Monday, June 13, 2022

The wonderful world of advertising (1999)

From the March 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Letters:What about education? (1) (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

What about education? (1)

Dear Editors,

“Where my offspring spent every day of the week being trained to serve capitalism.” So Heather Ball describes her daughter’s school in the December Socialist Standard. This recalls the words of Pik Smeet in the August issue in his article on Labour’s education policy, “a vast factory for turning out workers tuned to our masters’ requirements”.

I don’t deny that our education system has many faults, most notably the existence of private schools, but the case for socialism is strong enough to make exaggerated attacks on the system both unnecessary and off-putting for many potential socialists. Any society needs its members to have a thorough grasp of “the three R’s” plus an appreciation of history, geography, science, the arts, and so on. At present these are taught by the majority of teachers in a politically biased way. But these subjects would be required in a socialist society, or is it to consist of ignoramuses?

It would be useful to have a major article setting out positively what education would be like in a socialist society. Which subjects would be taught and how would teaching differ from that which operates now?
Bryan J. Fair, 
Dorchester, Dorset

We will try to publish an article on what education might be like in a socialist society. In the meantime see the letter which follows – Editors.

What about education? (2)

Dear Editors,

If Bryan Fair does not think children are being “trained for capitalism” in our schools, then what does he think they are being trained for? What about the stock market, banks, building societies, retailing—the endless sales of endless crap because the system cannot survive without it; a system which insists on showing us inane little stories (called advertisements) over and over again and again on television so as to persuade us to spend our earnings on stuff that most of us have no use for and could do without. Undeniably we need builders, doctors, scientists, teachers, and it says something about humanity that, despite the ethos of capitalism, it yet still has within it, compassion, albeit a sentiment constantly eroded by manipulation for profit.

From the moment a baby emerges from the womb (and even before that) it begins the process of learning. “Playing” is a part of that process. I cannot myself visualise a socialist society where children are regimented into education, conveyor-belt style. It is my belief that the competitive atmosphere of the classroom can make kids resentful and anxious, and those who do not, for various reasons, come up to scratch, are sometimes made to feel worthless and insignificant, whereas if their latent talents were to be encouraged to burgeon without coercion, then I can only think that this would make for a better world. What do we say to the thousands who the education system fails? I don’t imagine young people selling the Big Issue on every corner of every street in towns and cities in a socialist society, anymore than I would expect there to be homeless people. I am not blaming teachers for this. We each of us are forced to make a living whilst at the same time deal with our own sorrows and problems, but if I was a teacher I would feel it incumbent upon me to explain to my pupils how the system works, and that one day some of them may be jobless, surplus to requirement, or press-ganged into a sort of slavery in order to have food and a roof over their heads. And, is history really taught in a politically unbiased way? Think about it.

The radical educationalist, A.S. Neill, proved that most children desire to learn. His school, Summerhill, made lessons available, but voluntary. Children who wished to become engineers, doctors, teachers, etc, used their self-discipline to attend appropriate classes and many of them achieved their goals. So to me a socialist society would include places of learning without compulsion.

You say that “our education system has many faults most notably the existence of private schools”. To me that is rather like saying that the coal mines, water, and the railways should not be privatised. I don’t think it makes much difference whether they’re privatised or state-owned. As a radical socialist I no longer support reforms.

You say “it would be useful to have a major article setting out positively what education would be like in a socialist society”. We cannot predict, but this socialist, for one, has her dreams.
Heather Ball, 


Dear Editors,

I feel the article “Pinochet and Socialism”, (Socialist Standard, December 1998) contains a familiar inconsistency as regards your view of the role of political democracy in abolishing capitalism.

The fact that the working class on the eve of socialism will be a world-wide self-conscious organised socialist majority will itself constitute a powerful material force and it is this force which is the basis of the principle that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class.

How does it then follow that this movement needs to use, or should use, capitalist political democracy to abolish capitalism? Capitalist democracy is a capitalist institution created in the interests of the capitalist class to ensure a smoother running of the capitalist system. What is so special about sending a group of Socialist MPs into a parliament to declare the abolition of capitalism when the material force for actually delivering this abolition is the Mass Socialist Movement outside?

Why cannot this declaration be made by the Movement itself through its own representative democratic structures, which will have been created by the working class itself, specifically for the purpose of developing and furthering the mass movement for socialism?

I know you say using capitalist political democracy is essential in order to gain control the state. But in response to “Leninist” claims this would invite a “Pinochet style” response, you argue that the state apparatus is staffed by workers who will inevitably be won to the Mass Socialist Movement. The armed forces would in effect be a broken reed in the face of the MSM, literally generals without troops. Again, you confirm the key to effect change, to gain control of the state apparatus, is the Mass Socialist Movement, not the comparative handful of Socialist MPs sent into a Parliament.

So why the continued emphasis on the importance and need for (capitalist) political democracy to secure the transition to socialism?

The importance of a representative institution to demonstrate a majority for socialism and to ensure the abolition of capitalism is done in as peaceable and co-ordinated manner as possible is not denied. But isn’t it far preferable to use structures and tools created by the working class itself, and for itself, to achieve this more effectively?

We cannot guarantee capitalist democracy will always be available to use for the purpose yet by definition we know for sure a Mass Socialist Movement will be based on organs of working class democracy which are certain to be available to us and better fashioned for the purpose.
Andrew Northall, 
Kettering, Northants

You are right. Once what you call “the Mass Socialist Movement” has come into existence capitalism’s days are numbered and there is nothing supporters of capitalism can then do to stop socialism coming. Even if they were to try armed resistance they would lose and, after a period of chaos and bloodshed, socialism would still end up being established.

