Saturday, April 9, 2022

The cancelled debate with Mr. Bradley (1940)

Party News from the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

A large audience filled Conway Hall on May 19th to hear a debate between Comrade Rubin, for the S.P.G.B., and Mr. G. Bradley, for the Fourth International. Unfortunately, the debate did not take place, owing to the non-appearance of Mr. Bradley. Without any preliminary warning a letter was received from Mr. Bradley at the Hall itself, at the time the debate was to have taken place, saying that he was prevented from attending owing to illness.

As the debate was off, Comrade Rubin gave an address on the question at issue (“Which Way to Socialism — Democracy or Insurrection?”), which was greatly appreciated by the audience.

To Readers of 
“The Socialist Standard” (1940)

Party News from the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hitherto war-time conditions have not placed as many obstacles in the way of producing and distributing The Socialist Standard as had been expected. Now, however, difficulties are rapidly increasing. Paper is more costly and the shortage has already made it impossible to print as many copies as could have been sold. Later on it is probable that the size will have to be reduced.

At the moment, however, a more pressing problem is the difficulty of selling The Socialist Standard at meetings in streets and parks. The number of meetings has been reduced, and, for various reasons arising out of war-time conditions and restrictions, opportunities for selling The Socialist Standard in the streets may be drastically curtailed.

We therefore ask readers who have been in the habit of buying The Socialist Standard at meetings to cease relying on this and take out a subscription for six months or a year.

All that is necessary is to send a postal order to the Literature Secretary, at 42, Great Dover Street, S.E.l.

The cost has been increased owing to the recent raising of the postage rates, but it will still cost you only 1s. 6d. for six months, or 3s. for twelve months.

Send in your order now if you want to be sure of receiving your The Socialist Standard regularly each month.

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The Lie (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lying , as an art, flourishes in modern civilisation. The lie which is the main concern of Socialists, is the one which is persistently repeated by the Communist Party and its crude satellites, namely, that SOCIALISM exists in Russia, The average worker, not understanding the principles of Socialism, is misled by a cunning, though simple, device. The Communist Party propaganda consists of playing upon the petty grievances of the workers in demagogic fashion and the frequent use of the words “Socialist Russia.” Never will they lecture on “Socialism,” because an understanding of Socialism would enable the workers to KNOW themselves whether or not Russia was Socialist. This, the Communist Party avoid at all costs, and is the KEY to Socialist Party work. The question arises WHY ?—and the answer is clear. Russia is a land of STATE CAPITALISM with a totalitarian dictatorship. Being a capitalist power, she is faced with the competition for markets by other capitalist powers. This makes her plan out a method of obtaining allies, so she subsidises her agents abroad. It would be impossible to obtain support on the ground of Nationalism (this is only useful if you are a SMALL nation) so Russia is called Socialist. However bewildered the workers may be as to what Socialism IS, they are not consciously ANTI-Socialist, and the Bolshevists strike a good note by playing on this sentiment. There are, however, Socialists who DO understand the meaning of Socialism and who point out that the existence of WAGES—PRICES—PROFITS, plus group dictatorship, is a denial of Socialism and a feature of capitalism. The art of lying now is seen. In order to justify the CAPITALISM masquerading as “Socialism,” Moscow INVENTS a difference and says “Socialism” is a stage on the road to “Communism,” and instructs its followers to popularise this lie. Men who, for twenty years and more, have never shown any difference between the two terms, now deliberately pass on this perversion and lie to the innocent workers. Just as the Nazis pass on the lie of “National Socialism” to cover up their capitalism, so the Bolshevists spread their lie of “Socialism” in Russia to cover up their form of capitalism. Two of a kind. This lie must be exposed and can only be done so by a party having Socialism as its goal, hence the need for the Socialist Party.

