Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Sting in the Tail: Attila’s fan club (1994)

The Sting in the Tail column from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Attila’s fan club

"I’m depraved because I’m deprived" runs one line in a song from the musical West Side Story, but the Police Federation doesn’t agree.

At their annual conference in Brighton delegates rejected by three-to-one a motion stating that "crime is inevitably linked to deprivation".

Speakers in the debate queued up to rubbish this and echo the Tory view that crime is down to the "wickedness and greed" of criminals who deliberately choose to break the law.

But they were accused by one of the motion’s supporters of sounding like the "Attila the Hun fan club".

It was a delegate from the Metropolitan Police who made the most profound contribution when he insisted:
"We‘re not playing politics. We’d be no good at politics — we’re much too honest" (Guardian, 20 May).
Since this came from a member of what is widely regarded at the most corrupt police force in Britain then it is surely the unkindest thing yet said about politicians.

It gets everywhere

That inevitable struggle between employees and employers crops up in the strangest places.

Buddhist monks in a Japanese temple have formed the Heartful Labour Union because one of them was abused, assaulted and then sacked by the head monk (Guardian, 11 June).

This head monk refuses to negotiate, thinks Buddhism is going to the dogs because the monks are "only in it for the money", and claims there is no employment relation between the monks and the temple, only one of mutual "trust".

Now a court case will decide if the monks are paid workers or owe allegiance to a "Higher Authority".

Meanwhile, the sacked monk worries about his mortgage and his children’s future and says "money is a key problem. I have to keep my family".

Dressed in his saffron robe, this monk may not have the appearance of your average worker, but he obviously has just the same problems.

Master race again
"Think of it as master race studies. Some Florida schools have introduced a new curriculum which teaches that Americans are ’unquestionably superior ’ to any other nation now, or at any time in history" (Guardian, 16 May).
This policy has been imposed by Christian fundamentalists who control the local school board. Teachers have been told by the board’s chairwoman that they can only discuss other countries if they first tell their pupils that America is "the best of the best". She has never been outside America but said "I don’t need to visit other countries to know that America is the best."

Is this policy crazy? That depends on your standpoint. For instance, another board member explained that they think an American-first policy is necessary for the children because "if they felt our land was inferior or equal to others, they would have no motive to go to war and defend our country"

For anyone who looks at it from that angle, that policy isn’t so crazy, is it?

Hogan’s heroes

Professor Robert Hogan, a psychologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, claims that most bosses are incompetents who command little respect from their subordinates and only got their jobs because they are good at interviews which he derides as "beauty contests":
"There is a type who is particularly good in these contests . . . These people are arrogant, conceited, believe they are God's gift and won't take blame for mistakes, only the credit for everyone else’s successes. Once they get on the job they drive everyone nuts" (The Herald, 25 April).
Hogan’s claims "are supported by research which shows that among the top 500 US companies 60 percent of chief executives are fired every three years".

And these are the people who call themselves "the wealth creators", demand a monopoly of decision-making, and award themselves huge salaries and pensions. They are also the people whom most workers insist "we cannot do without".

Nothing sacred

Yet another old British institution is under threat. No, not the Royals or even the Tory Party, but the building societies. There were over 700 societies in 1960 but now there are only 84 with more casualties to come.

The fact is that there are too many societies competing for mortgage business. They have been losing market share to the banks while current low interest rates have caused savers to withdraw funds from the societies to invest in National Savings and shares.

All this explains why the Cheltenham and Gloucester society wanted to merge with Lloyd’s Bank. If this eventually happens then their combined strength will give them the edge over their competitors, so the other societies and banks will be under pressure to follow their example.

In socialist society homes will be built without the need for building societies, banks or mortgages. All that will be required is labour, materials and land, and these exist in abundance.

Painful truth

"Days of boom and bust are over, Clarke promises" read the front page headline in the Independent reporting the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 15 June Mansion House speech.

This was just another politicians’ promise of course. Pure hot air, since years of experience have shown that governments just can’t control the way the capitalist economy works.

But Clarke is a Tory "wet". Which means he shares the Labour Party (and LibDem, for that matter) illusion that, with a bit of good will and determination, the rough edges can be smoothed off capitalism, as in this case by getting rid of the boom-slump cycle.

Two of his recent predecessors as Chancellor, however, both realise the true situation.

Nigel Lawson told a meeting the following week of the Social Market Foundation (by the sound of it, an institution which believes that circles can be squared) at the London School of Economics that governments have no power to abolish the boom-slump cycle. "The plain fact is that the economic cycle is endemic", he said (Independent, 21 June).

Norman Lamont has said the same thing in his 1991 budget speech when he declared "recessions are always painful, but they are an inescapable feature of market economies" (Independent, 20 March 1991).

Maybe after a little more experience like them of trying unsuccessfully to control the way the capitalist economy works Kenneth Clarke, too, will come to realise that regularly-occurring slumps are an inescapable, endemic painful feature of capitalism.

Hidden agenda in East Asia (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March 1993, the CIA decided that the 30 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon was capable of producing enough plutonium for one nuclear warhead a year. What convinced the US that Kim Il-Sung was the next third world dictator to threaten the post-cold war peace process was North Korea’s decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). North Korea had joined the 154 signatory pact in 1985 on the insistence of the Soviet Union, and was now the first country to withdraw.

What further upset the US was when North Korea cocked the proverbial snook at the US by forbidding inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out inspections at two sites and by further ignoring a 31 March deadline for the admittance of the IAEA.

The following month the US wanted to push for an enforcement of economic sanctions through the UN Security Council. Such sanctions would have had little impact. North Korea has been isolated internationally for some years and has enjoyed pariah status since the end of the cold war. Again, China, still on speaking terms with the Pyongyang regime, and being a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the right to veto, would have scuppered any embargo.

In July 1993, President Clinton was comforting US troops stationed in South Korea, reassuring them that "it would be pointless for them (the North Koreans) to develop nuclear weapons . . . if they ever used them it would be the end of their country".

By November, Clinton was still impressing his friends with his fighting talk, promising them that "any attack on South Korea would be an attack on the US" (Guardian, 8 November). His reason this time was that North Korea had amassed 70 percent of its forces on the 38th Parallel. North Korea was responding to threatened economic sanctions, warning that any attempt "to force it to comply with UN rules would be regarded as an aggressive act to which it would respond in kind" (Independent, 8 November).

A week later, probably in an attempt to intimidate North Korea, the US and South Korea began ten days of joint military manoeuvres. Not that the military brass in South Korea feared an invasion or took North Korean threats seriously. The Economist (12-18 February) reported how "South Korea generals angrily dismiss the idea that the vast but ill-equipped North Korean army could sweep into the South. They speak of the superiority of the American and South Korean air forces . . . Ordinary soldiers at the front joke about the North's tanks running out of fuel before they even make it across the border."

In early January this year, North Korea agreed to allow IAEA inspectors access to seven nuclear facilities. The inspectors later discovered that monitoring equipment they had installed had been tampered with, thus giving the US further cause to believe North Korea had something to hide.

During bilateral talks in March, the North Korean representatives stormed out, threatening to turn Seoul into "a sea of fire". The South Korean government responded by permitting the US to begin installing a Patriot missile system. North Korea hit back by threatening to attack Japan if joint US/North Korean hostilities broke out.

Later in March, Russia stepped into the arena proposing an international conference to defuse the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear programme. This was followed by a UN attempt to impose a resolution urging North Korea to allow the IAEA experts to complete inspection at North Korea’s nuclear facilities. China, however, as anticipated, obstructed the move.

