Friday, June 17, 2022

Sting in the Tail: An Unmarried Father (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Unmarried Father

The Bishop of Galway once attacked clergymen who had four figure bank accounts as Immoral. And unlike some hypocrites in the Church it seems that the reverend gentleman practised what he preached.

According to press reports this godly man sent £65,340 from his bank account to a Ms Murphy in the USA to assist in the rearing of her son. This was in addition to regular monthly payments he had been making for 15 years. It would seem that when this American kid addressed him as "father” he was doing so in both senses.

Here at least is one catholic that does not use contraception. A man of principle and a glowing example to all his flock.

Unfortunately his Irish parishioners have lost this paragon of virtue. He has moved to South America where with less than a four figure bank account he will minister unto the poor!

Untutored Fathead

Another man of principle the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey has attacked greed and short sightedness among industrialists.

The saintly Archbishop is certainly not of this world when he is reported in The Independent (11 May) as follows:
Dr Carey said the purpose of trade and industry was to benefit humanity, "not to make profits for shareholders . . ."

”Within our own society, our collective commitment to industrial enterprise will remain underpowered if the fruits of success appear to be concentrated too heavily in the pockets of shareholders and senior executives. For example, massive individual pay rises during a recession do not encourage public support for wealth creation."
With falling church attendances the miracle business could be said to be in recession, but this does not deter Carey living in a palace and riding around in a chaffeur driven Roller!

We Are Not Amused

As head of the Church of England, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth must get a little annoyed from time to time by such upstarts as the Archbishop going on about greed.

In the good old days of course, It would have been off to the Tower with him and good riddance. But in these democratic days one has got to keep up the pretence that one actually gives a shit about what these loyal objects say.

The Archbishop was very careful to attack only shareholders, industrialists and senior executives in his sermon. No mention of such obscenities as the Queen reputably the richest person In Britain with an estate of £6,500M or the noble Duke of Westminster with a mere £3,500M.

More Classy Antics

It needs little comment from Scorpion. It should be required reading for any dupe of Major's classless society. We refer to Andrew Rawnsley's account of the State Opening of Parliament in The Guardian of 7 May.
The Lord Chancellor was trying to walk backwards without tripping over the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, animated playing cards were blowing trumpets, Black Rod was getting the door slammed In his face like a Jehovah's Witness . . . the new leader of the House of Lords had landed the trickiest role in the whole ceremonial, that of bearing the Cap of Maintenance. This involves half an hour holding up a pole bearing a purple velvet cap which looks most like a medieval condom...

As Beaumont Herald Extraordinary, Gold Stick In Waiting, The Keeper Of The Gilded Bidet and the rest of the cast of lolanthe did their stuff before an audience of dukes, earls, marquesses and viscounts, Her Majesty outlined her government's plans to create a modern, open and classless society.

Workers Can Fight

For decades West Germany's trade unions have been held up as a shining example to British workers. Instead of going on strike West German unions would simply sit down with the employers and settle matters in a civilised way.

Now that cosy scene is shattered as those same unions are having a show-down with government and business over pay. Postal workers, public sector workers and even the police have struck, with rail and construction workers likely to follow.

The unions complain that their members are being made to pay the cost of German unification.
The liberal weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, concerned that Germany's famed consensus between labour and capital was cracking, accused Kohl of trying to wring money out of the weakest group — workers —rather than fighting rich and powerful lobbies.
The Guardian 25 April
So the "consensus" between workers and employers is over and that nasty old class-struggle, which we were assured was dead and buried in West Germany, has risen from the grave once again.

So Can Bosses

Meanwhile in France the limitation of successful industrial action by workers is being shown once more.

The wages and conditions won by French dockers over the years are under attack and the dockers have come out on strike against a reform proposed by the "socialist” government which would reduce wages and increase hours.

The employers claim that those wages and conditions drive away shipping to cheaper facilities at Antwerp and Rotterdam and have cost 6,000 dockers jobs in the last 10 years.

This is the situation which arises from gains made by workers anywhere. Their success prods capital into finding ways of regaining what it has lost, usually by cutting jobs and introducing new work practices. The workers will, of course, try to improve their lot when circumstances permit.

And so it goes on, this constant struggle in which workers must run fast just to stand still. Political action to replace capitalism by socialism is the way to get off this treadmill.

Socialism and nature (1992)

From the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
We publish below a criticism from a Marxist viewpoint of the so-called “Deep Greens” or “Deep Ecologists” who see nature as a force to which humans must submit.
Our ecological crisis, say the “deep” Greens, stems from a fundamentally unhealthy relationship between society and nature. In this relationship, inherited from attitudes and philosophies developed during the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution, we regard ourselves as separate from and superior to nature. We think we can constantly change, develop and destroy it for material benefit. Such alienation and exploitation result, Deep Greens say, from human arrogance and greed, which are displayed equally in capitalism and socialism.

They argue that a healthy, holistic, organic relationship with nature would, by contrast, regard humans as part of it, not separate from it—subject, like any other species, to the same ecological laws. We therefore must observe the natural limits on human activity imposed by finite resources. We should respect, celebrate and revere nature in its own right (the “bioethic”)—regardless of its use value to us. This means abandoning materialism and “living lightly on the earth”, while conserving virtually all species from highest to lowest.

Socialists, too, condemn Western attitudes to nature. However we relate them not to human “sin” but to the specific workings of capitalist economics (state or private). We reject the Deep Ecology approach in favour of a dialectical Marxist one.

Dialectical approach
A dialectical view of the society-nature relationship says, first, that there is no separation between them. They are part of a unity. There is not a self-contained “humanity” counterposed to a self-contained “non-human” world. The two are so un-self-contained that you cannot define one without the other (try it!). They are really aspects of one another: what humans do is natural, while nature is socially produced.

Second, as they develop they constantly interact to change each other, in a circular, mutually affecting way. “Non-human” nature, and human perceptions of it, affect and change human society. The latter then changes nature, which, changed, affects society to further change it, and so on.

Underlying human interactions with nature is the process of production, which is a defining characteristic of being human. In production we change nature with forethought, into forms more useful to us than in their “natural” state. Labour incorporates our essential human forces into nature, which therefore gains social quality in the form of use values. Under capitalism, of course, the value of nature is not judged simply by its use, material or aesthetic. It is expressed as exchange value: the value which its products realise when bought and sold in a market place.

Over time, our work on a nature which existed before humans were present—a “first nature”—has produced the material creations of society together with its institutions, ideas and values—a “second nature”. Here, we should recognise something which most Deep Ecologists do not (or if they do, they do not welcome it—see Bill McKibben’s Death of Nature). This is that wherever there are humans it is no longer meaningful to distinguish between first or second nature: everything is the latter. Marx certainly recognised this:
Animals and plants, which we are accustomed to consider as products of nature, are, in their present form, not only products of, say, last year’s labour, but the results of a gradual transformation, continued through many generations, under man’s superintendence and by means of his labour. (Capital Vol. I).

The nature that preceded human history . . . today no longer exists anywhere . . .
(German Ideology).
In these days of concern about ubiquitous global atmospheric modification the truth of these observations becomes clear upon a moment’s reflection. Even “wilderness” areas and wildlife preserves are not “natural”. They have been artificially segregated from normal development processes by human decisions.

Because socialists accept all this with equanimity, Deep Ecologists often accuse them of sharing with capitalism an arrogance towards the rest of nature. And, indeed, Marxism was, like liberalism, born of the Enlightenment view that saw nature as something to be understood in order to use its laws, principles and resources for the material benefit of humans.

But the society-nature dialectic does also acknowledge human dependence on non-human nature as well as vice versa. This is fundamental in the recognition of nature as one of the forces of production: a recognition which should beget, in socialists, sensitivity to the objective existence of ecological laws. It should also beget kindness and humane (i.e. like humanity) treatment of animals. For, if in changing nature we change ourselves, then acts of cruelty to animals create cruel humans.

