Monday, July 5, 2021

War and Work (1940)

From the July 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

In one respect this war is just like the last. It has shown once more the simple truth that the maintenance of life depends on production, and that production depends on human labour. To most of the men and women who normally get their living by expending energy in mental and physical work—the miners, landworkers, railwaymen, clerks, organisers of industrial processes, etc.,—this is a truism but there have been many people who have been misled by surface appearances into believing that human society can be carried on by other less practical and more mystical notions. From Robert Owen to our own day there have been dreamers (and some otherwise level-headed men) who have been dazzled with the vision of a world already within reach in which machines would be almost self-operating and in which the human race would just toy with a few knobs and levers and have little else to do but enjoy continuous leisure. Others, including most of the orthodox economists and city editors, have depreciated production and enormously magnified the importance of trade, especially foreign trade, and with it the investment of capital abroad. At the same time they turned much of their attention to financial institutions and to problems of gold and currency. With superb inconsistency they explained the manifest poverty of large numbers of the world’s population alternately by the alleged over-production and alleged under-production of gold. Needless to say, their expert and authoritative forecasts a few years ago of the amount of gold that would be produced have been utterly falsified. The Bolshevists, showing themselves in this respect as orthodox as Montague Norman, have concentrated vast efforts on putting Russia second only to South Africa in quantity of yearly gold production; they no longer share Lenin’s early view that gold would be so useless to a properly organised society that it would probably be used for the construction of street lavatories.

Along with these groups have been those modern magicians, the followers of Major Douglas and his various predecessors during the past 150 years, who have believed that the production of wealth is no more than the simple act of writing figures in a book, the so-called “credit creation” of the bankers.

War shows more strikingly than any other event that the basic factor in the production of food (and armaments), and the carrying on of land, sea and air transport, is human labour, the expenditure of the physical and mental energies of men and women. No longer does anyone but the last-ditcher Douglasite believe that bombers and tanks and the necessities of life for the population can be produced by means of the operation of banks, Treasury officials, trade experts and so on; at most their efforts have meaning only to the extent that they promote the hard labour of field, factory, and workshop.

The Other Side of the Picture
These observations may help to clear the ground, but it would only be half-true if we did not go on to consider another aspect of the question of work and wealth. War means a vast destruction of armaments and munitions which have to be produced by workers who are consequently prevented from carrying on their peace-time work. It also means the withdrawal of millions of men and women for service in the Armed Forces and Civil Defence Forces. This is partly, but only partly, compensated by bringing into activity large numbers of men and women who in peace-time were not at work or were working at what are now regarded as non-essential activities. A factor of more importance is that the workers are now working longer hours and with greater intensity than they were in peace-time—they are expending more energy on production and have less energy and less time for leisure activities.

Yet it is probably true that as regards the strict necessities of life, most of the population are no worse off than they were before the war, and a large proportion—those who were worst fed and clothed in peace-time—are better off than they were. It is one of the curiosities of war-time that all sorts of things that “can’t be done” are done. This war has seen old-age pensions increased, as also the allowances of the dependents of men in the Forces, agricultural workers’ wages have been raised to a level their union would hardly have considered practical politics twelve months ago, at a cost estimated to be £15,000,000 a year. And at a time when the Ministry of Food can say that no matter how long the war may last there will be sufficient food “to maintain life in all its vigour.” (Daily Telegraph, March 30th, 1940.) Sir John Orr and other influential people are pressing on the Government as feasible the idea of “strengthening the home front” by improving the standard of living of the third of the population who in peace-time could not afford a diet adequate for health.

The key to the problem is that Capitalism is for most of the population always a failure. Because the purpose behind Capitalist production is profit, all kinds of activities go on which from the point of view of the non-Capitalist majority are sheer waste and inefficiency, although highly desirable to the minority who benefit from them and indispensable to Capitalist, financial and other operations. Under the stress of war the State steps in and curtails many of these activities. It cuts off luxury consumption and also takes the power to enforce drastic industrial reorganisation.

We now see The Times, which ordinarily echoes the inanities of economic text-books about Capitalism efficiently organising production and distribution in the interests of all consumers, awakening to the discovery that industry is full of waste and inefficiency when viewed from a standpoint not concerned solely with the profits of shareholders. The following words come not from our pamphlet, “Socialism,” though the fact is there pointed out, but from The Times (May 28th, 1940):-
 “One instance of wasted effort and transport is to be seen daily all over the country. Perhaps as many as six different milkmen will call each at one or two houses in a short street. There will be a similar abundance of bakers, greengrocers, coalmen, and other tradesmen, and some will be consuming valuable petrol. A pooling of effort seems to be an urgent need here.”
But do not be misled into thinking that the enforcement of economy of production means a change of heart on the part of The Times and those whose views it reflects. Even if, after the war, they decide to retain some of the war-time practices, they will still have no appreciation of the possibility of a system of society in which production is carried on solely for the use and enjoyment of the whole population without privilege or distinction. Mr. Richard Coppock, General Secretary of the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, who is now a Director of Supply at the Ministry of Labour, certainly did give expression to a revolutionary view when he suggested at the conference of the Federation that “it might be a wise thing, instead of giving people wages and profits, to see that they were fed, housed and clothed” (Daily Herald, June 8th, 1940), but he showed his appreciation of reality when he made it clear that he was not speaking for the Government but “in his personal capacity.” War may show up the deficiencies of industrial and social organisation, but only understanding on the part of the majority of the population will ever make it possible to translate that realisation into constructive work for a new social order.
Edgar Hardcastle

A quotation from Buckle (1940)

From the July 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
” . . . the two principles underlying religion are ignorance and danger, ignorance keeping man unacquainted with natural causes, and danger making them recur to supernatural ones. Or, to express the same proposition in other words, the feeling of veneration, which under one of its aspects takes the form of superstition, is a product of wonder and fear, and it is obvious that wonder is connected with ignorance, and that fear is connected with danger. Hence it is, that whatever in any country increases the total amount of amazement, or whatever in any country increases the total amount of peril, has a direct tendency to increase the total amount of superstition, and therefore to strengthen the hands of the priesthood.” (“History of Civilisation in England,” Vol. 3, p. 32. World’s Classics Edition.)

The Civil Service in Imperial Rome (1940)

From the July 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
In these days bureaucracy comes in for much denunciation, and the civil servant is held up as the example of how not to run an efficient and speedy service. All the criticism, however, is made on the assumption, even when it is not fully realised, that the Civil Service is a more or less unnecessary body, an encumbrance that could be drastically lightened. The following article on the Civil Service in Imperial Rome will put the Civil Service and its critics into proper perspective, for it shows that no Empire can be administered without an elaborate organisation of administrative departments, and that the problems and the methods of handling them are much the same now as they were 2,000 years ago under the Roman Empire, not forgetting, of course, that class and sectional interests played their part then, as now.
The Civil Service has a very long history. It came into existence, in a real sense, about two thousand years ago at the birth of the Roman Empire, and was in truth the nervous system of the mightiest empire the world has ever known, In fact it was the development of the Civil Service that saved Roman society from the chaos into which it was slipping fast when Augustus came to power.

