Saturday, April 30, 2022

And Yet War Came (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

In vast numbers of people during the Twenties and Thirties there grew up a revulsion against war, a reaction against the senseless slaughter of World War One. Writers like Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front) and H. G. Wells (The Shape of Things to Come) attempted to show the futility of war and the possible destruction of civilisation. On the political field, popularity and votes could be won by politicians claiming to be in favour of disarmament, and armament manufacturers were pilloried as the “merchants of death.” Basil Zaharoff was held up as an example, with his supplying of arms to both sides. Prominent politicians like George Lansbury and Stafford Cripps won fame by their opposition to war. There was the “Peace Letter” campaign, which held great sway among the opponents of war. Its aims were linked with the League of Nations, whose alleged purpose was to assemble all the nations for the settlement of differences by discussion and reason. And yet war came.

Those people who formerly opposed it changed to support on the grounds that it was the lesser of two evils. That the horrors of Nazism and Fascism were worse than the horror of war. Politicians whose popularity had rested on disarmament and appeasement were reviled and replaced by those more determined to prosecute the war. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo became the personifications of evil.

The Allies, in order to prosecute their war aims more successfully, drew up the Atlantic Charter and its declaration of human rights. The sweeping away of poverty and the degradation of the common man, was pronounced a major war aim. Despite Churchill’s popularity as a war leader, the desire for change at the end of the war resulted in the election of a Labour Government with an overwhelming majority. 1945 was thought to be the beginning of a new era. The “Welfare State” was ushered in with loud acclaim.

Yet for all the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, what has become of the hopes and ambitions of those years? Has the threat of war been abolished? Have the antagonisms and tensions between nations ended? Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo are gone; Khrushchev, Chou-En-Lai, and Nasser, are now the “villains of the peace.” Instead of Fascism, Communism is now held up as the barrier to the peace and stability of the world.

Politicians say that one of the causes of the last war was the weakness of the Allies in their policy of appeasement. It is claimed that this encouraged aggression by the Axis powers—therefore, we should be armed and ready to deter any potential aggressor even if it means going to the very brink of war itself, as advocated by the late American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Labour Party leaders now support nuclear weapons, for to argue from strength, they say, is the only way of maintaining Britain’s position in a world charged with aggressiveness. This is the ludicrous situation —all the nations are determined to have peace, even if they have to go to war to get it.

As much as people are opposed to war, history teaches us that mere opposition is not enough. Socialists are more than just opposed to war. We are opposed to a system that is the direct cause of war situations and finally of war itself. What is this system? It means private ownership, working for wages, the buying and selling of goods, and the acceptance of trade, both national and international, as the only way people can get the things they need. Armies, Navies, Air and Police forces exist and function for the sole purpose of maintaining and protecting property institutions. This is the main reason for the division of the world into national competitive groups.

Anyone who supports this system is an agent of that same process that produces a Hitler, Gas Chambers, a Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and all the other horrors of modern war. Here is the irony of it all. That in their daily lives the way in which people get their living produces a monstrous situation for which there is only a monstrous and yet temporary solution. Having defeated the supposed enemy, they then bring about the situation which nobody wanted in the first place. The Socialist solution runs counter to everything that supports existing property institutions.

Socialists want a world based upon voluntary co-operation, in order that the products of men’s efforts can be of free access—a world where money will not be necessary.

We want people to break out of this vicious circle that perpetuates the ideas of property society. We want their thinking to be Socialist thinking.
J.C. Gormley

A Message for Aldermaston Marchers. (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

When your house is on fire you drop everything until you have put out the flames: and if your neighbours come in to help, you are glad to see them, without asking whether they are vegetarians or teetotallers or anything else. So might the campaign for Nuclear Disarmament argue, to justify the political diversity of their membership, united as it is only in the desire to abolish nuclear weapons.

We can all agree that these weapons are monstrous. The two Japanese cities were terrible enough: since then, the bombs have been made many times more destructive. The Home Office publication Nuclear Weapons estimated that a bomb a little smaller than that exploded by the Americans at Bikini in 1954 would cause total or irreparable damage for a radius of six miles and would certainly kill everybody within half a mile, by burns if not from other causes. A Chief Inspector of Fire Brigades has said that a hydrogen bomb on London could cause 100,000 fires—and might temporarily alter the course of the Thames. These forebodings are several years old. Now we have even bigger bombs, and rockets which can deliver them over thousands of miles. Yes, nuclear weapons must be abolished. How can it be done?

What if the governments yielded to the pressure of the nuclear disarmers and agreed to scrap their bombs? This would be worth no more than all the other solemn vows to disarm, or to refrain from taking up arms, or to be non-aggressive, which governments, when it suited them, have broken in the past. The fact that Germany in 1919 signed an agreement not to arm did not prevent her becoming a powerful military nation a few years later. The non-aggression pact of 1939 between Germany and Russia did not prevent the conflict of 1941-45. But let us suppose that governments, strangely, kept the promise to forego their nuclear weapons. That would only take us back to 1945, when wars were fought with blockbusters and flame throwers and Napalm bombs. There is nothing desirable about that. Or we could make a really good job of it and go back to the weapons of 1914-18. Or 1870, or 1415 or 1066.

Of course, it is foolish to expect a modern government to run an army of longbowmen. It seems too obvious to say that as one country develops a weapon, so the others must find one similar or better. That is how the military aircraft and the nuclear bomb, for example, were born. Nowadays, no foreign minister has much of a say unless he has a fistful of H-bombs. In the last election campaign, Sir Winston Churchill said, ". . . you are more likely to obtain a hearing for your views if you have some substantial stake in the balance of world power. And these stakes . . . are still much measured in military terms." To win a stake in world power, the French and Chinese are working up their atom bombs—and the established nuclear powers, to keep their stake, have to make rockets and missiles with Hydrogen bomb war heads.

When the first French atom bomb was exploded a few weeks back. General de Gaulle exclaimed, “Hurrah for France! " He knew that he was really saying hurrah for destruction and death, because that is what military power means. But military power is only necessary to modern states because in peace and war, they are struggling for economic advantage. This is a world where everything is produced with the intention of selling it profitably, which means that sellers compete for markets, manufacturers for plentiful raw material sources and transporters for trading routes. These are the disputes which, when everything else fails, are settled by force—by war. So France hangs on to Algeria for, among other things, the oil that is there. So Britain fought for years in Cyprus, because it is a base near the strategically important Suez Canal and the vital Middle East oilfields. So the last two world wars were started—and so a third could start if, for example, Russian economic influence in the Middle East or the Caribbean became too great a threat to British and American interests.

In these conditions, national states are bound to maintain a military machine to fight for the interests of their ruling classes and to equip that machine with the most powerful—the most deadly— weapons possible. It is futile to expect them to do otherwise. In 1917, it would have been suicidal for them to have thrown away their tanks, or in 1944 their bombers. In 1960 they are similarly reluctant to give up their nuclear bombs. There is only one way to deal effectively with this problem. Go to the roots. The capitalist system is the cause, from beginning to end, of modern war and the horrifying methods of its prosecution.