Sanctions are looking increasingly more difficult to impose, let alone enforce. The Japanese Socialist Party (state capitalist and no relation to us), the largest party in the governing coalition there, has strong affiliations with the "communists" in North Korea and would more than likely object to the enforcement of sanctions. Iran, a key oil supplier to North Korea, and financer of Pyongyang’s long-range ballistic missile programme, would jump at the chance at flouting a US-led embargo.

The Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based "think tank", recently warned that North Korea could soon be exporting finished nuclear bombs to Iran, thus increasing pressure on the IAEA to pursue their objectives in North Korea to their end.

There are some in South Korea who believe that such excessive Western pressure upon the Pyongyang regime to open the doors of its nuclear industry will spark a last-ditch, cornered-rat syndrome that will turn Kim U-Sung on the offensive.

The US currently have 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea, and North Koreans believe that the nuclear weapons that were allegedly removed from South Korean soil in 1991 are still there.

North Korea has bitter memories of past US threats to nuke them. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower in 1951 and 1952, both reminded North Korea of what happened to Japan when it failed to comply with US wishes.

Simon Tisdall, writing in the Guardian, believes North Korean fears are not unfounded and not based solely on a fear of the US:
"Set adrift by the collapse of a global security system built around US-Soviet confrontations. North Korea's neighbours are now engaged in an arms race every bit as frantic as the contest between the old superpowers" (12 April 1993)
Tisdall went on to argue that future flashpoints are to be found in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Gulf of Tonkin, Cambodia, the Phillipines and Burma.

In 1991, when politicians were harping on about the "Peace Dividend", East Asia accounted for 34 percent of all purchases in major weapons sales. A year later, January 1992, Thailand placed a $540 million order for a squadron of F-16s, and Taiwan topped that by ordering 150 US fighters worth $6 billion. Exactly one year later, Indonesia bought half of former East Germany’s navy for the knock-down price of $30 million. That same month, Japan submitted a defence budget of $37 billion. And in recent years China has raised its defence budget by 50 percent, estimated to be worth $24 billion annually. With neighbours like these who needs enemies?

Considering the US has more nuclear warheads than any other nation on earth and has a proven track record of using them against oriental people, and bearing in mind the experience of Saddam when he tangled with the US, threatening their interests in the Middle East, is it any wonder Kim Il-Sung is feeling intimidated?

East Asia and Pacific countries accounted for 58 percent of US exports last year. Obviously the best way to protect these markets is to have a military presence there and a constant threat that justifies that presence. Even the pro-capitalist Economist has spotted the hidden agenda:
"Many Koreans suspect America of exaggerating the threat from the north for their own purposes: to justify the continued presence of 36,000 troops in one of the cheapest training grounds in the world; to prevent defence cuts from biting too deeply; and to help sell the South Koreans weapons it can scarcely afford” (12-18 February).
If South Korea is buying weapons it can ill afford, then what must be the situation in the North where there have been widespread food riots? North Korea hardly has the money to buy the type of weaponry its neighbours are shelling out for. North Korea is in fact an impoverished country. In 1990 its GNP declined by almost 4 percent. Its estimated GNP that year (per head of population) was one fifth that of South Korea. In 1992 its income fell by 7.6 percent.

Kim Il-Sung’s threats had little impact on the South Korean economy. While he was threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire", the Seoul stock markets were bounding upwards by 37 percent, thus widening the financial gulf between north and south.

Kim Il-Sung’s "seven-year plan", which came to an end in 1993, was short on all targets. During the past four years of the plan the state-capitalist command economy shrunk by an average four percent annually.

There has been civil unrest and food riots in North Korea for over a year and many experts believe that Kim Il-Sung in in danger of being ousted. The only logical conclusion one can draw is that the stand-off with the IAEA and the slanging match with the US are Kim Il-Sung’s deliberate distractions from domestic troubles.

The US, of course, are aware of all this, just as they are aware that North Korea poses no real threat to world peace, but they go through the actions of being displeased with Pyongyang, stirring up unfounded fears in Asia in the process, as a means of securing markets for US arms manufacturers.
John Bissett

The case against kicking beggars (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The popular media wisdom that John Major is a nice fellow, but an incompetent idiot is wrong in one respect. Nice fellows do not kick you when you’re down in the gutter. Major, who as Minister of Social Security under Thatcher, passed the legislation which has forced so many young, unemployed workers to be homeless and sleeping in shop doorways, has now told a Bristol newspaper that beggars are "offensive" and an "eyesore".

But does it really matter that John Major’s alleged niceness is about as solid as his political future? According to the media, for whom John Smith as a living political leader was generally portrayed as something of a dull mediocrity whose main talent lay in drawing a standing ovation from the thieves of the CBI, the same politician once dead embodied almost every virtue required for canonisation. This depiction may well be deserved: the Labour leader may well have shared the compassion of Mother Theresa (he certainly seems to have shared her religious stupidity) and the desire for social change which would have made the unemployed employed, the impoverished well off and maybe even the blind to see and the lame to walk. Virtuous intent and sincerity are not the issues.

The fact is that when you support capitalism you find yourself having to do some very nasty things. Governing the capitalist system means accepting the position where a very small minority of millionaires and billionaires own and control the resources of society while the vast majority own nothing more than the ability to work. It means accepting and enforcing wage-slavery whereby the majority who produce must labour to make rich the minority who possess. It means accepting production for sale and profit rather than production solely for use. So that if profits are threatened food must be destroyed while the hungry starve and homes must be taken away from workers who cannot afford the rent or mortgage payments and work must be denied to those who cannot be milked for profit. Accepting capitalism means sending young workers to die pointlessly so that their masters’ profits, trade routes and resources can be protected or expanded. The moment you commit yourself to play any part whatsoever in the maintenance of the capitalist system you mast accept its priorities and, regardless of moral aspirations, will be dragged into the depravity of excusing its callous indifference to human needs.

And so back to Major and the beggars. We do not suppose that John Major, the lad with two O-levels who ran away from the circus for the bright lights of the bank, has ever sat down and decided to regard his fellow human beings with the callous contempt that he has exhibited. But as an errand boy for the profit system, which is all that any Prime Minister ever is, what else can he do but blame those who are the most obvious victims of capitalism? The only alternative would be to hold capitalism to account.

In 1945 the great hope of the welfare state was presented as a way out of the Dickensian darkness of early capitalism. We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of many of those reformers who promoted such hopes. They believed that a capitalist Labour government could achieve the impossible task of putting profits first whilst providing care for those in need as well. In the years of economic expansion following the destruction of the world war this seemed to be possible. Most workers had jobs and the state schemes to build cheap homes and basic hospitals and elementary social services seemed affordable.

Half a century later the futility of such reformism as an overall solution to the problem of capitalism is obvious to nearly everyone. John Prescott, in a pathetic attempt to cast himself as a fiery radical by calling for a return to 1945, is now in a minority even in the Labour Party. From the heir apparent, Tony Blair — a man with the mind of a Kinnock and the sincerity of a Clinton — there will be no talk of reforming capitalism out of existence. The capitalist parties do not even pretend any more that they are something else.

The welfare state promised an end to beggars on the streets. And for a time they were not there. For most of the present writer’s life it was rare to ever see a person begging on the streets of London. It was the sort of awful feature of capitalism that we knew went on in Delhi or Bangkok, but not here. Now it is impossible not to see beggars: in the cold wind and rain we see kids and the elderly shivering in blankets in doorways and cardboard boxes.

