Sunday, June 26, 2022

Lost Musicals and “Get Lost” Musicals (1999)

Theatre Review from the September 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

110 In the Shade, Fortune Theatre, London

I have to admit that I like musicals, and especially old musicals of the kind that were common from the nineteen-twenties and thirties until the seventies. True many were arch, whilst others were coy and over-sentimental. But when they worked it was usually because they had wit and charm and, in the years following the end of the Second World War, because they were increasingly grounded in the lives of ordinary people. Their books were written by the likes of Guy Bolton, George Kaufman, Moss Hart and Wolf Mankowitz; with words and music from, for example, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Frank Loesser and Howard Goodall.

Today’s musicals, by comparison, affect to be populist operas. Words are at a premium, the intention being to write an “all-through” score, as in Les Miserables. Character and story lines frequently fall victim of the desire to produce knock-out “special effects”, like the arrival of the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Story lines are pretentious and amoral (Aspects of Love), extravagant and fanciful (Phantom of the Opera) and na├»ve and childlike (Beauty and the Beast). Audiences are stunned by sound and spectacle. Humanity and reality lose out to noise and stage technology.

The effect is frequently chilling. I recall seeing Les Miserables at the Barbican—astonishingly it was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. All around me people were clapping and cheering—some had even leapt onto their seats the better to give expression to their feelings. And for what? A great novel had been shredded before our eyes and repackaged as an indifferent quasi-opera. History had been re-written, and events in mid-nineteenth-century France turned into the kind of fiction that I remember as a child associating with the adventures of Flash Gordon at the local cinema on a Saturday morning. Yet people were cheering. How could this be? I felt a huge sense of isolation. It was as though I was a prisoner on another, alien planet.

Contemporary musicals form part of the ideological apparatus of capitalism. Their function is first and foremost to make money for their backers by projecting messages which are consistent with the status quo. To do this they employ lavish sets and imposing numbers of people and special effects in order to tell bizarre tales (Starlight Express) and other unlikely fictions, in a manner which, as one critic puts it, “stuns you into submission”. Their size makes them expensive, and in order to recoup their costs they have to continue to pull in the punters literally for years. This means that they have to be pre-packaged and sold. Like Star Wars Episode 1 which is reputed to have carried a pre-showing budget of several millions of pounds in the UK, any significant new musical is going to be hyped for weeks and months before it opens. This makes the critic’s job more difficult. An honest opinion is difficult if the pre-production gloss has led you to expect a masterpiece, and if the newspaper in which you write is owned by someone who has invested in the show. But once the public has been persuaded, often regardless of the merits or otherwise of the piece that the show is worth seeing, once a show has survived six months or so in the West End and the coach companies are arranging trips from the far-flung corners of the country, then producers can be pretty certain of getting their money back and more; much, much more.

How nice then to report that for those living near to London it is possible to see musicals predicated, in part, on a different basis. For a couple of years now my partner and I have been attending occasional performances of “The Lost Musicals” on Sunday afternoons in May, July and September. Organised by a charitable trust and managed by a man whose enthusiasm for musicals is as obvious as his indifference to the money-making, in nine years they have managed to offer 160 performances of over 40 different shows which haven’t been seen for 30-50 years or so, using 600 actors who have given their services free.

Recently we saw 110 In The Shade, a warm folksy tale based on Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker. Never mind that the actors were reading their parts against a black back-cloth, and singing with the support of only a single pianist, this was a wonderful experience. There was more honesty, warmth, wit and wisdom in this unpretentious show than in all of the lavish musicals on offer in the West End. The best musicals manage to conjure from story, character, music and dance, something close to occasional moments of ecstasy. Perhaps understandably then there was something of the ecstatic in the audience’s response.
Michael Gill

Party activity during the summer months (1999)

Party News from the September 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Party members were active leafleting various events, including the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Tolpuddle Martyrs memorial. We reproduce below the texts of the leaflets distributed in July at the two events.

Message for the 1999 Durham Miners’ Gala.

The Durham Miners’ Gala is an integral part of the working-class tradition and history in the North East in general, and County Durham in particular. Although there is now only one working colliery in the North East coalfield, the gala’s pre-eminence as a working-class gathering remains. The crowds may have diminished from its heyday but other things have not changed. The continued attendance of those state-capitalists in socialist clothing, the Labour Party, is still galling.

 Offering much, but delivering nothing. They claim to be socialists but are indistinguishable from the Tories, Liberals and the rest.

 Labour, it should be remembered, between 1964-69 closed 233 pits around the country, and have never been backward in coming forward when it comes to using the full weight of the state against the working class.

 Using troops and the police to break strikes is merely one example. Ask yourself this: for all of the hundreds of billions of pounds-worth of coal which has been extracted from North East mines, with the concomitant cost in terms of tens of thousands of workers still suffering, what has been the reward?

Have miners lived lives of fulfilment, free from stress and anxiety? Free from worry over our and our children’s futures? The answer must be an unequivocal NO!

The wealth represented by coal has been pillaged by a tiny few, for their enrichment. The private coal owners at first, then on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole through state-capitalist nationalisation in latter years and now back to private owners today.

 In all of these periods, even during the spell of nationalisation (which was state capitalism, not socialism) the reward has been poverty, degradation and insecurity. The people who worked and died, and are still dying, to extract the coal, have had scant reward for their toil. The people who have suffered, and who still suffer, react to this by continuing to allow the tricksters of the left to con them.

Blair and his cronies are only the latest edition.

 The solution however is quite simple! It is a solution which is shown quite plainly on the banner of Murton pit itself, reproduced on the front of this leaflet: “Production for use, not profit”

 This is precisely what the Socialist Party advocates and has done since 1904. Socialism: nothing more, nothing less. The common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing the things we need to live. Where we all have equal access to the means of life.

A demand echoed by the above slogan. Only we, as a united working class, can bring this about and if you would like to know more about these ideas, why not get in touch: our address is contained in this leaflet.


Message for the 1999 Tolpuddle Martyrs Rally.

Tolpuddle Martyrs If gathering together to remember the Tolpuddle Martyrs means anything then it is surely not simply a question of just remembering but of also trying to change things for the better. This is precisely what those six Dorset farm labourers were trying to do 165 years ago.

 There will be many messages put forward today. The trade union and Labour Party leaders will tell us how far we have come since 1834. How much things have changed for the better, how fortunate we are to have a Labour government and how if we are patient and leave it to them things will improve still further.

