Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Useful work, useless toil (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is no point in work 
unless it absorbs you like 
an absorbing game.

If it doesn't absorb you 
if it's never any fun,
don't do it.

When a man goes out into his work 
he is alive like a tree in spring, he is 
living, not merely working.
                               (Work, D.H. Lawrence)

Work under capitalism is a drudge for the vast majority, an activity forced upon us rather than entered into voluntarily. Philip Larkin's poem, Toads describes more accurately the attitude of the majority towards their work;
Why should I let the toad work 
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork 
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils 
With its sickening poison —
Just for paying a few bills!

Ah, were I courageous enough 
To shout Stuff your Pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff 
That dreams are made on.
The narrator of Three Men in a Boat, is fascinated by work. He says he can sit and look at it for hours. If Jerome K. Jerome had ever met a socialist he might very well be one of those people who object to a wageless, moneyless society on the grounds that no one would work at all if coercion were removed. This is of course a fallacious argument: when the clock-watching stops and people are free to do what they choose, nothing becomes too much trouble. When a majority of the working class understand and want socialism, it is hardly likely that everyone will sit on their backsides and do nothing.
Forty hours tied to work he hates.
Unable to undo his fate.
Locked inside those iron gates 
Stocking up his hate.

Blue skies, hot summer days 
Filter through the industrial haze.
The poor automaton can only gaze 
Perplexed by ultra violet rays.

Five days, eight hours.
The sentence is complete.
Alas, money is small recompense 
For labour so mis-spent.
                (Forty Hours in a Birmingham Factory, C. Mulchrone)
It is a misconception that only those engaged in manual or productive labour are "working class”. How many men could match the work-rate of a mother or housewife? We belong, the majority of us, to the working class because we are denied free access to the means of production and distribution. We produce, but we do not own; our whole life-style is conditioned by the need to sell our labour power to a minority class in order to live.

Work is an integral part of human existence, but only in socialism will it become part of the realisation of human potential. To achieve fulfilment, work for socialism.
Dave Coggan

Between the Lines: Primitive . . . (1989)

The Between the Lines column from the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Primitive . . .

Marx wrote about the increasing misery of the working class. By this he did not mean, as some who have tried to refute him have suggested, that wages would fall lower and lower, material conditions ever more harsh. Marx was right: the quality of living under capitalism becomes ever-more impoverished.

Country File (C4) provides a pleasant diversion on the bleakest of urban Sunday lunchtimes. It has features on farming and conservation and the world of animals: it reminds the viewer that, stuck with the noise and dirt of an artificial city, there is an environment beyond which is richer in what is natural and more in harmony with the senses. On 8 January it had a report about a growing social problem: rural violence committed by young frustrated workers in small country towns and villages — the children of the land whose daddies do not own the fields and whose futures are in the cities, where there is more chance of jobs. Others involved in recent acts of rural criminality are farm labourers whose jobs have been made more tedious by mechanisation and who are often paid below-poverty wages for making landowners rich. A police officer from Avon and Somerset spoke of how Saturday-night gangs were terrorising villages and vandalising beauty spots. There have even been reports in the press of the senseless slaughter of farm animals for fun.

No doubt there were irritated viewers in Devon or Yorkshire who switched on expecting to see how big turnips can be and how green fields can look in the right light. Such people would do well to ponder that life is becoming increasingly empty for vast numbers of young workers, squashed as they are between the obscenities of the bomb and the social mind of a world which is civilised only to degree that it offers hope when there is a likely profit attached.

The following evening World In Action (ITV, 8.30 pm) reported the results of a nationwide survey which revealed that women were more afraid of violent assault in the streets than death from cancer, being killed on the roads or nuclear war. Ninety per cent feared being attacked if they went out at night. Sixty-seven per cent said that they never go out at night alone. What an indictment of a so-called civilised society it is that the majority of women — the majority of the population — are too frightened to go out alone in the evening. This is the social-pay-off of the competitive society. The streets become a jungle where anyone with money, however old, frightened or disabled, is prey to the muggers. Women workers are right to be scared. Street assaults are frequent: more dangerous weapons are now used by the muggers (in imitation of our rulers who also like to sophisticate their murder instruments regularly); and most of us live in badly lit environments, which assist the fast-money attackers. The thief thieves because it is an easy way to make money. Ethics do not enter into it; he is a reflection of the economic motives of the more successful robbers in the City, whose activities are strictly legal.

It is not just that women are likely to be attacked, but that they feel threatened. Every walk in the dark streets feels like preparation for an attack. Young men are eight times more likely to be mugged than women, but this is a deceptive statistic: women are less likely to be mugged because so many are forced to seek refuge in their homes every night. They are under curfew. There is no way that a society which scares its inhabitants to that extent can ever be worthy of the description of “civilisation". The simple-minded blame the muggers, as if knife-carrying kids have chosen such a way of life as an alternative to the gentlemen's club. Socialists blame the profit system.

