Sunday, May 22, 2022

Greed or Necessity? (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Wake up XR, you’re not going to kill capitalism’, was the headline in Hugo Rifkind’s column in the Times (31 August). According to him, XR ‘wants to save the world by ending capitalism’. That’s not what they say. Their position is that talk of ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ is ‘politics’ and that the urgent need is to go ‘beyond politics’. As they put it on their website, ‘we have a moral duty to act – whatever our politics.’ This makes them a political pressure group, employing direct action and civil disobedience tactics, to try to get capitalist governments to do more to combat climate change. At most, they are proposing a purely constitutional change – decision-making citizens’ assemblies – which, given that most ‘citizens’ today still vote for capitalism in conventional elections, would come up with measures to be implemented in capitalism.

Maybe some in XR blame ‘human greed’ for the present situation and see the solution as people consuming less or there being fewer people. This seems to be Rifkind’s assumption. In any event, he equates capitalism with greed and argues that you can’t abolish capitalism because you can’t abolish greed as that’s against human nature. ‘Extinction Rebellion protestors need to get real about human nature,’ he says:
‘Abandon capitalism? Come off it. Do humans really care about the planet enough to give up on the fundamental human desire for more, and more and more? Have you ever met any?’
Actually, it is quite common to meet people who might want more but not ‘more, and more and more’. But why, at present, do people want more money? It’s because they need it as capitalism is a system where you must have money to survive; for most people it’s also a system where you can’t be sure that you will get a regular supply; if you lose your job it dries up. In these circumstances getting as much as you can is a reasonable precaution for you and your family against this economic insecurity. In short, such behaviour is a product of capitalist society, not an expression of human nature.

In his article Rifkind reveals that he had recently interviewed George Monbiot, who he describes as ‘an unabashed proponent of the whole environmentalism-entails-anti-capitalism worldview’. Monbiot has indeed come out and stated that capitalism is the cause of environmental damage.

He does not blame human greed as such for damaging the environment. He blames the way in which capitalism allows the rich to do what they want with their money, on the greed and irresponsibility of the rich in ‘the pursuit of private luxury’.

Capitalism does, as explained, encourage, in fact obliges, people to seek to acquire money. The rich have to as well, not so that they can wallow in luxury but because this is what capitalism dictates. As Marx wrote of the capitalist:
‘So far as he is personified capital, it is not values in use and the enjoyment of them, but exchange-value and its augmentation, that spur him into action. Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake… As such, he shares with the miser the passion for wealth as wealth. But that which in the miser is a mere idiosyncrasy, is, in the capitalist, the effect of the social mechanism, of which he is but one of the wheels’ (Capital, Vol. 1, ch. 24, s. 3).
In other words, what we are dealing with here is not the personal greed of the rich but a ‘social mechanism’ which obliges those in charge of capitalist corporations to accumulate more profits as more capital to make more profits, to make more capital, and so on. This, not human greed, is why capitalism as an economic system is geared to infinite growth in a finite world.

To Grow or Not to Grow? (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Growth’ is defined by Investopedia as ‘an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period to another’. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t it a good thing for society to be in a position to produce more? It certainly has been in the past – if it hadn’t been for growth, the world would not be capable, as it now is, of satisfying adequately the needs of every, man, woman and child on Earth—but it is also a question of what is produced, how it is produced, and why it is produced.

Much of what is produced today is waste as far as satisfying people’s needs is concerned. Think of the resources that go into maintaining armed forces and equipping them with the most scientifically advanced weapons of destruction that a state can afford. Think of the resources that go into maintaining and using the infrastructure to deal with buying and selling and all other financial activities. Guestimates suggest that these two ends might use up as much as half of what is produced today.

Production today is carried on by firms, whether private or state, competing to sell their products and convert into money the new value added in the course of their production. This puts them under economic pressure to produce goods as cheaply as possible, to use the cheapest raw materials and the cheapest sources of energy, even if these are non-renewable and irrespective of whether or not they harm the environment, as burning fossil fuels has been, and still is, doing.

Production today is not carried out to directly satisfy people’s needs. Its aim is to make profits for the private or state enterprises that control production. People’s needs are met, even if not adequately, but only as a by-product of their economic role as workers, whose consumption is limited by the amount of wages they are paid. This is why goods are not made to last as long as they could be. If they were most people would not be able to afford them.

Production today is geared to increasing productive capacity – or growth. This is not a voluntary decision on the part of business owners, but something forced on them by the nature of capitalism as a competitive struggle between different firms for profits. To stay in business, firms have to invest in reducing the cost of production of what they are selling; to increase output per worker by having those they employ work with more up-to-date machines. The first firm that innovates in this way reaps a surplus profit but this will only be temporary as other firms soon follow suit. The result, across the economy, is an increase in productive capacity. This – growth — is not something that can be avoided as long as capitalism continues. It is built-in to the system.

Quite an indictment of the capitalist economic system. This has led many of those concerned about the environment to question growth as unsustainable from an ecological point of view. Some call for ‘sustainable growth’ (as growth that doesn’t waste resources or harm the environment); others want ‘no more growth’, and yet others even ‘de-growth’. But none of these can be realised within capitalism because, under it, production is in the hands of competing private or state enterprises responding to market forces which nobody, not even governments, can control.

The issue can be usefully debated and publicised under capitalism but campaigns for any of the options to be implemented while capitalism still operates are a waste of time. The most that can be expected is some timid and belated moves towards ‘sustainable growth’, but only when this has become profitable due to the rise in the cost of obtaining diminishing non-renewable resources or of having to deal with the effects of global over-warming.

Before any of these options could be implemented there has to be a revolution in the basis of society making the Earth’s natural and industrial resources the common property of whole of humanity. No longer owned by rich individuals, corporations or states, they will simply be there to be used, under various forms and levels of democratic control, to directly produce what people need. Only then will humanity be in control of its productive activity.
Adam Buick

Misidentity (2021)

Pamphlet Review from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Politics of Division. An Engagement with Identity Politics. Anarchist Communist Group. ACG/Stormy Petrel, 2021. 26pp.

The introduction to this short pamphlet states: ‘We want to create a society in which exploitation is abolished and all resources are held in common. We also struggle for a society without a State and in which no group oppresses another: a society without hierarchies. We envisage a society of co-operation, mutual aid, equality and freedom.’ This clear expression of the Anarchist Communist Group’s aim mirrors very closely the kind of society we seek to see established. We are also in agreement with what ACG have to say about the system we currently live under, capitalism, in which ‘only a few own and control the earth’s resources’ and the vast majority (ie, the working class) ‘need to sell their labour power in order to survive’, with the explanation that they ‘use the term working class to include all those of us who cannot live on the proceeds of their property or capital’.

And the point of this pamphlet is to explain how, if progress is to be made towards establishing that completely new society, the common interest of that vast majority must override the divisions and diversions that are constantly arising within it associated with race, gender, disability or any other type of so-called ‘identity politics’. It gives a readable account of how capitalism has, in its development, used those divisions to its advantage and how, even today, ‘identity politics sets us against each other’ and divides us as a class. It points out how ‘cultural diversity’ is used to divert attention from the shared working-class issue of wage slavery and insecurity and to divide workers from one another, when, in a different kind of cooperative, materially secure, tolerant society, diversity between different people or peoples would be a cause for interest and celebration among everyone. The pamphlet sums up the situation well: ‘Class is the fundamental division in our society, not because it is more important in terms of affecting people’s lives than oppressions such as racism or sexism, but because it is the one thing that unites us into a potential revolutionary movement.’