Marching from Aldermaston, sitting in the mud at Swaffham, or lying in jail, the nuclear campaigners deserve our respect for their concern with one of the horrors of modern society. But we can only regret that so much energy is wasted in such a topsy-turvy movement. If it is desirable to abolish one weapon of war, how much more so is it to get rid of them all? Or to get rid of war itself? Our house is burning because it is made of inflammable materials—and people will keep dropping lighted matches. It is useless to tackle each fire as it breaks out. We must build ourselves a new house.

A Man or a Tool. (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Understand this clearly: You can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to cut one; to strike a curved line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and to find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.

"And observe, you are put to stern choice in this matter. You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cogwheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the finger-point, and the soul's force must fill all the invisible nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn away, and the whole human being be lost at last—a heap of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is concerned; saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the form of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten hours are over, into fireside humanity.

“On the other hand, if you make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth dong; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dullness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds settling upon him. And, whether the clouds be bright or dark, there will be transfiguration behind and within him.”

*  * *

“We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention of the division of labour; only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided; but the men—divided into mere segments of men—broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece' of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin, or the head of a nail. Now it is a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins in a day; but if we could only see with what crystal sand their points were polished—sand of human soul, much to be magnified before it can be discerned for what it is—we should think there- might be some loss in it also.

"And the great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this—that we manufacture everything there except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.” 
John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice.
 Extracted from Volume 2, The Nature of 
the Gothic.

Finance and Industry: Russian Gold Policy (1960)

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

Russian Gold Policy.

From time to time writers in financial journals speculate about the amount of gold produced in Russian mines and stored away in their equivalent of the American Fort Knox. They also wonder why the Russian Government sometimes appears as seller of gold in world bullion markets but for the most part seems reluctant to let it go. One suggestion has been that Russian costs of producing gold are very high and that they are holding it back in the hope (shared also by South African gold producers) that some day the American Government will raise its buying price for gold from the present 35 Dollars an ounce to perhaps 50 Dollars.

Mr. Paul Einzig in a letter to The Times (7/7/59) asked for more evidence about Russian high costs of production of gold, and pointed out that in any event gold used by the Russian Government to buy goods abroad is being used more profitably than when it is hidden away in Russian bank vaults. His conclusion was that the Russian Government “is determined to hoard a large gold stock for the sake of the economic and political power the possession of such a reserve entails.”

It is certainly true that if the Russian authorities have hopes of building up the Rouble to be a world currency, as universally acceptable as the Dollar, they will need gold on a scale comparable to the reserves in U.S.A. Gold is still the indispensable basis of Capitalist international trade, universally acceptable and of great importance in war to obtain materials from abroad.

As to the amount of gold produced in Russia, it is generally accepted that Russia is second only to South Africa. As long ago as 1937 an official Russian government publication (U.S.S.R. in Construction) claimed that output had increased four and a half times in the previous six years. It was, they said, needed “ to build up Socialism.”

In 1934 Stalin told the Communist Party Congress:
We shall use money for a long time to come, right up to the time when the first stage of Communism, i.e., the Socialist stage of development, has been completed.
Much earlier still, Stalin’s predecessor, Lenin, had improved on Sir Thomas More’s 16th Century notion of using gold to pave the streets, by saying that when they conquered power on a world scale they would use gold “for making public lavatories in the streets of the great cities of the world.” Such statements must seem very remote today to Russia’s army of gold miners.

And Russian Diamonds.

Russia also has a prosperous and expanding diamond industry. Not so long ago the great South African diamond group, De Beers Diamond Corporation, was reported to be worried over the prospect “That the mounting Soviet production would be sold abroad cheaper than the De Beers gems and industrial stones.” (Daily Mail, 19/1/60.)

As the Soviet News Agency Tass had reported that Russian diamond production was being enormously increased this threat was not one to be treated lightly, but in January came the news that Russia had linked up with De Beers and in future “All Russia’s diamonds sold to the West will be marketed through the London offices of the Diamond Corporation.” (Daily Mail, 19/1/60.) This was indeed good news for South African and other diamond interests.

De Beer’s already controlled nine-tenths of world sales of diamonds and the link up with Russia had the effect of sending up De Beer’s shares on the Stock Exchange.
Diamonds were firm with De Beers sparkling on the news that it has signed a marketing agreement with Russia. (Evening Standard, 19/1/60.)

Making the Pound Honest.

While the Russian Government may be preparing to make the Rouble into a world currency one problem of British capitalism is to prevent the paper pound from slipping any further than it has already. In 1925 it was equivalent to 4.86 dollars. Since then it has declined first to 4 and then to 2.8 dollars, and the Dollar itself has had its gold content reduced to about half.

Probably nobody expects the pound to recover lost ground, but certainly the Government and the Opposition are now united in holding that it should not be allowed to drop further: which is quite a change from the Labour Party’s attitude in the nineteen thirties. Then they welcomed it as a supposed release from the tyranny of the bankers.

The last time there was a risk of further devaluation, in 1957, Mr. Richard Crossman, Labour M.P., wrote:
Mr. Gaitskell and his Shadow Chancellor, Mr. Harold Wilson, are just as determined as Mr. Thomeycroft to save the pound. (Daily Mirror, 24/9/57.)
It would be a pity to forget that the British Communist Party was also worried about British capitalism’s pound. In a Daily Worker article, “The only way to Make an Honest Pound,” J. R. Campbell urged expanded production and wrote of this country:
It is being left behind in the race to increase productive capacity—a fact that is more likely to undermine the pound than any other thing. (Daily Worker, 16/10/57.)

Traps for the Small Investor.

The passage of time brings strange reversals of attitude in political parties concerned with running capitalism. At one time, when the Labour Party was planning wholesale nationalisation, it would not have occurred to a Labour newspaper to advise its readers to buy ordinary shares in companies. They might have been advised to put their savings into a Savings Bank, or to buy some Government security. But since then many small investors who had the misfortune to put their savings into 2½ per cent. Treasury Stock when Dalton was Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer have seen the price fall from £100 to £45; and the Government has again declined to do anything about it.

So now the belief is spreading that small investors would do better to buy company shares, either directly or through Unit Trusts, and Reynolds News (6/3/60) suggests that co-operative societies and trade unions should form their own unit trusts for investment in ordinary shares.

The writer in Reynolds News (“Scorpio”) thinks this would enable workers to share in the rising profits of industry. If he thinks that profits only rise and never fall he had better think again, but even if it were true, how will this remedy the problem he sets out to solve, that in this country “one-third of the population has no measurable property; one person in every 100 owns nearly as much as the other 99 ”?