Towards the end of republican times, in the last century before the Christian era, the population of the Roman world was split up into various economic groups or classes, the following three of which only concern us here: The old Patrician land-holding families controlled and comprised the Senate, the few administrative officials and the foreign governors. The Equestrian class (or Knights) were traders, money-lenders and speculators. They were represented on the Roman juries and were seriously challenging the political rule of the Patricians. It was the conflicting interests of these two groups that lay behind the civil strife of Pompey and Caesar. The third group was composed of freed men who had purchased, or been granted, their freedom from slavery. They were chiefly officials who took part in the management of private estates and did clerical work of one kind or another. As the soldier and the trader carried Roman conquest and Roman influence over ever-widening areas the power and the influences of the equestrian class grew enormously and added considerably to the difficulties facing the administration. Rome was like a small company suddenly called upon to transact the business of a huge trust but with the same small office and staff. The administration was cracking under the strain. Not only had the Roman world increased in size, but it was further complicated by the coming together of people of different ways and tongue under its sway.

Under the Republic the administration consisted of the Senate and a few officials. This was adequate for a small city state and was the political form that prevailed in the antique city states.

As Rome added conquest to conquest and spread over Italy, and finally over a great part of the ancient world, administrative difficulties became more and more pressing until the system finally broke down. No general system of provincial administration had been introduced, nor had proper provision been made for the collection or assessment of taxes. Taxation, in fact, was a very haphazard affair. Roman citizens, both at home and abroad, were exempt, and the people who did pay the taxes had neither a voice in the assessment of them nor in the use to which the taxes were put. Groups of financiers paid a lump sum for the right to collect the taxes for a period—usually five years.—and then by devious means wrung fortunes out of the unfortunate victims of their greed. Tax-farming was a lucrative form of speculation and various methods were used to extort large sums during the period of the contract. It was not the state treasury that benefited to any great extent but the private fortunes of a small class of speculators (publicani). The miseries of the provincials were increased by another influence allied to taxation. Many provincial municipalities found themselves unable to meet the extortionate demands of the tax-farmers and had to resort to borrowing. They borrowed heavily from money-lenders (negotiatores), who also belonged to the equestrian class, and had to pay high rates of interest. There was no law regulating the rate of interest outside of Italy, and the rate was sometimes as high as 48 per cent.

Matters were made considerably worse by the civil war of Pompey and Caesar as the cost of the campaign fell upon the provincials.

The Senate found it difficult to curb the operations of the financiers, particularly as some members of the Senate either had money invested with them or were deeply in their debt. They were powerful, their operations ramified in every direction to the farthest limits of Roman power, and the state was often compelled to seek their aid when in financial difficulties. Consequently the provincial governors, when not in their pay, were forced to look helplessly on at their extortionate methods without the power to curb them.

Such was the position when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome.

With the coming of the Empire a fundamental change commenced, both in the method of levying and of collecting taxes. Taxation was the first and most pressing problem tackled, and for long everything was subordinate to its solution. Things were put upon an orderly footing so that each knew exactly how much he would have to pay in taxes and also for what purpose the money would be used. Officials were appointed and paid out of the state treasury to make assessments on an understood basis, to see to the collection of the taxes and to keep records. The officials were answerable only to the Emperor and depended upon him for appointment and advancement. A census was taken covering the whole imperial Roman world and territorial divisions were made, and each put in the care of a superior official who had a staff of assistants. Each superior official was responsible for the finances of his area and made reports and transferred money or goods to a central office and treasury at Rome. 

The system only came into operation gradually, piecemeal, and was spread over a long period of time. Caesar commenced the business but he had not got far when he was killed and the real work of organising the financial system devolved upon Augustus. Before the latter died the main part of the work was done and his successors only carried further the system of which he had laid down the complete foundations.

Some idea of the problem confronting Caesar and Augustus may be gathered from the fact that the population of the Roman Empire in the time of Augustus has been estimated to have reached about eighty millions, scattered over an area of thousands of square miles. One favourable condition, however, existed to a degree not reached anywhere in modern times. No city has ever been so truly the centre of an Empire as was Rome. 

As one historian puts it: —
“There were thousands of agents for the great Roman corporations scattered throughout the Empire. Rome was the money centre of the world, and the great stock companies organised to lend money, construct public works, collect taxes, and engage in the shipping trade had their central offices in the capital whence they sent out their representa-times to all parts of the world.”—(Abbott.)
From Rome roads radiated over mountains and across deserts to the most distant parts of the Empire.

When Augustus had succeeded in taking the place left vacant by the death of Caesar, and had firmly established himself, he put an end to the civil wars that had for so long racked the Roman world and in which he and his supporters had played a considerable part. For two hundred years after his accession there was internal peace. It was during this time that the civil service was built up and solidly established. Augustus was faced at the outset with two problems. His treasury was practically empty and he had to find a reliable and regular method of filling it. His first business was to bring order into the assessment of taxes and then to adopt dependable means to collect them.

As a preliminary he appears to have had a survey of the empire made. A great deal of geographical information was collected and tabulated by Agrippa, and a census of the population was taken by special imperial officials.

The principal objects of the census were: (1) To find the number of the population. (2) Sort the population out into age classes for the easier levying of certain taxes. (3) To have an exact registration of property holding. (4) To provide an exact means for valuation.

A specification for measurement was decided upon and engraved on copper. The original was deposited in Rome and a copy in the principal city of each province. This arrangement provided a basis for the land-tax (the chief provincial tax) and relieved the provinces of the extortion practised by the tax-farmers. Augustus also transferred some of the burden from the provinces to Rome by introducing a tax of 5 per cent. on inheritance and legacies, which only affected Roman citizens. There were other indirect taxes, the object of which was to put Italy on a level with the provinces and make the Italians bear their fair share of the burden of taxation. As taxing Roman citizens directly was too revolutionary a method to be successful at the time, Augustus achieved the same result in the end by introducing indirect taxes.

The main object of taxation was to provide for the army, the expenses of provincial government, salaries of officials, the corn supply and the police of Rome, the maintenance of religion, the building of temples and other public works, the public roads and aqueducts.

In the year 6 A.D. Augustus appointed a commission of three to enquire into and cut down expenditure, as a further part of the organising of finance.

The means adopted for collecting the taxes brought into existence the Civil Service.

The estates owned by the Emperor himself were considerable, and the method used for handling revenue on them was the original method adopted for the empire, modified rapidly and considerably as time passed. The revenues of the imperial estates were handled by the Emperor himself, assisted by freedmen and slaves. Hence at first the Emperor employed freedmen in the principal positions as officials of the empire. On many grounds they proved both unreliable and dangerous in positions that gave them considerable power.

Augustus had, therefore, to look round for more suitable assistants, and in this predicament found at hand a class (the equestrians) suited in almost every way for providing, in the first place, the financial officers he needed. He then set about making the imperial service attractive to this class and also placing them in a position of dependence upon him. The chief military and administrative functions were at the time performed by members of the Senate.

There was one very important reason that induced Augustus to turn to the equestrians. The latter were rivals of the Patricians, who controlled the Senate, and by using them he was opening a road to satisfy their ambitions safely, and at the same time he was attracting to his side a very useful ally in the struggle he was waging against the conservative Senate. There was also the important fact that as private speculators and money-lenders the equestrians had already acquired experience in the handling of finance.

Originally the equestrian order consisted of the state cavalry of the republic, serving on horses provided by the state. Later it covered also those who, although not actually serving, were qualified so to do. In the days of the empire a man who had the necessary property and other qualifications became a member of the order by the act of the Emperor conferring upon him the public horse—knighting him. The giving and the taking away of this honour, however, was entirely within the discretion of the Emperor. The equestrian class comprised the great bulk of the financiers of Rome.

As already noted, the process of supplanting senatorial officers and methods by imperial officials was a gradual one, spread over a long period of time. The first step in this direction was the appointment of imperial procurators to control the publicani—the financiers, who had purchased the power to collect taxes. The next step was the appointment of imperial officials who engaged to collect the taxes for a fixed payment. Finally, these officials (conductors) were replaced by imperial procurators, who raised the money through their immediate subordinates. By 200 A.D. direct collection of taxes had been introduced everywhere and the tax-farmer had entirely disappeared.