The Great Nazi Fraud (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Seven years ago the world was offered a statement to the effect that a revolution had taken place in Germany. A revolution, which being peculiarly German, was unique in history. By persistent propaganda and the constant shouting of slogans, the Nazis almost converted the world to the belief that they had done something original. Well! where is this revolution ? When we talk of the French revolution we mean Feudalism transformed into Capitalism. When we speak of the Industrial revolution we mean the transformation from handicraft, etc., to steam and machine industry. Whenever we speak of revolution throughout history we can always show what WAS and then what IS. In this mysterious Nazi “revolution” it seems as we say in Yorkshire “You can’t tell t’other from which.” The more it changes, the more it remains the same, as the wanderer in an old melodrama said on his return— “same old street, same old house, same old picture on the wall, my God! how things have changed.” Let us ask a few questions. Was it a revolution against foreign domination ? Long before the Nazis came to power all foreign troops had left Germany. Was it against a despotism which denied the Nazis the franchise ? The Nazis gained a majority at the election. Was it a majority, enslaved by a group, which seized office ? Hitler went to Hindenburg and asked for the “power of Mussolini” and when refused, said he could wait, being much younger. After the State power had been HANDED OVER to him he proclaimed his “revolution.” The word is merely used as a cover for savage brutality and plundering gangsterism. The Chicago brand was less astute. Their German counterpart knew the value of POLITICAL POWER. No wonder Al Capone exclaimed “What a racket.” He was an expert.

It is quite true that the property of some capitalists has been confiscated— only to be given to other capitalists or Nazi supporters.

CAPITALISM, however, has not been abolished, merely re-arranged. It may have been a revelation, but never a REVOLUTION. The means of production and distribution are still in capitalist hands. The workers still sell their labour-power for wages. The coloured shirt and salutes were taken from Italy, the “four years plan” was borrowed from Russia, the persecution of Jews was an old stunt in Russia, Roumania, Poland, Spain, etc., the mania for a “Saviour Leader” has whiskers on—Moses, Genghis Khan, Aladdin and his lamp—their name is legion. No ! not until the world’s workers have established SOCIALISM, can we say there has been a REVOLUTION in Germany.

The Miners’ Strike (1972)

From the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Coal Board was set up in 1947 to run the collieries the post-war Labour government bought from the old owners. Miners up and down the country celebrated vesting day, 1 January 1947, as the dawn of a new era; traditional Labour songs were sung and placards displayed claiming that the mines now belonged to the people. Few miners realised that nationalisation was merely an administrative change aimed at making the provision of coal for British capitalist industry more efficient (even if it did at the same time provide a framework within which real improvements in miners’ working conditions could be, and were, made).

The NCB’s task of supplying coal as cheaply as possible inevitably brought it into conflict with the miners whose wages were a large part of the costs of mining coal. Collective bargaining, strikes and even the prosecution of strikers continued. Lord Robens, who was NCB Chairman until last August, used to describe the Coal Board as “state capitalism”. He chose the right term. Despite nationalisation the collieries continued to be used to exploit the wage-labour of the miners. That the NCB does not make profits (does not extract surplus value from its employees) is a myth. It does, and always has done, even if this hasn’t always showed up in its own accounts.

The profits from the unpaid labour of the miners still found its way into the pockets of the capitalist class. First, coal was for many years sold to industry below its value so allowing private capitalist firms to make bigger profits. Second, the NCB has had to pay interest on the bonds given the old owners as compensation (for years of mercilessly exploiting the miners) or purchased by new investors. Since 1956 the NCB has borrowed money direct from the government so its interest payments—the fruits of course of the miners’ toil—now go directly into the pockets of the capitalists who own the National Debt.

Anticipating nationalisation the miners’ unions decided in 1945 to reorganise themselves to face the new employer. The Miners Federation of Great Britain, and its constituent unions, became the National Union of Mineworkers, and its “Areas”. Despite the name not all these Areas are geographical; some are trade or occupational catering for some craftsmen, clerks, foremen, etc. The NUM is supposed to be a national industrial union but still retains many of the features of a federation. The Areas, which until the Industrial Relations Act were registered trade unions in their own right, enjoy considerable autonomy. In fact the miner’s first loyalty is to his Area, not the national union, which often hinders the effectiveness of the NUM as a national industrial union. Militant and moderate Areas alike are equally guilty of sectionalism here.

1967 was a turning point in the mining industry. It saw the adoption of the Labour government’s fuel policy; the introduction of the National Power Loading Agreement (NPLA); and the beginning of moves to force the union’s national executive to take a more militant line on wages.

