Sunday, July 31, 2022

Labour’s righteous leaders (1965)

From the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

From Attlee to Wilson
When they came in in 1945 the Labour Government, believing themselves to be righteous, were bold as lions. “We are the masters now!” roared the new Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross. Their ecstasy was described by the late Lord Dalton in his memoirs:
There was exhilaration among us. Joy and hope, determination and confidence. We felt exalted, dedicated, walking on air, walking with destiny.
Six years, and innumerable crises, later it was a very different story. Of the leaders who walked on air that July day in 1945, Bevin was dead and Cripps was dying. Attlee and Morrison had suffered grave illnesses. The future of the Labour Party was to be one of intrigue and dissent; of Attlee delaying his resignation until Morrison was too old to succeed him; of Bevan listening for the cue which was never called; of Gaitskell taking his chance, and leading the party to an unprecedented defeat.

In 1945 the leaders of the Labour Party had already rendered good service to British capitalism, in Churchill’s wartime coalition. It was here that many of their reputations were made, and none more so than Ernest Bevin’s. When Churchill called upon him, Bevin had already become famous as a blunt trade union leader, a skilful negotiator and a scourge of Labour Party rebels. Probably nobody had the confidence of the trade unions like Bevin. Churchill made him Minister of Labour, obviously hoping that his experience would be enough to stop most industrial trouble before it started. Like one of his successors as Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union—Frank Cousins— Bevin was given a safe seat in Parliament so that he could join the government.

Attlee surprised a number of people by naming Bevin as his Foreign Secretary. But Bevin soon established himself as one of the Labour government’s few popular successes—so zealous and determined was his championing of British capitalism's interests in the diplomatic battles—largely against the Russians—after the war. Few people now remember him for his failures. He once said that he would stake his reputation on solving the problem of Palestine. He was quite unable to prevent Russian expansion into Europe. And we all know what happened to what he described as the most important objective of his foreign policy: “ . .. to be able to go down to Victoria Station and take a ticket to where the hell I like without a passport.”

The failures of Ernest Bevin were not coincidences. That rough tongued, hard headed son of the masses had no more idea of how to control capitalism than the pampered aristocrats who are traditionally supposed to be born diplomats. Bevin once claimed that a Labour victory was essential after the war because it would be vital to have a government which could understand the Russians. The Tories, he said, were not equipped for this; Left must talk to Left. The Russians, who probably even then had a good idea of what the post war situation was going to be like, must have had a good laugh—or at least a grim smile—at these words.

Bevin was no more prescient in economic affairs. In November 1947 he wrote to Dalton that he “ . . . intuitively felt that we were beginning to get through . . .” Intuitively! This was before the convertibility crisis, the dollar gap emergency, potato rationing, devaluation .. . problems which were obviously overlooked by the Foreign Secretary's intuition.

The other Labour leaders were no better. Morrison, for example, did not try to solve the problems of British capitalism, by intuition. In his view, the whole thing was caused by Hugh Dalton—by “ . . . faulty administration at the Treasury for which Dalton must be responsible . . . he had little flair for administration and there was evidence that he was unaware of the financial crisis of 1947 until he was in the midst of it.” Morrison does not explain why the crisis continued long after Dalton had left the Treasury. The situation was, in fact, at its worst when Stafford Cripps was Chancellor—and it was Morrison who, in the Thirties, had invited Cripps to join the Labour Party.

Just as Morrison criticised Dalton, other Labour leaders were critical of Morrison. Bevin was constantly feuding with him. Attlee later said “Perhaps (Morrison) was unwise to take the Foreign Secretaryship because he was not quite so well qualified.” (Some readers may need to be reminded here that it was Attlee who, as Prime Minister, gave the Foreign Secretaryship to Morrison rather than Morrison who took the job.)

Such back biting was typical of the Attlee government. Some of it reached an incredibly low level, for grown men who were supposed to be upholding the dignity of capitalism’s established institutions. Hugh Dalton, holder of the ancient and respected offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, took exception to the self-important manner of Sir Hartley Shawcross, holder of the ancient and revered offices of Attorney General and later President of the Board of Trade, and consequently dubbed Shawcross “Sir Peacock”.

Dalton (who as a child was described by Queen Victoria as a horrid boy with a loud voice) started off in 1945 full of bounce but was soon deflated. His Budgets, he claimed, were popular in the City:
The Stock Exchange boomed—and went on booming for days. (First Budget.)
In the City the Stock Exchange rejoiced. (Second Budget.)
He did not explain how somebody who claimed to be a Socialist could make the City rejoice; he was too busy, at the traditional Lord Mayor's Banquet, making the traditional promises to the capitalist class;
I shall aim to make my forthcoming Budget . . . fit into a series . . . a consistent and developing financial plan, which shall assist our industry and trade . . . (3/10/45).
It was not long before the Labour government abandoned all intention of producing any plans which were “consistent and developing”. They were soon rushing out emergency Budgets, imposing restrictions, desperately juggling with capitalism's financial mechanisms. But however many fingers they plugged into the holes, the dyke crumbled about them and the cold waters washed them away.

After Dalton's enforced resignation. Attlee had to look around for a successor. Sir Stafford Cripps had once said that the Treasury was not his line of country, so of course he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was the last act in the moving story of the reform of Cripps the firebrand, the man who had been expelled from the Labour Party over his advocacy of the Popular Front, who had advised the workers to refuse to make armaments, who had warned that a Labour government would have to deal with opposition from the Palace. (He was also the man who, shortly after this last speech, was heard by Morrison to murmur “The King, God bless him” when drinking the loyal toast.)

Perhaps some of Cripps’ pre-war followers expected him to do something startling at the Treasury. If so, they were soon disappointed. Cripps continually exhorted the working class to tighten their belts, to forego wage increases, to work harder. He fought his hardest to build up the exports of the British capitalist class. He became associated with the whole concept of austerity; his grim face (even his smile was like a wintry wind) and his abstemious habits were one of the Conservatives’ favourite propaganda weapons. Cripps was a deeply religious man and an unrelenting moralist, but this did not prevent him denying his intention to devalue the pound, when he knew that the plans for devaluation were all cut and dried. He worked mightily for British capitalism, and in the end he wore himself out.

All these men, and the lesser fry, were presided over by dry, shrewd, Clement Attlee. The Prime Minister was fond of sending the trouble makers in his party short, stinging letters which usually ended “Yours ever, Clem.” In Cabinet, it was his habit to sit quietly doodling while the battle raged about his head, then dismiss the matter under discussion with a few words of summing up. This method had its uses; Morrison later complained that Attlee applied it in double crossing him over a compromise on steel nationalisation.

Attlee cultivated the art of the menacing understatement; “It’s awkward to have to sack a man . . .” “It (the Berlin crisis of 1948) was quite a danger.” His self-effacing manner was useful in the ruthless job of administering British capitalism—and in the end, apparently, it turned out to be a vote winner as well.

Harold Wilson was only a minor figure in the Attlee government, but he managed to chill a few spines:
Nye’s little dog .. . he did not seem to have much warmth or strength of character. (Dalton).
Perhaps the most realistic classification for this able economist and clever debater is that he is a Wilsonite. (Morrison).
Attlee expressed surprise that Wilson should have resigned with Bevan in 1951; “He ought to have had more understanding of the economic position.”

Perhaps none of them realised what Wilson signified for the Labour Party. When Wilson became leader, Labour had a long history to live down—a history based on its origins, and fashioned by its reckless propaganda when it was far, far from power. The Labour Party once used, albeit in a distorted version, the theories of Marx; they once adored Keir Hardie’s cloth cap. ’’Somehow”, wrote Morrison, “we have managed to give the impression that the (Labour) Party is anti-British and pro-every foreign country . . .”

