Sunday, June 19, 2022

50 Years Ago: Cripps On Crises (1999)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The post-war scarcity of many raw materials and manufactures and has been so far made good that the long rise of prices has stopped and some big falls have already taken place. At this point let us turn to Sir Stafford Cripps who, on his visit to Italy, told the Romans what he thinks about it all. “Movements of inflation and deflation were to a considerable extent psychological and could be greatly accelerated by a panic psychology encouraged by a lack of knowledge of the economic facts. It is often said, quite truly, that a country can talk itself into a depression, and it almost looks as if there were a danger of this in come countries today.” (Manchester Guardian, 4/5/49.)

The theory of the cause of depression is not a new one, and a little examination will show that it is not at all convincing. If, as Cripps maintains, a depression is a thing into which a country can talk itself, it is equally reasonable to suppose that a country can just as easily talk itself out again. Why then did not the Labour Government of 1931 talk itself and the country out of that crisis? Why does the President of the Board of Trade go off post-haste to Canada to drum up business for British exporters? And why are the British workers again being urged to forego wage increases and concentrate on more and cheaper production?
(From Socialist Standard, June 1949)

Greasy Pole: Waiting for Poverty (1999)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Waiting For Poverty
Two years after he set out on his historic drive to eliminate the world’s problems, starting with a few in Great Britain, it seems that Tony Blair is not impressing as many people as he would like. True, there is now a new bogeyman threatening to undermine all the humanitarian ambitions of leaders like Blair and Clinton—Milosevic in place of Saddam Hussein—and the bombs fall on Yugoslavia instead of Iraq. True, a different bunch of multi-millionaires now have a Prime Minister fawning on them at receptions and banquets in Number Ten. Was this, then, what the Labour Party meant when they bellowed, in their 1997 election manifesto, that Britain Deserves Better?

Meanwhile the Blair machine which churns out sound bites, promises and threats in about equal measure has been relentlessly at work. Very little escapes its attention. We are accustomed now to hearing the Prime Minister’s views on the week’s football results, on whether Lennox Lewis was robbed of that heavyweight boxing title, on how British pop stars are doing in competition with those from abroad. So it was something of a surprise when Blair recently departed from the usual script to dissertate on a rather more substantial issue. In a speech on 18 March, Blair had another promise to offer:
“Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty. It will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission, but I believe it can be done.”
This was pretty strong stuff—ending child poverty as distinct from alleviating it. And in only twenty years. It caused a lot of excitement among what is called the poverty lobby—those tireless organisations whose members earnestly toil to expose the extent and the effects of deeper deprivation among people, only to spoil it all by suggesting remedies, like increasing state benefits, which have been shown to be ineffective and unrealistic. Listening to Blair, many of the people in the poverty lobby must have thought that this was why they voted Labour. It seemed to go unnoticed, that in twenty years’ time Blair will probably be long out of politics. By that time his speech will be forgotten, replaced by some other politician’s promise about ending the scandal of children in desperate need.

Back in 1979 the Labour Party did not lose the election because they had been wildly successful and had conquered problems like poverty. They lost it because they had been exposed as powerless to do anything about such damaging influences on our lives. At that time we had come through a post-war period of 32 years during which the majority—17 years—had been under Labour government. Their failure can be seen in their manifesto for that election, when they said that their “. . . purpose is to overcome the evils of inequality, poverty, racial bigotry, and make Britain truly one nation”. This sounds very similar to what we are accustomed to hearing from Blair. His efforts to exploit the issue in order to win support is evidence that as the last Labour government left office poverty was still an intact blight on our lives. Twenty years later a Labour leader can talk as if his party had only just got around to thinking about it, had never been in a position to realise their promises to alleviate it. That 1979 manifesto elaborated on the circumstances which, it said, made it vital to vote Labour:
“As long as there are men and women struggling with low pay, mothers stretching the household budget to make ends meet, youngsters in search of a job, children learning in out of date classrooms, patients queuing for a hospital bed or families without a decent home—then there is work for a Labour Government.”
That was the situation in 1979 and it is the situation today. We can take our pick of the facts and the statistics which tell the grim story of the extent of poverty and what it does to the lives of people. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown recently presented a Treasury survey which showed that two in every five children are born into a “poor” household—by which he meant one where the family members live at or below the official poverty line. The Treasury has also just discovered that these conditions don’t simply evaporate with time; they are handed down, from one generation to another; 25 percent of children, they said, never escape from that level of deprivation. “The next task for the Government,” declared Brown (presumably after they have completely flattened Belgrade), “is to wage war on child poverty.”