Another echo of far off days comes in an article by W. J. Brown, who years ago was a Labour M.P. always in a hurry to get the Party’s programme put into operation. Then the Labour Party believed in “soaking the rich ” and supported a steeply rising tax on incomes. Now Mr. Brown, who long ago left the Labour Party, is campaigning for the abolition of Surtax, or, failing abolition, at least the raising of the level of which it is payable, from £2,000 a year to £8,000.
Edgar Hardcastle

Racist Theories (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those individuals who put forward argued theories to justify racial discrimination, as distinct from the huge majority, whose prejudices are generally of the crudest and simplest kind, usually try to embroider their theories with a smattering of science. By this means, of course, they endeavour to lend an air of scientific truth to their doctrines. This “science” generally consists in little more than the use of high-sounding phrases cunningly and skilfully worked into their other main arguments. Others, with a considerable knowledge of science, by devious means try to make the facts fit the particular theory they wish to put forward. Some of the less fanatical, very few in number, carry on genuine research work, but go completely off the rails when it comes to interpreting the results of their research. Such a man was Broca, a French investigator, who adopted various new methods of investigation which were afterwards taken over and developed by others of a more impartial turn of mind. These investigations, however, did not prevent him from putting forward race-theories based on the flimsiest of evidence. Of what value as a scientific investigator is he when, to explain on a race basis the existence of classes, he uses an argument like this?:-
He measured 125 skulls found buried opposite the Palais de Justice in Paris. From their position below the surface he assigned them to the twelfth century, and from the aristocratic nature of the district in that century he believed them to belong to the upper classes. He compared them with 259 skulls originating from nineteenth century pauper's graves. He measured, multiplied, divided, grouped them, and then showed the difference between the wealthy classes of the Middle Ages and the modern proletarians. (Race: A Study in Modern Superstition. Barzun. p. 164.)
This sort of argument is used by a man who, in scientific circles, has a standing. In what light must it throw the theories of the others!

The Jewish “Race”
There is not the slightest scientific evidence to show that the Jews are a race. They were not a “pure race” when they left the desert over 3,000 years ago; they are even less of a “pure race” today. Despite their segregation, compulsory and voluntary, they have frequently mixed with other peoples. Huxley describes them as a “socio-religious” group, and there is little to quarrel with in this. Although some Jews have themselves become bitten with the “ racial bug,” they can no more justify their belief in a “Jewish race” than the Nazis could justify their “Aryan race.” In their efforts to defend themselves against the racialists, some Jews have become racialists themselves.

Blogger's Note:
These passages were excerpts from the SPGB pamphlet, 'The Racial Problem: a Socialist analysis'

The Iron Horse (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Transport and the Growth of Industry (4)

The railways of Britain are continually under review and observation. It may be modernisation, the closing down of branch lines, poor time-keeping, dirty trains, high fares, or vile concoctions conjured up in the dining cars. In a few years we in this country will see the end of steam traction, a change already effected in other countries. No more shall we or our children be thrilled by the fierce glow from the fire box, with pungent swirling smoke as an express thunders through a station at night. Ours is no sentimental journey, however, but a short trip into the history of this form of transport, now an accepted part of our daily lives.

During the 18th century, production of coal and minerals as well as manufactures rapidly increased. Ships sailed away to distant lands and returned with new and precious materials; new areas were being opened to trade and settlement. The peasants, driven from the land by enclosures and poverty, swarmed into the industrial towns. A new type was appearing in Europe and North America; men who had engineering and technical skill, architects, scientists and chemists. The birth and growing-space of our capitalist world gave rise to a spate of bridge building, tunnels, docks and port installations, lighthouses and large public buildings. All of these works were necessary to the industrial revolution of commodity production.

One most noticeable feature of this age was the change in transport. Stage coaches ran to time tables and canals criss-crossed Europe and the North Eastern States of America. The industrialists were faced with problems of which the foremost was to keep up the supply of raw materials to feed and maintain the constantly improving machines. Another factor was that the act of buying and selling was ceasing to be the leisurely affair of the country market. People engaged in business had to move around and visit other lands, and competition demanded speed and time-keeping.

Coal had been conveyed in trucks on rails for centuries, since it had been found that horses and men could haul heavier loads if the wheels ran on tracks. These early rails were made of wood, and they wore out fairly quickly. To overcome this, iron plates were laid over the wood (hence the term, platelayers). Another method was to lay the plates in troughs or ruts, the wheels fitting into the depression. The problem here was that the rut often became full of earth and coal. In 1788 William Jessop invented a flat rail with a flange, the basis of our modem permanent way.

First Public Railway
The first public railway ran from the Thames at Wandsworth to Croydon (Surrey Iron Railway, 1803). The rails were the older rut type, as there were not many flanged wheeled vehicles at that time in London. In 1805 a horse hauled 38¾  tons, a distance of six miles in I hour 41 minutes, on this railway. That overworked horse certainly showed the value of railways to our profit and cash-conscious forebears.

Steam was the motive power in the new factories and it slowly killed the older water wheel. Steam powered factories could be built away from streams, right in the towns, provided coal and coke was available. Cornwall was enjoying a tin and copper boom and such names as Newcomen and James Watt took the stage in steam development. During the 1770/80s Watt and Boulton's great beam pump engines enabled miners to burrow deeper and overcome the ever-present problem of water in the shafts. There were many others in numerous countries that played their part in the development of “Steam Heat." A most important study was made of the practical application of metal compounds, so essential to enable boilers to withstand increased pressure of steam.

It was inevitable that some clever engineers would try to convert these stationery steam engines to a mobile form of power, to replace the horse and the sail. In America a steamboat ran for a short period, and in 1819 a ship using steam crossed the Atlantic, but the white wings of sail held their own for many years. In the Cornish mines a young man, “Captain Dick” Trevithick made a small working model, steam driven, which ran around his room. By 1801 he had made his first steam carriage, which ran along the lanes at Camborne. Man had made his first Iron Horse. These steam coaches later ran in conjunction with the stage coaches and, from the prints of the period, strange-looking cumbersome vehicles they were. Trevithick later tried his hand at building a steam locomotive for the Penydaren Iron Works in South Wales. Financed by Homfray, the Merthyr Ironmaster, the Cornishman built a one cylinder locomotive. On the trial day, February 21st, 1804, Trevithick wrote: “We carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men.” Alas, the weighty machine was too much for the primitive tracks and the iron plates broke under the pounding.

Trevithick, with his versatile restlessness, moved on from one project to another; in London in 1808 he ran a train around a circular track at Torrington Square (prophetically near to where Euston Station was to be built in 1837). Steel, one of his co-workers, built another heavyweight failure for Wylam Colliery, Northumberland: not important in itself, but Steel was a friend of an obscure working man, George Stephenson. Between them the findings and failings of steam locomotives were discussed at great length. Others went on building failures —and improvements. Monsters were even conceived which, their inventors fondly thought, would prance along on legs like a cast-iron Arab charger.

