Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Letter: Responding to Lynn (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the April Socialist Standard, under the heading Left Is Not Right, we published a letter from Lynn Stabler, with our reply. Another reader has sent us some comments on Lynn's letter; while we agree with Trevor Swistchew on many points — for example his view of society in Russia as state capitalist — on others we have reservations which are set out at the end of his letter.
Dear Editors,

In my view, one of the main reasons we suffer (and there are many forms of suffering) is because we live our lives selfishly. Capitalism epitomises selfishness in today's world. We are brainwashed to compete with each other, to subscribe to goals defined by figures in authority and to obey laws with little or no protest.

Suffering in terms of hunger or lack of medicine or poor conditions can definitely be linked with the doctrine of capitalism, which denies millions of human beings access to the necessary goods, services or opportunity to make life a more equitable proposition. I personally do not believe that violence can liberate the poor from poverty, yet can understand ongoing poverty and its debilitating effects on people and how this leads to desperation in some cases, and thoughts of revenge in others. It appears to be a mixture of exasperation, frustration and fear. Many people die from unnecessary causes like hunger (in a world where grain is destroyed or stockpiled to keep market prices high) illnesses, which medical science has cured in the Western world. The problem is lack of access to a fair share of all the goods, services and wealth created by labour, managed (and abused) in many cases by capitalists. It is not a matter of hate however, it is really a matter of how to ensure that people can get access to enough of the resources which their labour helps to produce, so that they too can survive. That is what true socialists aspire to. and not to bombing others, or advocating violence. I accept that some people who claim to be socialists do condone violence, in the same way that some Christians too are hypocrites who spout Jesus but live debased lives.

Lynn must not grab hold of bits of socialist theory that suit her arguments and use them to attack other views. Socialist theory and practice takes years to achieve — it actually is worthwhile, and is definitely the superior doctrine to capitalism because socialism, when properly understood, and lived, opens one's eyes to the deliberate injustices committed in the holy name of politics. May I conclude by saying loudly and clearly that Soviet Russia is not a socialist country What they actually practise in the USSR is state capitalism (i.e. the state is the Number One capitalist) as opposed to the land owning gentry in capitalist Britain, Not all who say they are socialists are socialists.
Yours in the hurly-burly,
Trevor Swistchew

The ethos of every social system — its morals, laws and so on — is based on its mode of wealth production and exerts its pressure on the people to accept and conform. Capitalism's ethos springs from its nature as a society based on the class ownership of the means of life, the production of wealth as commodities and the drive to accumulate capital. The ideas of the working class — who are the productive. exploited class under capitalism — and the goals which they aspire to. are fashioned under this pressure. It is not possible for the workers as a class to operate selfishly, for their role under capitalism is to perform the enormously generous act of producing all society's wealth but allowing their exploiters to appropriate it while they themselves receive only enough to reproduce their working abilities. On the personal level, despite the pressures of capitalism, there are countless examples of workers behaving co-operatively, even self-sacrificially. A most recent case of this was the tragic bravery of the workers who struggled to control the fire in the reactor at Chernobyl.

The problem of preventable, unnecessary illness afflicts the entire capitalist world. Illness in the "backward" countries may take a different form from that in the "advanced" Western world, where disease is very often associated with the stress of survival under industrial capitalism, but that does not indicate that it is any more of a problem.

Socialists are not aiming at a society of "fair" shares of wealth (which is in any case a dubious concept) but one where everyone has the same rights of access towards society's wealth that is. free access to satisfy self-determined needs. This is not in operation anywhere in the world: thus it is not possible to "live" socialism at present.

Capitalism is managed by members of the working class, who perform all the work, be it mental, manual or managerial, needed to keep the system going.

Socialism cannot be achieved through violence. It must be the act of a majority of workers throughout the world who understand socialism and who take the conscious, democratic step to abolish capitalism and replace it with the society of common ownership. The work of socialists is to change workers' ideas, through debate and persuasion: it cannot be done through violence and repression. The fact that some who advocate violence call themselves socialists illustrates the importance of judging people by what they stand for, not by the label they attach to themselves.

The issue of capitalism or socialism is not a moral one. It is not useful to think in terms of "deliberate injustices" ("justice" itself is a nebulous, variable concept) because even if capitalism were immaculately "just" it would still be a social system which cannot meet the needs of the majority of people. Whatever offences it commits against human interests are in response to its needs as a class divided society.

Capitalism has been a necessary stage in social evolution and now it has outlived its usefulness, making it a hamper on human progress. Its "doctrine" was once revolutionary and progressive but now it is reactionary and decadent. The idea of socialism promises to abolish the problems caused by capitalism but that does not make it "superior" in the strict sense of the term. It is truer to say that it is in line with modern conditions and needs and scientifically expresses the nature of the next stage in human society. Understanding socialism is not a difficult, protracted business: the members of the companion parties of the World Socialist Movement have come to understand socialism not through any special abilities or endurance but because capitalism has convinced them that there is no other way

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Letter: Sadists in Socialism? (1986)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Friends.

In an otherwise excellent article in the June Socialist Standard titled "Criminal Convictions" it stated "If there was no property, no competition, no oppression, exploitation or deprivation, but instead freedom for all to pursue peaceful, uncorrupted and useful existences, then there would be no violence".

Do you not believe that there are certain individuals whose violence is not due to the symptoms of capitalism but because they actually enjoy inflicting pain on others?

If so. what will become of the anti-social element in a socialist society?
G Ellis 

There is very often a great deal more to be said about the motives of those who are described as enjoying inflicting pain on others; they are not simply sadists. In many cases they have themselves been subjected to rejection and violence. Sometimes they are unable to contain, as most workers are. their responses to the frustrations and repressions which capitalism imposes on us. day after day. Or perhaps a lifetime of alienation has taught them to fear and mistrust any kind of human relationship, or to be unable to admit to any dependence on others.

These examples of social neuroses — and there are many others — spring directly from the way property society operates. Another important example is the way in which capitalism positively encourages workers to enjoy inflicting pain, by rewarding those who are the most efficient and ruthless killers of the ""enemy"' in wartime (Remember the famous "Gotcha" headline in the Sun?)

The advent of socialism will remove the cause of all these problems and so abolish all but a few examples of violence. And those few will be the acts of individuals who are mentally sick, for although socialism will obviously eradicate most mental illness there will probably be isolated cases where it has physical and not social roots. If such people express their sickness in violence they will need to be restrained in the interests of society. But they will be treated as patients, not as criminals and while they are restrained they will also be helped to recover.

SPGB Meetings (1986)

Party News from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letter: Do High Prices Prevent Unemployment? (1957)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following letter. Our reply follows:
Editorial Committee.
Welwyn Garden City, Herts.

The propaganda of the Labour Party is to the effect of trying to bring down the Tory Government because of rising prices and the Tories' election promises. The Labour Party say that if returned to power, then their policy would reduce the cost of living and the workers would be better off.

Article “Mystery of Rising Prices" says “a fall in prices might mean a really big rise in unemployment, which would lose them votes"; can this be explained more fully, please.
Yours faithfully,
Thos. W. Creswick.

As we have seen Labour Governments at work, it is not necessary to wonder what they would be likely to do about prices for in 1945 they promised to keep prices down, but during their six years of office retail prices rose by over 30 per cent.

It is erroneous to assume that the workers would gain from a fall and lose by a rise of prices: it depends on whether conditions are relatively favourable for resisting wage decreases or pressing for wage increases (i.e., whether there is little unemployment), and whether the workers take full advantage of those conditions. Sometimes wages have risen more than prices (as during the past few years); sometimes wages have risen less than prices (as between 1947 and 1951); sometimes when prices have fallen wages have fallen less than the fall of prices, and sometimes they have fallen more than the fall of prices.