. . . and civilised

The same people that the profit system twists into muggers could, in different material circumstances, behave like the people of the Baka tribe, shown in three programmes by Channel Four called Baka — People Of The Rainforest. Modern society sneers at such primitive social relationships. The programmes allowed us to glimpse into the moneyless, wageless, stateless world of one of the few extant pre-property societies. Of course, the Baka are productively unsophisticated and have to work harder than they would need to do had they access to labour-saving technology. They are still innocently religious, regarding Nature as something above them and largely beyond control. It would be foolishly romantic — although very tempting — to depict primitive communism as The Way We Should Live. But what if we took all of the machinery of production which exists in modern Britain (where women are afraid to walk city streets and rural areas are echoing to the sound of furious working-class frustration) and combined it with the human relations of classless equality which characterise primitive communities? That is the prospect which world socialism holds before us now. We could have a society where people co-operate to produce the best that there can be to satisfy the needs of all; instead we have a society shown to us in a documentary by Clive James called Postcard From Chicago (11 January, BBC1, 9.30 pm) in which we were introduced to the gangs which inhabit the city's slum areas. These gangs — The People and The Folk — do not merely shout abuse at each other. They shoot — to kill.

Gang warfare, born of urban poverty, is a game that ends in murder. Often the killers and killed are in their mid-teens. Now. James is one of those "witty" types who likes to enchant the half-witted with empty aphorisms. It's seductive viewing, but a lot of tripe is squeezed into the maxims. For example, in watching workers making hamburgers in Chicago (note: you will always see James watching people work) he stated that “Marx had it all wrong”. There is no alienation; these descendants of Polish immigrants feel close to their work and are grateful to be close to food — unlike in Poland where they would have to queue for it. This self-evident rubbish is supposed to pass for serious social commentary. By the same reasoning. Rolls Royce car producers are not alienated from the luxury cars they produce — even though they may travel home from work in a second-hand Cortina. Clive James is, in fact, a virulent anti-socialist. That he is witty and entertaining makes him an all the more potent one.

Is Britain free?

Panorama (BBC1, 9.25 pm. 9 January) was all about the diminishing freedom which many of us perceive in Britain at the moment. The government, in the name of freedom, has made numerous moves to curtail trade union and civil freedoms which workers fought hard to win. But even without the much-discussed Thatcherite assault, a society without free access to goods and services can never be free. That conception of freedom was not once mentioned in the programme. It is as if the fullest extent of “freedom" can only ever mean a loosening of the chains. I fell asleep after ten minutes of the great debate about whether Britain is unfree, woke up to see Willie Whitelaw sounding silly and switched over to Minder (ITV), where one can see a far more vivid picture of phoney freedom and increasing misery under the capitalist social system.
Steve Coleman

Blogger's Note:
For some reason the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard misnamed 'Baka — People Of The Rainforest' as 'Baka — Children Of The Rain Forest'. I'm not sure what happened there. In 2012 the writer/director of the original documentary, Phil Agland, wrote and directed a follow up documentary entitled, 'Baka: A Cry from the Rainforest'. It can be viewed at the following link.

SPGB Meetings (1989)

 Party News from the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: The Cripps Popular Front for 
Democracy (1989)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party puts forward a non-Socialist programme and labels it "Socialist Crusade", while Cripps writes glibly of an all-party aliance. in which nobody “would be expected to relinquish any part of their beliefs or programme except for the specific and limited purpose of the present emergency and for the creation of a temporary combination to fight the National Government."

Fine-sounding phrases, but what is the new Government going to do when it gets into office, except carry on the administration of capitalism? They could not introduce Socialism, even if they wished, because the electorate is opposed to such a course, and the openly capitalist elements have not the slightest intention of putting capitalism in cold storage as their part of the bargain. Nor do they even pretend to have that intention. Like the Duchess of Atholl. who wrote an article on "My Creed" in Reynolds (January 15th. 1939). they desire "to maintain private property as an institution.” The Socialist sheep is asked to join in a pact of mutual assistance with the capitalist wolf under the blessed guise of genuine friends of democracy, but while the sheep is to give up Socialism the wolf carries on in the accustomed way.

(From an editorial. “Cripps and the Labour Party", published in the Socialist Standard. February 1939.)

Fraternal assistance (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The London International Stock Exchange is to assist the development of a stock exchange in Hungary. The agreement was signed in Budapest on December 12 by Mr J. Knight, the managing director of the London Stock Exchange In an interview he said that a stock exchange in Hungary would encourage foreign investors as they regarded an exchange as a means of gathering information on the financial and economic standing of Hungarian enterprises.

First, however, several private enterprises would have to emerge and operate profitably. He called attention to the need for reliable statistics. He added that the exclusivity or predominance of state ownership in Hungary did not contradict the existence of a stock exchange. In recent decades socialist governments in several Western countries had nationalised mines and steelworks and issued shares and bonds on the exchange.
Hungarian Radio. December 13 (BBC Monitoring)

Russia's fate (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The March 1924 edition of the Socialist Standard had this to say on the death of Lenin:
So far was he from changing the course of history. . . that it was the course of history which changed him . . . Today Russia stands halfway on the road to capitalism. The communists in their ignorance may howl at this, but Russia cannot escape her destiny.
The Socialist Party stood alone at the time in rejecting claims that Russia had achieved anything more than this: it stood not on the threshold of socialism, but on its way to full integration into the capitalist world economy.

Today we can test the socialist argument against the historical record. Has Russia escaped the destiny predicted for it by us in 1924? President Gorbachev answered the question in his speech to the United Nations in December:
The world economy is becoming a single organism and no state, whatever its social system or economic status, can normally develop outside it.
Alan D'Arcy