Monday, May 23, 2022

The Knowledge (2011)

Book Review from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

So You Think You Know about Britain?’ By Danny Dorling. (Constable £8.99)
It is often argued that there are too many old people or too many immigrants in Britain, or simply too many people. In this informative and enlightening book, Danny Dorling subjects these and many other commonly-held beliefs to a thorough examination, with frequently-surprising conclusions.
The north–south divide has been moving gradually southwards, with more and more areas being categorised as part of the less well-off ‘north’; the dividing line in fact runs diagonally from the Humber to the Severn estuary. On average, if you live on the London side of the line your life expectancy is two years greater than otherwise. Life expectancy is also influenced by many other factors (extra years likely if your father worked in a non-manual occupation, if you have never smoked, if you eat fruit daily, if you have sex at least twice a week, for instance). The north–south divide is now wider than at any time since the 1920s, and is most graphically illustrated by the difference between how long a child born in the most affluent part of London is likely to live as opposed to one born in the poorest part of Glasgow (86.7 versus 74.3 years).
Women on average live longer than men, which is why Eastbourne, a popular retirement destination, has 87 men for every 100 women. In other cases, such as Glasgow, a comparable imbalance is caused by men either leaving the area or else dying before they reach retirement age. But women in their late twenties are the most likely to get into debt. And a recession leads to both an increase in emigration and a drop in birth rates, as people are less willing to start a family. 
Inequality has increased in various ways, with the incomes of the richest fifth of the population having grown at eight times the rate of the bottom fifth. By 2005, 27 percent of households could be classified as poor, living below the breadline. This poverty is largely geographically-based, but there are no ghettos, in the sense of districts almost exclusively the preserve of one ethnic or cultural group. Yet in England most children who live above the fourth floor in tower blocks are black or Asian.
Dorling is well aware that measuring things in terms of profit is not always sensible:
 “British roads, pavements and railway carriages could be far more comfortable places to travel on (and in) if we did not so often judge an activity as worthy only if it makes a profit. We don’t always do this, we don’t always seek only profit, otherwise none of us would have children.”
 This is reinforced by the discovery of the large numbers of unpaid carers, who ‘often visited others’ homes simply to help, for no monetary reward, and often for reasons other than family ties’. There are more carers in places with more people in need of care. So the view, often put forward by supporters of capitalism, that people will not work without being paid in return, is simply untrue. This book not only shows that many beliefs about Britain are wrong – it also discredits a common argument against socialism. 
Paul Bennett

To a Supporter of Capitalism (2011)

From the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of course the things we need to live will have to be produced by someone in socialism. The difference being that, in socialism, the means for producing and distributing these things will belong to us all. They will not be the possessions of a tiny minority of the world’s population. Moreover, our relationship to the means and instruments to this production and distribution will not be an alienated one. As we share in the productive and distributive efforts equally, we will share in the access to the same. As free and equal members of the human species.Anything wrong with that? Not from where I stand.
Capitalism, this society you seem so enamoured with, as in a Faustian otherworld, does not work for us, the majority.
Ever heard of the wealthy worrying about the price of energy, foodstuffs, housing, their kids’ futures, paying the bills, etc, etc, etc ad-nauseum? No.
Getting employment, keeping it? No.
Paying the mortgage, or possible mortgage rate rises. Or being penalised for under-occupancy of their homes if they happen to be recipients of what is laughingly called “the benefits” system?  No, didn’t think you had.
Moreover, what gives a minority of individuals the right of ownership, of the things that are necessary for us all to live? Things, such as oil, gas, coal, land that existed long before the ancestors of modern man, crawled from the primordial slime?
A minority of people today, claim ownership of these things and more and a whole structure of laws and law-enforcement, has grown, to protect the rights of this minority of social parasites. 95 percent or more of laws, are to protect private property, not the person, why?

It is so that this minority can retain their minority ownership, at the expense of the majority of other people.
You and others, support a system – capitalism – that is antithetical to the interests of yourselves, your families and indeed to the majority of mankind, without even knowing how this system works and in whose interests. Indeed, workers go as far as laying down their lives to perpetuate this insanity.
And you to try to preach about how good this system is?
Tell that to the 30 to 40,000 kids under five, who die every day, of starvation or directly attributable disease. 
The two billion of our fellow human beings who go to bed hungry every night.
The hundreds of millions who have no access to sanitation or clean water.
The hundreds of thousands of people, homeless, even in the so-called ‘civilised’ West, in sight of empty houses.
A society, where it is more profitable to let fields lie fallow, rather than produce crops for the starving.
A society that destroys food, to keep prices high, rather than feed people.
You want this insanity? You’ve got it, it’s called capitalism.
Steve Colborn

Fleecing the Flock (2011)

The Halo Halo! column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard 
Whether there is an Indian version of the Sunday Times rich list we don’t know but if there is you’re unlikely to find Lord Vishnu on it – even though the value of just some of his recently disclosed wealth is estimated at well over £12 billion.
You might imagine, considering the absolute poverty in India, that this would cause a certain amount of resentment but it doesn’t seem to have done. Lord Vishnu is very popular. What’s more, his method of accumulating wealth is entirely legal, tax free and doesn’t involve any risky re-investments of his capital. People just give him their money. So what’s his secret? Well Vishnu is no ordinary lord.
Lord Vishnu, you see, doesn’t actually exist. He’s a Hindu god. His treasure is real enough though. And the recent discovery of six vaults crammed full of gold, silver and precious stones resembles a fantasy story which could have come straight from the pages of the Arabian Nights.
Suspecting that the contents of the Padmanabha Swamy temple at Kerala, which contained the offerings made by devotees over the last 500 years, ought to be worth a bob or two, India’s supreme court ordered an inventory. What they found was a vast hoard estimated to be worth £12.6 billion; even before the last of the six secret vaults was opened. “All of Kerala is celebrating this extraordinary find,” said a temple official. And why not? Surely this could finance a few hospitals or schools at the very least?
However, as is always the case, the needs of the gods come before human needs. This windfall which appeared to have dropped literally from the lap of a god will probably be snatched, or rather handed, straight back to him. “It belongs to the Padmanabha Swarmy temple and will be preserved there,” said Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister, firmly rejecting the idea that it should be used for public benefit.
You have to hand it to religion – literally it seems. Unlike any other business, it simply convinces us to willingly hand over our money. Just to put it in context though, how does this act of generosity compare to the wealth given to some of the US TV evangelists by their gullible followers?
The vast Trinity Broadcasting Network run by Paul and Jan Crouch is said to be available on more than 3,200 television stations. It is also involved in religious movie production and owns a number of Christian theme parks.
According to Ministry Watch (an evangelical organisation which claims to review ministries for financial accountability and transparency) Trinity Broadcasting’s net assets are $ 859,188,000.

According to Crouch when you donate to Trinity Broadcasting you, in turn, receive a divine financial blessing. “When you give to God, you’re simply loaning to the Lord and he gives it right on back.”
A smaller outfit whose net assets are listed as a mere $62,118,000 is the Bible Broadcasting Network. And the list of multi-million dollar bible bashing factories goes on and on.
What’s that bit in the bible about it being better to give than to receive?