 Our message is different. Much has changed since the nineteenth century and in some respects things have improved. These improvements have been brought about by people organising themselves and not by leaders.

 However the fundamental problems that faced people around 1834, such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment and so on are still with us today.

 If these problems are considered in the light of the wealth that is created today in comparison with over 150 years ago and if we look at things on a world-wide scale then we have made little headway.

 There is still an enormous growing gap between rich and poor. We still face these problems because one fundamental thing has not changed, namely, the nature of the society we live in. As in the last century we live in a social system where the prime motivation for producing goods and services for profit.

 What has changed is that more than ever we live in a global economy dominated by giant corporations. Many of these corporations have more economic power than some countries.

 We are not pleading with the heads of corporations that dominate the world today to behave a little kinder. We are not asking politicians to attempt to control the corporations. We are not saying let us run this system because we can run it more humanely.

 The present system is operating the only way it can, profits first, human needs second and the politicians have as much chance of controlling it as a two-year-old has of stopping a runaway horse.

Our message is that we need a complete change. At present, the instruments needed to produce and distribute the things we need, are owned by a minority, around 5 percent of the population.

 Our alternative is a system of common ownership and democratic control. Goods and services could then be produced directly for use thus ending the situation where production is geared to the profit motive.

This change cannot be handed down by leaders but will be brought about by a majority acting democratically and fully conscious of what they are doing. Since this society can only function on a global scale, the movement that brings it about will have to be organised on a world-wide basis.

If you are here today because you feel a fundamental change in the way society is organised is needed then you owe it to yourself to find out more about the only political movement which seeks FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE.

50 Years Ago: Another Fake Goes West (1999)

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

Exit the Revolutionary Communist Party

In July of this year the English Trotzkyists, the Revolutionary Communist Party, brought out a Special Number of their paper, the Socialist Appeal, consisting of a small four-page leaflet. If there were ever any doubts about the reformist character of the R.C.P., this four-page leaflet disposes of them for ever!

The front page of the leaflet contains nothing but the following, in large type:-
“DECLARATION
“On the Dissolution of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the entry of its members into the Labour Party.”
The second page informs us that after several months of discussion a Special National Conference was held in London, June 4th, 5th and 6th. and that the only items on the Agenda for this Conference were:-
“The current political situation in Britain: what forms the class struggle would take in the next period, and how best the energies and activities of its members could be utilised to further the cause of Socialism.”
We are told that:-
“After a two-days debate, this fully representative Conference decided, by a substantial majority, to dissolve the organisation and call upon the members of the Party to enter the Labour Party—to which the majority already pay the Trade Union political levy—as individual members. Within the Labour Party they would carry on the fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system and for a Socialist Britain.”
The last sentence is an exposure of mental bankruptcy; after originating as a challenge to the nationalism of the Stalinites the R.C.P. falls for the “Socialism in One Country” idea.

(From an article by “Gilmac”, Socialist Standard, September 1949)

Obituary: Patrick Maratty (1999)

Obituary from the September 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Wednesday 21 July my brother Patrick Maratty, who over the years has written many letters to the Sunderland Echo under the pseudonym “anti-capitalist” and was a member of the Socialist Party, died in hospital after years of neglect by the health and social services.

Patrick loved snooker and wanted his son Matty to be a champion player. He believed that the only way Matty could become a “professional” as he called it was to act like one: this meant practising eight hours a day. He spent much of his life teaching his son how to play the game and anyone who knows Matty knows that he lives up to his dad’s expectations.

The other passion in Pat’s life was socialism. He believed that the major cause of social problems was capitalism and that the working class throughout the world should organise democratically and politically for a society based upon common ownership. He scorned religious beliefs as false, dangerous, divisive and a major contributory factor to many horrendous acts throughout history. I know he hasn’t gone to heaven, hell or purgatory but he will have found peace. I loved him and will miss him.
Vince Maratty

Voice From The Back: Unnatural causes (1999)

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

Unnatural causes

In Ethiopia, people suffer from the natural disaster of drought. But Oxfam also works with poor people to help them combat a disaster more destructive than any natural calamity: poverty. Take Bangladesh: the world was shocked by the catastrophic cyclone and floods in 1991, in which 140,000 died. Yet the same number of children are killed by poverty in Bangladesh every 2 months. The main killers are common diseases, often spread by dirty water, like diarrhoea. Worldwide, a mother watches her child die of diarrhoea every 8 seconds. Oxfam begging letter, June.


At the class divide

There is, for example, a house price boom going on—at least for those living in the advantaged parts of the country. The half a million pound house is becoming a commonplace and a million pounds is no longer rare; more extraordinarily still, prices are rising by 20 or 30 percent a year. To buy such a house demands a mortgage of a quarter a million or more, and that in turn, even with today’s interest rates, implies monthly repayments of around £2,000 a month. But for a growing number of households, where both partners work, such repayments can be paid relatively easily. It may mean both are working for 50 or 60 hours a week and the parenting of their children, even the caring of their pets, is being subcontracted; but the mortgage can be paid. Observer, 6 June.


They own them all

Eighty-two percent of corporate stock in America is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of families. But over half those shares, the controlling stake, is owned by the richest one percent alone. The membership of this One Per Cent Club has expertly diversified portfolios and trusts. They own GM and Ford, Monsanto and its “competitor” Dow Chemical. Ergo, they don’t care which horse wins the race because they own the whole race track. So what does the Wealthy One Per Cent want? Answer: more wealth. Where will they get it? As with a tube of toothpaste, they are squeezing from the bottom. Observer, 6 June.


Trust 

The Prime Minister yesterday urged employers and unions to end the “often meaningless ritual” of the annual pay round when he launched a £5 million fund to promote partnership at work. He made the call as part of the Government’s plan to reduce the causes of regular conflict between employers and the unions in a speech at a Trades Union Congress conference in London aimed at promoting partnership. Mr Blair said the unions must resist reverting to the “bad old days” of the “them and us” climate of the 1970s and work at being more committed to business. The £5 million will be used to train managers and trade union officials to work together more effectively and to build trust between unions and businesses. Metro, 25 May.


Exploitation must increase 

Businesses in many European countries are outraged at a rising tide of social legislation and working directives, which they claim stifle enterprise and competitiveness, threaten jobs and cost billions. They support the view held by many UK businesses that without more flexibility, enterprises will go bust. At the head of their hate list are the Social Chapter, which includes trade union rights, the Working Time Directive limiting employees’ working hours, and a mass of environmental regulations. Financial Mail on Sunday, 6 June.


Better than opium? 

