Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Will Family Allowances Cure Poverty? (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the last war perhaps the most popular reform proposal and one that was most attractive to the workers was the plan to have a national minimum wage below which no worker should be paid. The Labour Party supported it and the Independent Labour Party carried on much propaganda for a more elaborate scheme called “The Living Income.” It lost its popularity particularly after the Labour Government would have nothing to do with it. Now its place has been taken by the growing popularity of “family allowances,” the payment of grants by employers or the State to help support the children of working class families. Since it is popularised in the form of an addition to existing wages it has a specious attractiveness. Every mother who thinks that she will have more to spend on her children is inclined to support the scheme. Indeed it may be conceded that if it were introduced at least some families with a very small income might be better off, at least for a time. But what of the wider aspects ? Will it raise or help to raise the working class as a whole out of poverty ? Will it even be a permanent gain for those who are better off at first ? Will it mean an addition to the wages of the working class or only a redistribution of the total amount of wages among the workers, so that some gain and others lose? Will it strengthen the trade union efforts of the workers in their struggle against the employers or will it weaken them by setting the married against the single ?

We can get an answer from the actual experience of capitalism and from the more candid admissions of the advocates of the scheme.

The broad answer is that any change which lowers the cost of living for the workers immediately produces a tendency for wages to come down accordingly and experience of family allowance schemes show that they are no exception. Vibart in his “Family Allowances in Practice” quotes the statements of continental trade union officials based on their experience. He writes : —
“All these statements tend to suggest that the allowances have been and are regarded as a part of labour’s remuneration and that the idea of “more allowance, less wage,” was familiar to many of the employers and was carried into practice by some of them.”
Mr. L. Ross, of the Australian Labour Party, using the experience of family allowances in Australia, wrote that—
“The new South Wales Scheme instead of redistributing wealth actually meant a reshuffling of wages between single and married men”.—(Socialist Review, December, 1928.)
When the advocates of family allowances gave evidence before the Royal Commission on the Civil Service in London in 1930 they were quite prepared to consider providing the allowances “by a small reduction in the salaries either of men or women.” The question Socialists would put to all of the advocates of family allowances is this: If the object of the allowances is to abolish the poverty of a section of the workers, as it is claimed to be, and since Socialism alone will abolish poverty entirely, why are they opposed to Socialism? To the workers in general we say : “Which do you prefer, capitalism plus the palliative of family allowances or Socialism under which all such palliatives will be unnecessary ?”

Mr. Keynes Goes to the Bank of England (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news that Mr. J. M. Keynes, the “rebel against financial orthodoxy,” has become a director of the Bank of England and may in due course become governor when Mr. Montague Norman retires, inspires great hopes among his admirers in the Labour Party, but it will not cause even the slightest flutter of excitement among Socialists. His admirers may congratulate themselves at his appointment because he opposed the return to the gold standard in 1925 and advocated “unorthodox” proposals such as a managed currency and State control of interest rates, but they should remember his own words: “My trouble has been that orthodoxy has always caught up with me.” In other words, his quarrel with the administrators of capitalist finance has always been at bottom that they did not know their job properly, and should take some tips from him. He has never been concerned with our job of getting rid of capitalism.

It will be recalled that Mr. Keynes was active early in the war with his scheme for “compulsory savings,” the idea being that a proportion of every wage should be deducted and paid to the Government for war expenditure, and that the amount should be repaid after the war. The scheme is now applied in a modified form to income tax payments, part of which will be returned later on. Mr. Keynes may claim to have provided the Government with a shrewd scheme for the painless extraction of part of wages but it would be interesting if he could be induced to explain exactly how the workers are going to get it back after the war. Of course they will receive the money, but what exactly will be the real result in terms of work and articles of consumption ?

The first point to notice is that the labour and materials which go into shells and bombs and guns and are destroyed in the war no longer exist. They cannot be brought back. So that if, during wartime, the workers spend only part of their wages on food, clothing, etc., and forego other consumption in order that shells may be produced and destroyed they have in effect and for the time being suffered a reduction of wages.

But, say Mr. Keynes and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what the workers have given up during the war will be made up to them afterwards. In other words if, during a war a nominal wage of say £5 a week was reduced to £4 a week, a nominal wage of £4 after the war will be brought up to £5 by these payments. (These figures are not actual ones but are merely taken for illustration.) But after the war (as always) it will be the working class who will be producing the articles which all the nation consumes. Then (as always) the wealth the workers produce will belong to the capitalist class, and what the workers get out of the total will be their wages. If they are to get a larger amount it can be in two ways, either by reducing the share that goes to the propertied class or by working harder and producing a larger total. Remembering what happened after the last war (the great “work harder, produce more” campaign, carried on by the Government and by a group of Labour leaders and economists) we may well anticipate that the workers will be told that the great destruction of the war has to be made good and will be asked to provide their own “bonuses” by working harder. If they don’t, they will certainly be told by employers that there isn’t enough to go round and wages must be reduced. Do Mr. Keynes and the Government intend to rack their brains finding some cast-iron scheme for preventing wages from being reduced (and prices from rising), and for preventing employers from dismissing workers, in short a scheme for forcing an all-round reduction of the wealth of the propertied class in order to raise the standard of living of the workers?

An illustration may help to show the essence of the matter. There was once a tenant who worked some acres of land on condition that he surrendered half his crop to the landlord. Then came war and the landlord said we shall each have to hand over some of our share to feed the troops, but your loss will be put right for you later on. When later on came, the landlord said, “Now that the destruction of the war has to be made good, I am afraid I still can’t let you have more than half the crop, but the promise will be kept. You shall have a larger amount, for I will let you work harder and produce a, bigger crop. Thus your half will be larger and you will be repaid for what you gave up.” And the tenant, while not very clear about the matter, had a feeling that there was something wrong somewhere.

It would certainly be interesting to have the shrewd Mr. Keynes explain the second part of the trick of turning your butter into guns and getting the butter back afterwards.
P. S.

The S.L.P. and the Formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920 (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard 

In a long and angry statement headed ‘The ‘Truthful’ S.P.G.B.” the Socialist, organ of the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain, charges us with downright lying in the following passage which appeared in the Socialist Standard of July, 1941, in the article, “A Comparison” : —
“Mention must be made, also, of one of the most remarkable developments of the post-war world, viz., the formation of the Communist Party, by the fusion of the British Socialist Party, Workers’ Socialist Federation, South Wales Socialist Society, and the Socialist Labour Party.”
The gist of the complaint made by the Socialist is that the above statement is untrue, and that the writer of it could easily have verified the facts if he had wanted to do so. In particular the Socialist says:—
“Never in the whole of its history has the Socialist Labour Party fused, united, federated nor anything of the sort with any other Party whatsoever. It has never had the slightest association with the C.P.G.B. except that of antagonist. It has never even had under consideration any question of fusion with the Communist Party.”
The writer adds that the statement published in the Socialist Standard is also false as regards the other organisations mentioned. He states that there were three bodies formed calling themselves the Communist Party: —
“The first Communist Party (for there have been several) was formed by the unity of the Workers’ Socialist Federation with the South Wales Socialist Society under the patronage of Sylvia Pankhurst and Eden and Cedar Paul. It contained no member of the S.L.P. and so far as records go, not even an ex-member of the Party. Some time later the next Communist Party was formed consisting of the B.S.P. together with some odds and ends from various quarters, amongst which were some ex-members who had been thrown out of the S.L.P. earlier, and also some ex-members of the S.P.G.B.