Procurators were in nearly all cases knights. It was only in exceptional cases that freedmen occupied the position. Hadrian, in the second century A.D., further revolutionised the Civil Service by excluding freedmen from all but the subordinate posts. After his day the knights monopolised all the higher posts in the Civil Service.

When the Civil Service was finally firmly established it opened up a prosperous career to men of the knightly order, and the way was open to them to rise to the highest positions in the state in the Emperor’s service. Military service, however, was a necessary preliminary to civil employment, and the time spent there and in the various grades depended largely on the favour of the Emperor, who could push a candidate through rapidly or slowly, as he deemed fit. In some cases promising candidates were allowed to skip some of the intermediate stages in their progress to the highly-paid and influential positions.

With the methodical organisation of the administration and the revenues multitudes of posts were open to those attracted to the service. There were procurators for land, mines, money for the Mint, provincial finance; ports for corn supply, streets; Public buildings and the like; water in connection with aqueducts, libraries, public games, and so forth.

The service reached its highest development in the second century, A.D., and comprised a huge body of officials covering every sphere of the administration. The salaries of these officials ran up to the equivalent of about £3,000 a year for the highest posts.

There were three principal sections in the service, and within these, again, different grades. The highest section included the Prefects. They occupied positions somewhat analagous to the present First Sea Lord, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Governors-General of Canada, South Africa, Australia, etc. The next section consisted of heads of various departments, roughly similar to our present Secretaries of State. , The lowest section (the procurators) comprised the various officers of different degrees of importance, whose duty it was to see to the collection of the taxes, etc.

The principal officers in the first section in order of importance were : —
(1) The Commander of the Praetorian Guard, the troops on which the Emperor depended to keep secure his power over Rome and Italy.
(2) The Governor of Egypt.
(3) The official charged with the duty of keeping Rome supplied with food.
(4) The Chief of Police.
(5) The Admiral of the Fleets.
The Commander of the Praetorian Guard presided over the Imperial Council when the Emperor was away, controlled all the troops stationed in Italy as well as the imperial slaves, and had considerable civil and criminal jurisdiction.

The importance of Egypt as an imperial province gave the officer who controlled it the high position he occupied in the Roman administration. Egypt occupied a position in relation to Rome roughly similar to that occupied by India in relation to this country. It was distant, rich in products, and its governor was armed with considerable power, although directly responsible to the Emperor.

The official in charge of the food supply had assistants in Rome and agents in the provinces. He also had the duty of supervising the bakers and the captains of merchant vessels. He was particularly responsible for securing the public corn supply.

The Chief of Police was in charge of all police duties, including the watchmen of the city.

The Admiral of the Fleets was directly in charge of the two principal fleets and also controlled all the naval forces in time of war.

The second section of the administration comprised the heads of departments, graded in the following order : —
(1) The Imperial Chancellor of the Exchequer, who controlled the treasury department.
(2) The Imperial Secretary, who made the Appointments to all except the highest official posts, received and replied to all despatches, and dealt with all the public correspondence of the Emperor.
(3)The official who received and dealt with the private petitions addressed to the Emperor.
(4)The official who assisted the Emperor in his juridical functions, providing him with information and preparing the cases for his examination.
(5)The official who prepared and despatched all short resolutions of the Emperor.
The third section included all those charged with the collection of the taxes, the supervision of lands, mines, coinage, streets, public buildings, water supply, public games, education, and many other things. The highest of these officials sometimes had the governorship of minor provinces.

The service described above was so organised that there was a regular system of promotion from the lowest to the highest posts. There were numerous subordinate officials attached to each post and the various departments had staffs of clerks and assistants.

The department of finance was the earliest organised, and appears, also, to have been the most completely organised ultimately. The official in charge of the administration of justice was generally a trained lawyer and was assisted by a council of expert advisers.

Such was the Imperial Civil Service. Centred in Rome, and spreading like a web over the whole empire, it enabled the huge conglomeration of different nationalities to be welded into a single piece and kept closely knit together for decades. Never before had there been such a bureaucratic organisation, and its extent and efficiency has been the admiration and the model of later administrators.

Rear View: Bin capitalism (2021)

The Rear View Column from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bin capitalism

The rock band Garbage have a new album out this month. The title No Gods, No Masters will likely bring a smile or nod of agreement from socialists regardless of their musical tastes and is attributed to Louis Blanqui, a contemporary of Marx and Engels, and described by the latter as ‘…essentially a political revolutionist. He is a socialist only through sentiment, through his sympathy with the sufferings of the people, but he has neither a socialist theory nor any definite practical suggestions for social remedies. In his political activity he was mainly a “man of action”, believing that a small and well organised minority, who would attempt a political stroke of force at the opportune moment, could carry the mass of the people with them by a few successes at the start and thus make a victorious revolution’ (The Programme of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune, 1874). Shirley Manson, the band’s vocalist, when she was 12 or so told her Sunday-school-teacher father ‘religion’s a sham and I’m not going to church anymore, it’s just bullshit’. Speaking recently (, 30 March) of the album she declared: ‘It was our way of trying to make sense of how fucking nuts the world is and the astounding chaos we find ourselves in’. Further, it is ‘a critique of the rise of capitalist short-sightedness, racism, sexism and misogyny across the world.’ Evidence of which abounds.

Myopic measures

‘On Feb. 21, Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party passed a resolution unequivocally hailing the “visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi” in turning India into a “victorious nation in the fight against COVID”’ (, April 28). ‘There is a shortage everywhere at the peak of the crisis. This government defines shortages, shortcomings, and short-sightedness’ (, 23 April). ‘Experts have long raised the alarm about shortages of medical oxygen in India and other poor countries to treat pneumonia, the world’s biggest preventable infectious killer of children under five years of age.

But the government has for years failed to invest enough money in such infrastructure, experts say. Does India produce enough oxygen? The short answer: yes. Experts say the vast nation of 1.3 billion people is producing enough oxygen – a little over 7,000 tonnes a day. Most is for industrial use but can be diverted for medical purposes’ (, 29 April). Religion thrives alongside such (preventable) suffering: ‘In March 2020, a Hindutva group, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, held a cow urine drinking party as a means of providing protection against the virus’ (, 1 May). Yet, as Marx noted, ‘To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo…’ Atheism alone is another dead end.

Race or class?

‘Nothing has exposed the role of structural and institutional racism as starkly as the disproportionate effects of covid-19 on ethnic minority communities. Public Health England’s report identifies racism and discrimination as key contributors to infection risk, outcomes, and life chance’ (, 21 April). ‘Poor British people in 2020 are unhealthier than those born into poverty 100 years ago, a study has found’ (, 20 January 2020). Workers who don’t understand why capitalism condemns them to impoverished lives are all too ready to blame their problems on other workers, from other towns or from other countries or of other ’races’. This is an exercise of blind futility for after all the misconceptions, after all the efforts to reform capitalism into a problem-free system, it is clear that the need is for a radical change; nothing less than the abolition of class society will do. This is perfectly possible but it requires a united resolve among the world’s working class, reflecting the fact that their interests are as one, to establish a society based on common ownership of the means of life. Race has no scientific basis. Racism needs to be rejected as a destructive, anti-social force. There is a better way; we have a world to win and little time to lose.