Cooking the Books: Debts and Doubts (2011)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The public sector union UNISON has provided its activists with briefing notes on the economic crisis, based on the illustrations used in a talk by Barry Kushner that can be found on YouTube.
He shares the illusion that the economy is a tool which governments can manipulate to ensure growth or more equality (or less equality) or whatever. In other words, he ignores the fact that the profit-motivated market economy that is capitalism is governed by economic laws which governments have to accept and apply if they don’t want to provoke an economic crisis.
This said, he does make some valid points about the scare stories about the National Debt put out by the present government to justify its austerity programme.
The National Debt is the government’s debt and has nothing to do with the debt of the individuals who make up the supposed “nation” (it is not the total of private debts). As such, it is better called the Government Debt (its official name is “Public Sector Net Debt”). Similarly, the Deficit is the government’s. It’s the difference between what it raises through taxes and what it spends, which it has to cover by borrowing. What it spends includes the interest it has to pay on the Government Debt.
“We are told,” says Kushner, “that our country was nearly bankrupt, that our debt payments are £120 million per day, that our debt is nearly £1 trillion” and quotes George Osborne as saying on the Andrew Marr show that “we were on the brink of bankruptcy” and another government statement that “our debt is higher than it’s ever been.”
The Government (not “our”) Debt is only higher than it’s ever been in nominal (face value) terms, only because £1 trillion today is not the same as £1 trillion in the past. Kushner points out that the usual way of measuring the level of the Debt is to compare it with Gross Domestic Product (basically the value of new wealth created in a year). At the moment, this ratio is around 60 percent. One of Kushner’s graphs shows Government Debt as a percentage of GDP from 1900 to 2010. From 1920 to 1960 it was consistently well over 100 percent; just after WW2 in 1945 it was 261 percent. In other countries it is much higher: 100 percent in the US, 200 percent in Japan
The government does not need to be in a position to pay off the whole Government Debt in one go. Since about 80 percent of GDP is made up of what people consume and what the government spends on essential services, 60 percent could not be devoted to repaying the Debt in one year without mass starvation. Most of the Debt is continually renewed as those lending the money to the government want to keep on receiving the interest.
Interest payments on the Government Debt are £120 million a day but, at £43.3 billion a year, this is less than 3 percent of GDP, which is easily affordable. Kushner points out that in 1981, under Thatcher, interest payments were in today’s money £174 million a day or over 5 percent of GDP, adding that we “didn’t hear talk of bankruptcy then”.  According to, “experts say that when interest payments reach about 12% of GDP then a government will likely default on its debt”. As just seen, the British government’s payments are nowhere near this figure. 
There never was any danger of bankruptcy. Osborne was just scaremongering to justify cutting government spending for other reasons. The cuts are being made to try to restore profitability. It’s because saying this openly would not go down well that the government has resorted to the scarce stories and lies about bankruptcy, unsustainable interest payments and the like.

Proper Gander: The pecking order (2011)

The Proper Gander column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The pecking order
If you’ve ever staggered home from the pub, you may have been lured inside a branch of Southern Fried Chicken looking for something to soak up the alcohol. While the fast food chain is profitable overseas, its two hundred British branches are failing financially. Concerned that the SFC “brand could be damaged”, its owner and managing director Andrew Withers has enlisted the help of Channel Four’s Undercover Boss. This programme films the directors of different organisations as they pretend to be shop-floor staff in their own businesses.
Disguised as ‘Jim’, Andrew spends a week in several of his outlets to learn why they have stopped bringing him much money. Predictably, he sees health and safety guidelines being breached because it would be too expensive or otherwise impractical for the franchises to follow them. But at the same time he’s impressed by the efforts of his staff, especially their speed and patience when dealing with their less sober customers. At the end of a late-night shift behind the counter, Andrew says “I didn’t realise the type of customers that come in to these restaurants”. If the owner of a fast food takeaway chain doesn’t realise that many of its punters will be the post-pub crowd, you have to wonder what planet he’s living on.
So, Undercover Boss has some worth by highlighting the gulf between the upper and lower ranks of a business. Normally, this distance means that the bosses don’t have to see how their decisions affect those at the foot of the corporate ladder. And these decisions often mean taking away people’s livelihoods, even if they are disguised by euphemisms like ‘restructuring’ or ‘modernisation’. So, when Andrew visits the struggling South Shields outlet his first thought is to withdraw SFC’s involvement and make a report to the Health and Safety executive. Then he is invited to the home of the family who runs the outlet, and realises how hard they work for little financial reward. He’s in a quandary, as his business instincts tell him that the outlet should close, but he also realises that this would ruin the lives of at least half a dozen people. Fortunately for his staff, Andrew has an epiphany and offers to invest in the branch. Whether he would have done the same without meeting them personally or having the cameras film his decision is anybody’s guess.
Mike Foster

Obituary: Thomas D'Arcy (2011)

Obituary from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard  

It is with regret that I have to record the death of a favourite old friend and comrade of mine Tommy D’Arcy. The first time I met Tom would be about 1957. At that time he was the secretary of the Glasgow Kelvingrove Branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. I used to go along to their weekly meetings in a comrade’s house and over the weeks of discussion I became convinced I should join the SPGB. During the questioning of applicants to the SPGB which every member has to endure Tom asked me this question: what in the applicant’s view is the difference between absolute and relative surplus value? Fortunately another member interjected and asked what is the questioners view? Tommy laughed. The rest of the branch laughed and I managed to join the Party. Years later he would laugh about his question on that day and say perhaps I wanted you all to be Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Tom has gone now and we must build on the foundation that he and his fellows built. A great guy, we miss him.
Richard Donnelly

Obituary: Henrietta Vallar (2011)

Obituary from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard  
Glasgow Branch are saddened to report the death of long serving member Henrietta Vallar. Henrietta, or Hetty as she was known, came from a socialist family. Her father and both her brothers were Party members and she herself joined the Party in 1953. Up until 2009 when she was overtaken by illness Hetty was a regular attender at branch meetings and was for many years the branch treasurer. She was a regular attender at the Party’s annual conferences and Autumn Delegate Meetings where she often served in the chair on those occasions. Hetty was never a public speaker or debater but she was a hard working regular attending member. It would be impossible to have a political party such as the Socialist Party of Great Britain without stalwart members such as Hetty. She will be sadly missed by all her comrades in Glasgow and elsewhere.
Richard Donnelly

50 Years Ago: The Zionist Movement (2011)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The State of Israel, now thirteen years old, has, by Jewish custom, come of age. It is timely, therefore, to attempt an assessment
The assumption underlying the Zionist movement was that to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” was the only way to end their age-old persecution, especially under the yoke of the Tsars. This closely mirrored the aspirations of other thwarted nationalities such as the Poles, the Czechs, the Finns and the like. There were, of course, workers who were taken up with this cause but very few of them prior to the first world-war. Cramped into a narrow strip of the vast Russian Empire, the Jewish millions lived almost entirely in the towns, where they formed the majority of the population. They were skilled and unskilled workers; some on the land, more in the factories and workshops; they were porters and cart drivers. Only a minority were merchants of any substance, bankers and factory owners. In this background it was the idea of Anarchism and Social-Democracy that gained the greatest acceptance. The Jewish Labour League, the Bund, which was affiliated to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had as its purpose Jewish cultural autonomy within a Social-Democratic Russia. They saw that on the principle of divide and rule the Tsars had actually fostered anti-semitism. They were convinced that the Jewish problem was a by-product of the private property system and would end with the end of that system. They did not think in terms of a return, to “the promised land” as a solution to their problems. Neither did the Anarchists.
(…) national ideals and political reality have never been compatible and never can be. True to form, the territorial demands of one set of Nationalists were diametrically opposed to the demands of the other set. The “solution” of the Jewish problem turned out to be its transference from Europe to the Middle-East.
(From the article “Ye Daughters of Israel Weep” by E.S.G., Socialist Standard, August 1961)

Looking Forward. The conflict in Perspective (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

What will be the outcome of the present war, is a question often asked, but seldom answered.