Some of them have been thrown out of psychiatric hospitals to save the government money. Some of them only ended up in these hospitals because of wretched home conditions which forced them to turn to the streets. Most have no hope for a future. A surprisingly large number are workers who used to have jobs, used to have homes, used to be across that thin line which separates wage-slaves like us from wage-slaves like them.

And in a nasty bid to boost his support amongst the mean-spirited and the vicious John Major kicks them when they're down. That it has backfired on him is proof that workers are not wholly gullible. Just like when government Ministers carved careers out of being insulting about the promiscuity of single mothers while they were creating single mothers as fast as they were closing down coal mines, most workers have taken the measure of their integrity. That is why politicians are more unpopular now than ever they were.

Politicians should not be allowed to get away with it. Beggars should not have to beg. Both curses call for one solution. Abolish capitalism. In a society of common ownership and democratic control of resources, where all will have access to the store of social wealth, who will need to lie to gain votes or beg to gain money?
Steve Coleman

Education under capitalism (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The education system functions to serve the needs of the capitalist society in which it resides. Its objective is to produce educated and competent workers, including managers and military personnel; in addition, knowledgeable, sophisticated members of the capitalist class. The subjects and training cover a vast complex field that assures the owners of a qualified workforce that can do everything that is necessary to produce, distribute and market commodities for sale and profit, in line with existing technologies.

Of vital importance is the fact that a working class is produced which accepts capitalism socially and politically. The majority of students, when their formal education has been concluded, embrace the wages system without question. Their labour power is ready to be marketed. They, in turn, are willing to conform with docility and eagerness to all the standard norms of capitalist society which, in effect, will maintain their rulers in power in contrast to their own subservience.

The superstructure of society, is determined and conditioned by its economic base — the dynamic for its existence. Capitalism is a social organization wherein a minority own and control the means of production and distribution for the purpose of capital accumulation through the realization of profit based upon large-scale wage-labour. The education system is locked into this process in every conceivable manner both directly and indirectly.

The whole curriculum, from start to finish, is conducted within an atmosphere of competition and stress together with a weeding-out process which segregates those with supposedly superior talents from those less fortunate. This is accomplished through the use of tests, examinations, and grading, all of which have a direct bearing upon ultimate occupations and potential earnings. Such an environment prevents the pleasurable pursuit of education as a primary end in itself. The young find themselves involved in an intensive training programme, presented under the guise of education, which will ultimately affect the price of their labour-power and in many instances can prove disastrous health-wise.

As the pressure of schooling is mounting in the western industrial societies and Japan, child suicide has increased. Japanese authorities offer two reasons: (1) The country’s competitive education system in which the road to success in later life is linked to passing difficult examinations to enter the leading universities; (2) The reaction of some children to the mounting pressures of excessively regulated lives. The education pressure in Japan is unremitting and not only causes ulcers in children but in many cases leads to suicide.

The perpetual conflict within the educational system is the attempt to produce the desired results at a budget price, within a competitive, stressful environment harmful to both students and teachers. The teachers themselves, in similar fashion to their students, have been graded and selected to perform at certain levels in different categories. Their own education has been in many instances limited by economic and material circumstances beyond their control. They find themselves frustrated by rigid guidelines that apparently do not bring out the best in their students, especially those who come from broken, poverty-stricken homes.

In addition, just like their fellow workers, they are faced with a never-ceasing variety of seemingly insoluble problems which relate to the economic considerations of a cost-conscious administration and mean that the individual needs of the student rarely, if ever, get priority. Instead, education receives the same approach as that given to commodities which have to be produced in a given period of time, at a certain price, for a particular market, with a quality-control that leaves much to be desired.

There is an interdependence, a direct relationship, between the educational system and the business world. Starting with first year children, a concept called "career education" has been used to permeate all academic subjects at all levels of education, from nursery school through junior college.

Is there an alternative to this market-orientated education system? Yes, in a sane society, real education, whereby the pupil learns in an environment without stress and competition, where time is not at a premium, where financial considerations are non-existent, where individual needs are in harmony with society’s, has never been given an opportunity to work its potential wonders.

Education properly organized under these conditions, will be a continuous one that will not commence and finish at a given age, but rather will be recognized as a never-ceasing quest for individual improvement throughout our lives.

In a socialist society it should be obvious that education will not be prostituted to the needs of a class minority or the demand of a market place — because neither will exist. All healthy individuals will be able to satisfy their desire for knowledge unhampered by economic restrictions or barriers. The whole of society will in a sense become a perpetual seat of learning wherein studying, travel and the productive process can become beneficially interrelated. In socialism, the world itself can become "The class room".
Michael Ghebre

What is meant by “mine”? (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

My daughter, my son, my husband, my wife, my girlfriend, my house, my land, my dog, my business, my factory, my country . . . Does "mine" simply mean that these things and these people are important to me, that I need them and care for them — or does it mean something more? Does "mine" mean that I have control over these things and that I can exclude others from enjoying the benefits they have to offer, and limit the parameters within which they may move?

The concept of ownership pervades the world we live in. Socialists believe that it goes hand-in-hand with an anti-human system of living.

I was recently involved in a very unpleasant incident. A woman I know phoned me, very distressed, at 6am, having been awake all night. Another woman, known to us both, was harbouring her 14-year-old daughter and my friend wanted her daughter back. She asked me to give her a lift to her (ex-)friend’s house. When the daughter was still not forthcoming, she called the police.

The upshot was that the daughter, who no longer wanted to live with her mother, called Childline and the woman harbouring her contacted a solicitor. It was very dramatic and I was not happy about being caught up in the middle of it. The mother had not been violent and the friction between them did not seem any different from what is normal between parents and teenagers.

But the daughter no longer wanted to live with her mother. She is now living with foster parents and, so far, is happier. The mother is heartbroken — and furious.

At the height of the crisis, she resorted to the argument of property: "She is my daughter. Aren’t I supposed to tell her what to do?"

As parents, present society makes as responsible, legally and socially, for the behaviour of our sons and daughters until they are 16 years old. This means that we are expected to control them, expected to have the final say over their every last action and we are culpable if their behaviour displeases the wider society. How much is "adolescent rebellion" a simple expression of indignation by a person who knows they are being treated as someone else’s property?

Generally speaking, all responsibility for the care of one or more children is placed upon the shoulders of just one or two adults for years on end; it is not necessarily the best way for either children or parent. There are societies, usually coming under the heading of "primitive", where the care of children beyond breastfeeding is a far more communal affair.

Discussion of the property relationship between parents and children raises other issues. The world is dominated by a system of property relationships which various people, including Engels, Reich and more recently, women in the feminist movement have described as "patriarchy".

Patriarchy involves the control of women and children by men. It is intrinsically patrilinear. Children are seen to be the property of their biological father, and take on the name of that father, as does their mother.

Each man has one or more wives, whom he regards as his property. The control of a woman's sexual behaviour is a very strong focus of patriarchal society, both because of the danger of "illegitimate" children, but also because one of the benefits which a man derives from his wife is sexual pleasure. If the wife is his property, he does not want other men helping themselves to the benefits thereof. Sadly, the imperative to control women’s sexual behaviour has led to the most terrible measures being taken, for example, footbinding in China and clitoridectomy in Africa. Back home in Britain double standards of sexual morality still exist. Commonly used insults such as "dog", "tart", "slut” have no masculine equivalent.