The Children’s Society (one of those toilers in the poverty lobby) point out some facts about the concentration of the worst poverty—that the highest incidence of disadvantaged children is in just 59 local authority districts, which do not include places like Mayfair and Knightsbridge. Over twenty-five percent of the children born in those local authority areas start their life underweight, an effect of the malnourishment and lack of care of their mother during pregnancy. Their mortality rate will be 30 percent higher than children born elsewhere. When they get to school they will be disruptive in class, giving additional trouble to teachers already over-burdened, they will truant four times as much as the national average and about 150,000 of them will be excluded from school in a year. The lesson is clear—if you must be born, try not to have working class parents and not to come into the world in places like Hackney, Salford and Toxteth.

As there were high levels of deprivation twenty years ago and we now have yet another government making plans about abolishing it, we might have assumed that there would be some consciousness that the problem is rather more durable than the politicians are admitting. Blair, it is said, is bored by the whole subject—knocking hell out of Yugoslavia is probably more exciting—and will allow his eyes to glaze over if some tiresome underling raises the topic in his presence. Well of course if a problem is not only very nasty but persistent it can get tedious, especially if it affects other people rather than yourself. Perhaps it was boredom that prevented any proper mention of it in Labour’s 1997 manifesto, where there were only references to vague concepts like “higher wages and employment” and “educational and employment opportunities for all”. This was part of Labour’s obsession with getting as many people as possible into employment—into proper, regular exploitation instead of on the dole—so that they equated poverty almost solely with unemployment as if employed workers were never poor, deprived, repressed and always lived in decent homes, ate the best food, wore adequate clothes . . .

Working class deprivation is usually worse for someone who is out of work, as it is for someone who falls ill or gets old. That is because workers have only one method of getting a living—selling their ability to work to an employer. If they can’t do that, often because there is no demand for what they produce, they don’t count in capitalism’s scheme of things. But they can’t be left to expire, which would have all manner of implications for public health and the political stability of the system and so be even more expensive than granting them the right to claim the dole. But to keep them going without being in employment is also expensive so the best solution, for politicians like Blair, is to force (he calls it “helping” ) them into a job. This government has worked hard to impose that policy—on the unemployed and on single parents and now they are starting on the sick and the disabled.

Poverty is an inescapable part of capitalist society. It can be abolished, but only when there is a fundamental change in how we organise society. That is way beyond any policies or even concepts of the Labour Party. Meanwhile we are expected to be satisfied with Blair’s version of hope deferred.

Voice From The Back: Keep ’em laughing (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Keep ’em laughing

“ATTITUDE CHANGERS” That’s what we call our irresistible HERMAN™ cartoon posters that will motivate employees to . . .
Show up every day
Show up on time
Turn out better work
At lower cost, too!
. . . instead of laughing at you or your company, they’re laughing at HERMAN. Clement Communications (UK) Ltd.

What a surprise!

Police forces across the country have been taking part in a huge fiddle in which they have pretended to detect tens of thousands of crimes and have wiped from the records a mass of other petty crimes, a Guardian investigation has revealed . . . In some cases the crimes were pure fiction invented simply so that they could be listed as detected. The criminals were virtually guaranteed that they would not be prosecuted. Some of them were rewarded with day trips out of prison, free meals and visits to girl friends. Guardian, 18 March

Still mystified

The combination [of high growth and low inflation] has been called the US economic miracle, and I do not think anyone has put their finger on how it works. One of the main factors is the growing use of technology, which allows companies to keep down costs. Despite the low level of unemployment, at 4.4 percent, there is less security in the jobs market, so wages and inflation are unlikely to rise at a rate that would cause inflation in the economy. Financial Mail on Sunday, 14 March.