If we are to take a long view of the present conflict, several factors have to be borne in mind. These are—the capitalist nature of present-day society, the geographic factor, industrial power, the new factor, air power, and past developments viewed in perspective.

The capitalist nature of present-day society is a fact. No thinking person nowadays denies that we live in a capitalist era, where goods are produced for profit, where the worker is a mere instrument of production, a seller of labour-power, receiving in return for the expenditure of his energies a wage or salary which, with any allowances he may receive in the shape of free milk, allotments, free holidays, etc., is just about enough to keep him in that state of efficiency which will enable him to perform his work satisfactorily. Practically the whole mechanism of production is carried through by large combines, and these in turn are owned and controlled by often anonymous shareholders. The combine is brought into being as a rule in order to eliminate competition, thus London Transport, the monopolist London traffic combine, and United Dairies, which has now bought out most of the smaller dairies and occupies the dominant position in London and the outlying area. In passing, it should be noted, that it is the introduction of petrol and the development of road transport which has enabled the combine owners of huge petrol-driven milk wagons to obtain their monopolistic hold upon the market and to dictate their terms to the farmer-producers. After the last war there was a fierce struggle between the Shell, the B.P., Standard Oil, and others for the British petroleum market, but finally the smaller companies were forced into the combine, while Russian Oil Products was forced into surrendering a large portion of the market. Finally, B.P. and Shell amalgamated, and thus became the principal competitors of Standard Oil. Then the expensive competition between these two was eased by agreements on quotas, advertising, etc. These are given as examples of the evolutionary development inherent in capitalism to greater and still greater combines.

The mainspring of the economic basis of the modern State is, however, the heavy industry. In this country this is centred in Birmingham, where the ownership of many of the factories is vested in one family, and in the iron and steel mills of South Wales, where again the real ownership and control appears to be vested in very few hands. It is the countries of heavy industry which occupy the dominant place in the world struggle for markets and spheres of influence, as witness Germany, Great Britain and the U.S.A. Russia and Japan are latecomers on the scene, hardly developed as yet, while Japan is mainly a country of light industry—the material factors of heavy industry are wanting. France and Belgium are also heavy industry countries, but on a smaller scale.

Some time before the war, to obviate the intense competition between the two principal European competitors, an arrangement was come to between the iron and steel interests—an arrangement which all good capitalists make from time to time, in order to save the expense of competition and the limitation of profits thereby caused. Such arrangements, in general capitalist procedure, are often the prelude to a combine or amalgamation.

Occupying a slightly different field is the international combine known as Sofina, owning coal, gas, electricity and tramway undertakings in Europe (France, Spain, Belgium and Germany) and in North and South America. The chairman of the standing committee is an American, Dannie Heineman, while the other directors are of French, Belgian, British and Italian nationality. Of these, the Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna is also a director of the Canadian Pacific, the Midland Bank, etc.; Count Volpi, of Venice, is a director of the International Sleeping Car Co. and the Lincolnshire and Central Electric Supply Co., Ltd.; General Sir Hugh Elles is a director of the Pressed Steel Co., Ltd., while Sir Bernard Docker brings the story back to Birmingham with directorships of the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Co., Ltd., and the Birmingham Small Arms Co., Ltd. ; he is also a director of Guardian Assurance Co., Ltd., the Midland Bank, and Thos. Cook & Son, Ltd. The Guardian Assurance Co., Ltd., has a family relationship with the Times Publishing Co., Ltd., by means of the common directorship of the two companies of Mr. John Walter. Another director of Sofina, Lord Wigram, is also a director of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and of the Midland Bank. Of the Midland Bank’s directors, Lord Stamp is also a director of Imperial Chemical Industries, L.M.S. Railway, Abbey Road Building Society and the Bank of England. To come back to Sofina—the alliance between gas and electricity is worth noting—in many cases, both originate from coal. Also, when Belgium was invaded, the headquarters of the company was transferred, not to Germany, but to Great Britain.

The ownership of combines appears to be vested in thousands of private shareholders, but as anyone knows, who has inspected the share books of capitalist concerns, while large numbers of private investors hold five and ten shares each, the great bulk of the shares is often held by holding companies, insurance companies and bank nominees, so that the real owners and controllers, in the background can remain more or less anonymous. The Inland Revenue returns, however, disclose the real position. With the passing of each year the private incomes of the wealthy become greater, while the number of people of great wealth becomes smaller. One can almost visualise the eventual passing of the entire productive wealth of a country and its dependencies into the hands of one family or even one man.

Now taking a long look backwards, we find that Great Britain was at one time a country of warring tribes (not warring all the time, of course, the production of food, clothing and shelter was necessarily the principal preoccupation), and each tribe had its strong local patriotism. Such a thing as a United England, with a united English patriotism, could not have been conceived by the people of those times. But eventually—as it happened, by foreign invasion—England was united. Eventually Wales and Scotland were added to the unit. The same process had taken place upon the Continent. The feudal states of Italy were welded into the Italian state. The feudal states of Germany eventually recognised Prussian overlordship. Generally speaking, the principal European states which had now evolved were separated from one another by mountain ranges or sea or river barriers. The fact that within the areas thus enclosed, communication—roads and railways—was relatively easy, was one of the factors which brought about their cohesion as states. Is there any reason why this process of development should stop? We see none. And we see a new factor—the development of air transport and air power. The world has become relatively smaller. A country like Belgium can be traversed in about twenty minutes by air. In these circumstances, small land area units become a hindrance to development. Is it not logical that they should pass under the sway of and become merged in an adjoining land area unit of greater power by virtue of its greater heavy industry ?

For several centuries British policy has been based on the balance of power theory—never allow any power to become predominant on the Continent. Air power, however, has brought a new factor into the picture, and air power is still in the process of Development.

What in all this welter can be the interests of the U.S.A.? It is well known that a large amount of capital is invested by the U.S.A. in Great Britain and on the Continent. Read any speech by any American Government spokesman at, the present time, and .you will almost invariably find a reference to South America. Competition iri South America between British, German and U.S.A. interests is a well-known fact, but the, U.S.A. have been increasing their hold. The lease to them of British naval bases off the eastern, coast strengthens their position. Take a look at your map of the world, and it will be obvious that the greatest competitor which the U.S.A. could have to face in the near future would be a United States of Europe. This, and their capital investments in Europe, dictate their policy.

What of Russia, the land of bureaucratic state capitalism? Ideologically, there is very little difference between Russian “Communism” and German “National Socialism”—many of the German Nazis were recruited from the “Communists.” Were Germany to control Europe, it would not be long before she controlled Russia too. The distances which annihilated Napoleon will have small effect upon modern means of transport. Hence, despite the risk and the probable unwillingness of Stalin to go to war, it is likely that she will, before long, enter the arena. To be dangerously prophetic, one might visualise Europe split into two new land area units, with the line of demarcation at the Rhine—north of the Rhine, Russian Europe, south of the Rhine, British Europe.

