Friday, April 29, 2022

About Socialism (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?

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

2. What is capitalism?

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

3. Can capitalism be reformed in our interests?

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

4. Is nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?

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

5. Are there any “socialist countries”?

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

6. What Is the meaning of socialism?

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

7. How will socialism solve the problems of society?

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

8. What about human nature?

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

9. Are socialists democrats?

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

10. What is the next step?

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

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

House price blues (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurses lose patience (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poisoning the atmosphere (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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