Human meat market

Egypt’s prosecutor-general has launched an investigation into claims that 25 children were killed at a shelter for the homeless over a three-month period and their body parts sold to wealthy transplant patients in private hospitals . . . The children, many of them illegitimate, had been abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the streets . . . Both Egypt’s Muslims and Christians frown upon sex outside marriage and newspapers are full of stories of relatives killing women they suspect of being sexually active. Unmarried mothers are often forced to abandon their children out of fear and shame. Guardian, 18 March.  

Couldn’t cope

June Randall, a 25-year-old mother described as “distraught”, went on the run this week after snatching her three children as she visited them. The youngsters, all under six, were living in two foster homes after Miss Randall disappeared for a while last December when the children were living with her. She is thought to have said that she couldn’t cope. She is separated from the children’s father and has abandoned her home. Evening Mail, 26 March.

Expand or bust

Early one morning last week at a City livery hall senior executives from leading multinationals—IBM, British Telecom, Levis and Kodak among them—met to mull over problems they all face in doing business in the 21st century, including how to influence governments. Sinister? Only if you believe the sole purpose of business is to make profits. Here was an intriguing sign of the times. The topic before this group, convened by BT, came from a publication in which chairman, Sir Ian Vallance, proclaimed: “The pursuit of sustainable development is not an option—it is nothing more or less than a necessity for our economic survival.” Guardian, 18 March.

The filthy rich

It was 10 years ago that the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit rocks in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into pristine waters and devastating wildlife and the local economy . . . only two out of 28 injured species have recovered. Numbers of many species, including killer whales, are still declining. And commercial fishermen are still earning less than in 1989. Things look rosier in the head office of the company responsible for the disaster, Exxon (which trades as Esso in Europe). Last year, the company made more money than any other global corporation–$8.5 bn . . . Exxon can afford to clean up its act, but it chooses not to. A similar disaster could occur at any time. And Exxon is one of the most aggressive lobbyists against effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. In fact, Esso’s bosses find it convenient to believe that global warming is not taking place, against the views of the vast majority of scientists. Exxon was behind plans, exposed in 1998, for a $6m PR campaign to undermine climate science . . . Esso’s parent company is still shipping oil in the outdated, single-hulled tankers and in the old, leaking Trans-Alaska Pipeline. In the seas between Russian and Japan it is discharging toxic wastes into the sea etc, etc. [The accompanying photograph is of the Exxon Valdez, now refurbished and renamed Sea River Mediterranean, taking on crude oil at Hound Point, South Queensferry.] Glasgow Herald, 24 March.

Editorial: The Balkan War (1999)

Editorial from the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again European cities are being bombed. Once again displaced persons are on the move. This has never ceased to be the lot of people in Africa and Asia but one of the claims of Western capitalism was that it had at least established peace and prosperity in Europe. Now full-scale war has returned to Europe. The illusion that permanent peace and prosperity is possible under capitalism has been shattered.

The NATO bombing raids on Yugoslavia are aimed not just at direct military targets but at the industrial infrastructure of power stations, fuel depots, factories, chemical plants, roads, railways and bridges which serve civilian purposes as well as supplying the Serbian military machine. All this represents the destruction of useful wealth. As Socialists have always said, war means social regression.

But is it sometimes necessary? Although we are not pacifists (we would countenance fighting should a pro-capitalist minority take up arms to try to prevent the democratic establishment of socialism) we say there is no such thing as a “just war”. Wars are fought over markets, investment outlets, raw material sources and trade routes and strategic points to control them.

The present Balkan War is no different. It is a continuation of the process that started in 1991 when Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, in which the stake has been: who shall control the territories of the former Yugoslavia—Serbia or the West, in particular Germany?

When “communism” (in reality state capitalism) collapsed, the NATO powers had a choice. Let the Serbian ruling class continue to maintain order and stability in the area so that trading and profit-making there could continue normally. Or apply the principle of “national self-determination” in the hope that a collection of smaller, more “ethnically pure” states would provide greater stability.