The Labour Party, including the NUM, had long called for a National Fuel Plan. When it came it can hardly have been what the miners expected for it provided for a drastic cut in coal production and a massive pit closure programme. Actually, as has now become evident—and this well shows that capitalist production can not in fact be planned—this policy was based on the temporarily low price of oil at the time it was drawn up. Since then oil prices have risen making coal more competitive so that the pit closure programme has been stopped or, as will probably be the case, delayed.

In the four years from April 1965 to April 1969 (all years of Labour government) 204 pits were closed. This caused considerable suffering and unrest in the coalfields and has helped prepare the ordinary miner for the present strike.

The NPLA was introduced to take account of the replacement of hand hewing by machine cutting. Previously colliers had been paid on a piecework system. Under the NPLA they switched to timework. Undoubtedly this meant reductions in pits where geological conditions were easier, even though the union’s leaders had a point when they said it was unfair that those in the older, and so harder-to-mine, coalfields should be penalised because of conditions beyond their control.

Up until 1967 the annual wages settlement with the NCB was put for approval to a vote of the Areas (with block voting in accordance with the Areas’ numerical size). But in 1968 the moderate majority on the union’s executive felt than an Area vote might turn down the settlement. So they by-passed Areas and put it straight to an individual vote, which accepted the settlement since the mass of any union’s membership—as the executive’s moderate majority well knew—tend to be moderate in the sense of thinking that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

In 1969 such was the pressure from militants, both in the Areas and on the executive, that the executive had to refer the settlement first to a special conference. The conference (with a voting system similar to an Area vote) did in fact reject the settlement, but an individual ballot again voted for a bird in the hand.
Not to be outmanoeuvred a third time the militant South Wales Area put down a resolution for the 1970 conference at the Isle of Man calling for a £5 a week increase for all grades and adding that a strike should be called if this was not conceded by the Coal Board. South Wales refused to allow their resolution to be “composited” (i.e. emasculated by a moderate-dominated business committee) and, despite the opposition of the executive, it was carried by a narrow majority.

There are three main grades in mining: the men doing ordinary jobs on the surface; the men doing ordinary jobs underground away from the coal face; and the men working at the face with machines, or “power-loaders”. After the 1970 conference the NUM was committed to calling a strike ballot if the Board did not offer to increase the wages of these three grades to £20, £22 and £30 respectively. The Board offered increases of £2.50. The resulting strike ballot gave 55½ percent in favour, well below the then required two-thirds. So the executive had no constitutional authority (nor, most of them, any desire) to call a strike. The Coal Board offered another 50p which was accepted by a majority of the executive and by another individual ballot.

At the 1971 conference the two-thirds rule was replaced by a 55 per cent rule and a resolution (a composite one at that!) calling for £26, £28 and £35 and a strike ballot “in the event of an unsatisfactory response” was carried unanimously. Not surprisingly the Coal Board’s offer of a mere £1.75 for most grades was unsatisfactory, not to say insulting. A special conference unanimously called for the strike ballot and an immediate ban on overtime. This time 59 per cent voted for the strike. A month’s notice to strike ( to comply with the Industrial Relations Act, and to get over the Christmas holiday period) from midnight on 8 January was given. The Board offered an extra 15p (yes, 15p!) a week—an offer so derisory as to suggest that the Board either wanted a strike or thought one inevitable (they may, for instance, believe that one big strike now will end the unofficial strikes which have become an annual event since 1968. Or they may want an excuse to resume the pit closure programme). Later they offered a few more pennies for some grades.

The strike ballot revealed that the largest Area, Yorkshire, with a 75 per cent strike vote, is now making the running in the NUM (the strike vote in South Wales and Scotland slumped drastically, but this was because under the NPLA powerloaders there were due for an increase from 31 December of £2.77½ a week—on top of the £1.90 the Board had offered, and so a very attractive bird in the hand). Yorkshire in fact supplied the figures of £26, £28 and £35 for what the union thinks the basic wage for the three grades should be.