Our correspondent is wrong in thinking that the article from which he quotes asserted that “a fall in prices might mean a really big rise in unemployment” The article said that that thought is in the minds of Labour and Tory governments: it is what they think, not what we think.

Their belief about low prices and high prices making for high and low unemployment probably owes its existence as much as anything to confused memories of prices and unemployment between the wars, when falling prices and heavy unemployment existed together. The idea grew in their minds that falling prices are the cause of unemployment and, therefore, high prices must be a way to keep unemployment at a low level. So during all the succeeding years when governments have argued the need to keep prices down, they have had the uneasy feeling that if they really did this (or worse still if they reduced prices) they might be increasing unemployment or even starting a trade depression.

Current opinion on the question of a steady price level can be seen from an article by Mr. Alan Day in the Observer (23/6/57) dealing with prices and unemployment in U.S.A. He wrote: “It seems justifiable to think that price stability in a free enterprise economy can be combined only with levels of unemployment which are politically unacceptable.” In other words, you can have very low unemployment and rising prices or a steady price level but with heavier unemployment, and that will lose the government votes. Lord Brand had the same idea in mind when be challenged Mr. Harold Wilson, M.P., to say whether he would still be in favour of measures to stop inflation “if it involved an appreciably higher level of unemployment here for the time being than that which has ruled since 1946—say three per cent. instead of, as now, between one per cent, and one and a-half per cent . . (Letter to Times, 5/7/57.)

The above statements are concerned with the supposed effects of keeping prices level. Much more alarming views are held as to what would be the effect of actually reducing prices. As a Daily Mail editorial (12/7/57) said: “Better to have inflation and everyone at work than deflation and 3,000,000 unemployed.”

Muddled Thinking
It is, however, an example of muddled thinking. It treats two quite different causes of general rise and fall of prices as if they were the same. The first is the result of manipulating the currency When the pound sterling was freely convertible into gold and was by law fixed at a certain weight of gold, the Government, by altering the law, could have reduced the amount of gold in the pound (the sovereign) and thus could have increased prices; or could have increased the amount of gold in the coin and thus could have lowered prices With a currency that is not convertible a government could increase or decrease the number of notes in circulation and similarly raise or lower the price level.

After the first world war many governments inflated their currency and thus raised prices (sometimes to an enormous extent), and later on withdrew or cancelled the note issue and replaced it by a smaller issue of a new currency, and thus lowered prices again. Russia carried out the latter operation in 1947 and Germany in 1948. The German Government withdrew and largely cancelled a Reichsmark issue estimated to have been as much as 100,000 million and replaced it with D marks to the amount of under 11,000 million; with consequent reduction of high black market prices to normal market prices at lower levels.

Continuously for nearly 20 years the British Government has followed the opposite policy, of excessively increasing the note issue. The other kind of general rise or fall in the price level that concerns us here is that which operates in booms and slumps. At the start of a boom keen competition among the capitalists to secure materials needed for expanding production sends up prices, while during a slump the holders of commodities are glad to turn them into money at heavily reduced prices. But booms and slumps do not occur because of currency changes, and there is no evidence that price movements through currency changes have any material influence on the course of booms and slumps, though they may have a temporary stimulating or depressing effect while adjustment takes place.

When capitalism is set on an expanding course currency changes may interrupt it, but will not hold it back; and when, through serious disproportion of production and dislocation of markets, capitalist production is contracting, currency changes will not reverse the tide.

After the first world war the British pound had fallen in relation to the dollar from 4.86 dollars to about 3¼  dollars. By stages to April 1925, it was brought back to its original level in relation to gold and the dollar. Although it was the Labour Party’s official view that “a precipitate return” to the gold standard “may aggravate the existing grave condition of unemployment and trade depression” (Labour Year Book, 1926, p. 160), this did not happen. The amount of unemployment which in the three years before 1925 had averaged 12.1 per cent. was actually a little lower (11 per cent) in the three years after 1925. And when the world-wide slump came in 1930 all countries were involved, irrespective of the changes they had made in their note issues and the price levels they happened to have.

Experience since 1945 likewise fails to support the popular belief that inflation and rising prices are responsible for low unemployment. Britain, with a big rise of retail prices (about 50 per cent. since 1948), has had continuously low unemployment, but Italy, with a price rise of about 30 per cent., has had continuous heavy unemployment, at a percentage at least five times as high as in Britain. In Germany, where prices have risen much less since 1948 (about 15 per cent.), unemployment, which was at first very heavy, has been declining, at first slowly, but later on quite rapidly.

The evidence points to the conclusion that there is no truth in the belief that rising prices (through continual gentle doses of inflation) have been responsible for the low unemployment in this country since the war, and that there is no truth in the hope of those who hold this belief that continuing the same policy will prevent further crises and depressions.

In conclusion, it need only be added that deflation and a falling price level would not benefit the workers unless and to the extent that conditions enabled them to resist wage reductions and that they made use of whatever opportunity offered.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letters: Religion and Socialism (1957)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Northfleet, Kent.

The Editorial Committee.

Dear Sirs,—I have been a reader of your journal for nearly two years now, and I am always delighted by the vigorous articles in it

I am in basic disagreement with your analysis of the world’s problems. I don’t think that merely a change in system will solve them. You assume that everybody will be perfectly selfless and take no advantage of their freedom to take just what they like, with no regard to their real needs. You may dispense with money and all the trappings of the capitalist system, but you have not changed human beings at all. The world is in the state it is because people are naturally sinful and greedy. Everybody is sinful to some degree, both capitalists and workers. You must change people, not the system. 
Yours faithfully,
Edward T. Cross.

★ ★ ★

Windermere, Westmorland. 

The Editor, The Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,—If the debate "Socialism Versus Religion" in your last issue was fairly reported, it was a farcical affair. I wonder if, in the first place, whether it was really necessary. Is Socialism then at odds with religion? To many of us it is the practical application of religious philosophy. Some churches might have been at odds, or still might be; but if the New Testament is read aright one can find very much to support Socialism, and nothing at all to oppose it on any count. Was Jesus born privileged? Did he live in opulence? Was he given a grand state funeral? He was born in a stable, lived in poverty, and suffered a state execution. He condemned the rich in no uncertain manner, and preached equality with and responsibility to one’s neighbour.

In the past the church was condemned by Socialists because it condoned the evil order of things. But must religion be condemned for the sins of the church? Jesus did not belong to any church, and was in fact arrested and executed for his opposition to the state church.

In the second place, I cannot for the life of me see how on earth a Christian can produce "evidence" of the existence of God; or how anything like a group that calls itself the “Catholic Evidence Guild" can exist for that purpose. How can a sighted man produce evidence of the existence of light to a man totally blind from birth? Especially if the blind man does not want to believe in its existence anyway? Evidence of the existence of God is everywhere, even in the innermost conscience of Comrade Jarvis; but no one can make anyone else accept that evidence if he does not want to do. A true Tory would not accept the fact of bad working and living conditions among workers in a particular industry as “evidence” of the evils of capitalism. Nor can a materialist accept life, beauty, nature, the testimony of millions who have felt “religious experience” as evidence of the existence of God. He has not the eyes to see.

One need not believe in the virgin birth, the miracles, or the divinity of Jesus to find God. Nor need one necessarily attend a church.