How do all the local patriotisms fit into this picture? We have seen that tribal patriotism has given way to State patriotism. As the worker tends to confuse his interests with those of his master, we see no reason why there should not develop a new continental patriotism, after a short period of cohesion and propaganda. Such ideological slogans as “Communism,” “Fascism,” or “Democracy” already provide the groundwork of the new Continental patriotism.

To stretch the vision still further, but in line with the factors we have already mentioned, one can visualise the eventual combination of Europe and Asia (including India and Japan) into one vast Continental State—a similar process in the Americas—thus bringing about the final alignment of forces—the new world versus the old. And just as the industry of the national state is vested in very few hands, and as the tendency is for it to become vested in fewer hands, is it so fantastic to visualise the eventual ownership of the whole world by one family ? Even if capitalism were to develop to this point, there would still exist some workers who would say : “Ah well, you’ve got to have somebody in control—to tell us what to do.” It is safe to assume, however, that long before that time, capitalism will have demonstrated its oppressive nature to such an extent, that the great majority of the workers will be ripe and ready for Socialism.

To the worker these speculations are, of course, only a matter of academic interest. However capitalism settles, temporarily, its differences, the slave position of the worker can only be accentuated with the further development of capitalism. Whether in capitalist national State or capitalist Continent, he will still be a slave to the class which exploits him, he will still suffer from the poverty and its consequences which goes with that condition. The worker must concentrate his attention on the cause of his poverty, the capitalist nature of the world in which we live. Cause and cure go hand in hand—capitalism the cause, Socialism—-in the real meaning of the term—the remedy.

[The above article was written prior to the death of Lord Stamp.]

The Goal of the Class Conscious (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The conflict now raging has now reached a more serious stage, and the working-class, compelled by circumstances to fight the enemy of their masters, are naturally somewhat anxious regarding the duration, even though they may, in Britain, at least, have no misgivings in regard to the outcome of the fighting.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when our masters were not so much concerned about Democracy as they appear to be at present. For instance, when the Social Democrats of Vienna were shot down by Dollfuss at the command of Mussolini; the deed received the blessing, tacitly, of the ruling class of both Britain and France. There was no protest except a pious, hypocritical gesture. Surely, if any group of men ever sacrificed their lives in the interests of Democracy it was those of the Karl Marx Flats. The Social Democrats were not revolutionaries, but they believed in liberty. They offered to give their support to Dollfuss on condition that he would restore the Democratic Constitution. He refused because Mussolini, whose tool he was, wanted to get control of Austria ahead of the Nazis. Hitler out-manoeuvred them both, and Dollfuss was assassinated.

The events now taking place in Crete and the Atlantic are so breath-absorbing that we are not very observant in regard to what is happening in the profit-making sphere. The war is as exciting as a circus, and it may be to our advantage if we look at the actions of some of the wire-pullers behind the scenes.

The United States is in the picture just now and has recently unearthed a few interesting things by means of certain investigations made by the U.S. Department of Justice.

These have been condensed in an article from the pen of Albert H. Jenkins, which appeared in the Federationist (Vancouver, May 1st): —
“War or no war, Big Business men of all nations do business with each other “as usual,” regardless of the results to their own countries. That was proved by shocking disclosures after the last World War. It is being revealed again by sensational grand jury probes now being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

There are three of these investigations. First came the inquiry showing that the Mellon Aluminium Company of America’s tie-up with a German firm resulted in a serious shortage of aluminium and magnesium for aeroplanes and other defence needs of the country, while production of those strategic light metals went ahead by leaps and bounds in Germany.

Second is a probe of the drug industry, begun last July, and third, is an investigation of the chemical industry, begun this week by a grand jury in New York.

The facts which are being brought out show how American and foreign corporations got together to limit production and fix prices of important products the world around, by means of patents and secret agreements, with results harmful to the interests of the United States. These international combines include many other foreign firms beside those in Germany, but the latter are particularly significant because of war and defence developments.

The latest action by the grand jury was to subpoena the books of five companies—General Aniline, Sterling Products, Winthrop Chemical, Sobering and the Swiss Bank Corporation. The subpoenas also require these companies to give the jury full information about their relations and dealings with 100 other big concerns in the United States, Germany, England, France, Italy, South America and other countries.

Among these companies are such giants as duPont, Dow Chemical, American Cynamid, Lever Brothers, and practically all the other leading American and foreign drug and chemical corporations.

Grand juries do not disclose their findings until they make indictments, but some idea of what the Department of Justice officials are after can be obtained from their recent testimony before the Monopoly Committee and the House Appropriations and Patents Committees, where they were describing this probe and asking for more money to carry it on.

One of them, who was talking “off the record” and does not want his name mentioned, told the Appropriations Committee that “the German chemical trust has in this country eight affiliates, one of which is a $30,000,000 investment trust.”

Since the war shut Germany off from South American markets, he said, the German chemical companies are having American companies fill their orders from South American customers. The American products are “packed in such a way that they look like German stuff.”

Thus the American companies are handling the South American markets for the German concerns, so the latter can take back those markets after the war, despite the Roosevelt administration’s attempt to expand the U.S. trade with South America.

Moreover, he continued, the American chemical companies pay “millions of dollars a year” in patent royalties to the German concerns. Some of this money is being sent secretly to Germany, and much of it is sent to South America, where the Germans use it for “penetration” of South American countries.

In addition to the aluminium, magnesium, drug and chemical probes, the Justice Department is acting against similar “conspiracies” involving other products which are vital to national defence.

The situation on several of these other products was described at the same House Committee hearings. One case is “an agreement between the General Electric Company of the United States and Krupp, a big German trust.”

This agreement, the witness said, covers “tungsten carbide, the key to the whole German machine-tool industry. It is harder than diamond.” Because of the agreement. “Germany produces 20 times as much tungsten carbide as the United States.”
Another interesting item in the same paper indicates that Uncle Sam is not in full sympathy with Democracy everywhere. The prosecution of the Social Democrats of Germany in Spain could be stopped if the United States made an appropriate gesture. The following is worth noting: —
“The Mexican Government has protested strongly to Vichy against the violation of the agreement that Spanish refugees were to be protected by the French Government and permitted to emigrate to Mexico.

Undoubtedly there has been connivery with Franco, who is unwilling to allow Loyalist leaders to escape, because he is afraid that one day they will return and lead a revolt against him, and is hoping that ultimately France will deliver them over to his vengeance. Progressive Americans point out that Washington could help by refusing to send foodships to Vichy or to Madrid, unless those ships could carry back the refugees to Mexico.

The fate of anti-Nazi German refugees in France is not less tragic. Recently two able German intellectuals of the Social-Democratic Party who held high office in the Weimar Republic, Breitsheid and Hilferding, were handed over to the Germans by the Vichy Government; by this time they may be dead. No one will bemoan the fate of the capitalist Thyssen, through whose money Hitler came to power and who recently was handed over by Vichy and died in a concentration camp. The betrayal of the anti-Fascist refugees to their enemies is the lowest act that Vichy has committed.”
The ruling class of this and all other countries will endeavour to do their utmost to make the world safe for capitalism after the war. Their great new world is a profit world. But there is one thing they cannot do, and that is reconcile the contradictions the present system produces. These will become ever more glaring and ever more irreconcilable.