If they were ever to rival the Conservatives as an established ever ready alternative government for British capitalism, the Labour Party had to exorcise its ghosts and cast out its devils. They could no longer afford the luxuries of idealists and theorists. They could not afford another young Cripps with his wild speeches, or a Strachey with his learned, troublesome books, or a Bevan with a perpetual mine shaft on his shoulder. The modern Labour Party had to aim first at getting power; its election programme had to fit both the needs of Britain’s ruling class and the prejudices of the mass electorate, with no nonsense about a new social order of equality. This had to be a massive act of exorcism, and Wilson was ready with bell, book and candle.

We were able to see how Wilson had done his job, in the election last October. Certain things were obvious. Firstly, he had snuffed out all controversy in the Labour Party’s ranks. Secondly, he had no intention of reminding the electorate of the record of the Attlee government, and offering it as in incentive to vote Labour again. Thirdly, he produced a programme with glamour, promise and a specious humanity, the cynicism of which sickened only the enlightened, whose votes were too few to worry about.

Wilson’s was a high pressure, modern campaign. He did not miss a trick—seen on television shaving in an hotel room, he was using an electric razor. He fastened on to every one of his opponent’s mistakes and made sure of his own publicity. It was summed up by Anthony Howard of the New Statesman:
. . . without anyone really noticing it (Wilson) has already transformed the Labour Party from being primarily an ideological movement into being an election-minded organisation (Sunday Times 6/9/64).
Presumably, this is supposed to be an achievement which we should all applaud. What seemed to be overlooked by the Labour Party was that if they won the election they would be faced with the same insoluble problems of capitalism which laid low their predecessors in 1945. Wilson has not been able to master-mind these problems out of existence. The record of his government so far has been one of scratching their way from one emergency to another, of cynically modifying their programme and what they once called their principles. Housing, immigration, nuclear weapons, taxation policy, arc only a few of the issues on which the Labour Party now stands four square the opposite way to last October.

Although it is common for capitalist parties to break their promises, this does not save them from defeat. The Labour Party are already losing much of the support which put them in power nine months ago. The results of by elections, and of local elections, are going against them. At the time of writing, The Economist is convinced that the Labour government is going down.

This, if you like, is the achievement of Harold Wilson and his colleagues in the smart, modern Labour Party. Like the men of 1945 they came in bold as righteous lions but now, their best laid schemes agley, they are more like frantic, hunted mice. Soon, perhaps, they will be sent scuttling away behind the mouldering wainscot.
Ivan

Inflation and prices - Part 1 (1965)

From the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why do individual prices rise and fall and why, at certain times, is there an upward movement of prices, which is called inflation, or the opposite movement, a downward movement of prices, which is known as deflation? There is no need to stress the importance of the subject, but it may be useful to point out one or two of the difficulties that we come up against. There are, for example, people who think that capitalism would not be so bad if prices were not so high. They believe that prices are high simply because manufacturers and shopkeepers want them to be high and that the Government ought to tell them to stop it. On the other hand, there are people who think that prices are high because trade unions put up wages and that the Government ought to tell them to stop it too. The fact is that there are real economic causes of high prices that have not much to do with the wishes of the shopkeepers, trade unionists and others.

One particular reason for looking at the question of inflation is that in Great Britain and in a number of other countries, for the past 25 years, we have had prices rising more or less continuously; we cannot afford not to know why this happens. The subject is a somewhat difficult one; with three separate aspects. First, we have to consider what determines what we may call the normal price of each article that is sold, what Marx in some places called the natural price. Secondly we have to consider what causes deviations in the normal price of each article, and third, we have to consider what causes the broad general movements of prices up or down, affecting all prices equally and not merely the prices of particular articles. The next point that must be borne in mind is that you cannot study prices and inflation as something separate and distinct from other economic questions.

Before we can understand the movements of prices, we have to go back to the commodity’s value. Almost all of the things which have a price have it because they are the products of human labour and the amount of human labour required in their production is the measure of their value. The things bought and sold are also useful or have a use value, but that is a different quality, not to be confused with value. Value is a social relationship of capitalism, a relationship between persons that expresses itself as a relationship between the things produced for sale, which we call commodities. If, under average conditions of production in a given industry, it takes 24 hours of socially necessary labour to produce a certain commodity, then that commodity will have the same value as other commodities which also take 24 hours of socially necessary labour.

However, if one firm in that industry is inefficient and takes 30 hours, the value of its product will still be the social average of 24 hours. On the other hand, if an exceptionally efficient firm can do the job in 20 hours on average it is still the socially necessary labour that counts.

It has to be borne in mind that when we talk about producing a commodity, we mean all of the processes that are necessary for its production. Suppose we assume as an example that the socially necessary labour for producing a bicycle is 24 hours, this means not merely the time taken in assembling the bicycle but all the necessary processes, from obtaining the rubber and metal and other materials, right down to the finished product, including any necessary transporation of materials including wear and tear of factory machinery and the consumption of electricity or other power to drive the machinery, and so on. Having taken as an example that it takes 24 hours of socially necessary labour to produce a bicycle, let us now carry it a stage further and assume that a suit of clothes also takes 24 hours, then the bicycle and the suit of clothes would be of equal value.

Let us also assume that 24 hours of socially necessary labour would produce one ounce weight of gold; then we have three different kinds of articles with different uses and of different materials and different weights, but all having the same value. Now one stage further is to turn our one ounce of gold into money and to assume, which is approximately true in Great Britain before 1914, that the Government by law fixed the pound sterling, or the sovereign as it was called, at one quarter ounce weight of gold, then if you had 4 gold sovereigns, or £4, you had about one ounce of gold, and on our assumption, its value was the same as the bicycle or the suit of clothes.

Now it would be very simple if we could say that price and value are identical. We would then be able to explain all prices of all articles simply by saying that the price of the bicycle and of the suit of clothes was £4 and that the prices of all other commodities would be according to their value, measured in terms of the amount of socially necessary labour required in their production. Unfortunately, we cannot treat the matter as simply as that. We cannot say, in other words, that price and value of individual commodities are identical. In actual practice it is rarely so, because all sorts of other factors come into play.

When Marx dealt with this subject in Chapter 6 of his pamphlet Value, Price and Profit, and said that commodities on an average sell at their values, he added that this was apart from the effect of monopolies and some other modifications, although he did not deal with these modifications either in Value, Price and Profit or in the first volume of Capital. As the chief purpose of this series is to deal with the general rise of prices—that is to say, inflation—it is not necessary here to deal with all these modifications. It will be sufficient merely to refer to them briefly and to refer to sources of information on some of the others.

Now the first cause of deviations of prices from their normal price arises through what is called supply and demand, when although the value of a commodity remains unchanged, its price may rise or fall because of variations of supply and demand. To take an example, suppose that storms at sea prevent fishing trawlers from entering a port. This interrupts the supply of fish and immediately prices go up. When later on the trawlers do arrive, probably a large number of them together, and all land their catches of fish, then the prices will fall again. These are examples of variations in supply and demand.

The other factor referred to by Marx was monopoly. Monopoly is a particular form of interruption of supply. If a company controls all or most of the supply of an article, it can force up the price until such time as new sources of supply come into operation or until substitute articles come on the market and break the monopoly. In Great Britain for many years, there have been monopolies in alcohol and tobacco which are created not by the companies but by the Government. The Government controls the production and import of alcohol and tobacco and can thus establish a monopoly price far above the value of these commodities and can use that monopoly price as a means of skimming off excess profit for government revenue. There is also a kind of opposite example, and that is government subsidies. Whereas a monopoly such as those referred to operated by the government can force up the prices far above value, the government can and has for many years subsidised certain foodstuffs so that they can be sold well below their value. What happens in effect is that the government pays the producers to sell the article cheaply.
Edgar Hardcastle

(To be continued.)

