Thursday, June 2, 2022

Party News Briefs (1957)

Party News from the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

Conference proceeded this year in a very business-like fashion, the Agenda was completed by 5.30 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon. On the first day forty-four delegates were present, representing twenty branches; on Saturday and Sunday the numbers were slightly less. Although the Agenda was a full one, all the items were dealt with, despite the fact that there was no Saturday morning session this year. The dance held on the Saturday was better attended than the one held last year, and a very happy evening was enjoyed by all. On Sunday a Party Rally was held, but the audience was not a very large one, and it has been suggested that the rallies should be discontinued. However, if Comrades would like to see them continued and are prepared to muster up support for them, they can easily voice their views through the branches with a view to the continuance of the Rallies.

May Day. Full details are not yet to hand (at the time of going to press), but good meetings were held in Hyde Park, in addition to the meeting in the evening at Denison House. The Literature Sales Committee will be reporting later on the special efforts made for the sale of the Standard.

Lewisham Branch is holding two more lectures at their Branch Room, Davenport House, Davenport Road. Rushey Green. On Monday, 3rd June, Comrade Ivimey is speaking on the Rent Bill, and on Monday, 17th June, Comrade D’Arcy is speaking on “The Cost of Living." Both lectures commence at 8 p.m.

The "Daily Telegraph.” In an endeavour to get the Party’s case more widely known, advertisements are placed from time to time in various journals. It was considered that the “Personal Column” of the Daily Telegraph offered one useful medium, but both in May 1955. and again this year (the only two occasions we have approached them during recent years), they declined to accept our advertisement, thus depriving their readers of studying views which may be new to them. This is symptomatic of the difficulty of more widely spreading the Party’s case. Not only are we handicapped by lack of funds, and barred from the air by the B.B.C., but even small advertisements are liable to be banned by the consortiums which sell the news.

The advertisement they refused to accept is given below. No explanation was given, merely a curt note from the Classified Advertisement Manager (6th May, 1957): “It is regretted we are unable to accommodate the above announcement in our columns.”
 “It could be worth your while to investigate Socialism (as distinct from Labourism or Russian “Communism”). Why not send for Socialist Comment—a reprint of several outstanding articles from the Socialist Standard? 8d. post free. S.P.G.B., 52. Clapham High Street, S.W.4.”
Phyllis Howard

Letters from readers invited.
Our Annual Conference in April decided that a section of the Socialist Standard be reserved for letters from readers as a regular feature. Readers are invited to send letters of comment and criticism and questions for answer. Letters should be kept as short as possible as space is limited, and the shorter the letters the larger the number that can be printed.
Editorial Committee.

50 Years Ago: Argument about War in 1907 (1957)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

[Hervé, in France, had been carrying on anti-militarist propaganda. Bebel, in Germany, denounced it. Hervé referred to a recent tense situation between Germany and France over Morocco. When war did break out in 1914 Hervé supported it]

“If war had broken out over Morocco between France and Germany, the two proletariats, French and German, would have protested through the voices of their parliamentary tenors; resolutions proclaiming eloquently the fraternity of the two peoples would have been exchanged, and then, fraternally, the French and German working classes would have gone to massacre each other in order to find out with which of the two capitalist classes Morocco would remain.”

“The ideas and the anti-militarist propaganda of Hervé are impossible in German Social Democracy. German Social Democracy is the avowed adversary of the present military system, but it considers that a military organisation is necessary in the states now existing so long as all the civilised nations shall not have established conventions and institutions which would once for all render war impossible. So long as the danger exists and wars are possible, every nation should possess a military organisation sufficient for resisting an aggressive war and defending its own territory against the invasions of the enemy.”

(From the “Socialist Standard," June 1907.)

It's that "Great Man" idea again (1957)

From the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the earliest times of recorded history up to the present age, the idea of the “great man,” “the superman" has captured the imagination of the crowd. Stroll along any of the main highways of the world’s big cities and we are confronted with statues of every conceivable size erected in remembrance of these "great men.” But, like everything else, the worship of this “great man” idea has been done to death. There was Jesus Christ for example, supposedly crucified, dead and buried, but three days afterwards (so is the legend) popped back to life again. God had sent him. “He was the son of God.” And no man can, according to the Christians, surpass Christ. He was, and remains, the greatest of them all.

Of course this is all very childish now to those adults who have made any attempt to understand the historic origins of life—humanity and all its heirs and relations. Why has this “great man” idea been so carefully fostered through the ages? It is hard for the rationally minded to believe that it is a “carry over” from early man’s cave dwelling origins, a memory and worship for the departed chief warrior, high priest.

Even if it be conceded that recollection of the deeds of these great men have been a source of inspiration— for a time—in the main it has been one of the biggest contributory causes of the worshippers overlooking their own miserable plight.

We are prompted to record these few odds and ends about the “great man idea” because of what the Manchester Guardian recently described as “the long and occasionally acrimonious struggle to perpetuate the memory of Keir Hardie in Parliament’s own small Valhalla of statutory. . ." The origin of Keir Hardie’s fame is associated with the fact that he entered Parliament wearing a cap, a severe blow to the respectability and propriety which had been enjoyed by that assembly for generations. It is often murmured even now that it undermined for a decade respect for political tradition. But what’s in a hat or a cap for that matter. Has not the recently resigned Prime Minister set the fashion in head gear, inspiring many and otherwise very humbler members of the community to appear less humble—and correspondingly more respectable. There have been others, Baldwin with his pipe, Joseph Chamberlain with his eye glass and orchids; the world's “big chum" with his big cigars and last, and by no means least, the Welsh miner who once coloured the pages of history by recording on a particular occasion his detestation of vermin!

All these incidents are of course quite trifling, but we would ask in all seriousness whether the cause of Socialism owes anything to whatever Keir Hardie ever said, whether with cap or bareheaded. Suffice it to say that the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee has been struggling for so many years to get the House of Commons to accept "a fine golden gleaming bust . . ." (but without that cap) to adorn those sacred precincts of the House of Commons. Lord Samuel, speaking on the occasion, is reported to have said . . . “Keir Hardie’s cap struck a discordant note. It made us feel slightly uncomfortable. It was meant to make us feel uncomfortable.” Mr. Gaitskell made his tribute at the occasion, saying, ". . . Far more than any other man, Keir Hardie had founded the Labour Party. His Socialism was idealistic in character, drawing more from Methodism, from Robert Burns, than from men like Karl Marx!”

Seriously we ask, what do Mr. Fenner Brockway, chairman of the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee, and Mr. Gaitskell, the old Etonian, really think about such odds and ends, which takes the mind back to the times of Moses, to the primordial past, leaving the story still untold of the manner and ways in which Capitalism still enfolds the life of the worker, with its slums, its homeless millions the world over. May we ask these two sentimentally saturated and posing politicians whether working class understanding of Capitalism as the cause and Socialism as the remedy for the existing ghastly lot suffered by the working class has been advanced one tittle? Or is it perhaps a vain hope which excites both these two political “show offs” to be “the bust of a to-morrow!” Who knows and who cares? Is not this the land of cant and humbug and can political humbuggery go lower?

Debate: Socialism versus Religion (1957)

Party News from the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

A debate was arranged under the above title between the Socialist Party, represented by Comrade Jarvis, and the Catholic Evidence Guild, represented by Mr. Barr. It took place at Head Office on Sunday, March 31st, with Comrade Kersley in the chair. It started promptly at 7.30 with all seats taken, and subsequently more people arrived and packed the hall. About half the audience were non-members.

Comrade Jarvis opened with a 20-minute speech, in which he said that it was agreed between the opponents that there were problems in the world waiting to be solved—the problem of war, poverty, hunger, misery, unemployment, crises, etc. It was the Socialist Party's view that these problems could only be solved by changing the social system from Capitalism to Socialism. His opponent, however, claimed that religion (or Catholicism) was the answer to the world's problems.