War Savings Weeks are a means of lowering the real wages of the class to which we belong: real wages are food, clothing and shelter; these are declining in quantity and quality.

We are told that our savings will help us tide over the trying period that will follow the cessation of hostilities. This means when unemployment comes you will be able to exist on what you couldn’t buy during the war.

There is one thing, however, the ruling class forget, and that is the increased knowledge that is being imbibed by those who live by selling their labour power. The wage slaves are not all asleep. The conversations one overhears in cars, in restaurants, on the job, in fact wherever workers are gathered together, induces one to conclude they will not readily go back to the bread line after the war.

This is as it should be. The material conditions have reached the stage when the present system of production is a fetter on production. A sure harbinger of a new, and, let us hope, a better form of society, in which there will be neither wage-slave nor capitalist, nor private property in the means of life. The Socialist has heretofore lacked encouragement, but he has builded better than he realised. The issue between the capitalist-class and the working-class has been kept clear, and moving circumstance has now brought into being those conditions which make Socialism practical politics. It is the only policy that unquestionably offers peace and plenty to all mankind. It is the only policy that can be advocated honestly and without equivocation. It is true. Its triumph is inevitable. Whatever its enemies attempt in another direction will be exposed as inadequate and harmful. The common ownership of the means of life and production solely for use is our goal. Those who ask for less condone exploitation and betray the class to which we belong.
Charles Lestor

The Overfed and the Under-nourished (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the headings “War Diet Makes Us Healthier” and “We Were Overfed,” the Evening Standard (May 6th, 1941) had the following: —
“Dietitians who used to urge the public to eat more fruit, to-day applauded the statement of Lord Horder that ‘there is nothing essential in fruit juices that cannot be obtained from vegetables.”
This prompts the question whether the dietitians are experts in diet or only experts in advertising.

Lower down in the article we are told that “so far, health reports show that our war-time diet privations do nothing but good.”

That some people were overfed before the war is undoubtedly true, but they were not to be found among the millions of wage-earners who were getting 50s. a week or thereabouts. It should not be forgotten that unchallenged inquiries before the war showed, in the words of the Manchester Guardian (February 17th, 1941), that “a third of our population is under-nourished.”

The Judgment of Joad (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

It is most lamentable that Socialists, in their long and arduous struggle to dispel working-class political ignorance, receive hindrance rather than help from those acclaimed by many as intellectual leaders. In April’s Socialist Standard we referred to the shortcomings of Mr. George Bernard Shaw on the subject of Socialism, and now we feel impelled to pass judgment on Dr. C. E. M. Joad. Writing in’ the New Statesman and Nation, for May 3rd last, in an article, “The Wheel Comes Full Circle (II),” he observes:
“It is one of my most profoundly held convictions that the methods for the achievement of Socialism which have been fashionable during the last twenty years . . . can be productive of no good thing.”
He accordingly welcomes the “renewed intrusion of ethical concepts into political and more particularly into socialist, political thinking,” and one of his conclusions is that “there is a definite relation between Socialism, as my generation were brought up to understand it, and the values of ethics and the virtues of Christianity.”

Let us make it clear to Dr. Joad, that if his concept of Socialism be accepted by the rest of his generation, then neither he nor they were brought up to understand it, and, as evidence, let us quote again from his article :
“In my last article I described the conceptions which have increasingly dominated Communists, and we may add Socialists—for what Socialism has there been in England during the last twenty years, save that of Communism?—in the period between the two wars. And now again there is a change. John Strachey writes a book which appeals to faith in the name of love. . .”
With absolute confidence we defy Dr. Joad, or anyone else, to prove, (a) that the Communist Party has even been Socialist; (b) that Mr. John Strachey has even been a Socialist; (c) that there has at any time been a Socialist organisation in this country other than the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Let us offer Dr. Joad further information regarding Socialism, so that he may know that the hope for humanity lies there, and there alone, and not in those doctrines he falsely conceives to be Socialist, nor yet in the Christian approach.

Dr. Joad argues that “Socialist” methods are fallacious because one cannot “be sufficiently sure one is right to justify one in the infliction of untold suffering in the present to make straight the way of the future,” and because human beings are corrupted by power. We share his aversion from the “authoritarian dogmatism” of these methods; but they have nothing to do with Socialism, neither has “the ordering and ruling of human beings.” Socialism cannot be till society consciously desires it. Violence will not achieve it, and consequently there will be no need of power to impose it.

Regarding his suggested alternative, Dr. Joad mentions without a trace of rebuke the Oxford Union tenet, that an essential condition of world reconstruction is a “return to God through organised religion.” (Italics ours.) Does he not realise that the State, instrument of man’s oppression by man, was even in early times essentially theistic, and that organised religion—including such as the Catholic overlords of Spanish workers and the Church of England landlords of London slums—is a potent factor in that oppression ? What, one may well ask, has this to do with “love, kindliness, respect for the individual” ?

Assuming Dr. Joad really means Christianity, then we may reply that while Socialism will be the practical realisation of “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (whereas capitalism is its antithesis), yet the Christian belief leads men not only to seek salvation apart from this earth, but also to feel that the patient endurance of hardship will speed that salvation. It contends, too, that if man is to have material emancipation here, it must be consequent upon his moral reform.

Particularly apposite is Dr. Joad’s comment that the record of two thousand years of ethical incentives to the betterment of society “is not encouraging.” He tries to argue away this point. Fails. Gladiatorial games and duelling have gone, yet the slaughter of man by man is surely more prevalent in the world than ever before. Wars may be condemned, but the condemnation is generally utilitarian rather than principled. No longer is there persecution for witchcraft; yet in its place we have widespread maltreatment of the workers who struggle for a better world.

Concluding his plea for ethical considerations, Dr. Joad states: “I do not think the appeal to moral values is always futile.” Let him observe that war and other capitalist evils which beset us are invariably bound up with appeals to moral values.

We strive for Socialism—common ownership and democratic control of the means of life—not because it is moral, ethical, virtuous, or seemingly eligible for any other relative abstract description, but because it is a scientifically demonstrable social and economic necessity.
Richard Tatham

Press Cuttings (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

German people bow in deep reverence to the Almighty, who has so visibly given us in this year His blessing. He knows we are waging this war for a better world, and that we are fighting for the happiness of mankind. (Dr. Goebbels to the German troops. Manchester Guardian January 1st, 1941.)

God Almighty will not desert those who, threatened by a world, are determined to help themselves with bold hearts. (Hitler, ditto.)

Millions of British hearts hold to the conviction that God will not deliver us over to the powers of evil. They remember how the National Day of Prayer last May was followed by the Miracle of Dunkirk. (Daily Mail,  January 1st, 1941.)

Tit-bits from the Capitalist Stewpot (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

What Mr. Ford thinks.
“Making his annual visit to his plantation here (in Georgia), Mr. Henry Ford again gave expression to his peculiar view of the war, saying that the United States should supply both sides until they collapsed.

Voicing the ‘sincere hope’ that neither side would win, he declared that the suggestion that Germany might one day attack the United States was ‘pure nonsense—a hoax with the sole purpose of getting us into the war.’

‘There is no righteousness in either cause,’ said Mr. Ford. ‘Both are motivated by the same evil impulse, which is greed’.”—(Daily Telegraph, February 17th, 1941.)
Mr. Ford should know something about capitalist greed, for in times of depression he has been quite unscrupulous in discharging workers or putting them on half-time. And to supply both sides—at a profit—is that not also greed ?

