Thursday, June 9, 2022

NHS Crisis: A Socialist Nurse Speaks Out (1991)

From the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Standard interviews socialist nurse, Adele Atkinson.

We both know that the NHS has always been a get-you-back-to-work service to keep workers in a fit state to produce profits, so what’s new about the new reforms?

The NHS reforms, brought in on 1 April this year, are designed to ensure that the NHS conforms to market demands. All services within the NHS are being priced and sold within an internal market: GPs must buy services from hospitals, hospital departments specialising in one area from those specialising in another, and so on. 

These new contracts for services can only be entered into if the buyer has the money in the budget. No money to buy, no contract; no contract, no provision of service. 

The original aim of the NHS was ostensibly to provide free health care paid out of state funds; now each sector of the NHS must rely on its own budget and constantly think in terms of the market. This is just making explicit what was already implicit in the financing of the health service.

How does capitalism manage to price illnesses?

This is done in accordance with a system called ICD (International Classification of Diseases) which classifies diseases as being more or less costly than each other, and also by DRGs (Diagnostic Related Diseases) which suggests how long a patient will need to stay in hospital and how much medical attention will be needed. 

This is a crude pricing system and its means that many pieces of technical equipment are unused because nobody can afford to buy their use; for example, this is the case in the burns unit where I have worked for years.

What will happen to burns patients in the future – if, for instance, the burns treatment costs too much for their local health authority to pay for?

They will be put on general wards where they will have less specialised attention and where there will be a much greater risk of contracting infection – burns victims are very prone to infection. This is happening now.

So, these cost-cutting policies by so-called economic experts hurt real people?

Let me give you an example of this. There was a woman waiting for sterilisation at Guy’s hospital in London. She had been on the waiting list before 1 April. After 1 April Guy’s refused to do the operation unless her local health authority, which had no contract with them, would pay the cost. The local authority wouldn’t pay; the operation did not take place.

How do workers in the NHS feel about this?

Morale in the NHS is very low. It is clear to many workers what our employers think we’re worth. The RCN has criticised the reform, but will take no defensive action, such as striking. The other unions, COHSE, NUPE and NALGO are going to merge and that should make us stronger. But, you see, in the end it doesn’t matter to the financial whizz-kids who are running the NHS what we think. 

Opting out can be carried out by hospitals on a minority decision by the people who work in them. Senior staff, such as consultants, have been bought off: they’ve been put on management boards called Clinical Directorates where they are made to choose how to spend the budget. In other words, skilled medical practitioners are being dragged into the dirty work of having to play the health market – and then defend the decisions to the rest of us.

Guy’s Hospital became a trust on 1 April, in accordance with the reform, and then sacked nearly a thousand workers. Why?

Because it’s not “cost effective” to have so many London teaching hospitals all competing for the same population with the same services. So, despite the chronic length of waiting lists, Guy’s decided to close down its least marketable services – mental health and care of the elderly, I should think. Guy’s did this in the knowledge that there would be a public outcry. The plan is to get the outcry and the demonstrations over quickly and then the other hospitals can start cutting services and laying off workers. Mind you, Peter Griffiths and Karen Caines, the top managers at Guy’s, are paid £90,000 and £50,000 a year respectively. And they are being paid to ensure that costs are cut and budgets are kept to, regardless of human lives lost.

As a socialist, what way out do you see from this mess?

We need a society where the production of everything – everything from food to housing to health care – is provided on the basis of need, not sales or profit. 

The market is a crazy way of distributing – in fact, it rations – what people need. There will never be a fully decent health service as long as there is the market.

In a non-market, socialist community what do think will be the main changes in the way you, as a nurse, will do your work?

For a start, socialism will be able to provide decent care for the elderly. These now take up half the beds on the orthopaedic, chest and other medical wards. They are seen as a burden. What gain in there in paying the price of keeping them alive? In a socialist society real care – and that takes a lot of time, a lot of people – will be possible. 

Also, people with learning difficulties – those currently dismissed as mentally handicapped – can be more integrated into the community. A lot of people are currently left in hospitals because the society beyond can’t be bothered, or lacks the cash, to care for them. I also think that socialist hospitals will keep patients in for longer periods. At the moment hospitals do their best to throw patients out so that their beds can be filled, new money can be made. People need to be properly looked after and capitalism isn’t letting us do that as well as we can and should.

Labour’s futile policy (1991)

From the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the British economy is in recession, capitalism's economic gurus are busying themselves trying to find a cure. The Labour Party, ever free with its opinions on how governments can run capitalism efficiently and painlessly, has hit on a policy which, they hope, can stimulate investment and growth. Like so many of the cures for capitalism's ills it is not in fact a new policy, and amounts to saying that the present economic downturn has been caused by government policies, primarily with regard to high interest rates.

The Shadow Chancellor, John Smith, argues that investment in manufacturing industry has dipped because firms cannot borrow at an acceptable rate of interest. The government, he says, should cut interest rates as a way of encouraging investment and halting the recession.

This idea has been receiving support from some unexpected quarters. For instance, Sir Alan Walters, formerly chief economic adviser to Thatcher, recently wrote:
Interest rates should have been brought down long ago from the 15 per cent year-long high to 11 per cent or less. And, if we bring interest rates down within a few weeks, I suspect that we can still avoid a savage slump. (London Evening Standard, 22 February).
This view that banks have been charging a rate of interest that is not “acceptable" was put by the Labour Party during the slump which started in 1929. Similarly, a major reason why Labour nationalised the Bank of England in 1946 was to ensure that governments could intervene to bring down interest rates in a bid to avoid any threatening recession. The argument that governments can smooth out capitalism’s booms and slumps via manipulation of interest rates is as erroneous now as it was then.

The anarchy of production inherent to the capitalist system ensures that periods of prosperity and boom are not everlasting and that a slump is always somewhere around the corner. In any period of boom some industries will inevitably over-expand their production in relation to market demand and have to curtail output and lay off workers as a consequence. This has a knock-on effect for other sectors of industry, resulting in falling output and increasing unemployment for the economy as a whole.

Supply and demand
It is not the ease that high interest rates come along and turn a booming economy into a stagnant one by discouraging investment when further growth and expansion is still possible. Rather it is the other way round: high interest rates are not the cause of a capitalist crisis of over-expansion and overproduction (in relation to the market), but arc a symptom of its initial stages.

The rate of interest charged by banks is determined by competition between buyers of capital (the borrowers) and sellers of capital (the lenders). When faced with the onset of an economic crisis many capitalist enterprises will be prepared to borrow money capital at higher rates of interest just so that they can meet their obligations and stay in business, so pushing the rate up. At other times the situation is different, as Marx explained in Capital:
If we consider the turnover cycles in which modern industry moves—inactivity, growing animation, prosperity, overproduction. crash, stagnation, inactivity, etc . . . —we find that a low rate of interest corresponds to periods of prosperity or high profit, a rise in interest comes between prosperity and its collapse, while maximum interest up to extreme usury corresponds to a period of crisis. (Vol 3. Penguin edition, page 482).
Interest rates are not arbitrarily fixed on the whim of governments: they reflect the market conditions affecting money capital

A complicating factor today which was absent in Marx's time is that interest rates are now permanently higher than they would otherwise be because of the continuing government policy of printing an excess issue of inconvertible (that is. not backed by gold) paper currency. This inflationary policy leads to constantly rising prices. With interest rates being the price of borrowing money capital, these too are affected. High interest rates are needed by lenders to protect their assets, which would otherwise be eroded year after year by inflation. Lenders have to be concerned with the return they get after rising prices are taken into account: the so-called “real" rate of interest (the actual rate charged less the rate of price increases).