Reunited Germany, with its historic enemy Russia on its knees, was able to revive its ambitions in Eastern and Central Europe and it led the way in working for the break-up of Yugoslavia so that it, rather than Serbia, could dominate the area. First Slovenia, then Croatia, then Bosnia, then Macedonia broke away or rather were broken away. The result, however, has not been stability. Quite the reverse, with only a NATO army of occupation maintaining a fragile peace in Bosnia and eastern Croatia.

And now Kosovo. Serbia claims that it is fighting to retain Kosovo because this is the cradle of “Serbian civilisation”, but there is more at stake than the bones of Prince Lazar. As retired Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who commanded UN troops in Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo, has pointed out: “Quite frankly, they want the northern half of Kosovo. That’s where the mines and natural resources are” (Times Colonist, Victoria, 26 March). There has been speculation in the media that this may be the compromise that will emerge once the killings and bombings have stopped: the partition of Kosovo with Serbian forces controlling an ethnically-cleansed north and a NATO army of occupation looking after the impoverished refugees in the south.

Faced with this latest manifestation of capitalist barbarity and cynicism we once again place on record our abhorrence of all war and call upon workers everywhere to unite to bring the war-prone capitalist system to a speedy end.

Watching the war go by (1999)

From the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The capitalists have never gone to war to promote Justice and they never will.
Last year The Most Dangerous Man In The World was Saddam Hussain. Pronounced Sadaaam Hoosayn by the plastic propagandists employed to spin the latest line for CNN. There had never been a nastier dictator than the Evil Saddaaam and that was why forces of the American Empire—sorry, NATO—had to “go in there and kick ass”. Any resemblance to a gangland settling of scores should be ignored. After all, that upright defender of virtue, Slick Willy Clinton, had cast himself as Batman against the Iraqi Joker, with wee Tony doing his best to look like Robin.

But let us not distract ourselves with nostalgia. That was yesterday’s war. Now, in the world of CNN-speak, an even more demonic evil has come to threaten the stability of the globe. Plucky little Kosovo must be defended. Think not of the fact that nine out of ten Americans had never heard of Serbia, let alone Kosovo, until CNN told them about it fifty times a day. The threat to the New World Order has been identified. Milosevic must be banged to rights. The propagandists, using a script uncannily similar to Wag The Dog (a fictional account of a sleazy US President saving his reputation by a bogus war against Albania), invite us to shout and curse against the crimes of the Belgrade regime.

And, blinded by the light of the TV screen, large numbers of decent people are weeping for the oppressed Kosovars and cheering NATO as it drops its bombs on Serb towns and villages. Because most people are decent and they hate to see injustice against a defenceless minority, so they are sucked in to the drama of war.

But there are some other defenceless minorities whose plight is not shown on CNN. There are some defenceless minorities for whom NATO would not so much as fire a shot from an air gun. In fact, the NATO states are the very ones which have sold the weapons by which these defenceless minorities are oppressed. For example . . .

There are the Kurds in Turkey. Between 1990 and 1994 about one million Turkish Kurds were driven from their homes. Over 40,000 Kurds have been killed. And in 1994 Turkey became the biggest single importer of US military equipment and the world’s largest arms purchaser. Turkey is a member of NATO. Its troops are currently part of the NATO forces in Yugoslavia. Why is NATO attacking Serbia and not Turkey? The US administration justifies Turkish state atrocities on the grounds that they are defending “law and order” against Kurdish terrorists. The Serbian regime uses precisely the same logic: that it has only slaughtered people and burnt villages to the ground in a war against Kosovar terrorism.

Within the past month 10,000 people were killed in a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There are countless refugees. When did we hear about this on the TV News? Where are the calls from those incorrigible humanitarians, Albright and Cook, to send aid to these refugees and to stop the fighting? Since 1994 820,000 have died in Rwanda. Since 1986 a million and a half have died in Sudan. Where was CNN?  

