.

Lippit argues that up to now capitalism has always been able to overcome periods of slump and stagnation resulting from profits falling or markets shrinking. Such periods have always proved to be temporary and in time have always been overcome by the emergence of new favourable social, political and economic conditions for capital accumulation. Much of the book is devoted to describing what these have been over time in America, Europe and Asia. He expects this pattern to be repeated in the future and sees no internal economic or social contradiction within capitalism that will prevent it continuing for centuries. In fact, he expects it to do so. Meanwhile the global environment will continually deteriorate until human life as we know it becomes impossible (he speculates that, with the ozone layer destroyed, humans may have to live and work underground). 

It’s a pessimistic scenario, but how realistic is it? We ourselves have long held the view that capitalism will never collapse of its own accord for purely economic reasons and that it will continue to go through its cycle of booms and slumps until the working class put an end to it. So, in theory, capitalism could indeed continue for centuries. Obviously, we don’t think it need do, or will, since we think that the class struggle between workers and capitalists built in to capitalism will lead to the workers putting an end to it before then. Lippit says that this is utopian as workers, and even the destitute populations of the Third World, will continue to support capitalism as long as it continues to improve their living standards, however slowly (as he thinks it will). The crunch will only come, he contends, when capital accumulation, and the slow long-run improvement in living standards it brings, will no longer be possible for ecological reasons but that this won’t be for several centuries.

So what are we supposed to do in the meantime? And what sort of system will then replace capitalism? Lippit’s view is that, when the time comes, capitalism will have to be replaced by “a social formation that is consistent with a modified stationary state”, by which he means one with stable population, production and consumption levels. This implies “first and foremost”, he says, that “production must be undertaken for the use values it affords, rather than for profit”:
“The focus of innovation would be on minimizing throughputs rather than on maximizing output. The point would not be to bring an end to scientific creativity and innovation, but to channel it in directions that maintain and hopefully improve the ecological balance on which the maintenance of human life depends”.
We would argue that this “social formation” could only be one based on the common ownership of the Earth’s productive resources, natural and industrial, by the whole of humanity, i.e. world socialism, for how could production be reoriented towards use instead of profit unless the means of production had first ceased to be the exclusive property of individuals, corporations or states? But we don’t see why humanity has to wait till capitalism has nearly destroyed the planet to institute this.

It could be instituted now, so avoiding not only the environmental degradation that will occur if capitalism continues for another three or four centuries but also all the wars and the destruction and misery they bring that will occur during this period too; at the same time, world hunger could be eliminated much more quickly within this framework than Lippit thinks will eventually happen under capitalism.
Adam Buick

The Life of Uncle Joe (2005)

Book Review from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Stalin: a biography by Robert Service. (528 pages. Macmillan. £25,  ISBN 033726278) 

Service deliberately, and bravely, tries to dig for the true story of Stalin’s life beyond the hagiography or demonography that usually represents him.

He presents the case that Stalin, or Joseph Dzughashvili, or Soso, or Koba — as he was variously known — was a central character in the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party. He was keen acolyte of Lenin, a hardman — he organised the campaign of bank robbery and extortion in the Caucasian areas of the Tsarist empire at Lenin’s behest, even when the latter promised to cease such activities. He edited Pravda, was on the Bolshevik central committee and was Lenin’s close collaborator on the ‘National Question’. 

He was imprisoned several times, and though taciturn with fellow prisoners, he took his beatings at the hands of prison guards with equanimity. During the civil war, he commanded the Red Army on the south fronts, where he proved to be a ruthless if not effective commander.

So, hardly the grey man Trotsky liked to pretend him to be — but Trotsky could hardly criticise Stalin for brutality, when he was as nearly as ruthless. In fact, Service makes a good case that Stalin rose to power as part of a stop-Trotsky faction.

Stalin was able to present himself as the acme of Leninist orthodoxy, and possibly — and Service does make this case — believed he really was creating some form of socialism in the Soviet Union. Socialists — unlike Leninists — have no need to shy away from this fact. Our argument never was that Stalin was a bad man, a monster (although, obviously, he was) but that he was acting upon a false and dangerous theory — that a band of dedicated leaders could force the world to socialism.

Service makes clear that much of Stalin’s apparent paranoia was based on the simple fact that he and his fellows had risen to power suddenly and almost out of nowhere against the might of Tsarism. He believed, apparently, that a similar cabal could unseat him — what comes round goes around.

His callousness was relentless, ranging from bullying subordinates at informal parties, to personally poring over the list of names and faces of victims of his terror. Service alleges a desire to be at the centre of things, to assert himself that grew from childhood and was fostered by his membership of the Bolshevik party. As he notes, Stalin was among the few genuinely working class members of the inner sanctum of the party — which goes to show that having genuine workers in charge doesn’t make that much difference.