Clutching at straws
Banks, like other capitalist enterprises, are in the business of making a profit. They do this by paying depositors a rate of interest to attract capital in, and then by lending it out again to borrowers at a higher rate of interest. A major cut in interest rates would mean a fall in deposits as lenders and savers were discouraged by lower returns on their investments—so restricting the amount that banks can lend out to industry and others (banks can only lend out what has been deposited with them and cannot “create credit with the stroke of a pen" as many of capitalism's economists seem to think). Such a cut in interest rates at the present time would be likely to adversely effect the already reduced profitability of the banking sector. Lloyds Bank has already cut 5,000 jobs in the last 18 months, with the other three major British banks in a similar situation. The Guardian (26 February) has reported that Lloyds expects 50,000 jobs to be lost soon in the financial services sector as a whole.

In any case, any attempt to finance industrial capital at the expense of the banks overlooks one crucially important factor. If cheaper loans are provided for industry this doesn't automatically mean they will be invested in order to expand production. The rationale behind capitalist production is the expectation of profit, and if market conditions dictate that commodities cannot be sold at a profit, then firms will not employ more workers and expand production The whole idea that large-scale cuts in interest rates can, as if by magic, turn a stagnant economy into a booming one is a myth. It is another example of reformist politicians clutching at straws.

The present high interest rates are a product of both the continuing process of inflation. and of the onset of the recession, and will eventually fall of their own accord as the recession continues. Any attempt to manipulate interest rates (or other prices) so as to control the operation of the capitalist economy is entirely futile and can only represent another doomed policy initiative to ameliorate a social system that fails to match the high hopes of its politicians with monotonous regularity.
Dave Perrin

Caught In The Act: Monmouth and after (1991)

The Caught In The Act Column from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Monmouth and after

Losing gracefully is supposed lo be something that all Britishers are supposed to be good at. It has something to do with being properly brought up, going to a good school, being keen on cricket — rather like John Major, who has the added advantage, when it comes to behaving chivaloursly, of being a Tory. So there was some surprise, notably in the newspapers which usually support the government, when Major’s response to the Tory defeat in the Monmouth by-election was to lead a verbal assault on the Labour Party on the lines of "we wuz robbed" — that Labour had won the seat by telling a lie about hospitals opting out of NHS administration.

In fact there was hardly any need for the Labour Party to lie about this or about anything else because the government is in such a mess at present that they don’t know whether to have an election this month, or October, or next May, or never again.

In Monmouth the Labour Party ran what is for them now a typical campaign, masterminded from headquarters with a candidate featureless enough to fade into the wallpaper. The new MP Huw Edwards set out his stall as a political puppet when, at a press conference during the campaign, he replied to a question about one aspect of Labour policy: it was still being worked out but as soon as he was told what it was he would support it. There was no sign, among the celebratory Labour supporters at Monmouth, that any of them were wondering whether their victory was more a case of cynical manipulation than political principles.

Desperate
Meanwhile the Tories have two choices: they can panic, as they did after Monmouth or they can silently grit their teeth and wait for things to get better. Their attempts to replace the ill-fated Poll Tax with what they hoped would be the voter-friendly Council Tax has flopped. Many votes are won and lost on the issue of the size of the bills sent out by local authorities, whether under the old rates system or Poll Tax or the promised Council Tax. In fact this is a non issue because whatever the level of these charges it is not of significance or permanent concern to workers. When they designed the Council Tax the Tories were hoping to exploit the widespread misconception that lower local authority charges are in our interests. But the memories live on how the Poll Tax was pushed through against so much sound advice and the Tories are branded now as a party of muddle needlessly caused by dogmatism.

This has also been their problem over the NHS which, after Monmouth, will almost certainly be a central issue in the next general election. In Monmouth the Labour Party shrewdly focussed on two local hospitals which are considering opting out while they publicised evidence that the recent changes in the NHS mean medical care is a matter of what people can afford. This was powerful stuff to voters who were raised on the fallacy that the NHS provides the best possible treatment, freely and equally to everyone. In fact medical service has rather more than the two tiers which Labour made so much of. At the bottom is the NHS with its straight-jacketed resources, its overworked staff, its wailing lists and its patients organised like tiresome cattle. At the top is the kind of attention provided in the world's exclusive clinics with their expensively discreet rooms, squads of doctors and nurses and their assumption that the customer is always right provided they can pay enough. The NHS was designed for the working class, as a co-ordinated and economical get-you-back-to-work service. At the other extreme is the medical care, far removed from the scope of organisations like BUPA, reserved for the ruling class — the class who can afford the best of everything.

Orthodoxy
In the past much has been forgiven the Tories because they were assumed to be the party who could be trusted to run the economy. It all went with playing cricket, behaving correctly to ladies and losing gracefully. This has meant that Tory Chancellors of the Exchequer, however muddled and panicky their responses to capitalism's upheavals, have had an easier ride than those in a Labour government. It made little difference, that Chancellors from both sides carried out roughly the same policies, failed to the same degree to solve the same problems, made similar speeches after similar budgets. But when the cosy assumption that all Tory Chancellors are in control of the economy comes under serious challenge the result can be a severe destabilising of support for the government.

For a long time it has been an orthodoxy of capitalist economics that a booming economy and low unemployment could stimulate inflations — rising prices. Another orthodoxy has been that "inflation" is the enemy of civilisation; John Major is on record as one who "hates" inflation rather as one might "hate" a disease or a vicious animal. In the House of Commons he proclaimed that reducing "inflation" is the ". . .only stable and sure way to create and keep jobs".

But on the same day the Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont was telling the Commons that lower inflation does not create and keep jobs but destroys them: "Rising unemployment is the price we have to pay to get inflation down, and it is a price well worth paying”. In fact both Major and Lamont have either misunderstood the situation or distorted it. And when all the speeches have been made and the votes counted it is clear that either way working class interests are not involved.

Arrogance
There are some striking resemblances between Lamont and Nigel Lawson of much cursed memory, not least in the arrogance with which he delivers his lectures on the economy. Like Lawson, he has the knack of spouting memorable phrases which he must instantly hope will be quickly forgotten. Not only the unemployed were outraged by this overfed buffoon telling them that their suffering was all in the good cause of keeping the Tories in power and advancing Lamont's career.

Monmouth was a typical episode in the politics of capitalism, a smokescreen to obscure the reality of the politicians' impotence to control a vicious and inhumane social system. It is all a grisly, farcical game in which the parties of capitalism make the rules, appoint the referees and change the scoreboard. When will we blow the whistle on it all?
Ivan

Fear or Freedom ? (1991)

From the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
We live in a society which is full of scared people. Millions of men and women who are scared of powers which they do not control. At work you fear the boss, even if you have never met him—even if he only ever manifests himself through the anonymity of a company logo. The boss is Capital and Capital is King: if the economic overlord does not like you, if you are not delivering the profits to order, then you will be thrown out of a job. The incessant insecurity of employment will be transformed into the nightmare insecurity of unemployment.