* * *

Rowton Houses make a Dividend.

People who think of Rowton Houses as philanthropic institutions, providing cheap beds for extra-poor workers, may have had a shock on reading in The Times (April i7th, 1941) that for 1940 a net profit of £5,455 was made, permitting a dividend of 4 per cent. This compares unfavourably with the previous year, when a £14,621 profit enabled a 4 per cent, tax free dividend to be declared. Though Rowton Houses have evidently been hit by the war, it is clear that there are still plenty of people who are too poor to be able to afford more luxurious accommodation.

* * *

Business in the Far East.

Despite an all-embracing censorship, company reports are still worth reading, and that of the Hong-kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (The Times, March 26th, 1941) is of particular interest. We quote the following extracts: —
“In view of their bearing on exchange and trade balances, I should here mention the various credits and loans which China has received during the year from foreign sources. Detailed particulars have not been made public, but you must be aware that such loans were made chiefly for political reasons. The published announcement dealing with the most recent of the United States loans showed that the donors were desirous that ‘arrangements for purposes of monetary protection and management’ [the words actually used] should be completed. That is satisfactory so far as it goes, but that is all the information which is at present available.”

“As regards Japan, recent regulations issued there seem to be designed to restrict or to drive foreign banks out of business altogether in the same way as banks in Manchuria have already been restricted and, in some cases, driven out. The position awaits further clarification, but in the meantime we have notified our diplomatic authorities, as their intervention seems to be the only action now possible. I will, therefore, say no more about this, nor will I deal with trade in Japan, since it is now under very comprehensive Governmental control.”

* * *

The “Classical” Doctrine.

Writing from Berlin six months before the start of the war, the French Ambassador, M. Coulondre, is quoted as stating, in a despatch to M. Bonnet, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs: —
“In other words, will the F├╝hrer be tempted to return to the idea expressed by the author of ‘Mein Kampf’ which, be it said, is identical with the classic doctrine held by the German General Staff, according to which Germany cannot accomplish her high destiny in the East until France has been crushed and, as a consequence, Britain reduced to impotence on the Continent?—(French Yellow Book, Hutchinson, page 91.)

* * *

A Baron’s Romance.

The Star (March 7th, 1941) reports the interesting case of a wealthy baron who induced a young woman to live with him on the understanding that if she did so, he would further her stage ambitions. She was about 18 at the time, and at first refused, so then the baron lived with a more complaisant lady. The young woman, however, subsequently changed her mind, and the union was a fruitful one. The really interesting point about his case, however, is that the newspaper report refers to it as a “romance.” If an affair on somewhat similar lines had occurred in a lower strata of society, we can imagine that it may well have been described in less rosy terms.

* * *

Paint white—Paint black.

For some reason known only to themselves, Graham and Gillies, the advertising agents, republished in The Times (March 1st, 1941) and other papers an advertisement issued by J. Hatchard, of Piccadilly, in 1805, when Bonaparte, not Hitler, was the enemy. The advertisement takes the form of a supposed dialogue between John Bull and Boney. Space forbids us to quote the advertisement in full, but after implying that John Bull wished to remain at peace and that Bonaparte was an enemy of the liberty of the Press and of religion, the dialogue continued : —
John Bull: Why have you suffered your soldiers to burn so many towns, shed so much innocent blood, destroy cottages as well as palaces so indiscriminately, murder in cold blood thousands of poor men, and ravish thousands of poor women in Italy, in Egypt, in Syria, and lately in Hanover?

Bonaparte: Foolish again, John. I did not merely suffer it—I encouraged it. My object has always been to strike terror. I don’t mince matters. Witness the deliberate massacre of four thousand Turks at Jaffa, who were my prisoners; and my poisoning several hundred of my own soldiers, who were of no use to me.”
To say the least of this advertisement, it is surely a rather indelicate compliment to General de Gaulle and the “Free French Forces.”
R. M.

Notes by the Way: Starvation as an Incentive. (1941)

The Notes by the Way Column from the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Starvation as an Incentive.

Correspondence has been going on in The Times as to whether it is possible to run industry without the profit motive. One contributor, Sir Francis Lindley, maintained that the great majority of the human race, when not enslaved, have worked for profit. To which Mr. Julian Huxley replied, pointing out (April 29th, 1941) that “the great majority of men in primitive societies worked for subsistence, and in advanced societies for wages or salaries.”

Some remarks made recently by Mr. Bevin, Minister of Labour, have bearing on this capitalist illusion that workers work because of the prospect of making a profit. Speaking in the House of Commons on April 2nd, Mr. Bevin referred to an M.P. who had said that industry relies on the power of dismissal to maintain discipline. Then he continued : —
“What does that mean ? It means that there is an economic drive on the workman to work, the ability to force your will on another by the imposition of starvation, which inculcates fear and resentment in the other man’s mind. That means that the basic condition upon which your system is run has been starvation or the ability to make another citizen unemployed. Well, that has meant war.”
Speaking on the same subject in a broadcast to America, reported in the Daily Herald (April 26th, 1941), he claimed that experience had shown that an improvement takes place when the threat of the sack is removed: —
“A factor that is becoming apparent is you get better discipline and loyalty with fear of dismissal removed than you do by the threat of it.”
If this improvement can take place under existing conditions, it is an indication of what would be possible when, under Socialism, production is carried on solely for the common good.

The Sunday Express (March 30th, 1941) published a story showing the capacity of the workers to carry on production in the absence of the employer. The latter, an Italian, was interned for nine months, and while he was away ‘his British employees have been running his factory admirably.’ The absent employer, who has not yet been permitted to visit his factory, received a letter from his 200 employees assuring him ‘that they would carry on in my interests until I was able to take charge again.'”

He remarks: “They have done magnificently.”

* * * *

Why the Workers Save

The Times (April 21st 1941) published an article based on first-hand knowledge of the workers’ attitude towards the Government savings campaign. The writer comments on the fact that many workers save in order to be able to face the anticipated depression after the war. “A majority of the working-class expect hard times after the war,” he writes, and quotes a Bradford weaver, who said : —
“I think there’ll be a big slump. I was in t’last slump; it was a terrible time. People didn’t save anything. I was always telling them, if it’s only two or three shillings, don’t spend more than you need. If it’s anything like the last, God help them.”
The naive writer of the article is rather surprised to learn that the attitude of the workers towards saving is not like that of the capitalist: —
“It is only in a very few instances that a working man is putting by money as a form of capital accumulation, which will eventually enable him to invest in property or become a small trader. Most often saving is a form of insurance against known contingencies : marriage, sickness, death, unemployment, old age, hard times . . . even at the poverty level families frequently save, at the expense of their elementary subsistence needs . . . ”—(The Times, April 21st, 1941.)
In short, the capitalist saves out of his superfluity in order to accumulate capital; the worker saves out of his insufficiency in order to protect himself against capitalism and the capitalist.

* * * *

Re-assuring the U.S.A.

One of the questions Mr. Wendell Willkie kept asking while in this country was: “Is it true England is going Red?” The answers he received must have convinced him that he had been somewhat misinformed.—(News-Chronicle, February 25th, 1941.)

“To suggest Britain will go Communist, Socialist or Totalitarian, is fantastic.”—Lord Halifax (News-Chronicle, April 4th, 1941).