Comrade Jarvis then outlined the Party’s case as given in the pamphlet "The Socialist Party: Its Principles and Policy. He stated that there was no room for religion or any form of mysticism in our policy. Religion was defined as man's knowledge of God, or “ the mental faculty enabling men to comprehend the Infinite.” There can be no religion without God, although there can be religious ritual and paraphernalia without God. Religion consists of five things, and all the necessary emotional trimmings accompanying them. These are:— ,
  1. Belief in God or gods.
  2. Belief in Holy or Inspired writings (Bible, Koran, Zend Avesta).
  3. Belief in after Life.
  4. Belief in the Efficacy of Prayer.
  5. Belief in Miracles.
If God does not exist it would follow that the last four of these fundamentals of religion are of no consequence. (To this Mr. Barr nodded approvingly.) The existence of God could not be proved, maintained Comrade Jarvis. Belief in God had declined in proportion to the growth of education and freedom of speech, whilst in the centuries of Catholic domination, when no opposition was permitted, the majority believed in God. Atheism and materialism had therefore grown with increased knowledge. This debate could never have occurred in the heyday of Catholicism, with its ruthless tortures and death penalties for all who questioned its authority.

After dealing briefly with the usual arguments offered for the existence of God, Comrade Jarvis went on to state that the problem of evil in the world, the existence of wars, poverty, unemployment, crime, crises, etc., made it clear that no Supreme Being existed. Nor could it be claimed that evil, cruelty and barbarity are just man made, for barbarity exists among the animals. The cat plays with a mouse until it has been slowly tortured to death and the jungles are filled with ferocious beasts who live by tearing to pieces smaller and weaker animals. If God could make herbiverous animals why not make them all like that instead of creating carnivorous ones. Everywhere the law of the jungle dominated human life under capitalism.

Since the discovery of the laws of Evolution, it was possible to trace the evolution of the idea of God in primitive society, and now that we know the origin of the God idea, this cuts the ground from under the feet of the theist. “The heavens no longer proclaim the glory Of God, nor does the firmament show his handiwork.'’ God who could reveal himself at any moment has now to be searched for. The time has come to conduct God to the frontiers, thank him for his services, and ask him not to call again and trouble us with his diversions, as we wish to change the economic basis of society, and for this purpose do not need spirits, spooks or ghosts (whether holy or otherwise).

Comrade Jarvis finished by challenging Mr. Barr to prove the existence of God, for upon this his whole case must rest, since if no personal God existed, no value could come out of religion which could help the working class to solve the problems which confront them.

Mr. Barr opened by declaring that he had heard all this before—years ago—but that he obviously had too little time at his disposal to deal with all the questions raised. He stated that he had no intention of dealing with the political issues raised in the opener’s remarks, firstly because he accepted many of them, and secondly because even former Popes had similar views. He never criticised the party’s cause in any way. He then went on to try to prove the existence of God, and declared that it could be inferred from the existence of mind and of order in the universe. He referred again to the shortness of time, and said each part of the debate contained sufficient material for a whole debate. He ended by stating that these debates get nowhere, and he knew in advance that it would be the case.

In Comrade Jarvis’s second speech he commenced by saying that Mr. Barr should not have complained of shortness of time, because he had 20 minutes just the same as himself, and as he declined to deal with the political issues, he had the whole of his time to deal with religion and show that it had something to offer mankind to help to solve the world's problems. Mr. Barr, however, had one question to answer—the existence of God—for on that the whole case rests, since if no God can be proved to exist, the edifice of religion crumbles.

Instead of God creating man in his image, man had created his God or gods and always in his own image. He instanced that the gods of the African tribes were black, with short black curly hair, and the gods of the Eskimos were fat and covered with thick furs, etc. In his reply to this Mr. Barr said that Jarvis knew full well that these gods were man-made and false, and consequently had nothing to do with the debate. Jarvis replied by stating that he agreed that they were all false, and therefore it would appear that the only real difference between himself and Mr. Barr was that he believed in one god less than Mr. Barr did, which was a very small difference to argue about.

Comrade Jarvis then read from a number of Catholic pamphlets: "This is the aim which Our Predecessor urged as the necessary object of our efforts: the emancipation of foe proletariat.” (The Social Order, Pius XI).“ For towards the close of the nineteenth century new economic methods and a new expansion of industry had in most countries resulted in a growing division of the population into two classes. The first, small in numbers, enjoyed practically ail the advantages so plentifully Supplied by modern invention; the second class, comprising the immense multitude of working-men, was made up of those who, oppressed by dire poverty, struggled in vain to escape from the difficulties which encompassed them." Comrade Jarvis suggested that Pope Leo XIII (the author of this statement m Rerum Novarum, re-quoted in The Encyclical Quadragesima Anno of Pius XI), had been reading some, of the banned books, as this passage had a strange resemblance to the writings of Karl Man.

Another pamphlet quoted from was Cyril Clump’s A Catholic's Guide to Social and Political Action, which contains a collection of extracts from the writings of the Holy Fathers—who. by the way, are not supposed to be fathers.

After the first two speeches were made on each side, the debate was thrown open to the audience and a special appeal was made from the chair for Catholics or other opposition to take part in the discussion, but these were conspicuously absent. The debate concluded with the two participants winding up, in which Comrade Jarvis again requested proof of God’s existence, and Mr. Barr, who in the meantime had received a host of questions from the audience, again pleaded the impossibility owing to lack of time.
Horace Jarvis

Editorial: Can't the Engineers meet the Miners? (1957)

Editorial from the June 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

There were two items of news in the Press during the first week of May that had a certain importance in themselves, but which gain greatly in significance when brought together. They both dealt with nationalisation. The first was from the engineers.
"Leaders of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, at their annual policy-making conference at Eastbourne, yesterday adopted a resolution calling for nationalisation of the motor car industry. The resolution stated that lack of planning in the industry had been a contributory factor in the decline in car production in the past year and that nationalisation would establish full employment in a planned and prosperous economy' " (News-Chronicle, 3/5/57).
The second related to the miners, being a report of a speech at a South Wales Miners' Conference by the President, Mr. Will Paynter.
  “Mr. Paynter said that ten years' nationalisation had shattered illusions that the workers would exercise a decisive control in running the industry. Nationalisation changed the form of control for the better, but fundamentally for industry remained a source of profit for the previous owners and big business generally. Participation of the workers in control and direction of the industry was non-existent, and consultation was superficial and largely window-dressing.

Miners' wages and conditions had not improved to the measure that could be reasonably expected. Nationalisation had been deliberately used to provide coal to big industry at low prices to enhance their profits. It had also been exploited by the State in meeting financial burdens that legitimately were liabilities for the Exchequer.

'Nationalisation is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. Its role and function today reveals the "end" as being a cheap product for capitalist industry to strengthen and perpetuate capitalism'" (Manchester Guardian, 7/5/57). 
The S.P.G.B. has been telling the miners and engineers for 50 years that nationalisation would not solve the problems of the workers. Now that the miners, with 10 years enlightening experience behind them, are discovering the truth of what we said, may we invite them first to dissuade the engineers from wasting their time, then to get together with the latter to study the case for Socialism?

Running Commentary: Too old at 35 (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Too old at 35

Capitalist ideology is underpinned by many lies and delusions. Expressed simply, this is one of them: "If you work hard at passing your exams and at your job, security and prosperity will be yours". Along with this delusion goes the notion that a worker can somehow be elevated by passing exams, into an imaginary "middle-class" status. In fact there is no middle-class; anyone who faces the indignity of having to sell their labour power for a wage or a salary is in the working class, no matter what their educational qualifications. A particularly cruel reminder of this appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 25 March 1985:
Fifty advanced computer scientists and technicians carrying out research for Philips Electronics have lost their jobs because "they are too old at 50". The management of Philips Research Laboratories at Redhill. Surrey, are taking on young graduates to replace them. They [union officials] accused the company of following the example of the Japanese electrical firm Hitachi, which tried last December to get all workers over 35 at its Hirwaun colour TV plant in South Wales to take redundancy.