At the time the above events took place, the present Communist Party was as yet unborn. The C.P.G.B. was the third Communist Party to be formed.”
Now as far as we are concerned the only question that matters is the actual facts of the case, and if these are to be arrived at the writer in the Socialist could have helped by being less heated and abusive and by giving the full facts himself. As it is he leaves unexplained the circumstances surrounding the formation of the third Communist Party, the one now in existence. Also, although he several times says that the facts could easily have been verified he does not say where this could have been done and does not mention that the statement made in the Socialist Standard, though possibly inaccurate, is an account which has been accepted and has found its way into print in a number of quarters.

For example, Mr. Allen Hutt, a Communist writer, in his “The Post-War History of the British Working Class,” says: —
“At a convention in London over the week-end of July 31st-August 1st, 1920, the C.P.G.B. was formed as a fusion of the B.S.P. with the main part of the S.L.P. and with the South Wales Socialist Society.” —(Page 53.)
Similarly, Mr. G. D. H. Cole, in the Encyclopædia Britannica (Twelfth Edition, Vol. 32, 1922) says of the S.L.P. that
“Most of its more active members, however, passed over to the Communist Party in 1920”.—(Page 507.)
These two gentlemen may of course be mistaken and we certainly do not question the statement that neither the S.L.P. nor any other organisation can be held responsible for the actions of its ex-members.

To put the matter in proper order we suggest that the Socialist might usefully deal with Mr. Hutt’s assertion that “the main part of the S.L.P.” entered the Communist Party. If the Editor of the Socialist likes to send a brief letter containing his version of the facts we shall, of course, be willing to publish it.
Editorial Committee.

From the “Socialist Standard,” Sept. and Oct. 1904 (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Standard is now in its 38th year of publication, the first issue being published in September, 1904. That is a long time in the history of the Socialist movement, long enough for many popular and instructive movements and events to have been forgotten. For the information of our readers and in order to encourage an interest in these forgotten events it is proposed each month to publish brief extracts from early issues of the Socialist Standard. The extracts below are taken from the two issues, September, 1904, and October, 1904: —

1. From our first editorial: —

“In dealing with all questions affecting the welfare of the working-class our standpoint will be frankly revolutionary. We shall show that the misery, the poverty, and the degradation caused by capitalism grows far more rapidly than does the enacting of palliative legislation for its removal. The adequate alleviation of these ills can be brought about only by a political party having Socialism for its object. So long as the powers of administration are controlled by the capitalist class so long can that class render nugatory any legislation they consider to unduly favour the workers.”—(S.S., September, 1904.)

2. “Coventry Cycle Trade: Female Wage-Slaves Oust Males.”

“More men are out of work in Coventry at present than for many years past, having been displaced by female employees, who have even been set to work upon small capstan lathes and wheel building. . . . The amount of unskilled male labour in the cycle trade has been reduced to a few hands. The skilled mechanics are now feeling the pinch, many having been out of work all this year. . . Girl’s average wage is 15s., and as the watch and silk trades have greatly fallen off, girls are plentiful.” (From a newspaper, August 31st, 1904, reproduced in S.S., September, 1904.)

3. “The Bogey of the Taxes.”

“Whether he is living in a country whose fiscal policy is based on Free Trade or in one in which it is based on Protection; whether the country is highly taxed or otherwise; whether the district he lives in is highly rated or the reverse, makes little difference; the worker finds that whatever of the above conditions he may be under, a subsistence is all that upon an average he obtains.” (S.S., October, 1904.)

4. “The Futility of Reform.”

“We have, therefore, to recognise all the time that it is only possible to secure any real benefit for the people when the people themselves become class conscious, when behind the Socialists in Parliament and on other bodies there stands a solid phalanx of men clear in their knowledge of Socialism and clear in their knowledge that the only way to secure the Socialist Commonwealth of the future is to depend only upon the efforts of themselves and those who have the same class conscious opinions. Therefore we have no palliative programme. The only palliative we shall ever secure is the Socialist society of the future gained by fighting uncompromisingly at all times and in every season.”—(S.S., October, 1904.)

5. The Increase of Lunacy.

“According to the Daily Express, it is an unpleasant and appalling fact that lunacy is steadily increasing in England and Wales, and it is startling to find that whereas one person in every 327 was certified as insane in 1894, the figures for 1904 are one in 288. But to the Socialist there is nothing startling in the fact. As the struggle for existence becomes more intense, as we speed up, as the raging, tearing, hurrying and scurrying possess us, and as the position of the worker becomes more precarious, we must expect that the mental equilibrium will be disturbed.”—(S.S., October, 1904.)

(The position appears to have worsened since 1904. According to the Statistical Abstract, 1939, the number of persons registered as insane in England and Wales in 1938 was 157,353, equivalent to one person in every 263. Expressing the figures in another way, out of every 10,000 of the population the number registered as insane was 33 in 1894, 35 in 1905, 37 in 1914. In 1920 it had declined to 31, but since then it has steadily risen until in 1938 it was 38 in every 10,000 of the population.)

Unity After The War. The Repeal of the Trade Disputes Act (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a recent pronouncement, “The War and the Peace,” which was adopted at the last Labour Party Annual Conference, the Labour Party outlines its views on reconstruction after the war. It is based on an assumption which all experience shows to be an illusion, the assumption that the struggle between the classes will be absent after the war. It states that “war has taught us that without Socialist principles there can be no security,” and in another passage it assumes that there is agreement between the capitalists and the workers about reconstruction: —
“We note that all classes in our society, as at no time in our history, are united to assure to ordinary men and women the full implications of that victory for Freedom and Democracy for which we are fighting.”
If we bring these two passages together and ask if war has really taught the Conservative Party and its supporters that Socialism is a necessity, the answer is obvious.

We do not need to wait till the war is over to see that the defenders of capitalism have not changed their aim or their methods. Reference was made in these columns recently to an article in the Sunday Dispatch (June 8th, 1941) by Mr. F. C. Hooper, “one of the biggest business men in the Midlands and North.” The article was called “The Cranks who want to Change Britain,” and its one argument is that in the main pre-war Britain was all right and should not be changed. A similar view appears in an appeal for funds issued by Sir Thomas Barlow, Treasurer of the Manchester Conservative and Unionist Association, reproduced in the Daily Herald (August 27th, 1941). Sir Thomas takes the Labour Party to task for seeming to have the idea “that the war is being fought to save trade unionism,” and goes on to insist that “the fundamental rights of freedom and particularly of private ownership must be maintained in any new order of society, and there can be no surer safeguard of this than a strong and virile Conservative Party emerging from the war.”

So while it is true that all kinds of people may agree on the loose phrase “victory for freedom and democracy,” when it comes to translating the phrase into concrete terms Sir Thomas Barlow means no interference with private property.