This all means that as the productive forces of technology develop, what it is to be human and to be “natural” both change. In production
Man sets in motion arms and legs, head and hands—the natural forces of his body—in order to appropriate nature's productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. (Marx. Capital).
So through learning how to farm nature’s products we changed ourselves from nomadic hunter/gatherers to sedentary humans. Through learning how to manufacture things we changed ourselves to an industrial society. As our ability to use resources has grown we have developed new needs: housing, energy, telecommunication. As we have changed our power to do things (e.g. via transport and computers) we have changed the things we want and need to do (e.g. travel).

This interaction is not just material. Through changing nature and making things, we have changed ourselves into creatures who appreciate the beauty of what we create: buildings, machines, art, landscapes. Included in all this are our intellectual senses. As we transform nature, we get to know nature’s laws in order to do it more effectively and usefully. As this happens we develop our own intelligence.

Lewis Mumford described aspects of this dialectic, in Technics and Civilisation. He argued that creating machines produced new moral values in Western societies. These elevated practicality, thus favouring a meritocracy which swept aside a feudal caste system. And new cultural values were created. Nature was transformed into a human work of art: its beauty and wonder being augmented by the quantitative and analytic appreciation which a machine culture induces. The human imagination has also been enlarged by scientific, technological fantasising, and by a new machine aesthetic: a second nature of cranes, skyscrapers and microscopes. Cubism was the first style to reflect the beauty of the machine. Photography enhanced our appreciation of pure form in nature, while films brought distant environments near, recreating symbolically a world beyond our immediate reach.

This unfolding society-nature dialectic is an evolutionary process. In it, industrial, technological society is not some unnatural aberration, but a natural stage in social development and a social stage in the development of nature. It follows that changing our nature changes our needs. If most needs are thus socially produced, so too are the resources to fill them. Coal, oil, quartz, then, are not fundamental, basic resources: they did not become resources until we developed the technologies to use them. So we should be less concerned about whether they are going to run out. Rather, we should ask whether we wish to fulfil needs for energy, transport and telecommunication through these particular resources or others. Alternatively, we may wish to change our view of what we need; consequently our view of what constitutes “resources”. The point is that the choice is ours: we are not the helpless playthings of natural or economic forces that Greens sometimes would have us believe.

We should appreciate that this dialectical perspective is profoundly holistic. It contains no dualism of society and nature, but a monism in which both are defined by each other and are constantly co-cvolving:
Nature is man’s inorganic body—nature, that is, in so far as it is not itself the human body. “Man lives on nature” means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous intercourse if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is part of nature . . . (Marx: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).
As Fritjof Capra, the Deep Ecology physicist who is not a friend of Marxism, has conceded, this is a deeply ecological view of the society-nature relationship.

Alienation from nature
The socialist conception of nature, then, is not as a mere stock of economic goods (capitalism), nor as a source of intrinsic worth or good (deep ecology), nor as an endangered ecosystem (tragedy of the commons survivalism). It conceives of nature as a social category: though there was an “objective” nature it has been reshaped and reinterpreted by one aspect of itself, human society.

Since alienation means separation from aspects of the self, then alienation from nature means a failure to realise that it is an aspect of the self, i.e. a social creation. This implies that the environmental crisis results from failing to see nature as our own creation and to understand that we can exercise conscious social control over this creation in order to make it a more desirable environment. Instead, we tend to view change towards unpleasant environments as substantially inevitable—a result of economic and technological forces (like the market and mechanisation) that are (we imagine) largely beyond our control. Reformist environmentalists and politicians try to wrestle with such forces, introducing taxes and legislation to soften their environmental impact. But they consider that a truly socialist society—an egalitarian, productive community of society and nature in which both are mutually benign—is quite beyond their reach.

For Deep Greens, “alienation” from nature means something quite different. It means asserting the naturalness of humans by “living in harmony with nature”, i.e. effectively conceding that natural laws (c.g. carrying capacity) have immediate determining power over us. Nature is seen as the source of worth (it “knows best”) and we endanger it unless we follow its rules. This view, says Steven Vogel, by seeing human activity as encroachment on or violation of nature
seems to be curiously guilty of just the sort of dualism it ascribes to the project of dominating nature. Somehow the activity of humans in transforming their environmcnt, alone of all other species, is ‘‘unnatural". ("Marx and Alienation from Nature", Social Theory and Practice, Vol 14, No3).
Vogel might well be thinking of Greenpeace's 1990 recruiting leaflet, which accuses “man” of multiplying “his numbers to plague proportions . . . and now stands like a brutish infant, gloating over this metcroric rise to ascendency".

Deep Ecologists would have us revere nature, preserving it to acknowledge our “one-ness” with it. But, as Murray Bookchin suggests, such worship mystifies nature, actually placing humanity far apart from it. It is a "Supernature with its shamans, priests, priestesses and fanciful deities". Reverent mystification really separates us from nature: we the “impotent and terrified mortal before a jealous and angry god", Gaia as an inhuman force we cannot change but to which we must adjust for our survival.

So Deep Ecology’s view of alienation from nature really rests on a dualistic conception of the human-nature relationship: a conception it is supposed to reject. The socialist dialectic, however, is not dualistic, and therefore, as Vogel says, “the question is not whether what we do ‘accords with nature’, it is whether we like what we have wrought”. And, as Reiner Grundmann says, in communism (socialism) humans will “dominate” nature but only in the sense of being in total control of their relationship with it. This in fact is the precondition for avoiding ecological crises.
David Pepper

A warmer world? (1992)

From the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Global warming, the prospect of a slow but consistent increase in average world temperatures, is one of the most frequently talked-of ecological problems. It has wide-ranging implications for climatic and other conditions during the next century, and is linked to capitalism's reckless exploitation of cheap energy sources.

It is now generally accepted that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that the 1980s were around one degree Celsius warmer than the 1880s, and contained the six warmest years of the century. It must be said, however, that some scientists cast doubt on the figures, on the grounds that earlier temperature records are unreliable, and that too many weather stations are sited near cities, which produce their own heat. Moreover, some places, including Britain, probably got a little cooler between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. On the whole, though, it does seem likely that global warming is genuine, and certainly it will not do to ignore the warnings.

Predictions about the future course of world temperatures must be treated skeptically, if only because not too long ago there were widespread claims of global cooling, often by the same scientists who predict global warming! For instance, it was argued that there would be a cooling period for up to 100 years before the warming trend set in. Nowadays, though, even the most optimistic of those who accept global warming believe that temperatures will increase by 1.5 degrees by 2050 (and pessimistic views at least double this figure). These rises may seem very small, but the last Ice Age was only four to five degrees colder than now, and small changes in temperature can have very large consequences.

Greenhouse gases
The basic cause of global warming is the Greenhouse Effect, which means that a number of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere allow sunlight to enter but do not allow the heat reflected back from the ground to escape. So the heat is trapped in the atmosphere and the planet becomes warmer. Without the Greenhouse Effect, Earth would be about 35 degrees colder than it in fact is, and life would be impossible (as it is on the Moon, which has no atmosphere at all). The Greenhouse Effect itself, then, has played, and continues to play, an essential part in the development of life on Earth. However, over the last couple of centuries, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased quite dramatically, leading to even more heat being trapped and the temperature rising to give what is now recognised as global warming.

The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide; it is estimated that since the late eighteenth century the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by around 25 percent. This increase is partly due to the chopping-down of forests, but mostly to the burning of fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil, gas and lignite, which release carbon dioxide when burned). These carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for about half of the Greenhouse Effect, but there are other important greenhouse gases too: methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs contribute to global warming quite separately from their effect in weakening the ozone layer, which is responsible for increased skin cancers and cataracts. Deforestation, the destruction of trees in such places as the Amazon rain forest, is relevant in that trees absorb carbon, and fewer trees means more carbon is around to form carbon dioxide and so add to the Greenhouse Effect.

