Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Stall (1998)

A Short Story from the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Saturday 1 November an Alternative Politics Fair was held in Norwich and three of us decided to go along for the day to run a couple of stalls. We set the stalls side-by-side with one section piled high with copies of the Socialist Standard, including some free back numbers, and the other with literature, books, pamphlets, and leaflets of a radical nature.

Norwich (for those of you who have never visited it) is a colourful and cosmopolitan little city and political people know one another, either by sight, shared experience or reputation, so as we gathered in the auditorium of the Norwich Arts Centre there was no lack of co-operation between stall-holders as stalls were set up and boxes were carried into the hall. A general atmosphere of camaraderie reigned and some curiosity shown for other stalls. The Anarcho Syndicalists were there, a Disabled Rights Group, Friends of the Earth, Black Womens Rights, Ethical Investments—don’t ask me, I was told it was to do with investing ethically which is much as I thought. At ten thirty we opened to the public and waited for the surge.

The surge did not come and there were no hordes but there was a steady trickle and people did look round and some left laden with books and leaflets. Interest was shown in the Socialist Party stall and explanations required as to our political colour. We had to refute that we were anything to do with Militant Tendency, Socialist Workers, the Independent Labour Party or Arthur Scargill. Helpful discussion ensued from this but the idea of a system without the use of money was usually greeted with smiles of disbelief and some people said it would be very nice but . . .

The main problem for people seemed to be “human nature”. Fortunately the Socialist Party’s leaflet on the human nature question was included in packs of leaflets and Socialist Standards and handed to everyone who came to the stalls.There were the usual arguments. People would not work if food and shelter did not have to be struggled for. There would always be people who would grab more than others. We have to have leaders to represent us. Some people are bone idle and would live off the backs of those who worked harder. We endeavoured to deal with these arguments as they cropped up, but I have always found when talking to people about the abolition of money that they are, on the whole, not comfortable with the idea, seeing themselves as perhaps bereft without cheque books, wallets and purses to carry about with them. There is a general ignorance about the part money plays and a belief that it is money that is valuable and not the goods which are produced by people's labour. In fact I suspected that in the minds of some people money had been raised to that of almost supernatural status.

October's Socialist Standard was snapped up, the illustration on the front cover about Class War spotted immediately. We were asked what had happened to them. People agreed that in theory Class War s aggression had been unacceptable, but glints in the eyes of people told me that they found it exciting and satisfying, in some way responding to anger and frustration about the capitalist system. I found no-one to support anything the Labour government is doing and no-one who expected it to do anything other than it has done since it came to power.

It was a good day and Alistair sold many books on his stall, but disappointing to find that reformism is still depended on and money is still seen as the best means of exchange apart from perhaps the LETS system and bartering. A little sadly, I think, we packed our literature away and dismantled the stalls until the next time.
Heather Ball

US flexes its muscles (1998)

From the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

As we mention in our editorial, at the end of October 1997 another crisis emerged in the Middle East when Saddam Hussain banned Americans from the UN Special Commission (UNscom) charged with monitoring Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. A further conflagration threatened when Saddam promised to shoot down any US reconnaissance planes flying over Iraqi airspace.

Within days, US forces were put on alert with Britain’s Labour government offering wholehearted support.

What became clear as the waiting game unfolded, and perhaps surprisingly so for US Middle East watchers, was that the US and Britain were alone in their stand that Saddam should again have his ass kicked. Not only was caution urged by France, China and Russia (who together with the US and Britain make up the UN Security Council), but condemnation of US belligerence came from normally pro-US states such as Egypt (the second biggest recipient of US aid), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

While Russia and France feared another US strike would jeopardise potential oil contracts and the recovery of old debts, Arab states’ reasons were two-fold.

The first had nothing to do with support for Saddam, but was more an alleged empathy with the long-suffering Iraqi people, still awaiting the lifting of UN sanctions that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands from malnutrition and disease since 1991.

The second is that many Arab rulers see the US as reneging on a post-Gulf War promise to deliver a Middle East peace settlement and because of the sanctions the UN refuses to impose on the Middle East’s other villain of the piece—Israel.

It is no secret that the US still bankrolls Israel to the tune of billions of dollars each year—a country whose nuclear arsenal is clouded in mystery—and in spite of US foreign aid legislation from 1977 barring funds to any state secretly developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, while Iraq’s flouting of one UN resolution can plunge the region into a long and protracted war, Israel is still in breach of six UN resolutions (338, 465, 476, 672, 673 and 681).

We might add that while the US is desperate to prove to the world that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, it is silent on its own chemical weapon stockpiles, and just as it can turn a blind eye to Israeli bombings of Libya in 1982 and 1996, so too can it ignore Turkey’s frequent over-the-border incursions to murder Kurds and the oppression Indonesian forces still carry on in East Timor.

All of this can be set against President Bush’s Gulf War Orwellian double-speak that “America stands where it always stands—against aggression”. Interesting words indeed from the first ever head of state to be condemned by the World Court, for “unlawful use of force against Nicaragua”.

The whole episode should make it immediately clear that the latest round of US sabre-rattling has less to do with any perceived threat Saddam poses to the present world order and rather more to do with US hegemony and US control of world oil supplies.

This is perhaps why Tony Blair could announce at the recent Lord Mayor’s banquet: “When Britain and America work together on the international scene, there is little we cannot achieve . . . we must not reduce our capacity to exercise a role on the international stage” (Observer, 18 November).

What Blair’s overt support for the US reveals is an all too common acknowledgement by the British elite that Britain can only ever move forward in America’s shadow.

Meanwhile, UN inspectors have since returned to Iraq, but with a reduction in the proportion of Americans represented. The US alleges that Saddam will have exploited the UN absence to conceal Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and insist they will not stop until all of Saddam’s weapons and related facilities are uncovered and the world is again a safe place to live in; a hollow sounding notion considering Russia and the US still have 5,000 nuclear warheads pointed at one another.