Hitachi said in a letter to all employees that staff over 35 were slow, prone to sickness, had poor eyesight and were more resistant to change.
The article went on to say that "graduates cost less than older staff' — one more example of the ruthless, cost-cutting nature of capitalism.

How inconvenient to the capitalist class that workers still want to go on living — with the expense of redundancy pay, unemployment benefit and pensions this entails — after their abilities have been consumed and they find themselves discarded.

Price of gold

The South African government has recently offered a sop to reform by committing itself to abolition of the obnoxious laws which prohibit sex and marriage between men and women of different racial origin. This reform is rendered virtually meaningless by other laws on racial segregation which remain, such as the Group Areas Act, which segregates residential and business areas along racial lines. This means that despite the abolition of the "immorality" laws, a man and a woman of different races involved in a sexual relationship will still be unable to set up home together.

Those people who see this legal change as the first step towards liberalisation of South African society must surely have had their hopes dashed by another event in South Africa last month which demonstrated yet again the odious policies of the South African ruling class.

The event was the dismissal of 17,000 black gold miners who were sacked by their employers. Anglo-American Corporation, for causing stoppages and disruption in protest at the sacking of trade union officials. Not only have these workers lost their jobs; they have also been transported back to various "tribal homelands". Under South African law the majority of black gold miners are forced to live as migrants, without their families, in work camps close to the mines.

These gold mines produce the commodity that is the basis of the enormous wealth of the South African ruling class. One of the mines where workers have been sacked — the Vaal Reefs mine in the western Transvaal — is the biggest gold mine in the world and produces 13 per cent of South African gold. In a situation where there are many poor workers, mostly black but increasingly white too. desperate to work, it is only too easy for the capitalist class to replace sacked miners with others who they hope will be less militant.

It is the grossest form of hypocrisy for the South African ruling class to talk of liberalisation in a society in which workers continue to be repressed in this way. No one should be taken in by the cosmetic changes taking place in South Africa at the moment which are intended to appease international opinion and so open up more markets for South African goods. The oppressive structures of both apartheid and capitalism remain intact.

Coup in Sudan

While President Nimeiri was busy trying to rally support for his regime among American leaders the Sudanese army, supported by other sections of the Sudanese ruling class, seized governmental power in a manner that is only too familiar in countries where the absence of democratic institutions means that the only way of changing government personnel is through a coup d'état. Of course this military government, like many others, is promising a quick return to civilian rule as soon as conditions permit the holding of elections.

The complaint of the army and its supporters was that Nimeiri, after sixteen years in power, was mismanaging the economy. The ruling class was also angry at the way in which Nimeiri had imposed the barbaric Islamic code of law in order to secure his own political ends by courting the support of the fundamentalist Moslem Brotherhood. This marriage of convenience was. however, short-lived. Fearing a challenge to his power from Islamic leaders, Nimeiri had purged the Moslem Brotherhood and imprisoned its leaders, blaming them for unpopular policies. As a result Nimeiri lost his only real power base in Sudanese society, leaving him vulnerable to a coup from rival sections of the Sudanese ruling class.

Sudan is a desperately poor country currently ravaged by widespread drought which has exacerbated agricultural policies intended to produce quick profits for the landowners at the expense of both land and people. Its scarce food resources are under increasing pressure due to the huge influx of refugees from Ethiopia, themselves trying to escape famine. In the south of the country there has been a civil war in progress led by a rival Christian army officer. The majority of the population are totally dependent on American grain shipments if they are to avoid starvation. This American "aid" is granted in return for Sudan maintaining a pro-western stance in an area that is of great strategic importance because of its proximity to important oil supplies.

What is certain in these murky waters of political intrigue and double-dealing is that the lives of the vast majority of Sudan’s 22 million people will be largely unaffected by these shufflings of official positions among the Sudanese ruling class. Drought now affects 4 million native farmers and relief workers are currently predicting that one million people will die in Sudan in the coming year (The Times, 9 April 1985). It matters not one jot to them, nor will it affect their chances of survival, that they are now being ruled by a military rather than a civilian government.

Who's on your back? (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the course of the coal strike last year. Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying that "the country will not be held to ransom by a tiny minority — 200.000 at the most — who are trying to impose their will on the other 55 million. Everyone in Britain tonight knows who the job-wreckers are" (Sunday Times, 15 July 1984). For once she spoke some truth. In Britain today, a "tiny minority" — one per cent — own more accumulated wealth than the poorest 80 per cent put together (Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth, 1980). This parasitical minority own and control the productive machinery of society, in industry and in agriculture. If we work, it is for them, and on their terms. When they decide that it is no longer financially profitable to employ us — whether in a pit or a polytechnic — they have the legal and social right, within capitalism, to bar us from even setting foot in these places of work.

Since a small minority own the means of wealth production while the rest of us merely operate its machinery, there is a conflict of interests throughout the world between bosses and workers, employers and employees. This conflict exists just as much in countries such as Russia, where exploitation has been nationalised. Arising out of this conflict of interests between those who have to sell their ability to work in order to live and those who buy it in order to profit, there is a class struggle. We should make no mistake about this: the class struggle involves all of us, however much some may try to turn their back on it. And as in any other conflict where two sets of interests cannot be reconciled, it is vital to establish beyond doubt who or what our real enemy is.

The real enemy of workers is not to be found among the smugly arrogant Thatcher and her cronies, or in their pathetic counterparts who compete with them from the opposition benches in the House of Commons. Neither is our true enemy to be found embodied in "the butcher” himself. Ian MacGregor. These are only representatives of the real sickness in society — the market system. It is the capitalist system of society, which exists in different forms throughout the world, which must go, taking all of its stooges with it.

What is capitalism? Firstly, it is a global system, as will be the socialist system which replaces it. The price of diamonds is fixed regularly on a telephone hot-line between Moscow and Johannesburg, in spite of the hot air spoken by politicians in those cities against one another. Secondly, capitalism is defined by the fact that in each country a minority class own and control the productive machinery — the industrial and chemical plants, the land and farms, the transport and communications . . . Whether it is private or state ownership, ownership through shares or through government bonds, whether this minority class is made up of businessmen or bureaucrats, makes no difference. Production is everywhere geared towards profitable sales in the world market, not towards human need.

Capitalism, then, is based on a power relationship between the boss and the worker. The worker produces wealth for the employer, and on the employer's terms, since production involves the use of the raw materials and machinery which are monopolised by the owning class. But no capitalist can live on a diet of one thousand cars or thirteen thousand video recorders a week. These goods are only of use to him or her if they can be turned into cash, by being sold on the market. The employer has to convert these products into cash in order to be able to reinvest it and expand the scale of operations, and also of course for the purposes of private consumption. This means that employers will only allow production to take place at a level which allows the products to be easily sold. As soon as the market will not bear any further output, production is halted. So from the point of view of the working-class majority in society, there are two things wrong with the present class-divided system. Firstly, it is a system of legalised robbery, in which the wealth we work so hard to produce does not then belong to us. We have to struggle to buy back the shoddy, cheap, second-class goods with ration cards called wages. Secondly, this domination over society by the parasitical minority serves to restrict production, particularly for basic needs such as food and clothing, because the market system dictates that production must cease as soon as it fails to be profitable. And each factory closure signals that the material interests of the employing class are imposing themselves on the rest of us, in the most stupid way. At the moment their "trade cycle" happens to be running through one of its periodic lows and the rest of us are expected to brave out, and even take the brunt of, this "recession", as if it was sent down from heaven to test our mettle.