It follows from this that it is in the interest of the class of wage and salary workers (ie, the vast majority of us) to be as free as possible to spread the idea of a revolutionary change of society, not to be hampered by fear of the kind of censorship that seeks to silence discussion in case it may offend a certain identity group. This is an argument summed up in a section of the pamphlet entitled ‘Identity politics kills freedom of expression and suppresses debate’, which then however goes on to say that ‘a more effective approach is to support the self-organisation of oppressed groups into autonomous groups’. And it is here, in its closing pages, that the pamphlet somewhat loses its way.

Its attempt to argue that ‘autonomous groups’ are less of a diversion from the united interests of workers than identity groups, because the latter focus ‘only on the oppression of the group’, while in the former ‘there is no anti-capitalist perspective that may see other workers as the enemy’ is far from convincing, drifting as it does into discussion of how these autonomous groups might go about influencing, for example, trade unions or the operation of professions, such as the legal one. A far cry this from the earlier call for ‘a completely new society’.

This drift into a focus on relatively minor details of how the capitalist system operates flows, one suspects, from a refusal, endemic among anarchists (even those who share our ambition of a stateless, world society without frontiers, without leaders and led, without money and buying and selling, and based on free access to all goods and services), to contemplate using parliament and the ballot box as democratic revolutionary instruments. The fact is that, as socialists, we cannot reasonably see any other way of achieving the end that both we and many anarcho-communists envisage and we fear that the anarcho-communist rejection of the ballot box marks them out as a tendency which misunderstands an important element of how capitalism works and thus removes credibility from their arguments about how socialism (or anarcho-communism) can be achieved. Our basic point is that the ballot box is a sort of genie that has been let out of the bottle and, though currently used to run and bolster capitalism, once socialist consciousness is widespread, it cannot be put back in but instead can be the tool for getting rid of capitalism, ‘legally’ so to speak.
Howard Moss

Death (in prison) of a guerrilla (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In September the ex-Maoist guerrilla leader Abimael Guzman died in a prison in Peru where he had been for nearly thirty years. He has been portrayed by the Peruvian and world press as one of the most criminal and brutal ‘Marxist’ leaders in the world, blamed for the death of more than 80,000 people and the destruction of private and government property

He was the founder of ‘Gonzalo Thought’ (after ‘Mao Zedong Thought’) and he created his own cult of personality, seeing himself as one of the ‘four swords’ of Marxism, after Marx, Lenin and Mao. He travelled to China in 1966 and 1967 during the Cultural Revolution and was part of a split from the Communist Party of Peru (Red Flag). Mao’s Little Red Book became his Bible. When he returned to Peru, he formed a guerrilla group called Shining Path with some of his professors and young students who came from peasant families,

The name Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) was taken from José Carlos Mariategui, a Peruvian Marxist-Leninist who had founded Peru’s first Communist Party in 1928 and who advocated a peasant/indigenous people’s ‘socialism’. His maxim was: ‘El Marxismo-Leninismo abrirá el sendero luminoso hacia la revolución’ (‘Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to revolution’). Many political movements were inspired by his writings including the Tupamaros in Uruguay and Evo Morales’ indigenous peoples’ movement in Bolivia. Three ex-leaders of these guerrilla movements later became presidents in Latin Americas and allies of the ruling class and the corporations.

Was Guzman really a communist? Was he a Marxist? Were Mao and Lenin genuine Marxists and socialists? Are Leninism and Maoism valid socialist/communist currents? Can the crimes that were committed by Guzman and Shining Path be blamed on Marxism and socialism?

The Socialist Party and the World Socialist Movement have said for decades that Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism have never been Marxist or socialist conceptions; that, instead, they were representative of an economical current described by Engels as State Capitalism; that the concept of a violent uprising was a tactic created by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to overthrow the government of Russia, an idea borrowed from the French Blanquists. It was not a Marxist conception. Shining Path’s first action was to attack a polling station and burn it down, in defiance of Marx’s insistence on the political education of the working class, the revolutionary use of the ballot, and universal suffrage among the working class.

In Latin America Maoism was a complete failure from the first, having been adopted by several organisations that had abandoned Castroism. It sacrificed the lives of many young people who became members of the urban guerrillas and infiltrated themselves into workers’ unions, or went to the mountains or jungles of several countries in Latin America and were assassinated by the police or the armed forces, along with many peasants and members of the workers’ unions, university teachers, and young professionals.

Maoism’s failure in Latin America is a clear indication that a minority group of individuals will not liberate the working class and humanity. It suggests that Marx was correct when he wrote that only the working class can liberate itself. Maoism was a tactic, earlier criticised by Engels, of a conscious minority acting in the name of an unconscious majority. But socialism cannot be established without a class-conscious working class

Mao Zedong Thought attracted many young people in different countries in Latin America including the Caribbean islands as an ideological replacement for Castroism, but in essence it was the same adventurist programme advocated by Regis Debray who had been in Bolivia with Che Guevara. The main attraction was the concept of ‘anti-revisionism’ started by China and Albania against the ‘Khruschevites’. It claimed to be a restoration of true socialism and true Marxism, but it was just a variety of Leninism and Stalinism. Maoism was Chinese nationalism, just as Castroism was Latin American nationalism.

Latin American Maoism was basically a nationalist/patriotic movement, and all the so-called Communist parties that were created were nationalist parties of the countries where they were formed. None of them had a socialist programme; their programme was for reforms, statism and the nationalisation of natural resources.

It was mainly a movement among young people and university students. It never had any support among the industrial working class. Although many Marxist-Leninist parties sent their best cadres to work with the peasants, it never became a peasants’ movement; it was capitalist governments that provided the peasants with what they wanted – land reform, agricultural equipment and supplies. They confronted a force which was stronger than them, the forces of the capitalist state, and suffered the consequences.

When China openly opted for state-run capitalism and collaboration with Western powers and Western corporations, all these organisations collapsed and disbanded themselves. Some of their leaders were killed or deported; others later became government ministers. The USA wanted them to leave and provided visas for them to emigrate, but they were no threat to capital and to capitalist society; they were anti-imperialists, but they were not anti-capitalists.

The new government of Peru refused to bury Abimael Guzman’s body, citing so-called national security. So his body was cremated and the ashes scattered at a secret location. Maoism and Shining Path are no longer popular within any section of Peruvian society nor a threat to security. At first they had some support within the peasant class, but then the peasants were caught in the cross-fire between the Maoist guerrilla fighters and the government’s armed forces and many were killed. Maoism is a dead movement in Peru today. Most of the members of Guzman’s group became part of some gang or drug trafficking.

Many of the deaths blamed on Shining Path and Guzman were not committed by them. The police, the paramilitary and the armed forces should be blamed for most of the killings, like most of the killing committed in Colombia in the fight with the Maoist/Castroist guerrillas known as the FARC – another group which is not socialist or Marxist, as the media alleged. Being connected to and armed by Cuba does not make a group socialist. Nor were the Tupamaros in Uruguay a socialist or Marxist movement (one of their ex-leaders later became president) but were more like a Robin Hood movement, taking money from the rich to give to the poor.

Maoism in Latin America showed its terrorist and anti-working-class nature, and was a total negation of the revolutionary nature of Marxism and socialism. It was only the capitalist press and the anti-communists who labelled Guzman and those like him ‘Marxist’, just as they did with FARC.