Our national lottery’s licence is up for grabs and the only question is: will Camelot win it again? The lottery’s sole problem is that we in Britain are currently spending only £100m a week on it, so they are launching a new game next week to tempt us to blow a little more . . . Last year one independent, British, world-class academic revealed that more than 100,000 children in their early teens were seriously hooked on gambling. Those findings, based on publicly-funded research, were so worrying that the government tried to suppress them. Guardian, 3 June.


What starvation?

Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler is expected to propose doubling the proportion of arable land to be left uncultivated by farmers next year. Experts predict that he will propose a set-aside rate of at least 10 percent in the 1999 season. Commission officials say the current level of 5 percent has failed to prevent soaring cereal production, causing a sharp drop in EU market prices and forcing the institution to buy in large amounts of surplus wheat and barley at the guaranteed price of 119 ecu per tonne. “Surplus stocks stand at about 15 million tonnes at present. We estimate that if this rate of 5 percent is carried over into next year, they will rise to 25 million tonne,” said one official. European Voice, 4/10 June.

Transplant organs for sale? (1999)

From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Even Margaret Thatcher balked at the sale of kidneys but now it is being discussed as a serious possibility.
When BBC2’s Newsnight programme broke the story about Northern General Hospital in Sheffield accepting a stipulation from a donor’s relatives that his organs could only be used if they “didn’t go to a coloured”, the debate that raged afterwards concentrated on whether racist pre-conditions should be tolerated given the severe shortage of transplant organs. And whether medical staff accepting such ifs and buts might be breaching the Race Discrimination Act. Did anyone in the media realise this issue was not fundamentally about ethics or legality, but class?

What is it that suppresses natural altruism in people to the point that this may necessitate compelling organ donations through a new involuntary arrangement? What causes next of kin to see donor organs as exclusive property to grant or withhold, rather than collective property from which anyone may benefit? And what makes those who do behave unselfishly towards others get called “losers” and “saddos”? Might it be a materialistic, dog-eat-dog, I’m-all-right-Jack mentality necessary for survival and “success” under capitalism?

The source of people developing a hatred for other human beings with merely a darker skin colour is also found in the competitive market. Those desperate to find a reason for, and an escape from its poverty, unemployment, housing problems, inadequate welfare benefits etc, can readily blame any group that they are led to think of as being different and outsiders. Such thinking will generally be toned down or encouraged—depending on whether the economy is doing well or badly—to fit in with the capitalist class’s needs to increase available labour and boost workforce competitiveness or to divide society and divert blame. But sometimes as in this case racist thoughts can rebound on the ruling class.

A kidney transplant costs around £10,000 just once, whereas haemodialysis costs the state (funded by businesses) £25,000 every year per patient. If “different” ethnic groups start attaching conditions to donations, other non-racial provisos will creep in; administration will become more difficult and expensive; would-be donors will be put off, and fewer transplant operations will result. And with organs already in increasingly short supply, both the pressure on government to act and the financial burden on capital could only get worse. But any New Labour solution is bound to involve hypocrisy.

Already, Frank Dobson has blustered “I haven’t been an opponent of apartheid all my adult life to see it being introduced in the NHS. It never occurred to me that a rule would be necessary to keep racism out of blood transfusions and donations.” Maybe the Health secretary will explain later why his new rule, while not allowing people to choose who gets hearts, lungs and kidneys according to colour, will allow any capitalist to choose the best food, goods and services according to money. Preventing discrimination against the differently coloured with desperate clinical needs, but permitting discrimination against the poor with desperate social needs exposes the iniquity of a private property society and its requisite two-faced laws. Dobson won’t have costly racism in health care, but “apartheid” in access to enjoyable work, the best food, decent housing, utility services . . . That, too, has “never occurred” to him—and probably never will.

Class ownership of vital assets is behind divisions in society, but because those who govern capitalism have no intention of tackling this root cause of racism, its political servants now instead merely put on a concerned act, conduct sham enquiries and plan to tinker with its laws to avoid the controlled majority behaving too much like the dominant asset-owning minority.

But why are so many people in dire need of organ transplants in the first place? How much smaller would be their number if those in various industries (chemicals, oil, tobacco, pharmaceuticals etc) had not poisoned and polluted our bodies for profit for decades?

Some media writers actually suggested that if the poor were encouraged by payments to sell organs to hospitals while still alive, then both they and those in desperate need of transplants would benefit.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee asked:
Why shouldn’t the NHS buy organs for its patients? . . . ask the tough question—if it’s OK for us to let millions of people die around the world with hardly a thought about it, why isn’t it OK for some of those people to choose to sell a kidney in order to improve their families’ chances of survival? The medical risk of donating a kidney is relatively low while the cash reward would be enough to change a family’s condition beyond all recognition . . . If the world cannot give them the means to survive, why should they be denied the right to sell the only thing they have of great value? (9 July).
In Toynbee’s mind, the “means to survive” is money, while in reality such means are industries, utilities, natural resources etc which, if directly and collectively owned by us all—and not a privileged ruling minority—would bring about an end to all those millions of deaths from deprivation.

And if she thought harder, Toynbee would realise that poor people selling bits of themselves would not escape the gutter, as the capitalist market that she tolerates—and regularly cashes in on with reformist let’s-tinker-with-it-this-way and that-way articles—will always find buyers at the most competitive prices. And with billions world-wide possessing sod all, that’s what organ purchasers will be able to pay then as the going rate.

Legally, we don’t even own our bodies. According to the Medical Ethics and Law Department at Imperial College (Broadcasting House, BBC Radio 4, 11 July), the seventeenth century philosopher John Locke established the principle on which the law still operates. They pointed out “we don’t own our bodies because didn’t create our bodies. Locke said God did”. Consequently, “we can own things that we have created through our labour . . . that we have property in our person, but definitely not in our bodies”. This is doubly daft, since not only did some supreme being never make us, but we manifestly do not have full property rights in what we create through our labour, otherwise exploitation by employers for profit would be impossible.

However, such exploitation will end—together with all today’s others social miseries—when we perform a transplant operation on capitalists at the ballot box, and shift organs of production from their persons to ours.
Max Hess

Letters: The Balkan War (1999)

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

The Balkan War

Dear Editors,

Surely you can do better than that in your comments on the Balkan war?

That war was and is an ethnic one pure and simple. For ten years now Serbs, Croats and Bosnians have indulged in a war of racial hatred. Kosova was Milosevic’s last straw and he played it out to the last.