One thing is certain: if religion is a delusion, then it is a strange delusion, because millions have been persecuted and have been put to death because of it, and have faced death bravely and happily. If religion is delusion, then Socialism is delusion—life itself is delusion!

There are many thousands of Socialists who are Socialists because of, not in spite of, their religion. They may not broadcast the fact, because religion is a very personal possession and it cannot be adequately expressed in words. Words are for material things.
Yours sincerely,
John Wyatt.

★ ★ ★

Dundee, Scotland.

To the Editor.

Religion and Socialism.
In a report of a debate on Socialism versus Religion that appeared in the June issue of the Socialist Standard, Mr. Jarvis, who represented the Socialist case against religion, said: “There can be no religion without God, although there can be religious ritual and paraphernalia without God.” Now if there is any logic in the first part of this statement, I take it to be this: the existence of religion presupposes a belief in the existence of God, one could not exist without the other. If this is true, then Mr. Jarvis must be talking in riddles when he asks his opponent for proof of the existence of God, as he has already given proof by his own statement that religion could not exist without God. And from this logic I take it, seeing that the Christian religion and the religion of Islam exists, so then must God. But if God does not exist at all, which, of course, is the Socialist view, how does Mr. Jarvis reconcile this view with his own statement that religion would not exist without God?
R. Smith.

50 Years Ago: “ The Menace of Socialism” (1957)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Daily Express endeavours to make capital—or rather profit—out of the prominence which the word "Socialism" has attained during the past few years. The character of its attack upon what for its purpose it chooses to consider as Socialism, is quite worthy of the traditions of "yellow" or capitalist journalism.

In heavy type on its leader page the Express published the following:—
"Why not look the facts in the face? The issue is do longer liberalism against Conservatism. It is, instead, Constitutionalism—which signifies unity of Empire and the rights of property, law and order—against Socialism, which stands for disruption, for loot, for the elimination of individual enterprise, and the incentive to do great things; for laziness, for Atheism and Free Love."
Here wage-slavery, the exploitation of the mass of the people to supply the luxuries and ease of wealthy drones, appears disguised as Constitutionalism, Empire, Property. Law and Order! Whilst Socialism is disguised also, but in a different way, as Disruption, Loot, Laziness, Atheism and Free Love!

But who, pray is it intended should be frightened by these scarecrows? Is it the worker? Or is it the leech to be applied to some scared capitalists for the benefit of the free and glorious Press?

(From the Socialist Standard, August 1907).

Editorial: Tinkering with the Cost of Living Index (1957)

Editorial from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

So you can't live on your pay, and want the Cost of Living Index altered? Forget it and start thinking about something that ready matters. Over forty years ago the British Government, encouraged by trade unions and the Labour Party, started an index to measure average changes in retail prices and rents, and with many modifications it is published now month by month, and many other governments do the same. It has well served the Governments and employers, but for the workers it has been a red-herring on which they have wasted and still waste an enormous amount of misdirected thought and agitation.

Is the doctor’s thermometer accurate ?
The general idea behind the agitation for a "better index" is that it is like the thermometer the doctor uses to tell him something about what ails you and to guide him in curing you. But this assumes that the doctor wants to cure you, and for what ails the workers the government and the employers are not seeking a cure, but only a dope to keep the patient quiet. What ails the workers is their poverty, caused by exploitation, the fact that they are producing wealth for others to own and getting back only a part, in the form of wages. The team of employing and governmental economic doctors are not looking for ways to end exploitation, but to perpetuate it. The class that has an interest in ending its own exploitation and introducing Socialism, the working class, must tackle the job itself; tinkering with the cost of living index has no bearing whatever on that task. It hasn't even any helpful bearing on the problem of getting the best out of capitalism. Just as the patient knows very well that he feels ill without having a thermometer stuck under his tongue, so the poor know very well that they are poor without having to go to the index to find out. The employers and the government likewise do not have to consult that oracle before they could give higher wages or higher old age pensions, if they wanted to: but there's the rub, they don't want to. They will use the index when it suits them, to help prove that they should not give more than they are giving; and with equal facility they will, on occasion, find abundant reasons why they are "compelled" to give less.

Is the Index faked?
One supposition is that the index is faked. The idea that the poorly-paid civil servants who collect the figures and make the calculations fake them downwards is absurd. Their bias, if any, would, of course, be in the opposite direction, and all the more so between the wars when their own pay was related to the index. (And far from finding this satisfactory, they carried on year-long agitation to get away from it.)
There is another kind of faking, practised by the wartime Coalition Government and the succeeding Labour Government, but this was a sort of "open conspiracy" carried out in accordance with the policy of subsidies to keep prices down—a policy that had the enthusiastic approval of bone-headed Labourites and Communists. These governments subsidised or controlled the price of food and other items that went into the make-up of the index, but not the other essential items outside the index: they kept down the index but not the cost of living.

It is true that an index covering a large number of items could show different results from an index covering a smaller number, but this works both ways. An index largely dominated by food prices would understate the general rise of prices if food prices were relatively low, but would equally overstate them when food prices were relatively high in comparison with other prices.

Frequently the demand for a different index is in the form of wanting a universally accurate index. There is not, and could not be, any such thing: a measure of average price rises could not apply equally accurately to different groups of workers on different wage levels, and to pensioners on lower incomes still.

And, of course, those who think they have an interest in the index are talking with their tongue in their cheek when they say they want "accuracy"; what they want is an index that comes out high, the more it overstates the real position the better. Their wish is more like that of the man who hots up the thermometer to prove he is ill when the doctor doesn’t believe it. 

Another kind of Index
The worker who blames the index for not being able to make ends meet on his wages does not understand what the index is and is for. It merely records the average movement of prices, up or down. It tells him, for example, that if he was slowly starving to death on £5 a week a year ago, it would require £5 5s. this year to maintain his same level of approaching starvation. It is his employer who pays him his starvation wage.

Some governments and private organisations maintain another kind of index in the form of a periodical assessment of how much is required to maintain a single worker or worker with a family. In this country the late Seebohm Rowntree produced a “minimum standard ” of this kind. And that is what it always is, a “minimum standard,” not how much but how little can a man live on. Coming back to our analogy of the doctor and the thermometer, it is designed to guide the government and the employer in their continuous endeavour to keep the worker’s standard as low as possible, to the point at which his physical capacity to keep up the good work of producing profits will not be endangered by under-nourishment The people who produce such assessments of how little wealth the wealth producers can live on are adding insult to injury.

What to do
The workers should give up the fruitless search to cure their poverty disease by demanding a different thermometer; recognise that their present interest is to take every opportunity that conditions allow to get higher pay. no matter what the index says. But above and beyond this should be the incomparably more important task of ending capitalism and its wages system for ever. Only by doing this and establishing Socialism will the latent and restricted production powers of society be unleashed so that a vastly increased productive of useful articles and the cessation of armaments and other forms of waste will enable all to enjoy the dazzling possibilities of a new social system.

How well is the "Welfare State"? (1957)

From the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from July Socialist Standard).

Working hours and traffic accidents
Traffic accidents in Austria are relatively of the same terrible frequency as in other countries. 30-40 people are on an average killed every week and a thousand injured.