A comment on these figures is in order since the Board has made such play of them. Since the three grades are now paid £18, £19 and £30 they represent increases of 44, 47 and 17 per cent respectively, or an increase of over 40 per cent on the Coal Board’s wages bill. But the miners are not really striking for an increase of this order. Their executive would have considered (and will consider) settling for much less. The strike is to get the Coal Board to offer more than the £1.90 they have—which to a power-loader is only 6.3 per cent, far less than the rise in the cost of living between November 1970 and November 1971.

Of course the figures are unrealistic in the sense that the union has no chance of obtaining them given its present bargaining position, but they are by no means unreasonable. After all, most people would demand a lot more than £28 a week before they would agree to go and work down a dirty, dusty, dangerous hole in the ground. Besides, the following statistics speak for themselves:

During the same period the cost of living (the index of retail prices) increased 27 per cent (These figures can all be checked in the official Department of Employment Gazette).

Over the past four years, in other words, the standard of living of the average miner had actually declined. It has been estimated that in order to restore the miners to the position they enjoyed in the wages league in 1967 (what might perhaps be called their relative standard of living) an increase in basic wages of at least £5 a week would be needed. The miners will be lucky to get half that, even by striking.

The whole sad episode of the miners’ wages illustrates the limitations of trade union action, including strikes. Trade unions can only work with labour market trends. Miners have slipped down the wages league for the simple reason that coal-mining is a relatively unprofitable and so declining industry, a fact their union cannot alter (indeed, some would argue that this strike is an expression of the miners frustration at this fact-of-capitalist-life). This does not mean that trade unions are useless. Far from it. Without their union, for all its previous moderation, the miners would have fared even more badly.

So the miners are striking to maintain and re-establish their standard of living. They should have the support of all other workers, despite the inconvenience the strike will cause some of them. Strikes inevitably cause inconvenience, not least to the strikers (and, remember, thanks to recent government legislation, the miners and the families will be existing below the official poverty line for the duration of the strike), because they are battles in the continuous class war between all workers and all capitalists over the control of the means of production. Resentment should not be directed against the strikers, or their union, or their union’s leaders, or even against the members of the Coal Board, but against the system which compels human beings to have to struggle like this just to get the basic necessities of life.
Adam Buick

Blogger's Note:
In the actual published Socialist Standard, the article was signed off as written by the mysterious initials of  'B.K.'. 'B. K.' was Adam Buick, writing under a temporary pen-name because of . . .  well, you know.

Why must the rent go up (1972)

From the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

House-property is, proverbially, the best investment. The proverb in fact dates back to before the first world war, when over 90 per cent of the households in Britain were rented from private landlords. The legislation for rents at present being framed by the government has already given it some fresh vigour. A house bought as investment—that is, for income from unfurnished letting—may now cost half as much again as a year ago, in a rising market created by anticipation of the new Act.

Today about 20 per cent of houses and 30 per cent of households are privately rented (the figures given by Robert Millar in The New Classes, 1966, and D. V. Donnison in The Government of Housing, 1967, are 21 per cent and 28 per cent respectively). The difference is accounted for almost entirely by furnished letting. Nearly 50 per cent of houses are owner-occupied, and the remainder—approximately a third of the total—are council-owned dwellings. The only other mode of tenure, by housing associations, is statistically insignificant : less than 1 per cent.

The proportions vary, of course, from place to place. The 1965 Report of the Committee on Housing in Greater London informs us that while Kensington has only 5 per cent council tenants in its population, Dagenham has 67 per cent. Nearly half of Newcastle lives in council houses. Under Labour governments since 1945 local-authority building has been favoured over building for sale, while the Tory emphasis has been the opposite. In rural areas council building is small-scale, concerned chiefly with housing the elderly whose working lives and therefore their tenure of tied farm cottages are over. Over Britain as a whole, however, more than half the population are tenants, and have to pay the rent.

All private tenancies except those of furnished accommodation are governed by the Rent Acts of 1957 and 1965, which lay down control of rents and security of tenure. “Furnished” lettings have only minimal sketchy controls. The tenant—usually of a flat or rooms—may be evicted at two months’ notice. He may appeal to a local Tribunal over his rent, and be given six months’ security while he does so; but legal intervention ends there. This is the only form of letting in which a market exists. There are special agencies for directing tenants to furnished flats, the normal fee being one week’s rent.