We should not be fooled for one moment by all of the nonsense about class being a thing of the past. According to the Labour Research Department Fact Service (Vol.45, No.44). the richest 3.2 per cent in Britain today own 84 per cent of listed shares, 90 per cent of private companies and 88 per cent of land. In reality there are two sides to industry, whether workers are militant or moderate. On the one hand is the power of capital, of reinvested profits, which represents the congealed labour of generations of workers, and on the other there are workers, known in business circles as "unit labour costs", units of productivity whose role is to generate a surplus over and above the living costs which workers rudely insist on consuming, so that this surplus can be accumulated by those who already monopolise resources. As workers, we have feelings, problems, human relationships. In the eyes of our bosses, we are unit labour costs, whose living expenses must be cut to the bare minimum and whose productivity must be stretched to breaking point.

Take the example of United Biscuits. Their annual report for 1984 shows a profit of about £75 million and a return on capital of about 19 per cent. Earnings per share (the amount by which the share price had risen) were 15.8p. and a dividend was paid in addition to this of 7.5p per share. Sir Hector Laing, the chairman, has over 2 million shares in the company, so his dividend last year was £156,176 and the overall value of his shares rose during the year by a further £329,011. This gave him an unearned income of over £9,000 a week. The average pay of his wage-slaves was less than that in the entire year. This unearned income would continue to go to Sir Hector even if he left for the Bahamas and was never seen again. For actually turning up to work he receives his "earned" income or salary of £96,000, a mere £1,800 each week. Worth chewing over next time you have a McVitie's digestive biscuit, some KP nuts or visit a Wimpy bar, all of which are in Hectors stable. Meanwhile, his chairman's report does make some reference to his hirelings:
Unit labour costs showed a decline over 1983 and we are now back to 1980 levels. . . In summary, 1984 was a particularly successful year for the Company (page 11).
Another very grateful man who has also increased his hold over the lives of the rest of us recently is Lonrho's Tiny Rowland:
The Lonrho chief executive. Mr Tiny Rowland, splashed out £1.2 million to increase his shareholding in the business yesterday as the international trading conglomerate over which he presides reported a record £135 million profit for its past financial year. The purchase of almost 661.000 shares at 182p each lifted his personal stake in the group to 45 million shares. At current stock market prices the holding representing 17.1 per cent of the equity — is valued at £82 million. (Guardian, 1 February 1985)
The dividend paid out by Lonrho of 11p per share would therefore have given Rowland an unearned income of about £100,000 a week. He expressed his attitude of appreciation for the thousands of people this wealth is squeezed out of in his full-page statement published in the same day's newspaper:
Finally, I would like to thank all employees worldwide for their hard work, loyalty and enthusiasm, without which we would not have been able to report such fine results this year.
This small-print credit, such as is given to the extras who appear in a film extravaganza. is small compensation for the people who are being milked in order to fatten the many bank accounts of this smug parasite.

In fact, on an average wage, the total amount we will receive in an entire lifetime is less than the amount received by some of these employers every two or three weeks. If we put by a fiver a week as savings, then by the time we had saved an amount equalling the current estimated £4 billion fortune of the thirty-year-old Duke of Westminster, 15,000,000 years would have passed.

So much for the claim that we are living in a classless society. But the aim of establishing a classless society is still the only aim which is politically worthwhile. How can it be done? Class is not a question of how you speak or dress, but of whether you own the factory or have to work in it because somebody else owns it. And this can be extended to the office, the schools, the railways, the hospitals and every other field of work. To abolish class division is to abolish the private and state ownership of the world’s productive resources, and to replace this with genuinely communal, democratic control by us all. The active force in creating a classless society must be the working class itself. We are the living, thinking, suffering part of the productive machinery of industry. When a factory is closed down, it does not let out a cry of despair. But the workers who are thrown on the rubbish heap at the same time have the ability to organise for an alternative way of running society. And those who do have jobs, whether they are manual, clerical or "professional", have the same interest as one another and as the unemployed, in working together for such a change.

In a socialist society, the population will not be divided by class. Obviously, some people will be delegated to perform organisational or administrative tasks, but they will not have a socially privileged status or a condition of life dependent on the deprivation and subordination of others. It is in any case a fact that the current owners of the world at present rely on their employees to perform all such tasks on their behalf. The social role of the employer has become entirely redundant, so that all a socialist transformation will involve is changing the basis of production itself. Instead of organising production to be geared towards market sales, as they reflect the minority interests who profit from such sales, we shall instead gear production towards satisfying human needs, without the hindrance of the profit obstacle and its demand for profitable "viability".

It is only on this basis that we can even begin to solve the absurd contradictions which have been a hallmark of capitalist society, such as the market "surpluses", the mountains of butter and the lakes of wine, in a world in which millions die of hunger. But before we can get rid of capitalism and replace it with the sane alternative based on common ownership and democratic control of resources we must first understand capitalism clearly enough to firmly reject it in all of its many guises. We must unite in a clear recognition that the employing class is on our backs, holding society back through their outdated system of the market, of profits and prices. They are suffering bouts of indigestion from their indulgence in the proceeds of our work, but it is we who pay the price. We must not expect the employing class to behave otherwise. Workers must, in the words of the first Socialist Party Manifesto, published in 1905, "give up the superstition that the robbers can be friendly to the robbed".
Clifford Slapper

50 Years Ago: Peace — in Principle (1985)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The statesmen of Europe are in high feather just now. traveling thousands of miles and engaging in pow-wows. dinners, and triumphal tours that delight the hearts of politicians. And it is all being done in a good cause. Over and over again they point out that they are determined to secure peace, perpetual peace.

Capitalist interests may be what they will, but all representatives are agreed on peace — in principle. That is why they are engaging in such a terrific armament race. Building numerous fast and powerful bombing planes. Concluding pacts of mutual support in case of attack. Staging aeroplane attacks on towns and teaching the citizens the art of dodging gas attacks. No expense is grudged in convincing all and sundry of their peaceful intentions.

The capitalists assert they are too poor to pay workers a wage that will ensure a comfortable existence. Now surely this seems strange when wealth to the value of thousands of millions of pounds is used up providing battleships, tanks, planes, guns and the men to man and use them, and the people to minister to these armies of men. And more extraordinary still, all this wealth is simply wasted because none of the powers that be have warlike intentions — at least in principle!

(From an Editorial "Peace in Principle" in the Socialist Standard, June, 1935.)

Correction: “Ice-Cold Death" (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the item “Ice-Cold Death" in the Running Commentary feature in the March Socialist Standard we stated that blood pressure rises when a person is suffering from hypothermia. In fact, this should have read that blood pressure falls; the effect is as stated — the patient may have a stroke caused by cerebral thrombosis, an effect of hypertension. Apologies.

'How undemocratic!' (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

in the unions (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many years governments, the media and members of trade unions have concerned themselves with the way unions manage their internal affairs. Some of the concern, particularly that of union members. has been simply about establishing democratic methods but there have been other motives behind the Tory governments Acts of Parliament requiring ballots for the establishment of the "closed shop", for the election of union officials, for renewing the unions' right to have political funds, and for ballots to be held for strike action. Failure to hold pre-strike ballots may render the unions liable to action for damages brought by employers and to other financial penalties. The government has made no secret of their intention, by these Acts, to curb and weaken the unions. The Tory Party and the Liberal-SDP Alliance also hope that some of the political levy ballots will vote to end the levy and the Labour Party, dependent for 85 per cent of its income from that source, will be in difficulties. In line with the pattern since the unions were first legalised, of alternate tightening and relaxing of the laws governing them, the Labour Party hopes to gain votes at the next general election by its pledge to repeal these Acts.