Many readers may know their personal relationships to have a very different basis from this. It is nonetheless a fact that this system of family relationships has dominated the world for thousands of years and it is supported and maintained by women as well as men. It is an important element of property-based society, so deeply ingrained it is regarded by many as "natural". Radical feminists can be forgiven for believing that the ultimate solution to the world’s problems is for women to overthrow patriarchy . . .

However it is not just women and children who are oppressed. These are not the only property relationships.

A slave is a human being who is being treated as another’s property. And we know there have been slaves far back in the past. What is not so immediately obvious is that the majority of us today are ourselves the slaves of a small minority of people who own and control the means of production; land, factories and so on. We are wage-slaves. Our relationship with our employers is a property' relationship.
Before our present economic system, the one dominating Britain was feudalism. In the preface to his version of Robin Hood, Henry' Gilbert wrote in 1912:
"Once upon a time the great mass of English people were unfree. They could not live where they chose, nor work for whom they pleased. Society in those feudal days was mainly divided into lords and peasants. The lords held the land from the King and the peasants or villeins were looked upon as part of the soil, and had to cultivate it to support themselves and their masters."
Henry Gilbert was, of course, right to suggest that the "Free Market Economy" which now dominates the world, does afford a greater freedom to the majority of the human race than the preceding feudalistic economy.

However, few of us now can live where we choose, or even have the dubious privilege, in these days of high unemployment, of finding another master, if we do not like the present one. I, for one, am very dissatisfied with the treatment I receive from my present employer but I have precious little chance of finding another job in a hurry, and, as for living where I choose, even with full-time employment I have been unable to move to more suitable accommodation, because I could not sell the house. Yet our local area has plenty of homeless people who would gladly have my house to live in, if only I was in a position to give it to them. So much for our "free" market economy.

To return to the aforementioned "primitive" societies; a large number of them demonstrate that we are perfectly capable of living as human beings without such a property basis. Having no property does not mean that you lose your house, your wife, your children. Far from it; it means that you can far more readily move to suitable accommodation. If your wife stays with you, you will be sure that she wants to because of who you are, not because she is economically trapped. Likewise your children . . .

We need to reclaim our sociality and begin to relate to each other as equals. Many of us are making sincere attempts to do just that already. We will find our attempts under constant threat of sabotage by a world system which eats, sleeps and breathes property and slavery. The only way to effectively and permanently achieve equality in our relationships is to first reclaim, as a class, the means of production, to set up a system of decision-making in which we may all have a part and a system of supply and demand whereby all people make and do what they are able to make and do, and receive that which they consider themselves to be in need of.

This way any limitations upon a person’s freedom are dictated only by the real needs of the overwhelming majority (for instance, our need for an ozone layer will interfere with a person’s freedom to manufacture CFCs). The vested interests and indulgences of a wealthy minority can no longer take precedence.

This is what is meant by socialism. We need the vast majority of the world’s people to understand it, want it and be prepared to work for it, in order to bring it about. Let us hope we do.
Nicky Snell

Capitalism and computers (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you’re busily looking around at what political parties propose to do about the world we live in, you’ll notice that it’s very hard to get them to come clean and tell you their whole programme. They will say that is because you can’t explain a whole political programme in a sentence. I say that if you can’t explain your objective in a sentence it's because you haven’t got one. The Socialist Party objective is highly controversial, but it's very straightforward: the abolition of private property. It’s not that we oppose capitalism and would like to have some other arrangement of the property laws. It’s not that we hate money and prefer direct bartering of property. We oppose the concept of property ownership itself, and everything it entails.

Now why should property be such a problem, you might ask. Surely all our problems derive from not having enough of it in the first place? Don't we spend all our lives dreaming of the Pools? How does getting rid of all money and private property solve anything? We want more of these things, not less.

In answer allow me to refer you to interesting developments in the computer industry by way of analogy. In the world of computers, information can be privately owned, and therefore bought and sold, just like tins of spaghetti. Now I must point out that unlike other commodities such as spaghetti it is possible to steal information without its owner being aware of the theft — the shelf stocks don’t shrink from pilfering because you don’t actually physically take anything. You simply copy it. And if you’re copying it, you're not buying it. So the information tycoons get ripped off (shame) by invisible tealeaves who hardly ever get caught. Question: What can they do? Answer: Take you to the cleaners if they do catch you, otherwise not much.

Software piracy is now a criminal offence and is covered by the copyright laws. So if your boss at work asks you to copy an unlicensed program for the company, or use a program that you know has been copied without a license, you personally can also get prosecuted. So tell the boss to fuck off, unless he's going to make it worth your while to break the law. And incidentally, disgruntled ex-employees reading this will be interested in the potential for dropping their old employers in the shit. The fines can be ginormous. Not that I would encourage fellow workers to be spiteful, you understand . . .

But all that only applies to direct bit for bit mechanical copying. Alternatively, suppose you rewrote a program in your own code, in such a way that it did exactly the same thing as the original commercial program, and you then sold the finished item as your own program? In other words, you haven't copied it, but you have created an exactly similar replica. Maybe it sounds improbable to have to reinvent the wheel like that but it’s called reverse engineering and it goes on all the time. Only the twisted logic of a money-driven society could come up with anything quite as stupid as this, but there you go. Much of what passes for research in many different industries is simply company scientists being paid to reverse engineer other companies’ ideas. You wouldn't be breaching copyright, but you would still have pinched someone else’s idea and used it to make a profit. So how do you stop that? In theory, by holding a patent. However, you can’t rely on them.

In a recent patent dispute Intel the chipmakers tried to sue a rival company, AMD, for reverse engineering the 80386 and 80486 series of chips. AMD were of course guilty as hell. In fact they didn’t deny it. They won the case on the basis that reverse engineering didn’t breach Intel’s patent restrictions and that besides you can't copyright a number. So they effectively stole the whole thing, name and all, and got away with it. Intel retired sulking over their lost case, eventually emerging to retaliate with dash and brilliance by calling the new 80586 the 'Pentium'. On a different note, we can no doubt look forward to the Sextium, or maybe they’ll change its name to 'Esprit' or perhaps just 'Roger’. You think I jest? I make schoolboy joke? Let me tell you, an industry that calls a binary number an item of 'underwear' is capable of anything.

I digress. Now it happens that once upon a time the Patent Office didn't grant patents for computer algorithms at all, arguing amongst other things that it wasn't possible to call a string of numbers in a file (all that a program really is) an invention. In the 1950s through to the 1970s, unhampered by patent restrictions, research borrowed freely from research, and computer software developed very rapidly during this period as a result. It was an exciting period to be involved in computers, and all the real landmarks in computer technology were established at this time: spreadsheets, word-processing and DTP, computer aided design, networking, real-time simulation and virtual reality. The only thing that looked more exciting than the present was the near future.

However, things changed. During the 1980s patents started to be granted, sometimes for ridiculous things which were not original at all. The Patent Office arguably couldn’t keep abreast of fast-moving changes in this sunrise industry and tended to believe what it was told. And then the problems began.

If you can gull the Patent Office into granting a patent for your code, then whenever anyone writes any program that uses the same idea, they have to pay you royalties. So what big software houses are doing now is buying up buckets of patents and using them to sue the arses off all their competitors as a way of slowing them down — because it ends up being impossible to write any code at all without being in breach of somebody’s patent. As one observer puts it, in today’s information superhighway the Patent is what gets you pulled over for speeding (New Scientist, April 23).