Maoism could not have been applied in developed capitalist countries like the USA, Britain, or Germany. It was basically a theory for a peasants’ movement, similar to the Russian anti-Tsarist Narodniks who, similarly, had no support among the peasants and ended up using terrorist tactics. It could only be applied in Third World countries, but even so was a complete failure in all the economically backward countries where it attempted to take control of the nation and the state apparatus. It turned out not to be a shining path to anywhere.
Marcos


'Can we panic now, Captain Mainwaring?' (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the halcyon summer days of 1914 when all was right with the world and God was in his place in the British empire, dependent upon your social status in the scheme of things of course, the shock caused by the assassination of some minor Austrian prince was seen as an opportunity to bare Albion’s teeth to Johnny Foreigner, and everywhere the cry echoed down the expansive avenues and the meanest back alleys: ‘It will all be over by Christmas!’ Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. Isn’t it just?

We all know Marx’s remark that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Marx had in mind the tragedy of Napoleon’s regime and the later farcical reign of his nephew Napoleon III. Back in the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse remarked that the lesson of Nazism seemed to be the opposite way round: first as a farce (throughout the 1920s, Hitler and his gang were mostly taken as a bunch of marginal political clowns), then as a tragedy (when Hitler effectively took power). Unfortunately, Karl, old boy, history seems to be in a place whereby it’s repeating constantly, like a three-week-old pickled egg. It’s doesn’t feel the least bit humorous this time round.

Crystal balls are not de rigeur for writers in this journal, but, this from the Socialist Standard, December 2020, seems a little prescient: ‘Eat, drink’ depends on whether the supply chains are still intact and irrational locust behaviour hasn’t swept the shelves cleaner than vultures on a wildebeest carcass in the Serengeti. Be merry? The human spirit is always able to find something positive in the most dire of circumstances. Acceptance of a bad situation whilst saying, gosh it’s terrible but there’s nothing we can do about it, is not acceptable however. After one of the most dramatic years which continuing on may have profound negative societal changes in global society it is no longer good enough to complainingly accept what is being implemented. Contrary to what a Tory leader once said, there is an alternative’.

At present the supply chains seem to be under considerable strain and there are apocalyptic warnings that toys, electricals and luxury goods all the way from China may not be lining the shelves of those stores and outlets which rely on the Christmas period in a ‘normal’ year to provide them with a hefty addition to their annual turnover. Had they but known then, the Ypres Times would have been running op-eds on how much better off they all were stuck in the trenches at Christmas, rather than the terrible deprivation of not getting your overpriced disposable trash-trinkets delivered in time.

The Mail Online, September 2021 has: ‘Panic buying is back! Shoppers queue to fill up trolleys with toilet roll and other essentials after one in six couldn’t find what they wanted on the shelves as supermarket bosses are told to co-operate to save Christmas and petrol shortages continue’ and ‘Shelves empty across UK on sell-out Saturday as supply crisis leaves one in six Britons claiming they have been ‘unable to buy essential food’ – and a third start Christmas stockpiling – ahead of winter squeeze’.

The sense of déjà vu cannot have long left the memory. As the Institute of Economic Affairs noted in sanguine tones, in the days when we didn’t even need to wait until Christmas because this would all be well over within three weeks: ‘No-one can have failed to notice the half-empty supermarket shelves and long queues for essentials. Loo rolls even rivalled flowers as the Mother’s Day gift of choice. Fortunately, this is one phase of the coronavirus crisis which should be over soon' (March 2020). Up to a point, Lord Copper, up to a point. The IEA didn’t borrow the services of Corporal Jones in order to tell us all ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ A stiff-upper-lipped ‘Keep calm and carry on’ seemed to be their advice. What have we here? Were they employing the economic tenets of Adam Smith or Malthus? Panic buying? Fine chaps, no problem! Carry on, as you were.

The IEA: ‘To be fair, panic buying is not necessarily irrational, for two reasons. The first is that the fear of empty shelves may be correct because it is self-fulfilling. Panic buying is similar. It would be best if no-one does it. But if you are worried that supplies might run out because other people will beat you to it, then it makes sense for you to rush to the shops too… However, there is also a second factor to consider here: even if there are plenty of goods in the pipeline and shops will soon be well stocked, some people may be unable to get to them. As the new coronavirus spreads, any household in the UK could be obliged to self-isolate for a period of several weeks, or even longer, at a moment’s notice. It may then make sense for every household to buy several weeks of essentials, just in case.’

Hang on there Jack, as the economists have it, ‘ceteris paribus,’ we’re not on an equal and fair playing field here are we? If you’ve the sufficient disposable income, the transport, the freezer space, the storage space for your six months or more supplies, plus the utter contempt for the plight of others less fortunate, then good for you Jack. That’s a rational capitalist economic decision. Foxtrot Uniform, I’m alright. This form of economic selfishness no doubt has opponents of socialism (who generally misunderstand what that is anyway) leaping about like the ten lords in the Christmas carol, waving their fingers and chanting in E flat Major, human nature! human nature! The Socialist Party’s demolition of this spurious straw man is amply demonstrated elsewhere. 2021 was certainly another year seeing profound negative societal changes in global society. And as amply demonstrated by us, there is an alternative.
Dave Coggan

We say system change is the only way out . . . But what about Lifestyle changes? (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s often said that we can help to change things or at least move in the right direction by each of us making changes in our personal lifestyle. We are encouraged for example to make sure we know where the food is grown, how ‘sustainable’ its production and distribution methods are, and, if possible, to ‘buy local’. Would that work?

Millions throughout the world face the need to sell their energies to an employer for a wage month in month out, day in day out, or find themselves without the means to live decently. Some face additional problems such as poverty, homelessness or precarious housing. They cannot afford to change their lifestyle if this is going to cost them more. Maybe some lifestyle changes, if they could be widely practised, could lead to a change in the method of production or the goods produced and so have some impact. However, so long as production takes place for the market and so long as people need money to buy those things, we will still have the capitalist system and all the problems and contradictions it throws up.

The main contradiction is that we now have the means to produce enough food and all else to sustain the whole world at a decent level several times over and to do so without recklessly polluting the environment or changing the climate, yet under the capitalist system of production for profit this cannot happen. Instead millions go hungry, many more millions live insecure or highly stressed existences and the ecosystem is in imminent danger of collapse. It's time therefore to act collectively to change the social system and move to a society of free access and voluntary cooperation without money or markets. In this socialist system people will put their natural human capacity for cooperation and collaboration to work and use the resources of the planet to secure a decent life for all its inhabitants.   

We say system change is the only way out . . . But what about a Green New Deal? (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why doesn’t the government adopt and finance a grand plan to deal with climate change: to make and erect more wind turbines, better insulate all homes, replace gas boilers, subsidise electric cars? That would kill two birds with one stone – stimulating the economy and providing jobs as well as combating climate change.

Such a Green ‘New Deal’ seems simple common sense. Something needs to be done. We know what it is. So why not do it?

Unfortunately that’s not the way the present economy works. The capitalist economic system is not geared to producing what is needed, but to what is profitable, and what is profitable depends on market forces beyond the control of governments.

Given capitalism – and none of the politicians proposing a Green New Deal envisage ending capitalism – the first question that arises is: where is the money to come from? Governments have no money of their own. Anything they spend they have to get from taxes or borrowing. As all taxes ultimately fall on profits this places a limit on what governments can spend, at least if they want to avoid provoking an economic crisis, where capitalist corporations don’t invest as much since so much of their profits are taxed away.