The 1957 Act solidified the processes begun by the Rent and Mortgage Interest Act of 1915 (which marked, in fact, the beginning of the end of private building for letting). It fixed rents at the figures being paid by tenants in 1956, but with a “repairs increase”. The aim was to arrest the deterioration of older houses with rents kept low by the previous legislation. Landlords had protested since the first world war that rent restriction made it impossible to maintain houses decently from income. From the governmental point of view, slums were being created by the failure of proper maintenance; to allow two-fifths extra on rents was at least a palliative.

The next few years opened disparities, however. Under the 1957 Act, rent control ceased when a house became vacant: the owner could charge what he liked to the next tenant. This itself was an inducement to “Rachmanism”, the harrassing of statutory tenants to leave so as to make way for exorbitant rents. More generally, as wages and prices rose in the nineteen-sixties a wide gap appeared between the “controlled” and the “decontrolled” rent. To give examples, a London suburban house built before 1914, in reasonably good condition but lacking modern amenities, might have been let before 1956 at 19s.6d a week; and the increase permitted by the 1957 Act took this to 27s.6d. Should the tenant have died or moved away in, say, 1963 the house immediately became available for letting at £5 or more.

The 1965 Act was to some extent a consequence of the newspaper publicity over Peter Rachman’s activities. It extended controlled tenants’ security of tenure to the decontrolled, who were now to be known as “regulated”. Local Rent Officers were set up, to consider applications from tenants or landlords of these properties to have “fair rents” settled-upon and registered. These are for three-year terms, and supply-and-demand is excluded as a factor in determining rent. To return to the example of the last paragraph, the “fair rent” of the same house under the 1965 Act would be perhaps £3.15s. a week.

Theoretically, the 1965 Rent Act was a tenants’ charter. In practice, more landlords than tenants invoked it. “Decontrolling” after 1957 had been so new a phenomenon that many landlords has not fully grasped the opportunity offered, and had been cautious about asking rents hugely disparate from “controlled” figures. Controlled rents became a mounting grievance amongst landlords, however: houses paying not much more than £1 a week, when one might rent a garage for not much less !

The governmental problem has been to try to maintain the stock of habitable houses. The improvement grants system has had hardly any effect on landlord-and-tenant housing. A landlord may increase rent by, annually, one-eighth of his own expenditure on recognised improvements. If he received a grant of £400 (the maximum standard grant under the pre-1969 system) and spent £400 himself, the extra return would be less than £1 a week. The revision of the system under the 1969 Act offered the special inducement that a “controlled” house brought thoroughly up to standard would thereby pass into the “regulated” class. So far, it has remained unattractive to most landlords.

The economics are simple. A house standing empty represents a realisable value of, say, £4,500. The installation of a tenant at £4 a week at once reduces the capital value to about £1,500. The return on the capital is, therefore, roughly 7½ per cent. If repairs and insurance are deducted, the figure comes down to about 6 per cent. A fairly substantial outlay on improvements raises the capital value and the income; but within the present rent structure the increases are not enough to make the expenditure worth the property-investor’s while.

Moreover, tenants themselves are frequently opposed to improvements which would raise their rent: a sad demonstration of the chronic poverty-problem of the working class. Before 1969, a landlord could not modernise a house without the tenants agreement. Now, if he is determined about it, he can go to the County Court and apply for an order that the tenant let work be done and pay the consequent increase. In every city there are large areas of near-slum dwellings which, much as the reformers inveigh against them, are sought after and tolerated by the occupants because they are the only cheap housing available.

From the landlords’ point of view, cheap housing is either a safe but poor investment, or one made adequate from neglect permitted by the tenants’ poverty. Since the Rent Acts, the most profitable form of letting has been “furnished”. Most often it means the division of houses into rooms and flatlets, producing multiple rents from single properties; it means tenants can be got rid of, and in any case tend to be short-term; and, besides higher rents, there are means of additional profit from gas and electric meters that arc permitted by law. The obvious effect of this situation has been to reduce further the stock of unfurnished housing available for letting.