The problem is, ownership of ideas slows down development of new ideas across the board, and in every field of computer science, and by extension in every field of human endeavour. Research is now hag-ridden with lawsuits. Nobody dares do anything innovative for fear of being stomped on by the big bullyboy patent owners. The result is that progress grinds to a halt, or shifts phase into that monumental waste of effort known as "lateral" or "sideways development", which is a process of designing the same thing over and over again in different fashion shades. You see what I'm getting at here? Private ownership has avalanched into the vale of ideas and dammed up the river. So the computer world is fiercely divided now between the rich software houses with their libraries of patents and their conservative views, and the rest who are clamouring to abolish the patent system. In other words, abolish the right to "own" an idea by patent, and you can at one stroke emancipate computer research and people can once again start to do really interesting things with the technology.

Anyone familiar with the Socialist case will see the similarity between the two arguments immediately. They are saying that ownership of ideas halts the progress of ideas. We are saying that ownership itself halts human progress of almost any sort. The scientists complain that they can’t have free access to ideas. We complain that humans can’t have free access to even basic necessities like food and shelter. The upshot of both arguments is the same — how are we supposed to progress as a civilisation under such restrictions?

In actuality the progressive scientists are not being as revolutionary as all that. Even if the state agreed to abolish the patent system — perhaps in order to stimulate the sagging computer economy — that doesn’t mean that suddenly information would become free. Those scientists would still be happy to make us pay for their ideas — they just wouldn't have to pay themselves. But the probability is that they won’t get their way. The reason that you can "own" an idea is that capitalism is a system of "ownership". It tends to commodify whatever can be made into a commodity, however unlikely. If you can figure out some way to stop everybody getting at it, then you can force them to buy it from you as a commodity, on a market established for that purpose, and at a massive rate of profit.

Example: why isn’t air a commodity while water is? Because they haven’t figured out how to restrict our access to air yet, but god help us all when they do. You see, the money system depends on stopping you from getting what you want. Now you see we are having to pay for metered water, even though it rains for eleven months of the bloody year, because they "own" the purification plants. A thing doesn’t have to be rare or scarce to be a commodity. It just has to be rendered unavailable by careful containment.

So all that’s happened in the computer industry is that information has been commodified. There should be no surprise about that, and no real expectation of being able to return to earlier times. You can’t seriously expect owners of a commodity like information to allow you to decommodify it from under them. Not unless you were actually challenging the concept of property ownership itself, the whole basis of capitalism, in which case we’d be talking world socialist revolution.

So hard cheese to the computer scientists. And anyway, what makes them think progress is on the agenda in the first place, or that "pure" research is or ought to be somehow exempt from the property system? They really do become insufferably pious and moral at times. There’s only one item on the agenda of anyone who owns anything in this world, and it begins with 'M'and rhymes with funny. Ingenious though I think computer researchers frequently are, I just can’t figure out where they get this idea from. Too much staring at the screen makes you go blind, perhaps.
Paddy Shannon

Whose fault is it anyway? (1994)

From the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the day the Tories won the 1979 general election a group of trade unionists in the telecommunication industry gathered in their local and assured each other that within six months they would bring the Thatcher government down through a campaign of industrial sabotage. The rest, as they say, is history: but those boozy, disgruntled Labour supporters are not alone in a desire to forget the promise of fifteen years ago.

The Tory election manifesto then had recommended itself as based on "reason, on common sense, above all on the liberty of the people under the law". That was how things were going to be run — on reason, common sense, liberty — and Thatcher had emerged from Number Ten to tell us how her government would bring harmony and prosperity as well. It is all very different now as the government staggers from one crisis — economic, diplomatic, political, personal — to another. The Tories, who have always won votes from a popular prejudice that they are in control of events, are being seen as dramatically out of control and they have paid for this in their electoral losses. However brave the face they put on it the fact is that the Conservative Party is in a country-wide panic about what has gone wrong for them and how they might put it right.

Back to basics
So far they have not been very successful. Each diversionary ruse they have tried has failed - sometimes worse than failed. Back to Basics, for example, had hardly been launched before it suffocated beneath a blanket of sleaze, as Tory MPs seemed to be queueing up to expose its hypocrisy by revelation of their business activities and what they chose to call their private lives.

So until something better comes along the Tories will probably continue in their efforts to excuse their government’s failure in the simplest possible way: they will blame it onto someone else. This is not a new idea, nor one exclusive to Conservatives; Labour governments were always ready to explain their impotence and confusion onto currency speculators or Tory saboteurs in the civil service or greedy and irresponsible workers who wanted more wages than they "rightfully" earned.

Politicians who have to face up to their inability to produce profitable markets out of nothing, to control prices when economic forces are pushing them inexorably up or down, often ascribe it all to a lack of confidence, to industry "talking itself into a slump". They ignore the fact that if it is possible to create a slump by talking about it, it should be equally possible to create a boom by talking about that: in reality the economic problems which undermine confidence in that way are very real.

For example in September 1990 Thatcher was upbraiding a meeting of Welsh business leaders about the "voices of gloom . . . newspaper talk of recession . . . self-doubts assailing the business community — or perhaps more accurately the press". But it is simply not good enough to say it has all been got up by the press. Thatcher’s outburst was partly in reply to a CBI survey which reported some 10,000 jobs were being lost monthly as orders for goods, and consequently output, fell. At the same time NatWest Bank had been forced to write off £230 million in bad debts — which they would hardly have had to do in a boom — and reported 235 companies going into receivership during the first six months of 1990 — about twice as many as the previous year. The CBI had described British capitalism as "on the brink of recession" — they were not being pessimistic; they were facing facts.

Beggars and homeless
It is not only industrialists and bankers who have been talking themselves unnecessarily into difficulties. One of the most distressing symptoms of the so-called prosperity of Tory governments has been the re-emergence of beggars on the city streets. In the West End at night nameless bundles of misery huddle under whatever they can find to cover them. On the tubes frail youngsters listlessly display placards appealing for lose change. Some of these are mentally sick people who before the benefits of "community care" descended on us would probably have been in hospital. The minister responsible for housing, Sir George Young, an Old Etonian toff, once described such destitutes as the people you have to step around as you leave the opera. It was a chilling illustration of what one of the soggier Tory wets thinks about the homeless, whose number have doubled since 1979.

In rather different circumstances — Young never has to avoid them on the pavement after a night out — are those people who have become homeless because they could not afford to keep up their mortgage payments. In recent years numbers of such people increased to such an extent that even the banks and building societies — not to mention estate agents — became worried. By a typically grisly misnomer, this process is known as "repossession", as if the evicted people had ever owned the house in the first place. "Repossessions" climbed to a peak in 1991, when from October to December nearly 40,000 took place. This year they have fallen, presumably because the real possessors of property — the banks, building societies and so on — have worked their way through the defaulters. The people who have been turned out of their home may reflect bitterly on the Tory 1979 manifesto which informed us that "to most people ownership means first and foremost a home of their own".

As Lady Porter demonstrated in Westminster, there is an assumption that anyone who takes out a mortgage on a home is, for some reason, a Conservative voter. So those who have suffered "repossession" come in for a certain amount of cold sympathy from ministers. But the destitute are not believed to be Tories so they don’t get such sympathy; their hapless condition is all their own fault. As John Major said:
"They are not on the streets because they have to be on the streets. There are empty accommodation units across London and in other areas where people could go if they wished. But they choose not to stay there and that is a cultural point. It is a strange way of life that some of them choose to live."
And so it goes on. The government can have no responsibility for any of the problems they promised to solve because the fault really lies with the people who suffer the problems. Millions of people are unemployed because of some peculiar determination to endure the deeper poverty of being out of work, which has suddenly affected them all like a virus.