It was time that the rest of Europe woke up, even though they took a dozy attitude to the events in Africa. Somebody had to say enough is enough, and it was right to turn on the Serbs and halt their genocidal attitude to the Kosovo Albanians.

The Belgrade Serbs cocked a deaf ear to Kosovo and indulged in “pop” concert patriotism, something the Brits missed out on in their hatred of the Irish.

If you wanted to relate political beliefs to anything out there, why not indulge yourselves in sussing out that bastard “Jackson”, the drunken badly-spoken military man of the infamous paratroopers, who are always brought out along with the Ghurkas when there is dirty work to be done.
Bill Connor, 
Heywood, Lancs


Reply:
You’re quite wrong. For there to be a race war there would have to be races. But races (and “ethnic group” is just another, equally unscientific, word for “race”) don’t exist. There is only one race—the human race. Even by the sloppy definition, based on superficial visible anatomical differences, used by those who perpetuate the myth of “race” it is clear that the people in former Yugoslavia would all be members of the same race. Or can you tell the difference between an “Albanian” and a “Serb” just by looking at them?

What’s at work in former Yugoslavia is nationalism, which is a political doctrine that preaches that people with a common history or language or religion form a separate “nation” from all other people and have the right to have their own political state to defend their common interest. Socialists have always rejected this doctrine, not just because it isn’t true (people who have a common history or speak the same language do not have a common interest; they are divided into classes, and a worker who speaks a particular language has a common interest with workers speaking other languages but not with a capitalist who speaks the same one) but also because of its practical consequences.

Without the ideology of nationalism, capitalist states would be unstable since, being based on minority class rule, they need a minimum allegiance from those they rule over. Nationalism serves to achieve this by teaching the ruled to be loyal to “their” so-called “nation-state”. In states where a sizeable minority of the population do not fit into the definition of that state’s “nation”—because, for instance, they speak a different language, especially if this is the language of another state—then there is at least a potential problem, to which the final solution is so-called ethnic cleansing. The establishment of independent states in eastern Europe following the break-up of the Tsarist and Austro-Hungarian empires in the First World War led to massive transfers of populations between the new states, precisely because the borders of those states did not correspond to the distribution of the population by “nationality” as defined by language. The same thing is happening again today with the break-up of Yugoslavia since the collapse of state-capitalism in 1989-90.

So-called ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia is the consequence of the creation of new capitalist states in the area and the attempts of their new or would-be ruling classes to consolidate their rule. The Serbian ruling class under Milosevic wanted to clear Kosovo of Albanian-speakers to get rid of a “disloyal” minority within Serbia that was becoming ungovernable. Similarly, the KLA is now trying to clear Kosovo of Serbian-speakers because they know that they will never be able to get them to be loyal to the independent state they hope to set up.

Ordinary Serbian-speakers and ordinary Albanian-speakers have the same interest, in getting on with their lives while capitalism lasts and ultimately in establishing socialism. What interest can they have in burning down each other’s houses—and worse? Clearly, they are being manipulated by rival nationalist politicians seeking to consolidate new capitalist states.- Editors


Who’s afraid of socialism?

Dear Editors,

As a sympathiser but not yet a member of the Socialist Party I have been interested in the discussion about the “S” word. When one considers the diverse characters who have misused the word—Hitler, Stalin, Mao down to Wilson, Kinnock, Scargill, Hatton and many many more, there is no wonder that many people are deaf to preachings in the name of Socialism.

In my opinion it has become imperative that an alternative terms must be adopted. May I suggest Common Wealth Party? (Not Commonwealth!). this is descriptive of aims and “fresh” sounding—stimulating further interest instead of instant dismissal by a potential convert to our cause.

I believe this subject deserves more serious consideration as a means to obtaining more sympathetic listeners to our message.
Robert Coleman, 
Wellington, Somerset


Reply:
Actually, there was once a party called the Common Wealth Party. It even had an MP, but he ended up defecting to the Labour Party.- Editors


That word again

Dear Editors,

I can’t help but feel that the term “socialism” has become a scapegoat.

The concept of socialism is just as vulnerable to prejudice and misunderstanding as the term we use to denote it. Those who associate “socialism” with bolshevism or the Labour Party are almost always incapable of envisaging a system of common ownership and instinctively equate it with nationalisation of one form or another. Changing our terminology will not alter the fact that many people cannot imagine an alternative to capitalism even when they have it explained to them. To imagine that it would is to accept the simplistic logic of political correctness.

Besides, abandoning the term “socialism” would bring us numerous disadvantages. We risk appearing to have broken away from our past. Our record of arguing the case for socialism is a distinction which we cannot afford to lose.

Equally, we risk appearing to have modified our views, or the suspicion that we have something to hide. We risk appearing to have succumbed to a New Labour-style victory of style over substance, or the duplicity of renamed factions of the former Communist Party. Socialism is a righting word; One World, Free Access and the like sound like Women’s Institute sub-committees.

In any case, the word socialism will always be associated with Karl Marx and his ideas, ideas which bring many people to the Socialist Party. I knew I was a socialist because that’s what Marx was and he made far more sense than anyone I’d heard of before. That’s why I bothered contacting the Socialist Party.

The irony of all this is that the problem is actually decreasing. You don’t meet many 20-year-olds who would call the Labour Party “socialist”. When I put the case for socialism to people my own age it is rare for them even to mention the USSR. I used to point out the difference between socialism and bolshevism; now most people pre-empt me.

The end of the Cold War is prompting many people to go back to Marx and re-evaluate his ideas. There is increasing interest in what most people will still call “socialism”. Now is the time to cling to that name more tenaciously than ever.
Matthew Vaughan-Wilson 
Southampton


And again

Dear Editors,

I fully accept Max Hess’s main arguments that it is better not to mention the word Socialism initially and that the positive personal benefits of socialism need more stress. I must disagree however with his conclusions regarding the Party name. Like many members I was attracted to the Socialist Party by its name rather than put off (at 14 I carefully scrutinised Tony Benn’s “Arguments for Socialism” in a vain attempt to find arguments for socialism!). Changing the name, e.g. to the “Free Access Party” (which sounds like an undergraduate debating society) or something to do with “Autonarchy” (some sort of bizarre S&M?) would be a catastrophe. For a start we would lose all rights to the Party’s history—which some of us are proud of.

Other organisations have similar problems—the anarchists for instance have a constant battle regarding the bomb-throwing jibe—yet they haven’t got this constant navel-gazing obsession with titles.