In the immediate future we can expect further military stand-offs in the region, with the working class hostage to the ongoing power struggle over control of the world’s centre of oil extraction.
John Bissett

Africa and the reality of capitalism (1998)

From the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Africa, a continent with virtually all the resources it takes for development, is the worst hit by hunger, starvation, armed conflicts, instability, displacement and abject poverty. Politicians, jockeying for the little resources left by the capitalist class, display the politics of hide-and-seek, repression and oppression.

This is mainly because of the system that encourages capital accumulation and profit-seeking. The cumulative effect is flagrant corruption, deprivation, wastage and impoverishment which intensifies underdevelopment.

Worst of all, as Africa is helplessly dragged into the global free trade championed by the IMF and World Bank, Africa’s natural resources are further exposed for deep exploitation by international capitalism, which deteriorates the woes of the already impoverished African working class. This shows that the objective conditions of African socio-economic formations do not favour capitalism.

Capitalism and imperialism are perceived as the major cause of the current underdevelopment in Africa. Capitalist development has tended to reinforce the exploitative dependence that enables underdevelopment to persist. The fact remains that Africa will never witness any meaningful development under capital accumulation and market profit-seeking which breed dissension, division, greed, selfishness, tribalism, ethnic chauvinism and the like.

Recently, after the just concluded 22nd ECOWAS Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, one African president identified division and the exposure of the region’s economy (market) to the Western capitalist class as the major source militating against the development of the region. But this is the base of capitalism—market profit-seeking and exploitation. It is not enough to identify these problems but more so to resolve them by helping to abolish the system that creates them.

The African working class have the cards in their hands for socialism if only they want it. Indeed, African conditions have revealed capitalism in its harshness and brutality: inequalities are too glaring. In the face of extremities of want and a meagre surplus, it is difficult to sell the idea that those who are in positions to accumulate should take what they can and leave the rest to suffer what they must. Africa’s ruling class has run out of ideas for fashioning and inspiring a functional development strategy, limited as it is by the constraints of working with ideas compatible with the maintenance of the existing property relations.

The evils of capitalism are conspicuous in Africa and Africans have lost confidence in capitalism, exemplified by the renewed springing-up of working-class consciousness in South Africa, The Gambia, Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and others but are choked by the external forces of capitalism. Again, another problem of the state of the development of productive forces in Africa is that it turns even the best of intentions into caricature. The lack of the development of the productive forces appears to encourage political authoritarianism and reduces “Socialism” to the management and redistribution of poverty.

But underdevelopment will surely persist if the existing capitalist relations of production are maintained, and if the dependence of Africa on international capital continues. Therefore, the overturning of the existing relations of production is necessary for overcoming underdevelopment. Socialism is inevitable if development is desirable.

It is obvious that in the event of protracted futile developmental efforts, the politics of anxiety has become institutionalised and increasingly the ruling class is displaying signs of paranoia while the subordinate classes have become frustrated, demoralised and available for induction into extremist movements as in Algeria, Senegal, Burundi, Rwanda and the like. The ruling class is fast psychologising failures which lie in the economic sphere.

The fact is that Africa has less hope of development if the property relations of production and distribution and the market system continue. The reverse is the solution—socialism abolishing capital accumulation and market profit-seeking and embracing production for need. The time is now to co-operate with fellow workers all over the world to establish global socialism.
JohnBull Nwarie

The Greasy Pole: Trust Me, I'm A Labour Politician (1998)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Labour. New government. New ruses. New lies. It takes us back to those times—not so long ago—when John Major put on his King Canute act, as the tides of sleaze washed all around him, denying that he was drowning in corruption or, if he was drowning, there was nothing wrong in that.

When Tony Blair was confronted with the evidence which suggested that, in response to a £1 million donation from the Formula One millionaire Bernie Ecclestone, the government had changed its mind over banning tobacco advertising on the racing cars, his response was to say that it was just crazy to even think that Labour ministers could be guilty of such a thing. When it was put to him that there was a little—how do we put this— inconsistency between government taxation policies and the way the Paymaster General manages his considerable wealth, Blair’s response was again to describe such an allegation as scandalous, incredible. So that’s all right then—except that in neither case did Blair’s apparent indignation allow him to answer the question.

During Prime Minister’s Questions on 10 December Blair’s comment to an intervention from William Hague about Tory and Labour MPs voting together to cut single parents’ benefit was “I’m sorry (which is not to be taken as meaning that he actually was sorry) but he is simply wrong. “ And when Hague gave examples of the assurances given by some ministers, before they got into office, that they would not implement the cuts designed by the Tory government, Blair snarled that, again, he was “sorry but that is simply not correct".

Women MPs
In fact, both Blair and his Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman went on record against the cuts in lone parent benefit when the Major government decided to implement them in November 1996. Labour’s election manifesto New Labour Because Britain Deserves Better had one brief paragraph on lone parents which set out plans to help them get jobs, which sounded very caring and supportive but forgot to mention about making them even poorer in the process. Of course there are other Labour MPs whose behaviour has been equally cynical. Chris Pond, for example, made his name as Director of the Low Pay Unit and in those days he was never backward in making scathing, well documented comments on Tory proposals to make the lot of poorer workers even worse. Pond was quite clear about the proposal to cut single parent benefit: — “particularly spiteful “ he called it and, just in case we had missed the point, “[the cut] will make it much harder for families to make ends meet “.Well since then Pond has become a Labour MP and he has voted for the cut in benefit which he labelled as “spiteful “.

Another Labour MP—a woman, and we all know how enthusiastic the Labour Party was about getting women into Parliament so that they could run capitalism more humanely and sensitively than men—was anonymously quoted in the Observer of 23 November, spouting the kind of unfounded bigotry about poverty which is supposed to be confined to the shriller kind of saloon bar Tory:
“These [single mothers] aren’t desperate people. Most of them have got men somewhere in the background. “
Without pausing to supply evidence of the existence of the high-living benefit scroungers, this architect of Labour’s New Britain showed what value she puts on election promises and how she regards the people who elected her party to power:
“There were some people who voted for me who thought we could make a difference.They didn’t understand.”
Perhaps this is the kind of attitude Tony Blair had in mind when he wrote, in his preface to Labour’s manifesto, that it was “hardly surprising” that “People are cynical about politics and distrustful of political promises.”