Climatic changes
The consequences of warming are many and varied, and some may be here already: droughts in the US and north Africa may well be due to temperature increases, though it is impossible to isolate a single cause. Overall, however, a rise in temperature is likely to mean more rainfall, though many places will indeed get less rain. Some areas may benefit from the longer growing seasons caused by warming, but in others drought will lead to a drastic fall in crop yields. Water expands when it warms, and the sea level is likely to rise by at least 30 centimetres (maybe far more) by 2030, flooding many coastal areas such as the Nile delta. The rise in sea-level could also mean contamination of drinking water and the spread of waterborne diseases. Hurricanes are likely to become both stronger and more frequent. Forests in temperate zones may be partially destroyed, thus leading to more warming. The general alteration in the world’s climate will be too fast for many forms of vegetation to cope with, causing them to die out—crops can adapt to changes in rainfall and temperature, but not if the changes are too rapid. If people move in large numbers to cooler, wetter areas, there will be vast social changes to cope with. So global warming means not just sultrier summers but droughts, alterations in the pattern of agricultural production, loss of vegetation, rise in sea-level, increased pollution, and possibly big population movements. There have been some claims that global warming is a good thing, but the balance of evidence is very much against this notion.

The Greenhouse Effect is permanent, and cannot be done away with, but we can ask whether it is possible to stop or reverse the current global warming trend. Clearly the answer is to drastically reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, but this is easier said than done. Unlike CFCs, for which substitutes are readily available (even if not profitable to introduce), processes which produce most of the greenhouse gases cannot be simply abandoned or drastically modified. One claim is that carbon dioxide emissions must be cut by at least 50 percent in order to lessen the rate of warming to 0.1 degree per decade, which will be more manageable as far as natural ecosystems are concerned.

Capitalism tinkers
There are plenty of renewable energy sources which can be tapped, and which have minimal environmental impact. Wind turbines, tidal barrages, solar heating, the burning of biomass (various kinds of vegetation), and geothermal energy (using heat stored inside the Earth) all have great potential for supplying energy needs. Under capitalism, few resources are put into developing them, so they remain economically unviable. But there are many alternative sources of energy besides the burning of fossil fuels, and a socialist society, untrammelled by considerations of profit, could give priority to developing existing sources and discovering new ones.

Capitalism can do no more than tinker with the problem. The British government recently announced the aim of cutting back carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. But this is an astonishingly modest target, and makes little contribution to reducing emissions to an ecologically-acceptable level, even if it were to be achieved. Moreover, it leaves out the other greenhouse gases.

Of all the ways in which capitalism has interfered with the environment, the processes which lead to global warming are potentially the most disastrous. The very unpredictability of the consequences makes it vital to bring the situation under human control. But capitalism is the worst possible social system for the kind of rational, integrated action which is needed. Socialism, in contrast, will provide the kind of framework within which global warming, and other ecological problems can be tackled and solved by that marvellous resource—human ingenuity.
Paul Bennett

Park Bench Blues (1992)

 From the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rich get richer (1992)

From the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

One further aspect needs to be dealt with in this the last in our series of articles on the concentration of wealth ownership in Britain, and that is the question of what happens over time. Do the richer get richer?

From the point of view of economic theory, this is what you would expect to happen. Capitalism is based on the concentration into the hands of a tiny minority of the population of the ownership of the means of production. These function as capital for them in the sense of providing them with an unearned income. The source of this unearned income that accrues to capital is the labour of those who operate the means of production and actually produce wealth.

Ownership of capital, in other words, confers the right to appropriate a part of the new wealth that is being produced every day. Most of this new wealth—around 80 percent in fact—is used as means of consumption, by workers from their wages and salaries, by capitalists from their rent, interest and dividends, and by the state from the taxes it levies. The rest, under the spur of competition between capitalist firms to maximise profits, is accumulated as means of production, as further capital to yield an unearned income for their owners. This accumulation of capital out of profits produced by those who operate the means of production is what capitalism is all about. Capitalism is an economic system under which means of production are accumulated in the form of profit-yielding capital.

In concrete terms what this means is that the stock both of physical means of production (factories, machinery, plant, materials, etc) and of its monetary form, capital, grows over time. This is by no means a steady process—it is halted and even reversed from time to time, as in wars (when wealth is physically destroyed) and in slumps (when the same thing happens and when the value of the rest falls)—but the long term trend is upward. This must mean that in the long run those who own the means of production—the rich—get to own more means of production, more capital, i. e. get richer.

Changing estimates
So much for the theory, but is it confirmed by the facts? For all but the recent past the facts are not easy to come by. In Britain they nearly all come from the statistics about estates left in wills which the Inland Revenue has been collecting since death duties were introduced in 1894. Until 1960 it was left to individual academics to convert these into figures for the ownership of wealth by the living. They often used different methods, which meant that their estimates were not always comparable, but there was broad agreement that until the Second World War the top 1 percent owned about 60 percent and the top 10 percent about 90 percent of personal wealth, as a study quoted by the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth in its first report in 1975 showed (Table 1).

This slow long-term fall in the percentage shares of the top groups should not be equated with a fall in the amount of wealth they owned, but rather, as we shall see, with a slower rate of increase in their wealth than that of other groups.

From 1960 the Inland Revenue began producing its own yearly estimates. According to these, between 1960 and 1975 the share of the top 1 percent declined from 38 percent to 23 percent, that of the top 5 percent from 64 percent to 47 percent and that of the top 10 percent from 77 percent to 62 percent.

These figures were challenged by those who argued that they underestimated the concentration of wealth ownership. The critics correctly pointed out that the figures, being based on wealth declared to the Inland Revenue for death duty purposes, inevitably left out the wealth of the rich that was placed in discretionary trusts and other such devices or given to relatives before death precisely to avoid paying death duties. Defenders of capitalism, on the other hand, argued that the figures overestimated the degree of inequality as they did not take into account the wealth owned by the 60 percent or so of the population whose estates did not have to be declared to the Inland Revenue because they were too small. Individually the amounts were small but, in view of the millions of individuals involved, when added together made up a significant amount.

The Labour government that came into office in 1974 set up a Royal Commission, in the time honoured way, to bury its promises “to launch a fundamental attack on the principle of the hereditary transmission of great wealth, with its associated power and privilege” and “to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families”. (Did the Labour Party once really talk like this?). This recommended that both types of non-included wealth should be taken into account, and the Inland Revenue now produces each year adjusted figures which do this. This new series of statistics began in 1976 and in fact shows that the distribution of wealth has changed very little since then (Table 2).

So the change between 1975, when the top 10 percent were said to own 62 percent, and 1976, when they were said to own 50 percent, resulted purely from a change in the way the statistics were calculated. Calculated on the old basis the figure for the top 10 percent in 1989 would still be between 60 and 70 percent.

Statistical illusion
But this is not the only purely statistical factor that is involved in the figures. What the figures show are the percentage shares, and not the actual amounts of wealth, of the various categories. These shares are shares in a cake (the stock of wealth) which, as we saw, expands in the long run. This means that, for one group to maintain its share, it must get the same share of the new wealth that is being accumulated. Thus if, as is generally assumed, before the First World War the top 10 percent owned 90 percent of accumulated wealth, then, for them to maintain their share, 90 percent of the newly accumulating wealth would also have to go to them. That they were in fact able to more or less maintain this share until the Second World War (see Table 1) is a testimony to the poverty of the rest of the population whose incomes were so low that they had to spend most of it on items of immediate consumption.

If during this period the other 90 percent had between them been able to accumulate more than 10 percent of the newly accumulated wealth, then the share of the top 10 percent would have fallen, despite the fact that they were continuing to accumulate wealth and even to accumulate more of it in real (as opposed to percentage) terms than the rest of the population.