The Passing Show: Pensions and Hypocrisy (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pensions and Hypocrisy 

I am looking at the Labour Party's manifesto for the 1964 General Election. In the section dealing with “social security”. I see:—
For those already retired and for widows, an Incomes Guarantee will be introduced. This will lay down a new national minimum benefit. Those whose incomes fall below the new minimum will receive as of right, and without recourse to National Assistance, an income supplement.
Now I will ignore for the moment the fact that it was the previous Labour Government which introduced the “means-tested National Assistance benefits” as the same booklet dubs them a few lines further up the same page. Nor will I make too much of the information (given by Assistance Board Chairman Lord Runcorn, in May) that some 71 percent of the total of weekly allowances made were to elderly people, about 1,386,000 of them at the end of last year. I will ignore all this, if only to avoid having to listen to the tedious reply that pensions have already been raised by a few bob and that anyway there has not been time yet to introduce more far-reaching measures.

Whatever their intentions may have been, the Labour Party never seemed in much doubt before the election of the plight in which many pensioners found themselves. Indeed, it was only the Tories who, in face of umpteen surveys of one kind or another and a mass of statistics, tried to pretend that pensioners were not so badly off; and they lost the election anyway. Labour’s policy was to exploit this situation and promise to remedy it.

And what do you think would be the way to do it—that’s if you are naive enough to think that such problems can be dealt with effectively under capitalism? Why, to give the pensioners an immediate and very, very substantial increase, of course. And if you are that innocent, you may think that this is Labour’s intention any day now. But you would be wrong, very wrong. After donkey’s years of books, pamphlets and enough newspaper cuttings on the subject to fill a library, all we get is—just another survey.

Ah, but you haven’t heard the best of it yet. This survey really has the edge on all the others. Just listen: —
. . . 11,000 pensioners in Britain are to be interviewed to see how they are managing and to find out any difficulties they may be having, the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance said yesterday.
(Guardian, 14.5.65.)
Just read those words again slowly and savour the full, damnable impertinence of them. And when you have stopped gasping at their sheer unctious condescension perhaps, with me, you will view them as just another exercise in the hypocrisy in which all governments dabble. On one hand, there will be efforts to give the impression of earnest and helpful action, and on the other a nett result, as far as the pensioners are concerned, of nothing. And if by now the Ministry do not know the sort of ’’difficulties they may be having”, then they must be deaf and blind to a scandal which has been common knowledge for years.

Old age pensioners are generally out of the run of productivity so beloved of capitalism’s economists and politicians, and that’s why they are chucked on to the scrap heap. It also explains why they are so conspicuously unsuccessful in their efforts to secure any worthwhile improvement in their miserable lot. They just haven’t the bargaining power of their younger brothers and sisters who are still at work.

But they do have a vote and there are some millions of them, so they cannot be ignored entirely. This explains why the Labour Party, among others, is careful to include them in its election pledges, only to try and fob them off with a crumb or two and a patronising pat on the head afterwards. Yes, pensioners are at the bottom of the priority list, and capitalism will see that they stay there.


Nothing is sacred

When he was a Labour M.P.. Lord (then Mr.) Brockway talked once in the Commons on the sacredness of a newly born child. No doubt he believed what he said, and if you were to ask many people about this today, they would probably agree with him.

While not denying that these attitudes may be all very worthwhile within the limitations of their social conditions, we should not deceive ourselves that childhood is really considered all that sacred in a modern capitalist-society. True, the young ones are given extra attention by the authorities, but the outstanding reason for this is that they are soon to become the new workers, and capitalism has long learned the need of an assured supply of labour power. But sacredness? Not on your life.

If you have any doubts on this, try to find an hour to waste watching commercial TV at some time or the other. Note the frequent interruptions for adverts, and in particular the number of times they feature children—some of them little more than toddlers. Children cramming revolting quantities of sweets into their mouths, children guzzling gallons of soft drinks—both very questionable from a health point of view, or children talking in a most unchildish manner about the effect of this or that detergent on Mummy’s hands (silly Mummy believes it too, apparently). The firms who purvey this rubbish are well aware of the feelings of tenderness which are roused in an adult by the sight of a child, and they exploit them quite shamelessly in the name of that which is sacred before all else—the profit motive.

If you think this is far fetched, take a more critical look at that TV screen next time. Nothing is left untouched; wherever human feelings can be publicised to commercial advantage, the ad-man digs his claws in deep. His subjects range wide, from boy and girl love to the pride of a housewife in a basketful of clean clothes at the end of a washday (Alan Freeman exercises a particularly obnoxious technique here).

And have you got a tiger in your tank? This is perhaps the most blatant of the advertising stunts yet, and to all accounts it has paid off very handsomely. Maybe the sheer cheek of it has had something to do with its success—free publicity through the sticker on the car window— and here again, the kids do not escape. Listen to Miss Molly Tarrant (“Mass observation and motivational research specialist”) in The Guardian on May 31st: —
Children might have something to do with it . . . Many drivers will agree to put a sticker on if their children ask for it . . . although often the driver uses the children as an excuse.
No, nothing is sacred under capitalism, except the profit motive, which is not after all surprising. If capitalism is to be assured of continuous and unfailing support by its workers, then the necessary indoctrination in its debased standards must start at the earliest possible age, in all sorts of ways—some more subtle than others.

Gaspers
“Rising prices are no new phenomenon. They have faced every government since the war, as an intractable problem, to which no solution has yet been found.’’ (Mr. George Brown—Commons debate 12.5.65.)

“China is conducting necessary nuclear tests . . . and is developing the nuclear weapon for the purpose of . . . abolishing all nuclear weapons.” (Chinese communique, following their second atomic explosion, 14.5.65)

“Both our countries are totally opposed to the use of force for the settlement of international disputes.” (Indian Premier Mr. Shastri, speaking in Moscow 12.5.65.)

“In the held of National Assistance the number of clients today, at nearly two million, is undoubtedly much greater than Beveridge envisaged it would be." (Lord Runcorn, National Assistance Board Chairman, 15.5.65.)

50 Years Ago: Optimism and Socialism (1965)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where then do optimism and Socialism come in? What is their practical relation to the Socialist movement? Optimism claims that this is the best of all possible worlds. All apparent pairs are but the means by which the all-seeing Father secures our ultimate happiness. To attempt to secure it on our own by a social revolution is both impious and unnecessary. The Lord will provide!

Pessimism, on the other hand, bewails our impotence against the hand of fate. Sorrow and death are on every hand, and external forces are stronger than we; to hope to control them is useless. The deepest desires are but a mockery; for happiness is impossible and an illusion. Socialism? Pooh! If you abolished poverty tomorrow it would re-appear the day after.

In short, both creeds accept the capitalist system as inevitable and necessary. Optimism is simply the endeavour of the ruling class to foist their own smug satisfaction with themselves and their system to their slaves as the only correct opinion and guide of life. It is rejected by all who have passed through the fire and floods of working-class existence and found it horribly wanting in practical comfort even in spite of previous prejudice in its favour.

Pessimism is but the inevitable reaction based on disappointment in optimism; a despair of capitalism coupled with an ignorance of any means of ending it.

From the Socialist Standard, July 1915.

Party News (1965)

Party News from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Annual Conference this year was especially memorable. We had four members of the companion party in the U.S.A. over here—Sam and Ida Omer, Lenny and Anne Fenton. Theirs was no holiday visit; they were worked off their feet, speaking at many meetings.