In his desk, when he died, were some keepsakes — a letter from Bukharin begging to know why he Stalin wanted to murder him when he was already politically dead, and a letter from Tito, threatening to try and assassinate him if he didn’t stop trying to bump the Yugoslav dictator off — as Service notes, one gangster to another. Even his intimate moments were blood-soaked and ruthless. This is a tidy account of the life of a utopian who thought that through ruthless will alone he could shape the world. As in some parts of his former empire, his statues are being resurrected and his reputation repaired, it also serves as a timely warning against leaders past, present and future.
Pik Smeet

About Socialism (1988)

From the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?
It is a political party, separate from all others, Left, Right or Centre. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a world social system based upon human need instead of private or state profit. The Object and Declaration of Principles were adopted by the Socialist Party in 1904 and have been maintained without compromise since then. In other countries there are companion parties sharing the same object and principles, and they too remain independent from all other political parties.

2. What is capitalism?
Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution (land, factories, offices, transport, media, etc.) are monopolised by a minority, the capitalist class. All wealth is produced by us, the majority working class, who sell our mental and physical energies to the capitalists in return for a price called a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold on the market at a profit. Not only do the capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class, but, as a class, they go on accumulating wealth extracted from each generation of workers.

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?
No: as long as capitalism exists, profits will come before needs. Some reforms are welcomed by some workers, but no reform can abolish the fundamental contradiction between profit and need which is built into the present system. No matter whether promises to make capitalism run in the interests of the workers are made sincerely or by opportunist politicians they are bound to fail, for such a promise is like offering to run the slaughter house in the interests of the cattle.

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?
No: nationalised industries simply mean that workers are exploited by the state, acting on behalf of the capitalists of one country, rather than by an individual capitalist or company. The workers in nationalised British Leyland are no less the servants of profit than workers in privately-owned Ford. The mines no more belong to "the public" or the miners now than they did before 1947 when they were nationalised. Nationalisation is state capitalism.

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?
No: the so-called socialist countries are systems of state capitalism. In Russia and its empire, in China, Cuba, Albania, Yugoslavia and the other countries which call themselves socialist, social power is monopolised by privileged Party bureaucrats. The features of capitalism, as outlined above, are all present. An examination of international commerce shows that the bogus socialist states are part of the world capitalist market and cannot detach themselves from the requirements of profit.

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?
Socialism does not yet exist. When it is established it must be on a worldwide basis, as an alternative to the outdated system of world capitalism. In a socialist society there will be common ownership and democratic control of the earth by its inhabitants. No minority class will be in a position to dictate to the majority that production must be geared to profit. There will be no owners: everything will belong to everyone. Production will be solely for use, not for sale. The only questions society will need to ask about wealth production will be: what do people require, and can the needs be met? These questions will be answered on the basis of the resources available to meet such needs. Then, unlike now, modern technology and communications will be able to be used to their fullest extent. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their self-defined needs. Work will be on the basis of voluntary co-operation: the coercion of wage and salary work will be abolished. There will be no buying or selling and money will not be necessary, in a society of common ownership and free access. For the first time ever the people of the world will have common possession of the planet earth.

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?
Capitalism, with its constant drive to serve profit before need, throws up an endless stream of problems. Most workers in Britain feel insecure about their future; almost one in four families with children living below the official government poverty line; many old people live in dangerously cold conditions each winter and thousands die; millions of our fellow men and women are dying of starvation — tens of thousands of them each day. A society based on production for use will end those problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. At the moment food is destroyed and farmers are subsidised not to produce more: yet many millions are malnourished. At the moment hospital queues are growing longer and people are dying of curable illnesses; yet it is not "economically viable" to provide decent health treatment for all. In a socialist society nothing short of the best will be good enough for any human being.

8. What about human nature?
Human behaviour is not fixed, but determined by the kind of society people are conditioned to live in. The capitalist jungle produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to adapt our behaviour and there is no reason why our rational desire for comfort and human welfare should not allow us to co-operate. Even under capitalism people often obtain pleasure from doing a good turn for others; few people enjoy participating in the "civilised" warfare of the daily rat-race. Think how much better it would be if society was based on co-operation.

9. Are socialists democrats?
Yes: the Socialist Party has no leaders. It is a democratic organisation controlled by its members. It understands that Socialism can only be established by a conscious majority of workers — that workers must liberate themselves and will not be liberated by leaders or parties. Socialism will not be brought about by a dedicated minority "smashing the state", as some left-wingers would have it. Nor do the activities of paid, professional politicians have anything to do with Socialism — the experience of seven Labour governments has shown this. Once a majority of the working class understand and want Socialism, they will take the necessary step to organise consciously for the democratic conquest of political power. There will be no Socialism without a socialist majority.