It was precisely this situation that did occur from the 1950s on. Regular and more or less steadily-rising real wages and salaries meant that the non-rich began to acquire more wealth in the form of household goods, cars and houses. When included in the figures this had the effect of reducing the share of the rich, but this is the only effect it has had and it is purely statistical.

Independently of what has happened to the non-rich, the rich have gone on accumulating wealth and so getting richer. The November 1991 issue of the official government publication Economic Trends contained a table which showed how the total amount of “marketable wealth”, broken down by category, had changed each year from 1976 to 1988, all in 1988 money so as to be comparable. The general trend was upward, though there was a fall in 1981 corresponding to the last recession; the total increased from £752 billion in 1976 to £1317 billion in 1988. Of this extra £565 billion, 13 percent went to the top 1 percent, 39 percent to the top 5 percent and a massive 58 percent to the top 10 percent (which explains why their share increased over the period from 50 percent to 53 per cent), while a meagre 4 percent went to be shared amongst the 22 million in the bottom 50 percent.

What is even more interesting than how the total amount was divided amongst the categories is how the average amounts of wealth held by each person in the categories changed (Table 3). As can be seen, despite a smaller percentage increase than the rest of the top 50 percent, the average holding of those in the top 1 percent increased by some £132,000, more than that of those in any of the other groups. So the gap between the amount of wealth held by the individual members of top 1 percent and that held by the rest of the population increased. There is no reason to suppose that these years were exceptional in this respect, except perhaps that in some earlier years the gap between the average holding of the top 1 percent and that of the top 5 percent may have narrowed.

So the conclusion can only be that the so-called decline of the rich this century is a statistical illusion. Their share has only fallen, and then only after the Second World War, because the non-rich came to acquire more wealth. But this acquisition of wealth by the non-rich made no difference whatsoever to the position of the rich. They continued to get richer in the sense of coming to own more wealth in real terms (the only meaningful sense of the word “richer”). But not only this their average holding of wealth increased more in real terms than that of the non-rich. Defenders of capitalism who say that the rich have not got richer are conveying misinformation.
Adam Buick

Correction: the first column of Table 2 in last month’s article should have read, as was clear from the context. Top 1%, Top 2%, Top 5%, etc and not Top 1%, 1-2%, 3-5%, etc.

Uranium mining exposed (1992)

Book Review from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Past Exposure. By Greg Dropkin and David Clark. Namibia Support Committee in association with People Against Rio Tinto Zinc, 37-39 Great Guildford St, London SE1 OES. £8.90 (post paid).

Inspired and encouraged by the Mineworkers’ Union of Namibia, Past Exposure is a highly technical yet eminently accessible expose of the deadly health and environmental hazards associated with the world’s largest opencast uranium mine, Rossing Uranium in Namibia which is largely owned by Rio Tinto Zinc.

Rossing’s manager of corporate affairs has dismissed the book as “a collection of distortions and half-truths cunningly woven together into a plausible text”. But the authors, Greg Dropkin and David Clark, use highly confidential internal company documents, personal testimonies made by mineworkers, and up-to-date environmental and medical research into the effects of uranium mining, to show that it is in fact Rossing Uranium which has been economical with the truth over a period of many years.

Dropkin and Clark demonstrate that, despite the company’s claims to operate within recognised international standards of health and safety, workers have been continually exposed to excessively high levels of silica dust and of uranium dust and radiation which cause, amongst other things, diseases of the chest and lungs, kidney failure, and cancer and hinder the mental and physical development of unborn babies.

In the case of radioactive radiation the authors show that there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure and that, even if there was, the company has not, despite its claims to the contrary, been properly measuring and monitoring the levels of radiation doses received by workers. The workers most exposed to silica dust and other health hazards tend to be black. The specialist in charge of monitoring chest complaints ascribes these to smoking and “ethnic" differences!

The detailed discussion of water pollution caused by uranium mining completely demolishes any company statement that it has not polluted any groundwater systems or the Khan river. Radioactive waste from uranium mills is stored in tailings dams. It leaks into the surrounding air and water and develops a serious long-term environmental problem. It seeps into the soil and enters food chains as well as poisoning the water. Rossing’s water management data is a well-kept secret but Dropkin and Clark estimate that
780 million gallons of tailings liquid seeped out in a twelve-month period . . . the contamination may be anywhere from the ground-water system to the Khan and/or Swakop rivers reaching the sea at Swakopmund.
Past Exposure has two main objectives. Its first is to empower the workers at Rossing Uranium in their efforts to negotiate a health and safety agreement with RTZ in line with agreements at other uranium mines, mostly notably Rio Algom, RTZ’s Canadian uranium mine. At this mine, as the authors point out in some detail, far superior though by no means perfect standards of health and safety prevail as a result of sustained and informed pressure put on the mining company by the Canadian mineworkers.

The publication of the book has already caused a stir in Namibia. Extracts were published in The Namibian newspaper which has as a result faced threats of legal action from the mining company. Since the publication of the book the Namibian government has requested the International Atomic Energy Agency in conjunction with the World Health Organisation to investigate issues of health, radiation exposure and waste disposal at the mine.

The book’s second main objective is to raise awareness about the hazards of the nuclear industry of which uranium mining is a primary feature. In the present economic recession miners are not only fighting for better health and safety agreements but also for their jobs in the face of savage redundancies. Like many workers around the world they are caught in that cruel contradiction of having to fight for a job that is useless or dangerous producing a commodity that is useless or dangerous, or face the prospect of unemployment.

This is a contradiction which the authors, as long-standing opponents of the nuclear power industry, acknowledge; and while they themselves would wish to see the end of the nuclear industry they point out that it is “most important that the workers employed at Rossing and elsewhere in the nuclear industry' should be engaged in a real debate about its future”.

It is difficult to see how the Namibia Support Committee who co-publishcd this book can square their anti-nuclear position and their obviously sincere support for the mineworkers of Namibia with their long history of support for SWAPO, the government of the Namibian state which gained its independence in 1990.

SWAPO does not appear to be interested in engaging in any serious debate over the future of the Namibian workers without a uranium mine. Nor would it be in its interests to do so. The nuclear industry is highly profitable and controlled on a global scale by a few multinational conglomerates. The Namibian economy is heavily dependent on uranium mining. If any Namibian government is to successfully ensure its position then it does so by working closely with those multinationals who control uranium mining.

As early as 1975 SWAPO was in negotiation with RTZ when they asked the company to issue a statement recognising SWAPO as the prospective Namibian government. In 1985, despite calling on all multinational companies to quit Namibia forthwith because they “fuel Pretoria’s war machine”, SWAPO made the following statement:
When Namibia is free we will certainly reach an agreement with [the multinationals] which will be beneficial to all of us. (Quoted in Plunder by R. Moody).
Beneficial to all but the workers in the Uranium mines and ordinary people around the world who in growing numbers watch with dismay as the world’s resources are plundered to fill the pockets of'a few leaving a trail of human and environmental devastation, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come.
Kerima Mohideen

"The company keeps saying that the uranium we work with is harmless but I never had a skin ailment until I started working in this area. Because they have never taken interest I conclude that Rossing are concerned about profits and not the health of workers. We desperately need outside expertise to tell us about the short-term and long-term effects of working with uranium. For this we need international help, especially from the international trade union movement'’.
—statement made by worker at Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia.

Notes from an ex—hippie (1992)

A Short Story from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the 1960s, I became what was then known as a “hippie”. I grew my hair long, and wore some rather odd, shabby clothes like old, tattered blue jeans with flared bellbottoms and fringes, brightly-striped tee-shirts, Indian love-beads, Afghan coats and so forth. I went travelling around England, drifting from town to town, from squat to squat, and from commune to commune. In 1966 I smoked my first joint of cannabis, outside a pub in the West End of London. I met many beatniks and hippies; they told me things I d never known before about society, the law, politics, the police.