Conference discussed a lot of future activity, and the first fruits of this were not long in coming. Up and down the country, we ran very successful May Day meetings. In Trafalgar Square, a large audience contributed a generous collection and bought about £12 worth of literature. Big literature sales were also a feature of our meetings in Glasgow. Other meetings were held in Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol and Swansea, with similarly encouraging results. A small band of members also went to Hyde Park and ran a worthwhile meeting.

A good start, this, to our Summer propaganda season, which looks like being one of the busiest on record.

Readers will be interested in the excellent activities of Glasgow Branch. During the 1964/6$ propaganda season the branch held 112 outdoor meetings (25 in Edinburgh), 35 indoor meetings and one debate. Literature sales totalled £45 and collections amounted to £116. This is a most impressive record for any organisation and our members in Glasgow are to be congratulated on their efforts. Anyone wishing to take part in Glasgow activity, or any organisation, (political party, trade union branches, etc) requiring a member to address them, should please write to S. Donaldson, 37 Beltane Street, Glasgow, C.3. Visitors are welcome to the Branch meetings held regularly at 163a Berkeley Street. Monday at 7.30 p.m.

The Brighton Group hopes to run regular fortnightly outdoor meetings with the aid of London Branches during the summer months. They have also received an acceptance to debate from a local Labour Councillor.

A new group has been formed at Kidderminster—see the Party Directory—its first meeting was held on the 12th May and it is hoped the group will shortly have a meeting place for regular monthly meetings.

Sunderland Group is meeting regularly and anticipates extending its activities during the coming months.

Swansea Branch report a successful May Day meeting, the best for some years. The branch is becoming much more active and will be giving details of future branch and propaganda programmes in the near future.

SPGB Meetings (1965)

Party News from the July 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sting in the Tail: The bubble bursts (1995)

The Sting in the Tail column from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bubble bursts

Bradley Stoke, near Bristol, is Europe’s largest private housing development where in 1988 people queued overnight to buy houses before they were even built.

After all, house prices were rocketing and this, along with mortgage tax relief, made buying a house seem like a sound investment, so buyers took out mortgages in the belief that they could always sell at a profit.

Then came the recession. People lost their jobs and tax relief was cut. Many homes were re-possessed and house prices tumbled. Bradley Stoke became the negative equity capital of Britain and residents renamed it “Sadly Broke”. On top of this, professor Doug Woods of the Manchester Business School predicts that house prices will stay depressed for another 20 years!

Of course, no one can be certain what any market will be like one year from now let alone 20, but what does look certain is that the agony will continue for many workers who, like those in Bradley Stoke, fell for the guff about "a property-owning democracy”.


Panel in a muddle

Remember the panel of “seven wise men” appointed by the Government in 1993 to advise it on the economy? And remember how one of them announced after their very first meeting that the other six hadn’t a clue about how the economy worked?

At their latest meeting the panel, now only six, deliberated over what the government should do about interest rates:
“Three of the Chancellor's six independent advisers believe he made a 'tactical error' in not raising rates this month. The three ‘wise men’ say the current 6.75 percent will have to rise. . . but two others oppose further rises and the sixth expect the cost of borrowing to fall. ” (Ceefax 23 May.)

Setting-up the panel was just a political stunt to reassure the public following the ERM debacle of 1993, so the government never had the slightest intention of paying any heed to what the panel would say, and it isn’t hard to see why.


Unhappy minority

A Mr Allen Hancock in the USA has been publishing a quarterly More Than Money since 1993. He is a compassionate man who produces this publication to comfort a forgotten minority of US society—the filthy rich.

Inheriting $500,000 in 1988 from his oil-rich grandfather, Mr Hancock found himself "feeling isolated, embarrassed and encumbered”. According to a recent Cornell University study, over the next 20 years $4,800 billion will be inherited in the USA and Mr Hancock is worried about the recipients.
“One third of that wealth will go to just one percent of the population, amongst whom the average will be some $1.6 million. That is going to create a lot of stress and even unhappiness, Mr Hancock argues. " (Times, 12 April.)
As the unhappy inheritors don’t seem liable to give away this money burden, don't you think a compassionate working class should abolish the stuff for them?


Elementary, My Dear Whitehouse

We are all familiar with the deductive methods of the fictitious Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately modern detectives are not quite so logical.

In the Observer (21 May) there appeared a report of the career of a real live detective Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex. Mr Whitehouse is an unusual policeman. He and a contemporary were the first Cambridge graduates to enter the police for 20 years. He is also unusual in that he can make deductions based on facts, even if these are rather obvious to socialists without the benefits of a Cambridge education:
“I started in Hartlepool. I couldn't help but notice that crimes were mostly being committed by the poorer people, who lived in the poorest areas. That is an interesting starling point. "
His deductive powers are somewhat less than Holmesian though, for he obviously understands less about policing in capitalism than Alan Clark:
“Alan Clark (the former Defence Minister) would say that we are here as servants of the ruling class. I would say we are here as servants of the people. ”

A look in the future

Those wearing red rosettes were happily chanting “easy, easy” while those with the blue rosettes looked on in dismay. Rival fans at a football match? No, only Labour and Tory activists on TV after the recent local elections.

“A great night for Labour” chorused the pundits, but party leader Tony Blair warned his followers that the night could well be Labour's high point. It probably was. If Labour wins the next (general) election and takes on the task of administering British capitalism then what can we expect to see?

First, the initial euphoria will evaporate as the new government struggles in vain to provide the jobs, security, improved social services, benefits, etc. which the voters were led to expect.

Next, public anger and media hostility, now aimed at the Tories, will be turned on Labour. Its popularity will slump in the opinion polls, seats will be lost at by-elections, Labour councillors will be ousted in droves from town halls, and finally there will be exultant Tories and dismayed Labourites on TV after a future election.

Socialist Unity — Is there any choice? (1995)

From the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
This article and the one on the following two pages should be
 read together since the first expresses some views which are 
countered in the second. Peter Nielsen is a former Labour
 parliamentary candidate.
"All it takes to do away with the ills of capitalism is a politically aware and motivated working class which wants and understands socialism." So said the Cover Feature, “What makes you angry?”, in the July 1992 edition of Socialist Standard. All? In a political environment where the word “socialism” is applied with such disregard for its real meaning, “understanding” it is no easy matter for people whose general political awareness is shaped by the capitalist agenda on which all mass media discussion takes place.

The experience of the working class of so-called “socialism” has not been a happy one. “Socialists” of many hues have come and gone this century world-wide, their promise unfulfilled through subversion and betrayal. In Britain, all the achievements of previous Labour governments have been partly or wholly destroyed since 1979. Cowed by Thatcher, seduced by an establishment which it has never repudiated anyway, and betrayed by its leaders. Labour now seeks an electoral mandate to govern the same old rotten system under Tony Blair declaring itself “a socialist party”. Coupled with the slavering triumphalism of the capitalists that “socialism is dead” following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ordinary people are understandably lost in a maze of meanings. Worse still, the disowning of socialism by the Labour Party in recent years has only reinforced the capitalists in their propaganda that socialism is associated with hopeless idealism, incompetence and failure. The fact that the chronic economic and administrative incompetence of the nomenclatura of Soviet state capitalism caused it to collapse in chaos and defeat only adds to the scepticism of working class people. In their eyes, through their mass media, all systems end up with people at the top looking after themselves.

If socialism is to advance and not continue to be scandalised by vested interests who patronisingly describe it as a good idea which will never work in practice because of “human greed”, the task of socialists is not only to expose the ills of capitalism, but also to meet the challenge of cynicism and hopelessness so successfully nurtured by decades of Tory propaganda and Labour betrayal. Socialists need more than a definition of socialism. They need a language of socialism which expresses the rights and moral standards by which human beings must live to survive in peace, freedom and with justice. It must be capable of being articulated in a consistent way and of being recognised each time it is spoken.