If anything it is the fake “socialists” who should be asked to change their name not us (the SWP becoming the SCMTP—State Capitalist Mostly Teachers Party, the ex-Militants becoming the RNSP—Reformist Name Stealing Party, etc).

If we’re not making socialists as rapidly as we might hope there is a case for re-examining the effectiveness of our propaganda. However the Socialist Party has never had any time for the theatricality of “spinning” (name changing included). What we say is what we are.
Keith Scholey, 
Hull

Devolution makes no difference (1999)

From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The inexorable process of globalisation has increasingly made redundant the question of “national sovereignty”. Yet regional nationalists imagine they can buck the trend without even being against capitalism.
The growth of multinational corporations, some with a turnover exceeding the GDP of most states, has dramatically transformed the role of government as the locus of economic decision-making. Many of the most important decisions are now made, not by politicians, but in the boardrooms of these multinationals. Indeed, this renders increasingly problematic the very notion of a “British capitalist class”; in practice, ownership of “British” capital has become progressively dispersed across the globe, a process facilitated by transnational mergers and buy-outs.

Likewise, the proliferation of trading links between different states has effectively blurred the lines of demarcation between nominally separate national economies. It would be more realistic now to speak of there being a single global economy. Even so, many locally-based businesses are indirectly tied into this economy as subcontractors to multinationals. Not only that, the ever-deepening nexus of international linkages means they cannot escape recessionary perturbations emanating from elsewhere when these impact upon the local economy. At the same time, the limited leeway of governments to ameliorate such localised effects has been correspondingly reduced.

What applies at the national level applies even more so at the regional or subnational. While Wales and Scotland have been given a measure of devolution of power from Westminster, in other parts of the country the struggle to achieve this is still ongoing. This is particularly so in the case of Cornwall. Situated in the far south-west of Britain, Cornwall is likewise part of its “Celtic fringe” with a strong sense of its own identity.

There are a number of organisations which can be loosely described as “Cornish nationalist”. At one extreme are the hard-liners who advocate full independence, some of whom, according to a recent BBC documentary (11 February), have links with paramilitary contacts; the so-called “Cornish Liberation Army”. Evidence of paramilitary activity is scant, the most significant instance of which in recent years occurred in the St Austell areas in the early 1980s. At the other extreme are the more numerically important “soft” nationalists typified by the recently formed “Cornish Solidarity” organisation. Its goal is basically a better deal for Cornwall through greater local autonomy. Soft nationalism extends also to the main UK-based political parties, like the Liberal Democrats, who for historical reasons have long been the dominant political force in Cornwall.

There are other variations amongst the nationalists. Some focus mainly on the Cornish as a supposed ethnic group; others are more inclusive, welcoming anyone into their ranks who live in, and “care about”, Cornwall. Since probably a majority of residents in Cornwall are of non-Cornish extraction—according to one estimate, nearly 70 percent—this would appear to be the more judicious approach to adopt. Nevertheless, it does rather vitiate the notion of Cornwall as a distinct “cultural region”. But this is the lynchpin of the approach of Mebyon Kernow, the largest Cornish nationalist party. In their recent election document, Cornwall 2000—the Way Ahead, they make the following statement:

Cornwall is recognised as a cultural region yet ignored as an economic region. There is a lack of harmony between culture and economics here, but the answer to this imbalance is simple. Base the economic on the cultural region.

Last tin mine
There is little doubt that as an “economic region” Cornwall fares badly. In an article in the Guardian (20 April), the Camborne-Redruth area in particular was portrayed as a scene of post-industrial dereliction “worse than Albania” following the closure there of South Crofty, Europe’s last remaining tin mine. That was surely a gross exaggeration. Nevertheless, with a per capita GDP of only 72.2 percent of the UK average, Cornwall is the poorest county in England, notwithstanding its picture postcard image.

According to Mebyon Kernow, “social deprivation, low wages and high unemployment in Cornwall are in direct proportion to our distance from the decision-making centre in London”. This conveniently overlooks the fact that, in terms of absolute numbers, the greatest concentration of poverty in the UK is actually to be found in London itself, notably in the boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets situated within a few miles of Westminster and Whitehall and which have a combined population exceeding that of Cornwall.

Certainly, Cornwall’s remoteness from the major population centres like London has contributed to its relative poverty, but not for the reason Mebyon Kernow suggests. Rather, it has to do with the spatial economics of capitalism itself: the difficulty of gaining access to the large markets “up country” and, associated with this, the inability to capitalise on economies of scale. This is one reason why Cornish wages are so low, to compensate for the additional transportation costs of their employers.

Blaming Cornwall’s plight on the bias of Westminster politicians amounts to a kind of conspiracy theory with little foundation in fact. The government’s proposal to set up a seven-county South-West regional development agency based in Bristol is typically seen by nationalists as yet another example of it ignoring the needs of Cornwall for the sake of administrative convenience. Among the nationalists’ list of demands is the establishment of a Cornish Development Agency—as if, in Cornish hands, things would improve. Tell that to Cornish workers who are exploited just as ruthlessly by their Cornish bosses as by their up-country cousins. But even if a Development Agency were to materialise, with the best will in the world it would not significantly affect the basic economic realities the region faces.

Furthermore, as everywhere else, more and more of the vital decisions affecting the local economy have little to do with Westminster. Thus, the decision last year to close the symbolically important South Crofty mine was taken by its Canadian owners in the context of a precipitous fall in the world price of tin and cheaper production methods abroad.

The case of South Crofty highlights the importance of inward investment to the Cornish economy. By the same token, it exposes the futility of treating it as though it were a self-contained “region”. To look at the world in these terms is to succumb to the myopia of the development planner, too intent upon empire-building to see the larger picture. Capitalism simply does not operate in this way. Most of the big UK chains have outlets throughout Cornwall. Some of the largest concerns are not even based in Britain. SWEB, for example, the main supplier of electricity, is owned by an American company; English China Clays was recently taken over by a French firm.

That said, a striking feature of Cornish economy is the extent of small and medium-sized firms; over 90 percent of firms have a workforce of less than 25. This is partly attributable to the peculiar economic profile of Cornwall and its heavy reliance on tourism, fishing and farming. Even its traditional mining industry has historically tended towards fragmentation.

At its height, in the mid-19th century, the predominant mode of payment was the tribute system rather than conventional wage labour. Small gangs of labourers would contract with landowners to mine the ore, sharing out the proceeds from its sale amongst themselves. It has been argued that the tribute system, coupled with the quietistic influence of Methodism, have been largely responsible for the relative absence of class consciousness among Cornish miners. This impeded the growth of a traditional “Labour movement” in Cornwall while the weak hold of the big landowners on smallholders curbed the influence of Toryism, allowing a unique Cornish style of politics to emerge in the 19th century—a petty-bourgeois cocktail of liberalism and non-conformism.