If you are an unemployed wage slave you live in the constant fear that you will become too poor to exist. You stand shaking on the verge of the living hell reserved for workers who have no money. If you have a home you fear falling behind with the mortgage payments or rent. Repossession is your constant threat. If you are homeless and have joined the growing army of workers who must sleep on the streets, then be sure to fear the friendly reminder of your poverty from the policeman's boot. When you walk down the streets of most cities you are scared. Who is behind you? The ethic of competition makes you prey for the bully who robs from the poor. You are scared of war. Unless you are crazy, in a world crammed full of the weaponry of mass destruction you feel miserably insecure about the prospect of the next full-blown market shoot-out.
The media, over which the vast majority has no control whatsoever, thrives on popular fears and depicts a world of beasts, be they East Enders' wretched brutes who fight and con one another or the ugly caricature of Dirty Harry: Winner Man. The government, with its laws and machinery of coercion, scares you: “Do as we say or suffer the force of violent sanctions". You submit because you are frightened not to. Fill in the census with its meaningless questions about ethnicity, discuss your sex life with the Department of Social (In) security official, keep off the grass and away from the Earth because it does not belong to you. We live in a "Keep Off—Keep Out— Keep Quiet" culture, and if you think of resisting, beware, for you may be labelled The Enemy Within. You fear the price of resistance; who knows how the powers that be will retaliate?

Fear is characteristic of the normalised wage slave. You were sent to school to learn to become scared. You were taught the skills of conforming, obeying and stifling awkward criticisms. Indeed, you were taught to be afraid of your own fear: it is not "manly” to be scared. It is "manly” to suffocate your self-respect until you have a slave's contentment with the sound of the whip hitting someone else. It is so much easier to down eight pints of lager and cheer in unison in a football stadium than to face up to the fears which this social system thrusts upon us.

This fear which is the daily companion of most workers is not something natural. To be sure, there are natural fears: physical dangers which threaten all of us occasionally and some to the extent that it destroys them. But most of the powers which assault the working class are the product of the way that society is organised. They are the socially-created effects of a social cause. The cause of our fear is the capitalist system.

The truth about capitalism
Under capitalism the means of wealth production—factories, farms, mines, media, means of communication and transportation—are owned and controlled by a small minority of the world's population. The world is run for the purpose of accumulating profits for that capitalist minority. In the pursuit of profit, the needs, feelings, hopes and dreams of the vast majority. who are the wealth-producers, will inevitably be hurt. Capital uses (exploits) the working class and also it abuses us in many ways. It makes workers subjects of a set of economic, political and social relationships which we do not control. In fact, even the capitalists do not control the workings of their system—the system ultimately controls the capitalists and the governments which rule on their behalf. The truth about capitalism is that the workers are economically disenfranchised from real power and the bosses only imagine that they are in charge; everything is chaos and disorder: nobody knows what will happen next.
Under capitalism it is quite sensible to be scared. The record of the system is one of persistent disasters, usually unexpected. Just as one social problem is apparently being reformed out of existence two more emerge to plague us. Plans and policies to improve the system fail, either immediately or in the long term. Optimistic prospects of peace collapse when new ruling gangs with unforeseen appetites for profits make war a necessity. In late 1989 the capitalist leaders were celebrating the end of the Cold War, the outbreak of world peace, freedom from the threat of military strife—and exactly a year later they were preparing for a potentially global war commencing in the Middle East. Even at its moments of greatest hopefulness, capitalism only offers the reasonable observer grounds for worry.

The result of this fear-inducing system is a society characterised by socially-caused suicide statistics (rising in recent years amongst teenagers) and massive addiction to drugs, both legal tranquillisers offered to the fearful by helpless doctors and the illegal variety, used as an illusory form of escape by those for whom fear and insecurity have become too much. This system sells escape as one for the most sought after commodities. Holidays offer a fortnight of artificial relief from the worries of everyday wage or salary slavery; there is escape through film and escape through astrology and escape through bopping up and down to the sterile non-songs of Jason, Kylie or the latest packaged boil-in-the-bag superstar. Escape is the dream of the captive. The prison of capitalism, which captivates us in the trap of working for wages and buying everything we need for money, makes the fantasy of escape an appealing one.

Mass emotional repression
Capitalism requires repression. Not only that visible, brutal, blood-stained repression which comes out of the barrel of a gun. or other means of state coercion. Mass emotional repression is the order of the day. Workers must learn to know their places, fear stepping out of line, feel afraid to question what it is not for us to question—run and hide, mentally if not physically, when talk of freedom is in the air. The “fear of freedom" (to use the term popularised by Erich Fromm, whose writings have much to offer us in examining the psychology of capitalist life) is amongst the greatest barriers to majority socialist understanding in the world today.

The problem is that to understand the possibility for social revolution—socialist liberation—people have to want to be liberated. to become free, to overcome the forces of oppression. For many workers such a desire for freedom is too much to cope with. To think about the socialist demand that the we should emancipate ourselves from wage slavery involves making the admission that we are now slaves and then accepting the desire to be something better. This recognition presents a difficulty to workers who have become accustomed to their condition: the happy slaves and the victims of fear who tremble at the thought of seeing what the system has reduced them to and what they could rise to become in a free society.

In a socialist society humans will be free. The most basic social freedom of all is free access to the goods and services we need. Capitalism can never offer such freedom. The market is the antithesis of free access. Socialism means that the common store of global wealth, including all services and the widest artistic opportunities, will be free to all. There will be no money. Each will take from what is available according to their needs, just as all will give to society according to their abilities. Co-operative, democratic human freedom will prevail.

With this economic freedom from the shackles of the market will come a profound emotional freeing of people from the burden of living in fear of powers beyond them. No more bosses, no more gods, no more money-worship, no more moral absolutes. Stateless, leaderless and classless humanity will be free to explore what we want to make of ourselves. The dreams which had previously been confined to fear-free utopian visions will be on the social agenda. Humans will be free to live with a consciousness unhindered by the fears which come from always having to look over your shoulder.

The psychological freedom which many have sought through individualist therapy or mystical diversions is only going to be possible when there is a collective fightback against the fear-culture of capitalism. If the movement for socialism is small today it is not because most workers have heard our ideas and rejected them. Nor is it the case that those who have rejected socialism have done so consciously. For millions of workers the dream of being free from all the fearful strains of life under this anti-life system is a powerful one. What is needed is the strength to act and the knowledge that conscious, democratic action for socialism is the way out. To our fellow frightened workers we say: Don’t be afraid; it’s time now to give the capitalists something to worry about.
Steve Coleman

Blogger's Note:
Illustration by George Meddemmen.

Capitalism, poverty and child abuse (1991)

From the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The allegations of satanic rituals involving children in Rochdale and the Orkneys, and the life sentence passed on David Hammond in November 1989 for the brutal murder of his five-year old daughter Sukina have provided the national newspapers with a lot of sensational material in the last two years.