One cannot discuss railways without acknowledging George Stephenson and his son Robert. The elder man was born in 1781 at Wylam in poor conditions; he worked on farms, but by the age of 14 was assistant fireman at Dewley Colliery, earning one shilling a day. By 1812 he was colliery engine wright on the pumps at Killingworth High Pit, repairing clocks and boots at night to supplement his poor wage. His son Robert went to school in Newcastle, and George, helped by the lad and a young friend, overcame his illiteracy and managed to study some works on engineering.

Stephenson, cut off from great wealthy architects like Telford and Rennie, had to spend his time discussing problems and theories on pay nights with his workmen friends. In those times there was an extreme shortage of mechanics, and engineers had great difficulty in getting their machines made in a reasonable time.

The man who brought Stephenson into the light was Nicholas Wood, a distinguished mining engineer. He noted Stephenson's keenness on machines and his interest in haulage and locomotive design. When Killingworth went in for steam traction to the coal docks on the Tyne, Stephenson secured the financial support of Lord Ravensworth, and built his first locomotive. From then on he and his son moved into prominence in the new world of railways, for not only were they engineers, but also had a broad mastery over architectural and surveying problems.

Stockton and Darlington
The best remembered work executed by the Stephensons was the 1825 Stockton and Darlington Railway which carried coal from the new pits near Bishop Auckland to the docks on the River Tees. Horse-drawn trucks were still the principal motive power on this line. The owners of the newly-built railways were still uncertain as to the value of the locomotives, and some leaned towards cable haulage. However, the Rainhill trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1829 not only secured a victory for Stephenson with his Rocket, but showed that the technical infancy was past, and the Iron Horse had become a healthy adolescent.

The 1830/40s produced a crop of railway celebrities, such as Ericcson, Vignoles, Gooch and Locke. It was the Great Western, pushing out from Paddington to Bristol, that gave such a tremendous outlet for the versatile genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Hanwell viaduct in West London, built in 1837, remains untouched from Brunel's day, but the trains look down on a very different world, the world of  the internal combustion engine. Vast improvements in track laying took place, most noteworthy being the use of steel rails. Signalling evolved, as traffic increased, from the natural arm movement of the Railway Policeman, to the use of electricity and complex semaphores and coloured lights. In the 1840's the electric telegraph was being used lo a limited extent by the Great Western and Midland Railways. The foundation of modern control was laid by John Saxby's interlocking and block device in the 1850's.

Railways were a social product: Victorian capitalist society needed them, and railways needed this same capitalist expansion for their very existence and development. They were and are part of the arteries of our society. From Great Britain the technical knowledge soon spread over Europe and N. America, and the improvements in engines, rolling stock, tracks and signalling became universal, interchanging and adapting to suit requirements.

The early engineers had to face hostility from older entrenched groups. They also suffered from a lack of surveying instruments, and poor ordnance maps. The mass illiteracy of the times often delayed the use of improved signalling methods, a problem felt by all the early industrialists. The greatest evil has been the insatiable thirst for profit. Sound ideas have been modified or rejected in order to keep within a profitable margin or even solvency. As a result of this, hundreds of lives have been lost in dreadful accidents (although the casualties are small compared to our current road toll).

Towns were able to expand, as it was no longer necessary for employer or worker to live near the office or workshop. The steam train with its modern offspring—Underground Subway, Metro or Suburban, brings thousands each day into the centre of the cities, under tinned- sardine conditions.

George Stephenson once said: “The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a working man to travel on a railway than to walk on foot." We could hardly expect him to have looked forward to the day when transport would be regarded as necessary to the function of society, to be organised without the necessity for making a profit or hankering after subsidies. That will be the day when the men and women who work the railways will not have lo argue before tribunals for their livelihoods Railways, railwaymen—all the resources of society - will be devoted to the betterment of the whole of society.
Jack Law

Letter: Psychology and Socialism (1960)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Psychology and Socialism

I have read E.W.’s review of Professor Galbraith’s book in the Socialist Standard for December, 1959, with pleasure. But I want to take issue with the central argument underlying the review. E.W. writes: “What is wrong, according to Professor Galbraith, is not the social system but the system of ideas. . . . In that case, phrenology or psychology would appear to be more relevant to the studies of the problem of our times than economics." To lump together phrenology and psychology is tantamount to combining astrology with astronomy, and unworthy of a scientific Marxian. Moreover, such an argument may induce serious readers to reject the legitimate claims which can be made for a truly Socialist society.

I believe the contributions which psychology has to make in the fight for Socialism have not been sufficiently explored. If it is true that the main ills of the world spring from the economic system, this system has not developed independently of human minds. Nowhere outside the human mind can the decision be made that the system shall be changed. The ultimate justification for a Socialist society is not economic but rests on concepts which come within the province of psychology human dignity is the concept that springs to mind first. Scientific psychology has something to tell us about comfort, about equality, and about freedom; these are the three ends stressed at the end of the declaration of principles of the SPGB (These were also the ends upheld by the French revolution, before Marx, except that comfort has now been substituted for fraternity!)

Economists who work on behalf of capitalism have not been slow to utilize the fruits of psychology, usually to evil ends (“subliminal” advertising, “motivational" research into impulse-spending, etc.). Let Socialists also face the facts about the “sales resistance” they encounter when trying to educate people in their legitimate rights and interests, and let us study the problem scientifically.
M. G.

We agree that phrenology and psychology should not be confused: the former seems to contain a larger amount of quackery than the latter. E.W.'s review mentioned them in the same sentence only to show the absurdity of Professor Galbraith’s viewpoint that defects in our system of ideas, rather than in our economic system, are responsible for social problems.

It is true that man’s economic system has not developed independently of his ideas, or without men themselves working on it, through their ideas and actions. But these ideas and actions are themselves largely limited by the physical surroundings in which man finds himself and cannot operate outside those surroundings. Man's physical and economic conditions are, at any one time, developed from earlier conditions and his knowledge, built from earlier knowledge, is derived from those conditions. Thus, although the decision to change society into Socialism can only be made in human minds, that decision will not occur to the minds until the economic and social contradictions of capitalism have accumulated the evidence which makes that decision desirable. When that happens, men's conceptions of dignity, freedom and comfort will be different to those which are generally held today—and the material conditions of capitalism, not any brilliant, abstract ideas, will be responsible for the change.

The raw material with which Socialists must work is the social consciousness of men. But this consciousness can only be understood by reference to society’s economic organisation. The effects of this organisation also limit the success of the advertising men (psychological approach and all), for the most skilful advertising can do little to save an industry which becomes caught in a slump. Similarly, what M.G. calls “sales resistance” to Socialism is in fact working class acceptance of their material state under capitalism. To change this, Socialists employ all the persuasiveness they can muster. But our propaganda would fall without the supporting evidence which the material conditions of capitalism —its wars, poverty, insecurity — are constantly providing.
Editorial Committee.

We invite our readers to send letters of comment and criticism. Please keep your letters as short as possible.