Maverick millionaire
The economic background likewise helps to explain the marked hostility in Cornwall toward Europe. Many traditional industries have been adversely affected by EU regulations, such as the imposition of quotas on the Cornish fishing fleet, leading to its partial de-commissioning. Similarly, the proposal to join the single currency, insofar as this will deleteriously impact upon small businesses, will particularly hit Cornwall, given the predominance of small-scale enterprises.

It is not surprising under the circumstances that anti-European political parties, like the UKIP, fared so well in the recent European elections in Cornwall. For many years, anti-European sentiments have been regularly aired in the form of full-page weekly advertisement in all the main Cornish papers. The author of this frankly xenophobic rubbish, vacillating confusedly between Cornish and British nationalism, is a maverick millionaire, Mike Robertson (writing under the pseudonym, “Tripehound”) and founder of the home-grown Trago Mills chain.

Such confusion is typical of the nationalists in general: on the one hand, pushing for greater economic assistance for Cornwall from Westminster, on the other, seeking to weaken its links with Westminster. It’s a case of wanting to have your nationalist cake and eat it. This confusion is manifest too with respect to Europe. One of the main aims of the nationalist movement has been to get Objective One Status for Cornwall thereby attracting European grants of up to £500 million over several years. Only those regions with a GDP of less than 75 percent of the EU average could qualify for such funding but until recently, Cornwall was, for statistical purposes, lumped together with its wealthier neighbour, Devon, and thus denied funding. With this obstacle having recently been removed, Cornwall has now finally achieved this aim.

Whether this will make any impact on the extent of poverty in Cornwall is doubtful; more likely it will only exacerbate the degree of social polarisation and hasten the disintegration of what remains of a distinctive Cornish culture, now pitifully parodied by the ubiquitous theme park. That, after all, is the natural tendency of capitalist development.

As Cornwall inexorably succumbs to the imperatives of a McDonald’s culture, its nationalists would do well to reflect. For by striving to promote capitalist development, they have inadvertently assisted this outcome, poisoning, so to speak, the very ground in which their own cultural pretensions are rooted.
Robin Cox

Ghana: The Ruling Class and the State (1999)

From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
The concept of classes and class struggle in most African educational and political forums is treated as if it a were cultic secret; a taboo subject. This is not surprising. Class struggles and classes are basically about state power, a fact rightly considered as subversive and extremely dangerous by the ruling and propertied classes, and embarrassing by “objective” academics.
The attitude of academics whose intellectual output supports the capitalist establishment therefore goes beyond mere academic interest. The alleged non-existence of classes and class struggles in Ghana serves the interest of the “haves” both at the national and international levels. It explains why the intelligentsia and politicians strive, even if they have read and understood Marxism, to any lengths to mangle and decant it of its essence. It enables the most vicious and corrupt political leadership to harp on about the so-called harmonious development and the social homogeneity of the African population. Marxism is normally seen as an ideology of violence and division and therefore un-African.

There are two distinct systems of production in Ghana; the modern dominant capitalist sector and the traditional sector. Formerly the capitalist sector was supported by indigenous capital, foreign private capital and state capital. Since 1983 when the government embarked on its privatisation drive, the situation has witnessed a major shift with the marginalisation of the state sector and the virtual asphyxiation of an already fledgling indigenous private capitalist sector. The IMF and World Bank-propelled economic programme has all but put foreign private capital in a very strong position. What is of crucial importance here is the role that these sectors in the economy play in the appropriation of surplus labour. The garb that they present themselves in is of less importance to slaves of capital. They are all vampires whose existence depends on the exploitation of workers. It is the unpaid part of the daily total labour of the Ghanaian worker which is the source of capitalist surplus value. This form of exploitation is not too difficult to identify in the privately-owned enterprises—both foreign and domestic. It is less visible in the few surviving state enterprises. But the fact that there are two aspects of reality must not be lost sight of—the outward appearance of a phenomenon and its true nature.

On the surface, state enterprises present a picture of belonging to the workers. As if to emphasise this fact it is often said that they state belongs to everybody and it is the money of the people that has been used to set up the enterprise. However, the workers are completely shut out of management decisions and have no role in deciding how surpluses should be distributed. The fact is that surpluses extracted from workers in the state enterprises go mainly to the privileged minority class, who control the Ghanaian state, albeit in a subordinate position to international finance capital. The results of production are monopolised, appropriated by this class for the purposes of enrichment and domination of the toiling worker.

It goes without saying that a society like the Ghanaian society in which the labour of the majority is appropriated by a few would inevitably present sharp contrasts in wealth and poverty. In Ghana the privileged minority class almost exclusively have access to bank credit facilities and other privileges like good and higher education, better housing, etc. The situation of the underprivileged is however worrisome. According to the government statistician more than 30 percent of them live below the poverty line. Average real wages and salaries are only 25 percent of what they were in 1968 and per capita income is still $460, exactly what it was in 1957 when Ghana attained independence. The ability of one group to appropriate the surplus product of others has thus engendered the division of the society into classes.

The Ghanaian capitalist class is extremely factious and splintered. Outwardly it presents a picture of monolithicism, but in reality it is fragmented, into “comprador” and “national” sections. There is also a large petty bourgeoisie. Issa Shinji objects to the use of the term “national” to describe one of the segments of this class on the grounds that there is a remarkable absence of the qualities that are normally attributed to the bourgeoisie in Europe. Colonialism discouraged local business enterprise in the colonies; while its policy in the metropolis was free trade. Anyone wishing to achieve wealth and status in the then Gold Coast or present day Ghana therefore had to chase a career in the professions, civil service or the armed forces or work within the banks, industrial enterprises and mining companies, which were by and large controlled by foreigners.

The “comprador” segment is that which is made up of those capitalists who consciously collaborate with imperialism in an attempt to bolster their class interests. In Ghana it is closely linked to Japan Motors, Mobil Shell, Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, etc. It stubbornly protects the interests of these multi-national companies, both politically and economically because it reckons quite rightly that the rate of its profit maximisation and therefore its survival is directly connected to the fate of these companies.