We did have some good times, we had plenty of harmless fun; we didn’t hurt other people. The "Beat Generation”, as it was called, were all for Peace, Love and Brotherhood—but things didn't turn out the way we planned.

Our movement soon came under the scrutiny of the police; politicians of the day such as Harold Wilson and his Home Secretary regarded us with profound hostility and contempt, but then, the feeling was mutual!

Among the things I learned from the hippies was that human beings are capable of living together peacefully and harmoniously on a basis of co-operation—if there is no impediment such as property or class division in the community to cause deep contradiction and strife. The hippies also taught me that all politics and governments are bad, they cannot find real solutions to society’s problems and only pretend that they can. That was why I didn't vote at all for many years, until I learned about Socialism—the only thing worth voting for.

I once encountered a certain police officer in London who showed a little more sympathy for us than most. He wasn’t too bad. When he asked me where I was going late one night in Trafalgar Square, I said, “I’m just going to sit down for a while. I'm tired.” We had a bit of a chat for a few minutes. I asked him, “What made you decide to be a copper, then?”

He said immediately, "Because I wanted to do something good for society—to protect honest people against criminals.”

I said, ’’But couldn’t you do something better than put people away in nick? That doesn’t solve or prevent crime; and it doesn’t protect anyone either, because there’s always more crime going on the whole time. D’you think there’s an alternative?”

The young copper scratched his chin and said, “Not really . . . What else can we do?”

I said, “Well, for one thing, you only get crime against property if society has property as an institution in the first place: if there were no such thing as minority class ownership there’d be no crime either, would there?”

He shook his head. “But there’s always been murder and violence; you can’t stop that—it’ll go on anyway, and if there weren’t any laws, it'd be even worse.”

“It doesn’t follow,” I replied patiently. “The historical records show that in past ages, when there were fewer restrictions and less property law, serious violence in society was much less a problem than it is now. And the primitive tribal societies arc known to be far more peaceful than our most advanced ones. They have virtually no crime at all; they rarely kill one another. Haven’t you seen David Attenborough’s documentaries on TV?”

“Well ... I grant you that . . . But—”

“But what?”

He pulled himself up to his full height, and turned away. “Mind how you go," he said over his shoulder as he strode off across the square.

I never saw him again.
D. E. F.

Letters: Bloodsports (1992)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors,

I was amused by your article (April Socialist Standard) on Alan Clark who is standing down as an MP. All of what you said was true and accurate but Clark has one redeeming feature. He is passionately opposed to blood sports and was one of the 27 Tory MPs who voted in favour of Kevin Macnamara's anti-hunting bill.

The real humbugs in Westminster are Kinnock, Ashdown, Steel, Major. Heseltine et al. At least with Clark and Ridley you knew exactly what they stood for.
Morris Kelly 

Alan Clark may be against killing animals for sport but is all in favour of killing humans for profit, since he was Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence at the time of the Gulf War and so bears a direct personal responsibility for organising the killings that war involved.

Some Answers

Dear Friends,

I read with interest your articles in the Socialist Standard. I am relieved to see that Alan Clark is retiring (about time). From reading Anti-Nazi League literature I have learnt about his activities. How can a blatant racist be allowed to represent people in parliament, when socialists are condemned?

I liked the article “Accepters Anonymous”. The questions you raised set me thinking that no political party in Britain will benefit the majority of the people. In the end, whatever the party they will pamper to the rich’s needs.

Answer to Question 1: They make false promises to keep people sweet when they are going to do exactly what they want anyway.

Answer to Question 2: The building contractors can only think of profit and how much money they are earning. They would rather earn nothing for doing nothing than offer “free” houses to the homeless.

Answer to Question 3: Again this boils down to profit. Governments are greedy for money and would rather let food go to waste than offer it to Third World countries.

The governments could stop world poverty instead of asking people who probably can’t afford it to give money. Why these people give money is because they are made to feel guilty when really it is the governments who are guilty and our own “dear” royal family!
Louise Hampton 

Between the Lines: Fear on the Dole (1992)

The Between the Lines column from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fear on the Dole

Hysteria is ever-present on The Oprah Winfrey Show. They scream about child abuse and rock stars and women who had babies without realising they were pregnant. They scream, they clap, they weep, they bawl, they sigh. Oprah Winfrey is America's therapist; her show is a condensed session of yelled collective introspection. If anyone wants to know what America is like they would do well to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show.

On 6 May (Channel Four, 5 pm) the topic was unemployment. The format was the usual mix of victims and experts—the victims weepy and public about their intimate miseries: the experts victims of their own political ignorance. The victims gave eloquent testimony to the anger and sadness of being a human statistic, cast upon the alter of profit as sacrifices of the recession. One spoke of how she would sit at home crying uncontrollably. Another spoke of his anger at feeling impotent in the face of the "The Economy". An audience member, displaying the statutory Winfreyesque flood of tears, spoke of his rage at being told that he was not wanted as a skilled worker and how unemployment had strained his marriage and forced him to seek the aid of a psychiatrist.

Oprah's experts were worse than useless. They were witch doctors, offering remedies for a disease which they did not begin to understand. A loud financial columnist spoke how the unemployed must accept in their own minds that the worst that will happen to them is a cut in their standard of living. Her message was to "be realistic" and plan for poverty. What insulting crap! Poverty of the worst kind can mean your kids dying because you can’t afford medical attention for them; it means having to eat bad junk food; it means having your home taken away; it means depression and humiliation and, sometimes, suicide. The other expert, an editor of a magazine called Psychology Today, rambled on about the need not to feel like a failure if you lose your job. But as a wage or salary slave you are a failure if you cannot sell your labour power for a wage or salary. He is right to tell the system's victims not to blame themselves. but self-respect doesn't pay the rent.

Oprah herself—who is a millionairess owner of a TV company—urged the unemployed to see the problem of losing their livelihoods as an opportunity. Her pompously stated "spiritual" philosophy is that every new problem creates a chance to move on to new life chances. The American wet dream is alive and well, as is the nightmare of despair which keeps awake millions of American workers who do not know where the money will come from to pay the bills which are the weights around our necks under capitalism. The show treated unemployment as if it was a natural catastrophe, like an earthquake or a plague. Nobody said that it was an inevitable effect of a removable cause: The Profit System. Nobody said that the way out of the rut is for workers to organise consciously and democratically to create a world where all may work and none may work for an employer. Neither the cause of the malady nor its cure were even touched upon. And they wept and they trembled and they raged and they bore witness. All to no effect.

Christ's College, USA

Staying in The Land of the Unfree (USA Ltd). Everyman ( BBC1, 3 May. 10.25 pm) had a worthwhile documentary about religious fundamentalism in America. Featured was the bizarre Bob Jones University where male and female students are forbidden to touch each other, students from different "races" are segregated, women are given classes in how to submit to their husbands and every lecturer has a Bible in his hand.

The so-called university is a theological nut-house created for people who want to acquire faith in place of knowledge. The extremities of the Bob Jones style of indoctrination is but a magnified version of what has gone on in Sunday schools and compulsory Religious Education lessons in schools for generations. The fundamentalists are simply taking to its illogical conclusion what is inherent in all religious dogma.

There was a frightening degree of organisation amongst these dangerous cranks: they run holiday camps at which kids are driven mad by preachers and they force handicapped people, many of whom are unable to walk away from them, to endure their relentless nonsense. A girl who received awful burns in an accident was told that this was god's will and that if he had meant her to have hands (which were burnt away in the accident) he would have let her keep them. The girl's father, an evangelist ranter, screamed at his congregants that they were all sinners: it is as natural for humans to sin as for dogs to bark— our only course is to repent. The audience screamed out to god, repenting for crimes that they probably lacked the imagination to commit.