The language of socialism must be the language of the ethical. It must not waver from principle. The concept of human rights must be total. It must not only concern itself with freedom from victimisation, false imprisonment, torture and execution. If anything, such acts are sanitised by being on the human rights agenda rather than in the sphere of criminality where they belong. Human rights must extend to the fields of economics, housing, health, education and the environment and they must be applied universally. The redistribution of wealth and the democratisation of industry must not be a mere policy option for socialists seeking votes in elections but must be taken for granted as an inevitable consequence of supporting socialism. Socialism should be synonymous with the highest standards of life. Human rights in the social and economic spheres demand the elimination of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and alienation. They also demand the highest levels of performance and professionalism in all work by each other for each other.

No conflict
There should be no conflict between the good of the individual and the good of the community. The two are inseparable. Individuals benefit from communities organised to provide the best in public services, and communities benefit from free and fulfilled individuals realising their full potential be they highly gifted or severely handicapped. The full realisation of the potential in all human beings is the ultimate guarantee of the best society that can be conceived. Th waste of one human being through neglect and exploitation denies others the fruits of their endeavour.

Such general tenets are not, as cynics would have it, the utopian beliefs of idealists and dreamers. They command wide support according to the ICM State of the Nation polls published annually in the Guardian newspaper. For years, they have shown big majorities who regard unemployment more serious than inflation, who think that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, who oppose privatisations, who regard environmental protection as more important than producing “cheap” goods, and who prefer better public services to lower taxes. Substantial minorities still oppose Britain's nuclear weapons and support more trade union involvement in industry and the economy. There is an even split between those who believe that more socialist planning would be the best way to solve Britain's economic problems and those who did not.

These views are some way from being those of “a politically aware and motivated working class which wants and understands socialism”, but that is not the point. Given that such opinions are expressed in the context of the capitalist agenda by people who have rarely or ever been exposed to a true socialist alternative and whose most recent encounter with commentaries on socialism was intended to consign socialism as variously “unworkable”, “failed”, “discredited” and “dead”, they must be regarded as remarkable. They should tell us that all the political parties represented in Parliament, including the Labour Party, should speak for less than half of the people and that there is a huge political void waiting to be occupied by advocates of socialism.

Political void
The crunch is, how is it to be occupied? Who will occupy it? The Lahour Party has abandoned it if it ever occupied it at all. Socialist thinkers and activists are scattered across a profusion of parties and organisations which collectively represent a common rejection of capitalism and its wars, its environmental vandalism, its poverty, starvation, homelessness, unemployment and racism, and its ambition for the usurious enslavement of all humanity. How many more decades will it take socialists to work through their differences towards a socialist consensus? Is there no synthesis of socialism, democracy, peace, freedom and justice to which we can all subscribe?

If objectives can be broadly agreed, then two steps towards unity will have been made possible: A united critique of capitalism and a united vision of what should replace it. There only remains agreement about the process of achieving it. That will be difficult and will require the putting to pasture of some sacred cows on the left. It will be an iconoclastic endeavour, not against socialist sentiment but against long and dearly held convictions about the “only” way to defeat capitalism in a left culture in which there are many “only” ways including insurrection, revolution, entryism, the ballot box and just waiting around until the system grows rotten, collapses and dies.

The achievement of socialism is the responsibility of all who take up the cause irrespective of which organisation, if any, they identify with. Socialism is no longer a luxury which can occupy our intellects in interminable arguments about strategies for achieving it to the exclusion of events unfolding around us. Socialism has become an urgent necessity. To hand over the world's economy to the business √©lites to exploit for profit, by collusion or by default, is a recipe for social and environmental disaster. If socialism is denied for lack of the will to unite, it will amount to a criminal act of passive surrender to the capitalists and to betrayal of the working class. It is not just about filling a vacuum left by the Labour Party’s rightward shifts. It is also about a vacuum in the understanding of people who have never thought about politics, who are dissatisfied but don’t know what with, some of who may even vote for the Tories without being sure why. That requires that socialists organise to demand the attention given to the capitalist parties in the media, on the stump and on the street. Socialists must speak the language of socialism which the people understand. Above all, they must reach the people, confronting the capitalist agenda issue-by-issue, blow-for-blow.

United Left
Demanding attention requires presence. Presence comes from the status conferred by the strength of a united socialist front which cannot be dismissed as “marginal” or “extreme”. The capitalists may control the media through the ownership of its assets but they do not own the right of communication and dialogue between peoples any more than they own the rain in spite of their efforts to privatise it. Their monopoly of the use of the media and of the agenda should not be surrendered by default. As long as these powerful levers remain in their hands, the capitalists retain the ability to contain everything a divided Left can throw at them A united Left could not be denied, especially if it scored enough points under the capitalists' own rules of access to the media, namely by the election of MPs and councillors.

The point is not to sign up to the traditions of British politics and the institutions of the establishment which sustains them. It is to give united public expression to the socialist cause in a form which is familiar to people and which can reach people in an age of mass telecommunications which demands presence and status to justify participation. Virtue is not enough. A show of strength is needed, strength in numbers which demands attention and can show that socialism is not a scattered body of non-conformist belief but a philosophy which is the true reflection of the natural state of human society. To a rising generation which has known no other political environment than that which exists today, and to who this century’s two World Wars and the Cold War exist only in history’ books, the arguments for socialism must address the world as it is today. Not the “modern” world of Tony Blair which accepts a limited democratic influence over the forces of international capitalism, but the modern world whose awesome problems of inequality and environmental plunder and destruction can only be solved by co-operation through assent, inseparably by socialism and democracy.

The capitalists are rampant in the wake of the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ascendancy of the so-called New World Order. If they are to be challenged, it must be done before it is too late. Socialists bear that responsibility. United we stand, divided we fall. After all, if professing socialists can’t get their act together, how will the people ever be persuaded “to want and understand socialism”?
Peter Nielsen

Blogger's Note:
Here's an obituary for Peter Nielsen which dates from 2018, and which gives more background on his political and personal life.

Is there a better alternative? (1995)

From the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Since its formation the Socialist Party has argued that it is
 essential for the working class to unite in order to gel rid of
 capitalism. But this unity must be on the basis of a clear
 understanding of what socialism is, of what capitalism is,
 and of how to replace one with the other.
Without winning the battle of ideas socialists will achieve nothing. Workers, who constitute the vast majority of society, will either have their own class-consciousness or they will fall victim to the ideological attack of the minority class who are the legalised exploiters of the profit system There is no middle ground: workers must either understand and want a co-operative society which is fundamentally different from the class-divided system we have or capitalism will carry on in its callous, destructive way.

So we agree with a good deal of what Peter Nielsen says. Yes, the capitalist agenda does dominate mass media communication and makes it far from easy for workers to think for ourselves. Added to that, there are schools and churches and all kinds of institutions dedicated, intentionally or otherwise, to the confusion of the working class Yes, the triumphalism or capitalism's apologists in the light of the alleged “failure of socialism” has misled millions of workers. The fact that the Labour Party has only ever stood for capitalism and that the so-called socialist countries were no more than attempts by √©lite-run states to manage capitalism (state capitalism) makes it easy for workers to assume that real socialism could never work. The recognition that socialists have a big battle on our hands, made more difficult not only by media disinformation but also by the historical actions of pseudo-socialists, is one that does not need to be pointed out to the Socialist Party. After all, we stand alone in the political arena as the only party professing socialism which was never for a minute taken in by the socialist claims of state capitalists and left-wing reformers of capitalism. We know just how big an ideological mess this history has created.