Woman at Work (1960)

From the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Someone recently made the discovery that lots of married women now go to work—somewhere about one in three. Of course, everyone knew that many married women did this—it was merely the number, and the increase over pre-war days, that was surprising.

This fact alone provides an explanation of much of the working class's newfound prosperity. This is what pays the hire-purchase on the telly and maybe the mortgage repayments. In other words, the working-class family is buying its so- called prosperity at a high price.

It is difficult to guess whether the desire for the new shiny gadgets is the principal factor in this phenomenon, or whether it is merely the reflection of women's increased emancipation from male domination, so that she goes to work simply because it is better than being imprisoned within the four walls of the home, with the washing-up and un-hoovered carpet staring her in the face.

From a purely economic viewpoint, the increase in the number of women at work probably operates as a drag on the increase of wages of male workers, but in time of boom the effect is not too great. The trouble is that capitalism doesn't give endless full-employment, but operates in a cycle in which lack of jobs supplants an excess of jobs. When this time arrives, the working-class family will be in a doubly insecure position, because their family commitments and standard of living have become based on two or even more wage-earners in the family. In the same way, illness or the arrival of children can also have a disastrous effect on the family budget.

What then is wrong with this process? Surely one cannot object to working-class families enjoying more of the things that society can provide? The answer is that every new wage-earner brings added insecurity along with his or her additional income, a paradox that only an irrational social system such as ours could provide. In this situation the pregnancy of a working wife becomes a major problem rather than a source of joy. And what is to be said of a nice new home full of new furniture and gadgets when no-one is at home during the day to enjoy it, and where the working members of the family are too tired to enjoy it anyway when they return from work. Too tired to do anything, in fact, but to flop down in the G-plan armchair and watch the telly.

It is true that one cannot turn the clock back, and no-one wants to return to the times when the woman's place was in the home, and where the wage-earners' toil was matched by the home drudgery of the housewife. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to hope for a time when ordinary people, both men and women, will be able to enjoy both leisure and the comforts of life without the nagging worries of insecurity and the phony values of a glittering, but essentially dross, world.
H. W. C.

50 Years Ago: Railway Nationalisation (1960)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The railways will be taken over. In the place of many railway systems and many competing companies with many staffs of workers, there will be the State railway run, and one efficient staff and worked in every way to yield the greatest amount of profit. The system may well be extended in certain other directions, where competition, overlapping and other forms of waste can be eliminated, and workers consequently displaced, pitched neck and crop into the flooded labour market, to beat wages lower.


Fellow workers, Capitalism and Socialism are as far as the poles asunder. Evolve it ever so long and through ever so many forms and stages, the former can never evolve into the latter. State Capitalism, as other forms of Capitalism, has its root in private property; Socialism must be rooted in common ownership. The change of the property condition from private to common is the one essential for the betterment of the workers.

From the Socialist Standard, April, 1910

From the Branches (1960)

Party News from the April 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Annual Conference Programme

Conference begins at 11 am on Friday, April 15th; 2.30 pm Saturday 16th and 11 am on Sunday, April 17th. The Agenda is a large one and Comrades are asked to get along promptly each day. On Friday evening at 8 pm a Social and “Get-together" has been arranged at Head Office, 52 Clapham High Street, SW4. This event is an excellent occasion for Comrades and friends to have a jolly evening; dancing, drinking, eating, talking, and in fact taking part in everything that is going on. On Saturday, 16th April, at Conway Hall (the Conference venue) the Party's Annual Social and Dance will be held from 7.30 pm. This is an evening to which Comrades particularly look forward. The hall is large and light, the band is always good and without doubt a good time will be had by all. On Sunday evening, at Conway Hall, the Annual Rally will be held at 7.30 pm. Full details on “Meetings” page. Make a note of these dates and times and ensure that this is the best Annual Conference for years.

Socialist Standard

The March issue had a special emphasis on Africa—did you double your order for Standards to help to pay the added cost of production? It may not be too late now to get some extra copies. Should they be all sold, make a note to do this for forthcoming issues—it needs only to sell a few hundred more copies to greatly reduce the cost. What better way of propagating the case for Socialism?

To Writers

The monthly meeting of writers will in future be held on the first Thursday of each month instead of on the last Monday as formerly. The next meeting will therefore be held on 5th May, at Head Office, beginning at 8 p.m.

We ask all writers to make a special effort to attend these meetings, which provide a regular opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions and are at the same time most useful to the S.S. Production Committee in planning the Standard.

Outdoor Propaganda

In London and the provinces, not forgetting Glasgow, outdoor propaganda will re-open with, we hope, the fine weather.

All meetings are well organised by Branches and the Propaganda Committee, but the success of them greatly depends on the support of Party members. With regular literature sellers and members to assist, meetings can be a very rewarding pleasure for all concerned, this apart from the important factor—spreading the Socialist message.

May Day 1960

May Day this year is on Sunday, the first day of May. Details are given on page 50, but this reminder is for everyone to make a special effort this year. Hyde Park in London on Sunday afternoon; Denison House, Vauxhall Bridge Road, for an indoor Rally in the evening; and in Glasgow, the highlight for City and Kelvingrove Branches—a meeting in the Cosmo Cinema. The branches have worked very hard for some while now to ensure the success of this meeting and urge that Comrades in Glasgow and the vicinity bring along as many friends as possible so that this, although the first of such ventures, will be the forerunner of many more.
Phyllis Howard

The Passing Show: No excuse for less work (1960)

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

No excuse for less work

Religion is one of the chief allies of the ruling class, but as capitalism develops some of the old religious observances become impediments. When that happens, of course, religion has to give way. Even the great usefulness of religion to the ruling class does not compensate for the loss of profits. One example is the Moslem ceremony of Ramadan, in which for thirty days Moslems may not eat or drink during daylight. This means that as soon as dusk falls there is a rush to eat and drink, which often develops into all-night parties. The result is that the workers output, and the employers’ surplus value, declines. As the News Chronicle (5/3/60) puts it:
Up to now, as in the rest of the Moslem world, Tunisia's life came almost to a standstill during Ramadan because of the dawn to dusk fast. In some cases production dropped 70 per cent.
President Bourguiba, who runs the state machine on behalf of the emerging Tunisian capitalist class, could not be expected to tolerate that. Capitalism demands hard, regular toil from its workers, whatever religion may say. So the President acted
Bourguiba has not banned the fast outright. But he has stated firmly that fasting will not be accepted as an excuse for less work.
And, apparently, this warning is having an effect. The article says, “Tunisians are now obeying his order to work as usual during Ramadan.” So Bourguiba justifies his position as Tunisian capitalism's chief executive.