How little the war-time suspension of the party conflict really means in relation to reconstruction is shown further by the fact that the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party have each set up their own committee to consider and make recommendations on reconstruction. If there were really unity why the separate committees?

A test case is the question of the repeal of the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 which imposed restrictions on trade unions. The Prime Minister has told the T.U.C. that any change must wait until after the war because a request for the repeal or even modification of the Act would start a discussion that would hamper the war effort (Daily Herald, September 4th, 1941)
Meetings are at present taking place of representatives of the Conservative Party and representatives of the T.U.C. to consider possible amendments of the Act, but the Daily Telegraph (September 16th) reports that “feeling against concessions is growing among Conservative M.P.s, who will watch the progress of the talks closely.” It is worth recalling in this matter that the present legal position of the trade unions as a result of the 1927 Act is worse than it was before the last war in spite of similar prophecies of social unity that were made by the Labour Party while that war was in progress.
P. S

Tit-Bits from the Press (1941)

From the October 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

The American Navy.
“When the day of Hitler’s defeat comes, sea-power will again be dominant, and the centre of it will not be in London but in Washington, D.C. Never again will we permit even the British to excel us in sea-power.”—(From a speech by Mr. Knox, Secretary to the U.S. Navy, quoted in Life, March 10th, 1941.)
* * * *

One Suit since the War.

Lord Dulverton, chairman of the Imperial Tobacco Company, is quoted in the Daily Telegraph, of July 15th, as stating that he had bought only one new suit of clothes since the war broke out. If the non-purchase of suits is a measure of patriotism, the writer of these notes can score one off Lord Dulverton, because he hasn’t bought a single suit since the war started. In his case, however, the reason is different. He couldn’t afford it.

Cooking the Books: Is Russia imperialist? (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

It certainly used to be. As the so-called USSR, Russia had an empire that included large parts of Europe and Central Asia. With its defeat in the Cold War, Russia lost not only its empire in Europe but, when the USSR self-destructed, its empire in Central Asia too. However, the fact that Russia no longer has an empire does not mean that it no longer harbours expansionist ambitions.

According to leaflets handed out by assorted ‘Tankies’, Maoists and Trotskyists in London on May Day, Russia is not an imperialist country. But that’s because they adhere to Lenin’s particular theory of imperialism.

In his 1920 Preface to the French and German editions of his 1917 pamphlet, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin writes:
‘Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan)…’
His theory, one of the leaflets explained, treats
‘imperialism as a global phenomenon of the leading capitalist powers whose great financial houses, allied to their transnational corporations, seek to dominate, exploit, and rob the whole planet. The imperialist powers exploit not only their own working class but the working class in the semi colonies of the global south, bankrupting their industries and reducing their economies to suppliers of raw materials and primary products to the metropolitan markets. The booty thus won is used to buy off an aristocracy of labour via the trade union bureaucracy…’
‘Neither Russia nor China are imperialist powers, they are not integrated into the IMF and World Bank and cannot extract surplus value from the global south in that way, even if China in particular aspires to do so’ (Socialist Fight).
Another leaflet openly concedes that, nevertheless, Russia is capitalist:
‘Although Russia has been a capitalist state since 1991 it is not an imperialist power in its own right… Russia is not part of the “imperialist club” but a relatively backward, dependent capitalist economy.’
So, on this theory, the world is divided into ‘imperialist’ capitalist states, ‘non-imperialist’ capitalist states and the semi-colonial global South. The first make super-profits from exploiting the last while the non-imperialist capitalist states only make average profits because they are not in a position to exploit the global South, only their own working class.

Where this rather tortuous argumentation is leading to is a justification for supporting Russia in its current war with NATO and Ukraine. ‘Imperialist hands off Russia!’, ‘For the right of Russia to defend itself against imperialist encroachment!’, the leaflets proclaim.

Besides being a flagrant departure from the socialist position that there is nothing at stake in wars between capitalist states justifying the loss of a single drop of working class blood, this also has the perverse result of justifying supporting Germany in WW2 since it too was a capitalist state that did not then directly benefit from colonial plunder (even if it aspired to), was excluded from the international payments system (then based on gold), and was surrounded by hostile imperialist states.

Imperialism, in the sense of capitalist states struggling amongst each other to acquire, keep and control sources of raw materials, trade routes, investment outlets and markets with the strongest in military terms doing best, is not an entirely misleading concept, but it is a product of capitalism. It doesn’t make sense to divide capitalist states into ‘imperialist’ and ‘non-imperialist’ – and even less to take the side of the weaker against the strongest – as all of them are involved in the game.

Ukraine: whose side are we on? (2022)

From the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been following opinion pieces and subsequent heated correspondence as responses to the war in Ukraine through the online columns of left wing/supposedly socialist publications. As schismatic as ever, the authors adopt a political redoubt firmly buttressed by their personal interpretations founded on Leninist thinking.

In essence there are two positions with a wide variety of nuances. One is that Ukraine is being subjected to nationalist, possibly imperialist, aggression by Russia. The invasion and indiscriminate shelling and bombing of Ukrainian cities is damning evidence of this.

The counter-argument appears to be that by allowing itself to become a proxy for NATO’s anti-Russian imperialist ambitions, Ukraine has become subject to an essentially defensive Russian response. Claims of Nazi influence in the Ukrainian state are based on references to the Azov Battalion. The Azov Battalion does sport the Wolfsangel insignia, previously adopted by divisions of the Waffen-SS. In June 2014 the battalion (re)captured Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists and actual Russian forces. There lies the justification the Russian state employs.

Those adopting a sympathetic view of the Russian position, even if condemning the brutality of its methods, insist the real cause is provocation by NATO. Certainly, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has indeed closed in around Russia’s borders, which to an extent explains a response of sorts, without in any way justifying it.

The media, as ever in such bellicose situations, simplifies the cause as being the unreasoned, even lunatic, ambitions of one man. Single-handedly he brings his nation into armed confrontation with the essentially peaceable alliance that only desires international security.

This, arguably, is the Hitler fallacy. Firstly, identify the dictator – Saddam Hussain/Vladimir Putin – make references to the former German Führer and Nazis, then launch an actual or proxy military response to bring him down. In 1914, it had been the Kaiser.

The moral high ground adopted by the USA, Britain et al, justifying the supply of armaments to Ukraine requires political amnesia. It is less than 20 years since these paragons of virtue were launching bombardments of Iraqi cities with the inevitably high death toll of civilians.

The reality is that war is organised slaughter, surgical strikes are a lie and collateral damage is the premeditated killing of children, amongst so many other non-combatants. It is competitive capitalism in its bloodiest garb.

Those on the other side who seek to justify Russian action to a greater or lesser extent resort to the largely ad-hominem argument of guilt by association. If you don’t lend support, even qualified support, to Russia then you are, by default, somehow supporting NATO. This remains so even if you condemn both sides.

NATO is the imperialist tool of the world hegemon, the USA, so those who resist it are by definition anti-imperialist and require understanding at least, not condemnation, or so goes the argument. Those who position themselves on the left, but condemn Russia, are supposedly social-imperialists.