With Bob Jones running a university and Oprah Winfrey as their therapist it is little wonder that the frustration which ignites murderous street riots is the order of the day in capitalism's showpiece nation.
Steve Coleman

SPGB Meetings and Debates (1992)

Party News from the June 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Editorial: The Forgotten Man in India (1942)

Editorial from the May 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir Stafford Cripps’ abortive negotiations with the Indian political leaders have had the incidental result of showing up the reality lying hidden behind the words and theories of the principal participants. Sir Stafford’s own attitude in the past has been that the Indian problem could be solved if only sincere and disinterested well-wishers were allowed to brush aside British vested interests and their prejudiced political advisers, and make direct approach to the Indian leaders. Under the threat of Japanese invasion he was allowed to offer what he considered to be a suitable scheme, but failed to overcome the opposition of the Hindoo and Moslem organisations or to reconcile their differences with each other. At the end he received from Nehru, leader of the Congress Party, the unkindest cut of all, the charge that whoever comes from the British Government “speaks the same accent as of old and treats us the same way” (Evening Standard, April 16th, 1942.) He also remarked of Cripps: —
“What he said was a repetition of the farrago of nonsense Amery has been uttering all these years”.—(“News-Chronicle,” April 13th, 1942.)
Such is the fate of those who aspire to solve Capitalism’s problems in a non-capitalist way.

Cripps, for his part, had characterised the counter-proposal put forward by Nehru as a form of government which would constitute an “absolute dictatorship of the majority,” providing no real safeguard for the protection of the Moslem and other minorities against the Congress Party.

The Moslem League shared this view. Its leader, Mr. Jinnah, is reported to have said that the Congress Party’s aim
“appeared to be to set up an irremovable Cabinet responsible to nobody but the majority. If such an adjustment was arrived at such a Cabinet would be a Fascist Grand Council and the Moslems and the other minorities would be entirely at the mercy of the Congress Raj.”—(“Manchester Guardian,” April 15th 1942.)
Nehru’s view, on the other hand, was that “Congress is the only party in India which could deliver the goods,” and he is reported to have told a Daily Express correspondent that Jinnah of the Moslem League is a “Fascist” (Daily Express, April 13th). The one part of the British offer that the Moslem League accepted with “gratification” was the clause empowering provinces to vote themselves out of the new United India if they wanted to do so, in order to escape Congress Party rule.

After due allowance is made for views being put forward during negotiations in an exaggerated and not fully considered form, the fact remains that Sir Stafford’s beliefs about the nature of the Indian problem and the way to solve it were proved wrong, as also were the Indian nationalists’ claim that there would be no problem if British rule disappeared. In a capitalist world the real underlying motives of conflict arise out of, or derive their intensity from, the vested interests of the different sections of the propertied class, whether British investors, Indian princes and landlords, or the Indian textile and other millionaires. All alike must plead guilty to the charge that the welfare of India’s workers and peasants are to them only a secondary consideration. The British rulers of India and most of the Indian Princes have to answer the statement made Mr Runganadhan, adviser to the Secretary of State for India, in a speech at a conference of educationalists on April 11th, 1942: —
“Out of 50.,000,000 children of school age fewer than 10,000,000 are attending school or receiving education of any kind, he said. Fewer than 10 per cent, of the total population of 400,000,000 are literate. Three out of every four of the 700,000 villages have no school.”—”Empire News,” April 12th, 1942.)
This is the condition of India after long years of their rule; and Congress Party rule offers little change except in name. When the capitalist-financed Congress Party protest that they are different in their attitude to the masses they have to explain, for example, why, when they governed Bombay in 1938, one of their first acts was to introduce a Trade Disputes Bill designed to fetter Indian trade unions. In the words of an Indian trade union journal, this Bill
“takes away the legitimate, constitutional and powerful weapons of the workers, namely, the strike, by declaring it illegal and therefore punishable in a large number of cases.”— (“Indian Labour Journal,” October 23rd 1938.)
And Gandhi, former Congress leader, has to explain why he, an advocate of non-resistance even against armed invasion, stated in 1938 that if strikers persisted in mass picketing of factories
“the owners of mills or other factories would be fully justified in invoking the assistance of the police.”—(“Indian Labour Journal,” August 21st, 1938.)
Whatever words the various leaders may use in attacking each other, they are all concerned at heart with maintaining landlordism and capitalism, and while capitalism remains, the lot of India’s poverty-stricken millions will be that of a dispossessed class struggling against landlords and factory owners to improve their miserable conditions. Gandhi, no less than the others, is committed to capitalism: —
“The duel between capitalists and labour, he says, is only between big words . . . Both are capitalists; one has consolidated his capital and used it intelligently ; the other squanders it recklessly. If you communists or anybody wish the destruction of capitalists we would be destroyed. What I really do want is a combination, mixing and uniting of the two.”—(“Indian Labour Journal,” July 8th, 1934.)
When we contemplate the political immaturity of the great majority of the Indian workers and peasants, the hold of religious superstitions and caste barriers, the consequent enormous influence of political and religious leaders, the strongly developed regionalism helped by religious differences and geographical factors, and not least the material for bitter class conflict between peasants and workers on the one hand and landlords and factory owners on the other, and between Princes, landlords and industrial and commercial interests themselves we are not being rashly-prophetic when we say that India governed by Indian property-owners’ parties contains the prospect of acute internal strife with the possibility of civil war like that in America in the sixties of last century, and the development of a “totalitarian” form of government. If the Indian masses continue to be pawns to be used by their masters’ political parties and religious groups one thing can be said with complete certainty, that the interests of the masses will continue to be forgotten. Our advice, given in reply to a question put by Indian workers interested in Socialism (Socialist Standard, June, 1932) bears repeating—
“Workers in India should unite on a basis of Socialist principles and organise for the establishment of Socialism. They should take what steps are necessary to secure a franchise for this purpose, but they should not unite with any other parties or give adherence to any other bodies, even those masquerading as pure, and simple franchise organisations, as by so doing they would lose independence.”
The well-being of the Indians does not lie with political and religious leaders, whether Indian or British, Japanese or Russian, but in their own single-minded efforts to understand and organise for Socialism. Their slogan, like that of Socialists everywhere, should be not “India for the Indians,” but “the world for the workers.”

The Reality Doesn’t Enthuse (1942)

From the May 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The conflict now raging is unfolding many dramatic incidents, and most of us are so absorbed in observing what is transpiring in the theatre of war that we fail to note the signifiance of events taking place in other quarters. War is an industry. The means of production are now mainly utilised to produce the means of destruction: the wage slave is employed by his masters in producing and using the implements of war.

Capitalism is run for profit. War is embarked on by the capitalist class because it is considered by one capitalist group or another that this course of action is the only course open to them in the circumstances in which they find themselves. They calculate they can retain or obtain what they desire only by war.

Whilst a war is on the future is given much consideration by those who live on rent interest and profit; they try to discover a ways and means of repaying themselves for the trouble and inconvenience the war has entailed. The plans of the profit band are formulated with the above objects in view. It is well to note that neither in war nor peace does the exploiting class produce; labour applied to the natural resources of the earth brings into being all exchange values; this being the case, the recipients of profit do not give to the cost of the war anything more than they have previously wrung from the working class.

A portion of the income of the exploiter is advanced in the form of a loan to the government; during war-time profits are high in war industries, and no matter how glibly our masters may talk of the income tax ruining them, when the war is over they will be found to possess bonds, etc., worth thousands of millions of pounds, claims to the interest on vast amounts that did not exist at the beginning of hostilities. A brave new world for our masters if they can get away with it: the next generation of the working class mortgaged to capitalism. Certain patriotic gentlemen are very much disturbed by the lack of patriotic zeal shown in some circles of the wage earners. It is considered lamentable that working men should diverge from the path chosen by their masters for them to follow: they should not think of anything but striving to defeat the enemy. When the workers desire to know whether they are likely to have to go back in millions to the labour exchanges and the doles, when the lights of London shine again, the question is looked upon as bordering on sedition, but, like Banquo’s ghost, it will not down.