It is not as if this hasn’t happened before. Government spending, whatever it is spent on, cannot stimulate economic activity for any length of time. This was shown in the economic downturn in the 1970s when it led to ‘stagflation’. Stagnation continued but with inflation added (at times double digit). A Green New Deal can be expected to end up the same way, with the government forced by economic circumstances to cut back its spending on green projects, just as the Labour governments of the 1970s had to on social spending.

Basically then, given capitalism, a Green New Deal wouldn’t work and couldn’t work. The only framework in which the projects needed to combat climate change could be carried out in a planned way is where there is production directly for use not profit. This can only happen when productive resources stop being owned and controlled by capitalist corporations and states and have become common property under the democratic social control of everyone in society.

The Passing Labour Show (2021)

From the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lord Michael Spencer, a London billionaire and Conservative Party donor, notes that conference speeches are a particularly good time for ‘theatre’, rather than genuine politics (Financial Times, 8 October). He was referring to Boris Johnson’s anti-business rhetoric at his party’s conference, but a similar consideration applies to Keir Starmer’s performance at Labour’s conference a few weeks before. Starmer could not have asked for a better show – there were plenty of opportunities to ridicule hecklers from the Labour Left, demonstrating beyond any doubt that Starmer has decisively moved the party to the centre, in both rhetoric and policy.

No substitute for power
The priorities of the current shadow cabinet are, supposedly, getting ‘serious about winning’, as opposed to ‘thinking protest was a substitute for power’, as shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy put it. This is meant to stand in contrast to whatever frivolities took place under Jeremy Corbyn (whose party took down a Tory majority in 2017 and who beat Margaret Thatcher’s record for most government defeats as opposition leader). In practice, ‘getting serious’ means shedding the ‘democratic socialist’, due to the view that the British electorate is consciously moderate and so more centrist politics amount to being in touch with them. A number of attacks on the left have been affected, with absolute impunity. Rather than the ‘ten pledges’ that Starmer campaigned on, which promised, in essence, the 2017 Corbyn-era manifesto, the Corbyn shadow cabinet has been rejected and Blair-era rhetoric dug out.

One of the most controversial attacks was a change to the election mechanisms, now requiring the support of double the MPs to stand for election, and giving MPs a disproportionate say in leader selection. Before, it was ‘one member, one vote’, but as that led to landslide elections of a left-wing Labour Party leader, the policy cannot be allowed to continue. The surprising aspect is how overt the motivation is – every mainstream journal (often explicitly) recognises the move for what it is: an anti-democratic ploy to beat down the Labour Left. Of course, that means it was roundly praised by the commentariat, with the Observer (3 October) view on the policy being that it ‘indicated that [Starmer] is a leader who will put country before party factionalism’, one among many ‘achievements [that suggest] Labour is not an entirely spent political force and offer a glimmer of hope for the future of the British centre-left’.

Blair, Blair, Blair
There were also a number of overt gestures towards Tony Blair’s (recently mentioned in the Pandora Papers) rhetoric; about the Tories being ‘soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime’, and Starmer’s quip that education is ‘so important that I am tempted to say it three times’. There is something of an oddity in the commentary: the Labour Left are routinely criticised for ‘wanting to return to the 1970s’ or being ‘devoid of fresh thoughts’ (Financial Times, 28 September), but a return to Blair’s rhetoric is ‘serious’ and ‘electable’. Labour Left MP John McDonnell criticised the move as a result of panicking, and as ‘no longer relevant’. He is unlikely to be listened to, as left and centre party unity is not on the agenda anymore.

Starmer also responded to hecklers by saying that Labour is now about ‘changing lives’ and not ‘chanting slogans’ – a memorable slogan itself. Yet the concrete policies needed to change lives are scarcely heard of. It is easier to pin down Starmer’s politics by what he is opposed to than what he is for. The push for a £15 minimum wage has been rejected in favour of £10, and rejection of nationalisation as a way forward. Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband, who have suggested that public ownership may be viable, are causing frustrations.

Pro-business rhetoric
On the other hand, the Party has lurched towards a different attitude to business, leading to a striking contrast between Labour and the Conservatives. Johnson has been explicit on inequality and has blamed businesses for low wages, something which has worried donors, who are ‘nearly universally Thatcherite free-marketeers’ (Financial Times, 8 October), and he has criticised the austerity programmes of previous Conservative governments. Starmer’s position has been pretty much the opposite. Indeed, the business press recognises that Johnson’s own rhetoric might help Starmer position himself as a ‘more serious political figure’, i.e, one that business can take seriously.

Turning to broader issues of foreign policy and the climate, Starmer simply ignored a young activist asking about his opinion on the motion on a Green New Deal, calling for public ownership of energy, bans on fracking, improved and electrified public transport, and unionisation laws. The motion passed at Conference, with 59.2 percent in favour (LabourList, 26 September). The activist later wrote that ‘Keir Starmer’s stonewalling is a fitting metaphor for Labour’s treatment of its young members, whose generation used to be at the core of its voters’ (openDemocracy, 29 September).

This hasn’t been the only divide between members (particularly the youth) and Starmer and his cabinet. Delegates turned on the party line when it came to two important foreign policy issues: the position on Israel, and AUKUS, the Australia, UK, US military alliance. Starmer said that ‘Britain must look after our most important relationships or our influence and security quickly declines. So, Labour welcomes [AUKUS]’, but the alliance was described as ‘a dangerous move that will undermine world peace’ in a motion that passed with 70.4 percent of the vote. Likewise, Conference heard a motion that condemned ‘de facto annexation of Palestinian land’ and an ‘arms trade used to violate Palestinian human rights’, and described Israel as an apartheid state. The motion passed, but Starmer and many shadow cabinet members distanced themselves from it immediately, and doubts were raised about whether it would ever be reflected in party policy.

No Dove
Divisions are becoming clear. The moves to restrict the power of party members have some justification from the perspective of the shadow cabinet – the members, many of whom joined during the Corbyn era, want the party to head in a very different direction to the way Starmer is pulling. Whether a return to Blairite politics will work will depend more on how the Conservatives act than on Starmer’s own merits. It seems the only thing he has been effective at is the quashing of the left. Yet, the movement built up over the last few years still has a say, especially on foreign policy– this will be an important distinction between him and his party members, many of whom are impressed by Corbyn’s credentials on war. This was taken to be a decisive factor against him in the eyes of the electorate (though much of that may have to do with the ‘terrorist sympathiser’ media spin). Starmer seems to be no dove, even if not as hawkish as Blair. This may cost him the support of many of his members, but they will matter less and less to the party’s politics. Foreign policy has been, traditionally, where left-wing politics consistently distinguishes itself from centre-left liberalism. The shadow cabinet, even if not the Labour Party, has, almost across the board, chosen the latter.
M. P. Shah

Labour legend (2021)

Book Review from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Victor Grayson. In Search of Britain’s Lost Revolutionary. By Harry Taylor. Pluto Press. 2021.

Victor Grayson is still a myth in some left-wing circles, as evidenced by Corbyn writing a foreword for this book. He came to fame when in August 1907 he sensationally won a by-election at the age of 26 while standing as a ‘socialist’ without the backing of the Labour Party.

A member of the ILP, he was a protégé of Robert Blatchford, author of Britain for the British, and his paper The Clarion which campaigned for Labour candidates to stand explicitly as ‘socialists’. This, in opposition to the policy of the ILP’s leaders, Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald, of getting working men into parliament through deals with the Liberals.