In fact the cut in lone parent benefit is not likely to be the end of the matter.The signs are that this government has more plans to eradicate these scroungers who threaten to undermine the very foundations of this country so that people like Bernie Ecclestone will not be able to invest so much in Formula One races and others like Paymaster-General Geoffrey Robinson will have to think twice about involving themselves in offshore trusts. Perhaps we may soon have special fraud squads to question anyone found by themselves pushing a pram.

Meanwhile there is Frank Field, who also came up through the poverty lobby and who is now Minister for the ominously titled Welfare Reform, refusing to rule out plans to impose further benefit cuts on single parents who don’t knuckle under to the government’s pressure to find a job—any job, no matter how bad the conditions or pay. Then there are all those other bloodsuckers like old-age pensioners who at present can backdate a benefit claim for a year but who, under Tory plans which Labour will implement, will now have to do it within one month—a measure described by Age Concern as “mean and certainly not in the spirit of Labour’s pre-election pledges’’

Of course it could be that the benefit rates are so generous that the people who live on them are emerging as a newly enriched privileged class, living in luxury while the likes of Ecclestone, Robinson and Blair scavenge in dustbins for their next meal to give them the strength to plan further benefit cuts. The organisation Justice, a human rights group, recently compiled some figures about conditions in this country. Justice says that the benefit for lone parents are £23 a week less than is needed; that one-in three children and 65 percent of disabled people live on or below the poverty line; that nearly 1.5 million homes are unfit to live in. And so on. Take your pick of the evidence, both statistical and anecdotal. It tells the same story and it is different from the one told by that Labour MP, who said the voters didn’t understand when they elected a Labour government.

Perhaps the voters did not understand; they didn’t understand that the real issue was not whether British capitalism should be run by the Conservative or the Labour Party but the urgency of replacing capitalism by socialism. One thing is certain: a proper understanding of what is at stake and how we can authentically change society can only be helped by the exposure of the contemptible creeps who tell us that under Tony Blair things can only get better.

50 Years Ago: The Gravesend By-Election by Eye-Witness (1998)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour victory in this hotly-contested by-election—we were told at almost every meeting that the eyes of the world were on Gravesend—must have been a surprise to the Tories. They believed that the discontent of the masses with their living conditions would assure them of victory; but two things the Tories forgot: first, that the workers have a memory which they sometimes use and secondly, that the Labour Party are at least their equal at pulling stunts out of the bag.

The main issue of the election was "Which party can better administer Capitalism, the Labour Party or the Conservatives?” Throughout the campaign, the question of Socialism—the abolition of private ownership of the means of life and the consequent ending of wage-labour and capital—was mentioned by neither party (...)

The Labour Party flattered the electors by telling them that they were intelligent people and able to use their reason in deciding which party to support. And yet they did not shrink from making the biggest emotional appeal either party attempted. With about 3,000 present at a meeting, lights were put out and a miners' choir, complete with helmets and little lights shining, entered the hall from the rear, walking in single file and singing as they came.The applause was tremendous, as it was after each hymn and song rendered by the choir in the darkened hall. Sympathy of other workers for the miners had been won and, in the speeches which followed, the audience was told that every Tory vote would be a smack in the face for those miners. As an emotional appeal this was terrific and worth many votes to the Labour Party. The Tory stunt of carrying around a potato, dressed in Conservative colours, was puny in comparison.

(From an article by C.A., Socialist Standard, January 1948)

Party News (1998)

Party News from the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Classic Reprint

Common Ownership in New Zealand have reprinted the 1910 Socialist Party pamphlet Socialism and Religion with a short modern introduction.

This pamphlet, which can be described as a socialist classic, has long been out of print. It proclaimed and argued for the complete incompatibility, in both theory and practice, between socialism and religion and was issued, in the words of the Preface to the 2nd (1911) edition.“not as the view of an individual, but as the accepted manifesto of the Socialist Party on the subject”.

In its time Socialism and Religion was a best-seller not only in Britain but in North America too.There it received a boost from an eccentric Episcopalian bishop. William Montgomery Brown, who reproduced extensive passages from it at the beginning of his book Communism and Christianism, which went through twelve editions between 1920 and 1928, and whose front cover proclaimed "Banish Gods From Skies and Capitalists From Earth".

A limited number of copies arc available in Britain on a first come, first served basis. Send cheque (made payable to "The Socialist Party of Great Britain") for £2 (plus contribution for postage) to: Literature Dept, the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

What’s in an oath?

In the House of Commons on 18 November Tory MP Alan Clark said that Sinn Fein MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness should be able to take their seats in the House of Commons despite refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen.They refuse because they would prefer to swear allegiance to a different capitalist state, an Irish Republic in 1904:

It is perhaps worth recalling the Socialist Party’s position on this question as worked out in the early years following our formation in 1904:
"At the Annual Conference of 1910 electoral matters had a long discussion on a resolution from Manchester Branch, 'that any member elected to Parliament shall not take the oath of allegiance'. That this resolution was tabled in spite of of decision by the 1909 Conference, 'That the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in reference to the oath of allegiance to Parliament, is that oaths and forms imposed by the constitution shall not be allowed to prevent elected representatives from taking their seats’ showed the interest aroused by the issue. A resolution to send the question to branches was lost by 14 to 13 votes. Conference finally endorsed the 1909 ruling, and this was endorsed by a poll of the party and still stands os the Party position to-day. ”
(Socialist Standard, September 1954).

Promising the moon (1997)

From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Have you ever wondered what we mean when we use the word "reformist" in these columns?
The recent election provided a striking illustration of the difference between our approach and the reformist approach in the contrast between our programme and campaigning and that of the various other parties calling themselves socialist. We advocated a fundamental change in the basis of society. They merely offered reforms.

We stood for socialism and nothing else. We made no promises as to what “we” would do to make things better under capitalism. We simply said that capitalism can't be reformed to work in the interests of the majority and that the way-out was to get rid of the profit system and replace it by a system based on common ownership and democratic control and geared to meeting needs not making profits.