A shocking accident occurred on a winding mountain road near Bolzano (Northern Italy) when, late in the night, an Austrian bus with 42 people aboard fell over a ravine into a narrow river, killing 19 persons and severely injuring most of the others; another case was that of a motor truck running into the Danube near Vienna, which brought to light the conditions under which drivers have to work. Overtime is the regular thing, especially during the tourist season, and it is encouraged by extremely low wages and much unemployment in the winter months. The average wage for drivers is under S.300 for a 48-hour week (about £4 10s.), which many drivers make up to 100 hours or more. One driver worked 48 normal hours and 59 hours overtime. In the goods transport business drivers work on the average a 66-hour week. For the driver who drove his truck into the Danube it was proved that he had been 40 hours behind the wheel, on a tour from Innsbruck to Vienna and back. On a recent tour through Switzerland, Italy and France, this writer personally travelled such distances as Venice-Vienna (400 miles) in a 14-hour day. This after the driver had for nine days been on the road every day, without a single rest day.

It should here be pointed out that when Socialists speak of exploitation of the workers, this term rightly applies to the “normal,” mostly legally fixed working week, say, 40 to 48 hours, in which the employer’s profit must be made—hence it is a process of exploitation. Working 60 or more hours per week must then be described as sweated labour, with, of course, correspondingly increased profit for the employer. But one cannot repeat often enough that working a normal, legally fixed working day of eight hours for wages is a process of EXPLOITATION, since the workers have to produce not only the value of their wages, but the employer’s profit as well. This profit is pocketed by the employer WITHOUT payment to the worker.

As a matter of fact it is this UNPAID labour only that interests the employing class and their managers, and induces them to have the instruments of production under their control operated at all. If there is no profit or no prospect of profit, there is no production, however great or urgent the want and need may be and regardless of people starving and freezing. The employer, the man of business, is by no means a philanthropist. Even if he had sentimental feelings towards the worker and his family, the dictates of his system do not allow him to consider them. Without exploiting the workers the capitalist cannot employ him.

Even relatively good and favourable conditions of work in hygienic installations, with good air, in light and modern workshops and plants, with social service arrangements, family allowances, health insurance, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, etc.—all things that make people talk of a Welfare State—cannot alter the fact of EXPLOITATION and humiliating dependency and worrying insecurity of the worker. The word worker remains even in the most beautiful factories and garden cities synonymous with poverty, and all fine words about security, the nobility and dignity of work cannot remove the stigma of social inferiority and dependency. The reality makes a mockery of all fine phrases.

To remedy this state of affairs the "Socialists” of the type of the "Socialist Party of Austria,” of Scandinavia, of the English Labour Party, the Communist Parties, far from attributing social evils to capitalism, with its profit motive, and far from advocating its abolition, openly stand for the continuance of exploitation through the wages system.

On the question of the hours of labour in the transport industry, the party are now clamouring for more legislation, regulations and restraints, which, even if enacted, will leave things very much where they were before. Similarly, writing of the effects of automation, the Arbeiter Zeitung vaguely proposes a general internationally agreed reduction of working hours to prevent the blessings of automation turning into its opposite. As if any reforms that have in the past been advocated by the “Socialist” Party of Austria and their brother parties elsewhere had ever altered the status of the workers as a propertyless and exploited class. It never occurs to these scribes that what matters to the workers of the world is not what kind of machines are used to turn out goods, but who owns the machines. If they continue to be private or State property, as now, goods can only be produced as commodities; i.e., for sale and profit, and labour-power will also continue to remain a commodity, exposed to all the vicissitudes of the labour market

Decades of labour movements, alleged “Socialist” and “Communist” governments in a number of countries large and small (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia. China and their satellite countries behind the iron curtain) have left Socialism as far away as ever. Nay, there if not even the suggestion there of aiming at the abolition of the profit motive in production. Indeed, the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of a classics, moneyless, frontierless system of society wherein the means of life would be produced for the sole purpose of use, is looked upon as a utopia in those “Socialist” circles as much as in the avowed capitalist quarters. In fostering confusion on the issue, the “Socialist” Party of Austria is hard to beat Here is an example:—

Among the 101 items on their recent election programme was what the Arbeiter Zeitung called “A remarkable aim, opening up far-reaching prospects for the future.” Was it the abolition of exploitation of man by man, with its resultant evils of poverty, insecurity, class conflict and war? Was this “remarkable aim” the establishment of a classless, moneyless, propertyless and povertyless system of society based on common ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution?

Not on your life! In their own words, the “remarkable aim” is: “To bring Austria in line with the highly developed industrial countries of Western and Northern Europe, to bring “our” country to the level of Denmark or Holland, not to speak of Sweden and Switzerland.” What the conditions in these highly developed industrial countries are was described in an article in the Socialist Standard for July. Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, have social democratic governments, and it speaks volumes for the “Socialist” education these “Socialist” parties provide, that the opium of nationalism and religion, the hoary traditions and superstitions supporting and perpetuating the privileges of a small class of about 10 per cent., including the royal families, can continue to be inculcated into the brain of the young generation, whilst the remaining 90 per cent. of the people consider as unalterable their miserable status of a propertyless class of wage-slaves dependent for their means of livelihood on securing a job with some employer. Was it not Denmark where only recently a 100,000 workers had to go on strike for weeks in order not to allow their wretched standard of living sinking still deeper? Was it not Denmark where police armed with batons and police dogs were sent against the strikers—an episode that prompted a Vienna newspaper to the remark that the “Socialism” of the Danish social democratic party had now literally gone before the dogs! Today it is line-up with the Scandinavian kingdoms, yesterday a former “great Austrian Socialist” recommended Anschluss and voted for Hitler Germany, described the British and the Bolshevik empires—the decisive part of the world—as being under the leadership of the working-class, to-morrow it will be something else, but never Socialism. (The millions of workers in Eastern slave-labour camps and the poverty stricken wage-slaves still outside would no doubt be amazed if told that they are the masters of one-sixth of the earth.)
Rudolf Frank

(To be continued).

The Holy Family (1957)

Book Review from the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

This work (Lawrence & Wishart, 7/6), of which Marx wrote much the greater part, polemicises against the prominent left Hegelians, the brothers Bauer—Bruno, Edgar and Egbert—plus two shadowy acolytes, Zychlinsky, who wrote under the pen name of Szeliga, and Ruchardt, the publisher of the General Gazette for Literature, the organ in which the Bauers wrote their views and in one issue of which appeared an attack on Man. It was these, along with Casper Schmidt, alias Max Stirner, whom Man satirically named “the Holy Family.” The name was not unjustified, for under the high sounding revolutionary phraseology of the Bauers lay the kernel of religious mysticism.

The One-sidedness of Hegel
After Hegel died dialectical nemesis swiftly followed. His philosophy of unity split into two schools of “right” and “left” Hegelians, and, like Humpty Dumpty, was never put together again. The Bauers posed as he arch-revolutionaries of the Hegelian “Left.” What they did in effect was to develop even more one-sidedly the one-sidedness of Hegel. Hegel had propounded the notion that change was the form in which an unchanging absolute or God was made manifest. In the process, said Hegel, of our acquiring ever greater aspects of truth leading to ultimate truth, an active principle of consciousness was involved in this knowing process. The Bauers threw out God and the whole choir and furniture of heaven. They did, however, seize upon this creative and active element of the mind and constructed it into a first principle.

History for the Bauers became the history of ideas, themselves aspects of a self-acting, self-revealing Truth. From this Truth there burgeoned forth absolute ethical categories—Justice, Virtue, Freedom, etc. The Bauers set up these metaphysical entities in place of Hegel’s God and called upon people to worship them.