You are also right that, if the Mass Socialist Movement so chose, it could simply go ahead and seize power. This too would result in a period of chaos and perhaps bloodshed (it would give the opponents of socialism a perfect excuse to resist) but the end result would still be the establishment of socialism.

But what’s the inconsistency in conceding that this is theoretically possible but not advocating that it should be tried? Using existing representative and elective institutions would be the best way to proceed for the reasons you yourself mention: “to demonstrate a majority for socialism and to ensure the abolition of capitalism is done in as peaceable and co-ordinated manner as possible”.

We don’t agree either that it makes sense for the socialist movement to duplicate existing representative and elective structures. Obviously, the socialist movement will have to have its own democratic structures, but what would be the point of drawing up registers of electors, rules for nominating candidates, counting procedures, etc when these already exist for political elections? Why not use those that exist? Admittedly, new democratic structures will have to be developed at the workplace, where none exist at present, and we have always envisaged this happening through workers’ unions of one sort or another, but this does not have to be done as far as geographically-based local and national elections are concerned.

So, all in all, using existing institutions is the best option which is why we have always advocated it.—Editors.

Millennium Bug

Dear Editors,

It is no coincidence that every year many thousands are struck down with influenza in the wake of the so-called “Christmas festivities”. Having indulged in just about everything that we know is not good for us our resistance to disease is at its usual annual all-time low. Little wonder that the old ‘flu bug jumps down so many throats and hey ho! A few thousand more get their come-uppance before they have had time to put their baubles away.

The ‘flu epidemic post-Christmas 1999 promises to be the biggest ever. The Christmas binge will of course be dragged on into the 21st Century as countless millions make themselves ill while celebrating and having a “good time”, little doubt the millennium bug will strike . . . but it won’t be computers catching cold.

So why are so many people hell-bent on making themselves ill in order to “celebrate”? And what is there to celebrate? What difference will there be in the world a minute before midnight and a minute after midnight? Disregarding the millions who will have made themselves ill in the attempt to bring some joy into their hapless lives there will be no difference whatsoever. There will still be people living in cardboard boxes while others have several homes to live in. There will still be millions dying for the want of a bowl of rice while others die of obesity. There will still be one million children in this country alone being supported by others than the people who brought them into the world.

The bugs of deceit, corruption, greed, sleaze and dishonesty will continue to flourish and permeate every strand of our society and will continue to do so till the demeaning values upon which world society is based are replaced by values of a higher intrinsic worth . . . when that happens we will truly have something to celebrate.
John Phazey,
Sutton Coldfield

Political Notes: Another wasted Irish martyr (1981)

The Political Notes Column from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another wasted Irish martyr

It is usual for IRA activists to be condemned by their opponents as cowardly thugs but that description could hardly be applied to the hunger strikers so the media hacks had to search for other words. They were not very successful.

Their confidence may have got the boost it needed, as Bobby Sands lay dying, from the' appeal by Northern Ireland Secretary Humphrey Atkins for, people not to heed lies and rumours but to pay attention to local councillors and clergymen and to “monitor the media".

The idea that local politicians and priests can be relied on to tell the truth is simply ludicrous, since if they did so they would drop out of capitalist politics and stop peddling religious nonsense.

All of these deal, in either side of the conflict, in the basic absurdity that the troubles in Ireland stem from religious differences. Such bigotries may inspire some of the nastier violence, and give fuel to the more extreme incitement by self-seeking politicians. This may make the bigotries appear as the cause of the problems when in fact they are part of the symptoms.

For Ireland is split, like any other of the artificial divisions in capitalist society, on lines of clashing economic interests. The incidental political and religious-theories simply bedevil and aggravate the problem, which will not be permanently resolved short of abolishing its cause — the private properly basis of capitalist society.

The hunger strikers were undoubtedly brave and steadfast literally unto death. Their martyrdom—for such was the object of their fast—obscured the essential fact that they were also tragic men. For their courage and steadfastness were applied in the interests of one side in a struggle in which they, as members of the working class, had no interests.

So the tragedy was that, having so much to give, they were content to give it only to be wasted.

Pay out at the bank

Among the many betes noires which torment the repose of all crusading lefties one of the blackest and most beastly is Barclays Bank.

The reason, as is well known to all cheque book holders, is that Barclays have a lot of investments in South Africa, whose racist oppression rouses those same lefties to a frenzy of protest no less intense for being discriminatory in its target.

This has reached the point when Barclay's Annual General Meeting is a sort of day out for the protesters who, perhaps because it is after all one of the Big Five Banks, usually include some expensively trendy lefties.

This year, for example, there was ravishing actress Julie Christie, indignantly bobbing golden curls in attack on the policies of the South African government. Possibly she is the trendiest — certainly she is among the most attractive of the protesters so far. At all events something persuaded the Bank to stop stone walling for a change and guardedly agree with some of the criticisms.

Retiring Barclays chairman Anthony Tuke did this, however, with some spirit, pointing out that about 300 other British companies also operate in South Africa and that one of Barclay’s first objects is to promote the exports of British capitalism td that country.

Now this was pretty shrewd of him, because British exports are dear to the heart of all British lefties as they are supposed to provide jobs for British workers (even if at the cost of jobs to other workers abroad   perhaps in South Africa).

Barclays invest in South Africa for the same reason as all other capitalist concerns invest anywhere — to promote the process of profit making, which means the process of working class exploitation. As long as the government takes care of that aspect, the concerns need not worry too much about its other policies, however brutal and repressive they may be.