Indecencies of capitalism
So, what is to be the way forward out of the mess? We are told that we need more than a definition of socialism, but an ethical language within which to express it. In truth, it would be impossible to define and argue for socialism without pointing to the indecencies of capitalism. It is the fundamental opposition to the interests and feelings of the majority which arises from production for profit (capitalism) which makes production for use (socialism) so compelling and urgent. We are not seeking to win workers to support for a dry political definition, but to a new way of running the world, a different way of living which is co-operative, caring and free from the shackles of the market. Indeed, this means rejecting the individual/community dichotomy and recognising in practical terms the need for a society where the interest of one is the interest of all.

We agree also that there are many workers who are far from actively liking or supporting the profit system. Capitalism thrives upon the passive support of the scared and the uninformed. But there are those who will not vote for any of the capitalist parties and would agree with Peter Nielsen that this huge radical political void needs to be occupied by an alternative movement.

So, what are these people to do? How is the radical void to be filled? Clearly, not by the Labour Party. It never was socialist or radical, but now it is so far from seriously claiming to be so that nobody in their right mind would join it with a view to ending capitalism. Nor does the answer lie in the Leninist Left which has spent this century wasting workers’ time calling for a re-enactment of the insurrectionary tactics which gave rise the state-capitalist tyrannies and telling workers to vote Labour at every election: a history' of double-confusion. Clearly, the alternative is not going to come from their direction

So, what is the case for unity? We agree with Peter Nielsen that those who unite for socialism must understand what capitalism is and share a common socialist objective. Indeed, that is the basis for membership of the Socialist Party. All workers who oppose capitalism and seek the establishment of socialism, not just as definitions but as practically understood and experienced systems of society, must unite. In this sense, we are all for unity.

Unity for socialism
But can we unite with those whose professed radical or socialist energies amount to campaigns to reform capitalism? No—never! This is not because we doubt the sincerity of such would-be reformers or enjoy standing aloof from active struggles. But we must at all times and without compromise stick to the Big Issue of opposing capitalism as a whole, not just bits of it, and advocating socialism as a basic social alternative, not just a new policy for running capitalism. Organised socialists must be politically hostile to reformism, whilst doing our utmost to win reformists from the path of mending capitalism to that of ending it.

We are all for “a show of strength”, but numbers without understanding and clear-cut principles do not constitute strength but easily broken weakness. So, to be plain-speaking about it, we reject the proposal that we should unite with reformists and call instead for them to abandon their struggles for the crumbs from their masters’ tables and unite to take possession of the whole cake and the bakery in which it is made: common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution.

We do not reject Peter Nielsen's call for “socialist unity” out of sectarian indifference to the need to build a mass socialist movement. Far from it: there is nothing that we would more like to see. But the unity of socialists with non-socialists, semi-socialists or single-issue radicals would be to build a castle made of straw.

In the spirit of Peter Nielsen’s enthusiastic and hopeful call for socialist unity, let us offer a different proposition. Consider what would happen if the active support for the Socialist Party, which is small at present, were to be doubled or trebled or multiplied by ten? What impact might 10,000 politically-conscious and actively-organised socialists make if enough people were to get to the roots of society’s problems and join our cause? And if we allow ourselves to think of 10,000, how long before they became 100,000? What if such numbers of people were to distribute socialist literature in opposition to the lie-sheets of the capitalist media? What if every phone-in programme had hundreds of socialists jamming the switchboards intent on arguing the need to get rid of production for profit and establish production for need? Now, that would be unity. It would be a force to be reckoned with. Of course, within a growing socialists movement there would be different people motivated by different problems, but all would be united by a recognition that the root cause of these problems is this rotten capitalist system.

These are exciting and invigorating thoughts, but left in the realm of though they will achieve nothing. So, why not start now? Why not think about uniting with those of us who are committed to the single aim of world socialism? Why not persuade friends, workmates and family to join us, or at least read what we have to say? Why not lake ten copies of the Socialist Standard instead of one or two—or write in for a few hundred free leaflets to distribute in your area? Why not organise a socialist meeting locally? Invite along the local radicals, convince them of the need for real socialist unity and let’s have new branches and groups everywhere. Why not unite for the greatest historical aim in human history: the possession of the world and all of its resources by its inhabitants? And why not do it now?
Steve Coleman

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Cashless - but not moneyless (1995)

From the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Welcome to a World without Money” ran the headline of a full-page feature article in the Daily Mirror on 30 January. But it wasn’t an article on Socialism or anything like it. Written by Tanith Carey, it was about an experiment that starts in Swindon this month when people will pay for things by using a special smart card instead of notes and coins or cheques or even ordinary bank and credit cards.

Tanith Carey describes what the experiment will involve:
“Imagine going on a shopping spree and never having to shell out a penny for your purchases. Groceries at the supermarket. a new outfit, even a burger on the way home all yours without ever opening your wallet. There are no bills to sign, no rooting around in your back pocket and no reaching for change in the bottom of your purse. In fact not a note changes hands. Instead, everything is taken care of with a simple swipe of a card. ”
If ever this was to be adopted universally the result would be a cashless society, not a moneyless society which would be something quite different.

A cashless society would be one in which we no longer used paper notes and metal coins to pay for things; in other respects things would stay the same. A moneyless society, on the other hand, would be a society in which the whole concept of money—as a unit in which prices are expressed and as a means of payment—would have become redundant because the things we need to live would not have prices and would no longer be bought and sold. It would be a radically different society from today.

Most people tend to see money as giving access to wealth. Indeed it does, on condition that you have some. But from another angle it can be seen as a means of excluding people from wealth—from the wealth we need but can’t pay for because we haven’t got the money. Money, in other words, only gives conditional and restricted access to wealth. It is a means of rationing—it only gives people access to what they can pay for—and the workings of the capitalist system distribute these rations to people in very' unequal amounts.

Cashless society
The idea of a “cashless society” was first promoted by the banks in the 1960s as a way of encouraging people to use cheques and so open bank accounts. In those days most people still received, each week or fortnight, a pay packet in the literal sense—an envelope containing cash. This you put in your wallet or purse and spent to meet your needs over the next week or fortnight; if you wanted to save something you had to take it as cash to a bank or building society or to the Post Office.

The banks’ scheme to increase their business worked and today most people have a bank or building society account and are paid either by cheque or by a direct transfer to their account. People now pay for many more things than they used to by cheque, with the result that the need for cash—circulating notes and coins—has declined and an approach towards a cashless society made.

A cheque is basically an IOU, a promise to pay the payee (the person or business it is made out to) a sum of money at a later date, when it is presented to their bank in fact. This, too, takes place without the need for any physical transfer of cash. It does, however, involve the physical transfer of the cheque and the feeding of the details into a computer by a bank employee. This is time-consuming and so relatively expensive for small amounts, and now the banks are dissatisfied with cheques too. They prefer bank cards.

Originally these were guarantee cards presented with the cheque to guarantee the payee that the bank would honour the cheque up to a certain amount even if the payer didn't happen to have that amount in their account at the time the cheque was presented for payment. Then, with the incorporation into them of a microchip, they became "smart cards” which enabled their holders to withdraw notes from the hole-in-the-wall cash machines that sprang up in high streets throughout the country. Now they can also be used instead of a cheque to pay for things, provided, that is, the seller (a supermarket, shop, restaurant, etc) is equipped with a machine that can read the information on the card's microchip and transmit details of the transaction to a central computer. The banks envisage these cards eventually replacing cheques altogether.

So, after the cashless society the chequeless society, the society of electronic money or, as the computer bull's call it, “digital dosh”.

Digital dosh
The experiment in Swindon, financed by the Nat West and Midland banks, takes a different approach towards the same end. It aims to see if it is practicable—and of course profitable—to replace not just cheques but cash itself in everyday transactions.