Dead slow

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021: ‘At the current relative pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In all other regions it will take over 100 years to close the gender gap: 121.7 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 134.7 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 165.1 years in East Asia and the Pacific, 142.4 years in Middle East and North Africa, and 195.4 years in South Asia.’ (, 30 March). Socialism will include the liberation of women as part of its project of human emancipation. This will not come about in an automatic or inevitable way. A political organisation whose object is socialism cannot permit sexism within its ranks on the grounds that nothing can be done now and that the problem will be resolved ‘after the revolution’. For a political organisation to be credible, it must embody the attitudes, values and practices that it seeks to institute in society at large. Socialists believe that all people, men and women, are equally worthy of respect. This is enshrined in our Declaration of Principles (1904-present), specifically Clause 4: ‘That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex’.

Pathfinders: Climate Change – Somebody Else’s Problem? (2021)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In May the International Energy Agency released a report entitled Net Zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy sector. The 224-page report describes itself as ‘ the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth’.

Universal energy access? Stable and affordable? Even someone supportive of capitalism would be inclined to say ‘pull the other one’. If a commodity is to make a profit, it can’t be so cheap that even the poorest can afford it, so the idea of universal affordable energy is already a non-starter before you’ve got past the introductory blurb.

But the roadmap is nothing if not ambitious, ‘setting out more than 400 milestones for what needs to be done, and when, to decarbonise the global economy in just three decades.’ A forest of charts and graphs are there to underline the gigantic strides that capitalism needs to make, each one liable to have the supporter of capitalism once again muttering sceptically, especially given the admission at the start that global state commitments are ‘well short of what is needed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C and avert the worst effects of climate change’.

Even if we had socialism – a global society of democratic and cooperative common ownership where the imperatives of profit and commercial growth would be absent – this might be a tall order given the time frame, although doable because we wouldn’t have to battle with private competing interests. More to the point, if we had socialism already, the world wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. The independent behaviour of private actors seeking profits regardless of ‘externalities’ has driven us to the brink of a global tragedy of the commons that would not have occurred if the commons were truly owned in common. Now, even the International Monetary Fund is starting to talk in shrill terms about a potential extinction-level event: ‘There is growing agreement between economists and scientists that the tail risks are material and the risk of catastrophic and irreversible disaster is rising, implying potentially infinite costs of unmitigated climate change, including, in the extreme, human extinction’.

We don’t take this view, as it’s hard to imagine anything short of a planet-busting asteroid taking out all of humanity, and we don’t subscribe to a counsel of despair because we say there is a solution – urgently getting rid of capitalism and letting socialism off the leash. Failing that, capitalism is going to have one hell of a job slamming on all its brakes simultaneously in order to stop short of the abyss. Can it succeed in doing what looks like the impossible? We don’t know. We’ve learned not to underestimate capitalism’s ability to adapt, and in the past year’s pandemic we’ve seen it do things that previously people would have said was impossible, albeit it at a staggering cost to itself. And that’s just the trouble. Capitalism has been knocked for six, having just paid out the equivalent of a world war due to the pandemic. If you think that’s an exaggeration, the Second World War is thought to have cost around $23 trillion in today’s money. The IMF estimates the cost of the pandemic to the global economy as $28 trillion. So not only does capitalism have to do the seemingly impossible, it has to do it under the worst possible economic circumstances.

This desperate task becomes all the more farcical when you realise that ‘net zero by 2050’ is not actually good enough, because it’s aimed at limiting global temperature increase to 2°C, not the 1.5°C target as specified by the Paris agreement and which would require ‘net zero by 2030’. What difference does half a degree make? Maybe not much, maybe all the difference in the world. The Energy Watch Group, often highly critical of the IEA in the past for being too soft on fossil and for being a poodle of the USA, issued a report last December entitled ‘The path to climate neutrality by 2050 misses the Paris climate targets – The rocky road to truthfulness in climate politics’. It quotes the IMF ‘extinction’ scare cited above and goes on to explain why 2°C might be too close for comfort: ‘It is widely scientifically recognised that a global temperature increase by more than 2°C threatens to lead to a so called Hothouse Earth scenario in which human civilisation as we know it can no longer exist’.

Is that true? Well, it’s true that +2°C ‘threatens’ to do so, because of tipping points and feedback loops following each other ‘like a row of dominoes’, at which point ‘we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe. We totally hand over our fate to an Earth system that starts rolling out of equilibrium’ ( But it’s an unquantifiable threat and nobody really knows for sure. On the one hand, the Earth has certainly been hotter in its history than it is now, without turning into Venus. On the other hand, there have also been five mass extinction events involving upwards of 80 percent of life forms, and climate may have been a factor in some of them. As a researcher from York University reported to Scientific American in 2007: ‘There have been three major greenhouse phases in the time period we analyzed and the peaks in temperature of each coincide with mass extinctions’ (

One might wonder then if there is any point in the IEA issuing a so-called roadmap for the Paris Agreement, given that the likelihood of capitalism being able to follow it looks so remote, and given that it’s not ambitious enough anyway. But if there is an agreement, there has to be a roadmap, however rocky and untruthful it is. Whether or not the planet is facing an existential crisis, capitalism is certainly suffering a credibility crisis. It has no answer to the environmentalist’s well-aimed charge of requiring ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’, and more and more people are waking up to that fact. But the policy makers have to say something, and look as if they’re doing something. US climate envoy John Kerry was held up to ridicule recently for saying that the climate would be stabilised using technologies that don’t exist yet (, but he illustrated a fundamental truth about how today’s politicians think about the future. By 2050, all this will be somebody else’s problem.
Paddy Shannon

Material World: Climate Refugees (2021)

The Material World Column from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Climate change is reshaping our planet. Coastlines are encroaching further inland, deserts are expanding, the range of plant and animal species are declining. The climatic change that is making parts of the world unliveable is another example of people in poorer parts of the world paying the price for capitalism.

Scientists forewarned that the effects of global warming would result in massive migrations of peoples. No nation is immune from the consequences of climate change but it is the poorest and most vulnerable communities – those least culpable for the environmental crisis – who are being the hardest hit. We are already witnessing the number of climate refugees rise.

Being a migrant involves risks and costs yet the media’s attention is centred upon the effects upon the host nation rather than the harrowing experiences of the migrants themselves and, worryingly, because of the absence of focus upon the reasons families uproot themselves from familiar surroundings, sympathy and understanding is lacking. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to help fellow human beings, hostility is shown towards newcomers, particularly if they are of a different colour or religion. The World Socialist Movement explains that we are one planet, one people, a human family, and as brothers and sisters we must look out for one another.

In 2014, there was a rise in migration from Central America due to drought and the spread of crop disease. The mass exodus has continued unabated with the USA militarising its southern border to halt the desperate fleeing the intensification of climate change upon what is termed the ‘Dry Corridor.’ In Africa there has been an escalating conflict between the contending cultures of herders and farmers as they competed for dwindling resources.

The problem has become worse as drought conditions persisted and many of the Sahel nations are now engaged in civil wars.

If it is not drought and crop failures that force large numbers of people to flee, it will be rising sea levels.

In Bangladesh, we have seen frequent typhoons and flooding of the country’s low-lying coastal districts. National Geographic describes the reason for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi from their homes to the cities as driven by climate change and experts expect that figure to rise to millions as water levels rise (

Likewise, high tides will submerge much of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, now home to 18 million people, by the latter half of the century.

The climate refugee emergency is here and capitalism’s system of nation-states is incapable of addressing the crisis of climate refugees, sadly a status not legally acknowledged by governments or the UN, preferring to describe those fleeing the impact of environmental destruction as economic migrants.

Accepting that models of future migration are based upon educated guesswork and informed assumptions, full of possible pitfalls, the only way to efficiently mitigate the detrimental effects of mass migration is to prepare for the worst.