That is a fact of capitalist life—and such facts are habitually not easily absorbed by lefties who prefer publicity worthy demonstrations to effective remedies.

French lesson

The victory of Mitterand in the French Presidential election was another self-inflicted defeat for the working class.

Anyone who doubts this need only consider some of the utterances, before and after the result, by the two candidates. First Giscard, speaking just before the vote at that infamous World War 1 charnel house Verdun, asserted that of all the candidates only he had been in the army when the war in Europe ended in May 1945. As if being a soldier in a war necessarily makes a person a more desirable president. As if patriotism is a tenable, useful principle instead of a baseless and anti social fallacy. In any case Giscard was telling less than the truth, since his time in the army (as if it mattered) was actually less than that of Mitterand, who spent much of the war as a prisoner.

Mitterand had his own lies to tell. "It was a victory for youth, labour, creativity and renewal and will set off an enormous national upsurge” he exulted, too carefree — like his jubilant supporters in the streets — to recall the innumerable similar claims made by other victors before him, all of them discredited.

This mixture of deception and empty promises is fairly representative of the standard of debate in capitalism’s elections. Its object is not to encourage knowledge and participation but to ensure ignorance and apathy. Tragically, the working class swallow this muck and cast their vote in accordance with it.

When will they weary of this insulting, degrading, self-destructive process? When will they grasp the fact that they are the people who conceive, design and produce everything in society but allow themselves to be conned out of taking possession of it?

This is the measure of the defeats the workers inflict on themselves when they wastc their votes at election time by giving them for the continuance of capitalism. At such times they could resolve that capitalism shall be brought to an immediate end. But in France, as elsewhere, the message is that the deceit is still regarded as palatable and so capitalism grinds on.

Dons on the dole as well (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

I’m one of about 35,000 university lecturers in this country. That’s too many and too expensive, says the government. Between three and five thousand of us will have to go.

So a lot of us are pretty uneasy at the moment. Will we find anything else if we’re made redundant? Teaching in the schools comes to mind. But there’s not much chance there. Even though we’re qualified to teach at university level, not many of us have the right qualifications for teaching school children. In any case the subjects' a lot of us specialise in (philosophy, psychology, engineering, and so on) aren’t school subjects at all. And anyway there are hardly any school jobs about.

Few of us thought it would come to this. True, for quite a few years both Labour and Tory governments have been telling the universities to tighten their belts. They’ve been telling them that they’re too costly to run and not good value for money. And the universities have cut down. They’ve spent less on things like stationery, grants to staff and students; equipment. They’ve tried not to replace staff who’ve left or retired. But they’ve not saved very much-you can’t by economics of this kind. The only way you can really save—the universities know it and the government knows it—is by having fewer people on your pay roll. Because that’s where most of the money goes—on wages.

Yet, somehow, the universities thought, or at least hoped, that everything could carry on as before. Maybe enough people would retire or leave of their own accord to allow “natural wastage” to make the necessary cuts. Maybe the next government would be more sympathetic to the universities than the last one (didn’t the Tories say they would be when they were in opposition?). Maybe the country’s economic situation would look up and cuts in university spending be seen as less necessary. After all University lecturers did think they were a cut above most other workers. They did think their work was particularly important and that their status guaranteed them immunity from the vulgar business of redundancy.

How’s the government going to decide which of us are to go and which to stay? It’s a difficult one. In the past university jobs have been considered as held for life and usually that’s the way it’s been. You only got sacked if you went out of your way to get on the wrong side of your Head of Department in your first three years (your “probationary” period) or if you committed serious (very serious) moral indiscretions with a student (“moral turpitude”, it’s called). Now, suddenly, ways have got to be found of quickly getting rid of people in large numbers. The government knows the universities aren’t going to be able to solve it for themselves, so it’s going to tell them (“advise”, I believe,is the official terminology) who’s got to go.
Not that the University Grants Council — the government body that deals with the financing of universities — will be naming names. It will be “advising" universities to cut out certain departments or faculties and telling them that, whether they do so or not, they’ll no longer receive funds for their running. The surplus staff will then be declared redundant and their students distributed among other Universities giving lecturers who have kept their jobs there an increased work load.

What about the situation in the university I myself work in? It’s one of those, so rumour has it, which are most likely to be heavily affected. The University Grants Council has said it will be sending out letters in June with details of where to make the cuts.

This leaves plenty of time for rumours. And at the moment, with the summer term barely a fortnight old, it’s all rumours. We’ve all already heard half-a-dozen quite different “leaked” versions of what’s going to happen. On the cards, according to a sober senior academic, is that the whole university will close. Another rumour is that it’s only one faculty, Social Sciences, that’s going to shut down. From other quarters there’s talk of medium-sized departments such as languages, philosophy and classics bearing the brunt. Others predict less drastic cuts with the extinction of just small lightly staffed departments—such as Art, Statistics, Music and my own.

How are we reacting to this unprecedented state of affairs? In various different ways. Some linguists, for example, have thought about using their redundancy money (will there be any?) to set up a translation agency in the town. But is there a market for one here? Doubtful. English lecturers talk about writing their long dreamed of best seller. Other colleagues are offended that they haven’t been “consulted”. Some are confident that the University Grants Council, who after all are only academics themselves, haven’t got the power to force sackings on the universities.