Cash differs from a cheque in two important respects. First, it circulates: the same note or coin is used many times, by the different people whose hands it passes through, to pay for things. Second, payment in cash is a transaction between two persons only; no third party is involved, only the payer and the payee, the buyer and the seller To recreate electronically these conditions, while at the same time safeguarding against fraud, is technically more difficult than the bank-card-type system which uses a third party—the central system—to carry out and confirm any transaction. But it can be done, and has been done for the Swindon experiment.

Those taking part in the experiment will be issued with a plastic card but this will be different from an ordinary bank card in that holders can transfer to it from their bank account a sum of money of their choice. This can be done either from a machine at the bank or from one attached to their phone or from an “electronic wallet” This wallet is similar in shape and size to a pocket calculator and it too contains a keyboard and a display panel; money can be transferred to it in the same way as to a card but it can also be used to transfer money directly to someone else’s card.

The card works on the same principle as a BT phonecard except that it can be used to pay for anything from a supermarket, comer shop, pub, restaurant, etc participating in the scheme, even for small items like newspapers, stamps or sweets not normally purchased by cheque. When the amount transferred to the card has been spent it can no longer be used without more money being transferred to it.

When the card is used to pay for something it is inserted into a machine that transfers the money but no information about the buyer to the retail outlet's electronic till. A perfect substitute for cash and one that avoids the dangers of robberies and muggings (but not of counterfeiting).

What a waste
It’s all hi-tech stuff, but what a waste! What a waste of the ingenuity and technical skills of the computer analysts, programmers and software and hardware engineers, since electronic money is still money, i.e. still a means of rationing people's access to things.

All these smart cards, electronic wallets and scanners with their digital signatures, guardians, cryptographic algorithms and PINs are designed for one purpose: to allow those with money access to things and then only up to the limit of the amount they have, and so to deny this conditional access to wealth to those who don't meet the conditions, i.e. to those who don’t have money or who don't have enough money. They only make “sense” in a society based on private property and buying and selling and are yet another example of how' today under capitalism scientific knowledge and technology is prostituted and used to serve anti-social ends.

In a rationally-organised society, where we produced goods to satisfy the various needs of people and where people had free access according to their individually-defined needs to what had been produced, the same technology could be used to set up and operate the efficient system of stock control that would be needed to ensure that the stores were always stocked up with the products people had indicated they wanted. But this presupposes a society of common ownership and democratic control, not the banks' advertising agency’s slogan of a cashless society. Then we would truly be able to say “Welcome to a World without Money”.
Adam Buick

Press Exposure: Winners and Losers (1995)

The Press Exposure column from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

What do you want from your newspaper? Do you want a comprehensive, insightful report on what is happening in the world to help you form your opinion on whether we need to run things differently and if so how? Or masses of analysis and policy to help you come to the same conclusions as the writer? Or would you prefer, along with page-after-page of sport (which usually means page-after-page about the off-field foibles of the sportspeople) and dedicated probing of the sexual meanderings of pop stars. politicians and aristocrats, the chance to take part in some sort of competition which promises a chance of making you rich beyond your maddest dreams?

Competitions have been a consistent feature in the press. There is, for example, the humble (although that can depend on which newspaper it is in) crossword which occasionally offers the sort of prize—like a dictionary—which will not make you rich for the rest of your life. In the past there was a peculiar competition called Bullets, giving prizes for constructing apparently meaningful responses to obviously meaningless phrases. It seemed densely indecipherable but was very popular. Some newspapers have run competitions with a car as the prize, or enough petrol to run a car far into the future. Others have offered to pay the mortgage on a house. The so-called quality press has not been immune from this: the Sunday Times has run competitions—one was about post-war test cricketers—which were little more than lotteries and the Times has run one involving the phantom buying of shares. And of course there is good old bingo, which in the newspapers came in different styles. Sometimes the player had to get a card from a newsagent, sometimes the card came through the letterbox with all the other junk mail. All that you had to do then was buy the newspaper which published the numbers to be crossed off the card. It promised big prizes—perhaps a million pounds but there was a loophole. As both cards and numbers were produced by the newspaper and the "game" was not played openly as it is somewhere like a working men’s club, there was nothing to prevent the cards and numbers being designed so that nobody even won the jackpot.

If you think this is farfetched consider the case of Spot-The-Ball. This was another popular, long-running, competition in which the newspaper published an action photograph of a football game, with players leaping and thrashing about—without a ball. Competitors had to mark a cross where they thought the ball was. Addicts of Spot-The-Ball could spend a lot of time with a magnifying glass and a ruler, trying to work out where the players’ eyes were focused and where their boots were aimed at (assuming they were looking at the ball and trying to kick it; which is not always the case) and drawing lines in the hope that the point of intersection would be the winning spot.

In 1990 the Sun ran a Spot-The-Ball competition, in which the photograph was draw up into a grid. The unlikely to prize was £5 million. This desperate venture was quickly copied by the Daily Mirror, then stumbling under the even more desperate ownership of Robert Maxwell. In the Mirror contest readers had to Spot-The-Ball on five consecutive days: the promised top prize was £1 million.

The snag
It all seemed very exciting and enticing but there was a snag. The competition would be judged—that is to say the position of the ball would be decided—after the Mirror had all the entries. This would be done by a panel of judges (on the first occasion chaired by none other than Maxwell himself) who could put the ball in a square which nobody had marked. And that is what happened. Maxwell had instructed his editor "Make sure it doesn’t cost me any money" and, apart from a few "second’’ prizes of £10,000 that is what happened. The whole thing was a fraud on readers of the Mirror who were gullible enough to believe that a newspaper would help them solve their money problems in that way.

When this sort of trickery is exposed—as Maxwell’s Spot-The-Ball was exposed in a subsequent Panorama—we are subjected to a lot of indignation from people who seem to expect the press always to be honest, always to tell the truth. Which brings us back to the original question of what we want from the papers. Imagine for a moment what would happen, if the press suddenly dropped its unwavering support for capitalism and began to publish material which could be sustained by serious argument. What if they stopped treating every pronouncement by political leaders with such grovelling respect? It is difficult to believe that journalists listening to some revered figure churning out yet another discredited placebo for society’s problems do not reflect that that have heard it all before. Difficult to believe that they don't realise that capitalism’s spokespeople have nothing fresh or effective to say and that they should admit to their impotence and advise us to swamp them out in a social revolution.

Fraud
Because capitalism itself is a massive fraud, in which millions of useful people allow themselves to be exploited to sustain a parasite minority and a social system which cannot be organised in the interests of its people. Beside that, a newspaper's bogus bingo, Win-A-Car, or Spot-The-Ball are so trivial that in the history of fraud they won’t rate so much as a column inch.
Ivan

World Review: Nightmare scenarios (1995)

From the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the middle to the end of May, Western commentators treated the working class, already stressed out and fed up with the rat race we know as capitalism, to a triple synopsis of doom.

In mid May, the International Institute of Strategic Studies revealed US concerns about China's $100 billion annual defence budget, the growing Chinese military assertiveness and their strong resemblance to a superpower.

Only two days after China had joined other nuclear powers in endorsing an indefinite extension of die Non-Proliferation Treaty, it carried out an underground atomic explosion that brought immediate international condemnation.

A few days later the Guardian reported China as setting "alarm bells ringing . . . with its military muscle flexing", and how there were "renewed anxieties about its willingness to live by international rules" (22 May).

China, it seems, had taken a sudden interest in the Spratley Islands and the mineral wealth beneath its reef. That this reef could provide China with oil revenues and access to wider Pacific Rim markets only added to Western fears of China becoming a rival superpower.