The Material World an Illusion
Most people, said Bruno Bauer, and especially the working class, thought that their material needs and interests were the real stuff of life. But this was an illusion due to the uncritical nature of their thinking, and hence defective social vision. The essence of Reality, he said, was the self-acting, self-creating mind, with its projection of absolute ethical values. Matter was merely an alienated and perverted form of consciousness. On other occasions he referred to matter as the unconscious part of consciousness. According to Bruno Bauer, the material world was an illusion, only abstractions like Truth, Justice, Harmony, Freedom, and so on were real. On such an assumption abstractions were more real than human beings. The real mystery of life, said Bauer, was that people had mistaken the illusion for reality, and vice versa. Only the chosen few who had the faculty of critical thinking, “the critical critics," like the Bauers, could unveil the mystery.

Mystical Apples
Marx, in dealing with what he called the secret of Hegelian speculation, in chapter five of The Holy Family, comments on this view bitingly and incisively. If, he says, abstractions are the ultimate reality, then apples, pears and almonds are but forms of the reality we call fruit. Thus apples, pears, almonds are not, as is commonly believed, real things, they are merely the modes of expression of the essence—fruit. It is this essence which is the reality, and apples, pears and almonds are their mystical representation. So apples, pears and almonds become dissolved into the concept—fruit, which becomes the real substance of apples, pears and almonds, and these in turn become the incarnations of mystery. In this way social relations of production, institutions, constitutions, civilization, etc., are resolved into the category of mystery. And so, says Marx, "mystery is thus raised to the Hegelian level of an independent subject which incarnates itself into situations and persons."

Changing Men’s Hearts
Of what did the great revolution of the Bauers consist? The answer is, precious little. Stripped of its Hegelian fripperies, it announced that the millennium could only be brought in if the hearts of men were purified. Social evils could not be abolished by tampering with political and social mechanisms. To appeal to men’s material interests was to repeat the mistakes of the past. In short, the revolution was to be a spiritual one. Governments, laws; in fact any form of organized tyranny, Bruno Bauer declared, would not be swept away by any action, political or otherwise, it could only be transcended by higher; i.e., critical thinking. In order to struggle to be free one had to be free from struggle in any practical or empirical sense.

Bauer sought to trump his opponents' aces by asserting that men were merely transient and historical products. History generated its own logic outside of men’s wishes. The real virtue of the critical spirit was its recognition of this. Its task was to teach men not to resist evil, but endure it, and by enduring overcome it. Such a theory of social quietism, said Marx, by saying no action should be taken against existing society, so far from opposing it, works on its behalf.

No Place for the Working Class
True, the Bauers in proclaiming their heaven on earth, kicked up a hell of a row about it, and spoke of their bloodless categories in blood-curdling language, but even the censor eventually realised that the world of the Bauers was not strictly within their province, but belonged to the realm of pure thought.

The Bauers, consistent with their metaphysics, identified mind with good and matter with evil. Translating this into social affairs, they looked upon the working class, or, as they termed them, “the mass,’’ as being synonymous with matter and hence the source of social evil. They were then, according to the Bauers, the real enemy of progress. Believing that the motor of history was great ideas; i.e., the products of critical thinking, they also believed great men were the incarnation or personification of them. Great ideas had failed in the past because great men had sought the support of the uncritical mass. As a result these great ideas had often come to a miserable, even tragic end.

Salvation through “ Great Men ”
Yet if evil was to be overcome, the mass must be saved in spite of themselves. And, believing as the Bauers did, that the “law of progress” worked through personal agencies, then the instruments for the salvation of the mass could only be great men. In England Carlyle was enunciating a somewhat similar doctrine. The heroes of the Bauers, unlike those of Carlyle, were not to be benevolent despots or enlightened dictators, but high-minded philanthropists who, by their ennobling work, would set an example to the mass and lead them into an appreciation and even grateful acceptance of absolute ethical values. Such an order of sentimental philanthropy found its literary expression in the novels of Charles Dickens and Eugene Sue.

The Father of Sherlock Holmes
The reader of the Holy Family, unaware of its theoretical and controversial background, might be astonished to find almost half of the book devoted to Eugene Sue’s novel, The Mysteries of Paris. Nobody, not even Dickens, made so sensational an attack on social abuses, via fiction, as did Eugene Sue. The novel is about a German prince who, with the aid of a reformed pugilistic blackguard, fights and eventually triumphs over the underworld of crime, backed by wealthy men as well as correcting the abuses of wealth and power en route. With its compound of sentimental ideals and unrestrained violence, via a series of bloody and maudlin intrigue, it served as the prototype of Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, Bulldog Drummond, and the Saint.

Eugene Sue applied one of the accepted canons of bourgeois morality by expounding how good overcomes evil by playing its own dirty game even dirtier and showing that good can be more violent and evil than evil itself. Moreover, in such a morality so satisfying is the reward of virtue in making vice expiate its crimes by killings, solitary confinement, beatings up, and the long purgatory of penitence, that it is almost raised to a hedonistic principle. The novel also seeks to show how the thrills of adventure can find their outlet in slumming, especially in disguise. Then there is charity, which offers the rich organised and humane entertainment, where at balls they dance for the poor and at banquets eat for the poor and demonstrate that they will do everything for the poor—apart from abolishing poverty. Eugene Sue, like other contemporary social novelists, took poverty and exploitation to be the social norm. The lower orders being a dependent, servile and, à la Bruno Bauer, an uncritical mass were, as such, incapable of ethical judgments; what they could do was to acquire the virtues of thrift, frugality and modesty out of gratitude to the munificence of the lords and ladies bountiful.

The Hero’s Motives
Ironically enough, the "critical critics,” the Bauers, saw in Sue’s sensational thriller the literary representative of critical consciousness personified in the hero—the prince—and Szeliga wrote a long philosophical dissertation on it. If the essence of the Bauers’ philosophy of humanitarianism was really a philosophy of dehumanisation by seeing people as the mere incarnation of abstract ethical categories, then Sue’s novel was in some respects a concrete exemplification of it. But Sue, of course, showed very clearly that his hero was actuated by earthly motives like hate and revenge and not pure disinterestedness. Marx takes the opportunity of attacking in an exuberant and forceful fashion both the interpretation of Szelega and the social doctrine implied in the novel, and seems to have found it highly congenial. Marx in dealing with the discrepancies between the prince’s flaming ideals and his actual conduct, reveals his remarkable insight into the disguised motivation of social behaviour which he was later to systemise into his account of what constituted ideologies.

Marx also defends Proudhon against the gross misinterpretation of his doctrine by the Bauers, and shows that Proudhon was the first to effectively challenge the eternal verities of Political Economy—Private Property. Marx also adumbrates economic views which were later to take shape in his theory of value.

Ideas and History
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is when Marx takes issue with Bauer on the role of ideas in history. Bruno Bauer, as has been seen, gave to historical ideas an absolute significance, and made them the substance of reality. History for him was the history of ideas. Of course, ideas are always part of history, but they are always related to specific situations. They are not stored up ghostly categories awaiting the appointed hour to be fused with history by some mysterious dialectical process, in order to make their bow on the human stage. The relevant question is how do ideas make history? Why are some ideas effective and others not? Why do some live and others die? Why are some ideas efficient instruments for social change and others fade into lost ideals and forgotten causes?

Capitalist Interests and the French Revolution
Marx’s answer was that only those social ideas which are embodied in class interests can be historically effective, and the needs and interests of a class must be rooted in the concrete conditions and powers if they are to be actualised. Marx proceeds to show why, in the French Revolution, Robespierre and his party went down to destruction because they confused the needs'and interests of the French bourgeoisie with the ideals of the ancient Athenian democracy. He also answers Bauer that some of the ideas put forth extended beyond the range of bourgeois interests and failed precisely for that reason and not because the uncritical mass could not embrace them. The French Revolution, in spite of its ideals, could not embrace the whole community because the interests of one part of it excluded the interests of the other. Marx also shows the part played by powerful sections of the bourgeoisie in encompassing the downfall of Napoleon.