Grayson went into parliament as a rebel and didn’t join the Labour Group. He got himself suspended on a number of occasions. The most famous was in October 1908 when he caused a scandal by insisting in the middle of another debate that parliament discuss the plight of the unemployed as a matter of urgency. The Speaker refused and Grayson was escorted out of the chamber by Black Rod. The Labour Group accepted this, some even voting for his expulsion. Outside he made fiery speeches saying that, as the unemployed couldn’t get attention in parliament, they should get it outside, by rioting armed with broken bottles.

Naturally, the Socialist Standard commented on this, in a 2,700-word front-page editorial in November 1908 entitled ‘Revolution: The Problem of the Out of Work’, saying that if incidents like this exposed the Labour parliamentary group as anti-working class ‘it will be of some satisfaction’. It went on to say, however, that ‘Grayson is a man who has no very clear idea of where he stands on questions of economics, who certainly does not understand the Socialist position, and who cannot, therefore, be accepted as in any adequate sense a representative of Socialism.’ The article agreed that rioting might work to get more crumbs from the capitalist state but didn’t advise it. We weren’t the only ones to see him as a bit of a showman and dandy – the March issue had noted him turning up for a debate with a Tory leader ‘in immaculate evening dress (which we suppose is typical of his revolutionary views)’.

He lost his seat in the January 1910 general election but continued to oppose the strategy of the ILP leadership and in 1911 was instrumental in a number of ILP branches breaking away to join the Social Democratic Party (as the SDF had changed its name to by then) to form the British Socialist Party, which was supposed to unite all those calling themselves ‘socialists’ in a single party but just turned out to be SDF 3.0.

When the First World War broke out he took a pro-war stance and was sent by the government to Australia and New Zealand to persuade workers there to join in the slaughter. He himself joined the NZ contingent and fought at Passchendaele, so at least put his money where his mouth was. After the war there was some talk of him re-entering politics but in 1920 he mysteriously disappeared and was never heard of again, and so became the subject of various conspiracy theories.

Taylor recounts his life from his manual working-class background in Liverpool – he was trained as an engineering worker – to his disappearance in 1920. The explanation he offers for this is that he was blackmailed because of past homosexual behaviour into retiring from politics, changing his name and going to live somewhere in Kent where he must have died in the 1940s or 50s.

One conspiracy theory is that this was done to prevent him becoming a radical Labour politician. However, in view of his pro-war stance and the arguments he put forward for it, if he had stayed in politics this was arguably more likely to have been as a Tory, as at one point Taylor hints at.

The Socialist Party gets a couple of mentions. A letter (in full) published in the Brixton and Lambeth Gazette (2 December 1910) when Grayson was a candidate in Kennington in the general election that month, stating that he was not the socialist candidate. The second is a quote from an article in August 1912 (the footnote mistakenly says September) commenting on a passage in Grayson’s book The Problem of Parliament. The article quotes the definition he gave there of socialism which confirmed that his ‘socialism’ was the same elitist state capitalism advocated by the Fabians and the Labour Party. Socialism, he had written, was
‘merely another and better form of government… The ruling of a State or municipality is the highest form of industry and commerce, and must be put in the hands of the most experienced and highly trained men of business who can be discovered… Control by expert officials… that is the ideal before Socialists.’
It is rather strange that left-wing Labourites should still see him as a hero. True, he was a firebrand orator who had called himself a ‘revolutionary socialist’ at one stage of his life, but then so did Mussolini (who also gave up on parliament).

Taylor’s biography is worth reading, especially for those interested in the period up to WWI. It is unfortunate that at one point he seems to suggest that William Morris was a ‘Christian Socialist’.
Adam Buick

Letter: What happens when there is a socialist majority? (2021)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

What happens when there is a socialist majority?

Dear Editors

My early political education as a child came partly from listening to SPGB speakers – notably Harry Baldwin – on the corner of East Street in South London. I enjoy reading the Socialist Standard, which often feels like an island of relative sanity in a sea of media hysteria. I’ve never joined the party, much as I learnt from and sympathise with many of its views. I’m afraid I wandered off into anarcho-syndicalism. But one thing I have often wondered. If the Socialist Party were to gain a majority in Parliament what would come next? I realise this would not happen without a majority of workers having come to see the sense of moving from capitalism to socialism. I realise too that nobody can – or should – paint a detailed picture of the future choices the working class will make. But I still wonder – what will happen when the first SPGB majority House of Commons meets?
Harry Harmer, 
Shrewsbury


Reply:
It won’t be the Socialist Party as an organisation separate from the working class that would have a parliamentary majority, but the socialist-minded working class. It is they who will have won political control and the socialist MPs will be their delegates. This presupposes, as you say, a socialist majority outside parliament, one which will have organised itself not just into a socialist political party, but also in places of work ready to keep useful production going. Also, there would be similar movements in control of political power or about to be in other advanced capitalist countries.

So what would the majority of socialist delegates do? The main reason for going into parliament, as an elected central law-making body, is to be in a position to control the machinery of government; not for the purpose of forming a government as under capitalism but, as a minimum, to prevent the powers of the state being used against the movement for socialism. But, as the state is not just the public power of coercion but also the centre of social administration, to use this aspect to co-ordinate the social revolution from capitalism to socialism as well as to keep essential administrative services going.

There is no need to create from scratch a central co-ordinating body – as the syndicalists and others have proposed, whether based on industrial unions or some central workers’ council – when one that can be adapted and used already exists. In our view, winning control of the existing political structure is the most direct route to socialism. Trying to smash it would be suicidal; trying to ignore it risks violence and unnecessary disruption. Why try to set up alternative central departments to deal with such matters as agriculture, education, energy, health and transport? The same at local level: why can’t existing elected councils continue to administer local services?

So a socialist majority in parliament would have to decide to adapt the existing central administrative structure to make it fully democratic. The main measure, though, would be to withdraw the state’s sanction and backing for the capitalist class ownership of the means of production. Because most productive resources are vested in limited liability companies this will be relatively straightforward. Companies are legal institutions created by the state which gives them an artificial legal personality that can own property. All that would be required would be to declare that all companies are dissolved and that henceforth their physical assets are the common property of all the people. The capitalist class will have been dispossessed and all their legal titles, all their stocks and shares will have become useless, unenforceable pieces of paper. As an immediate measure, those working in places producing something useful or providing a useful service would continue running them, producing for direct use and no longer for profit.

Assuming that there is no attempt by some minority to try to thwart by force of arms the democratically expressed will of the people for socialism, the working class’s use of the state would then be over. The state would in fact cease to exist as such and its administrative side would become an unarmed, democratic administrative centre. Socialism will have been established. – Editors.

Capitalism: No Paper Tiger (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘President Xi was facing the most serious test of his approach to Chinese capitalism last night as Beijing decided whether it could allow a corporate giant burdened with hundreds of millions of debt to go bankrupt’ (Times, 21 September).

The Chinese government still occasionally calls itself socialist, though this is more common amongst its supporters abroad. Everybody can see it isn’t, even the Western media as in the news item above. Its economy is ‘state capitalist’ even in the Leninist sense of the development of private capitalism under the aegis of a supposedly ‘socialist’ state. Lenin, however, envisaged only small-scale capitalist enterprises. The Chinese government has allowed and encouraged big corporations to develop and so finds itself in the position of having to cope with problems caused by the workings of a market economy involving big capitalist corporations.