Breaches of their national borders may be what the developed countries fear the most, requiring them to fortify their frontiers, but the problem begins when people abandon their farms for the city. Most people don’t want to leave their homes so initially they relocate to larger towns and cities. Mega-cities are multiplying in number and urban services have broken down. When that strategy fails, they then take hazardous journeys to re-settle in a foreign land where they are treated as economic parasites and pariahs by the locals.

In 2018, the World Bank estimated that three regions (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South-east Asia) will generate 143 million climate migrants by 2050. A worst-case scenario by the Institute for Economics and Peace thinktank suggests that perhaps a billion people by 2050 will be subjected to the pressure of global warming to relocate even if not all will act upon it. The pessimistic predictions of some scientists predict that heatwaves and humidity will become so extreme in various parts of the world that people without air conditioning will simply die.

A report based on interviews with senior US military experts concludes that climate change will create far more refugees than have fled the Syrian civil war.

‘What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term,’ Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney observed. ‘In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before. If Europe thinks they have a problem with migration today, wait 20 years and see what happens when climate change drives people out of Africa – the Sahel especially’ (

The need for socialist ideas is greater than ever, and we can only urge people to look deeply into the problems of capitalist society, deeper than the slogans on their banners. Socialists combine two remarkable human capacities, the emotional and the rational, in order to take things into our own hands and run our own world, in the interest of all humanity. Peoples’ histories may be different but we all share our future in common.

Capitalism, socialism and work (2021)

From the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The moment of history we all currently live in is called capitalism, a time when people are constrained to spend a good part of their waking day working for an employer for a wage or salary in order to live. We are ‘constrained’, because for most of us our work in the form it exists is not what we’d choose to do if we didn’t need to get money to live and to provide for ourselves and our families. That is not to say that, in a different kind of society, we would not choose to do a day’s work as such. In fact we would, because work is an important human need, but we would certainly not choose to do it for an employer in a job under conditions of take it or leave it. We would choose to do work we genuinely wanted to do under reasonable conditions and without the gun of material insecurity at our head. Under a different social system than capitalism, we would do a day’s work that was meaningful to us, that suited us and also suited and supported the collective social effort to produce and distribute goods for human need rather than for profit.

Profit is in fact what underlies and generates the production and distribution of goods and services over the whole planet – in the UK, in the rest of Europe, in the USA, in Russia, in China, in Cuba, in India, in Africa, in fact everywhere we look. The rule is no profit no production. And that’s what ties us down to the kind of working day that we’ve not chosen and that most of us would not do if we were free to choose. To take a small example, who would choose to do the job a man does at a supermarket I go to shop in which consists of sitting looking at a screen at the entrance to the store all day and checking to see if anyone is stealing or looks as though they’re stealing? The obvious answer is that no one would freely choose to do that. Yet we can be sure that, if such a job were advertised, the wolf from the door imperative would mean there were many applicants. As Noam Chomsky recently put it: ‘You are allowed to rent yourself to survive. It’s called taking a job’.

To give another example which says even more about the way society is organised and its priorities, a recent Channel 5 television programme illustrated the reality not only of having to take whatever work is available but also of the grotesquely wasteful way in which this society expends human energies and resources. The programme was about the efforts being made to catch people who use the London Transport system without paying their fare or at least without paying their full fare. A huge network of computers and other machinery filling a whole building has been set up employing large numbers of people to catch out the offenders and present them for punishment. One of the programme’s focuses was on two of the employees at the sharp end, those whose job it was to approach suspected offenders, especially those who’ve found a way of underpaying their fare on the underground and have been identified on the computer and camera system. As the suspects exit their train or station, it’s the job of these employees, who are obviously very apprehensive themselves after waiting around sometimes for several hours, to pounce and to try and stop or apprehend the fare dodgers. Some of the scenes, of the encounters, are not difficult to imagine. They prompt the question: Who would want to do a job like that if they didn’t have to? And, of course, the waste of energies and resources involved in the whole operation are quite mind-boggling. And this is the kind of thing that’s repeated many millions of time over across the whole planet – a microcosm of the waste of talents, energies and resources that the market and the profit system generate. How correct is the observation once made that the waste of all kinds generated by this system is so vast and complex that, were anyone to attempt to measure it precisely, they’d be doomed to failure.

Life after capitalism
But how would work be different in the kind of moneyless, wageless society of free access and voluntary cooperation that the Socialist Party has been advocating consistently for well over 100 years? Is it possible to give a detailed account of what it would be like? Probably not, since, as Marx put it some 150 years ago, to attempt to explain in detail what that future society would be like would be akin to writing ‘recipes for the cookshops of the future’. Others have tried to do this however, for example William Morris, in his late 19th century novel, News From Nowhere. But inspiring as Morris’s book was in concept, social development soon made its detail look precisely what it was – speculation. In the same way, if, say, 50 years ago – so before the age of modern electronic communication and production, someone had tried to set out a typical day’s work in socialism, it would be sure to seem obsolete now.

In the same connection, the Socialist Party’s pamphlet How We Live and How We Could Live: from Capitalism to Socialism, published in 2006, contained a list of 150 products and occupations associated with money that would not be necessary in socialism. While it’s true that these would be obsolete in a moneyless socialist society, the fact is that even now in capitalism, only some 15 years after the list was published, a good many of the terms in it already seem old-fashioned. This is because capitalism has evolved quickly with the changes and technology advances it incessantly brings into being. So words from that list which are now all but obsolete because the functions and activities they describe have all but disappeared, are, for example, football coupons, cheque cards, telephone meters, overtime payments, pension books, travellers’ cheques, Christmas clubs, luncheon voucher schemes, rent collectors – and that’s to name just a few. Of course, many of the products and tasks listed still do exist, but who knows how many of them will in, say, 10 or 20 years time and how many others we’ve never heard of will have come into being by then?

So if it’s difficult to give an accurate detailed picture of what life will be like in capitalism in say just a few years’ time, how could attempting to describe the precise details of a future society based on completely different premises be any more than speculation? What we can say for sure, however, is that, as long as capitalism continues, worker will continue to compete with worker for jobs, business will compete with business for sales and profit, and nation will compete with nation over sales of goods and services, spheres of economic and political interest, control of trade routes and sources of raw materials. And what we can also say is that the environment will continue to be despoiled instead of conserved. And in all this the individual worker will continue to be a passive spectator swept along by economic forces over which he or she has no direct control.

However, if we can’t give a detailed account of life in the socialist world that urgently needs to be established by the world’s workers, what we can state with certainty is that it will consist of people carrying out meaningful and personally and socially fulfilling tasks in which they realise their potential as human beings. And this will be part of the broader planned organisation of a social system that the population as a whole will have decided to adopt in place of what exists at present. It will be, as one writer has put it ‘a new form of life that does not organise itself around wage work and monetary exchange’, a society in which ‘everyone can go to the social storehouses and service centres to get what they need’. And how will all this be planned? The pamphlet, Socialism as a Practical Alternative, puts forward some interesting ideas on this. For example, it suggests the following: ‘We would divide up responsibilities while taking into account individual aptitudes and proclivities. Some tasks would need to be performed locally, but many could be planned on a regional or global scale, using advanced computer technologies.’ But this too, in the end, is also speculation and has to be seen as falling into the realm of ideas rather than prescriptions.

What is patently clear is that human beings are doers and that, when the whole structure of capitalism and the colossal waste of energies and resources associated with its money system – banking, insurance and finance, the accompanying military apparatus – cease to exist, those energies and resources will be released for all of us to involve ourselves in being doers in a truly meaningful way and to fulfil our needs at all levels, to engage in what’s been called ‘useful labour’.