What about our union? Won’t the AUT (Association of University Teachers) give us any protection? The AUT moved from being a professional association to a fully-fledged trade union several years ago after a ballot of its members. The idea was that under the collective TUC umbrella, we’d have more protection more bargaining power. Since then the AUT has managed to negotiate wage rises at about the same rate as inflation which, some would say, is no mean feat. It uses tough language too and until recently has refused to even contemplate the possibility of redundancies. Now, though it still says it will fight hard against redundancy proposals, it’s yielded to circumstances by admitting that redundancies are possible and even likely. And when the government axe falls it’s difficult to see how the AUT will be able to help us. It’s likely to take a test case to the courts to determine whether universities are legally empowered to dismiss employees who, according to contract, have life tenure. But most of us agree that this is unlikely to resolve things in our favour.

So perhaps by the time you read this, the affair should have been settled. And you’ll be able to read in a future issue of Socialist Standard how the famous University Grants Council letter has affected the jobs and lives of this writer and his colleagues.

Just a final word. Why is it happening at all? Many people in the universities would say that it’s because we’ve got a reactionary philistine government in power which is determined to spend as little money as possible on education and public services. There may be some truth in this. But it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It was the last Labour government which started to make serious cuts in the education budget, which caused many redundancies by shutting down Colleges of Education, and which began to talk about and pave the way for redundancies in the universities. So, in government, both parties have moved in the same direction. The continuing recession in world trade has forced them (as it’s forcing governments elsewhere) to limit investment in the training of skilled manpower which is what universities are about. The end result of this had to be unemployment.

This brings me back to those of my colleagues who wanted to be “consulted”. When it was pointed out to one of them that workers in many other occupations were being sacked without being “consulted”, the reply was: “Yes, but we’re not down the mines”. This nicely summed up the view long held by most university lecturers that they’re a kind of privileged élite with special status and nothing to fear, that they’re somehow in a different category from workers in other jobs and that their employer, recognising this, will somehow treat them in a special way.

In fact university lecturers, whatever their image of themselves, are just as much members of the working class as anyone who, in order to live has to sell his energies to an employer for a wage or salary. He will also tell them that, in times of economic crisis, “status” doesn't make their job one bit more secure than that of their fellow wage-slaves “down the mine”. Universities are an important part of the profit system, giving to a section of the working class (the students) the intellectual skills that their future employers will need and will buy from them. And their employers will be in business for one reason alone—profit (or, if the government’s the employer, to provide the employing class with the services necessary to realise that profit).

Here’s hoping that the present shake-up will at least shake some of my colleagues out of their comfortable self-satisfied view of the world. Here’s hoping that their first direct taste of working-class insecurity will make them use their intellectual skills to look closely not just at their academic specialities but at how present-day society works. Here’s hoping that they'll sec its absurdity and come to the conclusion that social sanity means the end of the wages system and the end of production for profit. There is no other way of ending that terrible ever-present wastage of human skills and energies known as unemployment. 
Howard Moss

Rich escape the Depression (1981)

TV Review from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone watching BBC 2 on 6 March would have suddenly found their homes invaded by a swarm of parasites. No, not wild locusts. Man Alive was doing a profile of the British capitalist class.

A government report had just shown that despite the recession the top one per cent are getting richer and richer: money which might have been re-invested is now being spent on luxuries. One woman displayed her £15,000 coat from Harrods. An exclusive cigar seller said that most of his clients spend at least £15.000 a year on cigars alone. At the Boat Show this year, £250,000 boats were being sold quite easily.

One of the most outspoken of the parasitic breed is Rupert Deen and it is worth quoting him:
Daddy never worked; nor have I, . . . I have various businesses . . . January I’m still shooting, because it’s too cold to go ski-ing . . .
Does he meet people with much less money than himself? “Not if I can help it.”

He pays £7,000 a year to keep each of his horses; more than the wages of many workers. While most of us are worried by the problem of unemployment, his unearned income allows him to live in luxury:
Speaking personally, the recession doesn't affect me at all because I'm not employed. The state of the world market at the moment, Wall Street’s just gone through a thousand points which is an all time high, the London stock market’s almost as high, the pound's very strong, so when I spend four months of the year abroad, in fact I'm better off if anything.
A night-club owner summed up the class division quite clearly when he said that “the people who have got it have always got it”.

An accountant called Hardman was asked the best way to build a fortune. He answered: “Well clearly, you can't do it if you’re on PAYE. You’ve got to have your own company and employ other people.”

This is the real class division. The recession brings it out more clearly than ever. There is a small minority who own substantial capital, which is applied to live off the backs of the others. This is all part of a system in which the majority are employed by the parasite for wages. Are the ruling class so arrogant that they can expose it widely on television, confident that the viewers won’t want to put a stop to it?
Clifford Slapper

Letter: Dangerous jobs (1981)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Whilst I would not take issue with your reply to Mr. Arthur Spender (April 1981), I feel that one of his points, how we get people to perform tedious and dangerous jobs without “the wage incentive", has perhaps been better answered by certain scientific journals (eg. New Scientist). There we read of the technology which is supplying the means to relieve mankind of many such occupations, by means of robots and computers. Moreover, capitalism often fails to use these opportunities to the full since often it is “cheaper" to use human labour. Perhaps the inclusion of reports of certain technological advances, particularly those not fully exploited by capitalism, in tire pages of the Standard. would help to show that many unpleasant jobs existing under capitalism, need not be performed by people and that, with full automation of our factories etc., the remaining work, when “shared out" as it could be under socialism, might become pleasurable for its own sake.