The SLP, Militant, the Scottish Socialist Alliance and the others took a different approach. In a bid to get as many votes as possible they promised the moon. In other words, they played the game of conventional electioneering politics to the full. However all their promises were pie-in-the-sky in the sense that capitalism could not afford them. This didn't stop these parties entering into great detail about what they would do if elected.

Wonderful wages
Pat Sikorski, SLP candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, had worked out to the nearest penny what the minimum wage should be: “£6.22 per hour or £250 per week is everyone’s entitlement”. That works out as for a 40 hour week. But he hadn’t thought this through as in the previous paragraph he had promised “a 35-hour week for all. Speedily followed by a 32 hour-4 day week”. £6.22 per hour for a 35 hour week is £216.60. only 87 percent of "everyone’s entitlement”.

To be coherent he should have advocated a minimum wage of £7.14p per hour, but perhaps that would have seemed a bit too unreasonable. Not to another SLP candidate though. Councillor Ian Driver of Southwark, standing in Vauxhall (where he faced opposition from a real socialist), promised “we will introduce a minimum wage of £8 per hour”. Perhaps he was anticipating the coming of the 32-hour week.

Militant—using, to our great anger and embarrassment, our name of Socialist Party—was more modest. They promised “a minimum wage of £6 an hour for all workers” coupled with “the introduction of a maximum 35-hour week". That gives £210 a week as the minimum wage, but also the maximum wage for those concerned. This, they said, was “the European Decency Threshold. That’s the rate necessary to take the low paid out of the poverty trap”.

An example of the crude electioneering engaged in by these groups over this issue is the following report from Militants Hitchin branch: 
"The fight against low pay has been our main campaign. At a town centre stall a single mother was asked to sign our petition. “Would your party pay me more than £50 a week?’

‘Yes, we campaign for a minimum wage of £6 an hour, £210 a week.’

‘You’ve got my vote then!’”
Unfortunately for Militant, her vote wasn’t enough to stop their candidate in Hitchin being beaten by the Natural Law Party. It appears that more people in Hitchin believe in yogic flying than in the possibility of a £6 an hour minimum wage. After the election, with the vote-catching over, Militant revealed that it too considered £6 an hour impracticable when the front page of its paper said that “top of the workers’ demands from a Labour government will be a minimum wage of over £4 an hour” (The Socialist, 9 May). Not that there’s much chance of getting that either, at least not until inflation has reduced £4 to the value of £3 today.

But, in Militant’s utopia, some people are still going to get less than the “European Decency Threshold’’. They say that “pensions and benefits should be immediately increased by 50 percent”. But why only 50 percent? With the pension for a single person at £62.45 and the jobseekers Allowance at £49.15 that’s not enough, even with housing benefit, to bring many up to £210.

We would introduce,” said Militant pompously as if they really had the chance of forming the government, ”a wealth tax—no one should earn more than £100,000. VAT should be abolished and there should be no tax on wages below £10,000 a year.” But if there’s a minimum wage of £210 a week, then there’s not supposed to be any full-time workers earning less than £ 10,000 a year.

These people are jokers, insulting people’s intelligence. They just pluck figures out of the air to make what they consider attractive promises—but which most people consider ridiculous—without even checking that their various promises are compatible with each other.

It is interesting, though, that Militant is prepared to have a 10:1 differential between the highest paid and the lowest paid. Who will be the £100K earners anyway—the new Trotskyist nomenklatura?

Another Trotskyist group calling itself the "Socialist Equality Party” had a more radical tax policy: ”all personal incomes over £80,000 should be taxed 100%, whilst those under £12,000 should be tax-free.” It also advocated a higher minimum wage—£8 an hour—and an even shorter working week, of 30 hours.This gives a maximum minimum wage of £240 a week, still below the level of what the SLP said was “everyone’s entitlement”.

It might have been thought that a party calling itself the "Socialist Equality Party" would have refused a 7:1 differential between the highest and lowest pay and advocated an equal income for all of, say, £80,000. Why not? If you are in the business of making unrealistic promises you might as well go the whole way.

Plentiful pensions
The fantastic promises—and the contradictions—continued over pensions."People should be able to retire at 55 on a full pension linked to earnings,” said Pat Sikorski (SLP). That wasn’t good enough for Ian Driver (SLP). He promised “voluntary retirement at 55 on full pay”. In a later leaflet, perhaps in an attempt to outbid Driver, Sikorski promised “an immediate doubling of pensions”. But to no avail. Retirement on full pay is still better for most people than retirement on a double State pension. You should have promised to triple the State pension or supported the SEP proposal "pensions must be increased to the level of the average wage”, Pat, but perhaps you ruled these options out as appearing too unreasonable.

Perhaps this explains why Driver got more votes (983) than Sikorski (586). Or perhaps not. People are not stupid and clearly do not take these promises seriously. At a meeting in Brixton on 24 April attended by the candidates (including ours) Driver’s list of fantastic promises—£8 minimum wage, 32 hour week with no loss of pay, retirement at 55 on full pay—were greeted with laughter. He might have got a better reception if he had advocated, as our candidate did. the abolition of the whole system of working for an employer with the wages you get determining your level of access to consumer goods and services. After all, didn’t Karl Marx once say to workers: "Instead of the conservative motto, 'A £6-£8 minimum wage’, they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition of the wages system’ “(or something like that)?

As all these fantastic [proposals] would cost millions, no billions, to implement, the inevitable question arises: Where is the money to come from? Who is going to pay for them?

Julia Leonard, Militant candidate in Uxbridge had the answer:
“I say use the profits of big business and tax the super rich to provide well-paid jobs and a decent standard of living for all.” 
Simple. But this assumes that Big Business and the Super Rich are to continue so that they can be milked, i.e. that capitalism is to continue.