This kind of world has been excellently outlined in a recent book highly sympathetic to the socialist objective (Automation and the Future of Work by Aaron Benanav), which refers to a world of ‘fully capacitated individuals, in which every single person could look forward to developing their interests and abilities with full social support’.

A final point worth making – and one that has been advanced by many articles in the Socialist Standard over the years and by many books on the subject – is that human beings are essentially a cooperative species. We enjoy reciprocating, working together – even under the constraints of a non-cooperative system like capitalism – and all these cooperative energies will flourish and allow us to flourish in the new society we bring into being. Martin Luther King, not a figure often easily associated with socialism, was surely spot on when he said: ‘Profit forces people to be more concerned with making a living than making a life.’ And it’s only socialism that will allow all of us, on a world scale, to set about making that life.
Howard Moss

Cultures, multi and otherwise (2021)

From the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back in 2011, in a speech at a security conference, then Prime Minister David Cameron discussed extremism and Islamist terrorism. He noted that Islam and extremism were not the same, and saw the issue of identity as crucial to why some young Muslims were drawn to extremist views:
 ‘In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream’.
State multiculturalism was thus seen as implying separation, with people from different cultures living in their own distinct ways, perhaps with little integration with those from other cultures. Society, Cameron went on, should not just be passively tolerant; rather it should pursue ‘a much more active, muscular liberalism’, promoting freedom of speech, the rule of law, equal rights and so on. What was needed, he claimed, was ‘a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.’

But just what is multiculturalism (state or otherwise)? And how do politicians and others use this concept to construct arguments and policies? And what might a shared national identity consist of?

In Keywords, Raymond Williams describes culture as ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’, due to both its complex history (related to cultivation, among others) and its variety of current uses. On the one hand, it involves such activities as cinema, theatre, museums, music, and so on. But also it can refer to the kind of topics studied in cultural or social anthropology: a way of living, covering religion, language, kinship and family structure, work and production, food and diet, rural vs urban, and customs in some general sense. It is this last meaning which the idea of multiculturalism takes up: the position that a society consists of a number of different cultures, and it would be preferable if that were not the case or the differences were much reduced.

A detailed critique of multiculturalism is found in The British Dream by David Goodhart. The concept, he says, ‘has come to refer to the arrival of non-European, “visible” immigrants in western countries in recent decades and their political and social interaction with the majority society’, but apparently it ‘also implies a favourable and accommodating attitude to the arrival on the part of the majority society’. There are two versions: liberal multiculturalism expects immigrants to integrate into mainstream society, while the separatist version ‘privileges minority identities over common citizenship’ and thus slows down integration. The separatist variety in particular states that immigrants do not need to adapt, other than in relatively minor ways, to the society they now live in. As usual in such accounts, immigrants are not just those who have themselves migrated but their children and grandchildren at least too (second- and third-generation immigrants).

Opponents of multiculturalism, of whichever version, usually emphasise the lack of integration by immigrants and their descendants. At one level, this encompasses support, or at least toleration, for practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation. It can also extend to segregation in terms of residence, with towns such as Bradford and Oldham being highly segregated, with immigrant populations living in particular areas where most of the residents are immigrants from the same region, Pakistan and Kashmir serving as examples. Eric Kaufmann (, 6 February, 2019) identified a supposed contradiction at the heart of multiculturalism: ‘White majorities are compelled to be cosmopolitan, urged to supersede their ascribed identity. Minorities are enjoined to do the reverse.’ Multiculturalism was thus asymmetric, making different demands on ‘natives’ and immigrants, with the latter getting an easier ride. This is seen as one of the main reasons behind the rise of populism, which often views immigrants as not truly part of ‘the people’.

According to the Fabian Society, Blair’s Labour government from 1997 was the most multicultural in Britain, if not in Europe, introducing faith schools, bringing Muslims into governance and passing the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, seen as a positive step. This made it illegal to discriminate in immigration matters on grounds of race or colour but, as Maya Goodfellow points out in Hostile Environment, it permitted discrimination on grounds of nationality or ethnic origin. New Labour, she says, also dehumanised asylum seekers, and all in all their policies and rhetoric ‘helped to embed anti-immigration ideas into British politics’. So the 2000 Act and Labour’s policies more generally were by no means all their supporters claimed them to be.

Opponents of multiculturalism seldom identify specifically what counts as British culture. Perhaps it is such things as having a sense of fair play, keeping a stiff upper lip and not pushing in at the front of a queue. Or football, the pub, Christmas shopping, holidaying in Spain, a Chinese or Indian takeaway, talking about the weather, and so on.

The socialist view is that multiculturalism is a misplaced and irrelevant idea, that being for or against it really misses the point. Putting people into categories (Muslim, immigrant, whatever) ignores the fact that people have far more in common than these labels suggest. We are all human beings, and under capitalism most of us are members of the working class, forced to work for a wage or dependent on someone who does so. Thus we are all subject to the exploitation of capitalism, and to varying degrees to its inequalities and discrimination. People differ of course: gender, sexual orientation, abilities, interests, but allotting people to pigeon-holes disguises what brings us together. Nations are artificial entities, and the ‘shared national identity’ mentioned by Cameron would have to be invented and constantly reinforced by propaganda.

Goodhart identifies a trend he terms ‘post-nationalism’, which he ascribes to George Monbiot and Danny Dorling: a view which supposedly rejects all national borders and emphasises universalism and support of the interests of everyone globally, not just those of one nationality. We need not concern ourselves with how accurately this reflects the actual views of Monbiot and Dorling, just point out that in this sense socialists are post-nationalists. Socialism will be a global society, with no countries or borders or passports, where the whole idea of migration, if it exists at all, will be purely geographic. As for culture, it will be up to people in socialism to organise their lives as they wish. We cannot predict now, but there are likely to still be differences such as language, diet, sport and so on. This of course does not mean permitting such barbaric practices as FGM. Aspects of climate will result in differences in how people live, with some finding ways to pass the long winter nights while others will spend far more time outdoors, with some places perhaps having siestas.

In the words of the Chinese saying, ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’. Though later hijacked by Mao Zedong, this expresses well the idea that people in a socialist world will be able to live as they wish, as long as it does not infringe on the freedom of others.
Paul Bennett

Letters: Technology & Socialism (1974)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Technology & Socialism

I found your reply to S. Gamzu (Socialist Standard March 1974) quite perplexing. How many “bases” has Socialism? Two I suggest: an advanced industrial technology and resources, and international proletarian consciousness. Common ownership of the means of production is the means of nullifying capitalist competition and of introducing planned production and the “freeing” of commodities. Common ownership and control is not the basis of Socialism if by basis you mean a necessary and sufficient condition. Socialism is not about providing “a framework within which the means of production could have been developed much more rapidly than under capitalism to the stage where . . .” That is a curiously Bolshevist and Third World “Socialism”. But even so Gamzu was in perfectly good company when he asserted that the Nineteenth Century level of technologico-economic development could not have sustained a socialist mode of production and distribution. As the following quote makes clear Marx recognised this sixteen years before his death: “In all other spheres, we, like all the rest of Continental Europe, suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development.” (Capital Vol. 1—Preface to the First German Edition, Kerr. Edn. p. 13).

Indeed without a certain technologico-economic maturity which can be economically ascertained with reference to the necessaries of life, common ownership and democratic control would disintegrate or must degenerate into internecine squabbles among various councils, Regions, Committees or Workers’ Parliaments. Engels’ much neglected article on the principles of communism emphasizes all this.
F. Clunie 
University of Warwick, Coventry.