Ideas and Social Change
It is true that social classes have many interests: religious, vocational, legal, economic, etc. But if we ask what interests are crucial to effective social change, then the answer is those which develop out of the structure of the mode of production. That is why Marx made the starting point of his historical investigation the varying character of men’s needs. From these needs arise the division of labour and with it the rise of specialised groups evolving into social classes. And with these classes goes the systemization of ideas and attitudes which become class ideologies. Marx thus corrected Bruno Bauer’s confusion on interests, ideas and history.

The Holy Family is not the playful exuberance of the youthful Marx, but a work in which we find his basic doctrines taking shape. His language was still the language of Feurbach, and be uses the word human where later he was to use the term class. The Holy Family is a milestone in Marx’s approach to Marxism.

For even Marx was not born a Marxist.
Ted Wilmott

Monday, August 29, 2022

Workers in Russia v. The Rest (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

It might be as well to ensure that readers are not puzzled by the above title because although the Communists were always fond of boasting that Russia covered one-sixth of the earth’s surface, it seems that the name Russia has almost disappeared from the map and we must now deal with a place called the USSR which stands for the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics; or it could be that the middle two words should read the other way round. No matter. Whichever way round, the term “Socialism” in the title is an outrageous piece of trickery.

This little outburst was occasioned by a report on that most wonderful of all unnatural phenomena, a general election in Russia, which took place (if a non-event can be said to take place) in mid-June. Of course, it is by no means the first time that we have read about these charades where the workers are generously permitted to choose between one person. And that one person is put up by the ruling gangsters who call themselves the Communist Party (instead of their correct title — Red Fascists), who are thus saying to their two hundred million political prisoners: 

“Look, comrades (it should really be ‘comrades’ but I don’t think they go in for inverted commas in Pravda), we know that we have ruled you with a rod of iron ever since Lenin’s Red Army thugs kicked out the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, and we intend to keep on your backs for the remainder of this century and next century too, if you let us.

“This may not be what Marx and Engels meant by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat but it’s what we mean. It really means that you, the proletariat, the alleged dictators, are treated worse than the wage slaves of England, America, etc., where they at least have reasonably free trade unions and elections. But it would be wrong if we did not insult you from time to time — sorry (Freudian slip, comrades), that should read ‘consult you’.

“And so, every so often, we have an election according to the democratic procedure laid down in the Stalin Constitution. Well, not quite. We don’t have a period of five years, whatever the constitution says. We hold one when the time is good — for us. Just as they do in Mao’s China and similar proletarian paradises. And it’s a slanderous lie if you are told by people like the SPGB that you are being insulted by being given no choice.

“It’s true you are given no choice of candidates. SPGB types — if there are any — are not allowed to open their mouths let alone put up at elections. We don’t permit opposition. We are not such fools as to give you the chance of kicking us out of our gloriously privileged positions. But you do have a choice. If you don’t like the CP candidate — who is damn well going to represent you whether you like him or hate him — you can vote NO. And you can then place your vote in the special urn provided for scum like you. And you can at the same time place your ashes in the next urn.”

Of course, none of the above is hot news. These circuses have taken place at intervals and many’s the time readers in the west have gawped to see such magnificent results in 99 per cent. majorities coming in. If the Gallup Poll was allowed to operate in Russia, they would be able to make a fortune — and none of those unfortunate boobs. But there was something in the Guardian account of this year’s charade which made the matter worthy of note in the Socialist Standard. The article was by their Eastern Europe expert (god help us) Jonathan Steele. Towards the end of his piece he gave us certain figures which quite clearly had no significance to this “expert” but which were of blinding importance to a Socialist — or even to a non-Socialist who is not brainwashed.

He gave us the figures for the composition of the outgoing Supreme Soviet (ostensibly the ruling parliament of the land, although in reality they are themselves just stooges and the power remains in the hands of the Politbureau which is in turn dominated by the likes of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Capone, etc.) It is important to note that the figures were given to Steele by the Russians themselves — there is nobody else who could have supplied them. The ruling body of the Workers’ Paradise consists of some 1200 “MPs” and it was stated (round figures only) that 200 are Collective Farm workers and 50 other workers.

It did not occur to Steele to work out that nearly 1,000 of the rulers of the Workers’ Paradise are — well, what? The answer can only be — non-workers. So here we have the admission, by the rulers of the land themselves, that Russia is a Soviet Socialist Republic divided into two classes. Workers and others. Workers and non-workers. Just like a Soviet Capitalist Republic. Just like England, in fact. But how can you expect a Steele to spot this devastating admission when clearly the Politbureau themselves couldn’t see it? And what can non-workers be doing there?

The only answer possible is what non-workers do everywhere else; they live high off the hog, as the Yanks say, on the proceeds of the surplus-value squeezed out of the workers. No other source of wealth is possible anywhere on earth. And there is something else these people do, besides non-working. They Rule. They do so in the Supreme Soviet as we have seen. They are the ruling class as in all capitalist societies even though a small clique sits on top of the pile in Moscow. The SPGB has been saying this since 1917. It is nice to see it confirmed in the columns of the leftist press, and above all out of the horses’ mouths in Moscow.

Finally, the matter of the privileges briefly mentioned earlier. These gangsters don’t rule for fun or for the sake of some twisted Marxist ideology although no doubt they enjoy the use of power like rulers everywhere. On the morning I write these lines, I heard on the radio about one member of the Russian ruling class, Mme. Furtseva, the Minister of Culture (ugh!), who has occupied such a position since the days of Stalin, being criticized for spending £75,000 on building herself a country home. The point to note is that the argument, such as it is, is over whether she had filched the money, not over whether it would be right for her to build such a mansion for herself at a time when living space for the mass of the people is measured out like gold dust. After all, she could not build her mansion surreptitiously and live in it in secret.

The right of the rulers to lord it over the ruled and wallow in luxury in the midst of proletarian squalor is as well-defined in Russia as it is in Animal Farm. So for those who may be still in doubt, let us make it clear that in a Socialist world we will not be divided into pigs and others, into non-workers and workers. In a classless society, there will, by definition, be no working class. We will just be human beings living in harmony because the welfare of each will be the welfare of all. A state of things which manifestly does not obtain in the land of spurious socialism called Russia.
L. E. Weidberg

"I was only doing my job" (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The academic world has been “shocked” and “appalled” by the results of ten years’ extensive research tests carried out by the psychiatrists at New York University. A book has appeared, and they have received full coverage on radio.

Briefly, the ingenious idea was this; just to see how far normal, ordinary, conventional people would go carrying out “horrific” instructions, which would torture and even kill the victim, usually by electric shock. At what point would the subject say “No! I can’t and won’t do it”?

Not merely did they not disobey, but showed the most callous indifference, and even when told that they had killed somebody, said “I only did my job” or some such. What they did not know was that the agonized screams of torture were by paid professional actors.

Why the psychiatrists are making such a hullabaloo about all this it is difficult to see. We do not need ten years’ extensive (and expensive) research in New York to tell us that ordinary, conventional, simple, naturally sociable, kindly people can behave otherwise in special circumstances.