All our fault
The figures for recorded crime go up and up because indolent parents and mischievously trendy teachers have failed to instil into children the proper values and ability to discern right from wrong — which really means compliance with the demands of class society and with their degraded place in it. It is almost as if the Tories have not been in power for the past 15 years, as if they have not had time to deal with all these problems.

So whose fault is it? Well it doesn’t make sense to blame the politicians because they only make up the lies and excuses, they only urge us to forget their failures and to trust them again and again when all reason and experience tells us not to do this. So the responsibility lies with the people who allow themselves to be cheated out of their historical role, their power to make a basic change in society and prefer instead to hope for a few piddling adjustments which have no effect on capitalism’s continued existence and on its power to wreck our lives. To go back to those trade unionists — the task is not to bring down a government but to abolish the entire social system.

Party News (1994)

Party News from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Sunday 12 June a social was held in London at the Mucky Duck pub. Fetter Lane, in the City to mark the 90th anniversary of the Socialist Party.

Ninety years previously, also on a Sunday, 137 working men and women, from the London area, many of them active trade-unionists had met at the Printers’ Hall, Bartlett’s Passage, and had founded a new political organisation, the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Most had been members of the Social Democratic Federation, which had pioneered the propagation of Marxian ideas in Britain, but had either been expelled for opposing its reformist practices and its lack of internal democracy or had left in disgust at this.

They adopted an object ("the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community") and a declaration of principles which remains the basis of the Socialist Party to this day. These committed the party to pursuing the sole aim of socialism and to not advocating reforms to capitalism as well as to organising democratically without leaders to pursue this aim.

The members present at the social visited Bartlett’s Passage (the Printers’ Hall, together with the rest of the area, was flattened in a bombing raid during the last world war), next to the pub. where they heard a short historical account of the founding of the party.

The social had a second purpose, and that was to mark the end of the most ambitious election campaign ever undertaken by the Socialist Party. Four candidates were put up for the European Parliament and over one million leaflets distributed to voters by the Post Office. The elections were won by abstentionists who outnumbered voters by nearly two-to-one. Nevertheless, a total of 5,324 voted for a society based on equality, cooperation and meeting people’s needs and no to a society based on profit, privilege and competition.

The full results in the four scats we contested were:

Abstentions 365,743, Crawley (Lab) 90,291, Turner (Con) 35,171, Cane (LD) 19,455, Simpson (Green) 6,268, Cook (Soc) 1,969, Brierley (NLP) 1,885.

Abstentions 303,698, Miller (Lab) 83,953. Chalmers (SNP) 40,795, Sheridan (Militant) 12,113, Wilkinson (Con) 10,888, Money (LD) 7,291, O’Brien (Green) 2,252, Fleming (Soc) 1,125, Wilkinson (NLP) 868, Marsden (ICP) 381.

Abstentions 333,516, Newens (Lab)75,711, Elliott (Con) 50,652, Ludford (LD) 20,176, Kortvelyessy (Green) 7,043, Le Fanu (UKInd) 4,157, Slapper (Soc) 1,593, Hamza (NLP) 1,215, Weiss (Rainbow) 547.

Abstentions 319.393, Martin (Lab)90,531, Brown (SNP) 53,324, McNally (Con) 33,526, Campbell (LD) 17,883, Harper (Green) 5,149, McGregor (Soc) 637, Siebert (NLP) 500.

50 Years Ago: No half-way house to 
Socialism (1994)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party leadership in the main consists of ambitious men who consider there is more to be gained by fooling the working class than by arousing them against the capitalist exploiter. Our masters describe them as safe and sane. If they are good they may receive titles, and it is to be noted that the higher they climb the more they function as the willing tools of those who are labour’s enemies. The strutting peacocks basking in the sunshine of ruling class smiles have long ago abandoned the idea of fighting for the emancipation of the class to which we belong, and we may expect nothing but the persistent attempt to rivet the chains of wage slavery perpetually to the limbs of the toilers. When these creatures speak of Socialism, their idea is capitalist nationalisation, which simply means state capitalism: the capitalist class pool their interests and use the public power of coercion to compel the slaves to work in accordance with capitalist requirements.

[From an article by Lestor in the Socialist Standard, July 1944.]

Italy and the Peasant Problem (1940)

From the July 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Volcano beneath the Dictators 
“Blood is thicker than water, but trade is thicker than blood.”
Herodotus, who lived 2,500 years ago, and is spoken of as the father of history, said : “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.” Napoleon summed the matter up in the pithy statement, “History is a lie agreed upon.” In other words, we do not get the truth, even in the records, but Socialists are able by means of the law of history to unearth what the historian failed to observe or neglected to mention.

Italy has for some time been sitting on the fence, afraid to take sides for fear she might line up with the loser. This is in accord with her usual practices; “she never won a battle and never lost a war.” A prostitute amongst the nations, she cynically sells herself in what she considers to be the best market. The revolutionary period around 1848 was to some extent due to the fact that the map of Europe had been so stupidly “remodelled” after the Napoleonic wars that every boundary line was an irritation to one or more nationalities. For example, Poland was left divided, with Russia, Austria and Prussia controlling parts. Lombardy, Venice and Hungary were ruled by Austria. Most of Italy was in small principalities under corrupt scions of “noble” houses.

Mazzini and Garibaldi led movements more or less revolutionary but failed in their purpose. Piedmont under a progressive monarch attempted to unify Italy and had partial success. (Cavour, a few years later, succeeded in bringing Italy under a constitutional monarch, but the Austrian reactionary regime was not displaced.) It was the appearance of a new economic factor which eventually brought about what certain progressive forces were striving to accomplish.

The development of steam power was applied to transportation and the first results of the railways was to break down a number of petty frontiers in Europe, especially between the small German States, and Germany rapidly became the distributor for Central Europe. The commerce of Europe, no longer dependant upon British sea-borne control, was now open to competitors. Bismarck in Germany and Cavour in Italy were able to carry out their political plans for uniting their respective countries because of railway developments. G.W.W., in an article on the Outline of History, says:—
“One of the “great men” of his day, Cavour was a statesman of high order and used his talents without scruple. He is quoted as saying : “If we did for ourselves what we do for Italy we should be great scoundrels.” He stabilized finance, built railways and promoted trade, and then deliberately set out to break Austrian hold upon Italy. To this end he used Press propaganda at home and abroad, entered the Crimean War in order to have an equal seat at the “peace” conference, and then secured a French promise of assistance against Austria. France in 1859 started to keep the promise, but then withdrew when the Emperor realized that Italy was playing no second fiddle to France. Cavour’s plans were halted for a time, but he had advanced a good way towards his objective, and when Naples was captured by Garibaldi unity was almost complete. In 1861 the first King of all Italy was proclaimed and within about ten years Rome and Venice came under the Italian crown. . . .”
It was Italy who bred Machiavelli. Mussolini, like his predecessor Cavour, is an astute Italian who acts in accordance with Machiavellian principles. His appeal is to youth. While economic conditions have been rearranged for the Italian people, largely through a programme of rural electrification and low cost housing, serious financial and social problems persist. He is driven to the expedients of the ancient Caesars and tries to substitute circuses for bread. When the people yell for spaghetti he gives them Abyssinia, Spain, and the world war. So long as youth has adventure it tends to forget the poverty of its parents; the aged are weak without the backing of their sons.