His country

From Tunisian capitalism to the British variety. The status quo here can have few stauncher defenders than some of our trade union leaders. Ore of them is Sir Frederick Burrows, ex-president of the National Union of Railwaymen. Sir Frederick felt moved recently to let the public know his views on the planned railway strike. The paper he chose to write to was The Times (10/2/60). which can be read by only a minority of railwaymen (it costs fourpence a day for a start); its readership is mostly either ruling class or those who like to think that they arc ” top people.” Sir Frederick finished his letter as follows:
If the N.U.R. desire to perpetuate Tory rule for another decade, if they wish to make the very name of railwaymen a scoff and a by-word, then they will strike, but I, personally, have more faith in their judgment. I trust that they will reject the advice of the malcontents in their ranks and act once again the splendid role they played in the war, when one and all stood for England—My Country, right or wrong.
Surely even a member of the ruling class would hesitate these days before trotting out again such hackneyed cliches. Even G. K. Chesterton, who was very far from being a Socialist, said that to say, “My country, right or wrong,” was like saying “My mother, drunk or sober.” But Sir Frederick rushes in with his jingoistic farrago where others might fear to tread. No wonder he chose the ‘‘top people’s” paper to write to.

It’s those foreigners again

From the Guardian of 10/2/60, under a Pretoria date-line:
Police armed with Sten guns, rifles and revolvers stood by today at Mooiplats squatter camp about five miles south-west of here while a bulldozer flattened houses, shanties and hovels from which 300 African families with no other homes are being evicted. The camp has existed since 1926. As walls crashed in clouds of dust lorries piled high with African men. women and children and their possessions left the camp. Mooiplats has been declared an area for Indians. Pretoria City Council's policy is to clear squatter camps. It is stated that most of the evicted Africans arc foreign Africans and will not be given municipal accommodation.
‘‘Foreign Africans”! These people are Africans; they were born in Africa and have spent their lives there; they are earning their livings, such as they are, in Africa; but they are ‘‘foreigners,” because they come from the other side of one of the boundary lines drawn on the map by the European powers who carved Africa up among them. When we have a rational society we will be able to forget the crazy artificiality of the divisions imposed on us by the necessities of private property. Wc will discard the bogies of nationality and race, and remember what we really are—one race, the human.
Alwyn Edgar

Friday, April 29, 2022

About Socialism (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?

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

2. What is capitalism?

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

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?

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

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?

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

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?

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

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?

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

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?

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

8. What about human nature?

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

9. Are socialists democrats?

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

10. What is the next step?

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

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

House price blues (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the first few months of this year millions of workers will have to cut their personal spending in order to pay more interest on their mortgages. In other words, their standard of living will fall. All will have to cut back on food and holidays, some will even lose their homes. This, however, doesn't worry Nigel Lawson. As Chancellor he has not only welcomed this situation but claimed responsibility for it. While this is merely empty boasting (governments can't control interest rates at will), the fact that he should want to cut back on consumption illustrates that capitalism is not a system geared to meeting people's needs.

Lawson says he has raised interest rates (the price paid for borrowing money) in order to combat inflation. In fact it is the other way around: he has raised interest rates because of rising inflation. The capitalist institutions that lend money to the government are interested in what is accurately called the "real" rate of interest — the return they get after rising prices have been taken into account. So, if the general price level is rising, the government has to offer a higher nominal rate of interest to those lending it money, at least if it wants to maintain its level of borrowing.

The price level has been rising in Britain over the past year, partly due to the government continuing to inflate the currency by printing too much money but also because of the increased level of activity as the economy moves slowly out of the stagnation phase of the capitalist business cycle. Hence the repeated rises in the minimum lending rate (what used to called the Bank Rate) over the past year, culminating at 13 per cent last November.

Building societies are financial institutions which, like banks, survive by borrowing money at one rate of interest and then re-lending it at a higher rate. This means that when the general rate of interest goes up building societies, being no more able to “create credit" than the banks, are obliged to raise the rate of interest they pay those who lend them money (their depositors) and the rate they charge those who borrow from them. As their name suggests, building societies specialise in long-term loans — of twenty, twenty-five years — to house buyers. They operate by lending people the money to buy a house and then requiring them to mortgage it to them as security against repayment of the loan. In law this means that they become the owner of the house, although the person taking out the mortgage retains full occupation rights as long as he or she continues to repay the loan.

So, when we are told in a recent government publication, Britain: An Official Handbook, that at the end of 1986 there were more than 14 million owner-occupied dwellings in Britain, this is not strictly true. Those still paying off their mortgage — some 7.5 million — are only occupiers, not owner-occupiers; they don't become owners until they have repaid in full and with interest their debt to the building society. It is only after a lifetime of being in debt and occupying a house belonging to a building society that they finally attain the lofty status of "property owner", fit citizens of Thatcher's “property-owning democracy". In the meantime their position remains insecure. If ever they fail to keep up their payments the building society will evict them from its house and sell it to recover the amount of the loan, a fate suffered by tens of thousands of people each year and which can now be expected to increase. They also remain at the mercy of rises in the rate of interest, which the government can cynically welcome as a way of making them cut back on their personal consumption.

Since coming to power in 1979 Thatcher has pursued a policy of encouraging people to become homeowners, as part of her plan to eliminate Labour party-type reformism ("destroying socialism", as she misleadingly puts it). She hopes that people who own their own homes will believe they have sufficient a stake in the country to abandon traditional working class demands for higher wages and salaries and better state provision for health and welfare; that in fact they will oppose such demands and vote for the Tories for ever. For her, capitalist property will be more secure if surrounded by a mass of small house owners.

While a few social climbers may have swallowed Tory ideology, Thatcher's policy has been popular for quite other reasons. Many people want to own their own home simply because it gives them some control over part of their lives. They don't like to have to ask permission of a landlord, whenever they wish to modify or improve their home; they want to be able freely to exercise the creativity denied them at work.

Even if all workers owned their own homes, capitalist society would remain class-divided: the majority forced to live by selling their ability to work for a wage or salary and a minority of owners of the means of production living off unearned income in the form of rent, interest or profit. When socialists talk about inequality of property ownership being the basis of capitalist society in Britain we mean ownership of the means of production, of land, raw materials, factories, machines and other instruments for producing wealth. Owner-occupied houses are not means of production; they are not, and cannot, be used to produce more wealth. In this sense they fall into the same category as cars, washing machines and other household goods; they are consumer goods, means of consumption — workers have to consume accommodation, be it owned, mortgaged or rented, in order to keep themselves fit to work. Homeowners, therefore, are not capitalists and neither do they have any interests in common with capitalists.

This important distinction between property in means of consumption (houses, cars, household goods) and property in means of production, or capitalist property, is lost in the statistics of property ownership published from time to time. Even so, these figures show a considerable inequality: in Britain the top 1 per cent own 23 per cent of "accumulated wealth". This means that if property in means of consumption is taken out of the figures the level of inequality is far greater. Figures for West Germany in 1969. for instance, showed that while 1.7 per cent of private households owned about 35 per cent of "total private wealth", they owned 70 per cent of "private wealth invested in production". The proportions in Britain will be similar. Owners of capitalist property are, quite literally, in a different class from owners of means of consumption. To gain entry into this class you need to own a lot more than your home.