By means of the rationing system and the curtailment of consumption in one sphere after another, together with the contribution the wage slave is induced to make towards the war effort by means of an “income tax,” etc., the real wages of the working class are very low indeed, almost as low as they can be if efficiency is given full consideration. Real wages are food, clothing and shelter. If you live in a better house, wear better clothes, or have better and more regular food than formerly, your wages have risen; if the contrary is the case, they have fallen.

When a boy of eighteen is discovered doing a man’s work and in receipt of six or seven pounds a week, the attention of the public is drawn to the fact: it is inferred that this is wrong; it should not happen, althought the boy has earned the money; the profits of those that live by exploitation are not advertised in the same way; it is held they are morally entitled to them. The religious groups are busy trying to increase their business; the present period is considered to be a favourable one, but the working class are not responding; the parsons butt in on the radio, and are now also very much interested in getting at the children in the day schools; they profess to be very much concerned about the children’s moral welfare; the youngsters must not be allowed to grow up without any proper respect for the property rights of the master class. Moves of deep significance are taking place in the upper circle of those who wear the clerical garb; the stars who appear in the saintly show are being given new parts; Church interests must be safeguarded; they constitute the sacred property bulwark of the nation.

One of the alarming features in present day developments is the declining birth rate; our pastors and masters are agreed that the sellers of labour-power are selfish and consider only their own well being and pleasure, and fail to realise that they owe a duty to the country. A wage slave, a labourer, when questioned on this matter, answered tartly: “It doesn’t pay either the kids or us to breed ’em.” He knew what his own life had been, and he did not want to bring children into a world to undergo a like experience. It is now suggested in influential quarters that a bonus of 5s. per week should be given with each baby. How cheap we are !

The fact is that the war cannot be won for the Allies unless these receive the whole-hearted support of their working class; the working class do not display the enthusiasm the masters think they should because the wage slaves cannot see anything ahead that bids fair to improve the workers’ condition; the vision at present is a vision of what happened after the Armistice of 1918. The strange thing is that the capitalist class have nothing to offer. Capitalism has nothing within it for the working class, no matter what may be attempted, except a continuance of what it has produced heretofore.

In this extremity what will our masters do? Why, call in the Labour Leader, of course! If he is sincere, so much the better. They will advertise him, play him up, and he will make futile efforts to do the trick. So long as it is believed there is a possibility he may deliver the goods, he will bask in the sunshine of the smiles of those who count in the world of wealth and power, but when capitalism’s turn is served, or the workers fail to respond to the leader’s voice, he is likely to be cast into outer darkness. A ruling class knows how to choose and use. Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Mark Antony words which clearly express the idea: —
“And though we lay these honours on this man,
To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads,
He shall but bear them as an ass bears gold,
To groan and sweat under the business,
Either led or driven as we point the way,
And having brought our treasure where we will,
Then take we down his load, and turn him off,
Like to the empty ass, to shake his ears,
And graze on commons.”
The fight can be won for true democracy but a brave new world can only come into being by making the means of life common property. This our masters will not do ; anything but that ; for such a move means their finish as a master class. This accounts to some extent for the psychological conflict now raging in the capitalist world. History says that we must go forward to the new social order. Our lords and masters are compelled by circumstances over which they have no control to liberate forces that move inexorably in the direction of common ownership.

After a few more years of war the peoples of the earth may look at capitalism with the eyes of understanding. As soon as the source of exploitation is made plain to the working class in general, it will be eliminated. Our task is to explain and keep in tune with the forces making for Socialism. The capitalist class are caught in the cleft of the class struggle. If they refuse to make the means of life common property and do not allow the establishment of a system of production solely for use, they will be ruthlessly thrust aside by the forces their own system has engendered. Society, in this respect resembling an organism, will struggle to maintain its existence. Society must eliminate capitalism or capitalism will eliminate society. Mankind is not going to perish—it is going forward. The working class are called upon to march in the van. Let us work unceasingly at our job until the working class declare for Socialism without equivocation and do away with the cause of war, poverty, slavery and the class struggle.
Charles Lestor

Reform or Revolution? (1942)

From the May 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Workers Will Decide
Changes are needed ! For the present, at any rate, everybody seems to agree on that point. Charters, New World Orders, schemes for post-war improvement of this and that—with these the worker is regaled to convince him that this time he will not be forgotten when “peace” returns.

We ask the workers to consider carefully these questions: What kind of a change is it going to be? Is it to be only the reform of present-day society, capitalism? This is the kind of change the capitalist class and their supporters envisage. Or will the workers act in their own interest, and perform the revolutionary act of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism?

We ask the workers these questions because the nature of the change society undergoes will depend upon their choice. This is a point too frequently forgotten in these days when the world has so many so-called “great men.” Yes, the choice rests with the working-class. If they want reforms, mere modifications of capitalism which will still leave them fundamentally in the same position as they occupy to-day, they can have them. On the other hand, should they decide to have done once and for all with capitalism, its private property, profits and privileges for the few and its wage-slavery and poverty for the vast majority, there is no one who can prevent them. Let those who doubt this remember that the Nazis succeeded in gaining power in Germany because the majority of German workers had become either antagonistic to the Social Democrats and Communists and were impressed by the promises of the Nazis or else they had become apathetic and were ready to give the new party a chance. Another proof that the working-class can decide the nature of society is amply afforded by the present war. This has been called a war of propaganda. And, indeed, propaganda is poured out ad nauseum by the belligerent governments to keep their respective workers in the fighting mood. The ruling class realise that without the support of their workers he war could not be prosecuted.

The lesson is plain, therefore; in highly developed capitalist countries the workers, the bulk of the population, can decide how society is going to be changed. Should the workers support plans for the reform of capitalism? Or should they take matters into their own hands, abolish the present system, and establish Socialism?

The Weakness of Reformism
Since capitalism came into existence, it has had its many evils. Moreover, these evils have weighed heavily upon the mass of the people, upon those who do the work, the working-class. Hurriedly constructed hovels, unemployment for some and excessive toil for others, malnutrition—these are just a few of the evils that capitalism generates and which must be borne by the working-class only. Not for the rich employing class are these evils, for they all spring from the poverty which afflicts those who must work.

Now for many years, in fact since the early days of capitalism, efforts have been made to make the lot of the worker more bearable, to ease the chafing of his chains. The reformists who busy themselves with this task start with the assumption that capitalism will remain. Any changes they advocate are to be brought about within the framework of capitalism. This is the essence of reformism. Capital and wage-labour, the two bases of capitalism, they leave fundamentally untouched. They do not seek to eradicate these roots of capitalism. They merely try to lessen the pains inflicted on society by the capitalism system.

Herein lies the weakness of reformism.

Capitalism cannot be so modified by reform measures that it becomes “the best of possible worlds” for the working-class. All reformist efforts to solve the fundamental problems of the workers are bound to fail. An analysis of capitalism will show why this is so.

Capitalism, it must be understood, is a system of society organised so as to provide profit to the owners of industry, the capitalist class. To do this, the wage-worker is set to work, and what he produces belongs to the employers, the capitalists. The wage-worker is given back, in the form of wages, only a portion of what he produces ; the rest, the surplus, the capitalist owner retains. Thus is the worker exploited and kept on the poverty line, for the portion he receives as wages is just about sufficient to keep him fit enough to perform his particular job and reproduce his kind—future wage-slaves for the service of the capitalist class. Hence the worker is born poor, he lives his life in poverty and dies still poor.

Frequently, to increase his profit (part of the surplus we spoke of), or to compete more successfully in the markets of the world, the capitalist cuts down his production costs. Then he seeks to enforce wage reductions, or he may replace workmen by labour-saving machinery or by adopting a new technique. Moreover, the growth of the unemployment problem has been particularly favourable to the capitalist class in its attack upon the workers’ standard of living, for as soon as there is a reserve army of unemployed workers, the keeping down of wages becomes a more simple matter for the owners of industry, since the workers compete with each other for jobs.