The foundation or basis on which Socialism will be established will be the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution with production for use. But before it becomes possible two pre-conditions must exist. They are, as F. Clunie points out: 1) the material conditions of potential abundance, and 2) a world working class who understand and want Socialism and know how to establish it. Since Marx’s day capitalism has itself developed the first of these necessary pre-conditions. It is the task of Socialists, now as formerly, to speed the development of the second.

We still claim that it was not wrong for Marx in his time to advocate Socialism as we understand it. In the Nineteenth Century this would have meant the rapid development of the means of production under common ownership and democratic control to the point where the full implementation of the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’’ would have been possible. What provisions would have been made in the interim period between a Socialist revolution and the advent of abundance and free access would always depend on the wishes of the majority. At the moment it remains in the realm of speculation.

Our correspondent chides us for claiming that Socialism would have provided a framework for such a development. The passage he quotes from Capital does not bear out the point we think he is trying to make. What Marx was claiming was not that it was not worth advocating Socialism but that at that time (i.e. 1867) the bourgeoisie in Germany had not yet swept away the vestiges of pre-capitalist societies. However, the laws of capitalist production worked “. . . with iron necessity toward inevitable results [i.e. the triumph of the capitalist means of production . . .] The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” After the passage quoted by Clunie the Preface continues:
Alongside of modern evils, a whole series of inherited evils oppress us, arising from the passive survival of antiquated modes of production, with their inevitable train of social and political anachronisms. We suffer not only from the living but also from the dead.
The Bolsheviks (as their emulators in the “Third World” will discover) had no option but to develop capitalist relations of production because Socialism is not a possibility in one country alone. In addition the majority of the population in Russia, as elsewhere, did not want Socialism then as they demonstrably and unfortunately do not want it now.

Finally there is no evidence to support the contention that with a majority understanding the need for Socialism it would “degenerate” because free access was not an immediate possibility. A mass of evidence from the field of anthropology for example shows that men and women can co-operate voluntarily to produce wealth and then share the proceeds of that co-operation.

The Class Struggle

Is the political struggle a political struggle? (apologies for the tautology) or is the political mainly an economic struggle?

If it is mainly an economic struggle, what should be our responsibility? What should we all be doing to indicate to others and to satisfy ourselves that it is mainly an economic struggle, so contributing towards making capitalism its own grave-digger.

Or should we all concern ourselves more to be taking steps to end capitalism, to introduce common ownership (socialism)?
B. Baxter
London W.2.

Read our Declaration of Principles! Capitalist society has two classes, the owners and the non- owners (the working class); the conflict of interests between them is the class struggle, which goes on all the time.

It has two aspects, the political and the economic. The latter is the daily struggle over wages and working conditions that all workers are in — usually in trade unions. But this is a restricted, mainly defensive struggle and most of those who wage it take capitalism for granted. When the consciousness of the true nature of things arises, the political struggle has to be engaged in: this is to gain control of the means of production and distribution, through the State, to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism.

Therefore if you want to end capitalism and introduce common ownership, you should be taking part in the political struggle, in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Why not make a start by visiting one of our Branches?

Northern Ireland

Will you explain why the English Capitalist Class see fit and profitable to remain in Northern Ireland in the teeth of so much bombing, commercial ruination and social disruption over which the dead loss to British Insurance Companies and British businesses must run into hundreds or thousands of millions of £’s through bombing alone? Why do not the English or British Capitalist class secede the North just as they seceded the South over 50 years ago, and leave the job of running their industries to the Irish Government who would replace them?

It seems clear and logical that millions in both the north and the south hate English rule and surely it must seem from this that for the English to stay in Northern Ireland can only accentuate the bombing there as well as to expedite the dangers of bombing major urban regions in England, or even of Scotland or Wales in addition. Therefore, for the English Capitalists to clear out of Ireland completely would not only save them millions in otherwise bombed rubble and a perilously shrunken labour force, but the effect of this would be to prevent skilled and wanted labour from perishing, therefore by so doing would cause profit for themselves to accrue, accordingly. So, secession from the North seems irrefutably the answer; otherwise this bombing and killing must lead directly to the utter suicide of English interests in Northern Ireland, since it is obvious that the domiciled British Army and the North Ireland police cannot and never will stop the rot that is taking place in the north.
(Name & Address supplied)

Our correspondent suggests that English capitalists must be losing rather than gaining by remaining in Northern Ireland, and wonders why they do not abandon it. The question might equally be asked about any armed conflict. The capitalists of a nation are not going to give up their means of production to other hands unless compelled; they look to their government to settle things, either by political agreement or by armed force.

In any case he is wrong. A letter by Professor N. J. Gibson of the University of Ulster, in The Guardian on 4th June 1974, estimated the current gross profits of British and other companies in Northern Ireland at £150 millions a year. But we are without concern for “English interests” and companies’ profits in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. What does concern us is the futile misery and working-class loss of life caused by the continual conflicts which capitalism produces and only Socialism can put an end to.

Workers and the Left 

As far as I know you were publicising your principles in 1925, 50 years ago. If every working man voted Labour then they would get in as there is a majority per cent of workers in most districts up and down. How is it then the working class won’t vote for the left? There must be a reason, as they are in the majority.

In any case if a left party got in and put over a left policy, well you see what happened in Spain.

It is said the workers have no savings or money and don’t understand money and that they never innovate business or do things for themselves. And its then a question of what you believe. Will everybody be equal. Anyway I agree there are patches up here of poverty.

Just tell me why the workers do not unite and vote left. Bernard Shaw said in his book Socialism for Women it was because the workers were fobbed off with processions and lotteries. What do you say?
W. Popplewell

You obviously think of “left” as meaning all parties and groups which criticize capitalism and talk about Socialism. The fact however is that what “the left” — i.e. the Communist Party, International Socialists, the I.L.P, etc. — stands for is state capitalism. They are therefore, however they talk, non- or anti-Socialist.

The working class does vote Left, and Right, and Middle-of-the-Road. What it does not vote for, so far, is Socialism. Bernard Shaw’s comment, like many others by him, is a misleading half-truth. The majority of workers are persuaded that capitalism is the natural order. The Socialist Party’s time is spent largely pointing out the obvious, that it isn’t, but workers come to this conclusion themselves too. When they do so in sufficient numbers — that is, when they understand and want Socialism — it can be brought into being.

Letters from A. R. Richardson, S. Gamzu, C.S. are held over, through lack of space, to the next issue.

The Socialist Standard welcomes letters for publication, putting question about the Socialist case or commenting on articles.

Women’s Lib has got it Wrong (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lord Baden-Powell wrote a book for young men called Rovering to Success in which the Rocks to beware in the Voyage of Life were drink, horses, irreligion, cuckoos — and women. “Cuckoos” meant holders of all political views other than raw patriotism, and of women Baden-Powell wrote:
This means on the part of the man a deep respect and tender sympathy for them, coupled with a manly strength of mind and strength of body with which to stand up for them . . . and even, on occasion, to help them against their own failings.