What about East Timor? Conduct a simple experiment. Go on to the streets of Kansas City or, for that matter, White City in London and ask people what they think about the slaughter of the Timorese people. Most will never have heard about East Timor. The propagandists have forgotten to tell them about that atrocity because that one is a NATO-armed assault on a defenceless minority. East Timor was taken over by Indonesia in 1975, since when one third of its population has been killed—that’s 200,000 people. Since 1975 the USA has sold over $1 billion of weapons to the Indonesian dictatorship. The other main arms suppliers are Australia and Britain. Just as the NATO troops were whizzing off to knock the shit out of Belgrade, Indonesian militia entered a church full of people in East Timor and slaughtered them. Reports have not made it on to the CNN News, perhaps because the reporters are too busy congratulating the West upon its humanitarian campaign to help oppressed minorities.

There is something deeply disgusting about the pretence that bombing is a civilising mission. The people who drop bombs from the sky upon towns and villages are bullying cowards and deserve no respect from anyone. The people who give them the orders to drop their bombs are self-serving hypocrites whose concern for the safety of Kosovar refugees is about as genuine as their domestic concern for single mothers, the unemployed and the disabled. The minority who own and control the world—the Directors of USA Inc and UK Plc—are ruthless, exploitative thieves whose primary interest is in the fast buck and protecting what they imagine their interests to be. The capitalists have never gone to war to promote justice and they never will. Indeed, the notion that justice can be furthered by violence can only make sense when you have a social system that is rooted in violence and plunder.

We will no doubt be told that by opposing the military escapades of Clinton and Blair we are siding with those who are committing unspeakable acts against defenceless Kosovars. Socialists side with no state, for all states are merely organised forces of national coercion. We are opposed to the lot of them and support the interest of the oppressed, not selectively, but wherever they are. In time of war we refuse steadfastly to be deluded by the crass propaganda of any section of the ruling class or to become entrapped in the rhetoric of militarist terror.

Instead of taking sides between this nation or that, we oppose all nationalism. Workers have no country. None to live for. None to die for. Workers should refuse to fight, for every drop of working-class blood shed in battles within capitalism is wasted.  

CNN’s viewing figures have gone up since the war in Yugoslavia started. What exciting pictures the explosions make. What a terrific diversion from thinking about the poverty of life under the profit system it is for wage slaves to be presented with 24-hour live coverage of Clinton’s Heroes. CLOBBER SLOBBA, says the Sun, ever eager to find new depths of banality, illiteracy and tastelessness by which to woo its prey. So, we sit at home and we watch the war and just occasionally we might wonder how much it cost to build the US bomber planes (more than the total GDP of Albania, as it happens) and what kind of world we might live in if those resources were not used to produce ever more sophisticated weapons of death, but libraries, homes and hospitals for all.
Steve Coleman

Elections in North East England (1999)

Party News from the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard 

We are standing two candidates in the 6 May local elections in the North East, in Primrose ward of South Tyneside Metropolitan Council and in Deneside ward of Easington District and Seaham Town councils. Further details from the North East Branch Secretary.

The North East branch will also be contesting the European elections on 10 June. A full list will be presented in the 4-member North East Election Region. The Socialist list is: John Bissett, Steve Colborn, Stephen Davidson, Andy Pitts. It is planned to have over a million leaflets distributed to households in the area.

State and class in pre-colonial West Africa (1999)

From the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Was the state instituted for mutual protection or did it arise when society became divided into classes?
Long before Marx and Engels, political thinkers and philosophers had written extensively on the concept of the state. In the 1640s, Thomas Hobbes had argued that the state was essentially a contract between the individual and the government. The alternative, called by Hobbes the state of nature, was a thoroughly unpleasant life—solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

This, according to Hobbes, the state emerged to improve mankind’s lot. However, Engels, summing up his historical analysis in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, argued that the State was a product of class society: “It is an admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel.” As if to echo Engels, Marx pointed out that the state could not have arisen, let alone maintained itself, had it been possible to reconcile classes. According to Marx the state is an instrument of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another.