The main problem of South-Eastern Europe is a peasant problem, and the principle which wins and holds the allegiance of the European peasants will triumph in the struggle now going on between the rival social creeds in this part of the world where the peasants are in a majority.

The inflation of the currency indulged in by Italy, Germany and the Danubian countries from time to time has driven a wedge of self-interest between the city workers and the farmers. This cleavage frustrated the Social Democratic Governments without exception. Inflation upsets the basis of exchange of commodities between city and country, inasmuch as it puts one over on the peasant; he has to give more for what he receives; the price of industrial wares rises at once after inflation, but agricultural products for a time remain at the same figure. Inflation, controlled or uncontrolled, has “liquidated” the farmers and peasants of many industrial nations, and the result is discontent in those areas that feel the pinch.

There are, of course, other factors. Capitalism makes agriculture a subordinate industry everywhere : high grade capital can compel low grade to yield and hand over; the fact remains the farmers and the peasants get it in the neck, and they will support with enthusiasm any policy upon which they think they can depend for deliverance. Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini are up against a peasant problem for which as yet no satisfactory solution has been found, and this has far more to do with the present conflict than most people realise.

It is well known to students that the troubles of the peasant is the foundation of anti-semitism. The impoverished tiller of the soil is driven to borrow from the moneylender, and when once in the clutches of the latter can never extricate himself. When the rate of interest is higher than the average rate of profit it is practically impossible for the borrower, if a peasant, to escape from the clutches of the usurer. Land has no value—exchange values come from the labour-power of the man on the land. When the peasant who works his farm himself becomes entangled in debt he is done for. There is no hope except in the repudiation of what is owing, and the Fascist attack on the Jew can be understood when the above is given full consideration. It is a means of obtaining the support of the peasants.

Hitler promised to break up the estates of the powerful Junkers but chose war rather than do so. Stalin tried to solve the problem by clubbing the peasants and driving them into collective farms. Mussolini reclaimed the marshes and tried to deal with the issue in a practical manner, but the results have been meagre.

In Italy and Germany, and above all in the Danubian countries and the Balkans, State policy is bent to preserve the peasants as they are and to use the powers of the government to make small-scale independent farming a stable and profitable form of economic activity. All of the post-war (1914-1918) social settlements in this region involved the process of breaking up the large estates and establishing the peasants in nominal ownership of the land. The Bolshevik upheaval began with the same process but later had to reverse it.

All attempts to settle this question have failed, and as it cannot wait it still confronts Europe, and will be a source of conflict until a solution is found.

The Catholic Church is intensely interested. The Catholic order of things bears the marks of its birth from the ruin of the Roman Empire. It inherited from Rome two great principles: the knowledge of what to imitate and the knowledge of what to avoid. So says the author of “Our Lords and Masters” : 
“It has imitated and perpetuated the political organization of the Roman Empire. For nearly two thousand years it has functioned as a slowly growing and maturing body of men, recognising a single authority and basing that authority on a commonly accepted doctrine. This, the model of the Caesars, has been the model of their latter day successors, and when Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler desired to renovate the political and social life of their countries they could find no better example.”
The Church holds the idea that the fall of Rome was hastened by “race suicide.” Divorce was frequent and casual. Roman matrons refused to bear children; Roman men refused to found families; human ingenuity, as always, discovered that it is possible to obtain sensual enjoyment without social responsibility. According to the Church, Rome fell because the system degraded women and because women returned the compliment. This, of course, is what is believed and acted upon, and the Church’s influence throughout the feudal system and at present is devoted towards preventing the return of those evils which destroyed the old civilization.

It is for this reason that the Vatican supports the idea of peasant proprietorship and stubbornly opposes the collective farm policy of the Russians. Communism is the orthodox State religion of Soviet Russia.

As will be perceived, it is the ideological reflection of a peasant economy which is anathema to the Catholic Church. The stand taken by the Vatican in Spain and elsewhere can only be understood when the above is taken into consideration.

Enough has been said to give the readers of the Socialist Standard another view of what is transpiring. Socialists could give more attention to the agricultural question because of its importance.

The development of capitalism has brought the predicament of the peasantry glaringly into the open : there is no solution under the system.

Production for profit has been forced upon the peoples of Europe and the world; the agricultural section of South-Eastern Europe cannot live any longer under this mode of production; the whole of the Danubian basin is involved in an attempt to get rid of what is strangling them.

All dictatorships have one policy and one object forced upon them by conditions—the compelling of the people to accept a lowering of the standard of living. The nations of the dictators when they have been squeezed to the limit by their rulers and capitalist circumstance, are armed and led to plunder their weaker neighbours; they are preceded by a method of propaganda, bribery and treachery that storms the strongest fortresses and jumps over all national barriers. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Finland, France, Norway, Denmark, together with the Baltic States, have been overrun by hungry hordes let loose by a bankrupt system and led by unscrupulous and merciless men.

The forces making for Socialism are still at work in every part of the system, even in the mechanism of war : the economic problem will remain unsolved no matter what is attempted or done until the means of production are commonly owned and used for the benefit of mankind. Millions are beginning to see what the situation calls for.

We have a trying period to pass through. What of it?

Let us face it with courage. It will eventually pass : “Come what, come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day.”
Charles Lestor

Socialism’s Invincible Ally. Ever-changing Society (1940)

From the July 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that chattel-slavery would exist eternally.

Such a belief was natural at the time Aristotle lived, for on all sides were slaves and slave-owners. More important still, it must be remembered that the means of wealth production were then at a low stage of development: they could provide comfort and luxury for a few people only if the masses were in a state of absolute slavery. Consequently, Aristotle could not foresee that, as a method of piling up wealth for a ruling class, chattel-slavery would at some future date become inadequate and be superseded by more efficient forms of human exploitation.

To-day, we have much more information to hand than had Aristotle. We have, for instance, access to historical data which, for obvious reasons, were beyond the ken of anyone living in Ancient Greece.

By a study of history the working class can learn many useful lessons, one of which is this : society and human relationships are constantly changing: ideas and morals are not permanent, but are subject to change as are the methods of producing the material things needed by man.

However, notwithstanding the teachings of history, one meets many people, including those with a university education, who can conceive of improvement ONLY within the present system of society. They are unable to visualise society without capital, wages, empires, trade and all the other paraphernalia of Capitalism.

Yet, sooner or later, Capitalism will give place to another form of society. Just as older forms of society—Primitive Communism, Chattel-Slavery and Feudalism—were in turn superseded, so will Capitalism itself be superseded some day. From the worker’s point of view, the sooner Capitalism gives place to Socialism the better it will be; it is for this reason that we, Socialists and members of the working class, propagate Socialism.

What Makes Change Inevitable ?
It would, however, be a serious mistake to imagine that the voice of the Socialist is the sole agent in bringing about the change. The Socialist has an ally which is, so to speak, pushing on ahead all the time in order to prepare the road and make easier his task. This ally is ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, which caused man to abandon the earlier forms of society and which finally will force him to abandon Capitalism.

When chattel-slavery and wage-slavery came into conflict during the last century in America, it was not the kindliness of human nature that caused the former to be replaced by the latter. Chattel-slavery was not ended because man revolted to see his brother degraded and suffering. In fact, most of the supporters of the Anti-Slavery Movement were blind and callous when confronted with the deplorable conditions in which wage-workers toiled and eked out their existence.

Chattel-slavery in America passed away because the manufacturing interests became the predominating interests in the country and wage-labour was more economical for factory work.

Northern capital needed workers it could employ and discard at will—in short, it needed “free” wage-labour.