Taking an active pro-Ukraine stance against Russian aggression is to become a perhaps unwary ally of a virulent nationalism. The history of nationalism around Russia, Ukraine, Poland and other neighbouring states is murky and bleak.

Present borders have been drawn by the forming and reforming of states throughout the twentieth century. The conflict between the state capitalism created by the Russian revolution and the more laissez-faire version (with varying levels of state involvement) in the West has been the driver of these reformations.

The present war in Ukraine is another episode in the on-going rivalry between capitalist formations. Wars are usually portrayed as discrete and almost self-contained between set dates: World War One 1914 to 1918, World War Two 1939 to 1945, Cold War (with hotspots) 1945 to 1989/90-ish.

Just as the Hundred Years War was not a continuous battle, but a series of armed encounters, so there is one protracted dissonance endemic to capitalism caused by competition. It is a feature of capitalism in its ceaseless pursuit of profit. It cannot be otherwise for as long as capitalism exists.

Supporting one side or another, however critically, is actually only selecting which capitalist formation to favour. In the Hundred Years War, choosing either France or England would have done nothing to change the underlying feudal order, only which king sits on the throne.

In all the articles we have read that employed a great deal of polemical invective, there have been very few references to the working class. Those who self-identify as socialists must surely come to recognise that no nation, or group of nations, acts, or can act in the interests of the working class. Workers’ role, as ever, is that great capitalist tradition of being cannon fodder, with civilians as mere collateral subject to damage.

To say otherwise is a non-sequitur, like asking which is most beneficial for the working class, Ford or Nissan? Nationalism, however it expresses itself, is inimical to the interests of the working class. Even when paused between armed conflicts, nations only value peace while it is profitable.

The tragedy of Ukraine is that workers have again been drawn into killing each other at the behest of others, those few who profit. In Britain the Ukrainian flag is being commonly flown. There is an understandable sympathy for those under near incessant bombardment, and exemplary generosity in trying to help refugees from the battlegrounds.

The irony is that while national flags continue to fly war will be perpetuated. Until workers generally look beyond the heart-rending media portrayals of the present war to see that it is virtually identical to all the other news coverage of war wherever it happens, whoever is involved, then even if this conflict is resolved, that’s only another pause before the next one.

Anyone who doubts that capitalism is the root cause of war should consider that every bullet and shard of shrapnel, and the weapons that fired them, are commodities like baked beans, hybrid cars or movies on Netflix, manufactured and supplied for profit.

While well-meaning people organise coffee mornings and collections to raise a few hundred pounds to help desperate refugees fleeing the conflict, munitions manufacturers are making billions from creating the conditions people are trying to escape from, killing those who don’t or can’t run.

Whose side are we on? The side of the vast majority of people, the ones who create the world’s wealth only for a significant proportion of it to be destroyed killing those self-same workers. The side not to be taken is either one of the combatants.

A worldwide truly democratic and leaderless society based on meeting people’s needs and collaborative working is the only way the surely common aspiration for peace can be realised. The working class needs to harness its sympathy and efforts on behalf of those enduring the privations of war and transform them into focused action to vanquish capitalism. Then the competition, that all too readily becomes armed competition, can be replaced with co-operation.
Dave Alton

Proper Gander: Getting over the horizon (2022)

The Proper Gander TV column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The story of the many wrongful convictions of Post Office staff for theft, false accounting and fraud is like a checklist of the ways in which capitalism creates and then exacerbates problems for people. Apart from how the shameful saga could only happen in a money-based society, it also illustrates how minority ownership of organisations, employment contracts, commercial interests and the law all maintain a system which protects the rich at the expense of the workers. While some of the staff have finally had their convictions overturned, this can’t replace the years of worry, stigmatisation and financial ruin or time spent in prison.

For its recent documentary The Post Office Scandal (BBC One), Panorama uncovered new evidence about what led up to the prosecutions and interviewed Post Office staff, campaigners, lawyers and investigators caught up in what the programme’s website calls ‘the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British legal history’.

While the Post Office is a private company owned by the state, nearly all its branches are run as franchises or businesses by sub-postmasters/mistresses. There is a clause in their contracts which stipulates that any money missing from their branch’s accounts is their responsibility. So, when their accounting IT system started telling them there should be more cash in the branch account, many terrified SPMs used their own money (often getting into debt) to fill the gaps, hoping the books would balance later. When discrepancies kept appearing, the accusations began.

Between 1999 and 2015 there were 706 convictions of Post Office staff with the common factor of the Horizon accounting system, used in every branch. The government contract to develop this system’s software was won by IT company Fujitsu, whose bid came bottom in seven out of 11 categories of criteria for a decent system, and was also the cheapest. Suspicions that Horizon wasn’t dependable began soon after it was installed, with complaints made by branch staff which didn’t lead to any action. It took many years for concerns to gain momentum, hampered by various tactics of senior Post Office and Fujitsu staff, such as denials to those accused that there were similar cases elsewhere, suppressing details of how Horizon was operating and turning down requests for it to be reviewed. A Post Office report from 2010 unearthed by Panorama said that ‘any perception that the Post Office doubts its own systems would mean that all criminal prosecutions would have to be stayed’, meaning that senior management knew there was a problem, but they still carried on making prosecutions.

Organisations which bring private prosecutions to court tend to use external firms to gather and present evidence. Because of its origins as a ‘public body’, the Post Office retains internal investigators and lawyers to conduct the prosecution of its workers, combining the roles of victim, detective and prosecutor. This means that those involved have a particular vested interest in aiming for an outcome which benefits the organisation. An email between Post Office lawyers regarding the 2010 trial of sub-postmistress Rubbina Shaneen accessed by Panorama said that ‘it is absolutely vital that we win, as a failure could bring down the whole Royal Mail system’. When shown a copy of this, Rubbina, who was sent to prison after being found guilty of false accounting, said ‘Just to save the Horizon computer they destroyed my reputation and my life’. The Post Office was happy to let people assume that there had been a wave of criminality among its staff rather than admit there were faults with its computer system.

Doubts about Horizon became more vocal with the publication of Computer Weekly magazine’s exposé of the scandal, the formation of the Justice For Sub-Postmasters Alliance campaign group, questions from MPs, and forensic accountants from independent firm Second Sight being brought in to investigate.

Senior managers at the Post Office were keen for Second Sight’s work to be stalled. Gina Griffiths, the widow of Martin, a postmaster who ended his life following accusations against him, agreed to a financial settlement from the Post Office with a requirement that she withdraw from Second Sight’s investigation. To limit the damage to itself, the Post Office also formed sub-committee Project Sparrow, which included an unnamed government representative. One of the MPs involved in challenging the Post Office, Lord Arbuthnot, admits that the government was probably complicit in the decision to sack Second Sight. Their investigations got as far as hearings, where the Post Office’s then-CEO Paula Vennells squirmed when challenged about why it wasn’t cooperating with requests for information. In 2015, the Post Office ended Second Sight’s investigation and ordered its work to be destroyed. One of the documents the Post Office wanted to keep to itself concerned legal advice warning that convictions may be unsound. New prosecutions ceased, but for hundreds of Post Office staff, the damage had been done.