Marx revealed that a definite level of development of labour productivity is essential before there is real opportunity for humans to exploit other humans. If people produce only the minimum of products required to maintain their physical existence and reproduction, any systematic appropriation of someone else’s labour is out of the question. The opportunity to appropriate someone else’s labour appears only when the productive forces have developed to the level at which the quantity of goods produced somewhat exceeds the minimum required to maintain the direct producers’ lives. The question then arises: Did Africa’s labour productivity reach a level that provided the opportunity for humans to exploit their fellow human beings? The answer is both no and yes. The appropriate answer to this question would enable us to determine the original of the state in pre-colonial Africa.

But it would be absurd to think of only the level of productive forces without the relations of production. Productive forces cannot be developed in a vacuum. People produce them jointly—in groups rather than on their own. People’s relationship to the means of production determine their position and place in the production and the mode of distribution of the products. Where one group of people makes its living by appropriating the labour of the other, then society is divided into the exploiter and exploited. The need to maintain this vampiric relationship of production leads to the rise of an apparatus of coercion and conditioning to systematically brainwash the exploited into accepting their exploitation as a normal condition of life or to crush their resistance.

Before private ownership
If this analysis of state and class is anything to go by then one cannot authentically talk of the state among some of the communities in Ghana before the 14th century. The predominant principle of social relations was that of the family and kinship associated with communalism. Among the Gur social groups in the Upper East Region of Ghana, for example, every member of the society had their position defined in terms of their relationship with their mother’s or father’s family. Leadership was based on religious ties to the Tindana, or custodian of the land, who ran the affairs of the people with a committee of elders chosen from all the families and clans of the territory. This committee administered land, the major means of production not as its personal property, but as the property of all the people in Gurum-Tinga (Gur land) who had the right to till it. Hunting, fishing and grazing grounds for animals were organised in a similar manner. No-one starved whilst others stuffed themselves with food and threw the excess away or sold it for profit. The basic economic law was that of providing the members of society with the necessary means of subsistence through communal ownership of the means of production. The absence of private property in the means of production, of the division into classes and the exploitation of man by man excluded the need for a state. Production was essentially of use values; and there was no alienation of the producer from his means of production.

The fundamental flaw in the social organisation of the Gur however was that the position of the Tindana was supposedly sanctioned by the gods, and therefore permanent. This notion also applied to the elders of families and clans who served in the committee of elders. Only death could loosen their grip on authority. This meant that people occupying positions of trust could use their positions for personal gain, taking a significant share of communal property and becoming rich; indeed vestiges of private ownership of property began to rear its ugly head in the Gur community around the 16th century. However this development did not reach its fullest maturity before the violent intrusion of British colonial rule. To a very large extent, this explained why the British colonial government had to create chiefs in Gur land and use them as instruments of its policy of exploitation and dehumanisation.

It is also important to note that once African societies began to expand by internal evolution, and the instruments of labour were perfected, people obtained more means of subsistence than was essential for their survival. The restricted nature of communal property and the egalitarian distribution of products of labour that characterised people such as the Gur acted as a drag on the further development of the productive forces. The need for joint labour disappeared with the appearance of sickles, iron-tipped hoes, spears and arrows. What this meant was that the possibility of individual labour also emerged. But individual labour brought about private ownership, private ownership brought about inequality between the people; and rich and poor people emerged. In the Mali empire, for example, the dominant mode of production was feudalism even though the communal and slave modes of production had not completely died out. By the end of the 15th century there were both chattel and domestic slaves in Mali comparable to the feudal serfs in Europe. In Senegal Portuguese traders also found that there were elements in the population who worked most days for their masters and a few days per month for themselves—a budding feudalist tendency.

A cursory look at the socio-economic and political scene in Africa before colonisation does not reveal one dominant mode of production. Also it is not easy to compartmentalise the socio-economic formations and arrange them in a sequence as some writers do, because the social and economic terrain reveals considerable unevenness in development. There were social formations representing hunting bands, communalism, feudalism while other formations represented a mixture of these. It was upon these that colonialism was superimposed.
Adongo Aidan Avugma