At present, such benefits merely result in unemployment for some with no corresponding reduction in work load for the rest; plus increased profits for those who own the factories. 
Martin Cook

Martin Cook makes a valid point; capitalism itself develops the means whereby human society can produce the abundance of wealth which is essential for socialism but also hampers this process because its priority is profit, not human satisfaction. The Socialist Standard sometimes deals with this but of course not to the extent of other magazines, for which it is a specialism. It is no quibble to point out that it is incorrect to say that capitalism’s developing technology results in unemployment. In the interests of a brief reply we shall not discuss this popular misconception here: it is an issue often dealt with in this journal.

Guns and coffee in El Salvador (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the defeat of the American-backed dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979, the American ruling class has been concerned that the testing-ground for the “domino” theory would shift from Southeast Asia to its own backyard, Central America. Would Guatemala and El Salvador be the next countries to instal new rulers who were less well-disposed towards the US? In El Salvador, in particular, massive American military aid is being used to maintain in power a ferociously repressive junta.

Since the late nineteenth century, El Salvador has been a leading coffee grower and exporter. In the 1880s, with the help of conveniently passed laws, Indian communities were uprooted from their land and large coffee plantations were formed. Many former peasants became seasonal workers on the coffee estates, able to find employment only between November and March. Since 1930, there has been much urban industrial development, largely in the form of capital-intensive export industries owned by US corporations such as Exxon, Texaco and Westinghouse Electric. But El Salvador remains a predominantly agricultural country.

It is also a land of great poverty and inequality. The entire economy — agriculture, finance, industry — is dominated by a tiny elite of fourteen families. Two per cent of the population controls over sixty per cent of the cultivable land. At the other extreme, only one peasant family in twenty owns enough land to support themselves, while on 1974 figures over forty per cent of urban wage-workers were earning less than the legal minimum of around five pounds a week. About half of El Salvador’s infants die of malnutrition or related ailments before their first birthday. Such is the status quo the American government is defending, to the tune of ten million dollars in 1980-1.

For half a century El Salvador has been ruled by one military dictatorship after another. In 1930, in the midst of the world depression, the candidate of the reformist Labour Party was elected President, only to be overthrown by the army in the following year. In 1932, after the so-called Communist Party had won some local elections, the generals refused to recognise the result and a large-scale peasant uprising took place. It was put down brutally: between twenty and thirty thousand people were killed (equal to between one and two per cent of the total population!). Since then, the government has been in the possession of a series of different factions of the army and the fourteen families, with some mock elections but no political democracy. Since 1960, many peasants have been won to support of the the regime in power by means of a rural paramilitary body known as the National Democratic Organisation, or ORDEN. Its members were helped to avoid the worst poverty by means of such “favours” as special credit terms, preference in employment, or extra health care. ORDEN members acted as informers against suspected subversives in the villages. Thus many potential opponents were recruited as bulwarks of the government.

The Christian Democrat Party was founded in I960. In 1972 their presidential candidate was deprived of electoral victory by yet another army coup. By this time, guerrilla organisations were being formed in the countryside, aimed at resisting ORDEN and, in the long run, at taking over the government themselves. Besides ORDEN, there are other pro-regime terrorist groups ranged against the guerrillas. In addition, there is a veritable plethora of “left-wing” opposition groupings of various kinds, religious, political, trade-union, student. Since April 1980, these have come together in the Revolutinary Democratic Front (FDR).

The current Salvadoran government came to power in a coup in October 1979, when the Christian Democrats and a section of the army overthrew the existing military regime. The new junta promised “radical reforms”, and set up a cabinet involving civilian ministers. However, it immediately proclaimed a state of emergency and banned meetings of more than three people. Clearly the junta was not even superficially different from—let alone better than—the outright military dictatorships that preceded it. By the end of 1979, the junta openly backing its own terrorist organisations. In 1980 El Salvador entered a period of civil war. On the one side were the army and the other state-run terrorists (supported and trained by the Americans) and on the other the guerrillas, backed by opposition movements and, supposedly, supplied with arms by Cuba. In the first nine months of 1980 alone, five thousand Salvadorans were killed in the fighting.

What are the two sides fighting for? The government and the army are defending the existing order and the interests of the present ruling élite, the Salvadoran capitalist class, and the American companies who own much of Salvadoran industry. The American military aid is designed to protect the massive profits of these US companies, and to defend America’s strategic interests in Central America. The guerrillas are a nationalist movement, fighting against United States control of the Salvadoran economy and government, and aiming to establish Salvadoran state capitalism. This is apparent from an examination of the “Programmatic Platform of the Revolutionary Democratic Government”, issued in February 1980 by the Revolutionary Coordinating Committee of the Masses, the umbrella grouping of guerrilla organisations.

The platform calls for widespread nationalisation of the banking and finance system, of foreign trade, of electricity distribution, of petroleum refining. It is stated, though, that “None of this will affect small or medium-sized private businesses, which will be given all kinds of stimulus and support in the various branches of the national economy”. There will be an agrarian reform, and the tax system will supposedly be transformed “so that tax payments no longer fall upon the workers”. (As taxes are a burden only on the capitalist class anyway, this transformation is difficult to envisage.) There will be wage regulation, price controls, increased social services, no unemployment . . . It all sounds quite impressive, till you realise that you’ve heard it all before from politicians elsewhere, and that the supposed benefits of nationalisation never quite permeate to the workers. State-run enterprises will still be concerned with making a profit and the platform admits as much: “the state will receive substantial income from the activity of the nationalised sector of the economy”. They will still be subject to the ups and downs of the world markets, in coffee for instance. As elsewhere, nationalised industries will be concerned to keep profits up by keeping wages down, and to discharge workers when what they produce cannot be sold profitably.