The motive power of capitalism being the lust for profit, any wage increases won by the workers are, if possible, offset by the employing class, for wage increases mean an attack on profits. Hence wage increases are usually the signal for the introduction of more labour saving devices, of more machinery. Thus, very frequently, more production is squeezed out of fewer workers. The exploitation of the worker becomes more intense.

From the foregoing brief examination of capitalism we can see why reformists must fail to solve the workers’ problems. Whatever reforms are introduced, so long as the present system remains, the following evils will persist: —
  1. The bulk of what the workers produce will be taken from them.
  2. They will be kept on or near the poverty line, and will be thus forced to continue in a slave position, dependent on the capitalist class for a living. They will still stand in need of doles, old age pensions and all the other accessories of poverty.
Just one other point about the weakness of reformism. It is an important point. Often reforms carried to improve the lot of the worker prove but of short duration. Should they be of inconvenience to the capitalist class in whose interests present-day society operates, they are, as soon as a favourable opportunity arises, either abandoned altogether or modified to the disadvantage of the workers. All that is necessary is for an industrial crisis or a war to arise—and both these come crashing in on us with regularity—and years of effort for reform measures are as nothing. Then we must say good-bye to the reforms “for the time being,” or at least the reforms are drastically altered. It will suffice if we remind the reader of the crisis 1929-31 with all its cuts. The impermanence of reforms, therefore, is a fundamental weakness of the reformist position.

The lesson the S.P.G.B. has learnt from all this is that the ills afflicting the working-class are due to capitalism, with its profit-making motive.

How Reformists Help the Workers
We have just shown why the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to refornism. But we have heard it uttered that the Labour Party ought not to be so opposed because really it does not support capitalism. We shall see how much truth there is in this assertion by examining recent writings of a Labour M.P. He is Mr. Tom Smith, M.P. for Normanton,, not one of the “big shots,” but just an ordinary Labour Member, whose outlook is typical ol his colleagues.

Mr. Tom Smith championed the cause of the farm workers in their demand for a minimum wage of three pounds a week, and spoke on their behalf in the House of Commons.

Recently, in a letter to The Dairy Farmer (January, 1942), Mr. Smith wrote as follows about his efforts for the agricultural workers: —
“With regard to wages, I am proud to feel that I have been of some little assistance in securing the £3 per week minimum. I have felt for a long time that the agricultural worker never had the recognition that his services warranted, and I am hoping to see the day when conditions in the countryside, both in regard to housing, education and other social amenities, will be vastly improved.”
No doubt the average worker who has not reached an understanding of his position in society and who, in consequence, is too ready to take “the short view” and accept appearances for facts, is moved to exclaim: ” Good old Tom!” and support the Labour Party, the party to which Mr. Smith belongs.

Not so the Socialist. He cannot enthuse when L.P.-ers (or any other people) make efforts to obtain immediate improvements for the workers.

It is not because he objects to an improvement in the condition of the working-class that the Socialist adopts this attitude. It is, as we have already shown earlier in this article, because he maintains that such efforts, even if successful, do too little to eradicate the numerous and ghastly evils of capitalism. The problems confronting the working-class are too big to be remedied by reforms of the existing system.

The S.P.G.B. opposes Mr. Tom Smith (and his colleagues) for this very reason. Let us return to his letter in The Dairy Farmer and see how he wishes to retain the capitalist system. The following quotations should be carefully studied by all those who believe the Labour Party is out for a new form of society. Mr. Smith writes: —
  1. “With regard to the future of agriculture, The action of the Ministry of Agriculture in announcing more security of tenure for the farmers; the assurance that planning can take place till at least the 1945 harvest . . . are steps in the right direction.”
  2. “In my opinion, if this question of distribution were tackled as it ought to be tackled, I see no reason why the producer shouldn’t have a reasonable price without unduly burdening the consumer in the urban districts ” (our emphasis).
From these quotations, it is obvious that Mr. Tom Smith, while concerned to help the land worker, cannot envisage the removal of the system which robs and enslaves the workers. He accepts the preservation of private property; he wants “reasonable prices” and presumably “reasonable” profits.

Mr. Smith, like most reformists, is therefore in this position: he wants to improve the lot of the worker (we do give him credit for this) and yet is prepared to help preserve the very system which causes so much suffering to the worker. And let us emphasise that Mr. Smith is just a typical example of other reformists.

The Socialist, on the other hand, must point out on all occasions that if the present system is maintained with its problems of wages, profits, prices, currency, etc., poverty will always be the workers’ reward.

What Should The Worker Do ?
Because no salvation is possible for the worker under capitalism, we of the S.P.G.B. are out to abolish it and to replace it by Socialism. We aim at nothing less, because we know nothing less will satisfy the needs of the class to which we belong. It is also for this reason that we are opposed to all other parties, all of which, at the most, aim merely at modifications of present-day society.

The workers should study Socialism. That is the first step towards their salvation. We are confident that a little study will convince them that only by going to the root of their problems can their position be permanently improved. They will realise the need for abandoning reform movements. They will realise the need for revolutionary action, for replacing capitalism by Socialism, that is by a society wherein there will be no private property, no profit making and no wages. Socialism is, in fact, a social system wherein the means of life belong to all society and wherein, consequently, production is carried on to satisfy the needs of society. Socialism, having no “ulterior motive,” will make unnecessary the present-day strivings for “a living wage” (which still leaves the workers robbed of the bulk of what they produce). Let the worker, then, change his motto. With Marx, we say, “Instead of the Conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work !’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system !’ ”

A Word of Warning
The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for the revolutionary transformation of society. Because of this and because history has proved that a party for revolution cannot be built up on reform programmes, the S.P.G.B. does not seek to win support by advocating reforms.

We do not expect, therefore, to gain the support of people still unconvinced of the need for Socialism—nor do we desire to be supported by non-Socialists. Until the majority desire and are prepared to organise for the specific job of establishing Socialism, the achievement of the new society is an impossibility. Our task now then is, to propagate Socialist principles, to make Socialists. Non-Socialists, people interested in the reform of capitalism, would hamper us in that job.

Then, again, as Leibnecht showed long ago in his “No Compromise,” once a revolutionary party begins to compromise with capitalism and is willing to help in its administration and reform, such a party is doomed as a weapon for Socialism. It ceases to be revolutionary.

The reason for this is plain to see. Once a party adopts reform programmes, it appeals to many kinds of people who are anything but Socialist. The result is that the Socialists are swamped, and Socialism is pushed further and further into the background on the party programme; Socialism ceases to be the object of the party.

Workers desiring Socialism should, therefore, remember these things and study the case of the S.P.G.B.. They should refuse to give their support to any party which, while claiming to be Socialist, fights elections on a reformist programme. Such parties could not introduce Socialism even if they won power. Their mandate would be for the reform of capitalism, not for Socialism.

This is one of the reasons the I.L.P. cannot stand for Socialism. When one of its members, Fenner Brockway, stood as a candidate at the Lancaster election last October, it was admitted in the New Leader (October 25th, 1941) that his advocacy of certain reforms had won him support. Still interested in votes rather than in Socialism, Fenner Brockway is “fighting” the Cardiff election. In his election address he has expressed his sympathy with Welsh Nationalism (see New Leader, April 11th, 1942).

It should be obvious that such parties as the I.L.P. which use plenty of revolutionary jargon but which have suitable reform programmes ready for time and place cannot bring to an end the workers’ wage-slavery. Socialism alone will do that, and such parties are merely reformist.

Let the workers, then, reject reformism, and embrace revolution. Let them cease to spend their forces on reformist futilities. Let them concentrate their strength in the S.P.G.B.—the weapon for Socialism that will not falter.
Clifford Allen