The “national” bourgeoisie on the other hand has a stronger tendency to strive for internal capital accumulation; but this desire is not because it wants to redistribute its wealth to the poorer classes. What it seeks to do is to monopolise for itself the opportunity to milk the working class. Its struggle against foreign capital therefore does not make it more progressive than others. It merely seeks to control all the levers of economic exploitation and this does not make it any different from the comprador section as far as the Ghanaian working class is concerned. The “comprador” and the “national” capitalists have one thing in common—the maintenance of the current relations of production which are based on exploitation. Vampires are all the same—they suck the blood of their victims.

The national bourgeoisie in Ghana has however been incapacitated in its struggle against foreign capitalist interests operating in the country for a number of reasons. It lacks managerial experience, depends heavily on imported raw materials, and is given to a riotous and vulgar lifestyle. But what dealt the so-called national bourgeoisie a more devastating blow was the economic policies of the government, dictated by the two Bretton Woods Institutions—the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The agreement of the government to devalue the cedi led to the rise of the cost of imported materials needed for production. Apart form this the conditions imposed by the donors for the distribution of credits made it more difficult than before to obtain loans to oil the wheels of the domestic manufacturing sector. These coupled with the liberalisation policy led to the influx of an avalanche of cheap goods from the United States and Western European import substitution industries, operating through south-east Asian client states, thus robbing domestic producers of hitherto protected markets. The domestic private sector which is controlled by the national bourgeoisie was suffocated because its avenue for domestic accumulation of capital was choked.

The state, class and political power
The fractionalised nature of the ruling class in Ghana (and most African states) often engenders a high level of political competition in it and hence a high degree of politicisation. Any group within it which emerges triumphant in this competition normally gains a number of advantages. The control of government and the state machine facilitates its monopolisation of the economic means of production and it can manage political power to the exclusion of the other groups. Thus political party campaigns since 1957 have not been geared towards any fundamental structural changes in the economic base of the state to improve the lot of the toiling masses. All the political parties are representatives of the various factions of the capitalist class whose ultimate objective is not the dismantling of the state machine, but its maintenance and the furtherance of their economic interests. This explains why the political parties in Ghana today, in whatever garb or guise they present themselves—Busia-Danguali, Nkrumaist or Third Force—sing the same song: the maintenance of the wage and profit system. All claims to fighting for the common people are not only hollow and meaningless concepts to mask their devious intentions; but actually the funeral dirges of the working people. And they often succeed in carrying out their sinister designs because no genuine alternative choices are presented.

The state thus becomes a major plank for the building-up of the economic power of that section of the bourgeoisie that wins elections and for the consolidation of its political power.

The state is used to procure as much money as possible through over-inflated contracts, corruption and outright plundering of public coffers. As a result the people who voted politicians into office become disenchanted with them, and a feeling of alienation among the masses sets the stage for the rejection of the leadership in the next election. The leaders then become insecure, strengthen the apparatus of repression and brutalise those who had supported them and their opponents alike. An atmosphere of insecurity is created as a by-product of this situation, and the leaders become pre-occupied with the politics of survival, with remaining in office at all cost. In the resultant manoeuvring for security of office all state institutions are personalised. In other words retention of high office and promotion come to depend on the presumed loyalty of the individual to the “Great Leader”. The army and the police are never disregarded. These coercive institutions become active foci of these conflicts and are drawn willy-nilly into the vortex of these battles. They too are divided along these lines of sectional interest and their neutrality becomes compromised. Their response to the demands of the ruling class cannot be predicted with certainty, and they become exposed as pawns in the power games of the capitalist class. The fragility of the neo-colonial state becomes glaring and it cannot be counted on as an instrument of control and reform.
Adongo Aidan Avugma

Party News: Euro-election results (1999)

Party News from the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The details for the two constituencies we also contested at the last general election were:

Easington: Turnout 17.24%. Labour 6,690. Conservative 1,541. Lib-Dem 800. UKIP 794. Green 451. SLP 177. BNP 125. Socialist Party 96. Pro-Euro Conservative 57. Natural Law 21.

Jarrow: Turnout 19.7%. Labour 6,484. Conservative 2,660. Lib-Dem 1,718. UKIP 787. Green 471. BNP 163. SLP 134. Socialist Party 106. Pro-Euro Conservative 65. Natural Law 38.

No such thing as a free lunch? (1999)

From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

They say it will never work. They argue that, human nature being what it is. the idea of producing what is needed and taking from the common stock of what is produced, without buying and selling anything, is pie-in-the-sky.

Yet even today, with the profit system makes us wary of giving anything away or having it stolen from us, people are willing to help others at some cost to themselves if they see there is genuine need.

Becky Morris reports (Daily Mail, 4 June) about a writer called Peter, and his dog. who set off on a 500-milc walk from Plymouth to Edinburgh without a penny. Morris describes the kindness shown to Peter as "truly extraordinary"—a description typical of those who have a poor view of the "human nature" imposed on us by capitalist values.

Peter's first night was his worst. He arrived at a church as the congregation was leaving and several people politely refused his request for help. Apparently there was a visiting choir in the village and almost everyone had a guest staying. But eventually someone did offer Peter a spare room and breakfast. Not only that, but he was also offer £10 "for emergencies", which he accepted but later posted back unspent.
He was not very well-equipped for long-distance walking. When he came across an experienced walker he not only had accommodation for the night, a meal, his clothing washed and dried, but was also given some Michelin maps to replace his single sheet of the whole of the British Isles.

Peter continued his journey with sore feet but usually met with kindness and assistance. It was no doubt in his favour that he was willing to do a bit of work if needed, but there was rarely any suggestion that he had to offer anything in return for what he received.

Sometimes Peter was not trusted. One farmer whose help he requested said that there had recently been a break-in at his neighbours house. So Peter had to sleep in the barn, though he still had his food and drink.

This is just one account of the many ways in which people are keen to help each other without expecting anything in return.This despite a capitalist environment which seems to say at every turn "there is no such thing as a free lunch".

To imagine what life will be like in a socialist world we have to subtract all the institutions and the behaviour and the ideas that go to maintain the profit system. Then we have to imagine the huge expansion of goodwill towards others, willingness to help and be helped, opportunities to be creative and not destructive, that a world of common property, democratic control, production solely to meet need, and free access will offer.
Stan Parker

Who owns the world? (1999)

From the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are sufficient resources in the world to provide adequately for every human being on earth. Why then do millions die annually of hunger and hunger-related illnesses? Why then is there poverty in every country throughout the world? Why then are people homeless and millions living in slums? Why then are there wars over markets, trade routes and places of strategic interest? Why is there competition, alienation, crime and the sort of conflict we have in Northern Ireland which, however disguised as a political or religious war is, when stripped of its rhetoric, a profane struggle over access to jobs, homes, status and profits? Why, when there is potential abundance for all to the goods and services that are needed by the whole human family do we live in a state of economic anarchy and political barbarism?