The workers and peasants of HI Salvador have nothing to gain by supporting the opposition groups or guerrillas, who will simply become their new rulers and exploiters. The platform we have discussed aims at no radical transformation of society: it envisages the continuation and further development of capitalism in El Salvador, a society of haves and have-nots. The change will be in the personnel of the ruling class, and a change from private to predominantly state capitalism. And that makes no difference to anyone but the capitalists themselves.
Paul Bennett

Russia still in Afghanistan (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rulers of many ‘Third World’ countries often distinguish between foreign aid programmes from the USA and those from Russia, seeing the former as the efforts of a capitalist superpower to dominate their nation, while the latter are regarded as kindly gifts of good faith from a “fraternal” power.

Of more importance than the beliefs of Third World capitalists, bankers, landlords and lackey politicians, is the fact that the same mistaken view is held by many workers not only in the so-called “developing” world, but also in the industrialised west. They think the USA is an expansionist power, always attempting to make Third World countries mere client states of its economic and strategic empire, while the friendly Soviet Union has no such imperial intentions. The latter power is often seen as the champion of the Third World underdog, due to the help it gives to “national liberation” movements such as in Angola, Vietnam and Cuba.

Unsurprisingly, this belief in the benevolent aims of Soviet foreign aid is fully endorsed by the Russian economist V. Rymalov:
Unlike the leading capitalist industrial powers, the USSR gives extensive aid to other countries without imposing terms incompatible to their national interests and dignity. There are no strings attached. (Asiaweek 30/1/81) 
However, this view of Russia as the “goodie” and the USA as the “baddie” (or vice-versa) in international affairs is incorrect. While not wishing to imply that the ruling classes of the USA and other Western capitalist powers are without imperialist schemes and aims, the ruling class of Russia and other Eastern Bloc nations are prime examples of countries with expansionist goals. This is because Russia behaves like any other capitalist nation: constantly seeking opportunities to secure and extend its sources of supply of natural resources, its spheres of influence and its markets. A clear case of Russia's imperialist aims is its involvement in the much troubled country of Afghanistan.

Russian imperialism in Afghanistan did not begin with the December 1979 occupation of that country; for decades prior to that event, Afghanistan was well on its way to becoming a colony of Moscow. The 1979 invasion was clearly a brutal and successful attempt by Brezhnev and his politburo cronies to tighten their grip on Afghanistan at a time when squabbles among that country’s own politicians and ruling class could have led to civil war, which would probably have suited American interests.

However, despite this background, strategic considerations constituted one of the main factors behind the invasion. According to a South-East Asian journal: 
The temptation to occupy a strategic position within 300 miles of the Gulf, and acquiring the choice of marching south and/or east at will could have been too strong to resist. Occupation of the Shindand base and the erection of missile launchers at that base are strong pointers. Equally important are the latest intelligence reports that the Soviets have set up surface-to-surface missiles in the Wakhan salient overlooking the Karakoram highway linking Pakistan and China. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 23-29/1/81)
Additionally, recent evidence suggests that strategic military considerations were certainly not the only factors that influenced the decision to invade. In fact, there was also a blunt economic motive behind Moscow's military action, which originated in the 1950s. According to Louis Dupree, a specialist in the politics of West and Central Asia from the mid-1950s, Afghanistan became “a primary ‘guinea pig' in the Soviet plan to penetrate developing countries economically” (Asiaweek 30/1/81). Since an American loan of $100 million to Afghanistan in 1955, Russia has been steadily increasing economic aid to Afghanistan in an attempt to beat the American ruling class at securing a hold over their neighbour. Dupree adds:
Just as the Soviets tested the US and its allies militarily in Korea, so they have tested the US economic reaction in Afghanistan. The country has a number of characteristics that make such an experiment tempting, among them, a common boundary with the USSR that facilitates commerce and communications.
Furthermore, Afghanistan has many of the features typical of certain Afro-Asian countries, such as a history of European imperialist penetrations; possession of a “false'’ national border, cutting across various ethnic groups; a slowly developing capitalist class and wage-earning class, products of the industrialising process; and a dictatorial, highly centralised political system. If a Russian plan of imperialist infiltration could be formulated and successfully applied to Afghanistan, then such a scheme could be implemented in other, similar, developing nations.

Between 1955 and 1979 Russian investment in Afghanistan, Excluding military aid, reached a mammoth $1.5 billion compared to the American investment of $1 billion, the aim, according to Dupree, being “the ultimate exploitation of Afghanistan’s natural resources”. So what exactly are these natural resources which make the Russian government (and the American government?) so interested in Afghanistan?

First, natural gas. Before the invasion, Russia imported about 3 billion cubic metres of Afghan gas each year through a pipeline running over the Ainu Darya River. Absurdly, loans to Afghanistan which have yet to be repaid include the cost of installations and pipelines transporting gas to Russia! Since 1967, when gas production started, Russia has extracted over 30 billion cubic metres of Afghan gas, mainly all for use in the industries of Soviet Central Asia.

Furthermore Russia gets this gas at well below the world price. It also seems a little more than coincidence that, at the time of the Soviet military take-over of Afghanistan in December 1979, a deal regarding Iranian gas sales to Russia had fallen through. Iran’s price was too high, and by April 1980 Russia had ceased to import gas from Iran. In turn, since the collapse of the deal, Afghan “natural gas output has risen to 3.5 billion cubic metres a year, almost all of it going to meet the growing energy demand of Soviet Central Asia” (Far Eastern Economic Review, 23-29/1/81).