The SLP made the same assumption, their candidates declaring that “the policies outlined in this election address can only ameliorate the destructiveness of the present system”. This of course is to imply that their policies could be implemented under capitalism. (We don’t want to be too cruel, but they used the wrong word: they meant “mitigate” not "ameliorate". To ameliorate the destructiveness of capitalism would be to make it more destructive. On the other hand, perhaps it was the right word since any attempt to put their fanciful promises into practice under capitalism would make it more destructive by provoking a massive economic crisis.)

To suggest that capitalism could afford all these things—and many more, a free health service, "the immediate injection of £5 billion into our schools” (Militant), "build a million new homes every year for five years" (SLP), "a multi-billion pound programme of public works” (SEP)—is just ridiculous, not to say dishonest.

Do they take us for fools? The answer is, yes, they do. As Leninists they believe that ordinary workers are only capable of acquiring what they call a "trade union consciousness" by which they mean wanting more under capitalism. So that’s what they offer to provide for workers, knowing full well that capitalism will be unable to deliver, in the hope that they can get the workers with themselves as the leaders to overthrow capitalism because it won’t pay them a full-pay pension at 55. Only the Workers’ Revolutionary Party however had the honesty to come out and say that it was standing in the election "to build the revolutionary leadership”.

It’s an insulting theory and has never worked. It didn’t even get them many votes, not even much more than us. In fact one of our candidates, making no promises and saying that capitalism couldn’t make these reforms, got more votes than 15 of the 19 Militant candidates and 23 of the 64 SLP candidates, as well as all nine WRP and all four SEP candidates.

People are quite capable of understanding the idea of socialism. What could be easier to understand than a society where productive resources belong to no-one but are democratically controlled and used to produce goods and services directly to meet people’s needs and not for profit? People certainly understand very well when someone is just dangling bait before them.
Adam Buick

The Last Word: Praise the Fraud (1997)

The Last Word column from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Christians have been waiting for two thousand years for The Second Coming of their messiah whose legendary previous appearance ended in tears and an alleged promise to return before too long. More circumspect in matters of messianic madness, the Jews are still waiting for their saviour to descend for the first time. Others have succumbed more recently to self-deluding sightings, ranging from the tragic to the pathetic. In America a group of nutters, combined communally in a house with a fast-talker who convinced them that he was the messianic presence, committed collective Christian kamikaze, each taking with them a five-dollar bill to spend in heaven. The idea of heaven as a cross between a school tuck shop and the box office to Disneyland would be almost sweet in its infantile innocence were its consequences not so awful. Less dramatic in his barminess, a certain Mr B. Creme in this country has pursued a persistent campaign via the classified ad columns of various newspapers, intermittently informing the gullible that the messiah is on earth (currently residing in Brick Lane, east London, at the last announcement) and is soon to be interviewed on daytime TV.

Messianic delusions: the sigh of the oppressed in a heartless world. Hans Toch’s unequalled account of the social resilience of such aberrations remains, after several decades, the best book on the subject; for a less academic treatment, Monty Python's Life of Brian is as good a treatment as any of the meeting of despair with ignorance and the ensuing farcical-fatal divine comedy. With the fast-approaching millennium we might as well sit back and prepare for lots more of these fraudulent and fantastic heavenly portents, for they will come as sure as New Years eve lager turns to piss.

For the Independent, a newspaper not commonly associated with moments of messianic excitement (or excitement at all), the day after the election produced a moment of such embarrassing messiah-spotting that we can only hope that copies of its 3 May edition will be pulped to save the future blushes of writers and readers alike. (If you have a copy, keep it, and make the buggers blush in the days to come.) It began with a modest half-page colour photo of the saviour surrounded by wildly-enthusiastic crowds (supplied by the Archangel Mandelson) and a headline stating BRITAIN MEETS ITS FUTURE. For the future to be embodied in one disembodied smile seems a rather anticlimactic culmination to several thousand years of history. Nonetheless, the Independent had spotted "the future”, and, like the Webbs’ encounter with Stalin, who are mere people of reason to argue with them?

This was but the beginning of the messianic account. Polly Toynbee, a former candidate for the SDP, wrote a front-page story which owed unacknowledged inspiration to the North Korean press on the day that the latest dictator was appointed. Here are the quotes from the crowd with which she peppers her outstandingly stupid piece:"If I live to be 1200 there’ll never be another day like it! . . .”, "I know it’ll take a long time. It’ll be hard. He can’t do everything now. It may take years, but he'll look after the poor and the working class. I trust him ... ”, "I love him, oh I love him. I want to give him a big kiss!" (Toynbee attributes names and occupations to these deluded wretches, but we will not publish them here for the sake of their future embarrassment.) Quite what Polly would have written had David Owen won in 1987 defies the imagination. Next to this piece of propagandist garbage appeared another by Yvette Cooper, one of those elected for New Labour to assist the messiah in his earthly works. Her contribution informs us that "As I sit and try to write, on the morning after the election, I keep jumping out of my seat and hopping round the room. I keep grinning." Could this be the first possible defector to the Natural Law Party? In the presence of such joy surely nothing less than a few hours of yogic flying would be appropriate.

"The world has really changed" ends the piece by Ms Cooper. The world did not change. Just like every messianic moment in the sad history of such events, the world remains brutally indifferent to the cries of mass delusion. At the time of writing the new Prime Minister has just appointed as his "Minister of European Competitiveness” the chairman of BP. This man was not elected: he is to be offered a place in government via a seat in the House of Lords. He happens to head a company which stands condemned for contributing tens of millions of pounds to Colombian death squads paid to murder and rape indigenous peasants who are in the way of BP’s oil explorations in the land which they and their ancestors have inhabited for centuries. Even the Colombian government, whose soldiers are paid for this murderous service by BP, had admitted that its troops are out of control. But oil is oil, and profit is profit and capitalism is capitalism and . . . what was that about the world changing?
Steve Coleman

Rumble in the Jungle (1997)

From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

To get some idea of the misery endured by the average Zairean under the rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko since his CIA-backed coup of 1965. one has only to look at the support that has accrued to rebel leader Laurent Kabila and the alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire-Congo (ADFL) since October 1996.