In 2019, the Justice For Sub-Postmasters Alliance challenged the Post Office in the High Court. Two years later, the first convictions were quashed, with the Court of Appeal saying ‘that the failures of investigation and disclosure were so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the Horizon cases an affront to the conscience of the court’ ( The conclusion to be drawn is that the Post Office knew that Horizon was unreliable, and in trying to cover this up it abused the criminal justice system to defend its brand. It’s issued a grovelling apology and compensation payments of up to £100,000 to the 73 people whose convictions have been overturned so far. Not mentioned in Panorama’s documentary is how the Court of Appeal has only quashed convictions when the Post Office hasn’t objected to this and has dismissed the cases which the Post Office has opposed ( For journalist Nick Wallis, this suggests that the Appeal Court hasn’t grasped the scale of Horizon’s unreliability, which the Post Office has downplayed all along. The Post Office’s unusual status of having internal prosecutors also contributed to the extent of the scandal, but there’s nothing unusual about its eagerness to protect itself as a money-maker over supporting its workers. This won’t change even if senior staff are held to account or the Post Office is eventually reformed as a result of the public enquiry which is now underway.
Mike Foster

Party News: Local Election results (2022)

Party News from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

We made no apology for raising the nature of the present world economic system – capitalism – in a local election. Local councils have to run things inside the framework of capitalism and that restricts what they can do. They are also restricted in that most of their money comes from central government.

The priority under capitalism is profit-making. Having to respect this priority means that what the central government can make available for local social services and amenities takes second place. That’s why they are never as good as they should be, in spite of the efforts and promises of the other parties. Capitalism simply cannot be made to work for the benefit of all. Only a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources can do that.

The results in the two wards we contested were:

Lambeth, Clapham East ward (2 members): Leigh (Lab) 1,127; Collins (Lab) 1,073; Hattersley (Green) 411; Williams (LD) 224; Freeman (Con) 215; Hindson (Con) 193; Cranney (TUSC) 38; Lambert (Socialist) 31.

Tunbridge Wells, Pantiles & St Mark’s ward: Barras (LD) 1386; Delman (Con) 715; Hurst (Green) 132; Blackmore (Lab) 130; Kennedy (Socialist) 11.

Bird’s Eye View: Memory hole (2022)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Memory hole

‘The Russian Education Ministry has announced plans that will require children as young as seven to study history, as part of a wider push to promote “patriotic” education amid the war in Ukraine. “Historical education will begin in schools from the first grade,” Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said at the opening of an exhibition called Everyday Nazism which is due to be shown at a nationwide schools forum, The Power is in the Truth. “[In our teaching of history], we will never allow it [to be written] that we somehow treated other nations – our fraternal nations of Ukraine and Belarus – poorly. We will do everything in our power so that historical memory is preserved.” The plans will lower the age of children taking compulsory history lessons by three years, and will see historical education incorporated into existing parts of the school curriculum. Kravtsov also said that from Sept. 1, schools will start each week by singing the Russian national anthem and raising the Russian flag’ (, 19 April).

As George Orwell warned, those who control the past can control the present. Putin long ago joined the ranks of dictators for whom ‘yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree’ —a power Orwell attributed in 1942 to Franco, Hitler and Stalin. If an event in the past is no longer regarded as useful to the authorities all reference to it is destroyed. A people who cannot remember where they used to be are in no position to challenge where they are now. Historically controlled, the present is something that workers come to accept as an unquestionable normality. Orwell was not merely inventing nightmares. In Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia the deletion from the record of history of disruptive facts was a carefully organised campaign.


‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce… Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living’ (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx, 1852,

Mazda Majidi and Derek Ford ‘s recent article titled ‘Clarifying and inspiring revolution for 130 years: Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme‘ (, 2 April) is both tragic and farcical. The Gotha programme was drawn up to unite the two sections of the German working class movement, the General Association of German Workers, and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. They combined to form the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany at the Gotha Congress in 1875. The Critique of the Gotha Programme consisted of marginal comments made by Marx on the draft of this party programme. The Critique remains popular among those who worship certain dead dictators or their modern counterparts because Marx refers to a transitional period between capitalism and communism (socialism) and to another between an early and a later stage of communism during which there will not be full distribution according to needs. As the authors remark, the ‘..Critique was a key resource for Lenin’s study and publication of The State and Revolution. Lenin expanded on the transition between the first and second stages of communism and justified the dictatorship of the proletariat.’ But as Marx notes in Critique just after dealing with the transitional period ‘… to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but now have become obsolete verbal rubbish’ ( seems apt for other notions which we would do well throw in the dusbin of history and are found aplenty, alas, on, including imperialism, Marxism-Leninism, national liberation, socialism with Chinese, Cuban, etc characteristics, and workers’ states.

Big Brother

‘Future society will be socialist society. This also means that with the abolition of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour power, for employers and employed—there will be only free workers… Where there are no classes, where there are neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, there is no need also for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently, in socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power’ (Anarchism or Socialism? 1906,

Ironically, the author of this piece would thirty years later, in a complete volte-face, declare the USSR to be socialist. That same year, on the 28th August, Pravda proclaimed him divine: ‘O Great Stalin, O Leader of the Peoples,Thou who didst give birth to man, Thou who didst make fertile the earth, Thou who dost rejuvenate the Centuries, Thou who givest blossom to the spring… ‘ And a mere mortal observed:
‘There are in the USSR privileged and exploited classes, dominant classes and subject classes. Between them the standard of living is sharply separated. The classes of travel on the railways correspond exactly to the social classes; similarly with ships, restaurants, theatres, shops, and with houses; for one group palaces in pleasant neighbourhoods, for the others wooden barracks alongside tool stores and oily machines… It is always the same people who live in the palaces and the same people who live in the barracks. There is no longer private property, there is only one property – State property. But the State no more represents the whole community than under preceding régimes’ (What the Russian Revolution Has Become, Robert Guiheneuf, 1936).
And today, ‘Russian elites and oligarchs are probably some of the best in the world at hiding their wealth…’ (, 11 April).

Material World: Africa: from bread-lines to bread-basket? (2022)

The Material World Column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

North Africa was called the granary of the world during the time of the Roman Empire and it may surprise many that the richest person in recorded history was allegedly not a Rothschild, Rockefeller or even Elon Musk but an African ruler from the 14th Century, Mansa Musa, who possessed wealth of around $400 billion in today’s terms.

The media’s coverage of Africa tends to be a rather negative one of human suffering, accompanied by pessimistic predictions for the continent’s future. Africa’s great potential is ignored and its promising possibilities neglected, leading to a public impression in the developed world that Africa survives only through the humanitarian compassion of outsiders offering foreign aid and philanthropic charity. There needs to be a seismic shift in people’s perception of what Africa can achieve.

The March 2020 Material World described how the Guinea Savannah, a region of arable agricultural land, is not fully utilised but could enable Africa not only to feed its rapidly growing population but, in addition, produce a surplus to supply the rest of the world with food.

Contrary to commonly held belief, new research has determined that the Sub-Sahara is not as lacking in water sources as once was thought. There exists sufficient groundwater located in underground aquifers, much of it untapped, to irrigate and transform agriculture in the region, providing people with sufficient safe water, as long as it was sustainably managed and not unnecessarily polluted.