The NSPCC estimates that between 50 and 100 children are killed by their parents each year and that a further 16,000 are abused. Child abuse cases reported to them have risen by 20 percent in the last year (Guardian, 19 March) and 7 of their 66 teams claimed to have evidence of Satanic rituals involving children (Daily Telegraph, 19 March).

The murder of children by their parents is not new. Infanticide was used to control the population and to prevent children born with defects becoming a burden on the community. In China even today baby girls are sometimes killed, where boys are preferred in families limited to one child.

In 19th century London 80 percent of illegitimate babies put out to nurse in the notorious "baby farms" died. Some died of childhood diseases associated with poverty. because their mothers could not afford to pay for their children to be looked after properly. Others were murdered for gain after the fees had been collected.

P. T. Resnick, writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1969, listed various reasons why parents murder their children: altruistic killing to relieve the victim’s realistic or delusional suffering, whether or not followed by suicide; acute psychosis; elimination of an unwanted child (as when paternity is in doubt or the child would be a financial burden); accidental or unconscious motivation; and spouse revenge—the so-called Medea Syndrome (after Medea in Ancient Greek mythology who, following desertion by her husband, killed their two children, saying: "Thy sons are dead and gone, that will stab thy heart").

Children are frequently warned by parents, teachers and public information films not to talk to strangers. This deliberate inculcation of a suspicious and fearful attitude to strangers is probably more harmful than helpful as at least 88 percent of child murders are carried out by members of the victim’s own family. The same mistrust of strangers is instilled into children to "protect" them from sexual abuse. But children are far more likely to be abused by relatives.

Poor get the blame
Commenting on the strong link being being abused as a child and anti-social behaviour, including child abuse, later in life, Sir Keith Joseph when Minister of Health and Social Security coined the phrase “cycles of deprivation". His argument was that parents brought up in deprived circumstances were responsible for bringing up their children in similarly deprived circumstances.

The political right-wing favours this type of “victim-bashing" approach because it avoids the pressure for social change. To blame the poor for their poverty ignores the fact that capitalism creates the wretched conditions in which many workers live. Capitalism fosters inequality and workers brought up in deprived circumstances have great difficulty in making economic progress. The worst schools, the worst social amenities and the worst job opportunities are all the very poor have access to. Children from poor families are under greater pressure to leave school as soon as possible in order that they can work and contribute to the family income. In addition, some housing estates have such bad reputations that it is difficult for workers living on them to borrow money or obtain mortgages. This has more to do with the continued deprivation from one generation to the next than any moral deficiency or lack of ability on the part of the workers.

Internal stresses within a family, personality clashes, sibling rivalry, incompatibility, worries about health, and misunderstandings between the different generations are similar for rich and poor alike. But the external stresses caused by poverty, unemployment, bad housing, overcrowding or homelessness only affect those who have to work for wages. It is these external stresses, and the fact that workers will have faced many of these problems during their own childhood that makes physical abuse more likely to happen in poor homes.

Poverty is violence
Social workers have failed to protect children because under capitalism their function is social control:
We have seen that the ruling class cannot maintain its exploitive domination simply by the direct repressive apparatus of the army, police, courts and prisons. Its legitimation has to be engineered through a range of ideological mechanisms. Social work operates primarily as part of these mechanisms.
(P. Leonard, Poverty Consciousness and Action, 1975).
Capitalism distorts relationships. By putting a price on everything and subordinating all activities to the need to make a profit it has made us all rivals. It is no surprise that children have been regarded as their parents’ property, because capitalism prizes property above everything else.

Hypocritically, individual acts of cruelty are condemned by politicians while children are allowed to starve in underdeveloped countries to maintain profits. In the Phillipines children work long hours in what amounts to little more than slavery without much condemnation from European reformers, some of whom are happy to reap the profits that are made.

In the case of Sukina Hammond the Daily Star carried huge headlines “Whipped to Death" and gave lurid details of the child’s suffering. But only a handful of cases are reported in this way. The majority of children killed by their parents will not be mentioned because they are not newsworthy enough. Even in death Sukina Hammond was exploited for a headline.

Workers owe it to themselves, their children and to future generations to remove the profit motive, the property tag and all the rivalries and suspicions which are inherent in competitive societies. Perhaps then children like Sukina Hammond will not have died in vain.
Carl Pinel

Why hunger? (1991)

From the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now common knowledge that up to 1.4 billion people in the world live below the poverty line. Over 500 million go hungry, according to the UN, and every single day 40,000 children die as a result of hunger.

Why do people go hungry?

Is it because there is not enough food? No, the world produces enough food to give every person on Earth 3000 calories a day.

Is it because of too many people? No, Holland has 1078 people per square mile while Brazil, where ten of thousands go hungry, has 39 people per square mile.

The developed countries comprising 30 percent of the world’s population consume over 80 percent of the resources, not because they need to—the UK alone swallows over £500 million worth of slimming aids every year. Developing countries have been forced to grow more cash crops for export. Consequently, land that should be feeding their people is producing for European and North American markets.

It is in fact the World Market that rules the world. Acting like a natural force beyond human control, it has much more power than any national government and forces governments to comply with its economic laws, whether they want to or not.

The market creates an artificial scarcity and organised waste that is responsible for poverty and hunger in the world today. The law which governs production everywhere is “no profit, no production”.

World malnutrition and starvation, then, is not a natural but a social problem. Its cause must be sought not in any lack of natural resources but in the way society is organised.
Michael Ghebre

Letter: Hayek or Marx? (1991)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
In response to an invitation to send information on the market economy to an address in Czechoslovakia, a Socialist Party member sent a recent issue of the Socialist Standard. He received the following reply from the Czech Minister in charge of privatisation:
Having received your letter and given it the consideration it deserves. I would simply inform you that you should continue in your efforts to establish “Socialism” in England so long as you care to continue in a morally and practically suspect endeavour. Your knowledge of Czechoslovakia, her social conditions and history appear inadequate to allow us to take your officious comments as anything more than calculated drivel or utter self-delusion.

Events in the Persian Gulf have shown that it is unnecessary to comment upon the article "Another War for Oil” except to consign it to one of the above-mentioned categories.

Finally, I have read the works of Karl Marx and may say that, after a lifetime of experience in the application of some of his musings, I don't think much of them, nor do I consider Marx to have been a very good student of human nature. I strongly urge you to broaden your viewpoint. 1 suggest you begin with the works of Friedrich von Hayek. Afterwards, if you wish to discuss rather than polemicize, write me again.
Dr. Tomas Jezk
Minister of Czech Republic 
for National Property Administration 
and its Privatization


Reply:
We publish this letter to record the sort of ideas held by those who have taken over from the state capitalist dictators who used to govern countries like Czechoslovakia. Clearly, they have unbounded optimism in the ability of private enterprise capitalism to improve conditions in their part of the world. Some of them may be able to line their own pockets and become private capitalists, but the majority of the population will not benefit. Capitalism, whether in its private or its state form, can never solve the problems that confront wage and salary workers as these arise out of the very nature of capitalism as a system that exploits wage-labour for profit. The private capitalists whose interests the likes of Dr Jezek represent will prove to be just as harsh taskmasters as the old state-capitalist bureaucrats who have been thrown out.