As Kabila’s forces have advanced westwards in pursuit of Mobutu’s undisciplined and self-seeking Zairean army, ‘‘liberating’’ village after village and town and after town, they have left behind a misplaced relief. Hospitals and schools have actually begun to function again and there are widespread reports of refuse being collected. Kabila has promised peace and stability and to form a government consisting of members of the ADFL and those non-members who nevertheless remained hostile to Mobutu. Many, though, are prophesying a totalitarian regime styled on the Chinese model— something resembling a ‘‘mixed’’ economy with a one-party, authoritarian state.

State capitalism may well be on the agenda. Back in 1967, having met Che Guevara—and unbeknown to him dismissed by Guevara as an alcoholic and whoremonger—Kabila formed the People’s Revolution Party, whose military wing, the musingile (dwarfs) held out against Mobutu for 18 years. The dispersal of this group when Mobutu’s forces captured their base led Kabila to form a supposedly ‘‘socialist mini-state’’ in eastern Zaire, complete with collective fields, schools and health care services, all subsidised by agriculture and gold production.

The catalyst for the Guevaran-styled re-emergence of Kabila, thirty years after his hero’s death, has been the spill-over of the conflict in Rwanda into eastern Zaire. For many years the eastern borders had been settled by Tutsis, escaping the ethnic unrest in Rwanda and Burundi. In 1994, Mobutu exacerbated tensions in what was already a volatile area by making bases available to the Interahamwe and Hutu and Tutsi refugees fleeing a new wave of unrest.

All that was needed was for Kabila to galvanise the unrest and refocus the Tutsi Banyamulenga’s anger westwards, coupling it to the ongoing unrest between Mobutu and forces loyal to former prime minister Etienne Tshisekidi, which now make up a section of the ADFL.

It has been a war that has involved many players and which can still impinge upon the politics of at least another seven countries.

Angolan troops were all too ready to come to Kabila’s aid. They after all had an old score to settle, Mobutu having supported UNITA for 20 years. The rebel army also consisted of Eritreans, and deserters from Mobutu’s army and glory-seekers form Zambia and Tanzania, with support coming from Uganda. Rwanda and Washington. Mobutu found help in the form of mercenaries from France. Belgium and Serbia, and reportedly former members of the British SAS.

Many have died in the war—most notably the refugees from another conflict. For the Western powers, however—perhaps the real fire stokers on the sidelines—this is a small price to pay for the rewards that lie ahead. Which Western power elite could not be interested in Zaire? For the average profit-crazy capitalist. Zaire is a potential treasure-trove, rich in oil. gas. gold, silver, diamonds, coal, cobalt, cadmium and germanium, not to mention uranium. These are just a few of the real reasons why the West awaits a propitious resolution to the crisis in Zaire.

The US, of course, has long awaited the chance to wrest influence from the French protégé Mobutu. A chief concern for the US at the moment is Sudan to the north-east. A pro-Washington Zaire, siding with similar US allies Ethiopia. Eritrea and Uganda may well be part of a wider US game-plan to frustrate the ambitions of Sudanese islamists (time-honoured enemies) and to consolidate US interests north and south of Zaire.

Socialists eagerly await news of stability in Zaire, but with no real expectation that it will bring much improvement to the lives of average Zaireans. In a country potentially as rich as any in Africa, they will continue to live every aspect of their lives subject, as before, to the worst exigencies of a profit-driven market system, controlled by men far away who hold their destiny in a flick of a pen. This the reality of stability under capitalism—a euphemism for exploitation.

We can only hope the Zairean working class can draw parallels between the outgoing and incoming incumbents and one day realise that it is folly to put trust in leaders and their control of the forces of repression.
John Bissett

The Right to Disinvest (1997)

From the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

This was the right invoked by a leader of the European employers’ association to justify Renault’s decision in March to close its factory at Vilvoorde on the outskirts of Brussels, throwing 3,100 workers out of a job. The French President. Jacques Chirac, was equally explicit. Factories closing, he said, was ‘‘part of life". All this is very true. Under capitalism firms owning factories and other means of production exist to make a profit.They don’t exist to provide jobs for workers. Firms will only go on investing their capital in production if they calculate this will bring them a profit at the going rate.

If they don’t make profits, or calculate that they wouldn’t, they will hold part of their capital in liquid form, either as cash or as money lent for short periods or used for currency and other form of speculation. They will lay off workers and, if things are really bad, they will close down factories, “disinvest". All this is part of normal life under capitalism.

Things have been bad for Renault. There is overcapacity in the European car industry. In other words, all the car firms taken together have overinvested in facilities for producing cars in relation to the market demand. This has led to intensified competition between them. But who says competition says losers as well as winners. And Renault has been one of the losers.

Its sales have fallen and its share of the market, even in France, has fallen. In 1996 it made an operating loss of £200 million. Under these circumstances it had no choice but to disinvest, to cut back on its productive capacity. This was the only chance it had of staying in the running and of restoring its profitability. The French Stock Exchange understood this. The day after the announcement that the Vilvoorde factory was to close, the price of Renault shares went up.

The workers concerned saw things rather differently: that they had been used and then thrown away, just like a Kleenex as they put it. Naturally they protested. So did other workers, who knew what they meant. On 16 March some 70,000 trade unionists, including 5,000 or so from France, marched through the streets of Brussels.

This march was basically a plea by workers to be treated as human beings and not as commodities. But this is not going to happen under the profit system where workers, or rather their working skills, are commodities, bought by employers whose aim is to make a profit out of them.

The view that the present economic system puts profits before people is in fact more widespread than even socialists sometimes think. An opinion poll carried out in France for the magazine L’Evenement de Jeudi (13/19 March) found that to the question "When you think of the economic system as it operates at present what does that incite in you?”, 41 percent replied fear and 31 percent replied revulsion. Seventy percent thought the economic system "considered the human person as a commodity” and 80 percent disagreed that it "prepared well the future of our children".

No doubt this explains the popularity of a recent book by the novelist Viviane Forrester entitled L’Horreur economique—a title that needs no translating—which mercilessly criticises the present economic system for the way it throws people out of work and leaves them to rot.