According to recent research by more than 200 experts sub-Saharan Africa could increase crop production by more than 500 percent in some countries in the region. Malawi’s agricultural production could grow by more than 700 percent while Tanzania has the potential for a 17-fold rise in crop production and is able to double its livestock. Zambia, too, can double its livestock numbers and increase crop production by 564 percent.

Tim Wainwright, the chief executive of WaterAid UK, said:
‘Our findings debunk the myth that Africa is running out of water. But the tragedy is that millions of people on the continent still do not have enough clean water to drink. There are vast reserves of water right under people’s feet, many of which are replenished every year by rainfall and other surface water…’
The study found that every sub-Saharan African country could supply 130 litres a day of drinking water per capita from groundwater without using more than a quarter of what can be renewed, and most using only about ten percent.

The recent UN annual World Water Development Report found that only 3 percent of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa was equipped for irrigation, and only 5 percent of that area used groundwater, even though groundwater is often abundant in the region. It explains that while some groundwater is quickly replenished by rainfall there are aquifers that have been untapped for millennia now within reach of modern pumping methods and risk being drained. This ‘fossil water’ is not replaceable across human time scales.

To add further caution, the Oakland Institute think-tank has published a study warning that transnational corporations see a profitable opportunity:
‘When irrigation infrastructure is established, it benefits private firms for large-scale agriculture, often for export crops, instead of local farmers and communities. People living in arid and semi-arid lands are severely impacted by large-scale irrigation projects that reduce available pastures, and prevent flood recession agriculture, while fences and canals cut through traditional routes of people and livestock.’
Africa holds a rich abundance of minerals and metals, vital for the planet’s future. It holds 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, 40 percent of the world’s gold and up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum. Cobalt is a key metal used to produce batteries. In 2019, 63 percent of the world’s cobalt production came from the ‘Democratic’ Republic of the Congo. Tantalum capacitors are found in mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles. The DRC and Rwanda together mine half of the world’s tantalum.

Africa’s tragedy is capitalism. Robbed of their lands, deprived of all means of independent economic existence, and compelled to work for poverty wages, the conditions of our African brothers and sisters have been tragic.

Certainly, there is corruption by kleptocratic dictators but they cannot function without the complicity of the corporations and the acquiescence of finance institutions. In the capitalist international division of labour, it currently suits most of Wall St, the City of London and Shanghai stock exchanges to keep the continent undeveloped rather than encourage manufacturing. The world’s capitalists prefer to loot and pillage resources from Africa instead of creating a viable economy which would compete with their own.

Our fellow workers in Africa should embrace the socialist concept of the cooperative commonwealth. Africa needs to erase frontiers to create a wider integrated society, based upon the free collaboration of all peoples. Africa cannot resolve its crises by nationalism nor with fraudulent reforms. There needs to be a return to the earlier history of shared communal land that is presently passing out of their hands.

A truly liberated Africa will be built upon associations of mutual aid with all the peoples of the world.

Making fans for Nigel? (2022)

Book Review from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

One Party After Another. By Michael Crick. Simon & Schuster. 2022. £25

Ex-Newsnight journalist Michael Crick has something of a reputation as a hatchet-job specialist, though this book is more well-rounded than expected. It is helped by the fact that Crick is a good writer and so the book is an entertaining read, well-researched and salacious perhaps in equal measure. He portrays Nigel Farage as ‘the great disrupter’ and as the arch-UK populist of his time, and there can be little doubt about that aspect of Farage’s life.

Crick argues that Farage was like this from the outset, from his apparent teenage dalliance while at Dulwich College with the National Front, straight to his high-octane career as a City metals commodity trader (bypassing university, which never interested him). It was the decision in 1990 by the then Conservative government to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) that impelled Farage to take politics seriously – he had previously been a sometime member of the Tory Party but had also on one occasion voted Green.

Joining the Anti-Federalist League set up by Dr Alan Sked, he was eventually to take it over – pretty ruthlessly according to Crick – and turn it into what became UKIP. Crick does a good job of chronicling the turbulence at the centre of Farage’s life since (the multiple affairs, the serious drinking culture, the near-death experiences including the plane crash on election day in 2010) which has mirrored in some ways the turbulence of his political career. Hence the title One Party After Another – Farage has been UKIP leader and then resigned only to return so many times it is genuinely difficult to keep count, and of course then went on to form the Brexit Party and latterly Reform UK. He is portrayed as a veritable ‘force of nature’ who bizarrely couples a genuine talent for communication with a profound difficulty in working with other people.

His ultimate legacy is Brexit of course, though while Crick doesn’t underplay the role of Johnson, Gove, Cummings and their ilk in this, he does rather underplay the role of the tabloid press, who arguably enjoyed their last hurrah in promoting the greatest irrelevance ever purveyed to the British working class. And all with the help of arriviste businessmen and hedge fund managers who bankrolled the operation both before and after the 2016 referendum. Crick outlines how this campaign then paved the way for the 2019 General Election, the collapse of Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ and the eventual UK withdrawal from the EU. Crick says:
‘For a hundred years the Labour Party had depended on class loyalty. People voted Labour because they’d always voted Labour, and their families and friends all voted Labour too… In the 2016 referendum, Labour officially urged people to vote Remain, yet in hundreds of traditional working-class Labour seats, especially in the Midlands and the North, Labour supporters and trade unionists voted emphatically to leave the EU. The 2016 referendum burst the rising dam of resentment in such places that Labour no longer delivered for poor people like them with insecure, lowly paid jobs, and that under Blair, Miliband and Corbyn, Labour had become just another London party for wealthy middle-class types who’d gone to university’ (p.547).
In some ways, it’s difficult to disagree and Farage’s Brexit Party rubbed salt in this wound. But for what? Crick argues that part of Farage’s legacy is that it may be difficult for the Labour Party to ever form a government on its own again. But as people are now discovering with a likely pending recession (according to the Bank of England) and because Brexit has helped propel price rises to their greatest rate in decades, Brexit was just another illusion as a supposed solution to people’s problems. In fact, not only wasn’t it the answer, it wasn’t even asking the right question.

Farage was a key player in creating one of the biggest political apparitions of the last century and as time passes this is likely to become clearer. As a result, what seems like a career that had a massive impact now (Crick rates him as one of the five most significant political leaders of the last 50 years) might look rather differently when those voters in the Red Wall seats notice their lives haven’t actually changed for the better after all. Meanwhile, both UKIP and Reform UK have struggled to find a new purpose and given the political trajectories of both Northern Ireland and Scotland currently, it might not be too long before one of the greatest political ironies of all time emerges when UKIP has to rename itself ‘EWIP’.

Farage is currently marooned at GB News, which ever more seems to exist as being purely and simply his very own ‘news’ channel. Here he continues his rather repulsive dalliance with fellow egomaniac Donald Trump together with his campaign against men in little boats crossing the channel at great peril, effectively an unwanted latter-day Dunkirk without white faces. A man of the people until the end, clearly.