The letter also illustrates the harm that the previously-existing state capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe have done to the cause of genuine socialism. They had nothing whatsoever to do with socialism nor even with Marx, but were anti-socialist dictatorships in which an élite of Party bosses ruled over and exploited the working class. The trouble was that they called themselves "socialist" and, as a result, millions of workers all over the world have been put off the whole idea of socialism.

In a sense it is understandable that those workers who were the victims of these régimes should react with hostility to the very word "socialism" and should have illusions that "capitalism" will do better. Life itself will teach them about private enterprise capitalism. As to socialism, we would urge them to overcome their understandable prejudice against the word and to investigate what it originally meant: a classless society of social equality based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—which they know from their own experience never existed under the regime which both their previous masters and their new masters lyingly told them was socialism.
Editors.

Between the Lines: A Simpler Truth (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Simpler Truth

In the month that has seen the parasitical pigs fighting round the ITV trough to see who can win the fattest franchises, the state-funded BBC announced that it will lay off 104 workers in its News and Current Affairs section so that it can slash its budget by £2 million. The BBC's new Funding The Future policy statement states that there will be a £75 million cut in BBC expenditure by 1993. This will be paid for by laying off workers, making cheaper programmes and selling off the big-audience productions to commercial companies who can pump them for profit. (For example, BBC's Question Time is to be sold off — just as all the leftists who appear on it have sold out.) The future of British TV, dominated by big-money outfits who are to buy up the deregulated commercial channels and a cut-price, game-show dominated BBC, will consist of more televised Ratners for the proles while the bosses entertain themselves in the casinos and opera houses on money they have acquired by robbing us.

Speaking of robbery, The Simple Truth concert (BBC2, 12 May, 8pm - 1 am) is worthy of comment. The concert, to raise money for the Kurds and other victims of "disasters" (for which read "every day occurrences of the profit system), was the brainchild (to refer to the parentage loosely) of top Tory, Jeffrey Archer. Young Jeff, it will be recalled, is a pretty generous sort of guy: prostitutes who have never met him before have only to drop him a line requesting £200 and it's in the next post. Archer hoped that the concert would raise £10 million. Viewers were urged to phone in with £5 donations. £10 million — a lot of money, eh? Until you start to think that
  • The daily cost of the bombs dropped on the Kurds in Iraq during the recent Gulf war, which Archer proudly supported, was far greater than the amount collected by the concert.
  • The daily rate of interest required from African states, where millions are dying, is greater than the money collected by the concert.
  • The proportion of weekly income of an average British worker which £5 constitutes is a thousand times greater than £5 out of the weekly profits obtained on the basis of working-class robbery by Archer, the multi-millionaire creep.

Their Music

Another thing about The Simple Truth timewasting was the chronic irrelevance of nearly all of the music to any kind of real social change. The five hours of the concerts were filled with melodies to make us moronic. From the talentless drivel of super-hyped New Kids on the Block to the sub-Sinatra tripe of Whitney Houston, the whole show had nothing to say about what is actually going on in the world. The following Sunday your reviewer was at the Levellers' Day commemoration in Burford and heard the superb Peggy Seeger singing songs of real class awareness. She is not the only one writing and singing such material; there is a huge growth of singers, writers and bands coming out of and reflecting the experiences of the working class. What they have to sing about relates to the profit-caused problems of the Kurds, the starving Africans and Bangladeshis. But you don’t find the likes of Archer or the state-run BBC giving exposure to them. They might make the wage slaves think too much.


The Worst Show on Earth

Neighbours (BBC1, whenever you switch on) is in no danger of making the wage slaves think too much. A prerequisite for following the events of this implausible load of old tosh is that you do not think at all. Last month junior Education Minister, Michael Fallon, called for the programme to be banned, saying that it dulls peoples's senses. His Labour opposite number. Jack Straw, said that it was "a pretty trashy programme". Quite why a Tory Minister should object to workers’ minds being dulled (how else could they win an election?) or a Labour leader should object to trash (who but a collector of such would read the lie-a-minute Labour manifesto?) we do not know. We do know that the BBC, representing the true voice of the ruling class, put out a statement saying that Neighbours was a good programme because it offers moral education to its audience. Funny that: when this column exposed the predecessor of Neighbours, Crossroads for being a vehicle for just such moralistic propaganda we were atttacked by an article in The People newspaper suggesting that our claim was the loony delusion of deranged Marxists
Steve Coleman

SPGB Meetings and Debates (1991)

Party News from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard




Blogger's Notes:
  • The ILP that the Party debated in Cambridge was in fact the old ILP of Maxton, Brockway and Hardie fame. In the mid-1970s the ILP had re-affiliated to the Labour Party and renamed themselves Independent Labour Publications. By 1991, they were publishing a well produced magazine, imaginatively called 'The ILP Magazine'. I used to subscribe to it.
  • The two meetings in the North West with Gary Slapper under the title of 'Is Your Job Killing You?' possibly tied in  with his research into workplace deaths which eventually became the book, Blood in the Bank: Social and Legal Aspects of Death at Work.
  • The meeting in West London with the guest speaker, Khachik Pilikian, would have been good.

50 Years Ago: Why the Workers Save (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

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

[From the Socialist Standard, June 1941.]

Jack and the Beanstalk (1967)

A Short Story from The Western Socialist #5, 1967
A discussion between Jack, the Beanstalk Plantation Owner and Henry, his Golden Egg Mint Man.
HENRY: Man you play It cool. You do what you like, and you do it when you like to do it. And all those frails who part their hair lust the way you like it. How do you make this scene?

JACK: Easy, man. I got all kinds of giants growing beanstalks for me.

HENRY: Wild! How do you get them to do that?

JACK: Easy, man. I Just give them some of those golden eggs you mint for me.

HENRY: Crazy! Why do they want those?

JACK: Simple, man. They need them to buy some of the beans they produce.

HENRY: Way out! How come the giants don’t just help themselves to the beans?

JACK: Can’t, man. I give a few golden eggs to other giants to guard my beams with rifles and keep the giants In cages if they get caught.

HENRY: Holy masochism! How come they don’t see the con game?

JACK: Ain’t easy, man. I got other giants running schools to train them that the only thing to do is to try and climb beanstalks. This keeps them seeing the world through my eyes.

HENRY: Holy apprehension! Don’t you worry about them getting to your position?

JACK: Not much, man. Most of the giants can’t even get past the first low branches. Only a few get high enough that I have to have the beanstalk cut down. About one in a thousand gets up and we just absorb him.

HENRY: What a plot! You must have it real cozy.

JACK: Well, not quite, man. I got problems. The giants produce so many beans that even my groovy living doesn’t use them all.

HENRY: What a hangup! What do you do with with the rest?

JACK: Well, I try to get rid of them across the sea for more golden eggs.

HENRY: Way out, man. You've got the solution.

JACK: Well, not exactly. You see there are bad Jacks over there who are trying to do the same things I’m doing.

HENRY: What a paradox, man. What can be done?

JACK: Well, I give a few more eggs to other giants to fly bombers to blow up the bad Jacks’ beanstalk plantations before the bad Jacks get their giants to blow up my beanstalk plantations. These military giants also guard my source of beanstalk fertilizer and try to get new sources away from the bad Jacks.