Some Tory politicians supported compulsory strike ballots in the naive belief that they would reduce the number of strikes. The Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations in its Report. 1968, came out against them. It had looked at American experience and noted "That strike ballots are overwhelmingly likely to go in favour of strike actions" (para 428). The Tories were not the first government to consider compulsory strike ballots. The Wilson Labour Government of 1964-1970 adopted In Place of Strife, drawn up by Barbara Castle. as basis for an Industrial Relations Act. For official strikes it took the same line as had the Royal Commission, but with an additional argument:
In major disputes union members are very often more militant than their leaders and are likely to be less closely in touch with the progress and prospects of the negotiations. If the union leaders were always obliged to hold a ballot when using the strike threat in negotiations. they might well find their hands tied by a vote to strike in support of a claim intended merely as a bargaining move at an early stage of negotiation. If on the other hand the union leaders are ready to call a strike without backing by their members but there is no doubt about their support, nothing would be gained by demanding a ballot.
(Para 97)
It proposed, however, that if a major official strike involved "a serious threat to the economy or the public interest" and it was doubtful whether the union's members were in favour of the strike, the Secretary of State should have power to order a ballot. After the unions had objected to parts of In Place of Strife an Industrial Relations Bill was presented to Parliament but it had not been passed when the Labour Party lost the 1970 general election.

The issue of the pre-strike ballot came to the fore in the recent coal strike because the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers refused to hold a national ballot, presumably because they were not sure that it would get the 55 per cent majority required by rule. The strike therefore came into conflict with the law but the National Coal Board decided not to take the issue to court. Instead. court action was taken by working members of the NUM who obtained an injunction preventing the NUM claiming that the strike was an official one. The NUM was fined £200,000 for contempt of court. Through another action by working members of the NUM most of its funds were sequestrated and placed under the control of a receiver appointed by the court.

Union voting methods have recently featured in reported cases of "ballot-rigging", leading to the Transport and General Workers Union reluctantly deciding to hold a new ballot for the appointment of their General Secretary. The media presented the issue of ballot-rigging in the TGWU in terms of a struggle between "left", and "right" and recalled the case of the Electrical Trade Union in 1961. when the High Court found that there had been massive rigging by members of the Communist Party designed to keep a fellow communist in office as General Secretary. The court held the defeated candidate to have been validly elected. At the time the Communist Party of Great Britain disclaimed all responsibility for the action of their members in the ETU and proclaimed their adherence to democratic methods. The disclaimer had a hollow ring in face of Lenin's explicit guidance to his followers to get control of the unions by any and every means:
It is necessary . . . if need be, to resort to strategy and adroitness, illegal proceedings, reticence and subterfuge, to anything in order to penetrate into the trade unions, remain there and carry on communist work within them at any cost.
(Lenin, Left Wing Communism, published by CPGB. page 39.)
However the CPGB in a letter to The Times (16 September 1976) did make one valid point about ballot-rigging: that members of the Labour Party and Tory Party had, on occasion, been equally guilty. The ETU case led to that union adopting a new system for ballots to prevent abuse, the whole ballot being conducted by an independent body, the Electoral Reform Society.

It remains to consider what is the attitude of socialists on all these issues. Firstly, we favour democratic organisation and methods in the unions and elsewhere; we do not aim, by vote-rigging or other trickery, to capture control of the unions and we are in favour of ballots to decide all issues. But the socialist attitude goes far beyond this and is unique among political parties in this country. Socialists are not interested in choosing between "good" and "bad" leaders but in persuading the working class to abandon the whole concept of leadership. As we said in the Socialist Standard of May 1912:
All their militant might must be based upon the knowledge of their class position and the logical course dictated by that position. Therefore at the outset the need for leaders does not exist. Only those who do not know the way need to be led. and this very fact makes it inevitable that those who are led will be entirely in the hands of those who lead.
The article went on to argue that the leader depends on the lack of knowledge of those who are led and has an interest in maintaining that lack of knowledge, not in getting rid of it.

On the trade union field the Socialist Party's attitude was highlighted by a libel action brought against party members by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, on the ground of a statement in the Socialist Standard that the leaders had betrayed their members, the executive of the union having agreed to a settlement against the vote of members employed on the North Eastern Railway. In spite of the fact that the executive did not consult the whole membership, the judge held that the action of the executive was covered by union rules and was justified by the obligation to look after the interests of all the membership. The judge awarded in favour of the union.

The socialist view has always been that the members of unions should at all times keep control of union policy and actions in their own hands and not allow freedom of action to executive or officials. Not only should the decision to strike be by ballot of the members but also the decision to accept terms of settlement of a strike. This acceptance of full responsibility by the members of unions involves the need for them to understand the workings of capitalism and the resulting "economics" of strikes and to take into account the fact that over-riding power rests with those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces, and that state power is always available to back the employers in the defence of capitalism. As it was put in an article in the Socialist Standard (April 1919): "On the economic field the masters are in a far stronger position than the workers and can beat them any time they decide to fight to a finish".

Whether the government and the employers will think it desirable to "fight to a finish" depends on a number of factors, including whether trade is good and profits steady or whether there is a depression. When trade is good employers do not want the flow of profits to be interrupted by a strike. But when sales and profits are falling, the unions have little hope of putting pressure on employers by threatening to close factories which the employers are closing anyway, either temporarily or permanently.

This can be illustrated by comparing the successful coal strike of 1974 with the failure of the recent strike. In 1974 British capitalism was booming. Profits were high and rising, unemployment was at the very low level of 600,000, less than one-fifth of what it is now. Employers generally did not want their flow of profits to be stopped by the coal strike. So much so that a small group of wealthy capitalists met together secretly (it was reported in the press without disclosures of names) and offered a gift of £2,500,000 (equivalent to £9 million at current prices) to the NUM as an inducement to settle the strike. The offer was declined. The outcome in the situation as it existed in 1974 was that in a short strike of four weeks the NUM gained a substantial wage increase, whereas in the very different situation of 1984-5 the strike lasted almost a year and was a total failure. It should be noted that what is "short" or "long" in connection with strikes depends on the industry. A power-station strike or a telephone strike makes its impact instantly, but with a strike in industries where there are large stocks in the pipe line, as with steel and coal, it may take weeks before the union can see whether the cessation of production is likely to exert pressure on employers generally.

It only remains to add that, in the nature of capitalism, what trade unions and strikes can achieve is always limited. In particular their action cannot lead to the emancipation of the working class and the establishment of socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

That was the year . . . (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard 

On the day the war in Europe ended in 1945, the centre of London became jammed by an enormous crowd. After six years of suffering, that mass of people might have been expected to be looking angrily for the leaders who had deceived them that the mess of cynicism, destruction and slaughter had been necessary, even constructive. But when the crowd called for Churchill it was not in any spirit of revenge; his appearance was greeted with For He's a Jolly Good Fellow and when the royal family came onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace the dense-packed sufferers broke out into the national anthem. It was clear, then, that the war had changed nothing of any lasting significance. Capitalism was to continue. The suffering and deprivation would go on, loyally and musically absorbed by the people.

It was indeed an exceptionally eventful year. As it became apparent that the German and Japanese war machines were about to collapse, the Allied leaders had begun earnest discussions about how the post-war world was to be arranged. These conferences were not about the future safeguarding of democracy, nor about securing a happy and prosperous life for the people who had been on the receiving end of the war. They were not even exclusively concerned with the destruction of Germany and Japan as economic and military rivals. The biggest item on the agenda was how the victorious Allies would carve up the world, which was actually quite appropriate since that was partly what the war had been about.

Behind their wartime unity, the Allied powers remained competing capitalist states and some of the history of the war can be explained only on that basis. Before Germany surrendered, the American government were engaged in delicately manoeuvring their forces so as to balance the competing needs of keeping the alliance with Russia against that of restricting the Russian grip on the Europe of the future. They were not always successful. At the Yalta conference, in February 1945. Stalin agreed to join the war against Japan only in return for valuable concessions. At Potsdam. later in the year, there was agreement to split Germany into zones; the provision to treat the country as an economic whole was then quietly forgotten, which effectively set up the separate states of East and West Germany and so enlarged the Russian sphere of control in Europe.