The new legislation is therefore a Bill to increase rents—in this case, the controlled-property rents which have been static since 1957. They are to be put on the same basis as regulated rents, which means something over a million households will have proportionately far greater additions to pay each week than were permitted in 1957. As an estimate from the kinds of figures now laid down as “fair rents” for regulated tenancies, the increase is likely to be 150 per cent above the present “controlled” amounts—as against the 1957 increment of 40 per cent.

Conscious of the economic consequences of so heavy an increase in the cost of living, the government proposes that it be staggered over a two-year period. It is proposed, too, that the rent-subsidy scheme become general so that poorer-paid workers can have some or all of the increase made up. This, posing as a paternalistic scheme to help the needy, is a strategy to try to keep wages in check. The principle, which was first applied socially in Family Allowances, is to see that extra money to meet extra expenses is paid only in the cases where the expenses exist. Why, the reasoning runs, should an army of workers claim more pay when the ones to whose need it refers can be selected?

One interesting aspect of the proposed Bill is that it intends taking local-authority houses into the rent structure. Until now, councils have been outside the Rent Acts. They have been able to levy increases according to the needs of their housing accounts, to impose their own conditions of tenancy, to serve notice on tenants without showing reason. Their incorporation in a general system with private landlords, to whom these privileges have been an irritation, may well mean their becoming the pace- and precedent-setters in applications for rent increases in the future.

Why do half the people in this country have to pay rent for their homes? It is an ignominy that is taken for granted: a weekly fee for living in someone else’s house, with the assurance of being able to stay a matter of the temper of parliamentary Acts. The answer to the question is that under capitalism you get only what you can buy, and half the population can buy only the use of a house week by week. Not that the alternative, owner-occupation, gives exemption from the problem. For most people it means crippling mortgage repayments for the greater part of their working lives, and the same shadow always there: if you can’t pay, you’re out.

The proposed legislation is another in the endless series of attempts to solve particular problems in the complex of the housing problem. It seeks to extend the lives of older houses by making investment in them more profitable, and so forestall the need for expensive clearance schemes and the addition to housing lists of still more people in sub-standard accommodation. The fact is that the majority of the working class have never been satisfactorily housed since capitalism began. Even today, many are not housed at all — living in hostels, on muddy caravan sites, with relatives — and, in appalling cases which come to light, in places like the back seats of cars.

In 1872 Engels wrote, in The Housing Question: “But one thing is certain: there are already in existence sufficient buildings for dwellings in the big towns to remedy immediately any real ‘housing shortage’, given rational utilization of them.” This is at least equally true today. Two or three years ago a Housing Minister was slated on all sides for remarking that the number of empty houses in Britain was about the same as the number of housing applicants. Of course it was fatuous—the implication that the two could tidily be brought together, in society as it is. The more important implication, however, is that capitalism’s sovereign remedy of continually building more houses is no remedy at all.

Given houses built to the cheapest standard, whose maintenance is a matter of their profitability as investments, there is no end to the housing problem. As in Engels' day, the clearance and replacement of run-down houses is their being “. . . not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also.” (Today, for instance, many councils use their “old”—i.e. pre-1939—housing estates for families deemed unsuitable for better new accommodation.) Thus, legislation like that of 1957 and its present continuation is inescapable under capitalism, but it cannot answer the problem inherent in the way society is organised.

Bricks and mortar are of vital importance to human beings. Housing is involved in innumerable social and personal questions: health, sex, the facilities for both privacy and sociability, education, recreation. Nor is bad or good housing a matter simply of the building by itself. A dwelling which is suitable at one phase of a person’s or a family’s life will be inconvenient at another; a well-to-do person can buy mobility as necessary or desired, but most people are stuck for life. Underlying it all are the coercions of the society which produces only for profit. One may compare the technical possibilities of our civilisation with the way people have to live, and see that in this regard as in all others Socialism offers what capitalism cannot.
Robert Barltrop

The fair rent system (1972)

From the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “Fair Rent" system is fundamental to the operation of the 1965 Rent Act introduced by the Labour government. Broadly speaking, its object was to please both landlords and tenants, by ensuring that the tenant paid a “fair” rent, and that the landlord received a “fair” return on his capital. This was to be achieved by ignoring the existence of the laws of supply and demand. Not a very promising start. However, it is intended that this system will gradually replace the present forms of rent control which have existed since 1915.