The ‘corporate giant’ that risked going bankrupt was a property company with the wonderful name of Evergrande that epitomises what every capitalist enterprise has to aim at – growing bigger and bigger through the re-investment of most of its profits as new capital. Founded in 1996, it expanded rapidly in response to a housing boom, borrowing heavily to meet the demand for new apartment blocks. Then, as always happens sooner or later, the boom turned to bust.

The anarchic expansion of the market led to an oversupply of residential property:
‘Supply of apartments exceeds demand and many new apartment blocks stand empty or unfinished’ (Times, 21 September).

‘By some estimates, China now has 90 million units of empty houses’ (Simon Nixon, Times, 23 September).
The oversupply is in relation to paying demand not need:
‘…there are the very high vacancy rates in China with high prices. In cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen property values are “very extreme” relative to average incomes’ (Patrick Hoskings, Times, 21 September).
Evergrande has been left with huge debts that it cannot meet. The fear amongst stock exchange speculators is that its collapse would be China’s ‘Lehman moment’, as in the US in 2007-8 that provoked the Great Recession from which the world has still not fully recovered. They are afraid that the failure of Evergrande would spread from it to its suppliers and from them to their suppliers and so on, and of the impact of the resulting generalised economic crisis in China on the rest of the world capitalist economy.

It might not come to this, but the point is that it could. This shows that the Chinese government, despite being a one-party dictatorship, is as much at the mercy of unpredictable, anarchic market forces as any elected reformist government in the West.

It also shows how much capitalism in China is part of the world capitalist system. Socialism in one country was always impossible, but events have shown that so is ‘state capitalism in one country’ (what the Stalinists and Maoists call ‘socialism’ and the Trotskyists ‘a transitional society’). No one part of the capitalist world can isolate itself from the rest of the world capitalist economy, as the rulers of the former USSR found out to their cost, a lesson Chairman Xi’s predecessors learned and decided ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’. But this involves taking the rough with the smooth, as Xi is finding out.

Proper Gander: Police And Abuse (2021)

The Proper Gander column from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Police And Abuse

In September, police constable Wayne Couzens was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the horrific rape and murder of Sarah Everard. Couzens, employed in the division which guards government and diplomatic buildings, used his position as a police officer to falsely arrest Sarah while she was walking home, under the pretence of breaching Covid-19 regulations. Not long after Couzens’ sentencing, Dispatches documentary Cops On Trial (Channel 4) highlighted the wider problem of police who use their role for twisted motives, in particular their own sexual gratification. Reporter Ellie Flynn interviewed victims of predatory officers, and also looked at research showing the extent of the issue. Requests using the Freedom of Information Act brought in responses from 39 police forces (out of 45 in the UK) stating that in four years nearly 2,000 officers, special constables and PCSOs were accused of sexual misconduct. Bournemouth University also collated 514 proven cases of sexual misconduct by police officers in 33 forces over the last five years.

Couzens’ actions were particularly vicious and didn’t follow the usual pattern found when police officers target women. The research cited in the documentary showed that the most common type of abuse is when an officer uses his role to instigate an ongoing sexual relationship. This tends to happen when a woman reports a crime and is then visited at home by an investigating officer who pretends to be empathetic and understanding while being motivated by his own sexual gains. The perpetrators exploit how their police uniform gives the impression both that they can be trusted and that they have authority. The women they target are all in vulnerable situations: according to the research 40 per cent were victims of previous domestic abuse, 20 per cent had mental health issues and a quarter had suffered sexual assault. The perpetrators find those who are most susceptible to being manipulated, meaning that although the subsequent relationships are apparently consensual, they’re abusive. This inevitably causes the women to be traumatised further, when abuse escalates and when the relationship is exposed and investigated.

While Cops On Trial is timely in highlighting how Wayne Couzens wasn’t alone in misusing his position, it isn’t revealing the problem for the first time. In 2016, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary identified 436 claims of sexual abuse against police officers over two years. Less than half of these incidents were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and, as the report worded it, there was a ‘disconnect’ between the numbers of alleged cases and sackings (tinyurl.com/kynyucty). Across Police Scotland, for example, 166 officers have more recently been accused of sexual misconduct, and none have been dismissed. One way which many perpetrators have avoided the consequences of their actions is to resign before they get sacked, which also means they keep their pensions. Those police officers arrested and charged with domestic abuse are a third less likely to be found guilty than other people, with a conviction rate even lower than four per cent. Police know how the investigation procedure and legal system work, and they can use this to their advantage. They can also protect each other, using connections and contacts with the investigators. As Nogah Ofer from the Centre for Women’s Justice points out in the documentary, the system is on the side of the abuser.

One way in which abusive behaviour has been perpetuated has been by other staff missing ‘red flags’ or not taking sufficient action when there are concerns about an officer. According to Bournemouth University’s research, of more than 500 proven cases of sexual misconduct by police, each of the officers involved had an average of six disciplinaries or allegations on their records, and half had warning markers about their sexual behaviour. Couzens had previously been reported for indecent exposure and was nicknamed ‘the rapist’ by colleagues. That these warning signs didn’t lead to action which prevented behaviour from escalating indicates that the police force hasn’t taken risks to women seriously. Susannah Fish, formerly the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, says that she worked in a culture which was testosterone-fuelled and macho, and therefore not able to resolve or even recognise the problem.

Unfortunately, Cops On Trial doesn’t spend enough time on the questions of why this culture persists and why some officers use their role to abuse others. Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, gives a succinct enough answer by saying that ‘a small number of people are attracted to policing because of the power, the control and opportunity it affords them’. Police are there to exercise power and control on behalf of the state, according to the laws which are supposed to keep our unequal, divisive society in order. So, even when police stick to the law and the code of conduct for their role, they are working in a framework which involves coercion. The minority of predatory police officers have used this framework as an opportunity to abuse others, and found that it’s enabled them. Tighter vetting, training and disciplinary procedures could weed out some of the predatory officers and prevent some future tragedies repeating what Sarah Everard and other women have suffered. Measures like these will no doubt be recommended by the inquiries which have been commissioned to examine the standards and culture of the Metropolitan Police, where Couzens worked. But reforms can only tweak how the police force runs, they can’t change what it is: an institution with built-in opportunities to exert power and control. So it’s always going to attract a number of people who want to exploit these opportunities for themselves. The more fundamental issue is what causes some people to act in abusive, manipulative ways, a problem much too wide to be affected by any future changes to how the police operate.
Mike Foster

They Caused It (2021)

Book Review from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

I Know Who Caused COVID-19’: Pandemics and Xenophobia. By Zhou Xun and Sander L. Gilman (Reaktion Books £16.)

Many pandemics have been blamed on minority groups. Jews, for instance, were widely held responsible for the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Here Zhou and Gilman look at a number of examples of ‘outgroups’ (or just ‘them’) being blamed for Covid or its spread, with xenophobia a common response to public health problems.

China was the source of the coronavirus, and recent responses have been similar to nineteenth-century views of Chinese immigrants bringing plague and other diseases to North America from the ‘sick man of Asia’. The source appears to have been a market in Wuhan, a mega-city where many rural migrants have congregated, where the health system has struggled to keep up, and which is located in an area where previous diseases have been transmitted from animals to humans. The Chinese government’s reaction has included attaching blame to Africans and Muslims, who supposedly previously brought swine flu and AIDS to China.

In the US and Israel, the ultra-orthodox Jews, the Haredim, were accused of spreading coronavirus. They often objected to vaccination, the wearing of face masks and the forced closing of synagogues. Their communities in Israel had very high levels of infection and even accused the government, when it tried to enforce measures, of being Nazis. On 6 January, there were Haredim among those who stormed the Capitol, and also anti-semites who wore T-shirts stating 6MWE (for ‘Six Million Wasn’t Enough’)! In the UK, vaccination was sometimes compared to the medical experiments carried out by the Nazis.