HENRY: What a smooth solution, man. You should feel cool.

JACK: Well, almost, but I have a bit of a paranoia about mushroom clouds.

HENRY: Holy dilemma, man! I wonder why all the giants don’t educate themselves outside the Jack schools so they could take all the beanstalk plantations away from all the Jacks and make them serve everyone.

JACK: Go wash out your mouth with acid, and if I ever hear such utopia again I'll send you down to work on the beanstalks. You dig, man?

HENRY: I dig, and I am not yet ready to trade my white collar in for a blue one. I start minting new golden eggs for you right away.

AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER?
Larry Tickner
(Leaflet Issued by Victoria Local, S.P.C.)

The Hungry Eagle (1967)

From The Western Socialist #5, 1967
Vietnam is not the eagle's only foe:
You try to set a limit to his needs —
The sons you feed him make his talons grow.

Hatched from workers' graves, he perches now
On arms that pet him while they fear his speeds;
Vietnam it not the eagle‘s only foe.

The death he spatters on the ground is slow. 
His human food lies thrashing in the reeds, 
The sons you feed him make his talons grow.

The eggs he saves have fire still to throw. 
His butane beak is sharper than his greeds; 
Vietnam is not the eagle's only foe.

You watch his wings above your home. and know
He never spirals near but what he feeds. 
The sons you feed him make his talons grow.

The meek are looking for a place to go. 
The rebels fight, the harbor statue bleeds; 
Vietnam it not the eagle's only foes; 
The time you feed him makes his talons grow.
Stan Blake

Nightmares of a Radical (1967)

From The Western Socialist #5, 1967
In the bottom of my Campbell soup cans 
Vietnamese orphans squabble on a trash heap
For the freedom to lick empty G.I. lint. 
From the crackle of my Dow Saran-wrap 
Flaming "targets" scream and old men weep.

A Saigon mother in my wife's sad eyes 
Whores for Marines to feed her baby girl 
My fenced yard is full of mental refugees. 
Ten thousand miles of Pacific Ocean fail 
To pacify them; nothing shuts off this newsreel.

I, a socialist, whose children salute 
The stars and stripes, whose hands exchange the buck.
Whose telephone supplies the guns we shoot, 
I try to believe I'm better than a hawk 
Because I held a sign and gave a talk. 
Stan Blake

The First International - Part 1 (1956)

From the October 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

An attempt to form a Communist Party in 1847 failed partly on account of the defeat of working class aspirations during the European uprisings of 1848, shortly after the publication of the Communist Manifesto. Just over 20 years later, when working class militancy was reviving, another attempt was made. Though this one was wider and stronger in numbers, it was weaker in outlook and attracted support from groups which were not only antagonistic to each other but also had no real interest in Socialism—which was the fundamental concern of the Marxian founders of the new organisation. This organisation was the International Working Men’s Association, subsequently known as the First International.

The First International was formed in 1864. Throughout its career of about ten years it suffered from numerous handicaps, the most important of which was the immaturity of the workers political understanding at the time.

It had incompetent secretaries and badly written minutes; it was hampered by government persecution, including the seizing of important documents and the circulation of forged ones.

The ideas upon which the International was built were not new; many advanced workers were dissatisfied with their oppressive conditions and were groping for a way out. The breaking of strikes by the importation of workers from outside the country involved was one of the principal spurs to urge on the building up of an international organisation of workers.

Arising out of protest meetings relating to the suppression of a Polish Nationalist revolt, which were attended by workers from different countries, a meeting was held in September, 1864, in St. Martin’s Hall, near Covent Garden. At this meeting a proposal to form an international association of workers was greeted with enthusiasm by French, German and English delegates. A proposal to form a Central Committee, with its seat in London, was carried, and a Provisional Committee was appointed to work out the details of the Association. Marx, who had been invited to attend the meeting, was nominated to the Provisional Committee and was subsequently a member of the Central Council—later the General Council.

The Provisional Committee consisted of Trade Union leaders, Owenites, Chartists, Nationalists, Proudhonists, and old members of the Communist League. The Provisional Committee appointed a sub-committee to prepare an address and draft rules. A number of addresses and drafts of rules were prepared and rejected. Finally Marx submitted an address and rules that after slight amendment, were accepted.

The address contained a vivid picture of industrial conditions in England at the time and statements that are as pertinent now as when they were written nearly 90 years ago. For instance:
  “In all countries of Europe it has now become a truth demonstrable to every unprejudiced mind, and only denied by those whose interest it is to hedge other people in a fool’s paradise, that no improvement of machinery, no appliance of science to production, no contrivances of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening of markets, no free trade, nor all of these things put together, will do away with the miseries of the industrious masses; but that, on the present false base, every fresh development of the productive powers of labour must tend to deepen social contrasts and point social antagonisms.”

  “Yet the lords of land and the lords Of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economical monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labour . . . To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes.”
On the whole, however, the address did not come up to the standard of the Communist Manifesto. This was mainly due to the necessity of producing something that would meet with the approval of those who founded the International. As Marx put it, in a letter to Engels:
  "It was very difficult to frame the theory so that our view should appear in a form acceptable from the present standpoint of the workers. It will take time before the reawakened movement allows the old boldness of speech ” 
There was little in the address that the average reformer would object to, and much that could be, and has been, misinterpreted. It contained weaknesses that brought trouble and disunion later.

Although the rules gave the Central Council an inordinate amount of power, the first five paragraphs of the preamble to the rules contain some of the best material of all. They were as follows:
"Considering:

"That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties and the abolition of all class rule;

"That the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopolisers of the means of labour; that is, the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation and political dependence;

"That the economical emancipation of the working classes is, therefore, the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means;

"That all efforts aiming at that great end have hitherto failed from the want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labour in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries.

"That the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries.”
Apart from the reference to “equal rights and duties” the above is a fair statement of the position, but few of those who signed it and joined the Association really understood it. All that most of them got out of it was an expression of the general feelings in the air at the time: condemnation of existing evils and the barriers to national independence; sympathy with the co-operative movement and the glorification of the working man as a person deserving consideration.

At the beginning the International was poorly provided with funds; there was no fixed subscription, each group being left to make what voluntary subscriptions it thought fit.

Adhesions to the International were not made nationally, but by isolated groups; such as a trade union, a political party, or a group of some kind organised for some particular object In the course of time groups in different countries federated and formed their own central councils the Central Council in London taking the name of General Council as the supreme authority. These different Central Councils had a great deal of autonomy, and were at times at loggerheads with each other.

At first adhesions to the International were slow, coming mainly from England. Later it made considerable progress in Switzerland; then it gained the adherence of Belgian and French trade unions and representatives of Spain and the United States were elected to the General Council. Whilst working to gain support the General Council took an active part in strikes and demonstrations, and sent out addresses on various occasions. It also took part in the Reform agitation in England in 1865, demanding Universal Suffrage.