State control over rents is supported by all political parties (except us), including Communist and Left-wing splinter groups, and is hailed by them as a measure which is in the interests of the working class. It is nothing of the kind. Since 1915 most rents from workers houses let by private landlords have been kept artificially low by successive statutes controlling rents. The result has been that little or no fresh capital has gone into working class housing, either to replace old houses or maintain existing ones. In 1915 there were 8 million houses in England, 90 per cent were owned by private landlords. In 1970 there were 17 million houses, of which 3.4 million or 20 per cent are now owned by them. (White Paper Fair Deal for Housing, 1971). In Scotland in 1915 practically all houses were owned by private landlords. In 1970 only 13 per cent are now owned by them. (Francis Committee on Rent Acts, 1971).

According to the White Paper Fair Deal for Housing, there are over 2 million houses without bathrooms or indoor sanitation, etc. and which urgently require basic improvements like installing hot water. When the alleged benefits of low rents and rent control are paraded by Labour and Communist reformers, this should always be balanced against the disadvantages and inconveniences suffered by those workers whose house is rapidly deteriorating into a slum. It cannot be said to be in the interests of the working class to live in overcrowded conditions in sub-standard decaying houses, even if the rents are low.

One other effect of rent control has been virtually to abolish the letting of unfurnished houses and considerably increase the rents of furnished apartments. In theory these are subject to control, but in practice, anyone taking advantage of the Acts to get his rent reduced almost signs his own eviction notice.

Governments always claim that through rent control they are protecting the tenant from exploitation by the landlord during periods of housing shortages. What in fact they are doing is to take the sting out of wage demands and prevent wages from rising. Wage restraint and rent control are twin policies pursued by all the major political parties. Undoubtedly some workers have benefitted initially from low rents at the expense of the landlords, but as their accommodation becomes dingy and dilapidated they will begin to wonder whether it was worth it.

The Labour Party rank and file have apparently miscalculated the effect of their own 1965 Act. Most of them thought it would reduce rents. The reverse has happened. The Committee on the Rent Acts (Francis Committee) reported in 1971 that in the majority of cases where an application was made to the Rent Officer the rent was increased. From 1965-1970 29.3 per cent of rents were decreased, 8.7 per cent were unchanged, and 62.0 per cent were increased. In over 40 per cent of the cases where the rent was increased, the increase was over a half.

Probably the unkindest cut of all was when the Tories decided that Labour’s Rent Act, based on the fair rent principle, should in future be applied to council houses. At present there are 4.5 million council houses in England and 894,000 in Scotland. Hitherto these have not been covered by the Rent Acts. The present Housing Finance Bill before Parliament will alter this. The subsidies, at present running at the rate of £220 million per year, will be discontinued. Rents will then be fixed on the “Fair Rent” principle, which, in effect, means they will rise. Local authorities are to be legally bound to charge economic rents. Tenants who cannot afford the new and higher rents will receive rent rebates up to a maximum of 60 per cent. For the purpose of calculating the rebate, the incomes of man and wife together with any interest on Post Office savings or other income, plus 0.1 per cent of any uninvested capital over £300, i.e. savings, will be included. This Means Test will also apply to tenants of private houses who, under this Bill, will be given cash grants to help pay their increased rent. The Means Test dragnet will leave nothing uncovered.

The general strategy is that those workers who can afford to pay the higher rents will help those who cannot, with the government making up any deficit. Any deficit will be spread over the general body of tenants, and rents adjusted upwards to get rid of it. This redistribution of poverty among the working class is nothing new. Neither is the appalling ignorance of Labour MP’s and their Communist and other supporters of how the capitalist system works. The worker, generally speaking, receives only sufficient wages to enable him to live and reproduce future workers. The value of his labour power determines his purchasing power. He cannot increase his wages without attacking the capitalists’ profits. He cannot get something for nothing, whether it be food, housing, etc. The social reformer will never face these facts.