Finally, for many years, Afghan governments have made frequent requests for Russian help in building internal gas pipelines in order to power the wheels of Afghanistan's own industries. Russia has declined to give help on the grounds that such a scheme would be too expensive and that the mountainous Afghan terrain would render such a project technically impossible. This appears a strange line of argument in view of the Russian construction of a longer gas pipeline at considerable cost, erected over equally mountainous areas from Afghanistan to Soviet Central Asia. Subsequently, until 1978, when Afghan “freedom fighters” took to the hills making many roads impassable, Afghanistan had to import bottled gas from neighbouring Pakistan.

Second area of interest — oil. Like its neighbour Iran, Afghanistan has immense untapped reserves. It is commonly believed by disgruntled Afghans that the Russian government was well aware of these oil deposits. This suspicion does seem to have foundation as in a recent article deceitfully entitled “New Horizons: tasks of the Afghan Revolution”, which appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda, the official journal of the Youth League in the Soviet Union, it was stated that several oil deposits have been located and oil extraction organised by Russia. No doubt much of this oil will be pumped north to power Russian industry.

The third source of attraction is Afghan’s mineral resources — coal, copper, iron ore and emeralds. The article mentioned above also reported that copper deposits at Atinak, south of the capital Kabul, are “huge” and that Russian finance would help build an ore mining and smelting works, to be completed by 1985. The article also described Afghan iron ore deposits as “the world’s biggest”, while also commenting that Afghanistan was rich in emeralds. Finally, according to the World Bank, Afghanistan has about 100 million tons of coal reserves and an estimated potential for approximately a further 400 million tons.

Fourthly, cement, of which Afghanistan produces a very high standard. This commodity comes mainly from two plants, both built under a 1954 loan agreement by Czechoslovakia. Of the 150,000 tons of cement produced in Afghanistan between 1977 and 1978, most was exported to Russia. In an absurd exchange, Russia exports an equal amount of cement to Afghanistan, but of a much lower quality.

The fifth and final area of interest is citrus fruits and olives. Most of these goods grown at the Russian-financed and directed Ningralar Valley project are exported to Russia, but, like Afghan gas, their price is much lower than that which would be offered on the world market. Russia then sells much of this produce to its Eastern Bloc allies at a high profit.

Thus, one cannot help but agree with Louis Dupree’s assessment that Russia’s “aid projects remind one of the Afghan system of gerau, under which a farmer borrows a sum of money and agrees to give the borrower one half of his annual crop as interest until the debt is fully repaid. Russian assistance developed into exploitation, and Afghanistan has been virtually mortgaged into perpetuity”. (Asiaweek 31/1/81)

In conclusion, it is clear that Afghanistan is a virtual colony of the Russian ruling class for strategic, experimental and especially for economic purposes, as is South Korea to the USA and Niger is to France. One cannot distinguish a difference of “aim” in the foreign policies of the Western capitalist nations or the Eastern Bloc state capitalist nations, but there is some difference in the means. To secure markets and sources of supply of natural resources, the ruling classes of America and Europe generally use multinational companies; the Russian ruling class tend to use “foreign aid” programmes.

An Apology to The Right Honourable Eric Heffer, MP (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

House of Commons, 28 April 1981

Dear Sir,

It has been drawn to my attention that your journal on May 1980 said that I had written in Socialist Revolt of April 1957 the following:
“No one can deny that Communists in the past have made grave mistakes, but does anyone believe that Russia would have retained its socialist basis . . . without Stalin’s iron rule during the most difficult period in Communist history? Would subversion, direct aggression, economic sabotage etc. not have crushed the germinating seed of world Communism if Comrade Stalin had not “enforced” the unity of Communists in Russia, and throughout the International Communist Movement?”
In fact the article was written by someone called Ian Watson, and was on pages 13 and the back page. At the head of that particular article the Editor wrote, “We do not agree with anything in this article. It is however, an example of the apology put forward by the Communist Party.”.

Writing of the Communist Party Programme, “The British Road to Socialism” in that issue of Socialist Revolt I in fact wrote “What do they mean? The same as in the Soviet Union and the “People’s Democracies”? “Workers” who become transformed into a Party of bureaucrats. Only real control at all levels with industry separate from the State apparatus can guarantee real democracy and genuine socialist participation”. That can hardly be called support for Stalin.

I expect an apology and retraction in your next issue.
Yours sincerely.
Eric S. Heffer,
MP for Walton.

We Apologise.
Eric Heffer is right. The passage we reproduced was not written by him and was preceded by the editorial disclaimer he quotes. We regret this mistake and unreservedly apologise.

It is also true that Eric Heffer wrote an article in the same April/ June issue of Socialist Revolt (“organ of the Socialist Workers’ Federation”) criticising the Russian regime. What he does not say is that the article in question also criticised the Communist Party as “reformist” for maintaining that “socialism can be achieved peacefully through the Parliamentary method”. The SWF (of which he was a leading member) declared that it rejected “the concept of supporting a Labour Government or any other Parliamentary Government as a means of establishing socialism”. Eric Heffer’s views have evidently changed since he is himself now a leading parliamentarian and reformist! What makes him a reformist, we hasten to add, is not his (present) view that Parliament can be used in the abolition of capitalism, but his belief that capitalism can be abolished gradually by a series of reform measures passed by a Labour Government.