As the flames of war and the fluttering of "peace" treaties died away it was clear that Russian capitalism was now the great power in Europe, with an empire which ran from the Baltic almost to the Mediterranean. The American capitalist class, whatever they had agreed at the conferences, recognised the threat to their interests and responded by erecting their own power bloc in NATO. In the Far East, where Russia and the rising capitalist power of China competed to fill the space left by the defeat of Japan, there was SEATO. The result of all this was predictable, to all except those who had absorbed the propaganda about the war being fought for peace in freedom: the map was redrawn so that new frontiers existed to be fought over in place of the old. The rivalry of interests remained and the division of Berlin, Korea, Vietnam and other places set out the battle lines of the future. Since those statesmen — Roosevelt, Truman, Stalin, Churchill, Attlee redrew the map millions of workers have been killed in wars across the frontiers, to assert the minority class interests entrenched on either side.

Although they were represented at the conferences, the British capitalist class exerted only a minor influence, for the 1939/45 war had given a mighty impetus to the decline of British power in the world. The war in the Far East had made it plain that British resources could no longer sustain a chain of colonies, markets and bases in the area. America took over as the power which could impose stability on the Far East as a field of supply and trade for the industry and commerce of the capitalists of the west. For some time after 1945 British politics was fashioned by the readiness with which this new reality was accepted. From childhood the workers had been schooled into the belief that the British Empire was the most civilising experience in history. To deny that called for much cunning — the sort applied by Harold Macmillan, who was adept at carrying one policy while professing to stand for another. The impending death of British imperialism was held off in a series of military scuffles in places like Cyprus, Borneo, Suez and Central Africa but in the end it had to be faced.

On VE Day, Churchill assured the non-vengeful crowd in Whitehall that they were celebrating the defeat of a tyranny. There was a popular assumption that the complacency of the pre-war world would never happen again; in particular there would be no compromise with dictatorships (the war was widely, and mistakenly, believed to have been provoked by attempts at appeasing Germany's insatiable demands; the Potsdam conference, in July and August 1945, agreed to destroy Nazism). To support these promises, the wartime propagandists had to perform the astounding feat of ignoring the character of Russian capitalism. They had to blot out the history of the purges, the labour camps, the show trials, the political executions and the mass exterminations and instead pretend that Stalin's Russia was a land peopled by stolidly contented peasantry and industrial workers cared for by a benign man with a reassuringly avuncular moustache. Of course they were equal to this task. If they had not been, they would have had to admit that on "our", side there was one of the world's most ruthless dictatorships and that the war could not. therefore, be a defence of democracy.

The Russian ruling class committed their people to the war against Japan just in time to claim for themselves some of the spoils from that country's defeat, an event notable for opening the new age of instant nuclear annihilation — as a fitting end to a war for a safer world. To compound the horror, the V2 rockets which had flown down onto London in a last, defiant spasm from Germany, spawned the delivery systems which now ensure the weapons arrive on target and on time. It is now possible that the first stages of a future nuclear war will be concerned with which power is able to dominate space itself, much as fighter aircraft would be sent out to clear the bombers' way in the 1939/ 45 war. In these times of "peace" vast resources are expended in refining and intensifying these means of destruction, while each year millions die through lack of food. There is no more poignant illustration of capitalism's inhumane priorities.

But of course none of this was emphasised during those headstrong days in 1945. For a brief time, hope flourished like flowers in the summer sun. Soon, there was a new government in Britain — for the first time the Labour Party ruled with the sort of majority to ensure them a full term of power. Their years in the wilderness had given them plenty of time to work out their plans; now they could implement the explicit promises in their manifesto Let Us Face The Future and satisfy the implicit hopes of their patient followers. Many people decided that it was the dawn of a new age. a time to trample over stuffy, outmoded traditions; Labour MPs offended against parliamentary order by singing (although many of them knew neither the words nor the tune) The Red Flag in the House of Commons.

Some of those MPs. like much of the party membership, were inspired by the conviction that Labour was a socialist party. Its aims, such as the nationalisation of industry and the establishment of a state medical service, were represented as socialism. It is difficult to describe this attitude as other than plain ignorance, for socialism means nothing if not a fundamental change in social relationships, based on the dispossession of the capitalist class — which was simply not represented in Labour Party thinking let alone in their election manifestoes. Subsequent revelations in Cabinet papers and political memoirs, of how the personalities of that government thought and of how they did their job as ministers, confirm that none of them were anywhere near being socialists. They were interested — and this was what the working class had voted for — in a different method of administering capitalism.

So any dreams that Clement Attlee and his ministers would, after the constitutional assent of the king, instal the working class into communal ownership of the means of production and distribution were misguided. The Labour government quickly got down to the job of restoring the war-battered fortunes of British capitalism, by launching a drive for cheaper and more efficient production and more competitive marketing — which was another name for the more intensive exploitation of the workers. A significant part of the government's life was spent in a persistent effort to hold down wages and generally blight workers' lives with a continuance of wartime austerity measures. The war, they said, had not after all solved all problems; the working class must still suffer in the interests of the ruling class. That those interests were well protected by that Labour government was evidenced through their concern for the upkeep of a British military presence. They sent British workers to die in places like Korea, they struggled to protect British investments in the rubber and tin of the Far East and the oil of the Persian Gulf. This "peacetime" government might have been expected to abolish conscription — the forcible recruitment of people into the military machine — but instead they increased the period of service from 18 months to two years. Perhaps their crowning achievement in this field was to set up the programme to manufacture a British nuclear bomb.

It is common now for Labour supporters, wandering in the seemingly endless desert of Thatcher Britain, to recall the Attlee government with pride and affection, as proof that they are capable of great things. But the desert is a place of mirages. The truth is that that government was riven with bitter dissent as its rival factions squabbled over the most effective way of running British capitalism. In the end this wore them out and they went down to an exhausted defeat, witnessed by workers in a kind of blank despair; was this all there was to show for the hopes for a new society?

So 1945 was not a typical year. Forty years on, there is no happier tale to tell. The world remains in the same disfigured, crazy, inhumane mess. The cause of this goes deeper than any state of peace or war, or of any state or any party, to the roots of society. If the workers who fought and celebrated and who were deceived were to pay attention to that fact, it would be the most fruitful commemoration of that troublous year when the war finished and the world settled back into the menacing tumult which they persist in calling peace.

Election Work (1985)

Party News from the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Socialist Party is contesting Islington South & Finsbury at the next parliamentary election and calls on members and sympathisers to assist with preparatory work now under way. If you can spare a few hours a week to distribute leaflets or address envelopes for the Freepost system, please contact Cliff Begley, c/o Islington Branch (see Directory page). Contributions to the Branch's Election Campaign Fund are welcome, as will be any ideas that might increase the campaign’s impact. The election itself may be some years away, but serious and sustained activity must start now.
Islington Branch

Diabolical liberty (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is the individual right to go to work during a strike equal to the collective right to strike? This is the issue at the centre of a row within the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) which resulted in the resignation of Larry Gostin, the General Secretary, four members of its Executive Committee and an Independent Inquiry team appointed to look at the civil liberties implications of the policing of the coal strike. It has also led to reports in the Press that NCCL has been hijacked by the Left, and claims from some NCCL members that, on the contrary, they have stopped the organisation from being dragged off its libertarian course by preventing an unholy alliance with such dubious elements as the uncivil and illiberal right. The latter was the policy that they claimed was advocated by Larry Gostin and his supporters.