A main step to happiness in this direction is to select the right kind of girl. There are woman and there are dolls . . . You have got to catch yourself up in little bits of selfishness on your part, such, for instance, as grousing at the food because it isn’t exactly to your liking, and that sort of thing. Look at things from her point of view.
That was written in 1922. As an illustration that attitudes have not altered very much, a 1972 book on professional footballers called The Glory Game listed their answers to “Do you help in the house?”:
Jennings : I never help in the house. I couldn’t change a nappy. I’ve never washed a dish. She’s never asked me to. I wouldn’t expect her to, neither would she. 
Kinnear : I just want my wife to be a woman, you know, bring up the kids. I’d be the boss, but I'd ask her opinions. 
Pearce : The bloke has to be in charge. A wife shouldn’t be equal. I do the decorating but the baby’s hers. She looks after it.
This is part of one half of the population talking normally about the other half, and it would be surprising if the victims did not cut up rough and talk of “liberation”. The titles of Women’s Lib books are accurate reflections of Baden-Powell and the footballers: Woman's Estate, The Female Eunuch, The Captive Wife. Add to domestic servitude the fact that women are disabled throughout society — excluded, regarded as cheap labour, required to fall in with sexual expectations or be ridiculed. The case for ending such a gross inequality is self-evident to Socialists. The question is whether the Women’s Liberation movement has an analysis and policies which will end it.

Groups and Demands
Women’s Lib came into existence in the late nineteen-sixties. Of course “feminist” organizations were in being long before, for particular purposes like that of the National Union of Women Teachers which ceased to exist when equal pay was granted. Juliet Mitchell, in Woman's Estate, says of the suffragettes:
And indeed when in 1918 in England it [the vote] was given to women over thirty who owned property, the most powerful wing of the movement was satisfied and the force of the struggle evaporated.
The aim of the modern movement is to go to the fundamentals of women’s position in society. Many of those who started it had been in left-wing and protest groups where, finding themselves required to make the tea while the men talked about justice and equality, they concluded that women needed a separate movement of revolt against “patriarchy’’ and “sexism”.

However, Women’s Lib is not a single unified movement. It consists of small autonomous groups under, roughly, four headings:— (a) political, incorporating or accommodating left-wing aims; (b) reformist, seeking particular improvements; (c) feminist, endeavouring to promote “female consciousness”; and (d) radical feminist, rejecting women’s biological rôle. The last is expounded most fully in Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Its argument is that women’s basic oppression is child-bearing, and that technology — test- tube babies, baby farms, etc. — must be made to bring about an “androgynous culture” which will solve all the problems of mankind.

There is general acceptance of the four demands laid down by the first national women’s conference held at Oxford in 1970: equal pay, equal education and opportunity, 24-hour nurseries, and free contraception and abortion on demand. In fact the Equal Pay Act was passed also in 1970, after being on the trade unions’ agenda and receiving only desultory attention since 1888; it remains to be seen how the employers find ways round it, and the extent to which it will affect women’s positions in the jobs they now hold.

Teaching Division
For — and this is the dilemma for these Liberationists as for all others — they are working within capitalism. Some are at least partly aware of it. For instance, an article “Towards a Statement on Women’s Liberation” by JL and RN in ORA Newsletter No. 4 in 1972 says:
Thus we should be able to explain how the "woman’s rôle” has developed under capitalism; where the origins of that rôle existed before the Industrial Revolution; and why it is that women as a group cannot be liberated under capitalism now.
The statement points out that in the present system “it is not only the woman who is restricted” but children and men are restricted too. It then lists a series of demands for women, beginning with the 1970 four and including campaigns against female fashions and women’s magazines.

But if the article’s own premises are correct, what would be achieved by the measures proposed ? The achievement could only be an exchange of female bondage for male: out of one cage, into another. Perhaps a radical feminist would argue that it is a less uncomfortable cage, but let nobody pretend it is liberation. However, it is not even a matter of different cages. The subjugation of groups by other groups — black by white, have-not by have, female by male — is only a collection of aspects of the single over-riding division on which capitalist society is founded.

Juliet Mitchell in her book gives an ingenuous example of this by speaking of the “anxiety” in Women’s Lib in the US over the “absence of black women in the movement”. Once the claims of groups and sections are acknowledged, it is anyone’s choice which has priority. We are often told of the “divisiveness” of sexism and racism. But the dividing is effective only when the subjects accept it and believe their interests are concerned predominantly with being female, black, or whatever. If it is rejected and the basic working-class identity of interests recognized, there is no obscurity over either the problem or its solution.

Women’s Lib responds to this by saying that the subjugation of women exists, due to men, independently of society and its classes (Millet and the other radical feminists); or that women’s struggles are a special way of attacking capitalism (e.g. Sheila Rowbotham, Woman’s Consciousness, Man's World)’, or that they are a precondition for achieving Socialism (variously understood). A Northern Region conference in June 1972 agreed that its statement of aims should begin with the words:
No women’s liberation without socialist revolution. No socialist revolution without women’s liberation. We aim to change the social relations of reproduction as well as to change the social relations of production.
It was honest, at any rate, for the report of the conference to add: “There was some discussion about whom this was intended for — it was pointed out that ordinary women would not find it very clear.”

Where Reforms Lead
But however the theorizing goes, in practice Women’s Lib lives to make immediate demands for reforms. In many ways it is itself a reflection of changes already taking place. The presumption, as always, is that society can be made to give way to their augmentation, and that if this happens it will end inequalities and confer benefits.

What should be pointed out at once is that the Socialist movement exists precisely because that was found not to be so. Reforms not only do not work like that, but all too frequently recoil. There are two outstanding modern examples of governments “liberating” women and thus obtaining an extra instrument for economic and social manipulation. One is in China, where women have been promoted impressively for the purposes of production, to the accompaniment of rigorous sexual repression. The opposite of the nineteen-thirties’ and -forties’ Russian cult of maternity is pursued, but likewise for demographic reasons: China, it is said, may be a pioneer country in State-authorized free contraception for all.

The other, still more relevant, example is Sweden. There women are little short of what is demanded by Women’s Lib in Europe and USA: wages near men’s, no discrimination in jobs or education, contraception and abortion and divorce all easily obtainable. Sweden should be acclaimed by the Liberationists, but is not. Mitchell affirms that concern with the position of women arises in all countries when their economies demand it:
But in Sweden this alteration is accompanied by a resurgence of explicit discussions (claiming to be disinterested) in women’s rôles. This overt debate can, in fact, obscure the issue; the economic expediency becomes invisible behind the social concern . . . The very stress that Swedish society puts on sexual equality makes it hard to see the oppression of women.
What makes them believe that the same reforms in other countries would not be taken as grist for capitalism’s mill? Indeed the same writer tells us that wages for housework (demanded by Selma James in Women, the Unions and Work) “was supported by conservatives (after all, it is a way of keeping women at home)” in Sweden.

Find the Right Answer
The Women’s Liberation movement is not different from other reformist organizations which choose to put immediate aims before a revolutionary change in society. Engels traced the origin of the suppression of women to that of private property, and he and Marx showed how it was maintained throughout historical transformations up to modern times. Private ownership turns liberation movements into the agents of ruling classes; common ownership alone can give the facility for new kinds of relationships.

The alternative case of the radical feminists, that women’s suppression is not societal but is the male at work, is no case at all. Their belief in this “human nature” argument is the antithesis of radicalism — what it supports is the ruling-class yarn that lords and masters are not made but born. On the other hand, some research done in the Women’s Lib cause provides fresh insights into capitalism and how things can be under Socialism: about parent-child relationships, or the studies of conditioning made in books like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

It is a fact that some Women’s Lib has become (no doubt against others’ wish) a partial front organization for Communists, IS, anarchists and other left-wing groups with other aims. It is likewise a fact that, even were Socialists favourably disposed to it, male ones would be barred from most of its meetings; and we do not distinguish between male and female chauvinists. Socialists are opposed to Women’s Lib. We are for liberation, indeed — of the whole of mankind, and whoever wants the liberation of any part of it must join with us. And if from woman’s estate, she will find that in the Socialist movement the distinction is not made. We exist as comrades with one object in common.
Robert Barltrop