The hope must be that this disaffection with the profit system will not be channelled into futile attempts to humanise it—that reformist project has been tried many times this century and failed.
Adam Buick

These Foolish Things: “Bosses want change of Government” (1997)

The Scavenger column from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Bosses want change of Government”

Britain’s company bosses are deserting the Conservatives.

Nearly three quarters say splits in the Tory party are damaging trade with Europe, according to the 73,000-member Institute of Management.

And the majority believe Tony Blair is in tune with the needs of business.

An loM poll of directors and managers found that:
  • 73 per cent think education is underfunded
  • 65 per cent think the Tories have not improved standards
  • 55 per cent think they would be worse off under the Tories or were not sure
  • 56 per cent believe it is time for a change of government’’(Devizes Labour News, Spring 1997.)

The capitalist gem

Three months from Chinese rule, Hong Kong was yesterday given a last colonial budget, its coffers bursting with cash but its distaste for the welfare state undented by a widening gulf between the affluent and an impoverished underclass . . . Average incomes in Hong Kong exceed those in Britain. The island boasts Asia’s richest man, property developer Lee Shau-kee, and more Rolls Royce cars per capita than any other city. But, according to a survey by the City University of Hong Kong, 600,000 people out of a population of 6.3 million live in deprivation. Only 200,000 receive public assistance. A report by the Society for Community Organisations said 10.000 people were living in "cage homes”—filthy single-bed accommodation often surrounded by a metal cage. This is nearly four times the number acknowledged by the government. (Guardian, 13 March.)

Bash Street Kid

How it can be argued by politicians and the media that there is no connection between crime and the environment, between violence and childhood poverty, I do not know. In Mr Collins’s story each move in his progress appears inevitably to follow what went before, in the manner of a classic drama .. .The true issue of the book is whether, if you are reared in fear which only violence can apparently relieve, it is possible to be habilitated into a different sort of home life. Judge Steven Tumim, reviewing Autobiography of a Murderer by Hugh Collins. (Guardian, 27 February.)

Booming Britain

Booming Britain is turning the rich into the super-rich, creating more billionaires and multimillionaires than ever before. In the latest guide to wealth in Britain, published today . . . 16 people emerge as billionaires—six more than last year.

The top 500 in the new list, which has been expanded to include 1,000 entries saw their wealth increase by 23 percent in a year. Those 500 are now worth more than £86 billion. (Sunday Times, 6 April.)


A heart patient whose benefit was stopped after he was ruled fit to work collapsed with chest pains as he was quizzed at an appeal hearing.

Ralph Melville, 59, of Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, was rushed to hospital and is awaiting an urgent bypass operation. “They made out I was workshy and on the fiddle. It was an insult," he said.

A Benefits Agency spokesman said: "If he is dissatisfied we have a complaints procedure.” (Mirror, 10 May.)
The Scavenger 

Greasy Pole: These You have Loved (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the Tories who were forced by the voters to spend more time with their families was the egregious David Evans, once the MP for Welwyn Hatfield. Evans made himself famous for his robust views on crime, race, gender and other such issues. This did not seem to damage him until, shortly before the election, what he had thought was a cosy private chat to some sixth-formers was recorded and publicised. This showed Evans in his true colours; a crass denunciation of his Labour opponent as a single mother with a "bastard" child was mixed with some bigoted nonsense about crime and skin colour and an insistence that the Birmingham Six were not only guilty of the offences they had been jailed for but had also probably killed a great many more people while they were about it. Then, for good measure. Evans sneered at fellow Tory MP—a minister no less—as "dead from the neck up”.

The bigotry and arrogance of this speech illustrated pretty accurately what a lot of voters had begun to dislike and fear about the Tories and about the prospect of giving them a fifth term in power. What would people like Evans get up to if they ever got the idea in their heads that, no matter how they behaved, they would never lose their seats? It was all put into words by—as you might expect—Richard Littlejohn, who prides himself as being the voice the man-in-the-saloon-bar where, apparently, the true heart of Britain is supposed to beat. According to Littlejohn there was no need for anyone, apart from a few feeble trendies in places like Islington, to get upset at what Evans had said because the man had merely spoken the truth—like the good, solid, staunch Englishman he is he had said a few things which most other people thought but were afraid to put into words.

Of course if Littlejohn had got it right it would be advisable to keep clear of all saloon bars in future because they are obviously crawling with the most appalling bores and half-wits imaginable. But what are we to make of the reaction to Evans of his then colleagues in the Commons, typified by Edwina Currie, who coyly told us that while she may disagree with this views she—and other MPs—loved Evans to bits? (Currie is another ex-MP, although in her case she will be spending more time with her pens and paper or her word processor or whatever she uses to churn out those trashy novels.) The voters in Welwyn Hatfield gave the answer, when they replaced Evans with the woman whose unmarried motherhood was such a worry to him in an 11-percent swing. We can only hope that Evans will now be too busy running his cleaning company to bother us with any more of his insane, pernicious drivel.

If he has time he may be able to arrange the occasional reunion with other ex-MPs whose views are so similar to his. If so. at the top of his list should be Terry Dicks, who was not actually defeated at the general election because he did not give the voters the chance. Dicks won Hayes and Harlington in 1983, when the Labour Party was riven by the defection of their MP to the SDP. In 1987 Dicks increased his majority but in 1992 he held on by the skin of his teeth, with only 53 votes keeping him in Parliament. Over the years Dicks clearly took a realistic view of his chances of re-election if of very little else—and decided to look for a constituency with a safer majority. Perhaps he hoped to find one with larger, noisier, saloon bars because some of his stated views made David Evans look like a wet. But it was not to be; Dicks hawked his candidature around but he was too unsavoury for even the Tories and he had to observe the election from the sidelines—while his old seat at Hayes and Harlington showed how shrewd he had been to look elsewhere by putting up a Labour majority of over 14.000.