Besides, owning your own home in no way frees you from having to go out and sell your ability to work for a wage or salary in order to live. Workers who own, or who have mortgaged, their home have to sell themselves on the labour market just as much as workers who live in council houses or private rented accommodation. Nor, as the recent rises in mortgage rates shows, does it free you from the financial problems inextricably associated with being a wage and salary earner in capitalist society. “MORTGAGE BURDEN TURNS YOUNG INTO NEW PAUPERS" read the headline of a recent article in The Times (31 December) which featured a young couple in Hertford who had bought and mortgaged a home (a one-bedroomed maisonette, or sort of glorified Portakabin) in July. Their first monthly payment had been £360. From January they were going to have to pay £460 a month, leaving them just £55 a week between them for personal spending (food, car, gas. electricity, telephone).

Homeowners remain non-owners of the means of production and so remain members of the working class, with the same interests as wage and salary earners have always had under capitalism: to establish a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and to press, while capitalism lasts, for higher wages and salaries. Thatcher has got it wrong. Home ownership does not give workers an interest in the continuation of capitalism.

Nurses lose patience (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January 1988 a national survey carried out by the Association of Community Health Councils showed that half of the hospitals in England and Wales were closing beds, wards or specialised units. Their conclusion that parts of the NHS were on the brink of collapse and the impending bankruptcy of the Manchester Royal Infirmary forced the government to release extra funds to prevent serious financial problems among the other health authorities.

Also during January 1988 the government declared its intention to reduce nurses’ enhanced rates for unsocial hours, weekends, public holidays and night shifts despite the fact that they were already inferior to any other British industry. The nurses were not prepared to accept a trade off of their shift payments for vague promises that a new regrading structure would restore their pay, and a strike by 38 night staff at North Manchester General Hospital on 7 January 1988 forced the government to back down.

With this background to the nurses' regrading structure it was obvious that the government's announcement on 21 April awarding nurses a pay rise averaging 15.3 per cent had to have a catch in it. Most nurses had to wait until late October or early November to find out what their new grades were and, as expected, the vast majority received pay increases of considerably less than the figure announced.

The new grades, besides cheating nurses by paying most of them much smaller rises than the much-publicised “average" awards, also attempted to "play off” nurses against each other by awarding fairly big rises to a small minority of them. The majority of nursing auxiliaries in general hospitals and nursing assistants in psychiatric hospitals have been allocated the lowest possible grade even though they often have to work without supervision. Probably the most discontent has resulted from the regrading of staff nurses and ward sisters. Nurses working on the same wards have been graded in an arbitrary manner, with some being graded differently for doing the same work.

For nurses on the lowest grades, nursing auxiliaries and staff nurses have been awarded just over six per cent and ward sisters 4.2. In keeping with the governments attempt to reduce shift payments, thwarted by the 1988 Manchester nurses' strike, the vast majority of night nurses have been given the lowest grades possible which, with shift payments having been pegged at the 1984 rates of pay, gives rises of under five per cent in the pay packets of these workers.

Enrolled nurses have tended to fare better but a number of general hospitals have stopped employing them, in anticipation of single certification for all trained nurses proposed in changes in nurse training for the future. Many enrolled nurses have, as a result of this policy, been forced to work as bank nurses on a casual basis to cover periods of staff shortages. These nurses receive neither sick pay nor holiday pay and have been graded lower than enrolled nurses in regular employment, cheapening their labour power still further. Student nurses have received around a seven per cent increase but have not been regraded because they are in training and their status is, therefore, temporary.

But even with trainee nurses excluded from regrading, most health authorities are faced with having to handle over a thousand appeals each. Clearly, the fact that a substantial majority of nurses up and down the country have appealed against their grades contradicts statements by the government and regional health authorities that nurses have had good rises. In addition, many experienced nurses feel that they have been downgraded and this has led to as much discontent as the paucity of the pay rise.

Another problem with the nurses' regrading is that it varies from hospital to hospital and this could lead to movement of staff in the future and artificial shortages in some areas. And the fact that there are now effectively two grades each for staff nurses and ward sisters could lead to a shortage of suitable applicants for nurse tutor training in three or four years time, because of the need to have had experience as a ward sister before applying for training.

The government has gambled that its strategy of dividing the nurses will succeed, for it must be aware that a 50 day strike by the Royal Australian Nursing Federation in the Southern State of Victoria affected over 40 hospitals and led to the regrading being abandoned. However, the British government knows that there are four unions involved — NUPE. COHSE. RCN and. to a lesser extent, Nalgo — and that the largest union, the Royal College of Nursing, is opposed to strike action.

But it is just possible that the RCN's stance on industrial action could change in the future because some of its members are being lost to more militant unions since it advised its members not to take part even in the limited industrial action of "working to grade". In the past the RCN has tended to gain members when industrial action has occurred and this reversal of the usual trend demonstrates how angry nurses are and could lead to a reconsideration of industrial strategy.

Nurses' strikes have occurred at some hospitals and "working to grade" at others, but the industrial action has been patchy with individuals torn between anger and disappointment at the way they have been treated and their sense of “vocation". Nurses are beginning to realise, however, that they are not going to get a “fair deal" from the government, although they have so far failed to understand that the health service is most useful to capitalism during periods of economic expansion, when a healthy workforce is needed. In any event, all centrally funded welfare services represent costs against production and the state will, therefore, try to reduce costs as much as possible.

But it is not just nurses’ pay which looks likely to be a problem in the future: ancillary staff, whose already low pay and poor working conditions had been adversely affected by increasing casualisation and privatisation of domestic and laundry services in a number of hospitals, are likely to rebel against conditions. A further problem is that the wages of skilled paramedical staff are now “embarrassingly low" according to the National Association of Health Authorities, and managers are "having to introduce illegal' grades and fabricated job descriptions in order to retain staff” (The Independent, 2 December). Medical secretaries, accountants, operating theatre technicians and computer staff are receiving well below industrial rates and “Experienced hospital pharmacists can be paid £5,000 to £7,000 a year less than newly-qualified entrants to High Street pharmacies. "(Ibid).

Without these workers the National Health Service would struggle to maintain essential services and either a strike or defections to industry could cause severe difficulties. The government could even become a victim of its own propaganda, for if people believe that the nurses have had good pay rises then ancillary staff are going to be more dissatisfied over their own poor pay rates.