* * * *

Catholicism and the Social Order

In a letter to the Manchester Guardian (May I7th, 1941), a director of the Catholic Social Guild summarised the declarations made by the Papacy on social problems. He stated that it is 50 years since Pope Leo XIII protested against the maldistribution of wealth by which “a few very rich men lay upon the labouring poor a yoke little better than slavery.” Leo, and later on Pius XI, “laid the blame on economic liberalism and opportunist politics by which social and political relationships were divorced from morality.”

The Catholic Church nowadays, while condemning socialism, also condemns capitalism, and makes the claim that the Catholic proposals are a practicable and superior alternative. It is a fair criticism to point out that within the half-century since Leo’s declaration there have been long periods during which professedly Catholic governments have ruled over predominantly Catholic countries. Spain and Italy are two examples. Can it be said that these countries have been In any way superior to other capitalist countries from the standpoint of social relationship? The Catholic authorities in those countries did not get rid of capitalism and did not rescue the labouring poor from their yoke of slavery to the rich. Indeed, some at least of the Italian and Spanish workers have gained the impression that the Catholic Church was as much interested in maintaining’ capitalism as any of the non-Catholic governments.

As for the point about political relationship being based on morality, it is interesting to see The Times (March 1st, 1941) stating that the late King Alfonso of Spain, and the Spanish Dictator General Primo de Rivera—both of them Catholics—”had undoubtedly violated the Constitution of the Realm, and their enemies made a particular point of the fact that King Alfonso had broken his oath to respect it.”
Edgar Hardcastle

Honest writing . . . (1941)

From the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
“He held that honest writing needed not to carry, and could not carry, any weight but the weight of the argument, to the validity of which the name of the arguer could add nothing.”—(Thomas Barnes, Editor of The Times, early in the 19th century.—The Times, May 7th, 1941.)

Voice From The Back: We also tell lies (1998)

The Voice From The Back Column from the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

We also tell lies

First we set you free. Now we set new standards. Total freedom. A state rarely achieved and much sought after. For some it’s symbolised by the vastness of the ocean. For others, it’s the call of the open road. At Mazda it’s a guiding philosophy. Which is why we were the only car company . . . After all, nothing should stand between you and total freedom. Advertisement.

Capitalism’s realities

Russia’s foreign debt stood at more than £78 billion in January. Rescheduling delayed repayment until this year, and in 2003 Moscow is due to start paying back the billions borrowed by the Soviet Union. The backlog of unpaid wages has grown inexorably. The private sector owes employees £5.7 billion, while the state sector owes £700 million in wages. The backlog of pensions in both sectors has reached £8.8 billion. Meanwhile, the popular daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported yesterday that the presidential administration was secretly spending millions of pounds on an exclusive leisure centre—including indoor tennis courts, weights and a sauna—inside the Kremlin. Guardian, 2 April.

In case you wondered . . .

. . . the latest initiative from [French Prime Minister] Jospin is a true piece of backward-thinking madness—a proposed 35-hour week to be introduced by 2000. Jospin promises it will ease rocketing unemployment, but it is more likely to exacerbate the problem by hurting the competitiveness of French companies. “The notion of reducing unemployment through a shorter week is just farcical,” says Rob Hayward, senior economist at Bank of America in London. Financial Mail on Sunday, 19 April.

Death merchants

A report by Oxfam singles out Britain as a key player in the small-arms market, exporting to more than 100 countries in the past two years. Despite obsessive official secrecy, it has identified at least 120 British companies involved in the trade. The call for tough controls coincides with threats by the United States to block the export to Britain of more than 14,000 handguns which it believes are to be re-exported to war zones or used in organised crime. In the past year the government has sanctioned at least 11 small-arms export licences to Kenya and at least 20 to Turkey, Oxfam says. In 1995, it estimates, about three-quarters of African countries importing small arms from Britain were suffering political violence and other conflicts. Licences for small arms cover a wide category of weapons, including machine guns, mortars, grenades, shoulder-launched rockets and “chemical irritant” weapons. Guardian, 23 April.

Capitalism needs drugs

In Birmingham there are estimated to be around 22,000 men who are depressed, finding it difficult to motivate themselves to carry on with work, or maintain relationship with their family. But a new prescription anti-depressant drug called Edionax which works on replacing a substance in the brain called noradrenaline is offering new hope. Evening Mail, 24 April.

Drugs make profits

The government is attempting to block a Brussels move to cut the price of medicines. Its motive is to protect the multi-billion-pound profits earned by the UK’s drugs industry. Lord Simon, Minister for trade and Competitiveness in Europe, will defend Britain’s drugmakers at a key meeting of trade ministers that he is chairing next month. He fears that relaxing drug price controls in the European Union would unleash a flood of cheap imports into Britain from southern Europe, slashing profits for UK drug companies . . . It would bring down the prices that the National Health Service pays for pharmaceuticals to the cheaper levels of Spain and Italy. Financial Mail on Sunday, 26 April.

Inherently unstable

In the 10 months since the Asian economic crisis first burst on us, Asian governments have so far managed to contain the anger of their peoples. The crisis itself, and the measures which the West and the world’s financial institutions insisted were necessary to deal with it, have brought bankruptcy, unemployment, and privation on a large scale to societies which only a little time ago thought they had joined the ranks of the world’s winners. How, with the first deaths in Indonesian rioting, which had until now kept this side of serious street violence, and with the confrontation between government and labour in South Korea, a period of increased danger has obviously begun. Guardian, 7 May.

Doing time

BBC researchers in London are looking for three Birmingham volunteers to help make a TV programme about time . . . BBC researcher Mick Conefrey said: “We are interested in people who would be willing to try out time management techniques. People often say there isn’t enough time in the day but now there are people who say ‘yes there is’ and they will show you how to use it.” Mr Conefrey said that American companies were “really obsessed” with time management techniques. British firms were now becoming interested, he added. Evening Mail, 8 May.

How succinct!

We’re meant to accept that in this post-communist (or, as I prefer to think of it, pre-communist) world nothing comes for free, and everything has its price. Julie Burchill, Guardian Weekend, 28 February.

Editorial: Ireland—is it all over? (1998)

Editorial from the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

A wit once claimed that he asked an Ulster Unionist if it was true that the political vocabulary of Unionism was confined to the word “no!” The angry Unionist replied "no. it isn’t!" But before and since the referenda on the Good Friday Agreement the word “democracy” has been peddled so much by Paisley and the hard-line unionists as their justification for opposing the Agreement that it could now be thought to have taken over from the bitter "no!" which covered the policy of all the Unionist parties for three decades.

It should be explained that "democracy” to the Unionists traditionally means that the state of Northern Ireland, tortuously carved out by the British government in 1921 to ensure protestant hegemony, contains about 20 percent more protestants than catholics, which according to the Unionist interpretation of democracy—should allow the former absolute and total political control over the latter. Whatever else, the Agreement demonstrated that the Unionist majority now doubts that this particular definition of democracy is a truly sustainable one.

Appeals to higher authorities and principles than the hatred, violence and competition that have characterised Northern Irish politics have not been confined to the Unionists though. Despite its image, the IRA has always had a moral and legal formula which it claimed gave it the right of a national army to wage war in defence of the Irish Republic. The Republic, in the IRA's view, was established in 1916 at the outset of the Easter Rising and given a mandate by the majority vote of the people of the entire island of Ireland in the elections of 1918—the last time such an all-Ireland election was held. This theory served as a moral platform for the IRA, a Catholic organisation whose individual members are normally obedient to the strictures of their church. Now, for the first time since 1918, the all-Ireland referenda showed an 85.46 per cent vote in favour of the Agreement and thus removed the quasi-moral and legal contention that has supported the argument for Irish nationalist violence.