What was is that had made Dicks so unattractive, not just to the voters of Hayes and Harlington but to selection committees in his own party? Could it have been those opinions which he perhaps assumed would be so welcome in the saloon bars with the approval spreading out. like ripples in the water? There was everything to be said, he thought, for flogging or hanging people convicted of appropriate crimes. Anyone travelling from Scotland to support the Scottish team in an international at Wembley was a "pig". Homosexual people were perverts who could be deterred by sprays (of what?) or red-hot pokers (we shall not elaborate on that particular proposed penal reform). Having heard all that no-one would be surprised that Dicks viewed black people as generally bone idle and so was not in favour of the relaxation of immigration controls.

It’s not on record whether Dicks was also "loved to bits" by his fellow legislators. He is not. however, the only worrying eccentric who no longer has a voice in the details of applying the demands of British capitalism to the working class. Olga Maitland, who bit the dust at Sutton and Cheam. was once considered the doyenne of gossip columnists; she was unwise enough to debate with the Socialist Party and unintentionally had the audience rolling in the aisles by ranting about something called “Tommy grit”. Marcus Fox lorded it as chairman of the 1922 Committee and did his best to convince us that he was not a real person but a character from one of J. B. Priestley's more mordant accounts of past life in small Yorkshire towns. William Waldegrave, ex-Etonian and Fellow of All Souls, was deeply involved in the Arms-to-Iraq scandal and the question of whether lies had been told to Parliament about it and whether the prosecution of the Churchill Matrix management quite fitted in with what brainy, wealthy aristocrats should regard as unwavering British justice. And Waldegrave never really answered the questions, except with carefully crafted evasions.

On 2 May there was a strange, almost carnival atmosphere about. People were actually celebrating the election of a Labour government, as if getting rid of people like Evans and Dicks was going to make capitalism an easier, more humane society. There is no evidence in the records of past Labour governments to encourage such optimism. There have been corrupt, eccentric and extremist politicians in the past as well as more rational and so-called moderate ones. It is no time to hate our leaders nor to love them but to hate capitalism and all it does to human beings and to trust ourselves to do what is needed to end it all. 

50 Years Ago: Consciption—A Contrast in Attitudes (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Government is in office to administer the capitalist system and its freedom of action is strictly limited by that responsibility. Capitalism necessarily involves entering into the struggle for world markets and for the control of colonies and strategic points, and that struggle leads in the last resort to war. “The cause of war is the struggle of vast private interests for markets,” (Labour Party pamphlet “Labour’s Call to Youth,” 1933). It is true that the Labour Party cherished the illusion that it could find a conciliatory foreign policy that would avoid international tension and rivalry but capitalism pays no heed to the good intentions of its administrators. The Labour Government is committed to maintaining the British colonial empire and is waging a life and death struggle to secure a vast increase in British exports—with the loyal support of most of the M.P.s who draw back from providing the means of war through conscription.

(From editorial, Socialist Standard,
 June 1947)

Letter: Should we have voted Labour? (1997)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I was highly disappointed, when reading April's issue of the Socialist Standard, to find that you seemed to be supporting an apathetic view towards voting in the forthcoming election.

While it is painfully clear that none of the major parties offer any policies which could be remotely linked to Socialism, not voting would be highly damaging to the left-wing cause.

What readers of your publication must surely understand is that only a tiny minority in Britain actually supports "true" socialism.The word “socialism” is viewed, by the majority of people, to have evil, backwards and foreign connotations to it. and is bandied around by Tory MPs in a (successful) attempt to scare voters of parties who dare to stand for equality. We must accept that we are ruled by a right-wing government, and by and large are a right-wing nation. It was indeed the (Sun-reading) working classes, that your journal idealises, that kept the Tories in power in the last election.

Britain is not going to become socialist overnight, it will be a long and slow process.This process will not be helped by allowing a right-wing government to be returned to power at every election. Should we vote the Conservatives in for another two decades we might just as well have lost World War II. To surrender a left-wing sympathiser's vote by abstaining, is to offer the country to the Conservatives on a silver platter. You can rest assured that members of the BNP or directors of companies eager to maintain the lack of workers' rights in this country will use theirs. I for one would rather see a centre-right government (as New Labour will be) working with the centre-left liberals, than a radical "ultra conservative" government (as John Major has pledged his will be).

New Labour has swung right to appease voters. Should the voters’ opinions be changed they would swing left again. If there is to be another Tory government left-wing politics will all but disappear (with New Labour continuing to swing right until they are voted in). Britain may well be a divided society but, under a government that cannot even recognise this, or even accept the term "society", what hope have we got?

So excuse me if I exercise my right to vote but I would rather take my chances with Blair than a government which openly promotes inequality.
Dominic Linley, 

Well, you have got your way. The Tories are out and New Labour is in. So we’ll be able to see if it makes any difference.

To a certain extent we can understand why you wanted the Tories out. They’re an arrogant lot who think they’ve got some divine right to rule while grinding down the poor and lining their own pockets. But it is better to act on the basis of reason rather than such a gut reaction.

The question to ask is: will their replacement by another group of politicians make any difference to our lives? Your argument that it will is based on the illusion that governments have a power to improve economic and social conditions which they don’t actually possess and that all that is needed is to replace one set of politicians who accept inequality by another set who claim that they don’t. Our argument is that what happens on the economic and social field is determined not by what governments want but by the blind workings of the economic laws of the profit system. In other words, it is not governments that control the way the economy works but the way the economy works that places limits on what governments can do and indeed, in the end, virtually dictates what they do. Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system but the profit system can only be run as a system in which priority has to be given to the profit-making. "Profits first” is a basic economic law that all governments must respect.

So any government, whatever its political colour or the promises and aspirations of its members, has to do this. This is why a Blair government will be no different in practice from the Tory government that has just been voted out, not that the Labour Party is against the profit system even in words.

Maybe you are too young to remember the last Labour government but we can assure you that, if there is a need to maintain or increase profit levels, the new Blair government will cut back spending on education and the NHS and will discourage trade-union action—just as the Callaghan government did and before that the Wilson government (which even imposed a statutory wage freeze which no Tory government has ever done). If you don’t believe us, just wait and see. — Editors.