Arrangements had been made to hold the first Congress in Brussels in 1865, but the project had to be abandoned owing to Governmental prohibition. Instead of the Congress an informal conference was held in London to discuss a variety of subjects, amongst which was “The Muscovite danger to Europe and the re-establishment of a free and united Poland.” Some of the subjects for discussion reflected the immaturity of the understanding of the delegates. There was a small delegation from Switzerland, France and Belgium; the rest were English delegates or foreigners resident in London.

The informal conference was really only a preparation for the Congress that was to be held the following year at Geneva, and the same subjects came up for discussion again at Geneva.

As the International progressed on the Continent the German speaking portion of Switzerland became the organising centre for Germany and Austria, where political combination was prohibited, under the Genevese Central Committee. The French-Swiss section in Geneva became the organising centre for the Jura region and extensive portions of France. This latter section soon became a storm centre, the principal scene of the activities of the Anarchists and, eventually, to a great extent the tool of Bakunin. Italy began to show increasing interest but the activities of the anarchists there and the nationalist movement complicated the situation.
Gilmac.

The First International - Part 2 (1956)

From the November 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard


The first congress of the International was held at Geneva in 1866, and it ran into difficulties at its opening. Individual members, mainly Blanquist, insisted on sitting as delegates and voting, although they only represented themselves. The London Conference had laid down that only official delegates were to be allowed to sit and vote. After some heated argument the Blanquists were ejected. They were so infuriated by this treatment that they afterwards became steadfast opponents of the International.

The delegation at the Congress was as follows: Twenty-five sections of the International were represented by forty-five delegates. There were also eleven co-operative societies represented by fifteen delegates—another instance of the peculiar and loose form in which the International operated. The French had by far the largest delegation, and Proudhonist views soon began to cloud the discussions.

One factor that intruded upon and influenced the discussions was the effect of an economic crisis which had brought a general stagnation in commerce and industry and was coupled with a bad harvest that made bread prices high.

The French delegates proposed a scheme for a worldwide co-operative society; they were opposed to strikes and to the limitation of the working day to eight hours on grounds that are worth quoting as an example of the weakness of Proudhonist objection to existing conditions:
 "In the name of freedom of contract, it was improper for the International Assembly to interfere in the private relationship between employers and employed, except by giving advice when asked."
(quoted by Stekloff, page 69). 
This amounted to a sweeping denial of the class struggle by people who had pledged their adherence to the principles and policy laid down in the inaugural address and the preamble to the rules—which were agreed to by the Congress.

A resolution was passed fixing the contributions of all members at 3d. per year. Fixing the contributions was easy, but collecting them was entirely different. Trifling though the amount was, money came in very tardily, and less than fifty pounds came into the funds during the whole of the following year; this in spite of the fact that the size and influence of the International grew rapidly.

On the whole the first Congress was little more than a sounding board for the various discordant voices. In the main, however, the attitude of the General Council was supported, which meant that the influence of Marx was paramount. The views expressed at the Congress, however, alarmed the French Government, which henceforth seized every document going through the post on which they could lay. their hands, including a report of the Congress.

The activities of the International now began to get into the press of different countries, sometimes with favourable notices, as there was always a hope that the International might be something that could be used with advantage in the struggle between capitalists.

The next Congress was at Lausanne in 1867, and was monopolised by the Proudhonists. A resolution relating to war was passed which, after beginning with a statement involving the abolition of Capitalism as the only method of abolishing war, contradicted it by stating that the International was prepared to “share in any activities in which the League of Peace and Freedom may engage in order to achieve the abolition of standing armies and the maintenance of peace.” Behind the objection to standing armies was an attempt to get round the obstacle they offered to attempts at successful insurrection; attempts that were never supported by the mass of the population, partly through fear, but mainly through lack of interest.

Another proposal at the Congress was that State railways, canals, mines and public services should be exploited, or administered, by workers’ associations whose members should give their services at cost price, though what price the latter was did not emerge.

There were many other proposals and resolutions, including one on simplified spelling and another on a moral code for all peoples in harmony with morality,  justice and virtue!

The Proudhonists again expressed themselves against strikes without calling forth much opposition, and induced Congress to pass a resolution advising trade unions to invest their funds in co-operative production societies.

The discussions showed that the participants had not made much progress in practical knowledge, and that differences in outlook were being swamped by the influence of Proudhonism, although Marx, who was mainly taken up with his work on Capital at the time, still dominated the proceedings of the General Council.

Gradually a position was being reached in which the General Council was at loggerheads with a large part of the membership. It was this that gave Bakunin his opportunity when he entered the International in 1869 and promptly set out to fight the policy of Marx, with the object of getting control of the Association.

The Brussels Congress in 1868 was attended by 99 delegates, an indication of the growing influence of the International. The large delegation was no evidence of clarity in outlook; it simply forced to the front the fundamental differences in outlook of antagonistic sections. In spite of the efforts of the General Council, Proudhonistic influence still dominated, although at that Congress the International first declared openly for Communism; that is, Communism as the word used to be understood, and not the monstrosity that has come out of Russia.

Proposals were put forward recommending a strike against war; producers to gain possession of machines through the co-operative societies and the mutual credit system; and, also, the hoary old platitude that Justice should regulate the relations between national groups.

In September 1869 the Congress was held at Basle, and marked the first appearance of an American delegate. It also marked the beginning of the struggle with Bakunin (who had recently joined the Association) that finally broke up the International.

At this Congress Bakunin supported a resolution giving the General Council power to expel any section which acted in defiance of the principles of the International; and also a resolution in favour of the abolition of individual ownership of the soil. Both resolutions were carried.

A resolution was put forward to abolish the right of inheritance. Bakunin supported this on the ground that the right of inheritance had become the basis of the State and the Family. The Marxists replied that the laws of inheritance were not the cause, but the effect of the existing economical organisation. However, the resolution was carried, but it did not get the absolute majority (owing to a large body of abstentions) to make it a part of the policy of the Association.

Bakunin also opposed a resolution that involved working class participation in political action, on the ground that the capitalist state should be left to rot away and a workers' state be built within it, to be set up on its ruins.

There was a discussion on trade unionism in which the supporters of Bakunin introduced the syndicalist idea that trade unions represented the social and political organisations of the future, in which groups of producers would own the means of production in each industry; the mines for the miners, the railways for the railwaymen, etc.

In spite of all the efforts of the Marxists, the Basle Congress was a sweeping victory for Bakunin, which shook the International to its basis. This Congress ended the constructive side of the International’s work; henceforth it became a battle ground for a bitter conflict between the Anarchists and the Marxists.
In the six years since its foundation the activities of the International had been considerable in many fields, and in the minds of the governments of the day it appeared to be more powerful than it really was. By 1870 it was recognised as a menace to the existing social order, and was treated as such. Members and groups were subjected to police surveillance and persecution; correspondence was opened and documents confiscated.
Gilmac.

The First International - Part 3 (1957)

From the January 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Congress of 1870 had to be abandoned owing to the outbreak of the Franco-German war. It had been brewing for some time, fostered on the one side by the expansionist policy of the Napoleonic regime, with its stock-jobbing supporters, and on the other side by the capitalist development of Germany, which was unifying the country under the domination of Prussia.