In fact it is precisely the “normal” ordinary, unquestioning, unthinking people who accept authority and orders so blindly. So long as some fanny is trotted out to “justify” the foul deeds. (Usually, “If we don’t do it to them, they will do it to us.”) The appalling massacres of innocent defenceless women and children at My Lai, the Portugese atrocities in Africa, the systematic extermination of the Red Man in the States, are just isolated incidents in a long list. This writer is personally acquainted with numbers of affable likeable chaps, teachers, who as Air Force pilots took part in the saturation bombing of Germany.

Just what does it prove? That human nature is the most changeable thing under the sun, that homo sapiens is easily the most adaptable animal on this planet, leaving chameleons and hawk-eyed moths far behind. Not only this, but he is a most social-communal animal. So long as he has the social approbation that it is a necessary “job”, he will shoot, torture and murder without compunction, like the KGB in Russia as Arthur Koestler and Solzhenitsyn have shown. This writer attended sessions of the famous (or infamous) trial of the Auschwitz concentration camp staff in Frankfurt. The German press was amazed to find that the one-time torturers, gas-chamber operators, and murderers, had become highly respectable insurance managers, bank clerks, business representatives and family men. In fact this was urged in their defence as expiation.

So far from “not being able to change human nature”, it is impossible to stop it changing. Not merely do we see this by our own personal experience in everyday life, but it is also confirmed by modern genetics: the study of differences between individuals. The whole modern knowledge of genetics shows that though all animals (including homo sapiens) are born with a certain “nature” or physiological apparatus acquired from both parents, their behaviour in various social situations depends entirely on circumstances. This is the authentic view of modern genetics. The idea that features or characteristics acquired by parents are automatically passed on is fallacious. Jewish baby boys’ foreskins have been docked for a thousand years, they inevitably reappear; so have fox-terriers’ tails. The genes make a boy tall or short, brown-eyed or frizzy-haired. What he then does is his affair.

As Professor Anthony Barnett writes in his book on The Human Species:
These changes in social organisation involve drastic changes in human behaviour, and they in turn depend on the fact that human behaviour is plastic and not genetically fixed. We see once again the absurdity of the notion that ‘human nature cannot change’.

This commonly made assertion always implies that human ‘behaviour’ is essentially fixed, it is therefore the exact opposite of the truth.
It is the behaviour of the working class to band together in its own interest. What makes this common interest is not genetical inheritance, but social position. Eventually, black workers, yellow workers, “the long, and the short, and the tall” will join up to establish Socialism. If workers inevitably inherited their parents’ wage-slave characteristics they could never become Socialists. Of course docile ignorant wage-slaves in New York willingly obeyed the most vile orders; they were not Socialists! Let them try their daft experiments on us. We said NO ! during the war.

So They Say: 102 Years On (1974)

The So They Say Column from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

102 Years On

What has Helena Hardigan in common with Frederick Engels? The knowledge that the “solutions” to the housing problem are not solutions at all. On 29th June she wrote to The Guardian about a “Report on Merseyside” it had published. Instead of stuff about the “character” of Liverpudlians, she said, some decent living conditions would be welcome. And:
As far as I see it, Liverpool is just going to be one big motorway through to the docks and that will be its importance in the future. You talk about slum clearance—there has been none. The slums have been transferred to Kirkby, Skelmersdale and Runcorn where unemployment, vandalism, depression and desperation are rife.
Engels said exactly the same thing in The Housing Question written in 1872:
. . . owing to the demand for big centrally-situated business premises, or owing to traffic requirements, such as the laying down of railways, streets, etc. No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
Engels saw that from careful study. This Liverpool lady has seen it by just looking round her.

Always a Little Longer

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. It is likely that many people therefore assume that most women at work are now getting equal pay with men. On 5th July the Assistant Secretary of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff said in The Guardian that this is not so, and the position four years later “is one of general lack of progress towards equal pay”.
The extent of the ignorance on the part of some employers has to be witnessed to be believed. Publicity and propaganda on the part of the Department of Employment will not change this general situation—an all pervading ignorance and lack of interest on the part of many employers.
Those who believe “a law should be passed” is the solution to every problem should take note. The Act comes into “full force” in December 1975, after which cases may be brought to the Industrial Arbitration Board. It remains to be seen how employers will then get round it, and what “full force” means.

Pull up the Ladder, Jack

“Indexation” is an idea for dealing with inflation. Its principle was explained by the Tory MP Christopher Tugendhat in an article in The Observer on 7th July:
The principle of indexation is easy to grasp. It is that financial contracts should be set in real terms rather than money terms. So if incomes were index-linked, each 1 per cent increase in the retail price index would automatically increase the sum of money a person received in his pay packet by the same amount. . . . State benefits of every sort, including pensions, could be handled in the same way. So could such outgoings as rents and national insurance contributions.
Thus if you have £30 a week and prices increase 10 per cent., indexation will bring you an extra £3. If you have £300 it will bring you £30. But Tugendhat is not hiding anything. He says it would ensure that “whatever the rate of price increases, the relationship between the various groups in society remains constant”. Which means it is a scheme for ensuring that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.

Splash and Grab

In fact the rich have much simpler methods for beating rising prices. When money is depreciating they exchange it for goods which are not. A report in The Sun on 12th July, headed Hey, Big Spender ! described how they are “splashing out millions in a wild scramble to beat inflation”:
They are on a huge buying spree of diamonds, pearls, furs, yachts and Rolls-Royces.

. . .  At Garrards of Regent Street, the Queen’s jeweller, the gem business is booming—with emeralds, rubies and £10,000 diamonds selling like hot cakes.
Would this have been what Dr. Coggan, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, meant? He spoke to the General Synod of the Church of England about “the pursuit of personal gain” being promoted by competitiveness in schools:
“Thus from very early years ‘me first’ is instilled as the most desirable of all attitudes in life,” he said.
(Guardian, 6th July)
It sounds like a tasteless crack at those who appointed him, but of course it isn’t. If you enquired of Dr. Coggan, you would find it is the working class whose “pursuit of personal gain” he wants to stop.

Anyone's Guess

What is demanded in an economic crisis, by the public and economists alike, is the application of some theory which will stop it. Socialists have always pointed out that no such theory exists for capitalism. But even if there did there is a simple reason why it could not be fulfilled — the interests of the capitalist class lie in going on doing the things which bring about crises.

Hence, the answer which is sought is one which would allow the cause to continue but prevent the effects, and there is not one theory but many. This was demonstrated in The Guardian's “City Comment” on 26th June. Under the heading United They’re Not, various financiers’ views were given:
Some believe that any reflationary moves could spark a disastrous run on the pound. Others think this unlikely, provided there are also measures which act to reduce inflation. .Some—and they tend to be closest to the share market—believe that almost anything which would cushion the developing recession would be welcome. About the only thing which the City is united on is a desire for “a better Government attitude to the wealth producers —industry that is” in the words of one share dealer.

Clunk-Click to You

Are you worried about death on the roads? A full page in the 18th June’s Guardian showed something better than legislation. It’s a Mercedez-Benz:
Any valuable executives involved in a car crash in the ‘S’ class have a better chance of walking away from the wreckage than in any other luxury saloon in Europe today.
That gives a different view of the safety films in which the distressing results of not wearing seat-belts are shown. What is needed now is a film of a maimed person and the message pointed out. Fred was careless. He wasn’t a valuable executive and didn't drive a Mercedes-Benz. Fred has learned his lesson.

And haven’t we all?
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: The Class Struggle (1974)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The workers are in the class struggle, but are not conscious of their interests. Hence they fight, blindly and vainly to improve their condition. Inside the unions, in political parties and in their every-day actions they do things which work to the capitalists’ advantage. They continue to act on lines which perpetuate the system that enslaves them, and support men, measures and parties that work against the workers’ interests.