The illusion of ideology (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The theory of ideology forms an important part of Marx’s analysis of capitalist society. Ideology, in the end, is false consciousness, a system of false ideas about the nature of society but one which is the result of the way the capitalist mode of production appears to function. Appearances, Marx argued, were misleading as far as the nature of capitalism was concerned: a scientific analysis must go beyond appearances and lay bare what was really happening. As one example of the kind of discovery his own investigations had led him to, Marx observes:
The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is . . . a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. (Capital vol. 1, ch. 1, sec. 4) 
Here the true determining factor is masked by superficial factors.

The thinking of workers who accept and support capitalism is the consequence not primarily of the onslaught of bourgeois propaganda but of the conditions of commodity production. The very nature of the wages system gives the impression of fair exchange between employer and employee, without exploitation. Marxian economics teaches that wage-workers sell their labour-power to the capitalists, who force the workers to work for longer than is necessary to produce value equivalent to that of their labour-power (sufficient to enable them to maintain themselves and rear yet more workers). During this surplus labour, for which the workers do not receive payment, they produce surplus value, which is expropriated by the capitalists. The appearance, however, is that workers sell not their labour-power but rather their labour:
On the surface of bourgeois society the wage of the labourer appears as the price of labour, a certain quantity of money that is paid for a certain quantity of labour. (Capital, vol. I, ch. 19)
If it is assumed that the worker is selling his labour, there can be no room for surplus labour and surplus value, and the exploitative nature of the wages system is concealed:
The wage-form . . . extinguishes every trace of the division of the. working-day into necessary labour and surplus labour, into paid and unpaid labour. All labour appears as paid labour, (ibid.)
This illusory appearance makes the workers’ position appear freer than it really is, and is seized on by the economists who act as apologists for capitalism: 
we may understand the decisive importance of the transformation of value and price of labour-power into the form of wages, or into the value and price of labour itself. This phenomenal form, which makes the actual relation invisible, and, indeed, shows the direct opposite of that relation, forms the basis of all the juridical notions of both labourer and capitalist, of all the mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production, of all its illusions as to liberty, of all the apologetic shifts of the vulgar economists, (ibid.)
Thus one mystification engendered by capitalism is that the workers sell their labour and not their labour power to the capitalists, and this masks the fact that part of the workers’ labour is unpaid.

There is a second mystification, namely that the relations between the producers appear to them as relations between things, or between their products:
A commodity is . . . a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. (Capital vol. 1, ch. 1, sec. 4)
Once again, the surface appearance of capitalism obscures the underlying reality: 
It is . . . just this ultimate money-form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers, (ibid.)
In other words, commodities have exchange-value according to the amount of socially-nccessary labour time involved in their production. Value is not something which commodities have in and of themselves, but only as a consequence of human labour being expended on them. When commodities are exchanged, it is not their intrinsic properties that are measured, but properties they acquire because of the nature of capitalist production.

The classical political economists, according to Marx, regarded products as commodities by their very nature, thereby ignoring the fact that they become so only under certain modes of production, where producers relate to each other in historically specific ways:
The crude materialism of the economists, who regard as the natural properties of things what are social relations of production among people, and qualities which things obtain because they are subsumed under these relations, is at the same time just as crude an idealism, even fetishism, since it imputes social relations to things as inherent characteristics, and thus mystifies them.'(Grundrisse, p. 687)
Fetishism is the imputing to something of powers which it does not in itself have. Commodity fetishism refers to the phenomenon whereby commodities appear to possess value and exchange-value in and of themselves; capital fetishism to that whereby capital appears to be productive itself, whereas in reality it is labour power alone that creates value.

We have emphasised that it is the essential features of commodity production, not of production as such, that are hidden from superficial inquiry. With regard to the feudal society of the European Middle Ages, Marx writes:
the social relations between individuals in the performance of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour. (Capital vol. 1, ch. 1, sec. 4)
Under feudalism, moreover, the division of the working-day into necessary and surplus labour was transparent. Feasants worked part of their time on their own holding, and part on the lord’s land, and it was clear to all that this latter labour involved working for another. Only under capitalism does it appear that the workers work all the time for themselves, so that the existence of surplus labour is concealed.

In socialism, though, there will be no mystification:
The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan, (ibid.)
The nature of society will be transparent once there is no money, exchange commodities or classes.

Consequently there will be in socialism no need for social science to analyse the workings of society, since these will be perfectly open and clear to the people who live in that society. Socialism, then, involves not only the abolition of classes and money but of social science, and in particular economics.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: What is the Class Struggle? (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Possession, today, is no longer a physical relationship. It Is a legal one. The shareholders of a joint stock company which owns a mine, a group of mills, or a railway system, may live at the ends of the earth, may never see their property, may know next to nothing about it, and yet go on receiving dividends upon which they can exist in comfort and luxury without labour. Superficial “revolutionaries”, who advocate that the workers should “occupy” the factories, forget that the workers are continually doing this—they have to—and that the last thing in the world that the capitalists want to do is to occupy the factories themselves. Physical contact with the means of production is a pleasure which they are quite prepared to surrender entirely to the workers—on terms. They merely insist upon controlling, through salaried agents, the ownership and disposal of the products. When and where such sale ceases to be sufficiently profitable, they use their legal powers to lock the workers out; and, in either case, their ownership and control, whether exercised negatively or positively, depends upon the state.

It is the state, with its machinery of coercion. including the armed forces, which holds the conditions condemning the workers to sell themselves piecemeal into lifelong slavery. It is the state that repels every attack upon the property rights of the master class by starving strikers or unemployed, and which, by doing so. makes the workers’ struggle a political one.

[From the June 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard.]