Black people in both the US and UK have suffered high levels of infection and morbidity, but the reasons for this are complex. They have poorer health in general than the population as a whole, understandably lack trust in government pronouncements, and were initially reluctant to be vaccinated, though this resistance lessened over time. In the US black people were often unable to get jabbed because vaccination sites were pretty inaccessible, requiring a car to travel to them.

Black Trump supporters were anti-vaxxers, and more generally Trump fans saw themselves as victims of the medical and governmental establishment. Masks were viewed as a sign of weakness, and became for many on the extreme right and other populists a symbol of what was supposedly wrong in the US, with people no longer being able to choose for themselves.

Unlike wars, pandemics do not leave tangible physical reminders behind, but they can result in many different kinds of loss. Setting people against each other is one unfortunate effect.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Now they say there’s too much electricity (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is facing another problem linked with the coming of potential abundance, this time in the field of electricity supply.

Nuclear power stations—which at present use the heat of nuclear fission to raise steam to drive the turbines generating electricity — can produce so much electricity that as more and more of them are built the problem is arising of what to do with the “surplus” produced during the hours of off-peak demand.

According to Keith Richardson, Industrial Editor of the Sunday Times in an article “Will they have to give electricity away free” (26 September), this was one of the matters discussed at a recent conference in Geneva on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Since, apparently, nuclear power stations cannot be easily damped down from time to time in the way coal and oil-fired stations can, two possible solutions were discussed. One was to quite literally give away the ‘surplus’ electricity free during off peak hours; the other was to waste the heat produced during this period by releasing it into the atmosphere. If capitalism’s past experience is anything to go by, there should be little doubt as to what will happen.

Free electricity, free transport, free goods and services generally—this is the way modern technology points. But all this is impossible under capitalism with its class monopoly of the means of life and its profit motive. Capitalism cannot digest abundance and has to seek ways to prevent and pervert its progress. Only when all the resources of the earth, natural and man-made, are owned in common by all the people of the world can they be used in a rational way – to provide an abundance of goods and services which people can take and use freely as and when they need to.

(Socialist Standard, November 1971)

What the Labour Party wants. (1927)

From the September 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Labour Press Service (August 3rd) is a critical summary of the activities of the Government during the past parliamentary session. The Conservatives are condemned, and we are given the chief Labour proposals which, because they were “aimed at helping the working classes” were “overwhelmingly rejected by the Government and their Tory supporters.”

We need not waste much time over the record of the Conservative Government. They were elected by voters—mainly members of the working class—who want Capitalism and who prefer it to be administered by the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have, naturally, looked after the interests of their own section of the propertied class, and if this has not been approved by those who voted for them, the latter will presumably register their dissatisfaction at the next election.

Now for the Labour Party’s case against the Government:—
“What is the record of the session as it affects the workers ? Firstly, their wages have gone down by nearly a quarter of a million pounds a week. Secondly, scores of thousands of them, having been deprived of their unemployment benefit, have been driven either to the workhouse or to the Relieving Officer. Thirdly, the Government grants in aid of relief work have been cut down by one half, and thousands of willing would-be workers have consequently been turned on to the streets. Fourthly, relations with Russia have been broken off, and many orders for British factories have thereby been jeopardised. Fifthly, the balance of £12,000,000 which stood to the credit of the road fund has been grabbed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and many millions of pounds’ worth of employment on road-making has had to be cancelled. Sixthly, several new taxes have been imposed upon the workers—notably on crockery, tobacco and matches—and all the food taxes have been re-imposed.”
This is a formidable-looking list, and to it have to be added the Trade Union Bill, and one or two other non-financial measures.

The Labour Party in the House opposed all of these, and claims credit for the fact that when they were in office wages went up instead of down. Had they remained in office another year they would have abolished entirely the “iniquitous” sugar tax, and reduced the tax on tea.

Now let us examine the value of the aims the Labour Party has set before itself, itself.

First, there is the increase of wages during the Labour Government’s term of office, contrasted with the decline this year. The Labour Government began in January, 1924, and ended in October, covering eight completed months from February to September. During those months the average of the Board of Trade cost of living indices was 73 per cent. (approx.) above the 1914 level, as compared with 72½ per cent. (approx.) for the same months of 1923. As a result of this slight rise in prices, wages tended to rise, the nett increase being about £500,000 per week.

The average cost of living index for the 6 months from February to July, 1926, was approximately 70 per cent. above the 1914 level; and for the 6 months ended July, 1927, approximately 67 per cent. In consequence of this fall in prices since 1926, wages have fallen by about £250,000 per week. We see, therefore, that this particular claim made by the Labour Party is an empty one. The purchasing power of the workers’ wages was not appreciably different under the two Governments; and in view of the fact that neither of them made any change in the economic organisation of the country, this is as we would expect. The change of Government had no more effect on wages than it had on the weather.

With regard to point number (2) regarding unemployment pay, it is interesting to recall that, under the Labour Government, owing to a tightening up of the administration, many thousands of unemployed workers were deprived of out-of-work pay.

As grants in aid of relief work for the year 1926 amounted to about £6,500,000 (Labour Year Book, p. 88) it would appear from point (3) that the Government has cut down that expenditure by about £3,250,000.

The Conservatives for political reasons broke off diplomatic relations with Russia; the Labour Party would resume them. From the Road Fund, £12,000,000 which might have provided a certain amount of employment on road repairs, has been allocated for other purposes. Sixthly, new taxes have been imposed on crockery, tobacco and matches amounting to a total of about £4,000,000 (Labour Bulletin, May, 1927).

The sugar tax amounts to less than £20 million and the tea tax less than £6 million. These the Labour Government would reduce or abolish. Adding together the various items mentioned, we find a grand total of £45 million which is the kernel of the dispute between Labour and Conservatives. It is assumed by the Labour Party that taxes are a burden on the workers and that they would gain from tax reduction. In fact, this is quite untrue. Even if we assume (which is not always or necessarily the case) that prices fall as taxes are reduced, the workers do not gain thereby, because wages fall correspondingly. In the Ministry of Labour Gazette (July) figures are published showing the movement of prices and wages from 1920 to 1927. Taking March in each year the following gives a rough comparison of the “average percentage increase in weekly full-time wages” and the “average percentage increase in cost of living”— both based on the 1914 level:—

As will be seen from this, during the first year wages and prices were both about 130 per cent. above the 1914 level. In 1921 and 1922 wages were ahead; in 1923, 1924 and 1925 prices were ahead; and in the last two years wages were slightly above the price level again. On the whole, wages followed prices fairly closely. The purchasing power of the workers remained almost constant. Remission of taxes, if it caused lower prices, would benefit not the workers but their employers, if prices remained the same, the manufacturers would benefit. If this were not so the employers and the manufacturers of the articles affected would not constantly be agitating for lowered taxes. Taxes are a burden on the propertied class. The struggle is an internal one, each group of capitalists trying to “pass it on” to another group. This is the non-working class issue on which the Labour Party concentrates its attention.