NCCL was set up in 1934 as a result of concern about police brutality towards hunger marchers. Its objective as stated in its founding constitution was:
to assist in the maintenance of hard-won rights, especially freedom of speech, the press and assembly, from all infringements by executive or judicial authority contrary to the due process of law, or infringement by the tendency of governmental or other agencies to use their powers at the expense of the precarious liberties for which citizens of this country have fought
and to:
aid in advancing measures for the recovery or enlargement of these liberties (cited in Patricia Hewitt. The NCCL Fifty Years On in Peter Wellington (ed), Civil Liberties 1984. p.15).
Over the years NCCL's activities have included monitoring police behaviour at marches and demonstrations; preparing legal test cases where it is believed that an individual's rights have been abused; setting up enquiries into incidents such as the demonstration in Southall in 1979 which resulted in the death of Blair Peach; campaigns for withdrawal of, or amendments to, legislation which has extended state power such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

NCCL has consistently claimed to be an organisation concerned with civil liberties issues rather than with social justice (a point reiterated by Larry Gostin on his resignation). Patricia Hewitt, a former NCCL General Secretary, wrote:
From the outset. NCCL saw its activities as belonging to a specific tradition of civil liberties — the defence of civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and association, rather than economic and social rights, such as the right to education or a minimum standard of living (Patricia Hewitt, op. cit., p. 16).
It was hoped that by adopting such a position NCCL would be able to cut across party political divisions. But this stance has not. over the years, always proved successful. In 1946 such eminent members as George Orwell and E.M. Forster resigned from NCCL because they believed it was being used as a front organisation for the Communist Party. NCCL's traditional links with the trade union movement have also led to accusations that NCCL is too closely associated with the Labour Party — a view that has gained increasing currency as a result of the recent developments.

The recent controversy, which came to a head at NCCL's AGM, arises from a resolution taken by the 1984 AGM to set up an independent inquiry into the policing of the coal strike. The inquiry's terms of reference were as follows:
To inquire into and thereby establish the fullest possible account and the civil liberties implications of the role of the police, the police authorities and the criminal courts in the events arising from and relating to the NUM dispute, which began in March 1984 (Preface to Civil Liberties and the Miners ' Dispute, First Report of the Independent Inquiry).
In December 1984 the Inquiry team published an interim report which immediately sparked off angry debate within NCCL. While the report was largely critical of the conduct of the police towards striking miners, it also contained the following paragraph:
We accept that the freedom not to take part in a strike is as much a fundamental right as the right to strike. Going to work during a strike is in any case a lawful activity, and like any other lawful activity ought not to be impeded by violence, threats or physical obstruction. We have identified the freedom to travel unhindered for any lawful purpose as a fundamental liberty; this is equally so whether the purpose is peaceful picketing, taking part in a demonstration, or simply going to work (First Report of the Independent Inquiry, p.6.)
It was this equation of the "right to strike" with the "right not to take part in a strike" and the report's comments about the behaviour of both striking and working miners which led to its being condemned as a "Scab's Charter".

At the end of February, NCCL's executive committee passed a number of motions which censured the inquiry team. Firstly, they "regretted" that the independent inquiry "exceeded its terms of reference in commenting on the conduct of striking and working miners and in setting out civil liberty principles which did not directly relate to the role of the police, police authorities and criminal courts". This resolution was upheld by the AGM. Secondly, the executive committee "regretted" that the presentation of the report, and especially its plea that all sides "refrain from violence, intimidation or other actions likely to cause injury or public disorder or provoke unnecessary ill-feeling", was "unnecessarily damaging to the miners' cause". Again this was upheld by the AGM. Thirdly, the executive committee stated that "the right to strike is a fundamental civil liberty and entirely rejects the proposition that those who break strikes are exercising an equally fundamental right". The AGM passed a similarly worded resolution.

Larry Gostin resigned as General Secretary a few days later because, as he wrote in his letter of resignation:
I, of course, respect the democracy of NCCL, but feel I could not publicly defend the full range of NCCL policies in good conscience, and with conviction and credibility. (The Times. 3 May 1985)
What should be made of this controversy? Is it just an internal political battle between different factions within NCCL? While this may be the case, it raises serious questions which are worth examining in greater detail, particularly that of the right to strike versus the right not to strike.

In the context of the coal strike this issue was made more complicated because the NUM did not hold a strike ballot. The miners who continued to work could therefore claim, with some justification, that since they had not been given the opportunity to express their views democratically through a ballot, the only way they could exercise their freedom of "thought, conscience and belief' (a ''right" contained in NCCL's own Charter of Civil Rights and Liberties) was by continuing to work during the strike.

But suppose that a strike ballot had been called and a majority of NUM members had democratically decided to take strike action. What then would be the position of the minority of NUM members who. for whatever reason, disagreed with the strike? One option open to them would be to obey the strike call but not to take part in strike activities. such as picketing, on the grounds that while the individuals concerned did not support this strike they did support their trade union, recognised the importance of trade union solidarity and felt that more damage would be done to the Union as a whole through continuing to work than they would gain as individuals by exercising the "right" to act on conscience.

An alternative, if the "dissenter" within the union felt strongly enough against the strike would be to continue to work, but at the same time to accept both the "right" of strikers to try to persuade him not to cross the picket line during a strike, and also the "right" of the union to decide that such actions were incompatible with union membership.

Both of these positions are equally tenable for a civil libertarian. A majority of delegates at NCCL's AGM decided however that the collective "right" to strike took precedence over the "right" of the individual to carry on working during a strike. Their argument was that the strike weapon — the most effective weapon that workers have against their employers — is undermined if the majority of union members do not support the strike and so their "collective right" can be rendered useless by individuals exercising their "right" to dissent.

One can't avoid the feeling that those who support this position have taken a number of ingredients (as contained in NCCL's Charter) which they like the sound of, mixed them up and have then become disappointed when they can't stomach the resulting cake — that is, that civil liberties, according to their recipe, also apply to people whose actions they find unacceptable. At the AGM they tried to change the recipe by saying that there should be a little more "collective rights" and a little less "individual rights". Several of the cooks of the original cake took offence and resigned.

However, it has not occurred to any of the protagonists as yet that maybe they need a completely new recipe. An organisation like NCCL whose intention is to defend civil liberties (however they are defined) is only necessary in a society in which the "liberties" of citizens can be curtailed by "governmental or other agencies". In most cases this means incursions by the state — the police, courts, army, government — or by those who hold economic power, the capitalist class, against those who are powerless in society. These two institutions, the state and the capitalist class, are not independent of each other. On the contrary, they live in a symbiotic relationship: the capitalist class, the minority who own and control the means of producing wealth in society, require the state to defend and administer their interests and the state would be unable to function without the resources that the capitalist class grants it. NCCL seeks to defend people from what they regard as the unjustifiable use of state power but to do that within the very system — capitalism — which itself creates the need for the state.

The coal strike exposed the diametrically opposed class interests of workers and the capitalist class. Both sides in the dispute expressed these interests in terms of "rights the right of the Coal Board to manage (to close pits that didn't produce enough profit) and the right of NUM members to express their opposition to pit closures by taking strike action. Some miners did not see the dispute in these terms and mistakenly thought that their interests were better served by continuing to work and claimed the "right" to do so.

While organisations like NCCL and the trade union movement can fight to preserve rights we should never forget what the "right to work" and the "right to strike" really mean. The right to work amounts to little more than the right to sell our labour power for a wage or salary so that we and our families can live. It means spending a considerable amount of time engaged in work that we may not enjoy and from which we, as workers, never derive any benefit. The right to strike is one of the few weapons that the working class has at its disposal to use against capital to prevent working conditions and living standards from being driven down still further. It should be used cautiously since it is the weapon of last resort and entails considerable hardship and suffering for workers engaged in strike action.

Where then does this leave NCCL? If it is to be a consistently civil libertarian organisation that applies the principles set out in its constitution and Charter, and works within capitalism without concerning itself with social justice, then it must accept all the contradictions that that will entail and also the possibility of upholding the "rights" of individuals whose views or actions it finds abhorrent.

Perhaps at least some workers among NCCL's members will have been led by this argument to look more closely at the whole issue of civil liberties and to question the value of trying to defend such rights and liberty in the context of a system of society which itself constantly acts as a fetter on the freedom of all workers — that is the freedom to democratically control the society in which we live and the wealth we produce.
Janie Percy-Smith

Profitable pills (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The pharmaceutical industry has grown at an unprecedented rate in the last forty years. The British drug industry expanded 10 per cent each year during the ten years before 1972, more than three times the growth rate for manufacturing industry, while the world industry has grown even faster (Widgery. 1979).