10. What is the next step?
Many workers know that there is something wrong and want to change society. Some join reform groups in the hope that capitalism can be patched up, but such efforts are futile because you cannot run a system of class exploitation in the interests of the exploited majority. People who fear a nuclear war may join CND. but as long as nation states exist, economic rivalry means that the world will never be safe from the threat of war. There are countless dedicated campaigns and good causes which many sincere people are caught up in, but there is only one solution to the problems of capitalism and that is to get rid of it, and establish Socialism. Before we can do that we need socialists; winning workers to that cause requires knowledge, principles and an enthusiasm for change. These qualities can be developed by anyone — and are essential for anyone who is serious about changing society. Capitalism in the 1980s is still a system of waste, deprivation and frightening insecurity. You owe it to yourself to find out about the one movement which stands for the alternative.

If you have read this set of principles and agree with some or all of them, contact the Socialist Party with your questions and ideas about what you can do to help speed the progress towards Socialism. 

Editorial: Race and respectability (1988)

Editorial from the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard 

One necessary skill of professional politicians is an ability to cloak the prejudices of their potential supporters in respectable language. We know that nobody in the public eye is a racist, and the British reputation for fair play could be further enhanced if more people prefaced their remarks with reassurances like "I detest apartheid as much as the next white Anglo-Saxon but. . ."; “Some of my best friends are Asian shopkeepers but. . . ."; or even “While I don't mind a hint of curry on my Guardian now again . . .".

The rejection of “liberal attitudes" on race by large numbers of workers does not place them automatically in the camp of the mindless bigot, which is why much anti-racist legislation and practice has had minimal effect. Asians with knife scars and families behind boarded council flat windows can testify to the more virulent strains of the disease, but pumping through the bloodstream of society is racism of a much more matter-of-fact, unselfconscious kind. The statement “he's a darkie, but quite pleasant" assumes shared attitudes and feelings and can be made without any awareness that it causes offence: blacks are viewed as one more natural hazard to be avoided, like bronchitis or barking dogs.

Recognition that such ingrained prejudice cannot be washed away by a constant assertion that there is no difference between "them" and "us" — an approach which anyway takes no account of non overt discrimination — has led to a much more sustained assault on the values and assumptions of "white British culture", at least in the field of education. That the consequence may well be a more segregated society, with white parents opting for what they perceive to be in the material interest of their children, should not be a surprise. Tolerance is clearly a skin-deep matter of proximity and numbers, and the symbolic and ill-functioning character of dogmatic anti-racist practice has given sustenance to those who hide their racism behind the banner of "freedom of choice". As with much race relations law, resentment has been stimulated against those who are seen to be positively favoured.

The various racist Immigration Acts passed by Conservative and Labour governments to keep non-whites out of Britain reflected and gave respectability to the view that blacks or Asians are the cause of social problems. The fact that legislation now prohibits discrimination is neither here nor there: property owners no longer publicly state that blacks are not welcome but simply do not accept them; employers are obliged to treat job applicants on their merits and do so with tongues in cheeks. A surface respectability fails miserably to conceal a situation where non-whites are far more likely to be unemployed, far more likely to be in low paid jobs and bound by the frustration their position creates.

The ideas of the racist cannot be legislated away because they arise from and are nurtured by the society in which we live. As every schoolboy knows, Columbus discovered America and Marco Polo was the first to set foot in China; at least, these were the first personages from white western society to do so, which any enlightened schoolgirl knows to be not the same thing. And if the history books tell us that nothing of any consequence occurred before a white man came along, it is not difficult to see why low social status and inferiority remain associated with a black skin.

Historically, the doctrines of white supremacy and anti-semitism originated as weapons to defend pre-capitalist systems of exploitation, and it has been one of the tasks of capitalism to break down all social divisions except that between the wealthy and the propertyless. This, however, it can never succeed in doing, since of necessity individual worker is set against individual worker in the struggle for a living and many forms of hatred and prejudice flourish as a result. If racial equality were somehow achieved, we could still not have an integrated, harmonious society because capitalism demands constant selection and exclusion and therefore creates the insecurity on which racism breeds.

Those who benefit from divisions within society do not have to compete for third-rate education and housing: there are no racist attacks at Charterhouse or riots in Belgravia. The civilised setting of the gentleman's club is also more conducive to an evenhanded treatment of racial matters — white semi-detached proles are held in only marginally less contempt than their darker-skinned counterparts and the "them" and "us" of racist mythology are translated into real, class terms.