But let us put aside for the moment the question as to who pays the taxes. Let us suppose that this sum of £45 million is, as the Labour Party says, a burden on the workers. Still, the Labour Party deserve condemnation. They seek the support of the workers to fight out the question of this £45 million. It is the chief plank of the more permanent part of their programme. On it they fight tenaciously, but on the question which matters they are forever silent. The amount of unearned income, calculated for the purpose of the income tax is about £1,200 millions per year (The National Income, 1924, Bowley & Stamp, p. 47). The Labour Party will put up a strenuous fight for £45 millions, but have nothing to say about the £1,200 millions. They strain at the gnat and swallow the camel. The expenditure on unemployment pay and Poor Law Relief is less than £80 millions a year all told, yet in face of this £1,200 millions pocketed by non-wealth producers, the Labour Party can only charge the Conservatives with failure to spend a few millions on the unemployed.

The Socialist case is fundamentally different from that of the Labour Party, We point to the fact that out of the wealth annually produced by the workers a large proportion is retained and consumed by the employing class merely because they are property owners. Professor Clay states (“Manchester Guardian,” Feb. 19, 1925) that 94.5 per cent. of the population receive only 56 per cent. of the national income. This is due to the fact that the means of wealth production are privately owned. The same authority declares (“Daily News,” Aug. 2, 1927) that 76 per cent. of the population own only 7 per cent. of the capital of the country, while 6 per cent. own 81 per cent. of the capital. The workers are poor because of the existence of a wealthy class living by owning property. Our aim is to dispossess that class. The aim of the Labour Party is to dicker about a paltry £45 million. If every one of the points mentioned here were to be put into operation by a Labour Government, the workers would still be wage-earners, producing wealth for the propertied class. They would still be poor in the presence of the power to produce wealth in abundance. The choice for the workers is between Socialism and Capitalism. If they choose Capitalism, it matters little whether it is administered by Liberals, Conservatives or the Labour Party.
Edgar Hardcastle

Songs and Revolution. (1927)

From the September 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the course of our work as Socialist propagandists we frequently come in contact with people who appear to imagine that the bulwarks of capitalism will collapse as the result of much lusty singing of the “Red Flag.” No “Labour” meeting is considered a success unless this or some similar ditty is borne upon the night air, with or without orchestral accompaniment. What the arguments presented at such gathering’s lack in logic is amply made up for by vociferation. This attitude of mind recalls the legend of the Walls of Jericho falling before the blasts of the trumpets of the Children of Israel. In fact, idealism generally has its roots far back in the magic past, although it serves a very useful purpose to the capitalist class of the present day, as we shall endeavour to show.

The following is an extract from an article in the “Daily Chronicle” of July 20th entitled, “Music; the Life Force,” by Dr. Leigh Henry :
“The French Revolution was the outcome of a reaction in music.

When Rouget de Lisle wrote “La Marseillaise” he roused the people to such an inflammatory pitch that they rose in arms and overthrew their tyrants, only to create a greater and more powerful one; but it was a German, Theodore Korner, who brought about the downfall of Napoleon by going among his countrymen and singing to them old folk songs and poems of revolt which past generations had handed down.”
Dr. Leigh Henry may be an authority on musical forms, but his notions of history are laughable. He might as well ask us to believe that the War and the Allied victory in 1918 were due to the influence of “Mademoiselle from Armentiers,” or “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” ; but let us examine his illustration a little more closely.

The French Revolution resulted in the triumph of the Third Estate (or middle class) over the feudal nobility, with the monarch at their head. The convocation of the National Assembly, the imprisonment and eventual execution of the Royal Family, the war with Austria, and Europe generally, were simply events in the struggle for supremacy of the bankers, merchants, shopkeepers and manufacturers in the towns, assisted by the lawyers and by the peasantry in the country at large. As this, that, or the other section of the insurgent mass asserted itself, so group after group of leaders were pushed forward or thrust aside.

All the so-called great men of the epoch from Mirabeau to Napoleon were simply the tools, conscious or otherwise, of the rising class.

At this period, owing to the undeveloped state of French industry, the number of wage-workers in the country was comparatively small, and their political influence, such as it was, fell into the scale on the side of the capitalist revolutionaries. The peasants hankered after the land, and did in fact secure a greater degree of control than they had till then possessed; but the richest estates, including those of the clergy, were seized by the Government and auctioned off to the highest bidders. Thus the poor remained poor. Instead, however, of performing forced labour for the aristocrats, they commenced to slave to fill the pockets of the tax-gatherer and the usurers.

On this basis was erected the First Empire, and the problem of a bankrupt national exchequer was solved. No sooner had they dealt with their feudal enemies at home than the French capitalist class found themselves set upon by the remaining feudal monarchies of Middle and Eastern Europe and the capitalist government of Britain; the former feared the spread of the Revolution, the latter could hardly favour the rise of a new commercial competitor.

Conscription filled the armies of Napoleon as taxation filled his purse. Nevertheless he was idolised by the very peasantry who bled for his glory, both financially and physically.

The “Marseillaise,” which inflamed the imagination of the insurgent capitalists, became the National Anthem in the hour of their triumph, and in spite of temporary eclipses, still holds that place of “honour.”

That the German folk-songs assisted in stimulating the more simple-minded of the German peasants to enable their overlords to regain their lands and power from the hated upstart, Napoleon, may be granted; but the actual force which mobilised the German armies was the same pressure which every ruling class is in a position to bring to bear upon its slaves. In other words, the musical accompaniment of historical events plays a secondary part in determining their character.

The primary factor is the economic development of the society concerned.

The “Marseillaise” or “God save the King” would be quite unintelligible to the inhabitants of Central Africa or the South Sea Islands, owing to their totally different stage of development and mode of life, giving rise to different groups of ideas, including notions of musical taste and methods of expressing emotion.

Similarly, the barbarians celebrate birth, initiation, marriage, war, and death with rhythmic monotones which appear positively weird to the European. They may haunt him, but he would hardly describe them as melodious. The nearest approach to their effect is that of the Church chants, which are little more than modified survivals of the dirges droned out by the slaves in the catacombs of Rome. In the ancient and medieval worlds, music was practically inseparable from religion, first of the pagan, later of the Christian variety.

Even the lays of the troubadours combined profanity with mysticism; as the bloody sagas of the Norsemen would be incomplete without reference to the gods of Valhalla.

With the grand operatic masters of the 18th and 19th centuries a change is evident. From Mozart to Wagner they all exhibit the influence of the economic and political upheaval which characterised their age.

The rise of the capitalist class was reflected in the musical world by the triumph of the secular principle. The church choir gave way to the stage chorus, which provided an enhancing background for the efforts of individual vocalists.

The destruction of the old village life by modern industry spelt the death knell of the ballad and the folk-song. These mediaeval modes of expression have been supplanted by the music-hall ditty, while the negroes of America have avenged their enslaved ancestors by infecting their 100 per cent. American masters with jazz tunes and “spirituals.”

This interesting resurrection of the primitive seems to indicate that capitalism has reached the limits of originality in art, just as, on the economic plane, it condemns the masses to an ever-worsening standard of living. To avoid misunderstanding, the writer would add that, while jazz has much that can be said in its favour when compared with the stilted products of the Victorian epoch, it nevertheless represents a reaction rather than an advance. It is a symptom of the decay and break-up of the classical musical tradition, but it gives little indication of what will take its place.

The struggle of the working class for emancipation has yet to make its mark, but when it does it can hardly leave the dance-hall and the theatre as it finds them. As the workers acquire leisure, they will develop their critical faculties in other directions besides that of economics. When they enter freely into possession of the fruits of their labour, they will have something to make a song about. Till then, perhaps, we shall have to put up with the “International” and the “Red Flag.”
Eric Boden