Cooking the Books: Which way to AI? (2022)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Decide what you want from AI before it makes the decision for you’ was the title of an article by Erik Britton, billed as a financial consultant, in the Times (4 April).

‘One road,’ he wrote, ‘leads to human redundancy across large swathes of the labour market. Down that road, AI is a means of displacing labour, further and further up the value chain. That road leads to a weird and dystopian future where we no longer earn our living primarily through work.’

Most people wouldn’t find that ‘dystopian’. Britton went on to explain why he does:
‘What would remain of the economy were the value of labour reduced to zero? Ownership. Ownership of rights over property, including intellectual property, over profits, over weapons systems. Those that own will rule. Those that do not will be ruled: relegated, if we are lucky, to consumption of virtual worlds and food bought with state handouts, from a sofa that is owned by someone else’.
Well, yes, if you put it that way. A society where those who own rule is not very attractive. But it is not dystopian, it’s the reality today. Power is in the hands of those who own and control the productive resources of society, relegating the rest of us to sellers of our working abilities for a wage and only allowed to work if a profit can be made from what we produce.

According to Britton, ‘the balance against such a brutal distribution of power historically lay in ownership of our own labour.’ But that is precisely what is not the case today. He seems to be thinking of a situation like the sort that existed two or three hundred years ago in colonial New England, the nearest society has ever come to one where independent producers working on their own make and exchange the products of their labour with each other. But things have moved on since then and there is now production for profit by capitalist firms employing wage-labour. The process of production is no longer individual but collective, except that the collective labour of those who work is not owned by them. Labour today does not confer ownership.

The other road, says Britton, ‘is to use AI to enhance human labour and defend against excessive surveillance. This form of AI serves freedom, self-determination, and reward for effort and ingenuity. Down this road, the value of labour increases, and the balance of power between the owners of labour and personal data (that’s most of us) and the owners of property will shift towards labour.’

But will it? How would it? Presumably he is thinking that there will be more higher-paid jobs but that won’t shift the balance of power between ‘the owners of labour’ (the workers) and the owners of property (the capitalists). Those that own will still have the power to allow the rest of us to work, however much we are paid, only on condition that there is a profit for them.

Britton’s dystopia – in which there will be full automation but still owners and profits – will never come about. It wouldn’t be economically viable, not least because who’s going to buy what is produced and where would the state get the money to hand out to the proles?

The only road that will ensure that AI is used for the benefit of all is when society’s productive resources, of which AI is a part, are owned in common by society. People will still work, though not for wages; everyone has access to what they need to live and enjoy life, to what is collectively produced.

50 Years Ago: May News Review: At Home (2022)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The railway wages dispute continued during the merry month of May, providing the government with evidence that their anti-union laws have little hope of working differently from similar laws in America, where it was found that “cooling off” periods, compulsory ballots and the rest only made the strikers more solidly determined than ever. Railway workers are struggling to win back some of the standard of living they have lost over recent years. This is a pretty typical affair, since the class divided nature of capitalism must throw up class disputes about the division of wealth. No law will ever change that; governments, as well as unions, have to make the best of it they can. Meanwhile, the current dispute in the docks, which is costing the Transport Workers’ union £55,000 in fines up to now, showed up the confusions and limitations of trade union action. The dockers have been refusing to handle lorries carrying containers which had been packed in inland depots by non-dock labour. This arrangement was precisely one of the main motives behind the massive capital investment in container ships, docks and traffic—to reduce the loading time of ships in the docks, where the dockers were so powerful. But the dockers’ efforts to keep up their position of strength has met with opposition from the workers who do the loading at the depots and from the drivers who deliver the containers—members, in fact, of the same union as the dockers. All the workers involved in this dispute would do well to realise that there is no advantage in struggling against other workers. The only worthwhile battle is against the capitalist class, over not a share of the wealth the workers produce but all of it.

(Socialist Standard, June 1972)

Editorial: Queen Capital’s jubilee (2022)

Editorial from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism, as we have pointed out many times, is a class-divided society, where there is a capitalist class who own the means of production and derive their wealth from the working class, who own no or little property and are forced to work for a wage or salary. Huge disparities in wealth and income between the two classes are the inevitable outcome. In the UK, the most visible manifestation of this class divide is the royal family, who sit at the apex of the class system. They own large palaces and tracts of land around the country and enjoy luxurious lifestyles, whereas workers live a more frugal existence and have to live in more modest dwellings, in many cases slum housing.

This month the state is holding the queen’s platinum jubilee, celebrating that the monarch has been 70 years on the throne. Showy events, naff TV programmes and local street parties will inevitably be organised. This occasion is an opportunity to reinforce the idea that privilege and hierarchy are part of the natural order of things and to encourage deference among workers towards their superiors. It will also be a festival of nationalism and patriotism, so whether you are a worker struggling on low pay or benefits or you are a billionaire, you can take pride in your great British ‘heritage’.

These celebrations are coming at a time when workers are facing the biggest cost of living crisis for decades. There are royalist supporters who would argue that people need to be cheered up in these hard times. No doubt, a worker who is facing a choice between eating or heating their home will be thrilled to watch some sycophantic arselicker on the television droning on about how wonderful the queen and her family are. The capitalist state has graciously allowed the workers an extra day off from their daily toil. How very generous.

Some opponents of royalty, including some on the left, complain that the royal family leeches off the taxpayers and that they should be made to pay their fair share of tax. This misses the point somewhat as the tax burden falls on the capitalist class, not the working class. The royals derive their wealth and privileges not from any tax advantages but, as with the rest of the capitalist class, from the surplus value created by the working class.

Some groups, like Republic, advocate the replacement of the monarchy with an elected head of state. This would make no material difference to the lives of workers, as the basis of capitalist society, with its pursuit of profit and exploitation of labour, would remain unchanged. We can see this clearly in countries that do have an elected head of state. In France for example, there have been strikes by public sector workers and protests by the gilets jaunes movement and in the USA there has been industrial action among the Walmart workers. In both countries, poverty exists alongside riches, as in the UK.

So the solution is not merely abolishing the royal family, but the economic system upon which their power and privileges are based. A system that exploits and oppresses workers and is responsible for the climate crisis. We argue that the world’s workers need to organise democratically to replace it with socialism, a world of free access and common ownership. Anyway – enjoy your extra day off.

Letters: Too much theory (1981)

Letters to the Editors from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Too much theory

Dear Editors,

I find your magazine very informative and stimulating and going in the right direction. But I am somewhat mystified by your interpretation of Marxism. You seem to be all theory and hope to convert the working class by reason and persuasion against ignorance, a biased education system and a totally subservient press and TV barrage of propaganda. Marxism, surely, is “praxis”, a blend of theory and practice. That means getting stuck in on the factory floor, workshop, office etc. and calling industrial action to foment the class war. Could you please answer this?
A. Chattin

You are correct in stating that the SPGB aims to convince our fellow workers of the need for socialism by reasonable means. It is our argument that the hard logic of the case for socialism is powerful enough to defeat the ideology of capitalism as presented by the education system, media, religion and so on. To get workers to understand socialism requires good, strong arguments — or theory. Of course, theoretical clarity is not enough. Hard work is involved in putting that theory to workers; and we in the SPGB are getting stuck in as often and as energetically as we can, bearing in mind our limited resources.