It remains to be seen whether the government has gambled correctly in trying to divide nurses and, by deceiving the public, deprive them of support. It also remains to be seen whether the increasing militancy among nurses during the last twelve months will gather momentum or, as the health authorities hope, the long drawn out appeals procedures over the gradings will blunt industrial action. But the nurses need to keep up the pressure on their health authorities and the government if they are to avoid being cheated yet again.
Carl Pinel

Poisoning the atmosphere (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

An article in the Wellington Dominion newspaper on 14 November last reported an alarming increase of incidence of skin cancer:
The skin cancer melanoma was now striking twice as many New Zealanders as it did 10 years ago. Cancer Society medical director Alan Gray said yesterday. "Melanoma is now the commonest cancer in people aged 20 to 39", Dr. Gray said. Figures published in the Medical Journal showed that cases had doubled every 10 years in the Non-Maori population from 1948 to 1977. In 1983. 686 new cases were reported, compared with an average 298 cases yearly in 1970. 1971 and 1972.
A programme on the National Radio followed up the theme the following Sunday. Here it was made clear that a badly underfunded public health service was unable to provide skin cancer screening services and people could be waiting months for needed operations. Melanoma, if not caught in its early stages, is a particularly dangerous cancer and kills many people each year (up to 200 in New Zealand).

In the same newspaper on the same day there was an even more disturbing article titled: "Ozone depletion exceeds forecasts". Dr. Tom Clarkson of the New Zealand Meteorological Service, who specialises in researching the effects of pollutants on the weather systems, was reported as saying: "world ozone depletion was greater than atmospheric scientists had initially predicted". The Dominions reported that scientists had called for immediate cutbacks in chloroflouro-carbon (CFC) production by at least 85 per cent because the existing protocol would not save the ozone layer.

The article went on to point out the difficulties of getting countries to ratify the existing protocol, which calls for only a 50 per cent reduction by 1999 of the 1986 levels of CFC production in stages. The problems of obtaining support for an 85 per cent reduction protocol were enormous, particularly with “developing" countries heavily dependent on chemical and electronic industries.
Dr. Clarkson said the world has lost 4 per cent of its ozone in the past 10 years or so. It appeared that the northern hemisphere had also developed a hole in its ozone layer and there were fears that the increasing amount of chlorine in the atmosphere were reacting with solids and liquids in a way not previously realised.

"Chlorine is increasing in the atmosphere by about 5 per cent per year", he said One scientist at the meeting presented new research suggesting a volcanic eruption in the tropics could trigger destruction of ozone over mid-latitudes. Such a reaction could not have happened in the past and was only possible now because of the vastly increased amounts of CFC's that had been poured into the atmosphere. Dr. Clarkson said an 85 per cent cutback in CFC's would only mean maintaining the status quo in the atmosphere.
The following day the Dominion returned to the issue under the headline “melanoma battle worsens as ozone layer depletes":
The world was losing the battle against the skin cancer melanoma and the problem would get worse if the ozone layer continued to be depleted. United States expert Professor Alfred Kopf said yesterday.
A week later I attended a public meeting on the subject of “Ozone Depletion and the Greenhouse effect" where the guest speaker was Dr. Clarkson. These two separate concerns have a common cause: pollution by the modern industrial world of competing nation-states and corporations.

Ozone layer depletion
Dr. Clarkson explained that ozone is a form of oxygen with three atoms to the molecule. It has different properties to ordinary oxygen with the double molecule and is particularly toxic to animal life, including human beings. Some man-made ozone exists in the lower atmosphere among other pollutants and poses an immediate health hazard. However, the ozone layer is usually between 15 and 30 km away from the Earth's surface and is important to both plant and animal life in two respects. It forms a “cap" on the weather systems below, lending a stabilising influence (it warms up due to absorption of the suns rays and forms an inversion layer). And it blocks out most of the harmful radiation which emanates from the surface of our sun, in particular short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation such as ultra-violet waves. Sun-burn is due to this radiation, and if the ozone layer were suddenly to be removed, these rays would prove lethal to most life.

Ozone in this layer is formed by the UV radiation breaking down the ordinary oxygen molecules' bonds so that they recombine as three-atom bonded molecules. At the same time ozone is also being broken down into oxygen. This two-way effect has a natural balancing point.

Chloroflouro-carbons or CFCs were invented in the 1950s and found to have many desirable properties which lent themselves well to industrial and domestic use. Efficient, easy to produce and relatively cheap in comparison to alternatives, they were also regarded as safe due to their chemical stability. However, in the seventies there was an apparent depleting of the ozone layer and it is now widely accepted that massive damage is being done to it by these pollutants.

The natural level of chlorine in the atmosphere is approximately 0.9 ppm (parts per million). In 1973 it was measured at 2 ppm. In 1988 it was just under 4 ppm. Due to the slow progress of the CFCs through the stratosphere, the pollution of today will have a much delayed effect. It is estimated that if all CFC production and use were to cease now, it would take another 200 years to get back to pre-1970 levels. In the spring of 1987 half of the ozone layer above the Antarctic completely disappeared.

The Greenhouse Effect
The man-made “Green-House" effect is a phenomenon about which scientists are still not in agreement. However the measurements observed are in line with the scientific models that have been made of the effects of man-made pollutants collecting in the atmosphere. Again there is a natural balance between the amount of carbon-dioxide which is emitted and the amount reabsorbed by the sea (100 billion tons per year) and vegetation (60 billion tons per year). The natural concentration of carbon- dioxide is about 300. ppm The effect of the carbon-dioxide is to prevent or slow down the loss of heat from the surface of the Earth by forming an insulation blanket around it. Human production of C02 is about 5 billion tons per year; however, unlike the natural processes the man-made carbon-dioxide is a one-way direction process only.

Man-made pollution has added substantially to the greenhouse gases and the concentrations are growing rapidly. The current relative cheapness of fossil fuels such as oil and coal has meant a dramatic increase in their use. New Zealand, which has mainly hydro-powered electricity generation, is finding it economical to restart the few oil-powered stations it had mothballed in the seventies and early eighties.

Adding further injury to the eco-system, natural forests are being cut down and destroyed at an insane rate. The Amazon rain forest, which once contributed 25 per cent of the world's oxygen, is being reduced at a rate which approximates to an area the size of Wales every day. Where once there was luscious rain forest, there are now tree stumps stretching as far as the eye can see.

Measurements made by the Department of Scientific and Industrial research since the early seventies show the concentrations of carbon-dioxide to be 325 ppm in 1973 and 350 ppm in 1988. Average global temperatures have been recorded from the year 1880 and figures show that the highest were in 1987 and the five hottest years have been since 1980. The United States is now taking the greenhouse effect very seriously as it stands to be a big loser if world temperatures rise as some predict. Other nations may benefit in the short term. At worst, if the use of fossil fuels for energy continue on the existing scale, the average global temperature will rise at a catastrophic 0.8 degrees centigrade per decade.

No solution within capitalism
The worldwide capitalist system will be unable to deal effectively with this problem. The warning signs have been with us for years, and many experts and environmentalists have been pointing out the dangers. Damage which will have an effect many decades later is being done now.

Alternatives to environmentally destructive industrial processes exist, they are generally more expensive and this would reduce the competitiveness of a nation or company which chose to adopt them unilaterally. Action will only be taken if damage begins seriously to impair the smooth functioning of the profit system — or if anti-pollution measures and products become profitable in themselves. Either way, capitalism's air will remain unfit to breathe.
Dave Tildesley
World Socialist Party of New Zealand