Not that anyone can be sure that the violence has really ended or that the life of the working class in Northern Ireland is going to hugely improve. The referenda proved that the majority do not want violence but then again, the majority have never wanted violence. The real test applies as ever to the paramilitary groups on both sides, now ever more entwined in more "conventional” forms of illegality, from protection rackets to drug-dealing.

The dispute in Northern Ireland has always, at root, been a turf war. Whether this continues in the form it has previously taken we shall see. But one thing is for sure—until such competitive turf wars have ended there can be no guarantee of a peace worthy of the name in Ireland or, for that matter, any of the other “trouble-spots" which pepper the political map of world capitalism.

Letter: A vanguardist writes (1998)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

A vanguardist writes

Dear Editors,

With reference to the February 1998 issue of your journal, most modestly I want to raise a few questions on the articles published on “The Communist Manifesto” written by Lew Higgins and Gwynn Thomas respectively.

(1) fails to trace the historical background of the Communist Manifesto and at the time of the Communist League. Both were mainly the product of the Chartist movement. It is implicit in Marx’s realisation that “the proletarian movement is the independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of immense majority” which has been expressed in the manifesto.

(2) Based on this false premise, Higgins has arrived at a false hypothesis that “the Manifesto was written with Germany in mind”. Whereas the Manifesto has been working as guideline for Communist Parties of the World for the last 150 years, he further writes that it was written for a particular organisation with particular purpose. This is not only unjustifiable, but also it is a biased opinion that tends to misinterpret the Manifesto.

(3) In the concluding part, Higgins has found out six ideas of the Manifesto valid for the 21st century. But in the second point he appears to make one believe that Marx wants to replace the class society through democracy. This idea has also been expressed in another place of the article. But, if one looks at the fourth point, one will find that the change must be brought about by revolutionary political action of the working class. Both the points put together may lead to the idea that Marx’s views were contradictory. But the fact is that Higgins’s views are rather contradictory.

(4) That communism must be world-wide as the system it replaces, i.e. capitalism, is world-wide is a fact, as maintained in the third point; but simultaneously it is also true that the proletariat of one country can not wait for their unprepared counterparts outside their own territorial limit and postpone their struggle even if the conditions in their country are favourable for them. That is why the Manifesto rightly states that proletariat of one country must battle against the bourgeoisie of their own country. The line can not be ignored.

(5) In the penultimate point, Higgins observes that the revolution must be brought about by the majority of the working class, not a minority. The idea is not merely contrary to the science of dialectics that the forces of progress or development, though minority at present, must emerge as the winner, it is also subjective. In order to negate the fact that the November Revolution of 1917 was a socialist revolution and, that though a minority, the working class was in a position to lead the revolution, the notion has been placed. That there may be different phases of Socialist Revolution, as happened in China, has also been deliberately ignored by the author. The attempt is highly condemnable.

(6) The last point as it is written appears to be contradictory in itself. It is beyond my knowledge, if the Communists are being the most organised and political section of the proletariat, why they cannot be the vanguard of the working class. It is almost like the views of anarchist Bakunin.

The less said about the article by G. Thomas, the better. In the very beginning of para 2 under the sub-heading “From Capitalism to Socialism” he writes “. . . Socialist Revolution must be world-wide and cannot be achieved in one country alone”. Marx, while expressing such a view in the Manifesto, also observes, as I wrote earlier that the proletariat of a country has to win the battle with the bourgeoisie of that country at first. Thus the view observed by Thomas is misleading, such view is that of Trotsky, who whatever may he be, was not a Marxist.

In the penultimate sentence of the same paragraph he writes “The Bolsheviks had no possibility of introducing Socialism.” I personally do not agree with the view because I think, though a minority, the proletariat can be and had become the vanguard. The basis of my views is the science of dialectics (as mentioned earlier) which, I suppose, has been ignored in this respect.

From the two articles, it has appeared in my mind that, in the name of Socialism, the World Socialist Party, if it represents the views expressed in them, is a mere petty bourgeois party. It preaches the petty-bourgeois view in the name of Socialism. And that’s why the Socialist Standard does not deserve any attraction for me.
Prof Sakiranjan Basu, 
Bishnupur, India

1. The article did give a paragraph on the historical background to the Manifesto. The Chartist movement did have an influence on the Communist League, though it is an exaggeration to say the League and Manifesto were both “mainly the product of the Chartist movement”.

2. The article did say that the Manifesto was written with Germany in mind, “though not exclusively”. The article also did say that in the final section of the Manifesto we can read that in 1848 “Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution”. So the Manifesto was written for a particular organisation with particular purposes, such as the measures for a bourgeois-democratic revolution at the end of the second section. You offer no evidence for your claim that this is unjustifiable, biased and a misinterpretation. But if necessary we can provide plenty of evidence that the so-called Communist Parties of the world have consistently misinterpreted the Manifesto.

3. In the concluding part of the article, the second point refers to the replacement of class society with a democratic society. Nevertheless, it is true that this must be brought about democratically, for as the Manifesto pointed out “the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, which is the struggle of democracy”. You appear to think that democratic political action cannot be revolutionary. Or perhaps you think revolution is synonymous with minority violence and so cannot be democratic? Marx thought a socialist revolution must involve the working class in a democratic struggle. So do we, and the force of numbers means the revolution can be peaceful. We and our comrades in India and elsewhere are living proof of democratic revolutionary political action for socialism.

4. You are right that the Manifesto says the working class must defeat the capitalist class of their own country. That is why we are organised as a political party. It is why we and our companion parties around the world are working for the democratic capture of state power and the replacement of international capitalism with world socialism. However, you would be wrong in supposing that one country alone could throw off capitalism under a global capitalist system of society. The Manifesto does not suggest it and the 150 years since have shown that it was right not to.

5. The working class struggle for socialism, as you note in (1), “is the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority” (Communist Manifesto). You now say this is contrary to “the science of dialectics” and subjective because the minority must emerge as the winner. You offer the experiences of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, where the working class was a minority of the population in both cases. But this is the dialectical opposite of what Marx argued. Socialism is not possible in one country, especially a semi-feudal country with an overwhelmingly peasant population, where only a minority of the working class supported those who falsely called themselves Communists.

6. There can be no socialism without socialists. Socialism, which can only be democratic world, must be brought about democratically. This point should become obvious if you think about it. Democracy rules out leadership and self-appointed vanguards. Socialists who know what they want and how to get it do not need leaders to tell them what to do.

The capture of power has to be done on a state-by-state basis because this is the way political power is structured in the world today. As the Manifesto pointed out, it will first be necessary for the working class of a country to win the struggle of democracy over the capitalists in that country. But this does not mean that there can be socialism in one country. Nor does it mean that we can expect the workers of one country to be ready for socialism while the rest of the world lags behind. The idea of world socialism cannot be confined to one country.

You disagree with our argument that the Bolsheviks could not introduce socialism because it is your personal view that the working class had become the vanguard. Again you base this on “the science of dialectics”, whatever you may mean by this.—Editors.