Although Jenner's smallpox vaccine was widely used by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the first hypnotic was discovered in 1866, it was the discovery of aspirin in 1899 which marked the beginning of the age of new drugs which proliferated for the next fifty years. There are now about 7,500 preparations on the market, and the number is growing, despite the fact that in 1965 an assessment of 2241 products in Britain, of the 3.000 or so then available, judged 35 per cent of them to be ineffective, obsolete or irrational combinations and in 1971 the American Food and Drug Administration found that 60 per cent of the 2,000 products investigated by them lacked evidence for their therapeutic claims (Widgery). It has been estimated, that 95 per cent of health problems could be treated by 100-200 drugs (Shulman, 1982).

Obviously, neither the lack of usefulness nor, in some cases, the positive harmfulness, of the majority of modern drugs have hindered their growth. Although some medicines have considerably eased pain and misery (the discovery of insulin has saved the lives of millions of diabetics), the use and development of drugs has been abused and perverted under capitalism because of the enormous profits which can be made. Doyal (1979) has pointed out that in the USA in the years 1960-73 the average return on capital in the drug industry was around 18 per cent compared with 11 per cent for manufacturing industry as a whole, and a study in Britain showed profits of 26 per cent for 1967-69 compared with 12.6 per cent for manufacturing industries.

The enormous amount of capital needed for the research and development of new drugs creates a tendency towards monopoly as small firms simply do not have the necessary resources to compete against the giant multinationals.

The seventeen year patent protection given to new drugs also helps drug firms to monopolise the market and with an increase in cardiovascular diseases, road and industrial accidents, diabetes, cancers, respiratory diseases, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism and mental disorders a ready supply of customers can be relied on. Thus capitalism, having caused an increase in stress-related illnesses, makes a fortune supplying remedies to alleviate them.

Robson (1973) has pointed out that far from stimulating research, patents tend to promote "molecular rouletting" whereby rival firms try to break into the market by providing drugs with minor modifications to those protected by patents. In this way considerable amounts of resources are used up to develop drugs similar to those already on the market with very little chemical advantage, if any, over their rivals but with the added risk of new side-effects. Clearly such drugs are not provided to cater for people’s needs but for profits.

The profits afforded by patent protection are considerable. The products of countries with Patent Laws are priced from 18 per cent to 225 per cent higher than drugs in countries without Patent Laws (Robson). Probably the best known, and most notorious. example of monopoly trading was the supply of chlordiazepoxide under the trade name Librium to the National Health Service at £370 a kilo when the actual cost was £9, and diazepam under the trade name Valium at £922 a kilo when the actual cost was £20.

Mitchell (1984) estimates that if drugs were prescribed by their generic names instead of by their trade names the National Health Service's drugs bill would be more than £50 million cheaper. In 1979 doctors wrote 370 million prescriptions at a cost of £750 million, yielding profits of £121 million. Medicines sold over the counter make further profits (Illiffe. 1983).

Considerable sums of money are spent on advertising medicines. Robson (1977) states: "Drug effectiveness is often open to question and is in inverse proportion to the amount spent on advertising the product." Thus 1.9 per cent of the cost of anti-diabetic drugs is spent on advertising but 13.9 per cent of the cost is spent on promoting products of dubious value such as antacids and cough and cold remedies. The role of the general practitioner in prescribing drugs is recognised by the drug industry, who spend more money per doctor on the promotion of drugs than is spent on medical training.

Drug firms, in fact, spend more on advertising than on research although they claim that expensive research justifies the high prices charged for their products. The haste to produce new. but often similar, drugs leads to many unsafe medicines being sold. Bodenheimer (1984) claims that an estimated 130,000 people in the United States die each year from adverse drug reactions and that as many as 60 per cent of the medications are entirely unnecessary. Hurwitz (1969) found that 2.9 per cent of patients in Britain had adverse drug reactions requiring hospital treatment.

Unfavourable results from drug research are frequently covered up in the interests of profits. Shulman states that the anti-arthritic drug Opren was taken by 700,000 people in Britain and caused 3.500 adverse reactions and 61 deaths in two years. But "By April 19th 1982. when "Opren" was licensed in the USA. 25 "Opren" patients in the UK had died. The Sunday Times investigation shows that Lilly failed to inform the Food and Drug Administration of this until after the licence was granted for the USA. A further five cases in the USA of dangerous side effects were not reported to the British authorities".

Bodenheimer (1984) has described how MER/29 was marketed by William S. Merrell Company in 1960 for lowering cholesterol and withdrawn two years later after more than 5,000 cases of side effects had been reported. An investigation by the American Food and Drug Administration revealed that laboratory notebooks had been falsified to produce favourable research findings.

The human testing of drugs is frequently contracted out to private clinics who exploit the unemployed and the poor to be guinea-pigs in the testing of potentially dangerous substances for paltry payments. The absence of legislation regarding the human testing of drugs in Britain has led to foreign drug companies testing drugs in British clinics to evade stricter laws in their own countries. In particular, the loss of the captive prison population in the United States for drug testing has led to more frequent contracting out of human drug research to Britain.

Drugs which are restricted or banned in the United States or Britain are sold in underdeveloped countries, often with serious side-effects. Depo-Provera. an injectable contraceptive banned in the United States, is widely used in underdeveloped countries; chloramphenicol, reserved for the treatment of typhoid in Britain because of the risk of developing aplastic anaemia, a potentially fatal condition, is sold over the counter in South America. The sale of antibiotics for trivial infections has led to resistant strains of more serious infections developing in countries such as Mexico and Brazil.

The tragedies that have resulted from the use of Thalidomide and Debendox. both of which caused severe birth defects in thousands of children and led to law suits for compensation, have not lessened the pharmaceutical industry's enthusiasm for new drugs or made them any safer. This is because under capitalism goods are produced for profit and human needs are always secondary; the drug companies make such enormous profits that compensation, even in the few cases where it is paid, amounts to only a fraction of annual profits; the state, acting in its role as facilitator of capital, allows the drug industry to produce drugs which can maim and kill.

Although drugs arc often tested in underdeveloped countries to avoid litigation arising from serious side-effects, research into parasitical and tropical diseases is a fraction of the amount spent on cardiovascular diseases and cancers, which are common in developed countries, because of differing abilities to buy drugs. Because drug firms are multinational they are able to exploit low-paid labour in underdeveloped countries. Profits are also increased by avoiding taxes. As it is also extremely difficult to determine the extent of profits made abroad, profits declared in Britain or the USA may represent only party of the enormous gains made by the pharmaceutical industry.

At best drugs are a substitute: an attempt to cure or alleviate rather than prevent disease; at worst they cause suffering, pain and death through misuse. Psychotropic drugs used for depression and anxiety are all too often taken instead of trying to secure political and social change and reduce people's capacity to fight against their exploitation. The elimination of poverty and the diseases it causes will come about through the establishment of socialism and not the hastily researched. dubious remedies of multinational drug firms who prey on human misery to amass large fortunes.
Carl Pinel

Bodenheimer. T.S. (1984): The transnational pharmaceutical industry" in Issues in the Political Economy of Health Care, edited by John B. McKinlay. Tavistock.
Doyal, L. with Pennell, I. (1979): The Political Economy of Health, Pluto Press. p193.
Hurwitz. N. (1969): "Admissions to hospital due to drugs '. British Medical Journal. 1. 1539. 
Iliffe. S. (1983): The NHS: A Picture of Health? Lawrence and Wishart, pp159-160.
Mitchell. J. (1984): What Is To Be Done About Illness And Health? Penguin Books.
Robson J. (1973): "Take a Pill . . .  Marxists in Medicine, p.9.
Robson. J. (1977): "Quality. Inequality and Health Care". Marxists in Medicine. pp29-30 
Shulman. J. (1982): "Pills and profits — dealing with the drug companies'. Medicine in Society. 8(3) 18-22.
Shulman. J. (1983): "The Opren affair — tragedy or scandal". Medicine in Society. 9(1) 26-31. 
Widgery. D. (1979): Health in Danger, Macmillan. pp84-88.