The answer, quite simply and beyond dispute, is that the resources of the earth as well as the tools of production and the instruments of distribution do not belong to society. They are the property of a relatively small minority class of capitalists. The working class is denied access to the land, factories, mills, mines, warehouses, stores and other resources of society except when they are permitted to work in the production of wealth.

It is the working class that applies its skills and energies to the resources of nature and produces all wealth. But workers are only permitted to work in such circumstances as hold out the promise of profit for their masters. Whether its bread or battleships, production is not undertaken simply to satisfy real or imagined need. The primary purpose of production is profit and if there is not the prospect of profit for the capitalist class then, however essential the needs of the working class are, if there is no profit there is no production. That is why people who can not pay for food die of hunger; that is why thousands of children whose parents have not got the equivalent of 50p for readily-available treatment go blind; that is why we say that it is absurd to say that our society is civilised.

There is an abundance of evidence to prove the truth of our assertion about who owns the world. You see that evidence all around you, in the workplace where you sell your mental or physical skills, in the shop or store where, whatever your needs, you only get what you pay for.

Devastating global evidence of our statement is contained in the latest UN Human Development Report for 1998. We quote only a few facts from the report:
  • 225 individuals own wealth equivalent to 47 percent of the world’s population
  • the wealth of just three of these individuals exceeds the Gross National Product of the world’s 47 poorest nations
  • For 4 percent of the combined income of the three wealthiest people we could provide universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, adequate food for all and safe water and sanitation for all
The owning class and their political agents argue that freedom and democracy are based on the right of ownership. As the UNHD Report shows this means that a few own and control the means of life of the many; that the freedom, wealth and privilege of the capitalist class is based on the slavery and poverty of the working class.

Some forty thousand children die every single day of hunger or its related illnesses; millions are denied education, health care, water fit to drink and sanitation while hundreds of thousands of children suffer blindness. In both the so-called Third World and the developed countries people suffer varying degrees of destitution or want. All this in order that a relatively few people can accumulate wealth often far beyond what any human being could require in a thousand lifetimes.
Richard Montague

Does race exist (1999)

Book Review from the August 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Racialization of America by Yehudi Webster. St Martins Press. 

In the pub after a meeting a socialist was arguing with a man with dreadlocks. “You’re not black,” he said. “Yes, I am,” the man replied. “No,” the socialist went on, “you are no more black than I’m white. We’re both human beings.” Yehudi Webster, the author of this book, would have appreciated this exchange; indeed, he became acquainted with the Socialist Party and our ideas when he was in Britain before moving on to America.

Webster’s basic argument is that the all-pervading classification of the population in America into “whites” and “blacks” is logically absurd, scientifically unsound, self-fulfilling, counter-productive and in fact racist. There are of course anatomical differences between human beings—millions of them in fact—but it is not nature which decides which of these are to be regarded as significant for purposes of classifying people into so-called “races”. That is done by humans and, in this case, on a completely arbitrary basis. Races don’t exist in nature but are an artificial politically-motivated creation.

A question on race was first included in the US Census of 1890, at a time when segregation was being consolidated and given a legal basis. But, nowadays, racial classification is championed more by people who consider themselves anti-racists than by open racists. Sociologists, educationalists and others routinely carry out studies based on comparing the education, health, level of employment, unemployment, wages, housing, etc of those they classify as “whites” and “blacks”. In fact, many universities now have special departments devoted to studying “race relations”. But, argues Webster, as this classification is scientifically absurd, it creates or at least perpetuates artificial “racial” divisions amongst the population by encouraging people to think of themselves as “whites” and “blacks” who are homogeneous groups competing with each other for access to limited resources. In other words, it encourages “racial consciousness” and so racism.

Some partisans of racial classification for social studies purposes, realising that the definition of races on the basis of anatomical characteristics is scientifically unjustifiable, seek to define race more in terms of culture than of anatomy; hence their talk of “ethnic groups” rather than races. But this, says Webster, is even more racist as it posits a link between a person’s psychology and behaviour and their supposed race. And of course, as all humans are capable of acquiring any culture, no particular culture can be, or is, exclusive to one supposed race.

Others, some imagining themselves to be Marxist, try to combine race and class and see those they call blacks as a super-exploited fraction of the working class. Webster has no trouble demonstrating the contradictions of this view. All he does is to point to the existence of “black” capitalists and better-paid “black” workers, thus showing that those “blacks” who are below the poverty line cannot be said to be poor just because they are black. In fact, in absolute numbers, there are more “white” people in America below the poverty line than there are “black” people. Clearly, then, poverty is not due to racism but to some other cause.

Although Webster shows himself to be well aware of the Marxian theory of class and class consciousness—at one point he denies the existence of a so-called middle class—apparently he no longer agrees with a class analysis of society (he sees capitalism as an irrational human social arrangement which prevents humans from living in a human way). Nevertheless, he still realises that a class analysis and a race (even a race/class) analysis of society are quite incompatible. Either you analyse society and history in terms of class or you analyse them in terms of race, but it is not possible to analyse them in terms of both.

This is why we as Socialists are so opposed not just to racism but to racial classification (we refused to answer this question when it was introduced, for the first time, intoBlogg the British Census in 1991). Both encourage racial consciousness while our task is to encourage class consciousness and, once classes have disappeared, a universalist human consciousness. We want people to think of themselves as members of a world working class and as members of a single human race, citizens of the world, Earthpeople, rather than as British, America, French or black or white.

Is Webster, then, denying that there is such a thing as racism and discrimination against people with black skin? Not at all, but he sees this as but one example of the many ways in which some humans treat or have treated other humans in an inhuman way. Those who oppose such discrimination should, he says, oppose all other inhuman treatments too and strive for a world in which all humans would treat each other in a human way. The answer to “racial” discrimination is not a multi-racial society in which each “race” would get exactly the same treatment (an equal percentage of unemployment, of people living below the poverty line, in bad housing, in bad health, etc) but a completely non-racial society from which the very concept of race would have disappeared. In his view, the first step towards such a society should be the ending of all racial classification, for whatever purpose, both by governments and by social scientists.
Adam Buick

Blogger's Note:
Link to a C-Span discussion from 1993 which features Yehudi Webster discussing the book.