The workers must recognise that the class struggle exists. They must become aware of their slave position, and the way out, if they are to prosecute the struggle to a victorious conclusion for themselves. 

If the working class become conscious of their class interests and welfare, they will refuse to take actions which injure them. The guiding policy for class-conscious workers must be: Will a contemplated action assist the workers to triumph in the class struggle ?

(From an article "Politics and Tactics of Socialism" by Adolph Kohn, Socialist Standard August 1924.)

What is the State? (1928)

From the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are the State !” exclaimed an enthusiastic young supporter of the Labour Candidate at a recent by-election. Presumably he included in the “we,” the working class, to which he obviously belonged; and as the notion to which he gave utterance lies at the root of much that is mis-called “Socialism,” it demands some consideration.

The State is the political organisation of society under the control of one class for the ruling of other classes. It arose and developed along with the division of society into classes and the struggle between those classes of which written history is the record.

Lewis Henry Morgan, in “Ancient Society,” showed how the State took its departure from the old kinship form of society as a result of the development of private property and chattel slavery. Up till that time the military force of the social group had been directed outward against hostile groups also based upon kinship, or common descent.

The essential feature of the State, however, is that its forces are directed not only against hostile States but inwards, against a subject class.

Thus the ancient city-states of Greece, Rome, etc., existed to procure and subjugate a slave population for the economic benefit of the patricians and rich plebians who were slave-owners. The kingdoms of the Middle Ages preserved the social supremacy of the feudal lords over the serfs, etc., while the modern State, no matter whether it be nominally monarchial or republican, exists to protect the accumulated wealth of the capitalist class against the wage-slaves who produce it.

Here, however, the bourgeois “democrat” (whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour) protests that these wage-slaves, as we call them, have the vote.

“They elect their own rulers; therefore, in effect, they govern themselves.”

It is necessary here to keep our eyes on history. The wage-earning section of the population have only been enfranchised for the last half-century, and up to the present have not developed the political knowledge and organisation necessary for the control of the State power in their own interests. They have, on the contrary, placed this power repeatedly in the hands of their class enemies by voting for parties which uphold the legal rights of those enemies. Hence we find that even under so-called “Labour” Governments the armed forces are held in readiness to repress any attempt by dissatisfied sections of the workers to challenge those property rights.

These facts lead superficial folk to the conclusion that the workers cannot acquire political control; that there is some obstacle inherent in the very nature of the political machinery which prevents the wage-slaves doing what all previous insurgent classes have done. We are frequently told, for instance, that the vote is “only a piece of paper” and has no real power. We have only to push this sort of “logic” a little further to see its utter absurdity.

A £5 note is “only a piece of paper,” but even an anarchist would not throw one away. The so-called “economic power” of the property-owning class is also represented by pieces of paper, i.e., title deeds, bonds, share certificates, I.O.U.s, bank books, receipts, bills of exchange, agreements, etc., legal documents, in fact, of every description. The validity of these pieces of paper is recognised and upheld by the State, which at present is but the executive of the entire capitalist class, the specially appointed guardian of its collective interests.

The enfranchisement of the workers was the outcome of industrial development. So long as they were scattered in small towns and villages under handicraft and early manufacturing conditions it was easy enough for the property-owning class to rule by virtue of their own organisation; but the advance of machinery brought the wage-slaves together in masses of formidable size, animated, moreover, by an increasing discontent with the existing social order. The political expression of this discontent, the Chartist movement, was for the time being crushed; but it opened the eyes of the ruling class to the danger of ignoring the force behind it. How to utilise this force and divert it into channels consistent with the safety of capitalist society became the most pressing problem for this class. It was solved by degrees through the partial granting of the Chartists’ demands.

Henceforward the various sections of the master-class—Conservative, Liberal and Radical—made bids for working-class support, professing sympathy with their aspirations towards improved conditions, promising measures of reform and thus effectively dividing the workers into corresponding factions which cancelled one another out and nullified any attempt at independent organisation.

The enfranchisement of the workers has thus served as a safety-valve in delaying the inevitable social explosion and has more recently enabled the masters to utilise on a wide scale the knowledge and experience of members of the working class itself in leading that class up political blind alleys and in gaining its support for the more efficient and economical working of the machinery of government.

Is it therefore useless to the workers ? By no means ! Any machine, tool or instrument may be used for a variety of purposes or to no purpose at all in accordance with the knowledge of the operator.

The same railway engine which draws hundreds off passengers to their desired destination may stretch them lifeless on the track. A razor may be used for getting a shave or cutting one’s throat, while spades may be used indifferently either for digging potatoes or burying the dead. Socialists regard the State as an instrument of oppression so long as it is controlled by the political organisations which support capitalism, no matter what facile yarn these organisations may use to ensnare the workers. The same economic development, however, which has raised the master-class to wealth has also converted the majority of society into wage-slaves. This majority can assume the ascendancy in the State so soon as it understands its revolutionary mission as dictated, by its interests. The franchise is not a mere bribe to be offered or withdrawn by some imaginary free-will of the master-class. It has been wrung from them by the necessity of having working-class support just as wages are wrung from them by the necessity of feeding and clothing their slaves.

“But,” it is objected, “the masters do not rely exclusively upon the workers’ support. They finance the armed forces and can thus defy a Socialist majority.” The people, who raise this objection talk as though financing the armed forces was quite a simple matter. They ignore wholesale the complex conditions under which that financing is carried on.

Charles I. in this country and Louis XVI. in France came to untimely ends through making similar mistakes and imagining that it could be done quite easily without the assistance of Parliament.

The capitalist class in both countries went to a considerable amount of trouble in gaining and developing parliamentary control of the Army, simply because painful experience convinced them that this control could not be entrusted to irresponsible individuals without danger to the interests of the tax-paying class itself.

Financiers do not lend money either to governments, military adventurers, or any other concerns just for the fun of the thing; or from patriotic motives, a relish for excitement or sheer philanthropy. Hence one finds at the top of most financial columns in the newspapers quotations of numerous gilt-edged securites such as Consols, 2½ per cent. and 4 per cent. ; War Loan 5 per cent. ; Victory Bonds, 4 per cent. On these securities interest has to be paid, and as the gigantic investments in the machine for the maintenance of capitalism are secured upon the entire property of the capitalist class, its taxable capacity has to provide the interest.

Parliament, among other things, regulates taxation according to the varying interests of the exploiting class. Its seizure by a class-conscious majority of workers or its voluntary abandonment by its capitalist upholders spells death for capitalism.

Finance is a power only so long as there is no greater power to take its place. So long as the workers accept the wages system they will of necessity allow those who hold the money-bags to hold also the reins of government. Only an organisation of the workers based on the recognition of the need for common ownership and democratic control of the means of life will be able to dispense with money and consequently snap their fingers at those who hug it like some weird talisman whose charm is broken.

In the proletariat’s hour of triumph the financiers will endeavour in vain to feed and clothe their erstwhile defenders with coins and pieces of paper. The producers of wealth will consciously assume control of its distribution.

Their fellows in the armed forces will have no conceivable incentive to attempt to say them nay.

The Labourites who claim now that “we are the State” have to explain how it is that the State enslaves us and withholds from us the means of producing and distributing wealth. On the other hand, the so-called Communists, Anarchists, industrialists and the like who claim that we have not the means to obtain control of the State machinery, have to explain how we can be prevented from doing so, or, alternatively, what other way there is of achieving our emancipation.
Eric Boden