The debate on the Housing Finance Bill has put the Labour Party, and their running dogs, the Communists and Trotskyists, in a curious position. They were responsible for the legislation embodying the “Fair Rent” principle, as the Tory government spokesmen shrewdly reminded them.

They are in real difficulty. If they vote against the Bill they will be voting against the principle of rent rebates (which they accept) and financial assistance being given to needy tenants living in private houses. If they support the Bill they will be in favour of supporting rent increases for millions of Council tenants. Such is the dilemma of the reformer. As it is, the entire effort that has gone into legislation to abolish or even ameliorate the workers’ housing problem has proved to be a complete waste of time.

After fifty-five years the greatest political minds working within all three of the major political parties have produced a solution to the housing problem which really amounts to the proposition—that the worker will get what he can afford to pay for.

The real solution to the housing problem is not financial but social. The freeing of the technical means of production from their financial stranglehold is a task of a Socialist society.
Jim D'Arcy

Letter: Women's freedom (1972)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

While there is a local branch of your party here, one finds the movement a little impersonal. It is easier for local people to get elected to the council than for any of them to discuss Socialism in the true sense. This town, a potential beauty spot, has had to become a "workers paradise” of cars and motorway systems, and for whose benefit I cannot find out, having little need of a private vehicle, yet travelling about a good deal.

It would be futile to ask whether you have yet successfully sponsored women advocating to serve the community on local councils, for this attitude seems to attract tremendous opposition from the working class. So if there is seen lo be a need for a non-monetary society, there is also a greater need for a non-discriminatory society. The laws discriminate so powerfully against women that it is only because their husbands keep them in absolute comfort that prevents them from standing up to be elected onto councils. The distress in wives who finally must take their freedom from the marriage bond, is actually measured in cash terms. If misery were money, most ex-wives would be tremendously rich from the experience.

So what do you do towards relieving women of their onerous position as carrier of the family burdens, but reaper of no rewards for it?
Yours faithfully,
H. Ibrahim, 

H. Ibrahim is concerned about local issues—motorways etc.—and wants us to sponsor “women ... to serve the community on local councils”.

We do not sponsor candidates to help run capitalism at national or local level. This is a task for a reformist party, like Labour, not for The Socialist Party of Great Britain. All the problems facing local councillors and MP’s derive from the nature of capitalism—a society where motorways and cars pollute the land and endanger the people, not because this is the best means of transport, but because it suits a system of production for profit.

It would be wasted labour for Socialists to exhaust themselves mending the scars of a profit-seeking society and healing its self-inflicted wounds. Our job is to abolish it, and our candidates both men and women, stand for world Socialism, not a better bypass.

H. Ibrahim is particularly distressed by the position of women in capitalist society. There is, indeed, legal and financial discrimination against women of the working class, 97 per cent of women. (We will leave out the Jackie Kennedys from this discussion as the wealthy do not suffer hardships of this sort.)

Marriage is a bondage. The wife is “tied” to the kitchen sink and the drudgery of daily chores. Going out to work simply means two jobs, not one, as she still has the chores to do. The housewife has no fixed hours of leisure, no holidays and no prospect of retirement. She often does not get a dinner break and usually works overtime unpaid.

Yet work in the home is not counted as work. A recent BBC discussion led off with the remark that “At present around 25 million people are at work” — this on a Monday morning! The 25 million or so housewives then engaged in laundry, cleaning up after the weekend and getting dinner for the kids; their work was not paid so did not count. In capitalism people are supposed to work only for rewards — wages.

However, even under capitalism, the family is still organised in a socially co-operative way. No one, male or female, expects to get paid for helping in their own home. The family functions almost on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”—the same principle which will operate in Socialist society.

Only when we have a society without wages, only then will women cease to demand “rewards”. Only then will they and their husbands feel secure enough to break up a bad relationship, without worrying over the mortgage and probable hardship for the children. Only then will men be relieved of money worry. Only then will love be free and marriage ceases to be a bond.

The emancipation of the workers will involve, necessarily, “the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex”—and this does include women.
Editorial Committee.