The working class has had a century of industrial action in which sections of the working class have confronted their employers over wages and conditions. While recognising the defensive role of trade unions, as socialists we urge our fellow workers go for revolutionary political action: not in order to “foment the class war", but so as to end it by the democratic victory of the working class. Revolution is necessary because it is the entire social system of capitalism which must be removed before the chains of wage slavery can be broken. This political task involves both theory and practice. (In connection with the latter, our correspondent may be interested to know that the Bolton branch of the SPGB will be working hard in the coming months in preparation for contesting the Bolton West constituency in the next general election and should he care to get “stuck in” with them they will welcome his assistance.)

Fear of ‘1984’

Dear Editors,

I would like to support Jean Ure’s comments in your January issue.

1. The majority of serious-minded people (including politicians from all parties, upon whom you pour such scorn) would probably agree with your ideas, but fail to see how they can be achieved in the foreseeable future.

2. The world cannot rid itself of religious dogma and racial prejudice overnight.

3. The nations of the West will not initially be prepared to share their wealth equally with the Third World.

4. Granted that a socialist society was achieved, how could a modern society be organised on a world-wide scale with a workforce whose only reward is to serve one’s fellow human beings?

5. What would be the reaction of a small band of dedicated members performing skilled and essential services, to those merely paying lip service to a routine job in a factory?

6. Could people ever be made to work if they are unwilling?

7. My own feeling is that society would quickly degenerate into a nightmare similar to George Orwell’s 1984.

No doubt you will be able to give me some glib reassurance that my fears are unjustified, and that people will be conditioned to be socially responsible. However, my doubts will probably still remain.
R. J. Martin,

1. Politicians from all parties certainly do not accept the ideas of the SPGB, even though some may claim to do so. How many Tories support the idea of social equality? They say that human beings are inherently unequal. How many members of the Labour Party advocate the abolition of the wages system? Or free access to all wealth? Or the elimination of national frontiers? All other parties claim that the capitalist system is here to stay. We are alone in stating that the present system conflicts with the material interests of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population and must be replaced immediately by world socialism.

2. We have never suggested that the transition from mass acceptance of capitalism to majority socialist consciousness will occur “overnight”. Those who say that revolutions cannot happen overnight are usually trying to tell us either that ideas cannot change at all, or that, if they can, they will only change very slowly. The entire history of human society disproves such a conception of change ideas can, and frequently do, change very rapidly indeed. They change because human experience clashes with scientific developments in mankind’s control over the natural environment. Consider, for example, decline in religious belief in the last fifty years or changing reactions to sex roles.

3. Socialism means the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution by the entire world community. We all need each other in society and that is why people in Europe and people in Africa and Asia will recognise their common interest in a socialist society. Mutual aid or co-operation is the key to socialism; if it is claimed that humans are incapable of co-operative behaviour, we reply that co-operation will become an attractive idea when it is seen to be in the material interest of the co-operators. In capitalist society the working class is very cooperative — but with the master class and for their interests. Finally, socialism will not be a society of sharing, but one in which individuals will take freely from an abundance of wealth according to their need.

4. The reward in socialism will not be to serve others (which is what workers do now when they produce profits for an idle class), but to serve oneself by contributing to society.

5. Modern industrial society involves a complex division of labour in which diverse labour processes contribute to the overall supply of goods and services. In socialism the differing talents, skills and mundane contributions which people have to offer will be equally appreciated because people will realise that they are all necessary.

6. Why should any healthy human being be unwilling to work? It is understandable that when work means employment (wage slavery) workers may find work dull and meaningless. But given a society in which work is for one reason only: to provide goods and services for the use of humanity, why would people not want to give according to their abilities and take according to their needs? Of course, if you are correct and human beings cannot co-operate, then socialism will never happen. But the evidence is on our side: humans have a natural need to expend mental and physical energies in order to survive.

7. You give no reason for feeling that socialism will "degenerate into a nightmare” and so we are unable to re-assure you, glibly or otherwise, that your fear is unjustified. We assume that your fear of freedom is based upon what you have heard and read from the apologists for capitalism who warn workers to avoid the nightmare of a world without employment, poverty and war. lest we shatter their dreams. 

Loss of faith

Dear Editors,

I have lost faith in the two main political parties. It has become the case of the lesser of two evils. I would like to know how much different you are.

1. Are you just a jumped up Labour Party? Why don’t you put up candidates in the area?

2. What would you do if you did come to power?

3. What would you do about the over-powerful unions? If you quelled them, would it be too much and to your advantage?

4. How much different are you from the Communist Party?

5. My husband and I have saved for our own house. Would we be penalised for it?

6. Would you go far enough to take money away from people who had too much and give to those with not enough? How are you going to do this?

I hope you don’t mind me firing all these questions at you, but 1 would like to know all about it. I don’t think joining a political party is something you can do half-heartedly.
D. Cowley, 
Frome, Somerset

1. The SPGB is totally opposed to the Labour Party and has been since we were formed in 1904. Labour stands for the reform of the present capitalist system. The SPGB stands for the abolition of capitalism (production for profit) and its replacement by a system of society in which the means of wealth production and distribution will be commonly owned and democratically controlled by the whole community.

2. The SPGB does not want to obtain power. We want to see power placed in the hands of the working class once they are consciously and democratically organised for socialism. Once the workers of the world have taken over state power, they will use it in order to get rid of capitalism and establish a system of production for use.

3. The trade unions are not “over-powerful”. It is the small minority of the world’s population who live in luxury as a result of receiving rent, interest and profit — the capitalist class — who are the ones who enjoy social power at the moment; they enjoy it at the expense of the majority — the working class — whom they exploit. Trade unions are a necessary means of bargaining over the intensity of exploitation. But socialists want workers to go beyond trade unions (the industrial struggle) and use their political power to get rid of this exploitative social system once and for ail. There will be no trade unions in a socialist society, since there will be no economic classes and therefore no conflict of interest. The capitalist-run media hates to see workers using our power, even in militant trade union action. Socialists claim that workers have hardly started to flex their muscles. We have nothing to lose and much to gain from workers recognising their strength.

4. The Communist Party claims that there is socialism in Russia. We point out that it is a state capitalist dictatorship. The CP advises workers to reform capitalism to their advantage; we say this cannot be done and that the only solution to working class problems is political action to establish socialism. The CP stands for capitalism. We stand for socialism or communism. The two terms mean the same thing, when properly used.

5. We want a society where houses are built for humans to freely live in, not for sale. Why should you have to save up in order to have a roof over your head when society is now quite able to build adequate accommodation for everyone?

6. The SPGB does not stand for the redistribution of wealth, but for free access to all wealth within a society where the productive machinery is owned by everyone without distinction of race and sex. Society is now capable of providing an abundance of wealth to fulfil human needs without anyone going short. This will not require the rich to give to the poor, but the elimination of the inequality of class.

We agree that joining a political party is a serious business and we welcome your thoughtful questions. We do not put up candidates in Somerset because the SPGB is as yet weakly organised in the area. We look forward to seeing you help to change that situation.