The following extract taken from the “London Economist”—at that time (1853) the leading organ of British free trade Capitalism—gives point to our statement that the economic factor was decisive in shaping the opposition to chattel-slavery :

“Slaves,” this paper says, “are costly instruments of production. … A slave population hampers its owners in more ways than one. . . . The responsibility of the employer of free labour is at an end when he has paid the covenanted wages; and his advantages in dealing with the general market are exemplified in that THERE ARE MORE FORTUNES MADE BY THE EMPLOYERS OF FREE LABOUR THAN BY SLAVE OWNERS. The Astors, the Girards and the Longwofthys are the millionaires of the States, as the Rothschilds, the Lloyds and the Barings are the millionaires of the old world—not the slave owners, however wealthy, of Carolina, Cuba or Brazil.” (See Simons' “Class Struggles in America.”)

The feudal system in Europe, too, broke down and passed away, when it became a fetter on production. With the discovery and colonisation of new lands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there arose an ever-increasing demand for goods. This demand could not be satisfied by a Europe which remained for the most part feudal. The guilds imposed restrictions which were a brake on production. New methods in the producing of goods were, for example, strictly forbidden by the guilds; also a master craftsman was restricted in the number of journeymen he could employ and in the quantity he could turn out. Individuals, therefore, began to break with the guilds and, to avoid public opprobrium, set up their workshops on the outskirts of towns, in country districts or in new towns on the coasts, where the rate of production could develop apace and without hindrance. In time this rising Capitalism began to undermine the guilds, since the goods produced by Capitalist manufacture were cheaper and more plentiful than those produced within the guilds.

Soon the feudal lords, the large landowners, who usually held themselves aloof from industry and trade, found their privileged position challenged. As a class, the old feudal nobility had become superfluous; no longer did it render any service to society. “In the Middle Ages …. the peasant needed the feudal lord, who protected him from violation, relieved him of part of his judicial and administrative duties towards the community, and, above all, freed him from the oppressive burden of military service.” (Kautsky’s “Thomas More and His Utopia.”) With the growth of Capitalism all this was changed. The modern State arose, enforcing internal order. The feudal lord could no longer claim to be the protector of the peasant, nor could he save him from military service. “The army of chivalry was replaced by a paid army, recruited from peasants.” (Kautsky.)

As the child, Capitalism, grew more and more robust, it yelled more and more for the total abolition of those restrictions on trade imposed by feudalism, and which were becoming more and more irksome to the capitalists. Capitalism was in conflict with feudalism. The agents of Capitalism, the capitalist class, fought out a class struggle against the upholders of feudalism, the feudal lords. This class struggle culminated in the gaining of political power by the capitalist class, who, once enthroned with power, began reorganising society so that Capitalism could develop unrestricted.

Thus did the capitalist class gain supremacy on the wave of economic development, thus did Capitalism sweep away feudalism, when feudalism proved inadequate to satisfy new needs.

Socialism Inevitable
The arrival of the capitalist system did not arrest economic development. On the contrary. New methods in industry were introduced with greater rapidity than ever before.

It is precisely this development of Capitalism, this continuous revolutionising of the means of production, which will lead to the end of Capitalism. Socialism will not come because a few thinkers wish it, but because its establishment will become a necessity, felt by the mass of the population, the working class.

Before Capitalism had reached maturity, Socialism was an impossibility. Whenever it happened that some could see the ultimate end of society’s evolution and attempted to hasten its arrival by minority action, they were either crushed by reactionary forces or became disillusioned when confronted by the enormity of their task and by the lack of response from an immature working class. Baboeuf and his followers in France provide us with a classic example of how intellectual idealists, reaching out for a new system of society before conditions had ripened, were stamped out by the armed forces of the capitalist State. And we have all met the old agitator who has given up the struggle as useless because he regards the working class as “a dud egg.”

We, of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, do not consider our class—the working class—as a dud egg.

We do not aim at leading the worker into the promised land; we know, from experience, he cannot be led to Socialism. Socialism will never be established until the workers are willing to cooperate actively in its running, until they have realised that Capitalism is unable to satisfy man’s needs and must go.

Capitalism, as it evolves, with wars and more frequent and prolonged industrial crises, will itself make the workers turn to Socialism.

As time passes, the class struggle, at present waged so blindly by the workers, will take on a new significance. Whereas now, for the average worker, the struggle is waged in order to maintain his standard of living, to gain minor concessions in his working conditions, it will in the future become more and more a struggle against Capitalism as a whole.

The progress of Capitalism over the whole globe is going on apace. Capitalism pushes itself into every nook and corner, thus increasing the number of wage-slaves.

India, once a market for British goods, is itself an exporter of some of the self-same articles. Even China, so often looked upon by the average person as a market for foreign goods, is developing on capitalist lines and producing certain articles in excess of the demands of the home market. In a book, “Empire in the East,” edited by Joseph Barnes, Groves Clark, writing on “Changing Markets,” says:
“This modern cotton industry in China now has reached the point where it is able to supply a large part of the demand in that country for the coarser grades of cloth, and even to furnish considerable amounts of manufactured cotton goods for export . . . But the mills in China, besides having gone far towards closing the Chinese market to foreign manufactured piece goods, also are becoming serious rivals of the mills in Japan in supplying piece goods to the East Indies regions, especially to the large Chinese communities there.” (P. 140.)
The change that has occurred in India and China has either already taken place or is now taking place in many other parts of the world.

The fact is that Capitalism, as it spreads to every corner of the earth, is glutting the markets of the world with goods. Hence it happens, especially in times of economic crisis (as 1929-31), that goods, urgently needed by the workers, are destroyed because no markets for them can be found.

In addition, be it remembered, technique is continuously being improved so that machines become more and more efficient and turn out commodities in ever increasing quantities.

Unfortunately for the life of Capitalism, production always shows a tendency to expand; markets, however, cannot indefinitely be extended to keep pace with this greater and greater production. Production for sale (i.e., profit) becomes, therefore, a fetter, since goods are produced only when they can be sold at a profit.

Thus the point is fast being reached when Capitalism will in most of its industries be permanently unable to produce at full capacity. Indeed, in some industries, this point has already been reached : hence, unemployment.

What of the future, therefore ?

The tendency will be for machines and workmen to stand idle more than ever before. Those in work will be forced to struggle constantly to maintain their standard of living. Big business alone will be able to compete in the restricted and keener markets of the world; the small capitalists, like the workers, will find their position even less secure than previously.

In those days, the power of the capitalist Press will be gone. Promises of improvement will be powerless to soothe a working class already satiated with promises. The working class will become solid against the common enemy : Capitalism. With more and more readiness will workers listen to Socialist propaganda and accept the Socialist position. Socialism will become THE subject of conversation. The workers will see that as long as production for profit prevails, their insecurity and poverty will continue. The issue will become clear cut—SOCIALISM OR CAPITALISM?

And so it is that economic development which caused Chattel-Slavery and Feudalism to pass away, will lead the workers to abolish the capitalist system and its wage-slavery. Modern industry is now producing goods in such quantities that they cannot be consumed in capitalist society, although millions suffer from malnutrition and starvation and are badly clothed. Private ownership of the means of production and the consequent production of goods for profit are preventing the workers from having access to the wealth that they produce, are barring the road to the further progress of the human race. This lesson will be learned by the working class and they will gain political power to introduce Socialism—a society wherein goods will be produced, not to enrich a class consisting of relatively few persons, but by the whole of society for its own enjoyment.
Clifford Allen