A few more days and the Guardian would run another panic-laden story about how "the West’s nightmare scenario of an alliance between Iraq and Iran moved a little closer . . . with the former enemies pledging to improve relations" (26 May).

The catalyst it appears has been the mutual acceptance of Iraq and Iran as the joint focus of Western economic boycotts.

If Iraq, with a population of 17 million, and with a rag-tag army, war-weary after an eight-year conflict with Iran, necessitated the mobilisation of 750,000 allied troops and accompanying hardware in 1990, what, analysts wonder, would be the consequences if Iran sided with Iraq?

Iran, for instance, with a population of 55 million, with a recently upgraded missile system and a nascent nuclear programme and an army of fundamentalists famous for their suicide missions, siding with a vengeful Iraq, could give Western governments and their masters the mother of all headaches.

War footing
On the last day of May, Britain declared it was sending 6,000 troops to the Balkans. The US also looked for ways of muscling in on the world publicity this would generate and NATO gave a sigh of relief, at last being given the chance to justify its existence.

The Guardian's front page headline—"Allies on war footing"—appeared a sad irony for those apologists who saw VE Day in May as a vindication of world peace thanks to Western liberal democracy.

May had also been the 50th anniversary of die United Nations—a contradiction in terms considering there have been over 300 conflicts since 1945. Nowhere has the futility of the UN been more apparent than in the Balkans in which the Croat-Bosnian-Serb war has exhausted every UN method of conflict resolution. Sanctions have been imposed, negotiators have redrawn maps and attempted to broker cease-fires while peacekeepers have been sent to see they are carried

Any credibility the UN had was lost when the UN pulled out 75 percent of its forces from Rwanda following the death of 10 Belgian peacekeepers, leaving the country to anarchy, starvation and the machete. This was followed by the UN pull-out from Somalia at the end of another attempt to bring stability to an African country.

It is a grave indictment of the capitalist system, that the initial relief and joy with which the demise of the cold war was greeted has melted into an increasing anxiety about the future. Within five years of the Berlin Wall falling, 25 new states have sprung up, only two minus the blood that accompanies such birth pangs. More await to be born.

The logic of capitalism is as insane as it is obscene. Conflict rages in 30 countries and much bigger ones await that gentle shove into motion, from Iraq to China. There are wars in Chechenya, Bosnia. The South China Seas seethe with tension. The time-honoured panacea remains military readiness and the threat of aggression. just as the nuclear bomb and the awareness of its destructive potential forced a 40-year stand-off between the US and the Soviet Union.

The 20th century, more than any period in history, should have taught the working class that bombs and borders do not solve problems or bring peace. They only stall war and make conflict, when it does come, more gruesome.

As we approach the millennium, we look back over 100 years that have witnessed more bloodshed than any other century in human history, on a world punctuated with 100 million land mines, on a world one fifth of whose population live in extreme poverty. What an indictment of capitalism.
John Bissett

50 Years Ago: This Phoney Election (1995)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voters who try to interpret the issues in the election by studying the more flamboyant utterances of the Party leaders may well wonder what it is all about.

Mr. Churchill declares that the election is a fight between individualism and Socialism and between his own Party and the "Socialist Party”. By individualism he means capitalism, which has, however, long since got past the stage of a competitive struggle between independent small capitalists and gone over increasingly to giant monopolies.

The Labour Party, equally anxious to misrepresent the situation, accepts Mr. Churchill's “terminological inexactitude" that they are a socialist party and declare in its Election Declaration (“Let us Face the Future”), “The Labour Party is a Socialist Party and proud of it"—and then proceeds to give us a blue-print of the State Capitalism that they propose to retain and develop.

We confidently make one electoral prophecy. Whatever the result capitalism will be safe because the majority of the working class are not yet Socialists.

(From editorial in Socialist Standard, July 1945)

Help, you’re trapped (1995)

The A Word in Your Ear column from the July 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Get up in the morning. Go to work. Receive as pay less than you produce. Give the surplus to your boss. Survive on your wage. Spend it on buying back what you and the other wage slaves have produced. No wages left. Need money. So . . . get up in the morning. Go to work. Receive as pay less that you produce . . .  Repeat until you die or are thrown on the scrapheap.

That is your life. You call it being employed. “Luckier” than the poor sod next door: he’s unemployed, forced to look for a boss to exploit him. Employment is exploitation It's legalised robbery: you produce the goods and services and others, who possess the means of producing, get rich. Employment is a trap. You're in it.

The sole reason for workers being on earth is to be employed—robbed—trapped. Without us there would be no surplus value produced. If it could be created without us perhaps we would be culled like seals. But we are necessary to the system. Out of the hole which capitalism has dug for us comes profit. Lots of lovely profits to keep the rich rich. Aren’t they lucky to have us?

But you never asked to be in this trap. Tough luck. It was an act of birth. “Sorry. Mrs Bloggs, but you've given birth to a wage slave" Workers are those who own virtually nothing worth selling except ourselves: our mental and physical abilities, our work. (That’s why we’re called workers—because we’re forced to work ) “Well done, Lady Fotheringdale-Smythe, you’ve given birth to a healthy baby parasite, no sooner out the womb than the inheritor of five company directorships and a trust fund worth more than Worker Bloggs will earn in his lifetime as a wage slave.” No trap for baby capitalist. Well, somebody has to mind the Caribbean beaches while the rest of us look after the factories and offices.

Illustration by George Meddemmen 
You want to get out of the trap and be like the loafers who live off the surplus? Easier said than done, wage slave. You might try robbing a bank. The prisons are full of wage slaves who tried escaping from the trap only to book themselves into a cell. Or do the lottery. There’s always a hope that the fifteen-million-to-one odds will go your way. And that is precisely the function of the lottery: to offer hope to the trapped. Pay a pound and purchase your illusory crack in the cell wall.

Or you can grin and bear it. Most do. Some don’t. Suicide is always an option. (At least it’s not illegal any more.) Or drugs. Yes, the shop doorways are full of kids who thought they could have a little Ecstasy within the trap. Or you could always turn to religion and screw up your mind without shooting drugs. Pie in the sky when you die. But what about life before you die? You're not here to live, wage slave You're here to produce profits. Living is something you can attempt in your own time.

In this trap your time is rarely your own. Most of it is spent being employed. That’s what you're here for. That’s what gives you the right to go home at night and prepare to work the next day. A slave couldn't go home. Slaves belonged to the boss. Slaves had no rents or mortgages to think aboul. You do, sucker. No sooner are you let off the employer’s chain it ’s back home to a place that you must rent or borrow money to live in. You’d probably prefer to live somewhere else. The trap can get a little cramped. That’s the luck of the draw: if you were one of the one percent who own and control the earth's resources you would have had a stately home, or a mansion at the very least, to pass away your idle hours in. But your idle hours are all too few. Unless you’re unemployed in which case you’re forced to be banging on the exploiter’s door begging him to legally rob you. And then it’s back to doing time for the profit system.

You work as you work because you're trapped. You live where and as you live because you’re trapped You travel in a lousy car in congested traffic or in overcrowded public transport on which you pay to go to be exploited because you’re trapped. Your children are born into the same trap as you’re in and they are sent to school to learn how to be trapped. You are well and truly trapped in the profit-grinding machine of this rotten social system And your bosses call it freedom.

And in a way you are free, because like every trap there is a door. The fact that those pointing the way out are labelled loonies or troublemakers might lead you to stay put. You might even be scared of the freedom which lies beyond the cage. At least in the trap you get your wage, just like a dog on a lead gets its bone. You are free to accept your bone to chew on. Tory bones. Labour bones. Green bones. Trotskyist bones. Hie well-adjusted inmate likes his bone.
Steve Coleman