It was a difficult time for the International, with its mixed support, including many who were still moved by patriotic feelings. Its position was not improved by pronouncements upon what constituted an offensive and defensive war, largely inspired by a hatred of Bonapartism, which saw in Napoleon the principal trouble maker in Europe.

The General Council issued an address on July 23rd, 1870, whose sentiments were to be reflected in tile attitude of the Labour movement in subsequent wars, notably in 1914 and 1939.

All governments who take part in wars allege that they are acting on the defensive, and workers on opposing sides have been induced to shed their blood upon battlefields on the specious claim that they have been fighting a war against aggression, though the latest manifestation, the Suez crisis, is put under the heading of a probable aggression! Marx, who wrote the July address, cannot be absolved from the evil consequences to which this attitude has led. The address contained these comments: 
  "If the German working class allow the present war to lose its strictly defensive character and to degenerate into a war against the French people, victory or defeat will prove alike disastrous.”
Once a war commences and workers are thrown into the conflict they have neither the information nor the power to do any limiting. When a war has started no one can successfully predict its result, except misery for the working-class of both victor and vanquished. The Address goes on to make a prophecy that vastly overestimates the influence of the more advanced members of the International and the level of understanding of the workers:
  ‘‘The principles of the International are, however, too widely spread and too firmly rooted amongst the German working class to apprehend such a sad consummation. The voices of the French workmen have re-echoed from Germany. A mass meeting of workmen, held at Brunswick on July 16th. expressed its full concurrence with the Paris manifesto, spurned the idea of national antagonism to France, and wound up its resolutions with these words : “We are enemies of all wars, but above all, of dynastic wars . . . With deep sorrow and grief we are forced to undergo a defensive war as an unavoidable evil; but we call at the same time, upon the whole German working-class to render the occurrence of such an immense social misfortune impossible by vindicating for the people themselves the power to decide on peace and war, and making themselves masters of their own destinies'. "
And the result of this support of a “defensive” war? The outcome of the war was the defeat of France; the establishment of the Commune of Paris in 1871, and the smashing up of working-class aspirations in France for many years; the building up of the German Empire, and the inauguration of the anti-Socialist laws that attempted to put the Socialist movement in Germany entirely out of the picture: the withdrawal of the English trade unions from the International; finally an all round stepping up of the persecution of the international and its members, on the ground that it was responsible for the Paris Commune. In fact, however, the International, as an organisation, had little to do with the Paris Commune, although some of its members played a considerable part in it.

A second Address was issued on September 9th, 1870, also written by Marx. This called attention to the fact that the German Government had now changed from the defensive to the offensive and was demanding the cession of territory, Alsace and Lorraine. This Address was an excellent summing-up of the developments and of the awakened imperialist hunger of the German capitalists, as well as its inevitable consequences, future wars of greater intensity. There was also a more realistic appreciation of what happens once the fervour of war is aroused, as the following quotation emphasises:
  “The German working-class have resolutely supported the war, which it is not in their power to prevent, as a war for German Independence and the liberation of France and Europe from that pestilental incubus, the Second Empire. It was the German workmen who, together with the rural labourers, furnished the sinews and muscles of heroic hosts, leaving behind their half-starved families. Decimated by the battles abroad, they will be once more decimated by misery at home. In their turn they are now coming forward to ask for 'guarantees,—guarantees that their immense sacrifices have not been brought in vain, that they have conquered liberty, that the victory over the imperialist armies will not, as in 1815, be turned into the defeat of the German people; . . . 

  “Unfortunately, we cannot feel sanguine of their immediate success. If the French workmen amidst peace failed to stop the aggressor, are the German workmen more likely to stop the victor amidst the clangour of arms? ”
That last paragraph is strikingly different from the views expressed in the first Address.

The International itself was divided over the attitude expressed in the first Address. Liebkneckt and Bebel were opposed to war and, in the North German Reichstag they refrained from voting in favour of war. After the fall of the French Empire the Brunswick Committee, of which they were members, and other sections of the International took a stand against the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, and were prosecuted by the German Government. Leibkneckt and Bebel were tried in March, 1872, on a charge of high treason and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a fortress. There was also a manifesto from Swiss sections of the International calling upon the workers to take up arms in defence of the French Republic against Germany, which, it claimed, now represented despotism and reaction. This manifesto emanated from the Anarchists.

After the fall of the Paris Commune the International exerted itself to find asylum for its refugees, and assisted them in every way that was possible. This was made more difficult by the quarrels and mutual recriminations of the refugees themselves.

The bulk of the work of the International during the war had fallen upon the shoulders of Marx. After the fall of the Commune his defence of it appeared under me title of The Civil War in France, which has become one of the Socialist classics.

Although there was no Congress in 1870 nor 1871, a private conference was held in London in September, 1871, under the shadow produced by the Commune. Only 23 delegates attended, nine of whom came from the Continent.

The split between the groups in Switzerland, one centred in Geneva and the other (Anarchist) centred in the Juras, had widened and become a pressing problem that needed immediate attention. In order to check the intrigues of the Bakounin group the General Council asked for more power. The Conference declared that whatever methods of organisation sections of the International had to adopt in countries where it could not be regularly organised, there must be no secret societies. It also resolved to accept adhesions from women’s unions. While reasserting the position previously laid down on the necessity of political action, the Conference declared that the working-class must keep free from all political parties connected with the ruling class, and constitute its own political party to bring about the social revolution.

It was also proposed that a special federal committee be set up in England to deal with trade unions, and local efforts were urged in industries where strikes occurred rather than leaving it to the General Council to institute action.

In 1872 the Anarchists worked hard to overthrow the authority of the General Council, the Jura section tried unsuccessfully to get control of the sections in Switzerland and Belgium. The Alliance (Anarchist), which was supposed to have been dissolved, was active in Italy and Spain. Lafargue sent reports from Madrid that attempts were being made by members of the Alliance to get control of the Madrid Federation of the International. These subversive activities determined Marx to attend the Hague Congress of 1872 and deal the Bakouninists a mortal blow. Bakounin was also to be at the Congress, but he did not turn up.

The Hague Congress had a very wide international representation. According to Lessner (who was a delegate), there were seventy-two delegates present. Sections were represented from the following countries: Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, England, the United States, Austria, Hungary, Australia, and Ireland.

A report covering the previous three years was submitted, and then the Congress got down to the real business, the position of the General Council. A resolution was moved giving the General Council power to suspend any union, section or federation until the next Congress. After a vigorous discussion, in which an amendment was moved that no section could be suspended without the consent of its federation, the resolution was carried by thirty-six votes to six, with fifteen abstaining. Then Engels, who was present as a delegate, dumbfounded the delegates by moving that the seat of the General Council be transferred from London to New York. In spite of heated argument, this resolution was carried by twenty-six to twenty-three; with nine abstentions.

This was the vote that practically put an end to the existence of the International, for although it struggled on for a time in the United States, it gradually faded away.

Before the Hague Congress ended Marx had the satisfaction of seeing the Anarchists removed from the organisation. Bakounin, Guillaume, and others were expelled; the Geneva federation was suspended, and it was agreed to publish the documents relating to the Alliance. Subsequently the Anarchists in Europe met at congresses of their own for a few years, claiming that they were the legitimate International Working Men’s Association.
Gilmac.

(Concluded.)